Singing Anyone?

bear-1124548_960_720What if I don’t want to sing? God commands us to sing in numerous passages, such as Psalm 95, 96, 100, & Colossians 3:16. While I am sharing a message series about worship with my church family, I have reminded all of us that God established singing in our DNA. While we are made to sing, and God has commanded us to sing, what if we don’t want to sing? Has that ever happened to you? Some people don’t want to sing because they believe they sound horrible. Others have lost their song due to personal struggles and disappointments.

Let’s first of all acknowledge that it’s not abnormal to lose our song, or never have one to start with. For those who believe they are doing humanity a favor by not singing, I think the solution to the problem is that they must change their thinking. Think back to watching your two-year old daughter dancing for you or your young son swinging a baseball bat and dribbling a ball five feet from the tee. You loved it and applauded your little ones. Our singing is not for us. On the most part, it’s not even for the people around us (though I’ll share some thoughts about that in my next blog). God made us to sing for Himself. If you don’t want to sing because you think you can’t, actually, you can. You may not sing well, but you can make a joyful noise. Give it a try. First and foremost, it will put a smile on the face of your Heavenly Father. Worship is about Him and not you.

We face other challenges that may steal the song from our hearts. We may be struggling with financial problems, health challenges, or relationship issues. Singing is an interesting thing. Not only can singing be the overflow of a joyful heart, but it can also be the cause of a joyful heart. Singing is therapeutic. Worshipping God with a song in our heart always takes us to a new place in our spirit. When we feel down about something, worshipping God always brings new perspective on our circumstances. Scientists have determined that singing releases endorphins in our body that bring about feelings of pleasure and joy. It also releases Oxytocin, which creates feelings of trust and bonding, helping us overcome struggles with depression and loneliness. God loves us so much. It’s no wonder He commands us to sing.

What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. Singing and worshipping Almighty God is just the prescription you need to take you to a new place in your life. While worshipping God is about God first, it’s amazing how we ultimately benefit by putting God first. Christmas is a great time to make a shift in our song. Why not start today by finding a song in your heart. Maybe you could start with “Joy to the World.”

Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-picturesAlthough the Pilgrims set aside a day of thanksgiving in 1621, Governor William Bradford, governor of the Pilgrim’s Plymouth Colony, formally declared a day of thanksgiving in 1623 with these words:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

On this day of Thanksgiving 393 years later, we all share similar sentiments. God has given us an abundant harvest of His provision, and He has protected us from the savage attacks of countries and terrorists who hate us. He has spared us from disease and granted us freedom to worship Him. We have much for which to give Him thanks.

I am thankful for a God who loves me with a love that can’t be measured, redeemed me with a price that can’t be earned, filled me with a peace that can’t be understood, and secured me with a hope that can’t be conquered. He’s given me the joy of my family, the community of my church, the mission field of His world, and a home that is eternal. I am a blessed man indeed. I have a wife who loves me, children who honor me, and a church who gives me the privilege to serve. I could die today a very contented man.

Today, on this Thanksgiving Day, I can only say with the great hymn writer: Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Healing for America as we Seek God’s Face

prayer22 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Today is the day. So much will be determined about our future by the casting of ballots, and a lot hangs in the balance. At the same time, God is not limited by what happens today. Regardless of who becomes our next president or representative or senator, God is still on His throne. His plan will not be thwarted and His purpose will not go unfulfilled. We can find great comfort today in knowing that God’s will is not dependent upon our opinions and actions.

Regardless of today’s outcome, America is in dire need of renewal. Our renewal, however, does not need only to come in the form of new initiatives, new laws, and new Supreme Court justices. We have a much deeper need than that. We need spiritual renewal and revival. God says that He will heal our land if His people will humble themselves and pray. He also calls us to seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.

Seeking God’s face is a call to authenticity and transparency before a holy God Who already knows all things. Looking into the eyes of our Heavenly Father is an invitation for Him to look deep into our souls and see everything. Such divine scrutiny always leads to repentance in the lives of God’s children. We cannot maintain our heavenly gaze unless we’re willing to repent. We either seek God’s face and enjoy the refreshing grace of a merciful God, or we turn away and continue in our destructive patterns and rebellion.

Seeking God’s face also calls for a relationship. God never intended us to just obey Him. He also wants us to love Him. We can be rule followers and still be far from God. It’s like the strong-willed little boy who finally sat down after being told to do so by his mother one hundred times. He replied, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside.” God doesn’t just want outward conformity. He wants an inner relationship. God has many things He wants to do in your life, but He can only do them in the context of love.

Seeking God’s face also means gaining God’s approval. Imagine the nod of God’s eternal head as He watches the lives of His children. God says that he will bring healing to our land when His people live in such a way as to please the heart of our Heavenly Father. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the world and begin comparing ourselves to the wrong standard. My mother used to remind me that it didn’t matter what my friends did because they weren’t the standard. Our only standard is Jesus Christ and His Word. If you want God’s healing in our land, in your family, or in your life, seek God’s face by living in obedience to His will.

We want God to heal our land; therefore, it means that we must fall on our face in prayer and seek His face. We must humble ourselves and continue to pray as we repent of our sins and intercede for our land. If God’s people will do that, God will respond and heal our land. May we join our hearts together and plea for the soul of America.

Family Devotion by Amy Autry

Getting Started: Take a piece of paper. Have a member of the family rip the paper into smaller pieces. As a family work to put the paper back together. Like this piece of paper, it started out perfect. Our actions tore into tiny pieces. We can try to put it back together, but we cannot make it look like it did before. It is the same with sin. We cannot do it by ourselves. Only God can restore us after we have sinned.

Bible Time:

Read 1 John 1:5-10

When God created the world, he created us in His image and there was no sin. In verse 5, John tells his readers that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness.” We were created to have a perfect relationship with God where there was no sin. Sin is anything we think, say, or do that disobeys God. Soon after God created people, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God.

Because of sin our relationship with God was broken. Verse 6 tells us that we cannot have fellowship with God if we continue to sin. Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Sin separates us from God, but God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to take our punishment for disobeying God. God tells us that if we repent of our sin, our relationship with Him will be restored. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

When we ask God to be our Lord, it doesn’t mean that we will never mess up. God wants us to constantly confess, or repent of our sins and turn back to Him. Repent means that we are turning away from our sin and turning back to following God. God promises that when we repent, he will forgive our sins as if they never happened and our relationship with Him is restored.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is sin? (Anything we think, say or do that disobeys God)
  • Who has sinned? (Everyone)
  • What does God do when we confess our sin? (He forgives us and restores our relationship with Him.)

 

Spend some time praying and asking God to forgive any sin in your life. If your child is asking questions about salvation, spend time discussing what it means to follow Christ.

God’s Mercy

chainsofsinElevation Church Worship Band recorded a wonderful song about God’s mercy entitled Mercy Reigns. Here are a few of the lyrics:

My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave Your love is great enough to take away my shame Your mercy reigns My God is making new the wreckage of my heart Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark Your mercy reigns; Your mercy covers me Your grace sustains; Your grace is all I need

Mercy is an important theme in the Bible, and the word is used a number of times throughout Scripture. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of a particular English word in the Bible because the Bible was not written in English. You may find several different words in the original text that could be translated mercy or another word that is similar. For example, Lamentations 3:22-23 are some of my favorite verses about mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Henry Morris mentioned in one of his articles that there are four Hebrew words and three Greek words associated with the word “mercy” and these words are used a total of 454 times in the Bible. Wow!

Often times, grace is used synonymously with mercy, but they’re two different concepts. Grace is often thought of as undeserved favor. I once heard someone say that grace is getting something we do not deserve. Mercy, however, is more connected to withholding judgment. If grace is getting what we do not deserve – forgiveness, mercy is not getting what we do deserve – condemnation. Here’s an interesting thought. God mentions mercy more than grace in the Bible. I don’t really think that means one concept is more important than another, but it does make us pause to think about the significance of God holding back the judgment we deserve. We deserve death and hell. It is only because He is a God who is willing to withhold condemnation that we have hope for eternity. God’s mercies indeed never come to an end.

Be Transformed

One tree in field

Transformation! At my church, we have begun a fall spiritual growth campaign called “Transformed,” and I’m really excited about how God is going to use it in our lives. I’ve been thinking a good bit about how God is in the transformation business. It began with Adam and Eve and it continues today in me and you. He takes that which is bad or useless and transforms it into good and useful. One thing that strikes me about transformation is that while God is in the business of changing lives, it really depends upon our willingness to change. I stressed in the first two messages of this series that God is the One who does the transforming, not us, but we have to put ourselves in the place of transformation. This “positioning” requires several things I would like to share.

First, we must long for transformation. We must ask ourselves if we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation is not easy. It is often times painful. When was the last time you lost a significant amount of weight? That’s transformation, and it’s not easy. We must be able to see ourselves as we really are and long for what could be.

Second, we must be willing to incorporate the steps necessary to bring about transformation in our lives. It’s possible that we know what to do to transform our marriage or our finances, but it’s also possible that we’re not really sure. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some principles that will help us with this process of change in my weekly sermon (you can listen to these messages online), and a number of books and resources are also available to help us with needed change in our lives. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to learn from others that God may place in your lives.

Third, we should set some goals in our lives for transformation. Based upon our reading, listening, prayer, and study, we should establish some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed). I always encourage people to write out their goals. What are some goals you have in your life regarding spiritual transformation? What are some things you can do to place yourself in a position of transformation? For example, you could set goals to meet with God every day in Bible reading and prayer or attend worship at your church. What about transformation in your health or finances? What could you do to place yourself in a spot where God can bring transformation in your marriage, your family, or your career? Write out some goals. The series at SonRise will deal with transformation in the following areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, and vocational. Are you willing to set some goals in these areas and see what God can do through your life?

How Do You Say Goodbye to your Mother?

momHow do you say goodbye to your mother? My mother passed away last week. I kissed her the night before she died, told her I loved her, and told her that she would soon see Jesus. It was a sad time when she died the next day, but our sorrow was not for my mom. It was for us. My mother loved Jesus with all of her heart. The scripture is clear that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Even with Alzheimer’s, my mother lived out her faith. Just months before her death, she was not able to talk about much, but she could carry on a conversation about the Word of God. She would sing hymns and pray. A month before she passed, I was at my parent’s house doing some repairs, and my mom walked into the kitchen and said, “I need to pray for you.” We bowed our heads, and she started a prayer. My mother didn’t get past “Dear Heavenly Father,” but God knew exactly what was on her heart. I am confident that the Holy Spirit finished her prayer somewhere in the portals of Heaven.

My mother was passionate about sharing the gospel with everyone in the world. She lived out her passion and influenced thousands and thousands of people all over the world. I know that she personally led over 1000 children to Christ during the 13-year period she was a camp director. I learned last week that she had written a song or chorus. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Many of the grandchildren knew it. All of the grandchildren and great grandchildren (at least those who were old enough to sing) sang her song at her funeral:

Everyone, everywhere needs to know of God’s love; for everyone, everywhere, Jesus came from above
To die on Calvary; His great love for all to see. Everyone, everywhere needs God’s love.

My oldest daughter told me yesterday that her two-year-old daughter asked her daddy to sing to her Grandma’s song. I am confident that my mother’s heart and life’s passion will continue to influence my family and the world for generations to come.

How do you say goodbye to your mother? If you and your mom are Christians, you don’t have to. The Bible is clear that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt my mother is in Heaven. I don’t have to say “goodbye” but rather “I’ll see you later.”

When Evil Prevails

terror

 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-13

 

We all stand in shock at the terrorist attacks in France yesterday. While acts of terrorism are becoming normal in our global culture, it still amazes me that people can go into a theater and start shooting innocent people in the name of their god. I could share my political opinions or even comment on what I think world leaders should do in response to this act of terror, but I prefer to address a deeper issue. We must realize that what we are watching is simply spiritual warfare. The god of this world is wreaking havoc on our world, and we are moving ever closer to the end of time that was prophesied throughout Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that perilous times would come before His return.

How do we respond to this? Our first obvious response is prayer for those who have been personally impacted by this devastation and for our leaders as they consider a proper response. Secondly, we should not be surprised. God told us in His word that calamity would come and evil would show its ugly head. We must remind ourselves that terrorists are not really our main enemy. Even ISIS is not our ultimate enemy. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. The god of this world is our enemy. There is a spiritual battle that is being waged, and ISIS is but a pawn in the hands of the master deceiver.  There are certainly things that our national leaders must do to stop evil in its tracks, and it is my prayer that our president and other political leaders will have the substance needed to take bold stands against this global evil. However, we must see the bigger picture.

Real spiritual battle takes place in other ways. For starters, it begins on our knees. This terrorist attack should call believers to a time of great prayer. Ephesians 6:10 commands us to “be strong in the Lord.” I wrote about this passage in my book Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days, and I find that it has special relevance today.  Any preparation we take for spiritual conflict is built upon us yielding to the power and presence of Christ in us. Then the Ephesians 6 passage continues by telling us to take some steps in our preparation: put on the full armor of God. I urge you to consider the teaching of this passage in light of the spiritual conflict that is going on in our world. The Church of the Lord Jesus must prepare spiritually for what is going on around us. Do not be surprised by terror and persecution; be equipped. God is on His throne, and He will guide you to find strength and hope in the days to come. If you are strong in the Lord and equipped with His spiritual armor, you will be ready for whatever we will face in the days to come.

I have lowered the cost of the digital version of Immovable in hopes that it will be a guide and an encouragement for you during this time. Take steps toward preparing yourselves for the spiritual conflict that will only increase before the return of Christ. Study Ephesians 6:10-18 and Matthew 24 in light of what is going on in our world today. The Bible is clear that God will ultimately win this conflict, so we do not face these battles with hopelessness. We have great hope in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray as never before, prepare for what is to come, engage our enemy on spiritual grounds, and comfort those who hurt. Trust that our faithful God, our Leader in battle, will prevail in the days to come.

The Heart of Worship

praiseMany of you are participating in the “What On Earth Am I Here For?” journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family. Why are you here? Have you determined that God has made you for a reason? He has at least five purposes for your life as outlined in the Bible. We will never find ultimate joy until we are living out our purposes. Rick Warren began the first chapter of his book, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly The Purpose-Driven Life) with these words: “It’s not about you.” Understanding our life’s purpose begins by realizing that God never intended everything to revolve around you. You do not play the lead role in this drama called life. God does. Living out our purposes begins by abdicating the throne of our lives and allowing Jesus Christ to sit there. This means that we are handing the controls over to Jesus and allowing Him to be in charge.

Last week we were reminded that we were made for God’s pleasure. We were created to be loved by God, and God wants us to love Him back. Loving God back is called worship. Worship is our first purpose and greatest priority. To know God is to worship God. One chapter in last week’s reading of What On Earth Am I Here For? focused on the heart of worship (if you began reading a chapter a day on September 27, you’ll be on chapter 17 today). Rick Warren said that the heart of worship is surrender. What do you think of that? The heart of our salvation is surrender. We cannot become a Christian unless we first surrender our lives over to Jesus Christ. We cannot live a victorious Christian life unless we surrender every day to the Holy Spirit’s control. Living a life of worship means that we surrender daily to God’s control and authority. Worship is so much more than just singing a few songs at a designated hour on Sundays. It is living a life of surrender and obedience. If we are not surrender daily to God, then we are not worshipping.

Surrender seems like a negative thing, but it is not. We think of surrender as if someone just lost a war or a concept that expresses weakness. Think of it as a drowning swimmer surrendering to the strength of a life guard. Someone who is drowning must stop fighting and allow a life guard to pull them to safety. Surrendering to God means that we acknowledge that He is God and we are not. It means that we yield to His rule in our lives, His wisdom in our circumstances, His strength in our troubles, and His authority in our decisions. The heart of worship and the heart of life is surrender. That’s a great place to start with the rest of your life.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

bookWhy am I here? Has that thought ever entered your mind? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were made? A couple of Sundays ago, I shared a story about my wife and I getting on the wrong road while in route to my grandmother’s house in Florida. Because we missed the turn, we spent an extra two to three hours in route to Ft. Pierce, Florida. What would it be like to take the wrong road in life but not discover your mistake until your life was over? There are a lot of important topics for us to consider, but this one is right up at the top. As I look back over my life, I have made so many mistakes. Some of them were a result of ignorance, others came from obstinance, while still others happened simply because of sin. I can’t go back and change any of my failures from the past. I can, however, change the mistakes in my future that have not yet been made. One of my favorite poems is this: “I can’t go back and start over again, but I can start from here and make a brand new end.” Are you willing to start today to change your destiny? Over the next 40 days, I plan to share several blogs a week to challenge us to think about our real purpose. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Rick Warren’s book “What On Earth Am I Here For?” and read a chapter a day (It was formerly called “The Purpose Driven Life”). Read my blog and share some thoughts as we journey together. I would love to hear from some of you who have already started this journey. You may have read chapter two today (which is the chapter you should be on if you started the journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family on Sunday). What are your thoughts so far? Have you been to small group yet? Is God doing anything special in your life so far? You may have read “The Purpose Driven Life” a while back. How did God use Dr. Warren’s book in your life when you read it the first time? I look forward to hearing from you.

Is Justice Just?

Statue of justiceI would like to share a few thoughts in response to comments I’ve had related to my last post. Before reading this, would you consider this question? Is it possible to disagree with what someone does without hating that person? If you have children, then you have no alternative but to say “yes, it’s possible.” I disagree with homosexuality and same-sex unions, but that does not mean that I hate the homosexual. God disagrees with my sin, but that does not mean that He hates me. I’m grateful for that.

I just watched an interview with Kim Davis, county clerk from Grayson Kentucky. You may remember that Mrs. Davis refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex unions and was put in jail for six days. The problem this clerk faced was that the new law legalizing same-sex unions means that gay couples have to get a marriage license. In Kentucky, the law requires the name of the county clerk to be on the bottom of the document. Even if someone else issues the license, her name would still be on the document. She started asking for her name to be removed from the document this past January, but no one would accommodate her request. It seems that Mrs. Davis had three options. Option #1: She could grant the marriage licenses to same-sex couples with her name on the license thereby disregarding her conviction that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. Option #2: Refuse to grant a license to same-sex couples. Option #3: Resign her position as county clerk. The option of having someone else give the licenses does not remove her name from the document, therefore, Mrs. Davis feels that she is condoning sin and disregarding the Bible.

I don’t know Kim Davis, and I don’t know every detail about this particular issue. While there are several issues to be considered, one question has to do with what should a Christian do if the U.S. government passes a law that stands contrary to the Bible. Should we obey the law? While the law regarding same-sex unions does not personally affect most people, it does affect Kim Davis. It will also affect many other businesses and ministers who are involved with weddings. Just ask the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. They were sued because they declined the business of a gay couple because the shop owners said it conflicted with their religious beliefs. Masterpiece Cakeshop lost the lawsuit.

I have a problem on at least two levels. I obviously disagree with redefining the word marriage to include same-sex unions. That would be like us passing a law saying that a dog is a horse. Here are two additional things to be considered. First, requiring Christians to act contrary to their religious convictions stands in contrast to the first amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Do you think requiring a Christian to disobey the Bible is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? Do you think that causing a Christian to have to resign from her job in order to keep from compromising her faith is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? If Mrs. Davis had taken her job after the law was passed, then there might be some argument against her position. I would not want my name on a marriage license for same-sex unions either. Would you? This is a Constitutional issue.

The second level is personal. While I am protected by the Constitution, I am not protected by our national laws (which I believe stand in contrast to our Constitution). As the law stands now, my church is required to allow a same-sex union to take place in our building. I could be sued if I do not accommodate the wishes of a same-sex couple who want me to be the officiating minister. Because I am not an employee of the courts, I assume I would not be put in jail for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, but I could be sued. Is this the kind of country our Founding Fathers envisioned? Do you really want our country to force churches and pastors to disobey the Bible or to condone biblical disobedience? What are U.S. citizens supposed to do when a law is passed that conflicts with their biblical convictions and moral consciences? I know the importance of law. What we have in this case is the conflict between two laws: God’s vs. U.S. I do not want to live in a country without laws. The question has to do with what is the basis of law. Because this blog is getting quite long, I will address this issue at another time.

I’m grateful that in the midst of all of this, God loves us regardless of which side we fall on. I am grateful that Jesus died for all of sin and offers everyone an opportunity for forgiveness and eternal life. To say that God hates homosexuals would be to ignore the Bible: “For God so loved the world…” If Christians hate homosexuals, this hatred is sin and does not honor God. At the same time, Christians are not to condone sin either. We obviously stand at a precarious crossroad.