15 January 2017

Endless Praise 2017: Praise Predators

Good Evening!

I pray all is going well for you this Sunday. As usual, it was a great time at church and now my task is to get some dinner prepared and ready myself for the return to my university studies.  Will it ever be complete? At times it feels like it is an elusive fantasy. And yet I am determined to keep chasing it until it is complete. Thankfully, I at least have a day off from work tomorrow.

This post was actually started on Tuesday. As I thought about our theme of Endless Praise for 2017, I started to consider some of the issues which could derail praise – to start to examine some of the praise predators which exist, aimed at keeping us from doing the one thing we were created to do, which is praise the LORD.  

This section has been divided into two parts to ensure that sufficient attention is given to the items which can get in the way of endless praise in 2017. In this first section, we will look at the praise predator of sin and its effects on endless praise. Next week, will be a little lighter … I promise … where we will look at Comfort, Contentment and Commitment. All are still very significant topics, however, still a little lighter than the praise predator up for discussion this week – the subject of sin.

In this modern day, it has actually become somewhat unpopular to discuss the topic of sin – unless it is piously scrutinizing the shortcomings and behaviors of others. It is much harder to examine one’s own life … harder still to be transparent about what is found.

Jesus, in speaking to His disciples declared, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Just before saying this, it is noted, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

That being said, I have wrestled significantly with the idea of sharing this post.

When we look at what Jesus did in loving us, we find:
He endured the cross, scorning its shame so that we could be free. (Heb. 12:2)

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is. 53:3-6)

Beyond the physical act of enduring the cross in laying down His life for us, Jesus laid aside any claims to personal pride and individual privacy. He was willing to forfeit the favor of men and to endure scrutiny and ridicule so that we would be able to praise God with everything have and everything we are. This is the laying down of life that He did for each one of us. And He encourages us to love one another in like manner. Now, there may be instances [and have been instances] where a friend has been tasked with physically laying down their life for another. It is the ultimate display of love and sacrifice. However, each of is called to lay down our life in love, to follow Jesus’ example. So what does that look like practically? To me, it looks like an individual who has enough love for his friends to lay bare his life, to be transparent – in hopes that it will help one have a more fruitful walk with fewer pitfalls.

There is no discussion on sin which could capture all of the areas of struggle which are encountered. Therefore, I will focus on just one aspect which has current relevance for me – this being done with the recognition that the ultimate solution is the same regardless of the specific iniquity.

Working full time, going to school, managing my household, taking care of my mom and getting back to writing, my calendar is pretty packed – leaving little time to meet people. Therefore, I have recently stepped out of my comfort zone and delved into the online dating scene - about three months ago. I have not been on a date in fifteen years. And, without going into graphic detail, when you find yourself attracted to someone, and those feelings reciprocated, it presents an entire realm of spiritual wrestling that I did not entirely anticipate.  The struggle is real!

And what I have realized is that I had come to a point where I was – not intentionally but nevertheless, actually – taking pride in my ‘discipline and self-control’ of being chaste in thoughts and action/inaction all these years. However, the true test of self-control is not in avoiding the temptation all together. It is wisdom ... but it is not necessarily self-control. The true test is having the opportunity and seduction right within your grasp and choosing to be self-controlled and not entertain it. This is a much greater challenge. This is why …

It is essential to take every thought captive.

Trust me … I'm speaking from experience ... left unchecked, you will find yourself thinking things you have no business thinking and saying things you have no business saying. Then, riddled with guilt, there is that feeling – much like Adam and Eve experienced in the beginning – of the need to hide from God … as if it were possible.

We know from scripture, ‘Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.' James 1:14-15

A random thought ...
Gives birth to a series of thoughts,
Which gives birth to enticement and desire:
Desire gives birth to sin
Sin gives birth to death
And what does it kill? 
It kills our praise, it kills our fellowship with the LORD.
Do we not know, ‘He inhabits the praises of His people’? (Ps. 22:3)

Therefore, if we are left unwilling or unable to praise – because of sin – what does this do to His dwelling place within our lives?

Yet despite these struggles and stumbles, this is all the LORD keeps saying to me: “There is nothing you could think, or feel, or say, or do … that will ever change My love for you.”

This does not condone sin or give license to live without regard. What it does, is remind me – and anyone in a similar situation – that there is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). It declares that the power of sin and death was defeated by Jesus at the cross. Our praise, our worship, our fellowship does not have to be hindered or interrupted because of our actions – even when those actions are not in keeping with the Father’s will for our lives.

For me in, in this season, I must guard myself relationally. I still have not gone on a date and have removed myself from the online dating community. For you, it will be something else entirely. Yet, no matter the area of struggle, the solution and response from our LORD is the same and unchanging: ‘There is nothing that can change My love for you.’

Our best behavior could never earn the love of God and our worst could never drive it away.

Ever thankful for this truth – still we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down in situations and circumstances which will hinder our praise and worship in any way.

He caused me to stumble upon a song recently [definitely not coincidentally] which says, in part: ‘Don’t turn your eyes from Me, for My love won’t be undone. Don’t hide your face from Me, for My light has surely come … Lift up your voice and sing, know that My love won’t let you go … I’m closer than you know.’

Here is a link to that song which so pointedly captures the heart of this message and the Father’s response to us in times of struggle. I hope you enjoy it …

Hillsong United … Closer Than You Know

Praying That You Have a Truly Blessed & Victorious Week!

“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love …”
Jeremiah 31:3

08 January 2017

Endless Praise 2017: Undignified Praise

Good Afternoon!

I pray your new year is off to a great start! Here where I live in Virginia Beach, VA, we are starting the year with our first snow storm of the year. Yes, Virginia Beach only received 4-6 inches of snow yesterday. However, those amounts are debilitating for a city ill-equipped to handle any type of accumulation. 

Today, temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing, further complicating matters with issues of icy roads. We are officially under a snow-induced house arrest. Roads … horrendous. Temperature … freezing. Winds ... blowing. Even church was cancelled this morning!

However, my home church – Bridge Church – had an awesome time of praise and worship and prayer via Facebook Live! I am so thankful for my senior pastors Archie and Tangie Callahan. I am even more thankful for the Holy Spirit – whose presence filled my living room as I tuned in online. It was actually quite overwhelming.

That is the beautiful thing about praise – it can happen any time, any place, right where you are, no matter what you are experiencing. That same atmosphere that is present in physical environment of corporate worship is available – and was present – in our online gathering this morning. In fact, I think this snow was a blessing in disguise!

You see – there are times when praise and worship must be undignified!

There are those moments when the tears begin flowing almost immediately and uncontrollably – eyes red, voice shaking, hands trembling and nose running. It’s not pretty … but it is real and powerful! That is the praise and worship and prayer which took place this morning.

In II Samuel, chapter 6, verses 14-22 the tale is told of King David and his undignified, yet unashamed, praise before the LORD. It accounts how David’s wife, Michal, criticized him for exposing himself to the scrutiny of others as he danced and praised the LORD for His goodness.
The Message Version of the Bible records David’s response to Michal:

“In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! … Oh yes, I’ll dance to God’s glory – more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned … I’ll gladly look like a fool!”

Haven’t we all had those moments? There are times when our praise cannot be contained and we do not care who sees, who hears, or how terrible we look. His is the only favor we seek. Sometimes, it is represented with a dance, at others times with a shout, and still other times with a cry …

Yet, whether you are in the position of having to expose your praise to the criticizing eye of others – or whether the LORD provides an opportunity for private undignified praise – as He did for me this morning while being snowed-in … the point is … to praise Him!

With everything we’ve got, with every feeling we possess, with every breath in our lungs … let’s set our minds – this year, every month, every day, moment-to-moment to praise the One who alone is worthy.

Here is a song we sang today …  I hope you enjoy it
All Sons and Daughters … Great Are You LORD

Have a Tremendously Blessed Week!

01 January 2017

Endless Praise ... 2017

Happy New Year!

I pray your New Year is off to a great start and that you are eagerly anticipating all that 2017 has to offer. With this being the first day of the New Year, it seemed an appropriate time to chart the course before this 2017 journey begins.

Understand this – no matter where your individual road carries you throughout the remainder of this New Year, one thing is certain: Praise will be the fuel to keep you going.

In the book of II Chronicles, an account is provided of a situation where enemy forces stood ready to wage war against the Israelites. Yet, a word of encouragement came to Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah:

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” II Chronicles 20:17

What followed was a detailed account of steps taken by Jehoshaphat and the people, in response to this declaration:

Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.” II Chronicles 20:18

Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.” II Chronicles 20:19

“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
    for his love endures forever.”

II Chronicles 20:21

“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” II Chronicles 20:22
In response to their praise, the LORD waged war on their behalf and secured their victory against their enemies. There was no task left for the people of God but to collect the spoils.

Understand this – Your victory is closer than you think!
It is right at the tip of your tongue.

So let us make a determination today, this first day of 2017, that no matter what the coming days and months hold, we shall praise the One who stands alone as worthy of praise.

Praying you have a blessed day and an exciting year full of realized expectations and sudden surprises!

Here is a beautiful song I stumbled upon this New Year’s Eve. 
It is not new … but it is new to me ... and so fitting for our first communication of 2017.

Hillsong UNITED – Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)

Be Blessed … and … Happy New Year!

“Through Jesus, therefore,
Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—
The fruit of lips that openly profess His name.
Hebrews 13:15