He is Risen: A New Old Song

We are introducing a new song in our congregational singing this month (starting this Sunday). I would like to give special attention to this song because of it’s focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we approach Easter Sunday, I pray the lyrics of this hymn text will encourage you to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For without the resurrection, our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14-17)

I greatly value hymns of the Christian faith for both personal and corporate worship. A couple of years ago, wanting to dig a little deeper into hymnody, I purchased Our Own Hymn Book compiled by Charles Spurgeon. I began reading it as a devotional, marking texts that caught my attention. One of those was Ye Humble Souls That Seek The Lord by Phillip Doddridge. It’s a hymn encouraging believers to look to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and joyfully celebrate his victory over death. I thought, “We should be surveying the wondrous cross AND the empty tomb!”

So I got to work on an original melody and some added choruses. I wrote, re-wrote, prayed, and so on until completing the finished product. You can read the original text HERE. The following is the version we will be singing in our gatherings (Note that I didn’t change much!)

He Is Risen
Oh, humble souls, that seek the Lord,       

Chase all your fears away;

And bow with joy your head to see

The place where Jesus lay.

Here, low the Lord of life was brought;

Such wonders love can do:

Here, cold in death his heart did lay,

Which throbbed and bled for you.

He is risen, He is risen

Weary souls rest in His name

He is Risen, He is risen

He has conquered the grave

So raise your eyes, and tune your songs,

The Savior lives again:

Not all the bolts and bars of death

Could Conqueror detain

Above angelic bands He rears

His once dishonored head;

And through unnumbered years He reigns,

Who dwelt among the dead.

The grave has no victory

death has no sting

Christ, the Lord is risen

He has set the captives free

With joy like His shall every saint

His empty tomb survey;

Then rise with His ascending Lord

To realms of endless day.

I’ll leave you with this quote from R.A. Torrey
“Gospel preachers nowadays preach the gospel of the Crucifixion, the Apostles preached the gospel of the Resurrection as well. (2 Tim. 2:8-Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead, according to my gospel.”) The Crucifixion loses its meaning without the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection the death of Christ was only the heroic death of a noble martyr; with the Resurrection it is the atoning death the Son of God. It shows that death to be of sufficient value to cover our sins, for it was the sacrifice of the Son of God.”

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!


Why Church Planting?

In case you have missed the Sunday morning announcements recently, NewBranch is all about Church Planting. We’re kicking it up a notch with two initiatives over the next few years.

  1. Start a Bible Study in Auburn, GA with the long-term goal of planting a church there.
  2. Sending me (Kevin) and my family to the New England area to plant a church

You’ll read about those in upcoming posts. But first, what’s the biblical basis for church planting?

The command of Jesus to go is the basis for all missionary efforts. Matthew 18:18-20 says

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Ed Stetzer gives 3 reasons the Great Commission is a church planting commission:*

1. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to disciple:
“God expects the church to provide discipleship. Discipleship is not just a course or a series of studies. Discipleship begins with conversion and continues as an ongoing process. ‘Male disciples’ means that the church is to win people to Christ and grow these new converts in the faith. That process is meant to take place in the local church”

2. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to baptize:

“Baptism is an ordinance of the local church. Baptism takes place in or among the local church… Baptism takes place wherever we can gather the church and wherever there is enough water to perform the ordinance. The Greek word baptizo means ongoing baptizing- immersing each new believer. Baptism is a local church ordinance with local church purposes. The Great Commission is given to the local church.”

3. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to teach:
“We observe the fulfillment of this command to teach in Acts 2:42: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching’ which was the basis of their growth and fellowship. The Great Commission is fulfilled in churches through the planting of new churches, and by the teaching of biblical precepts.”

Stetzer concludes,
“The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by planting churches. The first believers heard the commission, left their homes, and went out to plant. When we hear the Great Commission, we should also be motivated to go out and plant new congregations. The best indication of what Jesus meant can be found in how the hearers responded.

NewBranch’s desire to plant churches is not a desire to multiply ‘NewBranch’ it’s a desire to humbly and joyfully obey the command of Jesus in the Great Commission, taking the gospel to those who have not trusted in Christ.

*From ‘Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age’ by Ed Stetzer. Pages 35-36

The Priority of Private Prayer

Why don’t we pray more?

If that question doesn’t resonate with you, then try checking back in with us tomorrow.  To the rest of us, this is a question that brings great conviction.  Why don’t we pray more?  What are our excuses?  DA Carson gives several in an excerpt from his book, “A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers”.

  1. I’m too busy
  2. I feel too dry spiritually
  3. I feel no need to pray
  4. I am too bitter to pray
  5. I am too ashamed to pray
  6. I am content with mediocrity

Which is it for you?

Or maybe a more fundamental question is “What does our lack of private prayer tell us about what we believe about God”? I believe that our theology drives our practice.  It was AW Tozer who said, “It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living.”  So ultimately, if we’re not praying, then something is wrong with our theology….or there is something about our theology that we only affirm with head knowledge, and don’t really believe it in our heart.  Such it is with prayer.  If we are not praying, then what does this tell us about what we believe about God and about what He says about prayer?

For those desiring further inspiration in this area, read this sermon by the late puritan, JC Ryle entitled, A Call to Prayer.

In closing, here’s one of my favorite “prayer quotes” from Leonard Ravenhill:

“Our spiritual immaturity never shows up more than in our lack of praying, be it alone or in a church prayer meeting. Let 20% of the choir members fail to turn up for rehearsal and the choir master is offended. Let 20% of the church members turn up for a prayer meeting, and the pastor is elated.”

May we be a people who love God, worship God, glorify God, thank God, beseech God, petition God, cry out to God…..in prayer.

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: Why I Think You Should Read This Book…

I love biographies and I love John Piper. Fortunately, Dr. Piper has a series of biographical books entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. Each one of these short books contains 3 biographical sketches of historical saints who have committed their lives to the advancement of the Gospel.

The most recent book is Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton.

We see the ground work for this book on page 15: “Christ’s suffering is for propitiation; our suffering is for propagation. In other words, when we suffer with him in the cause of missions, we display the way Christ loved the world and in our own sufferings extend his to the world. This is what it means to fill up the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24)”

Piper reveals the bold and biblical truth that God uses suffering to advance his gospel. He begins with a biblical ground work. Passages like Matthew 10:17-18:

“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”

Piper goes on to say, “Suffering was not just a consequence of the Master’s (Jesus’) obedience and mission. It was the central strategy of his mission.”

These are bold words about God’s purpose for sufferings. So, instead of simply reviewing the contents of the book, I want to give you a few reasons I think you should read it for yourself…

1. “First Bible, Then Biography”
While the bulk of this book 118-page focuses on the lives of Tyndale, Judson, and Paton, the introduction seeks to show that God’s use of suffering to advance the gospel is not just a church history thing, it’s a Bible thing. The first 26 pages are devoted to laying this ground work including the exposition of Collisions 1:24.

2. Church History
Church history shows us God’s faithfulness in pursuing His mission. These biographical sketches are no exception. By God’s grace, we have an english Bible today because William Tyndale made it his life goal to translate it. By God’s grace, the once cannibalistic island of Aniwa worships Jesus because of John Paton. By God’s grace there is a Burmese Bible and 3,700 Baptist congregations in Myanmar who trace their origins to Adoniram Judson. We should know and share these stories.

3. We Need a Bigger View of Suffering
On page 112 Piper says, “My hope for this book is that our hearts and minds have been shaped more deeply by the work of the Spirit so that when the crisis comes, we will be guided more by the ways of God and less by the worldly assumptions of security and comfort.”

4. It’s Free
A less spiritual but valid reason. You can get the book for free in PDF format HERE. Also, the biographical sketches are based on lectures given each year at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors. You can read/listen below:

Always Singing One Note- A Vernacular Bible: Why William Tyndale Lived and Died
-How Few There Are Who Die So Hard- Suffering and Success in the Life of Adoniram Judson: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to Burma
-You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals- Lessons in the Life of John G. Paton

5. Because We Should All Ask Ourselves..
“Are you sure that God wants you to keep doing what you are doing? For most of you, he probably does. Your calling is radical obedience for the glory of Christ right where you are. But for many of you, the stories in this book are among a hundred things God is using to loosen your roots and plant you in another place. Some of you he is calling to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, to fall like a grain of wheat into some distant ground and die, to hate your life in this world and so to keep it forever and bear much fruit.”

Book Review: Death by Love

I have the tendency of dividing the books I read into 2 broad categories. The first is theology; real heady stuff by guys with a lot of degrees. The second is methodology; the kind of writing that shows me what to do in my daily life as a Christian.

In Death by Love: Letters From The Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears do a unique thing by showing how the two are inseparable. Theology (the study of God) will ALWAYS affect our methodology (how we do things). That said, I loved this book.

The endorsement by Rene Schlaepfer on the first page sums it up:

I can’t remember the last time a book about theology made me this emotional. I got angry and uplifted and stunned and encouraged in almost every chapter! This may be the first time you ever found theology outrageous and logical, challenging and comforting, but never boring.

The book begins with an explanation of the substitutionary death of Christ. The following chapters consist of  letters from Pastor Mark Driscoll individuals he is counseling, focusing on one particular aspect of the Cross: Christ as our victory, redemption, covenant sacrifice, gift righteousness, justification, propitiation, expiation, unlimited limited atonement, ransom, example, reconciliation, and revelation.

Mark is writing to real people with real problems like abuse, adultery, divorce, rape, drug use, self-righteousness, sickness, doubts, etc. He is counseling them, not with the psychobabble of many of today’s ‘christian’ counseling methods, but with the cross of Christ.

Here are a few noteworthy quotes…

Our approach is an effort to show that there is no such thing as Christian community or Christian ministry apart from a rigorous theology of the cross that practically applies to the lives of real people. p.13

“The human problem is sin, the divine motivation is holy love, and the death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ is the solution.” p.23

to an unrepentant man in sin…

“If you read your Bible accurately you will find that you end up feeling condemned, evil, and horribly messed up. This is not because the Bible is bad, but rather because you are bad and are not doing what the Bible says.”

to a man whose wife has a brain tumor…

“In Christianity Lite the cross of Jesus is overlooked by people seeking a Christianity in which the objective is to glorify Self, the power to do so is Self, and the means to do so are self-sufficiency, victorious living, pride, and comfort, which together commingle as a false gospel that is of no help when the dark seasons of life envelope you.” p.202

(See also previous post 10 Difference Between Religion & The Gospel)

I picked up this book because I thought it would help me in ministering to other hurting people. It has done that and more. I found myself constantly repenting of leaving the cross of Christ out of so many areas of my life. Driscoll and Breshears point the reader back to the Word of God to show that the Cross really is the answer for everything.

I recommend this book to seekers, sufferers, seasoned pastors and the like. I needed this reminder that no matter what I must constantly cling to the cross of Christ.

Why I Love Hymns

I started leading worship when I was 16 years old. I was the guy with the guitar in my student ministry and my Student Pastor needed someone to lead at our summer camp. I learned about 10 of the most popular worship songs and stuck with those for a while.

Then something amazing happened. Passion released their Hymns Album. It consisted of 14 songs set to modernized music with a few added choruses. I devoured it. I bought the chord book and learned every song. My love for old sings of the faith began.

Every once in a while someone (from both inside and outside of our church body) will ask why we sing so many hymns. I think it is a good question that deserves a good answer. I am glad that there is a resurgence of hymn singing in churches today but, as with all things, if it is simply a trend, what’s the point?

So, here are a few reasons why I love hymns:

1. Theological Depth:
I love the fact that you can learn theology from these ancient hymns. For example, Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Bancroft teach Christ as our great High Priest, echoing the author of Hebrews:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

The song also address is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to His children, propitiation, etc.

2. Poetry:
Many hymn writers, like William Cowper, were poets. Cowper wrote the hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way. This hymn, praising God for His sovereignty over personal trials, reveals Cowper’s  skill:

Verse 1:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm

and verse 5:

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower

3.  The Anticipation of Glory:
I never noticed it until Tyler pointed it out to me. A large number of the most popular hymns end with a verse anticipating eternity with Christ. A few include, It is Well, How Marvelous, How Great Thou Art, Raise Up the Crown, The Solid Rock, Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, etc.

This desire seems to be lacking in much of the new music of the church. If we dig deeper we may find that the reason is because we are far too concerned with the things of this world.

4. The Stories:
Many hymns have been birthed out of incredible stories of God’s work in the lives of individuals. Amazing Grace was written by former slave ship captain John Newton. Horatio Spafford wrote It is Well after he lost all four of his daughter to the Atlantic ocean.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way was a deeply personal hymn to William Cowper. The story goes:

Cowper often struggled with depression and doubt. One night he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the Thames River. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river (another version of the story has the driver getting lost deliberately). After driving around lost for a while, the cabby finally stopped and let Cowper out. To Cowper’s surprise, he found himself on his own doorstep: God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself. Even in our blackest moments, God watches over us.

These are only a few reason’s why I love hymns. Do you love hymns? why or why not?

10 Differences Between Religion & The Gospel

From chapter 4 of Death by Love: Letters from the Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears:

  1. Religion says that God will not love me until I obey His rules… The gospel says that because God has already loved me and expressed this through the person and work of Jesus on the Cross, I am now free from sin to live a new obedient life by the power of his love given to me as a free gift.”
  2. “Religion says that the world is filled with good people and bad people…” The Bible says the world is filled with “sinners who are either repentant and trust in Jesus’ death for life, or sinners who are unrepentant and remain spiritually dead and separated from God under His wrath.”
  3. “Religion is about what you do… The gospel is about what Jesus has done.”
  4. “Religion is about getting from God… The goal of the gospel is to get God Himself, who is our greatest treasure, highest joy, and source of life…”
  5. “Religion sees hardships as unloving punishment rather than sanctifying discipline.”
  6. “Religion is about you… Instead “because Jesus has lovingly served us, and we love Him, we are to lovingly serve people as Jesus has.”
  7. “Religion focuses almost entirely on the external, visible life of a person and overlooks the internal, invisible life of the heart… The gospel is concerned first with the state of our internal self…First you will be changed on the inside, which will enable you to live a new life on the outside.”
  8. “Because religion is about what we do, the end result is that we lack assurance regarding our standing before God… The gospel tells us that because our standing before God is contingent on Jesus alone, we can know with assurance that we are secure as a redeemed people.”
  9. “Religion simply does not work, because it results in either pride or despair… the gospel alone leads to a humbly confident, joyous obedience because it teaches us that our righteousness is not our own, but rather a gift from Jesus…”
  10. “[The] religious pursuit of self-righteousness is through our own attempts to live by Gods law in addition to our own… on the cross, Jesus gifted His righteousness to us who are unrighteous.”