God’s Plan to Bring the Hope of Christ to the Earth Has Always Been the Church: Redeemed With a Purpose // Ephesians 1 – Acts 19:1-10

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First Baptist Church – Chickasha, OK – June 2015

All to often, when we speak of the salvation & the redemption of our souls through Christ’s blood on the cross, the conversation remains centered on us. Even when we discuss discipleship, the focus can be far too inward, striving towards our growth through the Holy Spirit individually and not giving time to the purpose for which God has called and redeemed us.

God has not only called us individually to a purpose, but He has also called us at the body of Christ, the Church, to a purpose: to bring the hope of Christ to the earth.

The Church is not just a gathering of believers to be like-minded – it is so much more. We gather to bring glory to God through our praise but also though the mission of being Jesus to the world.

Paul emphasizes this in his Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 1 reminds the Ephesians that Christ has redeemed them but also that God has always had the plan to use His Church to share Jesus with the world.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory – Eph. 1:11-14 (ESV)

We get hung up on words like “predestined” and think Paul is only talking about doctrines of salvation. I’m not going into a theological debate here, but a main point that we miss is that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of the Church that God has always known, even from before the world was made.

The purpose that God gives us as the Church is incredible, and even Paul understood that we can miss the brilliance of it at times. In Ephesians 1:16-23, he prays that the church would have their eyes open to see the fullness of what God wanted to do in them and through them!

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Eph. 1:16-23 (ESV)

As a ministry leader, I have to ask myself, “Do we realize that mission? Are we leading people to realize the purpose that they have been called to, as well as the purpose of our church?”

Acts 19:1-10 tells the story of the beginnings of the church at Ephesus. Paul left the large crowds behind to spend daily time with 12 men for two years. During the time, the church in Ephesus began and their ministry helped the Gospel go out into all of Asia! That’s incredible!

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Paul’s introductory section to the letter sent later to that same church reminds them of what God has called them to do, and he continues to focus on the church being a unified body to change the world through the Gospel.

For us today, that purpose and mission is ours as well! For a Christ-follower, being a part of a church is not just important – it’s essential. Jesus, the New Testament Authors, and God’s divine plan from before creation was always for the people of God to live as the body of Christ.

Churches are not perfect, neither are the people who are in them, but God’s plan is perfect. He has chosen us to be a part of changing the world! Isn’t that incredible? May we, as Paul prayed, have eyes and hearts that see the hope that God has called us to and the glory of what He is doing through and is us.

Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul – New Album, Feb. 1

Album cover by Emily Sloan

Album cover by Emily Sloan

I love Johnny Cash songs. It may sound cliche, but I really do. Ever since I heard “Walk the Line” on the radio years ago, I was hooked. He had an incredible way of writing lyrics that painted a real story that you could believe in. Interestingly enough, no many people know that he wrote more gospel songs than any other genre, and he even earned a Bible degree via correspondence while he was making music.

Every Cash fan has his or her favourite song, but mine has always been Daddy Sang Bass.” This song tells the story of growing up during the Great Depression, the hard work, and singing together on the front porch.

The chorus goes:
Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor,
me and little brother joined right in there,
Cuz singing seems to help a troubled soul

That line, singing seems to help a troubled soul, has always captivated me. How true is that? King David knew this, and the psalms he wrote reflected this. In churches all over the world, people are incredibly passionate about the music sung every week. In my life, there is no other feeling than when I can sing my heart out, especially when I get to sing my heart to Christ who saved me.

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Photo by Shelby Hurst

In just a few days, I have the privilege of releasing my second album, “Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul.” This a huge honor, and I am extremely grateful to Cedric Hardimon & Church Boy Entertainment for the support and funding behind this project and for supporting me as an artist on the label. Thank you also to Dustin Ragland for your brilliant work on helping produce this album and your encouragement along the way.

Preparing for this album, I was looking for a thread to tie it all together. Over the past few years, I had been writing songs, and the few favourites made it to the recording, but I had no idea what to name the album. I loved this Cash lyric, but I didn’t have a song called that. So, I wrote one. It’s the first track on the album.

“Singing Seems To Help a Troubled Soul” is a short song about the challenges of life but the light of God shining through through the melodies and chords of His song. I even invited a group of my friends to sing on the chorus with me.

Truthfully, all of these songs deal with singing and the troubled soul. Every song I wrote came out of times in my life when I was longing for God’s song in my heart. And I hope that they minister to your heart as well.

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

There are several friends who sang with me on this album, including Robbie Seay, a worship leader and artist from Houston, TX, who sang on “Psalm 23,” Aaron Boyd sang on “Nothing Here or Yet to Come,” and he is from the band Bluetree who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. CedEnough, artist and CEO of Church Boy Entertainment, adds his talents to “Goodbye Yesterday,” and Laura Medcalf, a long time friend with an amazing voice joined me on “Love Has Come For Us.” A group of my friends sang on the first, third, and final songs on the album, and I was also excited to have my wife Courtney sing with me on “Walk With Me.”

The album releases on iTunes on February 1, and CDs will be available at the CD release at First Baptist Church in Chickasha on Sunday night, February 9, at 6:00pm. They will only be $5, and I will include an Irish jig for free. Please join us – we are not just singing songs but we are seeking to share the Gospel as well.

Over the next several weeks I will be releasing some blogs to talk about each song, so you can hear the heart behind the music. I’m a firm believer in my calling to be a minister and pastor to people, and the songs God gives me are a big part of that. You can watch tv or look in a music store and see plenty of songwriters, and I do not want to be just another one in the list. I want my songs to make a difference and have a purpose.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me through the years, my wonderful family, and to Jesus for giving me a reason to sing.

Thank you to Philip Sullivan (AKA Captain Awesome) for designing the album art, to Emily Sloan for the awesome album cover, and to Shelby Hurst and Ethan Hickerson for taking photos.

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Also, thank you to Dustin Ragland for the drums, bass, and production on the album. Ethan Hickerson rocked the electric guitars, Kyle Forgety brought the banjo heat, and Laura Medcalf had brilliant background vocals.

And THANK YOU for listening and your support. To help this project keep going, and to help us make more in the future, there are a few things you can do to be a part:

Buy the album – Feb. 1 on iTunes or in person after Feb. 9. You could do both!
Share – It’s always more fun to share with everyone. Tell others about the music, buy them a CD, write tweets and Facebook posts! Anyway to spread the word helps so much.
Have us come play for you! I would love to come share some songs with you. We don’t eat much, are a lot of fun, and I’m just kidding we eat a lot.
Pray for us and our families.

For more info about Church Boy Entertainment, you can visit www.churchboy.com

“Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul” – Psalm 84

Stained Glass6I love music. For me, music really is an emotional experience. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite songwriters, and his song “Daddy Sang Bass” is my number one Cash tune. It’s all about times singing with his family during the depression. During those days, families would often spend evenings playing and singing songs on the front porch.

A line from that song, one of my most loved lyrics of all time, is “Singing seems to help a troubled soul.” And how true that is! When I sing songs, lead worship, or take part in a worship service, it truly brings joy to my soul.

You may not be a music fan, but I am sure that you have experienced times when your soul is skinny. Maybe you’re there right now. There is a Psalm that talks about worship and the presence of the Lord and how it truly satisfies the soul.

Even music isn’t something you really connect with, the presence of God is so much more than that. Let’s see what this songwriter had to say about being the presence or God in Psalm 84:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

This Psalm is one of my favourites, and is written by a psalmist speaking of the joy of worship in the temple. The idea behind it is someone who is making a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, which was a difficult journey for some.

Notice the focus of the writer in this psalm – it’s all on the Lord. His soul, thirsts for presence of God. His heart and flesh sing because of who God is and what He has done. And he says that “Blessed” are those who are always in the presence of God, from the priests to the birds who make nests around the temple.

The writer then makes a turn in his thoughts to where we find our strength. He says that blessed are those find their strength in God and whose hearts are set on being with Him. People who live like this can go through the Valley of Baca but make it a place of Springs.

The Valley of Baca was a very arid and dry place on the way to Jerusalem. Anyone singing or hearing this Psalm would understand the depth of this statement. Finding a spring in Baca is a wonderful thing. But those who find their strength in the Lord find refreshment and nourishment in the midst of any circumstances.IMG_6825

In verse 10, we see a line that is also the chorus of a worship song many of us today will recognize, “Better is One Day,” written by Matt Redman. The pure joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God is without comparison to anything else that we could experience or now.

The psalmist concludes his psalm with a wonderful statement, “Blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

The word “blessed” is an interesting word as well. The author uses it several times in this psalm to describe the person who trusts the Lord and seeks His presence. Jesus also emphasizes this in the Beatitudes in the Gospels. What do you think this word really means? Blessed is more than being happy or some other emotion; it really means being truly satisfied, no matter what the circumstance. And what this psalmist emphasizes over and over again is that in God’s presence is where someone is truly blessed.

For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this was commonly considered to be in the temple. Before the temple, God’s presence was equated with the Ark of the Covenant. Even in the temple, there were big curtains that separated areas where only certain priests could enter because of God’s holy presence. Those who had sin in their hearts could not go into the “holy of holies” because they would die!

But Jesus really changed all of that. The Letter of Hebrews addresses this idea at length, but a few verses in chapter 4 give us a glimpse of the concept:

Hebrews 4:14-16: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The presence of God for us is a different truth all together. Jews would travel so far to worship at the temple, but we can be in God’s presence anytime! Jesus made the way for us, and He intercedes for us. His work on the Cross tore those big veils in the temple away.

The same truth applies then and now: God’s presence is what our souls are truly longing for, and He is what truly satisfies. True strength, true purpose, true happiness are all found in Him. He makes springs in the dry places in our lives. We can walk through the Valley of Baca and find living water.

Notice, the psalmist’s focus is on the Lord and His presence. He comes to worship seeking to be with God. What do we come to worship seeking and expecting? What is our focus?

Without God’s presence, our lives are missing what they really need. We can fill our souls with other things that placate our hunger, but we are never truly satisfied apart from Him.

In life, we are going to walk through the oasis and through the valley. If we walk through the valley alone, it’s dry, desert land. If we walk through with the Lord, that’s a whole different story.

When is the last time you were really in the presence of God?  What are some ways that you worship Him and spend time with Him? 

When we come to church and worship, it is easy to get misguided about God’s presence. We will often mistake different factors of the service for God’s presence. Other times, we come with a focus on everything but the Lord even.

Do you feel like you are in the Valley of Baca and your thirst is parched? Do you feel like you are spiritually unsatisfied? Maybe you need to let your heart and flesh cry out for the Living God.

If you have a difficult time worshipping during church services, ask yourself where your focus is. Are you looking for the Lord or something else?

When was the last time you spent quality time with the Lord? When did you last truly let Him fill your soul?

Take a few minutes to listen to “Better is One Day.” As it plays, just spend time in God’s presence. Remember His love and all that He is done. Maybe you want to pray, read some Scripture, write a prayer, or something to spend that time with Him. But as you leave today, make seeking His presence a priority in your life. Find all that you need in Him.