Archive for May 2014

The Singer’s Prayer

This is the 18th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.
This prayer is especially appropriate for soloists,
but it has truth for all of us who sing in church. 

Jesus, my Savior, thank You for the joy of singing for You. When I sing, I share Your glory. I stand in the beauty of Your presence, in the light of Your truth, and in the glow of Your joy and goodness.

But Lord, sharing Your glory so easily puffs up my pride. The temptation is subtle, yet so strong, to borrow Your glory and take it for my own.

When I fall to that temptation, my God, I deceive Your people. I give them myself, not You. I rob them of all that You could be to them.

So Jesus, I look to You. I pray for Your mercy and Your help. By Your Holy Spirit, by Your strength alone, Lord God, I make the following vow:

I will choose music that exalts You, not me.

I will sing to draw people to You, not to myself;
to You, not to the song.

I will approach each song
with prayer,
with gladness, and
with gratitude.
Whenever I sing, I will think of You.

In my song, Lord, You will be
the Alpha and the Omega,
the Light of the World,
the Glory of God,
the Way, the Truth, and
the Life.

You will be
the Prince of Peace,
the Bread of Life,
the Resurrection,
the Cornerstone,
our Shepherd,
our Savior,
the King of Kings and
Lord of Lords.

You must increase;
I must decrease (John 3:30).

By Your mercy, Lord,
keep me completely transparent.

For You alone are worthy to receive
power and wealth and
wisdom and strength and
honor and glory and praise! (Revelation 5:12)

By Your help alone, Lord.
Amen.

First Things First

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
(John 13:35, NIV)

Christians are not known by their politics,
by their musical styles,
by their miracles, or
by their cultural preferences.
Christians are known by their love.

God doesn’t require hard or extraordinary things from us.
He doesn’t measure us by our intelligence,
our talents, or
our grand accomplishments.

He asks us to love those around us,
not just in word but in action.
Someday, that’s how we’ll all be judged (Matthew 25:31-46).

Next to loving God, life’s highest calling,
greatest challenge, and
deepest joy
is loving others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
As you set your priorities and goals,
keep first things first.

The Gift of God’s Spirit

Acts 2

Jesus spent many of His precious final hours here on earth teaching His disciples about the coming of His Holy Spirit. And looking at the early Church through the book of Acts, one can understand why. The gift of God’s indwelling Spirit changed the Church from timid, self-centered individuals to a bold and loving body of disciples. They left their fearful hiding and became effective witnesses to the Living Christ.

As we trust Him, God’s Spirit becomes one with our spirit, planting within us His life, His love, His power, His holiness, and the inexpressible loveliness of His presence.

Look at the difference this Gift has made in our world, in the Church, and in our lives. Then ask yourself what untapped potential is still there. How could God’s Spirit glorify the Living Christ through us if we trusted Him more simply and constantly? How would He transform us if we focused our desires on hearing and following Him? Where would He lead us? How would He use us?

What beautiful oneness would we enjoy if each of us only wanted what He wants?

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

Prepare Yourself for Praise

This is the 17th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

We had a new minister of music, and changes inevitable. What kind of leader would he be? Would I enjoy his songs? What styles would he choose? Would the service be exciting?

But then I realized:

What we get out of corporate worship depends less on the worship leader, less on the level of excitement, and more on what we bring into the service.

We need to prepare our minds and hearts for worship. Without that, focus is missing. Our thoughts wander. Our hearts are far away. We get distracted. We become critical.

Lord, You have invited us to come before You together, as a people. Help us to come prepared, focused, longing, and expecting. Help us to come seeking You. You, Holy Lord.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: We Come Seeking You
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Discipleship

Just before Jesus ascended back to His Father, He commissioned His eleven remaining disciples to “go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, NASB). That is still our commission today, as Christ’s Church and as His individual followers. What are we being commanded to do?

When Jesus began His own work here among us, one of the first things He did was to make disciples, literally “learners” or “apprentices”. He approached individuals, looked them in the eye, and called them to leave their old life completely. He invited them to follow Him, learn from Him, and help Him; to make His agenda their only agenda; to give up everything for Him; to live with Him and die with Him.

This was no course in night school or part-time job. Discipleship was all-encompassing and all-consuming, 24/7. They gave up all security, comfort, and purpose outside of Jesus. They ate with Him, lodged with Him, worked with Him, walked with Him, watched Him, and listened to His words all day, every day. They were immersed in Jesus Christ and were reshaped by His life.

This is what Jesus was commissioning the eleven to do in Matthew 28: to make more such disciples for Him, to reproduce themselves. They were to baptize these disciples-in-the-making into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, then teach them all they themselves had learned from Christ.

This is still the calling of Christ’s disciples: to disciple others. We are to challenge them, encourage them, teach them, mentor them, and serve alongside them. We are to be instruments of the Spirit as He reshapes them into the image of Jesus. We are to nurture their personal relationship with the Father, the relationship that was Jesus’ focus and confidence and constant strength.

Discipleship is still radical, all-encompassing, and all-consuming. It is living life from and through and to Jesus Christ, and helping others to do the same.

Jesus Walks among Us

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me…and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in the furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters…His face was like the sun shining in its brilliance. 

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
(Revelation 1:12-18, NIV)

This is John’s vision of the Christ that walks among us now. He is not the Galilean carpenter, but the risen, ascended, glorified Christ in all His splendor.

His eyes are like blazing fire. He sees reality. He sees everything as it truly is: this world…the Church…our lives and hearts.

His voice is like the roar of a mighty waterfall. He speaks from absolute authority and wisdom. He speaks from pure love.

He is walking among us. He sees. He is speaking. Father, help us to turn to Him often, listen, and obey.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: The Glorified Christ
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Sing of the Living Christ

This is the 16th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

I thank God for praise and worship songs. For millions of worshipers, these songs focus our minds on God and His greatness. They give us a new vision of Him. They encourage us to respond to Him in faith.

The praise and worship movement has been the work of the Spirit of God. Praise to Him for His faithfulness in drawing people to Himself!

I also love the old hymns. Charles Wesley has taught me more and stirred me more profoundly than any other hymn writer.

And I love the new hymns. For decades I have studied, sung, and enjoyed the work of Fred Kaan, Brian Wren, Fred Pratt Green, Timothy Dudley-Smith, and others.

But still, sitting amid the wealth of all this great hymnody, so much remains unsaid and unsung about the Living Christ. We have not yet expressed His full reality, and the human spirit cannot be satisfied with any less. Our songs about Him will always be incomplete. They will forever be a work in progress.

Believers are too varied in personality and culture. God is too great and too far beyond all boundaries and descriptions. His purposes are as broad as human need and as rich as His own life. He is determined to permeate every aspect of human existence, now and forever. Thus He cannot be captured by any song or any one body of songs. Every new movement within the Church makes its contributions but inevitably falls short of fully expressing God’s glory, His magnificent love, and the wonderful possibilities of simple faith.

The more we know Him, the more we long to sing of Him and lift Him up before others. We long to draw them to this magnificent, merciful, intriguing, tender, eternally lovely Jesus Christ.

This is the joy of singing, leading, and writing hymns. Our generation, our children, our grandchildren, and uncounted generations to come can know Him better if we fill our congregational song with the Living Christ.

Daily Love

Owe no one anything, except to love one another.
(Romans 13:8, NRSV)

Did you know you are in debt to everyone around you?
You owe each person this:
to love them as you love yourself.

We have so many grand goals.
We get wrapped up in so many worthy
desires,
ambitions, and
ministries.

But Jesus said that the most important thing in all the world,
next to loving God completely,
is to love those around us as much as we love ourselves.

God is love.
Turn to Him.
Talk to Him.
As you walk with Him,
He will lead you into a life of love.

Jesus, help me love others
as I love myself.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: I Look to You, and You Are Love
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

At Home with the Father

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23, NIV)

Earlier in this same chapter, in John 14:1-3, Jesus said that the Father’s house has many “dwelling places” and that He will come again and take us to live with Him forever.

But then He says, in v.23, above, that if we love the Father, He will love us and come to us and make His “dwelling place” with us here and now. It’s the same word for “dwelling place” in both verses.

Here in this world, God is glad to make His home with us, humble and human as we are. He knows us, flaw by flaw, yet He gladly joins His life to ours. We share His love…His peace…His joy. We breathe His breath. He lives in us, and we in Him. His holy life is a growing part of our own.

Our togetherness has a beautiful beginning now and a glorious completion hereafter. Our satisfaction in God and our rest in Him are not limited by time or place. They are not just someday. They are here and now and forever as we simply trust Him.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Your Love, Holy Father
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Build to Last

This is the 15th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV)

Music is inherently appealing. Musicians, desiring to please their audience, tend to try to maximize that appeal. The more favorable people’s response to the music, the more the musician’s ego and/or pocketbook are fed.

So what has happened? Music is increasingly guided by the present tastes of the audience or congregation. Freshness and innovation are set aside. What is worse, the musician’s motivation, which at the beginning was perhaps to serve people for their good, is now to appeal to people for the musician’s own good. Sounds like a description of the popular music industry, doesn’t it?

We Christian musicians face the same temptation. We too want to please people. We too can become self-serving in our ministry. Instead of offering them what is valuable and lasting, we feed them temporary pleasure. Instead of communicating what is timeless and true, we simply stimulate their emotions. Instead of giving, we take.

How do we resist the pull of such temptations? Should we ignore the musical preferences of the people to whom we minister? Is that the answer?

No, it isn’t. As in all temptation, the key is to stay focused on the Father. That was how Jesus resisted temptation in the wilderness. Satan tried to turn His eyes away from the Father to look to His own needs. Jesus kept His attention on the Father. His connection with the Father was His strength. It is ours as well. Spend daily time with God. Keep your heart fixed on Him so that He is your guide, your inspiration, your enabler, and your only motivation. Stay tuned to His Spirit, and use all your energies to glorify only Him.

When we seek to appeal to people, we are easily sucked into fads. Our focus turns to the current taste, whatever it is. Such fads are a quick fix in the perpetual human search for true life with all its stimulations. Fads cannot touch the deeper, more lasting, more pressing needs. Their goal is pleasure. Their desire is to feel better, not to be better. Their focus is other people, not God.

This is not a condemnation of any particular style, be it contemporary or traditional. We all face this same temptation, whatever our style. We are all tempted to appeal to people, to entertain them rather than to minister to them. What begins as a means to a good end so easily becomes an end in itself, and a selfish one.

Stay tuned to Jesus Christ. Spend enough time with the Shepherd that You recognize His voice (John 10). As you listen to Him and live in Him, the Creator will create through you.

Innovators, and those who build to last, are not so much ahead of their time as out of their time. They are more free from the tyranny and narrow blindness of now. Instead, they are often driven by the most powerful creative force in our world: love.  God’s love working through us. Love leaves no room for fear, pride, or selfishness. Love longs to serve. Love gives itself completely to meet other people’s needs.

Live in Christ, and His love will grow in You—love for Him and love for people. His love will energize you and focus all your God-given abilities on life’s greatest goal and highest privilege: to glorify our Lord and draw people to Him.

Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:8, 13, NRSV)

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