New Song: Great Things

Throughout scripture, there is a pattern.  God works to save his people and then the people praise him for the great things He has done.  It happens over and over again…Moses and the Red Sea…Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace…the psalms…and then even Mary sings after the angel tells her that she is going to be the mother of God.

For us today, it’s good to remember that God is still doing amazing work in our lives.  He is still destroying death, sin and shame.  God has done great things in my life…in your life!  This song by Phil Wickham starts in the psalms with us kneeling in wonder and inviting others to see what God has done…

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker –Psalm  95:6

Verse 1
Come let us worship our King
Come let us bow at His feet
He has done great things
See what our Savior has done
See how His love overcomes
He has done great things
He has done great things

And that is the theme of the song that we keep coming back to again and again.  He has done great things!  As Psalm 126 says,

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 

Chorus
O Hero of Heaven You conquered the grave
You free every captive and break every chain
O God You have done great things

We use a lot of different words for God.  He is our redeemer.  He is our savior.  He is also our HERO!  If you read the VOICE version, it helps us see this in context…

Our Savior, our hero—the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, by name—is the Holy One of Israel!…I am your hero, the strong One of Jacob from whom you come. I will rescue you, whatever the price. –Isaiah 47:4; 49:26 Voice

And what has he rescued us from?

…he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. -Colossians 1:13-14

How should we respond?  I don’t know about you, but I think singing and dancing is a good way!

We dance in Your freedom awake and alive
O Jesus our Savior Your name lifted high
O God You have done great things

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.-Galatians 5:1

Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory. –Psalm 149:3-4

For us today, God is faithful in big ways and small ways.  He comforts in suffering and protects us from evil.

Verse 2
You’ve been faithful through every storm
You’ll be faithful forevermore
You have done great things

the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. -2 Thessalonians 3:3

And I know You will do it again
For Your promise is yes and amen
You will do great things
God You do great things

Not only is he faithful in the past, he will continue to do great things for the promises of God are “yes” and amen!  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

The bridge culminates in praise by declaring who God is.  Through out history and throughout our lives, he is God.  There are so many ways to say that.  For example, He is higher, above, unshakable.  But it all comes down to this:  he is the God who does great things.

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. –Isaiah 55:9

Bridge
Hallelujah God above it all
Hallelujah God unshakable
Hallelujah You have done great things
You’ve done great things

Worship&Creation

Who was the world’s first human worship leader?

Take a moment to think it through.

If you said, “David”, you need to go back a bit further to just after the beginning of time.

If you said, “Adam and Eve”, you got it right!  Adam and Eve were not only the first people created, but also the first worship leaders of all creation.  God made this place called Eden and then a king and queen in place to rule over it.

“But how were Adam and Eve worship leaders?” you ask.

I’m glad you asked.  Because God’s word tells us, but it might not be the way you think.  First, Eden wasn’t just a garden.  It was a special place where God and man could live together.  Genesis tells us that God “walked” in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Secondly, Adam was not just the king, he was also a priest.  But it wasn’t leading worship services or sing-a-longs.  There was no need for any of that.  All of life was acceptable to God because sin hadn’t entered the world.  AND, everything that Adam and Eve did was an act of worship.  It was all a loving response to what God had made.  Author Mike Cosper writes that

“it was as if they drew all of creation’s praise into a single and unified ‘hallelujah’ and ‘amen’.”

And this is how it was meant to be.  Worship is supposed to be all of our lives.  This idea that we come together for one hour once a week to worship in a way that is separate from the rest of our lives isn’t apart of the worship in Eden.  The idea that we need to sing certain songs or take part in certain rituals is also not apart of the worship in Eden.  Cosper continues, “if someone were to ask Adam, ‘When do you worship?’ he might reply, ‘When do we not!'”

For us during the Advent season, may we have more of this attitude.  May our worship be like the worship in Eden.  We aren’t perfect, but it’s a worthy goal to have all of our lives be an act of worship to God even when we are worshiping in the wilderness.

But more on that, next week…

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*Multiple quotes from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper here.  Thanks, Mike!

Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?

 

My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

 

But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

New Song: Great Are You Lord

“It’s a simple song.”

Sometimes that sentence can be seen as a criticism.  But I’ve learned that simplicity doesn’t have to mean “lack of depth”.  The song we are introducing this weekend is a simple song, but it has depth when you take time to dig into it.

By the way, do you remember the prophet, Ezekiel, who prophesied to the dry bones in the valley?  God commands Ezekiel to prophesy and as he does, muscles and tendons are restored and God brings them back to life…remember that story.  It will come up later.  But onto the first verse with line by line scriptures…

You give life,

-“You make known to me the path of life.” -Psalm 16:11

You are love

Having loved his own who were in the world, he [Jesus] loved them to the end. -John 13:1  (This is how we know that Jesus loves us.  He loved us to the end.)

You bring light to the darkness

In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:4-5

You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken.  Great are You, Lord

-Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. -Psalm 80:3

By now you’re probably wondering, “Where’s the breath?”  Good question.  The chorus brings us to the theme of breath…We see that in Genesis, God gave us breath.  As it says in Genesis 2:7,

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

But not only that, Jesus breathed on his disciples and sent the Holy Spirit to them.  As we read in John 20:22,

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

What else does God breath out for us?  The word of God itself.  As Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Ch:It’s Your breath in our lungs

So we pour out our praise

We pour out our praise

It’s Your breath in our lungs

So we pour out our praise

To You only

So we are called to praise the Lord, but this isn’t limited to only you and me.  We are called to help ALL CREATION praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! . . . Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:1–2, 6)

Br: All the earth will shout

Your praise

Our hearts will cry

These bones will sing

Great are You, Lord

And that brings us back to the Valley of Dry Bones.  This is the breath of resurrection that brings us back to life from death itself.  We read,

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”  So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. -Ezekiel 37:9-10

This is a picture of what will happen at the end of time when Jesus gives us new bodies and eternal life itself.  Then we will eternally sing,

“Great are you Lord”.

The historic argument for the use of the arts in worship is grounded in the Incarnation. The claim is that God, by becoming a person, sanctified physical and material reality as a vehicle for spiritual presence. He comes to us through flesh and blood. Why, then, shouldn’t we accept appropriate art forms as visible means through which we offer our praise?

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation

Worship is a celebration. It is a celebration of the event of Christ—his death and resurrection. To celebrate Christ, not my devotion to him, frees me from having to create or invent my worship.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

Since the reformation, Christians in my tradition of Protestantism have struggled to find a balance between faith and art.  One writer has compared the relationships to an “on again-off again dating relationship”.  Christians “make out” with art, get disgusted and walk away.  And in all fairness, art has a tendency to push boundaries farther than people of faith would like.  But art at it’s best helps us experience beauty, paradox, mystery and transcendence.  These are all attributes of God.  These are all aspects of his being that we struggle to understand and experience.

Art also speaks a visual language that can speak to people who aren’t ready to hear the truth of the gospel.  I have a friend who is a believer artist and calls his art “a bridge to people”.  He has numerous examples of people asking questions about his art pieces that enables him to enter into dialogue about Jesus.

All that to say, I was struck by this article from a lapsed Christian museum curator…

It is probably not for me to comment on the possible reasons for the decline in church-going, except that I am myself a symptom of it, having been brought up to take it for granted that I would attend church and now being an almost entirely lapsed Christian. 

What should be obvious is that, as a culture, we have not lost a need for an understanding of, and interest in, the unknowable: the origins of man; our purpose in the world; the ethical requirements of our behaviour towards one another; the belief that there is more to life than the satisfaction of material wants; the importance of understanding other people’s culture as well as our own. These human needs used to be satisfied to some extent at least by church attendance. But no longer. We no longer, or at least the great majority of us, no longer look to the church for the understanding and satisfaction of these needs. But these needs for the immaterial, for the experience of transcendence, for the mysteries of life as well as its material wants, have not just gone away. They have to be satisfied in some way. That is why contemporary art has moved into the space of the unknown, the exploration of the ineffable, through the experience of transcendence. Contemporary art is not just secular, but sacred as well.

-CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH, “The Sacred And The Secular In Contemporary Art“, http://standpointmag.co.uk/ , Nov 28, 16.

 

8 Reasons for Believers to Sing

IMG_1645

There’s a new restaurant in town called the Junk Ditch Brewing Company.  If you have eaten at the Afine’ food truck, you’ve tasted the kind of food served at Junk Ditch because it’s owned by the same people.  Sara and I spent last evening on the patio talking and enjoying the food.  The only drinks we had were the house-made sodas (the lime is delicious!), but this morning I was reminded of the connection between alcohol and worship!  As crazy as it sounds, Ephesians seems to indicate that it’s sinful to be smashed on alcohol, BUT not tipsy on the Spirit.  Not only that, the sign of being plastered on the Spirit should be singing!

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.  Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

—Eph 5:18-20 NIV

So let me point out 8 reasons to sing as we are tanked on the Spirit…

1.

Singing Encourages & Expresses the Spirit’s Work…we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit much, but this is true.  The Spirit inside of us is ready to sing.  When we sing, the Spirit is transforming us into the image of Jesus!

2.

Singing Helps us Remember God’s Word…This is the reason lyrics are so important.  They help us remember the works of his hands!

3.

Singing Helps us Teach and be Taught…Worship is both vertical (to God) and horizontal (to encourage other believers).  It’s an educational event that helps us learn God’s word AND teach others.  This is why we teach on the biblical basis of our songs when we learn them.

4.

Singing Helps us Express & Engage our Emotions!..Singing with emotion is different than an atmosphere of emotionalism.  This helps connect all parts of our being to love God…heart, soul, mind and strength.

5.

Singing Helps us Reflect & Meditate…I’ve always struggled with how to meditate.  The truth is that it takes time.  Setting aside time each week to sing together is one way to stop and soak in God’s word.

6.

Singing Amplifies the lyrics Emotions…If anything should stir up out emotions, it’s our God…who he is and what he’s done.

7.

Singing Encourages Physical Expressiveness…we hug and kiss our family.  Being physically expressive in our singing gives a fuller expression of our love for God and stirs up our hearts again to love Him.

8.

Singing Helps us Express our Unity with the Church…How many times do we do the same thing, at the same time as a group?  Maybe at sports events or movies, but not many.  And even if you don’t like the song we are singing, it’s a chance to show unity and offer sincere worship to our God.

So whether you’re eating a Strawberry/Beet Salad at the Junk Ditch Brewing Co. or singing on Sunday while sloshed in the Spirit, let’s worship our God.  As Bob Kauflin writes,

“…in every circumstance, a true worshiper worships God.  That’s the priority.”

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Thanks again to Bob Kauflin for his book, True Worshippers.  This content came from that book which proves that I’ve, at least, learned to read.

Looking for God’s Will

It was planned as a time away to visit family and serve orphans.  Even as I write this, it almost sounds like a too-good-to-be-true family movie.  You can hear the music playing as the deep voiced narrator says,

“They were a family like any other, but this Spring Break they were on an adventure that would change their lives.  Because along the way, they would meet a group of orphans and a blind boy with a dog…”

It’s over the top, but this time it was true.  Our family was heading to Mexico over spring break to help my little brother and his wife who are serving for three years at the orphanage, Ranchito Con Esperanza.  We thought it would be a great way to serve God and see family in a WARM climate.  What could be BETTER?!?!?!?

But God had other plans.  These plans were also good.  They involved a possible birth-mom and baby.  But over the past three days, our emotions have been through the wringer as we tried to figure out what God is telling us.  So many times in the past few days, I have felt blind to what God was really saying and what my heart wanted.  I began asking myself questions from author, Ruth Haley Barton

  • Do I really trust God to do what’s best for me?
  • Do I believe in the goodness of God?
  • What does God’s love call for in this situation?  What would love do?

It’s hard in this situation to know what God’s will for our family this week.  Do we go on a missions trip?  Do we stay here in case the birth-mom goes into labor?

It’s a hard call.

For us, we realized we had to give up our own desires, egos, gratification, comforts or advantages.  We had to give up all of that to seek God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.  So we will not go to Mexico.  We will stay here.

How will it turn out?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know…

But I would suggest that all of us as followers of Jesus are called to at least be willing to give up everything to offer our lives to God.  When you have a decision to make, ask yourself these questions, talk to other believers you trust and pray hard.

Know that God is good.

Know that he will finish the good work of salvation in you and bring it to completion.

Know He will guide you.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself.  And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in everything I am doing.

-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude.