He Will Hold Me Fast

Play the video and read (or sing if you wish) the words. You may have forgotten this since Sunday. We will be reminded of this again Sunday at 9:15 when we’re all “together” around God’s word, “with” his people, singing his songs.  I can’t wait to worship with you.

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.
When the tempter would prevail, he will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold, through life’s fearful path.
For my love is often cold, he must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast.
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.

Those he saves are his delight, Christ will hold me fast.
Precious in his holy sight, he will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost, His promises shall last.
Bought by Him at such a cost, he will hold me fast.

He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast.
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.

For my life he bled and died, Christ will hold me fast.
Justice has been satisfied, he will hold me fast.
Raised with him to endless life, he will hold me fast.
Til our faith is turned to sight, when He comes at last.

He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast.
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.

He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast.
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.

‘Til the Storm Passes By

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.

What is your song? When life unravels, what fills your mind? The content of David’s song emerges in verse 10: your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. When life is unsteady, God is. God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds. In other words, when David can only see the walls of the cave with his physical eyes, his eyes of faith see the faithfulness of God extending to the clouds.

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).

I love the determination and faith of the phrase till the storms of destruction pass by. David knew he wouldn’t be in the cave forever. Neither will you. One day we will emerge from this unexpected trial. The sun will shine again.

“How can you be so sure?” you ask. Easter. Yes, Easter!

In between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday was Silent Saturday. Mary and her friends mourned. Peter wept. Judas lay dead. The world was silent. Hope seemed lost. But Silent Saturday gave way to Resurrection Sunday. Jesus rose! Everything I believe is staked on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I live my life by it, preach with its shadow long and constant over my sermons, lead with its hope waving like a victory flag over a conquered land.

Silent Saturdays give way to Resurrection Sundays.

You see, David wasn’t the only one who went down into a cave. Jesus did too! But while in his cave, Jesus marched down into hell, took the keys to death, hell and the grave from Satan, and rose victoriously on the third day. It’s a silent Saturday right now…but resurrection Sunday is coming.

This old song is built on Psalm 57:1. Take time to take it in. This storm will pass by.

Don’t Grow Weary In Doing Well

The last two days I have spent with our Emergency Management department in McDowell County. Monday afternoon I sat in a room with leaders of every county agency in our first (of many) coordination meetings. One phrase came to mind as I listened to leaders share ideas, resources and solutions: competent compassion. We are blessed in McDowell County with competent, compassionate leaders.

I am convinced that in any crisis we have a choice: underprepare and be overwhelmed, overprepare and perhaps (hopefully) be underwhelmed. I always prefer the latter.

So what does competent compassion look like?

Competent compassion faces facts honestly

The threat is real. To ignore it is to ignore what’s happened around the world. This differs from the flu in two primary ways: it is highly contagious and has a higher morbidity rate among those who are at risk. We have an invisible enemy that is no respecter of persons. Someone can be contagious without being symptomatic. The coronavirus is a formidable enemy. Competent compassion faces that reality.

Competent compassion collaborates

At Monday’s meeting, our leaders brought their ideas, resources and personnel to bear on this problem. One thing no one brought: their egos. Everyone checked their egos at the door. Competent compassion focuses on others, not ourselves. Competent compassion has a singular focus: eradicating the problem that is threatening those under our care. As government, law enforcement, school, emergency and church leaders of McDowell County, we are committed to doing our best to protect and provide. I know we are committed to that.

Competent compassion cares

If competent compassion had a single-worded definition it is sacrifice. Competent compassion puts others before ourselves. The reality is that this virus is most deadly to older people. Just because you are young doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible. What makes you feel bad can cause someone else to die. If you’re young, serve in two ways: by helping others who need your help (go to mcdowellcares.com and sign up on “I Can Help”), and by staying away from large gatherings (where you can contract the virus and unknowingly pass it to someone at risk).

One final word: God is for us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, ESV)

We cannot forget this. God has met our greatest need. And if he will meet our greatest need, he will not neglect our lesser needs.

A Needed Tuesday Tune-up

tunemyheartCome, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

I’ve sung this song for years…and for all those years I wondered what an ebenezer was. A couple of years ago, while reading 1 Samuel 7 I came across the word:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV)

The ebenezer stone had one purpose–to remind the Israelites of how God had helped them. What you don’t see in the summary of verse 12 is the near defeat the Israelites avoided. The Philistines came storming in “But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.” (1 Samuel 7:10 ESV) To remember that victory they chose a stone and called it their “ebenezer”–their stone of help. Ebenezer simply means “stone of help.”

Till now the Lord has helped us.

How has God helped you? Here I raise mine Ebenezer. What does your ebenezer represent? What has God done for you lately?

Today, pause to raise a “stone of help.” Mark today by remembering the gracious work of God in your life. Thank him specifically for what he has done.

Don’t allow the trials of today to cloud the victories of yesterday. Don’t let the worries about tomorrow erase God’s faithfulness today.

Raise an ebenezer. Write it down. Remember the time when God worked. And thank him.

Thank God? Even Now?

As we live in unprecedented times and continue to chart an unforeseen course, our response becomes ever increasingly important. And Scripture has an unrelenting command: be thankful in all things. Be thankful. In all things? But how? And now?

Psalm 136 gives us real reasons for gratitude regardless of our current circumstances. You see, in the midst of the coronavirus, some of you are still fighting your cancer, still battling through an unwanted divorce, still reeling from the miscarriage, still sitting beside the bed of your dying loved one. Some are still wondering if you’re going to be able to graduate on time or pay your bills.

Notice that God does not tell us to give thanks for all things, but in all things.

The only way to give thanks in all things when you can’t give thanks for all things is to find something for which you can be thankful.

Psalm 136 narrows the reason we can be grateful to one thing: God’s steadfast love. Steadfast love is actually one word in Hebrew. It has been translated lovingkindness, mercy, faithful love, grace. The Message paraphrase says “His love never quits.” The word is difficult to interpret because it only can be said of God. God alone is steadfast love.

“God is love” is actually not the same as “God is loving” or “God shows love,” though both of these are, of course true. A God who is loving might be a God who decides to be loving only at times, but no more. The never-lonely, never-needy, majestic and holy God is triune love.–Lewis Allen

God cannot help but show love because He is love. Now to be sure, our human definition of love and the love of God are sometimes far from one another. Psalm 136 qualifies God’s love. From it learn how God showed (and still shows) his love for us.

God loves us by creating.

As I’m writing this I can hear the birds singing. God loves us. The sun is rising, though behind the clouds. God loves us. A gentle rain has fallen during the night. God loves us. Trees are budding. God loves us. Daffodils are in full bloom. God loves us. The Psalmist describes God spreading the earth above the waters, creating the sun, moon and stars. God has created an orderly universe because He loves us. As much disorder and chaos may be going on here, the earth is still spinning on its axis, there are 24 hours in a day, and today is March 16, 2020. God loves us.

God loves us by saving us.

Israel was in Egypt and God brought them out. This is the most oft referred to event in Israel’s history.  To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, and brought Israel out from among them, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, to him who divided the Red Sea in two, and made Israel pass through the midst of it, but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, to him who led his people through the wilderness. God showed his love to the Israelites by saving them. If you know Christ, it is because He saved you. You did nothing to save yourself. God sent his only Son because he was the only sinless substitute for your sin.

GRwXwKzHQt+owhu7Uly3lAOn my desk in my home office is a small cross made of olive wood. When I prepare sermons I lay it across the pages of commentaries to hold them down. It is foremost a reminder of God’s great saving act in history, and in my life. God saved me when I was lost in my sin, a rebel without reason, deserving his wrath–his lovingkindness.

God saves us by keeping us.

God didn’t bring the Israelites out of Egypt and forget about them. No! A thousand times no! The Psalmist remembers how God kept his people: He struck down great kings, and killed mighty kings, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to Israel his servant.

God can turn our worst nightmare into an inheritance.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:23-25, ESV)

God has not forgotten you. He knows the news before it breaks, knows the prognosis before the diagnosis, knows the pain before the ache. He has not forgotten you.

One day, by his grace we will look back on this historic time. We will look back on the coronavirus. I ask you (and me too)…how will we remember God?

So today, start writing. Use whatever works for you. For me, it’s a journal. For you it may be a dry erase board. Write every day (and through the day if you must) what you can be grateful for. Get your kids to do the same.

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:26, ESV)

God
loves
steadfastly
forever
.

How to Calm Yourself

 

catawba_falls_1

Catawba Falls

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD 
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3, ESV) 

In this Psalm, King David (don’t miss that), says there are some things too high for him. And he is the king of Israel! The same is true for you and me. Some things are above our pay grade, beyond our capacity to change.

Steven Covey talks about our circle of influence and circle of concern.

circle

Our circle of influence is what we can directly influence, where we have some control. It’s your own life. Your family. Your workplace. This is where our active energy should be spent. God has sovereignly given you a circle of influence. Exercise influence as God allows and empowers you.

The circle of concern is comprised of things that concern you but you cannot control. Specific to the corona virus, there are many things we cannot control. Italy’s problems are real…but out of our control. What’s happening in NYC or Australia may concern us, but we cannot affect it, or even respond to it.

When you spend your time and energy focused on the circle of concern, you worry instead of work, fret instead of faithfully respond.

David says, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” We shouldn’t either.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” The way to calm is to focus on the circle of influence, not the circle of concern. Here are two practical suggestions:

  • Do what you can in your circle of influence.
  • Pray about the rest. (People in China, Italy…wherever the effect seems to be the worst)

O (McDowell County) hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever more.

 

3 Reasons I’m Hopeful…Even Now

The news isn’t encouraging. That’s an understatement. The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. The pending threat of a pandemic outbreak is real. But I am hopeful. I really am. Here’s why.

We know how to take care of each other.

We have a track record in McDowell County of taking care of one another. Eleven years ago when gas prices skyrocketed and food prices soared, and the unemployment rate in McDowell County was on the rise (eventually reaching 16% in early 2009), we came together to feed hungry children. Called Lunch Bunch, churches, businesses, the local newspaper and individuals said “not on my watch” will kids go hungry. Since then we have provided food for 500 kids a summer–McDowell Countians have given more than $500,000 to make that happen. No grants. Just people helping each other. We know how to take care of each other.

We know how to work together.

We have the best Emergency Management Department in the state, led by compassionate and capable people. We have compassionate and capable leaders in every sector of our local government–they care about the people of McDowell County more than themselves. Last year when our county was threatened by repeated floods, I sat in a room with a team of remarkable leaders. Everyone checked their egos at the door and we offered our resources–whatever we had–to get us through. The CEO of the hospital, County Manager, Superintendent of Schools, Sheriff, leaders of other law enforcement agencies, Director of the Department of Social Services, and many more…put our heads and hearts together to do whatever we could to make McDowell Countians safe. We know how to work together.

We know how to trust God.

Psalm 112 is my “goto” Psalm when my trust in God falters. It begins with promises I’ve clung to more than once.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. (Psalm 112:2-3, ESV)

It then turns to the inevitable reality of life. It is from these words that we glean timeless truths we can hold onto during temporary bouts of difficulty.

Darkness must give way to light.

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.  (Psalm 112:4, ESV)

 The upright, happy, blessed person who fears the Lord will still face darkness. Just as day gives way to night, dark times are inevitable. However, for the God-fearing, Jesus-delighting follower, darkness must give way to light.

We can help–not hoard.

It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. (Psalm 112:6,9, ESV)

Notice how the righteous person responds in crisis, in dark times: he or she deals generously and lends. She distributes freely. He gives to the poor. Already shelves are emptying as people “panic-buy” in light of the approaching crisis. Christians have a history of running “to” the crisis, not away from it. We go to the epicenter of earthquakes, rush to ground zero of hurricanes. We give instead of take, go instead of stay, help instead of hoard. The coronavirus must be no different. Begin thinking now, how can I help? I promise you, this will change your mindset.

We can trust–not be terrified.

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. (Psalm 112:7-8, ESV)

Bad news is inevitable. No one is saying that the coronavirus isn’t bad news. For some, it can be dangerous. For others, it is simply threatening. For all of us it’s real. But it isn’t the end. It’s bad, and it makes for bad news. When bad news comes, we have a choice. A steady heart is a trusting heart. A firm heart is a trusting heart. God is trustworthy. He’s brought us through before and will do it again.

None of Psalm 112 calls for abandoning wisdom. Wash your hands, cover your cough, take care of yourself.

And if it rolls into our county, I can’t wait to see how God will work…and we will too. We will “look in triumph on our adversaries.”

O (your name here) Trust in the Lord

We are all prone to glory stealing. Somebody says something really funny. We quote it and don’t give them credit. Someone has a great idea-by the time it comes out of our mouth, it’s ours. We climb the ladder of success and forget key people who put rungs in that ladder for us. We are all prone to glory stealing.

We’ve gotten too good at stealing God’s glory. We wake up, and somehow assume we got ourselves through the night. We take a hot shower, eat a hot meal, enjoy a warm home…and assume that we gave ourselves the health and presence of mind to work and earn a living, to pay our bills. We write a blog and think somehow we made ourselves smart enough to put words into sentences. Down deep we are convicted felons, glory thieves.

In Psalm 115, the Psalmist talks to himself: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (verse 1) The Psalmist makes clear that it is because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that we have what we have and can do what we can do.

But life takes a dark and downward turn when we steal God’s glory–we give it to someone or something else. We make idols. John Calvin said that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.” When we make idols, verse 2 of Psalm 115 becomes the norm for our lives: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases.” We could ask, “Why should (my friends, my family, my coworkers, my neighbors) say, “Where is his God? Where is her God?”

Our friends, family and neighbors ask, “where is their God,” because we make idols. Verses 4-8 describe those idols:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Psalm 115: 4-8, ESV)

Idols cannot talk to you, see you, hear you, smell you, feel you, or come to you. They are immobile, inoperable, incapable substitutes for God. Whether your idol is your child, your grandchild, your job, your appearance, your health, your reputation, your athletic ability, your intellectual capacity, your choice drug, sex, food or your wealth–it is mute, blind, deaf–insensitive. Idols are merciless, autocratic, demanding, unrelenting nothingness disguised by shiny silver and glistening gold. When we trust them, we become like them. We become merciless, autocratic, demanding, unrelenting nothingness disguised by shiny silver and glistening gold.

Idols desensitize, depersonalize, devalue, debilitate, dehumanize.

“O Israel,” the Psalmist writes, “trust in the Lord!” I implore you (and me too) to put my name in the next few lines:

O (your name here), trust in the Lord. He is your help and your shield.

Three times this is repeated. God is not mute. He is not deaf. He can come to you. And he will. Ask the prodigal son. He wasted his inheritance on idols–shiny silver and glistening gold–and ended up eating pig slop. When he “came to his senses” he remembered his father. He ran home. But he could not get all the way home because his father ran to meet him, embraced him–pig slop and all–and threw a party. That’s the rest of this Psalm!

The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great. May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 115:12-15, ESV)

As you read this, whoever you are, wherever you are, you may have eaten from the proverbial pig pen last night. You have a Father, sitting on his front porch, looking longingly down the road waiting for you to come home. He has not forgotten you, and he won’t.

O (put your name here) trust in the Lord.

With God We Shall Do Valiantly

David was a warrior, poem-writing, God-worshiping, singing king. Though his primary task was to expand Israel’s borders, he was also comfortable with a harp in his hands. Under his leadership, Israel went from a disjointed group of settlers to a nation. But one thing David knew is that he could only prevail with God. In Psalm 108 David writes about the reason for his success.

My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer me! (Psalm 108:1-6, ESV)
On this occasion, David has put down his sword and taken up the harp and lyre. Why? Because his heart is in a good place. He is worshiping God amidst “the peoples.” Who were they? Defeated enemies! The “peoples” were those who possessed the land God told David to take. In verses 7-9 he refers to them:
God has promised in his holiness:
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.” (Psalm 107:8-9, ESV)
David moves from north to south. He’s recounting victories, remembering God’s faithfulness. God promised He would give Israel those territories. All David did was to act on those promises. But the victories remain incomplete…Edom, to the south, is not yet won.
Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
Oh grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes. (Psalm 108:10-13, ESV)
We all live there…between the victories God has won and the victories yet to be had. We live between the already and not yet. We stare at our own fortified cities, almost seemingly unscalable walls, impossible problems, apparent fatal sins. David’s confession (and he was a successful man to make such a confession!) is that “vain is the salvation of man.) Only with God will we do valiantly.
Do you believe that? This new song affirms that. Sing! Worship. Regardless.

 

I Resolve to Make No Resolutions

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. There are all the typical reasons: when I make them and don’t keep them, I feel guilty. When I make them and do keep them, I feel proud. If I don’t make them, I feel like a failure. While I’m being a bit dramatic, the reality is that New Year’s Resolutions end up fizzling out by February–ask any gym how their traffic count decreases from January 1 to February 1!

However, the New Year shouldn’t be wasted on us. Let me encourage you to consider New Year’s rhythms: practices that will change your life a little bit at a time. You should think of these as changes in your daily or weekly routine. Studies show that you need to do something for 70 days in order for it to become a habit–to become second nature.

Think spiritual disciplines: practices that will help you grow in your walk with God.  In 2019, I found great encouragement from Justin Earley’s book Common Rule. He advocates four daily habits and four weekly habits. Let me encourage you to use these as a template and develop your own rhythms.

His daily habits are:

  • Scripture before phone: before you touch your phone, get in the Word.
  • Kneeling prayer three times a day: nothing elaborate, simply humbling yourself before God throughout the day. Frames the day.
  • One meal with others: engages you with someone else who can speak truth into your life, or simply enjoy life with you.
  • One hour with phone off. We all need a break.

His weekly habits are:

  • Conversation with a friend: a meaningful conversation with someone who knows you and loves you.
  • Curate media. Determine how many hours a week you’ll take in media. This is hard!
  • Fast: from food typically, but can be something else.
  • Sabbath. If you work with your mind, Sabbath with your body (do manual work) and vice versa.

The joy of developing rhythms is that you can easily course correct. If you get off track, simply get back on track the next day.

I’ll write more about this in 2020…check in with you to see how you’re doing. Praying this is the best year ever, and that by the end of it, you will know Jesus better than you ever have.