pass over

The Passover celebration commemorates God’s unbelievable rescue of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. As part of this incredible rescue, and the Israelites’ first born sons were saved from the angel of death by the blood of a lamb upon their door posts.

God, through Moses, parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could walk on dry ground, freeing them as slaves. God didn’t want his people to forget this significant event in history – so each year a special meal commemorated this day.

Our story today takes place at a Passover meal some 1500 years after the exodus.

Let’s find out more about this meal – with Jesus and his disciples.

John 13 (NET)
Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.

6 Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”)12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.

So much is going on in this snippet, just before Jesus’ death.  Jesus demonstrates humility by washing the feet of the men he was closest too on this earth.  Jesus demonstrated servanthood by washing the feet of his disciples, but the events just hours away demonstrated ultimate humility – just hours later, he would be arrested, beaten, and killed upon a cross meant for a criminal.

THE ultimate act of a servant – dying for someone else.

The Passover meal included a lamb – when the Israelites were in Egypt, a lamb was sacrificed so that the firstborn Israelite wouldn’t have to die – the blood of the lamb was applied to the door and the angel of death passed over that house.

Each year they would say: “The lamb died instead of me.”

Exodus 12:

“Each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household” v.3
“Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames…” v. 7
“That same night the are to eat the meat roasted over the fire…” v. 8
“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.” v. 14

Generations to come celebrated this event – which is why Jesus, some 1500 years later, celebrates the Passover.

Jesus knew the events that would follow this meal: Judas’ betrayal, arrested and handed over to be beaten, humiliated culminating in his death.

Everything in all God’s big story pointed to this night – the tree in the garden where Adam and Eve took and ate the fruit lead to the next tree – the cross.
Everything God did,
every sin the people committed,
every sacrifice that covered the sins committed,
the prophets, priests, kings – they all pointed to this night.

Through Jesus, God said – “I am about to deal with evil and sin and death once and for all.”

This. Was. It.

All the hurts and heartaches.
All the lies and deceit.
All the pains we closely bear in our hearts.
All the ways we rebel against God.
This one act restored us so we can know God
and he could give us a second chance.

God was already making everything new –
from the first tree in the garden – to this tree, the cross.
God was rescuing,
God was making a way,
And God was working out his perfect plan for us.
Through the perfect Lamb of God – Jesus Christ.

“The lamb died, instead of me.”
“The lamb died, instead of you.”
“The lamb died, instead of us.”

The lamb died – so you and I could be saved, and know God the father.

John the Baptist when he saw Jesus said:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

The Prophet Isaiah said this of Jesus:
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7

Do you know the Lamb of God?
Did you know Jesus, the lamb of God died instead of you? That he died for you?

“The lamb died instead of me.”

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called

That which Christ calls us to do,
he will enable us to accomplish.

This is the message of the Miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
The only miracle recorded in all 4 Gospels, this seems to be the message for the disciples: when Christ would leave the earth, they would be empowered to carry on his message.  And the ability of them to carry out this ministry would not be of their human strength, it would be the power of God.  The power through His Spirit.

Christ called them to feed the multitudes, “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16)  And amongst the people, five loaves of bread and two fish were found.

Jesus prays a prayer of thanks, breaks the bread, and from this, the food just kept coming.  More and more.  More than they needed.

And the disciples did the work to distribute the food to the people.  “They all ate and were satisfied.”  And “the number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matt. 14:20-21).

Jesus commanded the disciples to feed the people, and through him, they were able to accomplish what he called them to do.

The same is true for us today: That which Christ calls us to do, he will enable us to accomplish.

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loss

The more days I travel as a pilgrim on this earth, the more I am convinced of this truth: to live is to lose.  As young children, somehow we think we can grasp and hold onto the things of this life, but to me now as an adult, loss seems to mark my journey more than gains.

Yet.

Yet.

The only loss we will not have as followers of Christ is just that: Himself.

The time we spend earning more material possessions or working hard to maintain our neat squares of grass called “yards”… less time we have to spend with the One who will carry our souls into eternity.  Where yes, we will spend the rest of time, until there is no more time.  Forever.  With Him.

God.  The triune God.  Father, Son and Spirit.

The more time we spend on this earth being quiet before Him, and allowing those “things of earth” to grow “strangely dim”… He will become more beautiful to us.

He will become that which we desire most in this life.

And that my friends, is GAIN.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 34:4)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

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The mystery and wonder

There is something about Advent 
Filled with mystery and wonder
in the midst of busy lives filled with noise
noise that simply fills the silence
we are invited to pause, reflect and wonder once again.

Imagine how it is that God himself became man
how it is that God took on human flesh
we stand in awe of the mystery of the incarnation
can we ever humanly understand this beautiful, awful, preposterous thing?

But God dwelled.
God dwelled among his people
Tabernacled with his people
so we could have a mediator
the God-man.
Emmanuel, God with us.

The wonder of Advent is the story,
the story that each moment,
we are invited once again to join
again and again.
Because no, it’s not just a story,
its the reality of mankind:
hope.

And hope is a person: Jesus Christ.

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Holy Week 2013 Thoughts

This year as Easter approaches, I feel somewhat caught off-guard.  I no longer work in church ministry (for now), and it was strange during Christmas this year I wasn’t planning Easter dramas and music…

I have participated in a very self-revealing Lent this year that has exposed parts of my heart.  I  gave up all television and movie watching (apart from watching things with friends, and an occasional Sunday I watched a few shows).  Six weeks is a long time.  But in many ways it has gone by really quickly.  I’m still not quite ready for Easter.

There is much to be said about this significant week, you can read some of my posts from Holy Week 2012 for more devotional reads.  I was a little more dedicated last year.

As I slaved away this week writing a paper on the sacrificial system in Leviticus, there was a phrase that caught my attention: the wrath of God satisfied.  Of course this reminds me of In Christ Alone (what phrases DON’T remind me of a song?), but in this case it was in the context of Leviticus 16, The Day of Atonement.  Once a year, the High Priest made an offering for the corporate sins of the Israelite people.  This was to show: the constant daily sacrifices made by the people for their sins was not enough.  For a Holy God to continue to dwell among his people and for his wrath to not consume them, atonement had to be made.

God.  Dwelling in the camp with His people.

I still am blown away by this.

Anyway.  I started this post earlier this week, and now it’s Good Friday.  I’m saving more on Leviticus 16 for another post, but for now, for today, we rejoice in the brutal, humiliating death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A sacrifice perfect and sufficient.  Unlike the Hebrew people needing to continually make sacrifices in Leviticus, this sacrifice satisfied the wrath of God.

Completely satisfied.

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The season of Advent, a season of waiting

  The season of Advent has long been known as the season of waiting.  Advent both looks to the past, and the birth of Christ, and to the future, when Christ will once again come back to earth, but come as King. Even before Advent began this year, I sensed a restlessness; a stirring within […]

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The season of Advent has long been known as the season of waiting.  Advent both looks to the past, and the birth of Christ, and to the future, when Christ will once again come back to earth, but come as King.

Even before Advent began this year, I sensed a restlessness; a stirring within my own heart of both anxiousness and stillness.  This season of waiting came as a timely reminder in my own life.  Interestingly, I’m apart of a group for a project which we are presenting tomorrow, and the passage we decided to focus on was 2 Peter 3:8-15a:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace,spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

There are a number of things about this passage that are notable, especially during the Advent season of looking back and looking forward.  As we consider our own lives, where God has moved mightily, and still, areas where it seems God has been silent.  A timeless truth to be extracted from this passage is that God keeps his promises.  This passage is more concerned with timing, particularly in verse 8 and 9, but the first truth to note is that God will deliver, he will come through.  He does not exist within the bounds of time, as we do, he dwells above time itself.  Take a moment to ponder that truth: it will blow your mind!

Secondly, “slow”, does not mean he does not hear, and “slow” does not mean no either.  This particular passage is speaking about Christ’s return, but I would venture out to say this is a truth that can be applied to any situation.  (Or perhaps the greater theological question is: how much intervention does God have in our day to day lives, and how much of our own lives/circumstances do WE have control over… BUT, I will save that for another discussion perhaps.)

When it comes to waiting, I’m a terrible waiter.  Waiting at the grocery store, traffic, for the dressing room… it seems like since moving to a big city my wait time and drive time for EVERYTHING has gotten about 10 times longer.  I hate waiting.  Our culture also hates waiting.  Stillness?  Quiet?  “Wasting time” by not doing anything?  These seem like foreign concepts.  I constantly am listening to music, checking the weather  (77 F and sunny tomorrow), checking the news.. all on this small little portable device I call a “cell phone”… except who even uses the term “cell phone” anymore.. it’s more like phone.  Iphone.  Something other than “cell phone” or “cellular device”….anyway.

Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite authors, he has a way of penning my thoughts on paper so often.  He writes of Advent and waiting:

Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let what you have said be done to me” Luke 1:38.  She was saying “I don’t know what tis all means, but I trust that good things will happen”.  She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities.  And she did not want to control them.  She believed that she when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life.  It is trusting that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings.  It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life.  It is living with the conviction that God moulds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear.  The spiritual life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imaginination or prediction.  That, indeed, is a very radical stance in a world preoccupied with control.

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I couldn’t say it any better than the last paragraph.  In order to wait, we must give up control, trusting God to work.  He is not slow to keep his promises.  But we know through His word that His Spirit is with us always, guiding and leading us.  And that, in and of itself is a promise fulfilled and alive in us.

So in this season as we celebrate Emmanuel, “God with Us”, Jesus, remember he is still with us, by His Spirit.  And still, Christ will comeagain for us.  “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”… 1 Thess. 4:17.

 

I Breathe You In

The presence of the living God,
Satisfies the depths of my heart
All of me changed when you came,
Iʼm made free by Your glory and grace

I breathe You in God, cause You are thick all around me 
I breathe You in God, cause You are thick all around me

The brightness of Your loves pure light,
Pierces through the darkest of nights
Everything is possible now,
For God is here and God is good

You are good God, 
For You are good to me You are Good God, 
For You are good to me

When I donʼt understand Iʼll choose You
When I donʼt understand I will choose You God
When I donʼt understand I will choose to Love You God

 

Worship and Hymns: Worship of Hymns?

Some of the oldest hymns we sing today are maybe 200 years old.  It has been nearly 2,000 years since Christ walked this earth.  The rich “heritage” and “tradition” many hold near and dear to their hearts when it comes to music, probably isn’t really “traditional” at all…

I feel like I could blast out a blog going so many different directions right now…

[HYMNS] an introduction.

Music has always been a staple in the Christian faith, over both the Old and New Testament, we see many examples of songs that were written; songs written in battle, defeat, victory, quiet moments, joyous events, and spontaneous songs of praise as well.  I’d like to speak about the text of hymns first, and then talk about musicianship, and writing hymns secondly.  I will try my best to refrain from making personal comments and observations until the conclusion. 

Generally, in the function of music in the church, the text is perceived as the most important piece of worship, and rightfully so.  But, let us not forget the importance of musicianship, and playing skillfully, as the Psalmist speaks about.  And as recorded in 1 Chronicles 15:22, “Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, was to direct the music, for he understood it” (emphasis mine).  The importance of knowing music is vital, because music is a powerful emotional tool to bring humanity to Christ.  There is also another topic I would like to touch on, and that is the tension between the old and the new.  Christianity has always held tightly (sometimes too tightly) to the traditions passed down by our forefathers, however, the Psalmist speaks about singing a “new song” to the Lord (Psalm 96:1, Psalm 33:3…), and the prophet Isaiah also speaks about God doing a new thing, and to forget the former ways (Isaiah 42-43).  Living in the tension of tradition, and the new and what is to come is part of the dichotomy of knowing Christ, and walking with him, and if you will (musical pun intended), the dissonance of harmonies being played all at once, making it into something beautiful.

Forgive my scattered thoughts, but this is turning into bit more of an academic research paper, than just a blog post.

Over countless years, the Christian Church has seen many, many beautiful hymns [songs] written, speaking of the character and life of Christ, articulating theology in a very real and artistic way, and speaking about the life of the Christian.  There are many wonderful hymns/songs out there, but there are also many terrible hymns as well.  Don’t get me started on this…. We digress.  Anyway, the purpose of music in worship is an agent for connecting the human, to the divine.  This spans across religions.  There is something absolutely beyond this world that is the very essence of what music is.  The human and Divine meeting together as one and creating something beautiful, but also more mysterious than we could ever understand with our minds as humans. 

[HYMNS] text.

First, the text of a hymn can be approached in many different ways, but one common “formula”, if you will, that many hymn writers use is a progression of earth to heaven, in various different ways.  Just a few examples of this are: Amazing Grace, Abide with Me, It is Well With My Soul, How Great Thou Art (this is in fact actually a modern day hymn), among many, many others. 

For this particular examination of music, there will not be as much focus on how hymn text was written, but I do want to highlight that when the Liturgy was established and standardized by Charlemagne (more on him in the coming section), it also set a standardized text for Mass sung in churches.  In these days, circa 500 AD, the text remained the same each Sunday, and as time progressed, different composers would simply set this same text to different music and arrangement. 

This was the structure of the Mass, the liturgy sung and spoken by the people:

The same overtones of the Mass are still a large part of what happens from week to week (in some form or fashion) in our Evangelical churches even today.  Kyrie was the only Greek element to the Roman mass, and the words “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy“, was the translations of what was sung.  Gloria, the story of Christ’s birth, and the songs the angels sang to announce Christ’s birth.  Sanctus, meaning Holy, resonating in parallel with Isaiah 6, Agnus Dei, worthy is the Lamb who was slain, and so forth.  (Some of this I’m spouting from memory, other pieces from this book.  Read more on good old wikipedia).  As you can see, many of the songs we sing in our churches today are singing these exact same words, in different and new ways.  Not much has changed over time, and our traditions are still traditions, but in a new way.

[HYMNS] early church history. music.

Next, I will attempt to highlight in broad terms about the musical side of how hymns were written, and are written.  In the early days of the church, the church was the only source for well written and well performed music.  The church set the tempo for what expectations were when it came to music, and all this music, was worship.  In the Medieval Era, circa 400 AD, there was a significant draw away from secular music all together.  Monasticism communities were a way people could withdraw from the societal pressures of living in the world, and Christians could live distinct lives devoted completely to serving God, which also had a huge impact on music in the church.  This music was “Gregorian chant”, or also called “plainchant”, and vocal music was generally all monophonic (sung in the same tone and one melody), and slightly polyphonic also (different melodies sung together at the same time). 

Other historic events also lead to more development in music within the church, including the rule Charlemagne, where Christianity was made the official religion in the Roman Empire, and he also standardized many forms of worship, and lead to great musical development.  From his rule, he standardized a unified liturgy, along with music, as discussed earlier.

Another vital piece of the history of church music is to also understand that in these days, within the first 800-1,300 years of Church History, music was performance based, there was no participation required of the listener, only to simply listen and be moved by the music.  Music was left up to the professional, trained musician (this was not the case in the Old and New Testament, only what we see in this particular era).

As musical styles unfolded in the 1,000-1,700 AD range, so did the development of more secular music, and a departure from music only being performed within the church; but several factors influenced what emerged out of church music from this time frame.  First being the birth and events of Martin Luther’s life, the father of the Reformation.  Luther, as many may not realize, was a theologian, but also a hymn writer as well.  Part of his view on the separation from the Catholic Church was that worship should be something that was participatory, as he composed many congregational hymns.  His “preposterous” view that the mass be changed from Latin, to German was an outrageous suggestion, but at the time most people would attend church and not hear a word of the actual language they spoke.  Congregational songs, where the attender in church could engage in, was a huge breakthrough, and even now, as this is the basis for what church music and worship is today. 

Luther said, quoting Augustine, “For music is a gift…of God, not a gift of men [sic]… Therefore accustom yourself to see in music your Creator and to praise him through it”.  Luther also was a proponent for secular music being an avenue for worshipping God, and his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, used the same tune as a secular song, and was used as a congregational hymn. 

Much more could be said of the road Martin Luther paved, but that is an entirely different blog/book. 

I’d like to also mention and briefly highlight Johann Sebastian Bach, as most everyone, secular or Christian, would agree made huge strides in both the vocal and classical music genres, and was a composer, choirmaster, and Church musician his entire life.  Almost all the songs he ever composed were songs of worship, for the glory of God.  It is quite interesting to consider, since his legacy is regarded as one of the most influential musicians and composers who ever lived.

[HYMNS] then and now.
(this is the part all of you who skipped the long history might want to read)

Tradition is what makes humans, human.  We cannot deny this fact.  Tradition makes our churches what they are today, however, if we as Christians now, in the twenty-first century are simply relying on our own “evangelical” or “gospel” traditions, we are missing the boat.  It’s already sailed, long ago.  Let’s admit it: music is something that touches our hearts, so if we are truly honest, we want to hear sometimes the music and songs that were meaningful to us as we went through a difficult time, or songs that were significant to bringing us to Christ, but let us not confuse this with being “better” or more spiritual.  This is called personal preference.

Let us educate ourselves.  If people at Church ABC are continually requesting “hymns”, but what they really want are the Gospel songs written in the 50’s by the Gather’s, then let us just say it like we mean it: we want what makes us feel good.  We cannot be Christians that continually live in the past and the “good old days”, because, as mentioned in the introduction, God is continually working , and he is doing new things even today (Isaiah 42-43).  The church is called to engage in a conversation with the culture we live in, but the purpose of the church is not to be “hip” and “cool”.  The church is called to acknowledge tradition (and by “tradition” I mean TRUE tradition– such as the early church as seen in Acts), not just the “tradition” that we were raised on, whenever we happened to be born.  God has put us on this earth, now, “for such a time as this”, and we can choose to acknowledge this, or simply live on our own planet, and not engage with what is going on.

My main point is this: our expression of our faith can never be divorced from our culture.  Don’t believe me?  Research the New Testament, in particular, and you will see that the language used, phrasing and wording, things Paul addresses in his letters, etc., were all things that had to do with the culture of THAT day.  So we, as students of the scriptures, can do our very best to examine this, and prayerfully seek the Spirit to know how those truths translate to us today. 

Don’t read me wrong, we are not going to be singing Justin Bieber in church, or sacrifice the truths that are TRUTHS, but we cannot continue to live in the dark.  We cannot simply request all our favorite songs from the 50’s because that’s the ONLY way we can connect with God, God is beyond time.  God is beyond musical style.  Wrap your brain around that!

As I mentioned in the introduction, we are called to simply connect the human with the Divine, through music and worship.  This can be done by singing scripture, theological truths, telling the story of Christ, and speaking to our own humanity.  We can communicate this through painting a musical picture, simply through an instrumental piece.  But let us not miss the simple fact of this: it is all for the glory of God.  It is not for us. 

Do you hear what I’m saying?  It is not about US.  It is not about the songs WE want.  It is not about how the songs make US feel. 

It is all about HIM. 

God’s majesty.  His beauty.  His reign in our hearts and lives. 

May we never miss this, because if we do, then we are simply attending church to worship ourselves.

—–

Sources cited:
“A History of Music in Western Culture”
“Jubilate 2: Church Music in Worship and Renewal”

fridaysaturdaySUNDAY

The man who knew no sin
became sin for us
took on our shame
took away our guilty hearts

That man
perfection
became separated
from the Father
for US

He hung his head
it is finished
it is complete
he was dead

The ground shook
the Father mourned
the temple torn in two
“Surely he was the Son of God”

Body dead
body bloody and cleaned
in the tomb
closed in the tomb

Deader than dead
three days dead
Definitely dead

Mourning, sadness, tears, loss
his friends cried
the man they loved and knew well
was gone

The man who raised from the dead
healed the sick
spoke with authority
how could he be himself… dead?

No hope
No joy
Only memories and asking
why?

Satan chuckled
the demons shrieked
Victory is ours!
Their only hope  is dead!

Darkness hung thick
for three days
the disciples hide in fear
was everything just a lie?

But then.

Oh that glorious morning
the women came to the tomb
to find his body gone
HE WAS ALIVE.
RISEN FROM THE DEAD

What a glorious day
Death was conquered
Sin was broken
Satan was defeated

Victory over all things
even the world he created
even the powers of evil
no one can match his strength

We have hope
we have life
we have everything in him
because he lived
because he LIVES