Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Right Order Of Things

Years ago, several from our church went on a short term mission trip to a small, remote village in Mexico. They went to do some construction work on a church building. The town was the epitome of Mexico's poverty - people living in shacks, electricity scarce, and nothing like our materialistic way of life in the U.S. The scene was culture shock to most who went on the trip. 

I remember talking to one of the men who went there, asking him if he got the chance to personally minister to some of the people. He said that, at first, he just wanted to give them hope of a better life. A life just like we have in our country - a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, nice restaurants, a nice TV, nice theaters, entertainment, ATM machines, credit cards. Credit cards? 

Then he thought to himself, wait a minute, why would I want to bring them into our rat race? The villagers there were in poverty, but they seemed happy. They seemed content. Then he realized that although he wanted to transform them and teach them to be Americans, in reality, they were teaching him something perhaps more important. And he came away from the mission trip with a valuable lesson - a lesson on priorities - a lesson most of us need to learn. It was a lesson on the right order of things. 

So, what is the right order of things? My friend realized the villagers had it right, and that many, if not most Americans, do not!  It would benefit all of us to take heed this lesson, and apply it to our own lives. Below is the right order of things, in order of priority - highest first.

1. God
Those on the mission trip found that the villagers were devout Christians, believing in Jesus. As a matter of fact, they were totally dependent on God. To them, the Lord was their protector, their provider, their healer, their strength, their hope. They trusted and relied on Him. They prayed to Him. They talked about Him. 

The highest priority in our life should be our spiritual commitment. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33) If we are in a right relationship with God through Christ, then everything else will fall in place. He will bless us and will never forsake us. 

2. Family
It was obvious that all the villagers loved their families very much. They were devoted to each other. The father was the head of the household. After God, he loved his wife first and then his children. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25) Immediate and then extended family come next.

3. Friends
The villagers helped each other and shared with each other. Their community was just that, a community. It reminds me of the early church. "All the believers were together and had everything in common." (Acts 2:44)  Our relationship with our friends and those around us means so much. It enriches our lives.

When my wife and I were in Tanzania, Africa, to visit my son and daughter-in-law, who are serving with Pioneer Bible Translators there, we saw how people in a third world country live. I remember driving by small block houses, with steel roofs, windows that were just openings with no glass, an outhouse for a bathroom, no running water but a community well, and no electricity. I asked my son, what do they do at night, in the dark, with no electricity? He said, "They probably just sit around and talk."  Duh! That seems like something we should do!

Yes, it's God first, family second, and others third. What's your priorities? It seems like in our culture, money, job, career, cars, among other things, try to push themselves to the top of the list. There's nothing wrong with these things, and we are blessed to have them. It's just that when they become the most important focus in our lives, and our priorities get out of order, there's a problem. Could it be that because we live in such a rich, materialistic culture, that we've lost focus on the basics - on what's really important?

If you look closely, you'll see that each of the above three points is about relationships - with God, with family, and with others. When Jesus was asked for His opinion on what was the greatest commandment, He answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Thank you Lord for setting things straight for us!

Loving relationships are what really matters in life - that's what it all boils down to - that's what really is important. Everything else, job, career, house, car, money, hobbies, entertainment, vacation, etc., comes after these three. That's the right order of things.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How Nik Wallenda's Tightrope Walk Glorifies God

On Sunday, June 23, 2013, Nik Wallenda walked across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. Actually, it was a metal cable, a mere 2 inches in diameter, stretched 1400 feet from side to side, and 1500 feet above the canyon floor. He used no net and no safety harness! He made it across in just under 23 minutes. It was broadcast live around the world by the Discovery Channel.

Can you imagine! Remember, this cable is not 2 inches wide, it is 2 inches in diameter. No way could I even balance myself on such a cable, let alone walk on it. How do you stand on a wire? Then, to factor in the strong wind rising from the canyon, the extremely long cable swaying and vibrating, and the risk of falling! Wow! It's crazy.

Why would someone do this? Here's how Nik explains it, "My family has done this for seven generations and 200 years, and I'm carrying on a legacy. This is something I've done since I was 2 years old, and it truly is my passion." Now that starts to make sense to me. It's about family, tradition, and mainly, passion. Crazy as far as I'm concerned, but that's who he is - a Wallenda - brought up and groomed to do such things. The 34 year old is a member of the famous "Flying Wallendas" - a family of high wire acrobats. He started tight rope walking when he was 2. He is highly skilled, highly trained, highly experienced, and extremely qualified. 

Some call him a daredevil. But from what I'm gathering, although he surely is daring, he is far from a devil. Rather, Nik is strong in his Christian faith. And my take away is that this whole tight wire walk across the Grand Canyon actually glorified God. Why do I say that? Because, thanks to a live microphone that was attached to him, we could hear him praying the entire way across the canyon. It glorified God because of his acknowledgement of God, of Jesus, of creation, of his trust, of his peace. He relied on God to help him. It's obvious that Nik Wallenda is someone who strongly believes in God, and is not afraid to publicly proclaim it. And it's refreshing and inspiring. 

Below is a sampling of his actual remarks as he made his long and dangerous walk:

"Thank You Jesus"
"Praise You Jesus"
"Lord, help this cable to calm down."
"Praise You God"
"How I love you, Jesus"
"You're my King, my Savior, You're my Protector, my Shield, my Strength"
"Yes Jesus, yes Jesus, yes Jesus"
"God, You're so good, calm those winds in the name of Jesus"
"Help me to relax Lord, help me to calm down and relax"
"The enemy has no hold on me"
"The peace that passes all understanding"
"Lord, shine Glory upon Your name somehow Lord"
"Lord, I give You the Glory on this"
"Hallelujah"
"Lord, give me strength"
"Go away in the name of Jesus" (as he is squatting down, trying to calm vibrations in the cable)
"Thank you Lord, Thank you for calming that cable, Lord"
"God, calm those winds. You have authority over that, Lord. You have authority over that."
"In Jesus' name"
"You are the King of Kings"
"Thank you for this beautiful creation that You made"
"Lord, You are my everything"
"You are my all in all, my peace, my strength, my wisdom, my guidance"
"Glory to Your name"

Did Nik Wallenda believe that God would prevent him from falling? Not necessarily. He knew that was a possibility. Several family members died falling off the high wire, including his great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, who died from a fall in 1978. It seemed, though, that with almost each inch he moved, he thanked the Lord for a successful step. I like that. 

There's no doubt that his faith is real and sincere. "Faith plays a huge role in what I do," Wallenda said. "I believe God has opened many doors for me in my life and this is one of them. To inspire people around the World, let them know the impossible is not so impossible if you set your mind to it."

Some skeptics ask, if he fell to his death, what would he think of God then? Well, with someone who has such strong faith, Nik Wallenda would most likely say that his time was up, and that he is in a good place - in the presence of the Lord, the one he loves. "That's really where I get my peace," he said. "I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I'm going."

So, believe what you may about this man. As for me, I think his example of unashamed belief in God, his strong conviction and his public acknowledgement of his faith, is a lesson for all of us. 


Friday, June 14, 2013

Top 10 Attributes Of A Great Dad

There are all kinds of dads in this world. Some are simply wonderful, some are extremely terrible. Some support and encourage their children, some abandon and frustrate their kids. In the U.S., we have a holiday called Father's Day. Some look forward to it, some hate it. Some have had compassionate dads, and some have had abusive dads who are tyrants. 

There are many who have never even gotten a chance to know their dads. In our country, the statistics aren't very good regarding stable families. The divorce rate is almost 50%. Even worse for second marriages (60%). Thirty-seven percent of all families have a single parent. 

If I were to ask everyone I encounter, "How would you rate your dad? - lousy, ok, fairly good, or the best?", I wonder what the breakout would be? I'm sorry to say that most likely, the response of "the best" would not be at the top of the list. But regardless of the answers, I'm certain of one thing. Everyone yearns to have a great father.

So, what would be the traits of the best dad that anyone could ever have? Let's take a look. Here's my top ten list of the characteristics of the ideal dad. 

1. He Has Great Character
Honest, humble, trustworthy, even tempered, sober minded, compassionate, moral
2. He Is A Provider
Hard worker, diligent, resourceful, provides stability
3. He Is A Family Man
Looks out for the family, cherishes their relationship, has fun together, faithful to his wife and family
4. He Disciplines When Necessary
Corrects and admonishes; yet doesn't exasperate, but is merciful 
5. He Is A Man Of His Word
Does what he says he will do, keeps his promises
6. He Is An Encourager
Builds up, doesn't tear down, instills confidence
7. He Gives Wise Advice
Guides, shares experiences, teaches, warns, directs
8. He Leads Spiritually
Prays, faithful follower of Christ, a Bible reader, teaches his family Biblical principles
9. He Leads By Example
Models, not only says what to do, but does it, always does the right thing
10. He Loves Unconditionally
Loves regardless, expresses love in words as well as actions

Here's the point. All the above traits are God's.

1. He Has Great Character
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty..." (Revelation 4:8)
2. He Is A Provider
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
3. He Is A Family Man
I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:7)
4. He Disciplines When Necessary
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)
5. He Is A Man Of His Word
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
6. He Is An Encourager
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
7. He Gives Wise Advice
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
8. He Leads Spiritually
God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
9. He Leads By Example
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:15)
10. He Loves Unconditionally
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)

You see, God is the perfect father. And for many, He is the wonderful father that was missing in this physical world. He is the "father to the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5). Many have a hard time understanding God's love for us because they never had a good relationship with their own earthly father, and it's hard to grasp what that relationship should be like. God simply wants to be in a loving father-child relationship with us.

So, many see God as a religious icon, a powerful judge who instills fear in the hearts of those under Him. That's not the case. There is an Aramaic word, "Abba",  that was used when Jesus was on earth. It basically means "daddy". It's an intimate, loving description of a father. That's how we should see God. Not as a tyrant, but as our loving, compassionate "daddy".

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 NLT)

He loves His children so much, He would lay down His life for them. Sound familiar? He did just that! Jesus, as God in the flesh, died for us, took our punishment for sin, so that we can have new life. He died for our sake, laying down His life for us - all this because of His love for us. 

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1 NKJV) That's right, through Christ, we are adopted by God as His children. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:5)

For all those who want to know how to be a good father, I have good news......God models it for us. Just come to know Him more fully, listen to Him, learn from Him, and you will become the best dad anyone could ever have. And for all those who are currently trying to be the best dad anyone could ever have.....keep up the good work! And keep being dad, no matter how grown up your children become.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Top 5 Essential Ingredients For A Great Worship Song

There are tons of Christian worship songs available today. Thanks to the internet, we have more access to music than ever before in the history of man! Technology has made it easier for musicians to record and distribute music, and technology has made it easier for us to acquire it.

Because of this widespread access, the worship music culture has been rapidly growing and changing. I've been involved in worship music long enough to see this happen. For example, the chords and progressions have changed over the past 10 years or so. New chords and new chord progressions have become popular. The seventh chord has bit the dust. The 'two' chord is in. The 1-4-6m-5 progression is standard. And just lately, in the last year or so, here's the new trend: first verse - sing in a low range, then later in the song, sing everything an octave higher. Seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Sometimes it's amusing to see how trends like these take off.

However, occasionally, someone writes a song totally out of the box, which is refreshing. Still, a simple song could possibly be the best, and probably is the hardest to write. Song writers are influenced by a gamut of other writers and bands. And in this day and age, we are flooded with new bands and new songs. And when it comes to Christian music, it's all a good thing!

"Sing a new song, play skillfully, and shout for joy." Psalm 33:3

The availability of new music has influenced what is used in the church today. Those churches who have chosen to stay culturally relevant, musically, are choosing songs in their services that are currently popular. What you hear in these type of churches are songs that Christians are listening to during the week on their phones, mp3 players, radios, concerts, and other sources.

Since there are tons of Christian worship songs available today, the question is this: what are the components that make up a really great worship song? Of course, there's always personal preference such as style, genre, or even the performer. But in my mind, even though they play a part, none of those make my top five list then it comes to making a great worship song. So what really matters? Here's my personal top five list...

Top 5 Essential Ingredients For A Great Worship Song:


1. It honors Christ, God, or the Holy Spirit
Obviously, this is what worship is all about. In a great worship song, the lyrics must express things like reverence, awe, wonder, respect, thanksgiving, praise, or adoration. Sounds simple, but it's true and of first importance: a great worship song honors God and glorifies Him.

2. It Addresses God Directly
A worship song addresses God directly. The lyrics include words like "You" or "Your". If the song simply talks about God, like who He is or what He does, but doesn't address Him directly, then the song is a praise song, not a worship song. But when the song addresses God, it becomes a personal melodic prayer from you to Him.

3. It is Scripturally Accurate
"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) Notice the word "truth" in that verse. If we are to worship "in truth", then a great worship song must accurately reflect the truth of the New Testament teachings - about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit.

4. It Touches the Heart
The lyrics of a great worship song stir your spirit. They personally touch you and move you. As the above scripture says, God is spirit and we must worship in spirit. When the message of a song affects you spiritually, touches your emotion, opens up your heart to worship and connects you with God, that's what takes the song to another level.

5. It has a Captivating Melody
There's just something about a captivating melody. A great melody combined with great lyrics, results in a song that is powerful. Music is made up of melody, rhythm, and lyrics. When these combine into a unique, pleasing blend, something wonderful happens. The melody enhances the lyrics, and you want to hear it over and over. This is true of a great worship song. You'll want to sing it over and over again.

There are a lot of Christian songs that are powerful and effective. But to be called a worship song, these five ingredients must be in place. The real difference between a worship song and a praise song is found in item #2 above - to whom it's addressed to. A worship song is addressed to God, while a praise song is about God, but addressed to other people.

The songs I consider to be great worship songs may be different than the songs you consider to be great because of items #4 and #5. A song may touch your heart differently than it touches mine because of life's experiences or circumstances. Likewise, a great melody line for me may be different to the ear for you. When you hear a great worship song, may it prompt you to pause, listen, and worship.

Monday, June 3, 2013

What If Jesus Never Resurrected?

Those who opposed Jesus believed His talk of resurrection from the dead was an absolute hoax. When Jesus died, they were convinced of one thing - His dead body would be still in the tomb after three days. This popular Jesus movement would then die out fast. They had only one concern. His followers might fake His resurrection by stealing the body! That would be big trouble for them.

So....PLAN 'A'.... seal the tomb and place guards there. The chief priests and Pharisees convinced Pilate to do just that. (Matthew 27:62-66)

Nice try, guys. But no match for the spiritual realm, for the supernatural, the power of God!  The guards didn't do so well, and on the third day after Jesus died, here's what happened.......HE RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD!!

"There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." (Matthew 28:2-4)

JESUS 1 -  CHIEF PRIESTS 0

After that episode, the chief priests were in a panic. Now what? If the news got out about the disappearance of Jesus' body from the tomb, it would spark a resurgence of the movement.

So...PLAN 'B'.....Lie! That's right...lie. Bribe the soldiers to spread a fake story that the disciples snuck into the tomb and stole the body. Then maybe that would squelch the movement.

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed...." (Matthew 28:12-15)

Of course, that backfired. The soldiers could lie about the body of Jesus being stolen from the tomb, but that would only work until either the body was found, or Jesus was actually seen alive. And guess what? JESUS WAS SEEN ALIVE! And not just on one occasion or by one person. He was seen on several occasions by several persons. He even appeared to over 500 at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).

JESUS 2 -  CHIEF PRIESTS 0

Think about it. if Jesus never resurrected from the dead.........

1. We would not have a Savior
If Jesus was still in the tomb, then Christianity wouldn't exist today.  His prophecy, "after three days I will rise again", would be in error. Jesus would not be who He claimed to be, and we would still be waiting for a Messiah.

2. We would not have real faith
If Jesus did not come back to life, we would be worshiping a false Lord. Our faith would be useless. "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (I Corinthians 15:17).

3. We would not have forgiveness
The same verse above states that if Jesus never resurrected, then His death on the cross is futile also. In other words, if He didn't resurrect, our sins are not forgiven!

4. We would not have new life in Christ
Christianity is all about new life - a change from the old to the new. But this new life is dependent on the resurrection.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3)

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)

5. We would not have hope of Eternal Life
If He hadn't come back to life, we would have no hope at all. No hope that God is able to do all things. No hope of heaven. No hope of seeing our faithful loved ones again. Without hope, our lives would be terrible. We would be living for today only. If Jesus didn't resurrect from the dead, then He was defeated by death, and therefore, death defeats us too.

The good news is this....Jesus DID resurrect from the dead. He is who He says He is. In Him we have faith, and hope, and forgiveness of sins, and new life. In Him we are resurrected from the dead and have the promise of eternal life with Him. 

And here is even more good news...... if Jesus resurrected from the dead, then He's still alive! He is "seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Hebrews 8:1)  He is our mediator. He is our High Priest. He will never leave us or forsake us, and He is coming back some day to gather His church. 

If the chief priests would have been right and Jesus was a fake, then the Jesus movement would have died out long ago. But they were wrong, and the one who was victorious, not just over them, but over death itself, was Jesus. When He actually came back to life, that was the knock out blow for all the non believers, especially the chief priests and the Pharisees.

JESUS 3 -  CHIEF PRIESTS 0 
Final Score

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die." (John 11:25)