We are a people of story-tellers. Through our stories we are transported to other times and other places, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to go beyond our daily life into something more. To be sure many are told simply to entertain, however even in the most superficial of stories we find things that shape our world view, our understanding of one another and the world. Most importantly, as believers when we tell stories we are communicating the truths about God and the world He created.
I’m an easy mark for good story-telling, regardless of the medium. I become engrossed in the characters as they have situations thrust upon them they must find ways to overcome. The best stories inspire us to do likewise… and some of the best stories are found in the pages of the Bible itself – God’s story of His creation and the ultimate redemption of His people. Along the way there are a myriad of stories that rival and surpass the best Hollywood has ever offered.
Starting this week here at FEFC, Pastor Bill and I will begin a series of sermons entitled “For such a time as this…” while Pastor Rob is on Sabbatical. Each week, we will explore a different story from the Old Testament. Far more than mere historical accounts, these are stories that capture the imagination and challenge us to emulate the men and women that God has called according to His plan. Through it all we learn not only something about these stellar individuals from the annals of biblical history but of the consistent and trustworthy character of God. And in these strange times, we certainly need to take the time to remind each other of God’s supreme faithfulness!
For His Glory,
A couple of songs have been rattling around my head the past few days, coming to my mind as I’ve considered all that is happening in our city, our nation, and the world. My wife and I enjoy collecting memes as we find them throughout the day and sharing them with each other at the end of the day, and of course a recurring them for the past few months has been the growing realities of the COVID-19 Corona virus. Whether it is masks, vaccines, ventilators, politicians, or quarantine behaviors the ongoing pandemic permeates every aspect of our culture… to be sure, we don’t need clever picture captions to be reminded that the world is a stranger place than we thought it would be at the beginning of the year!
Through it all, I’ve been reminded of the same two song… “I Choose to Worship” and “The Joy of the Lord,” both by Irish worship leaders “Rend Collective.” Both songs hold a similar theme: though there is uncertainty, doubt, and even in fear I will still worship. Our strength is found not in confidence in the circumstances around us but in the unfailing, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God.
Here in Colorado Springs, we are looking at the possibility or returning to our “Safer at Home” policies given the COVID numbers in our county. After having some of those restrictions lifted or eased in the past month, I am certain that I am not alone in looking at that possibility with no small degree of frustration. Perhaps that is why God is bringing to mind these two songs for the “soundtrack” playing in my head. Our strength and confidence is not found in the certainty of tomorrow but in the certainty of the Cross and the God of our salvation. What fear should I have for tomorrow when I know who holds tomorrow in His hands?
My prayer for myself, my family, my church, and believers throughout the nation and the world is that we find Joy, we find confidence, and we find courage in knowing that God is in Control. My prayer is that we do not choose to fear, do not choose to speak hastily, do not choose to give in to the anxiety-filled world around us but that we Choose to Worship. We choose to remind ourselves (and others) that in a world of Chaos we have a God of Order. In world and culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to one another, we serve the Prince of Peace that brings Unity through the Cross.
Brothers and Sisters, we are not given a spirit of fear but one of power and love and self control as we rest in the truth about our world and about our God that is found in His Word (2 Timothy 1:7). Rest in the Truth, rest in the God of Truth… Choose to Worship.
For His Glory,
I’ve been a fan of the worship music duo “Shane and Shane” for some time now, particularly their acoustic arrangements. Their “Worship Initiative” series has been helpful in showing worship leaders around the world how they can adapt a song to a smaller sound, as most churches don’t have access to the same instrumentation or musician that many recording artists use when they release their music. I have been grateful for the work they do in creating resources for churches everywhere with their intentional approach to leading worship, not merely creating music.
Last Friday (July 10), Shane and Shane released a new album full of classic worship songs entitled Vintage Worship. Each of the 10 songs on this list inspires a sensory memory of some of the foundational times in my own walk with Christ, where I gathered with other teens my age and raised voices and hands in worship. Perhaps my favorite track is the arrangement of the Ron Kenoly classic from the early 90s “Ancient of Days.” It has an explosive energy that brings this nearly 30-year classic right into the musical language of this year. I’ve included a link to their “Songs from Home” arrangement at the bottom of this blog so that you can listen for yourself!
From time to time, churches will wrestle with singing songs that are new versus old. We as Christ-followers should be constantly looking for ways to worship our creator-savior-God, and there are some truly excellent songs written in the past few years to help facilitate that corporate worship together. However, albums like Vintage Worship remind us that some of these older songs certainly deserve to be re-vitalized and brought back to our regular worship! They remind us of the times when God was particularly at work in our lives and often call us back to worship in times of turmoil. What a great album for times such as this, I encourage you all to give it a listen!
For His Glory,
One of the passages I return to continually is Colossians 3:16-17
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. In whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col 3:16-17 CSB)
What a beautiful picture of the church, gathering together in the name of Christ, calling one another to righteousness. Many of you know that for the past few months, it has been heavy on my heart that one of the greatest dangers present during quarantine was the lack of that fellowship. Without fellow believers around us to encourage and admonish us, the process of putting to death the old self and putting on the new becomes significantly more difficult.
I have seen people turn away from a life influenced by scripture in the past year, partially because they had intentionally removed themselves from the fellowship of believers who would call them to righteousness – how thankful am I that I am surrounded by people who call me to more Christ-like living! We as followers of Christ are to function as believers in community… which means during Quarantine or times apart we need to be so much more intentional about reaching out to one another. Be transparent with one another, call each other to sanctified living (and be ready to receive the same input from others), and find ways of building one another up!
With many states talking about resuming some of the restrictions, I encourage all of you make time for (social distanced) discipleship together. Challenge a friend to read through the Gospel of John or an epistle, go through a video series together using a YouTube party app, take a moment to pray specifically for one another – not just a vague prayer but bringing specific requests to God from one another’s life. This is discipleship. This is Christianity. This the way we are called to live.
For His Glory,
One of the essential purposes of the church is to worship together. In our gatherings we sing, we pray, we sit under the teaching of God’s word, we call one another to righteousness, and we testify what God has done – not just for the world but in each of our lives. On Sunday, we will sing the Chris Tomlin arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” and the first verse of that Hymn is still my favorite:
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found / was blind but now I see.
The Gospel story is one of transformation, to show that we were once one way but through the grace of God and the power of the Spirit we are being renewed into the likeness of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. What joy it is to remember the cross! What delight it is to share with others how we are not now what we once were. We are also observing the Lord’s Supper this week at FEFC. The very act of communion is a rite of remembrance. During the very first Lord’s Supper, Jesus commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
We are a people who remembers.
We remember what God has said.
We remember what God has done.
We remember that God is the creator of the Universe.
We remember that God regularly displays his power over the world.
We remember that though we rebelled, justly earning condemnation, God provided a path to reconciliation.
We remember that while we were still Sinners – Christ died for us.
We remember who God is, we remember who we were, and we remember who we are because of Jesus Christ.
As we remember, we tell others.
As we prepare to worship this week, I call all of you to take time to ponder all that God has done for you and for the world and share it with your friends, your family, and your community.
For His Glory,
About five years ago I was introduced to the song “Kingdom Come” by Kings Cross Church in London. I was struck by the prayerful tone of the lyrics, calling out to God that we would see things here on earth as it was in Heaven. The song became a regular part of my personal worship, singing the chorus as a refrain during times of prayer for God’s people. I would pray for the church, and then sing “Let Your kingdom / May your will be done / Lord, let Your kingdom come!”
The song lyrics reflect Romans 8, where Paul is reminding the Roman Christians that all of creation had been impacted by Sin and is groaning, longing for the restoration that will come only with Christ’s return. We often think about how our Sin impacts our lives, but the truth of scripture shows us that all of creation was fundamentally changed as a result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:14, 17-18) and that just as our souls cry out for redemption and restoration, so too does the very world we live in.
As I look out at our culture and society today, it seem clear all of creation is crying out in anguish over our fallen state. So much more, then, do the words I sing become my earnest prayer, “Lord, let Your kingdom come!” How I long for that day “when all injustice will bow / every voice will cry out / Holy is Your Name!” No matter the injustice, the harm, the pain, the sorrow…the answer is not new policies nor government. It is not new leadership nor large-scale apologies. The answer is when all the earth bows the knee and acknowledges that Jesus Christ is Lord. This Sunday, we will sing this song as a church. I invite you all to pray this with me every day.
For His Glory,
During the Covid-19 Quarantine, the staff at First Evangelical Free Church started doing a short video series on our Facebook and YouTube channels called “From the Desk.” The hope was to create another avenue of connection for our people during the period of time where personal connections were increasingly difficult to have. The series includes thoughts on worship music, basic devotions, or just thoughts from the staff at FEFC.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been using the time to share about how to better read our Bibles. We as followers of Jesus Christ are to be students of “the Book,” letting it be our primary and supreme influence as we grow into the image of Christ. Unfortunately, many of us have never been taught how to read the Bible. If and when division or disagreement comes about applying the Bible to life Christians, young and old, often do not have the tools to read and understand what this essential book has to say about any given situation. We are left to the guidance and interpretation of others instead of being able to understand the passages ourselves.
While this short video playlist doesn’t go into great depth, I feel passionately that the timing of these videos is particularly poignant given our culture today. The culture at large would like us to view God’s Word as a fluid, easily changeable thing. They are fine with the believer believing what the Bible says as long as it can be updated to better reflect the modern era we live in. One of God’s characteristics is His immutability. That means God does not change, and neither does His Word. While we can always search deeply to find how the Bible applies to our lives, it never changes its meaning. It takes less than 30 minutes to watch the whole playlist, and I hope the tools that are unpacked are helpful as we all grow in the image of Christ!
For His Glory,
Playlist link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZUW07TebVHZa2YCWF-AxprpxZrq6SVPj
This week I’ve been spending some time meditating on a verse from Ephesians:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
When you look at the context of this passage you see Paul writing in the previous chapter about his call to bring the Gospel to the gentile nations, calling a people group that was previously apart from God’s family “co-heirs” and brothers. We, as predominantly gentile believers, often miss how incredibly profound this incorporation of non-Jewish people in to God’s people would be at the time. There are some parallels to that relationship between these two people groups that could be made to present-day dynamics, but we are hard-pressed to fully comprehend the attitudes and actions that were built on millennia of precedent.
Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus is full of the theme of the old life apart from Christ and a new life in Jesus, and part of that new life is that despite our diversity in ability, background, race, roles, and traditions we are unified through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is through HIM that we are reconciled to God, and to each other. This bond of Christ’s Blood transcends any other difference or similarity we may otherwise use to identify ourselves.
In both Ephesians 3:1 and 4:1, Paul refers to himself as a prisoner for the Lord on behalf of the Gentiles. As we read in Acts 21, we see that Paul’s imprisonment was in part because he had the audacity and gall to preach to the gentiles, even bringing a gentile into the temple itself. This display of the new unity in Christ was so offensive that the people in Jerusalem put Paul’s life in danger.
Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, Paul writes that we should live worthy of the gospel in humility, gentleness, bearing with one another in love. From his own tumultuous time, Paul wants us to know that as we deal with one another in the family of God we are to approach one another Loving one another, humbly, gently, and patiently. Is it any wonder that this verse seems so appropriate for the day? I encourage all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to look at those around you as Paul desired us to live… as those unified through the blood of Christ.
For His Glory,
We live in uncertain and anxious times, to be certain. Each week, often each day, the nation gathers around screens with hope for new information that can give some sort of assurances that life will return to normal. Perhaps the greatest anxiety isn’t in what we know, but what we don’t know. I’ve rarely seen times that I don’t find Matthew 6:34 more important in my own scripture meditation:
“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus gives us this instruction right after assuring his listeners that our focus should be on eternal matters, that God provides for our needs, that what sets us apart from the rest of the world is that we can have peace in knowing that God is still in control, still sovereign, and still provides.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have enough real concerns for today! I doubt there are many people who have no concerns as we look at the stressors of the day. It is not without some validity that fears of a return to some of our most difficult times as a nation could be returning as millions still are without work. Our nation is seemingly paralyzed in response to a virus that we still only know a limited amount about. Perhaps foremost among our fears is that we will never return to normal, that those things we hope for will not return to the way they were.
We hope for a return to work, to old routines, to booming economies, to mask-less grocery runs, to coffee with friends, to dance recitals and concerts and sporting events, to gathering with family and friends, and for the believer in particular a return to our regular gatherings on Sunday.
I do not fear these things will not return, but I long for the day to come quickly! As I anticipate our return to fellowship together, I am praying through 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10…
“How can we thank God for you in return for all the joy we experience before our God because of you, as we pray very earnestly night and day to see you face to face and to complete what is lacking in your faith?”
I pray for you all, many of you by name, as we continue this period of isolation that even in these times apart we are dwelling in God’s word, that we continue to grow in our faith even as we are unable to be in the same room. I encourage you all to reach out to one another for the purpose of spurring each other on to greater Godliness; we truly do live in an interesting timee that provides great opportunity to see God work in our lives!
For His Glory,
Quite honestly, this past week we celebrated the most unique Easter Sunday in my memory. Churches around the nations ramp up expectations for a bumper attendance on Easter Sunday as even in today’s increasingly secularized nation people who would typically not attend put on their “Sunday Best” and come to church.
Not so this year.
Instead of preparing for increased attendance, Churches asked instead how to we magnify the importance of this day when we are still limited in gathering? Many churches (ours included) are still working out the unique aspects of being a streaming-only gathering week, much less how to make the day special! Working out the details, however, was reminder of what was really important as we prepared for the day.
It’s easy to get caught up in the preparations for an event. Just like Martha and Mary, the things that need to get done can sometimes overwhelm our ability to remember the reasons we feel it’s important to gather. We get caught up in the Lilies, bunnies, eggs, special music, new clothes, good things that are a part of Easter but not the main thing! I was very thankful this year that I was able to remember through all of the hectic preparations for the services that it wasn’t just the next task, it was the day that we have set aside to make sure that declare to each other and to the world that HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!
The interesting thing we need to remember in all of this, however, is that while we would certainly understand why we can get lost in the preparations for a major day, we shouldn’t forget that every Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. Every time we gather, we declare to one another that triumph of Jesus over the grave. We gather every week to encourage one another as we live in light of that truth! We gather to grow closer to each other as we become more Christ-like.
As we prepare for this coming Sunday, I encourage you all to prepare for our “virtual” gathering with the same excitement that we have for Easter or Christmas or any other special Holiday…. We are declaring Christ’s victory!
For His Glory,