The television had been off for two days. Behavior issues called for drastic measures. But when the two youngest woke me up before daylight on a Saturday, I gave in. I was too tired to engage and keep them quiet enough to not wake the rest of the house. Not without the help of a little electronic intervention. Still, I set a standard. I would choose the program, and it had to at least be educational. The kids, just happy to have television back, didn't complain.
I started the show then shuffled to the kitchen to drop frozen waffles in the toaster. While they cooked, I stumbled around like a zombie, picking up random things that had been strewn about the night before. The boys were happily watching the PBS cartoon. I heard the teacher character tell the students how a microscope works. "Magnify means to makes things bigger," she said. Instantly, God cleared the sleepy fog from my brain and began to grow an idea in my spirit. "Magnify means to make things bigger."
Magnify in Scripture means to praise. Psalm 35:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." But how might the common definition also apply? How can we magnify the Lord to make Him bigger? (The Greek word for magnify comes from the root megas, where we get the word mega.)
God is already all-powerful, so there is nothing bigger than Him in that sense. But we need to continually make Him bigger in our lives, of greater importance. We need to give him a bigger space to operate through us, by eliminating worldly distractions. We need to use spiritual eyes to see Him as bigger. It doesn't take a microscope. It takes removing the blinders of the flesh to see Him for what He is.
Let's look at three uses of the word magnify in Scripture that describe different ways in which God is magnified.
Psalm 69:30 says, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Being thankful makes God bigger in our lives. When we stop to recognize every good thing as a gift from him, we see him as greater--not some distant force, but an up-close-and-personal sovereign who is worthy of worship. He is literally all-encompassing, acting on our behalf in every facet of our lives.
Another well-known usage of the word comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:46 (KJV) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary said this in response to Elisabeth's proclamation in verse 45 (NKJV): "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We can magnify God by trusting Him and believing in His promises. Take Him at His word. Even when you can't see the end from the beginning, and even when the road set before you is difficult--as surely it was for Mary--believe He will fulfill His promise to be faithful.
In another New Testament reference, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of Gentiles, the Bible says, "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46 KJV.) Yes, they were praising God, but they made God bigger in their lives by exercising spiritual gifts. They put His greatness on display by operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's interesting how all this study started with a line in a children's show, on a Saturday morning when I didn't want to be awake yet. It makes me wonder if the break we had from television for a couple of days helped prepare me to hear God better. Maybe my mind and spirit had a bigger space for Him to work. However it happened, I'm grateful for the message. I need God to be bigger in my life. I want to magnify Him through thankfulness, faith, and spiritual gifts.
Maybe a microscope isn't the best metaphor. Sometimes what I need is to view God like a word on a screen, with the web browser zoomed to 1,000%, and everything else pushed out of view except Him. (That's as high as the zoom will go; I tried.) That's what we all need sometimes. May God be made bigger in our lives today.
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." (Psalm 35:3 KJV)
You open the mailbox and there's a card addressed to you. Someone's throwing the party of the century, and you're invited to attend! Whether you can make it or not, an invitation has been extended, and the sender deserves a response.
Jesus has extended many different kinds of invitations. Some of them even believers ignore. What will you do with your invitations? Respond affirmatively; say no thank you; or, ignore them?
Let's look at just a few of the things He invites us to "come" and do, from the examples of Scripture:
Jesus invites us to come and be saved, rest and be satisfied in Him, fellowship with Him, and inherit eternal life. What is your response? Please be polite. Don't ignore the invitations.
This devotion was adapted from notes for "Come Unto Me", a sermon by my father, Bobby W. Norman. He preached this great sermon at Central Full Gospel Church in State Road, NC on 9/16/18. I have consolidated and condensed several points from the message.
What is the essence of a person?
The dictionary defines "essence" as "the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is" and "the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person".
In the book of Matthew, we find a familiar story that describes the essence of Jesus:
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22
A significant part of Jesus' essence is His power. His miracles help us identify Him as God. Certainly, the healing virtue didn't come from the garment. Jesus didn't wear a magical cloak, neither do I believe that his power was actually transferred to the fabric. I believe if the woman had reached out and come up ten feet short of touching the hem of his garment, she still would have been made whole. Because what she grabbed wasn't just the hem of His garment, it was the "Him" of his garment. Her faith wasn’t in the clothes. It was in who Jesus’ was, His identity as God in flesh. And her faith resulted in a miracle.
This story displays not only Jesus' power, but two other traits that describe his essence: He is omniscient and compassionate. People pressed in from all sides, yet He knew who had reached out in faith. He picked her out of the mob. And He had compassion on her, encouraging her to "be of good comfort". He reassured her that her faith had worked.
We may be reaching for His garment, for something that we need from Him, but we first need to grab hold of who Jesus really is. Meditate on his essence. Trust in his power, rely on his omniscience, and rest in his compassion.
There are some big promises in the Word of God, and sometimes I think we miss them. Maybe we just get so caught up trying to fill our scripture quota that we miss the truth of what God is saying to us. But I found a really big promise this week, wrapped up in two itty-bitty words: All things. Through His word, I want to look at how God has promised us EVERYTHING (all things) we will ever need.
One of my favorite verses has always been Romans 8:28, which assures us that “all things” work together for good to those who love God. But my study on our sufficiency in God came from 2 Peter 1:3. Here we find that God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” through the knowledge of Jesus. He has given us all things! That’s a big thought! When we know Jesus, we are fully equipped with everything we need, not only to live, but to live godly lives.
The promise of total sufficiency through God began in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 9:3 says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” This is an example of God not holding any good thing back. He provided completely.
This idea of abundance in Christ has nothing to do with a “prosperity gospel”. That’s a very narrow way to look at the blessings of God. The Bible says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;"(1 Timothy 6:17) What does “all things” mean? What exactly do we have? I believe it means literally everything. We have access to everything we could possibly need or want, according to His will. The sky is the limit...if God wills it. And if He doesn’t will it, I don’t want it!
Another of my favorite passages is this beautiful sermon from the Apostle Paul found in Acts 17: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24 – 28)
He made everything, he owns everything, and he gives everything to us as his children. Bottom line—when you have Jesus, you have everything.
Check out these other applicable “all things” verses: Psalm 8:6; Philippians 4:13; Matthew 19:26; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 3:21
What do they mean to you? I'd love for you to share in the comments!
Have you ever been praying and realized your words were actually from His Word? We know God speaks to us through the scripture, but we can use the scripture in our communication to Him as well.
We are given the model prayer by Our Lord in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11, and there is power in reciting this prayer (sincerely and not out of vain repetition) every day. Indeed, all our prayers should center around four words from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."
But I'd like to present you with some other verses that can be used in prayer. From the Old Testament, I like to use the words from the heart of King David in the book of Psalms as my own plea to God. There are so many we can reference, but for today, these are the verses I've connected together as my personal prayer. This is what is on my heart:
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14) Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10) Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalms 143:10) From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalms 61:2)"
The words from Psalms need no editing, because they are already directed to God. From the New Testament, I've taken the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the church at Phillipi and personalized it.
This prayer is based on Philippians 1:9-11:
"May my love abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,that I may approve the things that are excellent, that I may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
What more can we ask for in life than to grow in love, for the glory of God? This is my sincere prayer.
The Word is full of examples of righteous requests we can make. Thankfully, we also have the Holy Spirit to guide us in our communication with God, we have Jesus as our intercessor with the Father, and there is no required formula or specific liturgy needed.
1 John 5:14,15 says:
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Whatever format you use, take time to talk to God today.
What scriptures do you pray? Do you have specific verses for praying for others, for our leaders, or for certain situations? Please share them with me in the Comments!
It is often said that money is the root of all evil. Indeed the scriptures tell us (1 Timothy 6:10) that specifically the “love of money” is the root of all evil. But we understand there are many sins that have nothing to do with money, so we have to look at the verse in context.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Here we see money was the root of all the evils of those who coveted after it and allowed it to compromise the tenets of their faith.
There is, however, another portion of scripture in the New Testament that I believe provides us an explanation of the cause of ALL evil in the world. It seems too simple that there is a singular problem with mankind that causes us to sin, but I believe the first chapter of Romans does provide us with a powerful and concise explanation.
"Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen."
I underlined the parts of the passage I want to bring out as key points.
There is no such thing as an atheist. I find it hard to believe that anyone could look at the beauty and majesty of creation and arrive at the conclusion that it is all a serendipitous result of cosmic happenstance. We have the evidence of God the creator right in front of us, so there is no excuse for unbelief.
So, what is the cause of evil? Not glorifying God as God and not being thankful. (I suppose that really is two causes, but I believe they go together.) Along with that comes worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator (which brings us back to the love of money- a “thing” that people have created and tried to elevate above God).
In this same chapter, verses 26 and 27 specifically address homosexuality; then verses 29-31 give us a list of some of the other problems in the world, all prompted by the failure to honor God as God- the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Creator- and to be thankful for His perfect design: “fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful”.
It is easy to understand that sin is disobedience, but we disobey whenever we fail to recognize His creative power and His authority over all creation. I believe that much of the moral decline of our society can be attributed to the theory of evolution being widely embraced as scientific fact. People have bent and stretched the definition of science for the express purpose of denying the Creator.
Not honoring God as Creator is the starting point of sin for many, while others may espouse the idea of Intelligent Design and still fail to honor God as God in other areas by simply not following His divine instructions outlined for us in the Bible.
Now that we understand the cause of sin, at a base level, what is the antithesis of a sinful life? Romans 1 gives us the answer for that, too!
Verse 16 says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." And verse 17 delivers the final answer: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." (For further study, the last part of verse 17 is a reference to Habakkuk 2:4.)
How beautifully the Word of God fits together! It doesn't condemn and just point out all the weaknesses of man. It mercifully gives us instruction for how not to fail. The antithesis of a sinful life- one of wickedness, deceitfulness, envy, pride, etc.- is one of faith in Jesus and the redemption that comes from Him alone.
After a recent church service, I walked up on a conversation that really provided some food for thought. The discussion was about advice from women in the Bible. A gentleman asked me if I could name any instances in the scripture where a woman gave good advice. I have to admit, I drew a blank. But this gentleman already had the answer, and I was pretty impressed with his insight, although there was a slight undertone of a joke about being surprised that a woman had given good advice. So the commentary that follows is based on two verses that he shared with me, and I hope you will find this advice as inspiring as I do.
The first piece of advice comes from a women whose name we aren't given. She is commonly referred to as "the woman at the well". After an encounter with Jesus where she recognizes him as the Christ, the bible says this woman made her way into the city and then said to the men, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:29) This woman's advice sounds simple, yet the heart of her message is the most important of directives in all of human experience: Meet Jesus.
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) Without a real, personal encounter with Christ, one cannot know or understand truth, experience authentic joy or peace, or have any assurance of heaven. When the knowledge of the power of a relationship with Jesus was revealed to the woman that met Him at the well, she couldn't keep that revelation to herself. She had to share Him with others. If you haven't taken the woman's advice to meet Him, please take a moment now to consider her words.
For those of us that have met the Christ, we should follow the woman's example and use our energies to make His name famous. Our lives should make others want to meet Him. The joy that we carry should speak for itself, saying, "Come, see! Come, see! Come, see!" And we should always be ready to tell others how we came to know the Christ, and what He has done for us. (But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:5)
The second piece of good advice comes from a much more popular biblical figure- Mary, the mother of Jesus. I had never stopped to reflect on Mary's words to the servants at the wedding in Cana. Just before the Lord performed His first earthly miracle by turning the water into wine, his mother said to the servants, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." (John 2:5) What more can I add? Straightforward. Simple. Life-changing. In obedience to the Lord, all the questions of life are resolved. Of course, we have to search the Word to know His commandments, but Proverbs 3:6 says, "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Whatever He says to do, we should do it.
The servants that filled the water pots and drew from them to serve the governor of the feast witnessed a surprising miracle! We can likewise see miraculous things in our lives, when we are obedient to what Jesus says to do in His Word.
I'm so glad the words of these two wise women of history were presented to me for further reflection. May we all take their advice to heart.
Sometimes I get a thought about which I want to write, and I search the scriptures for help with that topic. Sometimes I search out the scriptures for help finding something to write about. This devotion was born of the latter method.
In my searching of the scriptures today, I “found” 1 Thessalonians, Chapters 4 and 5, and in these chapters, practical instruction for sanctified Christian living. I was struck by how plainly many of the exhortations are outlined.
While we are only saved through faith in Christ, and not by our works, we are compelled by the Holy Spirit to strive to be more like Christ in our actions. The word “sanctified” means “set apart”, which is to say, markedly different from the non-believer in thought and practice.
Please note, the title of this devotion is not "21 Steps to Sanctified Christian Living". I am not trying to present a comprehensive list here. I'm sure there are additional ways in which we should conduct ourselves to demonstrate sanctification. Please also note, this list is not my own invention! The ideas are taken directly from scripture, but I have paraphrased them in a list format.
So, let's look at 1 Thessalonians. In Chapter 4, verse 3, it says: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification:" Well, that seems pretty clear! It could be interpreted that the idea of sanctification here pertains mainly to the exhortation immediately following (which is number one on the list below). But, I read that statement as an introduction to all the contents of Chapters 4 and 5, as the end of Chapter 5 seems to be a summary of the instructions in Paul's letter.
21 Steps Toward Sanctified Christian Living
Yes, this a list of "Dos" and "Dont's". But as with all biblical instruction, the purpose is not to restrict or burden, but is to improve the spiritual health of the believer. This list contains actions and practices that set us apart from those outside of the faith.
At the end of Chapter 5 we are left with some great encouragement! "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (5:23-24) Commit to serving Him and He will take care of the sanctification process.
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My head has been swirling with questions for the last two days, and the Lord has been helping me work through some faith issues. I have peace now, if not concrete answers, about all my recent questions, but not the liberty or leading to write about what I’ve learned except for my conclusions on one specific situation. I have five half-written articles to prove it! Now, on to our topic…
I’ve been very troubled lately by the dogmatic nature in which a preacher I know addresses a non-doctrinal issue. For the sake of being discreet, I’m not even going to name the issue. Let’s pretend the issue is "traditional versus casual dress" in worship services. That’s not what it is, but it’s a similar type of non-doctrinal debate. Let’s say that on social media this pastor is constantly commenting about how sinful it is for people to show up to worship service in casual attire, and he regularly decries any church that condones such. I feel this pastor’s arguments are “profane and vain babblings” (2 Timothy 2:16) and the manner in which his opinions are delivered, regardless of whether he’s right or wrong, is contrary to the command of 2 Timothy 2:24 (“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.”) However, that’s not even the point of this article. The point of this article is to answer the questions, “Can I trust a preacher with whom I strongly disagree about one topic?” and “Is the anointed of God perfect in his understanding?”
I feel like God answered these questions for me through a recent real-life incident. My husband and I have been trying to give our oldest child more responsibilities, little tests of maturity to gauge how she handles certain situations. Recently, he let her go into a gas station to make a purchase on her own (he was parked where he could watch her through the window). He told her to buy two Slushees- one for her and one for her sister. She came back with three Slushees and a pack of gummy bears. My husband wasn’t angry with her, especially since she had brought him a treat too, but he encouraged her to only buy what she was told the next time.
In this situation, my daughter was sent to do a job, which she did, but she overstepped the instructions she was given. In the same way, I think a minister can be truly called and anointed of God, yet at times be erroneous in their teaching or delivery. Sometimes God picks a messenger, God gives them clear instructions, the messenger delivers the message, but because the messenger is human, they add unnecessarily to the original communication. It doesn't mean that person wasn't sent of God. It doesn't mean they are a false teacher. It means they are human.
In the scripture we find where Peter, upon whom the Lord declared He would build the church, was called out by Paul because he was wrong in separating himself from the Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11). Even the early church leaders made mistakes! I don’t believe the mistake of the Apostle Peter nullified his ministry. Believers need to be discerning enough themselves to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as the idiom goes. In truth, there’s probably no preacher or teacher with whom I agree on every single point of scripture or practice.
I’m thankful God has allowed me to come to a personal resolution on this matter. Obviously, I will not sit under any teaching that is contrary to the primary tenets of my faith, but in this situation, I will try to maintain respect for this pastor with whom I disagree. I will on occasion listen to his messages. I will pray for God to deal with him about his handling of non-doctrinal issues. And, I will rest in the fact that God’s ministers are human, “nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Timothy 2:19).
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My husband recently incorporated Star Wars into a sermon and was quite proud of himself for it. Today, I’m going to try to match him by using one of my favorite movies as the basis for this devotional.
I don’t have a great analogy to connect “The Princess Bride” (which is also a great book) to a spiritual concept. Rather, I want to borrow a key phrase from this beloved fairy tale film. Do you remember the farm boy, Wesley, at the beginning of the movie and his response to Buttercup’s every whim? Remember when he came back to her as the Dread Pirate Roberts and the moment she realized it was really Wesley as he went tumbling down the giant hill yelling those cherished words: “As you wish.” What an awesome scene! If somehow you’ve managed to not see the movie, don’t worry; this message is still for you.
Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this. Those three little words, “As you wish” should be the believer's response to every command of God. Let’s look at five people from the bible who essentially said “as you wish” to God.
In the movie I’ve referenced, the male leading character answers every request of his love interest with the phrase “as you wish.” His humble obedience was a direct response to his unfailing love for her. Likewise, we should consistently affirm our love for God by blindly, completely, enthusiastically, reverently, and selflessly obeying his direction. Our obedience to God must be driven by our love for Him, with no thought for what we will gain.
Sometimes I have a feeling of anticipation, as if I am waiting on God to give a command to which I can respond, “As you wish.” I’ve said to Him, “Show me what you want me to do, Lord! I’ll do it!” But, I need to stop and look at the instructions He has already given to all of us and evaluate how I am responding to those. I need to make sure I am saying “as you wish” in regards to what the Word says to do. Am I saying, "As you wish, Lord" to the commands to love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor, to forgive, and to not worry? I fall short often, but I pray that whether the task seems big or small, whether it comes directly from scripture or from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that I will continually learn to obey.
I leave you with a challenge! Read Romans 12:9-18, and after every sentence that contains a command whisper, “As you wish, Lord. As you wish.” Then go live out that promise.
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The Bible makes it pretty clear: God wants us to sing. The canon of scripture includes an entire book of songs, mostly written by the person God described as “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). God wants us to sing.
Psalms 95:1 and 95:2 says, “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.” Most church services utilize music in one way or another.
Music is referenced all through the bible; not just in Psalms. It’s exciting to read how the Israelites, immediately after being brought through the Red Sea, broke out into singing (and dancing! Exodus 15). There are examples in the Bible of congregations of people singing and there are examples of people appointed as singers in service to the Lord. When music is used in true worship, it has the power to move the heart of God.
Some people say music is just used “to stir up emotion” (that’s a common argument against certain styles of music in church), but let me share with you an example from scripture that makes the importance of music in worship pretty clear! In 2 Chronicles, Chapter 5, we read about the dedication of the temple built by Solomon. Verses 13 and 14 say, “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.” Wow!! It was the praises lifted up through music that ushered in the presence of God.
As a singer, I have some personal “rules” to make my sure my ministry has the correct motives. I sing for these three reasons:
1. To worship and give praise to God
2. To share the Word of God through music
3. To edify the body of Christ
Usually, these three purposes are achieved together, but if a song doesn’t do at least one of these things, then I shouldn’t sing it. And I think the same standards should be applied to all music within the church.
Using music to praise God and to worship Him is an obvious purpose. That’s the common theme throughout the Psalms. There are also examples of music being used to share God’s word. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Teaching and admonishing come through songs based on the Word.
Then we have the concept of “edifying”. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” Here we have an instruction from Paul that there should be order in a church service (order meaning, not everybody trying to do whatever they feel like) and that the ministrations, including the music, should edify the body.
Let’s talk about this word “edify”. Edifying the body doesn’t mean just making people feel happy. Edifying the body means drawing people into sincere worship or encouraging them in some way in their walk with the Lord.
When the three motives listed above are the primary concern of musicians, then the music can be a powerful complement to the worship service, regardless of the level of talent or the style of music. (Obviously, we all have different gifts and not everybody is meant to stand up and give a solo, but I have been very blessed by some off-key singers before, because they were being obedient and singing for the glory of God.)
Speaking of styles of music, let me say this: God owns every beat, every rhythm, every note, every chord, every chord progression, every melody, every harmony, every key, every instrument; and they all can be used for His glory IF the music exalts Him, promotes the gospel, or edifies the body of Christ. That being said, in a worship service it is also important to maintain a tone of reverence. Balancing pure motives and musical style preferences with a reverent attitude is important.
For musicians who minister outside of their home church, I think it is important to be respectful of a congregations’ over-all style of worship. My roots are in Southern Gospel and the Broadman Hymnal, but I also sing and write Praise and Worship music and songs some might consider “contemporary”. If I’m going to a church with a more “contemporary” style of worship, I might sing all of the above styles of music because no one is going to be offended by a hymn. But, if I’m going to a very traditional church, I’m going to be mindful about avoiding the use of soundtracks with a more contemporary sound, UNLESS I hear from the Lord that He wants me sing a specific song.
I believe the three rules I've listed for using music in worship are important litmus tests, because so many other facets of music in worship are just matters of personal preference. I love to clap my hands when I sing with the choir or congregation (and sometimes slap my hymn book as an instrument!), and while there’s definitely a biblical basis for that, nowhere is it written that a person HAS to do that as part of their worship. That’s an area where we have some liberty with our worship.
Whether the style is traditional or contemporary, our motives must be kept in check. I’ve been in “contemporary” services where the Lord fellowshipped with His people through their offering of music. I’ve also been in contemporary services where the band seemed more interested in laying down the bass than leading the congregation to worship. I’ve heard and sung songs by Bill and Gloria Gaither in services where the presence of the Lord was so sweet and so real, but then I’ve also heard those same-type songs performed in what felt like just an entertainment act. While we should enjoy church, and we should enjoy music in church, when we set aside time to worship, a mood of reverence should be maintained, and the intent of our musical worship should be above reproach.
Let me leave you with a beautiful example of the use of music in worship: Our Lord sang. I am grateful that a friend recently pointed out to me the verse in Matthew that refers to Jesus singing. What a beautiful thought! Speaking about the Last Supper, the Bible says, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30) Jesus concluded His time of fellowship with His disciples with a song. Meditate on that.
Thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please post your comments below.
I am very excited about this topic! This is a simple and to-the-point article, but I believe it will be meaningful for someone. There’s a lot of scripture contained here, so please stick with me. There’s an important message at the end!
Have you ever heard of a “life verse”? The term refers to a verse that holds special meaning for a person or a verse they rely on regularly to guide their life. While not directly a scriptural concept, it makes sense that believers claim specific verses in such a way, as scripture is the most direct method God uses to speak to His people. One danger of the “life verse” concept, is that it can become a cliché, almost akin to a person’s birthstone or astrological sign. But, for true believers, having a life verse, and especially being able to communicate “why” it is meaningful, is a good way to share their faith. (Read more ideas about how to use scripture in my article "Rightly Divided".)
In truth, the whole of scripture is “life” verses, in that it leads us on the path of eternal life. In John 6:68, Simon Peter said to Jesus, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
While there are many more that I love, I claim these four as “mine”:
In the book of Deuteronomy, God gave instruction for how the eventual kings of Israel should handle the Words of God. (Israel was not supposed to have a king other than God, but God knew the people would insist on having one “like as all the nations” that were around them- Deuteronomy 17:15.)
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says, "And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”
While we have certain verses to help carry us through this life, the Word itself is the very essence of life, and our reliance on it, and faith in it, can dictate the outcome of every situation.
Going beyond the idea of a “life verse”, I want to share with you the portion of scripture that is quite literally my “life chapter”. In my teenage years and early twenties, I suffered with severe depression and anxiety. (I’ve been free from it for so long it is almost hard to remember- praise God!). There were days when, overcome with a constant, unexplainable grief, thoughts of suicide invaded in my brain. While He didn’t heal me right away, one day the Lord practically handed me Psalm 116, to sustain me until the time He would heal me. I claim this as my life chapter, because I believe God used it to spare my life. If you find yourself in a dark place, please let the words of Psalm 116 help put you on a different course, so you too can “walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9).
I'd love to hear your life verse (or chapter)! Please leave a comment below, and if you enjoyed this article, please share it. Thanks!
The title of this article is not mine, but rather the title and main idea of a book by Reverend Dr. Samuel Valentine Cole, who was the first president of Wheaton College in Massachusetts. This book has had such an impact on me that it would be selfish to not try to expose others to the literary masterpiece.
I was first introduced to Cole's work when I heard one of his poems quoted in a sermon on the radio. Captivated by the lyric from "Hammer an Anvil", that poem became the foundation for my song, "The Word Will Stand" (listen here). Through researching to learn more about the author of the poem that inspired me so, I found "The Life That Counts", which was published in 1905. I strongly believe this 124-page book should be required reading in every school in this country, and beyond.
It was the title, which speaks to my personal aspiration, and Cole's eloquent language that initially compelled me. But, very early in my reading, I was captivated by the genius of the content and the purposefulness of the message. Reminiscent of the writings of C.S. Lewis, the lessons in "The Life That Counts" are most certainly biblical, but they are also profoundly philosophical.
It is difficult to assess how much praise should be awarded a man for such an accomplishment as "The Life That Counts", since reason suggests there is much more of the divine in its wisdom than of the natural. While it almost feels irreverent to me to pick apart the work in order to present some nuggets to you here, my goal is to summarize this inspired book in such a way that encourages others to read it.
As I tried to go to sleep the other night, somewhere amid the rambling, disjointed thoughts flooding my sleepy brain, I recognized the words of one of my favorite verses of scripture. I didn't consciously think about Romans 8:28, but it was suddenly just there in my mind: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."
The familiar words had barely finished processing in my mind when they were followed with a simple question- "Do you know?"
I can't tell you if it was me asking the question or if it was the Holy Spirit, but I pray He will help me to seek out the answer and define it in the next few lines.
Let me start by working backwards through the verse. I know that I am "called according to His purpose" because I'm saved. If you are saved, you have been purposefully called by God. I know that I am of "them that love God". Although not always put into action the way it should be, I have no doubts about my love for Him. That brings me to the first part of the verse, and I have to ask myself again, "Do I really know that all things work together for good?"
I feel confident in saying the answer to my question is "yes". I do know that all things work together for good, meaning I believe it with certainty. The real question is, "Am I living like I know it?"
The phrase "all things" in this verse could mean literally everything- from my walk to the mailbox to a serious illness. While I believe the verse is true for "all" circumstances, Paul was writing specifically about persecution. With that context in mind, I felt the need to examine how I view difficulties in my life.
Knowing that all things work together for good doesn't mean we never hurt or have concern about the difficult times in life. Our state of salvation doesn't preclude us from the effects of living in a fallen world. Bad things will happen (although I believe we are guarded by His sovereign grace from many bad circumstances). The beauty of knowing "all things work together for good" is summed up in one word: hope. We have hope that beauty will be born of brokenness, that silver linings will surface through stress. And we can learn to even be excited when something bad happens, anticipating the good that will come from it. Sometimes, we may not see the good, but by faith we know it is there, because God's promises are true.
Thankfully, I haven't experienced very many situations in my life that have tested my faith or challenged my belief that something good would be the result. But I think the lesson for me in my reflections on Romans 8:28 is to be more mindful of opportunities to praise God in all situations. It's not about learning to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. I'm sure there are plenty of atheist optimists. It's about knowing that God is intentionally acting and working things out in all situations, and about being able to praise Him whether we see the good or not.
Let me leave you with a real-life example of Romans 8:28. A small, country church, where my husband has ministered several times, was recently vandalized. On Easter Sunday morning, our friends there, Terry and Ellen, found a swastika spray-painted on the front door. Now, of course, that was not a good thing. How could it be? However, the deputy that responded to the call did a wonderful thing- he painted over the vandalism for them. Our friends were deeply moved by the kind act of the deputy, and Ellen took to Facebook to publicly praise the officer. More than one news station saw the post, and subsequently did interviews with Ellen and the officer, which were aired on multiple stations. Because Ellen knew God was in control of the situation, she was able to focus on the deputy's good deed, instead of focusing on the wrong done to them. God even worked it out so the uplifting story would be shared on the news to be an encouragement to many, many people. The fun part is, God may not be finished working the events "together for good". Perhaps the best is yet to come from this story.
Have you been going through a trial? Are you facing adversity now? Perhaps the best is yet to come from your story, too.
Click the following link to see one of the news stories about the church vandalism and the officer's kind deed.
The book of Acts in the New Testament chronicles the actions of some of Christ's apostles, carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit, during a time immediately following Christ's ascension. This book essentially outlines the birth of the church, but in some places, it reads more like an adventure novel than historical reference.
God used the eighth chapter of this book to speak to me recently, and I’ve spent several days trying to understand exactly how to share and explain what I felt the Lord say to me through this passage.
First, let me outline some of the events that take place in Acts Chapter 8. We see Saul making “havock of the church" and believers fleeing from persecution. God used their persecution for good because the scattering of Christians meant the spread of the gospel. This by itself was a blessing to read, because I am awed by the courage of the early believers. They certainly experienced something real to make them flee one place for preaching, only to continue preaching somewhere else. They could have gone into hiding- kept quiet, kept safe. But the Holy Spirit urged them on and they obeyed.
One of those brave believers was a deacon named Philip. He traveled to Samaria and preached there (even a sorcerer was converted under his ministry!), until he received a new assignment directly from the Lord. Verse 27 says, “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.”
So, Philip obeyed, and when he reached the road to Gaza he saw a man from Ethiopia sitting in a chariot, and he heard the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. This man was a eunuch, and he was a man of great authority who served as treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading and then proceeded to reveal Christ to the man through the Old Testament scriptures. The man believed Philip's words and was saved.
One remarkable thing about this story is how much God loved this man from Ethiopia, that he sent the good news of Jesus directly to him. The man already knew of God, but he had not experienced the gift of redemption. And so it is with all believers, because the Holy Spirit has called to us specifically, personally.
It is also exciting to think how this one encounter helped to spread the gospel into other parts of the world, as the Ethiopian man most certainly went home and told everyone what had happened to him. God’s plan was not only to save the man that Philip met on the road to Gaza, but the generations of people after him that would choose to believe.
The Bible indicates that Philip was traveling in the man’s chariot with him when they came to a body of water. They stopped and Philip baptized the man. And this is the part that really jumped out at me. Verses 39 and 40 say, “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”
Azotus is the modern-day city of Ashdod, which is probably about an hour-long walk away from where Philip had been. The text describes that the Holy Spirit supernaturally transported Philip to another city! Philip teleported! That might not be the right terminology from a spiritual standpoint, but I think that’s the best word in our natural vocabulary to describe it.
The scripture doesn’t tell us the reason Philip was caught away, but it does tell me this: God can move me where He wants me to be, when He wants me to be there, by any means He chooses- when I seek to follow HIS will.
I’ve had a few dreams in my life; one of the biggest was to become a mother. Before I was married, I was concerned that the dream of a family wouldn’t happen “soon enough” and I would “run out of time”. As it turns out, my husband and I were married only six months after he proposed, and seven months after the wedding we found out our first child was on the way. In a relatively brief span of time I had gone from being single, to being married and expecting a child. Now I have three wonderful children! Some days I’m amazed by where I am on life’s journey.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the future and what new dreams may come to fruition. Reading the story of how Philip was “caught away” gave me these three ideas:
How exciting it is to serve a God that can do what many say is impossible! He loves us and will accomplish His will through those that allow themselves to be used.
You never know when you might find yourself saying, “How did I wind up here?”, and thanking the Lord for His help along the journey.
What does it mean to bless someone? When you bless someone, it means you are speaking good things into existence in their lives. Did you realize you have that kind of power? The bible says in Proverbs 18:21 that “life and death are in the power of the tongue”. We bless people by claiming a promise from the Bible for them, and God works through that.
In the Old Testament, God gave the priests of Israel a specific blessing He wanted them to use to bless the people:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”’ “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27
Even though this blessing was for Israel, the Bible teaches us that through Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God and all the promises that God gave to Israel are for us, too. So we can use this same blessing for others.
Most weekdays, before we head out to face the world, I try to speak something like this for each of my three kids: “The Lord bless you and keep you and give you a good day, in Jesus’ name.” (My nine-year-old says, “It helps!”)
Speaking blessing is a lot like praying. But, instead of asking God for something, we are claiming something He already promised us. A blessing has to line up with the Bible. We know God is not a magic genie that grants wishes, so I wouldn’t say to someone, “May the Lord give you a million dollars.” The Bible doesn’t promise us a million dollars! But it does promise good things like “peace” when we need it. So, I could say, “May the Lord give you peace” and that is a blessing that God will honor and work through, because He’s already promised it.
At the close of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” He was blessing them with that statement.
Some blessings are very simple. We often say “God bless you”, especially at church. Sometimes it can even become habit, and we say it without actually thinking about what it means. But, any time we use the name of God, we should use it purposefully, with intention. Think about what you’re saying next time, and really mean it! “God bless you!!” I think when we have faith that God will actually bless someone, meaning He will help them and give them what they need, those three words can be very powerful!
Practice speaking blessings to someone in your life today.
Have you ever been reading the scriptures and a verse, or even just a couple words, really stands out? Like it leaps off the page (or screen) and says, “Hey! Look at me! You need to get this!”
It’s so interesting to me how a verse of scripture that I’ve read or heard so many times before can suddenly take on a new meaning or importance. I attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit. How humbling it is to realize that as we read the Word, we have a partner, a helper, a translator, that guides us through that sometimes daunting undertaking, when we truly seek understanding, and whispers insight that our natural, earthly minds might not be able to glean otherwise.
I’m so slack in my reading. I hate to admit it. I’m very inconsistent in my study and I’m constantly aware of my need to dedicate more time to the Word. Especially now as we have entered Holy Week, I’m trying to commit to regular Bible reading, and I decided to start again at the beginning of the New Testament.
So, sitting at my desk at work, I took a moment to read (www.blueletterbible.org is my go-to online Bible), and I came to Matthew Chapter 4, which starts out right after Jesus has been baptized. The first verse says this:
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
Okay. This is a very familiar story. I know this one. I can probably just skim it since I’ve read it so many
times before, and I know I’ve heard it preached at least half a dozen times. Jesus went out into the
desert and Satan came trying to tempt him to sin. But, wait a minute…..
What did that say? He went to the wilderness TO BE tempted? Why have those two words never seemed so important before? Jesus went to the wilderness with the specific purpose of being tempted! He didn’t go there to meditate and happened to be tempted while he was there. He wasn’t going just to fast and pray then Satan suddenly showed up. He went there TO BE TEMPTED! This has probably always been an obvious point to most people, but to me it felt like a revelation. I really had to stop and take it in for a while. The Lord of all creation, in an earthly body, subjected himself to real temptation. This is so difficult to grasp! I want to rationalize that this time of testing Jesus endured really wasn’t much of a test, because Jesus is divine and holy. He has all the power in the universe, so resisting the devil must have been an effortless task. Right? Not quite.
While on this earth, Jesus was 100% God and 100% man at the same time. I know the math doesn’t work, but it’s still true. His temptation in the wilderness was a deliberate surrendering of His divinity, just like He did on the cross when He became sin for us. He supernaturally slipped on the mantle of natural flesh, so he could relate to me and you in our struggles with temptation.
The Holy Spirit explained it for us, through the writing of the Apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews (2:18): “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” The ESV says it this way, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
There is so much to learn from the story of the temptation of Christ. We could talk about the example of how to withstand temptation by being spiritually prepared through prayer and fasting. We could talk about the example of fighting the devil through the power of the Word. Those are great, important take-aways! And I haven’t even talked about the physical and spiritual intensity of the test He endured! (For more study on those points, check out the Study Guide by David Guzik: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Mat/Mat_4.cfm?a=933001)
But what the Holy Spirit wanted to impress upon me, during this specific reading, was that Christ was tempted purposefully and willingly, and that He did it for me. The temptation of Christ was part of the redemptive plan, just as was the work on the cross. I still can’t fully explain “why” he had to be tempted, since I believe His sacrifice on the cross would have been just as complete without His temptation. But I believe it was a selfless act of love toward mankind. He wanted to know His creation so intimately that He became flesh and endured the feelings of temptation as a man.
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15
If anybody has some insight to share on this topic, I’d love for you to leave a comment!
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!