Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hold Fast the Faith

I went to school a long time.  A long, long time to be exact.  I had hoped when I graduated from kindergarten that I was finished with school.  As I have mentioned before, perhaps often, I hated school.  I would have happily been done after kindergarten, but alas, the state and my parents said no.  What that means in the short story version is that I had to have nightmares for many years.  They started young and kept on going well into graduate school.  It was the last day of the year and I couldn’t find my classroom.  I didn’t know the assignment.  I wasn’t ready for the test!  I would fail! 
To finish my master’s and doctorate degrees I decided to take them by extension.  There were no classrooms to find.  The nightmares stopped.  The test taking didn’t stop, but the nightmares did.  Fortunately there were a lot more papers to write, though, and fewer tests to take.  I like to write.  It’s easy-peasy for me to take a class requiring writing.  Test anxiety is a real problem for many people.  As a school teacher I tried to be alert to those who visibly suffered from the disorder and give them alternatives to the test. 
But life is full of tests.  They are certainly a different kind of test than the kind that requires someone to know the Plantagenet kings in order.  Tests do exist, however, in all manner of ways in life.  Our patience can be tried by children, employees or bosses, the long lines at the store or bad drivers.  Our endurance can be tested by our sergeants, our trainers, our employers and others.  Our honesty can be tested by the absolutely unclear directions on tax forms.  We may end up breaking under the strain of some of these tests and responding incorrectly to the demands placed upon us. 
There is one kind of test that really is, however, good for us.  It is the testing of our faith.  The testing of our faith works patience and peace in our lives.  It doesn’t always work those things at that particular time, but it will pay off later.  As we go along in life and find new and different tests to confront our lives, the patience and peace learned in the past will sustain us in the floods to come and all the tests that confront us each day.  Ambrose wrote this hymn of exultant faith 1600 years ago.  It is still true today. 
’Twas thus the yearning faith of saints, the unconquered hope that never faints,
The love of Christ that knows not shame, the prince of this world overcame.
In these the Father’s glory shone; in these the will of God the Son;

In these exults the Holy Ghost; through these rejoice the heavenly host.



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Monday, January 30, 2017

Faith that Works

Are we prepared to see faith at work all the time?  Is faith for Sundays or special days, or is faith for everyday.  Solomon said that there is a time for this and a time for that.  Is the same true for faith?  This was the topic chosen by one of our young people as they presented their essays at confirmation. I told her I would borrow her idea for a daily devotion, and here it is. 
The answer that far too many people give to the question of when faith is at work is the wrong answer.  Far too many see faith life as Sunday and special days.  They have put their lives into little compartments and faith is let out right on schedule each week.  But after being aired for a brief season of worship, it is placed back into its cubicle and left there until the next “faith” exercise comes into play. 
God, on the other hand, tells us to walk by faith.  That means that faith cannot be put away and taken out at appropriate times.  Whenever we are awake then our faith should be at work.  As we looked at two weeks ago, it can also be at work when we sleep.  We can place our confident faith in God as we lie down and then sleep in faith the whole night through.  But while we are in our waking moments we are never to let our faith life sleep.
Each moment of each day we are confronted by various trials and temptations.  Satan does not sleep. He is after Christ’s flock to devour them at all times.  But he doesn’t work alone.  We also face our other two prime enemies: the world and the flesh.  How to overcome this triune assault of evil is impossible in our own strength.  That is why we are called upon to walk by faith.  We need to trust that God is able to deliver us and faithfully call upon Him to do so.  We must believe that God desires to direct us and call upon Him to do so.  We must constantly believe that God is always ready to forgive us and call upon Him to do so.  These are matters of faith and we need it to be active and alive each moment of each day.  When is the time for faith?  It is all the time.  Try this new paraphrase of the old song found in Ecclesiastes 3. 
There is a time for everything which God in grace ordains
A time to live and love and die, a time to lose and gain
A time to weep a time to laugh, a time to sow and reap

But in all the times from God’s great hand, it’s time for faith to keep



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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Everybody Sing Praise


I know a lady who has been one of the most effective soul winners I have ever met.  Her secret isn’t some clever or well practiced “sales” pitch for Jesus.  She hasn’t developed a technique that she can package and sell.  She uses the technique of those who lived in the first century of the church and saw the world turned “upside down” by the Gospel.  That was the view, anyway, of the heathen world as recorded in Acts 17.  What really happened was that God, through the ministry of the Church, was righting the sinking ship of mankind. 
So, what was their methodology?  What is this lady’s methodology?  It is the simple way of praise.  When you meet her and ask how things are going, she always answers, “I’m just praising the Lord.”  Now there is an opening.  Nobody else seems to be praising the Lord.  Everyone else is grousing or crying or listening to too much negative talk radio.  She, on the other hand, is praising the Lord. 
There are two reactions.  One is negative.  Let me get out of here; this lady is crazy.  The other is quite the opposite.  Why, people ask her, are you praising the Lord?  Now think about this for a moment, what would your answer be?  She will often ask them if they have a minute to hear the answer.  If they do she will tell them then.  If they don’t and are willing to hear the full explanation, she will set up an appointment to meet them in their home or over coffee.  Then what would you tell them?  She tells them the Gospel.  She tells them that Jesus Christ has died and her sins are forgiven.  She tells them that since her sins are forgiven she has the best friend in the whole world who is with her each day.  She tells them that she has the certainty of an eternal home in heaven and that is why, no matter what life is like on earth, she is praising the Lord. 
All that blessing in her life comes from one phrase, “I’m just praising the Lord.”  Perhaps if more Christians were praising the Lord instead of crying in their beer or vilifying their opponents, more of the Gospel message would be heard and believed.  John Peterson wrote a simple praise chorus that calls upon us to live and give this clear testimony of praise, “Everybody Sing Praise to the Lord!”
Everybody sing praise to the Lord, everybody sing praise to the Lord,

Everybody sing praise to the Lord, for He is so wonderful!


  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen
 


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Friday, January 27, 2017

Exclamations of Praise

Fifty years after Thomas Ken wrote the Doxology, the Christian world entered a dynamic new era.  With the conversion of John and Charles Wesley from religious men to born again Christian men, a renewal of the revival spirit from the Book of Acts swept across the world.  The Wesleys followed the biblical pattern of taking the Word to the world and not waiting for the world to show up to hear the Word.  Jesus was a peripatetic preacher, which means He went around preaching, and that is what now began to happen.  In the fields and near the coal mines you could find John and Charles preaching Christ.  They preached to thousands, much like Jesus on the mountain sides, and tens of thousands were born again to a new living hope in Christ. 
George Whitefield brought their work and methods to America.  At the same time Jonathan Edwards preached his great sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.  It remains a classic primer today for all who want to preach the clear message of heaven and hell.  Both England and America were now stirred to reach the world for Christ.  Mission boards were founded and tens of thousands of earnest believers set out to be witnesses of Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth. 
The music of the revivalist period, 1735-1950, shows the same exuberance that the church felt in coming alive again with evangelistic zeal.  Certainly that exuberance sometimes exceeded sound doctrine, but in the Book of Numbers God showed us that the Holy Spirit can even use a dumb donkey to make His message known to the praise of His glory.  This revival didn’t just take place in and for the church.  This was also the same period that saw Christians renew their interest in living Christ to the benefit of mankind.  All manner of societal reform came from the efforts of those who became Christians during this evangelistic era. 
“Praise God” became a common theme in both speech and music.  One of my favorite hymns of praise comes from the beginning of the evangelistic era and from one of its most prolific hymn writers, Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues”.
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace
Glory to God and praise and love be ever ever given

By saints below and saints above, the Church in earth and heaven


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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Keep on Praising

Two hymns, two nations, two languages, two centuries and one God the Father Almighty to be praised; this is the continuity of Christian worship and hymnody.  It begins in Geneva, Switzerland and continues in England.  It ties together two different denominations and national churches.  It ties together two distinct musical traditions, psalms and hymns.  OK, what is it?
It is the tune used for the Old Hundredth and the Doxology.  The Old Hundredth is an adaptation of Psalm 100 from the Geneva Psalter of 1551.  In the Reformed Churches only the psalms were sung.  They very idea of introducing hymns was poorly received.  This is why, while early Lutheran hymns are rich and many, early Reformed hymns are nearly non-existent.  The music for the Old Hundredth was written by Louis Bourgeois. The rich melody was easy to sing and adapt to other various lyrics. 
One hundred and twenty years later Thomas Ken, minister in the Church of England, spent several years writing prayers and hymns for contemplation and worship.  Two of these hymns were “Awake My Soul and with the Sun” and “Glory to Thee, My God, This Night”.  The lyrics of both hymns fit very comfortably with the tune by Bourgeois.  Each of these two hymns had the same ending which is now known as the Doxology.  It follows the same tune as the verses.  Of all three of the hymns, the Old Hundredth and Ken’s two hymns, the Doxology, the chorus  of Ken’s two hymns, remains the most often sung and best known. 
One other thing binds all these together.  It is not just their tune.  It is their theme.  Praise is the essence of each one.  Confidence in God and His care marks them all.  That is the recurring theme that God wants us to grasp each day.  Each morning and night I begin my prayer time with this one wonderful song of praise, written for just that occasion. 
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above all heavenly hosts, 

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.    


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let Everything that Has Breath, Praise the Lord

The psalmist had called on all created things to give praise to God.  Since everything created was made by God and owes its existence to God, then in whatever way inanimate creation can praise, they are called upon to do so.  Rocks and trees and stars and snow and rain and wind are all to bring their praise to their creator.  Perhaps we can see this in part on the tumultuous Sea of Galilee when Jesus was asleep in the boat.  The storm raged, but when He awoke and told it to be still, it gave Him the greatest praise of obedience.
There is another part of creation that we draw much closer to emotionally. That is the creation of other breathing things.  People have adopted all manner of creatures as pets and expend a lot of love on caring for them.  God even issues a clear statement in Proverbs that we are to care for the beasts we have in our care.  Still, we seldom see them in terms of God praising creatures.  The psalmist again raised our sights to see things differently. 
Into this setting we bring the great medieval monk St. Francis of Assisi.  One of my grandchildren’s favorite stories that they want me to read them is St. Francis and the Wolf.  Francis is known for not only ministering to the needy of humankind but also preaching love to animal kind.  While the Scriptures are not particularly supportive of all that Francis did, they do fully commend his call for all creatures of God to sing Him praises.  His great hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King”, is a paraphrase of Psalm 148.  In it he reminds us that God expects the glory of praise from every created thing.  They are all called upon to give Him the praise of obedience and also thanksgiving for their creation.   
We can all draw joy and inspiration for our own praise as we reflect on a few of the verses from St. Francis’ song of praise.
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia
Ye burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam, O Praise Him, Alleluia
Thou flowing water pure and clear, make music for the Lord to hear, Alleluia
Thou fire so masterful and bright, that giveth men both warmth and light, O Praise Him, Alleluia
Let all things their Creator bless, And worship Him in humbleness, O Praise Him

Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, Three in One, O Praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Morning Stars Sang Together

What do stars sound like when they are singing?  God said in Job 38:7 that they sang together at their creation.  That is the first recorded song in Scripture.  We can call it creation’s song.  Isaiah 55:12 says that at the restoration of Israel under Christ the King that the trees of the field will clap their hands.  That is another of creation’s songs.  Everything will be set in order under the righteous rule of the King of kings and all creation will sing again.  In the meantime Psalm 148 calls upon all creation to sing their song of praise to Him today.  Sun and moon, starts of light, all waters and creatures of earth are to sing their praised to Him. 
Since all of creation is to praise God, shouldn’t that be the desire of all who are a new creation in Christ?  Psalm 33:1 says that it is comely or beautiful for the righteous to sing praises to God.  Jeremiah tells us that those living in the restored kingdom under Christ will bring the sacrifice of praise to Him.  Hebrews 13 tells us that we are to do that now and not just wait for the restoration.  Our whole life is to be a sacrifice of praise to God.  It is to be a new song sung daily for Him.   
Not every song of praise is a happy song.  There are songs that can praise Him from a heart of sorrow.  Right now Paul tells us in Romans 8 that all creation groans under the load and curse of sin.  The trees of the fields are not clapping their hands today.  They are singing a lamentation that concludes each verse with “Even so come, Lord Jesus”.  The idea of the song is that it expresses the heart while also recognizing the glory of God.  God gives songs of deliverance, songs of hope, songs of peace, songs joy and songs of exaltation.
  These songs can come in sorrow, trials, fears, temptations and victory.  His hope, His salvation, His love is the theme of each song in each situation.  We find all these types of songs sung in Scripture.  The most sorrowful song sung in Scripture, the book of Lamentations, contains one of the most inspiring exclamations of faith and trust found in God’s word.  When everything, quite literally everything, had gone wrong and was only getting worse, Jeremiah added this line, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” 

So, sing a song of praise today.  Turn to Psalm 148 and sing, “For His Name alone is excellent; His glory is above the earth and heavens. Praise the Lord.  Praise ye the Lord.” 


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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Final Awakening

And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept.” Genesis 2:21
We conclude, today, our look at sleep with the first mention of sleep in the Bible. Boy what a grand surprise it was for Adam to wake up the next morning. God had given to him more than he could have expected. He was no longer alone in the created world. There was Eve and joy and bliss abounded. At least it did for a while and then sin ruined everything. Then they had to sleep each night with the expectation of working hard in sorrow and toil the next day.
We see the last mention of sleep in the Bible in a different way. The last mention of sleep is in I Thessalonians speaks of sleep as a description of death. But there is still to be an awakening. And the awakening will be far more glorious than Adam’s that first morning with Eve. It will be an eternal day with Christ in heaven. We will all continue to exist after death. We must choose where we will wake up. The offer Christ makes is that in Him we find the bliss of heaven forever through faith in Him.
            Dear Father, Thank You for the hope of an eternal awakening with You. Amen.  



  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen
 



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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The First Sleep

Then Jesus said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Luke 22:46
A long day’s work often leads to a good night’s sleep. A lot of stress or a lot of activity can also lead to a need for sleep. We usually think this is a good thing, and it usually is. That is, of course, unless we have been specifically told to stay awake. Our boss my take exception to our proffered explanation that we had such a good time last night that we need to catch up on sleep in our cubicle today.
Jesus took exception to the disciples sleeping. He had given them a job to do (praying), and they were failing at the task. It wasn’t that He needed their prayers, it was that they needed their prayers. Tough times were coming and they needed to be supported by prayer when they came. We see that when the hour of true trial came, they were unprepared. Sometimes when life wears at us we need more than sleep. We need to spend time getting refreshed from God and then lay down in peace and sleep.

Dear Father, Let us first find our rest in you and then in our beds. Amen.  


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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day of Rest

In the western world, we eagerly look forward to weekends.  Originally the idea of the weekend was to have one day off to worship.  That is how God set it up.  Man wasn’t content with that idea and expanded it to two days with one of them for good old fashioned time to enjoy oneself.  Neither idea seems to have been embraced by our modern culture.  Attendance at worship services in nearly every church is in decline.  Increasingly people are running hither and yon to catch up on everything neglected from Monday through Friday.  Big jobs, little jobs, shopping jobs, even turning pleasure into a job that must be done before Monday’s call to work returns.  Everything except resting and worshipping has filled our free time.
How is that working out for society?  People are all too tired to know or care.  The confessions of the populace are that they are stressed.  They are not relaxed.  Would better jobs with better pay solve that?  No!  Satan is always offering us counterfeit ideas to what God had in mind.  More money will not make us less stressed.  More money will give us more expensive ways to occupy our time instead of rest and worship.  Bigger jobs around the house, bigger shopping trips to buy bigger things to make our more expensive houses and cars provide us more joy; that is Satan’s plan.  It never works out well for people.  Satan, on the other hand gets quite a kick out of it.  Remember he is the thief who comes, Jesus said, to steal (our joy) kill (our bodies) and destroy (our souls). 
Jesus had a better plan.  He said to His disciples, “Come apart and rest a while”.  God had set up that program after the sixth day of creation.  He ordered rest not just for man but also for animals and the land in His laws to the Israelites.  He ordered even more than that.  God ordered three weeks of annual vacation time.  It was to be spent fellowshipping with friends and family while worshiping Him.  God had the whole plan laid out.  He laid it out with the love of His people in mind.  He cares about our bodies and minds as well as our souls.  He wants us to be refreshed in spirit and flesh.  Thank God for His care and plan a restful weekend meditating on the words of this new song.
Almighty God of peace and rest, guide us toward Thy will most blest
To do our toil when toil is due and then find Sabbath rest in you
And grant us peace when work is done and grant us joy found in Thy Son
              That all our life in work and play may your great love and grace display 


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Evening Song

I sincerely hope that all our talk about sleep this week has given you a few nights of better rest.  Psalm 127 says that God gives His beloved sleep.  Sleep is actually a gift from God!  How about that?  Here you thought you were wasting eight good hours each day and God says, “No, I am giving you the gift of sleep.”  Isn’t that a precious thought? 
It is part of a whole lesson God has about rest.  He hallowed the seventh day and said, “Rest.”  While the Sabbath day is particularly for the Jews, the day of rest concept is not just for them.  The day of rest is pre-law and given to us as a gift.  God does not want us to burn our candles at both ends.  He loves us and cares very much about our needs, including our need for rest.  God even ordained that the land would have a rest.  Every seven years the Jewish people were to let their ground lie fallow for a full year.  They were to trust God’s provision for the next two years.  They disobeyed this command and so God declared that He would give the land the Sabbath rests it had missed and He did so while the children of Israel cooled their heels in Babylonian captivity. 
And so we can see that God really is interested in our having a good night’s sleep.  He gives His beloved sleep isn’t just a poetic line, it is the truth of a caring God.  The prayers and meditations that have been used this week as bedtime aids are ones that come to us from very reliable sources of men of God and from God’s own word.  Another great hymn of evening came to us from the prolific author of the revivalist era Sabine Baring-Gould.  He is also the author of “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  And, since we are on the topic of sleeping, he also wrote a little used Christmas carol “Sleep, My Savior, Sleep”.  He also wrote the much more common hymn for evening “Now the Day is Over”.  The tune is very restful and will help lull you to sleep as you sing these trusting words.
Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh, shadows of the evening steal across the sky.
Jesus, give the weary calm and sweet repose; with Thy tenderest blessing may mine eyelids close.
Through the long night watches may Thine angels spread their white wings above me, watching round my bed.

When the morning wakens, then may I arise, pure and fresh, and sinless in Thy holy eyes.


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Monday, January 16, 2017

Sleep On

Yesterday we looked at getting a good night’s sleep.  We considered some well known bedtime prayers and a great ancient hymn from St. Ambrose.  Since we spend a third of our life in sleep, there is room for more discussion about it from Biblical illustrations to Christian music.  How many mattress ads have you received in the paper in the past two weeks?  How many TV commercials have you seen for the “perfect night’s sleep” whether it be a pill or another mattress?  The world is talking about sleep all the time.  It should be no wonder that God does too and that hymnists have given us a rich heritage on the topic.
It was while sleeping on a stone, yes, how’s that for a prime sleep aid, that Jacob had the vision of the ladder to heaven.  God had revealed to him precious promises in his sleep.  Pharaoh had a dream that ultimately got Joseph out of jail and saved his family from starvation.  Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that elevated Daniel to a leadership position in the government.  Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep, probably because of all the pounding made by his next door neighbor Haman, and that led to the safety of Mordecai and the salvation of the Jews.  The disciples fell asleep when they should have been praying and were not ready to face the hour of temptation at Jesus’ arrest.  Those are just a few instances of sleep that are mentioned.  Doctrinal study on the issue would require more space than today allows.
Paul Gerhardt, who had endured the horrors of the 30 Years War, wrote two lovely evening hymns.  “Now All the Woods Are Sleeping” and “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” both call for the comfort of God to watch over us at night.  Both are confident expressions of His grace and love that call the Christian to calm rest in the darkness of night or life.  The most famous hymn about evening to come from the Reformation period is one that we have forgotten was written for evening prayer.  We have kept the chorus and forgotten the song.  But here it is, the masterful work of Thomas Ken, who himself was suffering for his testimony for Christ.  “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night”.  It is sung to the tune of its more famous chorus, the Doxology.  Sleep well with these words. 

“All praise to Thee, my God, this night for all the blessings of the light.  Keep me, oh, keep me, King of kings, beneath Thine own almighty wings.  Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done; that with the world, myself and Thee, ere I sleep, at peace may be.”  


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Friday, January 13, 2017

I Will Lay Me Down in Peace and Sleep

The average person, if he is getting the sleep he really needs, sleeps away about one third of his total life.  ONE THIRD!  To sustain that one third of our lives we spend a small fortune on all kinds of special mattresses, sleep aids, fancy pillows and even sleeping pills.  With all that time, effort and money involved, how much time do we pray about sleeping?  Yes, pray about sleeping.  We pray for strength for our days, blessings on our work, safety in our leisure, health for our life, but what about praying for sleep?
One of the earliest prayers we teach our children is “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  Watch me safe throughout the night, and wake me with the morning light.  Amen.”  That is a great prayer, but after we get to be about age ten or so we believe we have outgrown it.  The psalmist David along with great church leaders like St. Ambrose and Martin Luther would disagree.  David said in Psalm 4, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only make me to dwell in safety.”  Now that is one confident bedtime prayer.  In Luther’s shorter catechism he teaches a simple bedtime prayer for children and adults.  His prayer reads, “I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”  Luther gives an afterword to this prayer.  “Then go to sleep at once in good cheer.” 
Ambrose was also concerned with a good night’s sleep.  He put his prayer into a song for the whole church to sing and find comfort.  For a bedtime song it has a rather odd name, “O Christ, Who Art the Light and Day”.  Still its words of trust in God’s care and appeal for peace in the night are probably better than all the sleeping pills and comfort mattresses we rely on for a truly blessed night of rest. 
All holy Lord, we pray to Thee, keep us tonight from danger free; grant us, dear Lord, in Thee to rest, so be our sleep in quiet blest.
Let not the tempter round us creep with thoughts of evil while we sleep, nor with his wiles the flesh allure and make us in Thy sight impure.
              And while the eyes soft slumber take, still be the heart to Thee awake, be Thy right hand upheld above Thy servants resting in Thy love.


  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen
 



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Thursday, January 12, 2017

So be it! Praise the Lord!

How much do we really believe in a sovereign God?  Is He sovereign when things go “just right” for us?  Is He still sovereign when they don’t?  This is the great crisis of faith and mind when we meet with the difficult realities of life.  We are so surrounded today by a faith doctrine that God intends only good, implied “our idea of good”, for us that we wonder if He is true when “our of idea of good” isn’t realized.
We had a young couple visit our church.  They were quiet and sat in the back.  It wasn’t even a Baptist church, go figure.  Only Baptists may understand that one.  They were not very communicative when they went through the “receiving line” after church.  Yes, I am rather old fashioned and still stand at the back and greet everyone and visit briefly with all on their way out of church.  Then during fellowship time this couple was also less than socially interactive, even when approached by others.  Later I visited them in their home.  Yes, I believe pastors should still do this.  Finally they poured out their story.
They had both gone to a “name it claim it, God wants what you want” Bible college. They had both had hopes of future ministry.  Suddenly, God didn’t seem to want what they wanted and He held that course for some time.  They came to two possible conclusions, both wrong.  First, they were sinners so perverse that they could not please God (which if it had stopped there would be true) even though they trusted in His Son for salvation.  The truth is, in Christ we are pleasing to God by relationship with His Son.  So, they had the first point wrong.  Their second conclusion was that God was a lie.  They opted for the second conclusion and went on their unhappy way. 
The false doctrine they had been taught was that they were sovereign, not God.  Too many of us come to that conclusion at different points in our life.  We are frustrated that God does not answer our prayers according to our desires.  Since He is all powerful He can certainly do what we ask.  That is true, but He is also all wise and knows what is best for us at all times and, as all Goodness, He will only do what is good.  On our part must be faith in a sovereign God or unhappiness as that young couple chose to live and suffer in. 

There is a great song in Revelation.  It is really short and we can all memorize it without any difficulty.  It has only two words.  “Amen! Alleluia!”  That is literally, “So be it.  Praise the Lord!”  If you know Christ as Savior then the Good God is truly watching over you for good.  Sing a song of confident praise to Him today.  “Amen!  Alleluia!”  


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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In Times Like These

 Our title today reflects the great truth for all times.  In times like these would be an accurate reflection on all times for all men.  At all times it is true that all men need a savior and an anchor for their souls.  Whether the time was the period of ancient Rome with all its pagan practices or the Middle Ages with its total social dysfunction or the Reformation with its wars and persecution or today with secularism again dominating the public stage, there is the constant need for Someone greater than the circumstances of the age.  There is the need for salvation in the midst of hopelessness.  There is the need for assurance in the midst of chaos.  But more importantly, in every age there is the need for forgiveness in the midst of sin and judgment. 
In each period of church music there has been a reflection of the times.  The steadfastness of God’s love in the midst of all human crises is seen in the songs we sing.  That God is there, the Almighty and Sovereign Lord, is hope and comfort.  That Jesus Christ is alive, resurrected and coming again is assurance that we too shall be resurrected and live forever.  That the Holy Spirit has been sent for our guidance and comfort lifts our hearts in praise that we are not alone.  Whatever the times may be, God is there to care for His children.  We are to sing of this and share this hope with a humanity that is hopeless without Him.  Our constant new songs should express this hope in the caring, loving, forgiving triune God.  Then others will want to sing along.
In the 1960’s times grew increasingly grim as the decade advanced.  There was war in Asia, civil rights conflicts with major riots in America, there were riots and strife on campuses and there was the ever present fear of nuclear holocaust.  Who would want to have a baby in such times as those?  That is the underlying story of one of America’s favorite contemporary gospel songs, “Because He Lives”.  The second verse relates a little of the angst that the Gaithers felt at the time of the arrival of their new baby.  But because of the assurance of God and of new life in Christ, the fear was replaced with hope and joy.
“How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives; but greater still the calm assurance: this child can face uncertain days because Christ lives.  Because He lives I can face tomorrow, because He lives all fear is gone; because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”   


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Praise Him! Praise Him!

If you had to forfeit the use of one of your senses for a week, which one would it be?  Sight, hearing, taste, touch or smell: which would you choose?  Would you spend that week grousing about the loss?  Would you let everyone know what a sacrifice your life was under as a result of this inconvenience?  Would you be even more grateful for that sense when it was returned?
Fanny Crosby was born with sight, but in infancy she was blinded by a medical mistake.  Fanny really never saw it that way, however.  She saw it as the special gift that God had given her.   She found that the soul has beautiful vision.  Fanny wrote her hymns during a great period of revival that ran from the time of the Wesleys, from around 1735, to the great revivals of the twentieth century, to around 1950.   Charles Wesley contributed over 6000 to start with.  Fanny Crosby added about 8000 of her own.  Other prolific hymn writers of that period added a thousand or more each.  Many more writers wrote a few hundred hymns each and some of our favorite hymns of that period were the only ones written by that particular author. 
Many of Fanny’s hymns have remained popular over a century after she went home to the Lord.  Most of her songs were not the great doctrinal works of the Reformation.  Those grounded the church in what it believed.  Many of Wesley’s hymns were also written in the same vein.  Crosby’s hymns and Gospel songs, however, were largely a personal expression of praise.  They lifted the heart in joyful praise to the saving God.  They extolled His keeping grace.  They testified of the eternal hope of each believer.  They were very personal, not just to Fanny, but to all who found voice in making exclamations of praise.
It is hard to choose one hymn for recognition here, so I chose two.  One is the title today and one is the one on her tombstone, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.”  Rejoice today in singing with Fanny her song of remembrance.

“Bless├Ęd assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long.  Perfect submission, all is at rest I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”


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Monday, January 9, 2017

In the Crucible

Don’t we all just really love the “good days”?  Those are the days when the sun shines, the birds sing, the kids play nicely and supper dishes seem to just clean themselves.  It’s true.  Those are good days.  Many people think those are the days that really want to make us sing.  But praise is not only a comely thing on “good days”.
The German reformation was a period of over a hundred years marked by war, disease, famine and persecution.  Over half the population of Germany died during those years.  Nearly all of some cities perished by plague while surrounded by enemy armies.  What is amazing is what wonderful music came from those 120 years of terror.  By some estimates over twenty thousand new hymns were written during that chaotic time. 
What did they sing?  Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress”, one of the most sung hymns in Christendom.  Martin Rinkart wrote the great hymn “Now Thank We all Our God”.  Another wonderful hymn is Peter Herbert’s “Faith is a Living Power”.  As these saints of God endured the horrors of their age they found peace in singing songs of praise.  These hymns are not laments or posing questions of doubt to the almighty God; they are songs of greatest confidence in His love and care.  They express the deepest sounds of faith from those whose faith has been most deeply tested.  At no point do they think God has abandoned them because it was not a “good day”.  They knew that all days with God are good! 
Because it is the least well known of the three hymns mentioned let us conclude with a few verses of Herbert’s hymn “Faith is a Living Power”.  While singing this hymn of joy and faith, have a really good day. 
Faith is a living power from Heaven, that grasps the promise God hath given,
A trust that cannot be o’erthrown, fixed heartily on Christ alone.
Faith in the conscience worketh peace, and bids the mourner’s weeping cease;
            By faith the children’s place we claim, and give all honor to one Name.

And from His fullness grant each soul the rightful faith’s true end and goal,
           The blessedness no foes destroy, eternal love and light and joy.


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Friday, January 6, 2017

Thy Name We Praise

One of the most controversial elements of the modern church centers around what the congregation will sing.  Instead of concentrating on the teaching of God’s word or the sanctity of Christ’s church, we are lost in an argument over what shall we sing next.  Some people point to the clear scriptural teaching that we should sing a “new song” while others insist on the equally scriptural admonition that we walk in the “ancient paths”.  Even Solomon could not unravel this one. 
It is a simple fact that the church has been singing a new song since its inception.  The history of Christian hymnody traces new musical systems and hymns sung in the church since the second century AD.  In the seventeenth century Isaac Watts stirred things up in a big way by introducing the modern English hymn.  Luther had brought the German church alive a century and a half earlier with his and his associates’ hymns.  All these new hymns met with both a positive and negative response.  Still, we sing both the hymns of Luther and Watts in our churches today because they convey eternal truths about the Triune God, His work, His glory and His praise.  Their work carried on in the spirit of the oldest hymns of Christendom. 
It was the content of the hymns that was enduring.  It was the heartfelt expression of God and of our response to His amazing grace.  This is the essential point on which music for the Church of Jesus Christ will be evaluated by future generations.  What did it do for the glory of God, the praise of His name, His work and His grace?  Such hymns will enrich all believers and can enrich our churches for today and tomorrow. 
One of the earliest known hymns of the Church is quite simple.  It extols God, honors His glory, recognizes the Trinity and calls upon His people to praise Him.  It isn’t sung anymore in our churches, but it is the pattern for all true Christian hymns.  Its simplicity and beauty are timeless.  Here it is, and let us all rejoice to learn this “new” song.
.. Let it be silent       Let the Luminous stars not shine,
Let the winds and all the noisy rivers die down;
And as we hymn the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Let all the powers add "Amen Amen"
Empire, praise always, and glory to God,

The sole giver of good things, Amen Amen


  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen
 


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Purpose

Have you ever asked yourself that one big question – why am I here?  I don’t mean the question that everyone over 60 asks whenever they go into another room, for half the time that question never finds an answer.  I mean here, this world, now, in this life.  Why am I here?  Do you have your answer ready?
One of the great songs that God wrote gives us the answer.  Yes, God wrote songs.  Every word of the Bible is given by inspiration and that means that the songs we find in the Bible are given by God.  God is a great hymn writer.  In Revelation 4:11 He wrote, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You have created all things and by your will they exist and were created.”  There is a song worth remembering.  We will hear it every day in heaven. 
Why are we here?  We are here because God wills us to be here in this time in this place.  He wills us to be here to the praise of His glory.  (Ephesians 1)  We are not in this place or time by mistake.  The eternally great and wise God put us here for His purpose and He did it at the right time.  I don’t belong a century ago or a century from now.  I cannot go back and should not long to do so.  I will not go forward and come back as another person in a future generation.  God put me and you here now by the purpose of His will. 
So, what are we here for in 2017?  If you have never believed in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Savior, then you are here to believe.  It is not God’s will that any should perish.  (II Peter 3)  If we have believed in Christ as God’s Son and Savior, then His will for you and me this year is to live to the praise of His glory.  Paul wrote the Ephesians and said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  He didn’t prepare them for us to do a hundred years ago or a hundred years from now.  He prepared them for us to do today when we are here for the praise of His glory. 

In 2017 let us all remember that we were created by His will and that we are born again to live as His workmanship unto good works prepared just for us to do. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”


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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Penitent

Oops!  We had that firm resolution to eat better this year.  We really meant it, but then we saw the cherry cheesecake in the fridge left over from the New Year’s Eve party.  We just couldn’t let it go to waste, so we let it go to our waist.  Only two days into the new year and already our firm resolution is shot.  Now how penitent do we need to be?
None at all is the simplest answer.  It is the theological one anyway.  God has set laws in His word, the Bible.  Some of those laws were purely ceremonial and were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  The first church synod in Acts 15 made that declaration by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that truth is reinforced at length in the book of Hebrews.  Some of God’s laws, moral ones, like “Thou shalt not steal” are in effect for all society for all time.  When we break these absolute laws of God we should be penitent, sorry for our sin.  We should go to God who gave the law and tell Him we are sorry and accept His forgiveness.  That is the wonderful gift He gives us through Jesus Christ.
Now about that cheesecake, let us consider a paraphrased quote from Luther who probably was paraphrasing someone else’s comment.  “Neither the believer nor the Church has the liberty to create moral laws where God gave none nor to abolish the laws that He gave.”  I assure you dear friend that there is no law in the Word against finishing the cheesecake.   God does not want us to be burdened with manmade laws that cripple our joy in Christ. (Col. 2:20-23) In fact we are told that if we eat it with thankfulness we are free to eat anything.  (I Timothy 4:3)
Too often we take ourselves and our resolutions to self denial too seriously.  I am not saying be a glutton for God does condemn gluttony.  I am not saying live an undisciplined life for God’s word is full of directions to the contrary.   What God is saying in Colossians 2 is that we are not a better person for not eating the cheesecake.  We are better people for knowing and loving Him.  Please enjoy Christ this year. 
Great Christ of God the wedding feast at Cana you did enjoy
And for the blessings of the host Your power You did employ
So let us find the joy in life with all You did create

And give You praise and righteous thanks in all we celebrate


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