Worship Song of the Month

Wordle and the Word

I admit, I was a bit late to the Wordle craze.  When Wordle images started popping up in my Facebook feed, I initially thought, who cares?  But then, my son mentioned that he had tried Wordle, my curiosity was piqued, and the rest is history.

At first, my Wordle game took place at random hours of the day, at moments when I’d have a brief pause in my work or activity.  Like waiting in the car for my daughter’s violin lesson to finish, or waiting for the water to boil on the stove, or sitting on the toilet.

Sometimes I would forget to do the day’s Wordle. 

But, inevitably, I would see a friend’s post on Facebook – Wordle 268 2/6.  Or my son would holler out from his bedroom, “Did you do the Wordle yet?” Or my daughter (who now also plays) would come home from school and say, “What did you get?” 

So now, due to the daily nature of it and the social aspect of it, I hardly ever forget to do the day’s Wordle.  It is so fresh on my mind each day, that it has even become part of my morning routine.  I sit down next to the window, with a cup of coffee in one hand and my phone in the other, and watch my youngest get on the bus.  Then, before I get on with the busy-ness of the day, I play the Wordle word. 

Yesterday, I even shared my very first Wordle post.  (Oh no!  I’ve become one of “those people!”)

As playing Wordle has become habitual, I’ve started thinking,

What if Christians approached Scripture the same way?  What if we took a few minutes to read just a brief chapter at the start of our day?  What if we thought to ourselves, we don’t want to miss out on today’s Word!   And what if we shared what we’re learning each day with the people around us? 

If we were as joyful and spontaneous in sharing what God is teaching us in Scripture, our posts might look something like this:

Word of God 357 3/6
⬜⬜⬜⬜🟨
⬜⬜🟨⬜⬜
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩
Sharing because I was proud of this one - what a great God we serve!
Word of God 358 2/6
I got it in only 2 read-throughs today, but that was pure Holy Spirit!
Word of God 359 5/6
This one was hard!  Too many possibilities for interpretation...
Word of God 360 6/6
This one took me all the way to verse 6 to figure out!
Word of God 361 6/6
Is it just me, or has the Word gotten harder since Paul took over?
Word of God 360 3/6
Want to join my Word of God Facebook page, so we can share what we're getting each day?
Word of God 361 6/6
Today's Word was so hard!  I think it's because my typical approach to Scripture didn't work with this Word.
Word of God 362 5/6
Today's Word was challenging.  I even had to do research, because I wasn't sure what the Word meant.
Word of God 363 2/6
Whoo-hoo!
Word of God 364 5/6
Once I got it, it seemed so obvious!

Some people, once they get a taste of Wordle, want more.  (Have you tried Heardle?  Quordle?  Octordle?  Squabble?  SWordle?  Worldle?  Absurdle?)  I expect that the same will happen when we make it a habit to read God’s living and active Word every day, and when we talk about the Word with our family and friends.

Psalm 365 2/6
OT    365 5/6
NT    365 3/6

So today, gather your coffee, your phone, and your Bible… and spend some time in Wordle and the Word.

Worship Song of the Month

TOP 10 Non-Christmas Christmas Worship Songs

In my experience, church-goers at Christmastime love to sing traditional Christmas carols.  And this is great, because so many of our well-loved Christmas carols are full of rich theology and beautiful imagery!

However, in churches that make an effort to be “contemporary,” this poses a bit of a problem for those who plan the services and choose the music.  Should we sing traditional settings of carols, causing a temporary change to the feel and character of our worship services?  Or should we sing traditional carols that have been reworked into contemporary settings?  Should we introduce new season-specific songs, knowing that we will only sing them at Christmastime? 

For my part, I like to give congregations the opportunity to sing as many traditional Christmas carols as possible throughout the season. (We only get to sing them during one month out of the year!) An advantage of singing traditional carols is that they are part of our collective memory and traditions—even visitors and newcomers are likely to know them!

If you desire to sing traditional carols, but your church setting is such that all of the songs need to maintain a contemporary or band-led feel, there are some decent newer settings. Of the contemporary settings, my preference is songs that keep the original melody of the carol (aiding in familiarity and learnability), but perhaps add a simple refrain that the congregation can learn easily.  A couple of standouts are He Has Come for Us (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) (Jason Ingram, Meredith Andrews) and Chris Tomlin’s Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).

Of course, there are also some wonderful options of Christmas-specific worship songs that have been written in the last few years. One has to go no farther than the Keith and Kristyn Getty Christmas albums for stellar examples. But I personally prefer to choose only one or two “new” carols, remembering that the congregation will only sing them at Christmastime, and probably have to relearn them the following year. 

To supplement the various carol options, I’ve found that another great way to keep the worship experience “contemporary” at Christmas is to choose songs that work all year, but can be seen in a new light in this season.  Used in conjunction with traditional and contemporary Christmas carols, these every-season songs can enhance our celebration by being both familiar and fresh in the Christmas context. 

To this end, I give you my…

TOP 10 Non-Christmas Christmas Worship Songs:

#10 – Your Grace Is Enough (Matt Maher, 2003) 

For some reason, this song is one of my go-to non-Christmas Christmas worship songs. To me, the references to God’s faithfulness, the “God of Jacob,” and “heaven [reaching] out to us” have special significance in the Christmas season.  And even though it’s a bit older, the song seems to have some staying power.  *An added bonus:  The prayer for God (in the pre-chorus) to “remember your people, remember your promise” can have meaning for those churches who emphasize the season of Advent.  We long for Christ’s second coming, even as the people of Israel longed for the Messiah.  You can listen to it here: Your Grace Is Enough

#9 – Uncreated One (Chris Tomlin, J.D. Walt, 2006)

This is another song that I return to time and again in the Christmas season. I feel that it’s a lesser-known Tomlin song, but one deserving of a place in our churches’ repertoires.  In this song, we worship Christ as begotten, not made; the Sustainer of the Universe who set aside his place and prestige “to wear the sinner’s crown.” Uncreated One

#8 – Living Hope (Brain Johnson, Phil Wickham, 2017)

This song is number 5 on CCLI’s current Top 100 list, so I know many churches are adopting it as part of their repertoire. The lyrics are wonderful for speaking to the message of Christmas, while being appropriate all year long, in particular “The God of ages stepped down from glory | To wear my sin and bear my shame.” However, one little word in the first verse throws me off:  “Then.”  I believe that God’s loving-kindness precedes and predicates our calling on him for our salvation. Or, to put it another way, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). You may call me picky, but I would prefer to fix this lyrical/theological confusion by replacing “then” with “and.”  Problem solved!, and another great non-Christmas song for Christmas! Living Hope

#7 – Psalm 46 (Lord of Hosts) (Jennie Lee Riddle, Josh Miller, Josiah Warneking, Shane Bernard, 2015)

At Christmas, this song reminds me of the prophecies of the coming Messiah; and I can hear them as quoted in Handel’s Messiah from the King James Version: “For thus saith the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, it is a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come” (Haggai 2:6-7). “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). At Christmas we celebrate that the Lord of Hosts is “God with us.” I like Misty Edwards’ version: Lord of Hosts

#6 – I’m Forever Grateful (Matt Altrogge, 1985)

“You did not wait for me | To draw near to you | But you clothed yourself | With frail humanity.” This is an older song, but I think it deserves to stay in our repertoire! The lyrics speak beautifully of God’s powerful initiative in sending Jesus to save us.  You’ll need to update the feel: I’m Forever Grateful

#5 – Jesus Messiah (Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves, 2008)

If you’re looking for a song to use in connection with the Lord’s Supper in this season, Jesus Messiah reminds us that Jesus came to earth for our redemption: “Jesus Messiah, Name above all names | Blessed Redeemer, Emmanuel | Rescue for sinners | Ransom from heaven | Jesus Messiah, Lord of all!” Jesus Messiah

#4 – Yet Not I But through Christ In Me (Jonny Robinson, Michael Farren, Rich Thompson, 2018)

At a church at which we were serving, we introduced this song in the fall and repeated it on Christmas Eve!  I think the song works at Christmastime because the lyrics are so Christocentric.  Also, “What gift of grace is Jesus my Redeemer | There is no more for heaven now to give” has special significance at the holiday on which we give gifts in honor of the greatest Gift. Yet Not I But through Christ In Me

 #3 – We Are Listening (Jeremy Quillo, 2006)

This one’s a little “outside the box,” but we have found it to be a favorite in our churches.  It’s a good choice from the folk genre of worship music, and includes a nice play on “word/Word,” which is especially potent in the Christmas season. Sojourn Music: We Are Listening

#2 – In Christ Alone (Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, 2001)

Yes, this song was written in 2001, but it’s proved itself to be a standard. The second verse starts by focusing on the birth of Christ: “In Christ alone who took on flesh | Fullness of God in helpless babe.” But the beauty of using this song at Christmastime is that it puts the birth of Jesus in the context of the entire gospel narrative. My first and favorite version, from New Irish Hymns: In Christ Alone

#1 – Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery (Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Michael Bleecker, 2012)

Like In Christ Alone, this song recounts the story of Christ from his incarnation through his resurrection.  This song could be introduced in the Christmas season and then enjoyed throughout the year!  It also contains some wonderful phrases which are profound at Christmas and beyond, like “See the true and better Adam.” Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery

That’s my list! Feel free to share your thoughts on the songs included in this list.  And if you have songs you think should have been included, I welcome your additions in the comments! 

Honorable Mention (a few more that deserve a mention):

My Savior, My God (Aaron Shust, Dorothy Greenwell, 2005) – “That he would leave his place on high | And come for sinful man to die”

Your Name (Glenn Packiam, Paul Baloche, 2006) – This song came to my mind as I was thinking about songs to fit with our church’s Christmas sermon series, “Blessed Be Your Name,” which focuses on the names of Christ in Isaiah 9:6. Though there’s nothing especially Christmassy about the lyrics of Your Name, Paul Baloche must have also thought the song had a place in the season—because he wrote some alternate Christmas words for it!

What a Beautiful Name (Ben Fielding, Brooke Ligertwood, 2016) – Words like “You were the Word at the beginning | One with God the Lord Most High | Your hidden glory in creation | Now revealed in You our Christ” are perfect at Christmastime! One caveat: In my opinion, the lyrics of the second verse imply that God was incomplete in some way, and “needed” us in order to fill some lack in himself.  When I have used this song congregationally, we have changed the opening lyrics of verse two to: “You are the One and only Holy | Lord Most High but you came down.”

Marvelous Light (Ellie Holcomb, Rusty Varenkamp, 2014) – This song could be used in the Christmas season because of its emphasis on the Light of Christ.

Worthy, Worthy (Jacob Sooter, Mia Fieldes, 2013) – This may be a bit of a stretch, but I think the lyrics could take on new meaning in light of the mystery of the incarnation and God revealing himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Word of God Has Spoken (David Moffitt, Jonathan Lee, Travis Cottrell, 2011) – “In the beginning was the Word | And the Word was God | And the Word became flesh | And dwelt among us | And we have seen Your glory | Like the rising of the sun”

Jesus (Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, 2016) – “There is a truth older than the ages | There is a promise of things yet to come | There is One born for our salvation | Jesus | There is a light that overwhelms the darkness”

King of Kings (Brooke Ligertwood, Jason Ingram, Scott Ligertwood, 2019) – Some of the lyrics in this song give me a bit of reservation, so I’ve given it merely an “honorable mention.” But King of Kings is a popular new song with Christmas-appropriate lyrics.

Some of these older songs also bear repeating in the Christmas season, if you still have them in rotation:   Lamb of God (Twila Paris), Jesus, Name Above All Names (Naida Hearn), All Hail King Jesus (Dave Moody), Meekness and Majesty (Graham Kendrick), Lord, I Lift Your Name on High (Rick Founds), Because We Believe (Jamie Harvill, Nancy Gordon), Beautiful Savior (Stuart Townend), Emmanuel (Bob McGee)

A number of songs could also qualify as “Non-Advent Advent Songs,” especially those that emphasize waiting and hope: By Faith (Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend), We Will Feast in the House of Zion (Joshua Moore, Sandra McCracken), Blessed Be Your Name (Beth Redman, Matt Redman), Let Your Kingdom Come (Bob Kauflin), I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130) (Jordan Kauflin, Keith Getty, Matthew Merker, Stuart Townend), Almighty God (David Leonard, Leslie Jordan, Sandra McCracken), I Shall Not Want (Audrey Assad, Bryan Brown)

Of course, Jesus is the reason for the season, so a great many songs that have Jesus as the central theme will work, paired with more explicit Christmas music: Revelation Song (Jennie Lee Riddle), All I Have Is Christ (Jordan Kauflin), This Is Amazing Grace (Jeremy Riddle, Josh Farro, Phil Wickham), How Great Is Our God (Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves)

Finally, in honor of the OG “Non-Christmas Christmas Hymn,” Joy to the World, here are a few hymns that are beautiful additions to the Christmas season: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Charles Wesley), God Has Spoken By His Prophets (George Wallace Briggs), and Fairest Lord Jesus (August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Joseph August Seiss)

I hope some of these songs grab your attention and get your juices flowing as you prepare to worship God with his people in this season. Merry Christmas!

Worship Song of the Month

the blessing of RESURRECTION LIFE

Thank you for joining me, these past couple of weeks, as I’ve reflected on “Three Blessings from Ephesians 1-3.”  So far, we have rejoiced in the blessings of Church and the Holy Spirit.  A third blessing that we experience in Christ is Resurrection Life. 

We see the blessing of Resurrection Life clearly in Ephesians 2:1-10.  Before we followed Christ, we were dead in our transgressions and sins.  We followed the ways of this world and the spirit of darkness.  We gratified earthly cravings and sought to fulfill sinful desires and thoughts.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5, emphasis mine). 

I suspect that we typically think of Resurrection Life as being something that we will receive when we die or when Christ returns.  Certainly, our Resurrection Life will be enjoyed and realized most fully when we are face to face with Christ in glory.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:7 that God’s kindness and grace will be shown clearly “in the coming ages.” But, even as we await the new heavens and the new earth, our Resurrection Life starts now.

I encourage you to (re)-read Ephesians 1-3 to remind yourself of the innumerable benefits of life in Christ. Perhaps the greatest is knowing God himself. As Jesus prayed for his disciples (and us), “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). One day we will know him fully, but we have the blessing of knowing God even now (Eph. 1:17, 2:18, 3:14-19).

Another benefit of Resurrection Life is that we are given purpose and ability. As new creations, we are to “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10).  We are to live “a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (4:1).

Paul spends the final three chapters of Ephesians giving us insight into how to do this:

We are to be humble, gentle, and patient.  We are to be peacemakers and unifiers in the Church.  We are to use the gifts we’ve been given to serve and build up the Church.  We are to grow in maturity, not being easily deceived, but speaking the truth in love (4:1-16).

We are to have soft hearts, sensitive to the wisdom of the Spirit.  We are to put off our old self with its deceitful desires, and instead practice thoughts and attitudes of righteousness and holiness (4:17-23).

We are to tell the truth, forgive and reconcile, stop stealing, and work in order to share.  We are to speak in wholesome and encouraging ways, without slander, bitterness, or malice—forgiving one another as Christ forgave us.  We are to practice sacrificial love towards one another (4:25-5:1).

We are to run from sexual immorality, impurity, and greed, and we are to avoid speaking in obscenities or coarse jokes. We must not hide secret sins, but should “find out what pleases the Lord” and obey.  We should not be lazy or debauched, but wise and disciplined.  We should sing to the Lord and give thanks for everything (5:2-20).

In whatever role in family or society we find ourselves, we should submit to one another and wholeheartedly to Christ.  Wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands should love their wives unreservedly and sacrificially.  Children should obey their parents, and parents should teach their children to follow God.  Slaves should obey and serve their masters, and masters should show kindness and respect to their servants.  In all things, the Church should submit to Christ (5:21-6:9).

We should stand firm against temptation—immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s Word, the discipline of righteousness, and the practice of peace.  We should act in confidence that we have been saved, by grace, through faith.  We have the Spirit of God.  And we should pray in the Spirit “on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests, for all the Lord’s people” (6:10-20).

Yes, it may seem like most of this post is a summary of Ephesians 4-6, not 1-3 as advertised. The blessing of Resurrection Life is introduced in Ephesians 2, and then the apostle Paul gives us a great deal of application in the latter part of Ephesians. But the truth is that none of these attitudes and actions would be possible apart from the fact that we have been given new life in Christ.  This blessing of Resurrection Life is a gift from God, so that no one can boast (2:9). As Paul puts it in another of his letters: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As I close this series on “Three Blessings from Ephesians 1-3,” I want to say that I am grateful to you for reading these posts and for reflecting with me on these good gifts that Paul highlights in his letter to the Ephesians.  I delight in the blessings of CHURCH, the HOLY SPIRIT, and RESURRECTION LIFE.  And I delight in your participation with me in these blessings. 

I will sign off by offering Paul’s benediction, with which he blesses the church in Ephesus: 

“Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Worship Song of the Month

the blessing of the HOLY SPIRIT

As we looked last week at the first three chapters of Ephesians, I hope you were inspired by the way the apostle Paul describes the Church.  The Church is a holy people, the body and fullness of Christ, a building established on Scripture and Christ, a temple in which God lives.  The Church communicates the wisdom and love of God to the powers-that-be and the people-that-need.   The Church is a good gift from God—a blessing. 

In these same chapters, Paul also speaks of another good gift that God gives his people:  the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit blesses us with Assurance, Relationship, and Power.

First, we can have Assurance of God’s plan. God’s plan has been unfolding since before creation.  It was God’s plan to send Jesus to die on the cross to redeem and forgive us, and to make us holy in his sight.  It was God’s plan that all who believe in that redemptive work should be adopted as his children. God’s plan is that, in the fullness of time, all of the blessings outlined in Ephesians 1:3-14 will be fully realized, and all things will be united under Christ.

In grace, God made known to us his mysterious plan, which he “set forth” or “purposed” in Christ. When we heard the gospel truth and believed in Jesus, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us assurance of God’s plan, and because we have the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that we have been included in it. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” guaranteeing that we will in fact inherit eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. 

The Spirit also gives us Relationship.  We are, first of all, given relationship with God.  As “the eyes of [our hearts] are enlightened,” we come to know God more and more.  We increase in hope, we enjoy his present and future blessings, and we understand his power (1:17-23).

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that this relationship with God is given to both Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. And, by the Spirit, we are reconciled not only to the Father but to one another.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:13-18).

By the Spirit, we are given relationship to God and with fellow believers.

Finally, the good gift of the Holy Spirit is a blessing of Power.  It is impossible to imagine the extent of this power, which is “immeasurably great.” As Paul says, the power working in and through us is the same power that God “exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand” (1:19-20). 

Just as God’s power raised Jesus to life, God raised us to life (2:4-5).  The power of the Spirit gave insight to the apostles and prophets (3:4-5); this same power gives us insight into God’s redemptive plan (1:8-10).  The power of the Spirit made Paul “a minister of the gospel” (3:7), and the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to be used for the edification of the Church and the spread of the gospel message today. God’s power gives us strength in our inner beings. It gives us faith and endurance and comfort.  The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us for God’s glory (3:16-21). 

I am thankful for the blessing of the Holy Spirit.  As we see the heart of Paul in Ephesians 1-3, let’s join together in praying that we (as individuals and as the Church) would grow in Assurance of our salvation and in Relationship with God and each other.  Let’s pray that we would have the Power of the Holy Spirit to grasp the amazing love of Christ that surpasses our own knowledge, and to be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

April 22: King of Kings

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the blessing of CHURCH. I hope that you will read that post and reflect on the beauty and purpose of the Church.

As we sing together the song King of Kings, we proclaim that the Spirit of God was instrumental in the birth of the Church, and that the Spirit sustains and strengthens the Church. In Ephesians 1-3, we see the Holy Spirit offering us Assurance, Relationship, and Power.

As we reflect on the blessing of the HOLY SPIRIT, I pray that we—the Church—will be encouraged.

Uncategorized

the blessing of CHURCH

We don’t always think of Church as a blessing. 

Sometimes we engage with Church as a cold institution. Or we might see the Church as a judgmental, fractured, political group of individuals.  Some people experience great pain and disenfranchisement within the Church, and as a result, make a conscious decision to be a Christ-follower without being a church-participant.  Others may be apathetic towards the Church; they find that church has no impact, and instead seek meaning in other communities or choose to live privately “spiritual” lives.

Whatever our hurts or disappointments, I encourage all of us to read the first three chapters of Ephesians to see how the apostle Paul describes the Church. I hope that, through Paul’s eyes, we will start to view the Church as a blessing.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul praises God for the many “spiritual blessings” that are given us in Christ.  These blessings include our having been chosen by God to be holy and blameless, predestined for adoption, and redeemed through Christ’s blood.  Our sins are forgiven, we have had God’s grace lavished upon us, and we have been given understanding of God’s plan. We have been included in Christ and marked with the Holy Spirit. We are “God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We tend to think of these blessings as having been given to each of us as individuals (and we often experience them in that way), but Paul is speaking to a community of believers in Ephesus—whom he calls “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). In his list of spiritual blessings, we find a multitude of the pronouns “we,” “us,” and plural “you.”

We—the Church—receive the blessings of Christ, and, in turn, we are a blessing—blessing God and blessing one another. In Eph. 1:15-21, Paul thanks God for the local church community in Ephesus because of two things:  their faith in Jesus (I think of this as a vertical expression of the Church) and their love for all of God’s people (horizontal).  He prays that the church there will be built up in wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment in order to know Christ and the inheritance and power given to “his holy people.”

Then he makes this beautiful statement about the Church: “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:22-23).

Wow. The Church is the fullness of Christ. The Church is his Body.

In The Cost of Discipleship, theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer says: “The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which [Jesus] has taken upon him.  It is in fact the Church.  Jesus Christ is at once himself and his Church… To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church.”  He continues, “Since the ascension, Christ’s place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church.  The Church is the real presence of Christ.”

As the Body of Christ, we have been made alive with Christ, given the privilege of participating in his mission and work, and are recipients together of his blessings (2:1-10).

We are brought near, through the blood of Christ, to God and to each other (2:11-3:6). We are one People, united in Christ.  We are Citizens and Family Members.  We are a Building, rising up from the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief Cornerstone.  Together, we are being built into a Temple in which God lives by his Spirit. We are Heirs of and Sharers in the promises of Christ.

It is through the Church that God intends for “the manifold wisdom of God [to] be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10).

And it is in the Church that we “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). 

Yes, Church can be disappointing.  Mainly because the Church is full of disappointing people (myself included). 

But I encourage you, if you aren’t currently joined to and participating in a local church, to find a community of believers with whom you can be built up and filled.  If you are already in a church body, look at your church—whatever its faults—as a blessing.   

And, even if deep wounds or ongoing frustrations make it “immeasurably more than all [you] could ask or imagine” (3:20-21) that Church would be a blessing, God is able.  His power is at work within us.

“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

April 15: King of Kings

At our church, we recently concluded a sermon series on the book of Matthew and are continuing the narrative with a series on The Acts of the Apostles. I’ve decided to focus our Worship Song of the Month devotionals on three blessings we see outlined in the third verse of King of Kings, as well as in the book of Acts: The Church, The Spirit, and Resurrection Life.

This week’s devotional on the blessing of CHURCH is published as a stand-alone post on my blog page, because I think viewing the Church as a blessing is an important topic. As a worship leader and worshipper, it concerns me to see the Church devalued, and sometimes replaced, by an emphasis on individual spirituality. I hope you’ll consider the wonderful gift that God has given us in the Church, through the eyes of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1-3.

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

April 8: King of Kings

Last Sunday, we celebrated Easter—the day when churches around the world focus in a particular way on the joy and victory of Jesus rising from death to life.  At our church, this past Sunday also marked the final day of our sermon series on the book of Matthew, and we concluded our series by rejoicing in the events of the resurrection and hearing the words of Jesus calling the Church to action: 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In the coming months, we plan to continue the story with a series on the book of Acts—and see the Church, in the name of the Father and Son and Spirit, with the presence of the risen Christ, follow God’s mission to make disciples of all nations.

As we transition from the story of Jesus’ life on earth to the story of the Spirit giving life to the Church, we will also transition from singing an old (wonderful) song, “How Deep the Father’s Love to Us,” to a new song (published in 2019), “King of Kings.”   This song reviews the gospel narrative, then concludes in its final verse with a celebration of some of the gifts offered to us today—the Church, the Spirit, and Resurrection Life.    

I encourage you to read one of my favorite passages—Ephesians chapters 1 through 3—in preparation for our April “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals.  I have been looking for an opportunity to reflect on these chapters, which overflow with thanksgiving for the many “spiritual blessings” we have in Christ.  And the beautiful and joyful way in which Paul includes the Church, the Spirit, and Resurrection Life in his list of blessings is an encouragement and inspiration to me, a lifelong participant in the Mission/Commission of Christ’s Church.

As we celebrate God working in and through us, we as a Church can join together and say:

“Praise the Father, Praise the Son, Praise the Spirit, three in one.

God of Glory, majesty, praise forever to the King of kings!” 

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

March 25: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

As we sang and studied the first two verses of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, we focused on the great love the Father has for us in Christ Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In the third verse of the song, our focus turns to me.  How do I respond to God’s deep love?

Because we were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) before God made us children of glory (Hebrews 2:10), my response can’t be to boast as if God saved me because of something I could offer him. We had “no gifts, no power, no wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31) that God should choose us. Nor is my “reward” from God given to me because the sum of my good works and righteous attitudes is greater than the balance of my mistakes and wrongdoings.  As we read in our last devotional, we all fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). 

It is only because of God’s great mercy and love that I have been given the reward that Jesus earned through his perfect life and sacrifice.  In Ephesians 2:1-22, the apostle Paul points out that we were dead—God has made us alive.    We were separated from Christ—God reconciled us to himself.  We were alienated from his people—we have been made citizens and saints and members of God’s family.  We were without hope and far away from God—we have been brought near by the blood of Christ.    We were followers of the spirit of disobedience—now we are a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

When I (and all of us) see the many spiritual blessings lavished on me in Christ (Ephesians 1) and recognize that my “reward” is due solely to his merits (his reward), when I see that nothing can separate me from the Father’s love (Romans 8:31-39) and that this love is a free gift by faith (Ephesians 2:8), I respond with gratitude, obedience, and praise:

I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom.  But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.  Why should I gain from his reward?  I cannot give an answer.  But this I know with all my heart—his wounds have paid my ransom.

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

March 11: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

In the second verse of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, our focus turns to Jesus: Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, God hates the sin but loves the sinner? 

Technically this is true.  God does hate sin, and he loves us. And it is clear throughout Scripture that we are all sinners (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Romans 3:10).  In Romans 3:23, we are told that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And 1 John 1:8 declares that “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 

Jesus came to call sinners to himself (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32). As we saw in our “Worship Song of the Month” devotional last week, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

But notice that Romans 5:8 presumes that we are no longer sinners (“while we were still sinners”). When Jesus died on the cross, not only did he take our sin and receive the punishment for it, he also gave us his righteousness. His perfect obedience extends to us—so that we are now considered holy in God’s eyes.  Jesus’s righteousness is credited to us, by faith in his redemptive work for us on the cross (Romans 4:6-8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:19, Philippians 3:9, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Corinthians 1:30). 

In last week’s devotional, we looked at Isaiah 53, in which it was prophecied that Jesus would receive our punishment for sin.  In the eleventh verse of this chapter, the prophet says about Jesus:  “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the Righteous One, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (ESV, emphasis mine).

And Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8, which testify to our sinfulness?  Both passages continue in the very next verse by offering us the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

So yes, God does hate sin and love sinners. But perhaps a stronger conclusion from Scripture would be:  God hates sin but loves the righteous (Psalm 11:5-7, Psalm 146:8, Proverbs 15:9, Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 1:9, 1 Peter 3:12).  And who are the righteous?  Only Jesus—and those who have been accounted righteous in him.