Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Yes Lord, I'm Listening"

"ARE GOD'S WORDS TO BE TRUSTED?
Only you can answer that for yourself. Satan will always be present to help us formulate the questions for which we have no answers. They constitute diversion and it's really just smoke and mirrors. If he can undermine our trust in God just a little, he is satisfied with that for the time being. He will always come back with a more complicated question. All of us are susceptible to being diverted away from the dynamic faith God wants to give us, to the fear or dead complacency Satan carefully leads us into. We don't plan it that way and we're never comfortable in that place but stuff happens and a little at a time we can drift away from dynamic discipleship. This is the theme of the writer of Hebrews 2:1 "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we've heard, so that we do not drift away." Drifting away from God is not an intentional goal. It happens a little at a time over months and years as we neglect to listen to God's words. One day you seem to sort of wake up and look around to find yourself in a strange place, a cold and dark place, like Adam and Eve found after they ignored God's words in the Garden of Eden. Hiding from God won't work. Get out into the light of Jesus and allow his love to bring you back to where your heart wants to be."
That excerpt from my first book came to my attention as I am preparing to deliver that workshop material for the first time since moving to Kentucky from Texas in 2006. The heading of that paragraph, Are God's Words To Be Trusted?, is an important consideration that I highlight during the Standing On Holy Ground workshop because Satan plays with our minds to challenge us to believe what isn't true. He tried it first with Eve in the Garden and it worked pretty well, so he continues that same tactic with all of us who struggle with the challenges of our roller coaster lives.
Recently the Rose and I watched a YouTube presentation of Francis Chan at the Passion Conference in Atlanta earlier this month. His thesis centered around the trustworthiness of God and I highly recommend that if you haven't seen it to check it out.
Yes Lord, I'm Listening is a lifelong commitment that requires some form of consistent discipline to actually spend time in our Father's presence. Drifting away is the only alternative and that always ends in a dark place. Its a choice each of us make. If you're in that dark place all you need do is turn toward the light and let God smile on you. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, January 21, 2013

"More Amazing Grace" #3

There is just something about the word "grace" that makes my spirit happy, makes me smile. I learned a long time ago to feel the power of the words John Newton wrote as he looked back on his life of ignorance of all that God is. His powerful hymn is the story of all of us.
Paul too! Take a moment to ponder Paul's testimony about God's Amazing Grace:

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this man ..... was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:2-9 NIV

Here was a faithful brother who like John the Baptist and so many others, wore himself completely out in the service of God, but who did so with gratitude and humility because he understood who he was. Paul was martyred in Rome during Nero's long persecution of Christians, but as he told Timothy, "the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me on that day - and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

So if God is such a loving, gracious Father, why would he allow Paul to struggle with this "messenger of Satan" and eventually die a horrible death at the hands of a Roman tyrant? Many good people have had that same struggle with a similar outcome. Why is that? Why does God give us the same message he did to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" when what we really need is his immediate intervention in a dire situation?
I cannot, so I will not even try to answer for anything God does or does not do. His grace is always more than enough to get us through our trials and difficulties. It wont answer all of our questions but if we can adopt Paul's trusting faith in the worst of circumstances, God's constant favor will take us to a better place. God does what he chooses because he IS God and I am not. His grace is sufficient. If we can't take it on pure faith in our Father's grace, our faith is self-centered rather than Christ centered.
The beautiful hymn "Amazing Grace" has been performed and recorded by thousands of artists over the years. If you have never seen it performed by the classical group IL DEVO, I want to urge you to go to YouTube, type IL DEVO in the search box and look for the first listing of their Amazing Grace. You will be surprised by their beautiful and truly soul stirring performance at an outdoor amphitheater in Croatia. Every time I see it, I just have to say HALLELUJAH!

Friday, January 18, 2013

"More AMAZING GRACE" Pt 2

When I formally launched a full time preaching career nearly a half century ago, my actual knowledge of God's word was minimal at best. Most of my preaching was simply repeating what I had learned up to that point, which wasn't a bad thing, but God was taking me on a long journey that continues even now. However I will always carry with me a sense of sadness over much of what I sincerely taught during most of those early years.
One of my greatest omissions during at least the first 20 or so years, was the subject of GRACE. Growing up under the constant influence of "performance based" Christianity, I rarely taught on grace and love because I had been trained to believe in God's absolute expectation of perfect obedience to his words. In those years I also encountered the exact opposite theology that we humans are saved by grace plus nothing. I gradually learned that both interpretations are seriously flawed.
Sometime in the middle part of my career I began to lay aside all the commentaries, magazines, sermon outlines and books written from the very narrow performance based perspective. For the first time probably ever, I finally began to truly study and meditate on the words revealed in the Bible by the Spirit of God.
For the next 17 years I studied the Bible exclusively for an average of 3 hours every day using only a few aids such as lexicons, concordances,dictionaries and word studies.
Today I praise my Father for the way he has patiently educated me through all those years of intense study and interaction with a lot of very good men and women, including my Dad who was my most trusted adviser. He always listened and offered guidance that taught me to attain a balance that has given me absolute freedom to just trust the Holy Spirit and the love of God always, in everything. In fact, when we moved to Dallas, Tx in 1977, for the first eight months I ministered at the Hawn Freeway Church of Christ, I preached exclusively on the love of God and how that plays out in the life of his family on earth.
"Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this GRACE in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
"The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, GRACE increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also GRACE might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:1-2, 20-21 NIV
The word "ACCESS" in the above passage is from the Greek word "prosagoge" which contains at least two powerful images. The word actually means "introduction". It was the common word for introducing someone into the presence of royalty. It was also used commonly for the harbor where ships at sea could come into a safe harbor from a dangerous storm. Because of Jesus and in him, we have been introduced into the royal presence of the King, the absolute Ruler of all that is; and through him we have gained entry into the safe haven of God's grace.
I no longer hesitate to teach, talk, encourage and praise my Father and Jesus the Son for the free gift given to us all that is always greater than our sin, AMAZING GRACE.
More to come. HALLELUJAH!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hymn Stories - "Amazing Grace"

In my years of service in God's kingdom I have encountered many who have never heard the wonderful story of the origin of the powerful hymn "Amazing Grace". So, here you go.

The date MAY 10, 1748 is one of those milestones that God inserts into the everyday lives of everyday men and women who attach no special significance to the moment beyond what they experience in  that moment. Such is the case with this very date in the life of one whose life was extraordinarily difficult until that moment.

John Newton went to sea at 11 years old to work on a Merchant ship which his father commanded. He made six Mediterranean voyages until his father retired and then was pressed into service aboard the man-of-war, HMS Harwich. He soon found conditions aboard the ship intolerable and deserted, but was soon captured and returned to the ship, publicly flogged and demoted to a common seaman. His request to be exchanged into the service of a slave ship was soon granted, which brought him to Sierra Leone. He became the servant of a very abusive slave captain until 1748 when he was rescued by another sea captain who had been a close friend of his father. He ultimately became captain of his own slave ship.

Although Newton had some early spiritual training from his mother, she died when he was a young boy so by now he had given up any religious convictions he ever had. On a homeward voyage the ship encountered a particularly violent storm and Newton feared that all would be lost. However he was able to steer through the storm and later in calmer waters he reflected on his thoughts as he fought to reach a place of safety. In his journal, he referred to that night as his "great deliverance" because during the heat of the moment he had actually prayed, "Lord have mercy on us." For the rest of his life he celebrated May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion.

Ultimately John Newton became one of Europe's most influential preachers, teachers and composers of hymn. "Amazing Grace" was probably written some time between 1760 and 1770. The lyrics and music bear a haunting resemblance to many of the songs sung by the captured slaves on the long sea voyage to a life of hardship and deprivation. Newton was self educated even learning Hebrew and Greek from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

His greatest contribution to the cause of Jesus Christ undoubtedly are the words of the great hymn "Amazing Grace". He died in London December 21, 1807. He wrote his own epitaph that appears on a marble plaque in St Mary, Woolnoth, UK and on his tombstone:

"JOHN NEWTON , clerk (preacher) 
Once an infidel and libertine
a servant of slaves in Africa
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savior
JESUS CHRIST
restored, pardoned and
appointed to preach
the gospel which he
had long labored to destroy.
He ministered near 16 years in Olney, in Bucks
and twenty eight years in this church."

"Amazing Grace" indeed. HALLELUJAH!!