God Changes Us For The Good

thankfulness, gratitude, praiseFresh out of bed and still bleary-eyed I stumbled into the bathroom to start my morning routine.  I would need to leave for work within the hour and I did not want to be late so I was already starting my mental checklist.

I glanced out the window at the early morning light that glowed and defined the tall pines and old oaks of the forest that began at the edge of our yard.  As I did so I was struck by the need to just be still and raise my hands towards heaven.  I began to praise God for His goodness and His love and I thanked Him for His grace and mercy and for including me in His redemption plan.

All of a sudden I was filled with an overwhelming sense of love and peace and I knew that just for a moment, I had touched the heart of God and that He had touched me in return.  I began that day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart that stayed with me and colored every moment and every interaction with joy.

Practicing gratitude and looking for opportunities to be thankful can open our eyes to moments like this.  A year or two ago I am quite sure that I would have missed the Spirit’s tug on my heart so soon after tumbling out of bed.  I would have been too focused on “me” and my needs and my dull spiritual receptors would not have tuned in to the call to praise.

The great news is, things are changing.  Rather, God is changing me and I am encouraged by His work!

I’m still not perfected, this is a process and a work in progress.  I still miss Him, sometimes, when He shows up and I am distracted and the flesh in me is in control.  That makes a moment like my spontaneous praise and worship all the more precious because it shows me that God is not through with me yet.  It is proof that He is changing me from the old man that I was into the new, holy child of the King that I want to be.

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress. (Psalm 59:16) NASB

 

 

What is God’s Glory and Why Should We Understand it?

glory, Jesus, praiseCan we, as human beings, ever really understand an all powerful, ever-present God?  And as part of that, can we identify and comprehend His majesty and glory?  I say that we can and by doing so we can get to know Him better.

God’s glory is spoken of often in the Bible and in many church settings.  But do we understand what that is and why it is a part of Him?  Or is it just a word we read and then pass over without a second thought?  Has “glory to God” become such a Sunday School term that we no longer consider what we are saying or who we are saying it to?

After much thought and prayer I have decided to define God’s glory as “the sum total of all that God is, all that He has done and all that He ever will do”.  To be sure, this definition is attempting to put an infinite, perfect God into terms that a finite, imperfect human can understand and is therefore not completely accurate.  But I believe it does point us in the right direction.

God is Spirit and God is perfect.  We are flesh and we are imperfect.  We literally cannot comprehend God without major outside help.  And because God’s glory surrounds Him and is part of Him it is inseparable from Him but also too vast and wonderful for us to bear.  In Exodus Moses asked God to show him His glory and this is what God said:

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

Moses could not look on God directly but only on the afterimage of His passing.  God had to hide him in the cleft of a rock and then cover the rock with His hand in order for Moses to survive the encounter. (Read Exodus 33:21-23).  This same God who desires to make Himself known to us is also very dangerous to us because of our fallen, fleshly nature.  So in that respect God’s glory presents a big problem to us that was marvelously solved by the coming of Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh.

The writer of Hebrews had this to say:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Jesus is God’s glory and God’s character made flesh!  Here then is God Himself in a form that we can understand and comprehend.  Although Jesus was fully man and born of woman He was also fully God and the exact representation of the nature of God the Father.  God’s glory is shown to us by Jesus Christ and we can begin to understand all that God is and all that He has done through our relationship with Jesus.  When we say “Glory to God” what we are really saying is “Praise Jesus who I understand as God!”

This is the season of Advent when we talk about and celebrate the coming of the Christ child.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of Jesus Christ in bridging the relationship between God and man.  Jesus is God that came to meet us and the only way that we can understand the character and nature of God.  We can get to know our creator and the awesome, perfect God of the universe because of Jesus Christ.  God’s glory is revealed in Him and we must know Jesus to know God.

Thoughts on Thankfulness

thankful, praise, blessingsThankfulness as a way of living has been my theme for some time now.  Some days I am more successful with this than others.  It’s been easier this month with the Thanksgiving season upon us but that still does not lessen my responsibility to be mindful of my blessings.  As I sat down to write this week I seemed to have a jumble of ideas all centered around thankfulness so I thought I would collect them here.

1. Being thankful is God’s will for me. (1 Thes. 5:18)

2. Thankfulness is like armor.  It protects me from bad attitudes, greed and envy.

3. Thankfulness alleviates depression.  Count your blessings!

4. Pride can destroy thankfulness (when I am proud I feel I deserve more instead of being mindful of what I already have been given)

5. My thankfulness should be expressed often, verbally and by my actions.

6. I should be especially thankful for those that God has put closest to me: my family and my church.

7. Because I am thankful I am compelled to serve the Lord out of love for Him.

8. It is still difficult to be thankful for trials and tribulation but I am starting to understand how God uses those to shape me into a usable vessel for Him.

9. Difficult people are a blessing from the Lord that I should be thankful for.

10. The gift that I am most thankful for is my salvation and the hope that the Lord has given me for eternal life.

I hope that this month has caused you to think about all of the things that you are thankful for.  I hope that you understand how important it is to be thankful at all times and in all things.  I would ask you to stop and think of all the things that God has done for you and the ways that He is working in your life and then give Him praise for it.

 

Heavenly Hardcore Heroes – Wolves at the Gate

Wolves at the Gate are an Ohio based, God-loving group of musicians that write and perform music that is “too artsy for “hardcore,” too hard-hitting for “rock,” the band members have jokingly given their music a label all its own: apple-core. – (See more at: http://www.wolvesatthegate.com)

All I know is, their music blesses me and energizes me all at the same time.  While perusing their website today I came across a video for a new song.  Not only is that song (“Dust to Dust”) excellent, the video that goes along with it is one of the most creative music videos that I have ever seen.

While watching the video there will be no question that these guys love the Lord and are playing and singing directly to Him.  Give it a view and you will see what I mean.

Too artsy for “hardcore,” too hard-hitting for “rock,” the band members have jokingly given their music a label all its own: apple-core. – See more at: 

How My Family Personally Experienced God’s Blessing

praise, thanks, psalms

“That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving,
And tell of all Your wondrous works.” (Psalm 26:7)

I believe the Bible is very clear in its instructions to us to tell of the wonderful blessings that God bestows on us.  In most cases, we are not to keep the Lord’s work a secret, but we are to proclaim it and be witnesses to the world and encouragement to each other.

If you are like me, you probably find it easier to experience God’s blessing that to tell about it.  I tend to be a quiet person and can be shy about speaking up unless I am strongly prompted.  Using this blog I have been able to write about various personal subjects that would have been very difficult for me to verbalize.  I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to write and to tell about how good God has been to me and my family.

I’ve mentioned my job change several times now, about how it has disrupted my writing schedule and taken up much more of my time than I would have anticipated.  I have not been entirely fair in this and I want to correct that today.  What I have not talked about is how God has used it to bless my family financially and to restore to us what we once committed completely to Him.

It all started late last summer, in August.  I woke up one Saturday morning with one of the strongest, most clear messages from God that I had ever received.  I’ve heard of people who had experienced the Lord in a dream or received a message in a dream and this was not quite like that.  I don’t recall any images at all nor was there an audible component to it.  It was more like a mental stamp that had been placed on my brain or even a branding that left such a clear imprint that I had no doubt as to Who it had come from and what I needed to do.

The Lord was prompting me to give a special offering to our building fund at church.  And not only that, He had given me a very specific number that was to be given and this amount was very nearly all of our cash savings.  My trepidation was not in the giving, because I knew the Lord was going to take care of us.  My trepidation was in how to tell my wife who is far more of a saver than I am.

I should have trusted the Lord and talked to her about it that morning but I found that I couldn’t get the words out at breakfast time or during the clean up afterwards.  By then, it was time for me to get ready to go to work and I prayed that the Lord would give me courage at my next opportunity.

That evening I still was unable to talk to Vicki and I went to bed feeling a little bit apprehensive.  I knew I needed to speak and that God would work it all out.  I resolved to start Sunday morning off by being completely honest and leaving the results up to the Lord.

Vicki was up earlier than I that Sunday and when I entered the kitchen she was busy with breakfast preparations.  As we sat down to eat I told her I needed to talk to her about something and I proceeded to explain to her as best I could what I believed the Lord was asking us to do.  I purposely did not tell her the amount and concluded by asking her to pray throughout the day for a number that would give us confirmation of what the Lord wanted us to do.  She looked a little bit worried but to her credit she agreed to do it and took it on faith that God was speaking and that we should listen.

The very next morning she gave me a number that was exactly the same as the number that the Lord had revealed to me.  There was a new excitement about the way she said it and I knew that the Lord was at work and we were privileged to be involved.  We made some arrangements that week to go by the bank and make sure there would be no complications with writing a much larger check than normal and then set a date to give our offering the following Sunday.

Two weeks later, a man walked into the retail store where I was working and offered me a job.  The starting salary was 50% better than what I was currently making and there was a chance to make commission on any sales that I happened to make.  After prayer and careful consideration I accepted the job and started work on Septermber 23rd.

In discussions with the owner of the business (the same man who had offered me the job) I was told I could probably expect to increase my pay by around five dollars an hour through my commission opportunities if I worked hard.  Using that information I set goals for myself, both weekly and for one year (52 weeks) in terms of total commission.

Despite a slow start in September as I was learning the job, my end of the year total for 2013 exceeded my original 52 week goal by more than 10%.  In other words, I made more in 3 months than I had hoped to make in an entire year.  What’s more, we are now back up to the same level of cash savings that we were when we gave the offering back in August.

God is very good.  Vicki and I have no doubt that He has completely worked all of this out to His glory and to our delight and amazement.  And He continues to work and to bless.  Both of us want to continue to be available for His use and this experience has shown us that when we are obedient He can do great things.

Thank you, Lord, for being so good to us!

Do You Recall Him and His Wonderful Work?

meditate,psalms,praiseThink back to a time of significance  in your life when you know that God was moving and you felt His hand directly.   Recall, if you can, the circumstances surrounding the situation and what God did for you.  Take a moment to remember how God blessed you and what you learned about Him as a result of His work.

11 I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

16 The waters saw You, O God;
The waters saw You, they were in anguish;
The deeps also trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
The skies gave forth a sound;
Your arrows flashed here and there.
18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was in the sea
And Your paths in the mighty waters,
And Your footprints may not be known.
20 You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:11-20 NASB)

 

In Psalm 77, we see and hear David recalling mighty acts of God.  He brings them to mind and he speaks to God about what he is remembering.  And not only does he remember them, according to verse 12, he also meditates on them.  Meditation implies that David spent time developing a deeper mental and emotional connection to what God had done.  He literally imprinted them on his mind and heart so that he might better recall them in the future.

If you follow the progression of these verses we notice David saying that he is making a conscious decision to remember.  He then speaks directly to God about what he is doing and the remainder of  Psalm 77 becomes both a prayer and a litany of praise to God.  After David tells God that he is going to remember he begins to praise God for specific traits (holy, great, wonderful, strong) and then he recounts specific times of deliverance in verses 15 and 20.

Like David, we also would do well to remember.  We need to practice being still before God and meditating on all that He has done in and around us.  We should focus our mind and heart on specific works that are especially meaningful to us as well as the more general blessings of life.  What has God done for you?  Even more importantly, what has God done in you?

Every saved child of God has a special story of deliverance and redemption that is unique.  Additionally, as we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and to work in us we have the privilege of seeing His work in a more intimate and personal way.  In other words, the closer we get to our Heavenly Father the more we will recognize His handiwork and be able to praise Him for it.  Times of remembrance and meditation on His mighty acts become a way we can learn more about His character as well as receive encouragement, comfort and spiritual nourishment.

In my own life, as I continue to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, recalling the wonderful work of my Lord is as essential as it is awe inspiring.  In the busyness of everyday life it becomes very easy for me to develop spiritual tunnel vision and only see what is right in front of me.  While it’s important to be fully engaged in my daily life I should never forget Who it is that called me out of darkness or the mountains He has moved for my sake.  I will remember, and I will praise Him for His wonderful work.

Do you remember?

 

Monday Music Musings

Third Day,Newsboys,Amy Grant,Barlow GirlI live a musical life.  It’s a rare day that I don’t have a song playing in my head at least some of the time.  As I’ve previously written about, I enjoy music from many genres and in many styles.  Music energizes me and lifts my spirit and in many cases turns my heart towards my Heavenly Father in praise.

This particular song has been on my mind and in my heart a lot lately.  It’s as much a prayer as it’s a song and it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Listen to the words and hear the important message of “Lead Me Lord” as sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  TBC choir and our faithful leader Milena, I dedicate this one to you.  Bless you for what you do.

“Lead Me Lord” is an amazing song and it is a great place to start our Monday music musing but it isn’t where we will stop.  We live in an amazing time where anyone with internet access and a computer has access to a huge selection of music.  I’ve been a music fan for most of my life so narrowing down just a few for a post like this is sometimes difficult.  But not today.

As I lay down to sleep last night the songs that I wanted to celebrate today were right there in my head.  I think the Lord knew I needed some encouragement and strengthening and was ministering to me even then.  Listening to these songs this morning has really touched me and excited me; it’s great to be a child of God!

I get tears in my eyes every time I listen to this next song.  Every time.  The words and the music together form a powerful combination of hope and praise that just makes my heart feel like it is about to burst with joy.  This is the Newsboys singing “He Reigns”.

The Newsboys and their music have meant a lot to me over the years.  I have plans to do a piece that covers their ministry and discography and to share more of the unique gift that God has given them.

One more for today.  This is a song from my formative teenage years and I can remember listening to this song as I was approaching high school graduation and how it filled me with a sense of purpose.  It’s a hopeful song that is sung with power and energy and it’s 90’s rock right to the core.  Most appropriately for Matthew515.com, this is White Heart singing “Light a Candle”.  I’m posting the lyrics for this one underneath the video because they form a message that still resounds to this day.

Lyrics:
A flame is rising up in you,
A spark is struck,
Electric blue,
For the hand of love has brushed your eyes, and now it’s love that shines,
Light a candle.

There’s a surge of hope within your heart and you want to play a bigger part for you heard the word that Jesus said,
You want to turn the world upon its head,
Now lift your hands up high into the sky and light a candle.

A city of faith can not be hid,
Let the fire burn on the holy wind,
So if you want to change your world and be a living flame, light a candle.

So, on a cold and moonless night, in your window place your candlelight, and let it burn so all can see your holy torch of liberty,
And pray for love, pray for peace,
Pray the world will be released from the fear that locks us in the dark, from the hate that pulls us all apart,
In the ashes there will rise a sacred flame,
Light a candle,
Light it up now.

You’re back may be against a wall but you’ve seen the love that conquers all,
You know that he can change your world, so be a living flame,
Light a candle.

Oh, light a candle,
Oh, light a candle.

You can change your world if you believe,
Do you know you can light up the world?
Light up, light up,
Light up, light up,
Light up, light up,
Light up the world.

Light a candle,
See love shine,
Light a candle,
Light a candle,
All Gods people, all God’s people,
Would you light a candle?
Let it shine,
Oh, let it shine,
Light a candle,
See the face of all the people, see them shine.

I hope that you have been sincerely blessed by the Monday Music Musing’s and that you go about your day encouraged and with a song in your heart.

Do you have a favorite song that really gets your spiritual juices flowing?  I’d love for you to share in the comment section below!

Today, I Just Want to be Thankful

thankfulLooking back, this has been a rather long and full week in ways that aren’t necessarily good.  Every day it seems like there has been some new problem or issue that required time and attention and it’s been all too easy to lose sight of what’s really important as I dealt with each day’s trial.

So today, I just want to acknowledge my Creator and His sovereign hand in my life.  I want to affirm that no matter what kind of storm is raging around me God is bigger, mightier, strong to save and an ever present help in times of trouble.  I want to cling ever tighter to His unchanging hand as He guides me over and through whatever problems I might face.

I believe Romans 8:28 where it says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”.  I testify that through it all God is working and moving and fixing all things according to His purpose and His plan and count myself blessed to be one of His children.

As I sit and write this morning it is quiet and cool and calm.  I have no idea what is in store for me or my family or anyone else.  But I do know the One who holds the past, present and future and I trust Him and in His will and His way.  I am secure and I have peace because I rest in Him.  So right now and right here I just want to be thankful and give praise to my Maker for being my God and my King.  Thank you, Lord, for being so good to me.

My Favorite Kind of Praise

In my last post I talked about a Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir song that we also sing in my church choir.  “Thou Oh Lord” is a powerful song of praise and proclamation of God’s goodness but it also happens to be a great song in its own right.

The older I get the more I realize how important music is to me as vehicle for praise and as a way to set my thoughts towards worshiping God.  These days I often listen to something inspirational as I eat breakfast and as a way to lead into my Quiet time.  The artists and music styles I choose are varied and diverse but they all have one thing in common.  They all point the listener’s thoughts towards God and knowing Him better.

Good influences are extremely important to the Christian and if we are to practice what Paul wrote about in Colossians 3:2 where he said “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” then we need to surround ourselves with things that inspire, bless and teach us more about God and His ways.  Because music is so important and so influential to me I strive to listen to Christian focused music on a daily basis as part of my walk with the Lord.  Doing so greatly blesses me and also shields me from many of the negative ideas and emotions found in popular music today.

That’s not to say that I listen to 100% Christian music, because I don’t.  I just make sure that the secular music that I choose doesn’t distract me with bad language or imagery and ideals that are not pleasing to God.  Fortunately there’s an abundance of good Christian artists out there singing and making music in all kinds of genres.  I encourage you to take a look at the music that you listen to and ask some tough questions about how it is influencing you and if it is promoting a Godly life.  If your music isn’t encouraging you in that way then use the power of the internet and do some searching for some Christian based music in the style that you like or visit your local Christian bookstore where you can often sample various artists’ work and talk to folks who are familiar with the material.

To finish this post up I’m going to post another video that is still completely praiseworthy yet resides in a completely different genre than “Thou Oh Lord”.  This one is loud, fast and completely awesome and I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unbdMFgDEiM

Thou Oh Lord

praiseWe sing this song at my church and it has become one of my favorites. It’s not my usual type of music as I lean more towards rock, electronic and folk but the words and presentation are powerful.

Sometimes I start my day by listening to this song and then I am assured that whatever problems I might be facing God is bigger and stronger and is going to see me through until the end. Even if this song isn’t your type of music either I encourage you to listen and watch and be encouraged. This is the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing “Thou Oh Lord”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU8J5l1f5IU&rel=0