Everlasting Love

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (v.1). Psalm 136 asks us to take a moment and thank God for His goodness to us. The repeated phrase, “His love endures forever,” answers our question of why we should give thanks. God’s love is an everlasting love. It is eternal. It has no beginning or end.

Open Star Cluster Westerlund 2 & Starforming Region Gum 29 via Hubble Heritage on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/hubble-heritage/16635704113/

The psalmist gives two illustrations of God’s love. The first is the story of God creating the cosmos. Do you know that God created the heavens and the earth, the stars, sun and moon out of His love? He lovingly created an entire cosmos. Just think of it! “His steadfast love endures forever” (v.9b).

But that was just the start of God’s expression of His love. The God of gods specifically loved the nation of Israel. He loved them so much that He rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them a special land in which to dwell. God’s love is huge in that it is directed toward His entire creation, yet it is also directed toward a chosen people in a special way.

Today the Church is that chosen people. God has saved us out of bondage to sin and death. He has rescued us from His own righteous anger through the death of His only begotten Son on a wooden cross. Paul says in Romans: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (v.5:8). “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Truly God’s love does endure forever. “Give thanks to the God of heaven.  His love endures forever” (v.26 NIV).

Prayer:  I thank you, Lord for your creation and your loving hands which shaped it. I thank you for your great love in choosing to have mercy on me and giving me a great inheritance when I did not deserve it. Thank you for the death of your son for my sins.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.

God Is Good

While Psalm 134 is a call to praise the Lord, Psalm 135 provides motives for praise.  We are all servants of the Lord, and we are all ministers of the house of the Lord; therefore, this psalm provides us all with a motive for praise.

Image from JFXie on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/50249715@N06/7321064334

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.  Do you really believe that God is good?  In the same way that God chose Israel, God has chosen the Church in Christ.  Paul says in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (NIV).  He was not obligated to have mercy on us; He was not obligated to have mercy on anyone.

Yet God has not only been patient and merciful to all mankind, He has specifically chosen His Church to receive His grace and mercy.  He has chosen the Church “to be his treasured possession” (v.4 NIV).  He has blessed us “with every spiritual blessing.”  He has chosen us to be the recipients of His heavenly goodness.  “Sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant” (v.3 NIV).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you have been so good to me.  You have blessed me with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.  I praise you for your goodness, knowing that it is only because of your good pleasure and choice that I am the recipient of your blessings.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St. Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.

Christmas Sermon 2013: Jesus is the Wonder Counselor

Listen here for my 2013 Christmas sermon on Jesus the Wonderful Counselor, this year we will reflect on Jesus the Mighty God!:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.                                            –Isaiah 9:6-7

Everlasting Love

Psalm 136: Everlasting Love

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (v.1) Psalm 136 asks us to take a moment and thank God for His goodness to us.  The repeated phrase, “His love endures forever,” answers our question of why we should give thanks.  God’s love is an everlasting love.  It is eternal.  It has no beginning or end.

The psalmist gives two illustrations of God’s love.  The first is the story of God creating the cosmos.  Do you know that God created the heavens and the earth, the stars, sun and moon out of His love?  He lovingly created an entire cosmos.  Just think of it!  “His steadfast love endures forever” (v.9b).

But that was just the start of God’s expression of His love.  The God of gods specifically loved the nation of Israel.  He loved them so much that He rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them a special land in which to dwell.  God’s love is huge in that it is directed toward His entire creation, yet it is also directed toward a chosen people in a special way.

Today the Church is that chosen people.  God has saved us out of bondage to sin and death.  He has rescued us from His own righteous anger through the death of His only begotten Son on a wooden cross.  Paul says in Romans: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (v.5:8).  “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  Truly God’s love does endure forever.  “Give thanks to the God of heaven.  His love endures forever” (v.26 NIV).

Prayer:  I thank you, Lord for your creation and your loving hands which shaped it.  I thank you for your great love in choosing to have mercy on me and giving me a great inheritance when I did not deserve it.  Thank you for the death of your son for my sins.

Psalm 136:1-26

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

How shall we praise God? Let me count the ways!

How Shall We Praise God

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (October 28, 1466 – July 12, 1536) was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest and theologian. He once wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end, organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on I Cor. 14:19)

Or this from St. Augustine 354 A.D., describing the worship style at Alexandria under St. Athanasius:

“The pipe, tambourine, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.”

The issue of musical style and instrumentation has been debated by leaders and members of the Church since its inception. Should the Church embrace the use of modern instruments and styles of music in order to reach lost demographics of people? Can the Church go too far in accommodating to culture that it loses its identity as the Church? Many lament the absence of younger generations in church but are reticent to engage with new forms of music and liturgical style which might reach them. Others lament the loss of our traditional heritage of hymns, choirs and organ music to rock bands and video screens.

Certainly, the traditions of our Church, particularly the Anglican heritage of traditional choral-led worship offers a treasure trove of music and worship practices which transport the worshiper to the throne room of the Lord in the heavenly places. Yet, should we be concerned when our children and teens are not finding their souls nurtured because of their personal distaste for older hymns and the sound of an organ over electric guitars and drums?

Mr. Randy Krum, Organist and Choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, FL

St. Peter’s has made a serious commitment to offer both traditional and contemporary forms of worship. The reality is that we have different types of people whose souls are fed by different forms of worship. Right now our contemporary service is the higher attended of the three services, but we have about equal numbers of people between the two forms of worship when you combine the attendance at 5 and 9:00, which are both more traditional in style and format. Our praise band led by the gifted and inspired, Rev. Wes Sharp, has set a high standard for contemporary Christian music expression within the Anglican tradition. With Randy Krum as Organ/Choir Director, we have placed a renewed emphasis on providing resources to the traditional 5:00 and 9:00 service. Our choir has been strengthened with more members and the traditional forms of worship enhanced. Randy has brought a wealth of experience and skill in leading musical worship in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. And, we have a beautiful Allen organ to lift the roof in our church with beautiful music.

Admittedly, it has been real challenge to do both traditional and contemporary forms with God glorifing excellence, but God is worthy of our best efforts to praise him in every way. The sacred music of our Church’s tradition is something that I personally would never want to jettison, and so long as I am rector of St. Peter’s, it will always have a prominent place within the life of our congregation.

That said, one thing we should always bear in mind is that all of the forms which we consider traditional were at one time contemporary novelties for the Church. The first and main use of the organ as an instrument was at Roman gladiator matches in the arena. It was a very prominent instrument in the Greco-Roman culture. The church use of the organ was not until the tenth century and had to overcome its suspicion of the organ’s popularity in contemporary culture and more specifically its association with the Roman arena. It was a popular instrument at the time and an attractive novelty for the church–it brought people to church!

Consider that it is a traditional Anglican “thing to do” to put the message of the Gospel and Worship into the language of the people in order to reach the lost. The translation of the hymns, the Scriptures and the Prayer book into English from Latin was a fiercely debated monumental change in liturgical and worship practice to reach the demographic of those who speak English as their primary language. Contemporary translations opened up the gospel and worship of the Lord to the general population in a way that started a massive revival in Europe called the Protestant Reformation.

St. Peter’s Adult and Youth Choirs

Many of the “traditional” hymns that we now sing were actually written during this time. Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was musically set to a popular German bar tune! Many more of our traditional hymns were written during the Great Awakening during the founding of the United States, by revivalists such as Charles Wesley. In their day they were new! The missionary methods of the Wesley brothers with their emphasis on large revival meetings and small groups were often criticized for being too accommodating to culture and not in keeping with the traditional way of forming Christians. Anglican priest, George Whitfield, often had to preach outside because the traditional church would not welcome his populist messages and styles.

One thousand years earlier, St. Patrick was an effective evangelist because he found aspects of the Irish culture that could be used by Christianity and translated the gospel into those forms. He was put on trial by the Roman Church leadership because his evangelism to the Irish “Barbarians” did not conform to the “Roman Way”. His monks didn’t wear the right robes, they didn’t cut their hair in the right way! We must never compromise with our culture in the area of morals and doctrine of the Church! We do not change our sexual ethics, or teaching on the nature of marriage to make it more expansive to our permissive culture. We do not water down our commitment to preach Jesus as the Lord of all and the only way to the Father, even if such a message is unpopular.

The challenge to be in the world and not of the world is always before us. If we completely reject the surrounding culture, we can create a monastic existence where we are neither in nor of the world—so heavenly minded, we are no earthly good. What does Paul mean when he says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings..”? (1 Cor. 9:22) If we can use the contemporary Christian music that plays on the radio to reach the teens and non-Christians in this community more effectively than by not, is it not incumbent upon us to do so?

Certainly part of the formation of the young and new Christian would be to learn to appreciate and even fall in love with the larger tradition and worship expressions of the Church. Likewise, the formation of the older and traditional Christian would include learning to appreciate the new forms of expressing praise to God and perhaps grow to enjoy it! I hope that we will all recognize that the main goal in all of our efforts is to glorify and delight in the God who gave us voice and creativity to express our praises in various forms and expressions. In everything we do, our aim is to bring Glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Only God is the unchangeable One!

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the discussion here!