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/)

 

God’s Voice is Greater than Your Fear

Take a few moments and read this. Take it in. Don’t read it too quickly.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. 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!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29, ESV)

God’s voice is loud enough to be heard over the roar of the waters. Water was the primary source of fear for Israel. Remember that, in order to leave Egypt, they had to cross the Red Sea. In order to enter the Promised Land, they had to cross the Jordan River. And the Philistines, Israel’s bitter enemy, came to Israel across the Mediterranean Sea. This is why Revelation 21:1 says that, in the new heaven and new earth, there will be no more sea.

So what does this mean for you and me? God’s majestic voice is more powerful than your greatest fear, your darkest nightmare, your most feared diagnosis, your unexpected setback. God’s voice breaks cedars, spews fire, makes the deer give birth and strips the forest bare.

No wonder the Psalmist erupts in a prayer combined with a praise at the end: May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

And that is my prayer for you today. The Lord, whose very voice is more powerful than anything we can do, is able to give you strength and speak peace into your fear. Now take a few minutes and listen to this powerful song, sung by a local church choir from Arkansas:

Praying Through Anxiety

Every day I talk with someone who deals with fear or anxiety. If your personal life isn’t falling apart, 5 minutes of the news reveals a world seemingly spinning out of control. This week I discovered a resource from Biblestudytools.com.  Use this as a prayer guide when you’re afraid.

  1. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) God, I acknowledge my need for you today. I pray that you would breathe peace onto me through your Holy Spirit. Guard my heart. Show me how to protect my mind. I am weak on my own and so I fall back on your strength today.
  2. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3) Jesus, I put my trust in you today. Anxious thoughts are taking over my mind, and it’s easy to take my eyes off of you when I feel afraid. Remind me of who you are. Pour out your love on me, that I might remember you are always good and always faithful, especially when I am afraid.
  3. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)  Lord Jesus, thank you for always being with me. Your name, Immanuel, means God with us. I’m so grateful today that you are near me no matter what anxious thoughts try to creep into my mind. Thank you for being my strength when I am weak. You are faithful always. I love you, Lord, and I rely on you today and every day. Amen.
  4. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) God, thank you for this truth. Thank you for the gifts you bestow on us–gifts that help ease our anxious spirits and remind us of who we are in Christ. Thank you for giving us power to fight the lies. Thank you for loving us even in our brokenness.
  5. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)  Lord Jesus, we know in you we are conquerors. Sometimes, it can feel so hard to believe that. We don’t feel strong or courageous, and we worry relentlessly about our lives and circumstances. Remind us today that we are strong in you.
  6. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) Lord, my heart is broken. My mind is restless and my spirit is uneasy. When I feel broken down or defeated, I want to run to you, knowing you are always present and always near. Comfort me, Jesus.
  7. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. (Proverbs 12:25) Jesus, my anxious heart is weighing me down today. I confess that I have become consumed by my own thoughts and I have lost sight of who you are. Speak kindly to my heart, Lord, and remind me of what is true. Thank you for your forgiveness and your endless grace for me.
  8. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15) Dear Lord, it is my deep desire that your peace would rule in my heart. When I feel uneasy or unsettled, I want to know you are near me. Calm my fears, settle my spirit, and bring rest to my heart as I surrender myself to you today.
  9. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11) Lord, thank you for giving me strength. On the hard days, help me to remember you are never far away. Your strength is always fighting for me–I need only to be still in your presence. Thank you for bringing peace to me. Thank you for every blessing. I want to name and remember them today, for you are always good. Amen.

I love songs. This one will serve as a good backdrop to this prayer.

Forgotten

Wendy and I have had our fair share of waiting on doctors. Just this year Trent has seen five different doctors–we have waited in all kinds of doctor’s offices. Once we waited…and waited…and waited only to discover that they had forgotten we were there! They felt terrible. Sometimes despite people’s best intentions they forget you. Joseph was forgotten.

While Joseph was in prison the cupbearer and the baker showed up because they offended the Pharaoh. Joseph was appointed to take care of them. One night both of them had a dream. I love how Joseph responded to them the next day. Don’t miss this. Joseph is unfairly imprisoned. He has done nothing to deserve his sentence. Listen in on his conversation with the baker and the cupbearer:

When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (Genesis 40:6-8 ESV)

Joseph, who could have been wallowing in self pity, noticed the troubled faces of his fellow inmates. Their dilemma? Dreams. The last thing Joseph wants to hear about is dreams. His dreams landed him in a pit, then Potiphar’s house, and now a prison. Why would he care about two foreigner’s dreams. But he did. He cared for them.

Not only did he care for them, he kept his faith in God. Do not interpretations belong to God? Joseph’s faith in God never faltered. In the midst of his unfair treatment, he trusted in a just God.

They told him their dreams. He interpreted them and then made a simple request of the cupbearer. Listen to his passionate plea:

In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” (Genesis 40:13-15 ESV)

Note Joseph’s words: Only remember me. Please do me the kindness. Get me out of this house. I was stolen. I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. Don’t ever think Joseph got used to his unfair treatment. Do not allow yourself to believe that Joseph was super spiritual and never felt the sting of rejection. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Joseph never wrestled the fear of abandonment. He never got used to the prison. He never grew accustomed to incarceration. He wanted out.

The cupbearer’s life was spared and he was restored to his former position with the Pharaoh. But what about Joseph?

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:23 ESV)

Forgotten? God hasn’t forgotten you. Some estimate that Joseph stayed another two years in prison after his passionate plea to the cupbearer. Tomorrow we’ll see what happened when the Pharaoh sent for him.

All Before the Almighty

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8 ESV)

Waiting is more bearable when you trust the person you’re waiting for. Psalm 62 is all about waiting…waiting for God, longing for Him through the ups and downs of life. Advent is about waiting–400 years of silence separated the Old Testament prophets from the angel’s announcement that the Messiah was on his way.  Imagine a world without your favorite podcast, your Christian music stations, or a stirring worship service. Would you still trust God if you didn’t hear His voice?

To a longing soul the silences of God are almost unbearable. What do you do when God is silent? How do you react when silence is as thick as the darkness around you? David says, “Trust.” Trust in him at all times.

All means all. Webster adds, “the whole, total amount, quantity or extent of.”

In short, all means “all.” Trust in God at all times. This may surprise you but sometimes it is hardest to trust God when things are good. We are prone to think we accomplished something, we figured it out, we made it happen. We trust ourselves instead of God. Sometimes we trust others instead of God. We think our spouse can fill the emptiness, our friend can fill the void, or a new relationship is all we need.  At times we trust other things instead of God. We rely on our bank account, our success at work, our academic achievements.  Often we trust our health instead of God. We feel invincible, as if nothing can happen to change our current status.

None of these is ultimately trustworthy. Money fails. Health wanes. Friends disappoint. Work wearies.

It’s almost as if you can hear the pleading in David’s voice when he says, “O people; pour out your heart before him.” When God is silent, don’t stop praying. When your praying seems ineffective, pour out your heart before him. Don’t substitute others or other things. At all times pour out your heart before the Almighty.

Why? Because God is a refuge for us. He is a safe place. He can handle your cries. David also said…

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8 ESV)

God counts your sleepless nights.  God bottles your tears. God journals your fears.

O, people pour out your heart before him.

I Will Not Be Greatly Shaken

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 61:1-2)

Waiting can be exhilarating or excruciating. Airports unveil both the excitement and the misery. I once sat in an un-airconditioned plane for more than an hour on the tarmac because we couldn’t “take off yet.” On the other hand, I have watched moms hug their sons they haven’t seen in months, seen children run into the arms of their fathers and watched a soldier relish the embrace of his wife. Waiting is both exhilarating and excruciating.

What changes how you wait is who you’re waiting for. In Psalm 62 David says, “For God alone.” Often we wait for what God brings, not for God Himself. At this time of year it is a timely reminder that God is not a divine Santa, He is a dear Savior. David says, “from him comes my salvation.”

On this Sunday morning as you come into worship we will have a time of silent waiting.  As you wait reflect on the God who is your salvation. If you are a born again follower of Christ, He saved you. If you have gone out of darkness into light, He led you out. If you were “sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore” then his “love lifted you.”

When God rescues you, you are secure. You can say with David, “I will not be greatly shaken.”

Whatever seems to have a hold on you stands no chance. God’s grip is greater than your strongest temptation, your bitterest enemy, your greatest fear.

Joseph Could Have Divorced Her!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Things could have turned out so differently. Joseph had options. After all, Mary, his fiancé was pregnant. Joseph was a good man, described by Matthew as just and unwilling to embarrass Mary. He thought he knew her until she showed up one day with the off the wall explanation for her unexpected pregnancy: God did it! She had to be out of her mind! Joseph was stuck between a rock and hard place. The love of his life was pregnant and blaming God. He loved God (and her) enough not to want to embarrass her. A quiet divorce was the answer–until God showed up.

But as he considered these things. Aren’t you glad God invades our space “as we are considering things.” Our “considering” is so limited. God knows what we don’t know, sees what we don’t see, and can handle what we can’t handle.  Joseph woke up with a new vision.  We’ll see exactly what that entails tomorrow!

What are you “considering” today that God wants to weigh in on?

God is With Us

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:10-14

Ahaz was king of Judah and found himself in a difficult spot. He was threatened by Israel and Syria to the north. Their kings threatened to join forces and invade Judah to the south. God wanted to speak to Ahaz regarding this but Ahaz was afraid to ask for a sign from God. God gave Ahaz infinite parameters: the sign could be as high as heaven and deep as hell! Ahaz saw asking God for a sign as putting God to the test.

God ignored Ahaz’s hesitancy and answered him anyway! As a matter of fact, the language suggests that God was wearied by Ahaz’s refusal to ask for what he needed. So God answered the question Ahaz never asked! His answer: I will be with you. The sign was both for Ahaz and for us.

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. Isaiah 7:16

In Ahaz’s day, a woman conceived and gave birth to a boy and named him Immanuel. By the time the boy was weaned Israel and Syria had fallen and were no longer a threat to Judah. God made a promise and kept it.  Tomorrow we will see how Joseph struggled just like Ahaz…and again God showed up and answered.

What do you need to ask God for today? What are you afraid to mention? Embarrassed? Shy? Hesitant? Don’t weary Him…ask!