The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently elected to reject “In Christ Alone” for their next hymnal. Their committee originally chose it but wanted to replace one phrase with altered lyrics. The authors of the song determined the changes inappropriate.
Original lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied
Altered lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified
The committee defended their conditional election to reject the song’s original phrase,
“It would do a disservice to this educational mission [of the PCUSA church] to perpetuate … the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.… The song has been removed … with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness” (Christian Century, April 2013 issue).
What? The committee loves the song’s “otherwise” poignant and powerful witness. The thing is, without the satisfaction of God’s deep anger at injustice, there is no poignant witness, and we render his love impotent. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis,
There once was a great king who ruled with wisdom and grace. One day a gardener arrived at court with a great carrot. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest carrot I have ever grown. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the gardener, discerned his heart, and replied, “I see you offer your gifts well. I will give you that large plot of land next to your garden so you may express your gardening gifts even more.” The gardener went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman in the court who overheard the conversation. He said to himself, “If that is what you get for a simple carrot, what would you get if ….”
The next day the nobleman brought a great stallion to court. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest stallion I have ever bred. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.”
The king looked at the nobleman, discerned his heart, replied, “Thank you,” and began to leave the court. The nobleman was distraught. The king then paused, and added,
“Let me explain. The gardener gave the carrot to me. You gave the stallion to yourself.”*
A few years ago a client came into town for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested my favorite restaurant, The Gandy Dancer. The next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues.
I asked him what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, he’d been too busy. But he had “stopped by and studied the menu, and everything looked incredible.”
I thought he was nuts.
But I’m beginning to think that most of us believers are equally “nuts.” We read the menu and miss the meal. We nourish our Christian lives by feasting on a cardboard menu of untasted truths.
The cardboard menu is a link to a spiritually nourishing banquet, but too often we simply chew on the cardboard. Is it any wonder our lives look like cardboard-cutouts?
Frankly, cardboard is neither life-giving nor nourishing. Even with a dash of salt.
I hate leaving for trips, but I also—sometimes—hate returning. There is so much to do. There are all the things I didn’t do while away, and all the things I normally do when I’m home, and all the things my trip generates.
I returned home late last Friday night from a week long set of planning meetings. Sure enough, my “normal” things for last week didn’t get done by themselves; the planning meetings generated a huge list of terrific things to do; and I had my normal new week’s list just waiting for action.
I felt overwhelmed and weighed down, besieged by an army of action items. As I charged through my to-do list, the battle went downhill. Technology misfired, people were late, misunderstandings abounded, and phone interruptions ruled.
Instead of bleeding with a sword through my heart, I was dying of a thousand paper cuts; instead of facing the hulking, flying Nazgûl, I was surrounded by ten thousand blood-sucking mosquitoes.
Ten years ago, I was on a plane heading for New York to give a presentation. The man next to me was a professor of public speaking at a major university.
Somewhat sheepishly, I asked for advice, “What is the key to great public speaking?”
After some preliminary comments, he said this: “At the beginning of World War II, when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England, he said, ‘I felt as though my whole life had prepared me for this moment.’”
“Sam,” he continued, “the best public speakers feel as though their entire lives have prepared them for this moment.”
His words pierced me more deeply than had any other past comment or deliberate insult.
I was devastated. I didn’t feel prepared for anything of significance.
My soul longs—and I believe every soul longs—for a purpose, for a deep meaning, to know that we matter. We long for something transcendent.
Yet I believe most of us fritter our lives away with little dreams. We eagerly await our next vacation or our next car. We squander our money—or our dreams—on the next new iPhone or matching shoes and purse.
Years ago I worked with a man who had an insatiable desire to impress. When he gave presentations, he never used a one-syllable word when a four-syllable word was at hand (or at least on the shelf). When he told me of his client visits, he eulogized his eloquence and waxed lyrical about his wisdom.
Self-acclaim obscured clarity; self-admiration overshadowed expression; and self-tribute was always the topic. When he did something well, he made sure you knew it.
You may know someone like him.
I’m not sure what got me thinking about him today, but my mind kept replaying past scenes of his self-praise.
Later on I read the story of the prophet Nathan addressing King David after David’s adultery. Nathan tells the story of a rich man with many flocks stealing a poor man’s deeply beloved and only lamb. David was enraged at the injustice. Then Nathan said,
“Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7, KJV).
As I thought of my impression-needy friend, I heard God say, “Sam, Thou art the man” It was an arrow in the heart. (You’ve got to hear it in King James English)