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Even Thunder Ice

There is nothing like being awed by the beautiful magnificence of God’s creation.  I want to use this post to share my joy in our Creator and my awe at God’s handiwork with you for His praise. May these reflections spur you on as you remember how God has shown Himself an awesome God!

Over the years, I have seen stunning sunrises and sunsets.  I’ve been blessed to be able to visit Almeria, Spain.  It is on the coast of southern Spain between the Alboran Sea and the Sierras of Almeria. I was staying with a missionary when I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. She had set a deck up for her children to play on since there were very few yards in her city.  Looking out over the deck wall, high on the third floor, the sunset was breathtaking. The brilliant rays were shining off the water with the view of the mountains on the other side of the deck wall. I had gotten up early, didn’t have a smartphone then, and my camera was in with the sleeping team. Though I don’t have a photograph to remind me of it, the image is locked forever in my mind.

Another sunset I remember (also before the age of smartphones) was in Oahu, Hawaii.  I’m pretty sure the palm trees and beach had something to do with the gorgeous image I saw.  No matter your vantage point, the beauty of a sunset or sunrise cannot be matched by any electronic light show, man-made kaleidoscope, Pixar art, or even any artist’s rendition.  God’s creation just cannot be reproduced. He is such an artist!  Such a creator!

John and I visited La Libertad, El Salvador a few years ago and I was able to compare oceans.  The Pacific Ocean in El Salvador is completely different than the Pacific Ocean on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The sand in El Salvador was a darker sand than I was used to seeing, almost black, as we walked out to the surf.  In contrast, in Waikiki it’s absolutely beautiful white sand, but historic reports from the 1920s and 1930s reveal that sand was brought in from Manhattan Beach, California, via ship and barge, to Waikiki Beach.[1] Although the beaches were interesting, they didn’t catch my attention nearly as much as God’s ocean. The Lord’s ocean is SO beautiful! Now that statement just doesn’t even begin to do the beauty of God’s ocean justice. When I was on both beaches, I had the same feeling of awe.  The powerful sound of crashing waves reminded me of several passages of Scripture:

  • Revelation 14:2 “And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder…”
  • Ezekiel 43:2 “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.”
  • Psalm 29:3-4 “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty”
  • Psalm 104:25-26 “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.”

Words just cannot describe the ocean fully.  To sit and watch it wave after wave… To hear that sound!  I was in a state of awe, in awe of God’s creation!

Another awe that God blessed me with is the thunderstorm. When I was little, of course the thunder was scary to me, but I was curious to see what in the world was going on out there.  I was drawn to look out and look up.  My grandmother always said, “Darla, get away from that window!”  When I was older, I would go out on the porch during a storm and wonder at the science lessons that told me different things about lightning.  Part of it comes down, but when it hits the positive charge on the ground, we actually see that part the most in a series of spurts. It is just so cool what God has created in thunder and lightning! Now does that lightning scare me?  Well, yes.  I have jumped 3 feet off the ground before.  NO exaggeration.  I was nine months pregnant with my second son and a lightning bolt hit the tree in our yard: a huge 30-foot wild cherry tree.  The lightning not only split the tree in two, it also hit the roof of our doghouse, which was under the tree.  (The dog wasn’t in it!)  It was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.  When it hit, I was standing in my kitchen and literally jumped up in the air!  I was told it was comical.  It was not that comical to me!  That was when hard labor began.  It was not the easy little contractions that gently make you feel like “Oh, I think my labor has started,” but it was the end-of-the-pregnancy labor that makes you scream.  It was a scene from a very dramatic saga–a pregnant woman doubled over screaming, “I’m in labor!!!” It was a week earlier than my due date.  We lived 45 minutes away from the hospital, so we got a bag together and headed up there.  Every bump and curve coincided with a new scream.  When we arrived, they told me we weren’t even going to see the labor room–the baby was coming and he was coming NOW!  We were only there for 15 minutes and our son was born! THAT’S how powerful lightning and thunder can be!

Mountains are another of God’s creation that have literally taken my breath away. The first time I went to Colorado I remember seeing the mountains in the distance and it was so exciting.  But it took hours of driving after that first sighting to actually arrive in the mountains.  We went to the Rocky Mountain State Park and I was taking in all the views as we drove along.  We drove by very pretty wildflowers, pretty hills and valleys….until we came to this pass.  Our truck came around the bend and it was THE most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen in my life.  WOW!  The vast landscape was so amazing!  Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” was playing in my headphones, and, I am not kidding–I began to weep.  It was so majestic and so beautiful that it brought my emotions to the surface.  I’ll never ever forget it.  No camera can ever capture the mountains as they are in real life.  It’s no wonder that the Lord used a mountain when He spoke to His servant Moses or that mountains are referred to as “high” and “great” (Revelation 21:10, Isaiah 2:2).

Just the other day we had another of God’s incredible creations:  thunder ice.  It was a rain/sleet mixture turning into ice, creating slick and slushy streets, but it was thundering as it rained the ice. This doesn’t happen very often.  It was so cool!  Then I glanced out the window and the tiny droplets of water freezing on my weeping willow tree in the backyard made a beautiful icy scene before my eyes.  The book of Job came to mind, Job 37:6 and 10, and also Job 38:22 to be exact.  Verse 6 in Chapter 37 says, “For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’” And Verse 10 says, “From the breath of God ice is made, And the expanse of the waters is frozen.” Then Verse 22 of Chapter 38 says: “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail”…it is God’s sovereignty.  He controls everything!  Read Job 37 and 38. It’s all there.  Thunder, lightning, snow, rain, beasts, storms, cold, ice, clouds, hot, darkness, light…but Job 37:10 tells it all:  “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (italics are mine).

There are so many other things in God’s creation that I could mention.  (I’m thinking of animals, plants, and insects, just to name a few.) These are just part of our wonderful and marvelous Lord’s creation!  Don’t buy into the world’s “Mother Nature” myth!  That is the enemy trying to take credit for God’s mighty and miraculous wonders.  He is awesome and mighty and greatly to be praised!

“ For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power
and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since
the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
So they are without excuse.”
Romans 1:20

 

[1] “Where’s the beach? Seeking the origins of Waikiki sand.” by Chris Bailey, Hawaii’I Magazine, February 20, 2009.

 

 

Darla Phillips is a member of FCC. She and her husband, John, are active in many ministries at FCC.

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“Let the Nations Be Glad” A Hymn Meditation based on Psalm 67

By Matthew Swain

“God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.” – John Piper

Let the Nations Be Glad

Let the glory of the Lord forever be our joylet-the-nations-be-glad
May redemption be the theme of our song
For by grace we have been saved
And by grace we shall proclaim
To the corners of the earth that Christ has come

Let the nations be glad
Let the peoples rejoice
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the whole earth be filled
With the praises of the Lord
For salvation belongs to our God
Let the nations be glad

Through the ages gone before
Through the trial and the sword
Many saints and martyrs conquered, though they died
Still we’re holding out the cross
Crossing oceans, suffering loss
Shall endure all things to win the crown of life

As Your holy church goes forth
In the Holy Spirit’s power
With the glories of the gospel to explain
Now we pray Your kingdom come
And we pray Your will be done
For the honor and the glory of Your name

Matt Boswell | Aaron Boswell | Matt Papa
© 2010 Dayspring Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

Faith Community Church recently had the privilege of sending some of her very own to the mission field.  In so doing, Christ’s command that we “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 29:19) has been fulfilled in part.  Our “farewells” have wrought tears mingled with joy and sorrow as we, for the moment, have come to grips with the sober reality of the sacrifice required in taking the Gospel to the nations.

While scripture can never be supplanted, songs rooted therein can help inform our theological understanding on such matters. Let the Nations Be Glad, a hymn roughly based on Psalm 67, is one example. Stanza one begins with the reality that missions starts first in the heart of man through salvation. God’s glory is most brilliantly on display through our redemption in Christ, which is an unmerited gift of grace (Eph. 2:5). It was British missionary to the Belgian Congo, Charles Thomas Studd, who rightly stated, “The light that shines farthest, shines nearest at home.” The fuel of missions is first fanned into flame by the ever-intensifying reality of Christ and our salvation within the heart of man.

Stanza two connects our present call to the nations with the church past as a means of encouragement. We ought to find solace, comfort, and courage knowing that “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) has gone before us in faithful obedience to the Great Commission. We are presented with the paradox that faithful obedience to this mandate, resulting in possible trial, sword, even death will yield a “crown of life.” For this we fear nothing and joyfully “endure all things.”

Finally, Stanza three reminds us that as we carry the gospel forth we go in the power of the Holy Spirit. The text concludes with Jesus’ own words from the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) and with an unmistakable sense of urgency that our call to take the Gospel to the nations is now. Will we continue to be faithful?

Dr. Matthew Swain is the Pastor of Worship at FCC and Assistant Professor of Worship Ministries at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

 

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Right Doctrine, Right Emotions

By Blake Loy

“There never was anything considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man living, by the things of religion, that had not his heart deeply affected by those things.[1]

I saw a video on the internet called, “The Worst Worship Ever.”  I will spare you the details, but it absolutely made me nauseous.  What I saw was 10 minutes of emotionally charged jumping and crying and swaying and spinning without even a reference to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  There was a lot of activity and a lot of expression, but was there actually worship?  Worship is our response to God’s self-revelation; which predicates that the truth about God be revealed (in song, in preaching, in scripture) and that we understand it, internalize it, and express it through proper affections back to God.  This insidious, emotional worship, as demonstrated by Youtube, is obviously off-base but it reminds me of two other dangers that even we at FCC are susceptible to.

First, there is the danger of misplaced emotion; that we are moved emotionally by mRight Doctrine Right Emotionsusic and not the truth in the lyrics.  We do everything we can do to avoid affecting some kind of emotional “high” with the songs that we select, the arrangements of music that we use, and the order of service.  This does not mean, however, that there are not people here because of the music.  Not everyone likes a hard drum beat or a heavy baseline, and because we lack both of those things at Faith, I am sure there are many here because they find their expression in our style of music rather than raucous or outlandish music at other churches.  If that is the case with you, beware!  The source of our emotion can only be God the Father as revealed through Jesus Christ the Son through the stirring power of the Holy Spirit.  When our mind processes deep truths about God through song, through scripture, and through the preaching of the gospel, the result is properly placed affections and a proper response in worship.  Jonathan Edwards warns us in his treatise on religious affections that proper affections do not mean proper understanding. Emotions, however, are a good thing which brings me to the next danger that we face at FCC:

Equally dangerous to the emotions that are improperly placed is the total lack of emotion in worship.  We want the deep truths about God to be preached and sung every time we meet at FCC.  This requires a great deal of introspection and thought in our worship.  However, when we truly encounter those deep truths, our souls should be stirred to experience matching emotions.  Ranging from exuberant joy to brokenness and contrition, there are appropriate affections for every song we sing and every truth we proclaim.  It is sinful to perpetually sit in stoic emotionless thought while the greatest truths of all time are played out before us.  As we walk through the stages of the gospel (God, repentance, grace, and thanksgiving) I hope you find that your emotions match the lyrics and that you do not worship passionlessly.  Edwards also warns us that while proper emotions that do not originate from truth do not represent true “religious affections,” if our souls are cold and callous to the truth, we may not have experienced true conversion.

Anyone who has recognized his depravity before God and tasted of the grace which God bestowed to us through Jesus Christ cannot help but be overwhelmed by emotion.  I would encourage you to read John Chapter 4 this week and ponder what it means to worship in “spirit and in truth.”  I will promise to pack as much truth into the lyrics of our songs as I can.  Will you search your heart and worship with appropriate emotions as we lift our voices together on Sunday morning?

In Christ

Blake

[1] Edwards, J. (2004). A Treatise Concerning The Religious Affections: In Three Parts. In E. Jonathan, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 2, pp. 234-343). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. (p. 238)

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Worship is War

BY ANDREW SHEFFIELD

Worship is war.  The great battle of all time is the battle for worship—thwarworshipe battle to win the adoration and service of earth and heaven.  And when we gather for corporate worship, part of what we’re doing is fighting in this battle.  So we must be serious about our task.  We must be serious about being unified in our task.  We must be serious about being steadfast in our task.  And if we are to be serious, unified, and steadfast, we must above all be focused only on Christ.  He is the object of our worship, and He is the reason we can worship rightly.  So fix your eyes on Him, continuing to come together week in and week out to fight so that Christ will be exalted in His church and in the world.

Andrew Sheffield is Pastor for Worship and Community at Rocky Bayou Baptist Church in Niceville, Georgia.

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In Spirit and Truth: What Does that Mean, Exactly?

spirit and truthtBy Andrew Sheffield

In Spirit and Truth:  What does that mean, exactly?

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23-24)

In the “worship wars” (read: style wars) of the past two or three decades, this passage has played a central role.  On all sides people use these verses to make their cases—some argue that the “spirit” component of worship is missing from services that use only traditional hymns, and therefore contemporary music must come in to rescue the church from dead worship; others claim that Jesus’ statement endorses charismatic practices; still others argue that “truth” is missing from contemporary praise and worship music, directing us back to hymns as the answer for our worship woes.

Obviously, not all of these perspectives can be true.  And in fact, I would argue that all of them miss Jesus’ point and thereby miss an essential truth about worship.  Recall the occasion for these words:  the Samaritan woman has put to Jesus the issue of where right worship of God should take place—in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim.  And in His own infinitely wise way, Jesus thwarts her expectations, and, rather than answering her directly, He makes a much, much larger point.  He tells the woman that physical location no longer matters in worshiping the Father; rather, spiritual orientation matters.  And in fact, Jesus’ point here goes even further than issues of location; it touches on the very definition of worship.  For, up to this point in the history of Israel, worship has been centered around the physical acts of sacrifice and offering, in the physical place of the temple.  But Jesus says here that physical places and even physical acts are not the heart of worship:  rather, spiritual, unseen realities define true worship.

Without delving any deeper into this text (there are volumes of truth here), think about just this point:  the governing realities of true worship are spiritual, not physical.  To put this another way:  God looks not at the outward appearance, but at the heart.  Or, another way:  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  Sound familiar?  These are all ways of stating the truth that worship is more about unseen realities than about seen realities.  The unseen realities—who God is and who we are in light of Him—should be our consuming focus.

Be sure that I’m not saying that physical realities are completely meaningless or that there is some great divide between physical and spiritual—because we humans are both physical and spiritual, so any spiritual realities we experience are mediated through our bodies.

But if our chief focus is on the things we can see or touch or feel—the aesthetics of the place where we meet, the style of music, or even our emotional state, for example—then we will miss altogether the spiritual realities of true worship.  The battle we must fight in our worship (and indeed in our entire Christian life) is the battle to fix our eyes on the unseen things.

So the next time we gather—and every time we gather—remind yourself that your physical experience is not the ultimate judge of whether your worship is spiritual and true; rather, the orientation of your heart is what will make your worship genuine.

 

~Andrew

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Still More on Why it Matters What We Sing

By Andrew Sheffield

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-wrote the Hymnal is a forthcoming book by T. David Gordon, a follow-up to his 2009 book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, which addresses the (detrimental) reshaping of preaching by modern media.  I came across an interview with the author in which he comments on the transformations that occurred in America’s music culture within the past century, and I thought his comments were worth sharing with you:

“In the last 70 years, substantial changes happened to music in American culture:

* music moved from being participatory to passive (folk music, performed by average people, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by pop music)

* music went from being communal to being, largely, individual (began with the Sony Walkman, [and] music is now heard solitarily)

* because of the commercial interests, pop music has replaced sacred music, classical music, and folk music. For the vast majority of Americans, the only music that SOUNDS like music is pop music, because they are surrounded by it. It is in the “background” when shopping, putting gas in the car, dining in restaurants, on TV and film. So nothing else registers as music. The consequence is that many churches have effectively abandoned the church’s rich history of hymnody for trifling contemporary stuff.”  (emphasis mine)

In relation to these comments, the thought has struck me that much of today’s church music is not actually produced by the church, for the church:  it is produced by producers, for consumers.  In other words, church music has become market-driven (just as much of church practice in other areas).  I don’t mean to condemn free markets; but just as preachers should preach with consideration only for what God has to say to His people—not what will sell well or attract a crowd—so church music should be produced with the sole considerations of how to edify the people of God and how to help them make the praise of God glorious.

This is just one more reason I’m so picky when it comes to the songs we sing.  It’s also yet another reason I gravitate more toward older rather than newer:  because by and large, hymns from the era of Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross were written by the church, for the church—often by pastors for their own congregations to sing.  They became popular because they were used so widely in the church—rather than being used widely in the church because they were popular.  (In the same way, many of the newer songs we use in corporate worship are not necessarily songs you’ll hear on the radio but come from people seeking to edify the local church rather than to sell records.  Not that selling records is wrong, but again, when it comes to corporate worship, market success should never enter our thinking.)

I hope this helps you sharpen your thinking about church music, and I hope it helps you see just a little more clearly my desires for us as a church in the area of singing.

(quote from http://theologyinverse.blogspot.com/2010/03/interview-with-t-david-gordon-on-why.html)

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Why it Matters What We Sing

One vital aspect of good songs is that they are skillfully written, both in words and in music.  We as a society tend to value skill less than we value efficiency or expedience; but the Bible clearly values skill—or wisdom—in spite of the extra time and labor it takes to both develop good skills and to employ them.

I can sit down and come up with a few lines of music very quickly; I can do the same with a few lines of verse.  What I cannot do very quickly is cultivate a deep understanding of the Word of God and its application to my life, along with a deep understanding and knowledge of language and poetry and communication and/or a deep understanding of singing and music.  These skill sets are essential for good songwriting, and I always look for the display of these skills in the songs we sing.

There are many, many badly written songs in use by the Western church today.  What does it say about our worship of God when little to no effort, skill, study, and labor go into writing the songs we sing to and about Him?  Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly” in us, which should result in rich singing, not anything that is poor, unskillful, or lazy.  May our exalted view of God lead us to exalted, skillful, rich worship—the kind of worship of which only He is worthy.

Originally appeared in the April 2010 Newsletter

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Order of Worship

By Tim Juhnke

Being a creature of habit, I am usually not a big fan of change; but change can be good. Some of you might have noticed that we recently made a few alterations to the order of our worship service. Behind these changes are ardent desires that (in the words of our Philosophy of Worship) seek to “present the glory of God in such a way as to provide a framework for the congregation to respond in worship.” Thus, we want to be Biblical and intentional in everything that we do in our corporate gatherings. The following is a brief explanation of the order of our worship service.

The worship service should actually begin before you are seated. When possible, adequate rest is necessary. I know for some this is a huge challenge because they have to work the night before. But in general, the only thing worse than a sleepy Christian in the worship service is a boring preacher leading the worship service! Furthermore, Christians should arrive to church with sins confessed and heartfelt desires to experience God in the communion of saints. You might be surprised how important those prerequisites are! In ancient days the worship service began with the blast of a ram’s horn that aroused the attention of the worshipper. Our services start with a vigorous song of praise that serves as a call to worship for all the church. Sundays are often bustling with activity and warm chatter, but the call to worship signals that our gathering before God as His people is about to begin. After the call to worship, the congregation is seated. What follows is what I call a necessary (but not necessarily) evil: announcements. Announcements take care of family business, but we endeavor to keep them brief. It is after the announcements that our worship service actually begins. In the past, we simply started singing after announcements, but now the worship service will begin with a pastoral prayer and the reading of Scripture. The portion of Scripture read is almost always the portion of Scripture that will be expounded upon in the preaching service. After the reading of Scripture, our corporate worship in song will commence. By placing the Scripture reading at the beginning of the service, it is our hope that your mind and heart will begin to be prepared for the exposition of that Scripture through the songs and prayers and preaching that follow.

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