Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It's All About Obedience. But Why?

When you get down to it, There’s a God who created us and desires a relationship with us, but the functionality of that relationship hinges on OBEDIENCE on our part. Here is where the cart and horse thing comes into play: when your obedience to the commands of God as spelled out in His Holy Word is a legalistic means to an end in order to expect God’s blessings and to escape damnation, your RELATIONSHIP with God will not be at all be what He desires for you. In this condition, you are really still in control of your life and destiny, or so you think and act. Yet, when you have a RELATIONSHIP with God based upon the love He has shown you, in which you understand that He gave His Son to save you from death and destruction and has delivered you, then your OBEDIENCE becomes your greatest desire because there is no greater way to show your love to Him!  In this condition, you have given up your rights and you are not in control of your own destiny— God is in control of your life and your death. Only in that position can you truly know what it is to have a RELATIONSHIP with the Father.


 It’s a little bit like the different kinds of relationships that can exist between an earthly parent and a teenager.  Some teens obey their parent’s rules very reluctantly and begrudgingly. They are strong-willed and defiant, and they definitely want to maintain control of their own lives. Others are much more obedient, but have found security and happiness in submission to authority and would never want to do anything that would displease their parents. 

 How would you describe your RELATIONSHIP with God the Father? Do you feel there are rules you have to obey but would rather not? Or do you feel you get to obey the Father and desire nothing else but to please Him? The answer to finding a powerful and daily RELATIONSHIP with God has everything to do with our daily submission to Him and His commands. This is why Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” So what does this have to do with music? You have been commanded by our God to sing! Over and over we see this in the Bible:

“Let us sing psalms of praise to him.” Psalm 95:2

“I will praise God’s name with singing.” Psalm 69:30

“Sing joyfully about his glorious acts. “Psalm 107:22

“Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him!” 1 Chronicles 16:9

“Sing to the LORD, all the earth.” 1 Chronicles 16:23

“Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing.” Psalm 100:2


 So how are you going to obey this command? Out of duty and compulsion? May your singing be done out of love and praise for the God who has saved you!  Sing everyday.  But especially add your voice to singing in worship--either from the pew or (Insert  shameless plug:) from the CHOIR LOFT!

Friday, January 1, 2016

A First Blog Post for 2016

Here I raise mine ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I've come!  These familiar words are from the hymn "Come. Thou Fount of Every Blessing" written by Robert Robinson in 1758.  I guess what has been surprising to me through the years is that this single phrase has been used to declare why we should not sing the old hymns because singing "Christianeze" words that the world doesn't understand does not help evangelize the lost and only turns off the modern generation.  Well, did it ever occur to anybody that if you come across a word you don't understand, it might be a good idea to look it up or even ask someone what it means?  Good grief, you can Google it and find the answer in about one minute!

This phrase was penned because the author knew his Bible enough to know the word "ebenezer".  It is found in 1 Samuel 7 where the prophet Samuel and the Israelites found themselves under attack by the Philistines. Fearing for their lives, the Israelites begged Samuel to pray for them in their impending battle against the Philistines. Samuel offered a sacrifice to God and prayed for His protection. God listened to Samuel, causing the Philistines to lose the battle and retreat back to their own territory. After the Israelite victory, the Bible records: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12).  The word ebenezer comes from the Hebrew words ’eben hà-ezer (eh’-ben haw-e’-zer), which simply mean “stone of help”. 

So, what better time to "raise an ebenezer" than at the end of 2015 and the beginning 2016!  Stop long enough to look back and thank God for all the blessings He bestowed in 2015!  Then thank Him and credit Him for getting you through the tough trials, tragedies and heartaches of this past year!  Pray a prayer something like, " Father, here I raise an ebenzer, a stone of help, to declare that I know that it was by Your grace and mercy that I am alive today and have an opportunity to serve you today and however many more days you grant to me in this coming year.  In Yeshua's name I pray, Amen!"

One more thought: When Robert Robinson wrote his hymn in the 1700's do you think he purposefully wrote a lyric that he thought nobody would understand, or did he assume that people knew their Bibles well enough in his day to understand what was meant by "raise an ebenezer?"  If people indeed don't know their Bibles very well in 2016, what is wrong with finding more obscure phrases or words in the Bible to include in our worship songs as a means of increasing Bible knowledge?

Friday, December 4, 2015

How Important Is Your Halacha?

Halacha - Ha - la - kah is a Hebrew word which literally means "behavior" or "The way you live."  For the orthodox Jew, this is totally wrapped up in the teaching of the Talmud which uses the Torah as its basis, but includes the rabbinic teachings and established traditions.  A Jew's halacha includes the keeping of the 613 laws found in the Torah, but will be expounded upon by the interpretations and additions made by the rabbis.  For example, the Torah teaches in Ex. 23:19 not to boil a kid (goat) in its mother's milk. This is a sanctity of life matter and about respect for the mother, but the rabbis added their interpretation of this to mean don't mix meat and dairy products.  In modern times, this was elaborated upon to prohibit the cooking of meat and dairy in the same oven.  So, an orthodox Jewish home must have two ovens - one for meat and one for dairy because the very steam from cooking meat may collect on the walls of an oven and possibly contaminate a cake with eggs if cooked in the same oven. 

If we want to live pleasing lives for our Heavenly Father, we know that because we are all sinners and have broken all of God's commandments, we are lost and need the Messiah's indwelling of His Holy Spirit to give us the ability to have a halacha that pleases God and makes us acceptable to Him.

Jesus, Yeshua, came to give us all a halacha that will bless us in this life, but also bring glory to our Heavenly Father which is our main purpose in life!

But we are all on our own separate spiritual journeys, travelling at differing speeds, receiving inspired revelations from God and His Word with different perspectives and insights and unique applications to our circumstances in life.  This is why the Body of Christ in the world today may be joined together by the same Savior, but yet also be greatly divided by our halacha--our understanding of how we are to live and walk the Way of the Master.

Paul addressed this in his letter to the church in Rome.  The Jews and Gentiles who were finding themselves in unity through the common forgiveness of sins by Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, were also finding themselves being divided by different understandings of what a New-Born Believer's halacha should be!  Paul's bottom line to the Church was, "Don't let your various opinions and camp divisions over halacha take priority over your unity!"  Wow, that's what we need to hear today!

Isn't it interesting that the Church today deals with the exact same problem that the Church in Rome was experiencing--the need for unity in the midst of differing halacha?  It is just sad that so many Believers will go to their graves thinking they will be rewarded (gain glory for themselves) for having maintained a strict halacha which isolated them from the larger context of The Body only to find out at the Judgment that the Father would have been more pleased if unity had been the goal which would have brought more glory to the Father!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

“Music is My Life!” Really?

Everybody wants to find something in life they are really good at.  And when we do, the temptation is there to let that talent or that ability become our focus in life.  This is where Satan trips us up because he wants us to become idolaters who will put anything ahead of God.  Satan has no problem with you having God “in your life.”  He just wants to make sure that God is not #1 in your life!

I came across this testimonial by a young lady about the impact that music has had on her life.  I am thrilled that music can be used for such a powerful motivation in a person’s life.  But what if God was actually first place in her life?  If so, I believe she would find that God’s gift of music, while being a tremendous blessing and tool in her life, is not the source of her joy in life, God’s Salvation is the source of her joy.  Your source for abundant living must be something that you will never lose or cannot be taken away from you.  Musical talent will fade or can be taken in a single accident or sickness.  Once you surrender your life to Jesus, that relationship is permanent for eternity!

Here is the power of music:

When I joined band I never knew how drastically it could change my life.
Music gave me the energy and motivation to get involved with other sports. It helped me realize that I could have a better and healthier lifestyle. Music made me start dancing, without caring who was watching.  Before I started high school, I was shy, quiet, and unnoticed. When I joined band, I changed. I became a better, more outgoing person.  Music is the one thing in my life that makes sense and is a huge part of my life. Music is, and always will be my life, my soul, my greatest achievement, and my passion.

Here is the power of the Holy Spirit:

When I became a follower of Jesus Christ I never knew how drastically it could change my life.
Jesus gave me the energy and motivation to get involved with what really matters in this life. God’s Word helped me realize that I could have a better and healthier lifestyle. The Holy Spirit in me made me start dancing, without caring who was watching.  Before I started high school, I was shy, quiet, and unnoticed. When I trusted in Jesus, I changed. I became a better, more outgoing person.  My personal relationship with God is the one thing in my life that makes sense and is a huge part of my life. Jesus is, and always will be my life, my soul, my greatest achievement, and my passion.  And I am so thankful to God for His gift of music in my life to express my joy in Him!

Joyfully Yours,

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pursuing Holiness

I was striking up a spiritual conversation with a man in the mall Monday with thte Singing Churchmen in Cleveland,and I began asking him of his musical interests.  He was a Believer and the B3 player at his church.   I asked him if he just picked it up on his own or did he ever take lessons and he said he took lessons when he was young but didn't like it and didn't like his teacher.  My wife is a piano teacher and has about 40 students, and I told him how I have observed through the years that virtually all of Julie's piano students want to play the piano.   But not all of them want to LEARN to play the piano.  They think that just because they take piano lessons from Julie and carry the label of being a piano student that somehow they will just become pianists.  Not all the students count the cost of what it takes to become a piano player.  There is something they must do everyday - it is called practice! 

I think the same thing may be said of Christians who don't really practice their faith everyday and somehow think they will be all that God wants them to be by just having a belief system in the heads and their name on a church role, but not striving for holiness. 

Now I know that Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus."  And I know that many preachers love to proclaim this "positional truth" to their people with the intent of getting them to stop thinking they have to do things to achieve or earn a state of righteousness from God.  I believe that the soul that has truly invited the Lord Jesus to come into their heart and has received God's forgiveness of their sins has also become an inheritor of eternal life.  God in His mercy and grace will look upon us who have truly called upon the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation, and He will declare us righteous when we stand before Him at the judgment.  So don't get me wrong - I am not about to say that we need to do anything to win God's favor because we can't!   But being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a journey in the pursuit of holiness.  This is called sanctification, and the Bible encourages us to endure the race we have begun with the assurance that He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

Here are a few scriptures that speak to this pursuit of righteousness:  (Notice the choices that are up to you to make in this pursuit.)

Is 33:15-17  He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar.

You have a choice as a Believer as to where you go, what you say, what you do with your income, what you choose to listen to and what you choose to look at.  According to God's Word, the choices you make in these things will determine whether or not you dwell on the heights or the depths, whether or not your defenses will be like rocks or paper, whether or not you will struggle for the necessities of life, and whether or not you will "behold the king in his beauty" and sees His Kingdom.  Someone may say "Oh, but that's from the O.T. - those people had to watch how they walked, but we don't have to because we live now under grace and Jesus will forgive us for all our sins" as if God just overlooks all of our sins and forgiveness is just an automatic benefit for the Believer.  Jesus did not die on the cross to give us a license to sin.  He calls us to follow him in crucifixion so that we would die to self and live in Him with His commandments now written in our hearts and stop sinning, living a life of obedience to Him!  The people in Paul's day were dealing with this same struggle in the pursuit of holiness and what did he tell them? Romans 5-6 says, "There's no sin He cannot forgive, His grace is big enough to cover all of our sins.  Where sin abounds, his grace abounds even more!  But what shall we say then, shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?  God forbid!  How shall we who are dead to sin continue to live therein?"

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness. (You must do the "fleeing" part and the pursuing part.  How good are you at that?  Whatever your answer, strive to be a better "flee-er" and pursuer)

Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end (the purpose, the final result, the target) of the law (the Torah) for righteousness to everyone who believes. (You must do the believing part.  Can you let go and trust Him more?)

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (You must do the reading and studying of the scriptures in order to be trained and to show thyself approved.  Can you get into it more?)

Proverbs 2:6-20

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity and every good path.  (You must do the walking in integrity part.  Can you be more careful and conscious of how and where you walk?)

We are not just following a set of mental philosophies or internal beliefs.  The question is, "Do you really want to please the Lord and show him you love him in gratitude for what He has done for you? Jesus said, "If you love me, (here is what you can do to show that love) keep my commandments!"  When he said that, the NT had not yet been written, so what commandments do you think he could have been referring to?  Someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was and you remember that he said the first is Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and the second is love thy neighbor as thyself.  I have heard people deduce from these words of Jesus that we are simply to love God and love each other.  But when Jesus stated that these two commandments were the greatest, he further said , "and on these two hang all of the Law and the Prophets" - meaning that all of the laws can really be categorized as being under the heading of how we respond to God and how we respond to each other.  But Jesus also said in Matthew, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (the Torah or God's Instruction) until everything is accomplished."  So, I think that we are to seek to obey God to the fullest - not because we have to in order to earn salvation or earn anything from God, but because we get to.  We want to tell Jesus how much we love Him and He is the one that said, "If you want to show me your love, the best present you can give me is to keep my commandments."  And I think this not only applies to the written commandments, but also the commandments that He speaks directly to only you. 

Lastly, what do you do with this verse:

1 John 5:18

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects himself, and the evil one does not touch him.

Is there anyone here who is born of God and has stopped sinning altogether?   What does John mean to say in this verse?  Some paraphrases of this verse interpret this to say that a true Believer does not make it a practice to keep sinning, and that Jesus will protect the Believer from the Evil one.  All I can do is explain it this way: In this earthly life we will never be sinless, but the longer we live in this life we should sin less.  Let's just encourage each other along the way to be diligent in our faith and keep confessing our sins and let's be that army rising up to bring glory to our great God and HIs Kingdom!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Be Rich in Memories and Poor in Regrets

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”  1 Peter 3:1  This past weekend I reconnected with my childhood once again when the SC Baptist Singing Churchmen sang at Crestview Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.  My childhood from ages 3 to 14 covered 1960-1971 with friends who hold a very special place in my heart to this day.  But the experience is the closest thing to time travel I can imagine.  My formative years were bottled up for storage when my family moved away from Dayton to West Columbia, SC when as I was 14 years old.   So, all of those memories and feelings connected with Dayton were just frozen in time for me and very capsulated in my brain.  The people that were very much a part of my life were suddenly gone and new people, places and experiences took their place.  I have only returned to Dayton for brief, yet intense visits three times since 1971: In 1985 when I took my youth choir from Virginia to sing, in 2006 for the church’s 50th Anniversary Sunday, and now in 2015 with the Singing Churchmen.   The faces I see are older, as is my own to them as well.  But the love and mutual thankfulness for those “wonder years” is so powerful because they truly were times filled with (pardon the alliteration) a lot of love, laughter, and learning to live life in a lasting relationship with the Lord!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My God, What Have We Become?

Truly, Jesus loves the little children of the world...and so should we. With all of the evil in this world, children have always been a source of joy and hope.  They have always been a reminder that every one of us were at one time innocent and trusting. And little children are proof that the world was intended to be a place of peace, love and harmony with our Creator and with each other...before sin entered the world and ruined everything.

But the plight of children around the world is also a reason for our adult hearts to break. This picture taken of a Syrian child has gone viral. The scared little girl thought the camera was a weapon and reacted in a pleading gesture of surrender. When our old English translation of the Greek New Testament records Jesus' words in Matthew 19:14, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," he did not at all mean that they should in any way be made to suffer!  In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Don't think for one moment that the suffering of little children like this little Syrian girl goes unnoticed by our Lord Jesus. When the depravity of man can rob and destroy the spirit of child-like trust of His children throughout the world, I believe we are near the end of the so-called Age of Grace, and judgment is soon to come. Pray for this little girl and her family right now.  Pray for an end to the suffering, fear and terror that threatens the futures of young souls everywhere.  And cry out to God for His mercy upon such a generation of sinful humanity we have grown to become.  Folks, we are in deep, deep trouble on this little planet, and we are in need of a cleansing that can only come from God who loved this world and gave Himself for it.  I believe that cleansing is on its way.  It's not going to be  pretty and it's not going to be easy, but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matt. 24:13)  Be encouraged, your God will come!  Shalom.