The New Commandment

Most Christians are oh-so-familiar with Jesus’ familiar words about the first227062-20140710 and second greatest commandments, a teaching that occurred during His final week in Jerusalem, just days before the crucifixion:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV)

It is a beloved passage, one that many of us have taken very seriously. But how often have we considered Jesus’ new commandment, which was given a few days later on the eve of His crucifixion as He met in the upper room with the disciples?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

As I read this passage a couple of weeks ago, late on the Thursday night before Good Friday, I was struck by how many times I’ve seen or heard it—probably hundreds over the years—but have not really pondered very deeply its significance. This new commandment far exceeds what He had spoken about previously! This commandment is to love as He loves, but how often do I/we fall terribly short of that goal? His perfect love is the mark for which we must aim and the Love Chapter, as it is often called, provides a good ‘recipe’ for love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV)

Did you get that? God’s model of love is patient and kind, never jealous or boastful or proud or rude, doesn’t keep track of the offenses of others, is not happy about the wrongs of others and is very happy when truth prevails. But that’s not all; love never gives up or loses faith in others, it is always hopeful and endures hardships, and it also lasts forever. I believe that this example is only reflective of where Jesus’ love for us begins, because He was also willing to suffer and die for our sins. Anticipating his death the following day, he went on to say:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

The thing is though, Jesus wasn’t just another everyday hero; you know, the kind we see on the news when a brave soldier saves others at the cost of his/her own life; or, as just happened this week, when a heroic lady at the Jewish synagogue shooting in Poway, CA threw herself into the line of fire, saving the life of her Rabbi and dying as a result. Yes, our everyday heroes do lay down their lives for their friends and that is a great love indeed, but Jesus took it a big step farther. When he willingly went to the cross, he took upon himself the punishment that was due to each of us for our sins; He died not to save our physical lives so we could thrive for a few more years on earth, but to make eternal life with God possible. Eternal life—that means unending life, living happily-ever-after forever and ever and ever—and that’s a whole lot more that anyone’s natural lifespan by a very long shot!

Considering Jesus’ new commandment to love as He had loved, I have to think that the love we think we have for others often leaves much to be desired. As we endeavor to become conformed to His image, we would do well to remember the last phrase of 1 Corinthians 13, …but the greatest of these is love. After all, this is how the world will recognize us as His disciples.

Storms of Life

20180416_100328_1523899731218The old idiom that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb didn’t quite hold true in the Midwest this year, as is well illustrated in a message from a friend in Minnesota in mid-April: “Today’s Spring blizzard is reminiscent of the delicious winter blizzards of my youth that caused school cancellations (public libraries are closed today because of storm—a small nod to the school closing ‘cheers’ of my childhood). The wind is angry, and pounds in bursts that nearly knock you over; snows whirl in madness; snow-downfall can be measured in inches per minute, and drifting creates splendid art forms that no human hand can rival; visibility is measured in feet, wind chill effect on temperature is surprising, and it’s all better looked at than felt!  I suppose, all in all, it is an exciting farewell to winter.”

I’ve rarely experienced such a snow storm, but can clearly remember the historic Christmas flood of 1964. Today there are markings on trees and buildings of how high the water got, and it boggles the imagination. All roads into Humboldt County were cut off and the sky was full of helicopters doing all the things that helicopters do when there’s no other way in or out. We lived about half a mile from the Mad River, fortunately on the uphill side. This very angry river was often reduced to a trickle during the summer when it would only reach to our ankles as we waded across. But looking out over it that Christmas, all of the surrounding dairy and farmlands were totally under water for miles, with the tops of houses or barns peeking out of the water here and there.

The upside for us kids during what came to be known as a thousand-year flood, was that since there was no reception from any of the 3 incoming television networks (totally laughable now!), the local station played old movies nonstop. Since we couldn’t go outside in the rain and were on Christmas vacation anyway, Mom let us sit there and watch them for hours on end, an unheard-of treat. What else was she going to do in a house bursting at the seams with five bored kids in those day that were pre-computer, pre-smartphone and pre-electronic games? I loved it!!! Finally, when we could go back outside, there was a huge pond in the woods across from our house and someone built a raft that we paddled around for weeks, often falling off and getting soaked, but such fun!

It was pretty exciting to be in the midst of this big, terrible storm, but I had little comprehension of the impact of grief and despair it was having on many other people because we were safe and warm, and I had not yet experienced anything so tragic in my own life.

I still have some local newspapers that my mom saved, and looking through them on occasion reminds me of the widespread devastation. By the end of January 1965, about 200,000 square miles had been affected in parts of Oregon, Idaho, California, Washington and Nevada, 47 people had died, and thousands were left homeless. In our area near the mouth of the Mad River, the river not only met the ocean but also reached over to join with Humboldt Bay, causing a whole peninsula to become an island. Hundreds of dead cattle floated out to sea along with innumerable logs and stacks of lumber from the many sawmills the area, and the beaches were left with piles of wood and trash where the mighty waves of the Pacific deposited much of that which was lost. Aside from the physical and emotional trauma that cannot be measured, the price tag of about $540 million would equate to around $3.9 billion now.

Planted by the Rivers of WaterToday, if one is traveling through the scenic Avenue of the Giants a stop at the Immortal Tree will show the incredible contrast of a gorgeous little creek flowing behind the tree and a high-water marker on the front—mind boggling! IMG_2023

 

 

Perhaps my youthful lack of sensitivity to the vast reaches of destruction all around me are representative of the ‘it-can’t-hurt-me’ philosophy of so many today in regard to what the Day of the Lord will look like when Jesus returns:

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it. (Isaiah 13:9)

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)

The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

I will bring distress on mankind,
    so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung. (Zephaniah 1:14-18)

 

I pray that many will choose the safety that will belong to those who have chosen Jesus, for we will not have to endure His holy outpouring of judgment against His enemies that far, far exceeds anything as small as an April blizzard or a thousand-year flood.

...so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:7-8

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40)

 

California: The State of the State

untitledBorn and raised in Humboldt County in the midst of the majestic redwoods of Northern CA, and living in the desert of South Orange County, I have a lifetime of roots planted throughout our wonderful state; and I have faith that God will bring it back to Him. About 17 years ago, He had me highlight every road on a CA map that I had traveled, assured me that this was my ‘promised land’, and He was on the move.

Why is our state so ‘blue’? Why do we have such unrighteous leadership? It’s simple, really; once we stand up for God and begin to move in faith, we will be a threat to the enemy’s influence on the rest of the nation and the world. The battle here isn’t between liberals and conservatives; it’s Christians against that which is unseen. Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

CA has been home to some of the biggest moves of God in history, not the least of which was Azusa Street and the Jesus Movement. So think about that for a moment: Azusa Street was birthed in Los Angeles, and the Jesus People came straight out of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. See any parallels between that and the two biggest bastions of liberalism in the state today?

So what happened? Compromise! The church got all happy and full of God, but quickly turned away and compromised with the world, choosing to please man instead of God.

So what’s needed? Repentance! And not just on the part of the ‘sinners’ either, because many in the Church are right there at the top of that list. The Church Body in CA must repent of aligning with the world, of accepting such abominations into our fellowships as homosexuality, abortion, and co-habitation outside of marriage. The Church Body must repent of a multitude of sins that seem OK because ‘everybody else does it’; from the big ones just mentioned right down to the ‘little ones of ‘stretching the truth’ for personal gain, pride, self-sufficiency, and the list goes on. When the Church in CA repents, the spiritual earthquake that will occur will cause any physical earthquake we might experience here to pale in comparison!

We who live in CA can choose to focus on all of the evil that surrounds us, or we can shift our gaze a bit and focus on God, which will make all the difference in the world. We need to dive deep into Lamentations 3 and let God show us His way. He is our Hope. The thing is though, we must clean our own house before we can revolutionize our state. Lamentations 3:40-45:

Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
“We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.
“You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
killing without pity;
you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us scum and garbage
among the peoples.

Fear Not

FEAR NOT PIC

I’ve often written about fear, but it seems to be on the Lord’s mind this morning so here we go again. If a lesson can be repeated over and over in the Bible, I guess it’s not redundant if I do the same.

As anyone who has paid attention to the news lately will know, fear is rampant throughout the world. The latest international incident motivating fear was the attacks against women that occurred in Germany and throughout a number of other European countries on New Years Eve. Nationally, it’s the story of a police officer in Philadelphia whose assailant walked right up to the window of the patrol car and blasted away, critically wounding him. As I watched a news program last night, I lost count of the number of times someone said, “I’m afraid,” “Should we be afraid?” or “You/we should be afraid.” But I’m here to say, NO, we shouldn’t.

Fear is NOT God’s plan for His people, as He made clear to me once again this morning. Currently, I’m reading in Genesis, Isaiah, and Matthew, which obviously covers a pretty broad span of time, yet God’s message never changes, so just from my devotional time this morning without considering the hundreds of other biblical references to ‘fear’ or ‘afraid’ (do a word search, and you’ll be reading for hours!):

And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Isaiah 8:11-13

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced. Isaiah 54:4a

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

Jesus is the antidote for our hopelessness and fears, whether they are phony or based on very real threats, such as the terrorism that is rampant throughout our world. Fear not, for I am with you says the Lord!

A New Year’s Prayer

2016On December 31, 2015, New Year’s Eve, I awoke from a vivid dream in which I’d been surrounded by others at the sort of conference center that one might find in a nice hotel. A pianist was playing nice background music from the lobby, catching my attention as she began to play a familiar tune. As I began to sing, many others joined in:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand behind her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains, to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home

I’d sung the words as a heartfelt prayer, with my eyes closed. When I opened them there was a nice looking man standing next to me who I believe was the Lord, and He encouraged me to keep on singing. Today, as I welcomed 2016 during my quiet time, He directed me to Psalm 100 and Psalm 101:1:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.

May 2016 be a year in which we, His people, seek Him above all else and joyfully sing His praises, for:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

May God bless all who read this, whether you are in America or in any other nation on earth, for He is there. May 2016 be a year in which you encounter Him  and His sufficiency, His grace, and His mercy in every aspect of your life.

I AM, I SAID!

I AM

The day was moving on, and looking at the time I was a bit startled to see that it was 12:12 on 12/12. Asking myself, “If this was a dream, what would it mean?” I began to ponder, and wrote in my journal:

12 means divine government as well as fullness, so perhaps 12:12 on 12/12 is God’s way of emphasizing His plans and purposes for this time, doubling and re-doubling the 12s. Also, 4 can mean God’s creative works or seasons, and there are 4 seasons, so 4 12s could mean a fullness of seasons. Could this be about the fullness of time, as when Jesus first came?

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son. Galatians 4:7

As we look toward the fullness of time for Jesus’ return, what shall we see in terms of divine government? Scripture is clear about the difficulties of end times, the terror of the Day of the Lord, and the implementation of Jesus divine government throughout the earth; but what does that look like for us now? Much has been prophesied in recent days about the dual escalation of righteousness and evil, and we long for the tremendous outpouring of His Spirit that has been promised, but when will it appear?

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Acts 2:17

As I finished writing the questions above, I immediately heard the incredible voice of Neil Diamond crying out, “I am, I said!”  That’s all—just those words and not the rest of the song, the lyrics of which portray a sorrowful, hopeless, lonely plea for meaning or relevance. I knew immediately that God was emphasizing His truth, telling me to heed what He said:

God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty… Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades…Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star…Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 1:8,17,18; 22:12-13,16,20

Simply from a logical perspective, God’s fullness of time for Jesus’ second coming is closer than ever before; but given the signs of the times of which He warned in Matthew 24, I believe His return is imminent, probably within the lifetime of many who are alive today. The hourglass of time is quickly running out, and it is more important than ever to realize that and decide for Christ:


Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served…and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14-15

Sing!

Sing!

I am honored to introduce “SING!” by my friend, Paul Knight, who is a music producer in London, England.  As a vocal coach for over thirty years and, as a consultant, senior lecturer and vocal coach, he knows exactly how singers should be keeping their voice in perfect condition. This is a tool I wish I’d had in days gone by when I sang with a Sweet Adelines Chorus, as we warmed up to practice or perform.  Whether one is an amateur or professional, this is a wonderful resource.  Below are some scriptures about singing to the Lord, some of Paul’s insights about singing, and a description of the product as well as links:

Psalm 33:1
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones;

Psalm 96:1-2
Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

Psalm 9:11
Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.

Psalm 104:33
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

Psalm 89:1
I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever; To all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth.

Revelation 15:3-4
And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

Singing is an important part of our identity. Without it we are not complete. The scriptures tell us to sing to the Lord – because He loves the sound of our voices. After all – He created them!

As we sing, we change atmospheres. The singers were sent out first into battle. Singing is for everyone. Not for a few special people. It releases the ‘feel good’ chemicals. It necessitates deeper breathing which is a stress reducer. Singing gets more oxygen into the blood for better circulation. The benefits are amazing – and God knew that. It soothes you and elevates your spirit.

The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness. Singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out. It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed. Even if you walked into rehearsal exhausted and depressed, by the end of the night you’ll walk out high as a kite on endorphins and good will.

So how many of us are ashamed of our singing voice? Or have been told to be quiet, or to sit at the back and mime? All clever attacks on the voice, which diminish us from being fully who we are.

Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Ephesians 5:18-19: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”

We are commanded to sing. When we sing – we are obeying God. We dig deeply in to the Word of God. It dwells in us richly. We build up others, and we glorify God. It couldn’t be better.

Sing! is a series of exercises which is used by singers of all abilities. The exercises build confidence, strength, and explain clearly how to connect to your voice and let it soar.

It comes complete with a download card so you can have all the exercises on your ipad, computer or phone. Each exercise is exampled by two professional West End singers, Michael Rouse and Lizzie Dean. These exercises have been compiled by Paul Knight who has over thirty years experience of releasing voices, specifically the voices of those who believe they cannot sing.

These exercises are gentle, but help place the voice where it should be, and build gradually into a complete workout for the voice and the engine room of the diaphragm.

Each exercise is clearly explained and demonstrated.
Each exercise covers all ranges.

Sing! is available online. In the UK use MusicRoom.com and Amazon.co.uk
In North America use use Boosey.com and Amazon.com

Remember it is good for you to be heard…..Sing!