Archive for May 2016

A Personal Story

I had become a Christian at age 10 and had lived an active, committed Christian life. Upon graduation from high school, I elected to commute to the local state university (the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati). Though my older brother had gone to a Christian college, I knew the local university was the right place for me.

But there I began questioning my belief in the Bible and in God Himself. All the miracle stories now seemed far-fetched. So for the first two years of college, I was a sincere atheist, even though I continued to attend church and even directed the youth choir.

Over time, my intellectual struggle came to a stalemate. I realized that scientific reasoning alone couldn’t tell me whether there was a God. My mind and my senses were too limited, too small. There was so much I couldn’t observe and couldn’t know. But at that point I became convinced that God was real because I had seen Him in the lives of my parents and in many other Christians I had known.

So on that basis, without any emotional crisis, I recommitted myself to God. I have trusted and followed Him since, even through many dark and difficult times. I have never again had any doubts about His existence.

Irrefutable rational proof for God – or disproof – simply wasn’t available. In my opinion, it never is. Though faith in Him is totally reasonable, His reality cannot be proved purely by human observation and reasoning. We are tiny, brief, creatures of dust. He is an unbounded, eternal, Spirit being. Faith, not reason, is His chosen pathway to relationship with Him. He is not seeking people smart enough to perceive Him. He is seeking people humble enough to trust Him.

Worship God in Truth

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV)

To worship God in truth is to acknowledge Him to be what He is, and ourselves to be what we are.

To worship Him in truth is to recognize from the depths of our soul that He is indeed infinitely perfect, worthy of infinite adoration, infinitely removed from sin, and immeasurably full of every divine quality. Isn’t the person unreasonable who does not use all his powers to give this God the worship He is due?

To worship God in truth is to confess that we fall far short of this reasonable response to Him. If we were only willing, He would make us like Himself. Aren’t we foolish to withhold, even for a moment, the love, service, and ceaseless worship that we owe Him?

Listen and sing:
Hymn: God of the Universe
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

by Brother Lawrence and Ken Bible

Feed My Sheep

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read John 21:1-17

The setting was the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias) after Jesus’ resurrection. Peter had gone fishing, which was his former profession, and six other disciples had joined him. Jesus appeared, and without introducing Himself, blessed them with a huge catch of fish, then cooked them breakfast on the shore. What had been frustrating work was now rewarding and relaxing.

After breakfast, Jesus and Peter apparently got alone and had a conversation in private. Jesus was probably looking straight into Peter’s eyes when He asked him,

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more these?” (John 21:15, NASB)

What did Jesus mean by “more than these”? More than Peter loved the other disciples? Or perhaps more than the other disciples loved Jesus? Maybe, but it seems more likely that Jesus was asking if Peter loved Him more than fishing and the other familiar, comfortable things in life to which Peter had now returned. In any case, He was pointedly asking Peter where He stood in Peter’s values.

Jesus basically asked the same question three times, using two different words for “feeding” or “taking care of” sheep, two different words for “sheep” (“sheep” and “lambs”), two different words for “love”, and two different words for “knowing”. Some make much of these differences, but I think Jesus was using virtual synonyms to drive home His point. He was gently giving Peter the chance to reaffirm his love after Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His trial.

How did Jesus ask Peter to prove his love?

“Tend My lambs…
“Shepherd My sheep…
“Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17, NASB)

What is the best way to thank our Shepherd and express our love for Him? Feed His sheep. Nurture those He loves. Jesus has the heart of a Shepherd, and He longs for us to join Him in that work.

Neediness

Need has come to bless us once again.
Heaviness and grief descend
to lift our load of self-deceit.
They shine their light to show us just
how vast our insufficiency,
how constant our inconstancy,
how fragile our illusions of well-being and control.

Problems:
invitations,
silent whispers from a Friend –
“Remember?
Remember Me?
Come and rest in Me again.”

My Lord, I praise You
for the longing of this moment’s need.
Let it remain —
not the need, but the neediness,
the neediness for You.
Let it stretch and spread
through all I think I can and cannot do.
Let it reach for You
and all You are,
for all Your life and love can be in me.

For the plenty of Your presence,
let the hunger,
let the neediness remain.

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Back to You
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Rejoice!

The New Testament was not written in an ivory tower. Most of its authors and its first readers were people in deep suffering. Their pressures and persecutions were more severe than most of us will ever experience. Thus when the Bible tells us how to handle difficult times, it’s speaking from experience. Its wisdom is thoroughly life-tested.

What do the New Testament writers consistently emphasize for those who are suffering? “Rejoice!” “Be glad!” “Consider yourselves blessed!”

Strange advice? These sufferers give us lots of reasons why rejoicing is a healthy, productive, and reasonable response to difficulties.

1.       Suffering produces a whole garden of beautiful fruit within us, such as endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:1-5). It strengthens and refines our faith, that essential connection between God and us (1 Peter 1:6-7). It produces maturity and gradually makes us complete in Christ, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

2.       Suffering is our best chance to glorify God (1 Peter 4:16). The closer Jesus got to the Crucifixion, the more He talked about glorifying His Father. His greatest, most enduring work was accomplished on the Cross. There God’s love was displayed most purely and undeniably.

It will likely be so in our lives as well. Suffering will probably be our greatest chance to glorify God in a world that desperately needs to witness God’s reality in our life.

3.       Suffering is part of releasing what is temporary and grasping what is eternal and of greater value. While our outer person is decaying, our inner person – the real “us” that will live forever – is growing stronger and stronger, day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

4.       When we suffer for Jesus and for the spread of the gospel, we have been granted a great privilege! We stand with the greatest saints of all the ages (Matthew 5:11-12; Hebrews 11). Far from being disgraced, we are highly honored to be counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:40-42; 1 Peter 4:16). We have become part of His great work to save the world (1 Peter 4:13). Paul said of his own sufferings, “In my flesh I am completing what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body” (Colossians 1:24, para.). As we suffer, we carry on what Jesus started.

5.       Suffering helps us enjoy more intimate fellowship with Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11). The One with whom we walk face-to-face was “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Suffering was a major part of His life experience. When we suffer, we share a deeper bond with Him.

6.       Our present suffering can’t compare, either in degree or in duration, to the joy we will know when Christ takes us to Himself forever (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Rejoice! Suffering draws us closer to Jesus. As we trust Him, He turns even suffering into great blessing!

We will suffer,
but we need not fear suffering.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: I Rejoice in Your Purpose Today
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Rejoice in Jesus Christ!

from the book, ONE WITH OUR FATHER 

John 15:11

“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11, NASB)

Jesus has just painted a beautiful picture of our life in Him.
We are like a branch connected to the Vine.
We are fruitful as we remain in Him.
Our prayers are answered as we remain in Him.

Why has He told us all this?
What was on His heart?

Jesus longs for us to share the joy He finds in His Father, in
loving His Father,
trusting His Father, and
obeying His Father.
He wants us to know His joy, and
He wants our joy to be full!

How is joy different than happiness?
Normally we connect happiness
with temporary circumstances.
We are happy because
we are on vacation, or
our relationships are going smoothly, or
our health is good, or
we feel financially comfortable.

But we are joyful because of what doesn’t change:
Who Jesus is,
Who He is to us every day,
our relationship with Him, and
our future in Him.

Jesus wants us to rejoice because of
what is always ours in Him.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Joy in Christ
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Musical and Spiritual Changes

We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NASB)

Some years back I directed the compilation of a new hymnal, Sing to the Lord. I was amazed at how strongly and emotionally people feel about their own musical tastes. Some truly important issues can be greeted with deafening indifference, but not music.

This is especially true with teenagers. From my years with three in our house, I can affirm what you already know: they have their own ideas about music. Yes, we can expose them to various styles and set limits on their listening. But their musical tastes are part of their independence as persons. Their music is THEIRS, and they are absolutely fierce in clinging to it. Hands off!

But it was fascinating to watch our eldest son, Jason. In earlier years he would only listen to the loudest, most aggressive contemporary music. He scorned anything else. But by his later years in high school, his musical tastes had mellowed and matured. By the time he left the house, his music was still contemporary, but it also had echos of folk and traditional elements. It was less abrasive and more subtle and creative. My wife and I grew to enjoy much of it.

How did these changes happen? As a gradual process, I imagine. As he grew and changed and was exposed to more music, old styles wore thin and lost their appeal. His friends certainly played a major part. They shared their sounds, and their enthusiasm. Over time, he acquired a taste for those sounds and embraced them as his own.

These musical changes have brought me hope that other changes will continue to happen with my children – internal changes. My greatest hope and prayer is that their relationships with Christ will continue to grow ever deeper and more pervasive throughout every aspect of their lives.

How might this happen? Time, maturity, and the Christian influence of friends will probably play a part. I’m also sure our influence will be strong in their lives. Though children tend to turn off much of what their parents say, they watch. They absorb. When I was young and uncertain about what to expect from the future, I watched my elders closely and learned all I could from their lives. Our children have done the same and will continue to do so. How vital it is, then, that we live daily as in God’s presence:

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…Walk in love…You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light. (Ephesians 4:1; 5:2, 8, NASB)

But I am also encouraged as I remember that the same God who has been at work in me all these years is also at work in them. His Holy Spirit operates patiently but so powerfully. He is not some weak and wispy “spirit” with limited ability to touch and move and make changes. He is as strong and zealous and ardently loving as our Omnipotent Father Creator. And He works effectively where it matters most: in the hearts and minds of individuals.

As I turn to God and pray for my children daily, I do so with the confidence that day by day, circumstance by circumstance, God is lovingly and faithfully pursuing their deepest affections.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Prayer of Intercession
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

All in Christ

Father, in Your love,
by Your Spirit,
this is my prayer and
my desire:
that every person I know be in Christ:
trusting Him,
one with Him
joined deeply, completely, forever with Him.

My spouse in Christ,
each of my children in Christ,
each dear member of my family, in all their variety and individuality, in Christ,
each of my neighbors in Christ,
my co-workers in Christ,
every member of my church, of every age, in Christ;
And far beyond them, Lord,
every family,
every nation,
every human being
in Christ.

Holy in Christ,
loving in Christ,
joyful,
at peace, and
free
in Christ.

I begin to imagine it, Father.
Each and every person
completed forever in Jesus Christ,
for Your everlasting glory.
I begin to desire it
because You desire it.
You love them and
long for each one
as only a parent can.

Father, permeate my heart,
my thoughts,
my prayers,
my daily life
with Your unquenchable, universal love.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: All in Christ
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

The Ultimate Fulfillment of God with Us

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Ephesians 4:11-16; 5:25-27

What a wonderful gift is God’s Holy Spirit! But He is only a down-payment on the full gift of God’s presence.

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)

God’s people are to be the Body of Christ. When God with us is completely fulfilled, our relationship with Him will be as close and interrelated as the head and the body.

Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16, NIV)

God’s people are to be the holy temple of God. We are to be His home, His dwelling place.

You are…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, NIV) 

God’s people are to be His holy Bride.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2, NIV)

We are to be God’s holy temple, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. These three images are intended to suggest one grand reality. We will be united with God in love, intimacy, and unbroken oneness. We will share in Him together, fully and forever.

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3, NIV)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Imagine Your Creator’s Breath
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

More and More

We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, NIV)

Jesus, in what areas have I been instructed how to live, and
perhaps I’m living that way to some extent,
but You want me to live more and more that way?

Help me be more and more loving to others in practical ways and
more sensitive to their needs.

Help me trust You moment by moment, more and more.

Help me turn to You more often throughout the day.

Keep my thoughts pure and holy and full of thanksgiving to You.

I love You, Lord! Increase our fellowship more and more.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Growing in the Spirit (Medley)
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

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