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. 

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

March 4: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

Many years ago, when I served as Director of Music at a church in Illinois, I shared my very first “Worship Song of the Month” article with our church family there.  I reached out to Stuart Townend for his thoughts on his hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” and he graciously responded.  Of course, this was long before the proliferation of “stories-behind-the-songs” videos and blogs on church websites and YouTube.

As our church at Parkminster continues a Journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and as we approach our remembrance of Jesus’s death on Good Friday and our celebration of his resurrection on Easter, I think it’s appropriate for us to again sing this hymn—which is now more than 25 years old!  For our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, we will reflect together on Jesus’s death, with a focus on the Father, Jesus, and me.

When I sing the first verse of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, several questions about the Father come to my mind. What was the Father feeling when Jesus was suffering on the cross? Did the Father experience loss when Jesus died?  Did he turn his face away from the Son?

What we do know is that the Father sent the Son to earth for the purpose of death on the cross.  This is a theme of John’s gospel, with Jesus repeatedly declaring that he had been sent by God (John 6:29, 8:42, 10:36, and 17:3).  Galatians 4:4-5 asserts that Jesus’s death was always part of the Father’s plan: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” 

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the Father to purposefully send his Son to his execution.  Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion were excruciating, and the Father knew it would be that way.   As his death drew agonizingly near, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  But the Father was not deterred in his purposes: “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Did the Father suffer as he saw his Son suffer, even as he was pleased with Jesus’s obedience and redemptive act?

I don’t know whether the Father turned his face away as Jesus suffered on the cross, as Stuart Townend’s lyrics poetically state.  I imagine these lyrics could express some of the suffering the Father may have experienced as he witnessed his suffering Son. Or the isolation Jesus might have felt on the cross. Or it’s possible that, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), there was a physical separation—a distance between the holy Father and his Son, who, on the cross, had the sin of the entire world piled upon him (Isaiah 53:6, 1 John 2:2). Some people who are smarter and more qualified than I reject that idea, speaking about the eternal, unbroken relationship of the Trinity. But in any case, the Father certainly planned for, initiated, and brought to fulfillment his Son’s death.  He didn’t “rescue” Jesus from the cross. And, though much of the Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted in his tumultuous prayer proclaims trust in God’s ultimate deliverance, the suffering was immediate and real. “We considered [Jesus] punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

Of course, the Father did not abandon Jesus permanently (Acts 2:31-32). But unlike Jesus, who lived and died in perfect obedience to the Father, our sin has the potential to separate us fully and permanently from God. It is only because of Jesus’s sacrifice that the Father will no longer turn his face away from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) in our sinfulness.  Because of Jesus’s death on the cross, the Father’s wrath is satiated (Romans 5:8-9). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23)—but Jesus has received our punishment.

Even as I try to imagine what the Father may have been feeling at the death of his Son, what is clear in Scripture is that he felt great love—love for us! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his one and only beloved Son to die, in order that many sons (and daughters) might be brought to glory (Hebrews 2:9-11). He sent his Son to his death to make wretches into treasures, slaves into sons. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

How great the Father’s love for us!

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

February 25: Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah

In The Book of Psalms for Worship, a recent (2010) Psalter created by a committee of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Colossians 2:10 is printed above its version of Psalm 146. This verse proclaims, “In Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” As we conclude our comparison of Psalm 146 with Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, let’s remember that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of this Psalm.

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah.  O my soul, Jehovah praise.

I will sing the glorious praises of my God through all my days.

The Lord reigns forever; your God, O Zion, for all generations. 

Over all God reigns forever, through all ages he is King.

Unto him, your God, O Zion,

Praise the LORD.

Joyful hallelujahs sing.

We see Jesus displayed throughout Psalm 146. Fully God, Jesus was Lord at the beginning, involved in creation—“the Maker of heaven and earth” (John 1:1-18). He humbled himself to become fully human, but, unlike other “human beings who cannot save,” Jesus came to set prisoners free, to give sight to the blind, to care for the poor, and to release the oppressed (Luke 4:14-21). Jesus is the God of Zion, ruling forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).

In the final lyrics of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah,” we praise God for his eternal reign and ongoing faithfulness to his people. Jesus is our faithful, reigning King. Praise the LORD!

For Reflection: Read Philippians 2:5-11. What does this passage say about Jesus’s deity and humanity? What does it say about his reign as King? Praise Jesus for creating you, caring for you, and saving you. Praise him as King, and confess him as Lord.