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April 7, 2020

Today’s music devotion is a setting of verses from Christ’s Upper Room Discourse in John 14. Before reading the comments below, read through John 14. The comforts and promises laid out before the disciples are particularly poignant and moving when we realize that these words of Christ’s love and affection for those his Father gave to him are being spoken with Jesus’s own passion only hours away.

In his Commentary on John, Calvin writes the following about these comforting verses:

Christ speaks at length to strengthen his disciples, and not without reason, for an arduous and terrible struggle lay ahead of them. It was an extraordinary temptation that soon they would see him hanging on the cross, a sight that would cause them nothing but despair. The hour of deepest distress was very near, and so he shows them the solution, so that they may not be defeated and overwhelmed. He does not simply encourage and exhort them to be steadfast, but teaches them where they must look for courage—faith in him; he who has in himself sufficient strength to hold up the salvation of his followers is acknowledged to be the Son of God.

We should always notice the time when these words were spoken; Christ wanted his disciples to stay brave and courageous when everything seemed in utter confusion. And so we ought to use the same shield to ward off such attacks. It is, of course, impossible for us to avoid feeling these various emotions; but though we may be shaken, we must not fall. Thus it is said that believers are not “troubled”; although they are weighed down with very great difficulties, yet, relying on God’s Word, they hold their ground, upright and steady.

This morning’s recording of Philip Stopford’s In My Father’s House is an unedited take from a recording session the Chancel Choir began prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. We hope to have digital downloads/CD’s produced by the fall of 2020, in celebration of our 225th Anniversary year.

There are several things to listen for in Stopford’s contemplative setting: the responsorial structure of the anthem, in which the text “In my Father’s house are many dwellings, and if I go prepare a place for you, I will come back again, and take you to myself.” The “coming back again” of this refrain is a type of structural text painting, and it is the framework of the anthem. Another consideration is the strength of the unison singing on the text “For I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We know these words by heart, but Stopford seems to indicate in how he sets it that THIS is the thing you need to get. It is followed by a murky dissonance on the text “No one comes to the Father” which is resolves on the text “except through me.”

May we, though shaken, not fall. May we, though weighed down, continue to rely on God’s Word, and remember that the same promises given to the disciples are true for you and me. He will not, indeed he cannot, leave us comfortless.

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(Click to listen)

April 6, 2020

Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no Physician there?  Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?
-Jeremiah 8:22

The balm that Jeremiah alludes to in the verse above was an aromatic medicine, likely made from the resin of a flowering plant or combination of plants. We could think of this balm as being something similar to aloe vera, or other natural healing ointments.

Philip Ryken, in his commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations points out that the balm of Gilead was “useful in keeping wounds from putrefying.” But Ryken goes on to write: “Jeremiah could find no balm in Gilead. Not for these wounds. As he examined the vital signs of his people, he realized he could do nothing to bring them back to spiritual health. There was no medicine to cure them and no doctor to heal their wounds.”

I don’t need to point out the timeliness of these verses in the midst of a world-wide medical crisis. It is critical for us, as Christian believers, to remember that we do have a balm in Gilead, and to share that good news to a sin-sick world. We have a Great Physician who forgives all our iniquities and heals all our diseases (Psalm 103: 3), and he longs to see that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

I know that it is hard, even painful for us as the body of Christ at First Presbyterian Church to not gather together to worship the Lord, particularly as we commemorate the events of Holy Week. But this does not negate the reality that our Savior, who was crucified, dead, and buried, and who, on the third day, rose again from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures, is seated at the right hand of God the Father, interceding on our behalf. While it is our normal privilege to gather corporately for worship, in joyful obedience to the Lord, we do not have to wait until Sunday for our weekly appointment to speak with our Physician. He is always ready, waiting, and available. He has given us the prescription of prayer.

Let us continue to look to him, and lift up our brothers and sisters who are in need of the healing balm of the gospel. Let us prayer for the safety of our doctors, nurses, and all who are continuing to serve during this pandemic, and those have been touched by the COVID-19 virus. Let us pray for those who know the challenges and burdens of being employers during this time, as well as those who may find themselves recently unemployed. And let us finally continue to pray for our pastors, and pastors throughout the world, who continue to minister through the faithful and daily application of the Word of God.

(Today’s music is from a concert at Tenth Presbyterian Church in 2008 , when Philip Ryken was serving as the church’s senior pastor. The soprano is Holly Cole, and the pianist is Paul Jones.)
(Click here to listen.)


April 3, 2020

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19: 1, 7, 14

Psalm 19 is a celebration of the glory of God. It opens with declarations of God’s glory as displayed in creation (vv.1-6), continues with the more specific revelation of God’s glory through his Word (7-8), and concludes with the humble response of the redeemed sinner (9-14). It praises him for the perfection of who he is, the purity of his law, and the magnificent order of his creation. 

              Benedetto Marcello’s musical rendition of Psalm 19 is fittingly celebratory. It is in the character of a processional, with declamatory rhythms, fanfares, and call-and-response interaction. It is a piece often played for wedding processionals and recessionals, which seems natural given the imagery in verse 5: “In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber…” 

              These days of stay-home, stay-safe, where we mostly do not leave the house, have given me a greater appreciation for what is going on in nature. It makes a huge difference when the sun is shining, and we can go outside! One of our favorite parts of the day is when we go on walks through the neighborhood, where during this season all nature proclaims God’s glory in blooming flowers, warm breezes, and blue skies. 

However, the weather changes from day to day and clear skies are not always the case. Even harsh occurrences in the natural world still bear testimony to God’s power. Nature can show us things about God's character, but it is in his Word that we learn who he is and come to know more specifically the fullness of his glory.

May this celebratory music aid us in joining with the Psalmist to praise our glorious God.

--Thomas Russell

(Click here to listen.)


April 2, 2020

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
in all your darkness and troubles, remember what you are and have.
You’ve been loved with an everlasting love,
you are supported by everlasting arms,
 you are recipients of everlasting life,
and heirs of an everlasting kingdom
all sealed and made sure by the blood
of an everlasting covenant.  Amen

- from Grace Be With You: Benedictions from Dale Ralph Davis

This morning’s music devotion is a recording of John Rutter’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You, text from Numbers 6:24-26, sung by Ann Forrest Bowers, Victoria Boyce, and accompanied by their mother, Ann Wilson.   

May the words of these two benedictions give glory to God, give us true and abiding peace this day, and help us to remember “what we are and have.”

(Click here to listen.)


April 1, 2020

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matthew 14: 29,30

We probably have all had the experience of discovering an author or composer whose writing or composition has really grabbed us. I’m the type of person who, once this happens, reads and studies and wants to know as much as can I about that writer or composer. Well, at least this is how I was before having children. Now, as many of you have experienced or are experiencing, their interests become my interests.

One of the composers that affected me very deeply was Gustav Mahler. Mahler’s music is deep, searching, and profound. You can’t listen passively, you have to listen actively and let it draw you into the tumultuous and sublime world he creates.

One piece in particular that really shook me to my core is entitled “Um Mitternacht” (At Midnight), from his Rückert Lieder. As you might be able to tell from the song’s title, there is an implied darkness, isolation, and a sense of loss and hopelessness. It’s what some have come to refer to as the “Dark Night of the Soul.” Mahler’s sparse orchestration, open but minor and dissonant harmonies, and a repetitive descending motif painfully depicts this groping sense of abandonment. But as the protagonist seems to be at the point of deepest despair, there is a drastic turning point, a glowing moment of grace, heralded by brass, harp, and percussion. The text at this point translates to “At midnight I gave my strength into Thy hands! Lord over life and death, Thou holds (keeps) watch at midnight.” It is a transcendent moment.

So what does this have to do with our hymn devotion today? Samuel Trevor Francis, the author of today’s hymn, had a similar Mitternacht experience. In his teenage years, there was a moment when he was tempted to throw himself into the Thames River from the Hungerford Bridge, in London. But rather than giving into his despair, he had a reawakening, perhaps from recalling the Scriptures that he had been faithfully taught as a child. From that point on, his life was one of full gospel fruitfulness, manifested in his hymn writing and in his practice of open air preaching. 

The hymn, as well as the tune EBENEZER to which it is most appropriately set, is full of wave imagery. The first verse should be particularly disquieting, because what we really see here is the image of drowning. But what Francis does that is not only brilliant but indicative of authentic conversion is convey the holy terror of the situation as well as the helplessness of our condition. Read the poem with the following omissions and see how desperate and haunting the poem is without the grammar of the gospel:

Oh the deep,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless
Rolling as a mighty ocean over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current­­­­­­­
Leading onward, leading homeward—to thy rest

Without the gospel, we are truly lost at sea. But Francis had come to know that the moments of great desperation are when the Lord can overwhelm us with his love—his boundless, full, and unmerited love. 

During this time in which the world around us is adrift, fearful, anxious, overwhelmed, and embittered with misplaced hope, don’t be surprised, nor allow yourself to sink. Rather, let the floods of God’s grace encompass you and guide you, and may the deep and abiding love of Jesus uphold you.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus from First Pres Columbia on Vimeo.

Here’s a favorite recording of Gustav Mahler’s Um Mitternacht.
(Click here to watch video.)


March 31, 2020

This morning’s music devotion is an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, from a performance in the Fall of 2017. The chorus you will hear is “Blessed are the men that fear him.” It is a response to the scene of Elijah bringing the widow’s son back to life. Mendelssohn’s pastoral setting of verses is taken from Psalm 128 (v.1) and Psalm 112(v. 1 and 4). Psalm 128 and Psalm 112 describe the earthly promises of God to the man who fears him. Psalm 128 focuses on the blessed, fruitful life of family and children, an appropriate psalm to reference at this moment in the story. But Psalm 112, similar to Psalm 1, contrasts the fate of the righteous with the fate of the wicked in its final lines, again, a perfect psalm to reference as Elijah is about to confront Ahab.

The parallels between Psalm 1 and the verses set for this chorus find fruition in the music. As already mentioned, the music has a very pastoral character, depicted by the continuous river of notes in the strings. In Bach’s music, the perpetual motion of pitches is often a musical metaphor for the movement of the Holy Spirit, but for composers such as Schubert and Mendelssohn, this figure often represented something more earthly than eternal, specifically a babbling brook or stream. Mendelssohn may have been thinking here of that blessed man of Psalm 1 who has been “planted by streams of water.” But the climax begins to stir during the text “Through darkness riseth light to the upright,” or as the ESV puts it, “Light dawns in the darkness for the upright.”

Isn’t that a beautiful verse, image, and glorious promise to hold on to during this time? Even more glorious is to remember that our Savior is this Light that dawns in the darkness. This same Light, dear believer, dwells in you and me.

As the musical climax progresses, trumpets enter with the text that describes the man who fears God—gracious, compassionate, righteous. But there is something about this moment and how Mendelssohn sets it that implies that we are now talking about the righteous one, the Lord Jesus Christ. Mendelssohn’s librettist, Julius Schubring, a Lutheran pastor, believed that Elijah was a foreshadowing of Christ, and often insisted that the libretto should stress this aspect of the biblical narrative. While Mendelssohn resisted efforts by Schubring to lean on the side of the theological rather than the dramatic, when one hears this moment, it is hard to think that Mendelssohn was unaware of the dual application of grace, compassion, and righteousness to both the believer and to Christ.

May the light of Christ that dwells in us shine brightly through us even, and especially, as we dwell in the midst of a world in darkness.
(Click here to watch.)


March 30, 2020

 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful…Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
James 5:10–11, 13.

A few years ago, there seemed to be a focus in evangelicalism on the “healthy church,” which led to the publication of numerous books and blog posts on the topic. But perhaps we can get the truest sense of a “healthy” church in how a church responds in and to times of difficulty and challenge. In the passage above, James points us to Job, and we are blessed that Dr. Thomas has been pointing us to Christ through the book of Job in our morning services these last several weeks.

James also points to two other important components in addition to the Word—prayer and praise!

It has been uplifting to see the response of the Lord’s people in prayer through numerous prayer groups online as well as various prayer lists which are being passed on. In the music ministry, we had our first online prayer session in lieu of choir practice this past Wednesday night. And while this is a great help, those of us whom the Lord has called to the ministry of praise do miss singing together on Wednesday evenings, and especially miss the corporate gathering of God’s people every Sunday. No matter what we try to do “virtually”, nothing can replace the congregational singing and fellowship on Sunday mornings and evenings that has, in God’s providence, been withheld from us at this time.

This morning’s music devotion is a paraphrase of Psalm 95, set to the gladdening tune, IRISH.

In his commentary, Derek Kidner informs us that this psalm, called the Venite (Latin for “come”) has been used since the earliest days of the church as a call and guide to worship. The book of Common Prayer states in its rubrics for Morning Prayer the following: “Then shall be said or sung this Psalm (Psalm 95)… except on Easter Day, upon which another Anthem is appointed.” This psalm has been and continues to be an important encouragement to God’s people.

This morning’s paraphrase, which the choir recorded almost a decade ago, includes the first six of seven verses of what Robert Godfrey refers to as the “call to worship” verses of the psalm.  

Even though we cannot physically come together, may we continue to encourage one another in prayer, and cheerfully bow down to the Maker of heaven of earth, and lift up our voices in praise, for despite the current circumstances, we as God’s chosen people, have everything to be thankful for. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1: 21)
(Click here to listen.)

O come and to Jehovah sing, let us our voices raise
In joyful psalm let us the Rock of our salvation praise

Before his presence let us come, with praise and thankful voice
Let us sing songs to him with praise, with shouts let us rejoice

The Lord’s a mighty God and King, above all gods he is
The depths of earth are in his hand, the mountain peaks are his.

To him the spacious sea belongs, twas made by his command,
And by the working of his hands, he formed the rising land.

Oh come and let us worship him, let us in one accord
In presence of our maker sing, and bow before the Lord.


Friday, March 27, 2020   

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
That he might be repaid?
For from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:34-36

Today’s recording is Bill Bates’ organ prelude on the hymn tune THAXTED, "O God beyond All Praising." You’ll notice we’re finishing off the week back where we started, but with a different setting of the same hymn. Based on the enthusiasm with which our congregation sings this hymn and by how often it is requested to be sung, I would say this is one of our favorites.

The text calls us to consider the all-surpassing majesty of who God is, above and beyond even the highest praise we can offer. Bates' setting supports this expression of the ever-expanding magnitude of God’s praise-worthiness as the music unfolds and builds to a majestic close.

“and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still:”

As the Puritan pastor Thomas Watson wrote, “What comfort can the organ or anthem give if the Gospel be gone?” It is the power of the Gospel that brings victory over all hardship we encounter in this sin-sick world. It is the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection that gives us true comfort and reason to sing praise in all circumstances. These truths set to music in a skillful way are what make this hymn one we love to sing.

While this video is a simple phone recording from the most recent First Fridays Organ Concert, originally intended as an “archival recording," may it find a use in directing us to true Gospel comfort.

-Thomas Russell, Organist and Assistant Director of Music
(Click here to watch video.)


Thursday, March 26, 2020

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.”
Psalm 37:7

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9

I had initially thought about posting a recording of the Trinity Te Deum that the choir would have been singing tonight as part of our 225 Celebration, but decided to go a different route. I thought about all of the people who put so much time and effort into this celebration and have been reflecting on what the Lord might be doing through this postponement. Here are some thoughts, and hopefully the music will be a help to us.

We are a very busy people. Perhaps this Lord, in his perfect wisdom and judgement, is speaking through this storm to our nation, our communities, and our churches and homes to learn and practice a godly patience, stillness, and slowness. This may be a time for us all to re-evaluate how we have been living and whether or not that manner of living is what the Lord truly desires. He desires us to be fruitful and productive for certain, laboring in the Spirit for the glory of his Kingdom. But not busy, in our modern sense of the word.

Today’s musical excerpt is from a Good Friday concert we performed here several years ago. The name of the piece is Christian Zeal and Activity, written by the brilliant minimalist, American composer, John Adams. This piece is interesting and helpful to us in several ways. The majority of minimalist music is a reflection of modern American life and culture, and as such, it is very busy, active, cyclical, and repetitive. It can lull you into its patterns and keep you trapped in them.

But this piece is exactly the opposite. Here, Adams takes one stanza of the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers and expands it to over ten-minutes in length. Perhaps this is not Adams’ intention, but we can take from the title of the work that “Christian zeal and activity” is, as Dr. Davis might say, a steady plodding, or a slow unravelling. The unfolding of God’s will is often slower than we want it to be. God’s will, like this pandemic, will not resolve in our timing, but in his. As Isaac Watts put it, “A thousand ages in Thy sight are as an evening gone.”

May he grant us patience as we exercise a steady faith through this trial.

(Click here to listen.)


Wednesday, March 25

As I was thinking about writing today’s devotion, I realized how bittersweet it is to be doing so. This day marks two weeks since the Chancel Choir family has met to prepare our hearts and voices for worship, and for the other musical events that were scheduled, but are now postponed. It is hard to imagine an Easter Sunday service without the choir, the brass ensemble, and a packed congregation. For me, I simply miss seeing and worshiping with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yet, at the same time, we must not lose sight of our greatest privilege, namely that we are the redeemed, adopted children of our heavenly Father, and we have a Savior who is our brother and our friend. No matter how our lives change, this truth cannot change! And, perhaps we are learning through this pandemic that we must not lose our first love, the Lord himself. As we often sing on Sunday evenings, and as Pastor Fluhrer reminded us this past Sunday night, all we have is Christ and, ultimately, we need nothing more.

Today’s music devotion is yours truly (my apologies in advance) making music with my dear friend and skilled colleague Thomas Russell. Each Wednesday during the pandemic, we will post a hymn. Our hope is that you will meditate on the text (listed below and displayed in the video), and then play the link and sing with us, or at least make melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:19).

Today’s hymn is J. Wilbur Chapman’s Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners! You can find a brief but excellent biography of Chapman here.

Chapman was from Richmond, Indiana, a town that sits on the Indiana/Ohio state border. Holly and I used to drive through Richmond regularly when visiting her family in Indianapolis or my parents in Buffalo when we lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Richmond is a relatively obscure Midwest town. But, as the Lord so often does, he uses men and women of humble background and disposition to do a great work for his Kingdom. In this case, he used J. Wilbur Chapman from Richmond, Indiana, to write what is one of the greatest hymns of the Christian faith. And just as you will hopefully sing with me and Mr. Russell, I’d encourage you to read this hymn aloud, with the strength and vigor of which it's worthy!

Jesus! what a friend for sinners! Jesus! lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me, he, my Savior, makes me whole.

Hallelujah! what a Savior! Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving, he is with me to the end.

Jesus! what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, he my strength, my vict’ry wins.

Jesus! what a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking, he, my comfort, helps my soul.

Jesus! what a guide and keeper! While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’ertakes me, he, my pilot, hears my cry.

Jesus! I do now receive him, more than all in him I find;
He hath granted me forgiveness, I am his and he is mine.

(Watch video here.)


Tuesday, March 24

God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.
God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that will surely be,
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

-Campbell Ainger

The fugue is one of the most challenging and remarkable compositional devices in music history. In a sense, a fugue is musical puzzle.  A composer is either given or creates a musical theme or subject, states this subject in one voice, while another voice responds (a counter-subject); then another voice takes the subject, and another the counter-subject, until all of the voices have sung the main theme. This is an over-simplification of the process, as it is a complicated compositional procedure. But the masterful composers are able to create complete order and balance, bringing the fugue to perfect and logical musical high points, moments of tension, and ultimately, resolution. Performers and conductors have the responsibility to see how the composer has worked out this contrapuntal wonder, and to perform it in a way that is hopefully true to the composer’s intention, with care and attention, and skill. We have the benefit of seeing the whole picture before it before it is played out in the form of a musical score.

But in our own lives, we don’t have the benefit of knowing how an event may actually play out. An event, a challenge, a difficulty, or even an apparent tragedy arises in which we can’t really see what the outcome will ultimately be, and there are often numerous responses to this event. Frequently further conflict arises, or we may think a resolution will occur in a certain way and time, only to realize that the resolution is still a long way off, and has taken a turn we did not expect. Yet, once the problem or event has come to resolution, we as believers can often look back and see how the Lord was working all things out for our good and his glory.  What seemed to us random, perhaps even chaotic improvisation, was actually a perfectly assembled series and timing of events.  How often in these moments of realizing how the Lord has worked his sovereign will in our lives do we find ourselves moved to worship and praise the Lord for his mysterious and awesome providences, even those that may have initially been somber and dark!

In our excerpt today, we will actually be listening to what is called a double-fugue–a fugue with not just one subject, but two, creating an even greater level of complexity, but also excitement. This is the final movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria, taken from a recording of this past December’s Christmas concert.  Rejoice, the Lord is at hand!
(Click here to listen.)

Quoniam tu solus sanctus                       For you alone are holy
Tu solus Dominus, Jesu Christe,            For you alone are the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Cum sancto spiritu,                                   With the Holy Spirit,
In gloria Dei Patris. Amen.                      In the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Monday, March 23

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4: 4-7

The Apostle Paul had a great love for the church in Philippi.  It was the first church he founded in Europe, and Philippi was where Paul had been imprisoned and miraculously freed.  It was a church that continued to faithfully support the Apostle Paul.  The Lord’s hand was clearly upon this church and Paul’s letter to the Philippians is particularly pastoral, filled with encouragements, reminders of the Lord’s faithfulness and love for them, as well as warnings, intended to protect the church.  

If you skim the letter, you will notice Paul cannot stop talking about Jesus.  In fact, there are few sentences in the opening three chapters of the letter that do not mention Christ.  

If we are being honest, we’d probably be a little embarrassed about Paul’s zeal for Jesus.  As Presbyterians we’ve mastered the art of making Jesus respectable.  But because the Apostle Paul is so entirely sold out for Jesus, he cannot help but talk about Jesus. Whatever the circumstances, he wants the believers in Philippi to know this joy that keeps them (and us) from anxiety about the present and the future.

This morning’s music devotion is Richard Proulx’s powerful setting of the tune THAXTED to the text “O God, Beyond All Praising.”  The theme of rejoicing in times of uncertainty are not only evident in the hymn text, but in Gustav Holst’s steady and majestic tune. (Click here to listen.)

 O God, beyond all praising, we worship you today
And sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder at ev’ry gift you send,
At blessings without number and mercies without end:
We lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word,
We honor and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.

 The flow’r of earthly splendor in time must surely die,
Its fragile bloom surrenders to you, the Lord most high;
But hidden from all nature the eternal seed is sown
Though small in mortal stature, to heaven’s garden grown:
For Christ the man from heaven from death has set us free,
And we through Him are given the final victory.

 Then hear, O gracious Savior, accept the love we bring,
That we who know your favor may serve you as our King;
And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
We will triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways,
And make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.

 -Michael Perry, 1982