Singing in the Cave

Singing comes natural when life is good, the bills are paid, the family is well and the future looks bright. However, when the news isn’t good, singing often escapes us. David taught us in Psalm 57 to sing in the cave. Running for his life, with his enemies camped all around him, he wrote:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (Psalm 57:1, ESV)

Before David sang, he cried out to God. His singing never glossed over his fear, never ignored his dilemma. When you’re in the cave, there’s no need to pretend life is good. Problems are problems. Hurts are hurts. Bad news is bad news. A troubling diagnosis is a troubling diagnosis. David calls his enemies lions, fiery beasts with spears for teeth and swords for a tongue!

But he doesn’t stay there.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! (Psalm 57:7, ESV)

This is the same Psalm! David is still sitting in the same cave. Saul is still pursuing him. None of that has changed. When you’re in the cave, you will have to will what you do not feel. David reflects on the character of God (he wills to see God in spite of his circumstances) and as a result reflects the character of God (he feels God’s presence).

What is your song? When life unravels, what fills your mind? Your house? Your car? Beginning today we will release songs we have recorded here at Grace. Savor them. Memorize them. Sing them!

Here’s one we sang recently at Grace. Worship. Enjoy.

 

The Christmas Present for Myself

This year I bought a Christmas present for Trent–well it was really for both of us. I bought Tiles. Most likely you’ve heard of them–small square pieces of plastic embedded with a chip that allows them to be tracked. Trent occasionally (that could be an understatement) loses his wallet. He now has a small tile in it. I often (that could be an understatement) lose my keys. I now have a tile hanging on my keychain. The tiles serve one purpose–to keep me from having to waste time looking for things. I spent way too much time looking for my keys–wasted time.

We tend only to seek what we’ve lost.

Yet Psalm 105 says we should do otherwise:

 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (Psalm 105: 1-6, ESV)

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually. Why are we instructed to seek who we already have? Because we are constantly tempted to make other pursuits and people the object of our seeking. The word seek literally means “to frequent a place.” We tend to seek our favorite restaurants, people and pastimes. Scripture is replete with commands to seek the Lord. Why?

John Piper says, “His face — the brightness of his personal character — is hidden behind the curtain of our carnal desires. This condition is always ready to overtake us. That is why we are told to “seek his presence continually.” God calls us to enjoy continual consciousness of his supreme greatness and beauty and worth.”

How do we practically do this? Psalm 105 gives five ways: give thanks to Him; call upon Him; sing to Him; glory in Him; remember what He has done.

So this week, Psalm 57:4 is my memory verse: “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.” Will you join me in memorizing Psalm 57:4 this week. I am bound and determined to worry none and seek always.

If you missed Sunday’s sermon, here goes: (https://www.facebook.com/1828113320739340/videos/1962061687344502/)

 

Prank Called by Worry

Worry is like an unwanted sales call, an untimely bill, an annoying interruption in cell service. It doesn’t seek permission, doesn’t give advance warning, and stays longer than you want. It cares not for whatever else has filled your day and will take all your brain and heart space.

How do you close the door when worry knocks? How do you hang up the phone when worry calls?

Micah gives an answer in 7:7, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

I said this Sunday and it bears repeating: there must be “but as for me” times in your life. Some will be bigger than others. However, if you’ve determined that worry has to be gone, that it is a sin you are no longer willing to tolerate (I have), then I’ll share with you what I’m doing.

I’m memorizing Micah 7:7. Sounds simple I know. Just yesterday, worry called–interrupted an otherwise pleasant drive down Highway 70. And when it did, I answered with Micah 7:7. I prayed out loud, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” Worry left.

I’m not trying to be trite or dismissive. I’m simply saying that worry is no match for God’s word–and that I’ve got to learn how to answer worry’s call. I’m not sure I can ever avoid worry’s calls–perhaps one day they will come less and less. I do know how to answer them.

Will you join me? Answer worry with God’s Word.

Making 2018 a Game-Changing Year

Another year is in the books. A new year awaits. The inevitable allure of New Year’s resolutions entices us to think about how we are going to be better, do better, get better. I went looking for facts about setting goals. Here’s what I found and why I think you should set goals for 2018…and that God will honor you for doing it.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, discovered that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down. If she is right (and I think she is), how should you go about it?

I recommend setting goals in 5 different areas of your life: health, spiritual, financial, relational and work. You may choose to do more or less depending on your age and stage in life. Think through 2018 and what you could realistically accomplish in these areas.

I also recommend looking at goals in two ways: process and outcome. For example, you may have a goal to lose 20 pounds. That’s an outcome goal. Your process goals might involve how often you exercise or how you eat. Both kinds of goals are necessary to achieve results.

I also like what Matt Mayberry (Entrepreneur.com) suggested. He called it a game-changer goal. Obviously this is a life-changing goal and shouldn’t be considered lightly. He recommends a full-blown action plan for a game-changing goal. I would add prayer and community. I’m convinced that game-changing goals cannot be accomplished without God’s and others’ help. Take your game-changing goal to your Life Group, your family, your close friends. Ask them to keep you accountable.

I’m excited to see how God is going to grow you in 2018!

Making Sense of Senselessness

Words seem insufficient in response to Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas. Still we want to make sense of senselessness. We want to make the inhumane, humane. In the absence of explanation, I’ll speak to response. How do we think? What do we do?

How do we think?

  1. There is no excuse for senseless violence. Any kind. Anywhere. Since the shooter killed himself we will never fully know why he did what he did. Investigators will try to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find answers. Whatever they discover, we must hold fast to the reality that senseless violence of any kind is reprehensible.
  2. Words kill like weapons. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus raised slander to the level of slaying. Words don’t just hurt, they kill. When 70,000 fans boo a bad kicker in a football game, something in that kid dies. When politicians and journalists throw verbal daggers at one another, someone dies. Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me was denying reality.
  3. Enough is enough.  We are becoming desensitized. Push notifications bombard phones. Cable news reports violence all day, every day. Video games turn killing into competition. Music celebrates murder. Even too much news of the Las Vegas tragedy can desensitize. Overexposure deadens the conscience.

What do we do?

  1. If you see something, say something. Yes, this is Homeland Security’s slogan, but it belonged to Christianity long before the government trademarked it. Don’t tolerate any form of bigotry, hatred, or violence. Jesus called us salt and light. Salt and light do the same thing: they reveal. Salt is a cook’s friend–when the right amount is put in a recipe, it reveals the flavor of the food. No one has ever said, “The salt in this casserole tastes good.” Light is a photographer’s best friend. People don’t look at a portrait and say, “I love how the light is coming in from the front.” Rather they talk about the subject of the photograph. As salt and light we flavor the world without drawing attention to ourselves–rather we reveal Christ.
  2. Choose your words carefully. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” His statement is both counterintuitive and countercultural. Our culture is quick to anger, quick to speak and slow to hear. Proverbs 18:21 adds, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Peter wrote, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:10)
  3. Filter what comes inExamine your intake of violence. How much do you see or hear in a given day? Resolve to reduce it. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” What goes in will come out. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Having a conscience is one mark of being a sentient human being. Scripture sometimes speaks of people “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11), or of “children, who . . . have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39). Knowing right from wrong is what makes us functioning adults. To have a malfunctioning conscience is to be less than human.”

Perhaps in DeYoung’s statement lies the explanation for the shooter’s capacity to cowardly and mercilessly kill 59 people: he was less than human. Something happened to his conscience. Scripture says our conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2) or defiled. Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Only Jesus can clean us up and clear our consciences. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Only Jesus can turn senselessness into salvation and make the inhumane, humane.

A Keeping Sandwich

I can’t help myself. I love sandwiches. I really do. I could eat sandwiches every single day. When I walk into Holly’s Deli, I’m so predictable that they don’t even have to ask for my order: deli club on rye, potato salad, water. I love sandwiches.

My favorite sandwich is from the book of Jude. It’s a “keeping sandwich.” Let me explain.

The Amplified Bible renders Jude 1:

“Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, [writes this letter], To those who are the called (God’s chosen ones, the elect), dearly loved by God the Father, and kept [secure and set apart] for Jesus Christ.” 

The top side of the sandwich is that you are kept by God for Christ. You are secure and set apart by God for Jesus Christ. David, the anointed king of Israel, hiding out from Saul wrote: I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. (Psalm 57:2, ESV) When you trust Christ with your life, you get God’s commitment. He will fulfill his purpose for you.

The inside of the “keeping sandwich” is found in Jude 21:

keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (ESV)

God keeps you. Keep yourselves. This is plural. You cannot keep yourself alone. There are no lone rangers, no solo fliers, no “every man is an island.” God has designed you to need others and to help others. This is why we join Life Groups, why we give and receive love, give and receive correction, give and receive forgiveness. It’s how we keep ourselves.

The bottom side of the sandwich is Jude 24:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (ESV)

God keeps us. We keep each other. God keeps us. That’s how the Christian life works. God is able to keep you from stumbling. God’s intent is to present you before his unnaproachable presence with great joy!

We keep because God keeps, not so that God will keep.

Who are you keeping? Who’s keeping you? Are you in a Life Group? Are you accountable to anyone? Anyone accountable to you?

God’s Powerful Voice

I have met people with powerful voices. When they speak, people listen. They walk into a room and the entire dynamic changes. Maybe you recall the calming voice of your mother, or perhaps it’s her commanding voice you remember most. Maybe the assuring voice of your father comforts you, or his correcting voice still confronts you.

God’s voice exceeds them all. Consider the psalmist:

The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:3-9, ESV)

In the beginning God created…with his words, his voice. He started with nothing and said, “Let there be,” and there was. Here in Psalms we discover that his voice is not diminished at all. The God who created with words, shakes his very creation with the same voice with which he created it.

Jesus did too. Asleep in the boat, tired from the demands of his day, he was suddenly awakened by his disciples. The boat was rocking, waves crashing, fear mounting. They thought they were dying!

And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:24-25, ESV)

You may be in a situation right now that only God’s voice can handle. Unless He steps in, there is no hope. A broken marriage, incurable cancer, unbelievable debt. You need God’s voice. David ends his Psalm with this affirmation: “May the Lord give strength to his people, may the Lord bless his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11, ESV).

Ask for his powerful voice.

And ask again…and again…and again.

God Makes No Junk

The events of the past week cannot go unnoticed. Demonstrations. Protests. Hatred. Bigotry. Confusion. Murder. Statues toppled.

Beneath the fallen statues, the bantering of the media, and the seemingly endless analysis of political pundits lies an unalterable truth: life matters. The framers of the Declaration of Independence thought so:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So does God:

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. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

One only has to travel back a few decades in world history to discover a regime that idolized blonde hair and blue eyes and killed six million Jews. Jews weren’t the only ones who lost their lives:

  • 7 million Soviets died.
  • 3 million Soviet prisoners of war died.
  • 1.8 million Polish Civilians died.
  • 220,000 Gypsies, 1900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 70,000 asocials died
  • 250,000 disabled people were killed…for being disabled

Black people matter. White people matter. All people matter. I’m afraid we’ve lost sight of this. This week CBS ran the story about Iceland’s eradication of babies with Down Syndrome.

Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.

Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. According to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015). The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity — and Down syndrome is included in this category.

The common ground between white supremacists and Iceland’s law is eery–life only matters if “I” think it matters.

In 2015, 908,000 babies were aborted.

Abortion advocates, white supremacists and Iceland’s “deformity” law advocates find themselves on the same shaky ground: “we” should determine when life matters.

Yet Scripture is clear: life matters for blacks, whites, latinos, unborn babies, down syndrome babies, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, because God created them, and therefore loves them.

Though marred by sin, we are all created in his image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

God makes no junk.

And after he created them, when they had blown it, he sent his Son Jesus to die for them.

And Jesus didn’t die for junk.

Preparing Yourself for Communion

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, ESV)

Paul issues a serious warning in these verses. Unfortunately, this has caused some people to dread communion. It shouldn’t.  Rather than dread, these verses ought to provide an ample warning–much like a professor gives you before you take your final exam. So here is how you can prepare:

  • Pray Psalm 139:23-24 Search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
  • Practice Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)
  • Ponder the Passion of Christ. Mark 15:33-39 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. [38] And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (ESV)
  • Praise the risen Christ. This song will help.

How to Pray When You’ve Blown It

Avid notetakers told me Sunday was a note-taking frenzy. I hear you. Here are highlights from Sunday’s sermon. Take whatever you want, cut and paste it, and hopefully God will imprint it on your hearts. I love seeing pens and journals in hand–love it! You guys preach me to death!

  • Has it ever occurred to you that, when we sin, we hurt the people we love the most.
  • Sin will take you farther than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you intended to pay.
  1. Own your sin
    • Transgression—going beyond a limit that has been set
    • Sin—missing the mark because you deliberately aim at a wrong one
    • Iniquity—lack of integrity; failure to fulfill the standard of righteousness
    • God will not forgive what you will not forsake.
    • Have you ever owned the fact that you are a sinner by nature?
    • Are you intentionally aiming at the wrong mark—living in rebellion?
    • Are you right now going beyond a limit that has been set?
  2. Be real about your temptations.
    • Godly sinners pray.
    • No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
    • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13, ESV)
    • Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41, ESV)
    • And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Luke 17:1, ESV)
    • God will not redeem what you will not renounce.
    • Be real with God and others.
  3. Follow God’s counsel.
    • Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV)
    • 3 principles of sowing and reaping: You reap what you sow.  You reap after you sow.  You reap more than you sow.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!  (Psalm 32:1-2; 10-11)

How can David call himself righteous after everything he had done? Was it his righteous deeds? Not all all! He is only righteous, because God, through his forgiveness, has made him righteous. So it is with you. If you have trusted Jesus, if you’ve ever owned your sin, you must take it to the cross. There you will see Jesus hanging, bleeding, dying for you.  If you will renounce your sin, receive Jesus as your Savior, he will come immediately into your life. He will be your Savior and your Lord. He will declare you righteous. Only then will be you extremely happy (blessed).