Monday Music: Top 5 Christmas Hymns


So this is my final installment of Christmas music for the season. Up today is my top 5 Christmas hymns:

5. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Great old hymn by Charles Wesley (one of the best hymn writers). Best line:

“Come thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us;

let us find our rest in Thee.”

4. O Come, All Ye Faithful: My favorite part of this hymn is the simple chorus which is the only appropriate response to Christ becoming flesh: ‘O Come let us adore Him!’ Best line:

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O Come let us adore Him!”

3. Joy to the World: My favorite hymn writer of all time is Isaac Watts. His impact on congregational singing is profound. I think this is his best Christmas hymn. We sing it all year round at our Church! Best line:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow,

far as the curse is found!”

What an incredible line and an even more amazing truth!

2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: Did I mention that I like Charles Wesley? This is his best Christmas hymn. The melody is not necessarily my favorite, but the writing is great! Best line (well, lines):

“Veiled in flesh the God-head see

Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Immanuel”

 

“Mild He lays  his glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.”

1. O Come, O Come Immanuel (David Crowder Band): So my hope was to try to find the best recordings of hymns, but the holidays slipped up on me (and it might have changed my list a bit). But my favorite song also has my favorite recording. I love the lyrics and melody of this old hymn. It has hints of longing, expectation, mystery, and joy running throughout. And I love the way Crowder captured them all with this recording:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

So there you have it, my favorite songs of Christmas. Hope you have enjoyed them and hope you have a Merry Christmas! And never lose sight of the Savior who heard our prayer:

“O Come Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of hell thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave!”

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Wednesday Word: The promised King


Don’t you just love genealogies? How many people have been told to read the New Testament and gave up before they even finished the first chapter? Matthew begins his telling of the story of Jesus with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And from there goes on to list over forty names (If you are unfamiliar with them, you should listen to Andrew Peterson’s great song: Matthew’s Begats, seriously that is a good video, you should check it out!) What a terrible way for Matthew to begin his Gospel!

Well, not if you are familiar with the Old Testament. The people of Israel began with Abraham. They were given promises by God that the people originally reading Matthew would have been very familiar with. Matthew is telling them that Jesus, being born in the line of Abraham, is the fulfillment of those promises. Not only that, but they were longing and looking for a promised King that would come from the line of David.

Why were they looking for such a King? The story of Israel’s kings begins with Saul, who due to his disobedience to God was removed from the throne. Then God chose David to be king. He was the greatest of Israel’s kings and a man after God’s own heart. Before King David died, the Lord gave him a promise recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12-16:

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

The Lord told David that he would have a descendent who would reign forever. Of course, many see David’s son Solomon as the fulfillment of this promise, and in one sense they are right, for it was Solomon who committed iniquity. But even though Solomon would sin, the Lord would not take the throne from him as He did with Saul.

Yet, what about that reigning forever part? Solomon did not reign forever. In fact, his sons divided the Kingdom, which eventually led to captivity and exile. By the time Jesus is born, there is no king of Israel. The only other way for this prophecy to be fulfilled is if a descendent of David lives and reigns forever. Yet, who could do that? If a genealogy teaches us anything, it tells us that death is unavoidable. So who will fulfill this promise of reigning forever from the line of David?

It is this question that prepares us for Matthew’s genealogy. You can imagine the wonder of the original readers as they read through the names and realized what Matthew was claiming: Jesus is the promised forever King, born in the line of David. Just like all the other kings before Him, Jesus would taste the sting of death. Yet, unlike all those before Him, the grave would be unable to hold Him, unable to defeat Him, unable to end His reign. The great Jewish king the wise men worshipped (Matthew 2:1-12) was actually the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And 2,000 years later, all who turn from their sins and trust in Jesus’ death on the cross continue to worship the forever King, just as they will through all eternity.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new-born King.'”

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Tuesday Books: ‘The Great Christ Comet’ (Colin R. Nicholl)


On Sunday night, during our Advent celebration, we were celebrating the fact that Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12) who has come to rescue us from darkness and bring us into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We sang the old hymn’We Three Kings of Orient Are,’ which tells the story of the Wise Men, or Magi, who came and brought gifts to Jesus. The chorus of the song describes how they found Him:

“O, Star of wonder, star of light

Star with royal beauty bright,

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.”

According to Matthew 2:1-12, the Magi from the east followed a star to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. When they asked Herod about this King, they said: “For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (v. 2). When Herod told them to go to Bethlehem due to Michah’s prophecy, they continued to follow the star “until it came to rest over the place where the child was.” What do we know about this star?

Truth is, I know very little. We sing songs about it, we put stars in our nativities and on top of our Christmas trees, and we read this story every year about the Wise Men being guided to Bethlehem by its light. I have watched movies about Jesus’ birth that often give some sort of explanation and maybe even sat through a History Channel special about it (that normally treats Matthew’s account like fiction). But to be honest, I have never given that much thought to the star of Bethlehem.

Apparently, that was true for Colin Nicholl until around seven years ago. He too watched a special about the star and was promoted to go back and actually take a hard look at Matthew 2. From there, he began a serious study about trying to discover as much as he could about the star. Based on Matthew’s description, he concluded that the star was a comet and from there began to study the scientific side of the mystery. His results have recently been published by Crossways in a book called “The Great Christ Comet” (which was given to me by a couple in our Church immediately after our service on Sunday night, who noted God’s providence over the situation!) Nicholl states his goal in writing the book:

“In this book I offer what I am convinced is the solution to the age-old mystery of the Star of Bethlehem. What I propose is rooted in a careful consideration of the relevant Biblical material and is, I believe, able to explain everything said about the Star in a natural and compelling way and in harmony with astronomical knowledge.”

His contention is that science has ignored theology and theology has ignored science when it comes to understanding the Star of Bethlehem. Thus, his goal was to try to bring together both disciplines and to be as faithful to both the text and science as he could be. Pretty good approach I think.

I have only read the forward, preface, and first chapter, but it is obvious that Nicholl has done his homework. Truth be told, I am a little intimidated when it comes to science and astronomy. But he wrote the book to be as readable and understandable as he could, so that gives me hope! When asked about the value of such research and study, Nicholl gave three reasons for the book in an article published in Charisma Magazine:

  1. It provides powerful evidence that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
  2. It attests to the fact that the Gospels are historically accurate.
  3. It underlines God’s claim to be Lord over the universe.

Those are some pretty good reasons! So, check it out. It may redefine the way you think of the star of wonder.

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(HT: Thanks Doc and Cheryl for the great gift!)

Monday Music: Top 5 Contemporary Christmas songs


It is not that easy to write a Christmas song that will stick around year after year. In fact, it seems like there are many years when no new Christmas songs are recorded that will still be around 10 or 20 years from now. And of course, some will not stick around because they will just not be that popular with the masses, for whatever reason. Yet, there are some great contemporary Christmas songs. Here is my top five:

5. Joseph’s Lullaby (Mercy Me) This is one of my wife’s favorite new Christmas songs, so I included it for her (and because it is a good song). It captures well the mystery of God being a son of Joseph. Listen to it here: Joseph’s Lullaby

4. Breath of Heaven (Sara Groves) This song is similar to the first, the mother of Jesus wrestling with the mystery of the parenting of God. I chose this one over ‘Mary, Did you know’ (another great song) due to this recording by Sara Groves, which I really like: Breath of Heaven

3. Born to Die (Shane and Shane) Shane and Shane released a really good Christmas album called “Glory in the Highest” (it includes great renditions of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ and ‘Silent Night’).  This song is one that they wrote and included on that album. It captures the weighty truth that the tiny baby in the manger would one day die on a cruel cross for our sins. The story does not end in the stable. And glory be to God it does not end at Calvary either! Listen to it here: Born to Die

2. Labor of Love (Jill Phillips, Andrew Peterson) My favorite Christmas album of all is Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.” It consists of original songs (he does a couple of instrumental covers) that tells the full story of redemption, which begins long before Jesus’ birth. Songs like ‘Passover Us’ and ‘So Long Moses’ do such a great job of telling how the Old Testament points forward to the coming of Christ. The song ‘Matthew’s Begats’ is such a creative (and fun) version of the genealogy. My favorite song on the album is ‘Labor of Love,’ sung by Jill Phillips (another great artist). Like most of the Christmas songs that I enjoy, it has a haunting melody and lyrics that capture the mystery of God being born in the flesh and spending His first night in David’s little town of Bethlehem. We often lose sight of what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph. This song communicates the earthy realness of giving birth to a child in a stable. It’s powerful. “For the girl on the ground in the dark, every beat of her beautiful heart, was a labor of love.” Listen to it here (and go out and buy the album if you do not have it): Labor of Love

1. Adorn (Alli Rogers) Of all the songs on my list, this is probably the one that you have not heard (unless they played it on Christian radio and I never heard it). I am not sure how I stumbled across it. But it is my favorite  Contemporary Christmas song. The Creator of all became a man. What was it like when the Creator of the stars slept under them and the Maker of the earth walked upon it? How powerful was the moment when the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords took His first breath? Rogers writes: “There must of been a million songs written at the very moment you arrived.” I love that line. The chorus asks the simple but profound question: “How could we ever adorn you?”How could we ever give that baby the praise and devotion that He deserves? We are so unworthy of His incarnation and His perfect life and His death upon the cross for our sins. How could we ever adorn Him? Give it a listen here: Adorn

Some great songs here. Hope you enjoy them!

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Thursday Links: ‘C. S. Lewis was a secret government agent’ (Hal Poe)


History can be fascinating. And it is always interesting when something new is learned about a hero of the faith. Union professor Hal Poe made an amazing discovery about C. S. Lewis by purchasing something on eBay. Crazy! You can read about it here:

C. S. Lewis was a secret government agent

Great work Dr. Poe! (HT: Ray Van Neste)

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Wednesday Word: The Promised Priest


Last week, I wrote about how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophetic office. He came and made known the Father to us (John 1:18).

Jesus is also the fulfillment of the office of priest. The priests under the Abrahamic covenant were the mediators between God and His people. They were to offer sacrifices to God for the sins of the people so that their sins could be forgiven. The holy God established this office so that He could dwell among His sinful people. The office was so important that one whole tribe, the Levites, was designated to serve as priests before the Lord.

Yet, David makes a strange prophecy in Psalm 110. He writes:

“The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your yourth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek'” (v.1-4).

The first thing to notice about this psalm is how it begins: ‘The Lord says to my Lord.’ Who are these ‘Lords’? Well, the first is obviously a reference to God the Father, the Lord of Israel. Yet, what about the second Lord? Who is David referring to as ‘my Lord.’ The only Lord that the King of Israel would recognize would be God Himself. So who is this Lord and why does David treat Him like God?

Second, notice that the Lord is called a priest. David notes two very interesting characteristics about this Lordly priest.  First, He will be a priest ‘forever.’ But how could that be? Once a priest died, he would no longer serve as priest. So who is this priest that will intercede forever? And second, David says that the priest will not be Levite, but will be ‘after the order of Melchizedek.’ Mel who? What is David talking about?

To answer, you have to go all the way back to Genesis 14:17-24, where we are told the story of Melchizedek, who was the King of Salem and a ‘priest of God Most High.’ Before Levi was born, Melchizedek served as a priest to Father Abraham. This makes his priesthood greater than the Levites since it is prior to Levi’s birth (the author of Hebrews makes this argument in Hebrews 7:4-10).

So then, David is saying that a Divine priest is going to come who will intercede forever after the order of Melchizedek. Who in the wolrd could David be talking about? Who is this Lorldly priest?

The author of Hebrews identifies the Promised Priest as Jesus in Hebrews 7. Jesus was David’s Lord because He was God in the flesh. Jesus was a priest because He interceded on behalf of the people. And He is a priest forever like Melchizedek due to His ‘indestructible life’ (v. 16). He is the One that David wrote about in Psalm 110.

Yet, what did He offer for our sins? The priests of old offered the blood of bulls and goats, but the author of Hebrews says that it was impossible for that to take away sins (10:4). So what could Jesus offer to save us from our rebellious ways? What could He sacrifice to bring us to God?

The author of Hebrews tells us:

“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (v. 27).

Jesus is the only priest who sacrificed Himself to pay for the sins of the people. No bull could pay for my sins. There are not enough goats in the world to cover my debt. All of those sacrifices were only a shadow of what was to come. They all pointed forward to the Lamb of God, our great High Priest, who was slain, and by His blood ‘ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Rev. 5:9). The Promised Priest became the Slain Lamb for the sake of our redemption.

“Glorious now behold Him arise:

King and God and Sacrifice;

Alleluia, Alleluia! Earth to heaven replies.”

Alleluia indeed! All hail the Forever Priest who will never stop interceding on behalf of those He was slain to save! Our King, our God, and our Sacrifice!

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Thursday Links: ‘Following Rob Bell’ (Kuyperian Commentary)


One of my fellow pastors (HT Jeff Polk) pointed this article out to me which is a reflection on Rob Bell’s successor at Mars Hill, who just announced that he was stepping down as the pastor. Interesting thoughts on pastoral ministry and the longing to ‘charter new ground.’ You can read it here:

Following Rob Bell

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Wednesday Word: The Promised Prophet


I love the season of Advent because of the focus on all of the promises that Jesus fulfilled. He is the Serpent Crusher (Genesis 3:15), the Righteous Branch (Isaiah 11), and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53). He is the long-awaited Messiah, born to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He is the offspring of a virgin, Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:22-23). “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Three promises that Christ fulfilled are found in the three primary offices of the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Each of these offices pointed to Christ and the work He would come to do.

The role of the prophet was to speak to God’s people on behalf of the Lord. Much of the Old Testament was written by men we consider to be prophets of God. They repeatedly called the people to repentance and a return to Yahweh. They warned of the coming judgment of exile and pleaded with Israel to turn away from their sin and back to the Lord. They spoke of the kindness of God and reminded the people of His faithfulness to them, particularly of His salvation through the exodus.

We need a prophet in our day. We need someone to speak the Word of God to us. We need warnings of future judgment and a call to repentance. We need to be reminded of God’s love and faithfulness. In an age of constant change, we need something permanent. In our shifting-sands culture, we need a solid rock. We need someone who will not care so much about popularity or ‘likes’ on Facebook or followers on Twitter. We need more than 140 characters, more than political catch-phrases, more than the latest trends. We need a Word from the Lord. We need a prophet.

One of the earliest prophets, good old Moses, wrote of a coming prophet. The people of Israel were preparing to finally enter the Promised Land and Moses would soon be stepping down as their leader (death has a way of doing that). But he wrote about another prophet that would come:

“And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18)

In one sense, it could be argued that all of the prophets who gave to us the commands of God were a fulfullment of these words. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the the twelve, all spoke the words of God to the people of God in their time. Yet, they all pointed to a greater Prophet, a better Prophet, a perfect Prophet.

Who would that be? Who would speak the Word of God to us and reveal Him perfectly?

John writes of Jesus: “He has made Him known” (John 1:18).

Paul writes of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

The author of Hebrews writes of Jesus:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purifications for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The prophet we need today is the ‘Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,’ the Creator who became man, the Savior who purified our sins by offering up Himself. The universe is upheld by the word of His power. We do not need a new prophet, we need to simply listen to the true Prophet, who now sits at the Father’s side. The Promised Prophet is Jesus, and He is the Word we need today.

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