Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Songs for All Year Long

I have seen several FaceBook posts about those Christmas songs that some of us may find annoying…you know, the ones that you can’t stand to hear and you can’t wait for them to go away after Christmas. (I’m not naming any names here!) Then there are those Christmas songs that I think we could and should continue to sing year round. One such song is “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts. It isn’t even written about specifically about the nativity narrative in Luke 2; it is inspired by Psalm 98.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, … shout for joy before the Lord, the King … Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”       (Ps 98:4-9 NIV)
Another Christmas song that could (and perhaps should) be sung year round is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley, as it contains deep, theological lyrics about Jesus and the wonder of the incarnation, especially in the second verse.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell; Jesus our Emmanuel
God, the Creator of all things, veiled Himself with his own creation in order to live among us, as one of us, to become “Emmanuel” –God with us. He “took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us” (John 1:14 VOI). Wesley says He was “pleased as man with men to dwell.” This phrase reminds me of another song about Jesus found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8 NIV).
Jesus is God –there is none higher, there is none greater. And yet He voluntarily humbled Himself and gave up His position and privilege to be “veiled in flesh” and become one of His own creation, to live on the earth as one of us. And He was pleased to do this because it was necessary in order for us to be adopted into His family. “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Eph 1:5 NLT).

Can we even begin to fathom all that Jesus gave up when He came and dwelt among us, when He become “veiled in flesh” to become “Jesus, our Emmanuel.” How can we begin to thank Him for all that He did for us? I would encourage you never to let a day go by without offering Him thanks and praise for He who is and what He has done for you, and never forget that He is Emmanuel --- God with us. This is something we can sing and shout for joy about all year long!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Blessing from Psalm 20

It is the season of the year for gifts and for blessings. Psalm 20 contains a beautiful blessing written by David. The heading in The Voice translation for this psalm says it is "for the worship leader." It seems to me that this blessing should be sung, and it should be shared and poured out over others.

So whether everything is going as planned for you this Christmas season or if you are struggling and feel as if you're coming to the end of your rope, please listen and be blessed by these words that I adapted, which were originally written by David.

"A Blessing from Psalm 20"

May the Eternal One come to rescue you
When you desperately cling to the end of your rope
May the name of the Lord be your shelter
May He give you help and hope

May He grant you the dreams and the plans of your heart
May He see you through to the end
Then we will shout and praise the great name of our God
For all praises belong to Him

May He lavish you with His unfailing love
May He always answer your plea
May you trust in the name of the Lord our God
And may He give you victory

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stubbornness vs. Persistence

If you’re a parent (and even if you aren’t), you’ve probably seen a stubborn kid in action –a toddler who plops himself down in the middle of a store and refuses to walk with you…a preschooler who flat-out refuses to wear the clothes you laid out for her…an older child who repeatedly refuses to clean his room or who will not stop asking for whatever it is that they want so badly. You think to yourself (or you might even say out loud) “Why are you being so stubborn?!”

In Luke chapter 11, Jesus tells this strange story about what seems to be a very stubborn man. Jesus says this man bothers his neighbor after they have all gone to bed, to ask for food to feed his unexpected houseguests. The man refuses to leave without any bread, so in the end, he gets the bread because of his “brash persistence” (Luke 11:8 VOI).

The man in the parable sounds extremely stubborn (and downright annoying, I might add), but this story is told as a positive example of persistence or perseverance in prayer…or is it stubbornness? Is there a difference? The word “stubborn” seems to have a negative connotation. It is associated with “rebellious” in Deuteronomy 21:18 and Psalm 78:8, and Jesus is “deeply distressed” by stubborn hearts in Mark 3:5. But perseverance is always applauded (see Rom 5:3-4; 2 Thess 1:4; 2 Pet 1:6). What’s the difference since they both sound like not wanting to give up?

The Greek word translated as “stubborn” in Mark 3:5 is porosis, meaning “stubborn, unwillingness to learn…mental stubbornness, closed mind” (LN 27.52). The Greek word in 2 Pet 1:6 (and the other examples above) translated as “perseverance” is hypomone, meaning the “capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances” (LN 25.174). So, being stubborn and being persistent or perseverant are not the same thing; in fact, they are quite the opposite of each other. The stubborn person refuses to say “yes,” is hardened, closed-off, and refuses to move. The persistent or perseverant person is strong and refuses to stop or to give up.

Jesus’ parable about this annoyingly persistent man who receives what he requested because he refused to give up is followed by this message:
Keep on asking, and you will receive. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened for you. All who keep asking will receive, all who keep seeking will find, and doors will open to those who keep knocking.” (Luke 11:9-10 VOI)
The asking, seeking, and knocking verbs used here are not one-time events. They are active, present tense verbs that encourage the continual asking, seeking, searching, and knocking done by someone who is persistent, who perseveres, who refuses to give up –someone who prays with “shameless persistence,” who refuses to go back home without bread for his guests.

As you seek provision from God, don’t ask just one time and quit. Don’t be stubborn, closed-minded, and refuse to move like the tantrum-throwing toddler, but do be persistent and persevere in prayer. Continuously pray “give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3 NIV). Continuously ask God to provide, continuously seek that which you want to find, and continuously knock on doors so that one of them will be opened for you.

What would the church in this country look like, and what would this country look like if those of us who follow Jesus would be persistent in prayer like this? Keep praying for that family member to begin to follow Jesus. Keep praying for God’s will and His path for your life. Keep praying for fellow believers to stand strong and remain faithful through difficult times. Keep praying “your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt 6:10 NIV). Paul summed it up nicely in his instructions to the Thessalonian church: “Never stop praying” (1 Thess 5:17 NLT).