Friday, July 10, 2020

Another Flashback Friday

A few weeks ago I featured a new song from For King & Country, the band composed of Luke and Joel Smallbone. Though I have not yet been able to attend one of their concerts, I do remember seeing them on stage as teenagers singing occasional background vocals over 20 years ago when I attended a concert for their older sister, Rebecca St James. Yes, long before there was For King & Country, the biggest Christian music star in the Smallbone family was Rebecca Smallbone (performing as Rebecca St James).

Rebecca began performing in Australia in the late 1980's and moved with her family to America in 1990. She reached the height of her popularity in the late 1990's with certified gold albums God in 1996 and Pray in 1998. She won a Grammy and numerous Dove awards for her music and was a mainstay on Contemporary Christian radio in the late 90's. One of her hits was Yes I Believe in God in 1999 which was written in response to the Columbine shootings.

One of my favorite Rebecca St James songs was off the God album entitled Go and Sin No More.

Rebecca has continued to perform, tour, and produce albums and has achieved success as an author of Christian books and devotionals and as an actress in many Christian themed movies including Sarah's Choice and Faith of Our Fathers.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Charlotte Ave

It's not too often that I get to talk about a brand new group, so it is fun to introduce Charlotte Ave. Lauryn Evans, Olivia Charnes, and Mandy Allyn met in a church on Charlotte Ave in Nashville and started singing together as a worship team. In June they decided to form a trio - Charlotte Ave. They haven't done many songs yet, but they have a great acapella sound as you can hear in their rendition of this Allison Krause song, Down to the River to Pray:
 

Their latest release is a cover of the Thomas Rhett hit, Be A Light that has a great message for our current societal conditions.
In a time full of war, be peace
In a time full of doubt, just believe
Yeah, there ain't that much difference between you and me
In a time full of war, be peace

In a world full of hate, be a light
When you do somebody wrong, make it right
Don't hide in the dark, you were born to shine
In a world full of hate, be a light

It will be fun to see how Charlotte Ave grows and progresses. I believe that their future will be very bright.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Pursuit of Happiness

Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are the rambling thoughts of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.

Celebrating Independence Day last weekend got me to thinking about the Declaration of Independence (yeah, I had a pretty uneventful weekend). Especially the well-known beginning statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”. The first two rights are self-explanatory – we have the right to live and the right to freedom. The pursuit of happiness takes a bit more thought to understand. 

What does it mean to be happy? 

We live in a world today that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness... the Great American Dream. Many people equate happiness with being successful and having fun. Fun is temporary, an outward experience often shared with others. It’s not a bad thing, but it is fleeting. Happiness should not be a temporary mood or shallow state of being. The founding fathers were not talking about “chasing happiness”, they meant the experience of happiness.. finding it and living happy. They meant the phrase to signify a combination of fulfillment, contentment, self-worth, dignity, and community or civic duty.

Pursuing happiness does NOT mean pursuing your own desires at the expense of others, or at odds with God’s way.  It does not say “the pursuit of pleasure”.   And it is NOT the pursuit of materialism. More money, more power, larger houses, white picket fences or whatever you believe your “American Dream” to be… these things do not bring happiness. In fact, some of the unhappiest people I know spend their lives pursing these goals.

So how can we truly be happy?

Here’s a thought… happiness comes from putting others before yourself. Sin always puts self first. God’s way of bringing life is completely different than mans’ way. Man says do what you must to make yourself happy. God says do what you must to make God happy, and in the process you will find a greater joy than ever before.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." In other words, the smaller the gap between what you should do and what you actually do, the happier you will be.

Psalm 144:15 tells us, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD”. God is the true source of happiness, strength, hope, and wisdom. The only source of true happiness is the Lord. All of the things you receive in your life that give you happiness are because you believe in God.

Our society is in the middle of a great and turbulent upheaval right now, which is actually good news, because it has awakened us to the concept of happiness that we have been pursuing, it challenges us to examine whether or not these concepts are what we really want and/or need, and has opened up new opportunities to embrace. We need to think about what is really important to be happy.

Psalm 37:3-4 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This implies that the delighting yourself in the Lord is the desire of your heart and if you seek happiness in Christ you will find it. Happiness is not the focus, rather it is a blessing that is a byproduct of loving God. Joy is one the fruits of God’s spirit. In fact, God is Joy.

So as God (and Bobby McFerrin) tells us- “Don’t worry, be happy”.

Finally remember that the Declaration of Independence states that these “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are endowed by our Creator.  Given by God…. Not the founding fathers, not the government, not our own sense of entitlement… they come from God alone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Child of Love

On Friday, one of my favorite current CCM groups, We The Kingdom, released a new song called Child of Love. We the Kingdom has been getting plenty of Christian radio airplay with their hits Holy Water, Dancing On The Waves, and God So Loved and I think this one will soon join the playlists.

This new song professes the joy of proclaiming the love of Jesus.
I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love

I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love
I hope you enjoy Child of Love...

Monday, July 6, 2020

Virtual Concerts

Exciting News! Here are a couple of chances to see Sidewalk Prophets in a virtual concert. Say that you are not familiar with this group? I'm sure you have heard some of their hit songs like Love Me Anyway, Smile, Live Like That, Save My Life, Keep Making Me, Come To The Table, Words I Would Say, Help Me Find It, To Live is Christ, and many more. It's impossible to listen to Contemporary Christian radio over the past few years and not hear songs by Sidewalk Prophets.

The first chance to to watch them on Facebook Live on July 9th at 7 PM CST and join them as they perform a live stream concert from the stage of Historic Ryman Auditorium. Children International presents: Sidewalk Prophets "Great Big Family Reunion".  Again, this special event will air on Facebook Live - July 9th @ 7pm CST.


The second chance is to get tickets to a virtual tour from Minneapolis on July 16th.  Each household can purchase a ticket with a small donation (or even for free) by going to this link:  https://virtualtours.greatbigfamilyproductions.com/minneapolis-mn-tickets/?mc_cid=9f910972e8&mc_eid=4208c4b89c.  Tickets are limited, so get yours asap. 


I am really looking forward to these concerts. I hope you can join me.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day

Wishing everyone a Happy July 4th holiday as our country celebrates the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on July 4th, 1776 and declared our freedom as a nation. 

Freedom is a great definition of independence, as it is the result of the choices we make in our life. The power of choice is one of the greatest freedoms we have in our country, and knowing where to find it is important, as we see in Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”

Even though Covid 19 has caused the cancellation of many parades, community celebrations and events that we normally enjoy, I hope that you can spend time with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks, the beach, cookouts, picnics, or however you celebrate this summertime holiday. While doing this, I also hope that you take a moment to consider the benefits of the freedom this holiday symbolizes and all the things that we have to be thankful for:  The freedom to believe in God and live out our faith, the freedom to worship, the freedom to pray, and all those people past, present, and future, who protect and defend our country's freedom.

Billy Graham had this to say about Independence Day:
Although it is not a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter, for many Americans July 4th is a time to reflect on God’s goodness to us as a nation. Molded into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (which proclaimed our independence) are these words from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10, KJV). Our legal system reflects our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we look with gratitude to the past on this July 4th, may we also look in faith to the future, and commit it and our lives to God and His will. The ancient words of the Psalmist are still true: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
At times like these, we may not feel so blessed, but there is still much to be thankful for, so please enjoy the 4th. I will leave you with this special music video from the group, Home Free featuring Lee Greenwood and the United States Air Force Band that was released last Thursday...

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Great Adventure

Another Flashback Friday... Its hard to talk about contemporary Christian music artists of the 80's and 90's without mentioning Steven Curtis Chapman. We still hear plenty of new music from him (I featured a new song from him for Father's Day), so it is easy to forget that he has been writing and performing music since 1987. He has not only written a lot of hit songs for other CCM artists, he has released over 25 albums and has more awards than any other Christian music artist in history with 5 Grammys, 59 Dove awards, and 7 "Artist of the Year" Dove Awards. He has sold more than 10 million albums and has 10 Gold or Platinum albums.

With this many hits, it is hard to feature just one song, but I think that one of his greatest successes was the release of The Great Adventure in 1992. This album and its title song was one of the first Contemporary Christian songs to become successful with a mainstream audience and really skyrocketed him to success. 


One of his biggest crossover hits was Cinderella, which was released in 2007 and written for his daughters. Tragically just months after writing this song his 5 year old daughter was killed in an auto accident involving his son. After the accident, the song took on a whole new meaning for the Chapman family. While the song had originally been written as a message to love and cherish parenthood while it lasted, it acquired another message of the frailty of life and how suddenly it can change. After his daughter's death, Chapman had said he was "pretty sure [he] would never sing the song again". On July 11, 2008 while singing on stage, he felt God talking to him through all his songs, confronting him. Chapman felt that he needed to believe in the hope he proclaims in his songs, and bring that hope to others by singing the song.

I'm sure you remember this...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Halfway through 2020

Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.

Well, here we are in July, halfway through the year 2020. What a first half this has been! The majority of the year has been overshadowed by the pandemic, social distancing, civil unrest, discussions of systemic racism, business closings, event cancellations, and more. It certainly hasn't been an easy first half of the year.

One thought that I have been considering is: How have I, as a Christian, been doing so far this year? Maybe its time to give ourselves a mid-year grade. Here are some of the grading criteria that I have thought of:

Have I drawn closer to God?
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:8 NIV
We have been on stay-at-home orders and practicing social distancing so there is really no excuse not to spend more time with God. We are not driving to many public events or spending time doing everything we used to do in our pre-pandemic lives. I feel blessed that I still have a full time job and that none of my family is directed affected by Covid-19, but I still have more time to spend in God's Word and to spend praying, simply having conversations with our Father. And speaking of praying...

Have I been praying for others?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6 NIV
We have been called to intercessors, to pray and petition on the behalf of others. We’ve got to pray for God to heal us either with His almighty power or by equipping scientists with the answers. We must pray for those affected – those infected themselves or know people who are. People are dying daily and people are experiencing deep loneliness; it’s an emotional and mental battle too. It’s also necessary that we pray for those people on the front lines:  for all doctors, nurses, cleaners, police officers, security guards, etc. We must also pray for those who have lost their jobs and don’t know how they are going to get through the rest of the year. We need to pray for all the businesses that are struggling and/or closed. We need to pray for everyone affected by civil unrest and discrimination. We need to pray!

Have I been a good example of a Christian?
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.    Matthew 5:14-16 NIV
As you are well aware, we are inundated with information and news from all sorts of sources. I have been grateful for some of the health advice and recommendations, but I am certainly tired of all the bad news. I think that as Christians, we are called to spread hope, not fear; encouragement, not conspiracy theories, positive views, not gloom and despair. Think about what you are posting on social media and what you are saying to others... does it do more harm than good? Ae you trying to help others that need help? Helping to support your community? Trying to share the love of Jesus in practical ways?  Now is the time to be a light and "shine on"!

Have I been obeying the "rules"?
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.   Romans 13:1 NIV
I may not always agree with everything I am told to do, but I need to try to follow the guidance of our leaders. I believe that most of them are trying to make the best of a bad situation and trying to save lives. If you really believe that our leaders are making poor decisions that are contrary to God's will, you can still remain respectful. There should not be civil disobedience simply to be rebellious. Let's not be counter-productive in society simply because of our attitude.

And remember:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.       2 Corinthians 4:8-10vNIV
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV
Through all of this, we need to realize that God is in control. He specializes in turning bad situations into good. There are plenty of reasons for fear and panic, but remember that God will not give us more than we can handle. He is always with us and gives us peace. God can use this worldwide crisis to unite His church and His people. "God is faithful."

So how have you been doing so far? Whether good or bad, I pray that we can and will do better the second half of 2020.



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

New from Chris Tomlin...

On Friday Chris Tomlin announced that his newest album, "Chris Tomlin & Friends" will be released on July 31st. Chris stated:
"The project has been unbelievable and unlike anything I have ever done before. The relationships, friendships, and the collaborations have been a gift. For me, the best part is that everyone created this together to bring glory to God. Since I was young, I have felt a calling on my life to help give people a voice to worship God.  I want people to have the opportunity to worship every day of the week not just on Sundays; while they are in their car, at work, running, or just listening to whatever shows up on their playlist. For me this record is a step towards breaking down the walls of the Christian genre and allowing the music to be accessible to a wider audience.  That's my understanding of the Gospel. Music about faith, God, salvation and forgiveness doesn’t belong to any one category... it is for the whole world. I hope this music touches your life the way it has mine..."
 To announce this new album, Chris has released two music tracks from the album. One is a collaboration with country artists Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line called Thank You Lord. This is a catchy song in a country style, but I think my favorite so far is the song he performs with Lady A called Who You Are To Me. The words have real meaning:
Some people think Your distant just some words on a page
That You're nothing more than fables handed down along the way
But I’ve seen You part the waters when no one else could pull me from the deep
That’s who You are to me
Some people think You just live in cathedrals made of stone
But I know You live inside my heart, I know that it's Your home
And I’ve seen You in a sunset and in the eyes of a stranger on the street
That's who You are to me
Listen and let me know what you think:

Monday, June 29, 2020

Survival

NeedToBreathe released as new video last week of their new song Survival that features Drew and Ellie Holcomb and is on their new album that is scheduled to be released in late August. This is a catchy song and has an older NeedToBreathe rock and roll feel. It was recorded during the pandemic and was the first time the band recorded over Zoom. 

A lot can happen between the time a songwriter writes a song and when the public hears it. Rarely has that been more apparent than in “Survival,” which was written months ago before the current pandemic and protests. After a 35-second acoustic intro, we hear the opening line “Got the devil on my throat.” Coming on the heels of George Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes, the song’s opening line definitely commands attention.

“I’ve had that lyric for a long time,” says Bear Rinehart (writer and lead singer for NeedToBreathe). “Part of how I write songs is these mental pictures that you get from a lyric and I’ve always felt like that lyric was more about me when I wrote it — do I have the right words to say or is my voice strong enough? It was more about that, sometimes the way [people] feel kind of silenced at times. . . It is more powerful now in this moment. I think a lot of times songwriters are like that. We’re in the moment and we don’t really know what it means when we write it. People, I hope, are spurred on by that image of George Floyd because I think it’s impossible for a human to see that and not want to change things or not want to make a change in yourself.”

Survival is definitely from the viewpoint of a believer as Rinehart sings in the chorus “Jesus come quickly, I need you for my survival.” “We didn’t write it as a protest song,” Rinehart says. “There is an important message in the song in the sense I need you for my survival. That’s kind of the beginning of this conversation that we’re all having is that we’ve all failed and we need something bigger than us. That’s the premise of what our band is always talking about. It starts with understanding how wrong we are and I think that’s very powerful now. I hope people will take the song in that way at least to say, ‘Man, we did not have it figured out.” It feels like these conversations have been really tough in the last few weeks.”
I know that I’m found
And I can't keep from hiding
Don’t have as choice but I get stuck deciding
I am a man in need of a constant revival
Jesus come quickly I need you for my survival
 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Back to the 90's

Another flashback Friday... Going back to the 90's again this week, I want to talk about The Kry, a Christian rock & worship band from Canada formed in 1992. They reached the height of their popularity in America during the mid-nineties. In addition to their invitational songs, ballads, rock music, and thought-provoking lyrics, they are probably best known for Cassie's Song, which was inspired by the Columbine shootings and it looks to God for healing and an explanation, while encouraging believers to be steadfast at any cost.

Their album YOU, published in 1994 was a huge success. One of the best songs on this album was Take My Hand which is a great reminder that we don't need to fear the future as long as we are following God. The song tells us:
Don’t live in the past, Yesterday’s gone
Wishing memories would last, You’re afraid to carry on
You don’t know what’s coming
But you know the one who holds tomorrow
I will be your guide, Take you through the night
If you keep your eyes on me


Interest in The Kry has recently gotten a bit of resurgence due to the Jeremy Camp movie, I Still BelieveThe movie features Jeremy and Melissa at a The Kry concert. In fact, their song Take My Hand is featured in the movie. In real life, as in the movie, Jean-Luc La Joie (lead singer of The Kry) is a close friend and a very important person in Jeremy Camp's life.

The Kry are still together and doing some touring but are not recording new music and currently spend most of their time evangelizing in specific regions of the world, especially French-speaking areas.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Looking Up

I know that Father's Day was last weekend, but I felt that I had to share this video released last week from our favorite story-teller/songwriter, Matthew West about his new song, Looking Up.
I don’t wanna take a step unless You lead it
Don’t wanna speak a word unless You breathe it
God I’m looking up, keep me looking Up
Looking up to the light I know will guide me
And I pray every day You find me
Find me looking up, always looking up To You 
This song is a great reminder that to be a good father we need to follow The Good Father. This is for all the dads out there...
 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

His Eye Is On the Sparrow...

Heard this song on the radio today and it got me to thinking that even though this was written 115 years ago, the words are just as meaningful today as they were a century ago. Lots of people are feeling discouraged, lonely, and troubled, but we need to remember that God is always watching us and is our constant friend. 

In Luke 12:4-7, Jesus told His followers not to fear those who can harm them because God is ultimately in control. God cares greatly about His followers when they experience pain and suffering. This stems from the watchful care God has for all of His creation. The Almighty who keeps the planets in their orbits is at the same time aware of a lowly sparrow that falls to the ground. Since He is even aware of what most would consider an insignificant event, how much more is He aware of the concerns of His children?

As Jesus said, “You are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus pointed out that “five sparrows [are] sold for two copper coins” (Luke 12:6). As for your value, Jesus died on the Cross to save you from sin and eternal separation from God. Having died for you, Jesus commits Himself to caring for you. He cares so much for you He even knows how many hairs are on your head.

When you name Jesus as your Savior and honor Him with your life, you need not fear anything in this world. You can rest easy knowing that God’s caring eye is watching over you. This knowledge should make us "sing because we are happy".


 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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 6:25-26 (NIV)
 
   

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Lord's Prayer

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.                   Ephesians 6:4 
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.                          Proverbs 22

Found this on Facebook... I think we should all pray to the Lord with the enthusiasm of this 3 year old...
 




Saturday, June 20, 2020

That's My Dad

Yesterday. Steven Curtis Chapman released a new song just in time for Father's Day called That's My Dad.
In his own words: 
"It seems only right that I would finally write a song for the man who gave me a love for music, taught me how to appreciate a “great song” and was in fact the first songwriter I ever knew. I’m very thankful for my dad and thankful I could share this song that he inspired on this Father’s Day weekend,"
I hope that you have a Happy Father's Day and remember the One that is Father to us all.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Another Flashback Friday

Last Friday I posted a quote by Rich Mullins. Today I want to talk about him. Rich was one of the largest influences in Contemporary Christian Music and his life story is incredible.

Rich first came into the Christian Music spotlight when his song "Sing Your Praise To The Lord" was recorded by Amy Grant in 1982. He had a distinct talent as a performer and songwriter, unusual and sometimes striking instrumentation, and complex lyrics that usually employed elaborate metaphors. He lived recklessly and furiously through this life before dying in a car wreck. He was boldly honest, ruffling the feathers of both Nashville and his fellow Christians, and gave up fame and fortune to live on a Native American Reservation teaching kids music and the hope of the gospel of Jesus. Thousands, including many current artists, would claim to have been impacted by the life and legacy of Rich Mullins. So many great songs..."Step By Step", "Awesome God", "That Where I Am There You May Also Be", and many more...  many of which we still sing in church. Perhaps the one that moves me the most was released in 1988 called "If I Stand"...


Rich Mullins lived his life by the truth that Christians are not perfect people, rather people that follow a perfect Christ. For all his success, he had a tortured soul of an artist, suffering from doubts and alcohol abuse.  He truly lived a simple life style. He worked as a youth pastor, missionary, and music teacher on a Navajo Indian reservation while producing music. The profits from his tours and the sale of each album were entrusted to his church, which divided it up, paid Mullins the average salary for a laborer in the U.S. for that year, and gave the rest to charity. Rich never knew how much money he made. 

I can still remember the morning that I heard of his death in an auto accident in 1997 and thinking what a great loss this was for Christian music.  

After his death, a movie was released about his life called Ragamuffin. You can watch the full movie on YouTube at https://youtu.be/MO_7Nj7MG64. I recommend this movie to everyone, but if you really want insight to the unconventional, yet extraordinary life of Rich Mullins I suggest that you watch the 1998  documentary about Rich's life including testimonials from friends and family called Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins at https://youtu.be/bajoUcmPrgU, or Rich Mullins: A Ragamuffin's Legacy at https://youtu.be/5GmG6HsCsD0

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Together

For King & Country has always been a favorite group of mine. They released a new video a few weeks ago called Together which features Kirk Franklin and Tori Kelly. This video was filmed during quarantine in their homes and is a great expression of the sentiment that "we are all in this together" and that God is also together with us.
If you're lookin' for hope tonight, raise your hand
If you feelin' alone and don't understand
If you're fightin' in the fight of your life, then stand
We're gonna make it through this hand-in-hand 
And if we fall, we will fall together
Together (together, together)
Oh, and when we rise, we will rise together
Together, ooh
We will rise together, ooh
Enjoy the video:


Here is the story behind the song:

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Battle Between Light and Darkness

I wanted to share another email from artist Jason Kotecki. In a recent sermon, Pastor Dave compared God's Word to a weapon, our Glock for protection. Here Jason talks about prayer being another weapon at our disposal. I think that prayer can be a defensive or offensive weapon, but perhaps it could best be considered as "air support"... Air support to help us when we are at war, under attack, and threatened to be overrun. Prayer can turn the tide of the battle. Here are Jason's thoughts:

If you watch the news, you may have heard that we are at war. It’s true, but the war is not between races, or political parties, or people who say “pop” versus “soda.”

We are in a battle of light versus darkness.

Only when you understand that can you figure out how to achieve victory. I am saddened that when I see people talk on the news about what actions need to be taken, they always seem to leave out the most important one.

It’s the one thing you can do when you feel hopeless and helpless to make a difference. It works well when you’re afraid, and even when you’re angry. In fact, it works every time it’s tried (even if it turns out differently than we’d hoped.)

What am I referring to, you might be wondering?

Prayer. 

In this war, prayer is the most powerful weapon at our disposal. Now, if you’re not the praying type, and your life is going along just dandy without it, that’s cool. If you wanna grab a soda, this won’t take long. But for the rest of us, I implore us to double down. Pray harder, pray more often, pray first. (Too often, we reserve it as a last resort.)

I don’t know how it works, but all I know is that when we pray, good things happen. Impossible things become possible.

The cool thing about prayer is that it’s so versatile, like a spiritual Swiss Army knife.

You can pray for our leaders and politicians. 
You can pray for good ideas.
You can pray for peace, for patience, for justice, for wisdom, for grace, for understanding, for self-control.

Another cool thing about prayer, which is often misunderstood, is that you don’t have to know some secret words to do it right. All you have to do is turn to God and say the perfect one-word prayer: HELP!

Help me to know what to do. 
Help me to know what to say. 
Help me to love my enemies. 

That last one, that’s the hard one, isn’t it? It’s easy to limit our exposure to the people who agree with us and lash out at those who disagree. After all, they are obviously misinformed, ignorant, or possibly evil incarnate. 

What would happen if you hopped on Facebook, to the timeline of your archrival? The one who always posts things that make your blood boil: the snide comments, the holier-than-thou proclamations, and the stupid memes. What would happen if you simply left a post that said, “You know what, we don’t often agree on issues, but I just want to say that I appreciate your passion for [insert issue here.] Thank you for trying to make the world better.” 

And what would happen, if you work with that person or you actually knew where he or she lived, if you included that message in a card with a simple gift certificate to someplace they’d enjoy.

Please know, I’m not asking you to agree with them. I’m not asking you to sneak in a little Vulcan mind trick to try and subtly convince them they’re wrong. That’ll ruin everything. Just find one redeeming quality and let them know you appreciate it. It could be something like, “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a single parent, but I can tell you really love your kids and I think you’re doing a great job.”

What you will have done is tap into the universal Law of Reciprocity, the power of giving something without regard for getting anything back. Whether you call it karma or reaping what you sow, when you give something good, good comes back to you.

That’s the prescription this week: Do something insanely generous for someone you disagree with or don’t particularly like.

And that’s another unique kind of prayer. We can offer up actions, chores we hate, or tasks that are difficult, as a form of prayer. It might be the best kind.

I know a priest who is organizing a prayer walk through the downtown of his city. He was clear to say that it was neither a protest nor a protest of the protesters. It was simply an effort to push out the darkness.

My friend, we are at war with the dark side, which has convinced us that we are at war with each other.

But I have good news. Like the Wicked Witch of the West who dissolves upon contact with water, the dark side has a fatal weakness as well. 

Light

When we allow light to shine through us, it is a beautiful thing. We are unstoppable. And you know what? When we shine our light with others – especially with people we disagree or don’t even like – our happiness grows. Goodness comes back to us, the universe rewards us, and God smiles upon us. 

The opportunity we have is to use this weapon called prayer to make a real difference. The reality is that It’s not us doing the fixing, it’s what happens when we are humble enough to say we don’t know all the answers or what to do and we simply ask for help.

Help me to know what to do.
Help me to know what to say.
Help me to love my enemies.

We may be at war, but we have the most powerful weapon at our disposal. Through prayer, God can take evil and use it for good. 

In the battle between light and darkness, the darkness doesn’t stand a chance.

Shine on.



Friday, June 12, 2020

Flashback Friday

There are a lot of great Contemporary Christian songs currently on the radio, but I've often thought that someone should start a radio station for Contemporary Christian "Oldies"... those "hit" songs that were played continuously 20 to 40 years ago that we seldom hear anymore. Contemporary Christian music actually started in the late 1960's and early 1970's as what was called "Jesus music" and really became prevalent in the late 70's and 80's. Though there was often some controversy about CCM in religious circles, I think it was best stated by Rich Mullins who once said, "We (CCM artists) want you to buy our records and come to our concerts... but if you come, come for entertainment. If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should go to church. They care about you and you don't have to buy a ticket." 

Last Friday I posted about a 25 year old song from Delirious?. This Friday I want to feature a song by 4Him, a group that was one of my favorites of Contemporary Christian Music. 4Him was founded in 1990 in Alabama. They have ten Dove awards, a Grammy nomination and three certified gold albums to their credit and were inducted into Alabama's Music Hall of Fame.

Though 4Him disbanded in 2006 to pursue individual careers of ministry and music, they have made sporadic reunion appearances since 2009.

One of their first big hits is "Basics of Life", which was released in 1992. During our time of quarantine, we had seen and heard much about how it is bringing us back to the basics of life, to a simpler time. Usually they are talking about the importance of home, family, and good health. There is nothing wrong with these ideals, but I believe that there are some more important basics of life that center around God. 

As the song says:
We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently grounded in Christ
The hope that endures for all times
These are the basics, we need to get back
To the basics of life.
Perhaps this is the "new normal" that we should be striving for... 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

You’ll Never Guess... What I Heard on the Radio!

(My thoughts about what I was hearing are in italics.)


I was on my way to church, listening to a famous cable-network morning-show host being interviewed about a new book she'd written. She talked about her faith and how it had gotten her through some really rough times.


That grabbed my attention.


Then she told that she had included a Scripture passage at the front of every chapter.


What a great foundation to start from!


The conversation then turned to current events, specifically the riots and looting going on in big cities around the country. The lady being interviewed mentioned that she had listened to three sermons online this past Sunday.


That's better than I would do.


One of the sermons got a more detailed description. She recounted how the pastor had been talking to one of his colleagues in an attempt to discern what to preach about. The colleague said, "Habakkuk."


One of my favorite books in the Old Testament.


The morning-show host quoted the pastor (who was quoting Habakkuk 1:2) "How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save?"


Very appropriate to our situation!


She again quoted from Habakkuk (1:5. Which is God's response to the prophet's complaint.) "Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told."


So far so good.


But then she just left it there and went on to talk about how that passage was so reassuring to her giving the listeners the impression: "God's got this AND something amazingly good is going to happen from it!"


This is where I yelled at my radio: "Wait a minute! That's NOT what the passage says!"


I wasn't sure who to blame, the person telling about the sermon or the person who actually preached it! But what I had just heard was a prime example of something I talk about frequently: You can't just lift a passage of Scripture out of it's context! You can make the Bible say pretty much whatever you want it to say by ignoring the setting of the passage, and she ignored the whole rest of the passage!


In context:
In this specific situation, God goes on to tell the unbelievable thing He's going to do: He's going to send the powerful, ruthless neighboring peoples, the Babylonians, to reek holy havoc on Habakkuk's people as a consequence for all the violent acts that they are committing! (To which Habakkuk replies [I'm paraphrasing] "Hey, wait a minute, that's not what I was hoping for here. Those Babylonians are even worse than my people!" And God responds, [I'm paraphrasing again] "I know. Don't worry. Be patient and trust Me. They'll get theirs too!")


The first part of the morning-show host's takeaway was spot on. God does see what's going on and He is going to do something about it! But the second part, the part that painted God as some kind of genie who is going to make everything magically turn out wonderfully where "everyone lives happily ever after," could not have been further from the truth! God is not a genie, but rather the perfect Father, and He knows that allowing consequences is sometimes the only way to get the "unruly kids" to stop misbehaving.


Just to clarify:
I am NOT saying that God's also going to deal with our nation in our current situation by sending a ruthless world power to come and wipe us out. I have no idea what He's going to do. But I do know that He sees what's going on, hears our cries and has a perfect plan. Be Patient and Trust Him!


Pastor David

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Best Is Yet To Come

A few days ago Ryan Stevenson released a new song called "The Best Is Yet To Come".  I think this one will soon become a "regular" on Christian radio stations. In addition to being a catchy song, the words have a great meaning during this time of uncertainty. Even as things in our society are beginning to open up, we have doubts and misgivings about the future. It’s easy to feel distressed or anxious about the future when you don’t have a clear direction of where you’re going, especially if you aren't very fond of your current circumstances. You worry that your life will continue to unfold with the same old pattern that’s troubling you. As this song states:
I can’t see the future I don’t know what’s up ahead
Can’t see around the corner I don’t know what’s coming next 
I don’t have all the answers but I know it’s not the end
All I know is this
The best is yet to come 
We were never promised an easy life and its difficult to deal with life’s setbacks but we can teach ourselves how to survive, we can choose to see the silver lining when life gets hard. We can't know what tomorrow brings or what lies ahead in our immediate future, but as Christians we do have faith that with God "the best is yet to come." We can take comfort in that.

Monday, June 8, 2020

An Angry Nation

Sharing another email from artist, Jason Kotecki:


The bald eagle has long been a symbol of our nation. This painting is a symbol of how our nation is feeling right now.

There is a lot of anger.

We are angry at the injustice that has gone on too long.
We are angry at people who don’t seem to understand our point of view.
We are angry at the unproductive violence and destructive looting taking place in our communities. 
We are angry at our leaders and the media and this damn virus.

First of all, let me say this: It’s ok to be angry. 

I am all for being optimistic and positive thinking. But life is meant to be lived and it’s meant to be felt. Sometimes the feelings are joy and elation, sometimes they are disappointment and grief, but they are all a part of being truly alive. Putting on a happy face to mask some sadness is not all that different from using food or drugs or alcohol to numb some deep pain. The problem is that those feelings never really go away, and in many cases, they bubble up later with devastating consequences.

Right now, we are angry and we are hurt.

People have been hurt by racism.
People have been hurt by poverty.
People have been hurt by political divisiveness. 
People have been hurt by this pandemic: physically, financially, and emotionally.

Something Kim and I try to teach our kids and thus remind ourselves of is this: hurt people hurt people. 

Moments like these always seem to call for a good inspirational quote. 
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” –Yoda
Truth comes in many forms, and sometimes it comes in the form of a diminutive green Jedi master. Fear really has been the source of all this, starting with a tiny virus that arrived uninvited.

We are afraid that we might lose our life, our livelihood, or someone we love.
We are afraid that what we have will be taken from us.
We are afraid that we or someone we love will suffer great injustice.
We have lost so much, and are afraid that we will lose even more.

And for decades, we have been slyly tricked by dishonest leaders and a dishonest media, drunk on power and ratings, to be afraid of the others, the ones who look different, vote different, and have different perspectives than us. 

As Yoda warned, this fear leads to anger, which leads to hate, which has led to suffering.

Hurt people hurt people.

The way forward is not to keep hurting one another. That is not who we are. We are America. We are a melting pot of beautiful cultures and diverse perspectives unified under a banner of freedom and a spirit of courage, compassion, and cooperation.

We are not perfect, but deep down, we are good.

It’s okay to be angry. But may God give us the grace to transform it into a righteous anger that fuels ruthless, senseless acts of love.

That’s the prescription: do something recklessly generous in the next few days for someone who won’t see it coming. Something that goes against the narrative that’s been fed to us by our news media.

I leave you with one more quote, not from a Jedi master, but from another wise sage, an evangelist named John:
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.” 
– 1 John 4:18
If we banish our fear and commit to instigate small rebellions of love…it is inevitable that we will soar again.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Open up the doors...

Here is a flashback to the past.... we haven't done this song in church for quite a while, but I've been thinking lately about the lyrics to the song, "Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble".  This song was written and performed in 1995 by a band called The Cutting Edge which later became known as Delirious?. Over the years this song has been performed by many artists from Sonicflood to Chris Tomlin to Upper Room to Dave Redmon, just to name a few.

The words of this song are just as relevant today as they were 25 years ago. As I watch the news reports about protesters assembling to make there voices heard, I can't help but think that we as Christians have the same opportunity. The timing is appropriate as we once again open the doors to our churches and all work together to make the world a better place. Maybe its time to throw open the doors and let the music play.
Do you feel the darkness tremble
When all the saints join in one song
And all the streams flow as one river
To wash away our brokenness 
Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring Your hope
Songs that bring Your joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice 
And here we see that, God, You're moving
A time of jubilee is coming
When young and old return to Jesus
Fling wide, you heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord
And here is a flashback video of Delirious?...

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Who Can

Welcome to June 2020... our year of discontent seems to continue. Adding racism, riots, and public unrest to illness, division, and quarantines. At times it all seems overwhelming. It is during these times we need to remember that God can carry us through. As it says in Romans 8:38-39 "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

A great new song just released by Cochren and Co. called "Who Can" aptly reminds us that God still loves us and is always with us. In Michael's own words, "Our lives can get messy. But Jesus doesn’t run FROM our mess, he runs TO our mess. I hope this song helps you to know how much Jesus loves you. "


Friday, May 29, 2020

You’ll Never Guess... What I Saw Out the Back Door of Church!

Fifteen folks with guns. Aimed not at each other, but at little orange discs made of clay!


For those of you unfamiliar with "trap shooting," it's like target practice and is designed to hone skills for later in the year when hunting ducks or geese. The little orange discs are launched skyward from a mechanical "thrower" and the participants take turns attempting to turn them into dust particles that fall back to earth. Some folks are "lights out" and really good! Others, like me, most often leave the little orange discs unscathed, later to be gathered and used again next time! We console ourselves with the idea that we're "helping the cause" by reducing the number of boxes of clays we need to purchase for the next shoot :)



That's "technically" what I saw on the 5 acres out back of our church building. But what I really saw - beyond the obvious - was the truth of God's statement in Genesis 2:18: "It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone!" You see, this was our first trap shooting outing of the spring. More importantly, it was the first time most of us were able to get together with anyone not residing in the same house since the COVID-19 lockdowns began a couple months before. What I saw went way beyond the normal fun of competition or of enjoying a perfect Minnesota spring evening. I saw smiles and heard the laughter that comes from being together instead of being alone!


God created us to be in community, to be interdependent rather than independent. He designed us to need each other instead of needing just ourselves. As we've seen so vividly highlighted these past few months, it is not good for man or woman or teen or child to be alone. I thank God for that trap shooting evening and the blessed reminder of just how good it is to be together! 


And, I hope you can join us this Sunday, May 31, as we finally are able to be together to worship the God who created us to be together!


Pastor David