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,
If you are anything like me, you’ve found that you are spending more time scrolling through Facebook feeds that you did before the COVID-19 Quarantine. I will completely admit that I’ve spent more time that normal looking through the creative and hilarious Memes that have added a bit of Levity to a stressful times!
It brought to mind, however, just how much time we spend and how much influence we allow from social media. Particularly during this time of isolation, we are all reaching out to find community anywhere we can find it… and we may not always think about how much influence those have on us!
My daughter brought her “summary” of 2 Corinthians and it sparked a good conversation around one of the key verses from Paul’s epistle. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says this:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
The church in Corinth had displayed in their actions and attitudes the influence of the world. They needed to be reminded that as ambassadors of Christ, they needed to be good representatives of their Savior. I was reminded as we talked of Romans 12:1-2 where we are charged to resist conforming to the world and to be transformed through the power of the Word of God, for how else can we know God’s will but through His word?
I am praying for you all regularly, as is the whole staff here at FEFC. We all earnestly desire to be once again in your presence, worshiping together with voices lifted high! Even apart, however, we can continue to grow and become more like Jesus. I encourage you to do these things in the coming week:
1) Add Five minutes to your quiet time in the Word. Not necessarily to get more scripture in but to meditate on it and how it applies to your life. How does this passage change the way you behave or think? How are we changed by God’s revealed word to us in the pages of Scripture?
2) Memorize one verse a day for one week. Start with 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:1-2, or Galatians 2:20. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, He modeled a right response by consistently and directly answering with Scripture!
3) Share what you are reading. Conversations about scripture not only help us better communicate God’s truth, the dialogue will sharpen our own understanding! If you have difficulty with a passage, find someone you trust to help you!
Christians have rightly borrowed the term “People of the Book,” for we should be defined by lives that are saturated with and influenced by God’s Word being pressed into our lives, infusing every aspect of our lives with God’s revealed will. Feel free to let us know in the comment section below what creative ways you are using to be a scripture-infused people!
For His Glory,
It has certainly been a crazy couple of weeks... If you follow the Worship Notes blog, you may have noticed that last week there was no entry on Thursday! Like almost everyone in our nation, our sense of "normal" was severely disrupted as we worked diligently to find new and creative ways of serving the people of First Free. On March 15th, the staff gathered together for our first-ever streamed service. While we had been talking for quite some time about how to use this method of interacting with our people, it had been something we would do "later" and not necessarily NOW.
COVID-19 changed all of that.
We quickly worked to find creative ways of continuing to serve, even if we couldn't gather in the typical way. One of the things we value highly here at First Free is our gathering each week... we take seriously Hebrews 10:25 where we are charged to not neglect meeting together. And yet, in this crisis we are asked to physically distance ourselves from one another out of care for one another! With nothing but a cell phone and a tripod, the staff put together a service that we were able to stream out via Facebook Live. During the morning, we had over 400 views... exceeding our normal attendance on a Sunday morning!
With the distance that we are all keeping, the need for community has become increasingly present. Here at First Free, we have been working tirelessly to find ways of keeping that community! We started to utilize the Zoom Conferencing App to have prayer meeting and Life Groups together, allowing us to still be a part of each others lives, even if we aren't sharing the same space.
When the Apostle Paul was looking to preach the Gospel, he used every method at his disposal to effectively preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. I imagine if he was here in the 21st Century he would be sitting in his living room, preaching the Gospel through his smartphone. He'd be using FaceTime to meet with his co-laborers to encourage and instruct them. He'd be writing blogs so that his Church Family would be encouraged. He'd be using every tool he had to make sure that those around him knew that Jesus is Lord, that He came to redeem His people, and that through Christ - and Christ alone - they would be saved.
I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to reach out to your church family. We are still a community of believers and we still need to be in one another's lives, sharpening as iron sharpens iron. We need to ask one another (and respond honestly), "Are you OK?"
I cannot wait to see how God continues to use this unique time in our lives for His glory. I am praying for you all, and I know you echo my prayers.
For His Glory,
As I write this, our nation and our world is caught up in the increasing presence of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Some have chosen to deal with it by using humor to remind us to wash our hands (see it here) while others have begun frantically stocking up on shelf-stable essentials like rice, beans, and toilet paper. It has become, for many, the greatest concern of our day. Partially in response to the Coronavirus' spread the US Stock market have taken historic losses, adding financial concerns to health concerns. Colleges across the nation have suspended physical classes and required students in residence to return home and finish the classes online. Parts of our nation have had governments requesting people to stay in home, limiting any gatherings - including for Sunday Worship.
It would be easy to look at all that is going on and become fixated on what feels like a world that is rapidly spinning out of control. It shouldn't cause us to doubt God's sovereignty or His power. Instead, we should turn to His word as we are reminded that our hope is not in any system that is made by man, but in the name of the Lord our God. As a friend once said in a sermon some trust in (fill in the blank), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May He send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!
May He remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
May He grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves His annointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
with the saving might of His mighty right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
O Lord, save the king! May he answer us when we call.