Weekly Devotional, Jun 19 2018

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Part 2

 
Whenever I sing this hymn I’m reminded from the first verse and chorus, ‘Thy compassions they fail not….morning by morning new mercies I see…Great is thy faithfulness’
that these sentiments come from the saddest book in the Bible, Lamentations. Here is the fuller context (Lam 3:19-23):
 
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
 
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
 
These words were originally spoken in a time of great suffering, after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586BC. Yet the author is declaring that it is precisely in such times that God’s great faithfulness and mercy is what gives us hope and comfort. God’s faithfulness is not changed by our suffering. And that’s an amazing truth; it gives us strength to trust, endure, and wait upon him.
The other Scriptural thought behind the line:
‘There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.’
Is of course from James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
 
God’s immutability(unchangeability) is a cornerstone doctrine we must all remember. When we are surrounded by swirling, changing, and painful circumstances, it is God’s unchanging nature that tells us he is still faithful, still working out something better and more beautiful in the midst of what seems unexplainable. Because he does not change, he is the consummate good tree, only good can yield from him(Matt7:18). Not only is his faithfulness great, great is fact that it never changes.
 
It’s in light of his goodness, that I sometimes understand the line: ‘All I have needed thy hand hath provided’ –that even my hardship is something the Lord provides because it is in his sovereign eyes, what I need. He knows precisely when we need to be chastened as well as encouraged; when we need to be refined as well as comforted. And sometimes his correction is a far better comfort, for it is precisely the provision which ‘I have needed’.
 
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
 
This line stems from Gen 8:22 as God’s faithful promise to Noah that the “curse” will never again befall mankind. Think of how it foreshadows Christ; the curse would fall upon him instead(Gal 3:13). This is how great God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love would ultimately manifest.
 
So it leads well into the final verse:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
It is God’s pardon for sin that opens the door to an enduring kind of peace, one which the world does not know(John 14:27). But it doesn’t stop there. He gives us his very presence by way of the Holy Spirit(John14:16) who guides, helps, strengthens and encourages to the point of a deep and unexplainable joy.
And the last two lines always lift my soul. We can confidently say this: No matter how hard the today, there is always, always a brighter tomorrow –meaning he has promised for us a future that is secure and glorious. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2Cor 4:17. For he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” Eph 3:20.
 
The last line teaches me to do one of the most powerful things I can do as a Christian: count my blessings. And when I do, I come to realize the truth: blessings all mine, and I have ten thousand beside –not only an uncountable quantity of blessings, but words that fail to capture their quality also. My cup indeed overflows(Ps23:5).
 
May we sing this hymn over and over. And may it illuminate to us God’s unchanging faithfulness.
Sung here in English and Spanish:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DUf662D9Fo

Weekly Devotional, Jun 12 2018

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Part 1

After hearing these stories of great hymn writers, you might think that each hymn has a great story behind it, especially the one we sang on Sunday, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. Not so.

The words to this favourite hymn of mine was written by Thomas Chisholm, who referred to himself as “an old shoe”. He was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky. And he became a Christian when he was twenty seven. At the age of 36 he actually became a pastor but ministered for only year before poor health forced him to retire. He ended up taking on a typical desk job, living what we may call a typical suburban life as an insurance agent in New Jersey. Still, in his private time he was an avid poet and ended up penning over 1200 poems and published several hymns, most of which no one will ever hear.

Near the end of his life, he wrote these words: “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

In 1923, at the age of 57 Chisholm sent a few of his poems to the Hope Publishing Company, where William Runyan noticed the poem “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. He was deeply moved and proceeded to find a melody that would match these truth filled words of God’s never changing faithfulness.
The song ended up becoming a favorite at the Moody Bible Institute. And it was picked up as a regular song to be sung at Billy Graham’s conferences. It has since reached Christians all over the world, been translated into many languages, and has encouraged millions of believers to never forget, but declare boldly how great is God’s faithfulness. I have always found these words quite moving myself, even when I first read them at a young age.

Chisolm’s life reminds us that the life of faithful obedience which the world does not recognize, is recognized by God. Radical living need not be about being a missionary or street evangelist. And we don’t have to have an outwardly spectacular life to testify of God’s faithfulness. In fact it can be said the most radical kind of Christian is the one who quietly and faithfully devotes themselves to the Lord, not seeking public recognition, but recognizing God’s faithfulness evidenced in the daily, constant, and loving ways he provides. Even “if we are faithless, he is faithful” -2Tim 2:13.

Keep singing this beautiful hymn, in the every day, routine, and ordinary things of life, and recognize what an extraordinary and faithful God we have!

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

 

Weekly Devotional, June 5 2018

This has turned into a monthly devotional, rather than weekly….my apologies, running a bit behind these days.
Here’s the conclusion of the reflection on this hymn.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Part 2

I want us to take note of the rich biblical imagery in this hymn.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Beginning with the idea of a ‘fount’ a source of water, the modern equivalent being a ‘spring’: it is the symbol for life. God is repeatedly described as a ‘fount’. In Jer 2:13, God says “…they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters”. Jesus also spoke of never thirsting after drinking of the water he offers. He was speaking of life eternal from himself –the fount.

The idea of God being the source of not only eternal life, but blessing and mercy, continues: ‘Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.’

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.

The ‘flaming tongues above’ is a reference to the tongues that fell like flames on the day of Pentecost(Acts 2)–when the disciples started to proclaim God’s praises in various languages –a picture of all nations gathered to praise God. In this case, the praise is directed towards the ‘mount’ referring to Calvary –our praise indeed ought to be ‘fixed upon it’ for it is where we behold ‘God’s unchanging love’ shown in Christ.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

‘Ebenezer’ literally means, “rock of help”. ‘Eben’ meaning rock, and ‘ezer’ meaning help. It comes from 1Sam 7 when the Israelites defeated the Philistines and Samuel set up a stone –a memorial to say: ‘thus far the Lord has helped us’. The author is recognizing God’s divine presence, help, and faithfulness to bring us to where we are today. The ‘hope’ he refers to is an allusion to 1Pet1, the ‘living hope’, and the ‘hope of glory’ of our eternal home –to which we would safely arrive. Hope in the Bible is never an indefinite longing, but the certainty of a sure promise.

‘Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God’ of course refers to the lost sheep parable and the way the Shepherd leaves the ninety nine to seek the lost. Like the good shepherd he is, he rescues us from the ultimate danger –how? By interposing(the placing between one thing and another) and mediating between God and man –through his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

A ‘fetter’ is a chain, used usually to enslave. In Christ, we have been freed from the slavery of sin, but are now glad servants of God, not against our wills, but compelled by his love and goodness. Hence ‘like thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.’

We also have a petition ‘Here’s my heart Lord, O take and seal it. This is a reference to the seal of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts(2Cor1:22, Eph 1:13). A seal is a mark of authenticity and ownership, assuring us of our salvation and eternal inheritance. This is a seal no one can break. It is his assurance over us that no matter how far we wander, we cannot wander beyond his preserving grace. We are sealed until we reach his courts above.

Keep singing this hymn and let it strike the chords of truth and hope we have -only through Christ.

Spiritual Formation Group starting Wednesday May 16

Spiritual Formation Group starting Wednesday May 16.

What is spiritual formation?
To be formed spiritually means to engage in specific practices and disciplines with the goal of drawing nearer to God in Christ and focus less on self. Richard of Chichester, said “Day by day, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, and to follow thee more nearly.”

For 6 weeks we will be introduced to such disciplines as praying with a text in Scripture, silence and solitude, reviewing our day prayerfully, and cultivating a rule of life(rhythms).
Such practices can be very helpful for people who find themselves too busy, overworked, and stressed.

We will be meeting Wednesday evenings (7:00 -9:00 pm) starting May 16, until June 19, at a home in the Snowdon Metro area.

Resources taken from “Sacred Rhythms” by Ruth Barton and “Praying with Scripture” by Timothy Gallagher.

If you are interested in joining or have questions please contact Pastor Chris: chris@gracemontreal.com

Weekly Devotional – May 1, 2018

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, part 1

This is another favourite hymn of mine. Most of us know it, but you may not know the story behind it. It was written by Robert Robinson who was born in 1735. At the age of 8 his father died. His mother sent him away to become an apprentice to a barber. And in his teenage years he became reckless in his drinking and gambling. One person writes that he “associated with a notorious gang of hoodlums and lived a debauched life”. At the age of 17, he and his friends in a drunken stupor attended an evangelistic event where George Whitefield was preaching to make fun of the event. But instead he walked away from it being convicted by what he heard. And for three years that sermon haunted him. And so at the age of 20, he gave his life to Christ. And then he became a minister, in a Baptist church, then in a Methodist church, and later in other denominations. And he wrote this hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
And that’s why his lyrics are autobiographical. He writes,
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

But he always had an awareness of his sinful nature. That’s why he also wrote:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
And he actually did end up lapsing and leaving the ministry. But the story goes, one day while traveling in a stage coach, his only companion was a woman who kept talking about how much this particular hymn had encouraged her, not knowing that she was talking to its author. And try as he might, Robinson couldn’t get her to change the subject, until he couldn’t stand it any longer and broke down in tears and said: “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that hymn, many years ago. And I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had!”
Gently, the woman replied, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.” He was deeply touched by that. As a result of the encounter he repented. His fellowship with the Lord was restored through the ministry of his own hymn, and a Christian’s willing witness.

Let us be encouraged. God has indeed redeemed us, but he continues to redeem us. For we are prone to wander but it’s not us, but him who relentlessly pursues us. His streams of mercy are still flowing.

Here are two renditions(solo and choir). The choir’s version with the orchestra (listen for the french horns!) is hauntingly beautiful.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3w9nvXuVnk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq-Q22Pf1W8

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Weekly Devotional – April 24, 2018

Holy Week Devotional – Thursday March 29

Couldn’t You Keep Watch for One Hour?

Mark 14:33-37

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba,[Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?

In Gethsemane Jesus is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.
If you were writing myth or a fictional account, why would you paint such a vulnerable, weak picture of Jesus? You wouldn’t, not in fiction. But in the Bible, we find not only a powerful Jesus, but a vulnerable one.

What we see here is the humanity of Jesus. As one author puts it, “with astonishing fidelity.” He is shown to be “anything but above temptation. So far from sailing serenely through his trials like some superior being unconcerned with this world, he is almost dead with distress… It is inconceivable that the early church could or would have created a story like this one about Jesus.”

We are sharply reminded that just as Jesus was fully God, he was fully human. He was fully vulnerable, and in that sense, fully weak. He was not immune to emotional pain, disappointment, sorrow, and the full range of temptation and human suffering. Even with his closest friends, he was deeply hurt when they let him down in his greatest hour of need, “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?”

No other religion gives us such comfort: to know that we have a God who is not distant and hard of hearing. But one who truly suffered as Immanuel, God with us.

Some people complain, “If only God knew my suffering!” He does. And more.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” –Heb 4:15

Lord, you walked the earth, knowing our sorrow, enduring our temptations, and shedding your tears. You experienced loneliness, despair, betrayal, and pain. And by your wounds we are healed. Hallelujah what a Saviour.

Holy Week Devotional – Wednesday March 28

Remain in Me

John 15:4-5
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

My first duty as a Christian is not to bear fruit, but to remain in him. The picture is of a vine and its branches. Branches don’t stress and strain to bear fruit. They neither feel guilty nor pleased. They simply are happy to remain in the vine. And when they do, the fruit comes in due time.

But there’s an assumption in that phrase “to remain”. The old phrase is “to abide” –to stay, to rest. The assumption is that I tend to be restless, I tend to stray. I tend to wander. As the hymn says, “prone to wander Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” I am prone to think that Jesus is not enough. I’m tempted every day. And I leave the vine. The moment I do, I cut myself off from the life-giving source of Christ. And apart from him, I can do nothing says Jesus –not some things, not a few things. Nothing.

Sometimes I think the fruit is God’s kingdom work. But it’s more than that. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). When I refuse to remain in him, I forfeit so much. But in him, how much more abundant the fruit!

Thank you Lord for reminding me that I can do nothing, I can be nothing, without remaining in you. Teach me to pray when I don’t want to, to turn to your word when it’s hard, and to be attentive to your presence always. Teach me to remain in you -that I may be fruitful.

Holy Week Devotional – Tuesday March 27

Unless I Wash You

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” –John 13:3-8

I’m with Peter on this one. I would have said the same thing. “No, I should be washing your feet, Jesus. I should be on my hands and knees serving you. There’s no way you’re going to wash my feet.”
But the gospel is strange. God’s kingdom is upside down(or rather right side up). God doesn’t demand that we kneel before him. He’s the one getting down on his hands and knees before us.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –Mk 10:45
We live in a world that demands equality and personal rights. But Jesus gave up his rights. “Though he was God he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges…” (Phil 2:6-7, NLT)

There is a shocking, scandalous beauty in this. And Peter had to experience it. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” He couldn’t just witness it or think about it or reflect on it. He had to personally experience the Son of God touching his dirty feet, washing them, and finally drying them so they emerged clean.
And this is what a Christian is: someone who has personally encountered this heart-changing reality of Jesus serving me, by dying on the cross so I emerge clean. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” I can’t cleanse myself. He must do it.

I remember my mom washing me when I was a child. She would scrub in the strangest places, and she would scrub hard. I would say “that hurts!” But she wouldn’t stop. Only a parent does that. And only God loves us enough to wash us in the places we can’t reach, the depths of our hearts.

This Holy Week, we can’t just talk about what Jesus did. We have to experience it. Jesus’ shocking, loving, beautiful humility in washing our dirty, filthy, stinky feet – to the depths of our sin, so that we emerge clean.