Friday, November 25, 2011

Joy Comes in the Morning!

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:8-11

In recent days my heart has been broken for dear friends of mine. In both cases these friends have contacted me and have asked for prayers because their marriage has crumbled. My heart aches for these fine people. These are people who are great Christians with strong testimonies. In both cases, my friends spend their time away from their daily jobs to minister to others. Both of these fine people have encouraged me in my walk with the Lord. In both cases I had to ask myself, what happened?

When people come to me in their broken state, I never start asking questions. Those probing, nosy questions that will only lead to further speculation and gossip have no place in ministry. Instead, I ask God, what can be done to help this person. What words can I share that will give them strength to carry on and not lose hope or faith in God? When dealing with such cases, I am a blank slate. God has to supply the words and the comfort. In each of the cases, I have come away from the discussions encouraged by their stand with God.

Peter reminds us that we are the enemy's prey. He wants nothing more than to destroy us, but more than that, he wants to destroy our testimony. He wants God's servants to fail. Nothing gets us on the road to failure quicker than doubt. Doubt walks hand-in-hand with discouragement. Discouragement leads to depression. Depression leads to dysfunction and of course, dysfunction leads to death. Death does not necessarily mean a physical death. It could mean a spiritual death, an emotional death, even a death in one's reasoning skills.

I once did a sermon series on the deadly 'D's. The D's are the weapons of the enemy that uses most often to cause a Christian to fail. The first time I preached the sermon, I identified 17 of the D's. The second time I was up to 23. Without exception, all the D's will lead to some sort of death if we are not careful. We, as believers need to identify the D's and take a stand against them. Ephesians 6 tells us to stand and pray. We are not to go on the attack, but stand firm, guard the ground God has given us and most of all pray! The only one in Ephesians 6 who is on the attack is the enemy. We are to remain sure in our footing and ready to defend.

Psalm 23 states that the Lord is our shepherd. A shepherd is our guardian, our protector, our refuge. That is comforting because in the same chapter, the psalmist assures us that when we go through the shadows of death, our shepherd is still with us, guarding us and protecting us. In other words, even in the symptoms of death the enemy may give us, all we have to do is understand we are not alone. Our shepherd is there to help us through the darkest moments of our life and to bring us through. He will never leave us in the depths of death. We are only walking through the difficult times.

My two friends have lost their life mates to the lures of the world. Yet, in each of the cases, their faith has not waivered. They are deep in the hurts of the attack, but both are rejoicing that this is only a season of darkness. Both are resting on the promises of Psalm 30, "weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning".  Both are trusting God in everything. They do not know what is coming, but they know that when they are walking with the shepherd, they are protected. No matter how bitter the sting of the attack from the enemy may be, there is coming a time of rejoicing because it is our Shepherd that will bring them through the difficult times.

While my friends came to me for prayer and council, in both cases my broken heart for them was mended by their faith in God. They may have been attacked, but their faith is unshakable. They are standing firm in their faith, standing next to their Shepherd and looking forward to coming through the season of death. To God be the glory! Joy does come in the morning.

More later.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

God Wants to Hear You Sing

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Matthew 5:11 & 44
While living in Southern California, I would listen to a local news station on the radio every time I was in the car. It was the only way I could stay a half step ahead of the traffic snarls. Since moving to Portland, I have found the traffic reports to be more of a source of amusement than informational. They speak of freeways moving "at a crawl", yet that crawl is still 35 miles an hour. I'll take that any day compared to the parking lot experiences of the California freeways. Because of the lack of need for that information, I have decided to fill my car with the Heavenly sounds of Southern Gospel music.
Personally, I cannot carry a note. Sure, I have a speaking voice that carried me through twenty years of radio broadcasting, but a singing voice was something God chose not to give me. But when I cam in my car, alone, driving the freeway, I sing with the best of them. I love the bass parts, and truly respect the quartets that have great bass singers.
Recently I purchased a new CD. One of the songs on the disc is "God Wants to Hear You Sing". It talks about how it is easy to sing when things are going right. But, when things go wrong, that's the time to sing. The song uses Paul and Silas in the prison as an illustration. Rather than moan and wail over their circumstances, these two men chose to sing hymns of praise and God delivered them from their chains.
Then there is the victorious chorus,
God wants to hear you sing
When the waves are crashing ’round you
When the fiery darts surround you
When despair is all you see
God wants to hear your voice
When the wisest man has spoken
And says, “Your circumstance is as hopeless as can be”
That’s when God wants to hear you sing

The most difficult situation is temporary. In any situation, God wants us to sing praises to Him. Singing praises when the world around us is falling apart seems to lift the heavy spirit of depression. Singing takes the weight off our shoulders and frees us from the miseries of the world. Yet, so many chose to carry their burdens, even after Jesus says for us to give Him our load. in the great old hymn of the church, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", the lyrics state,

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Often, when we are givn a heavy load, we quietly whisper a prayer to God in hopes he might hear us. Next time, try singing a prayer to God. You will be surprised how quickly the burden becomes lighter and how your prayer changes into a song of praise.
Even for a guy like me who cannot carry a note in a bucket, singing is therapy. Best of all, even if you have a singing voice like mine, God wants to hear you sing!
More later.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. - Luke 2:17-19

The brisk cool air of the of the autumn season has returned to the Pacific Northwest. The leaves are turning their brilliant hues of reds, oranges, and gold. The days are getting shorter, sun is dimming and soon winter will set in.  It is during the long nights of winter, I tend to retreat into my thoughts. I consider the paths I have chosen in life and how they have brought me to the place I am today. Sure, there have been a few poor choices made in the past, but many choices have been the right ones and the fruit of those choices is evident.

It is also in this season I begin to reflect on Christmas. Christmas one of the big check points in my personal calendar year. For me and my family, Christmas has always been a time of church activities. Yes, there are the presents, the decorations, the family and the food. But intertwined among all the elements of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Songs proclaiming "Joy to the world, the Lord is come" and "O come let us adore Him" punctuate the season. Christmas is not just a holiday, it is a season of worship.

Many families huddle around and listen to the reading of "The Night Before Christmas". For my family, it was all about the reading of the beloved Christmas story of Luke 2. This passage has so many sermons and truths just leaping off the page of the scriptures. The scene is one of wonder and amazement as the Son of the most High is born in human form in Bethlehem. The skies are filled with angels. Shepherds leave their flocks to find the child. The whole scene is busy with excitement, until we reach verse 19. Suddenly, the scene changes and become very serene.

I have a friend who describes any reading like this, "As you absorb the words on a page, look for the 'but'. When you find it, what follows is a truck load of truth!" in Luke 2, the Heavens and the Earth are filled with the excitement of the birth, BUT, Luke stops his narrative to throw in a truck load of truth. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. We discover a deeply reflective young mother, Mary.

One can only imagine what Mary must have been thinking. No matter how deep we try to imagine her thoughts, we cannot come close. We cannot understand her culture, her inner turmoil as her family questioned her and possibly doubted her about her pregnancy. We do not know what was in the private discussions she and Joseph shared. What we do know is this, Mary took value in all that was going on around her. She knew that what was happening was significant, as she had been visited by Heavenly beings. She treasured everything that was happening, and then "pondered" them in her heart.

Ponder. That is a word rarely used today. Not because there are other words for ponder. I believe it is because we do not take the time to invest in our thoughts. According to the Greek New Testament, Mary was carefully taking the events of her life, and putting them together like the pieces of a puzzle. In today's language, she was "owning" all that was happening to her. Mary was fully invested in her relationship with God, so much so, she was willing to take on the scorn of the world to obey her Heavenly Father. Now that her child was born, she was taking the moment to put it all together.

How often have we taken time to ponder the things of God? How often do we take His word and "own" it in our lives? In this busy world, it is easy to keep God in our back pocket for those emergencies when we need Him most. We can take a lesson from Mary. Even with the celebration of the ages happening around her, Mary took time to ponder the things of God in her life. May we take time to ponder as well.

More later.