Beneath a Veil

On this Good Friday, I’d like to share a hymn with you that has helped me center myself on the spiritual meaning and depth of Jesus’s sacrifice.  The hymn is entitled “Thee We Adore,” and the English text below is translated from Thomas Aquinas, an important 13th century priest.  Tara and I found this hymn through one of the area choirs in which we sing; the tune we sang (by a composer named Candlyn) is hauntingly beautiful.

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, thee,
Who in thy sacrament art pleased to be;
Both flesh and spirit in thy presence fail.
Yet here thy presence we devoutly hail.

photo by Elias Rovielo
photo by Elias Rovielo

Thomas Aquinas was instrumental in the philosophical arguments behind the Catholic doctrine called “transsubstantiation” – that is, that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper literally become the body and blood of Jesus when we share at his table.  We in the Church of God do not believe this happens, but we can certainly agree that “both flesh and spirit in thy presence fail.”  Being in the Lord’s presence is truly awesome.

O blest memorial of our dying Lord,
Who living bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on thee,
And thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

Jesus taught us that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:22-59).  When we share at the Lord’s table, we are reminded that he is true food and true drink.  And when we gather at the foot of the cross, we are reminded of the truth behind the meal that we share:  the bread and wine remind us of the great price Jesus paid so that we might have forgiveness and relationship with him.

Fountain of goodness, Jesu, Lord and God,
Cleanse us, unclean, in thy most cleansing flood.
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from thy presence flow.

Jesu, short for Jesus, is the source of all hope and peace.  His blood is a “most cleansing flood” that can wash us clean from sin through faith and love.  This season is a powerful time to remember, to wash, and to remain quietly in his presence.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on thee unveiled, and see thy face,
The vision of thy glory and thy grace.

Our hope is always for a future with Jesus Christ.  When we stand at the foot of the cross, at the tomb containing Jesus’s body, we wait for a yet-to-be-revealed future.  When we see the bread of the Lord’s Supper hidden beneath a cloth, we yearn for the time when we can see Christ face to face.  Until then, we thirst, we hunger, we meditate, we draw close to Christ, we hold vigil at the tomb.

I’ll see you on the other side.

–Pastor David

Neighbor and Self

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we shared the Lord’s Supper together just before Pastor David preached on Luke 22:52-62, the story of Peter’s denials of Jesus.  What assumptions do you make about this passage, about Peter’s intentions, and about how Jesus turned and looked at Peter when the rooster crowed?  Click below to hear Pastor David’s message on this passage.

Listen now!

At the Name of Jesus

The italicized hymn lyrics found below were written by Caroline M. Noel (1817-1877).  I invite you to meditate on them with me.

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him King of glory now;
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Philippians 2:1-11 teaches us that one day every knee will indeed bow at the name of Jesus.  The one whom we remember in the current seasons of Lent and Resurrection is the very Word of God (John 1:1), who has existed with the Father and the Spirit from the beginning.

At his voice creation sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders in their great array.

We frequently remember Jesus as the creator of all things that we can see:  the sun, moon, and stars; the trees, flowers, and oceans; the horses, dogs, and cats.  Yet scripture teaches (Colossians 1:15-16) that Jesus is the creator of all things, both visible and invisible.  This Jesus is the one who holds all power and authority in his hand.  Nothing in this universe has power to do anything outside the scope and wisdom of the authority of Christ.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death he passed.

This season is crucial for us as believers.  We take special care to tell the story of Jesus:  from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, to Resurrection Sunday and beyond.  Yet what a mystery it is that this is the same Jesus who created the universe!  “Humbled for a season,” he took a human name through his life, death, and resurrection.

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Soon after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, where he now sits at the right hand of God the Father.  Can you imagine what that ascension might have looked like?  We often think of heaven as a “perfect rest”; read Hebrews 4 for a beautiful passage on that topic.

Name him, brothers, name him, with love as strong as death,
But with awe and wonder, and with bated breath;
He is God the Savior, he is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped, trusted, and adored.

“Love as strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6) is exactly the type of love that Jesus showed for us (John 15:12-13).  Let us always remember to approach our Lord with humility, respect, and sacrificial love.  The above verse is, I believe, my favorite of this hymn’s seven verses!

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true.
Crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you in its light and power.

In the Church of God, we call this “holiness” or “sanctification.”  Those who come to believe in Jesus as Savior still have something left to experience:  the complete removal of “all that is not holy/true” by the power of Christ.  Our complete hearts and minds are to be turned over to the Lord, so that his will becomes the course of our lives.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With his Father’s glory, with his angel train;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him King of glory now.

Until that day, when Jesus will return in his glory, we remain faithful.  Be encouraged, brothers and sisters:  the story of Jesus is true, and it is Truth.  Confess Christ as “King of glory” (Psalm 24) every day, and allow him to continue to transform your lives!

(Here’s a video of a choral arrangement of this hymn.)

–Pastor David

Swimming Upstream

I love to watch Bullock Creek this time of year.  Earlier this week, we had a brief thaw; a good deal of our snow melted away, and we even had a decent rainfall at the same time.  When those weather patterns combine, that means one thing for sure:  Bullock Creek will be very high and will run very quickly.  At this time of year, I get to watch the creek from my office window, since the church property sits right on its edge.

photo by Etrusia UK
photo by Etrusia UK

While I was working on this week’s sermon, I gazed out at the water.  To my surprise I saw two ducks, a male and a female, swimming upstream in search of food.  Near the bank, the female was rustling through the brush.  Just a couple of feet away, the male was holding his position in the water; apparently, he was watching for predators or other threats.  As the female worked her way up the edge of the river, the male kept pace with her, always staying even with her as she progressed upstream.

Then I realized: this was no easy task for these two ducks.  The high water of Bullock Creek was moving very quickly – from my human perspective, let alone from a duck’s perspective!  All the melted snow and collected rainfall was rushing downstream, past a few large chunks of ice that had not yet melted away, and toward the creek’s passage under Homer Road.  To hold their position in such a cold, fast-moving stream must have required a great deal of effort.  Even though his upper body showed no stress, I was sure that the mallard was kicking hard with his legs to keep up with his mate.

One of the passages of scripture that we will read in church this coming Sunday is Philippians 3:4b-14.  This is one of this week’s lectionary readings, meaning many Christians around the world are scheduled to read it this week.  And this passage happens to be one of my favorite texts; it has meant a great deal to me for many years.  The final verse of this passage reads, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Often, people argue that the Christian faith is just spiritual self-help without much influence on everyday life.  But just like our neighborhood ducks had to work hard to overcome the power of the creek’s current, so we must press on in our walks with Christ to overcome the current of sin, which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1-3).  We may wish that our lives were as calm and serene as the mallard’s upper body, but in truth the walk of faith requires what the mallard was doing underwater:  action, motion, movement, energy, work, and even missteps.  (He did stumble once or twice – on occasion he’d ruffle a wing to keep his balance.)

Friends, let us press on to become more like Jesus Christ.  Curious about what that means? Let’s talk.

–Pastor David

All Your Soul

What does it mean to love God with all your soul?  What is your soul, anyway?  And what did Jesus mean when he talked about denying yourself and carrying your cross daily in Luke 9:18-27?  Here is Pastor David’s message on this passage.  Let’s love God with all that we are!

Listen now!

(Note:  This is the complete sermon, recorded on Monday, March 11.  It is more than what was preached in church on Sunday, March 10.  Pastor David only had a few minutes on Sunday to summarize the sermon, because our report from the Guatemala trip last month was so full!)

Life Without a Pope

As I type these words tonight, there is no Pope heading up the Roman Catholic Church.  This is rather significant in terms of world affairs and religious news:  only once in a long while is there a transition of power in this position, and never in the past several generations has there been a Pope who has resigned, like Benedict XVI has done.  This is the kind of thing that gets my religion-antennae perked up!


The Church of God has had a mixed view of the Roman Catholic Church (which I’ll abbreviate RCC) since our inception in the late 1800s.  Originally, we viewed the RCC as an evil institution, one which embodied some of the most evil and grotesque images in the book of Revelation.  This was rather fundamental to our identity as the Church of God and, for a while, seemed to be the primary way for us to view that group.

Our view toward Catholics has become much more generous, generally speaking, in the past few decades.  We are becoming more and more aware that many true, honest Christian believers exist within the vast 1.2 billion adherents that the RCC claims.  Personally, one of my high school friends grew up as a United Methodist but converted to the RCC when she married one of my Catholic friends.  Both are firm, fully-committed believers in Jesus Christ and are raising their children to know and love the Lord.

Now, you’ll notice that I have not pursued priesthood in the RCC.  I serve as a pastor in the Church of God movement on purpose, and I’m not about to switch loyalties.  After all, my view of Christianity allows for a great deal of diversity of denomination.  To quote one of our heritage hymns (by modifying its intent), “we reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one.”  I believe we must be very gracious in distinguishing who, in fact, is washed by the blood of the Lamb.

So how should we react to the RCC being between Popes and struggling to search for a leader?  For all its problems (and I believe there are many), the RCC is very important to a large number of honest Christian believers.  To that end – and that end alone should be enough to convince us – we should pray for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters during this time of transition.

After all, we too are in a period of transition in the Church of God.  Our current General Director, Dr. Ron Duncan, is retiring soon, and a search team is working hard to interview candidates and to make a recommendation for Dr. Duncan’s successor.  (There are a few somewhat insignificant parallels between this process and the RCC’s Conclave to choose the next Pope.  In short, though, our General Director is not our Pope.)  Just as we should pray for God’s wisdom in guiding those who will select a leader for our group, which numbers about a million people, so too we should pray for God’s wisdom among those who will select the spiritual leader for a group one thousand times larger than ours.

We live without a Pope all the time; we live under the reign of Jesus Christ alone, and we journey freely in his kingdom with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  But for those brothers and sisters in Christ who live in a system that normally has a Pope but does not right now – for these people, let us pray.  (1 Thessalonians 5:25)

–Pastor David