I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned (nothing wrong with that) as I like a lot of the old traditional hymns. They usually have lyrics with good theology and deep meaning, as well as interesting back stories. It’s also amusing that some of them use the music from drinking songs since many people singing them would already know the tunes.
I have no objection to contemporary worship songs until the theology veers off course (or phrases are repeated until they become mantras), as in the one we sang at church the other day. I was unfamiliar with it and don’t know the name, but one of the lines asked God to forgive us (the congregation or church, not sure which) for losing sight of the awesomeness of God (I think). I was distracted by the plea for forgiveness.
Before you get excited, let me explain why this bothered me, or rather, let Steve McVey, Trinitarian theologian, author and speaker, explain: “To confess my sin doesn’t mean I’m asking for forgiveness. Somebody’s going to mention 1 John 1:9, that’s what always pops out. That’s not to say I won’t confess, I won’t admit. ‘Confess’ means to agree, to say the same. I’m going to acknowledge it when I’ve sinned, but I don’t do it to get forgiveness, I do it because I’ve already gotten forgiveness. There’s a big difference between the two.
“1 John 1:9, if I can give an amplified explanation or paraphrase, might read like this: Since it’s the nature of the believer to constantly admit it when we’ve sinned, so is it the nature of God to constantly relate to us from a posture of forgiveness, keeping us cleansed of all unrighteousness. My part is that I admit it. What else am I going to do, lie? He knows. His part is to keep me in that state of constant forgiveness because of the work of the cross. What else is he going to do? It’s finished” (From an interview in Trinitarian Conversations Volume 2: Interviews with More Theologians (You’re Included), published by Grace Communion International).
As I like to say (and say often) on this blog, the words we use when talking about God are important. By using certain words and phrases, we can easily misrepresent him and who he is. Understanding that we don’t have to always beg and plead for forgiveness acknowledges the finished work of the cross and helps us live in the reality of his goodness.
Some of you may remember the 1960 movie titled Pollyanna. It was based on the 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter and starred Hayley Mills. Pollyanna is an orphan who is sent to live in a small town with her grumpy aunt. Before he died, her dad taught her to be positive and always look on the bright side of things by trying to find something good even in bad situations. They called it the Glad Game. Even if you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, you are probably familiar with how the name Pollyanna has been used as a negative descriptor of someone who is too positive and cheerful and refuses to accept reality.
I read the books (the sequel is called Pollyanna Grows Up) a few years ago and was struck by how many times this little girl extended grace to the people of the town, to the point of transforming the dispirited New England town into a pleasant place to live. Rather than denying reality and living in a happy bubble, Pollyanna’s “sunny personality and sincere, sympathetic soul” (Wikipedia) personified the biblical principle found in Philippians 4:8, where we are told to think on good and beautiful things. Another biblical exhortation she exemplified is to be cheerful at all times (2 Corinthians 13-11-13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, MSG). Proverbs 17:22 says a cheerful heart is good medicine.
When she was mistreated and put down, Pollyanna cheerfully showed grace to others, without letting the negative attitudes she encountered pull her down. If I could always be like this, as she was: “Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God” (Philippians 2:14-15, MSG), I would happily take being called a Pollyanna as a high compliment.
It seems everyone is selling something. I’m so tired of advertisements in every form I almost always tune them out. One of the best inventions ever was the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) for television, which means I can fast forward the commercials. When I watch a show, I don’t like to be bothered by ads for things I don’t want and don’t need and furthermore, insult me with sometimes-asinine jingles and verbiage.
Unfortunately, even churches are in the business of selling. Some sell their programs, books, videos and some seem to have even turned Christianity itself into a product.
One of the things I find refreshing about Jesus is he’s not trying to sell us anything. His whole motivation is love and what he offers to all of humanity is free, with no strings attached, no fine print, no bait and switch tactics, no expiration date, no exceptions and no exclusions. Psalm 19:7 (MSG) tells us “God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee.” Because of this, unlike when we buy something the world is selling, we know what we’re getting when we accept Jesus is and always will be unimaginably better than “advertised.”
One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. When my kids were little, they watched the VHS tape so many times it broke so we bought a DVD to replace it. The movie has many great lines, and my now-adult children and I can quote a lot of them. One I use often is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I thought of it this past week when I read a note for Matthew 13:44 in The Passion Translation. The notes are available on the YouVersion app, which is a Bible app with devotionals and many translations.
“Heaven’s kingdom realm can be illustrated like this: ‘A person discovered that there was hidden treasure in a field. Upon finding it, he hid it again. Because of uncovering such treasure, he was overjoyed and sold all that he possessed to buy the entire field just so he could have the treasure.’” The note is rather long but I think you will benefit from it. “See also Proverbs 2:4. The most accepted interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is the treasure, but Jesus taught that the field is the world (v. 38). The allegory breaks down, for a believer doesn’t sell all he has (works) and then buy the world to find Jesus (the treasure). It is more plausible to view the hidden treasure as a symbol of you and me. Jesus is the man who sold all that he owned, leaving his exalted place of glory to come and pay for the sin of the whole world with his own blood just so he could have you, his treasure. Heaven’s kingdom realm is experienced when we realize what a great price Jesus places on our souls, for he gave his sacred blood for us. The re-hiding of the treasure is a hint of our new life, hidden in God. See Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 3:1-5.”
I had never thought of Matthew 13:44 in this way and perhaps you hadn’t either. I just accepted the traditional teaching mentioned at the beginning of the note. But it seems to not mean what I always thought it meant. This explanation makes much more sense. Hmm, I wonder how many other verses we think we understand, but they might not mean what we think they mean (read with Inigo Montoya’s accent).
If you’re interested, a few years ago I wrote a post every day, featuring verses about who God is and how they might not mean what we’ve always thought. Here’s the link to January 1, 2012. (Maybe I should get those posts put in book form. I started to, but alas, it remains unfinished.)