DiM | “To Live Is Christ” by Sidewalk Prophets

Presentation1CCM Edition.

August 30, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “To Live Is Christ” by Sidewalk Prophets which currently sits at #4 on KLove’s Top 10 Songs.

This song is built around a line in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. What I really like about this song is that it reminded me of this passage of scripture. What bothers me is that it spends all of its time in lofty hypothetical narrative rather than tease out what Paul was saying in his letter. So this song could have been awesome. As it stands, I think it’s only as useful as its hearer is familiar with the first chapter of Philippians. So, we’ll dive into the text so that from here on out whenever you hear this song play on the radio, you should be all set to meditate on God’s Word directly, rather than the disjointed, vague (and slightly mystical) lines of this song.


Official Audio


Lyrics (via KLove)

If I rise, let me rise on You
Not on all my successes
My esteem or my pursuits
If I lose, let me lose my life
Cause if I belong to Jesus
The flesh is crucified

For me to live is Christ
For me to live is Christ
For me to live is Christ
To die is gain

If I grow, let me grow in You
Wilt the seeds of wanting more
Ripping pride out by the roots
If I’m still, let me hear You speak
Not the tone of my transgressions
But the song of the redeemed


My great desire is to be with You
But this is the place You chose for me
This is the place You chose for me
To lift my cross and give everything
This is the time You gave to me
This is the time You gave to me


I’ll never be the same
I’ll never be the same
For me to live is Christ
To die is gain

© 2015 Dayspring Music Publishing, LLC, Run Run Milo, Pencil Prophet Publishing (BMI) / Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Not Just Another Song Publishing (SESAC) (All rights on behalf of itself and Not Just Another Song Publishing adm. by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
Written by: Ben McDonald / Dave Frey / Casey Brown / Jonathan Smith


Verse 1. The first verse is vague. There is no clear doctrine being described or supported here, just lofty hypothetical, which serves a form of verbal piety, but doesn’t seem to have an anchor. The closest we get to a Gospel nugget is the line Cause if I belong to Jesus, but it’s in the hypothetical. What does it mean to belong to Jesus? You need to rightly understand the answer to that question for this to serve any comfort. There is a connection being made to having the flesh crucified, but there’s not real meaning and there is no clear order of statements or anchor for faith so what might be presented for the assurance of salvation may also be turned as a weapon of doubt. If I point you to the Word of God and the waters of your Baptism, your assurance is in the fact that God’s Word has declared  you washed, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit with the Promise of Salvation to be revealed at the Last Day. I realize there is no way to say all of that in a single verse of this song, I’m just being thorough for the purpose of this medium. The lines in the song don’t present a clear anchor in baptism, or in the Promise of Salvation through Faith in God’s Word, none of that. It’s merely a hanging “if”. Now, for those of you fully assured of your salvation, you might take the next line as encouragement… until the next time you are convicted of sin and have to ask the other side of this if. There’s the doubt that needs an object of faith that lies external to ourselves, a faith on the external Word of God, not our own “perfection”. There are concerns present in most evangelical songs, the concern of where vaguely alluding to the Gospel in some way might go wonky, so that rather than lead the hearer to Christ, it simply points the hearer to himself and his emotions and abilities. Granted, lines 2+3 seem to downplay the importance of our own abilities, but only hypothetically. The song isn’t saying my actions have no value, he’s saying “let me be lifted up by You not by my successes, my esteem, or pursuits”. What does that mean? The listener has nearly free rein to give those lines meaning, which is a weakness, not a strength with regards to communicating Truth.

While we’ve looked only at concerns in some of the wording, overall the first verse is disjointed from the passage in Philippians being invoked by the chorus. The hypotheticals in the first verse are not connected to the context of Philippians.

Chorus. For me to live is Christ, To die is gain. I’m not sure the repetition here is helpful. However, this line comes from the opening chapter in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the saints in Philipi. So let’s look at that chapter and focus on it before continuing through the song.

Philippians 1 (ESV)

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3-11 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi, all the saints with the overseers and deacons. There is a bad habit in popular evangelicalism to read scripture through our American hyper-individualism. While we do have individual responsibilities within the Body of Christ, these Epistles are primarily written to the Body of Christ, not just the hands or the feet. We are all connected by the body and blood of Christ, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is how Paul is talking to this church body, their partnership in the gospel, they are all partakers with Paul in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. We are all one body, united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

12-14 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Here, Paul is instructing the church in how to properly view the trials of this life through the lens of the Gospel. This isn’t prosperity teaching nor is it some obnoxious “power of positive confession” nonsense, this is faith in the Gospel framing a proper worldview. Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ and for the sake of His Gospel. Paul is encouraging the Philippians in this Truth.

15-26 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

So, the first part of this section is often misused to silence any who would rebuke false teachers or seek to mark them publicly. I’ve highlighted the important phrases which highlight the key to rightly understanding the left and right limits of Paul’s statement here. Christ is being preached, Christ is being proclaimed. As long as Christ is being preached, Paul doesn’t care if those doing so are harboring some sort of ill will toward Paul, personally. It’s like saying, “yeah, I know that guy doesn’t like me, my personality, or the way I talk… but he is preaching and proclaiming Christ (rightly, is implied) so I can rejoice in the preaching of Christ and I don’t care that he’s doing it to spite me or anything”. Whenever Christ isn’t being preached rightly, Paul isn’t rejoicing in that nonsense… he’s quite aggressive, just read the letter to Galatians.

Now, noticed the line in the middle of the above passage which is where the chorus of the song is pulled. Paul goes on to explain what he means. He’s in prison, and is legitimately torn between wanting to be put to death so that he can be with Christ, but also wanting to remain so that he might be able to visit the church in Phillipi to encourage them in the LORD. He has even come to the conclusion that since his continued presence on this earth will serve the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he’s certain he will not die in prison at this time. This is why I consider the first verse to be disjointed from this context. Could it be forced into this context? Possibly by hyper spiritualizing some of the words, but that’s doing a lot of manipulation of meaning by the listener not a natural flow of communication from the songwriter. Let’s close out the chapter and move on to the rest of the song.

27-30 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

This encouragement is to the plural “you”, all the saints in Phillipi with their overseers and deacons. Is Paul saying each and every person will be put in jail? Not necessarily, but he is saying that the church body will suffer, and a body that is united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ will share in that suffering as one body, not a loose collection of individuals.

Verse 2. I really don’t like this verse at all. It seems to be dancing around the primary fruit of the Christian Life, repentance. How does God rip out pride from us by the roots? God the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin through the preaching of the Law. How does God wilt the seeds of greed? God the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin through the preaching of the Law. How do we tone down the sound of our transgressions? Believe in the Word of God, Repent, and Be forgiven in Jesus’ Name. Those who have been Redeemed by the Grace of God through Faith in Jesus Christ sing the song of the Redeemed. How does God speak to us? Through His Written Word, not through mysticism (silent prayer, visions, goosebumps, dreams, omens, divination, horoscopes, astrology, numerology, etc). Can God speak to us directly?  Yes. Is that where God promised to meet us (direct revelation)? No. He has promised to be found in His Word, so that is where we ought always to seek Him.

Verse 3 / Bridge. Now this verse/bridge seems properly tied to the Chorus and to our Philippians text. So, I like it. It’s still vague and open-ended, but in a useful way because there is no mysticism or vaulty hypothetical… it’s left open-ended a bit so that we who are in Christ can claim this Gospel mindset for ourselves. We, the Church, are exactly where God has placed us, and that as long as we live we have an opportunity to be partakers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the preaching and enduring persecution for the sake of the Gospel.


If we can focus on the instruction of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1, we can rightly enjoy the chorus and the bridge (or last verse) of this song. The other two verses are throw-away verses, really. So this song lands in the upper level of the middle-ground. Please remember that the final disposition of the song (Approved/Disapproved) is not the main focus of these DiM posts, the point is to go through the exercise of evaluating the lyric of what is being put forward as “Christian” music. We are looking for proclamation of Christ in all that bears the label “Christian”. When we find it, we rejoice. When we don’t, we lament.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV) Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Your Words (feat. Harvest)” by Third Day

Presentation1CCM Radio Edition.

January 19, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Your Words (feat. Harvest)” by Third Day which currently sits at #13 on 20thCountdownMagazine‘s top 20 chart.

I find myself somewhat disappointed with this song, though it isn’t a bad song. When I saw the title of the song and that the song was from a “worship” album, I hoped for more meat in the lyric. I appreciate the general call to listen to the Words of God, but find the lack of definition or even application to be a disappointment. The value of this song hinges upon the understanding of what it means to “listen to and speak God’s Words”. The song doesn’t point to God’s Written Word. I have a problem with that.

Third Day Lyric Video


Lyrics (via KLove)

Your Words

Above all other voices
Above all the distractions in this world

Let me hear Your words
Above all other voices
Above all the distractions in this world

For Your words bring life
And Your voice speaks promises Lord,
Your love offers more
Than anything else in this world

Your words give us life that’s never ending
Your words bring us love that never fails
Everything else will fade away
But what will remain
Are Your words

Let us speak Your words
More than ours, more than ever
Let us share Your love with all the world

The grass will wither and the flowers will fall
But the word of our God will last forever
The grass will wither and the flowers will fall
But the word of our God will last forever

Publishing: © 2015 DATAMAMA Music (ASCAP)
(admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Writer(s): Mac Powell, Tai Anderson, Mark Lee, David Carr


Okay, so if we come into this song with the clear understanding that “Your Word” is pointing directly at the Written Word of God, given to us by God the Holy Spirit, then the song is not bad. The song points us to reading and studying God’s Written Word, it might even encourage Pastors that the reason we come to church isn’t to hear his creative speeches or anecdotes; rather, we come to hear God’s Word faithfully preached. That is how we hear God’s Words, when they are being preached or read aloud. But that understanding of Your Words has to be imported into the song.

The song becomes instantly problematic once the listener is under the impression that God is speaking fresh words that we are somehow supposed to figure out how to dial into to hear them, or worse, that we need to seek out prophets and apostles to tell us what the Lord is saying for us today. The Bible doesn’t promise us we will hear direct revelations from God in any sort of audible voice, still small voice or thunderous booming from a mountain top. That is simply not what the Bible teaches. There are no more apostles, that office is closed, the foundation of the Church has already been laid with Christ as its cornerstone, and we have the testimony of the Apostles recorded for us in Scripture. God-breathed Scripture. Any so-called fresh word from God must be taken to Scripture to see if it is indeed from God the Holy Spirit… and if it is, then it would be good and it pointed us back to Scripture which is where Christ has revealed Himself to us anyway.

What I find most frustrating, is that this song, written for a worship album, squanders an opportunity to actually preach the Word of God. I mean, we’ve already pointed out that it doesn’t point to the Written Word of God, but why not connect what Scripture says about Jesus Christ being the Word made flesh?

John 1:1-18 (ESV) | The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

There’s plenty of scripture to connected these doctrinal points, such that singing this song might do more than simply extol the virtues of hearing and speaking God’s Word.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV) | The Supremacy of God’s Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Singing this song, encouraging ourselves and others to desire to hear and speak God’s Words is much like singing a song that uses the word “Gospel” a lot in it without actually sharing the Good News of the Gospel. There is so little scripture in this song, just a vague praise of the Goodness of God’s Words.


We need God’s Word in our hearts, in our minds, and without hearing the Words of Christ there is no hope of saving faith, for faith comes by hearing the Words of Christ. Saying the word “gospel” isn’t the same thing as actually sharing the Gospel, and singing a song that says we should long for God’s Words and how important it is to have God’s Words doesn’t actually accomplish the goal of hearing God’s Word or Preaching it. I think this song was a huge missed opportunity, lyrically. Point the listener to the Written word, or the Preached Word, but don’t leave such open space in the lyric for false teachers, false prophets, and false apostles to step in and supplant the Word of God for their own dreams, imaginations, and machinations.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV) | Preach the Word

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In Christ Jesus,


CTT | Considering the Nativity Scene

We decorated our front yard this weekend, complete with 2 displays, some ninja-bread men fighting and a nativity scene that only has Mary, Joseph, and a baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. We visited an Evangelical church on Sunday morning that was working through a video series in their adult Sunday school class. As I wrestled to fall asleep last night, several questions were tumbling around in my mind… one of which was, “Why do we tell/portray the story of Christ’s birth the way we do?” We will be talking about the setting of the nativity, but we won’t be covering the time/season of year in this post.

Relevant Texts

The birth of Jesus is specifically addressed in only two of the four Gospels. Let’s look at what Matthew recorded in his account.

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV) | The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV) | The Visit of the Wise Men

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Okay, so we have the Matthew text, and I included some extra narrative cover the time spent in Bethlehem. If you’ll remember from our Gospel Wednesday series working through the Gospel According to Matthew, this account was written for a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew focused primarily on the fulfillment of prophecy in his record of Christ’s birth. The visitation of the magi is a reflection of this, particularly in what took place between them and Herod. If we were trying to condense the Matthew account into a nativity scene, we’d have Joseph, Mary, an infant (but not necessarily newborn) Jesus in a house, with a star overhead and the magi visiting.

Luke sought to maintain a detailed record of events that took place. Let’s go to his account of Christ’s Birth.

Luke 2:1-7 (ESV) | The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Okay, so most of what we see in our modern-day nativity scenes and reenactments come from the Gospel According to Luke. There are a few things to address in this first portion. Firstly, why is it that we always see Joseph leading a donkey with Mary riding fully pregnant and ready to give birth at any minute? Why do we see Joseph knocking on the door of an inn (ala Holiday Inn Express) hoping to get a room? Why is it whenever we refer to the nativity scene as “the manger” we include some rickety, airy, shack in the definition? Well, these and many other images are read into the text… and what gets imported isn’t necessarily 21st century, but a lot of it is what we think might have been based on what we imagine “the dark ages” would have been like… because that’s as far back as many of us tend to imagine. That’s sloppy. In fact the eisegesis ends up overlooking details found in the text.

  • Joseph wasn’t taking Mary on a honeymoon to some exotic location to hide the questionable pregnancy. Joseph was going to his own town to register himself and Mary. Why Bethlehem? As far as Joseph was concerned, because that’s the home of his extended family, the house of David. God chose Mary and Joseph at this time for this place because He decreed it would be so. Bethlehem is some 70 miles away from Nazareth. It is unlikely they made that trip alone, especially given the reason for the trip… a census. There is no reason to think that Joseph and Mary (each of the house of David) independently moved to Nazareth, found each other, then had to return on their own to Bethlehem. That’s a modern (Western individualism) paradigm. Sure, they may have been somewhat detached from their group, but they would not have been all alone. It is unreasonable to assume they would have been checking into some inn as strangers for an undetermined length of time of the census, especially since they were poor (we’ll see below). People tend to make it a one-night thing by suggesting that Mary had the baby as they entered into Bethlehem, found no vacancy at the Holiday Inn Express, and took shelter in a barn… because, that’s how farming and livestock was done in the first century, right? The Holiday Inn Express needed a place to park all of the livestock people traveled with, right? No, and no.
  • The registry for a census wasn’t the quick and simple thing we think of it today. Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem for a while. Notice Luke’s wording, “while they were there”… so we really… really need to dispense with the image of Mary going into labor the moment Joseph gets turned away from the Holiday Inn Express.
  • Let’s look at the word being translated “inn” in verse 7.  κατάλυμα (kä-tä’-lü-mä) is translated inn, here… which is a correct translation for its day, but we modern-folk have professionalized the concept of an Inn (hence my constant reference to Holiday Inn Express). The inn in this time period is the guest room. The word is used by Luke later in his gospel account, and by Mark in the parallel account. Let’s look at those cases:
    • Luke 22:7-13 (ESV) | The Passover with the Disciples
      Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

    • Mark 14:12-16 (ESV) | The Passover with the Disciples
      12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him,14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

  • Sometimes we refer to the manger as the entire shack/barn, and sometimes we point to a crib-like structure made just for a newborn baby. The manger was a trough for dry feed for livestock. In some homes where a donkey or goats were vital for livelihood, the common area of the house would have a section where the animals were brought in at night for security and warmth. Such a setup would have included a manger for dry feed. Each morning the animals would be let out and the area cleaned. Remember, the inn is the upper room away from the area where the animals would have slept. If the family home where Mary and Joseph stayed was crowded, there’s no reason to insist the livestock would have been inside with everyone for the birth, especially since Jesus was laid in the manger, the place where the animals would have been looking for food. Let’s see where Luke used the word for manger (φάτνη) in a context besides the birth of Christ.
    • Luke 13:10-17 (ESV) | A Woman with a Disabling Spirit
      10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

  • Okay, so for a final thought on this is that not all of the house may have been under a roof. Some archaeological dig sites of first century homes suggest that the house may have had an uncovered courtyard area in the common area, still protected by the front door. Then one would go into the upper room (inn) for sleeping or make use of the common area below for work/chores. This is particularly relevant for what happens next in our Luke text.

Luke 2:8-21 (ESV) | The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

I have no doubt that these shepherds were there that same night. Who were the “all who heard it” mentioned? My first answer would be to point at all of the people occupying the Inn. How many people depends entirely upon which house in which they were staying. There was an audience. Luke interviewed eye witnesses. Now, I highlighted the circumcision and the naming of Jesus here for two reasons, first because I’ve heard many teach the next portion as if Joseph and Mary would have taken Jesus into the Temple for the circumcision. There’s no reason to make that assumption, and there’s a very good reason why that couldn’t be the case. Secondly, I wanted to line up this text with the Matthew text. Matthew skipped over the details of the night of Christ’s birth and went straight to the naming (which happens on the day of circumcision). I believe this next portion to take place before the visit of the magi.

Luke 2:22-38 (ESV) | Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

After giving birth to Jesus, Mary was ceremonially unclean for 40 days. The circumcision and naming took place on the 8th day, and once the required time of purification of Mary was complete, the family went to the Temple to offer the sacrifice required for redeeming the first-born. Joseph and Mary are poor and the Law of Moses made provision for a less expensive sacrifice for those too poor to offer the lamb… that’s the significance of the 2 pigeons being offered. I believe the visit of the Magi to have happened sometime close to this trip to the Temple, for if the magi had come much later, Herod would have been alerted to the rumors before the Magi came, and if they had come too early, Herod’s search would have found them before the time of purification was complete. In this as in all other things, God is Sovereign and His timing is perfect.

Luke 2:39-40 (ESV) | The Return to Nazareth

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Looking back to our Matthew text, they left from Bethlehem to Egypt… and once Herod was dead, they returned to Nazareth of Galilee. Nazareth is north of Bethlehem, so they might have passed through, but I’m thinking they probably avoided the area. It makes sense that Luke would skip over this portion, as this flight into Egypt was secretive, inspired of the LORD, and Matthew had already covered it. So Luke picks up the narrative from here on out following Jesus out of Galilee.


We need to return to the text of the Scriptures when we seek to share the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So many times I hear a preacher lament how “we’ve all heard this story many times before” and urge his listeners to “approach the birth of Jesus with awe and wonder and thanksgiving”… only to then summarize most of the details in keeping with our modern interpretations rather than pay close attention to the passages. It is very frustrating, doubly so when churches keep playing movies that further reinforce bad eisegesis of the events that took place. Please stop with the Holiday Inn Express narrative, that wasn’t what happened. No, Mary and Joseph were not refugees in Bethlehem the night of Christ’s birth, they were most likely with family. The refugee argument fits the flight into Egypt, but that was God’s intervention and fulfillment of prophecy. The magi visited a house, the shepherds probably also visited a house, though this house may have had a small, uncovered, courtyard for the shepherds to assemble on that first night. Is it a sin to simply continue with the commercialized depiction of the Nativity Scene? I can’t say for you, pray about it. I will say that whenever it comes to teaching about the events of that night, keep with the text. Teach what the Scripture says first.

Jude 24-25 (ESV) | Doxology

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Real” by Nichole Nordeman

disapproveToday we are doing a Christmas Edition of “Discernment in Music” (DiM), here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)). I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’d be addressing CCM radio stations’ treatment of the Gospel during this Christmas season, but I got distracted by this song so we’ll push that discussing back a bit.

December 3, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at a contemporary Christmas song by Nichole Nordeman called “Real”. This song is beautifully sung… and poetically written. It stands apart from most of the holiday sugar-pop that plays in shopping malls and diners… this song attempts to look beyond the commercialism and the hype to the “real meaning of Christmas”. How does it fare? I find myself in a quandary, on the one hand we need a lot more serious Christmas songs; on the other hand, we need Christmas songs that proclaim the Truth, not some fanciful re-envisioned version of history shaped to tug on our heart-strings.

The story of Jesus’ Birth is real. There were witnesses. We have the history recorded in Scripture. You don’t have to imagine the facts, you just have to read and believe them. There are cases where our imagination can help us understand the facts, but our imagination doesn’t get to rewrite them. If you are caught up in the false spirit of Christmas, and this song helped wake you up, Praise the Lord… but don’t stop there… read the real account, recorded in Luke 1-2 & Matthew 1-2.

Nichole Nordeman VEVO Video

“A Walk One Winter Night” by Al Andrews

I shared the second video because it was credited as the inspiration for Nichole Nordeman’s song “Real”. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to my readers, that I object to the premise of this song. I find it odd, even frustrating, that a song purporting to correct the listener’s misconceptions of Mary, or the night of Jesus’ birth would be inspired by a work of fiction, itself also containing some misconceptions of the manger, the “inn”, and those who were present on that night. Do we really need to turn to works of fiction to realize the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that where we are as a Church today? For the vast majority of Western Evangelicalism… the answer is “yes”. Pulpits are replaced by performance stages, and Pastors no longer preach the Word of God, they preach their own ideas, their own fantasies, their own fiction… and people flock to them, because their fiction is so “relevant” to them, so “real”. We’ve traded what is REAL for what we want to hear. 

Lyrics (via MetroLyrics)


Frozen statues in the cold
Washed in moonlight, blue and gold
Mary’s babe in plastic hay
Quiet wonder on her face
Mary you look so serene
Far too pretty, much too clean
We might think we know you well
But what stories would you tell?
Of all the dirt and dust and shame
Everybody burning labour pain

And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don’t turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this
To be real

Shepherds bending to the ground
Bethlehem is safe and sound
Joseph you look brave and true
Do we know what it was like to be you
How many sleepless nights awake
Found you desperate and afraid

And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don’t turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this
To love like you don’t even care about the hurry and the hustle
Like you are unaware December comes with so much trouble
‘Cause you believe a baby came, not in paintings or in plays
But every minute, every hour, every day
To be real, real

You are real, real

Show us what it means to love like this
To be real
To be real

More than a memory
More than a story

Read more: Nichole Nordeman – Real Lyrics | MetroLyrics


Both the book and the song it inspired engage in mystical fiction. Statues don’t talk and Mary and Joseph are not speaking to anyone today, much less for direct revelation. Evangelicalism is awash in mysticism today, so I feel it necessary to point this fact out explicitly.

Once we get past the feel-good revelation of, “hey, this isn’t just a holiday with lawn decorations, this is about a real story that took place”… the songs lyrics have some troubling elements. Why is Mary begging to be real to the observer? Mary is begging to be real to the observer in exchange for her demonstrating to the observer what it means to love like this. So, Mary wants to be real so that she can demonstrate her love. Mary is pointing to Mary? No. Mary would be pointing to Jesus. We don’t need Mary as an intermediary to Jesus. Mary isn’t the point of the story, Jesus is.

There are some details in the song that are good and even interesting to ponder, like what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have been visited by the shepherds, and their story of seeing the angelic host. I’m sure Mary and Joseph had many a sleepless night, as with any first-time parents in the first century.


The key to not letting the Gospel fade into memory or myth, is to have it preached from the Word of God on a regular basis. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, not by having your heartstrings plucked by some work of fiction. Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Jesus took on the form of man for one reason, to live a life we couldn’t live and pay a price we couldn’t pay so that we can have a forgiveness we don’t deserve.  That’s the Grace of God found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (ESV)

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Be One” by Natalie Grant

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

December 01, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Be One” by Natalie Grant which currently sits at #15 on the 20theCountdownMagazine.

While we kept this song in the “middle ground” today, it could just as easily have earned a disapproval. The Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) Industry is very excited about Natalie Grant’s new album. Releasing this single just before the Christmas season is a smart marketing move. She’s been on morning talk shows and performed this first single a few times on TV (I saw the one on Fox and Friends). It’s a Law-heavy song urging the listener to good works. For any good to come from this song, we must do the work of reminding ourselves and others of the Gospel and Christ’s work in us that produces good works the song is calling for, and we also need to address some of the wording. I simply ask you , the reader/listener, to do the work of a Berean in this case and decide for yourselves.

Natlie Grant Official Lyric Video

Lyrics (via KLove)

Be One

We don’t feel ready, we don’t feel steady
Question what we really have to give

Stay where it’s safer, claim faith but waiver
Is this how we’re really meant to live

We pray but never move
We say but never do

It’s time to get our hands dirty
oh oh, oh oh
Be love – there’s a whole lot of hurting
oh oh, oh oh
Calling all hearts, Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one, When we can be one , When we can be one

A little somethin’ might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need

To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me to be

We can be the change – be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are we are where it starts


We can be the light in the dark
We can be the arms that don’t let go

Publishing: © 2015 SeeSeeBubba Songs (SESAC) (admin. by Music Services)/ Maxx Melodies (SESAC)/BMG Platinum Songs (BMI)/Takin It To The Maxx (BMI) All Rights Administered By BMG Rights Management (US) LLC/ WB Music Corp./ Thankful for This Music (ASCAP) All rights admin. by WB Music Corp. (ASCAP) All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Writer(s): Natalie Grant / Sam Mizell / Becca Mizell / Emily Weisband


The resounding theme of this song is be a miracle for someone else. Let’s start today’s discussion by first acknowledging the ways this song can be good. Our first challenge will be to reshape the notion of “being a miracle for someone else” into something more Biblically sound. Let’s look at how Jesus summarized the Law.

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him,“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

So, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. This song is an attempt to call the listener to keep this commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a good call, for it is Lawful. It is indeed a good work to love our neighbor as ourselves… the only problem is that we fail this commandment continuously. For this song to have stood on its own, it needed a clear reminder of the greatest commandment and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Okay, so we’ll address some problems in the target audience of this song in a minute, but for now let’s assume the intended audience is professing Christians. One could connect the thrust of this song to the Epistle of James.

James 1:16-27 (ESV) | Hearing and Doing the Word

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 2:1-17 (ESV) | The Sin of Partiality

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Now we need to address where the song falls short. Notice that the focus of Jame’s writing is on the faith of the reader. Is James talking about creating a cascade of miracles throughout society? No. He’s saying that a genuine faith will produce works… the faith will produce works. If it doesn’t, whatever faith is being claimed is a dead one. The core of the problem of a lack of works isn’t effort, it’s faith. James rebukes the sin of showing partiality within the body of Christ, and then he makes the case that a genuine, saving faith will produce good works. James goes on to warn us to control our tongues and to avoid worldliness. He doesn’t come back around to any notion of being a miracle for other people in order to shore up your faith… because that would be works-based righteousness, which is NOT in keeping with the Gospel of Grace.

The biggest problem with this song is that anyone could meet the call of the song (on occasion) without having any positive impact on their faith or in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every false religion teaches a works-based righteousness, and most of them push something akin to the good works being promoted in this song… the idea of being the miracle for someone else. Even atheist humanism preaches this sort of good work, while denouncing those who sit around and wait for a miracle to come. This song isn’t pointing to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, it is pointing to the listener saying “be a miracle”… “do something good”. Frankly, I debated disapproving the song because of this… and my only rational for not doing it is because I could see the attempt at echoing the Epistle of James in the song, though it didn’t quite make it.

Another problem with this song is the odd call to be a miracle for someone else. God isn’t calling you to be a miracle, but to be a neighbor. The idea of being a miracle is doing something out of the ordinary, something supernatural, but that simply isn’t our charge nor calling. We are called to be set apart by the Spirit of God, and to love and forgiven our neighbors as Christ first loved and forgave us. I’m so sick of the purpose-driven, prosperity drivel that denigrates everyday living and serving our neighbors in our mundane jobs as something “less than”… God’s word tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, not “be their savior”. You don’t have to be a super star, or do something really big… love your neighbor as yourself. Sure, there are times when God places a need before us that calls for something big, but His desire is that we love our neighbor in between those big events, too. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to give your neighbor a car or a kidney… begin by extending grace, a word of comfort, and encouragement, or forgiveness. Our good works must point others to the Grace of God… for the moment it points to ourselves it ceases being a good work.


Dear Christian, you were called to repentance and forgiveness by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He loved you, He lived a perfect life where you could not, He gave His Life to pay the price for you that you couldn’t pay, and He rose again so that in Him you might have everlasting Life. It’s Christ’s work for you and in you and through you. Place your faith and trust in Him, and love others as you have been loved by Him, forgive others as you have been forgiven by Him. God isn’t asking you to be a miracle for someone else, He’s asking you to share the good news of the miracle of Salvation with your neighbor… preach the Gospel, love your neighbor, repent and be forgiven in Jesus’ Name.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) | By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

In Christ Jesus,