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He is my Fortress (part 2) July 11, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
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In a previous post, I decomposed part of Andi Rozier’s “He is my Fortress”.  Because that entry was getting seriously long, I thought I’d break into two pieces.  So, here’s the second half…

You’re before me

God challenges us. He does not tolerate sin, and He loves us far too much to leave us where we are.  If we’ve given God permission to sanctify us by committing our lives to Him, then He will not leave us where He finds us.  God changes and matures us.  He stands before us and leads us to new places that are far better for us than we would choose to go on our own.  Some of the best verses in the Bible are also some of the best known…  “He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside quiet waters.  He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  (Psalm 23:2-3)

God also goes before us in the sense that He has experience trials and suffering and temptation as a man,  God’s love for us is a love that knows from experience our limitations and frailty and smallness.  Hebrews says it very well… “We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

And behind me.

If you give your life to God and submit to His will, then God’s got your back.  Andi’s song says it really well, “No power can stand against a people that God defends.”  This is a lyrical adaptation of the Scripture, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  (Romans 8:31-32)  I think the best portrayal of this concept I’ve ever seen is in the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” when Lucy stands on the bridge to face the entire Talmerine army.  She’s a young girl with a small dagger.  She has no real power of any kind, except that she knows the King of Narnia, Aslan the great lion,  He has her back.  The Talmerines have nothing to fear from Lucy until Aslan stands behind her.  And even then, they are foolish men.  They do not understand the power with which they’re dealing,  The same is true of us, most of the time.  In our self-centered arrogance, we fail to accurately assess either the power of God or the power of the enemy.  And we certainly forget that we are frail, weak, and helpless (as Jeff Donaldson, my pastor, has recently and correctly pointed out).

R.C. Sproul writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they’ve contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”

I’m okay with being really small as long as a really big God has my back.

You invite me in and delight me.

Psalm 23 again:  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  (Psalm 23:5)

Also, consider a conversation Jesus once had with Thomas, one of His disciples…

“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’  Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

So, Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us to be, which will be a great delight to us and to which we know the way.  Sign me up.  I think many people ask alongside Thomas, though, “How do I get to God?”  Jesus says, “You know the way, because you know me.  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  I’m so in.

You prepare me

God’s motivation for not leaving us the way we are (sanctification) is to prepare us to be with Him in heaven.  That’s what the “going to prepare a room for me” thing is about too.  If we feel like God’s actions don’t make sense sometimes, perhaps it’s because they don’t … from an earthly, worldly perspective.  God cares far less about our being suited to live in this world, concerning Himself with the far more beneficial (for us), far more glorious, far more significant assignment to make us ideally suited for eternal life with Him.

And protect me

God protects us from all manner of things, some we’re aware of and some we aren’t,  Every time we get in a car, we have one near death experience after another.  All the accidents we didn’t have are a gift from God.  Every illness we don’t get.  Every famine, earthquake or tidal wave we don’t experience.  These are all ways in which God’s hand is a protecting hand.

But more than that, God sends angels to battle for us spirtually.  God literally fights for us.  I love this Scripture from the book of Joshua, when he was leading the armies of Israel to take Jericho…

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’  ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’  Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him,  ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’  The commander of the LORD’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’”  (Joshua 5:13-15)

God is not tame or in any way under control, but He is good.  And He fights for those whose hearts are set on Him.

You correct my heart

As any good father would, God disciplines His children.  It’s easy for me to overlook rebellion and selfishness in my son John.  Much harder to discipline him.  But the discipline is much better for him, because it forms his life.  It’s much more loving to discipline.  It’s the selfish thing to overlook behaviour that hurts him and will hurt him even more in the long run.

The same is true of God.  From Proverbs…

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)

From Hebrews…

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our [imperfect earthly] fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but [our perfect Heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  (Hebrews 12:7-11)

As a legitimate child of God, I embrace God’s discipline as for my good from the heart of a loving Father.  I do not question the goodness of God in hardship, but rather admit and submit to the reality that God is wiser and far greater than I.  I trust Him, so therefore I don’t have to understand every circumstance of my life … even if it feel like I wouldn’t choose them for myself.  God is correcting my heart and perfecting me.

And perfect me

More preparation.  More sanctification.  More making me like Jesus.  I think I’m detecting a theme.

But let’s not let this concept fly by too quickly.  God takes the time and expends the effort to make us like Him.  Not only is it amazing that we’ll be perfect someday.  James says, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)  Pretty amazing to imagine my “not lacking anything”.  I’m all about being “mature and complete”.  The really cool part is that God too is all about this work.  I find this to be the ultimate in condescension, but in the very best way.

The goal of God’s discipline, as Hebrews clearly states, is my righteousness, perfection, sanctification.  Bring it on!  I want to be more like Jesus, and I understand it will cost me to get there.

You befriend me

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This is my command: Love each other.”  (John 15:13-17)

I have nothing to add to the beauty and power of this truth, directly quoted from God’s Word.

You defend me

In my mind, the same as “you’re behind me”.  Again, the image of Lucy and Aslan and the Talmarines comes to mind.

You are my Strength

We have very little strength of our own.  To effect earthly things, perhaps we have a little power or strength, but not much.  But to effect the things that really matter – heavenly and spiritual things – we have nothing apart from God.  The Bible paints the picture of vines and branches.  In the same way that branches have to remain in (connected to) the vines and root system on which they depend for life, so we also have to remain in (connected to) God for life.  Not just that God sustains the molecules and biochemical functions in our body or gives us the breath of life, but also in the sense of accomplishment or progress.  In order to accomplish anything of value, we must remain in Christ.

Here’s how Jesus said it…

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)

So, if we want to accomplish anything of significance in this world or the next, we’ll allow God to be our strength.  We’ll remain in Him.

I will fear no more

By this time, Andi’s song is in crescendo, and so is – I think – the meaning of the words.  I also find application of God’s truth to be the climax of preaching, Bible study, and music.  This final phrase in the bridge carries with it the highest call to commitment and personal application of the whole song.  If you really believe the rest of the song, then this line is absolutely right:  there is nothing to fear but God Himself.

If we know Jesus…

  • We don’t have to fear enemies – even spiritual enemies, because God surrounds and protects us.
  • We don’t have to fear being in need, because God sustains us.
  • We don’t have to fear being unloved – whether for regrets of the past or mistakes in the future, because God draws us near and embraces us.
  • We don’t have to fear the future – what unexpected hardships or difficulties or challenges life may bring us, because God goes before us and is behind us.
  • We don’t have to fear the afterlife, because God invites us in.
  • We don’t have to fear the unknown of heaven, because God has prepared a place for us to delights us.
  • We don’t have to fear the massive chasm between us (and our sin) and God (and His holiness), because God prepares us for heaven, corrects our hearts, and perfects us.
  • We don’t have to fear being alone, unimportant, broken, useless or anything else that emphasizes insignificance in this life, because God has called us “friends”.  To be a friend of God for all eternity … I mean, seriously, is there some higher goal to which you’re aspiring that you’d like to share with the class?
  • We don’t have to fear lacking the strength to accomplish the dreams God has placed in our hearts, because God is our strength.

So, let’s sum up…  Stop being afraid!  Of the future.  Of insignificance.  Of weakness.  Of hardship.  Of opposition.  If God is for you, who can stand against you?  If only we believed God’s promises the way Moses did:  “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  (Ex0dus 14:13)

I love it.  Let’s try to actually trust God like that, and treat Him as a strong fortress.  Let’s run in and find shelter, deliverance, and a whole new way of thinking in this life which will lead us to the next.

We don’t have to fear xxx, because God xxx us.

He is my Fortress July 8, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
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He is our Fortress

He is our Fortress

You may remember the post I made a while back about worship at Harvest.  I’m still listening to Andi Rozier’s “He is my Fortress” and Matt Westerholm / Lindsay McCaul’s “O Bless the Lord” pretty much every chance I get.  Both amazing songs, both with amazing lyrics and great music.

Anyway, I got the burr in my saddle to decompose one of them … specifically the bridge to “He is my Fortress”.

Here’s the whole song…yahoo_music_icon

When troubles come the Lord is near.
My cries resound within His ear.
His proven word has brought me light
and steadfast love, my pure delight.

He is my Fortress, I will not be shaken.
He is the hope of my eternal salvation.
No power can stand against the people that God defends.
I love You, O Lord, My Strength!

When sin attempts to overcome.
In weakness, Christ has made me strong.
Through blood my ransomed heart He sees,
And rescues me from enemies.

He is my Fortress, I will not be shaken.
He is the hope of my eternal salvation.
No power can stand against the people that God defends.
I love You, O Lord, My Strength!

You surround me and sustain me.
You draw me near and embrace me.
You’re before me and behind me.
You invite me in and delight me.
You prepare me and protect me.
You correct my heart and perfect me.
You befriend me, You defend me.
You are my Strength, I will fear no more.

He is my Fortress, I will not be shaken.
He is the hope of my eternal salvation
No power can stand against His love…

You are my Fortress, I will not be shaken.
You are the hope of my eternal salvation.
No power can stand against the people that God defends.
I love You, O Lord, My Strength!

And here’s the bridge with my added commentary…

First of all, God really can be the fortress into which Christians run – to be defended, surrounded, sustained, protected.  But most don’t.  Me neither, but I want to learn.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be deeply imbibed with self-indulence (which we call consumerism), selfishness (which we call independence), avoidance of personal responsibility (which we call rights), and unhealthy dependence (which we call social justice).  The sum of the whole thing is that even Christians (a group which is only a sliver of the size it claims to be – maybe 10% of those who say they’re Christians actually are) have no idea how to lay down our rights and our stuff, and run to God as a child would run to his father who loves him, protects him, and knows what’s best for him.

So, against that backdrop, here’s the bridge of Andi’s song … plus commentary from me …

You surround me

God is everywhere.  If hydrogen atoms in a distant galaxy rub up against each other, God is involved.  This is no more or less true of our lives.  The difference is that God actively comes to us.  Creation is the backdrop of His relationship with us.  All the universe.  Almost infinite vastness.  God has created all of it as an expression of His character and a container in which to relate to us.  He *pursues* us, moves toward us, surrounds us with love, mercy, provision, guidance, wisdom, amazing gifts.  So much more than we could ever ask for or imagine for ourselves in terms of useless worldly trinkets, God seeks to provide if we’ll let him.  C. S. Lewis was right: we are far too easily pleased with the trivia of our lives.

And sustain me

The Bible clearly states that “[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-17)

But as before, “people” and “the universe” are two different things.  God sustains us both, but approaches us not just intentionally but relationally to sustain us.  He provides for our needs, gives us gifts/skills, jobs, families, money, food, clothing.  Even the things we buy, we buy with money God gave us the skill to earn.  He works miracles to sustain our bodies physically not only through holding the electrons in place around the nuclei of atoms but through the miraculous gift of modern medicine.  We observe gravity, but what is gravity beyond the consistent faithful hand of God to keep the earth’s orbit stable around the sun so that the atmosphere is breathable, the rain comes, the plants grow, and we have food to eat?

You draw me near

God has ordered all of creation to speak for Him, worship Him, tell about Him.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  (Psalm 19:1-4)

All of creation worships God in our presence that we might be drawn to God and worship Him also … but better, more effectively … to fulfill the purpose for which we were made.  If we do not worship God, then the very stones God created would cry out (Luke 19:40) … to draw us near to God.

Not only the beautiful of creation (as the signature of an artist)… but God pursues us through His Word, by actively involving Himself in our lives.  Yes, at the molecular and biochemical level, but also emotionally.  He speaks to us through nature, but also through our consciences, by whispering in our hearts.  He demonstrates miracles before us … not just that the sun rises every day or flowers bloom or asteroids don’t pound the earth to oblivion on any given day, but also modern medicine, man’s creativity to build dams and cities and space stations.  It’s endless.  God is a pursuing lover, who woos us to draw us near.

And embrace me

More than drawing us near, God embraces us.  We are deeply loved by God.  More than protection or pointing us to Him (our most important relationship), God loves us.  “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:6-8)

So even though we reject God … blatantly, all the time … God loves us.  And not just a fair-weather, words-only love.  God sacrificed His Son out of His deep abiding love for us.  So, beyond creating us, he purchased us back from our sin as a great price.  To me, His love for us has become obvious.  I’m compelled to respond.

Alright, this entry has become huge.  I think I’ll save the other six phrases in the bridge for a second entry.

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