Awana Reflections

I love watching them sing and play because they are so free, so bold, and so enthusiastic.  They live out what they feel with very few filters.  Granted, filters are learned and important in life, but how great to see them singing God’s praises at the top of their lungs, uninhibited by fear or self consciousness!  Again, conviction.  Anyone else want to be a Cubbie?

In My Place Condemned He Stood

In My Place Condemned He Stood

This week at Grace Church we are celebrating these historical events in Jesus’ life that save us from death, and the fear of death, when we receive Him by faith. Yesterday was Palm Sunday where we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when He was celebrated as Messiah and King.

Reflections on the Bethlehem Conference: Part 2, Plenary Sessions

Gospel Ambition was the conference theme, subtitled Advancing Gospel Glory Deep and Wide. Piper rightly observed that we can’t advance gospel glory without first being clear on what the gospel is. And we can’t be clear on what the gospel is without first being reminded of the reason for which God created the world.

March Madness @ GCD

This league has truly been a blessing to me, and God has encouraged me to know it's blessed many involved as well. So, as exciting as Tuesday & Thursday's games will be/should be, come take advantage of the opportunity we have as a body to love on our community! They are coming into our building! Let the warmth and welcome and light feel strange, yet captivating! Let your little light shine ("fan into flame" some may say...), and pray that God would continue to do His good work right here in our midst. 

Reflections on the Bethlehem Conference: Part 1, Break-out Sessions

The Conference opened on Monday, 30 January, with four consecutive break-out sessions. I attended a workshop with Tony Merida, founding Pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, titled, The Foundation of Preaching. It was a helpful reflection and reminder of why it is important to preach the Word of God, and nothing else. This doesn’t eliminate creativity but, as Tony put it (quoting Bart Ehrman of all people!), “If you believe God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to read it?” And as preachers, knowing that God has written a book, surely we would want to preach it!

They Crucified Him

They Crucified Him

Your experience may have been different, but my impressions of The Passion of the Christ when it first came out was that it was nearly a mandate for Christians to see. The argument went something like this: In our sanitized western minds, we have no idea what a crucifixion is like. It is easy, then, to gloss over the events of Christ’s passion and to miss the magnitude of what He did for us. Seeing this movie will help us overcome that.

Water in the Desert

Water in the Desert

Seasons of joy are wonderful times. They are pictures of the great celebration when all longings will be satisfied in the Lord's presence forever. But our seasons in the wilderness evoke this longing through a different means. In the desert, distractions are stripped away by our realization that they can't provide for our need. We can know that "man doesn't live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), but our faith in that truth is tested when there is no food.

Joy to the World, the Lord has Come!


Just over a quarter-century after German-born, Italian-educated artist Johann Heinrich Schönfeld completed his inspiring Adoration of the Holy Trinity (c. 1649), future hymn-writer and Renaissance man Isaac Watts was born in Southampton, England. Both men lived with their eyes fixed on heaven, like most of the subjects in Schönfeld’s painting, and both have been used by God to enable similar devotion in every generation of the church since their day.

Little else is known of Schönfeld beyond his considerable body of work, but much of his religious art would suggest that Adorationis a window into his worshiping soul.

By contrast, much is known of Watts. At the tender age of eighteen, for instance, young Isaac was already lamenting the poor quality of the hymnody available for worship in the Church of England. So his father, a Deacon, challenged him to produce something better. And he did. His first effort was completed before the evening worship gathering that very same day!

By the end of his life he had written more that 600 hymns, including a hymnal titled Psalms of David. His intention in this Volume was to express all of the Psalms (minus twelve, which he did not believe were intended for such a purpose) in light of New Testament truth.

Joy To the World was inspired by Psalm 98. Derek Kidner (TOTC 352) observed that this psalm “is wholly given up to praise.” Unlike other psalms in its immediate vicinity, “here there are no comparisons with the heathen, no instructions in right worship: all is joy and exhilaration.”

Psalm 98 unfolds in three parts (spotlighting God’s kingship past, present, and future) easily identified by calls to “sing” (1), shout (4, “make a joyful noise”), and “roar” (7). It opens with His image-bearing creatures from “all the ends of the earth” being called to worship the Lord for His “marvelous… salvation” (explicitly mentioned in each of the first three verses), and closes with all creation worshiping Him for His just judgments—for exercising His kingly duties with “righteousness… and equity.”

All of this eruption of praise presses Watts to affirm, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room! Let heaven and nature sing!” He gives voice to an assertion of a great hope: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground! He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found!” And more! “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!”

Like the inhabitants of Schönfeld’s Adoration, Watts uses Psalm 98 to help us poor and needy subjects of the King of kings and Lord of lords lift our eyes above this sin-shattered world and fix them on the glorious, triune God of all creation, the Lord of our salvation, our soon-returning King, in all the greatness of His saving grace and matchless glory!

Psalm 98

"Joy to the World" - John Rutter


Adoration of the Holy Trinity 
Johann Heinrich Schönfeld

Turning our Hearts to Christmas

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There are all kinds of songs, pictures, stories and symbols that we surround ourselves with during this meaningful holiday. Some of us may find ourselves in tune with the nativity scenes, Christmas hymns, illuminated stars we've put up around our house. This year I found myself quite desensitized to many of the "trappings" I've seen and heard year after year, and it took me quite a while to "tune in" to the experience of Christmas. Why is that?

The imagery of both the Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" and Guido Reni's ceiling painting "Christ in Glory Between Angels and Archangels" is quite familiar to us who have grown up in a Christian-influenced, western culture. We are familiar with seeing rosy-cheeked baby angels and robed figures around a portrait of Christ backlit with sunlight. We know the tune of "Oh night divine, when Christ was born" and can picture the carolers in a Charles Dickens storybook. We've grown up with the music, the words, pictures and the style, but do we know how important it is?

I'm not talking about the artists and writers being important, which yes, they are great creative people that have blessed us with reflections to enjoy, but I'm talking about the importance of the subject matter. Sometimes, when something is so familiar, we can't reflect on its original message. What does a portrait of Christ backlit with the sun mean? What is the significance of him holding that cross in the sky with angels? When combining these three things: the painting, this hymn and Philippians 2:1-11, an amazing drama comes life.

Think about the statement "a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices," and look at the center of that painting, see the sunlight. Then, think about the next statement, "fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels' voices!" And look around at the scene circling Christ. 

Don't we know what a weary world feels like? Think about all the people at work, school, in town, out of town, all over your life, and think about how they may feel weary about the world, Christ, and people of our generation. Personally, I've found people around me to be very weary culturally. They are weary of the world, the country, the weather, and worst of all, many seem weary of Christ and his people. This season becomes a sensitive topic where Christians fight for the prominence of the Christmas holiday, preserving the name of Christmas trees and the existence of nativity scenes. But what if all of us believers stopped thinking about the Christmas aesthetics and looked at the big-picture message? When you put these three things side-by-side: Philippians 2:1-11, O Holy Night, and Reni's Angel painting with Jesus, an amazing line comes through to me: the third verse of O Holy Night.

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
— O Holy Night

Look at how this parallels Philippians 2, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ...complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love...Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves...Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..." Christ is calling us - and enabling us - to be his presence on this earth by loving others. This is what relates to our daily lives and makes Christmas significant to our world. Christ came and was bursting will all sorts of reasons to be glorious and worthy of that magnificent image we see on Remi's ceiling. He came to save us from our sin, bring us to himself, and stop oppression and suffering on this earth by turning us into people just like him. Of course, the work on this earth will only be partial until his final coming, but we get a foretaste now. We get to see small glimpses of the end of suffering through selflessness and Christ-likeness. That is what tuned me into Christmas this year. Not until I remembered Christ's coming into my heart did the hymns and decorations seem to sing to me and warm me.

Philippians 2:1-11

"O Holy Night" - David Phelps

David Phelps - "O Holy Night"

Second Adam from Above


When I went to buy Christmas wrapping paper this year, I found a wide array of options – everything from Santa and snowmen to scenes from the movie Frozen. One of the rolls I purchased had words of the season throughout the design. Peace. Love. Joy. Christmas is for love, for family, we are told. It is for peace and deliverance from the turmoil that is around us. 

Yet this is an incomplete message. Peace, love, and joy most assuredly mark the Christmas season, but to understand their meaning, we must see them in the context of other, more startling words. Sin. Death. Hell.

Eighteenth century hymnist Charles Wesley, did not shy away from these words when he wrote the beloved Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. He called the nations to be joyful, yes – but why? Because God and sinners were now reconciled. As pictured in Benjamin West’s painting, the angels carry the message of peace and goodwill, a message that had to come from God to man. It could never have come from man to God.

Wesley’s hymn went through a number of revisions before coming to the form we know it in today. One of the portions lost to us is striking in its summary of the Gospel:

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display Thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O to all Thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
— Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley

Wesley takes us back to Genesis, to Adam and the serpent. Here, in stark contrast to our modern inclination to seek peace merely from the turmoil outside us, Wesley prays that the Desire of Nations would “bruise in us the serpent’s head.” We, those with “ruined nature,” are the problem. With Wesley, we pray that the Lord would remove Adam’s likeness. Why Adam’s? Because Adam’s likeness is a likeness of death. “Death reigned from Adam to Moses,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Romans 5:14). Our sin and Adam’s sin lead to death and destruction. 

But there is hope, as Wesley continues. “Second Adam from above / reinstate us in thy love,” he prays. “Let us Thee, though lost regain / Thee, the Life, the Inner Man.” Here, then, is the end of the Christmas story, set in a world filled with death and destruction, a world filled with sinful people causing that death and destruction. A second Adam, God incarnate, chooses to lovingly, graciously reinstate His people into His presence by first entering theirs. He gives Himself in the manger and on the cross. He claims His victory and leaves behind an empty tomb. And he provides for His people that message our hearts long to hear.

Peace. Love. Joy.

Romans 5:12-17

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing" - Sovereign Grace Music

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing Words by Charles Wesley Music by Felix Mendelssohn Additional words and music by David LaChance, Jr.