Archive for June 2013

The Good Samaritan

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you have.’ 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:27, 29-37, NIV) 

I see myself in this story. But I am not always the Samaritan.

Sometimes I am the expert in the law. God’s wisdom for us is clear and simple: treat your neighbor the way you want to be treated. But when I fail, when the golden rule isn’t comfortable, I try to “justify” myself with questions and reasoning: “But who is my neighbor? How far does my responsibility really go?”

Sometimes I am the priest. Though a neighbor’s need is obvious, I have something more pressing to do, and more convenient. I pretend not to see.

But the closer I grow to God, the more His love grips my heart. The more I love Him, the more I care about those He loves. How can I ignore those that matter so deeply to Him?

Every parent, every loving spouse, every true friend knows that love has its own logic and its own agenda. It doesn’t always make sense to others. That is the logic and agenda my Father wants for me as I live in this needy world, full of people He loves. In every needy “neighbor” He wants me to see my child, my spouse, my dear friend…myself.

When I am needy and hurting, I am desperate to see that Good Samaritan come along. Father, help me to be a neighbor to the needy persons I meet.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: The Good Samaritan
Printed Music & Lyrics

Ministry by Numbers: Jesus’ Example

God has been teaching me not to measure my ministry by numbers. I find His perfect example of that in Jesus.

Read the gospel of John, and focus on what Jesus says about His relationship with His Father. You’ll be fascinated.

His only goal, His only ambition was to follow the Father.

“I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30, NASB)

His food, His joy, His constant purpose was to please the Father.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

“He who sent Me has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 4:34; 8:29, NASB)

His only resource, His only wisdom, strength, and adequacy was the Father. He simply said what the Father told Him to say and did what the Father showed Him to do. Nothing else. Nothing more, and nothing less.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner.”

“I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”

“The word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 5:19; 8:28; 14:24, NASB)

As I read the gospels, I get the impression that of all the thousands that crowded around Jesus and witnessed His miracles, relatively few believed to the point of obedience. He never seemed concerned about numerical results. He measured His ministry only by obedience to the Father.

The Father is calling me to minister as Jesus did: to seek always and only to obey and please and rely completely on Him. For in the end, our fruitfulness depends entirely on our connection to Christ:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NASB)

Ministry by Numbers

I spent 34 years working for a major church music publisher, with most of that time spent in management in one form or another. Numbers were an integral part of my job. We constantly measured our ministry by numbers—sales, profits, overhead, budgets, projections, etc., etc.

I carried that mindset over into my personal ministries and was concerned when the numbers just wouldn’t come. After all, isn’t “numbers” one of the reasons we writers want to get published? Publication helps us reach more people with the message, right?

But several years ago, after failing yet again to connect with a book publisher, the Lord clearly told me, “Focus on the people I have already entrusted to you.” I was teaching a Sunday School class at the time (I still am)—15 to 20 mostly-older adults. So I started a weekly email to them which included a devotional reading that led into a recording of one of my hymns. The email was called, IMAGES OF CHRIST in Word & Song. In surveying what people God had already entrusted to me, I sent the email to family and friends as well. That weekly email ran for over four years before becoming this blog.

Still, much of my creative work starts with my modest-sized Sunday School class. I not only provide them with weekly Bible lessons but with a hymn, a devotional piece, and daily scriptural readings, all interwoven with our Sunday lesson. Sure, I’d love to see the material reach beyond them, and I follow the Lord’s leading in that regard.

But God has been weaning me off the numbers game as a measure for His ministry. Remember, He created the universe from a word. He doesn’t need more “stuff”. He can make more of that anytime He chooses. What He prizes are not quantities but love and trust. That’s what I focus on giving Him.

Whom has the Lord already entrusted to you? Focus your ministry on them.

God Works through Us

From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
(Romans 11:36, NASB)

Almighty God, unlimited in power,
delights to work through His creatures—
through angels (the word simply means “messengers”),
through human beings of all backgrounds and personalities,
through families, groups, races, and nations.

He works through
children and the aged,
warriors and sages,
rich and poor,
the weak and the powerful,
through those highly respected and
through the despised and ignored.

He uses both
joy and pain,
vast epochs and fleeting seconds,
wisdom and inexperience,
sickness and health,
the obvious and the mysterious,
the ordinary and the spectacular.
(Many such distinctions flow more from human ignorance than from eternal reality.)

Why would such a God,
infinite in resources and
without weakness or need,
choose to work through flawed and troublesome creatures like us?

Because He made us,
He knows us, and
He loves us.
As He shares His work with us,
we share more fully in Him.
We experience
His power,
His love, and
the privilege of being vessels of His ever-flowing, ever-giving life.

He is like a grandmother who asks her two-year old grandchild to
help her make cookies.
She doesn’t do it because she needs help with the cookies,
but to bring herself together with this growing person
in a common joy.
They’re still grandma’s cookies,
but the two have shared
a precious experience,
a common purpose, and
a bond that will outlast the lingering sweetness.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: God’s Mysterious Ways
Printed Music & Lyrics

Catch Me Up in Your Work

I want to do something important–
important to You and
important to those You love.
it doesn’t have to feel important right now.

But I want to be
caught up in You and in Your work–
not what my interests
assume to be Your work,
or what I want to be Your work,
but what is Your work.
It doesn’t matter how small it seems,
or how overwhelming.

Lord, catch me up in the need,
not just in my own little task.
My efforts are partial and passing.
The need is bigger.
The need will go on.

I look to You.
Move me by Your Spirit.
Move me with Your heart today.
Catch me up in Your work.

Reason and Imagination

As a believer, and especially as a creative communicator, consider the truth that you are called to communicate:

We are caught up in the love of a Father for His Son and the love of a Son for His Father. They have poured out their Spirit upon us so that we can share their union—not in a theoretical or someday sense, but now, in our minds, hearts, and lives. The Father, Son, and Spirit all interact with us and draw us into themselves.

Art serves these truths well…and by art, I mean not only music and graphics but any means of creative communication, including speaking. Art is an emotional expression. It marries

the objective and the subjective,
truth and personal experience,
fact and emotion,
information and inspiration,
analysis and passion,
reason and imagination.

C.S. Lewis, my favorite extra-biblical writer, said

Poetry calls passion to the aid of reason.

I apply that to my own writing:

Hymns call passion to the aid of reason.

But I think it could apply more generally as well:

Art calls passion to the aid of reason.

For my taste, too much art today—particularly music—focuses on temporary and shallow emotional stimulation. Don’t settle for that! Our truth deserves and demands more! Art can and should do so much more! Art can stimulate mentally and spiritually as well as emotionally. It can grip the mind as well as the heart.

Paul urged the Corinthian church to focus on content in their shared worship, not just emotional outpouring:

I will pray with the spirit and
I will pray with the mind also;
I will sing with the spirit and
I will sing with the mind also.
(1 Corinthians 14:15, NASB)

Whatever your medium of expression, study and absorb those in your field who have best touched both mind and heart. For me as a hymnwriter, that is Charles Wesley. Learn from the best! Let them inspire you to find your own means of expressing the truth and beauty that is Jesus Christ.

Simple Faith

You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.
(Isaiah 26:3, NIV)

In this world of darkness and uncertainty,
focus on the sure and certain path of faith.
The light shed by simple faith will warn you of the rocks
on which so many have shipwrecked.
They let themselves drift along the current of curiosity and imagination,
trusting only human guidance and
hungering for whatever is new.
Seek God alone, and
these perils are easily avoided.

See God’s hand in all the events of life.
Set aside your will,
misguided by ignorance and selfishness, and
love His will instead.
You’ll find that such simple faith brings
a clarity and beauty to life
that lasts through every storm.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Everything I Need
Printed Music & Lyrics

Fulfill Your Ministry

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . .
Be sober in all things,
endure hardship,
do the work of an evangelist,
fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1, 5, NASB)

in hardship, when you are discouraged,
fulfill your ministry.

In comfortable times,
be careful to
fulfill your ministry.

When you seem to be a success
or a failure, just
fulfill your ministry.

Be alert to your Lord’s leadership.
He will surprise you
with opportunities to
fulfill your ministry.

Time is so short.
You will soon stand before
the One who called you
and give personal account.
Everyone around you
is facing that judgment.

every day,
while there is time,
fulfill your ministry.

Being with God

My relationship with God and my entire life have been radically reshaped by the realization that He is a Living Being, and He is constantly, personally, immediately with me.

But if God is omnipresent—if He is always everywhere—what’s so special about His being with me? Isn’t He with all of us, always, inescapably?

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
(Psalm 139:7, NASB)

I am always with Him, but isn’t everyone, including the most hardened unbeliever? Why does He sometimes specify His presence, as if to limit it?

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
(Psalm 145:18, NASB)

Picture yourself in a crowded restaurant, sitting with one you love. Technically you are with everyone in the restaurant. But in a deeper sense, you are only with your friend. It’s not a matter of physical proximity. The person sitting immediately behind you at the next table might be physically closer to you. But you are with your loved one because you enjoy a mutual relationship of love and trust with them. You care deeply about every aspect of their life, their every concern, and they feel the same about you. You are leaning toward each other. Your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your heart are focused on one another, hungrily straining to hear and know and be with the other in the fullest sense possible.

That is the sense in which God is with His people.

I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth…
Those who are far from You will perish…
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.
(Psalm 73:23-25, 27-28, NASB)

God is as near to you as you will allow Him to be. But it takes two to form a relationship.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8, NASB)

The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chronicles 15:2, NASB)

He is calling you to a closer personal relationship with Himself. How will you respond?

A Real Person

I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
(Psalm 73:23-25, NIV)

The most moving, eye-opening, transforming point in my life came when I realized this one simple truth: God is a real Being. He is not a mythical figure, an impersonal force, or the creation of our minds. He is a real “person,” a living Being. I can interact with Him. In fact, He delights to interact with me.

What’s more, He loves me–He deeply loves me. He provides for me and works in my life. He patiently teaches me and changes me from the heart. He forgives me when I do wrong.

And He is with me. He is personally, constantly, intimately, actually right here with me, all the time.

For me, the real attraction of the Christian life is not the lifestyle, although I’ve found that it’s the best, wisest, and most natural. What’s compelling about being a Christian is Jesus Christ himself.

I find it so sad: when people hear the term “Christian,” they too often think of stuffy religion or perhaps a certain political persuasion or cultural flavor. They think of living by lots of rules. Or saddest of all, they think of people who sometimes seem self-righteous, narrow-minded, and condemning.

Being a Christian is none of those things. Believe me, it isn’t. Christianity is simply this: knowing Jesus Christ as a real person, face-to-face.

Christianity is the simplicity and warmth of a personal relationship. It is knowing the One who created you. It is knowing the One who loved you from the moment He conceived you, long before you were born. It is knowing the One who suffered and died to remove the evil from within you. It is trusting an intimate Friend who is always loving, always wise, and always with you.

Walking with Him, step-by-step, is making my life more wonderful than I ever dreamed life could be. I can talk to Him anytime throughout the day and know that He hears me and is pleased that I’m talking to Him. When I’m concerned, I can turn to Him, talk with Him, and lean on Him. When I’m happy, I can thank Him. When I’m wrong, I can ask forgiveness, knowing He gives it gladly and completely.

In myself, I’m no more perfect than anyone else. But because He is with me and in me always, He is making me more loving. He is helping me love others at home and wherever I go.

He brings wonderful gifts to my life–genuine love, deep peace, a sense of security, a joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances. But none of His gifts are as wonderful as He is. He is peace. He is beauty. He is life itself.

I have been reunited with the One who made me, and the reunion is marvelous.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Almighty God Is Near!
Printed Music & Lyrics