Archive for August 2014

Hold on to Love

Peter came to Jesus and asked Him this: 

“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NASB)

Paul spoke to the same need when he said:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. (Ephesians 4:31 – 5:2, NIV)

Those we love sometimes hurt or disappoint us.
The cause may be
a misunderstanding or
human weakness or
plain old selfishness.
Even the highest human love sometimes falls short.

When that happens,
we can let bitterness and anger sweep in and
widen the separation.
We can put at risk the love we’ve held so dear.
Or we can hold on to that love with both hands.
We can continue to reach out and
seek to understand.
Even in our own hurt, we can do what love is designed to do:
focus on the other person rather than ourselves.

When we forgive this way,
we not only let the other person experience the beauty of God’s love,
we experience it ourselves.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Joy of Forgiveness
Printed Music & Lyrics

God’s Life within Us

God’s life within us is like
being born all over again.
This new life is not flesh and blood
but God’s own Spirit.

God’s life within us is like
light in the darkness.
It brings truth, understanding,
warmth, and goodness.

God’s life within us is like
a wedding.
A new union begins,
full of love, joy, and promise.

God’s life within us is like
a spring of living water,
bringing refreshment and complete satisfaction
forever and ever.

We reach for so much that we cannot attain,
things temporary and unworthy of our wanting.
But what is best, what is deep, lasting, and satisfying is
God, His presence, and His blessing.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Breath of Life
Printed Music & Lyrics

God, My Brother

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…He too shared in their humanity…He had to be made like his brothers in every way.
(Hebrews 2:11, 14, 17, NIV)

We tend to think of God as being radically different from us, living in another realm. And in a sense, that’s true.

But I’m startled to realize I can relate to God as a fellow human being. My emotions, my weaknesses, the drives I struggle to understand and control—he has lived through them all, day by day, just as I am doing. He doesn’t understand humans in a detached sense. He is one. He knows exactly how we feel.

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, NIV)

Before I confide in someone, I want to be sure that person can understand what I’m experiencing. I need to know he or she will be sympathetic. Otherwise I won’t make myself vulnerable. When I’m hurting and ashamed, the last thing I want is a critical attitude staring back at me.

But I can be perfectly open with Jesus. He is my Brother, and I know He understands. I can be honest about all my personal problems, knowing that His only attitude toward me is love—always, only love.

More than that, He helps. Whenever I have looked to Him and trusted Him in times of temptation, He has always given me just the strength I need for that moment. And when I need guidance, He gladly gives it, Person to person.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

We can always come to Him with confidence. Do you realize how wonderful that is? No matter how small the dilemma, if you care, He cares. If you face a temptation you’d be ashamed to share with anyone, you can be open with Him and know He will understand and guide you through it.

And if you’ve sinned and are struggling with the guilt, you can still come to Him with confidence. Hard to believe, but true. If you’ll trust Him, His forgiveness is immediate and completely free.

His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

He has broken down all the walls between Him and you—the walls of human weakness, of time and space, of all your sins and your guilt. You can look into His face, bringing your temptations and your failures, knowing He is mercy and strength and unbroken love.

Praise to You, Lord!

Speaking and Listening

Father, I need Your Spirit living in me constantly.
We need Your Spirit in each of us, and among us.
But we hear Your warning:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. (Ephesians 4:30, NIV)
Do not cause Him sorrow or pain.
Do not destroy the joy He has planted in you.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire (1 Thessalonians 5:19, NIV).
Do not hinder His working among you.
Do not ignore His wisdom or frustrate His love.

Lord, how do I grieve You?
What do I do that causes You pain?
Ephesians says:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (4:25, 29-31, NIV) 

I grieve You by what I say to my fellow believers.
I wound You with words spoken against
my brothers and sisters,
words that are careless, angry, hasty, and self-serving.
When I hurt any member of Your Body, You feel the pain.

And how do I quench Your Spirit?
What do I do that hinders Your work?
In 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us:

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil (5:19-22, NIV).

When I fail to listen when other believers speak,
When I turn them off without hearing them,
I may be ignoring You.
For Your words don’t usually come to us
through a booming voice from heaven,
And prophecies are not just predictions of the future
thundered by strange men dressed in camel’s hair.
But through ordinary human lips Your Spirit speaks
Your guidance, warning, comfort, and love.

Your precious wisdom is delivered by
Your children.

Savior, help me cherish Your presence
in each of my brothers and sister.
As I speak to them,
may I always do so with the love I owe You.
As they speak to me,
let me listen from my heart and hear
Your voice,
my loving Lord.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit
Printed Music & Lyrics

God, I Need You

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help.
(Psalm 28:2, NIV)

My God, I cry out to You from my smallness and darkness.
Help me, Lord.
Forgive my self-centeredness.
Take me to You.
Absorb my life into Yours.

I want You.
I feel the need in my heart and try to verbalize it
but don’t know how.

Come and take me, Creator Lord.
Come in and make me entirely love, eternal Savior.
Purify me in love,
not to please me,
but to please You wholly and entirely.

Swallow my smallness in Your greatness,
in Your length and depth and height.

Swallow my concerns in utter praise to You.
Swallow anxiety in thanksgiving.
Swallow wanting in giving.

Take me entirely into You, my Lord Jesus.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Hungry for God
Printed Music & Lyrics

God Is Working

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NIV)

I’ve done my share of public speaking, but it’s never gotten easy.

On one occasion, I was to speak during a seminary chapel. The service opened with scripture, then hymn singing: “O Worship the King,” “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”; more scripture, then “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The hymns were strong, exploding with truth and praise. The people were singing from the very depths of their souls, as with one heart.

There I stood in the midst of such worship, worrying about my little part. But as the room was lifted in exaltation, the Lord whispered to me: “I did this, and I am doing this. Are you willing to be flexible in Me? Will you relax and trust Me right now?”

I felt rebuked, comforted, and challenged, all at the same time. It’s easy to get fearfully wrapped up in our own little worlds, blind to anything beyond our own abilities and immediate concerns. But every now and then God taps us on the shoulder and says, “Look up!” He is moving powerfully around us and above us, far beyond the level of our own effort or consciousness. He only asks us to relax in Him and move with His Spirit.

In every ministry, in every life, there are ups and downs, long waits and long-awaited victories, times of rest and times of incredible pressure. But never be distracted from simply trusting Him. If you’re following the Lord, He wants you to know that everything is just fine with you. You are in His hands, and He does all things well.

In fact, right now you are caught up in the working of His Spirit, though you probably don’t realize it.

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

The Crucified Life

Jesus said:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV)

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Standing at a safe distance, I can understand what He was telling them. But what is He saying to me? And what is the Apostle Paul telling me when he says:

Count yourselves dead to sin. (Romans 6:11, NIV)

Or what about this?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

I’m comfortable with the concepts as long as they’re aimed at somebody else. They make sense. But if my personal interests are being crucified, I get very uncertain. I can stand back and admire the beauty of these truths until I actually have to deny myself. When I have to lay aside my ego and my rights in a relationship and act only in the other person’s best interests, then suddenly unselfishness doesn’t seem so sensible.

Sometimes I see Jesus’ footsteps leading me to the Calvary, just when pursuing “the good life” seems so natural.

I feel the weight of the cross when I realize that I’m here to serve God, not my comfort and career.

I feel the nails in my hands when I ask what He wants me to do with His money and His time in this world of suffering and need.

I feel the spear pierce my side when I realize that my whole life—all my energies and every dream—are to glorify Him, not me.

When I honestly address these deep demands of discipleship, I choke. How can I even begin to measure up? Is this one of those guilt trips I have to either avoid or rationalize away?

But then I face my Savior, who is here with me now, and I realize it is His voice I hear and His heart that is speaking to me. I am reminded that like all His commands, these words are gifts of love. They are invitations to remove everything that separates Him and me, to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him and a more complete rest in Him. And with Jesus speaking the words, I start to hear them differently.

Yes, I have to count myself dead to sin. But then I am alive to God in Christ Jesus, and the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11, 23, NIV).

When I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20, NIV).

As I trust Him, Christ lives in me! I rejoice in His presence and eagerly listen for His voice. I start to taste His freedom from selfishness and begin bringing all my needs to Him.

As I turn my life-style over to Him, my love for Him grows warmer and more personal. I begin to release my fears and embrace Him with my whole heart.

As I embrace Him, I find He takes away, not my freedom, but my slavery to myself. He doesn’t take my dignity, but only my empty pride. He doesn’t lessen the excitement of life. He helps me enjoy more and more of the full life that He wants for me.

Jesus Christ offers each of us freedom and wholeness, if only we will lay down our lives daily and let Him live through us.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV)

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Hear His Call
Printed Music & Lyrics

Hymns in Personal Devotions

This is the 29th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

To plant hymns in your heart, sing them as part of your daily devotions. Hymns are wonderful devotional aids. They express timeless truths in ways that are heart-felt and life-centered. They declare God’s Word and make it easy to understand and apply. Hymns lead us into praise. They provide words for our prayers and express our deepest longings for God.

Go out and buy your own hymnal, and keep it with your Bible. Start at the beginning of the hymnal and sing your way through it. During each day’s devotions, sing through one or more hymns. Don’t skip any hymns or any verses.

Don’t let a lack of musical ability hinder you. Sing as best you can. If you don’t know the music to a hymn, just read the words, aloud if possible.

You’ll be amazed at the wealth of wonderful devotional material you find. The hymns will become your own. Then when you sing them in public worship, it will be like visiting an old friend.

God Is Shaping You

Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. (Ephesians 5:2, NIV)

God uses relationships to make us more Christ-like.

Usually when problems arise in a relationship, we blame the other person. But more often, the reactions of the other person are a mirror in which we can see ourselves and our faults more clearly.

God uses these tough times to teach us and reshape us. He is giving us hands-on training in patience, forbearance, gentleness, and self-sacrifice. He is teaching us to set ourselves aside to make someone else happy, to reach out and understand the other person, even when they seem the most unfair.

Do you want the mind of Christ? He forms it in us through people. When painful, demanding situations arise, live love. God is doing a good work in you.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Father, You See Our Need
Printed Music & Lyrics

Building a People

Jesus said to His disciples:

“Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:15-16, NASB)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, NASB)

If you had all eternity and all the resources of the universe,
what kind of home would you build for yourself?

God is building a home for himself.
That home is His people.
Our infinite, holy, all-wise, and endlessly creative God
is planning to live forever
with and in His people.

Imagine knowing such a people,
the home of an infinite God!
Imagine actually being part of them!

If God is investing all His energies in building a people,
that’s how I want to invest my life as well.
A material home will last a short time.
God’s people will last forever.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: We Will Be Your People
Printed Music & Lyrics