Archive for December 2013

A Christ-centered Year

During Advent, Jesus is the Promise of the Father.

During Christmas, He is the Gift of the Father. He is all the fullness of God embodied in a human infant.

During Epiphany, Jesus is the Light of the Father, drawing all people to Himself.

During Lent, He is the Father’s Servant, leading us on the path of obedience and trust.

During Holy Week, Jesus is the Love of the Father, humbly submitting to death on the cross.

During Easter, He is the Life of the Father, overcoming death and sin forever.

On Ascension Day, Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, reigning as Sovereign Lord and King.

On Pentecost, He pours out the Promise of the Father, baptizing every believer in the Holy Spirit of God.

During Ordinary Time, Jesus helps us order our lives by His teaching and example. He gives us His Spirit as a down-payment while we eagerly await His promised Advent.

Brothers and sisters, let’s constantly celebrate all God has done for us in Jesus Christ! Let’s make this year a Christ-centered year.

The Light of the World

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
(Luke 2:22, 25-32, NIV)

Jesus is not just the central figure of Christianity.
He is the central figure of all history,
of earth and heaven.
He is the Creator, the Sustainer of all that is,
seen and unseen,
the Sovereign Word of the Sovereign God.
He is not just the wisest person who ever lived.
In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
He is not just the leader of one group, culture, or movement.
He is the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords. 

“See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.” (Isaiah 60:2, NIV)
Jesus is the Light of the World, and
as He is lifted up,
all nations, all peoples will come to Him.

We know what the holy and wise of all ages
have longed to discover.
We see Jesus Christ.
How very blessed we are!

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Light of Every Nation
Printed Music & Lyrics

Feed the Fire

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6, NIV)

God lights a fire within us—
the fire of His Spirit,
the fire of His power and love within.
But starve any fire—
deprive it of oxygen or fuel—
and it will quickly die.

Feed the fire.
Nurture that life-giving relationship.
Respond to Him in faith and obedience.
Listen for His gentle whispers.
Answer when He calls.
Tell Him how much you need Him.
Tell Him how much you love Him.
Give Him top priority every day.
Put to death the old habits and start new ones.
Thank Him every time He blesses you.
Come to Him quickly with every concern.
Serve Him eagerly, with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Read His Word.
Talk to Him.
Trust Him.
Praise Him.
Feed the fire.

God’s Promise to Moses

[Moses said:] “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 

“The LORD said to me:…’I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-19, NIV)

In Moses’ day, the nations around Israel used all kinds of magic and superstitious practices to learn the will of the gods. God forbade such sorcery in Israel. He chose to make His will known through His prophets. And unlike the mysterious messages of pagan soothsayers and mediums, God’s words would be clear and understandable.

In the passage above, God is promising to raise up a succession of prophets who would faithfully speak His will to His people. We read the revelations of many of those prophets in our Old Testament. But when the prophets quit coming, the hopes aroused by Deuteronomy 18 began to focus on one Prophet, One who would come and fully reveal all God’s will for His people: Messiah Himself.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, many saw Him as this promised Prophet:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45, NASB)

When the people saw the sign which [Jesus] had performed (the feeding of the five thousand), they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14, NASB)

Some of the people therefore, when they heard [Jesus’] words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” (John 7:40, NASB)

Peter, in speaking to the Jews about the One they had crucified, said:

“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer…For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you…’ Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.” (Acts 3:17-18, 22, 24, NIV)

Jesus told those questioning His authority,

“If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46, NASB)

And on the evening after His resurrection, Jesus conversed with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27, NASB).

As the centuries progressed, God’s prophets were distilled into God’s Prophet, and God’s words became God’s Word, Jesus Christ.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV)

Your power, Your wisdom, and Your love
have said all they have to say
in Jesus Christ.
Help me to listen.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: The Word of God Is Jesus Christ
Printed Music & Lyrics

Daily Holiness

O what an awesome God You are!
I hear Your voice and touch Your heart
And glimpse Your perfect plan.
Then how I long to live and grow
With love as constant guide and goal,
To move at its command.

But life is such a daily race.
The pressures mount, and selfish ways
Invade my life unseen.
And though I seek the things above,
Consistency and perfect love
Still seem a distant dream.

But mercies every morning new
And faithfulness flow but from You,
Eternal God of grace.
You give the Spirit of Your Son
To live Your life in everyone
Who daily walks by faith.

My Father, faithful, loving Lord,
I look to You and trust Your Word
And praise You for release.
The One who works Your will and way
Will work in me and grow each day
Your love and joy and peace.

Turning Points

Sometimes God’s hand is only visible in the rearview mirror. Life’s major turning points may masquerade as the small and ordinary. They only loom large when seen in retrospect.

I was 22 and in my first and only year of graduate school, pursuing a master’s degree in music composition at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. My life plan was to compose classical music and teach at the university level.

The course was “Introduction to Graduate Studies”, designed to teach us some of the basics of graduate-level study. The instructor had assigned us to prepare an annotated bibliography—a bibliography with brief descriptions for each book entry. Any subject would do.

I was also minister of music and youth director at a small church in Cincinnati. Killing time before an appointment, I was sitting alone in my pastor’s study, idly looking over the books on his shelf. One caught my eye. It was a thin, black, clothbound book with “Wesley Hymnbook” on the spine. I began reading the introductory material, and it caught my interest. Methodist hymnody seemed as good a subject as any for my assignment.

Of course, to prepare the bibliography, I had to find and familiarize myself with other books on Methodist hymnody. Up to this point my interest had been classical music, not church music. But the more I read about Methodist hymns, the more I got hooked. Soon I was haunting local used bookstores, hunting for old hymnals. (Side note: nearly 15 years later, having built up a collection of about 1,000 hymnals, I sold them to friend and composer Tom Fettke and purchased my first computer.) In addition to old hymnals, I bought newer collections of hymns and Christian songs and hungrily perused them. I even went to the rare book room at the University library and photocopied entire old hymnals for study.

When that school year ended, so did my classical music studies. Instead, I accepted a job as college music instructor at God’s Bible School there in Cincinnati. Among the courses I taught were hymnology and the history of church music, with my personal study as my only preparation.

After two years teaching, I decided to apply to Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I was driven by a strong interest, not in pastoring, but in biblical languages and theology. Some at the seminary saw my application and connected me with Nazarene Publishing House, which was looking for a music editor at the time. I started work there in June, 1975, and stayed until the end of 2009. I never went to seminary, except to audit a course now and again.

Soon after starting at NPH, I learned that Wesley Hymnbook had been one of their biggest flops ever. My pastor had a copy in his study only because NPH had given them as gifts to graduating seniors at Nazarene Theological Seminary.

But that terrible publishing investment got them a music editor, director, and product developer for 34 years. And it ignited in me a lifelong enthusiasm for hymns.

Our magnificent, incomprehensible God changes and redirects lives every day. Sometimes He reveals Himself through a dramatic divine encounter. We are struck down by a brilliant light like Saul on the road to Damascus, or we suddenly find ourselves on holy ground, standing before a burning bush. But sometimes God’s hand is artfully subtle. He lights a tiny fire deep in the heart of a young person—a fire that in time becomes an all-consuming passion.

A Life Framed with Love

Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, [the Magi] returned to their country by another route. 

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
(Matthew 2:12-18, NIV)

Jesus was born as He would die.
He would die as He was born.
The birth and death of the Light of the World
were shrouded in darkness.
His trusted companions were the lowly and powerless.
Jealous leaders pursued Him with murderous hearts
while humble women gently cared for His needs.
His helpless body was wrapped in cloth and laid in borrowed quarters.
Coming and going from this world,
He was immersed in suffering, shame, and desperate circumstances.

Jesus is a portrait of God our Father,
framed with tenderness, mercy, and sacrificial love.

Father, I look at the life of your Son, and
I see the full extent of Your love
etched on every page.
Throughout His birth, His life, and His death,
He drank our shame and suffering full strength.
Father, I bow in silence.
How can I respond to You?
How can I live my love for You?

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: One with Us
Printed Music & Lyrics

Control Completely, God

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131, NIV)

Lord God,
in the presence of Your wisdom
I quiet myself.

In the face of your greatness
I humble myself.

Touched by Your love,
I rest my mind and fearful heart.

Control completely, Almighty God.

Divine Coincidence

Have you discovered that Almighty God wants to take part in your daily work? Here’s one example from my own experience.

Matching a hymn text with the right tune can be tricky, painstaking business. But years ago I began receiving tune ideas from the Lord. Sometimes I would hear an original tune in my head. Other times I would feel prompted toward a folk or classical tune in one of my sources. I would set the tune aside in my “pending” pile, put it out of my mind, and go on with my work.

Then within days the Lord would give me a lyric idea separately, from my Bible study or from an audio book I was listening to. Sometimes it happened the other way around. The text idea would come first, then the tune.

What was amazing was how often I’d find the perfect match for the text or tune there near the top of my “pending” file. I had forgotten about the first one until the second showed up and I went looking for a mate. The two had come to me entirely separately, though in the same time frame.

At first, I considered it mere coincidence. But it began to happen so regularly that I coined a term for it: divine coincidence.

But it wasn’t just texts and tunes that came together so marvelously. Often a thought or scripture would come to me from my daily reading or listening that was exactly what I needed for some current writing endeavor. I hadn’t gone looking for it. It just jumped out at me.

Some would explain such phenomenon as the subconscious working of the mind. And I can’t claim to explain all the workings of this amazing brain the Lord has given us.

But God regularly uses divine coincidence to remind me that He deeply, personally, constantly cares about my daily activities. My work is His work, and He doesn’t abandon me to it. He works beside me all day, every day. The Spirit of the sovereign, almighty, universal God works through me. He will work through you as well. How wonderful is that!

Father, all our work is Your work. Keep us open. Keep us listening. Keep us dependent on You.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, NASB)

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. 

All things came into being through Him, and
apart from Him nothing came into being
that has come into being. 

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness did not overpower* it.
(John 1:1-5, NASB; *optional reading) 

Matthew’s gospel focuses on showing the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. Thus he begins with Jesus’ human genealogy, proving that Jesus descended from King David.

John’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ relationship with God, His Father. Therefore he begins with Jesus’ divine genealogy. He says:

In the beginning,
the very beginning,
before anything else was,
Jesus was already there with God the Father.
They were two persons
but one life,
one Being,
one God.

Jesus is the Word, the full and perfect Word,
spoken from the Father’s great heart to us.
All that the Father wills,
the Son makes reality.
All that the Father’s love imagines,
all the life,
all the light,
all the riches of His own being,
are born in our world…and in us…
through Jesus Christ.

may Jesus Christ be all that You want Him to be
in my thinking,
my speaking, and
my doing.
I want to be one with You in Him.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: God Is with Us! Alleluia!
Printed Music & Lyrics