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Archive for June, 2012

“A glad heart makes a cheerful face.”

Proverbs 15:13

Music is a sweet salve for the soul.

When I am troubled, restless, or in a really rotten mood, the best thing I can do for the world is to put a song in my heart.

When my heart smiles, so does my face.

The Christian Church has had plenty of arguments over music. What God intended to be a blessing for the soul, we have made into a battleground.

The best form of worship is praise. The best way to praise God is to sing His praises. When you are praising God the style, form, shape, and beat of the music becomes incidental.

I have been searching the Bible and still cannot find the verse that says God prefers one form of praise music over another. Considering the decibel level of arguments in the Christian Church about music, there has to be a verse which I am missing.

The first song in the Bible was The Song of Moses:

I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (1)

God had just freed Moses and the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. They were filled with gratefulness and joy. There was no time to discuss whether to sing to organ, guitar, piano, or drums. The people were so happy they broke out into song.

Moses’ song sustained the people for 40 years.

I took a peek at the Book of Revelation. Guess what the agenda is for heaven. No sports, no political debates, no trips to the shore are mentioned. The only thing we know for sure is that we will be gathered in worship around God’s throne, singing God’s praise.

Here’s what they were singing:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come!”

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.” (2)

There are no musical notes about instrumentation.

The instructions are simple, just sing praise.

Heaven will be a happy place! Praise God!

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  1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Exodus 15:1–2.
  2. he Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Revelation 4:8 and 11.
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In this life, we hear the sounds, not the symphony. (1)

We never see the whole picture of life.  Even in this Information Age of digital technology,  scientific discovery, and higher education we only know a fraction of all there is to know.

If you are in the market to buy a new car you can visit on-line and real-time car dealers, research Consumers Report, read on-line reviews, test drive, and crunch all the numbers, but at the end of the day you will never know if you made the best decision.

Buy the Volkswagen and be left wondering if the Ford was the better deal and car, if the VW brought you greater joy, if this and if that … The list of qualifiers goes on and on.  You never know.

JP Morgan lost $2 billion and, according to latest reports, may lose up to $9.6 billion on a specific complex trade of credit swaps, derivatives, economic voodoo.  Instead another trader out-guessed them and took them to the cleaners.

Our biggest mistakes are made in life when we believe we are hearing the full symphony, rather than a collection of sounds.  We listen to a distant drumbeat, add some imaginary notes, compose lyrics, and make a decision.  Then we dance to our music, hoping it leads to life.

The Apostle Paul spoke about our blind leap into life:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face-to-face. (2)

So what should we do when confronted with information over-load in a world where we never see the whole picture.  My counsel is to follow the most trustworthy source.

In my life, I have only found one trustworthy source of information and guidance for living.  That source is the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith.  It provides wisdom sufficient for making any decision you need to make in life.

The Bible is the infallible Word of God.  The Bible will never fail you.  In my own life, when I have faithfully lived according to the truth of the Bible, my life has gone well.  When I have listened to the world’s music or my own, my dance has turned into a limp.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (3)

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  1. Luther, Martin; Galvin, James C. (2009-05-19). Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional (p. 180). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:12.
  3. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Psalm 119:105.

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The way you handle your sin 

is as important as the sin itself. (1)

A friend came to me recently to let me know how I had hurt them awhile ago.  Since my offense, our relationship had been broken for them, while I thought all was well.

While I had not intended to hurt them, I had.  This is a common everyday event in all relationships.

When a friend points out our sin to us we have the choice of responding in one of two ways.  We can take offense and defend ourselves or we can humble ourselves and graciously apologize.

Our natural tendency is to defend ourselves, especially when we did not mean to offend.  By doing so, we communicate that our friend, who has come to us in love and with wounds, is wrong, unreasonable, and overly-sensitive.

A defensive response not only exasperates the brokenness within the relationship, but causes the the relationship to quickly descend into a downward spiral.

Why do we do this?  I’ll place my money on pride.  I hate being wrong.  I loathe being told I was wrong.  However, I must confess that my friend did me a great favor.

By listening, I learned that I need to be watch my behavior in a specific situation which causes me stress and frustration as a pastor.  While I did not intend to sin, the manner in which I handled myself was offensive.

I am grateful that my friend came to me.  Their compassionate honesty helped to make me a better pastor.

In the end my sin made me a better person.

Paul reminds us,

“We all sin and fall short of the glory of God … the wages of sin is death.” (2)

Sin does not have to lead to a death.

Grace covers the wages of sins.

When sin is handled with a gracious apology, it leads to life.

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  1. Blackaby, Richard (2006-12-01). Experiencing God Day By Day (Kindle Location 3115). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Romans 3:23 and 6:23

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Mercy is a gift. It is undeserved. (1)

With common compassion we redefine words and concepts, using them to please the longings of our hearts.  Mercy, along with grace and justice, are three words which we commonly misuse.

Justice is giving people what they deserve.

Mercy is not giving people what they deserve.

Grace is giving people what they do not deserve.

Consider this scenario:

If a young boy steals a pound of hamburger meat and 5 pounds of potatoes from the grocer, justice is served if the boy is fined and required to pay the grocer for the food.

However, if the grocer learns the boy stole the food to feed his penniless family, then mercy is served if the grocer refuses to press charges against the boy.

If the grocer goes a step further and provides the penniless family with $500 of free groceries, then grace has been served.

Justice is always deserved, mercy and grace are always undeserved.  Mercy and grace are gifts, justice is a consequence.

With this being so, how can we say that God is a God of justice, mercy, and grace?

God is just because all sin is justly punished.

God is merciful because He chose not to inflict the punishment upon the sinner, but upon Jesus.

God is gracious because He forgives us and offers us eternal life, even when we sin.

Christians worship a God who serves justice, mercy, and grace this way:

God is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He does not forsake the sinner.  God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins.  (2)

This is the Good News of the Gospel.

This is news we do not deserve!

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  1. Blackaby, Richard (2006-12-01). Experiencing God Day By Day (Kindle Locations 3084-3085). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Nehemiah 9:17 and Romans 5:8.

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The greatest measuring rod of love 

in the life of a Christian is forgiveness. (1)

 

My counseling load has been on the upswing lately.  

My Christian brothers and sisters are experiencing amnesia.  They can pray “Forgive us our debts …” but cannot find it in their hearts to forgive.  

It makes counseling a futile exercise.  

I have considered posting this positive reminder on my office door:

Counseling works for those willing to forgive!

My counseling load continues to pile up with little or no progress. Everyone wants to be forgiven, but few are willing to forgive.

Jesus spoke about this frequently, but few people listen.  

Jesus also practiced what he preached:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (2)

I have had people say to me, “I’d rather die than forgive them!”

This explains why the world is filled with so many angry people.

It won’t kill you to forgive someone, but nursing a grudge will.

Forgiveness heals.  Anger kills.

My counseling load is killing me.

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  1. John MacArthur, Truth for Today : A Daily Touch of God’s Grace (Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman, 2001), 191.
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 5:8.

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Good Roots, Good Life

Preaching Notes

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

His delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

Not so are the wicked!

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

I. The Tenacity of the Honeysuckle Vine

Honeysuckle invasion in backyard hedge

Volunteered to clean it out

Two days became 6 weeks

The vine was already regrowing at beginning

Provide personal experience to relate to Bible Stories

The vine and the branches – John 15

The parable of the sower – Luke 8

First significant botany lesson

Life of plants is in their roots

II. First Day with my New English Bible

Decided to read through the Psalms

Early 70’s – Hippies still in vogue

Motto – Peace, love, and happiness”

Constitution’s The pursuit of happiness

First line in NEB caught me heart and mind

Happy is the man …

I wanted to be happy

It was American and cool

Second verse

His delight is the word of the Lord

He meditates on it day and night

I can do that as a reader and thinker

Told me I would be happy if I did this

Did not tell me what happiness was

Always a multitude of definitions to happiness

Hippies – drop out, drop acid

Society – conform to the world

Dad – hard work and loyalty

III. Happiness Defined in Psalm 1:3

He is like a tree, planted by streams of water 

yielding his fruit in season

It’s leaf never fades

He prospers in all he does

This image exploded in my mind

Grew up along the banks of the St. John’s River

Massive oak trees lines the river

Gnarly branches swooping to the ground

Reaching to the sky

A Habitat of Life

Provisions and protection

Hundreds of years old

Jacksonville’s The Treaty Oak

These trees were survivors

Floods, drought, hurricanes, tornados, pests

The lived and began more beautiful and productive with age

This was the happiness I wanted

This is the happiness God wants you to have

To have a purposeful, fruitful, sustaining life

Which provides life to you and others

A life which endures

IV. Botany and Bible coming together

Life is hard

Roots are source of renewal and restoration

When difficulties arise

When life is cut-off

Imagery of Book of Isaiah

God’s people displaced by brutal kings and their sins

Imagery of Exile – Isaiah 2

People rejected God

God has a charge against them

==> Cedars of Lebanon and Oaks of Bashan being cut-off

Imagery of Hope – 11

From the stump of Jesse shall come a shoot (vs 1)

The root of Jesse shall be a signal for all the people (vs 11)

The new life to anticipate – Isaiah 55

Trees of the field shall cap their hands

Promise of God – Isaiah 61

You will become oaks of righteousness

V. People ask me why Children’s Ministry is so important

Our ministry to them roots them in God’s love and Word

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world

Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the power of salvation

Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing

Children are tender plants

We either root them well or do not root them at all

Psalm 1:4 provides a contrast to 1:3

They are blown away by the wind

They do not stand in the judgement

We either root them early and provide them a good life

Or we leave them without roots, to blow in the wind

Study on Psychology Today magazine in 1980’s

Children rooted in faith at a young age are healthier and have a better life

As parents we have major responsibility to fulfill

In precious little time, which flies

Infant becomes a toddler

Child becomes a teen

The teen becomes an adult

What seeds are you sowing in their lives

What investments are you making in their future

Only one seed, one investment

Secures their happiness

Secures their living

Secures their endurance

Rooting your children in God’s love and word

Is the best investment you can make in their lives

Yet so many Christian parents invest in other things

Falsely believing there will be time later to invest in God

Event the atheist reject this way of thinking

For the church and Christian parents

Our biggest investment should ALWAYS be in children and youth

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The serene beauty of a holy life 

is the most powerful influence in the world

next to the might of God. (1)

I want to believe that Pascal is speaking truth because it seems that sin, evil, and self-centered hedonism has become the prevailing influence of our culture.  Everywhere we turn, we see evidence of the destructive power of sin and evil.

To witness the serene beauty of a holy life would be a burst of fresh air for our world.

Every evening I sit outside and watch the beauty of God’s creation unfold as sunset turns to dusk and then to night.

In a slow progression of moments stars appear one by one to populate the sky above my head, while fire-flies sparkle as they hover over the grass and between the trees of the forest preserve beyond my yard.

The beauty of these moments is greater than anything on TV or You-Tube.  The unfolding story of God’s life and light as darkness surrounds me bests the plot of any novel every written.

After an hour of beholding this serene holy beauty my soul troubled by the day’s events finds rest and peace.

Night is always considered the time when monstrous evil and sinful powers emerge to do their thing.  Perhaps they do, but only under the watchful eye of God’s serene beauty, which is holy light in the midst of darkness.

This gentle beauty and light lingers for each season of darkness before the glory of God’s sun bursts into radiance at dawn, welcomed by the holy music of His feathered flock.

In morning’s light, after begin guided by the serene and holy lights of darkness, my soul awakes refreshed.  I move into the new day with my heart and mind renewed and restored.

Pascal was right.

If only we can witness the serene beauty of a holy life in the lives of more people.

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  1. Blaise Pascal from Pascal’s Pensees as quoted in Samuel G. Hardman and Dwight Lyman Moody, Thoughts for the Quiet Hour (Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998).

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