A Praise Progression

Man playing a guitarGenesis 8

Those of you who play an instrument or who are into music theory already know what a “chord progression” is.  But for those of us who can only play the radio a quick definition might be in order.  A chord progression is “a series of musical chords, or chord changes that ‘aims for a definite goal’ of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.” (source: Wikipedia)

Okay… if you aren’t musically inclined, that probably meant absolutely nothing to you!  So why bring it up?

Because I see in Scripture a “praise progression” that also “aims for a definite goal” and establishes a “tonality” in life… that is… if we follow the progression all the way through to praise!

The progression is:  Waiting, Being Heard, Hoping, Being Rescued, Praising.

The most obvious praise progression is Psalm 40:1-3 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

The progression goes like this:  I waited; God heard me; I hoped (this is the patient part); I was rescued (He brought me up.); I sang a song of praise.

I have read a lot of books on prayer that say you should praise God for being who He is, not for what He has done for you.  That sounds great in theory… but how can you not praise Him for all He has done for you?  He PUT that song in your mouth… you cannot help but sing it!  The natural result of the progression is that “many see and fear and trust in the Lord.”  Harsh chords of pain and waiting and patience are resolved in the end and the sound is so sweet!  It is enticing!

What does this have to do with Genesis 8?  This is first “praise progression” of the Bible!

Noah was caught in a waiting period. – “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” -Genesis 7:24

God remembered Noah. – “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..” (8:1)

God sends hope.  – “The dove came to him toward the evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.” (8:11)

God rescues Noah. – “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.'” (8:15-16)

Noah praises God. – “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” (8:20)

Maybe you are struggling to praise the Lord today.  Your life is cooped up in a smelly old ark.  You may feel bitter or angry at your circumstances.  Praise is more difficult at different stages within the progression.  How difficult it is to praise Him with your heart in discord!  But remember this:  The chord WILL be resolved… whether in this life or the next.  Right now, your praise will just take a different form depending on where you are in the progression.

So pray:

Lord, I’m waiting.

or Lord, remember me.

or Lord, I sense you are sending me hope.  (I see the olive branch!)

And if you have found your chord resolved… if God has rescued you… Sing the Song of the Redeemed!  And if for nothing else… praise Him for Calvary… praise Him for the cross… praise Him for the hope of resurrection!

John McArthur once referred to Jesus as “the harmonizer of all discords.”  What an apt description for the lover of music theory… and for this rest of us…  who know a good song when we hear it!

Blessings!

Remembering Him in the Midst of Life’s Storms

storm at seaPsalm 42:6-10
6My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,

“Where is your God?”

The Psalmist isn’t where he wants to be.  He is on Mount Mizar… (a peak in the Mount Hermon range… miles north of what eventually would be called Galilee)  He is extreme North.  Where he wants to be is on Mount Zion (43:3)  Mizar means “littleness.”  The author of this Psalm feels small due to the storm in front of him.

Deep calls to deep… the water is surging… he is being swept away.

Physically, perhaps.  But most certainly psychologically.

He is going under.

Have you forgotten me, Lord?

I heard of a pastor in the midst of a period of church conflict who went into his backyard one day and waved a handkerchief toward the sky and said:
“Did you forget where you put me?”

Ever feel like that?

The lesson in the storm is:  Remember Him…. Even When You Feel Forgotten

 (New Living Translation7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

1)   Remember that God is still in control.  Nothing has happened outside his notice.  They are His waves and His tides that sweep over you.

2)   Remember back when His love poured into your life.  When you went to bed singing.  When prayer was a second language.  Remember and be thankful.

Author Don Everts once wrote:  “I am a slave to my own personal weather systems.  If it’s been a good week, I have an easier time feeling good about what Jesus has done for me on the cross.  But if I am a little depressed or frustrated, my soul is anything but thankful.”  –  Don Everts  (God in the Flesh, p. 121.)

But thanksgiving may be the very thing you need to lift your depression or frustration.

“Devastated by a series of personal crises, Sean Coxe spent his last $300 to visit his father in Florida.  Feeling helpless and alone, he wanted nothing more than to be with the man who had so often been able to put life’s disasters in perspective when he was a child.  Perhaps he could now.  On the last evening of his visit, the two men stood at the end of a jetty and watched the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.  Coxe was seething with bitterness.  He said, ‘You know, Dad, if we could take all the great moments we experience in our lifetimes and put them back-to-back, they wouldn’t last twenty minutes.’  Keeping his eyes fixed on the setting sun, his dad responded simply, ‘Yup.’  Stunned, Coxe turned to him.  His father then looked steadily into his eyes and added softly, with the wisdom of Job, ‘Precious, aren’t they?’”  –Ben Patterson (Waiting, pp.21, 22.)

Lord, Remember Me For Good

FuneralPsalm 25:7

     It is an old joke, but one worth retelling.  A certain minister was met with an odd proposal.  The brother of a rather notorious sinner came into his office one day and offered the minister a sizable gift to the church’s building program.  It seems his brother had just died, and he was willing to give the money to the church in his memory, but only if… during the funeral… the minister was willing to call him a saint.  After some thought, the minister finally agreed.

The day of the funeral arrived and the minister began his sermon.  “This man that just died, we all know his reputation… he was a womanizer, a drunkard, a con artist and a thief.”

He paused for a moment, then continued:  “But compared to his brother he was a saint!”

We laugh at that joke because we have all been in funerals of those with a dubious reputation… and have listened with embarrassment as family members and friends spoke of their character as though they were little Billy Grahams.

But truth be told, there is a lot of truth that we would like not to be told at our own funerals.  We want to be remembered for our good.

While reading Psalm 25, I got to thinking:  What if God were to speak a eulogy at my funeral… what would HE say about me?

In Psalm 25: 7, David asks of the Lord: “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

This is a bold request, but one–that in Christ— He has granted.  This is seen in how some OT characters are spoken of in the NT – of Moses: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant… Hebrews 3:5; of Job – “You have heard of the endurance of Job…” (James 5:11); of Lot (!) – “and if He rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:7).  Did you hear that right?  Moses, Job and Lot.  Yes, Moses.  The one who not only didn’t want to be the deliverer, but wanted God to sent Aaron instead.  Yes, that Moses, was called faithful.  Yes, Job.  The one who complained insistently that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to take God to court.  Yes, that Job, was called patient in the NT.  And Lot… LOT!  The one who steadily moved toward sin, until he reached the point of having to flee from falling fire and brimstone.  Yes, that Lot was called righteous in the NT.  How can this be?

And what will be spoken of you in that final day?  You might think that your list of failures and sin will be an albatross to be worn by you throughout eternity.  But the Scriptures teach, that when you are remembered, it will be for good.  Because Jesus died for you… redeemed you… and paid the penalty of your sin for you… Because of Jesus… God will remember you for good!

After listing a litany of sins, Paul writes this in his first letter to Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)   [notice the highlighted verbs are in past tense].

There are days that I am like David… I am reflecting on my past and the things that I have done and I get this sense of dread.  I think:  “What must God (who sees and knows everything – including my thoughts and intentions)– what must He be thinking of me?  Through the blood of Christ… I know that when He thinks of me… He thinks of me for good.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Jesus!

“No Matter What, I’ll Be There For You.”

earthquake

Psalm 12:1 – “Help Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.”

2 Timothy 2:13 – “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

Paul says that “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 3:3)  One of the names for Jesus is “the faithful.” (Revelation 3:14).  It is amazing that God remains so faithful to us… when the quality of our faithfulness is often so lacking.

Case in point, the rubble we sometime find our lives in.  We know things run smoother when we stay in the Word, pray and have fellowship with other believers… but we don’t always stick to the plan.  And in the aftermath of selfish choices, the ground beneath us starts to quake.  And we are buried by an avalanche of consequences and yet… still.. God seeks us out and desires to put us on solid ground. (Psalm 40:1-3)

It was the faithfulness of God that caused Him to search for us in the first place.  He the shepherd faithfully searched for the missing lamb, the woman faithfully seeking the missing coin… and gracious Father joyfully welcoming the lost son home.  (Luke 15)

Randy Alcorn, in his book If God is Good, shared this story of a faithful father:

“In 1988, an Armenian earthquake killed forty-five thousand.  In the chaos one man made his way to his son’s school, only to find nothing but rubble.  Other parents stumbled around dazed and weeping, calling out their children’s names.  But this father ran to the back corner of the building where his son’s classroom once was, and began digging.

To everyone else, it seemed hopeless.  How could his son have survived?  But this father had promised he would always be there for his boy, so he heaved rocks and dug, calling for his son by name:  “Armand!”

Well-meaning parents and bystanders tried to pull him out of the rubble.  “It’s too late!”  “They’re dead!”  “There’s nothing you can do!”  The fire chief tried to pull him away saying, “Fires and explosions are happening everywhere.  You’re in danger.  Go home!”  Finally, the police came and said, “You’re in shock.  You’re endangering others.  Go home.  We’ll handle it!”

But the man continued to dig, hour after hour—eight hours, then twelve, twenty-four, thirty six hours.  Finally, in the thirty-eighth hour of digging—a day and a half after everyone told him to give up hope—he called his son’s name again, pulled back a big rock, and heard his son’s voice.

“Armand!” the father screamed.

From under the rocks came the words, “Dad?  I told them!  I told the other kids that if you were still alive, you’d save me!”

The father helped his son and thirteen other children climb out of the rubble.  When the building had collapsed, the children survived in a tentlike pocket.  The father lovingly carried his son home to his mother.  When the townspeople praised Armand’s father for saving the children, he simply explained, “I promised my son, ‘No matter what, I’ll be there for you!”  (If God is Good, pp. 89-90.)

God is more faithful than even this very human father.  We often bring the house down upon ourselves… but even then He seeks to clear the rubble.

Praise Him that he never gives up on you.  He has a plan for you and is faithful to carry it out in your life.  Seek to model His faithfulness…  Say to your spouse, kids and to your neighbor… “No matter what, I’ll be there for you!”  Bring this quality back to the human race!

Is It Okay to Be Angry?

A Christian Response to EvilEphesians 4:26-27 / Colossians 3:8

“Can I be angry?”  That is the #1 Question that has been asked of me as a pastor coming out of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog (“A Christian’s Response to Evil”) even this pastor was not immune to “simmering” a bit in the aftermath.

lit match 2But is such anger okay?  In Ephesians (4:26) Paul says to “Be Angry and do not sin…” but Paul also writes in Colossians (3:8) to “…put them all aside:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Which is it?  To be or not to be… angry?   There was a deacon in the first church I served in as a youth pastor who believed it was NEVER okay to be angry.  When I showed him Ephesians 4:26 (in my naive attempt to “set him straight”) he was still unconvinced (and slightly angry with me).

I have come to believe in these past few decades that though he still wasn’t right, he might be close to telling the truth.  Our human anger is seldom righteous and without sin.

And yet… I still firmly believe that there are times (such as the events in Boston last week) when it is wrong NOT to be angry.  As Henry Ward Beecher wrote:  “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good.  Now and then a man should be shaken to the core with indignation over things evil.”

Now this Scripture offers qualifications:  Don’t sin with your anger.  Don’t let it stay the night.  Don’t allow Satan to get a foot hold in your life through it.  Vengeful rage is not okay… but a Godly anger is.

Now what does Paul mean in Colossians?  The things Paul warns us about there are the steps we might potentially take beyond our initial emotion.  The word anger in Colossians 3:8 has as its root the Greek work, “oregomai.”  This word means to “stretch out one’s self in order to touch or grasp something or to reach after or desire something.”(Thayer)  The anger Paul is talking about here is one that we have “given ourselves over to.”  This is expressed in the next four things Paul tells the Colossians to be rid of…  1. wrath (a boiling up type of anger), 2. malice (a desire to injure the object of our wrath), 3. slander (to use our tongue to talk bad about them), and 4. abusive speech (foul and obscene speech toward that person, i.e. “cussing them out”).

Giving ourselves over to our anger seldom turns out well.  I read in a Daily Bread Devotional that “in the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a boston ballpark 1894routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.”

That is a real life illustration of what happens when we give ourselves over to our anger… ourselves and those around us get burned.  Is it okay to be angry?  Yes… but we are not allow to nurse it, churn it over and over and then dispense it like a high pressure fire hose.

So what do I do with this anger I feel?  Many believe that Paul in Ephesians was quoting David in Psalm 4:  “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4, NIV)  If that is the case, then we would do well to do what David suggests:  “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (v.4b-5, NASB)

So in the wake of the Boston bombings or whatever other violent act that is sure to follow… be angry that someone would think so callously about human life.   But then… calm yourself down… meditate in your heart on the Word of God (perhaps on Colossians 3:8!), and then put your trust in a God of justice who has things well under control.

Thanksgiving or Thanksreceiving?

Philippians 1:3 – I thank my God every time I remember you.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Wanted to share a little thanksgiving humor today from another blog titled “Turning Thankgiving into Thanksreceiving” by Paul Johnson.  It is a tongue-in-cheek (I hope) look at people that do their best to impress at the Thanksgiving feast.  He suggests hosting the meal because “Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity for you to leave subtle clues around your house about being an impressive person.”

He suggests:  “Making your medicine cabinet as impressive as possible.”  “…removing the embarrassing products, why not replace them with all your trophies, college transcripts showing your outstanding GPA, and a solved Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle?”

He also suggests leaving “complex scientific notes lying around.”

He also says to :  “Hide tools around the house so people will think of you as handy and masculine.” “Why not leave a drill under a couch cushion?  When a guest sits down he’ll immediately jump back up to pull the drill out from under him.  “I was wondering where I left that drill,” I nonchalantly tell him.  “I totally forgot it was under the cushion when I finished building the couch.”

He also suggests leaving an open datebook in the bathroom that looks like this: 

Check out the entire hilarious blog:  http://thegoodgreatsby.com/2011/11/23/turning-thanksgiving-into-thanksreceiving/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-5

As I read this I can think of some gifts we can give the guests at our feasts today:  the benefit of the doubt, their point, their moment in the spotlight, our forgiveness, our attention… our love.

Be a Thanksgiver today!