Thursday, January 12, 2017

Worship Anyway


Sometimes we sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul… worship His holy name. Sing like never before, O my soul… worship His holy Name.” and really, really mean it! Things are going great at home, at work, etc. We’re not stressed out. We’re getting proper rest. We’ve got money in the bank, good health. We’re ready to sing for joy to the Lord!

But then there are times we’re just not feeling it. Maybe things aren’t going so well in our lives. Or we’re nervous about something. We might be struggling with our health or finances or family issues. Perhaps we’re dealing with a painful situation and we’re not sure we’re all that happy with God right now, or perhaps even a little angry with Him. Whatever the reason, praise and worship just aren’t going to come very naturally to us.

So how can we force ourselves to do something we don’t feel like doing? And why should we? As the song says, there are literally 10,000 reasons. But for now, I’m going to focus on just four:

HE IS GOD!



Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
(Ps 100:3 NASB)

What does it mean to know that the Lord is God? Look at how the Amplified version expands that word: “Know (perceive, recognize, and understand with approval) that the Lord is God!” This is both a command and an invitation.

We should bring our praise and worship to God because He is God. And honestly, we could stop right there - because what other reason do we need? God is God. There is no other. Because of Who He is, He is uniquely and exclusively worthy to receive all of our praise. We don’t worship Him because we feel like it. We worship Him because of Who He is!

Even in our imperfect political system, we recognize the respect that is owed to those who occupy certain offices. For example, during the State of the Union speech, when the President enters the room, EVERYONE rises. They’re not all happy to be there. And they certainly don’t all feel like it. But they do it because of who he is.

When we gather for worship, we are blessed to have the Commander and Chief of the Universe in this room with us! So whether we feel like it or not, the right thing to do is to give Him praise and honor and glory! Psalm 33:1b in the Amplified version says “…praise is becoming and appropriate for those who are upright [in heart]” (emphasis mine).

HE MADE YOU!
Psalm 100:3 goes on to say that it is He (God) Who made us. God is our Creator. We literally owe Him everything. We would not be here without Him. So another reason to worship the Lord whether you feel like it or not is because He’s the One who made you.
It’s fun to watch athletes celebrate. A golfer pumps his fist, a football player leaps into the stands, a basketball player cuts down the net. But sometimes a player will do something spectacular and will bow on a knee or point to the heavens as if to say, “Lord, You’re the One who got me here. You’re the One who made me. I believe in You. I did this because of You.”

When we join together in corporate praise and worship, it’s an opportunity for us to focus again on what’s truly important. Life is hectic. It pushes us to focus on ourselves, pat ourselves on the back, and strive to achieve more. We hardly ever slow down to catch our breath, let alone take time for God. Corporate praise and worship is our opportunity to publicly acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him.
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
(Luke 17:11-19 NASB)

I can’t help but wonder what was going on with the other nine. But we need to be like the one who came back. We need to stop what we’re doing every once in awhile and praise the Lord for what He is doing in our lives. And that leads me to my next point.

WE HAVE A LOT TO BE THANKFUL FOR!
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
(Ps 100:4 NASB)

It’s easy to thank God for the big things. The narrowly avoided accident, the friend or family member who came to faith, a recovery from an illness or injury, a new job, or some unexpected blessing. And it is right for us to give thanks for these things!

But we also need to thank God for all the things we take for granted. Thank God for the friends and family He’s put in our lives. Thank Him for having a roof over our heads and food in our pantries. Thank Him for our health. Thank Him for the times we didn’t even know we were spared by His grace.

We can even thank Him in adverse circumstances. Matthew Henry was robbed. He wrote in his journal, “Let me be thankful -- first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; and third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].
(1 Thess 5:18 AMP)

In how much? In EVERYTHING! Regardless of the circumstances. Not just when things are going well. It isn’t just a good idea… it’s God’s will! This is one of the greatest ways we can worship God, when we give Him thanks even when things aren’t going well!!!

BECAUSE GOD IS GOOD!

For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
(Ps 100:5 NASB)

God is good, even when we’re NOT good. He’s loving even when we’re not loving. He’s faithful even when we’re not faithful. And not just to us. Verse 5 says He treats all generations that way! God is good and loving and faithful to everyone!
And as we are fond of reminding each other - God is good all the time, and all the time God is good! Not just when we feel good. Being a person who can go through difficult times and worship anyway isn’t about being able to psych yourself into it. It isn’t about feeling worshipful. It isn’t about being excited enough to “get your praise on.”  

The reason we worship God even when we don’t feel like it is because it’s the greatest thing we can do with our life. No accomplishment in life will ever equal that. College is good, family is important, work is great, but none of these things will fill the God-shaped hole inside of you. The only way to be a complete person is to become a devoted worshipper of Jesus Christ. Let’s forget about ourselves, concentrate on Him and worship Him!

. . . . .

This blog was complete up until this point when I got news that brought the message home in a real way. Just three weeks ago our daughter, Faith, and her husband, Parker, shared with us the exciting news that we would be grandparents for the first time! Today, as this blog was practically complete, Faith called to tell us that when they went for the ultrasound they discovered she was pregnant with twins … but she was miscarrying. What a gut-check. But all I could think of is what Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b) Throughout the afternoon we have been calling and texting back and forth, encouraging one another, crying together, and praising the Lord together. Yes, we worship the Lord, knowing that life comes from Him and returns to Him. We have two more deposits in heaven waiting for us to join them. And until we see them, we will worship anyway!

So how about you? Will you worship anyway?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

New Beginnings


Why do we like New Year’s so much? I think it’s because it represents a chance to start over, a clean slate, a fresh start. We’ve all experienced our share of mistakes, failures and missed opportunities. We all have things we would do differently if given the chance. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a “Do Over” button in life? I believe this New Year can be different because the God we serve is the God of New Beginnings.

There’s one story in the Bible that really captures this reality for me. It’s the story of the woman caught in adultery. Let’s look at her story in John 8 and let me share a few major points that jump out to me.

My New Beginning Depends on God and Not Someone Else.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, (John 8:3 NASB)
I’m glad that my future and my relationship with God do not depend on other people or I would be in big trouble.
It was the religious leaders that brought her to Jesus. The people you and I would have thought might have some compassion on her were the actual ones condemning her. Thank God her New Beginning didn’t depend on them! You may be thinking that your New Beginning depends upon someone else. For example:

  • Marrieds: “I will have a New Beginning  if my husband/wife chooses to be a better spouse.”
  • Singles: “I will have a New Beginning if I can find that perfect mate this year.”
  • Employee: “I will have a New Beginning if my boss treats me with respect.”
  • Student: “I will have a New Beginning if my teachers will just give me a break.”
You need to hear this! Your New Beginning does not depend upon anybody but God. If you are depending on someone other than God, you will never get it. God and God alone can give you a New Beginning.

My New Beginning Depends on God and Not What I Think About Myself .

They said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. (John 8:4-6 NASB)
Religious leaders think they now have Jesus. If He shows her mercy then they can accuse Him of violating the Old Testament Law.  If he abides by the Law He would be breaking the Roman law. But they were mistaken in how Jesus was going to respond to them. It never crossed their minds that He would find a way to show compassion while upholding God’s standard of holiness.

We do the same thing in our own lives. We talk ourselves out of New Beginnings by thinking, “Jesus wouldn’t do that for me. You don’t realize all those things that I have done in my past. God surely won’t forgive those things. How can God possible forgive me?”
Why don’t you let God make the decision how He wants to deal with you rather than you trying to make that decision for Him? In John 8, the religious leaders were wrong on how Jesus was going to deal with the woman caught in adultery. And you and I might be wrong in our own lives about how God going to deal with us. He may want to give you a New Beginning today, but you can not accept it because you can not possibly think God would give you that chance. Please… let God choose.

I Must Acknowledge That I Need a New Beginning.

But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NASB)

Jesus makes the statement, “he who is without sin throw the first stone.” Jesus knew that no person in that crowd was without sin. The woman caught in adultery was in sin, but so were the religious leaders who brought her to Jesus, and so was the crowd that gathered around to watch the event. All have sinned. That means that every single person in the sound of Jesus’ voice that day needed a New Beginning, not just the woman caught in adultery. But she was the only one who got one that day.
When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. (John 8:9 NASB)

Jesus didn’t tell the others to leave; He just told them to throw the first stone if you are without sin. I believe that Jesus desired that they all stay to receive their New Beginning. Instead, they all left. They refused to accept her New Beginning, and in doing so they also refused to receive their own New Beginning. They went away still enslaved by their sin.

That was their choice. What will yours be? Everyone reading these words today needs a New Beginning. We need a New Beginning on our jobs. We need a New Beginning in our homes. We need a New Beginning in our friendships. We desperately need a New Beginning in our Fellowship with God.

God’s New Beginning Will Change My Life

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NASB)
Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

You and I will know if we have accepted God’s New Beginning if our life is no longer the same. If it is the “same old, same old,” we haven’t accepted the New Beginning God has for us. But if you’re stuck in the “same old, same old,” don’t despair - simply recognizing you need a New Beginning can be the start of YOUR New Beginning! When we get fed up enough with your current situation that you cry out to God for a New Beginning, He promises to answer. And He will give you the steps YOU need to take for your New Beginning.
Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:
  • Begin reading your Bible (again!). Use a reading guide to keep you on track, and consider joining me on Facebook in our Bible Reading group.
  • Start a family devotional. There are some great resources to help you. Consider using the Jesus Storybook Bible and read a chapter a night.
  • Reexamine what you listen to. Choose to listen to a sermon a week or some new praise and worship music on a regular basis.
  • Have an intentional private time of praise and worship. Private worship makes public worship meaningful.
  • Go to a marriage retreat or read a book on relationships. This isn’t an expense, it’s an investment!
  • Look for ways to serve someone else. Being part of our CARE Team outreaches is a great way to serve others!

These are just a few simple suggestions. But whatever the Lord puts on your heart, do it with ALL your heart. And model these things for your children. Remember that the things children learn are more “caught than taught” --- as they see you walking in the New Beginning God has for you, it will make them hungry for their own personal relationship with God.

It’s a new year. So it’s a good time to start since we’ve all been given a New Beginning!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

No Blog this week

Hi all!

There's no blog this week due to poor internet access in Mexico. I shared briefly in the Weekend Update that the trip is going well. But I don't have good enough internet service to upload pictures or do much else besides tell you that there's no blog this week. Although technically, since I'm writing this note to you to tell you there's no blog, I guess there is a blog. Only it's a blog to tell you there's no blog this week! ;) But I'll be back next week with another OverSquozen entry! Until then...

I love serving Jesus with you!
Nathan

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Old Carols in a New Light #3 - O Come, All Ye Faithful


I’m sorry this blog is coming out late this week. I’ve been helping with the community response for a family whose house burned down on Monday. It’s been wonderful to see how the community has responded. Now for this week’s blog...

This is my final installment of “Old Carols in a New Light” for this year! I’ve enjoyed sharing these carols with you. It’s easy to see why they have stood the test of time! There’s a lot of depth, a lot of meat to these hymns, and we could easily devote entire posts to digging into the truths contained in just a single line.

Today I want to talk about “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The phrase “the faithful” is often used as a synonym for “believers” or “Christians.” Why? Because faithfulness is a distinguishing mark of God’s children. (Num 12:5-8) If you recall Jesus’ parable of the talents the adjective the master uses to describe the industrious slaves who gave him a return on his investment was “faithful” – “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mat 25:21)

So this carol was written to believers - the faithful - and we would not even know the carol today if it weren’t for several different men of God in different places and different generations being faithful where they were.

The Story of the Carol

This carol was inspired by a Latin poem written by an Italian bishop (St. Bonaventura) in the 1200s. It was chanted in the ancient churches as the processional song for Christmas morning services. About 450 years later a Roman Catholic layman named John Francis Wade found the poem and produced a copy of the Latin Christmas Carol beginning with the phrase “Adeste Fideles.”

About 100 years later, an Anglican minister named Rev. Frederick Oakeley came across Wade’s Latin Christmas carol. Being deeply moved, he translated it into English for his church. His first translation was “Ye Faithful, Approach Ye.” Later, he revised his translation and this time he came up with the simpler, and now familiar “O Come All Ye Faithful”

Three men of God, living hundreds of years apart in different nations and different traditions, combined their talents to bid us come, joyful and triumphant, and adore Him born the King of angels! The body of Christ cannot be contained in one local assembly, in one nation, in one ethnic group. It is made up of believers through the ages. (Heb 12:1-2,22-24.)

The Message of the Carol

Let’s take a look at some of the lines from the carol and see what nuggets of truth we can discover:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels...

Why Bethlehem? To fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2! When Herod wanted to know where the Messiah would be born, he called the priests and scribes. Based on Micah’s prophecy they told him the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem” "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."

But there may be two other reasons reasons God chose Bethlehem as the birthplace of His Son:

1 - In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” In the Old Testament the Bread of Heaven (aka “manna”) sent by God to feed Israel in the wilderness is a “pre-shadow” of the Messiah. And you may recall, the Jews grumbled about Jesus because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:41) So where else would the “Bread of Life” come from except from the “House of Bread” - Bethlehem?

2 - Near Bethlehem was a tower called “Migdal Eder,” the Tower of the Flock. It was the place where lambs destined for the Temple were born and raised. Every firstborn male lamb from the area around Bethlehem was considered holy, set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The shepherds would separate the lambs, choosing only the perfect first-born males for the temple.

Think about it - where else would “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” be born, if not in Bethlehem? And why else would the angels call shepherds to come inspect this first-born lamb? And how else could they respond, but to sing?

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above;
Glory to God, glory in the highest...

These lines are based on the Christmas story as recorded in Luke 2. “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” (Luke 2:13-14) It’s interesting that the word “host” is used in this verse. Normally, it is only used to refer to an army. So here we have an army celebrating peace! What better group to announce peace than a group that can enforce peace?!

But notice that the angels did not come to give peace. They came to announce peace! And who has this peace? Real peace on earth exists only among those who are the subjects of God’s goodwill, who are characterized by goodwill toward God and man. This is an odd statement. Peace is not proclaimed to everyone. Only to those who please God. This is why Jesus came to bring a sword, to divide between those who are well-pleasing in His sight, and those who are not.

So how do we become numbered among those who please God? Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. So if you do not believe, you can not have peace! But if you believe, God’s promise is peace. Wow!

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing...

John 1:14 tells us that the Word became flesh. That means that Jesus took on flesh, took on our humanity, in order to save us. The theological term for “the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing” is the Incarnation. That’s a big word, but it has an even bigger meaning.

I’ve shared this story before but it bears repeating. One especially frigid night, a man who was not a believer heard some noise outside. It was a flock of disoriented birds, and he knew that they would freeze to death if they couldn’t find shelter. He ran to barn and threw the doors open. He whistled and tried to shoo them, but they wouldn’t go in. He took bread and corn and made a path, but they wouldn’t follow.

Moved by compassion but frustrated by his inability to help, he longed for a way to just communicate with them. “If I could just tell them I don’t want to hurt them, that there’s warmth and shelter if they would just trust me. But I’m a man and they’re birds and we don’t speak the same language. If I could just become a bird, I could tell them!” Then it hit him: that’s what Christmas is all about.

Without the incarnation, without Jesus, man would be wandering about, perishing, not knowing how to find shelter. So God became a man to tell us how to be saved!

The Call of the Carol

O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

The refrain of this carol is an unmistakable call to worship. And in case you missed it the first time, it’s repeated three times at the end of each verse: O come, let us adore Him! Musically, when we sing this carol, we tend to start soft and build intensity with each repetition, reaching a crescendo as we proclaim the object of our worship, “Christ the Lord!”

Unfortunately often in life, our circumstances threaten to take our worship in the opposite direction. When we first come to faith or have an experience that renews our faith, our worship is exuberant. Then life chips away at us. We still worship, but lose some of that joy. And when things get tough, we can find ourselves burdened by worries, diminished by feelings of loss, to the point where our adoration is barely above a whisper. It doesn’t have to be that way, it just sometimes is.

The good news is there can be “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19) all throughout our Christian experience. Sometimes we simply need to slow down and take stock of all that God has done for us, how He had mercy on us and saved us. Sometimes there may be some repentance involved as well. And sometimes God uses special celebrations, like the commemoration of the Incarnation or the Resurrection to restore His joy to our hearts. But the promised times of refreshing that Acts 3:19 speaks of “come from the presence of the Lord.” As you press in to Him, to seek Him with “all your heart” (Jer 29:13), you will find His presence becomes very real.

So no matter where you find yourself on that continuum, whether you identify with the “joyful and triumphant” or feel like you’re in a difficult season, the call to worship remains: O come, let us adore Him! How about it? Let’s make this Christmas more about PRESENCE than presents - the presence of the Lord that floods our lives when we worship. O come, let us adore Him! Christ the Lord!