A Song of Love

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On the weekdays when Joy stays with us, she goes to a terrific babysitter while I am at work. I know she is getting good care, but when I pick her up every afternoon she is tired and not too happy. I can relate. Yesterday was one of those days. She fussed as soon as we started driving away. She had a fresh cup of milk and a snack, and her favorite musical toy. Nope. Not what she wanted. The fussing got louder until her favorite song, “Good God Almighty” came on the radio. I turned it up and started singing along with Crowder. Almost immediately the fussing stopped and I heard a new, sweet sound from the backseat. Two little chubby hands clapping her delight. The rest of the ride home the car was filled with her happy chatter. It filled my heart with – you guessed it – Joy!

One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17. Let me give you some context. Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the nation would fall to the Babylonians. The people had been under a great deal of oppression because they had turned away from God to worship idols. Their sin had caused them great misery. That sounds all too familiar to me. God declared that He would bring punishment on them—and He would also bring gladness to them again. For a season, they would be removed from their beloved Jerusalem, but God promised to take away their chastisement and fear and to bless them once again with His presence. He said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now, I’ve never heard His audible voice, but I always feel His love and comfort in songs of worship and praise. And yes, I’ve even sensed His delight as I lift (and clap) my hands in glad adoration.

Some days are just hard. God knows that. But He wants you to know that He is always near to you, always working on your behalf, lavishing love on you to quiet your anxious heart and rejoicing over you with songs of delight. Beloved, get still and quiet and see if you don’t hear the faintest melody in your spiritual ear. And maybe clap your hands to the rhythm of Joy.

Star-Struck

Screaming Beatles Fans – GALLIVANCE

I used to be so “star-struck.” I was fascinated by the life of the rich and famous. I bought all the magazines so I could keep up with my favorite celebs. I soaked up every detail of their lives – where they went, what their house looked like, and especially what they wore. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them

.Then I met Someone – He wasn’t a star by the world’s standards, but He created the stars and calls them all by name. And suddenly the lives of actors and singers fell far short; their glitz and glamor couldn’t compare to His splendor. I don’t waste money on magazines since I found the Book He wrote. I want to soak up everything about His life. I want to walk like He walked. I want to be wherever He is. I want to look like Him and talk like Him. I want to be like Him. His name is Jesus.

This world idolizes celebrities and makes kings and queens out of men and women who can sing a song, pretend to be someone else, bounce a ball, or show themselves off in outlandish ways. But there is One who set aside His incomparable splendor and became the most humble of men. He deserves all our worship and all our praise. One day, at the mere mention of His name, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Even LeBron and Miley and the whole Kardashian clan.

Beloved, who has caught your attention? Who is a “star” in your eyes? No one will ever shine as brightly as Jesus.

Out With the Old Man (and His Mouth)

“Who in the Bible do you most identify with?” the teacher asked. Most of the class said they are most like Peter, the brash, impulsive, reckless disciple.  In many ways, I think I am as well. In fact, I identify with several Bible characters for a variety of reasons, but I truly believe I am most like Paul in at least one way: Paul was under the grace of God but he still struggled with sin. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). In that statement, he perfectly expressed the battle within me of the old (wo)man and the new. Though I am a new creation in Christ, the old me who lived for sin and self is still hanging around. That showed itself very clearly this week.

A few nights ago I had rocked my granddaughter to sleep and was carrying her to her bed when she shifted in my arms and whacked her head against my shoulder – the one I had surgery on just a few weeks ago. The expression that came out of my mouth was very un-Christlike – very much like the old man. The Holy Spirit quickly reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” In other words, there is still some ungodly, impure stuff in my heart. Mind you, I am careful with my words  But it’s at my most unguarded moments – when I respond out of fatigue, pain, or raw emotion – that the ugly stuff comes out of my mouth. But the answer is not just watching what I say – the issue is much deeper than that.

My prayer since that night has been David’s prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Watching my mouth only masks the root of the problem. I need God to take my impure heart of stone and replace it with a pure, soft heart so that I speak worthy words at all times, especially when my guard is down.  My desire in those moments is that when I “open my lips, my mouth will declare God’s praise” (51:15). Even when pain rocks my body and my life.

Beloved, what do your unguarded moments reveal about your heart?

Sing to the Lord

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Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints” (Psalm 149:1).

It didn’t take long to discover Joy’s favorite Christmas presents – they were all the toys that made music. She loves music. Music has always soothed her – and excited her.  Her mommy said that when she played “All My Hope” by Crowder, Joy would get very active in the womb. I sing when she is upset and I sing her to sleep with songs about Jesus. It is my favorite thing to do. And at 19 months she sings the “ABC Song,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “God is so Good” very clearly and is making up her own little songs all the time.  It makes this Nana’s heart burst with – well Joy!

The Bible tells us to sing more than 150 times. Psalm 8:2 says “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise,’ and Psalm 149: 5 says “Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for Joy on their beds.” We are called to sing because He is worthy. But singing praise songs is good for you and me too. Several years ago during a serious bout with depression, “After All/Holy” by (again) Crowder came on the radio. I tried to sing, but all I could do was sob until the 2nd verse and words began to replace my cries, and by the end of that song I was singing with full voice and a face full of tears. It was the turning point in my depression.

The urge to sing is part of what makes us uniquely like our Creator.  He loves to sing. What’s even more amazing is that He loves to sing over me and you. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Just like I sing to calm my granddaughter, God sings to “quiet you with His love.” God sings when our hearts are weary and sorrowful.  He sings when we are anxious and upset. He sings when we need rest.

As this very difficult year draws to a close, may I encourage you to take some time to sit quietly in His presence and listen for the sound of heavenly music. The God of heaven and earth is singing over you Beloved. It is His favorite thing to do.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

An Unpopular Jesus

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The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure in the world, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus (we’ve seen a lot of him lately), the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like) the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on.  

The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He never was popular – the same crowd greeted Him as Messiah, shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out -across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. 

Yes, you will bow and you will confess. Will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often in worship and praise, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Who you rejected.  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Are you ready?

The Path from Despair to Praise

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 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.”       Psalm 39:7

How do we reconcile our trust in God in the face of hard, devastating circumstances?  The writers of many of the Psalms were well acquainted with the conflict of faith amid disappointment.  I find tremendous help in their honest writings.

Psalm 77, for example, ranges from raw angst and discouragement – “Has [the Lord’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time?” (v. 7) to glorious praise – “You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.” “You lead Your people like a flock,” (vs. 14 & 20).  How did he swing from despair to exultation? Verses 10-12 are the pivot point in this Psalm. After heart-wrenching despair, he says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.’”(v. 10-12)    Asaph determined to turn his thoughts around and meditate on the long history of God’s miracles, works, and mighty deeds.  And as he followed this line of higher thinking, you can sense his spirit lifting as the words build to a crescendo that bursts forth in praise: “Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?” (v. 13) He comes to the foundation upon which all faith must rest: God. Not just what He can do, but who He is. After digging through my exhaustive concordance, I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” It is the whole point of our faith.  Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Beloved, if your burden is heavy today, follow the path the psalmist laid out. Come to him in your honest despair. Ask the hard questions that weigh on your heart. He can take it. Remember His faithfulness to you in the past as you meditate on who He is.  Then let your angst be lifted up in praise.  I know it works – it is the road I traveled this morning.

Awe

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“Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

A few years ago there was a three-year research project done on awe at U Cal Berkley, their report included such awesome findings as “Awe binds us together,” “Awe helps us see things in new ways,” and “Awe makes us nicer – and happier.” It also touted “the healing potential of awe.”  Suggestions for finding awe included observing nature, listening to music, and one I heartily agree with – putting down the ever-present cell-phone and simply looking up. [1]

I don’t dispute any of their findings or suggestions, but the article failed to ask and answer some very important questions, such as “Why do we feel awe?” and “What makes something awe-inspiring?” 

We feel awe because we were created for worship – and worship is at its purest and truest when it is accompanied by awe.  The article says “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.” (Dacher Keltner)[2]  Is there anything more vast or farther beyond our human understanding than the God of the Universe?  David declared “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary” (Psalm 68:35)!

What makes something awe-inspiring is when we, in our smallness, stand in the presence of greatness.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and it is awesome because it is huge and beautiful. Deuteronomy 7:21 says “The Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.”  When we sense the presence of God we have no other response but to stand in awe.  Actually, when we truly sense the awesome presence of God we cannot stand at all.

But I think the most important question is, “What happened to our sense of awe?”  Sin happened. Pride happened.  The sin of Adam and Eve, at its root, is the sin of pride.  Where pride reigns, we lose the necessary humility to be awed.  Beloved, if you ponder the fact that the holy, sovereign God of heaven and earth has singled you out for salvation and relationship and eternal life you should be humbled and awed.  Nothing is more incredible, more grand and glorious, and more awe-inspiring than that.

[1] Paula Spencer Scott, “Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness,” Parade, Sunday, October 9, 2016, 6-8.

[2] Dacher Keltner is a psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, and helped create the new Facebook response button emojis.

Shut up, Satan!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. Psalm 8:1-2

I have always read this verse with the image of the “Cherub Choir” of little children gathered in front of the church, singing (and wiggling and giggling and waving) to the delight of the congregation. It’s such a sweet vision. But God gave me another perspective of this verse as I wrote it in my prayer journal this morning.  “Ordained” jumped out at me, like the Spirit turned a spotlight on that specific word. Oh, the dig is on! This word means “to lay a foundation, to establish,” and as I researched farther I found a slightly different version of verse 8: “Through the praise of children and infants You have established a stronghold against Your enemies.” I got glory goosebumps as the Spirit turned that Cherub Choir into a fortress, a strong tower against the enemy that God and I – and you – share.

I have studied the Names of God for many years and one name that I use often is The Lord my Stronghold. When I call on Yahweh Metsudhathi He surrounds me and protects me from our enemy. This verse says that what builds that stronghold, that protective wall, is praise. That is why I always try to start my prayers – written or spoken – with praise. It’s not that God needs an ego boost, but I need to look at my struggles and trials and challenges in the shadow of the One who is greater than all of them. There is a bonus to praise that verse 2 presents. Read it again. Do you see how the praise of little children “silences the foe and the avenger.”? When you and I praise the Lord, the enemy shuts his lying mouth! Yes!! That’s the power of praising the mighty Name of God! Have you ever wanted to stop satan’s taunts? Praise the Lord!

You have a real enemy and you will never get through this battle without a strong tower, a fortress, a place of defense, and protection. Beloved, God is your Defender, and praise is your defense – it is your shield of faith. Tell the devil to shut his mouth by filling yours with praise!