The Christians Proper Memorial Day

memorial day, remembrance, praise and worshipOne of the things I love about my Lord is how He never ceases to amaze me.  His goodness is truly awesome and some of the best gifts that He has ever given me were things that I never saw coming, involved no plan or idea of mine and had absolutely nothing to do with my merit or worth.  In each of these instances I perceived that God was pouring out His love on me in a visible and remarkable way and all I could do is receive it in humility and thanksgiving.

I had such an instance recently and not only did it grow my love for the Lord and His ways it also reminded me of past events where I know He displayed His love for me in grand fashion.  Having just celebrated Memorial Day, which is all about remembering and celebrating the heroes who served, many giving the ultimate sacrifice, I can’t help but see the correlation to my remembrance of God’s love for me and the fact that He is the One who gave His only son for the sin of all humanity and deserves to be celebrated as the true hero for all mankind.

At Christmas time we are often told to “keep Christmas in our hearts all year long”, and we should.  At Easter, we are told to keep the crucified and risen savior in our minds at all times, and we should.  But is it any less important to have those times of remembrance and celebration that Memorial Day calls to mind?  And in those times of remembrance and celebration for all that God has done we can hopefully draw strength and inspiration as we look back and see the victories that God has won on our behalf and the way that He displayed His lovingkindness for us.

Taking it a step further, our remembrance and celebration should also cause us to seek God ever more strongly and ask for Him to show His glory and power again and again.  I truly believe that one of the reasons that we don’t see more miracles and open displays of God’s glory is because we aren’t asking for them.  We make the mistake of not expecting God to be awesome and limiting His power and intervention by our doubt and our lack of asking, seeking and knocking.

God truly wants us to pray with fervent expectation in our hearts.  If we come before Him seeking Him to work in power and glory then He will, although it will almost never be in the way that we expect (it will be much better!).  Celebrate all that God has done for you.  Remember who He is and how much He loves you.  And then seek Him with all you have, expecting Him to show His power and glory in your life.  I promise that you will be amazed when you perceive His work!

 

Always The Right Choice

praise, petition, trust in JesusIsn’t God good?  I hope that you know for sure that He is.  I hope that you have allowed Him to prove His goodness and mercy to you.  The fact is that His love towards us is constant and that His power and grace are always available to us if we will humbly acknowledge Him and His sufficiency,

The more we rely on Him and the more we acknowledge Him the more He is able to show us His goodness and His love towards us.  It is the sweetest thing when we begin to daily rely on the Lord for strength and can rest in His blessed assurance that no matter the circumstance we know that God is able.  We see Him working and can perceive with our spiritual eyes the way that He holds us up and empowers us to do His work.  We feel His hand of mercy and can sense Him working all things to our ultimate good.

Are you familiar with the hymn, “The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows”?  Here is the chorus and the second verse:

The Longer I Serve Him, The sweeter He grows
The more that I love Him , More joy He bestows
Each day is like heaven My heart overflows
The Longer I Serve Him, The sweeter He grows

Every need He is supplying
Plenteous Grace He bestows
Every day my way grows brighter
The Longer I Serve Him
The sweeter He grows

Is the hymn writer really saying that God is getting better all the time?  No, the writer is not saying that.  God’s goodness is constant and He is unchanging.  What the writer is trying to convey is that our perception of His goodness improves with our willingness to serve and acknowledge His Lordship.  In other words, the only people who think that God is not good are those who do not truly know Him and only those who know Him best know how truly good He can be!

Deciding to serve the Lord and to trust Him with everything, day in and day out, is always the right choice.  Despite distractions, despite circumstances and despite our strengths and weaknesses, God’s way is always the best, the sweetest and the most blessed.

My prayer is that we would all call on the name of the Lord as often as possible.  My prayer is that His praises would forever be on our tongues and that we would ever seek to know just how good He can be.  And my prayer is that we would seek to share His goodness and His message of salvation with all those who are willing to receive it.

 

The Christian’s Biggest Mistake

prayer, praise, intercessionI knew something was wrong immediately.  I felt it inside.  As soon as my eyes opened and I was aware that it was morning I knew that I was not well.

Physically fit but mentally and spiritually drained, I climbed out of bed and started my day.  I didn’t get very far in to my morning routine before I felt that I needed to just stop, listen and pray.

God was trying to tell me something and I had been so busy over the last few days that I had neglected my spiritual nourishment and now I was paying for it.  I felt disconnected from the source (Him) and that my roots that  kept me grounded to the Truth had somehow weakened.

Not only had this weakened me spiritually, I was not in a good place mentally.  My attitude had become one of complaint and self-pity instead of constant praise and reliance on God.  I had let my joy be tarnished by the cares of this world and I had not taken all my burdens and cast them upon my Savior as I should have done.

God stepped in, as He so often has in the past.  He put a big STOP! sign in my brain to try and get my attention and help me to focus on what was really important.

So I stopped.  And I listened for Him.  And I prayed with all of my heart.  I told Him everything that had been going on in the last few days and I praised Him and thanked Him for always being there for me.  The more I talked the easier it got and I felt my burdens lifted and peace returned to my heart.

I lifted up my brothers and sisters who were sick and hurting.  I prayed for my family and for my church.  I prayed that the lost might be saved and that God would order my steps and use me as His hands and feet.  I sought Him with my whole heart and as much as possible I wanted to be in tune with my Heavenly Father because He is my source for strength and I am sustained by Him alone.

I am far from perfect.  I make many mistakes.  But the biggest mistake I can make in my life is when I forget to include God and to put Him first.  He loves me so much and all He asks is that I love and depend on Him first and foremost and love and serve others just as He did.

Are you in close contact with Him, right now?  Has He heard from you today?  If not, go find a place where you can be alone with God and don’t hold anything back.  Give Him everything that is on your heart, praise Him for who He is and then listen as He speaks to you.

Don’t make the same mistake I did.

How To Win All Of Life’s Battles

prayer, praise, worship, 2 Chronicles 20It seems to be the case lately that God is taking me on a journey of discovery in His word.  Several times in recent memory I have been reading a Sunday School lesson or studying for a blog post when a verse or group of verses will seem to leap right off of the page and into my heart and mind, grabbing my attention and imprinting a vital truth in the process.

This seems to happen in spurts and although I don’t know exactly why it works that way, I just do my best to listen and to learn.  These teachable moments sponsored by the Holy Spirit are precious to me and I hope that they continue throughout this lifetime and in to the next one.

That being said, I believe that God works and reveals Himself to us in unique and individual ways just as we are all unique and individual.  Such “inspirational” moments may not happen to you in the same way but I do believe that, based on the promises in the Bible, reading, studying and meditating on the good book will cause us to change for the better.  We truly have all of the resources we need in God’s word provided to us by the Holy Spirit and that includes help in all of life’s battles.

In 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we see a glimpse into the life of King Jehoshaphat as the Ammonites, Moabites and inhabitants of Mount Seir arrayed themselves against God’s people.  To really get the full picture of what is transpiring here you should read all of 2 Chronicles 20 but focusing in on the following verses we see something really amazing happen.

 18Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    for his love endures forever.”

22 As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

Jehoshaphat knew that a battle was coming.  He knew the enemy was coming against him and he didn’t run from it or try to hide from it.  He faced it in the best way possible.

 Notice in verse 18 of chapter 20 that the first thing he did was fall on his face before God.  He called all of the people together and as one body they fell on their faces and worshiped the Lord.  After praying and worshiping he encouraged his people to have faith in God (verse 20) and then he did a very curious thing (verse 21).  He put the choir out in front of the army!  And of course you can read the result of this unorthodox battle strategy: the enemy turned on each other and was utterly routed in defeat.

Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel were victorious because they let God fight and win the battle for them.  They were careful to call on His name in faith and then they trusted God to see them through.  They began with prayer and worship and then praised God to begin the battle.  And on hearing the praise of the true and living God the enemy was defeated.

For me, this was a powerful and meaningful lesson from the Lord on how to fight and win the battles that I face in life.  That doesn’t mean that I will always understand every outcome or that things will always go my way but that as long as I am trusting the Lord and fighting with worship and praise then the result of the battle will surely belong to the Lord.

Fighting our battles with prayer, worship and praise as a three pronged strategy is a tried and tested method straight from God’s word to us.  It is a strategy that I have implemented lately to wonderful results and I would encourage you to do the same.

When the Righteous are Afflicted

Psalm 34:19, David, prayer, praiseLife is not easy.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  Striving to live a Godly life is not easy.  Trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the perfect Son of God, is very difficult indeed.

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is coming against us.  As if every obstacle that could possibly appear has launched a coordinated attack on us, all at once.  I can assure you, this is not by accident.  We have an enemy that is in opposition to God and all that is good.

And when we visibly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ and try to stand up for good then we have drawn a line in the sand and planted a flag of battle that the enemy can’t help but see.  As we strive for good the enemy will come against us and will seek any and every way to afflict us, discourage us and try to get us to leave the fight.  (As an aside, I think it’s important to note that evil has no real power over the redeemed child of God.  God holds the lives and souls of the redeemed in His hands and nothing can ever pluck them out or change their ultimate destiny.  God is always sovereign no matter what it might feel like at the time!)

King David, one of my favorite Biblical heroes, knew affliction firsthand.  He had enemies that wanted to kill him from both outside his country and inside his own family.  He struggled with doing the right thing and with his own faith even while trying to lead a country and be true to God and what he knew was right.

In Psalm 34, David speaks about affliction but he also talks about the victory that we have in God alone.  When you have a few minutes you should read the whole chapter.  It isn’t very long but I promise you that it can change your outlook for the better if you read it and let it really soak in to your heart.

Here’s the verse that is the key idea for today:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.  Psalm 34:19 (NKJV)

What a statement!  What a promise!  If can’t help but get a little bit ecstatic when I read it.  Yes, David says, we will be afflicted.  And not just a little bit.  Our afflictions and our trials will be many.  There will be a multitude of things that come against us and no it won’t be easy to be in the midst of the turbulence.  But!  But!  The Lord delivers the righteous out of ALL of his afflictions!  Not just some.  Not just one every now and then.  Every single time we encounter trouble we are promised victory and the power to overcome simply because the Lord has declared it to be so.

You might have many troubles.  And some days it might feel like there is no end in sight and no victory could possibly come from what you are facing.  But take heart, Child of God.  You are not forgotten and God is not a liar.  He has declared that He will deliver you out of that trial and that someday, perhaps soon, your current affliction will be no more.

And when that day arrives you will know that God has delivered you and you can voice your praises to Him and tell others how God won the victory in your life.  This is what happens when the redeemed gather together and tell their stories of redemption!

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
 My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together. (Psalm 34:1-3) NKJV

The Imposition of Real Worship

worship, adore, praiseImposition is not a word with an especially nice meaning.  To impose one’s self upon another is by definition to force an unwelcome or unfair demand upon that person.  In most all cases, when someone tells us that something was an “imposition” they are telling us that they were put out and would have preferred something else to have happened.

And yet, real worship IS an imposition on our human nature, is it not?  If we remain in the flesh and have our selfish desires foremost in our minds then the thought and act of real worship is never welcome or easily accomplished.  Our bodies, which are passing away, and our minds, which  must be renewed daily, will fight the bowing of our knees and the turning of our hearts towards God Almighty and His perfect will.  Simply put, to experience real worship we must approach God with humility and allow the Holy Spirit to impose His will upon ours.

When we first start our Christian walk, it can feel unfair and unnatural to empty ourselves of our own wills and seek to adore and commune with God through the Spirit.  Our old human nature wants nothing to do with this sort of thing and it is only as we gradually persist in this practice that the Holy Spirit can, little by little, imprint the act of worship upon us so that it becomes as natural as breathing.  And like any healthy habit, if we persist  we will reap continual rewards but if we slack off or stop for a period of time then it can become difficult to get started again.  The more we put into it by seeking God and praising Him for who He is and all that He has done, the better our worship will become for ourselves and those around us.

The upside of real worship and the rewards and benefits that it brings are a topic that could span several full size books.  Suffice it to say, all of the fruits of the Spirit will be born out of real worship and God’s presence will be felt strongly.  Additionally, those closest to us will be blessed and encouraged in their faith.  Finally, and most importantly, God’s Kingdom will grow as we make ourselves useful and grateful vessels for His service.

Real worship of God, in Spirit and truth, is a completely foreign concept to those who are walking in darkness and who have never trusted Jesus as Savior.  But for those of us who have the Holy Spirit living inside, real worship of God is a necessity for our spiritual growth and always worth the time and effort.  God can use us in incredible ways when we live a life of praise and adoration that is yielded to Him.

The Privilege And Pleasure Of Proclamation

important message, praise, God is goodI’m doing this because I told the Lord that I would.  Let me explain:

Last month was a difficult one.  There were several things that I was praying specifically for but one in particular really burdened me.  I prayed that it would come to pass nearly every day and sometimes more than once a day.  Not only did this thing have the potential to effect me positively but it also had the potential of lifting up and encouraging everyone that I work with on a daily basis.

But even as I began earnestly praying I recognized that it was more important that God’s will be done than this one thing come to pass.  So as I prayed I told the Lord that I would praise Him and make it known if He allowed this thing to come to pass and if not, I would praise Him anyway.  Publicly.

The fact is, He is worthy of my praise and even when things don’t go according to my plan they will always go according to His plan.  Job said it like this:

“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

God’s purpose will be accomplished and His plans never fail.  So as I prayed I did so with the knowledge that God’s will was higher than my plans and I yielded myself to His will for my life and waited to see what the outcome would be.

Today I can tell you that the thing that I was praying for did not come to pass.  I was disappointed  and saddened but also encouraged that God had a higher purpose beyond what I could see.  Do I wonder why God did not allow this thing to come to pass?  Of course I do.  I wanted it for myself and for my co-workers and as far as I could see, it would only be a good thing.  But I can only see a fraction of the whole.  God sees it all.  I wanted what I thought was good but God wants to give me what is best, always.

I give thanks to the Lord because He is good.  I make it known to any who would read this that I trust in the Lord even when things don’t go exactly like I want them to go.  I recognize that His will and plans are perfect and that I am not.  And I say that it is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to write about how good God is and how blessed I am to be called one of His children.

Thank you Lord, for being so good to me!

My Favorite Hymns

hymnsI’ve mentioned before that I love music.  It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I credit my parents for helping to encourage my musical interest.

I can remember singing in my children’s Sunday School class as a child and by grade school I was taking piano lessons where I learned to read music and to really appreciate the musical process.

In my Christian walk, some of the most meaningful and inspirational music that I have come across are the myriad church hymns that have so long made up a part of our worship process.  I often find myself quietly singing or reflecting on a line or verse from a hymn and I know that God’s truth is proclaimed through these songs.  Today’s post is about a few of my favorite hymns and what they mean to me.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

The first stanza to “Pass it On” is one of my favorites.  It’s the first hymn that I can remember singing as a child in either Sunday School or Children’s Church.  My class sang it every week and its simple message about God’s love is one that has stuck with me and encouraged me even as an adult.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The chorus from “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” contains a message that I come back to again and again.  When we focus our attention completely on the Savior there is nothing in this world that has the power to overcome God’s glory and grace.  Often when I feel overwhelmed or anxious about something I hear these words in my mind and I am comforted by this truth.

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Come Thou Fount” is just an excellent song to sing and especially in 4 part harmony.  I can remember singing this with my wife and a former choir director and his wife as part of a church special one evening and in the process of learning the song I really got to know the words and tune well.  It is a song of praise to God who loves us and helps us whenever we call upon Him.  Interestingly, the lyric “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” from the second verse refers to events in 1 Samuel where the Israelites finally defeated the Philistines and regained the Arc of the Covenant.  An Ebenezer is identified as a “Stone of Help” and was used to commemorate the site as a reminder of God’s real, Holy presence and divine aid.  I hope I can raise my Ebenezer every single day!

“Stand up, stand up for Jesus! ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss:
From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed”

My wife (who is our church pianist) tells me that she often plays this for prelude on Sunday morning and perhaps that’s why it’s on my mind today.  “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” is a rousing song that speaks of conflict and strife, battle and courage and contains a reminder that although we fight today, tomorrow we have victory.  Let us never forget that through God’s mighty power, we win!

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,

Op’ning to the sun above.Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;Drive the dark of doubt away;Giver of immortal gladness,Fill us with the light of day!”

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” is adapted from Beethoven’s 9th symphony where it was originally titled “Hymn to Joy”.  I consider it one of the finest musical hymns in the Baptist Hymnal although that should hardly be surprising considering its excellent composer. It is both a joy to sing and a joy to meditate on the lyrics penned by Mr. Henry van Dyke who in 1907 adapted Beethoven’s tune for a church hymn.

So far I’ve listed only 5 of the wonderful church hymns that I’ve cherished and grown up with.  I may revisit this topic on another day but for today I will end by asking “What is your favorite hymn and how has it inspired you?”  Come; let us praise Him together with song!

Who Is Invited?

Psalm 98, praise, salvationOne of my favorite books in the Bible for morning devotional time is the book of Psalms.  In Psalms we find songs of praise to God, heartfelt cries for God’s mercy and presence and encouraging words about God’s character and goodness.  Although Psalms is considered one complete book, each chapter or “psalm” is more often than not self-contained and forms a complete idea and that makes it ideal for a chapter by chapter study as a daily devotional.

Here is my Psalm for this morning and how it spoke to me:

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98: 1-3)

Why does the psalmist say to sing a new song to the Lord?  What is this marvelous thing that he has done?  He has made his salvation and righteousness known to the nations!  And not only to Israel, his chosen people, but to all the ends of the earth, us included.

We now have the privilege of knowing what the psalmist did not, God’s salvation and righteousness were shown through Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.  Though our eyes have not seen Him yet, by faith we have believed in Him and His redeeming work on the cross.  We truly have a reason to sing to the Lord a new song of praise!

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord(Psalm 98: 4-8)

When I read verse 4 and head into verse 5 I can sense a crescendo.  The psalmist has made his case as to why we have the best reason of all to praise God and to sing to Him and now he is inviting the whole earth to join him with instruments and skilled playing and singing.  But that’s not all.  Not only is humanity invited to shout and praise and sing, all of creation has the privilege to worship together because of what God has done!  The sea and everything in it will let loose a roar, the rivers that flow to the sea will clap as with hands and the hills that first gathered the rainwater that flows to the rivers and sea will be joyful.

The picture I get here is God’s lifegiving sustenance and salvation (symbolized here as water) starting in the high places and hills (the ascension of our Lord and the commissioning of the disciples) and then flowing down in channels (rivers – the Church and those who minister) to the sea (everywhere and everyone else).  And before long, the whole earth has reason to join the largest choir that has ever been assembled in mighty praise and worship to the Father.

But as wonderful as that is, we aren’t finished yet.

For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:9)

One day, He is coming back, both to judge the world and to receive those who are His unto eternal salvation.  Let us make sure that we are ready and that we are using our time on earth wisely.  There are many who still need to hear the good news that Jesus saves and the only way that they can join with us in total praise to God is for us to be the lights that point the way to Him.

Overlooked Forgotten And Taken For Granted

remember, blessings, praiseOne of the things that the Lord continues to impress upon me is just how blessed I am.  And this is not unique to me.  We are all blessed, every one of us.  Despite trials, despite trouble and despite our circumstances we remain blessed and loved by our Heavenly Father.

Most of us, the great majority I think, do not even realize how blessed we are.  We have been blessed and so over time we forget that we don’t deserve life or love or material blessings of any kind.  We have these things because God loves us and is a giver of good things, not because we are entitled to them.

Most of us expect to wake up in the morning.  Most of us expect to be able to take our next breath.  Most of us expect to have a roof over our heads, a peaceful existence, clothes in our closets and shoes on our feet.  Yet despite our expectations all of these are gifts and blessings from a loving God that we tend to take for granted.

Just the other day I had a conversation with the Lord about my physical body.  I turned 40 this year and have perhaps been a little more in-tune with my physical shape, my energy level and what effect my age is having on my everyday life.  I realized that, by and large, everything works as it should and most of the time I feel pretty good.

If you stop and think about the massive complexity that is the human body and how many systems we have that are blended together and have to work in order for us to function and if you also call to mind how many folks we know that are physically struggling in some way and that have bodies that don’t work so well then it is no stretch to say that I am very blessed.

My feet can carry me where I want to go.  My legs move and my knees bend.  I can turn and stretch and bend over to pick something up off of the floor or stretch my arms over my head to grab something up high.

I can breathe.  I can taste, see, smell, hear, touch and feel.  I can eat and drink and my body can turn what I eat and drink in to fuel for living and working.

My mind is able to process information and perform rational thought.  I can learn and I can use the gifts that God has given me to write and speak His truth and to teach and encourage others.  All because God will’s it and because He has seen fit to love and provide for me.

And this is just a very small sampling of the many, many ways that God has blessed me.

What about you?  Have you taken stock of your blessings lately?  Have you thanked and praised your Father above for His provision and his awesome love?  Do you have His most precious gift of all, His Son Jesus Christ who died for you?  I hope so.

You’ve been blessed with today.  You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow but if it comes then it will be a blessing too.  What will you do with what God has blessed you with?