Saturday, September 29, 2018

This is Amazing Grace

Most of you are familiar with the song, Amazing Grace. You may have heard as well a little about the song writer.  His name was John Newton.

John was born in 1725, his dad was ship captain and his mom died when he was very young.  While still a very young man, his dad had him became a sailor, serving as just a deck hand but later he became the captain of the ship.  This was not a military vessel, part of the British Navy but a cargo ship.  It had all kids of cargo including loads of human cargo, these were slaves, captured, separated from their families and put in shackles and traded, sold in various ports in South American, North America and England.   

John’s life was a mess, it is reported that at times he was so drunk and destitute that even his crew was disgusted with him.  You have likely heard the phrase, he (or she) cussed like a sailor;  it could easily have been named after John. In fact, it was said of John that he actually created new words, new profanity that exceeded the limits of verbal debauchery.

Once while piloting the ship, for several months with a load of lumber, livestock and beeswax, a big storm blew up, threatening the ship, everyone thought they were going to die.  So severe was the storm that the otherwise seaworthy vessel was in danger of sinking.  A huge wave crashed over the ship and his only friend, who was standing right next to him, got blown off the ship, never to be seen again. John thought his life is over, and he found himself in the moment of his greatest trial and his deepest fear crying out to God, the God that he blasphemed, he called on and said, Lord, have mercy on us all.

Despite much damage to the ship, when they finally reached a port in Ireland, John began a sincere effort to become right with God.

And so this man, named John Newton, started reading scripture, and was transformed by the grace of God. And he put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics in 1772, to the hymn that we now know as Amazing Grace.

So, let’s pause for a moment on the story of the man behind the hymn, Amazing grace and turn our attention to the scriptures, Ephesians chapter two, and this is where Paul pens these passionate verses about the Amazing grace of God:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,  among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)
Paul is saying something that is actually quite intuitive.   Everyone has a PAST and Paul addresses that in the very first verses of Ephesians 2

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world,

Before you became a follower of Christ, You WERE something you ARE not today.  Can you follow that?  

These verses are a little easier to understand with a more modern translation like the New Living Translation

Paul says, “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.  All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.”

Sometime people are in denial.   They even deny that they are sinners….following their passionate desires of the flesh.

This is what Paul is talking about. We WERE dead in our trespasses and sins, We were just like the rest of the world, we followed the evil desires of our heart.  That’s who we were.

What about John Newton?

John Newton, former sea captain, slave trader, the man with the foul mouth knew who he WAS.   Before we become a believer, it’s important to know who were ARE

It’s said that it’s difficult so save a man from a burning house when he doesn’t smell the smoke or feel the heat

And Paul says there is a “BUT” coming

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

The key here are the words, “BUT GOD” You were dead in your sins BUT GOD.   You were lost, you saw no way out BUT GOD, Your marriage was in trouble, your life was a mess, you couldn’t kick the habit that was destroying your life BUT GOD

Let me tell you why PAUL is using this type of language.  Why Paul says, “BUT GOD”.  This is PAUL, formerly SAUL who before he was follower of Christ hated CHRISTIANS so much that he got papers from those in authority, so he could kill them.  

SAUL fortunately had a BUT GOD moment.   He was on the way to Damascus to go and kill some Christians when suddenly Jesus comes to him as a bright light, and it knocks Saul off his horse.  He is blinded and hears Jesus speak to him and say, “SAUL SAUL, why do you persecute ME”

Saul, also called PAUL is then baptized and begins to preach Jesus.  Suddenly Paul understands for the first time the true meaning of all of the Old Testament traditions, the yearly sacrifices, the feat of the Passover…they all pointed to JESUS.

Paul was lost, BUT GOD….Rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made Paul, made US alive together with Christ

John Newton not only had the BUT GOD moment, but John Newton went on and became a preacher.

And he penned the words:

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.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers toils and snares
I have already come
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun 



Monday, September 24, 2018

“Joyful Joyful" – Ode to Joy

“Joyful Joyful” is a hymn written by Henry van Dyke, a US born, Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania.   Van Dyke was born in 1852 and during his lifetime he was considered by many to be one of the leading Presbyterian preachers and religious leaders in the country.  

In addition to achieving fame as a preacher, he was a professor of literature at Princeton University, became a Navy chaplain during World War 1, and represented his country as an ambassador to Holland and Luxembourg under an appointment by President Wilson. He was a prolific writer of devotional material with many of his books being best sellers.

The hymn, “Joyful Joyful,” written by van Dyke was written to Ludwig van Beethoven’s, Ninth Symphony for the song called “Ode to Joy.” It was Beethoven's last symphony, took him six years to complete and is generally considered to be his greatest.

Many know that Beethoven by thirty years of age, had become completely deaf. It’s amazing to think that this Ninth Symphony and many others were written without his access to hearing what he composed.  A story is told that when the audience erupted with applause at the conclusion of the initial performance of the Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria, the singers on the stage had to turn Beethoven around so that he could see the audience standing and applauding.

Joyful Joyful is the best-known of van Dyke's hymns. The Hymn is based on Psalm 71.  The key verse is Psalm 71:23 which reads:

My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to You
because You have redeemed me. (HCSB)

I like to look at the context of the verse before I begin to teach.  In Psalm 71, the psalmist (David) is looking for deliverance.  While he is waiting for God to answer him, he reflects on the wonder of God and then shouts for Joy.

I wonder if this song was being written today it could be called  “Happy, happy, we adore thee?”

Today, people will want you to believe the words “joy” and “happy” are interchangeable, when in fact, they are not.

We may not always be happy, which is subject to my emotions and external stimuli; but, as believers, if we have faith in God, we can always be joyful in the Lord.

Here are some distinct differences:

1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not.
2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting.
3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God.
4) ‘Happiness’ comes from the root word that we get ‘happening’, as from the circumstances.  Joy is from the Greek GAIO meaning to ‘rejoice.’
5) Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You may have a happy time at Disneyworld however when you leave you may lose that happiness.

The Bible answers the question of how we may have joy despite what is going on in our lives.

The Apostle Paul faced some very unhappy circumstances. However, in the midst of his struggles he wrote (Phil. 1:18b) “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

Paul wrote this to the believers in Philippi while Paul was locked up in prison and facing an uncertain future.   The previous four years of Paul’s life were miserable. He spent two years in prison in Caesarea, and then he was put on a ship to go to Rome to appear before Nero (aka, the Caesar known for his cruelty against Christians).

On the way to Rome Paul is shipwrecked, stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, survived the winter there, continued on to Rome and spent another two years in prison awaiting trial to be executed.

Yet in spite of all of these situations, Paul says in Phil. 1:18b “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

What was Paul's secret? How did Paul remain so positive in prison, riding above his troubles, and being joyful in spite of the fact that everything has not turned out the way he planned it?

The secret I believe was that Paul knew not only knew who he was but more importantly he knew whose he was …..He was loved by God, called to be an Apostle, a messenger, an Ambassador of God.

Do you know whose you are?   You are called to be a child of God.  Because of God, because of whose we are, the Bible says that we are to consider even our trials to be joyful.

James, the brother of the Lord, wrote in James 1:2-4

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Morning Has Broken

"Morning Has Broken" is a hymn that was included in many of the church hymnals after it first appeared in 1931. The author was Eleanor Farjeon who lived from 1881 to 1965 and had a number of poems and other literary works to her credit.   

It was relatively unknown until 1971 when Cat Stevens featured it on his album ”Teaser and Firecast”.
While many may just enjoy the melody, the hymn embraces both the first day and the wonder of God’s creation.
Here are some of the lyrics to help us remember and see God’s creation:
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning
God's recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

The ‘first morning’ in the first verse is a reference to Genesis 1 and the creation of the universe.  

All to often we take God’s creation for granted.  We enjoy it and use it but fail often to fully embrace the wonder of creation.   Even more infrequent is the reference to God’s creation in the media.  However, there was a moment back on December 24, Christmas Eve, 1968, as the spacecraft Apollo 8 orbited the desolate surface of the moon. The Apollo craft carried a three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders.  

Back in 1968 these historical space flights were the subject of national and international news as we saw the first humans to travel beyond Earth’s orbit, to travel to the moon for the very first time.  On Christmas Eve, with the earth in view out of the porthole, a bright and beautiful marble in the darkness of space, the three astronauts on board chose to read the opening verses of the book of Genesis, the words of Holy Scripture describing the wonder of creation:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day.” (Gen. 1:1-5).

 Have you ever thought what it would have been like to be there at creation? It’s almost incomprehensible to read that first there was nothing, and then there was something. The Bible says God “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). The Latin term for that is creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).
The second stanza closes with a reference to God walking in Eden through the garden, “where his feet pass.” This is an echo of Genesis 3:8: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

 The scriptures teach us that we should rejoice in each new day. In Psalm 118:24 we read the words, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

 This is a verse that I have opened our worship services with. We call people to worship with these words, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Every single day is a gift from God.  Every day God continues His work of Creation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that we too often forget the miraculous and mighty works of creation in the hand of God.  He said we use all of God’s creation but we don’t remember it is a gift.   Daily, the works of God are the natural rhythms in which creation occurs.”  Bonhoeffer’s words help us know, recognize and reflect how every day is a gift from God and evidence of the Creator’s ongoing work of creation.

 Listen to some of these words from the song again, this time seeing God’s hand in creation.   The first verse says, “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird.  Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!”  The last verse adds, “Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!  Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day!”

 I have a feeling that if we could begin each morning reciting Psalm 118:24 and maybe singing the words to “Morning Has Broken” it would help us start each day with a positive attitude.  When we the day offering praise to the Giver of all good gifts and we would see the goodness of God, not only in all his creation but in all of the people around us as well.

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...