Out of Tune

Offering a new song to the Lord

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“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:1-3, NIV)

Holy contentment

I believe that, far too often, we become content in our relationship with God, settling for far less than He desires for our lives. We may feel like God is confined to ancient history and that He has little impact on our lives today. We may sense that God is distant from the lives we live and that He cares little about the concerns of our hearts. In all actuality, God is nearer to us than our very next breath. He is a living God, who is just as active today as He was thousands of years ago.

Start singing

The Psalmist implores us to “Sing to the LORD a new song…”, to “…proclaim his salvation day after day…” (Psalm 96:1-2, NIV). Certainly, God is worthy of our very best singing, but I believe He also finds delight even in our out-of-tune attempts.

The problem is not that we aren’t singing, nor even that it’s slightly off-key, but that, so often, we are singing the wrong song. Our lyrics may be outdated and aimed at a God perceived to be out-of-touch with current culture. Our tunes are often based on an understanding of a God who is rules-based and law-oriented, not on a God who is loving and merciful. We sing songs of despair, even though God has given us a living hope. Our melodies are melancholy, even when God gives us “‘…life to the full'” (John 10:10, NIV).

So, I say, and I think the Psalmist would agree, “Get singing!” Live out the music God has placed in your heart. Sing it at the top of your lungs, so that everyone can hear. There’s a message in your melody. Don’t be afraid to share it with the world!

Prayer

Dear God, I pray that the songs I offer to you would be pleasing to your ear. Help me to live out the life you have called me into. Thank you for Jesus, my Savior. In His name I pray, Amen.

The Fullness of God

Jesus and the reconciliation of man

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“…God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20, NIV)

The pleasure of God

“…God was pleased…” are the telling words of the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Church at Colosse. God would choose Jesus as the instrument through which He would reach the world with the saving truth of the gospel. It would not be easy nor convenient. God would have to become a man in order to save men from their sins. So, God literally gave a piece of Himself, indeed all of Himself, in the fleshly form of Christ, to reconcile mankind.

God’s pronouncement of delight concerning His Son, is perhaps most evident at the baptism of Jesus. “‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:17, NIV). This is the voice heard from heaven, Divinity approving of humanity. All of who God is – His justice and mercy – is revealed in Jesus. If one would ever want to know what God is truly like, he must look no further than Christ.

The reconciliation of man

Paul continues by writing that, through Jesus, God reconciled all things to Himself and that peace between God and man was now evident through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross. No other peace offering would be sufficient for the salvation of mankind, for only the perfection of God, in Christ, could appease the justice of God.

God’s fullness in Christ makes possible the fullness of redemption for mankind. God came to earth in the incarnate flesh of Jesus, who lived a life worthy of the holiness of God, and died in the place of man. Heaven came to earth so that earth could attain heaven. This is the good news of the gospel of God.

Pray

Dear God, thank you for becoming one of us in Christ in order to save us from our sins. I believe in the forgiveness won for me through Jesus’ death on the cross. I am heaven-bound and forever grateful. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Enemies of God

They may be closer than you think.

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“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel…” (Colossians 1:21-23, NIV)

The enemy within

The Holy Scriptures hold some pretty difficult truths. Such is the case with the above passage from the Bible. Paul writes to the Church at Colossae, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21, NIV). I recognize that I don’t always live up to God’s perfect standards, but for Paul to say that I am, or at least was, an enemy of God cuts me to my very core. Chief of sinners though I be, someone else is surely worse than me!

God has set the bar of righteousness pretty high, and, when compared to His perfection, I fall desperately short. I cannot fully keep His commands to love Him with my entire heart and to love others just as I love myself. So, just how do I, filled with all of my flaws and failures, enter into a relationship with a God who is pure, holy, and just?

I have a friend in Jesus

“…now (God) has reconciled (me) by Christ’s physical body through death to present (me) holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” (Colossians 1:22, NIV). I have a friend who resides in high places. What I couldn’t do on my own in keeping God’s commands, Christ did perfectly for me. He even went so far as to die on a Roman cross to win for me the forgiveness of all of my sins.

I am, therefore, holy before God my Father. This is the gospel message of God’s love for me in Christ Jesus. May I share this good news with everyone I know!

Pray

Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for me so that I can live forever in heaven with you. Thank you for being my friend. In you holy name I pray, Amen.

Intercessory Prayer

The aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit

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“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26, NIV)

The limitations of human language

There are times when words fall short in expressing our thoughts and emotions. Few words seem appropriate in times of intense suffering – the sudden death of a loved one or a dire health diagnosis – when depression and anxiety rob us of the ability to express the depths of our despair. Conversely, we may find it nearly impossible to come up with words to match the intense highs of life. We might find ourselves speechless at the birth of a child or in being reunited with a long-lost friend.

Our prayer lives are not much different. How does one express the extreme joy of experiencing love for the very first time? What does an individual pray when they are contemplating suicide? For any number of reasons, words can evade us, often when we need them the most.

The help of the Holy Spirit

In Romans Chapter 8, the Apostle Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit’s divine intervention in our prayer lives. Paul writes to the Church at Rome, “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26, NIV). I find it quite likely that the language of the Holy Spirit is far different from any language spoken by people. In any regard, it is a language that is understood by our Heavenly Father even though it may be imperseptible to us.

What comfort we have in knowing that God is so intimately connected to and concerned for us that He would speak through His Spirit on our behalf! May we lean into the life giving work the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in us.

Prayer

Holy Spirit, pray in me. Thank you for interceding on my behalf. Help me to stay in-step with what you are accomplishing through me. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

Abide in Jesus

Cultivating the spiritual connection with Christ

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“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4, RSV)

I’ve found that one of the most important things I can do to sustain and grow in my relationship with Christ is simply to abide in Him. The word “abide” means to remain. When I remain connected to Jesus, He produces in me good works that are beneficial to the world around me. By contrast, when I remove myself from Jesus, who is the source of my sustenance and strength, I falter in doing the good things He has designed for me to do.

The activity of abiding

The command and promise of Jesus states that we must abide in Him. While Jesus’ metaphor of a vine and its branches may seem a bit foreign to us, it made perfect sense to those in the agricultural society of Jesus’ day. Jesus’ listeners could easily grasp the importance of each branch of a plant being an offshoot of its connecting vine.

Jesus reminds his hearers that He is the proverbial vine, and we, the branches, must stay connected to Him. When we do that, the fruits of good works are produced naturally, or perhaps I should say, supernaturally, in and through us.

Furthermore, the fact that Jesus commands us to abide must mean that there are some practical things that we can do to cultivate this life-giving relationship. Here’s where the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion come into play. These things are the lifeblood of our relationship with Jesus. They nourish us and help us to grow.

The passivity of abiding

While we can and should participate in the things God is doing in our lives, abiding in Christ is largely a passive act. Jesus, after all, as the vine, is the source of our strength and vitality as branches. Apart from Him, we can do no good thing. We must never see ourselves as the fruit-producers in our relationship with Christ, only the bearers of the good fruit produced in us.

Abide in Jesus. Find your source for all good things in and through Him. Rest in His love and grace. Flourish in His presence and strength. Abide in Him and see what He can do.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you for your love and grace. Thank you, too, that I have a part to play in the good things you are doing. May I always abide in you. In your holy name I pray, Amen.

Jesus Christ, the Advocate

The One who pleads on my behalf

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“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1, NIV)

The sinfulness of man

With the loving care and heart-felt concern of a father, John, the once-disciple of Jesus, implores his spiritual flock to live lives without sin. John knows that sin alienates the heart of man from the heart of God and that sin prevents the Christian from living into the life that God desires. More0ver, sin cost Jesus dearly, demanding that He suffer and die even though He, Himself, did not know sin.

Yet, despite his prompting, and even their best efforts, John knows that sin, for man, is inevitable. It’s part of who we are, after all, our DNA, if you will, as sinful human beings. Sinners do one thing quite well – they sin. This is not meant to be an excuse, but a fact as it pertains to our fallen selves.

The sinlessness of Christ

One man, however, never sinned – never a lustful glance, nor an errant word, never a judgmental gaze, nor a selfish thought. Jesus lived a life of perfection and stands righteous before our Heavenly Father. And, because Jesus died for us, we can live eternally through Him.

John rightly identifies Jesus as our advocate. He is our go-between, our intercessor, the One who speaks for us. Jesus pleads on our behalf, and He bleeds in our defense. And our Father sees Him, when He looks at us. Jesus has become our righteousness, and we are, therefore, right with God.

Believe this day, that you share Christ’s righteousness, not because you are holy on your own, but because you have the Holy One who is your advocate – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Prayer

Holy God, thank you for sending Jesus to live a life I could not live and to die a death I could not endure. Thank you for my forgiveness, won for me by Jesus’ death on the cross. In His holy name I pray, Amen.

God Has a Song for You

The sweet sounds of a God who sings

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“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

Israel’s Sin

The Israelites were God’s chosen people. Their design was to live and die in a covenant relationship with God, where they would be His people and He, in turn, would be their God. Their destiny was to be the nation by which the long-promised Messiah would come to save people from their sins.

Despite their chosen status, the Israelites would often neglect God’s commands. While God had chosen them, they did not always choose to follow Him. Their waywardness and rebellion led to division among their own people, painful exile, and captivity at the hands of their enemies.

God sent many prophets to the people of Israel, condemning their sin and predicting its consequences. Zephaniah was one such prophet who warned Israel (now Judah) of their hostile actions toward God. The Book of the Bible bearing Zephaniah’s name is filled with both warning and judgment.

Still, God is a God of love, who is faithful to His covenant promises. He continually seeks a relationship with people, even when they so often turn their backs on Him. One of the most beautiful statements in the Book of Zephaniah is found in its Third Chapter, Verse Seventeen, where we find the words, “…(God) will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV).

God’s Song

I believe that God’s words to Judah, through the Prophet Zephaniah, are words that apply to followers of Jesus to this day. Picture a mother softly singing over her infant child. These are not words of condemnation, nor are they words of judgment. Rather, these are words of love, compassion, and blessing.

The idea that God is singing over each of us elicits our responses of active obedience and passive surrender. When we fully understand that God is ultimately for us and not against us and that He loves us unconditionally, we are free to love God and one another through our actions. Yet, still, like that infant child, over whom the mother is singing words of blessing, we simply allow ourselves to rest in God’s grace as He holds us with nail-scarred hands closely to His heart.

I pray this day, that you would hear God’s song as He gently sings over you. For you are his child, and, by His grace, I am, too. May you be encouraged this day to trust Him all the more. He is the God who sings.

Where Does My Strength Come From?

Not spinach, but the Spirit of God

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“I pray that out of (God’s) glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” (Ephesians 3:16, NIV)

Lessons from Popeye, the Sailor Man

I was obsessed, as a kid, with the cartoon character Popeye.

This man of the sea captivated my mind and held my attention for fifteen minutes at a time, the length of an episode broadcast on my parent’s color TV. Popeye was always finding a way to escape the grip of any given situation, most often orchestrated by his archenemy Brutus, and usually culminating in the rescue of the beautiful, although less than capable, Olive Oil. Popeye’s enchantment for her was only matched by his desire for the canned vegetable spinach that produced his amazing strength.

Yes, I was obsessed with Popeye, so much so that I sweet-talked my own mother into the purchase of a can of spinach. After all, if the leafy greens could transform a scrawny Popeye into a bicep-bulging man of action, they could surely bolster my pathetic frame. I carried that can of spinach everywhere I went, returning it to our kitchen cabinet only when the day’s heroism had been accomplished.

Lessons from the Apostle Paul

The Bible character Paul speaks of a different type of strength in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. This strength is not physical in nature, nor does it come from something a person consumes. Rather, the strength Paul writes about originates from and is gifted by the Holy Spirit of God. This spiritual strength is bestowed upon everyone who has a faith relationship with the Savior Jesus.

Once we are strengthened by God’s very own Spirit, we become capable of some pretty amazing things. We can grapple with temptation, break the bonds of addictive behaviors, stand tall with integrity, and flex our spiritual muscles against injustice. Our chief adversary, the Devil, does not have a fighting chance against our divinely given spiritual strength.

My childhood idolization of Popeye eventually ran its course and gave way to greater endeavors found in the form of baseball cards and dirt bike riding. My mom cooked my coveted can of spinach, the small serving of which I politely declined due to its odorous smell and mossy texture. I began to understand that true strength isn’t limited to cartoon characters but is available to all people. My ultimate strength would not be realized through spinach, but through the Spirit of God.

Create!

Made in the image of God…

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, NIV)

I loved using crayons as a small child. There was something about the way they stood at attention in their yellow and green cardboard box, like miniature soldiers just given a command. It almost seemed sinful to use them for the very first time, to carelessly dull their rounded tips. Their aroma, which I can still sense to this day, reminds me of childhood innocence and of simpler times.

I have always been a bit of a perfectionist, a trait that was evident early in my life, sitting at the round kitchen table of my childhood home. No matter how hard I concentrated, I could not master the art of staying within the bold lines of the pages of my coloring book. With my tongue stuck slightly out of the corner of my mouth, like Michael “Air” Jordan, I wielded my crayons like fattened magic wands. Still, there was no magic in my crayons, and my scribbling strokes worsened with every passing moment.

I don’t do much coloring today, but if I did, I bet I would be just fine with coloring outside of the lines. I’ve traded in my rules-bound, overly structured methods to become a bit more of a free-spirited creator-type. I love to create, mostly through the written and spoken word, but I do dabble in other creative endeavors as well.

I’ve often pondered the reason I enjoy the creative process. I think, in large part, it’s because I follow the God who created all things. I am, like all people, created in his image. Therefore, there’s a part of me that longs to create as God created.

So often, one might say, God stays within the lines of his work, demonstrating a mastery like no other artist practicing his craft. God designs the arching colors of the rainbow and stripes with precision the body of the zebra. He moves the planets in their elliptical orbits and calculates the straightness of the redwood.

But God also demonstrates random chaos in his creation – the explosion of the volcanic mountain and the frenzied fluttering of the hummingbird’s wings, the shifting of glacial ice and the unique design of every snowflake.

I am amazed at God’s work, his creativity, and artistry. And when I create, I feel a connection with the One who created me in his very image.

So, I would say, create something today. And to God, the first Creator, be the glory forever!

Deep Calls to Deep

Exploring the depths of God’s love…

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“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (Psalm 42:7, NIV)

As a child, I spent most of my summer vacation at the local swimming pool. I loved to wade in the safe and comfortable waters of the shallow end, splashing the girls and laughing with my friends. Life was simpler in those days. It was also predictable and fun.

Over time, however, I became increasingly conscious of the two diving boards that stood at the other end of the pool and began to savor the opportunity to experience the feat known to all kids as the cannon ball. My adventurous young mind reasoned that the low dive would not suffice. Rather, I must attempt this death-defying maneuver off the ten-foot high-dive, and perhaps even drench the lifeguard with a well-placed splash.

There was but one catch to my plan. I must first prove to said lifeguard that I was able to swim the width of the deep end of the pool. As I released my white-knuckled clutch on the swimming pool edge, I knew that there was no possibility of touching the bottom without perishing. I was in the deep waters now, and there was no turning back.

As I reflect on my childhood experience at our local swimming pool, I’m reminded of the Bible story of Simon Peter. In Luke Chapter Five, Jesus tells an unlucky fisherman Peter to “…’Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'” (Luke 5:4, NIV). A reluctant, yet obedient, Peter listens to his Lord, and the outcome is nothing short of miraculous.

I think that sometimes, in order to experience God in his fullness, we, too, must leave our shallow zones of comfort and head for the deeper, more mysterious places in life. Perhaps this involves sharing our faith story with a stranger. Maybe it’s standing up for an injustice. Honestly, experiencing the deep probably looks a bit different for each of us.

I want to encourage you today to stretch your faith beyond its bounds. Get out of the shallow end of life and experience more fully the depths of God’s purpose, love, and grace. Jump in with both feet and let God’s goodness flow over you. Adventure awaits you as “Deep calls to deep…” (Psalm 42:7, NIV).