The Old Rugged Cross

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.


So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.


As far as lyrical content though, something about the concept of clinging to an old rugged cross just gets to me. It evokes a yearning in the quiet parts of my heart. There is something so old fashioned about it- and yet something so deep and primeval and gospel-centered. It’s not something you would ever hear today in our modern worship songs, and I find that tragic. Nowadays singing about the shed blood of the Lamb is considered too heavy and too depressing, and yet I find such a joy and satisfaction when I do. It really is wonderful, and this song is a classic. That having been said,  the original version was written in 1912 by George Bennard (1873-1958).

After his conversion in a Salvation Army meeting, he and his wife became brigade leaders before leaving the organization for the Methodist Church. As a Methodist evangelist, Bennard wrote the first verse of the gospel song in the fall of 1912. Charles H. Gabriel, a well-known gospel-song composer helped Bennard with the harmonies. The completed version was first performed on June 7th, 1913, by a choir of five in Pokagon, Michigan. Published in 1915, the song was popularized during Billy Sunday’s evangelistic campaigns by two members of his campaign staff.

While I love the lyrics to this song, I really don’t care for the melody or the fact that every version I find is so sluggishly slow. It’s just not my thing, and so I’ve been searching for this song with a modern [or semi-modern] twist. In this case, I got a metal version of it, haha, played by Gregg Lancer, who sung it in 1990. The song itself is pure awesome and I can’t help but to crank it up and rock out to it, especially at the 3:34 mark when the harmony comes in briefly, and I recommend that all other do the same.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,         the emblem of suffering and shame;         and I love that old cross where the dearest and best         for a world of lost sinners was slain. Refrain:         So you know I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,         till my trophies at last I lay down;         And I will cling to the old rugged cross,         and exchange it some day for a crown.   2.      O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,         has a wondrous attraction for me;         for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above         to bear it to dark Calvary.         (Refrain)

One of my favorite quotes; the Oxford martyrs


When Henry the Eighth of England died, he left three heirs: his son Edward and his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Edward succeeded to the throne and was a staunch Protestant. When he passed away, the throne passed to his sister Mary, who was firmly Roman Catholic in her beliefs and who was determined to return England to union with the Pope. As it were, she insisted that the best way to deal with heresy was to burn as many heretics as possible. He reign was more or less disastrous and she quickly lost the affection of her people, as well as any chance of a peaceful religious settlement in England. This began the Marian Persecution. Of the nearly three hundred persons burned by her orders, the most famous are the Oxford Martyrs, two of which were Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.

Though both previously affiliated with the Church of Rome, with Latimer developing a reputation as a very zealous Roman Catholic and Ridley having been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, over time though reading the scriptures and spending time with clergyman Thomas Bilney [who was also burned as a martyr] they became sympathetic and later adherents to the Protestant cause, abrogating their Catholic Faith. As it were, they both become bishops, Ridley of Rochester and Latimer of Worcester. Latimer in particular became especially well known as a popular and powerful preacher of the Gospel.

But when Mary came to the throne, Latimer and Ridley were quickly arrested, tried for heresy, and condemned to die together. They were both fastened to their stakes and Ridley was to be burned first. As the pyre was about to be lit and the flames about to be kindled, it was then that Latimer, aged 70 and an old man, spoke the immortal words to the younger Ridley, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. For we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”

The torches were lit, and on 16 October 1555, both men were burned alive and sent their spirits up to God. They were martyrs for the faith, and their deaths would send  shockwaves through the kingdom and would inspire nearly five centuries of men and women of God to stand firm in their faith, enduring what they must, so that they too mighty play the man  to the glory of Christ and for the Kingdom of God. And that quote just crushes me. I mean it just destroys me and I can’t even imagine what it took to endure that. I just imagine the fear and terror and calm and resolve that must have been shuddering through these men’s bones, and then the special grace and peace that God may give those about to die in his name and for his name. There is something about hearing this story that gets me every time, and oh that I wish every believer might be acquainted with their story, and with that quote immemorial.

Peanut Butter Salvation/ Jesus isn’t cool.

I felt myself especially shocked and appalled [though not particularly surprised] when I read a story a few days ago about a megachurch in Jacksonville, Florida. They’re in the news due to their shady youth events, specifically one based on the show Fear Factor. To quote Susan Eastman, “The climax of the church service was a pair of huge, hairy armpits. Youth Pastor Josh Turner offered up them up to teenage congregants attending a Wednesday night service at Jacksonville’s Celebration Church. The armpits belonged to a beefy youth leader, a guy close in age to the hundreds of junior high and high school students in the audience, but old enough have sprouted great piles of coarse body hair. As the youth leader held his arms aloft, the teenagers gaped at the hair, furred into a strip matted by sweat and deodorant. They watched as Pastor Turner dug into a jar of peanut butter and smeared gobs of it onto the exposed underarms, then turned to the audience. Did anyone, he asked, have the guts to lick it clean and swallow it down without puking? He got two volunteers. As the audience roared with excitement and disgust, the two male teenagers approached the youth leader and began to lick his armpits, burrowing their faces in the peanut butter and eating it. Neither puked. Their only prize was bragging rights.”

The purpose of the illustration is simple. The pastor tells us that, “It’s a metaphor for the courage it takes to be young and openly Christian. It’s about being fearless, by allowing them to do something that took boldness, that they might possibly get made fun of for doing. Standing up for Christ in the world requires you to be fearless.” As a result of these stunts, many parents are rightfully offended by what their children are doing and learning in church and are upset that these shenanigans are taking place. They’ve expressed their concerns to the church leadership, but the pastors are unapologetic. “[The teens] experience God here on Wednesday nights, and they can’t always articulate that to their friends. This gives them something to say. ‘Wow, you’ve got to come to church, you’ve got to check this out. This is amazing!” He continues “Whatever we’re doing, it’s working. We saved 35 young people that night. That’s 35 teenagers saved from drugs, saved from abortion, saved from premarital sex. There are life transformations happening here, and it’s incredible. Thirty-five people’s lives were changed forever. They were saved from an eternity of burning in hell.”

Now normally I would rant and rail against this sort of this and point out how ludicrous and stupid it is, and how they’re making Jesus and the Church to be one big joke and on and on. Because make no mistake-what they are doing is beyond the pale, they are so misguided, and that pretty much serves as the best example of everything that is wrong with the shallow, biblically illiterate seeker-sensitive church movement. [Note. I railed anyway.] But that’s not the direction I wish to go in. While this is one of the more extreme examples, I have heard and seen many others. One Pastor told his youth that if they could bring 1000 of their friends to a service he would let them taser him. Another threw pig ears in a vat of milk and had some teenage girls go bobbing for them -another Fear Factor stunt. One let his kids shoot his backside with a paintball gun, while another youth leader swallowed goldfish if his kids managed to do enough fund raising. That’s only a small sample, and there are so many others.

And yet what I want to discuss is WHY they are doing this. There are probably a ton of reasons, but I would imagine that it all boils down to one. Pragmatism. Specifically, they want to make Jesus and God and Church and Christianity look cool. To quote this pastor again, “The idea is to get students here to meet our Savior. They are getting all this crazy stuff out there in the world all the time. We are trying to show them that God is cooler.” The logic is, “If we can show that Jesus and Church is cool and relevant and edgy, then they’ll think that Jesus is cool and relevant, and they’ll ask Jesus into their hearts and make decisions for Jesus.” This is evangelicalism at its lowest, at its lamest, and at its saddest. And it’s pathetic.

We do not need to make Jesus look cool. We’re not his PR guy. He does not need us to refine and recast his image for him. We’re not spin doctors, and He’s not suffering from an image crisis. Besides, do we really want to look at what this media-driven sin-glamorized culture of ours says is “cool” and mold Jesus to fit right in? If it’s cool to lick peanut butter out of another man’s armpits, do we really want our Savior to reflect that standard of hip-ness?  In 1 Corinthians 1:23 the scriptures say, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” That means that people aren’t naturally going to get it, and they’ll be offended by the message. That’s the natural progression and how it works when the gospel is introduced to the sinful and wicked heart. And yet if God is giving a person faith while we preach Christ crucified, then instead of a stumbling block a man will cling to that as a rock of hope. And instead of foolishness, to a man that God is calling it will make all the sense in the world. That’s the only way they’re going to get it, and otherwise it will not appeal to people.

We believe that God exists, that he came to earth in the form of a man, that he was killed on a cross, and then rose again. We believe that every person who does not repent and confess him as God will go to hell for eternity. That message isn’t attractive. I’m sorry but it’s just not. Nothing you can do will make the gospel message cool or conducive to mass consumption. You can’t make a crucified man bleeding on the cross cool. You can’t make a God who let himself be crowned with a crown of thorns and who was spit on, hit, and had his beard pulled out cool. You can’t make the reality of his resurrection cool. You can’t make his ascension cool. You can’t make his commandments, his will, and his works cool. And no matter what sort of goofy things that you do to cast the gospel message as a good time and fun for the whole family, it will never work, and you’ll be deceiving yourself every time.

Not only that, but the purpose isn’t to make church all wacky and cool- as if it’s some big party that everyone comes to. Yes we want our churches to be places where people can feel warm, welcome, and at home. Churches are designed to be safe environments where people are loved. And yet here we are getting a Church that is actively working to blur the line and trying to make church something it’s not. It’s almost as if they’re saying “Hey look, we’re not boring or dull. We can be crazy too. We can compete with the culture of the world, fit in, and be relevant.” When in reality the church just looks foolish. The church tries to do what the world does, but they just fall on their face. We see that with how cheesy half of our evangelical output is. Even this service. Fear Factor? Really? The show’s been around for almost a decade, and the show was cancelled almost 4 years ago. Instead of leading the pack, we’re always behind in the times because the Church sees the sparkly new trinket that the secular world has, and then a few years later we come up with out own iteration which is half as cool and twice as awkward. When we try to ape culture we become a bad parody of ourselves, and the church becomes that weird kid who still wears Umbro soccer shorts, a No-Fear t-shirt and high-top shoes.

This message of the gospel and the theology of the cross are always relevant for every person who ever lived at every walk and stage of life. It is a life unto itself, and we don’t need to rework it and recast it. We just need to be faithful to it and to the message. I don’t want a church that is uncomfortable and severe, not do I want to put up unnecessary roadblocks for people. But the answer is not in these disgusting games and illustrations designed to make Jesus and the Church look relevant and cool. To make us look hip and non-threatening. We just need to preach the Gospel faithfully to people, understanding that the Holy Spirit is the one that moves and convicts a man and opens up his eyes to the need for the saving efficacy of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit will do so with or with out people licking melting peanut butter out of each others armpits.

Quote by puritan Richard Sibbes 1577-1635

“If we desire to end our days in joy and comfort, let us lay the foundation of a comfortable death now betimes. To die well is not a thing of that light moment as some imagine: it is no easy matter. But to die well is a matter of every day. Let us daily do some good that may help us at the time of our death. Every day by repentance pull out the sting of some sin, that so when death comes, we may have nothing to do but to die. To die well is the action of the whole life.”

Stop using The Message Bible to preach!

Stop Using the Message Bible to preach!

When reading the introduction to “The Message Bible”, we’re told that it’s essentially updating the bible into modern language. The author, Eugene Peterson, writes: “I decided to strive for the spirit of the original manuscripts—to express the rhythm of the voices, the flavor of the idiomatic expressions, the subtle connotations of meaning that are often lost in English translations.” And that “Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language.” He goes on to say that that he went straight into the Greek without looking at the English language, and rewrote it in a new fresh way, in the language “in which we do our shopping, talk with our friends, worry about world affairs, and teach our children their table manners.”

Though I have not been a fan of The Message Bible for several years, I usually don’t think about it much. This is mainly because I tend to see it for what it is- one man’s re-interpretation and re-imagining of the biblical texts. I think it’s fairly poetic, and interesting to read, and there are instances when it rightly re-configures certain biblical text with rich contemporary language, which add a new power and interest to an already great verse. These instances provide unique or different insights into the culture or language of the time, and for this reason I think there is something to be gained from it. And so I’m not one to say that someone shouldn’t read it, or that it’s some horrible subversive literature that by virtue of it’s exposition will drag souls to hell. Not at all. If you want to read it, then go right ahead. In fact, I would suggest that it may have some legitimate worth as devotional literature, and may be used that way.

That having been said, I have no tolerance whatsoever for the Message Bible being read from and being preached from and exegeted from the pulpit in church. I really, really, don’t like it, and decided long ago that I could not establish myself in a place where the Message Bible, or any other biblical paraphrase is lauded as scripture. It’s just a deal-breaker for me, and it has been for a while. Not because I have anything against a paraphrase, but because I came to church to have the Word of God taught to me and preached to me and unpacked for me, and The Message Bible is not it. Though by virtue of it’s marketing we’re led to believe that this is a legitimate bible, lending credence to the idea that Eugene Peterson has simply updated some of the expressions, thrown in some slang, re-shuffled some of the verbiage, and has for all intents and purposes been faithful to the scriptures.

But that’s often not the case at all. Sometimes he does that, and it’s really good. I’m not denying that he goes through passages and shines some light on them that can add some clarity, but more often than not he simply goes buck-wild with the texts and either waters them down, obscures them, deletes whole sentences, removes controversial subjects, clouds the plain meaning, adds whole sentences of extended personal commentary, or just re-writes them in a way he sees fit. And it’s for those demonstrable reasons that I can’t stand to have it taught, not only to someone like me who knows better, but to other people who may not. It’s not a bible, and it’s quite possibly the freest paraphrase on the market, easily surpassing the CBV, JPB and GNB [and much more so than an NLT, which at least manages to be a meaning driven bible]. But The Message is something altogether different, and I’d like to show a few examples.

1. Acts 19:2 [NASB], “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” is expanded to “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?” [TMB]. Where on earth does the text end and the commentary begin?

2. In John 14:2 [NASB] “…The Father is greater than I.” becomes “The Father is the goal and purpose of my life.” [TMB]

3. Matthew 6:9 [NASB] “Pray, then, in this way:’ Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” becomes “Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right”

4. Colossians 2:10 [NASB] “…and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” becomes “You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him…” [TMB]

5. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: [NASB] “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [sodomites] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” becomes; “Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start….” [TMB]

6. 1 Peter 3:1 [NASB] “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…” becomes “The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs… [TMB]

7. Psalm 51:10 [NASB]“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” becomes “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.”[TMB]

8. Romans 9:27-28. [NASB] “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” becomes “Isaiah maintained this same emphasis: If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled “Chosen of God,” they’d be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by personal selection. God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus.” [TMB]

9. John 3:5. [NASB] “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” becomes “Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.” [TMB]

Those are just a few examples of a radical re-working and rewording of the text, where things are added, things are deleted, and scriptural references are left all but unrecognizable. And so when a pastor or elder or even a layperson goes up there and starts to preach from a “Message Bible”, I know I’m not getting the word. I’m not hearing the power and sacredness and glory of the scriptures, and instead am getting one man’s interpretation of the scripture, which may be changing the meaning altogether. And I know that if I were to get up there and preach a message and tell the congregation, “Turn in your bible to Titus 2:6. Today, I’ll be reading from the New Germain Version [NGV]” and then proceed to read them my own interpretation, I would be crucified and should be rightly run off the stage.” And yet when reading the IEPB [International Eugene Peterson Bible], no one bats an eye.

You know, I’m not saying that the Message Bible cannot darken the doorsteps of a church or that it should not be read. I’ve already said- it’s all good. But when a pastor uses it to preach, it sends a message loud and clear- that they have a low view of scripture. That’s what it says. It shows that they’re not taking it seriously, because they’re teaching and training their flock from a disingenuous source. Any bible ought to strive to be as close to the original manuscripts as possible and be as literal as possible, not taking liberties to be esoteric and highly subjective. These pastors who have gone off the rail, they’re not “rightly dividing the word of truth” nor are they following the commandments of Paul to Timothy, “I charge you, in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, to preach the Word!” And I can’t help but believe that pastors should know better. You can’t wean your flock off of milk and on to meat with cotton candy. It’s just not good policy. And if you fear that your congregation may not understand certain verses or concepts or language, then it’s your job to parse it and teach it to them. It’s your job to unpack it and work through difficult and tricky verses, opening up the scriptures to them laying out the mysteries of God as they were meant to be understood. I want to hear what Jesus actually said, or as absolutely as close and as precisely as we can understand. We can argue about form-driven verses meaning driven all we want, but a paraphrase?! I don’t want his words left out. I don’t want his meanings altered. I don’t want extra personal commentary, and I certainly don’t want someone pretending that he isn’t doing that when he preaches from the Message Bible.