More Than A Twist and Shout

twist-shout-greatest-hitsIt’s not quite the stuff of the Beatles Twist and Shout:  It’s better.  Psalm 95:1-3 has a lot of shouting, and it encourages you to twist your heart and soul into the presence of God:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. ~Psalm 95

  • These verses encourage you to sing out: I have trusted in Your mercy, so my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:5-6
  • They admonish you to be filled with joy within: Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround himBe glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!  Psalm 32:10-11
  • They suggest the need to express your thanks: I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30
  • Instead of being quite, you’re instructed to shout up to the heavens, and to delight in God’s righteousness by shouting for joy and being glad. Psalm 35:7

As you make your plans for the weekend, I encourage you to reflect on this Psalm. It may serve as motivator to get you to make a joyful shout to the Lord; to serve Him with gladness; and to come before His presence with singing (Psalm 100).

Closer Than You Think

GodIsCloserThanYouThink_480x340You’ve been there, or you know someone who has.  The sweet nectar of success has been replaced by a bitter taste and bad breath because the corporate carpet has been pulled out from under you.  Your coworkers no longer think of you as a friend, and they’re nervous when they see you.  They’re afraid your bad luck might be contagious.

No one seems to care, the phone calls have stopped, and you feel like you’re alone at the bottom of a dark pit of discouragement.  You hear a voice, but you’re not sure of the words.  Did it ask, “How is the view from down there?” Or, were the words, “It really isn’t too bad a view from down here.”

There’s a world of difference between “down there” and “down here,” and a wave of calm and comfort flows through you as you realize you’re not alone.  You never have been and you never will be.

In Acts 17, Paul said: “God gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.  From one man he has made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth. He has given them the seasons of the year and the boundaries within which to live.  He has done this so that they would look for God, somehow reach for him, and find him. In fact, he is never far from any one of us.  Certainly, we live, move, and exist because of him.”

The bright lights might get a bit dim; your hope might get a little bruised; and, in the moment the powerful promises could lose their glamor; but, God is not absent.

As a man who was well acquainted with times of sorrow and joy, David contemplated God’s presence:

“Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit? Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence? If I go up into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there. If I ride on the wings of morning, if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean, even then You will be there to guide me; Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there. Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me, the light around me will soon be turned to night,” You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes. For You the night is just as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.” ~Psalm 139

You’re not alone; Jesus promised to never leave you or forsake you.

From Zilch to Zero

zilchAfter watching the evening news, I wonder what the prophet Jeremiah would say about the world in which we live?  In his own day, he summarized the condition of mankind by saying the heart of man was full of deceit and wickedness.  I think the news confirms the prophet’s prognosis.

Like Jeremiah, Saint Augustine voiced his concerns regarding the plight of mankind.  Even though he was a theologian, and not a heart doctor, he was concerned with healthy hearts.  He thought a vibrant heart would manifest itself when a person showed love for:

  • the right thing
  • in the right degree
  • in the right way
  • with the right kind of love

Augustine’s focus on the importance of love may have come from his study of the Apostle Paul, who said:  “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).”

If your life is void of any expression of love, you have a zilch to zero chance of doing “the right thing, in the right degree in the right way, with the right kind of love.”

The “right kind of love,” is a genuine love of obedience: “Everyone who really believes that Jesus is the Christ proves himself one of God’s family. The man who loves the Father cannot help loving the Father’s own Son. The test of the genuineness of our love for God’s family lies in this question—do we love God himself and do we obey his commands? For loving God means obeying his commands, and these commands of his are not burdensome, for God’s “heredity” within us will always conquer the world outside us. In fact, this faith of ours is the only way in which the world has been conquered. For who could ever be said to conquer the world, in the true sense, except the man who really believes that Jesus is God’s Son (I John 5:1-5)?”

Have you gone from zilch to zero, or are you a conquering hero?  The difference is the capacity to love.

The Hand of Conviction and Comfort

handConviction and comfort:  These two words appear as the underlying theme of much of the Bible.  I’m never too fond of the first, and I can’t seem to get enough of the last.

I like the comfort of verses like Isaiah 41:13:  For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”  When I read this verse yesterday, it occurred to me that as long as God has my right hand, I won’t land in the wrong place.

This is why we are encouraged to, “Come, and worship Him and to bow down and kneel before the Lord who made us. For He is our God and we are His people, the flock of His pasture, His sheep protected and nurtured by His hand.”

Notice the benefits of being “nurtured by His hand:”

  • I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. ~ Psalm 16:8
  • You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. ~ Psalm 16:11
  • You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. ~ Psalm 18:35

When you think of these benefits, it’s easy to, “Clap your hands, and raise your voices joyfully and loudly. Give honor for the True God of the universe; Here’s why: The Eternal, the Most High, is awesome and deserves our great respect. He is the great King over everything in this world.” ~ Psalm 47:1-2

Just before I posted this, I was reminded of an old song called “Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man.”  You can listen to it by clicking here.

Death by Cliché

abideLast week was a rough week for the FCC family, and it was harder for some than it was for others.  It’s always difficult when you’re trying to manufacture enough strength to keep your feet on the ground; your head above the clouds; your shoulder to the wheel; your nose to the grindstone; your ear to the ground; your eye on the ball; and, finger on the pulse.

Take a moment to look, again, at each of the mantras above.  What is the common theme?  Isn’t it spiritual desertion through physical exertion?   If you’re not careful, you’ll cliché yourself to death with this sort of bumper sticker philosophy.

The key to managing life is not the saccharine sentimentalism that’s posted on Facebook.  Meaningless and sappy slogans are a poor substitute for the vitality of the vine that is promised by Jesus in John 15.  Here are the key points to what Jesus said concerning this relationship:

  • Productivity: The branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (15:4)
  • Prayer: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you . . . (15:7)
  • Proof: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (15:8)
  • Practical Obedience: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (15:10).

The key to escaping a tireless existence is to entirely focus on the principles above.  Develop the habit of abiding in Christ by interceding in prayer, ingesting His word, and intentionally obeying His commands.

When you abide in Him, you’re nourished by the vitality of the Vine, and you can  “Be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Ephesians 5:1-2).”

The Book of Ralph

ralphBooks like The Book of Ralph are seldom found on the shelves of libraries.  If you do an online search at book sellers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you find very little.

The reason for the scarcity is the rarity of the subject matter and the classification of the book—biography not fiction.  There are too few people who are as genuinely gentle and gracious as Ralph Lilley, the main character of the book.

I have had the privilege of knowing Ralph for over 25 years.  I have been his pastor, and he has willingly served his Lord as an elder, deacon, janitor, painter, teacher, greeter, volunteer, advocate for children, champion of the poor and needy, meals on wheels, and Chairman of Christian Service.

As I reflected on Ralph’s life yesterday, I spoke of seven lessons from The Book of Ralph, and I share them with you now:

#1—Remember your place in the line of life. 

He that will be first shall be last, and he that is last shall be first.

#2—Pick up the burdens of others, so you won’t let them down. 

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

#3—Display your manly meekness.

  Galatians 6:1:  If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness.

#4—Mind your manners.

  Ephesians 4:2:  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love

#5—Let the Spirit guide your speech.

 Colossians 4:6:  Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

#6—Share the grace of God.

  Ephesians 4:29:  You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.

#7—Do more than just talk the talk:  walk the walk.

  James 1:26-27: If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Remembering Ralph’s work of faith, his labor of love, and patience of hope in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 

I Thessalonians 1:3

Hope At High Tide

HopeEver have one of those days when you’re feeling down and out?  I have to admit that I do once in a while.  A sure cure for my “woe-is-me” mentality is a section of Scripture from Lamentations where Jeremiah said:

“I’m the man who has seen trouble, trouble coming from the lash of God’s anger. He took me by the hand and walked me into pitch-black darkness. Yes, he’s given me the back of his hand over and over and over again. He turned me into a scarecrow of skin and bones, then broke the bones. He hemmed me in, ganged up on me, and poured on the trouble and hard times. He locked me up in deep darkness, like a corpse nailed inside a coffin.” ~ The Message

After I read Jeremiah’s depressing account of his trials and tribulations, my troubles don’t seem quite as bad, and I feel even better when I read what Jeremiah said later in this chapter:  “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3).”

When Jeremiah began to focus less on his problems and more on God, his perspective changed.  He began to realize that the high tide of God’s hope has a rhythmic presence that’s just as certain as the appearance of the moon in the night sky.  He also concluded that the faithfulness of God is as cool and refreshing as an artesian well that never runs dry—it’s “new every morning.”

Whenever you try to view the world through the lens of personal pain, your comprehension will be skewed, and you’ll turn a blind eye to the potential of His promises. The riddles of life can never be solved through the emptiness of the world, but through the fullness of God’s blessing.

When the Psalmist was deluded by the dilemmas of life, he said:  I did not understand, “until I went into the sanctuary of God.”  He then offered this conclusion: “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works.”

If you feel like your heartache has caused you to “fall away from God,” it may be time to “draw near” to Him again.  He’s right where you left Him and He is waiting to embrace you with open arms.  Run to Him now—“His compassions fail not!

You are a God full of compassion, generous in grace, slow to anger, and boundless in loyal love and truth.  ~Psalm 86:15

Cousins Afar

berylYesterday I said goodbye to Beryl Frye Lacy.  You may have not known Beryl unless you knew one of her children; knew her as Nurse Lacy from Dr. Shield’s office; or, knew her through First Christian Church where she attended.  Beryl was a good wife to her husband Earl, a good mother to her three children, Gene, Sandee, and Greg, and a devoted, grandmother, aunt, and volunteer at the hospital.

When I spoke to Beryl, I called her Auntie.  She was mom’s sister-in-law and a big part of my life. She was something else; she was a source of confusion whenever I tried to make sense of my family lineage.

hillbillies

This isn’t a good picture of Dick and Don. They rarely look this good.

When I was a kid, the Lacy family reunions would include Don and Dick.  I was always perplexed when I tried to decipher how we were or were not related.

Beryl was my aunt and she was also an aunt to Don and Dick.  To muddy the waters a bit more, Don and Dick had an Uncle Wally.  Wally was neither a Lacy nor a Seymour, but he was my mom’s cousin and Beryl’s brother-in-law’s brother.

Since Beryl was a Frye and Mom was a Pugh/Lacy, the only other possible link was Mom and Wally were linked through Mom’s Pugh side; but, there were always too few Pughs to find clues to the riddle of Don and Dick.

While family history can be confusing, it can also be reassuring.  The Psalms remind us that just as “An earthly father expresses love for his children; it is no different with our heavenly Father who shows His love for those who revere Him (Psalm 103:13).”

And, after reading Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome, I guess it’s possible we’re cousins together in Christ and joint-heirs with Him:  “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (8:17).”

Bless you Auntie, I’ll see you again some day in Heaven, and then you can explain this riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Barbed Wire and Ballerinas

ballerinaSince I live in the land of bluestem grass, it’s a common sight to see cattle grazing in pastures.  Many times these cattle are seen with their necks sticking through a barbed wire fence to eat grass just beyond their reach; hence, the cliché:  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

I think the old cliché is the life philosophy of some people.  They’re not content with what God has given them, so they keep searching for that elusive something that is just beyond their grasp.

When God designs a person with the body of an NFL lineman, He never intends for them to dance in the shoes of a famous ballerina.  If God christened you as an acorn, don’t feel like you’ve been slighted because you don’t have the fragrance of a rose: rejoice in the deep roots you’ll grow.

Grasp this truth—you’ve not been manufactured on the assembly line of life.  You’re a unique creation; the handiwork of God; designed for a specific purpose; and, blessed with the appropriate amount of grace to accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.

Let me remind you that God has blessed us with gifts that “vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, so it’s important that we exercise the gifts we’ve been given (Romans 12:6).”

You can exercise these gifts by slipping on your shoes, lacing them-up with the grace of God, and running the race that He has set before you.

God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, in all things and at all times, having all you need, you may overflow in every kind of good work.   ~2 Corinthians 9:8

A Timely Commodity

timeTime is an interesting commodity of life.  While it doesn’t cost you anything, it’s still priceless. It’s something that you can use to your advantage, but you’ll never be able to own it.  Time has a unique life cycle:  As soon as it is born it dies, and once you lose it, you will never find it again.

Perhaps this is why Paul spoke to Christians at both Ephesus and Colossae about the importance of “redeeming the time” or as it says in The Voice: “Make the most of every living and breathing moment…”

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you make the most of life’s precious moments:

  • Before you ever get out of bed, pledge to walk in step with God; and, pray: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths (Psalm 25:4).”
  • When you find yourself waiting in a line, line up your thoughts; and, pray: “Guide my steps in the ways of Your word, and do not let any sin control me (Psalm 119:133.”
  • Whenever you check the time, take a second to check-in with God. Make Psalm 55:17 a habit:  “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.”

It was Henry van Dyke who said: “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”

I say: “Time is just right when it’s justly redeemed for God’s glory.”