Thursday, November 16, 2017

Being Thankful in All Things Great and Small

     In this season of Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of visiting my grandsons today at their school for a special parent/grandparent lunch with them.  What a delight to see them smile and hear about what they have been doing.  Family time and the simple things like having lunch in a school cafeteria are a gift from God.  Perhaps we forget to take time just to praise the Lord for these moments that bring a smile to our heart.
     As I was reading today in "The Valley of Vision", the Puritan prayer I read touched my heart strings:
     "O my God,
       Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
       for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in
       ceaseless flow.
     When I think upon and converse with thee, ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
       ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
       crowding into every moment of happiness.
      I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it,
       though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving
       strength and vigor, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom
       of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty
       providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste,
       sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others,
       for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
       for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
       for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
     I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures.
     Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity." (pg 16-17, The Valley of Vision).

     What a beautiful expression of thankfulness and praise to God in this prayer.  How often we overlook the bounty of all that we have been blessed with.  We often complain about our appearance, or even our performance on the job whether homemaker or worker outside the home.  "I wish I was more like so and so," we say.  However, Scripture paints a different picture of who we are in Psalm 139.  David writes:  "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:13-14).  Our Creator made us just the way He wanted us to be with a plan for us to bring glory to His name.  In this, we should express our thankfulness just as this Puritan prayer expresses.
      Having the basic needs of our life met (i.e. food, clothing, shelter), what more do we really need?
Yet, daily, through commercials, we are told that we deserve more.  Our society runs more on "the next great thing" than on thankfulness and praise to the God who has so richly blessed us.
     Perhaps the most meaningful part of this prayer is at the beginning where the one uttering the words calls herself a "little vessel" that is filled as it can be.  Jesus told us in John 7:38:  "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  We are meant to pour out the streams of living water to those who do not know the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit use us all for His glory and praise.
      As we approach Thanksgiving, let us begin to reflect on all that God has given us and be thankful for who we are, for the time we live in, and for the opportunities we have daily.  These have been ordained by our Sovereign God who made us and loves us.  If we do this, we will find a greater contentment in the life He has given us.  Selah!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tinkering With God's Things

     Years ago, I tried to get an old clock fixed.  It was a treasured clock from my father's collection.  I loved to hear it but one day it stopped.  So, I perused the local phone book and found a fellow who said he could repair old clocks.  He came to our house and picked it up and promised to get it back in working order.  After several weeks with no word from him, I called to see if he had it finished.  He replied that it was tricky and he was still working on it.  When a month went by, I called again and he said he needed to take it to Orlando where there was a clock repair school since he could not locate the problem.  Finally, the clock was returned to me after several months away.  The clock repairman had broken off a wooden piece at the top of the clock which he had glued back on.  In addition, the clock had all new insides since the school could not fix the original works.
     With my assistance, the repairman remounted the clock on my wall but when it chimed the hour it sounded terrible.  So, this man bent a piece in the clock so it would chime without such a tin sound.  Unfortunately, the clock still does not work.  We all know the old saying, "Let the buyer beware", but in this situation, I think I needed to do a better investigation of this man's credentials before giving him my old clock.  He tinkered with it and it hasn't been the same since.  When it comes to the things of God, we might be just as cautious before we begin to "try" to improve on what God has said.
    In my quiet time this morning, I read a story about King Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16).  This king, like many before him, did evil in the sight of the Lord.  The Bible says, "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel" by introducing pagan, idolatrous practices into the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Since Ahaz was being threatened by the king of Syria, he made an alliance with Tiglath-pileser the king of Assyria who protected him.  Upon visiting Tiglath-pileser in Damascus, Ahaz saw an altar used by the Assyrians that caught his eye.  He liked it so much that he made a drawing of it which he sent to Uriah the priest.  Uriah built the altar according to the drawing before the king returned from his trip.  When he saw this altar, he made his burnt offering, grain offering, and drink offering on it.  Afterwards, he replaced the bronze altar which had been the center of offerings that Solomon had dedicated in the temple to God's glory and according to God's design.  Ahaz moved the bronze altar to one side so he could use it to inquire by or divine the future.  This was something which the Lord had forbid (Deut. 18:9-14).  This new altar would now be center stage for all the offerings by the priest.  Additionally, Ahaz made many other changes in the Temple.
     None of the changes which this king made were commanded by God.  The Lord had laid out all the specifics when the Temple was built by Solomon.  It seems that Ahaz was beguiled by the altar he saw in Damascus more than by his relationship to the Living God.  He was tinkering with God's things.
     Over a period of time, God's chosen people became more and more enamored with the culture around them.  They started to add pagan practices and idolatry into their worship, and much of this was a result of their leaders falling away from the truth of God's Word.  There were a few kings who tried to reverse this trend, but they were far and few between.  Indeed, God was patient with them for a time.
     Ahaz focused his attention on the beauty of an altar rather than on the worship of God.  We don't know what he was thinking, but we know that he moved things around and thought nothing of it.  Maybe he wanted to make the House of God more esthetically pleasing or streamline it.  Unfortunately, the priest did not object as he had become caught up in the spirit of the age.  So what is the takeaway here?
     First, we need to ask ourselves, "Do we think we have better ideas than God?"  Ahaz tinkered with the Temple.  He was the "clay" that indirectly told the Potter (God), that he did not like that old boring bronze altar compared to the pagan one he saw.  So he moved, without God's approval, to change the house of worship.  He also incorporated, in his own life, pagan worship along with the ordained worship prescribed by God, and allowed the people to do so likewise.  This was no small thing.  As we continue to read in the Old Testament, the consequences for disobedience would follow.
     When we look at our own lives, what things have we put ahead of God?  Ahaz was impressed with
an altar more than obeying the Lord.  He altered worship to incorporate the elements of the culture around him rather than following what God laid out in His Word.  We see this happening in churches today when people put more emphasis on the comfort or beauty of a building rather than on the worship of God.  In addition, many denominations have caved to cultural pressures and accepted practices which God has clearly forbidden in His Word.  We cannot have it both ways.  Either we follow the Lord in all things according to His Word as our foundation, or we tinker with the Bible and worship and do things our way.  At some point, we, too, will face the consequences if we let this happen.
     I certainly regretted letting the clock repairman work on my treasured antique.  His tinkering did more damage in the long run.  The same will be true when we start to add to what God has already told us in His Word concerning our faith and practice.  We do not want to tinker like Ahaz and be in love with an altar rather than the One whom we should focus our attention on.  There is no substitute for fidelity to God's Word, worship and precepts.  His Word is truth, and we cannot improve on that.  Let us be found faithful to His glory!  Selah!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My Heart Sings and So Should Yours!

     Recently, our church music director has been leading a class in Reformation Music in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  Every session covers a different area of music during this time period.  One of the main components of church worship was Psalm singing either accompanied by the organ or sung acapella.  We listened to clips from You Tube video of congregations and choirs singing these songs.  The purpose was twofold at the time.  First, the Reformers wanted the people to learn Scripture and singing is one of the best ways to retain things in your mind.  Secondly, the Reformers also wanted the people to participate fully in the worship of the church.  Prior to the Reformation, the congregation of the church did not have a personal Bible to read from and most services were said only in Latin.  The Reformers wanted to fully engage both the mind and spirit so that believers would be encouraged to grow in their understanding.  Our local congregation continues to sing Psalms (no longer exclusively) in our traditional service, and there is another branch of Presbyterianism that sings Psalms acapella each Lord's Day and includes no hymns.
     Most of the hymns that were written in those early years after the Reformation were based on Scripture and are still sung today.  Growing up, I remember listening to my mother's beautiful voice as she sang out the words to those hymns.  The memory has not faded either.  Just the other day as I was cleaning, I tuned into an instrumental praise station on Pandora and listened to the hymns played on piano.  I could easily recognize the name of the hymn and start singing the words.  This is why I say that what we sing we most often remember.
     In the Bible, we read about David who wrote many of the Psalms and sang them as he cared for his father's
sheep.  Later, we know that he soothed the soul of Saul by playing music (I Samuel 16:23):  "And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him."  On many occasions when I have had a difficult day, I will spend time singing those hymns which praise the Lord and lift my heart.  Praise and worship in the home does soothe away the irritations of the day.
     Other parts of Scripture show Miriam singing praise to the Lord in Exodus 15:21:  "And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”  The women joined in and praised God with her.  Moses also sang a song of praise to God.  Mary, the Mother of our Lord, rejoiced with a song of praise to God recorded in Luke 1:46-55.  Over and over again, we see examples like these that should encourage us to sing and make melody to the Lord.  When we sing scripture, we are repeating God's Words back to Him.  What a sweet sound in His ears!
     Our daughter-in-law who comes from a great musical family spends time each evening singing prayers with her boys when they go to bed.  These are the things that stick in our hearts and we never forget.  She is making a time of prayer also a time of musical worship to the Lord.
     When I was only six my Grandfather Engel died tragically in an accident, but I remember his funeral.  My mother had told me that he loved "The Old Rugged Cross" which they played that day.  Ever since then, it has held a special place in my heart.  Likewise, I remember very well that my father loved the hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and spent time playing it on our organ at home.  Now when I hear this hymn, I look back on it with joy.  We often tag important events in our life with music so why not make it the music of God?
     Ephesians 5:18-20 reminds us that we are to make music unto the Lord:  "18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  When we have this attitude in us, it will not be difficult to encourage each other, learn Scripture and be lifted up even as we praise the Lord.  May your heart sing today even as mine does so that we can bring glory to our Lord!  Selah!