Sing against darkness

Try singing to God the next time you feel low.  It may bring light into your darkness.

That’s a suggestion of Terry Laws in his book The Power of Praise and Worship.

Laws says he used that approach after the sudden death of his wife Jan decades ago.  He was angry against God and Satan was trying to discourage him from continuing his worldwide ministry leading a worship group.

He notes that Christ used the words of scripture to refute Satan when the evil one tempted Jesus in the wilderness at the outset of his ministry on earth.  God’s words are powerful defensive weapons.

“The devil does not flee the presence of God’s Word in your mind,” Laws says.  “He’s also not afraid of God’s work in your past.  He flees only when you resist, and you do so the same way Jesus did in the wilderness.”

To resist, you must speak out the word of God, just as Jesus did.

“There must come a time when you make a deliberate choice to launch the warhead of God’s Word against the stronghold of the devil,” says Laws.

Then, he adds: “Why not sing God’s Word right there in the middle of your battle? Just sing it right into the darkness, and set yourself to keep on singing it until the darkness starts to flee.”

That’s what he did when he was in despair after his wife’s death.

“I quoted and sang Psalm 34:1 over and over:’I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall constantly be in my mouth.’”

Laws continues: “I was shining the light of God on a dark lie sent to convince me that I couldn’t praise him anymore.  That light exposed satan’s stronghold for what it was.  The light was already there, in my memory, but I had to aim it into the darkness.”

Thankfully, Laws is not suggesting you have to be a good singer.  That would count me out.  You don’t even have to know a particular tune with which to sing the words.

Just sing however you wish – a made-up tune will do just fine.

Somehow, singing lifts our spirits.

Indeed, God sings over us as the prophet tells us in Zephaniah 3:17: “He [God] will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

And the psalms were written to be sung.

As well, praise songs routed an attack of Moabites and Ammonites in King Jehoshaphat’s reign in the Old Testament.

Laws says we can turn to the scriptures to find words to fit our circumstances as we face doubts and evil thoughts sown by the Devil.

Sing God’s words until the darkness turns to light.

Advertisements

Only love

Sometimes, all you can do is love.

You can’t prevent your child from being bullied in the schoolyard or stop cancer from spreading in the body of your spouse or friend.

But you can love them in word or deed or prayer.  And you can hug them and join in their tears.

Love matters a lot.  I can remember many incidents of love from family and friends – they are burned into my memory.

They are as simple as my wife and eldest daughter showing concern for me immediately after I was wheeled out of prostate cancer surgery some years ago.  Or, unexpected acts of affection or kindness from my children and friends – too many to list.

Of course, Jesus placed priority on love – telling us to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).  He also told us to love others as he loved us – a very tall order since he gave his life for us (John 13:34).

The apostle Paul also stresses loving others in a passage in Romans 12:9-21 –  something our weekly men’s group discussed this last week.

He gives practical advice on how to love others – we must be sincere, cling to what is good, “be devoted to one another in brotherly love”.

He goes further to urge believers to “honour one another above yourselves” – very difficult for us without God’s help.  I am naturally self-centred and I believe many others are, too.

Paul then calls on us to  show hospitality and give to those in need.

And then he asks us to do the impossible – “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”.

When was the last time you blessed someone who attacked you or criticized you?  Exactly.  Very hard to do.

In fact, it’s impossible unless we submit to the Holy Spirit.  I believe it can only be achieved by asking God to empower us through the Spirit.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

It seems to me that blessing those who persecute you is asking for good things for people who hurt you.  It is a really loving act.

It is like Jesus asking God the Father to forgive those who had just nailed him to the cross.  He did not seek revenge on them, but did the opposite.

In Romans 13:10, Paul says: “Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

In other words, I can’t go wrong if I love others with godly love, the love of Jesus.

Letting go

Letting go is hard to do.

When I want something, I plan and work to get it.  But God may have other ideas.

Sometimes, letting go is the key to opening the door to something amazing.

What is more ridiculous than a worship band leading the army of Judah in praising God as they advance to fight a huge invading army?

Yet we know from 2 Kings 20 that is exactly what Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, ordered when the great army of Ammon and Moab invaded Judah.

Jehoshaphat and his people were desperate when they called on God for help.  A prophet, Jehaziel, told the king and the people they would win a resounding victory without having to fight.

They decided to set out against the invaders, simply praising God.  The Lord took over, throwing the enemy forces into confusion, fighting each other.  And the Ammonite and Moabite forces were destroyed.

Jehoshaphat and his people had to let go of their good sense and their natural instincts and let God take over.  They did it because there was nowhere else to turn – their only hope was God.

Catherine Marshall tells a similar story in her book Adventures in Prayer.  

She had been sick for six months in 1943, suffering from a serious lung infection.  A bevy of specialists and passionate prayer had failed to deal with it.

Then, one day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman who had been sick eight years, praying without seeing any improvement.  Finally, she told God that she gave up.

“If you want me to be an invalid, that’s your business,” the woman told the Lord.  “Anyway, I want you even more than health. You decide.”

In two weeks, the woman was out of bed completely cured.

Marshall finally reached the same point, weeping as she surrendered to God.  She told him: “I’m beaten, finished, God, you decide what you want for me.”

“Within a few hours I had experienced the presence of the living Christ in a way that wiped away all doubt and revolutionized my life,” Marshall writes. “From that moment, my recovery began.”

Letting go means giving up control to God.  It means acknowledging that he is my shepherd – the one who loves me, leads me, guards me and cares for me.

It’s a lesson I’m learning slowly.

Inner healing, outer healing

I heard a striking story last weekend which underlines God’s power in healing – both spiritually and physically.

An Australian-born speaker at a conference, organized by our son and daughter-in-law, described how God healed him years ago from two significant injuries: A serious shoulder problem and painful nerve damage in his neck.

The shoulder problem stemmed from a football injury which left a protruding bone sticking up from his shoulder and enduring pain.  The nerve damage sprang from a frightening incident on a farm when he fell beneath the hooves of a cow, stamping on his head.

He and his wife attended a healing service where the speaker urged those attending to ask the Holy Spirit for healing of whatever physical problem they had.  The Australian man focused his mind only on the nerve damage – and nothing happened.

Then, the speaker at the healing service said something like: “Someone’s shoulder has been healed.”

The Australian’s wife looked at him and told him it was his shoulder.  Indeed, the protruding bone had disappeared and his shoulder was normal.

But he wondered why the nerve damage remained.  So, he asked God why.

Over time, he felt the Lord was telling him that unforgiveness was standing in the way.  His uncle had abused him as a child – he did not say how – and he had never forgiven him.

When he forgave his uncle, the nerve damage disappeared and he was pain-free.

This story reminds me that Jesus healed people both spiritually and physically.  In fact, sometimes there was a close connection between spiritual issues and emotional or physical illness.

For example, Mark tells the story of Christ casting out evil spirits from a man in the Gerasenes region in Judea (Mark 5:1-20).  The man lived among tombs and was so strong he broke chains that people used in an attempt to bind him.  He would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus, the man ran over to him and, falling in front of him, begged him not to torture him.  The Lord cast out the demons into a herd of pigs that rushed into the nearby lake.

The man himself was restored to complete mental health and returned home to his family and his people, telling them of Jesus’ miraculous act.

Jesus repeatedly called on his followers to forgive others.  And he went further on the cross and asked the Father to forgive the people who nailed Christ to the wooden beams.

Bitterness, anger, unforgiveness can affect us emotionally and mentally.  And sometimes physically.

The Australian’s story prompts me to think about how spiritual issues may be affecting me in my own life.

And how to surrender them to God.

Restless

I freed myself from my computer for three days last weekend.  How refreshing!

Once again, I realized how much I am a captive of my computer – my mind and my fingers bouncing from one thought to another.

It’s a symptom of my inner restlessness.

I know I am not alone.  I see men, women and children clicking on their phones every day, often oblivious to the people around them.

Why this restlessness?

I can’t speak for others.  But, in my case, I believe there is a spiritual issue.

I am not resting in Christ.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This passage tells me that I must yield to Christ in everything – I must yoke myself to him and let him lead me.

I remember reading somewhere that, in Jesus’ time, a young ox was placed in a yoke beside a mature ox and learned how to pace himself from the older animal.  If the young ox plunged impetuously ahead, he was pulled up sharply by the older ox.  Gradually, he learned.

I love this passage.  It tells me that Jesus is not a hard-taskmaster – he is “gentle and humble in heart”.  And his demands are not frightening – his “yoke is easy”.

The question is: Do I really want to give up running my life my way?

The apostle Paul answered “Yes” to that question.

In Philippians 4:12-13, he said:  “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Paul gave himself entirely to Jesus and received his strength and guidance.  The Book of Acts and his letters testify to his willingness to do whatever Christ asked him to do.

What if Christ asks me to do what Paul did?  That’s a scary thought.

But Jesus is not asking me to become Paul.  He is asking me to “abide” or “dwell” in him as he said in John 15:4.  I am to let the Holy Spirit flow through me in my daily life and to follow his leading.

God has chosen a path for me and he knows what I am able to do.

The youth exodus

A friend and I were chatting this week about how to stem the massive exodus of young Christians from church.

So how do we do it?  Maybe we should do what Jesus did.

He went outside the synagogue walls and into the marketplace with his young disciples.  There he dealt with the real needs of people – spiritual and physical – healing many and speaking directly to their hearts with the good news of God.

Then, he spent time with his close disciples, answering their questions and teaching them.

Finally, he sent these young, inexperienced men out into the countryside – two-by-two – to bring healing and the gospel to others.

So what happened to these men?  They learned what ministry to others is really like the way Jesus did it.  And they learned to lean on God in the fire of life.

They saw the transforming power of God at work in ordinary lives.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, they were ready to take up his challenge to make disciples of the nations.

So, Jesus’ method was simple: Go out with disciples to where people are, show God’s love to them, share the gospel, and commission the disciples to go out in the same way themselves.

I realize that it is an uncomfortable thing to do.  Like many Christians, I’d much rather live quietly and avoid the problems of other people.

But Jesus’ approach to reaching people is exciting.  It really is life-changing – not only for the people we meet but for ourselves, too.

I believe that kind of life would appeal to many young people.

But that means we older Christians would need to lead that kind of life, as well.  We would need to risk ourselves in the outside world.  Only as we live like Jesus will young people be inspired to live like us.

Also, we would need to let young people make mistakes and learn from failure.  We would need to yield responsibility and leadership to them in their outreach efforts.

A Southern Baptist Convention study in 2002 estimated that 88 per cent of children in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18.  I have no proof, but I believe many leave because they are bored and see no relevance of the Christian faith in ordinary life.

And I believe that would change dramatically if young people – and us adults – walked the way Jesus walked.

Pulling together

Pastors of churches in Katy, Texas have been praying together every week for 20 years, so when Hurricane Harvey hit two weeks ago, they were ready to leap into action.

While Harvey was still raging,  the pastors prayed together and immediately developed a coordinated plan to help the people of the town of 17,000 in the Houston area.

The story of the Katy effort was featured this week in an interview conducted by Daniel Henderson, head of the 6:4 Fellowship which supports pastors and helps them develop their spiritual and prayer lives.

For me, this is a living illustration of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 where he called on believers to be one as he and the Father are one.

“May they [believers] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” Christ said in verse 23.

A simple thing like praying together can break down barriers between Christians and open the way for God to work mightily in our towns and cities.

Jim Leggett, a Katy pastor, told Daniel Henderson that he was “super-grateful” that the foundation for the Katy relief initiative had been laid years before through weekly prayer gatherings of the Katy pastors.

Every year, 80 pastors also hold 24-hour pastoral prayer summits where they pray for each other and for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.  And annually the churches come together for the National Day of Prayer with 4,000-5,000 church members meeting in the auditorium of a local high school.

After praying together on the second day of the hurricane, the Katy pastors started developing a strategy to help residents of Katy.

“The first thing out of our mouths after prayer was: ‘Let’s do this together!'” Leggett said.

They decided to split responsibilities.  One church provided water, another clothes, and so on.

Leggett’s church housed 100 people from a residence for the chronically-ill.  Other churches joined his in providing shelter for those flooded out of their homes.

People were directed to specific churches where they could get the help they needed.

Everyone pitched in with “mucking out” – cleaning homes damaged with water and mud.

Jesus commanded believers in John 13:34 to love one another.  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The Katy pastors have shown us how to love one another.

Offended by good news

People are offended by all kinds of things today – even the good news of Jesus.

Surprisingly, the apostle Paul would be pleased that the message of Jesus is still upsetting people.  In his view, that shows that men and women care about it – whether they hate it or love it.

But what about ordinary Christians like you or me?  Are we happy that the gospel offends?  Or, are we more likely to keep silent in case we might disturb someone?

Paul discusses this issue in Galatians 5.  In his letter, he is talking to believers who are reverting to Jewish legalistic practices such as circumcision to show they are deserving of salvation.

Paul’s strong message in Galatians 5 is that only one thing is needed for personal salvation – faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

So, he suggests that if he preached circumcision, people would not have persecuted him – throwing him into jail among other things.

“If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross, no one would be offended,” he declares.

Paul embraced his task of sharing the love of Christ and the good news, no matter the personal cost.

He states this clearly in 2 Corinthians 2: “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of doom and death.  But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.”

He goes on to say that he is not preaching for profit, but in sincerity “with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us”.

For me, that puts the issue in a nutshell: Whose approval am I seeking?

God wants me to share the love of Christ and the message of Christ with others so that they, too, will have the opportunity of joining God’s family.  I know from the scriptures that God rejoices with every person who enters his kingdom.

I don’t believe God is asking me to be obnoxious in talking about Christ’s love and sacrifice for us.

I like the apostle Peter’s advice.  In 1 Peter 3:15, he says that “if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it”.   And he adds: “But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”

So, if the opportunity arises, I must be ready.

As Paul says, the message of Christ may be “life-giving perfume” to someone.

Contentment

The apostle Paul said he learned to be content in all circumstances – bad or good.

For us, it seems impossible as we struggle with personal problems or the fear of terrorism or war.

Yet Paul was beaten and jailed, stoned frequently, shipwrecked, and often without food.  He was constantly harassed and always on the move because of his enemies.

So, how did Paul learn to be content in every situation?

Dictionary.com defines contentment as “satisfaction, ease of mind”.  Paul was satisfied with the circumstances in which he lived – any circumstances.  He had ease of mind – he wasn’t anxious.

Why?

There are clues in his letters to the young churches in the Roman empire.

For one thing, he knew what his mission was and where he was going.

He states this simply in Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

He goes on to say that he is longing to be with Christ in heaven – his destination.  Death is not a terror for him for he will spend eternity joyfully in the presence of his saviour, Jesus.

But, at the same time, he declares he wants to be with believers in the churches he serves so that they will grow in faith.

He is totally committed to Christ and what Christ wants from him.

Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

He had complete faith in Jesus and knew that the Son of God would be with him and take him through whatever troubles lay ahead for the glory of God.

What does that say to me?

It tells me that I must stop plunging into despair when bad things happen in my life. Trouble is normal.

I must remember that I belong to Jesus and he is with me as I confront problems.

And I must cling to the truth that whatever happens to me is nothing compared to the wonders of being with Jesus forever.

Above all, I must put my relationship with Christ and his mission for me before everything else.  As Paul says, Jesus loved me and gave himself for me.

I’m happy that Paul used the phrase “learned to be content”.

Even for Paul, it didn’t happen instantly.

It takes time, a willing heart, and a loving Lord to get there.

Vital questions

 

God-questions move into centre stage when we face major world crises – like a potential nuclear disaster.

The current standoff between the West and a belligerent, nuclear-armed North Korea make hundreds of millions of people feel helpless.  It seems out of the control of any single person.

That’s when questions about God have real impact.

Questions like David’s in Psalm 19 as he gazed at the greatness of God and his creation and asked: “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”

David responds in faith, glorifying God for being intimately involved in the lives of human beings and giving them authority over his earthly creation.

But there are many others who ask: “Why should humans bother with a figment of the imagination like God?”

For them, mankind is the centre of the universe and God is an invention of weak or deluded minds.

How we see God affects our mental, emotional and spiritual response to great crises.

David believed that God has”established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).  He sought God’s counsel and direction in war and peace.

But he also believed that God is more than a great general – he is a loving Father who knows our weaknesses and failings and is merciful and compassionate (Psalm 103:8-18).

Christ has promised his followers that, whatever may happen to us on earth, he has prepared a place for us with him in heaven (John 14:1-3).  Our eternal future with a loving God is assured.

Those who refuse to believe in God are left to their own devices.

Experience teaches us that no human being is fully trustworthy.  If we can’t trust someone human to take us through tomorrow’s uncertainties, who can we trust?

In my view, the only answer is God.

Jesus promised us that we would face troubles.  But he also said he would walk with us through the troubles.

For the believer, physical death is not the ultimate horror.

The ultimate horror is being lost without God.