What Do We Have To Sing About?

Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.

We worship him for who he is and praise him for what he does.

Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.

Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.

Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.

Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.

Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.

Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.

The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.

Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.

Love We sing about God’s love for us and we sing about our love for him. The former is praise, the latter is worship.

Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.

We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.

So lift it up in worship. Bless His holy name.

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15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.

“Who Am I To You?”

Jesus and his disciples came to the region of Caeserea Philippi and he asked them one of the most important questions that could be considered about himself. First, he wanted to know what people were saying about him.

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:14-15)

Jesus also wants to know who we say that he is. The sort of relationship we can have with him is determined by how we answer.

Savior, Lord, Friend, Christ, Son of God, Teacher, Prophet. How do you answer when Jesus asks you “Who do you say that I am?” The way in which you answer can evolve. At any rate, how you respond to him…

Can change your life.

“He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Isaiah 40:11

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Luke 24:5

“Star of wonder, star of night, guide us to they perfect light.”

A 3-Word Prayer For Serenity

The graphic below shows a prayer, commonly referred to as the “Serenity Prayer,”* attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian.

After knowing only the first four lines of the prayer, which I learned in 1984, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the entire thing. Even though at the time I hadn’t made a decision to follow Christ, the words made sense. Years after that, I was reciting the whole prayer from memory at a weekly small group.

Today, I believe the three most important words of this prayer aren’t, as some people choose to see them, acceptance, courage and wisdom. They are

“God, I surrender”

For me, surrendering to God creates a serenity and peace I can’t otherwise know.

SerenityPrayer with gull

*Usually Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is quoted using only the first four lines shown here.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we’re sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself.  I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

Follow Your Heart?

Often, I hear the phrase “Follow your heart” as an encouragement to people to do whatever they think is best based on ‘gut feelings.’ They might also say “Follow your gut.” I believe we all have a conscience given by God and our conscience along with leadings from the Holy Spirit will help us to make decisions based on right and wrong.

And I admit the idea of following my heart used to be something I didn’t think too much about. I know I’ve let even major decisions be based on emotions. Then I became familiar with the Bible and what it had to say about just how poorly my heart acts as a leader in such cases.

Here’s some biblical wisdom I’ve picked up over the years

Jesus speaking in a short sermon: “For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:44,45

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick–who can understand it? I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9,10

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

In addition to heeding what God says in his Word about our actions, words, thoughts and attitudes, I like this advice from Oswald Chambers.

“The only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion will be. Push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more way.” From “My Utmost For His Highest”

Most of the time, I know exactly what God would like me to do. I know his heart. Since a person’s heart is the seat of emotions, following God’s heart is always the best decision.

Father, I know my selfish tendencies. I ask you to constantly remind me that when I give over to my emotions, I often fail to make right decisions. I want to please you. Guide me with your Truth. Test my heart and lead me in the way everlasting.

“Whatever”

A friend of mine told me that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone. She explained that she didn’t think her story would have much impact because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. So she didn’t think there was any exciting stuff to tell.

I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.

One might say that my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.

Whatever.

Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say that for two reasons.

The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for both salvation stories.

The other reason I say this is because both salvation stories can have impact and both glorify God.

I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.

We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.

When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. It really doesn’t matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ. We needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters.

Are you sharing yours?

Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.