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Peace Under Pressure – Tantalizing Tranquility

Peace Under PressureKey Bible Verse: They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. Psalm 112:7

Bonus Reading: Psalm 46:1-11

A friend asked me to have lunch with him and a fellow he’d been sharing Christ with for nine years. I’m thinking, after nine years Gill (the unbeliever) ought to be ready to tell this guy to shove off.

So I asked him what it was that kept him in this prolonged dialogue. He laughed. “That’s simple,” he said. “Jimmy’s got something I want. He doesn’t worry.”

Do you know why peace shines so brightly in this world? Because everybody you meet entered adulthood with a picture of what they hoped for.  Now, years into the pursuit, they’ve accumulated lots of the stuff they set out for. But they aren’t happy and don’t know what to do about it.

When they finally meet someone who has peace, they take note. It highlights their emotional emptiness. And it confronts them with the fact that peace is achievable.

What if my peace isn’t merely for my benefit? What if God wants to use it to cause those I come into contact with to pause and wonder? What if the purpose of dark circumstances is to give my peace a chance to attract more attention than in the wrinkle-free days when everything goes right? What if God wants to use it to make my faith authentic for someone?

—Andy Stanley in Visioneering

My Response: Is there a dark circumstance that I should by faith thank God for?

Thought to Apply: First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.—Thomas À Kempis (Christian writer)

Adapted from Visioneering (Multnomah, 1999)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

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Peace Under Pressure – Quiet Dinner

Peace Under PressureKey Bible Verse: The peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. John 14:27

Bonus Reading: John 14:27; 16:33

Arriving at my mother’s New York apartment for dinner for the two of us, we sat down to a festive table. Just then the phone rang—for me. My teaching colleague’s voice broke, and I realized to my horror that he was weeping. A West Coast collision had landed his parents and sister in intensive care. He was at the airport. Could I come sit with him until his flight departed? I’d come if I possibly could, I responded, but I had to take care of some things first. Would he call back in ten minutes.

Back at the table, my mother called my friend’s request unreasonable and juvenile. She insisted that I not ruin our evening by going. Hearing what I’d been saying to myself expressed aloud made it appalling. I resolved to go as soon as he rang again. But when he called, he said he’d gotten hold of himself; I no longer needed to come.

This apartment was a haven from everything that seemed to threaten my peace. My friend’s broken voice on the phone was calling me out into a dangerous world not simply for his sake, I suddenly saw, but also for mine. The true peace that passes understanding isn’t found in retreat from the battle—only in the thick of it.

—Frederick Buechner in The Sacred Journey

My Response: Is the peace I’m protecting robust enough to invade turmoil?

Thought to Apply: The peace of God, in the midst of the uproar around us, gives us the assurance that everything is all right.—Bob Mumford (writer, speaker)

Adapted from The Sacred Journey (Harper & Row, 1982)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

Peace Under Pressure – Stress Mess

Peace Under PressureKey Bible Verse: And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.  – Colossians 3:15

Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:6-7

In the early 1960s, my load in the grocery company was heavy. Several close co-workers were in open conflict, and I had to referee. I was still traveling a lot on the lay-preaching circuit. We had three small children. About seven o’clock one evening, I left the office, trudged down the long, steep stairs to my car, and headed home. Several urgent choices involving business, travel, and family faced me. I felt indecisive on every front. My stomach churned.

As I drove toward home, I tried to pray, generically committing the whole mess to God. Suddenly there came to my mind Colossians 3:15. This familiar scripture hit me like a shaft of calmness from heaven.

Immediately I knew what God was saying to me. “Howard, never go against your deepest sense of peace. Never ignore your sense of inner agitation, of uneasy disquiet, that intuitive buzzing. That unquiet feeling is telling you to back off, not to plunge ahead just to get rid of the issue. It doesn’t matter who gets upset or whom you disappoint. Forget who cheers or who boos. Follow the relaxation in your gut.”

It was a life-changing moment for me. To this very day that wait-for-the-calm principle clarifies my decision-making.

—Howard Butt Jr. in Who Can You Trust?

My Response: One area in which I need to wait for the calm is …

Thought to Apply: Whenever you obey God, His seal is always that of peace. Whenever peace doesn’t come, tarry till it does or find out why it doesn’t.—Oswald Chambers

Adapted from Who Can You Trust? (Crossway, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

Peace Under Pressure – Pre-Game Jitters

Peace Under PressureKey Bible Verse: I have discarded everything else … so that I may have Christ. Philippians 3:8

Bonus Reading: Philippians 3:4-9a

In Philadelphia in 1983, the night before the final game of the World Series, I lay there tossing and turning, plunged into joy and excitement one minute, panic and tension the next. If I was going to get any sleep at all, I desperately needed a sense of peace for my jumbled emotions.

Four years earlier, I’d invited Jesus Christ into my life. So I reached for my Bible and turned to Philippians 3:4-9a, where the Apostle Paul recalls how he was born in the right place to the right family, got the right education, and did all the right things. Yet he’d discounted it all “that I may have Christ.”

That verse could be talking about me! I realized.

My World Series and All-Star successes wouldn’t make a bit of difference when it came down to where I’d spend eternity. Only my relationship with Jesus would matter then. I was able to sleep peacefully after that, then went out on the mound the next day and pitched one of my best games ever. Our Baltimore Orioles won the series over Philly, and I was elated! But most exciting was to know that the peace within me wasn’t dependent on winning, but on knowing that God loved me.

—Scott McGregor in Winning

My Response: I’ll draw stability from my status and future in Christ.

Thought to Apply: Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and He is on the throne. —Edward Bickersteth (English pastor and hymn writer)

Adapted from Winning (Regal, 1990)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

 

Peace Under Pressure – Blanket Coverage

Peace Under PressureKey Bible Verse: We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Romans 5:1

Bonus Reading: Romans 5:1-11

The “peace of God” shouldn’t be confused with “peace with God.”

The “peace of God” is the inner state of well-being that is the birthright of those who’ve responded to God’s offer of forgiveness and been brought into a position called “peace with God.”

The peace of God is a result of having peace with God.

The Israelites had been called by God to be His unique people, and the blessing pronounced by the high priest (Numbers 6:22-27), designated them as such. The people would exhibit the divine favor by demonstrating to the surrounding peoples that God had given them His wholeness or well-being.

This inner sense of wholeness can’t be explained in purely human terms. Anyone can seem at peace when he’s eradicated all stress and negotiated the end of all hostility. But we enjoy the peace of God while the stress continues unabated and the hostility persists.

How can this be? When we’ve committed ourselves to the Captain of our salvation in ongoing, trusting obedience, He’ll make our well-being His personal responsibility.

0So we can rest assured in His benevolence and competence in the midst of the storms of life. We can live with composure that defies description and surpasses belief.

—Stuart Briscoe in One Year Book of Devotions for Men

My Response: Am I enjoying the benefits of my birthright? Why or why not?

Adapted from One Year Book of Devotions for Men (Tyndale, 2000)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

 

Peace Under Pressure – Stretched Splendor

Peace Under Pressure00Who Said It…Randy Rowland

Randy Rowland is lead pastor of Sanctuary, an emerging church in Seattle, Washington. He has served as the public address announcer for the Seattle Seahawks.

Randy is also president of Sound Images, Inc., a media and marketing consulting and production firm. He has taught at Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Pacific School of Religion. Randy calls himself a water dog.

What He Said…Stretched Splendor

Peace isn’t passive or wimpy; it’s brilliantly powerful. Peace is having everything in its right place, being used toward its right purpose.

Sailboats are equipped with numerous sails for different purposes. Unused sails are stored in nylon bags in a locker. But are stored sails at peace? I don’t think so. They’re just sidelined fabric. A sail is at peace when it’s unfurled, trimmed by the winch, and stretched to its maximum by a turn into the wind. Every grommet and rope on that sail is being yanked at magnum force. The material of the sail strains as it meets its destiny.

A good sail, well deployed, is a vision of peace. It possesses beauty in spite of the savage forces pulling it at every corner. Its beauty comes from its wholeness and purpose. You never look out on the water at a colorful spinnaker on a fast-moving sailboat and think, Oh that poor thing, just look at the stress it’s under, being pulled from all directions. What you do think is, Wow! That’s beautiful.

Adapted from Sins We Love (Doubleday, 2000)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me how my misguided thinking leads me down the path of worry and fear; help me to see that no problem is bigger than you and your love; may you be glorified by the peace I experience in times of trial.

 

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Waltrip’s Good Wipeout

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. … I can make you as white as wool.”  – Isaiah 1:18

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 51:1-17

I did some terrible things in my past—stuff that was against God’s will, offensive to Him, sin.  Some things were worse than others but God hated them all.  I had to confess them.  Then He wiped the slate clean.

But it took a while for me to believe the slate was really clean.  I thought of it more like writing something on a piece of paper and then erasing it.  The words are erased, but if you hold the paper just right, you can still see the letters.  That’s how I felt.  I thought, Okay, it’s not there anymore; but if I turn it just right, I can see where it used to be.

It’s hard to accept the fact that the slate is clean.  It’s natural to think we can never be totally forgiven for things we’ve done.

A lot of people don’t fully understand how God treats confession.  They live in the past.  They won’t move on.

But I’ve confessed my sins to God.  I know God forgives.  The Bible declares that He does.  No image remains.  That means I can have a clear conscience about where I am today.  Christ died so that we could be forgiven of our sins.  We’ve got to realize that, and take advantage of it.

— Darrell Waltrip in Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One

My Response: Am I shackled to my past, or am I moving on in the freedom of forgiveness?

Adapted from Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One (Regal, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Scrub Nurse

Repentance 2Who Said It…Tom Eisenman

Tom Eisenman dropped out of high school at 15, went on the road with a rock-and-roll band, and never lived at home again. He became a high school teacher and then a pastor.

A self-described NFL nut, Tom and his wife, Judie, have led Bible studies for the San Francisco 49ers.   Tom’s books include Temptations Men Face, and The Accountable Man.  He pastors the College Center Church in San Diego, California.  And to relax, he builds fine furniture.

What He Said…Scrub Nurse

A car ran a stop sign and hit me nearly head-on while I was on my motorcycle.  My injuries were extensive.

I remember the nurse who was working on my torn-up right leg, trying to clean it with a sponge.  The leg was opened up with a number of large lacerations, and sand, dirt, and small bits of blacktop were embedded in the wounds.  The sponge wasn’t getting it all out, so the nurse warned me she would have to use the stiff brush.  She said simply, “It has to be clean for it to heal.”

Getting clean can be a painful experience.  It was for me that day.  But I’ve always remembered the nurse’s little phrase and have thought how true it is in the spiritual realm.

All healing requires cleansing.  Confession is painful.  But when we confess our sin, we open the door for God’s love to rush in.  The open wound is cleaned up through forgiveness and treated with the love and grace of God.

Adapted from The Accountable Man (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – The Joy of Forgiveness

Repentance 2David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had engineered her husband’s murder.

And until the prophet Nathan confronted him about it, he had tried to cover it up.

2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 recount this story.  This Psalm and Psalm 32 are David’s first-person accounts of the misery of unconfessed sin and the release that follows confessing and being forgiven.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 51:1-17

  1. Why did David tell God (v. 4) that the sin he had committed was against Him?
  2. What effects of his sin did David fear (vv. 9, 11)?
  3. What toll had his sin already taken (v. 12)?
  4. What is the essential nature of confession (v. 4)?
  5. What attitude is God looking for from the offender (v. 17)?
  6. What qualities of God’s nature (v. 1) assure the repenting sinner that he will be taken back?
  7. What is the result of being forgiven (vv. 2, 7, 9)?
  8. What are the effects on the person forgiven (vv. 12-15)?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God that there is always hope and a fresh start for the man who knows his sin and is willing to repent of it.

Psalm 51:1-17

1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. 2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. 3 For I recognize my shameful deeds—they haunt me day and night.

4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. 5 For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. 6 But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

13 Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you. 14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. 15 Unseal my lips, O Lord, that I may praise you.

16 You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. 17 The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Burden Lifting

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Galatians 6:1

Bonus Reading: James 5:19-20

The priestly system, a human mediator between sinners and God, was done away with when Jesus gave his life once and for all on the cross. But there’s something beautiful about how God designed the body of Christ so that meaningful life sharing takes place in important areas like confession and absolution.

When a friend is weighed down under a burden of sin, we can lovingly invite him to speak about what’s troubling him. Confession is painful to do, but when you give permission for your friend to bring his sin into the light and you hear his confession, you help lift the burden from him. Help your brother name the sin. Then be ready to speak a loving absolution.

You may even want to rise and lay hands on your brother. In an attitude of prayer, say: “What you have just told me is a confession. The Bible says we are to confess our sins to one another so that we may receive God’s forgiveness and healing. I am convinced that you’re truly sorry for this. Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”

With continued prayer support and accountability, your friend will experience complete healing and restoration.

—Tom Eisenman in The Accountable Man

My Response: Am I willing to hear another man’s confession and offer him the forgiveness that is promised in Christ?

Thought to Apply: We have a free, full, final, forever forgiveness in the atoning work of Christ.—J. Sidlow Baxter (preacher)

Adapted from The Accountable Man (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Self-Blame Blaster

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the Lord. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.”  Isaiah 1:18

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 103:12

Rich came to my office to talk about his struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. He had fought in the Vietnam War and had done things he didn’t want to remember, much less tell others about. These things were done in the line of duty, but he still felt guilt and shame. He knew God forgave him, but he had times when he struggled to forgive himself.

As Rich shared his story, I longed for this brother to walk in the freedom and joy of forgiveness. I had no idea what to say. There is no easy answer or quick fix for a man struggling with such deep guilt. During our conversation, the Holy Spirit put a thought in my mind and words on my lips that helped this struggling man.

I asked Rich if he was certain God had forgiven him. He gave an emphatic, “Yes!” I asked him again, if he was confident, in the core of his heart that forgiveness of Jesus Christ on the cross was enough to wash his sins away. He looked at me as if I were a bit dense and said, “I have no problem understanding God’s forgiveness; my problem is I can’t forgive myself.”

What I said in response to his assertion could have angered or offended him, but it didn’t. I said, “You have to forgive yourself; you are placing yourself above God.”

He stared at me in stunned amazement. “I never looked at it that way. That’s true. I do have to forgive myself.”

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: Have I accepted God’s “Not guilty!” verdict for my confessed sin?

Thought to Apply: There can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant!—Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian novelist)

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Chill Factors

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong. 1 John 1:9

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 103:1-14

“I can’t understand how you put up with those cold winters!” The comment was directed to me by a Florida friend as I was visiting him in February a couple of years ago. He was speaking of my home in Montana, where winter temperatures often drop below zero.

Actually, I was thinking something similar about his winter climate. The outside temperature was 42 degrees, but because of the damp Florida climate, I felt colder than I do in Montana with the temperature in the teens.

But my feelings were deceiving me. They can do that in many areas of life. Today’s Key Bible Verse tells us that God forgives us as we confess our sins. This isn’t hard to believe—except for those times when we really blow it or, worse, keeping blowing it over and over. Then we may feel like God can’t or won’t forgive us.

But like a thermometer that tells the true temperature regardless of how we feel, God’s Word tells us the truth about Him irrespective of our feelings. When we confess, He forgives. Every time. No exceptions. When we accept the truth about God’s complete and unconditional forgiveness, we’re released from feelings of doubt and guilt, and begin to feel forgiven.

—Mike Raether

My Response: If I don’t feel forgiven, I’ll read today’s Bonus Reading out loud until I do.

Thought to Apply: If his conditions are met, God is bound by His Word to forgive any man or any woman of any sin because of Christ.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

Forgiveness: Feelings and Fact – Prime Suspect

Repentance 2Key Bible Verse: Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!  – Psalm 32:1

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:1-7

My 10-inch miter saw was broken. I was steamed. Apparently one of my heavier children held onto the handle like a chin-up bar and lifted his feet off the floor. Three of my kids were immediately ruled out because of their light weight. That left two.

I had an idea who the guilty culprit was, but I wanted to be fair before I hung anyone. I went to my oldest son first. “Did you break my saw?” I questioned. From the surprised look on his face, I knew he was innocent—this time. That left Sam.

Sam is about the happiest kid you’ll ever meet, but he breaks things. He doesn’t mean to, but he does. I approached Sam and asked sternly, “Sam, did you break my saw?”

A shadow of guilt covered his face, and then I ranted and raved about foolishness and the cost of my saw, and warned that it had better not happen again. He promised and left.

Within an hour, Sam came back and nuzzled up to me. “Dad, I’m sorry about the saw,” he said softly. “Will you forgive me?” My heart melted, and we were restored.

That’s what repentance does: it restores hearts and relationships—especially with God.

—Todd Wilson in Indiana

My Response: Do I picture God more as a judge or as a father?

Thought to Apply: The man who is truly forgiven and knows it, is a man who forgives.—Martyn Lloyd-Jones (British preacher)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, that my standing with You has nothing to do with deserving, and everything to do with receiving the forgiveness You’ve offered.

How God Gets Our Attention – Reaching for the Top Rung

How God Gets Our AttentionKey Bible Verse:  Enjoy prosperity while you can. But when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.  – Ecclesiastes 7:14

Bonus Reading:  Jeremiah 31:17-20

Guy had started as a part-time employee of a successful airline company.  Now, 25 years later, after earlier moving his family around every two to three years, he was securely settled at corporate headquarters.

He was a vice president with more than 5,000 employees under his charge, and the president’s heir apparent.  Guy and his wife acknowledged God’s blessings showered on them.

Along the way, though, Guy began taking matters into his own capable hands and leaving God out of the daily decision-making process.  The required travel meant that he and his wife saw each other very little.  And the demands of the job had edged others out of his life as well.

Then a hostile corporate takeover threat emerged.  After a long fight in the courts, the stock exchange, and state legislatures, Guy’s company changed hands.  On the night of the takeover, Guy’s friend, the company president, committed suicide.

Guy’s personal walk with God was almost nonexistent, his marriage of 23 years was failing, and his corporate aspirations were quickly fading.  It was like being on a sinking ship with no lifeboats. [continued tomorrow]

—John Hutchison in Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong

My Response: How could my perspective of success become skewed?

Thought to Apply: To have all the props pulled out from under us … gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.—Madeleine L’Engle (author)

Adapted from Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong (Kregel, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

 

How God Gets Our Attention – Take That!

How God Gets Our AttentionKey Bible Verse:  For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29

Bonus Reading:  1 Peter 4:12-19

A muscular offensive lineman from the Florida State University football team was distributing Christian literature at an event sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.  A younger, slightly built student perused one of the Christian brochures, looked squarely into the football player’s face, and spit at him.  “That’s what I think of your Jesus!” he said.

The natural response for the lineman would have been a massive cross-body block.  But this new Christian had been taught that he might receive persecution when standing up for Christ.

The Holy Spirit enabled him to respond in love.  Pulling out his handkerchief, he said, “I want you to know that Jesus can wipe away your sins just as easily as I wipe this spit from my face.”  He quietly walked away, avoiding an ugly confrontation, and also attracting an unlikely individual into the kingdom of God.

More than the brochure, the love of Christ embodied in the football player’s humility and gentleness delivered a convincing message.  One year later, both men were serving in Christian ministry together.

Obstacles become opportunities when we see persecution as a unique privilege.

—John Hutchison in Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong

My Response: Am I open to “suffering according to God’s will”?

Thought to Apply: The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.—Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Adapted from Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong (Kregel, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

How God Gets Our Attention – Listening to God

How God Gets Our AttentionJeremiah ministered under Judah’s last five kings.  He prophesied the fall of Jerusalem—and lived to see it fulfilled.

But he also predicted the return from exile (in Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10)—a prophecy that sustained Daniel (Daniel 9:2) during the closing years of Judah’s captivity.

Jeremiah’s sweeping theme that the God who must judge is also eager to restore is capsulized in this brief passage.

Interact with God’s Word:  Jeremiah 31:17-20

  1. “I had to punish him,” Jeremiah quotes God as saying about Israel (in v. 20). Can you picture a situation for yourself or another that might call for divine intervention?
  2. “I deserved it,” (v. 18) is the response that Jeremiah attributes to Israel. Do you think you would be able to say this after an unwelcome turn of events in your life?
  3. Verse 19 expresses what someone who’s taken God’s intervention to heart might conclude. Have you had a similar experience?
  4. God says “there is hope for your future” to the same ones He singles out for discipline. How could this outlook help you or a friend up against it right now?

Spend Time in Prayer:  I thank You, Lord, that although You sometimes discipline us for our good, You would much prefer to express Your love in mercy.

Jeremiah 31:17-20

17″There is hope for your future,” says the LORD. “Your children will come again to their own land. 18I have heard Israel saying, ‘You disciplined me severely, but I deserved it. I was like a calf that needed to be trained for the yoke and plow. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the LORD my God.

19I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.'” 20″Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” asks the LORD. “I had to punish him, but I still love him. I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.”

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

How God Gets Our Attention – Blessing and Breaking

How God Gets Our AttentionKey Bible Verse:  Jesus … asked God’s blessing on the food.  Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people. Luke 9:16

Bonus Reading:  Luke 9:10-17

It is easy to label life’s moments.  This one is good; that one is bad.  This is a rich blessing; that’s a real setback.  But it’s in the interworkings of the two that the deep meaning, power, and beauty of living in union with God comes through.

Last spring one of my close friends had a heart attack.  For a while it didn’t look like he’d make it.  But he grew better and was finally strong enough for the surgery that was supposed to give him a new lease on life.  In the fall we had a conversation something like this:

“Well, how did you like your heart attack?”

“It scared me to death, almost.”

“Does your life mean more to you now than before?”

“Well, yes.”

“You and Nell have always had a beautiful marriage, but are you closer now than ever?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a new compassion for people—a deeper understanding and sympathy?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know the Lord in a deeper, richer fellowship than you had ever realized could be possible?”

“Yes.”

“W.T., how’d you like your heart attack?”

Silence was his answer.

—Bob Benson in See You at the House

My Response: I’ll thank God for a setback that corrected my perspective.

Thought to Apply: Affliction, like the iron-smith, shapes as it smites.—Christian Bovee (English scholar & explorer)

Adapted from See You at the House (Generoux, 1986)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

How God Gets Our Attention – The Almost CEO

How God Gets Our AttentionKey Bible Verse:  I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.  – Psalm 119:67

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:8-9

[continued from yesterday]  After trying to make things work the first year after the takeover, Guy resigned and put out his ré;sumé;.  Weeks and months passed.  After a year, he still had no job.  For the first time in his life, he was unable to pay his bills.

But as Guy and his wife worked together on the extended job search, they began to rediscover each other.  The trial of joblessness and financial insecurity continued for several years, during which Guy’s relationship with his wife and with other Christians became his greatest security.

Now, more than 12 years have passed since those years of unemployment and near poverty.  Guy says, “I haven’t had a prestigious job like the one I had.  But I’d probably have had a life of marital strife if God hadn’t intervened.  God taught us that we could live very well on much less than we were accustomed to.  When we had need, we’d often get a call from our church telling us some money had been left anonymously.  I still marvel at God’s grace.”

Trials get our attention like nothing else.  In Guy’s case, adversity delivered him from a life of self-centeredness to one centered on deeply valued relationships; from a life of power and materialism to one of commitment; from spiritual poverty to a richer walk with God.

—John Hutchison in Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong

My Response: May God be speaking to me through a trial to get me back on track?

Thought to Apply: A season of suffering is a small price to pay for a clear view of God.—Max Lucado (Texas pastor)

Adapted from Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong (Kregel, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

How God Gets Our Attention – Fall-Induced Focus

How God Gets Our Attention00Key Bible Verse: The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles. Psalm 119:71

Bonus Reading: Philippians 3:7-11

Craig DeMartino is a member of an exclusive club: people happy just to be alive. He didn’t seek out the honor, and the initiation almost killed him.

Now he’s had his right leg amputated below the knee and undergone reconstructive surgery on his left foot. He’s back on his mountain bike and back on the mountain, with a prosthetic leg made specifically for climbing. “I still love climbing,” he says.

But the experience dramatically changed him, and not just physically. “It made me do a complete 180,” said DeMartino, a photographer for Group Publishing, the Loveland, Colorado-based producer of church youth group materials. “I was a Christian before, but I was basically just going through the motions.”

Someone gave DeMartino a devotional book when he was in the hospital. The message for July 21, the day of his fall: “How far does God have to go to get your attention?”

The fall was God’s way of doing that, he believes. “It kind of stripped everything down,” he said, and made him painfully aware of what was and was not important in his life. DeMartino now sees each day as a gift, and tries to keep things simple and focus on what really is important—his relationship with God and his family.

—Craig Young in the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald

My Response: Does God really have my attention?

Adapted from Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald(8/28/04)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

 

How God Gets Our Attention – God’s Fingerprints

How God Gets Our AttentionWho Said It…Craig DeMartino

Craig DeMartino and veteran climbing partner Steve Gorham tackled the difficult “White-man” climb on Sundance Buttress in Rocky Mountain National Park on July 21, 2002.

DeMartino reached the top, and Gorham, at the bottom of the cliff, unhooked the belaying line.  Because of a miscommunication, DeMartino didn’t know he wasn’t still protected, leaned back, and plummeted feet-first onto the brutal rocks 100 feet below.  His feet and ankles were mangled, and a vertebra in his lower back was crushed.

What He Said…God’s Fingerprints

DeMartino never should have survived the disaster,” wrote Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald reporter Craig Young, “let alone be walking, cycling, and climbing again.

DeMartino cites a ‘whole list of things that to me are miraculous’:”

  • Gorham usually never carried a cell phone while climbing, but did that day.
  • Wildfires were burning in the area, so crews were on standby nearby.  “Within 45 minutes of hitting the ground, I had two paramedics on scene.”
  • Crews had recently rescued a climber in the same area, and knew the best routes to get him out.
  • At the Fort Collins hospital he was flown to, “two of the best neurosurgeons were both on duty”—a rare occurrence.  “They decompressed my spine and kept me from being a paraplegic.”
  • Dr. Doug Lundy, a top trauma surgeon, was also on duty. ” He saved my left foot.”00

Adapted from Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald (8/28/04)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch my attention away from You.  Please capture my attention and turn my focus toward Your will for me.

Firm but Fair – Godly Parenting

ParentingNumerous Bible passages develop our understanding of God as the righteous one who judges our sin.

But this passage balances that aspect of His character with His incredible compassion and mercy.

This Psalm, it is true, is primarily about God’s care of His people. But it also implies a good deal about the characteristics of a model human father.

Interact with God’s Word:  Psalm 103:6-14

  1. What beneficial side of God’s action as judge is highlighted in verse 6?
  2. What indicators has God given us as to what He is really like (v. 7)?
  3. What two things (vv. 8-9) are noted about God’s anger?
  4. How does this compare with your boiling point and cool-off rate?
  5. What do David’s word pictures (vv. 11—12, tell you about the extent of God’s love and forgiveness?
  6. Do you hold resentments about past rule infractions by your kids that have been dealt with?
  7. How is our heavenly Father like a model human father (vv. 13-14)?
  8. What does this say about allowances you need to make for immaturity in your children?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the ability to mirror His love and control as you raise your children.

Psalm 103:6-14

6 The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. 7 He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious; he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.

9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust.

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

Firm but Fair – Beat the Boomerang

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  Your own actions have brought this upon you. Jeremiah 4:18

Bonus Reading:  Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-30

Your teenagers will attempt to shift the discipline focus, blaming you: “You’re making me do my chores so I can’t be with my friends.”

Like most teens, my son didn’t rise early.  His habit of sleeping in put the whole family behind in the morning.

He also began getting tardy slips at school.  So Patsy and I found ourselves in a power struggle.

One morning, I briefly considered going into his room to drag him out.  Instead, we decided to transfer to him the responsibility for this choice.  We worked it out with the school that if he received six tardy slips, he’d have to stay after school for two hours, cleaning up trash around the grounds.

“We’re not going to argue with you any more about getting out of bed,” I told my son, “but if you get up late, we’re also not going to rush to get you to school on time.  If you’re late, you’re late.  It’s your choice.  And you know the consequences.”

Guess how many tardy slips he had at the end of the semester?  That’s right, five.  He never seemed to get the sixth one.  Somehow he found the strength to get out of bed every morning because we transferred the responsibility to him.

—Patrick Morley in The Dad in the Mirror

My Response: Here’s one area in which I can transfer responsibility …

Thought to Apply: Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.—Booker T. Washington (educator)

Adapted from The Dad in the Mirror (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

 

Firm but Fair – Room for the Golden Rule

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it. Proverbs 22:6

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 7:1-5,12

Let’s look back at yesterday’s situation to see why I call it “firm but fair.”

If Roger’s father had wanted to, he could have been strictly firm and said, “No game for you this morning. The rule is ‘No chores, no soccer.'”

Instead, however, he bent a little bit and let Roger do his chores, then drove him to the game.  Being late was consequence enough for Roger in this situation.

But if Roger continues to fail to get his chores done by Friday night, then his dad will probably have to simply say “No game at all.”

The firm-but-fair family works to build a sound sense of self-worth in all the members, including the parents.  It avoids the extremes of being too rigid or a wimp.  You’re willing to listen, understand, and, on occasion, bend a little.

The parent is left in charge but, in the flexible atmosphere, children have freedom to think, ask questions, and disagree with parents.  They can feel angry, frustrated, sad, or afraid, and express this in an appropriate way.  They can learn from their mistakes without feeling crushed or stifled by authoritarian insensitivity.

Being firm but fair applies the Golden Rule of parenting: “Treat your kids as you would want to be treated.”

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: Why would rigidly sticking to the agreement terms not be the best solution?

Thought to Apply: A father who teaches his children responsibility provides them with a fortune.—Source Unknown

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

Firm but Fair – Scored Point

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful!  But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  – Hebrews 12:11

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:5-11

Eleven–year–old Roger has again neglected his weekly assigned chores—cleaning his room and the dog pen.  He’s supposed to have these tasks done by Friday night.  But it’s now 8:30 Saturday morning.  His soccer game starts in half an hour.

Dad tells Roger, “You’re room isn’t clean and the dog pen’s filthy.  Our agreement is that these chores are to be done by Friday night.”

“But, Dad, there was such a good program on TV, and I just forgot.”

“Well, you’d better get your room and the pen cleaned up right now.”

“But, Dad, I’m going to be late for my soccer game.  The team needs me.  I’m the only goalie we’ve got!”

“Roger, ol’ buddy, I know you’re going to be late, but you’re just going to be later if all you do is argue.”

Roger rolls his eyes and goes off muttering to clean his room.  Twenty-eight minutes later he’s done.   By the time his dad drives him across town to the field, he’s a good 35 minutes late and the game is underway. Roger’s coach is unhappy and benches him until the second half.  Roger’s team loses by one goal—scored in the first half.

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: Why would overlooking Roger’s lapse in doing his chores be a mistake?

Thought to Apply: Better the child should cry now than the father later.—German Proverb

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

 

Firm but Fair – Cool Conservation

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  – Psalm 103:13

Bonus Reading: Psalm 103:6-14

Let’s alter yesterday’s scenario.  Dad finds the messy tool bench, goes in and finds Jason playing Nintendo, and says, “Jason, would you come out to the garage with me a minute?”  Once there, they survey the workbench and Dad says, “It looks like you were trying to fix your bike.”

“Yeah, I was,” says Jason, embarrassed. “Then I went in the house for something and I forgot to finish working on the bike—besides, I couldn’t quite make it work anyhow.”

“Well, let’s see what’s wrong with your bike,” Dad can say.  He can help Jason make the adjustment he wasn’t strong enough or experienced enough to make himself.  Then he might add, “Now let’s remember to put the tools away, okay?”

From this experience Jason can learn that fixing his bike isn’t impossible—he just needs a little help and instruction.  He can also learn that Dad won’t bite his head off if he forgets to put the tools away.

Does this scenario sound too good to be true?

It’s the kind of thing parents need to do if they want children to learn from mistakes, and not just feel they’re more and more of a failure.  But Dad has to keep his cool.

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: One way I could make discipline a more positive experience is …

Thought to Apply: Govern a family as you would cook a small fish—very gently.—Chinese Proverb

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

 

Our Trustees at Work – Restored Outside Concrete Steps

Our old steps with the deteriorated parts of the concrete removed.

Our Trustees have been busy over the past few weeks, working with a contractor to chisel out the deteriorated portions of our 114-year-old outside concrete steps from Sixth Avenue down to our Fellowship Hall.

 

 

After the bad parts were removed, the steps were patched with new concrete, tied into the existing concrete with steel mesh.  Then, 2 inches of new concrete, on both the treads and risers, were incorporated into the repaired concrete.

 

 

 

After the concrete cured, a sealer was applied, and the railings were scraped and repainted.

Now we have restored steps that we hope last us another 114 years!

 

A big thank-you to our dedicated Trustees for their tireless work to maintain and improve our Church!

 

 

 

9 Hymns For Christians Who Struggle With Depression

My name’s Jonathan Aiger, and I struggle with depression. So please know that when I wrote a post like this, I do so out of experience and deep empathy.

These are not just vapid gospel songs that salve the soul but offer little truth. I’m not going to tell you what others have said; that if you just praise God all your troubles will melt away. Those are evil lies. Reliance upon God doesn’t melt away your troubles, and those who say so have either had terribly easy lives or, more likely, are lost in religulous delusion.

But what these hymns, and especially worship in Word and Sacrament, can do is to aid us in seeing the world, and ourselves, through a Christ and cross-shaped lens. Then in the midst of the deepest, darkest night of the soul, we can find the tiny morsel of faith within us to keep going.

These are beautiful hymns of strength and substance that carry enough truth to help you mount a resistance in your heart and mind.

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

This is one of the finest texts adopted from the Sunday School hymn tradition.

Written for children to sing, the childlike quality of the poetry is juxtaposed with the most glorious theological reality: Jesus the Good Shepherd tends and feeds us, and is with us when we’re lost in eerie solitude.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use thy folds prepare:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou has bought us, thine we are.

We are thine; do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou has promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou has mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to thee.

Early let us seek thy favor;
Early let us do thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With thy love our bosoms fill:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou has love us, love us still.

Now Thank We All Our God

This is one of my family’s table blessings, and that’s how the first two stanzas originated during the Thirty Years’ War.

The poet, Martin Rinkart, was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony, and was thus tasked with performing up to 50 funerals a day.

In the darkest times, my prayer remains, “And keep us in his grace / and guide us when perplexed / and free us from all ills / in this world and the next.”

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

 

Christ Is Alive!

This one, written by the brilliant contemporary hymn-writer Brian Wren, is right now competing with “Thine Be the Glory” to be the recessional hymn at my funeral (which I hope isn’t for a long time, but it can’t hurt to be prepared!). It’s a reminder that, in light of the cross and glorious resurrection, the worst thing isn’t going to be the last thing.

From the Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal:

In 1968, Easter fell ten days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and this text was written to express an Easter hope while mindful of that terrible event. Buoyed by a triple-arched tune [TRURO], it affirms the presence of a wounded, risen Christ with all who suffer.

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift, and war
where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring,
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.

 

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

The hymns of William Cowper are essential to this list. His texts marry the pits of despair, which for Cowper were sometimes mires of insanity, with the glorious truths we know to be true.

In worship, we’re often called to confess with our mouths things we don’t entirely believe with our hearts. I’ve found the same to be true in the tough times, and the clinical episodes.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
and works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding ev’ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.

Hymn of Promise

Including this modern hymn by Natalie Sleeth might not win me friends among church music purists, but its truth is poignant, clear, and firm. From Glory to God:

The writing of this hymn was spurred by a line from the poet T.S. Eliot: “In my end is my beginning.” Shortly after this piece was completed, the author/composer’s husband was diagnosed with what proved to be a terminal malignancy, and the original anthem version of this hymn was sung at his funeral.

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

 

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life

It may be a surprise to see this hymn on the list, but for some reason, I always think of it when I’m struggling with depression.

Loneliness and introspection are two of my deadly depression triggers, and this hymn reminds me that, whatever I’m feeling, the plight of the world and my fellow humans is part of my calling.

The augmentative tune GERMANY gives my spirit a feeling of gradually, deliberately, rising out of my personal and spiritual vacuum, and quite literally, getting the hell out of bed.

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan,
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear thy voice, O Son of man!

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadow’d thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greedn
We catch the vision of thy tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burden’d toil,
From famish’d souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Thy heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for thee
Still holds the freshness of thy grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view
The sweet compassion of your face.

O Master, from the mountainside,
Make haste to heal the hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.

Till sons of men shall learn thy love

And follow where thy feet have trod;
Till glorious from thy heavn above
Shall come the city of our God.

 

Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee

A hymn of confession and repentance, and possibly the best example of lament in the history of congregational song, we are blessed to be stewards of this Lutheran gem.

From Glory to God:  In many times and places, human despair has been described as an experience like being in a deep pit or drowning under much water. That is where this paraphrase of Psalm 130 begins.

Out of the depths I cry to Thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee!
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
My prayer let come before Thee!
If Thou remember each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?

Our pardon is Thy gift; Thy love
And grace alone avail us.
Our works could ne’er our guilt remove,
The strictest life would fail us.
That none may boast himself of aught,
But own in fear Thy grace hath wrought
What in him seemeth righteous.

And thus, my hope is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
I rest upon His faithful word
To them of contrite spirit.
That He is merciful and just,–
This is my comfort and my trust,
His help I wait with patience.

And though it tarry till the night
And round till morning waken,
My heart shall ne’er mistrust Thy might,
Nor count itself forsaken.
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed,
Wait for your God’s appearing.

Though great our sins and sore our woes,
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth;
Our kind and faithful Shepherd He,
Who shall at last set Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ABERYSTWYTH is one of the greatest hymn tunes we have.

But seriously, sung to ABERYSTWYTH or MARTYN or JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT, there is nothing like singing “thou of life the fountain art / freely let me take of thee / Spring thou up within my heart / Rise to all eternity” when your spirit is failing.

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, O leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in thee I find;
Rise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep my pure within:
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of thee;
Spring thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

 

There Is a Fountain

Another gem from William Cowper. This is one of those hymns that has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its so-called “blood and guts” theology, an issue exacerbated by sadomasochistic neo-calvinists and their creedal acceptance of the most violent aspect of ransom theology. It doesn’t help that the graphic imagery coupled with CLEANSING FOUNTAIN by exuberant, arm-waving, free-church song leaders sounds glib, almost devilishly delightful.

But on the other hand, without the shedding of blood we’re all screwed, regardless of our particular theological bent, and nowhere in this hymn do we get the impression that God killed Jesus, a necessary element in penal substitution.

So, in or out of favor, this hymn will be sung at my funeral, if only because nobody likes to argue with a corpse. And the organist will have explicit instructions to play this early American hymn tune with strength, sobriety, and dignity.

Though in the midst of depression my words are feeble and few, redeeming love shall be my everlasting theme, in this life, and the life to come.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;
then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.

 

 

 

Firm but Fair – Lost Cool

ParentingKey Bible Verse: Fathers, don’t aggravate your children.  If you do, they will become discouraged and quit trying. Colossians 3:21

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 6:4,9

Our kids need the courage to be imperfect—to make mistakes and then learn from them instead of having their self-image undermined.  When they make a mistake that looks careless or thoughtless, it’s so easy to come down with all four feet, which only makes them feel more of a failure.

For example, Dad finds his tools spread from one end of the workbench to the other.  He can see that little Jason has been trying to fix his bike, but now the place is a disaster, and Jason is nowhere to be found.

After storming into the house, Dad finds Jason playing Nintendo.  He grabs him by the arm, marches him out to the garage, and says, “What is all this?  How many times have I told you to put away the tools when you use them?”

Jason is mortified (not to mention petrified).  Now he remembers.  He’d been working on his bike when Mom called him into the house to answer a phone call from a friend.  After hanging up, he forgot about his bike and decided to play Nintendo.

But how can he tell Dad that?  Instead, Jason just tells himself, “I made Daddy mad. I guess I just can’t do anything right.”

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: How does my disciplining style make allowance for my kids’ learning curve?

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

 

Four Lies That Keep Us from Church

These common untruths prevent us from fully participating in the body of Christ.

by Megan Hill

Central United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls, PA

In our individualistic culture, to say that my identity is necessarily connected to the people in my church is hardly popular. Our unbelieving friends and neighbors often reject the significance of membership in a local church and minimize it as a “personal choice.”

Although those of who profess faith might distance ourselves from this secular, postmodern perspective, nonetheless we, too, sometimes find ourselves vulnerable to four pervasive untruths:

  1. My relationship to God is strictly personal.

Like most seductive untruths, this one has a kernel of truth in it. Each one of us must repent of sins and trust in Christ (Mark 1:15). Each of us ought to study God’s Word and pray in private (Ps. 119:11; Matt. 6:6), and each one should rejoice in the precious fact that her name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Yes, our relationship to God is personal. But we lose our identity when we believe our relationship to God is only personal.

Sociologist Christian Smith studied the religious lives of American young adults and found that many of them think “each individual is uniquely distinct from all others and deserves a faith that fits his or her singular self . . . [and] that religion need not be practiced in and by a community.” To these millennials and many others, faith is strictly personal, and any type of “organized religion” runs contrary to authentic spiritual experience.

Others of us fall prey to the idea that we feel closer to God when we’re alone on the beach or hiking in the woods than we do in church. Although we can certainly experience his presence in other places, anytime we believe our spiritual condition is qualitatively better—more real, more fruitful, more profound—apart from the church, we’ve lost our true identity.

  1. My personality isn’t suited to church.

You don’t have to spend much time on social media before someone will invite you to take a personality test. These assessments—whether well-regarded scientific tools or silly quizzes based on movie characters—purport to reveal truths about who you really are. For example, a personality indicator may tell you that you’re an extrovert (someone who thrives in the company of others) or an introvert (someone who works best alone).

But whether your personality tends to be introverted or extroverted, sensory or intuitive, only God can authoritatively declare who you are, and we know from Scripture that he considers community—especially church community—key to human identity. We are called to the body, not because it obviously suits us or serves our idiosyncratic needs, but because as God’s people living in community, we are equipped together to participate in his kingdom purposes.

  1. I’m already part of a community of people with whom I have a lot in common.

In the age of rising secularism, there are plenty of communities that can serve as church substitutes. We have communities online: Facebook groups for working women and discussion boards for special-needs moms. We have communities at work and school: people with whom we play softball or eat lunch or write poetry. We even belong to communities with spiritual purposes: Bible studies, accountability groups, and support groups for women in ministry.

In these communities, we can be encouraged and helped by others who share our same interests and circumstances. But we get into trouble if we believe our most important relationships are with the people we’ve selected for ourselves. Unlike our self-chosen communities, the local church is a community of people God has chosen for us—for his glory and our good. These other communities might be naturally comfortable and even purposeful, but they’re not where our ultimate identity lies.

  1. I’m focusing on my family.

Each of us has another community—in addition to the church—that’s clearly given to us by God: our biological family. Whether your family consists of parents, siblings, husband, or kids, you have certain people whose lives are permanently linked to yours. It’s good to be a part of a natural family and to diligently care for them as God has commanded, but even these important roles do not eclipse our identity in the eternal family of God.

If ever you say to yourself, “I’m the mom of three young kids. I’ll get back to church in a few years,” you’re missing out. As Christians, we are the children of God (Gal. 4:6), mothers and sisters and brothers and fathers to the fellow members of our local church, and part of Christ’s beloved bride (Rev. 21:9). More than anything else, your biological family needs the family of God.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Scripture testifies to the fact that each of us is a member of this eternal family. The glorious purpose of Christ’s incarnation, obedience, death, and resurrection was so that he might “present [the church] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). In other words, Christ came to make us part of his church.

Though the world would tell us that church is an option, an irrelevance, or a human invention—a group of people who thought it would be a good idea to get together since they share the same beliefs and spiritual practices—we know better. The body is established by Christ, protected and nourished by him, and governed by him.

There’s no better place to live out your true identity.

This excerpt was adapted from Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of Our Identity in Christ, edited by Melissa Kruger and published by The Gospel Coalition. Available in print and ebook at Amazon.com

Back-to-School Prayer

Learning is a gift from God.

As we begin this new school year, we give thanks that God has given us the ability to learn many things in many ways.

Loving God, sometimes a new school year seems exciting or scary or both.

Help us remember to show our thanks for your gifts of learning by doing our best every day.

We ask that you bless our schools, teachers, classmates and friends.

We ask that you bless those who prepare our lunches, those who drive us to school, and those who keep our schools clean and safe.

We ask God’s blessing on this new school year, that it may be a time when we appreciate and fully use God’s gift of learning.

Amen.

 

Firm but Fair – “It’s Not Fair!”

ParentingWho Said It…Pat Kavanaugh

Dr. Patrick Kavanaugh, a musician whose compositions range from electronic music to opera, is the father of four sons.  He coached their soccer teams, and later joined them in wrestling and pick-up football.

Pat’s interests include shooting pool, memorizing Scripture, reading drama and poetry, and bowling—not necessarily in that order.

Pat has been a minister of music for more than 20 years.  He is executive director of the Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship.

What He Said…”It’s Not Fair!”

Children cry that for good reason.  No one wants to live in a world without justice.

That’s why a child raised in a permissive home tends to grow up insecure.  In the short run, he may delight in getting away with wrongdoing without penalty.  But in the long run, he lacks the conviction and security that result from a home in which correction is doled out consistently, fairly, and without delay.

Administering justice is one of the toughest responsibilities of parenting.  On one extreme are softhearted parents who can’t bring themselves (or take the time and effort) to discipline children, who clearly need it.

On the other extreme are parents who punish in anger and are abusive to their children.

Bible verses that implore us to discipline our children aren’t given simply so that we’ll keep them in line.  They call us to model God’s own justice, a part of His very nature.  Children raised in evenhanded homes learn to appreciate God’s sovereign justice.

Adapted from Raising Children to Adore God (Chosen, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

Engaging Our Communities – Community Outreach

Community OutreachSeveral sections of the Book of Isaiah (in Isaiah chapters 42-53) are sometimes called Servant Songs.  Isaiah applied the term servant to the nation Israel.  But he also used it to refer to Israel’s promised Messiah.

For today’s passage, this second sense is clearly intended. One confirmation of this is that Matthew quotes it (in Matthew 12:18-21) while writing about Jesus as that Messiah.

Interact with God’s Word

Isaiah 42:1-7

  1. What two roles did God say (v. 6) He had called His Servant to fill?
  2. How, according to verse 1, was the Servant strengthened to perform God’s calling?
  3. How would traits of the Servant (in vv. 2- 3a) encourage marginalized people?
  4. How might aspects of the Servant (in v. 3b) threaten powerful people?
  5. What does verse 4 add about the importance of pursuing justice to God?
  6. What about the Servant do you think caused God to express His pleasure?
  7. As God’s (small S) servants, how might similar involvements by us please Him?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Lord, like your chosen Servant, let me demonstrate gentleness, encouragement, justice, and truth where you have placed me.

Isaiah 42:1-7

1″Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, and I am pleased with him. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will reveal justice to the nations. 2He will be gentle—he will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3He will not crush those who are weak or quench the smallest hope. He will bring full justice to all who have been wronged.

4He will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” 5God, the LORD, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath and life to everyone in all the world. And it is he who says, 6″I, the LORD, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will guard and support you, for I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide all nations to me. 7You will open the eyes of the blind and free the captives from prison. You will release those who sit in dark dungeons.”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – Get Up and Go

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  I will cause my people and their homes around my holy hill to be a blessing.  – Ezekiel 34:26

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 5:13-16

After years of sobriety, there I was sitting on a barstool. Rows of festive bottles beckoned me. However, I was content with my glass of Diet 7-Up®.  God and I had worked out my drinking problem long ago.  I was in the bar for a higher purpose.

I’m a member of a new church in a rural area where there’s been none for almost 100 years. When we first built the church, the locals were indifferent to our invitations to join us for worship. We soon realized they wouldn’t be interested in our faith until they knew we cared about them. So we decided to go out and make friends.

My part was to start an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group. I found some prospects in the bar that afternoon. An AA group now meets regularly, and some of the members have achieved sobriety. Others in my church started a community food bank; it’s highly successful. We also made our church basement available as a free community center; it’s used regularly.

One man told me recently, “When you first built the church, we all laughed. But I see now that it’s a good thing. You’re helping people.”  We think it won’t be long before some enter the kingdom of God.

—Mike Raether in Montana

My Response: How could my church become a valued asset in my community?

Thought to Apply: People don’t care about your creeds until they see your deeds.—Rick Warren (pastor & author)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – …to Engagement

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  Work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon.  – Jeremiah 29:7

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 82:3-4

[continued from yesterday]  Then it dawned on me. These suburban Christians, steeped in individualism, could only understand a vision for the rebirth of a community through the lens of saving souls and adding to the church rolls. Reclaiming dangerous streets, regenerating fallen systems, transforming corrupted political power were aspects of God’s redeeming work in the world omitted from their biblical teaching.

It would be wrong to diminish in any way the wonder of God’s transforming work in the heart of a man. It would be equally wrong to devalue the importance of worship. But there’s more to salvation than the saving of an individual soul. Redemption also has societal implications.

Closing down a crack house that is destroying the lives of youth is at least as redemptive as rescuing a child from its clutches. Organizing a crime watch to eliminate break-ins is an important part of establishing the shalom that God desires for all His creation. People of faith must be engaged in transforming places as well as people.

The love of neighbor—not a small concern to God—is better seen and more effectual on the streets where we live than behind the walls where we worship.

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: What do we need to do to improve our community?

Thought to Apply: It is good and right that we reach into the river of despair and rescue people who are drowning. But it is time to move upstream and see who’s throwing them in.—Edmond Browning (New York minister)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – Beyond Relocation…

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?  – Matthew 5:13

Bonus Reading:  Genesis 13:12-13, 19:9; Genesis 14

Ten years ago I challenged a downtown congregation to change the blighted neighborhood around its church. Members moved in and took seriously the command to love their neighbors as themselves.

Last month I was invited back. The pastor’s son, now an associate, showed me a city map with a blue dot where each church family lived. The blocks around the church were nearly solid blue. “How many members live here now?” I asked, amazed.

“Nearly 250!” he smiled. He had bought a home here. So had his dad and several staff.

“So what’s happened in the community?” I asked eagerly. They’d started an after-school tutoring program, summer camp, ESL classes, a counseling ministry to single moms, he told me. They’d formed a community development corporation and hired a director.

“But has crime gone down?” I persisted. “Has drug trafficking dried up? Has prostitution left? Has education in the schools improved?”

“No,” the young pastor admitted, “not really.”

“Is there a vision for the community?” I pressed. The question drew puzzled looks and more talk of evangelism and getting people into the church. [continued tomorrow]

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: Does my church fill a role in my community beyond evangelism?

Thought to Apply: The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.—William Temple (English diplomat & author)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach