A Song For Those Believing While Suffering

I’ve been listening to this song by Strahan for quite some time now, but I haven’t been able to find a postable video of it until today. Turns out that video has the lyrics in Spanish, so bonus there for you Spanish speakers. For the rest of us I’ve got the original lyrics posted below as well. I resonate with the desperate and honest faith in this song. I hope it encourages you as you wait in the midst of suffering as it has encouraged me.

Your heart is sweet
My heart is stone
Your voice is quiet
My journey long

But I'm holding on to your endless love
Through all the foggy days
Through all the tears I've prayed
And I'm breaking through for one touch from you
And I am not afraid
I am not afraid

Your arms are wide
My hands are fold
Your table long
My chair is short

You love the poor
And I'm destitute
But my hope is strong
When my joy is you

And I'm holding on to the corner of your robe
Cause there a power there
Before the Gardener's throne
And when your mercy breaks through all reckless tears
And all depressions cease
I am not afraid

No I'm not afraid
I'm not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid

There's a beauty in our pain
Every night has a breaking day
We are coloured jars of clay
So carry on

There's a beauty in our pain
Every night has a breaking day
We are coloured jars of clay
So carry on

Carry on
Carry on

“Holding On” by Strahan

A Song for Struggling Saints

I love this song. I find it to be a good example of using holy imagination to explore true themes that resonate with Scripture and the experience of believers. In it the songwriters craft a fictional conversation between a struggling saint and Jesus. Notice the desperation of the saint, “the devil; Rides on my back every mile; And he won’t take his claws out of my skin; I’m sorry if I’m bleedin'” This broken saint is met by a laughing and welcoming savior, who engages him and then lavishes on him a tour of biblical history and the created universe. The song contains a promise that the struggling saint will be singing with Christ and the angels when “the army comes marching right down from the sky” and that “All of this is Mine! And yours too.” This saint is so beat up he is apologizing to Jesus for bleeding and doesn’t even know how to ask for help. But Christ laughs kindly because the the reality he knows is one in which this struggling saint is the heir of the universe. I love the line, “stuck our tongues out at the earth and slowed its rotation.” Ha! I guess that’s one way to demonstrate being a true heir of the world. The interwoven melody of the older song, “When the Saints Come Marching In,” is great as well. Lyrics below.

He said to me where is your halo
Where are your wings your black book bible
I’ve lost them all but you know it’s not your fault
He asked me how I said 'the devil
Rides on my back every mile
And he won’t take his claws out of my skin I’m sorry if I’m bleeding'

He bent down and wrote it in the sand
Made a wave and spelled it out in the ocean
Said we’ll be singing those angel hymns all together
When the army comes marching right down from the sky

'I can help' is what came from His mouth
I’d yell yes please but I’ve never spoken to the clouds
The weight it grows everyday ever hour second and eternity
He laughed out loud and asked me to explain
Forever, no-end, death, and being born again
If it’s the universe you want to see, come and take a walk with Me

I told myself son you better listen...

And we went into the garden and saw Adam die alone
Saw a baby in the water floating to a safer home
Saw the walls fall to the trumpeters then to Gilead we ran
By the time we made it to the top we were out of breath again
Then we stood on the moon, moved the craters to make faces
Stuck our tongues out at the earth then slowed it’s rotation
It was July in the winter before we moved it back to June
Passed the speed of sound, the speed of light and the speed of time too and he said,
'All of this is Mine, and yours too'

“Saints” by Poor Bishop Hooper

A Song For Mourning Turned to Gladness

“Gone are the Days” by the Gray Havens and Julie Odnoralov

I’ve posted the original version of this song in the past, but I really enjoy this remix as well. The lyrics look back, post-death, to the sufferings of this life and the new reality of sorrow turned to gladness.

It is a fitting song for today, when I get to attend a very special wedding. My mom, widowed twenty eight years, is getting remarried. Her new husband is himself a widower, and one of his daughters one of my classmates and friends from high school in Melanesia. As such, it is a very different kind of wedding, where everyone’s thoughts are not only on the bride and groom, but also on the parents and spouses who have departed and gone to be with Jesus. There has been great loss, but there is also new joy.

He makes all things new. This song, and this wedding, provide me glimpses of how he will do this for all eternity.

North Korea, Persecution, and Insider Movements

I listened to this podcast while driving to another city yesterday in order to attend a training. I thought it looked good. I had no idea just how good it would prove to be. Without exaggerating, this is one of the most thought-provoking, emboldening, and sobering things I have listened to all year.

Turns out the history of missions and the Church in Korea has a lot of lessons for those seeking to plant churches among unreached Muslim people groups today. James Cha, the man interviewed, himself draws these connections regarding compromise, persecution, and God’s purposes in even the worst kinds of suffering.

My American parents were supported by the second largest church in Korea when they went to the mission field in 1989. At that time, the pastor of that huge church told them that Koreans were not quite ready yet to send their own cross-cultural workers. But they were praying in order to get ready. Now, in 2021, they have over 16,000 foreign missionaries on the field. Listening to their spiritual heritage gives me a deeper appreciation for how God has worked to reach that nation, and how he is now using them to reach so many others. What a legacy. And what a tragedy considering the ongoing suffering of North Koreans. May God be merciful and grant the reunification of the North and South so long prayed for.

Could it be that my persecuted minority focus group might some day respond to the gospel and be a huge sending force like the Koreans are? May it be.

Listen to the podcast here.

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

A Song on the House of God

Sojourn Music has done it again. This is a song that celebrates what has been called The Great Reversal, how the kingdom of God lifts up those the world despises and brings them full and eternal restoration in God’s presence and house. These things are coming true, imperfectly though truly in this age, but wonderful and complete in the age to come.

Blessed are the ones who will eat the feast in the kingdom of God
Blessed are the blind that will finally see in the kingdom of God
Blessed are the poor, oppressed, and abused
Blessed are the weak, distressed, and accused
When you strike up the band...

“Your House” by Sojourn Music

A Song on Gloryland

We’ll need no sun in gloryland

The moon and stars won’t shine

For Christ himself is light up there

He reigns on love divine

Then weep not friends

I’m going home

Up there we’ll die no more

No coffins will be made up there

No graves on that bright shore

“Gloryland” by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys

I like the haunting beauty of this A Cappella bluegrass song. Bluegrass harmony is itself a lovely thing, but notice also the earthiness of the suffering mentioned in this song and how the theology of heaven provides strength to face death. Was there in previous ages of evangelicalism an underdeveloped understanding of salvation? Sure. Forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven were emphasized to the exclusion of the Spirit’s power for true life in this age and the ultimate hope of the new heavens and new earth. But I think we often underestimate how practical this focus on victory over death was for a humanity that simply faced death on a more constant basis.

My grandmother’s line were all Scotch-Irish stock who spent their lives in the mountains and coal mines of West Virginia. All the men were miners. And all died early of black lung. Infant mortality would have been exponentially higher than it is now. I suspect that if we feel any smug superiority to the bluegrass theology of the coal miners, that might also say something about how hard we in the West have tried to isolate ourselves from pain and death.

Eating Out With Your Kids When Hell is Real

Recently, the New York Times ran a piece on a famous pastor’s son who is now a vocal ex-vangelical and a rising Tiktok star. Many have commented on the story and it’s not my intention here to weigh in on this tragic situation. God is sovereign and I pray that this man will one day have his eyes truly opened, and not remain in the sad ranks of those who achieved fame by publicly maligning the faith their fathers preached.

But there was one comment of his quoted in the article that I have been chewing on. He says, “How are you going to take your family to Outback [Steakhouse] after church while millions of people are burning alive?”

It’s the sort of “gotcha” question meant to highlight the supposed absurdity of a literal hell. “See? You can’t live consistently with this belief. You are a hypocrite to go enjoy a meal at a restaurant if you really believe in eternal suffering in hell.”

My main response to this comment would be to point out that the Christian is not unusually hypocritical to live this way – pursuing occasional wholesome recreation while millions suffer. The entire world lives this way every day. There is in fact no other way to live, in the actual sense of the word.

The fact is that this world is full of a million previews of a literal hell. Genocide. Starvation. Sexual abuse. Natural Disasters. Political violence. Abortion. Racist violence. Disease. War. Millions are suffering even as I write this and sit on my couch with a good cup of coffee. Millions are dying even as you read this line. Untold depths of anguish are taking place in the seconds it takes to verbalize the unbeliever’s “gotcha” question above.

There may be seasons of our lives where we try to alleviate the suffering of this world through burning ourselves out in a frenetic effort to rescue the suffering. Many experience a season like this in the university years. But if we are not careful, this can be the road to a kind of insanity. The weight of the suffering (and the indifference) can crush our hearts, minds, and bodies and we can end up broken, naked, and pounding the cement outside our house until we are arrested – as happened a few years ago with the founder of an American humanitarian movement that worked with African child soldiers.

We are not made to bear the suffering of the world on our shoulders. Only God can do that. We are made to respond compassionately to the suffering that God has brought into our own sphere of influence. And we are made to live whole lives. To not just respond to suffering, but to eat, to sleep, to laugh, to plant, to nurture, to work, to worship, and to recreate in all of its best forms. Those who neglect these things soon experience the cost of doing so on many levels. As one book puts it, the body keeps the score. As does the soul.

Even unbelievers find themselves living normal lives in the face of incredible contemporary suffering. But how how can they _____ when millions of Uighurs are living in concentration camps? What about the street children of Africa? Those trapped in sex slavery in South Asia? The widespread practice of honor killings and female circumcision in Central Asia? How can they just grab coffee with a friend, go to the gym, walk their dog, call their mom, or sit in that staff meeting in the face of such suffering?

The answer, even for unbelievers, is that the real presence of suffering doesn’t nullify our responsibility to live whole lives. We must somehow find a way to live healthy lives and to respond to the tragedy of human suffering. If we sacrifice wise living for the sake of alleviating others’ suffering, we will soon find that we are only adding to the suffering of this world, as our own lives and families fall apart. The only appropriate response to the ever-present suffering of this world must be a sustainable one. Responding to suffering cannot mean a continual neglect of what it means to be a human truly alive. If this is so for this world, then why would it not be so for the next?

This is not a question unique for Christians who believe in a literal hell. This is something we all must struggle with. The difference is that believers have a powerful source for living lives of sustainable sacrifice. Our God entered into our suffering, sacrificed himself, conquered suffering and death, and now indwells us. He gives us depths of compassion and love for the suffering we wouldn’t naturally have. And he is utterly sovereign, meaning we can trust him with the weight of the suffering we are unable to alleviate. I am thus empowered and freed to respond to human suffering and to take my kids out to eat after church. These things are not opposed to each other.

Life, real life, full of friendship and joy and echoes of Eden – this in the end is the most powerful way to heal this broken world. So, let’s love the suffering. By not neglecting to occasionally eat steak with the kids.

Photo by Hanxiao on Unsplash

A Song On Heaven’s Silence

“Shasta’s Complaint” by Sarah Sparks

This song by Sarah Sparks uses Shasta’s story from The Horse and His Boy to explore the Christian’s experience of heaven’s silence. I have certainly had seasons where God seems silent – at the very moment when I felt I most needed a clear word. “Where were you, God, when I was alone and desperately needing your presence?”

Waves that beat upon the shore
They brought no peace
Somewhere else I must belong
Somewhere for me
Who was it left me there 
A boy scared and alone
No, I don't think you heard me calling
Always thought he must not know
Surely he would never leave me
Wouldn't leave me here alone

You tell me now that I was never on my own
Well pardon me, I don't remember you at all
'Cause with my back against the tomb I called you out
But I don't think I heard your answer, 
I don't think I heard a sound
I don't recall you in my anger
Or remember you around

Ouch. A part of me deeply resonates with this complaint. But the answer, in Job-like style, cuts even deeper.

But he answered, Who are you to question me?
Do you command the mountains or calm the raging sea?
For I am the current there to save your life
A man man may find his eye deceiving 
A fool holds on to trust his sight
A wise man knows that his own feeling may not with the truth align

Did you think that you had never seen my face?
But every moment you're alive you know my grace
For only death in this whole world is justly deserved
And you say that I never answered
Just because you have not heard
But you don't know yet how to listen 
Or to understand my words. 

My love, I care for you
I was the comfort you felt in the house of the dead
I drove from you beasts in the night
All of this I have done while you slept
All by my design
Every chapter and every word, I've written every line...

The experience of heaven’s silence is a real and painful one. It is mysterious and worthy of some sober lament. Yet how often have we not heard God because we have not yet truly learned how to listen? I know I have at times demanded a certain kind of narrow communication from God. But why should I limit him in this way? Or how many times have I conflated my feelings of God’s presence with the truth of it?

There is some real wisdom in this song that echoes a biblical theology of suffering and God’s care for his children. Plus, I love the banjo and harmonica, especially how they come in at 3:22. As such, I commend it to your playlists.

A Song On A Death Too Weak

Lament and defiance in the same song. For Christians addressing the death of Christ – and our own deaths – this is a good posture. Make sure to listen until the build at 2:52. Powerful stuff.

Go on brothers lay him down
Go on brothers lay him down
Wrap his body with a clean white shroud 
Roll that stone leave him in the ground
Go on brothers lay him down

Go on sisters cry for him
Go on sisters cry for him
But wipe your eyes and dry your skin
The crying will be done in three mornings
Go on sisters cry for him

Hold on children wait and see
Hold on children wait and see
The death that’s come is a death too weak
Can’t take my Jesus can’t take my king
So hold on children wait and see

Oh glory glory won’t you come for me
Glory glory won’t you come for me
I know your slumber is a momentary sleep
I feel you rising up from the deep
Oh glory glory you will come for me

“Jesus is Laid in the Tomb” by Poor Bishop Hooper