You Need Ebenezer

We had a spirited discussion in our staff meeting yesterday about worship music.  Admittedly, American evangelicals in the 21st century have the dubious distinction of majoring in the minors.  Need proof?  In the last few decades, one of the great debates within the church has been pegged with the acrimonious title “worship wars.”

  • Hymns or choruses? 
  • Guitars or organs? 
  • Jeans or 3-piece suits? 
  • Choirs, ensembles, or a skinny-jeaned-faux-hawk-topped lead-singer?
  • Hearing voices around you or having your ear drums bleed?

It all really matters…seriously…

As loud as the bell gongs on issues like dress, music style, volume, and stage set-up, none of these were the subject of our spirited discussion yesterday.  Why?  We have a general, though unspoken, rule that I enforce as I lead our weekly staff meetings: we don’t spend any length of time talking about things that don’t really matter.

The subject of our discussion centered on hymnology, i.e. “the study of hymns.”  We were talking specifically about the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” which we had sung a few days earlier in our main worship gathering.  The questions we were asking and debating about were issues of speech, relevance, and lyrics; and the larger issue was “What is the purpose of corporate worship (through music)?”  This led us to questions like “Who is it for: the insider (Christian) or the outsider (non-Christian seeker)?”  And ultimately: “How does this affect what songs we sing and why we sing them?”

The answers to these questions really make up a series of blogs, not just a single blog, so I’ll stick to Come Thou Fount for right now.  As our discussion was wrapping up, I found myself summarizing my thoughts on the subject in a very interesting phrase.  I exhorted our staff that to accomplish our two primary goals (glorifying God and making disciples) we need to realize: “Our people need Ebenezer.  We must give them Ebenezer!”              

You’re moved…I know. 

If you’re reading this and you are in that group that includes “our people” (the people of LifePoint Church) you’re probably wondering why your pastor is so adamant about your need for Ebenezer.  Let me explain:

The second verse of Come Thou Fount goes like this:

            Here I raise mine Ebenezer; 
            hither by thy help I’m come; 
            and I hope, by thy good pleasure, 
            safely to arrive at home. 
            Jesus sought me when a stranger, 
            wandering from the fold of God; 
            he, to rescue me from danger, 
            interposed his precious blood.  

If you have ever sung these words in a worship gathering, you probably thought for at least one second “What’s an Ebenezer?  And why the dickens are we singing about Scrooge?” 

The phrase Ebenezer is from the Old Testament, and it comes from two words in the Hebrew language. 

Eben = Stone
Ezer = Help

Ebenezer means “Stone of help.”  The word is used in1 Samuel 7:12.  This verse is in the midst of a story whereIsraelhas repented of their sins and turned to God, responding to Samuel’s leadership by putting away their idols and serving “God only.”  In response to their repentance, God fights on their behalf and they defeat the much stronger, larger, and well-equipped Philistine army.  

11And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.  12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”  13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  

Using stones to commemorate God’s redemption, help, protection, or promises was a very common practice in Ancient Israel.  They would set up “altars” of stones to signify where and when God had met with them, redeemed them, or rescued them.  Noah did it, Abraham did it, Jacob did it, and in this passage Samuel did it. 

So, for you and me, in the 21st century, what is “my Ebenezer?”  Read the verse again:

           Here I raise mine Ebenezer; 
            hither by thy help I’m come; 
            and I hope, by thy good pleasure, 
            safely to arrive at home. 
            Jesus sought me when a stranger, 
            wandering from the fold of God; 
            he, to rescue me from danger,
 
            interposed his precious blood.

This verse is my testimony.  If you’re a Christian, it’s your testimony as well.  Do you see it??? 

hither by thy help I’m come;

  • You didn’t come to God alone, He drew you (John 6:44). 

and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

  • You’re not saved, nor sustained in your salvation, by your own good works—God helps you persevere (Phil 1:6)

Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;

  • Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the Door for the sheep, came to earth at just the right time and died as a substitute for our sin (John 10:1-18, Luke 19:10, Romans 5:8)

he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.

  • He “interjected” his blood to rescue us from the penalty of our sin (1 Peter 1:2, 1John1:7, Colossians 1:20)

You need Ebenezer.  This is why we sing this song.  We sing this song, because as we gather to worship, we are individually and corporately raising our Ebenezer’s to God, saying “I’m here because Jesus died to give me life!” 

That’s worship.  Come faux-hawk, organ, voices, or decibels. 

You need Ebenezer.

About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
This entry was posted in 2theSource, For Pastors, Life @ LPC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to You Need Ebenezer

  1. Tim Padget says:

    Hymns or choruses?
    Guitars or organs?
    Jeans or 3-piece suits?
    Choirs, ensembles, or a skinny-jeaned-faux-hawk-topped lead-singer?
    Hearing voices around you or having your ear drums bleed?

    There are easy answers to these questions. Simply replace the OR with AND. We get too divided these days on issues with a “my way or the highway” attitude. There are excellent Hymns and choruses, we are only urged to make a joyful noise to the Lord. ‘Big Tent Revival’ did an excellent job of mixing Lead Guitar and Organ back in the day. And the Bible makes many mentions of stringed instruments, never organs anyways. If David had an amp to plug his harp and lyre into, how different the book of Psalms may have been! As far as dress code goes, I don’t seem to recall Jesus ever having worn pants, much less a suit. Jeans with a sports coat splits the difference quite nice I think. And on the next point, I don’t seem to recall Andy having ever sported a faux-hawk on stage. But if we all praised with the energy he has on stage, how awesome our worship truly would be!

    It seems we worry too much about having things OUR way, and forget about just following THE way. I don’t seem to recall and portion of the sermon on the mount covering the above issues. I just pray that we can use a rock with a funny name to remember the real reason we all show up on Sunday for worship.

  2. Mendi Yoshikawa says:

    Tim! You cracked me up!

    It’s funny you blogged on this because as we were singing this hymm on Sunday this “Ebenezer” question came to my mind–Even though I had bought the song on iTunes I had no clue what it meant.

    I know this is not the point of your blog entry today, but the only argument above that I have an opinion on is my small plee to NOT have my ear drums bleed which became an issue when half the choir used to have a personal microphone–I like hearing those around me sing (and to actually be able to hear something in my head when I am singing on the top of my lungs. (Of course that hasn’t really been a problem for the past couple of years and I am so very thankful). If I feel this way, I can only imagine what the over 60 crowd feels like… 😉

  3. I am one of the over 60 crowd–and to tell you the truth, my appreciation for real worship is pretty much the same as it was in my younger years. Worship comes alive when we are focusing on the Lord God–more than the surroundings. I like most of the upbeat songs we do, and I have learned to worship the Lord, inspite of the loudness or song arrangements.. If the message of the song is truly unto the Lord, with true worship and adoration–then– let’s do it! I love most of the hymns I grew up with, however, there are a few that miss the mark and don’t really bring praise and worship to God. I especially like doing the hymns to newer versions of the melody, and with the different instruments. Above all—Let God be praised and worshiped! When that happens, then the Holy Spirit is so evident and powerful.(this comes from a long time, organist and pianist in the church. What radical changes I have come through, but, with the Lord, all things are possible:) I just love doing worship!!

  4. Gordon Padget says:

    I wonder what would happen if instead of anyone complaining about our coorperate worship we all just prayed for the movemenent of the Spirit in and through? I’m just saying.

  5. Mendi Yoshikawa says:

    I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to come across as complaining. I actually love our worship service! My only point was that sometimes it WAS hard to keep my focus on God when I couldn’t hear myself think–Of course none of this matters because I haven’t felt this issue in our church for quite some time… Please accept my apologies for bringing it up…

  6. Gordon Padget says:

    Mendi, I wasn’t referring to your comment really. I was thinking more about the many comments I’ve heard about over the years about what songs should we sing on Sunday mornings. Songs, such as Amazing Grace and The Old Rugged Cross, are wonderful hymms, but I feel it limits the Spirit when we feel that these kinds of songs are the only ones that can make a heart receptive.

    As far as volume goes, I think that has more to do with the audience. My thought is it should be set at a level that the average person iin the congregation can appreciate. I’m just saying.

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