Monday, April 30, 2007

Chris Tomlin “O Favored One”

Again, for the second year in a row, Chris Tomlin stole the show at the Dove Awards, winning six categories, including best male vocal for the second year. There is no doubt Chris Tomlin is the most successful Christian artist out. Personally, I think some of the songs he has written are amazing and I am grateful for his hard work and dedication to God because through his work we all draw closer to God in worship.

I am somewhat perplexed about a comment that Chris Tomlin made after the Dove Awards when asked about his success. He responded by saying

He must increase and I must decrease. I know this is nothing that I do; I just know that the presence and favor of God is with me." I'm just overwhelmed by the whole thing." "Ultimately, all of this is the favor of God. I'm just trying to be faithful to God and continue to write songs that give people a voice to worship him."

The part of interest to me is the two reference to God's favor. It leads me to ask: (1) What does it mean for God to favor you. (2) How does a person become favored? (3) Why would Chris say the favor of God rest apon him and that is how he explains his success?

The best example of ‘Being Favored” in the Bible in my mind comes from the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The NRSV translates the angle’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:28 to say, “Greetings, favored one.” Then in verse 30 the angels says that Mary has found “favor” with God. In the next chapter the angles appear to the Shepherds and sing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14)”

Each usage of the word “favors” has a different definition, however all three of the words have the connotation of “divine grace and acceptance.” Joel Green in his commentary on Luke summarizes the announcement to Mary as follows, “God has given his favor to one who had no claim to worthy status, raised her up from a position of lowliness, and has chosen her to have a central role in salvation history. (NICNT)”

If this is the definition Chris Tomlin is using in his comment, he is saying that God thatGod's favor or grace or acceptance falls upon him.

The next question is in regards to how a person is favored. If what I have said above is true, then being favored has nothing to do with who you are or what you do. It is a gift from God. In Mary’s case, she was a poor young woman, not a person of notable worth. However, God chose her to play an important role. I think Mary represents all of us in ways. None of us deserve merit from God; however, God shows grace to us. I am sure Chris Tomlin would admit that he has done nothing to merit God’s grace in his life; however, God does use him.

I also should note that Mary responds favorably to God’s grace. She says that she is the Lord’s servant. Chris Tomlin seems to have responded positively to God’s grace and calling. He is reaching a lot of people in the name of Jesus.

The answer to the third question is that Chirs Tomlin may have
a skewed definition of “Divine Favor.” Follow the logic with me.

Q- Why are you so popular?

A- God Favors me

Q- Why does God Favor You!

A- Because I am Popular

C- Therefore anyone who is not popular is not favored

This would mean that of all the people writing Christian music, God has chosen to show favor to Chris Tomlin as evidenced by his popularity. (1) I am positive that God uses lots of songwriters and singers besides Chris Tomlin. (2) Success in the world does not always equate with God being glorified. I think there are lots of people who say things that anger God, but in the eyes of the world would be successful. Mother Teresa did not make millions of dollars, but I am convinced that God showed her “favor” and blessed her work in Calcutta.

Let me close by saying that I think Chris Tomlin is a great worship leader who serves the church well. He is a faithful singer and song writer out of a response to God’s favor. HE is responding to the same grace that God shows all people. His music is one avenue that people use to worship. God also uses other singers, song writers, preachers, lay folks, etc. He often does not even use them in that order. Some lay folks are changing the world in more powerful ways than us preachers. I believe God shows us all “favor.” We all have a grace we do not deserve. Will we be a faithful as Chris Tomlin in responding to this grace?

I wish Chirs Tomlin would just say

1. God has blessed me with the gift of writing songs and leading worship

2. God has shown a tremendous amount of grace to me, therefore, I give my ability back to God.

3. God works in powerful ways with the gift that God has given me.

Therefore, I cannot take credit!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Where Do We Really Stand

In the book of Joshua the Hebrew people under Joshua’s leadership inhabit the “Promise Land.” I know there is a great amount of debate among scholars as to how this happened, but in the end, no matter how they arrived, they did get there. At the end of the book, after all the land has been divided, Joshua makes a memorable (or what should have been) speech. In Joshua 24 we have Joshua reminding the Hebrews of all the wonderful things that God had done for them in getting them to this place in their lives. He then issues this challenge,

"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God."

The remarkable think about this text is that Joshua is challenging them to serve God who has done all of these things for them. The only thing they have to do is give us their foreign gods.

It may be important at this point to explain why this may be such a difficult thing for them to do. In the Ancient Near East, people really believed that when you worshipped a deity, they would directly impact the world around you and they would either help you or hurt you. They would normally worship the god who they believed would do the most for them. Sometimes, instead of choosing one over another, they would just decided to worship several for good measure. If Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews did not work out, then they may turn to Baal, a Canaanite storm god.

According to the passage above, the people had decided to worship Yahweh because Yahweh was the god who would do the most for them. He was the one who had delivered. Then, Joshua responds to them by saying,

19 Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you."
21 But the people said to Joshua, "No! We will serve the LORD."
22 Then Joshua said, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD." "Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.
Joshua here seems pretty certain that they are just blowing smoke. He knows they are only doing this out of selfishness. He knows they only want something from God. He knows that they will never be willing to really commit. Joshua then says this,
23 "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
24 And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him."
Joshua asks them to yield their hearts to God. He asks them not to be half-hearted in serving God because they want something good; rather he wants them to be committed to God because of who God is!

The interesting thing is when you turn to the next book of the Bible, Judges 3, it says, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” Just after Joshua had passed away, the same people who had said they would serve the Lord were already worshipping other gods. Why? Because they were not committed to God, they were committed to themselves.

Ironically, I find Christianity in a similar vein. Why do we become a Christian? To escape Hell, to feel forgiven for our sinfulness, to get rich, to be popular, to be intelligent, to find some kind of emotional peace, to make our spouse happy. I could go on and on with my fragmented run-on sentence. The point is that often times we only use God and Jesus as a selfish gain instead of having an honest commitment. We are too far away from the Hebrews of old. We want God because it feels good instead of loving God because of who God is.