Spurgeon on the Preacher’s Prayer

June 14, 2016 at 9:07 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

Some words, from Charles Spurgeon, I need reminded of often.  I frequently feel the need for “much more grace than common men.”  I’m sure others in ministry feel the same way.

If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept “Pray without ceasing,” surely it is the Christian minister. He has peculiar temptations, special trials, singular difficulties, and remarkable duties; he therefore needs much more grace than common men, and as he knows this, he is led constantly to cry to the strong for strength, and say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God.

Both of these came from Charles Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students.  I found them on the Focus on the Family website Thriving Pastor.  If interested, you can read the entire lengthy but excellent article here.

Finding God’s Best

September 1, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Posted in Marriage, Personal Testimony, Wisdom | Leave a comment

A number of things in recent days have reminded me of a sermon I preached a few years ago about Rebekah, and finding God’s best in marriage.  If you are single, if you have single children or grandchildren, you should learn these principles.  These principles also apply to many other areas of finding God’s will.

It is the most requested sermon I have ever preached.  When the church changed web site carriers, many of our on-line sermons were lost.  I’ve dug this one out of the archives to put it back on line.  It is the first message on this page.  (By the way, don’t let the 77 minute note scare you.  I don’t know how that appeared.  It is only 39 minutes — I’m a preacher, but I’m not that long-winded!)

Cell Phones and Fast Horses

April 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

I wrote this story over ten years ago and ran across it while looking for another old file in my archives.  The lesson is just as timely today as it was then.

Cathy and I attended a Pastor’s Getaway at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.  We were refreshed, albeit suffering from input overload, the feeling one friend of mine called “getting a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  We were then to have a few days vacation before returning home.  Earlier that day, I had been thinking about what one lesson God wanted me to take from the conference, or at least what one lesson, of numerous ones written down, he would have me ponder while on vacation..

Driving north to Denver, we were to have Sunday dinner with some seminary friends.  It was heavy traffic — the kind where driving the speed limit is almost impossible, because there are only two lanes — the right lane traveling below the posted speed and the left lane moving significantly faster.  A person in the right lane, who wanted to pass the vehicle in front, had a hard time moving left to do so.

There was a slow-moving, big truck in front of me.  When I finally managed to get into the left lane to pass, I noticed there was another slow truck about a quarter mile ahead.  I didn’t want to get trapped between them, so I increased my speed and stayed in the left lane.

That’s when I first saw him in my rearview mirror; he jumped into the right lane to pass the cars behind me.  I just knew he intended on passing me and cutting me off before I caught up with the truck on the right.  Instead, he cut off the car behind me and rode my bumper, until I passed the second truck and moved over, then he sped passed me on my left.  As he passed, I noticed one of his hands on the steering wheel, the other pressed a cell phone to his ear, and he seemed to be reading something on the passenger seat.  Immediately I thought, “Now, there’s an accident waiting to happen.”

It occurred to me that the cell-phone driver typified so many people in our society, always moving full speed ahead, juggling more responsibilities, tasks and adventures than one can safely manage.  Most of our lives rush on so full of activities that we are accidents just waiting to happen.  We are caught in a busyness trap, and someday it will come crashing down.  One of the breakout sessions from the conference came clearly to mind.  We had discussed Isaiah 30:15-18 and the necessity to slow down in rest and quietness rather than flee on swift horses in so many different directions.  The cell-phone driver is the perfect picture of a man on his fast horses.  I laughed at myself, because I saw my life portrayed in his driving.

I could see we were going to arrive at our destination with plenty of time to spare, so I decided to relax my pace and stay in the right lane.

A few miles later, traffic slowed to a crawl.  I could see the vehicles on the left merging into my lane, and I wondered if the cell-phone driver had an accident.  Sure enough, there was an accident ahead, but as I got closer, I saw it wasn’t the man with the cell phone.  However, I recognized one of the vehicles: a pick-up pulling a four-wheeler on a trailer that had passed me right about the moment I decided to slow down and stay in the right lane.  Had I not been reminded to slow down, I may have been the one in the accident.

God’s protection on our trip and the lessons for driving are obvious, but I hope I can also learn a lesson for life.  God reminds us that our strength is in repentance, rest, quietness and trust.  It is not found in fast driving, cell-phones and busyness; these are the things Isaiah would call “fast horses.”  It’s not from driving in the fast lane that God calls us; it is from living in the fast lane that he invites us to quietness and rest.  I have to ask if I am living life in the fast lane, if I am an accident waiting to happen.  Am I getting the necessary quiet time with the Lord which offers strength in and salvation from the rat race?  I hope memories of the cell-phone driver will remind me to slow down in quietness and rest.

A Prayer for My Daughter as She Heads to College

August 15, 2014 at 10:23 am | Posted in Personal Testimony, Prayer | 2 Comments

This is a prayer for my daughter Amber as she will be moving to college in just a few days.  It is inspired by Psalm 144:1-2, 12 and Psalm 118:28-30

Dear Lord,

I bless you for you are my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.  To whatever you call me, for that you will prepare me, and you will carry me through it.

So I pray for my daughter Amber, as she heads off to college that you would be her Rock; that she would find her strength, not in family or friends who are no longer near, but in you alone.  Prepare her hands for the war to which you’ve called her, her fingers for the battle.  Be her steadfast love and fortress; her stronghold and deliverer; her shield where she can find refuge.  If school work seems overwhelming, be her refuge; if homesickness tries to depress her, display your steadfast love; if the enemy tries to attack, be her fortress; if a different climate seems stifling, refresh her soul; if she feels weak, be her stronghold.  As she faces a new level of music, a band far better than any she’s been in, may her fingers be ready to play and her heart in tune with you, the source of all music.

May she be like a corner pillar cut for the palace.  As a corner pillar, give her incredible inward strength to face anything that comes her way; allow her to be a stronghold for other freshman girls; for others in the band; for those on her dorm wing; for any others who may be struggling.  As a pillar cut for the palace, may she show incredible beauty.  May those who see her, see your beauty in her; may she be a winsome person that draws others to you; may she demonstrate your beauty in purity and integrity; may she be like Jesus in all she is and does.

Lord you are the one who lights our darkness.  For Amber, light her lamp, be a light in her darkness.  When the darkness of being away from all that is familiar tries to overwhelm her, be her light; may your word be the lamp to her feet and the light for her path.  By you, she can run against a troop; by you she can scale any wall.  Whatever challenges come her way, she can handle them in you, for she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.

Your way is perfect; your word proves true; you are a shield for all who take refuge in you.

Amen

My Dad’s Memorial Message: A Faithful Man

December 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Personal Testimony | 2 Comments

I haven’t written much lately since the past few months have been quite an emotional ride.  We lost my father-in-law last month and my dad this month.  I had the honor of sharing the message at my dad’s memorial service this morning.  Here is the text of the message.  God helped me get through this, and I hope many were blessed by it.

When I think of my dad, the words that come to mind to describe his life are faithful and steadfast.  He didn’t lead what the world would call an exciting life, but he was steady and faithful in those things that really mattered.  A few months ago I read Psalm 112, and some of the phrases in this passage reminded me of my dad.  When my mom read the Psalm, she agreed, so we decided, that when the time came, we would use this passage for his memorial service.  It is the description of the steadfast, faithful man.

Here is the description of a steadfast man:

“His offspring will be mighty in the land” (2).  My dad’s offspring are not numerous, famous, rich, nor mighty by the world’s standard of measure.  But we are mighty by God’s standard.  Both his children, their spouses and their children walk with the Lord today and are active, like he was, in their home churches. We are blessed to be in this family.

“Light dawns in the darkness for the upright” (4a)  This was true of my father and reminded me of a story.  Though he was not vocal about it, I know he sought the Lord’s will and sensed his direction.  It seemed to me, in my growing up years, that he wanted something more than the job he held for so long.  I remember a few times when we traveled to some small town or other to look at car dealerships that were for sale.  Because I thought he didn’t like his job, I hoped we would move to one of those places.  But we never did.  Years later I heard him tell a story about waking up in the middle of the night, after praying about one of those dealerships, with the clear answer from God that it wasn’t the right thing to do.  He prayed, and the light dawned in the darkness.

“He is gracious and merciful” (4b)  I can’t ever remember my dad raising his voice (except at a sporting event), and he always treated me, and my sister I presume, with more mercy than we deserved.  Of course, I can’t tell you any stories about that without incriminating myself.

“He deals generously and lends” (5a, 9)  My dad was a committed tither and giver.  He told my mom from the early days of their marriage that they would give at least 10% to the church, and that would be their top priority.  I heard him talk about tithing to other Christians more than I heard him address any other issue.  I got the impression that the fundamental conviction of his life was that one must give to God’s work.  But his giving went beyond the church.  Through all my years in faith ministry, four summer mission trips, four years in seminary, and a church start in Centennial, my parents supported me financially.  Beyond that though, they always brought the food when they visited, they always took us to dinner and picked up the tab, they often took us out for ice cream or some other treat.  They even brought necessities like toilet paper.  They often gave us clothes.

Some of our favorite family memories are the Christmas holidays we spent in Centennial, Wyoming.  Our house in Centennial was the greatest place to spend Christmas! It was a huge 100-year -old log house in the mountains, and there was always snow.  When they came,they brought the food for the week and numerous other necessary items.

The coat I’m wearing today was given to me by my parents 26 years ago.  I have twin sport coats,  identical except that one is grey with pastel colors and the other is brown with golds.  Joseph got a coat of many colors from his dad who loved him, but I got two!

I also remember times when missionaries, or traveling youth groups, stayed in our home.  Some of those missionaries kept in touch for years to follow, I’ll probably never know if my parents supported them in other ways too.  Our infamous Thanksgiving, known simply as “That Thanksgiving” because everything that could go wrong did, included two youth group guests from out of town who were probably glad to get away from that dangerous family.

“He greatly delights in God’s commandments” (1)  My dad was a committed churchman.  One  of the only pieces of advice I remember getting when I was thinking about leaving home for college, was “wherever you go find a church and plug in to it.”  For dad it was not just any church though, it had to be a church that clearly preached the Bible.  I remember my parents often hosted home group Bible studies. My dad gave compliments very sparingly, so those genuinely shared were remembered.  The greatest compliment he ever gave me was after church one Sunday in Alamosa.  He said a lot of preachers talk about a lot of things, but what he appreciated about me was that I just open the Bible and tell people what it means  My preaching style comes partly from the way God wired me, but also partly from my upbringing in this church, partly from the influence of my family.  I remember the years we would read the Bible and the “Our Daily Bread” devotional at breakfast together.  We weren’t perfectly consistent, but we did that together for years.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise anybody that my parents chose Gideons International for memorial gifts.  The Gideons have one goal to get the Bible in the hands of everyone in the world, and every penny donated to them goes to that cause.

“His heart is firm, His heart is steady” (7-8)  I told you my dad was a committed churchman.  He was a member here for more than 60 years.  He stuck it out in good times and troubled.  I once left t his church to join a project I was excited about but learned a great lesson from his faithfulness here.  Though he agreed with much of what we were doing, he wouldn’t leave his church.  He did some behind-the-scenes ministries consistently, one of them for nearly 50 years.  I’m sure no one ever recognized that longevity, but that’s how he would have wanted it.

I suppose one of the best descriptions of my dad’s life would be Friedrich Nietzche’s description of the Christian life, “a long obedience in the same direction.”  That, more than anything else, was my dad.  His life wasn’t exciting, but it was faithful.

Finally, it is said of the steadfast man described in this Psalm that “his righteousness endures forever.”  In fact it is said in two places (3, 9).  My dad wasn’t perfect; he was a sinful man, just like the rest of us.  But he had a righteousness given by God.  The righteousness this Psalm talks about is not a righteousness that comes from one man’s own works but a righteousness that is a gift from God.  As the Apostle Paul described it, “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”  If there is a lesson we can learn from my dad, it is not that we should make an effort to be more faithful, but that we can trust Jesus and be given a righteousness from God.  That will help us be faithful people.

On Finishing Well: Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah

August 20, 2013 at 8:19 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony, Wisdom | Leave a comment

Today I read the stories of three different kings in Judah, all who began well but didn’t finish well.

Joash began to reign when he was only seven years old.  He followed the reign of his evil grandmother Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel, and was a great turn for the better.  Joash was raised by his aunt and his uncle Jehoiada, who was a godly priest.  They raised him and counseled him so that he began as a godly king.  “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem.  . . .  Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.”  (2 Chron 24:1-2 ESV)  Notice however, it was only during the days of Jehoiada.  In fact, “After the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king.  Then the king listened to them.   And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols.  And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.”  (vv17-18)  Joash lost his godly counselor, replaced him with spoiled royal counselors instead, and they persuaded him to abandon the LORD.

Joash’s son Amaziah became the king, and like Joash, he too began a godly reign.  “Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem.   . . .  He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart.” (25:1-2)  It seems Amaziah had an interest in other gods, and that’s why he was never wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD.  “After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them.  Therefore the LORD was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, ‘Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?'” (vv14-15)

Then Amaziah’s son Uzziah followed the same footsteps.  “Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem.   . . .  He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.”  (26:3-4)  However there was a pride that became his downfall.  “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.  For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God.” (v16)

One man lost godly counsel, one followed a curiostiy about other gods, one became proud of his successes; none finished well.  Here I am at middle age (a euphimism for getting old but not wanting to admit it!), and I want to finish life strong.  I must let these negative examples instruct me how to do that.  Lord, help me to finish well; may I keep godly counselors around me, may I follow you alone, may I give you glory for any successes that come my way.

The Lord Will Keep Your Life: Memories of 1990 and 1991 (part 2)

June 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Grace and Faith, Personal Testimony | 4 Comments

On Monday, January 7, 1991, I wrote these words in my journal:  “Maybe the emotional roller coaster ride is over for a little while anyway.  The foreseeable future looks ‘normal’ as far as I can see.”  (To see part one of this post, click here)  Little did I know the ride was just beginning!  About one week after I wrote that entry everything in our little mission’s mother church began to unravel.  The United States went to war in Iraq on January 16, but it seemed in my soul that the biggest war was in our mother church, and I was drug into it.

There were many complaints about the leadership brewing, and that week many of them were brought to me.  The complaints were valid, but regretfully, I didn’t send those people to the source of their complaint.  When the church called a meeting to voice concerns and to explore possible solutions, I was asked by people on both sides of the issues to come as a “neutral observer.”  Due to the complaints I received, I may not have been neutral, but I did attend anyway.  Some suggestions involving me were put on the table, but in reality the meeting didn’t accomplish anything, and as the weeks progressed, I was thrust into the middle of the storm.  I was considered by some to be the problem and by others to be the solution.  I had recently read Frank Peretti’s Darkness books, which were very popular at the time, and at one point I wrote in my journal:  “I feel like a character in Piercing the Darkness.  I can’t see what’s going on in the spiritual realm, but am caught in the middle of it.  It appears that my destiny and ministry are in the hands of other people, and some, maybe even all, of them are not seeking the Lord.  My sight is limited, but God is sovereign; this is my confidence through this unsettling experience.”

The situation got ugly at times, and though I usually wasn’t in on the ugly meetings, I was lied to and lied about on some occasions, even by those considered to be spiritual leaders.  Looking back, it is easy to see how people believed what they did.  It was certainly unintentional lies, like bad assumptions or rumors thought to be true, but it hurt nonetheless.  I probably didn’t know the entire truth either, and I’m sure I also spoke more than I should have.  The director of the college ministry we eventually became a part of gave a talk about that time on patience.  Two points he made had quite an impression on me, and I also recorded those in my journal.  First, he said, patience is not a blind resignation to circumstances but a quiet confidence in him who controls those circumstances.  And, two, the best thing God can give us is not changed circumstances but a better relationship with him.  In spite of the pain, God was especially close in those days.  I was reading through First Samuel at the time, and many of my notes reflect encouragement from David’s waiting in confidence and trust for God to open the right doors.

In time, the situation became such that I felt compelled to resign my position at the mission.  In May we left there and stepped into student ministry in Laramie; that was a great fit for Cathy and a learning experience for me.  In all this, I was learning that God made me to be a Bible preacher and teacher, a fact that was confirmed even more through three years on campus.  Though I liked what I was doing, it became clear that God had other plans for me, that I was wired for a different ministry.  Another journal entry from those days is interesting in this regard:  “Last night I was reading No Compromise, the life story of Keith Green.  At one point he quit playing music in public because he wasn’t sure that’s what God wanted him to do.  A few months later while doing a benefit concert, God moved among the audience, and Keith realized God made him to play music for people.”  I too had wondered if what I was doing came from pride, and the entry goes on, “Last night, after reading the book, I woke up in the middle of the night with the realization that expositing scripture is what God created me to do.”

Though those first five months of 1991 seemed like a desert in terms of ministry; God was working in our lives, conforming us to him, teaching us his will, and bringing about his desired ends in ministry.  That was one of the most formative times in my life.  And looking back, we see the incredible faithfulness of God.  Such a reminder has been needed in recent days.  God is faithful; God knows the end from the beginning; God is in control!  In his amazing grace God has an amazing way to use sins against us, and even our own sins, to bring us where he desires in character, place and ministry.  “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”  Amen.

The Lord Will Keep Your Life: Memories of 1990 and 1991

June 23, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Grace and Faith, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

This morning I read Psalm 121 in my devotions.  It was appropriate because Cathy and I have been talking about how God watched over our lives through a particularly trying time of ministry and emotions in 1991.  The encouragement is that God is watching over our lives during the trying time we are in now as well.  This hasn’t yet been as trying as that period was.  Here is the text of Psalm 121 followed by the first installment of the story about that year.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”   –Psalm 121 (ESV)

It had been over a year since Cathy and I discovered we couldn’t have children, and we had been jumping through the hoops of the adoption process ever since.  Probably in November of 1990 we heard about an adoption situation through the Cheyenne Crisis Pregnancy Center that we would pursue.  There were many emotional ups and downs before we learned that the mother had chosen another family.  The emotions settled, and life seemed to return to normal, until the middle of December arrived.  The first bump in the road was the death of my aunt.  Though not particularly shaking for me, it was the second of my mother’s siblings to die that year and was hard on everybody in the extended family.  We went to Fort Collins, Colorado so I could be a pallbearer in the funeral.

The day after the funeral, I had a temperature of 101°F.  I was down with the flu for three days, including a Sunday where I missed preaching – still the only time I’ve missed a Sunday in my 26 years of ministry.  In our little mission church, in a rural area, there wasn’t another preaching option, so Cathy led some songs and a prayer time, and everybody went home.

About the time I started feeling better, the extreme cold weather hit.  As I recall, it was below zero Fahrenheit for a week straight with lows colder than 20 below for many days.  This was extreme, even by Laramie, Wyoming standards.  We had to take our batteries into the house every night so the cars, especially the old truck, would start the next day, but even then it took some work and special attention to get them going in that weather.  We lived in a rural setting and getting to town, a normal 40 minute trek was taking an hour and a half.

I was to perform a wedding in Laramie on December 21st, so the rehearsal was on the 20th, a day when the high temperature was about 20 below zero.  The rehearsal was fine, but the next morning our thermometer read -47°F!  (We took a picture of the thermometer which was already catching the morning sun!)  We told the groom we knew he wasn’t going to marry until hell froze over –which appeared to have happened over night!  While getting ready for the ceremony, the door of the church fell off its hinges, so we worked that old, and already stressed, furnace way too much.  In that environment, it’s no wonder that one of the bridesmaids passed out during the ceremony!December 21, 1990 Thermometer

That evening, we picked up my two nephews to spend the Christmas holiday at our mountain home, where a white Christmas was almost always guaranteed.  The boys’ parents were to join them in a few days.  We really had to bundle them up for the cold ride in the old truck.  But we got home fine, company came, and, even though we had to do everything indoors, Christmas went off without a hitch, and the weather began to warm up.   But that’s when things got really crazy.

The next week is just a blur in my mind, but, according to some old journal notes, here is what happened.  My best friend’s younger sister passed away from a genetic disease.  We received the news the night we arrived home from the cold wedding with two frozen kids in tow.  On Thursday, December 27, we drove to Cheyenne for our second funeral in two weeks.  It was particularly hard, because their brother had died from the same disease just a few months prior.

We arrived home that night to learn that the adoption situation had changed dramatically, and we were now to be adoptive parents.  On Friday we again drove to Cheyenne to meet with the CPC counselor, the birth mother and the lawyer.  The child was to be delivered by C-section on Sunday.  After preaching two services, because I was also filling the pulpit in our mission’s mother church that day, we drove to Cheyenne, a third time in four days, where the mother placed a little boy in our arms and announced that he was our baby and we should raise him well.  However, on Monday we received word, from the lawyer, that the birth mother was refusing to sign the papers; she had decided to keep the baby.  That was a tough blow.  Since we were in Cheyenne, we went to my best friend’s daughters’ birthday celebration.  After all they’d been through, that family needed a reason to celebrate something positive, and so we joined them in the party.

The next day was New Year’s Day, 1991, and we returned to Cheyenne because the New Year’s party was at my sister’s house and because the next day, Wednesday, January 2, my mom was scheduled to have surgery.   She checked in early and had all the preoperational tests and medications, some of which made her sick, only to discover that the hospital had so many dire emergencies that her surgery was postponed.  We were all in the hospital, waiting from early morning until late afternoon, and then she was released.  On Friday, she was in the hospital again, and this time the operation went as planned.  We made our fifth trip in nine days over that familiar road.  We got home that night to a message that the pastor of our mother church had cut his wrist, was in the hospital, and unable to preach on Sunday, so I was requested to fill in.  It turns out he was fine and just needed time to heal, but that brought us half way to Cheyenne anyway, so that afternoon we drove over to check on my mom.  Everything turned out fine for her as well.  I didn’t get done preparing my sermon for that Sunday (surprise!), so I told the story of our last ten days of life, with a reminder from Psalm 46 that God is our refuge and strength, even if the earth seems to give way.  I was preaching to myself!

On Monday, January 7, I wrote these words in my journal: “Maybe the emotional roller coaster ride is over for a little while anyway.  The foreseeable future looks ‘normal’ as far as I can see.”  Little did I know it was just beginning!  But that has to wait for the second installment of this post, which is now available here.

A Bible Based Talk at School

May 26, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Posted in Personal Testimony, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All three teachers in the music department at my daughter’s school are leaving to pursue other endeavors.  It made for a sad Music Awards Banquet this year.  The music booster club bought gift cards for each, and I was asked to present them to the teachers, since I am comfortable speaking to a crowd with a microphone.  Here is the text version of my talk.  I changed the names here to protect their identity.

I was asked by the music booster club to say a few concluding words, so I want to tell you a story.  This is a story of one of my heroes on the pages of history, and though you may wonder where this is leading, bear with me a bit and that will become clear.

My hero is man named Ezra, who lived at the height of the Persian Empire.  He was appointed by King Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem and teach the people there.  So, in 458BC, Ezra took the three month journey on foot to Jerusalem and started his teaching career in that city.  He taught successfully there for many years.

When he had been there about 12 years, King Artaxerxes made another appointment to Jerusalem.  He assigned one of his officials named Nehemiah, who happened to be Jewish, to travel to Jerusalem, become the governor of the territory and rebuild the wall around the city, which had been in ruins for 140 years.  So Nehemiah also made that journey, and in 446BC he directed the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.  Nehemiah rallied the people to complete the wall in an amazing 2 months, and has been an example of great leadership ever since.  But that is not our concern today.

After the wall was built, Governor Nehemiah decided to celebrate its completion with a day of dedication.  He appointed two choirs and a band for the occasion.  Nehemiah had Ezra lead the first choir onto the wall they had just completed, and, with the band, they marched around the wall singing.  Nehemiah led the other choir onto the wall, and they walked around the city in the opposite direction.  It must have been quite a sight.  Some people speculate that one choir would sing and the other would answer in an antiphonal manner.  I’m sure it sounded amazing in the city.  Both choirs continued like this until they met at the famous Jerusalem temple and there became a single huge choir and band.

We know about this event because Governor Nehemiah kept a journal which we still have with us and can read today.  He recorded in his journal that “they rejoiced with a great joy,” and that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”  That kind of music had not been heard in Jerusalem for a long time.

The man who directed the band that day was named Zechariah.  (If you know of some men by that name from these times, this is probable not them, for Zechariah may have been on the list of top baby names in the area for centuries.)  This Zechariah had quite a pedigree, for he was a descendant of Asaph, whom the Israelites still consider the greatest music leader they’ve ever known.  It is possible that he was named after Asaph’s assistant director who was another Zechariah.  Today, I’m honored to present to Mr. Assistant, the “Zechariah Award,” for being a great assistant, and for leading the band at a critical time.  Thanks for encouraging our children.  I’ve observed that you are a great encourager, and though my daughter has not had you as a teacher, you have still encouraged her in her college and career decisions in a way no one else could have.

It’s also an honor to present to Ms. Choir the “Governor’s Award for Joy.”  Governor Nehemiah was the one who reported that they rejoiced with a great joy, the kind they hadn’t seen for years.  You have brought a great joy to our music program, the kind that hasn’t been seen here for years.  That is probably one of the reasons the choir program has grown so much under your leadership.  At the Christmas concert this year, I ended up sitting at the very end of the bleachers, where I was actually in front of you.  It was so much fun watching you lead, for joy and enthusiasm just bleed out to everyone who sees you.  May you take and spread that joy everywhere you go.

Finally, I need to back up and tell you another part of the story.  For all this music began a few generations earlier with Asaph.  Asaph was appointed by King David to be the music leader in Israel.  That’s no small matter, for if you know your history you will recognize that King David was a tremendous musician himself.  Asaph held that position for a long time, all the way through David’s reign and well into the reign of David’s son Solomon, the years known as the glory days of Israel.  Asaph started a school of music which lasted for generations, impacting many who followed.  We still have about a dozen songs which Asaph wrote, and they are still sung or read in churches and synagogues around the world today.  So I am honored to present to Mr. Band the “Asaph Award for Excellence in Leading.”  You began and built this program which has already impacted generations of students.  Thanks for your commitment, your discipline and your high standards.  You have challenged our children to achieve a high standard of excellence that they never would have achieved without your encouragement.

When the Earth Totters

April 20, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

This has been a rough week in many ways – a culmination of some rough months in ministry.  The attendance and finance numbers at church have gone down, and I wonder sometimes where all this is going.  But then God encourages me that it is his church, and he is in control.  I have had a few such reminders in recent days.  It seems almost every day in the past two weeks God has encouraged me through his word.  Some of the recent reminders have come from the songs of Asaph in the book of Psalms.  Here are a few of them:

“I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  . . .  I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”  (73:23-28)

“When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.” (75:3)

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (79:9)

“Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved.” (80:3, 7, 19)

Be encouraged!  When it feels like the earth is tottering, God is still there; he is still in control; he is still a refuge; he still rescues his people.

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