Thursday, October 30, 2014

Generosity of Goodness

For the LORD God is a splendid shield;
The LORD will give glorious grace;
No good thing will He withhold 
From those who walk uprightly.
Psalm 84:11
Taccoa, GA ~ by Allison Oswalt

Grace falls like gentle rain, steady and sure, pours over me like rivers of light, faithful and full, floods my heart, spilling over and rushing free. I cannot capture or explain or contain such generous offerings. Yet, every day, I simply find more Grace lavished upon my soul. Gentle Shepherd, Faithful Father, Holy Spirit - You come to me with unmeasured love that is undeserved, and You show me unmerited favor.

My praise whispers Thank You, sincere and simple, shouts Hallelujah and Amen, grateful and rich, overflows "To God be the Glory, great things He has Done". I cannot adequately celebrate or applaud or adore Your Magnificent Power. Yet, every day, You graciously accept meager gratitude scattered throughout my gestures. Everlasting Light, Holy Father, Spirit of the Living God - I come to You with imperfect words that are unworthy, and, still, I find more offerings of Extravagant Grace.

God's glorious grace and my inferior offerings merge with stark contrast. God continually accepts my frail, feeble attempts to praise and worship as He lavishes me with everlasting Grace. Perfect Love chooses me! Splendid shield, I rest in wordless wonder of such glorious grace ~dho

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Is 'Praise and Worship' Really?

Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing. 
Hebrews 13:15 The Voice Bible

Blackaby writes, "Genuine worship...originates within our hearts." In the Old Testament, under the original covenant, sacrifices hold an important role in the offerings, and Levite priests offer the sacrifices in the temple "on behalf of the people". Blackaby refers to the Levites as "worship leaders of their day." In the New Testament, animal sacrifices lose their importance because Christ become the last blood sacrifice needed, and God clearly emphasizes our praises and thanksgiving in worship. All this makes me think of those we call Worship Leaders in churches today. They are usually the ones who help us give voice to our heart's praises to God.

Music, in its various forms, is central to the worship experience and frequently sets the mood and tone. Through music, the rhythm of our soul's offering of praise to the Lord finds expression. Words cause the mind to ponder His character, expose the soul's deepest need, and provide the heart an opportunity to reply. Matthew Henry, Bible commentator, reminds us that "Christ is both our Altar and our Sacrifice." As we worship, this ceaseless sacrifice of praise defines the authenticity of the Christian heart.

Typically, especially in more contemporary settings, the Worship Leader designs spiritual opportunities and engages the people in what is often referred to as 'praise music'. Comparing Worship Leaders of the OT, with today's Worship Leaders, I find stark contrasts. No longer are animal sacrifices offered for people's sins; today, people directly worship God and stand in His presence because of Grace. Today's sacrifices look different. No more blood sacrifices are needed. Our sacrifice of praise rises to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving, with song or in Scripture, on chords or in chants, with drums or dance. Worship Leaders exalt God's majesty, while allowing us to examine our hearts and evolve our praise language. Praise and Worship is language pleasing to God!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beyond "Law and Order"

"But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and come to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and then he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave then to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and what ever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' [Jesus asks] "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" [the expert in the law said] "the one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."
Luke 10:33-37 NASB

In one of the most familiar parables in the Bible, the Good Samaritan, Jesus takes us directly to the virtual scene of the crime. There on the side of a treacherous section of a winding, steep, rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho well known for its perpetrators, the victim lays unconscious, bleeding and left for dead. Jesus describes two others who pass but neglect to help the man. The third passer-by stops; a Samaritan, having compassion on the man, bandages his wounds, takes him to the nearest inn, cares for him, pays the innkeeper for future needs, and plans to check on him when returning home. Jesus' investigation asks us, "So, who saw the need and responded? Who demonstrates true compassion? Who was able to love without judgement?"

Jesus draws us into this senseless brutality, calls us out of our comfort zones, shows us how we are to love others. As always, political correctness tries to give its answer - or excuse - for not helping. After all, the priest follows the law keeping himself "religiously clean" while the Levite, too, keeps about his religious responsibilities. Jesus reaches beyond mere religious order and steps directly into a cultural and societal conflict. The Samaritan helping the victim crosses all kinds of social barriers; the centuries old mutual hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans highlights a dilemma. Jesus asks if we really see the needs of people or pretend not to notice. Jesus asks if we truly love others like He loves or just quote Bible verses about God's love? Jesus asks if we have genuine compassion for people or attempt to evaluate according to race, gender, or creed? 

Listening to this investigation does not tell us anything about the injured person. We do not know if he simply falls prey to some robbers, or perhaps, he, too, is a thief himself who loses an argument with a fellow robber. On this road known for crime and opportunity, hurt finds a helping hand. Every day we take a similar journey. Sometimes disappointment targets us; other times, need calls from the other side of the road. Sometimes we are overlooked or excluded; other times, unexpected love sees beyond public opinion. Jesus calls us to lay down outward appearances and stop beside need. Jesus calls each of us to develop compassionate hearts and unselfish spirits, to love fully and unconditionally. Reach beyond 'law and order'; go and do the same! ~dho

Thursday, October 09, 2014

#TBT Bible

Throw-Back-Thursday's popularity fills our Thursdays. Along with its hash tags, pictures of yester-year dance across out computer screens, mobile phones, and tablets. Frequently the hair styles and clothing reveal the era. We laugh, usually, or moan, sometimes. Today I open my #TBT Bible, my name and the date 4/13/77 on the inside cover. Back in the day, unlike now, few translations of the Bible were available. "The Living Bible" translation broke the rules by using current vernacular, much the way we appreciate The Message today. The words and the order of the words sounded friendly, more familiar to the ear. The Living Bible, while popular with teenagers, did not thrill the adults. Whatever your thoughts or preferences are about various translations of the Holy Bible, I believe God always uses His words to inspire, to convict, to reveal His Goodness and Grace.
#TBT High School, 1973

Reading today from Romans in The Living Bible, God's word tells it straight. Listen to some of the verses from Chapter 12: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves...we belong to each other, and each needs all the others. God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. And further down, Don't just pretend that you love others; really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other. These very valuable words remind us our connectedness in Christian community. These words are not just for #TBT!

Life is messy! We wait, longing for time to pass more quickly then hurry to what is next. Hurt and disappointment become friends we wish we didn't know. Doubt shouts! Hypocrisy mocks! But, God always sees the bigger picture, sees beyond what our minds cannot understand. Using my #TBT Bible, I find these words: Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always. (Romans 12:12) I did not read other translations or search commentaries (none in the #TBT Bible), did not research Greek origins of the words or look for cross references. I simply let my prayer echo His inspired words: With a grateful heart, God, I trust You are planning something good for me. In times of trouble, help me be patient. Every moment of every day, my prayers rise to You. I long to spend time with You ~ listening, resting, waiting, learning, loving. Amen! ~dho

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Holy Breathing!

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!"   Psalm 150:6

If you ever have questions about how to praise God, read Psalm 150 for the 'who, what, when, where, why, and how' answers. Anytime and everywhere, our lives are to PRAISE the LORD - the One who is Creator and Comforter, filled with mystery and majesty, holiness and healing; Praises to The Giver of goodness and grace. God is Love. Praise the LORD!

Whether in corporate or private worship, Christians, both collectively and individually, should praise God. This PRAISE is not an ordinary gesture or mere flattery; rather, it is to be a creative praise that radically raves about His awesomeness, ranging from silent awe to sacred shouts. PRAISE evolves into words and music, prayers and singing, rhythmic responses celebrating God's "mighty deeds" and "excellent greatness". Musical instruments of all forms - wind, strings, percussion, dancing - create a ceaseless motion of spontaneous joy to and for the LORD of all. Praise the LORD!

We all struggle in a world saturated by disease, poverty, and injustice that stands in stark contrast to Heaven's perfect, complete, and loving promises. The Greek word for 'breath' is neshamah which means all that is living within us. Just as GOD first breathed life into mankind (Genesis 2:7), He remains the Breath of Life within each Christian. PRAISE honors the redemption through Christ, which is victory over death, but also, this holy breathing glorifies God for His constant presence in our daily struggles. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! ~dho