Reflection on Beer and Hymns

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

How Great Thou Art UMH 77
Great Night of singing hymns.

On Feb. 4th we gathered at the Irish Snug and had a good old fashion hymn sing with pints mixed in. It was an uplifting and refreshing time. Thank to all who came out.

Beardcast Blogging

Thank You for Year Three

This week we will not have a Beardcast so we can tend to us. So I looked at our 2018 listens on Soundcloud and Youtube and put this together. Zach and I want to thank you for listening.

Our Top Three Soundcloud Listens

No. 1 Beardcast for 10.18.18 Job 38:1-7,33-41

No. 2 Beardcast for 8.16.18 A Reflection on Ephesians 4

No. 3 Beardcast For 9.27.28 With Rev. Melissa Engel

Our Top 3 Most Watched Youtube Videos of 2018

No. 1 Beardcast for 3.21.18 with Shane Claiborne

No. 2 Beardcast for 2.22.18 with Rev. Neal Christie

Beardcast for 8.24.17 with Special Guest Ken Willard


Hymnody and the Supposed Sin of John Piper

Article referencedà

I read an article from Relevant magazine recently where John Piper was taken to task for adding a verse to the now classic hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I must admit, an article that takes John Piper to task for theological stances is normally “click-baity” for me because I disagree with John Piper in so much of his theology. We come from different places and I continually appreciate the challenges he presents me with when I read his teachings because it sharpens my own theological wit. I thought “what has John Piper done now that I’m gonna have to argue with”? Well, nothing really that blew my thinning hair back (it doesn’t take much these days). He was at a conference and wanted to make more connections to the theme throughout the worship experience that day. One response critical of the decision was put so well to Christianity Today:

The University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College’s  director of master of sacred music program Swee Hong Lim told them, “Hymns are theological statements …  To that end, and particularly for Methodism, hymns are not theologically neutral but carry theological distinctiveness. This is one reason why the denomination has sought to review contemporary worship songs for their theological position.”—Swee Hong Lim

Should Piper be taken to task for taking a Methodist hymn and adding verses to add to the context of his message? Sure, why not? Does the above argument made against him make sense? Sure, why not? An artist’s original meaning for a piece is important. Acknowledging the integrity of a piece of art is important, especially when the art is to be used as a teaching tool of some sort. But I caution us to fully take that argument all the way in our ministry contexts and houses of worship. As worship leaders, our aims should be different from perfect performance. We cut and paste, rearrange, modify, add, and take away, all the time when it comes to a piece of music (and how often are we also doing this to Scripture?). We do this to fit our contexts of ministry; hopefully, it’s a faithful modification. And yes, sometimes we might be missing some of the rich theological teaching a particular verse might hold for the overall message of a piece (assuming that the people we are serving are engaged in both lyrics and tune of a song….but that’s a different topic for a different day). But unless one is sticking to the author’s exact meter, order, the original instrument the author had in mind for the piece, sometimes the geographic location of the composition, sometimes even the placement in a worship service (or for concert/performance intentions only) they are marring the song at least partially. This happens when we add elements to a piece as well, like verses, or perhaps an extemporaneous prayer in the song.

As to the ethics of this practice, I tend to take a more Roland Barthes and “death of the author” stance, though I don’t carry his argument nearly as far as he would like me to. On some level, when any modifications are made, I realize I am at least partially bending a piece of art to my will and judgment. How many times have I cut a verse out of a hymn by Charles Wesley (I’m looking at you O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing), or a bridge or a  repeating chorus from another song (I’m looking at you Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Matt Maher, Matt Redman and others)? The answer is that I do this as a worship leader virtually every Sunday. And so do many of the artists and composers mentioned above because their music context is continually changing.

But back to John Piper and this particular emphasis of “meaning” in a hymn. Honestly? I don’t see anything particularly blasphemous or damning in the verses he added—both in adding them and the contents of their message. I get it. I get the argument about how, in this instance of adding, the theology and the tone of the song can change and original meaning can be stretched. But the fact these additional verses might take a more Calvinist turn since Piper is Calvinist (which, I would argue you could impose whatever spin you want on virtually any text if you played with it and stretched it long enough; and the verses in question don’t exactly scream from the TULIPS) I think enhances the tapestry of faithful beliefs and meanings in a hymn. As to whether I like the additions? Meh. They worked for his context and probably won’t show up in a worship service I lead. Happy hymnody!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness


Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be


Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me


Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer
And to guide
Strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside

John Piper’s apparently miasmic additions

I could not love Thee, so blind and unfeeling;
Covenant promises fell not to me.
Then without warning, desire, or deserving,
I found my Treasure, my pleasure, in Thee.

I have no merit to woo or delight Thee,
I have no wisdom or pow’rs to employ;
Yet in thy mercy, how pleasing thou find’st me,
This is Thy pleasure: that Thou art my joy.


final-bridges2Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled 1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It That Way Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.


By Our Fruits.

The discussion around and about…unfortunately usually not with…LGBT inclusion has been building steam in my denomination.

I have been praying about my own beliefs for a long time but there has been no question for me on where I stand. Let me tell you why.

When I was a Senior in high school my best friend came out to me. There was much trepidation around this revelation because he knew I was a Christian and he had been burnt by Christians before. The preachers I knew never spoke against same-sex orientation…that I noticed anyway but I zoned out a lot. My parents, at that time, had never brought it up because this was NW Iowa, people, and we did NOT talk about that stuff. The only thing I knew was my experience of my friend…and my friend was, and continues to be, one of the nicest, most compassionate and intelligent people I have ever met.

So he came out and I said something to the effect that of course I loved him and those other Christians must be idiots for rejecting someone as wonderful as him. And that has been my “stance” ever since.

The discussion typically involves someone claiming Biblical truth and then they start slinging around Bible verses. There have been many excellent books written on what these verses mean. I encourage you to read up on the discussion. I have recently finally gotten it all together in my head.

There is this section in Romans 1 where Paul goes off on a rant about how God has abandoned pagan worshippers to “unnatural desires” like same-sex sex. The chapter continues with:

Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy.

In chapter 2 (btw, the chapter markers were added MUCH later so we would do well to read the Bible more continuously and less in a plucking out a pericope fashion) Paul then goes on to talk about how those who judge are probably hypocritical and therefore just as bad.

What we appear to have from Paul, in my understanding, is a list of behaviors that spring from a disbelief in God and the fruit of that disbelief are broken relationships. Not only that, but encouragement for others to break relationships. Every behavior of the people being called out by Paul is about objectifying other people. This caused me to think about the words of Jesus.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, CEB)

Paul might be speaking about rotten trees, including those who judge others without attending to their own health first. But experience has taught me…and many others…that LGBTQ lives and loves are not signs of rotten trees. There is good fruit from the lives, loves, and ministry of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. If practicing their love was so awful, so sinful, that it must be condemned in every form, then I would expect there to be consistently bad fruit. Except that’s not what we see at all.

To be fair-ish. I also don’t see rotten fruit from every single person who struggles with the question of whether or not certain behaviors are sinful. Some I do…especially those who have made it their focus to preach and teach on it. But some folks are just folks who haven’t had a chance to really be taught different, or ask their questions, or sit with the possibility for a new perspective long enough. Some folks need us to be able to talk about what is sinful behavior in any sexual orientation and what is healthy before they can really become advocates.

Some of the best people I know are LGBTQ, and some of the best people I know are just now considering the possibility that it’s ok to be a practicing LGBTQ person. We will know them, and ourselves, by our fruit.


Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.


Sin: Part 2

Sins against God

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object. This is where I started with my first Bearded Blog post. I got some pushback because I did not say anything about God.

That was on purpose.

Sins against people are easier for us to understand. If we have an ounce of empathy at all, we can see the pain we cause in others. And if we have no empathy, we can at least know the pain others have caused in us.

My postulated new definition of sin holds as true for God as it does for people. Maybe even more so, because it easier to do this to God…and even well-intentioned God followers do this to God ALL the time. So here it is:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves God, from God to object.

The question that this begs is, who is God? For those of us Christians, we believe God has revealed God’s self through Jesus Christ and throughout Scripture (through the lens of real people caught up in a particular context, but revealed nonetheless.)

In Exodus 3, God tells Moses that God’s name is “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”

Jesus continues to use this divine name every time He says “I Am” especially in John’s Gospel. God is primal, God just is, God was and is and is to come.

This leads me to believe that God may only be experienced. God may be described as long as we are humble in our descriptions and realize they are limited…they are signs that point to God, rather than God’s actual self. (Yep, you can call God, Father…this teaches us beautiful things about the nature of God. But it does not mean that God is male/has a penis/or cannot also be described as Mother.) All of our descriptions fall short of the actual experience of God within a relationship with God.

We, insiders of the church/preacher type people, call sin against God idolatry.

Idolatry is placing anyone, or anything, above God in priority. Here’s my big struggle, that means God comes before family. 99% of the time, the two will not be in conflict. Following God will probably make us a better spouse/child/parent etc…but God still comes first. God comes before church. Hello. If our institution conflicts with God, our institution has become a source of sin.

Idolatry is also attempting to worship God by a definition that doesn’t actually match who God is.

For example, God is not in the business of wish-fulfillment. Praying only when we need/want something is idolatry and a sin against God. One of the primary purposes of prayer is to deepen our relationship with God so that our hearts resemble God’s heart, and we begin to petition God with petitions aligned to God’s will. (This is Jesus’s big prayer for His disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.)

When we sin against other people, we are also sinning against God. We have made God’s beautiful image, found in other people, less than God intended us to make it.

So, in essence, every sin is against God…and sinning against God directly is something we must always be on guard against.


image2I’m an Ordained Elder in the UMC committed to building the Kingdom regardless of what goes down in 2019. I finally have an Associate Pastor, and he happens to by my husband…who shares my office. So now you know about my day! I love to talk to people with all different viewpoints, and I look forward to engaging in good dialog!