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Worship - December 2021

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Christmas season is now in full swing, and I’d love to take a few minutes to tell you about our upcoming Christmas Night of Worship. Last year our theme was “God With Us,” and we focused on the fact that God who is transcendent, mighty, awesome, and holy has chosen to dwell among His people forever. We focused on how Jesus (Emmanuel) was much more than just physically  with us during His thirty-some-odd years on earth, but that His incarnation, birth, life, death, and resurrection are all part of God’s plan to establish His dwelling place with us for all eternity.  

This year, I have entitled our Night of Worship Come And See What God Has Done.  Just like every Christmas, we are remembering how the Son of God took on Human flesh and was born in a manger. And just like every year, we are proclaiming the fact that this helpless baby was actually the Lord of all creation, and the Savior of the world. What we are focusing on and celebrating this year during our Night of Worship is that this salvific operation, this careful and strategic design, this story is all about What God Has Done. And that is significant because through this meticulous plot God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves! 

When thinking of God’s provision through the birth of Jesus I am reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac (which is itself just one of the many pieces of God’s careful plan!). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be innumerable, and that through them the entire world would be blessed! (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:4-6). We recognize now that Abraham’s children would be the people through which God would send the Savior of the world. But Abraham had no children (and when Abraham took it upon himself to bring God’s plan to fruition it resulted only in more broken relationships and more heartache! Gen. 16:1-16, 21:9-16). 

However, after what I am sure seemed like an eternity to Abraham and Sarah, God miraculously gave them a son, and God did it in such a way that made it perfectly clear that He was the One who gave them this child.  Fast forward now to when this child, Isaac, is a little older and we see that in that span of time Abraham has learned a thing or two about God’s provision.  In Genesis 22:2 God instructed Abraham to do the unthinkable: to take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord. With wide eyes we read that Abraham obeyed this seemingly heartless command, and he struck out for the mountains, Isaac in tow, with the intention of killing and burning him as a sacrifice to God. Hebrews 11:19 hints that Abraham must have believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead after the slaughter. But what I want to point out as it relates to the Christmas season is found in Abrahams words of faith recorded in Genesis 22:8.  

At some point in their journey, Isaac has caught on to the fact that they have brought with them fire and wood for the burnt offering, but no animal to sacrifice on the altar. Isaac asks Abraham, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7). Abraham
responds with these words which echo down through every page of Scripture and open our eyes to the magnitude of God’s salvific plan. “God will provide for himself a lamb” Abraham says (22:8).  God will provide for himself a lamb. I can’t help but wonder if Abraham knew that those words would mean the difference between life and death for every single one of God’s people from the beginning to the end of time. But God has done exactly what Abraham said and believed he would do, even if Abraham didn’t know how or what that would look like. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God saw that Abraham was following in obedience, just when Abraham was about to slaughter his son, God stopped him, and “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket  by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’” (Gen. 22:13-14a). 

This Christmas season we are celebrating the fact that the Lord has indeed provided. He made a provision not just for Abraham and Isaac, but for you and I and every believer who ever came before us and will ever come after us. God has provided what we could not provide for ourselves. God has completed what we could not do for ourselves by providing the Lamb for a sacrifice, once for all, in the only possible way  that we could be saved. If any person was ever going to be forgiven of their sin and be restored to right relationship with God, it had to be God’s way. It had to be God’s doing. It had to be God’s Lamb.

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

Worship - November 2021

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One of the awesome things about fall is that right smack dab in the middle of November is DNOW. As part of DNOW I get the amazing privilege of putting together a band and leading worship for our students as they spend the weekend diving into God’s Word and growing
together. This is also a great time to introduce them to some new music, which sometimes is actually pretty old music. Last year, along with some other songs, we taught the students All the Way My Savior Leads MeI Stand Amazed in the Presence, and a modernized version of Be Thou My Vision. But we didn’t stop there. During the course of this school year the student band has been leading worship at their Sunday night student gatherings, and our young people are continuing to sing these songs, including a modernized version of The King of Love My Shepherd Is. The tempos are different, the accompaniment is different, and on a couple of them the melodies are even different. But the gospel truths, which have been sung by the church for generations, are the same. 

This year we have some more music picked out for them, and we are continuing to prioritize songs that are rich with biblical teachings and the power of the gospel. By God’s grace these songs will be a discipleship tool for these students, and this young generation will carry these songs with them as they are sent out as lights into a dark world. 

I am very excited about the music we have picked out for them this year, including one of my favorite hymns. We will be teaching them Rock of Ages, although it’s quite a bit different from the tune most of us think of. Honestly, you may not even recognize the song if it were not for those powerful words, but we are going to teach our students those wonderful words that have been sung for generations. And when I say these words have been sung for generations, I mean something like ten generations. The words were originally published 245 years ago in 1776, although the tune we all know and love would not be composed until about 55 years later. I did not realize it at first, but the tune the students will be learning was actually written about 170 years ago and has fairly commonly been used with Rock of Ages in Europe over the last century and a half. 

I don’t know how many times we sang Rock of Ages during the four years I was serving in western Kentucky, but like I said, it’s one of my favorite hymns. What I found peculiar, though, was that every time we sang it people would tell me that it’s a funeral hymn. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is a wonderful song to sing at a funeral. It reminds us that our hope, comfort, and security is found only in Christ, and that even when we behold Him on His glorious judgment throne one day, still we will be hidden in him. However, these gospel saturated words are pertinent in all seasons of life, not just during times of bereavement. They help us to “seek the things that are above,” as Paul instructs us to do in Colossians 3, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God
(vv. 2-3).  This hymn helps us to turn our attention to the things above by reminding us Christ has given us His righteousness and has redeemed us that we may live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). 

I love Rock of Ages  because it helps us to sing the gospel, and we need the gospel every day. We don’t just need it at the beginning of our spiritual journey and at the end of this life, but every day in between, and then for all eternity. Verse 3 reminds us, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling… Foul, I to Thy fountain fly. Wash me, Savior, or I die!” No matter how long we have been saved, we are still wholly dependent on the righteousness of Christ, not anything good that we have done since the day we received Christ. The cross doesn’t just give us fresh start and a clean slate, leaving us to our own devices after that.  The blood of Christ is “of sin the double cure” because it both saves us from the wrath of God and it makes (and continues to make) us pure. Our goal is not to become less dependent on Christ, it is to glorify God through our dependence on Christ. This precious hymn with which we are arming our students reminds us that we never outgrow our need for Christ and we never outgrow the gospel!

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

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