Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Heart of Worship Tuesday: Blessed Be Your Name

We all go through difficult times. We all go through good times. Yet, through it all, God is there with us
“Blessed Be Your Name” is a more recent worship song. It was written in 2001 by Christian recording artist, Matt Redman. He penned it a few weeks after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In his book of the same name as the song, he notes that:
 “For the few weeks following those attacks, church attendance went up dramatically…It wasn’t written consciously in response to those dark events-but no doubt, being immersed in the spiritual and emotional climate of those days was an important factor in birthing it…It’s really a song born out of the whole of life-a realization that we will all face seasons of pain or unease. And in these seasons we will need to find our voices before God.” (1)

This song is full of imagery, much inspired by the book of Job. In the first verse it states:
“Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name!”

Blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name!”

In the bible, good times were often correlated with times of ‘plenty’. This meant that lots of food was growing. People were happy and had what they needed and more. In times of famine, food wouldn’t grow and the economy went bad. Today is no different. We go through periods of things going well, and other times not so much.

In the second half of the first verse, it talks about going through the desert and the wilderness. The desert is dry and many times void of food. It is often hot. It is easy to become tired and weary.

 In a wilderness, it can be easy to get confused and lost. There is nobody, except animals-some which could kill you.

The children of Israel, as a result of their sin, wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before God let them into the Promised Land. We can also see a parallel of how our own sin can plunge us into difficult times. Yet, God is forgiving and patient. (1 Romans 2:4, John 1:9.)

God’s love is abundant, and just knowing that He is in control gives us comfort.
The next verse says this:
“Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Tho there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.”

There are times in our lives when things will be great. There is “sunshine” in our lives, so to speak. It is easy to praise and serve God during these times and to be thankful. But so many things can take us by surprise and derail our lives. Whether it be loss of a loved one, illness, broken relationships, accidents, or the loss of a job. All these things can come in and choke out our sunshine. We may begin to feel hopeless and uncertain.

As the song says, “though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.”  There are going to be times when it is difficult to serve God. It is so hard to give our all when our hearts are broken. The person is saying that, despite the fact they are in a rough patch, they are still going to give anyway.

Romans 5: 3-5 says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Our trials and tribulations, if we let them, can help us grow spiritually. When we give it everything we have, even in the most difficult of times, we will be blessed.

Job exemplified this. Despite the fact that he lost his wealth, his home, his family, and his health, he still praised God. (Job 1:21.) There are going to be times that bad things happen to us. It won’t make any sense. But in the end, He can use it for good, such as the case with Joseph when his brothers sent him into slavery. (Genesis 50:20.) We can come out of it and be stronger than before. 

In the chorus we have this line:
“Every blessing You pour out
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord…”

No matter where we find ourselves in life, we should look to God. We should patiently wait through every trial and tribulation.  We should strive to give God the praise as Job did: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. BLESSED be the name of the Lord!”

Saturday, April 16, 2016

I'm Weird. You're Weird. We're all Weird. Let's Rejoice!

In Tim Burton's film, "Alice and Wonderland", I believe it had it right when Alice told the Mad Hatter that all the best people are mad and bonkers. I think I quite agree with that statement.

As Christians, this is precisely how the world sees us. They think we are crazy, much to our dismay, oftentimes.

I get it. Right now, things in our nation aren’t so good from a moral perspective. It is easy to worry, wondering what could happen. 

As time goes on, we begin to lose "our muchness", as the film also states.  I see far too many Christians getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty ways of the world. Discouragement abounds. We are becoming increasingly quiet about God's word. Many are losing their boldness and confidence.

Again, I get it. More and more people are rejecting God. People are rejecting us. It hurts. It’s easy to feel discouraged and wonder how the church could possibly grow at a time like this.  There is a part of you that wants to gain some sense of normalcy and keep your mouth shut. 

I’m here to tell you, whatever you do, don’t! God wants us to embrace our weirdness. Because, let’s face it; we are a weird people. The world doesn’t get it. They will never get it. Sure, there will be a few people that take a second look and join our weirdness.  But, we are weird and that is how it is. Very few people will want to take the road less traveled by. (Matthew 7:14.)

1 Peter 4:4 says, “With respect to this, they are surprised when you do not join them in the same debauchery, and they mock you.”

We don't make sense to them. They are going to make fun of us. They are going to insult us. Yet, Jesus turns this into something positive.

“Blessed are you when others revile your and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12.)

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14.)

We are blessed when we stand up for what is right and others think us strange. We are supposed to be a strange people. While we don’t suffer in the US like others in the world, the treatment of Christians here is turning sour. Many are wondering why we won’t just shut up.

Find the joy and embrace your weirdness. Stop worrying so much, and just embrace hope and trust in God.  No matter what happens in this world, He will be right there. Whether you are mocked for your faith or even killed for it, God tells us not to be afraid of people. (Matthew 10:28.)

Despite the circumstances, there is joy. Give the world something else to think we are weird for. Find hope and joy in the stressful times. (Romans 12:12.) Find it in the uncertain times. Find the contentment  and joy when they are ridiculing you for your weirdness. Then you’ll be even weirder to them. And that is a bigger blessing than you realize. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Heart of Worship Tuesday: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing/O Thou Fount”

Singing to God is a beautiful thing. Encouraging each other through song is one of the greatest blessings there is.

As Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”

Singing is such an important part of our worship. Knowing this, why shouldn’t we also be mindful of what we are singing? When our hearts are engaged with the words' meaning, it makes our worship that much better. When we understand what we are singing, the more we encourage one another. (Eph. 5:19.)

Today, in this first installment, we will be looking at “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

This is on my list of favorite old hymns. Not only is the melody pretty, but the words are beautiful. Robert Robinson wrote it in 1757 . He  was formerly a pretty rough member of society. He was a gambler and a drunk. One night while attending an evangelistic meeting, the words of the minister got to his heart. After a few years, he finally changed his life and looked to God. He wrote this as a poem to go along with a sermon he gave. (1)

The first verse says,
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, Mount of thy redeeming love.”

God is the “fount of every blessing”, is He not? He loves His people immensely. He blesses and takes care of us. Every good thing we have is from God. (James 1:17.) The greatest blessing we have from God is His love and mercy. As the verse says, “Streams of mercy never ceasing…”. God’s mercy and love is never ending. (Romans 8:31-39.)

The writer is asking God to teach him a “sonnet sung by flaming tongues above”. Sonnets are usually written as love poems. He wants to sing a love song that heavenly beings sing to their creator. He may think that if he could sing songs like the angels, the words He sings would be closer to being worthy of God. He wants to be focused on God’s love, “fixed upon it, Mount of thy redeeming love.”

This verse is all about awe and humbleness we have towards God’s love and mercy. It’s amazing isn’t it? God loved us, sinners, so much that He sent His son to die for us. (John 3:16.) If that isn’t love, I’d like to know what is.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come
And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the throne of God
He to rescue me from danger interposed His precious blood.”

 According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an Ebenezer is defined as “a commemoration of divine assistance.” (2) The dictionary webpage also makes reference to 1st Samuel 7:12. Here, after the victory of the Israelites against the Philistines, the Prophet Samuel sets up a “stone of help” to commemorate God’s help in the battle. This would be comparable to statues or memorials honoring an event or person.

Spiritually speaking, the writer is putting up his own commemoration of God’s help towards him. He is saying that God is the only reason he has changed and made it this far. In the next part, it compares where He was before God. He was a stranger who insisted on staying away from God. But, Jesus patiently waited for him, as he does for us. When he finally came to his senses, the blood of Jesus was there to cleanse him.

So many people try so hard to avoid being convicted by God. One way or another, it will catch up with us. Whether in this life or the next, God will convict us that He is the one true God. (Romans 14:11.)

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be
Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering to thee.
Never let me wander from thee, never leave the God I love.
Take my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

Because of our sinful nature, we can never ever repay what God did for us. We can never live up to what we are supposed to be. But, that is what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is for. Jesus’ goodness and perfection is our salvation.

 The writer is aware of his sin, and how alluring it is. He is asking God to help him not to walk away from Him back into the world that he once knew. He is asking God to take his heart and seal it in heaven. It makes me think of the verse, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

This is something that should be prayerfully on our minds every day. We should always be praying that God helps us to keep our focus on Him, and not be enticed back into the world. We should all be aware of just how tempting it is to sin. We should all be aware of the one who is out to destroy us. (1 Peter 5:8.)

What we have is a prayerful song. The singer is humbly coming before God realizing how unworthy he is to do so. We all are. It is a song praising God for His goodness and mercy. It is a song praising Him for loving us in our imperfection. Let us never forget how blessed we are to have received God’s love and mercy. Let us never forget what a call we have to serve God each day.

Sung by the Fiddlesticks