Archive for October 2013

Christ Draws Us

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” (Revelation 21:6-7, NRSV) 

We pursue so many desires in our lives,
but Jesus Christ is
the beginning and the end,
the first and the last,
the source and the goal of all life.
Our entire selves are
from Him,
through Him, and
to Him.

This is the direction all of life, all history, all creation is moving—
to Him.

One day the reality of all Jesus is and all He has done
will sweep all creation up into
one mighty response of praise,
full heart and full voice,
forever and ever!
Even then, His greatness will far overshadow our small response.
For eternity His overwhelming magnificence will draw us into
lives of ever increasing worship and love.

Interruptions

As I read the gospels, it seems that most of Jesus’ miracles, most of His teaching opportunities, most of His chances to display His Father’s words and works, arrived as interruptions. As He went about His day, He encountered people–all kinds of people: hungry people, sick people, seeking people, devious people, desperate people. People were His priority. And let’s face it: people are the main source of interruptions. Deal with people, dare to respond to people, and you’ll have interruptions.

We resent interruptions because they intrude on our agenda. Jesus had no agenda but the Father’s. Thus He didn’t resent interruptions because He received them as from His Father. He welcomed them as opportunities to express God’s grace and truth in the lives of needy people. He dove into such opportunities with all His heart and soul.

We flinch at interruptions because they are unexpected and unsought. They blind-side us and drag us where we’re not prepared to go. Jesus was completely and comfortably dependent on His Father, so He was never threatened by the unexpected.

I deeply desire God’s moment-by-moment leading. He is teaching me that such leading inevitably involves what I have called “interruptions”. His wisdom, His leadership, His opportunities for service are often unexpected and unsought. They are intrusions on my well-planned agenda. Of course, there are times when the agenda is from Him and the interruption is not. I can’t and shouldn’t chase every rabbit, and I’ll need His discernment to tell them apart. But very often, interruptions only threaten my agenda, not His.

Over my years of serving the Lord, I’ve noticed two things about interruptions:

1. As a writer, many of my most meaningful pieces arrived as interruptions. While I was intently working on something else, He gifted me with something better.

2. When He interrupts my carefully-planned schedule, nothing is ever lost. Nothing. God never fights against His own work. I have no reason to be afraid and protective. He often surprises me with increased productivity, and all His work gets done in a natural, unhurried, creatively-satisfying way.

Join with me in learning to be more flexible, more trusting, more responsive to God’s leading. As older writers put it, be as responsive to the Spirit as a feather on a breeze. No matter what type of work we do, as Christians, people are our priority, and people bring interruptions. But God’s interruptions are always opportunities. Welcome them! After all, for blind and ignorant creatures like us, such interruptions are inherent in the privilege of serving the transcendent God. His thoughts and ways are far above are own.

He wants to make your life more fruitful in unexpected ways. Are you willing to let Him?

My Life Is Pain

Based on Psalm 39 

My life is pain, Lord.
I try to keep quiet about it
to keep from spreading my bitterness all around.
I don’t want to dishonor You, Lord.
But it boils in my mind,
and finally steam bursts out:

O Lord, help me to understand
how very brief life is—
for me, for all of us.
My life is a breath.
I live a few inches of time before You,
Almighty Creator.

We spend our entire lives here in vanity.
Like phantoms we hurry around
but do nothing.
We heap up wealth, respect, and goods,
only to leave them behind.
All is emptiness, O Lord—
vanity and emptiness.

What can I look to for meaning, my God?
I look to You.
I hope in You alone.
I accept my pain as from You, my Lord.
You use our troubles to correct us,
to enlighten us.
You turn all our efforts to nothing
so that we might turn to You.

I turn to You, Lord.
I am helpless.
I am in pain.
Everything else is emptiness.
I hope in You alone.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Life Is Brief and Full of Trouble
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

A Living, Present Being

One of the first things we’re taught as children in Sunday School is that God is everywhere, He is always with us. I remember that thought being impressed on me by the song, “O be careful, little eyes, what you see…” But the feeling I got was, “Big Brother is watching you!” It made me afraid of God and uneasy, even when I wasn’t doing something sneaky.

Then as we get a little older, we’re hit with the unwieldy term omnipresent. But that’s what my son would call a “back-of-the-dictionary word.” I don’t remember it ever making God seem near or dear.

And as adults, most of us profess that God is everywhere, but we generally think and live as if He is not. Our attitudes clearly state what our mouths will not admit—that God is either not really here, or if He is, it is in some vague, impersonal sense. Rarely do our hearts perceive Him, and just as rarely do we personally interact with Him, or react to Him. When we react, it is usually to “the rules” rather than to Him.

Sometimes we try to recreate His image in our minds, piecing together memorized words and vague memories. But the result is unreal and fades quickly.

But over the years, God has begun to patiently impress on me that He is a real being, who is immediately and personally and constantly with me. The very breath I breathe is His life-force. His Spirit lives and speaks and works within me. Incredibly, I spend every moment of my existence enfolded in His presence and His care.

This growing awareness has brought with it some intriguing and exciting questions:

How would my thoughts, feelings, and actions change if my heart were always fully aware of His presence?

How would that affect my attitude toward sin? How would I react to Him when I do sin if I realized He is present, still loving me, longing to immediately restore our relationship?

How would I be affected in times of trouble, fatigue, or confusion if I realized I don’t have to find God or even reach out to Him—that He is already with me, and I only have to look to Him?

As a matter of fact, how would it affect my prayer life? Can I imagine the simplicity of opening my heart to One who is as close as my breath, who takes pleasure in hearing from me?

How much more flavor and spice would it add to this life, and how much would it sharpen my anticipation of the next life?

You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11, NIV)

How would our hearts and our lives change if we simply realized what is already true—that our loving God is personally, presently, unfailingly with us?

God Himself Is Our Inheritance

I’ve been reading recently in Deuteronomy. What a wonderful book! Israel had been in the wilderness for 40 years. About to enter the promised land, Moses was reminding them of what God had done for them and what He expected of them.

One of the recurring themes I noticed was God’s treatment of the Levites. As one of the twelve tribes of Israel, God set them aside to serve Him in a particular way. As one called to full-time service, I couldn’t help but identify with them.

God gave them specific duties. They were to take charge of the tabernacle and its furnishings, caring for it, setting it up, and tearing it down. No small task! They were also given other responsibilities, such as assisting the priests, teaching God’s law to the people, and acting as local judges.

I was particularly struck by several aspects of God’s relationship with the Levites. As a servant of God, do you identify with any of these points?

1. The other eleven tribes each received an area of land within Canaan to call their own—land that was to remain theirs forever. The Levites were given no land. The Lord repeatedly told them that He Himself was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 18:1-2; Joshua 13:33).

2. God brought the Levites near to Himself. That nearness, which was inherent in their work, was part of their privilege and reward (Numbers 16:9-10).

3. One of the duties of the Levites was to bless God’s people in His name. What a wonderful privilege! (Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 21:5)

4. God placed His servants, the Levites, at the very heart of His people. When they camped in the wilderness, the Levites were right in the middle of the camp, with the other tribes distributed around them (Numbers 1:47-54; 2:17). When they settled in the promised land, each of the other eleven tribes allocated certain cities for the Levites, so that the Levites were intentionally scattered among God’s people (Numbers 35:1-9).

5. Levites were also scattered among the various towns throughout the country, and the local people were to make charitable provision for them, just as they did for the widows, orphans, and aliens among them. Because the Levites had no land inheritance of their own, they were dependent on the charity of God’s people (Deuteronomy 12:12, 18-19; 14:27-29; 16:11, 14; 26:11-12).

God’s servants, the Levites, were privileged to bring God to the people and the people to God. They spoke God’s blessing on the people and taught the people about God and His ways. But as part of their calling, they were dependent on God more constantly and completely than His other people, and God made them dependent on the piety and generosity of His people.

Their inheritance was not houses or land or riches, but a special relationship with God Himself. God considered their service to Him, their close relationship with Him, and even their dependence on Him to be a profound privilege.

Reflect on all this. Does it help you understand how God treats you as His servant?

All the Best of Life

God’s recipe for success is completely different than ours. Human society seems to prize people that are strong, self-confident, positive, and assertive, pursuing goals that provide themselves and others with more money or enhanced physical life. Are they a bit selfish? No problem. Who isn’t?

But read Matthew 5:3-12, the beatitudes. These are Jesus’ recipe for success. Remember, He alone has experienced both life on earth and an eternity in heaven. He has seen it all, and here is His description of the person truly blessed by God: poor in spirit; mourning; meek; hungering and thirsting for righteousness; merciful; pure in heart; making peace; suffering persecution for obeying God.

What an unlikely set of qualifications for success! None of the qualifications are strength, skill, material goods, or human accomplishment. All flow from a focus on God and the humility that results.

Here are the gifts God gives these blessed ones: the Kingdom of heaven; His comfort; rulership of the entire earth; righteousness in abundance; mercy; the privilege of seeing God and being His children.

None of these gifts of God are material. All are blessings on the inner, eternal person, and all outlast this world. Jesus, the only person with a complete and accurate view of life, urges us to prize these gifts.

Father, I want to please You.
May that always be my one goal and desire.
And may that desire shape
my heart, my thoughts, and my daily life.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Beatitudes Hymn
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Called Aside

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters.
(Psalm 23:2, NIV)

Jesus, I feel You calling me aside this morning.

Sometimes I sense You calling me in stressful times,
inviting me to seek and find rest in Your presence.

But sometimes, like this morning,
when I have done my normal devotional practice,
I feel You calling me aside further.
You prompt me to put away other good things and
spend more time with You.
You invite me to experience closer fellowship with You.

Jesus, I come to You now with joy.
Thank You for wanting me,
for enjoying me,
for desiring to bless me and be close to me, and
for wanting me to be close to You.
I come, Lord.

The Power of Influence: Gloria Bible

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

I’ve saved the greatest, deepest, broadest influence on my life till last. I almost omitted my wife entirely, since I’m too close to fully understand her influence on me, and this article must be too brief to express what I do understand. And I realize that much of my appreciation should be spoken to her alone.

But here are a few things I need to say about her that are very relevant as you reflect on your own influencers and those you influence.

If I were a bachelor, I’d probably be huddled in an apartment somewhere, with a smattering of uncoordinated decorations here and there, rarely eating a balanced, home-cooked meal, nagged by an inner restlessness. That’s not an assessment of all bachelors. It’s an assessment of myself. What value can one place on a beautiful, stable home filled with a joyfully-reciprocated love, shared joys, shared concerns, and 42 years richly-packed with those wonderful, everyday moments? How does one measure the influence of that?

How can I estimate the influence of one who loves me as I am but is not afraid to tell me when I need to do better? Someone who is always there to help when I’m overwhelmed or incompetent or focused in the wrong direction? How can I assess the value of a sister in Christ who shares my faith and love and deepest commitments?

I could go on, but you see what I mean. Her influence is too pervasive to estimate. But she has made a few specific contributions that directly apply to my work:

1. Beginning at age 25, I wrote very little music and focused instead on writing lyrics. A very knowledgeable friend and colleague once told me in no uncertain terms that my gifts lay with writing lyrics, not music. So I sat back and waited for my knight in shining armor—a composer who would share my passion for congregational music and provide all the musical settings I needed. I looked and waited for 20 years, and no one came. But my loving wife faithfully nagged me all that time and finally convinced me to try providing my own music. It was the Lord’s plan, and I’ve never looked back. If I’ve ever written a good hymn setting, thank Gloria.

2. She has no professional knowledge of hymns or of writing in general. But she is a sensitive, sympathetic, godly lay person who by nature says exactly what she thinks. I value her opinion. So I unfailingly play for her every new hymn I write, then listen for her response. I can’t tell you how many times her comments have caused me to give a hymn just the revision it needed.

3. Just shy of my 60th birthday, I got down-sized out of the church music publishing field where I had spent my entire adult life. God clearly called me to focus on writing hymns, and that doesn’t pay the bills. Gloria has taken over as bread-winner, and without her, I literally could not do what I’m doing.

When it comes to appreciating those who have influenced you, or when you’re looking for the best place to invest your own time and encouragement, don’t look past the person standing right next to you.

Passionate about His Father

What made Jesus so different from everyone else?
Why did He think differently?
Why did He act differently?
Why did He talk differently?

Jesus was different because of His relationship with His Father.
He single-mindedly focused on His Father and His Father’s concerns.
He wasn’t self-centered.
He didn’t care about money or career or reputation or social pressure.
He kept His mind and His heart always tuned to His Father’s voice.
He let His Father guide everything He said and everything He did.

No matter what sacrifice was required,
Jesus’ goal,
His prayer,
His passion
were always the Father’s will.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Focus
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Broaden Your Appreciation

I had been in church music publishing for years and had learned to appreciate a wide variety of styles and songs. But there were some songs I just didn’t respect, to the point that I hesitated to include them in publications. For example, I read the words to Mosie Lister’s “Where No One Stands Alone” and the Gaithers’ “There’s Something About That Name” and found nothing substantial. Yes, there was emotion, but what were the songs saying? All I saw was sentimental drivel.

Then one day I realized that when I examined a song in that way, I was only experiencing half of it.  I wasn’t hearing the praise that arises from the hearts of believers for whom these songs are poignant expressions of faith. I wasn’t hearing the genuine worship these songs release when sung from a heart of worship. In the mouths of many God-fearing, Bible-believing brothers and sisters in Christ, these simple, sentimental words become powerful expressions of faith and praise to the Living God.

“Where No One Stands Alone” becomes a profound and moving statement of our loneliness without God and our deep, inexpressible hunger for Him. (It also helps to know that the song was inspired by Psalm 51.)

“There’s Something About That Name” verbalizes that indefinable attraction we feel for the man Jesus Christ.

A song is just marks on a paper or a sequence of sounds until some believer brings it to life and lifts it as an offering to God. Then it becomes a prayer or praise. Only part of it can be read on paper or heard on a recording. God often uses very humble means to speak to people and do His work. He often chooses lowly expressions of childlike faith to glorify Himself. Almighty God continues to confound the wise and to break out of whatever boxes we put Him in.

As a young person starting in music publishing, I was very negative about southern gospel music. I watched its performers. I was annoyed that so many of its songs harped on a very few emotional themes, like heaven. They made the whole style seem shallow and artificial. But working with gospel songwriter Mosie Lister, I began to appreciate southern gospel as true folk music. Its strength was its simplicity and natural exuberance. I learned to look beyond the seeming shallowness of some of its practitioners and see its tremendous potential for ministry.

On the other hand, some evangelicals hear more liturgical styles and write them off as cold, boring, and emotionless. What they don’t realize is that these believers want to hear God and exalt Him just as much as evangelicals. But they seek truth that is deeper than emotion. They long for thoughtfulness in worship. They want to taste the mystery of God. For many, quietness brings God nearer than does wild emotion.

As a hymn-lover and hymn-leader, beware of pride and narrow-mindedness, no matter what your educational level or musical style. Remember, God calls all His servants to minister with humility and compassion, to be people-centered and people-sensitive in all they do. Like Paul, we must be willing to be all things to all people so that we might reach as many as possible with the love of Jesus Christ, which crosses every boundary.

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