Category  |  Christian Ministry & the Church

Reason to Sing

When I was thirteen, my school required students to take four exploratory courses, including home economics, art, choir, and woodworking. On my first day in choir, the instructor called each student to the piano individually to hear their voices and place them in the room according to their vocal range. During my turn at the piano, I sang the notes she played multiple times, but wasn’t directed to a section in the room. Instead, after repeated tries, she sent me to the counseling office to find a different class to take. From that moment on, I felt I shouldn’t sing at all, that my voice shouldn’t be heard in song.

I carried that thought with me for more than a decade until I read Psalm 98 as a young adult. The writer opens with an invitation to “sing to the Lord” (Psalm 98:1). The reason offered has nothing to do with the quality of our voices; He delights in all His children’s songs of thanksgiving and praise. Instead, we are invited to sing because God “has done marvelous things” (v. 1).

The psalmist points out two wonderful reasons to joyfully praise God in song and in attitude: His saving work in our lives and His on-going faithfulness toward us. In God’s choir, we each have a place to sing of the “marvelous things” He has done (v. 1).

When One Hurts, All Hurt

When a coworker called in sick due to extreme pain, everyone at the office was concerned. After a trip to the hospital and a day of bed rest, he returned to work and showed us the source of that pain—a kidney stone. He’d asked his doctor to give him the stone as a souvenir. Looking at that stone, I winced in sympathy, remembering the gallstone I had passed years ago. The pain had been excruciating.

Isn’t it interesting that something so small can cause a whole body so much agony? But in a way, that’s what the apostle Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” Throughout chapter 12, Paul used the metaphor of a body to describe Christians around the world. When Paul said, “God has put the body together” (v. 24), he was referring to the entire body of Christ—all Christians. We all have different gifts and roles. But since we’re all part of the same body, if one person hurts, we all hurt. When a fellow Christian faces persecution, grief, or trials, we hurt as if we’re experiencing that pain.

My coworker’s pain drove him to get the help his body needed. In the body of Christ, someone’s pain ignites our compassion and moves us toward action. We might pray, offer a word of encouragement, or do whatever it takes to aid the healing process. That’s how the body works together.

Unashamed Loyalty

Sports fans love to sing their teams’ praises. By wearing logos, posting notes on Facebook about their beloved teams, or talking about them with friends, fans leave no doubt where their loyalty stands. My own Detroit Tigers’ caps, shirts, and conversations indicate that I am right there with those who do this.

Our sports loyalties can remind us that our truest and greatest loyalty must be to our Lord. I think of such unashamed loyalty when I read Psalm 34, where David draws our attention to Someone vastly more vital than anything else on earth.

David says, “I will extol the Lord at all times” (v. 1), and we are left to wonder about the gaps in our lives when we live as if God is not our source of true, light, and salvation. He says, “His praise will always be on my lips” (v. 1), and we think about how many times we praise things of this world more than we praise Him. David says, “My soul shall make its boast in the Lord” (v. 2 nkjv), and we realize that we boast about our own small successes more than what Jesus has done for us.

It’s not wrong to enjoy our teams, our interests, and our accomplishments. But our highest praise goes to our Lord. “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (v. 3).

Fault Lines

An influx of refugees to our community has led to new growth in area churches. That growth brings challenges. Church members must learn how to welcome these newcomers as they adjust to a strange culture, new language, and different worship styles. All this change can create some awkward situations.

Misunderstandings and disagreements occur everywhere we find people. Church is no exception. If we don’t handle our differences in a healthy way, they can harden into divisions.

The early church in Jerusalem was growing when a dispute arose that broke along a cultural fault line. The Greek-speaking Jews (the Hellenists) had a complaint against those Jews who spoke Aramaic. The Hellenist widows “were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1). So the apostles said, “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). The seven chosen all had Greek names (v. 5). In other words, they were Hellenists, members of the group being neglected. They best understood the problem. The apostles prayed over them and the church thrived (vv. 6–7).

Growth brings challenges, in part because it increases interactions across traditional barriers. But as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we’ll find creative solutions as potential problems turn into opportunities for more growth.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Time flies when you’re having fun.” This cliché has no basis in fact, but experience makes it seem true.

When life is pleasant, time passes all too quickly. Give me a task that I enjoy, or a person whose company I love, and time seems irrelevant.

My experience of this “reality” has given me a new understanding of the scene described in Revelation 4. In the past, when I considered the four living creatures seated around God’s throne who keep repeating the same few words, I thought, What a boring existence!

I don’t think that anymore. I think about the scenes they have witnessed with their many eyes (v. 8). I consider the view they have from their position around God’s throne (v. 6). I think of how amazed they are at God’s wise and loving involvement with wayward earthlings. Then I think, What better response could there be? What else is there to say but, “Holy, holy, holy”?

Is it boring to say the same words over and over? Not when you’re in the presence of the one you love. Not when you’re doing exactly what you were designed to do. 

Like the four creatures, we were designed to glorify God. Our lives will never be boring if we’re focusing our attention on Him and fulfilling that purpose. 

God of Life

A few winters ago, my hometown experienced an unusually long blast of bone-chilling temperatures that finally gave way to the warmer weather of spring. For two weeks straight, the outside thermometer dipped well below the sub-zero degree mark (-15 C; 5 F).

On one particularly bitter cold morning, the sound of chirping birds broke the silence of night. Dozens, if not hundreds, sang their hearts out. If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn the little creatures were crying out to their Creator to please warm things up!

Bird experts tell us that the multitude of birdsongs we hear during late winter mornings are mostly male birds, attempting to attract mates and claim their territories. Their chirping reminded me that God fine-tuned His creation to sustain and flourish life—because He is a God of life!

In a Psalm that marvels at God’s flourishing earth, the author begins, “Let all that I am praise the Lord” (Psalm 104:1 nlt). He went on to write, “The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches” (v. 12).

From singing and nesting birds to a vast ocean “teeming with creatures beyond number” (v. 25), we see reasons to praise the Creator for the lengths He’s gone to ensure that all of life thrives.

Pursuing Unity

Growing up during the 1950s, I never questioned racism and the segregation practices that permeated daily life in the city where we lived. In schools, restaurants, public transportation, and neighborhoods, people with different shades of skin color were separated.

My attitude changed in 1968 when I entered US Army Basic Training. Our company included young men from many different cultural groups. We soon learned that we needed to understand and accept each other, work together, and accomplish our mission.

When Paul wrote to the first-century church at Colossae, he was well aware of the diversity of its members. He reminded them, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In a group where surface as well as deeper differences could easily divide people, Paul urged them to “clothe [themselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12). And over all these virtues, he told them to put on love “which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).

Putting these principles into practice may often be a work in progress, but that is what Jesus calls us to. What we as believers hold in common is our love for Him. On that basis, we pursue understanding, peace, and unity as members of the body of Christ.

Amid all our wonderful diversity, we pursue an even greater unity in Christ.

The Gift of the Magi

A young married couple had more love than money. As Christmas neared, both struggled to find a gift that would show how much they cared for the other. Finally, on Christmas Eve, Della sold her long, knee-length hair to buy Jim a platinum chain for the watch he’d inherited from his father and grandfather. Jim, however, had just sold the watch to buy a set of expensive combs for Della’s hair.

Author O. Henry called the couple’s story The Gift of the Magi. His creation suggests that even though their gifts became useless and may have caused them to look foolish on Christmas morning, their love made them among the wisest of those who give gifts.

The wise men of the first Christmas story also could have looked foolish to some as they arrived in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). They weren’t Jewish. They were outsiders, Gentiles, who didn’t realize how much they would disturb the peace of Jerusalem by asking about a newly born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).

As with Jim and Della’s experience, the Magi’s plans didn’t turn out the way they expected. But they gave what money cannot buy. They came with gifts, but then bowed to worship One who would ultimately make the greatest of all loving sacrifices for them—and for us.

Breathtaking Glory

One of the pleasures of a trip to Europe is visiting the grand cathedrals that dot the landscape. They are breathtakingly beautiful as they soar toward the heavens. The architecture, art, and symbolism found in these amazing buildings present a spellbinding experience of wonder and magnificence.

As I thought about the fact that these structures were built to reflect God’s magnificence and His all-surpassing splendor, I wondered how we could possibly recapture in our hearts and minds a similar feeling of God’s grandeur and be reminded again of His greatness.

One way we can do that is to look beyond man’s grand, regal structures and contemplate the greatness of what God himself has created. Take one look at a starry night sky and think of God’s power as He spoke the universe into existence. Hold a newborn baby in your arms and thank God for the miracle of life itself. Look at the snow-covered mountains of Alaska or the majestic Atlantic Ocean teeming with millions of God-designed creatures and imagine the power that makes that ecosystem work.

Mankind is not wrong to reach for the sky with structures that are intended to point us to God. But our truest admiration should be reserved for God himself as we say to Him, “yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor” (1 Chronicles 29:11).