Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat – Jamie Barnes (2011, The Split EP)

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Ash Wednesday and Lent season is almost upon us.  Catholic and non-Catholic believers have much to glean from this tradition, if applied in the right way.  Sojourn Church and worship leaders are embracing the value of these events and so I offer this song for the purpose of heart preparation.

Jamie Barnes is on staff with Sojourn and also writes his own music.  This song was inspired by an old hymn by the great hymn writer, John Newton.  Ash Wednesday is not a means of salvation, but rather an opportunity to remember how incredibly damned and dead we are without our Savior – Jesus.  Ashes to ashes.  The Bible exemplifies and calls us to lament and be sorrowful over our sin.

And Lent is a brief season for us to practice sacrifice (electronics, comfort foods, luxuries, etc.) in order to invigorate our prayer lives and reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross.  It is good and fitting to find music that compliments these pursuits, so that our hearts and minds are prepared for maximizing these exercises.  Listen:

Approach my soul, the mercy seat
Where Holy One and helpless meet
There fall before my Judges’ feet
Thy promise is my only plea, O God

Send wings to lift the clutch of sin
You who dwell between the cherubim
From war without and fear within
Relieve the grief from the shoulders of crumbling men

O God—Pour out your mercy to me
My God, Oh what striking love to bleed.

Fashion my heart in your alchemy
With the brass to front the devil’s perjury
And surefire grace my Jesus speaks
I must. I will. I do believe. O Lord.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for Christians to marinate within the core Gospel truths over and over again.  Ash Wednesday is all about focusing on how close we came to spiritual death and destruction and how incredible it is to be saved by God.  Lent is a time to sharpen our ability to be living within the grace of Gospel truth as we exercise restraint from worldly things (good things or not so good things) in order to make more room for meditating on Christ.  Lent is a great idea any time of year, but especially helpful as it leads us towards the passion of Christ and Easter Sunday.

John Newton understood this and I believe Jamie Barnes does as well with this song.  In addition, we could learn a lot about being a harmonious group of brothers and sisters in Christ – doing honorable traditions together for the sake of purifying Christ’s bride.  God wants us to practice His life within us together.

Paul reminded the church in Rome about these things as it pertained to a controversial issue related to eating food sacrificed to idols:

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’  Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.  And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.  Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”

Le me encourage all of us to see these days as an opportunity for better Gospel-centeredness, better self-control, and better Christian community living.  And let us allow songs like this one to lead the way for our souls to better embrace the Mercy Seat.

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Living Faith – Sojourn (2010, Over the Grave)

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We return today to a modern rendition of a hymn that sparkles brightly among even some of the best songs that have ever been written.  It is a great privilege to talk about both this hymn writer and the people who have recomposed his work, for both are dear favorites of mine.

Also, thanks to Scott for the excellent recommendation.  Any of you are free to recommend songs to me at any time!

Sojourn is a group of songwriters and worship leaders from a thriving church in Louisville, Kentucky.  I know their ministry first-hand, having attended there during my seminary years, and I am quit glad to see some of my colleagues being used by God tremendously in that area.  Sojourn has produced several albums, including Over The Grave which was entirely dedicated to Isaac Watts hymns.

Isaac Watts, a prolific theologian and hymn writer from the early 18th century, was one of the greatest fruits of the Reformation and is often remembered as the “Father of English Hymnody.”  He wrote many famous songs, such as “Joy to the World”, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, and “This is the Day the Lord has Made” (as well as over 750 others).  Today’s selection, “Living Faith” (hymn #140, as Watts called it), carries a vital theme that is often times ignored in Western churches today – the dangers of an empty faith:

Mistaken souls that dream of Heaven
And make their empty boast                                                                                                  Of inwards joys and sins forgiven
While slaves to greed and lust
Vain is the will of mortal men
If faith is cold and dead

Imagine belting out those lines in your seeker-sensitive, opening worship slot next Sunday morning.  The Reformation was certainly known for change and enlightenment.  But often times these vital truths were presented “in your face”, so as to cut through centuries of fluff and propaganda (i.e. the Dark Ages).  Who knows, maybe history has cycled back into a time of needing a similar approach.  However, Watts didn’t just provide another bold-faced wake up call without offering the balance of a practical “how-to”.  He carries the theme forward into what every believer needs to be reminded of, so that we can embrace the real Christian life that God calls us to:

None but a living power unites
To Christ the living head                                                                                                       Pray for a living faith
That leads us to trust this grace
We cannot come to God on our own.
A faith that truly sees
That drives us to bended knee
Looking for hope in the cross of Christ alone.                                                                    True faith will purify the soul
And Faith will work by love
It forces sinful thoughts to go
And lifts our minds above
This faith will conquer earth and hell
By God’s celestial power
This is the grace that will prevail
In the decisive hour…
It takes every breath to God alone, it takes every breath to God alone

That last line says it all.  The Christian life is a gift by grace alone – THAT – demands and takes our every breath, word, moment, thought and deed.  No, this is not a trumpet call to a life of perfection now.  That is what awaits in Heaven when our salvation is completed.  However, we cannot afford to think that what we do right now does not matter to God or to our eternal destiny.

James 2:14-26 reminds us of this living faith and how fundamental it is to remember that a holy God cannot accept just a hallow gesture of belief.  And the most beautiful part of it all, as Watts affirms, is that our faith is filled and realized only by the cross of Christ.  When we fully submit to Him, He makes us faithful.  We are to called to pray for this kind of faith, to trust in His grace, and to daily depend on Him.

Let the reformation of your heart begin today with this anthem of truth that calls all of us to have a living faith.  It takes every breath to God alone…but He is worthy, able and willing to breathe His life into us!