Archive for Reading & Study

Your Unique Place of Service

For years I felt that God had called me to one specific task. I would get impatient with Him when He seemed intent, as He often did, on diluting my focus. Why did He continually drain away my precious-little time on other obligations, other responsibilities outside my one, all-important “calling”?

At age 65, I finally have a little perspective on that issue. I look honestly at myself, and I freely admit that I am not the world’s best at anything I have done. I am not the world’s best composer. I am not the world’s best author or lyricist. I am not the world’s best Bible scholar or publisher or teacher. I never will be.

But I am one of the few people whom God has specially prepared to combine and integrate all those abilities. My uniqueness is not in one special ability, but in one special combination of abilities. In my college years, when He drew me to study classical music composition, far outside my musical comfort zone, He had a purpose. When He led me to leave the conservatory halfway through a masters and teach at a small Bible college, He had a purpose. When He sent me to Kansas City, far away from family support, to work in the demanding field of church music publishing, He had a purpose. All those years when I longed to spend every spare moment writing, and He had me invest those hours studying the Bible to teach an adult Sunday School class, He had a purpose. Through every twist and turn and mystery of my life, He had a purpose.

Stay flexible as the all-wise, almighty God stretches you in various directions. Be patient through all the waiting and all the side-trips, through the alluring successes and discouraging failures. You never know what skills, experiences, and perspectives He is combining in you for some very special role, some very special ministry He has reserved just for you.

Can We Reasonably Trust the Bible?

Can we trust everything the Bible says?
Does it contain any errors?
Can a book that is so thoroughly human in its origins reasonably claim to be completely and timelessly accurate?
We claim that it is inspired by God, but does that make it any more accurate than all the other writings that God has, in some sense, inspired?

Without pretending to give complete answers to these questions, let me share these thoughts.

First, I find it meaningful to look to Jesus Christ. John 1 refers to Him as the Word – that is, the Word of God. He also was fully human in every way, yet fully divine. His thoughts, His words, and His life were uniquely, beautifully, flawlessly true.

If we affirm that the Bible is the Word of God, we find confidence that it also can be uniquely, beautifully, flawlessly true. Just as He was one perfect, human-but-divine life among many righteous-but-flawed lives, so we can reasonably believe that the Bible is one perfectly inspired, human-but-divine book among many inspired-but-flawed books.

The perfection of the Bible is thus driven by the same energy that drove the life of Christ: God’s loving desire to be fully known by His people.

We also must take seriously what the Bible says repeatedly about itself, or at least portions of itself:

  • Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). 
  • All Scripture is inspired [margin: God-breathed] (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB).
  • The law of the Lord is perfect…sure…right…pure…clean…true (Psalm 19:7-9, NASB).
  • The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times (Psalm 12:6, NASB).

I trust the Bible because:

  • Both history and experience have proven it to be completely reliable.
  • Its perfect truthfulness is in keeping with the perfect truthfulness of the life of Christ.
  • Both the written Word of God and the living Word of God flow from the God of perfect wisdom, power, and love who longs to be fully known and understood by His people.

I trust the written record God has given us because I trust Him.

Feed the Fire

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6, NIV)

God lights a fire within us—
the fire of His Spirit,
the fire of His power and love within.
But starve any fire—
deprive it of oxygen or fuel—
and it will quickly die.

Feed the fire.
Nurture that life-giving relationship.
Respond to Him in faith and obedience.
Listen for His gentle whispers.
Answer when He calls.
Tell Him how much you need Him.
Tell Him how much you love Him.
Give Him top priority every day.
Put to death the old habits and start new ones.
Thank Him every time He blesses you.
Come to Him quickly with every concern.
Serve Him eagerly, with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Read His Word.
Talk to Him.
Trust Him.
Praise Him.
Feed the fire.

A Love Letter

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
(Psalm 119:97, NIV)

Why do I find the Bible so intriguing?
Why do I never tire of reading it,
though many see it only as so much history and poetry—
dry, strange, and irrelevant?

Because I read it as a love letter from You to me, Lord God.
It speaks to me about You in all Your mystery.
It shows me how You work and react.
It expresses Your love for me on every page.
It tells me how my life can be blessed by You.

Thus I find Your Word encouraging, enlightening, and heartwarming.
I find it satisfying mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Every time I read it, I hear more of Your passion.
I grasp more of Your amazing plan for us.

Lord, how wonderful it is to learn of You!

A Testimony: God Is Faithful

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you.  (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

One of the responsibilities I’ve carried in my local church is choir chaplain. For seven years, week in and week out, my responsibility was to give five-minute devotionals to close our Wednesday evening rehearsals. It was a wonderful opportunity. The devotional could be on any subject, and the five-minute length was perfect: long enough to express a complete thought, yet short enough not to need hours of research.

Most of us have that kind of long-term ministry in one form or another. Such ministries can be great opportunities, but they can also seem heavy obligations at times.

Therefore I offer this testimony of a few things God taught me through that weekly devotional ministry.

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

God always gave me something to say. I never had to throw together just anything to fill a slot. A few times I panicked on Tuesday night and forced something together, but He always preempted it and gave me something much better before Wednesday night.

Yes, I studied and did all I needed to do. I prayed and prepared and looked to Him. But He consistently gave me ideas and leadership as to what I should say.

God is incredibly faithful. When He gives us a job to do, He never abandons us to our own devices. He always gives us everything we need.

God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8, NASB)

It’s easy for any of us who “minister” to get caught up in ourselves and our ministry, rather than in the people we serve. When I approached the devotional time nervous about what I was going to say and worried about how it would go, I tended to get uptight and struggle. But when I rested in the Lord and concentrated on the people to whom I was ministering, it worked more naturally.

In fact, I learned to spend my last few moments praying for the people in the choir, instead of reviewing my notes. It focused my heart and opened me to God working through me.

Preparation is essential, but it is never a substitute for relaxing and letting the Spirit accomplish His will through us. And He will, every time, if we let Him. We won’t always finish the job confident that we were great and everything went smoothly. But God plants His seed through us. It is good seed, and He will make it grow.

The longer I serve my Father, the more joyful it becomes. I serve in His presence, with His arms wrapped around me, personally bringing me the guidance and strength I need for each task. It’s exciting to realize I’m caught up in His work. Right now He is creating a world of love and beauty that will last forever. When we live in Him, we are a part of it. Praise to His wonderful name!

Prepare to Be Available

Father, I can only create as You,
the Creator and Source of all,
the Spirit of Truth,
create through me.
I look to You alone.
I depend on You.
I rest in You.
I am available to You.

But being available to You is more than just words and wishes.
In obedience to You and by Your Spirit’s enabling,
I keep myself a pure vessel for Your use:

If anyone cleanses himself from these [dishonorable] things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22, NASB)

I do what I can to make myself ready.
I try to keep both my body and my mind
rested,
fed, and
prepared.

I make my moments available to You.
I ask for Your leadership,
Your prompting,
Your enabling.
And as You lead, I take that one step of faith.
Procrastination is disobedience.
It is missing a precious opportunity from You.
“Well begun is half done.”

Father, teach me to do all I can to
keep myself available to You.

Saturate Yourself with the Truth

To nurture your creativity and your life in Christ, be a passionate, lifelong student of the Bible.

When I was in my late twenties, my mentor, Dr. Morris Weigelt, gave me a line paraphrased from Henry David Thoreau*:

Saturate yourself with the truth,
and the truth will exhale from you naturally.

That statement stuck with me, and it has proven so very true. God’s Word is the truth about reality. But more importantly, it helps us know God as a Living Being. You’ve probably experienced how rewarding it can be to get to know a human being, whether a spouse or a close friend. The process for getting to know God is very similar, but infinitely more fascinating and rewarding.

Realize that everything He does is aimed at one goal: to share Himself with us. Son and Spirit, creation and redemption, need and abundance, life here and hereafter, His entire agenda is to give Himself to us and draw us into Him. He wants you to know Him.

Simply cooperate with His loving desire for you. Seek Him for His own sake, not for your own ends. Marinate your mind in Him and in His Word, and He will reshape not only your thoughts, but your imagination, your heart, and the person you are in your daily life. Remember the old saying:

Sow a thought, reap an act.
Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.

Psalm 119 is a wonderful meditation on this very idea. For years as I regularly read through the Psalms, I dreaded coming to Psalm 119. It seemed to drone on and on, saying the same thing over and over again. But as my heart grew to sincerely desire God’s Word, the Psalm became precious to me:

I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.

Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.

Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.

(Psalm 119:14, 18, 32, 36, 111, NIV)

Saturating myself in God’s Word has proven vital, not only in the big picture of life, but in my daily writing as well. When I’m writing a hymn, for example, I don’t laboriously go through my research notes and try to construct every idea into verse. Instead, it’s more like eating. I ingest the food. I take in the truths until they are personally, emotionally meaningful to me. I saturate myself. Then through processes I can’t see or fully control, the words are born.

Communicators, creators, believers, saturate yourself with the truth. Then experience the amazing and varied ways God causes that truth to exhale through you.

 

*For the full context, see The Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, Autumn, Nov. 1, 1851.

The Bible

I love the Bible. I’m passionate about it! There are many other books I enjoy and find stimulating (C.S. Lewis is my favorite author), but none compare to the Bible. It is satisfying intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It has depth. It has a powerful clarity, yet a richness and mystery that have to be tasted and experienced.

One of the reasons we should read books written in other ages is that they expand our perspective and challenge our presuppositions. One author wrote that the chains that bind us the most are the ones we feel the least. Writers from other ages help us feel those ideas that chain us, and perhaps lead us to throw off a few.

But the Bible is the one book that rises above the limited perspective of every age. For that reason, it sometimes seems hopelessly out-of-step. In our arrogance, we call it naïve and unenlightened. We patronize it as we would a doddering old man who stubbornly clings to the “old ways”. We fearfully battle each other over the term “inerrancy”. But for me, forget the labels. I trust the Bible. I trust it completely. It speaks, I listen. It’s that simple.

If you want to know the Living God better, read the Bible. It shows Him interacting with people over a period of 1500 years or more. All kinds of personalities, cultures, and situations, but one unchanging God. He treats individuals individually, but He’s always consistent with Himself.

The Bible will enflame your love for Him. It will embolden your trust in Him. It will nourish your creativity like nothing else can.

In an age of relativity, marinate your mind in unchanging truth. Anchor yourself in an unchanging God.

Listen…and sing if you want!

The Word of the Lord

Recording

Printed Music & Lyrics

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