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The Christmas Spirit

Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 Phillips)

J. I. Packer’s 1973 book Knowing God has been formative for many, many people in their understanding of what the Bible teaches about God. In chapter five of the book, “God Incarnate,” Packer gives a thorough study of the meaning and implications of our Lord Jesus Christ – God the Son – becoming a human being. Packer’s thoughts, along with the stanzas of the Gospel hymn “Thou Who Wast Rich” by Frank Houghton, give us much to meditate on as we ponder the miracle and wonder of God’s grace in Jesus that we celebrate at Christmastime, and the impact it should have on us all year long.

Packer writes, “The key text in the New Testament for interpreting the incarnation is . . . 2 Corinthians 8:9: ‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.’ Here is stated, not the fact of the incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should set it before ourselves and ever view it – not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.”[1]

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender, sapphire paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake becamest poor.

Packer continues, “How are we to think of the incarnation? The New Testament does not encourage us to puzzle our heads over the physical and psychological problems that it raises, but to worship God for the love that was shown in it. For it was a great act of condescension and self-humbling. ‘He, Who had always been God by nature,’ writes Paul, ‘did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal’ (Philippians 2:6 ff., Phillips). And all this was for our salvation.[2]

Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising, heaven-ward by Thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man.

Packer concludes, “We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity . . . But . . . the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round . . . The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow men; giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.[3]

Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship Thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling, make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship Thee.

Follow this link to enjoy Steve Green’s lovely and worshipful rendition of this hymn.

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 51.

[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 50-51.

[3] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 55-56.

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CHRISTMAS DAY: “The Joy That Christmas Brings”

Joy Has Dawned[1]

Following a night of confrontation with the spirits in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge experienced a joyous Christmas morning.

“Running to the window, he opened it and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
‘What’s today?’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
‘Eh?’ returned the boy with all his might and wonder.
‘What’s today, my fine fellow?’ said Scrooge.
‘Today!’ replied the boy. ‘Why, Christmas Day.’”[

Scrooge was a changed man after his night of struggle. He felt he had a new lease on life. His outlook on life was changed. He experienced joy.

Joy is found throughout the Christmas story. It was promised to Zechariah that the birth of his son John the Baptist, the one who would introduce Jesus to the world, would bring “. . . joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth . . .” (Luke 1:13 NRSV). His wife Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, felt that the child in her womb “leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44) when Mary came to visit her. The angelic messenger told the shepherds that he was bringing them “. . . good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10 NRSV), and after they had found and worshiped the infant Jesus, the shepherds returned to their flocks “. . . glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen . . .” (Luke 2:20 NRSV). Even the Magi who came later to visit the newborn King were “overwhelmed with joy” when the star led them to find Jesus (Matthew 2:10).

The apostle John wrote that the message of the coming of Jesus to the world was a message that brings joy in the telling.

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4 NRSV)

What is it about the message of Jesus – the message of Christmas – that brings us joy? Timothy Keller writes that “. . . the joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care, is like a subterranean river of joy, a fountain of mirth, that will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.”[3] You and I can know a deep and lasting joy when we come to know Jesus and receive the new life He came to bring.

Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers who are giving the church many new songs that are musically beautiful and theologically faithful to Scripture. Their song, “Joy Has Dawned,” is a wonderful retelling of the Christmas story, and affirmation of the joy we know when the message of Christmas truly fills our hearts.

Joy has dawned upon the world, promised from creation –
God’s salvation now unfurled, hope for every nation.
Not with fanfares from above, not with scenes of glory,
But a humble gift of love – Jesus born of Mary.

Sounds of wonder fill the sky with the songs of angels
As the mighty Prince of life shelters in a stable.
Hands that set each star in place, shaped the earth in darkness,
Cling now to a mother’s breast, vulnerable and helpless.

Shepherds bow before the Lamb, gazing at the glory;
Gifts of men from distant lands prophesy the story.
Gold – a King is born today, incense – God is with us,
Myrrh – His death will make a way, and by His blood He’ll win us.

Son of Adam, Son of heaven, given as a ransom;
Reconciling God and man, Christ, our mighty champion!
What a Savior! What a Friend! What a glorious mystery!
Once a babe in Bethlehem, now the Lord of history.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6 NRSV). Jesus was born. He lived and died in our place for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead and is reigning as King in heaven today. By his Holy Spirit He is present in the world today and within everyone who receives Him as Savior and Lord. May the message of Christ and the presence of Christ give you great joy this Christmas day and every day.

Follow this link to hear the Gettys and their band present this wonderful new Christmas hymn.

[1] WORDS AND MUSIC: Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. ©2005 Thankyou Music. https://youtu.be/ibe5zRch8bU

[2] Charles Dickens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1997), p. 88.

[3] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS (New York: Viking / Penguin Random House, 2016), pp. 137-138.

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten[1]

The best songs are those which amplify the words of holy Scripture. We see this so beautifully in the songs we sing during Advent and Christmas, and an excellent example of a song drawing on the Bible for its lyrics is the Advent hymn, Of the Father’s Love Begotten. This 3rd century text, set to a 12th century plainsong melody, brings together the scope of scriptural truth about the foretelling and the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Let’s let the words of Scripture and song aid us in meditation on the advent of our Lord. The Scriptures come from the New Living Translation.

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4 NLT).

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13 NLT).

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him (Colossians 1:15-17 NLT).

O that birth forever blessed, when the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – which means “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14 NLT).

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35 NLT).

This is He whom heaven-taught singers sang of old with one accord,
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT).

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:10-14 NLT).

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11 NLT).

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore.

Enjoy an a cappella rendering of this Advent carol.

[1] WORDS: Aurelius C. Prudentius (348-413); translated by John M. Neale (1854) and Henry W. Baker (1859). MUSIC: DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, Plainsong, 12th century. https://youtu.be/cOF9JLJkPis

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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: Pondering the Incomprehensible

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent[1]

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35 NKJV)

The doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christianity. Jesus Christ, God the Son, became a human being, going through the normal process of nine months in a woman’s womb.  After He was “conceived by the Holy Spirit,” He was “born of the virgin Mary,” as the Apostle’s Creed puts it. A hymn from the first century describes it this way:

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV)

What must have the reaction of the hosts of heaven been in the moment that the young woman Mary was impregnated with God the Son by the Holy Spirit? What do we think today when we ponder the wondrous mystery of God in flesh? It is impossible to understand that which is beyond understanding – Almighty God taking on a human body – but how do we respond to such a great and incomprehensible truth?  Scripture offers counsel here.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:5 ESV)
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10 ESV)

Silence. Stillness. Worship. Good and appropriate responses as we ponder the incarnation.  Gerard Moultrie used words from the fifth century Liturgy of St. James to craft a hymn that calls us – and all “mortal flesh” – to worship as we ponder the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;\
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.

The apostle Paul wrote that “. . . being found in human form, he [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).  Jesus took on human flesh for the purpose of giving his body as a sin offering on our behalf. As God provided manna from heaven for the wandering Old Testament Israelites, so the sacrifice of Christ’s body on the cross provides the heavenly “food” of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV).  He who was the Creator and the essence of light and life came to show us the way out of the darkness of sin. The psalmist knew this to be true: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9 ESV)

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads it vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.

Heaven was filled with the praises of God before Jesus was born on earth, “. . . when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7 ESV). He enjoys such praise today as our glorified King and Lord. It should then be our joy to join the heavenly chorus in praising and giving thanks to God for Jesus.

At his feet, the six-winged seraph; cherubim, with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Lord Most High!”

Follow this link to enjoy Fernando Ortega’s recording of this hymn. A beautiful choral and congregational rendition can be enjoyed by following this link.

[1] Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Words from the Liturgy of St. James, 5th century. Adapted by Gerard Moultrie, 1864. Set to the tune PICARDY (French melody, 17th century), arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906 in TRINITY HYMNAL. Suwanee, Georgia: Great Commission Publications, 2006, #193. https://youtu.be/DVJ4tlC0q_g

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Forget Not

O Bless the Lord, My Soul[1]

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
Psalm 103:1-5, 7 ESV

God is good! His blessings to his people are beyond counting. His faithfulness to his people is without lapse. God is aware of the smallest need of his people. Nothing is beyond his notice. Needless to say then, God is deserving of – and is owed – the loving adoration and praise of his people. 

In the psalms, another way of saying “praise the Lord” is “bless the Lord.” This is the call of the psalmist in Psalm 103: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (v. 1 ESV). Commentator J. A. Motyer writes that “when the Lord ‘blesses’ us, he reviews our needs and responds to them; when we ‘bless’ the Lord, we review his excellencies and respond to them.”[2]  Isaac Watts wrote a resounding call to praise – O Bless the Lord, My Soul – based on the “excellencies” of God mentioned in the first seven verses of Psalm 103.  Watts first joins with the psalmist in drawing on his mind and emotions to inform his speech in giving praise to God.

O bless the Lord, my soul; let all within me join
And aid my tongue to bless his name, whose favors are divine.

In view of the immeasurable nature of God’s favors toward his people, how terrible it is to forget; to fail to take notice or acknowledge or thank God for his blessings.  This was the great sin of Israel that led to all other sins: “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13 ESV). But let’s not be judgmental of others because we are guilty of doing the same thing. So, this admonition from Watts.

O bless the Lord, my soul, nor let his mercies lie
Forgotten in unthankfulness, and without praises die.

What are these blessings that the psalmist and Isaac Watts commend to our consideration? Well, can there be any greater blessing than the forgiveness of sin? Any greater healing than the cleansing of the soul? Dare we fail to give thanks to God for his concern for our bodies as our Great Physician?

‘Tis he forgives your sins, ‘tis he relieves your pain,
‘Tis he that heals your sicknesses and makes you young again.

The gifts and blessings of God are an expression of his great love for us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). Even the psalmist, centuries before Christ, knew that it is God alone who can deliver from the power of death and hell and the grave.

He crowns your life with love when ransomed from the grave;
He that redeemed my soul from hell has sovereign power to save.

God’s blessings are not just for our eternal welfare, but he also cares for our temporal needs. The psalmist writes that God “satisfies us with good” so that our “youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (v. 5 ESV). The New Revised Standard Version translation of v. 5 adds “as long as you live,” and the New English Bible renders that phrase “in the prime of life.” An eagle in flight with its majestic plumage and vigorous appearance is a symbol of strength. God faithfully blesses his people all of their lives.  God’s blessing restores health and hope to his struggling saints.

He fills the poor with good; he gives the sufferers rest.
The Lord has judgments for the proud and just for the oppressed.

Rest. Justice. Protection. Forgiveness. Deliverance. Healing. Restoration. Divine providence. And these barely scratch the surface of the good blessings of God. God’s ancient people Israel saw God at work as they were led by Moses out of bondage in Egypt into the land God promised to them. Moses was the great deliverer and lawgiver of Israel, but all that he was and did pointed to the future when the True Deliverer and Fulfiller of the law would come. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV).

His wondrous works and ways he made by Moses known,
But sent the world his truth and grace by his beloved Son.

Let us not be neglectful. Let us not forget “all his benefits.” Let us make the call of the psalmist our daily cry: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (v. 1 ESV).

[1] TEXT: Isaac Watts (1709), from Psalm 103. TUNE: ST. MICHAEL from Genevan Psalter (1543).

[2] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 552). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

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His Kingdom Comes

A Mighty Fortress is Our God[1]

“The kingdom of God is the supreme and sovereign rule and reign of God over all.”[2] (Burk Parsons)

In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray that God the Father’s kingdom would come, and his will would be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”  There are times when our circumstances and emotions lead us to think and feel that God is truly in control of everything around us. Then there are other times – times when chaos is all around us – when we wonder where God is now.

Martin Luther was a priest and teacher in the Catholic church who lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He struggled intensely in his relationship with God. His mind and emotions were often painfully stirred with doubts and fears about whether he was truly God’s child – whether his life was pleasing to God – whether he was genuinely loved and accepted by God. His fears were assuaged when he came to understand the truth of justification by faith – that our relationship with God is based on trusting the death of Christ for us on the cross, and not trying to please God by our actions. While studying Paul’s letter to the Romans, he was drawn to Romans 1:17: “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (NKJV). The apostle Paul expanded on this truth in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV). He added further in Galatians 2:16 that “. . . we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (NKJV).

Because God is the supreme and sovereign ruler over all, and because Jesus died on the cross to bring us into a relationship with God, we can live with confidence, no matter the chaotic condition of the world or the fierce struggles we face in our own hearts and minds. It may not appear that God’s kingdom is coming “on earth as it is in heaven,” but God is at work no matter what is going on around us – as Martin Luther learned and expressed in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

God is a defense that never fails. No matter the obstacles we face, our God who is with us prevails. Still, we dare not let our guard down because our “ancient foe” never lets up seeking to “work us woe.” Satan’s power and evil intent cannot be matched by human effort, so we dare not ever trust our ability to overcome him.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same;
And he must win the battle.

The “right Man” is our Lord Jesus Christ, the “. . . image of the invisible God,” the Creator of “. . . all things in heaven and on earth,” the One in whom “. . . all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17 NRSV). It is through Him that we are “. . . made strong with all the strength that comes from His glorious power” (Colossians 1:11 NRSV). Therefore, we have no need to fear whatever our “ancient foe” sends our way.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.

God’s truth will triumph “through us.” God does not promise to keep us from the onslaughts of sin in this world, but He does promise to go with us through them. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). And we are given the means to fight our spiritual battles – specifically God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

That Word above all earthly powers no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God truth abideth still;
His Kingdom is forever!

Burk Parsons writes, “In His first coming [Jesus] established and inaugurated God’s kingdom . . . through the Holy Spirit, He is now expanding and increasing God’s kingdom . . . one day, He will return to judge all people. When He does return, He will bring the full and final consummation of God’s kingdom; established the new heaven and new earth; conquer all His and our enemies; save all who are true Israel and united to Him by faith; dry every tear from our eyes; and fully and finally eradicate sin and death.”[3]

What a glorious day that will be! Even so, Lord Jesus come!

[1] TEXT: Martin Luther (1529); translated by Frederick H. Hedge (1852). TUNE: EIN FESTE BURG

[2] Dr. Burk Parsons, TABLETALK, November 2021, p. 2.

[3] Dr. Burk Parsons, TABLETALK, November 2021, p. 2.

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Delighting in the Greatness of God

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness . . . (1 Chronicles 16:29 ESV)

In his book “Providence,” John Piper tackles the question of why it is good that God desires to receive praise from his creation, while the same desire in human beings would be considered egotistical.

He first answers the question qualitatively. He writes that God’s “. . . glory is of infinite value. It is infinitely beautiful. Therefore, God, in all his glory, will prove to be more satisfying than anything or anyone else.”[1] Then to illustrate, Piper tells how C. S. Lewis discovered that “. . . all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise . . . we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”[2]  So, the call to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (1 Chronicles 16:29) is a call to enjoy the perfections of God and to freely express that enjoyment.

Walter Chalmers Smith has given us a beautiful means of expressing our enjoyment and praise of God with his hymn Immortal, Invisible. This hymn guides us to particularly praise God for four attributes which belong to God alone – or as the theologians describe them, God’s incommunicable attributes. First is God’s attribute of being eternal.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise;
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes;
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days;
Almighty, victorious – Thy great name we praise.

“God has no beginning or end and is in no way bound by time, although he sees events and acts in his world in time . . . Those who trust the God of eternity can know peace, rest, and comfort in the busyness of life and despite impending death, for God keeps them in safety and joy forever.”[3]  Therefore, the psalmist writes:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 ESV)

The second stanza of Smith’s hymn speaks of God as being independent.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light;
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might.
Thy justice, like mountains high soaring above;
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

“God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy. God never experiences need, so serving God should never be motivated by the thought that he needs us. He is the provider in everything.”[4] As the apostle Paul noted when addressing the people of Athens:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25 ESV)

Paul’s words lead us to the third stanza of the hymn, which gives praise to God as the unchangeable giver of life to all.

To all, life Thou givest – to both great and small.
In all life, Thou livest – the true Life of all.
Thy wisdom so boundless, Thy mercy so free;
Eternal Thy goodness, for naught changeth Thee.

God is immutable. “He is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises . . . God can always be trusted because he always keeps his word and is never capricious or moody.”[5]  He says through the prophet Malachi:

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)

And this eternal, independent, and immutable God is omnipresent. He is everywhere at once, receiving the adoration of angelic beings and the praise of his people on earth, which is celebrated in the hymn’s final stanza.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight.
All praise we would render – O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.

“God is present everywhere with his whole being. God can be sought anywhere regardless of place. Believers should never feel lonely, and the wicked should never feel safe.”[6] As God says through Jeremiah:

Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him, declares the LORD? Do I not fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV)

Immortal. Invisible. Eternal. Independent. Immutable. Omnipresent. Just. Good. Loving. The Essence and Giver of life. The list could go on and on. Hymns like this one from Walter Chalmers Smith, and the words that fill holy Scripture, keep us mindful of how God’s glory is of infinite value and beauty. May our enjoyment of the beauties of God lead us to daily – moment by moment – “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.”


To subscribe and receive A SONG TO THE LORD in your email, just follow this link: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community. A SONG TO THE LORD is just one of several audio resources that are available free at the website of The Fellowship of Ailbewww.ailbe.org. There you will find many printed, audio, and video resources for individual and group study available free of charge.

T. M. Moore, the Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, and Rusty Rabon host THE AILBE PODCAST which you can find on The Fellowship of Ailbe website here.

Rusty Rabon also hosts a Zoom book reading program called READING GREAT BOOKS five nights each week (Thursdays through Mondays). The Zoom link and current book information are available here on The Fellowship of Ailbe website. And if you are interested in other devotional writings by Rusty Rabon, click here  You can follow Rusty Rabon at www.rustyrabon.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rusty.raabon.9/, and on Twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/RustyRabon.

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[1] Piper, John. Providence. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Publishers, 2020, p. 53.
[2] Piper, Ibid., p. 54.
[3] ESV Study Bible
[4] ESV Study Bible
[5] ESV Study Bible
[6] ESV Study Bible

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To God All Praise and Glory

All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above[1]

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High . . .” (Psalm 92:1 NRSV)

It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Praise the Lord!” uttered by Christians or in a Christian context.  We say, “Praise the Lord!” when we are emotionally blessed in a worship service.  We say, “Praise the Lord!” when some unexpected material blessing comes our way.  We say, “Praise the Lord!” when we feel especially close to the Lord in a time of prayer or worship.  These are good reasons to praise our God, but there are more.  Yes, God deserves our praise for His loving actions for us, but even more He deserves our praise for Who He is in his character and attributes.  Johann Schutz captured some of these prompts for praise in his hymn, “All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above.”

All praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation,

The God of wonders, power and love, the God of our salvation!

With healing balm my soul he fills, the God who every sorrow stills.

To God all praise and glory!

What God’s almighty power hath made his gracious mercy keepeth;

By morning dawn or evening shade his watchful eye ne’er sleepeth;

Within the kingdom of his might, lo, all is just, and all is right.

To God all praise and glory!

I cried to him in time of need: “Lord God, O heart my calling!”

For death he gave me life indeed and kept my feet from falling.

For this my thanks shall endless be; O thank him, thank our God with me.

To God all praise and glory!

The Lord forsaketh not his flock, his chosen generation;

He is their refuge and their rock, their peace, and their salvation.

As with a mother’s tender hand he leads his own, his chosen band.

To God all praise and glory!

Who is this God who is deserving of our highest praise?   He is the God of creation.  He is the God whose great love is seen in His gift of salvation.  He is the Healer of souls and the Comforter of sorrows.  He is the God whose mercy keeps us secure.  He is the God of perfect justice and righteousness.  He is the faithful God who never leaves nor forsakes His own.

And what does our God do that deserves our highest praise?  He calms our fears and brings peace to our storm-filled lives.  He hears our every cry, picking us up when life has knocked us down.  He is our refuge in trouble and our rock when circumstances toss us around. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 NRSV).

With each stanza – with each statement of who God is or what He has done – Schutz repeats his call to praise.  Let us join the chorus of saints of all time – the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) – in lifting our hearts and voices to answer the call of Johann Schutz: “To God all praise and glory!”

Follow this YouTube link for a video that you can use as an accompaniment to your singing this hymn.

[1] Schutz, Johann J. THE TRINITY HYMNAL, Hymn 4. Suwanee, Ga: Great Commission Publications, 2006

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Lord’s Day Praise and Supplication

Almighty Father,

Your children are here before you this morning.

Some of us are rejoicing. We’re coming off of weeks that have seen good success in our work, or blessing in our finances, or happiness in our relationships.

But some of us are hurting. We haven’t had success in our work, our finances are near collapse, and our relationships with our children or spouse is a mess.

Father, as well, some of us are grieving. Our hearts still hurt so badly over the loss of a loved one that we don’t know how we’re going to make it into the next hour.

But we’re here Lord – here before you – here crying out to you in our joy or in our pain – because you are the only source of blessing, and you are the only source of help and hope.

Father, thank you for Jesus.  He revealed you to us.  He died to ransom us from bondage and slavery to sin.  His resurrection from the grave gives us our hope of salvation – both now and for eternity – and hope that the pain of today will one day give way to eternal and endless joy.

We thank you, too, for the gift of your Holy Spirit to teach us all that we need to know about you – to equip us to love and worship and serve you – and to sustain and strengthen us when our faith grows weak and almost fails.

Father, the heavens above and the earth below shout the glory of your wonderful works.
There is no place on earth where the language of creation does not give you praise, so that only those who have hardened their hearts will refuse to believe this evidence and turn their hearts away from you.

Thank you for the wonderful rain and the glory of the thunder that you sent to us yesterday.

Thank you for the gift of music – this great and mysterious means by which we express our hearts to you, and which also inspires and encourages us to know and love and serve you more.

Thank you for the songs of the birds this spring – reminding us that as you provide for them, you will also provide for our every need.

Thank you for the beauty of leaves and flowers – of fruit on trees and vegetables coming up from the ground – reminding us that resurrection life is a reality – that you raise what is dead and dormant to life and abundance.

Thank you for a night of restful sleep, renewing the strength in our bodies to wake up this morning, and to go about our tasks each day.

Thank you for the provision you have made for food and clothing and shelter.
You have blessed us abundantly, and in our abundance, we pray for our brothers and sisters around us – and around the world – who have needs that have yet to be met.
Open our hearts, Father, and let us be your hands and feet in serving and providing for our brothers and sisters.

We thank you as well, loving Lord, for minds that can think and choose and worship and pray.  We thank you for the gift of conscience that is used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us into righteous living.

We ask that you keep our fears and trials and worldly concerns from distracting us from our calling to be your witnesses – your ambassadors – your “missionaries” in our personal mission fields.

Help us to represent you well – to be faithful witnesses to your grace and mercy and love and power – to faithfully reflect the image of your glory that you have placed within us by your Spirit.

And may we represent you well.  May others get a true picture of who you are and what you are like by the love and unity that they see among us.

Open our hearts to love and worship and receive you afresh this day.  Shine the light of your presence on us and illumine our minds.  Strengthen and empower us through our worship together today so that we might lift high the name of Jesus Christ in all we do and say.

And it is for his glory that we offer this prayer.


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