Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In the Midst of Darkness - Bless the Lord

     When the wind of trouble blows our way and it seems that the evil prosper, we are called to do something totally counterintuitive to our human nature.  We are called to bless the Lord and praise His name as David did so frequently in the Psalms.  Perhaps this is why I have always loved these beautiful songs of the Bible.  David found comfort and strength when he poured out his soul before God and we can too.
     Psalm 103 (one of my all time favorites) calls us to praise the Lord.  It begins with:  "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name" (vs. 1).  This call to worship asks us to put our whole heart into lifting up God's name.  As we lift Him up, He, also, will lift us up out of the darkness that can so easily envelope our minds.  It is hard to be depressed at the same time we are blessing God.  Then, David goes on and tells us to bless the Lord and not forget His many benefits to us not the least of which is the forgiveness of our sins (vs. 2-3) as well as healing our bodies.  God is, indeed, good.
     When we stop to consider the forgiveness of our sins, we read these words:  "...as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us" (vs. 12).  Meditating for a moment on that thought should bring us great peace.  God forgives and remembers our sin no more through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even in physical bondage whether by sickness or man's doing, we are still free in our spirit.  We have favor with God and are heirs with Jesus Christ.  This is the greatest reason for blessing the Lord.  However it does not end there.
Jesus is the light in our darkness.
     In verses 4 through 6, David lists more reasons to bless the Lord:  He redeems our life from the pit; He satisfies us with good so we are renewed with strength like an eagle; and the Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed.  What a mighty God we serve!  Looking at the word "oppressed" we can see a multitude of situations that God provides relief for us.  We may be oppressed with negative thoughts over situations we cannot control.  We may be oppressed financially and cannot find a job, or we may be oppressed for being a Christian (especially in other nations of this world but already coming our way here in this country).  For all these situations, God works righteousness and justice.
      God's character alone gives us great reason to bless His name.  He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and does not deal with us according to our sins.  However, the Psalm does tell us that He will not keep His anger forever (vs.9).  There will be a final day of accounting.  The first time comes when we die and the second comes at the Great White Throne judgement (Rev. 20:11-15).  All we need to do is look back to the days of Noah and the great flood to see how God deals with unrepentant wickedness.  Therefore, we have all the more reason to live for His glory, obeying His commands and loving one another.
      Because of our relationship with God through Christ, we know that He looks upon us with compassion as a father looks upon His child.  He knows we are weak, and that our walk upon this earth is just for a short while.  Yet, God's steadfast love goes on forever towards those who love and live in awe of Him even to our children's children.  I love that promise!  I desire for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to love and serve the Lord all their days.
      Finally, David summarizes the Psalm by calling upon the angels, hosts and ministers to bless the Lord.  He calls upon the works of God and all creation to bless the Lord and concludes with:  "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (vs.23).  Just meditating on all that God is and has done for us should lift us up even in our darkest hours and most difficult times.  There is power in praise for it drives the darkness away.  The Lord knows we need this for our nation, for our churches and our families.
       May we be a people who bless the Lord rather than curse the darkness for He is the light of the world.  All the powers of evil shall not prevail against God's church or His people for we are free by the power of Jesus Christ.  Selah!
 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Learning to Make Adjustments

     There is nothing more certain in life than change, and most of us do not like change.  So from my perspective of life and experience, I can honestly say that we have to learn to adjust.  We have to adjust our expectations when some of our dreams do not come to pass.  We have to adjust to new circumstances that come with marriage, a baby, loss of a job, injury or sickness.  The list can go on and on.  The sooner we can learn to adapt to our ever changing life here on earth - the better off we will be when it comes to finding contentment.  Let me suggest that it is far easier to make adjustments when we are relying on the Holy Spirit than when we try to do it in our own strength.
     Of all the inspired writers of the Bible, the Apostle Paul is definitely someone who had to adjust to change in his life.  In his letter to the Philippians (4:11-13), he expounds on the secret to his contentment in this life:  "11Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  His ability to find peace in the midst of trials rested in his faith.  He knew that Christ gave him the peace to carry on.  Isn't this what we want in life?
     To give us some perspective, we must look at what Paul tells us about his life.  We know he is a citizen of Rome and well trained in Judaism.  However, after he met the Lord, his life really required learning how to adjust to a new way of living that brought challenges with it.  2 Corinthians 11:24-27 puts it this way:  "24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."  I cannot even begin to imagine going through all that Paul experienced; yet in it all, Christ strengthened him in faith.
     Perhaps the greatest key to learning how to adjust and adapt to the twists and turns in life is found in the same letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:7):  "For we live by faith, not by sight."  When we spend our time looking at circumstances, it can be depressing.  However, fixing our eyes of faith on our Lord and His kingdom to come will keep us on the path to contentment no matter what transpires.  In order to do this, we must be students of God's Word and a person of prayer.  The Bible cleanses our mind so that we can think God's thoughts after Him, and sincere prayer gives us a chance to lay down our burdens and be refreshed by our Lord.  This is where we find solace, comfort and wisdom in a fallen world.
     We cannot change anything by wishing it away.  However, we can rely on the Holy Spirit within us and learn to adjust to whatever we face today.  God always shows us the way and gives us wisdom if we just ask Him for it.  Our goal in life is to live a contented life no matter what circumstances we are in so that we might glorify the Lord.  Like the Apostle Paul we must learn to live by faith and not by sight!  Selah!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Singing Our Theology

     As a little girl, I remember attending church with my parents and sister.  Standing next to my mother, I always thought what a beautiful voice she had as she sang the old hymns.  I wasn't able to read yet so I could not join in, but I did learn by heart the "Gloria Patri" and the Doxology.  Repeating them week after week left them embedded in my heart.
     Throughout my childhood and well into my adult years, I recall various hymns that have blessed me.  When my Grandfather died, they played his favorite hymn
in church, "The Old Rugged Cross".   Later in my life when I would visit home, I remember hearing my father play "Sweet Hour of Prayer" on the organ.  He loved that song.  So when I came across a list I could join on the internet that shared one or two hymns a day, I joined it.  Since that time, I have been posting many of those old hymns on my Facebook timeline.
     Attending a recent birthday party, one of my daughter-in-law's family members remarked to me that she enjoyed seeing the hymn postings every day.  She said one of her Sunday School teachers used to say that when we sing a hymn, we are singing theology to ourselves.  I thought that was a great statement.  What we sing in church ought to not only bring praise to God but it should also reinforce the doctrine and truths of Scripture.  One way to do this is to sing the Psalms.  A sister reformed denomination does this  exclusively.  Other portions of Scripture have also been set to music, and this aides in memorization.
     Some of the earlier hymns of the faith are the best (in my opinion) as they conveyed the foundations of our beliefs.  One such hymn which is often sung today is Holy, Holy, Holy:
   
Verse #1
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Verse #2
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Verse #3
Holy, holy, holy! Tho' the darkness hide Thee,
Tho' the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Verse #4
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

     Looking at these lyrics, we see mention of the Trinity, the angels worshipping the Lord and all creation praising Him.  The song is God centered worship as it should be.  Singing this strengthens our foundational beliefs.
     Several years ago, I attended a contemporary Christian service and we sang a song made popular by "Delirious ?" an English contemporary Christian group.  The lyrics to the song "I Will Follow" stood out in my mind:
     I've found love, as deep as the ocean,
And your eyes, they hit me like a train
And your words serenade me like the sweetest of songs
Here I find peace again, again

I will follow, I will follow
I will follow, I will follow

There's a song, and it's louder than music
Can you hear me when there's no sound?
Joy, coz I dance with the angels
Take me higher, I'm not coming down.
And your words serenade me like the sweetest of songs
Here I find peace again

I will follow, I will follow
I will follow, I will follow

The sentence that bothered me the most was the description of the eyes of God hitting us like a train.  Yet, in the song, there is no mention of Jesus or God directly.  When compared to the words of "Holy, Holy, Holy", there is a sharp contrast in what is being conveyed.
     Theology matters and so do the words which we sing.  When we worship, we are to give God the glory and lift His name up.  It is not about us, our feelings or experiences.  Some songs and music are better suited  for the stage in an entertainment venue rather than a worship service.  I realize this is not a popular idea or trend in the church today.  However, I have shared this to point out the value of the hymns that may seem outdated to some but which contain good theology.  My prayer is that our worship will be acceptable to the Lord and bring glory to His name.  Likewise, I pray that we may watch all the words that come from our mouth (whether spoken or sung) as we will have to give account for them one day (Matthew 12:36).  Selah!