…now immediately disregard the innuendo there.
As I sit in our cabin here in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee with my wife (my wife!) taking a nap in the bed, a great thunderstorm going on overhead, and the lasagna cooking in the oven, my thoughts have drifted a bit to the wedding ceremony the other day.
Bethany and I, with all of our hearts, wanted the ceremony to be something that was both a public profession of our lifetime covenant with one another and a much bigger thing, a gathering of public worship that pointed far beyond us to the God we serve. The gears for this intent started moving as we began talking about getting married about a year ago and kicked into high gear in a conversation with my good friend Dustin around the same time. Dustin told me, “Our wedding was a great day, but I wish we had done more to make our ceremony more worshipful, more distinct, than we did.” (I’m paraphrasing here, so Dustin, correct me when you read this). And since a major part of wisdom is submitting to the words and experience of others surrounding us, I listened to Dustin and considered his words.
I’ve been a part of multiple “Christian” weddings, even ones where couples went out of their way to seek to make the ceremony worshipful, but I’ve often left thinking the ceremony said more about the couple than about the living God we serve and the life He has called us to. Because marriage always takes place in a context, right? And when we celebrate this public profession of a lifetime covenant, when we are united by God in a bond that no human should dare shatter or take for granted, when the wedding ceremony has Scriptural language and song, all of these things are meant to say to the world, “If we have all this “God” language in our formal marriage rites, then this marriage ceremony and marriage itself shouldn’t be inwardly-focused or couple-focused, but God-focused, and by extension, God’s community-focused.” The integrity of a Christian marriage (or lack thereof) speaks to the integrity of God’s church (or lack thereof). And when God’s church builds in integrity, God’s name is glorified in a way that transforms the world in a very small, yet transcendent way. It draws us out of our cultural understandings of marriage and into a deeper, more abiding purpose and meaning for marriage. This is a tall order to live into, but I intend to step back and take account of myself at important points along the way and ask some hard questions about how I’m doing as a husband and a man.
As I consider how the ceremony pointed beyond us, I’d like to post a couple of the elements of the worship gathering from Saturday over the next several days. As always, I welcome feedback. I think a worthy element to kick off the ceremony thoughts is one of the songs we chose to sing, In Christ Alone. Not only is the song beautiful in sound, but it is powerful in lyrics as well; a great foundational song for consideration of where our focus should be directed as his disciples. Because it is powerful in this way, Bethany and I wrote a blurb on the back of the sheet explaining why we chose the song. The following is what we wrote;
Why did we choose In Christ Alone?
That’s an interesting question, and a good one. Nate’s mom used to tell him of the GIGO principle with music and books and other things. GIGO stands for “Garbage-in, garbage-out;” the basic understanding being that what we spend our time listening to, reading, or talking about takes root somewhere deep inside us and eventually comes out. Very simply, what we surround ourselves with and pursue after becomes us. To be specific and honest, much of what passes for “Christian music” today has little to no Scriptural rooting. The lyrics often reflect an understanding of faith where faithfulness is expressed through the “good” things God can give us in life; good feelings from certain songs, lack of disease, a stable home life, a good job, etc. We think this is a terrible mistake.
One of the central confessions of the Scriptures is that God really doesn’t owe us anything. The ones in the positions of owing a deep debt? That’s us. The Scriptures speak of the initial disobedience of Adam and Eve, with the rest of the Bible as a testament to the patience of our Creator who continually, patiently, calls people out of their pagan societies and into a life of joyful obedience. The problem there, of course, is our deep selfishness and lack of desire to seek that life God extends; even though we were created for it. So we keep turning back to the ways that seem to come natural to us, yet they only seem natural to us because we have this deep-rooted desire to make life what we want; we show it in our relationships, and our society displays it in a million different ways every day. In a weird plot twist, those called “Christians” buy into that message and let our goals and lives be defined by that self-centered approach. And as is said above, even what people call “Christian” music has varying elements of this self-centered desire within it.
What is the image that this song portrays though? It is the image of a God who rescues us in Jesus, who humbled himself by entering the world as a child, who taught a way of life that seemed unnatural to the “faithful people” of his day (there’s that selfishness rearing its head again!), and who allowed himself to be crushed by all that stood in opposition to Him. And a terrible time of darkness followed. Is this all that truth can offer? A way of life that ultimately is crushed by everything standing against it? Can we just settle for loving people to a point or seeking truth until it threatens our comfort? Then the lyrics come that give us chills and hope; ‘Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again! And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me… No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand.’This is good news!!! Though the truth seems strange, though the way of life Jesus taught us seems foolish, though light seems to be swallowed immediately in the darkness of this world, we have been set free to live this way no matter what happens to us in this life. Why? What can anyone do to us? The same God who conquered the grave has set us free from the fear of death. They may oppose us, but we the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted…God will vindicate our way of life. So we trust In Christ Alone.