Friday, July 29, 2011

The Danger of Praise

PRINCIPLE: “When singing praises, look up.”

Last week I mentioned that I once worked for a furniture store. I once received permission from the owner to borrow the store truck to move some furniture from my in-laws home to ours. I hopped in the truck and headed down the street to their home, and since it had been a good day I was softly singing praises as I drove. Still singing I turned into and headed up their driveway – only to run into a low overhanging roof that stopped the truck dead and punctured a hole in the truck’s box. Not cool!

I thought about the incident recently and it occurred to me that the problem was not necessarily my singing praises – it was the location of me eyes while I was singing. The singing led me to be far too casual and therefore to lose the concentration one should have when driving. In fact, if I had looked up just once as I entered the new territory of the driveway, I would have been okay. But getting lost in praise led me to lose perspective.

Singing praises, therefore, can be a problem. Far too often we are more focused on the act of praising than we are on whom we’re praising. So “When singing praises, look up.” Only when we look up do we see the focus of our praise and avoid catastrophes. We might be praising another person – not bad in itself – but shouldn’t our real praise be for the God who created that person and brought him or her into our lives? “When singing praises, look up.” We might be praising some beautiful scenery – but shouldn’t our real praise be for the God who created that scenery? “When singing praises, look up.” Sometimes we even end up praising ourselves – then it’s really true: “When singing praises, look up.” Or it’s possible we’re singing in church or elsewhere and are sincerely praising the Lord, so much so that we get lost in the act, emotions, and mechanics of praising – only to lose sight of the Lord we ae are working so hard to  praise. So “When singing praises, look up.”

Catch the spirit of the Psalmist (103): “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly…The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him… But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! ... Let all that I am praise the Lord.” He does not say how to praise – the accent is on whom to praise. I have a hunch that the Psalmist, when he sang God’s praises, looked not down at his feet but up to the heavens. “When singing praises, look up.”

Come to think of it, there is one time when it’s all right to get lost in praise. Charles Wesley captured it:[1]
“Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see They great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee: Changed from glory into glory, Till in heav’n we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise!” Then we won’t need to look up – we’ll be looking at Him face to face! But until then, “When singing praises, look up.”

[1] “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Making Sure

PRINCIPLE: “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

While in seminary I worked part-time at a wonderful furniture store. Often I made deliveries. But I did spend time on the floor helping customers – especially on weekends when traffic was heavier. I enjoyed the people contact, but was always a little uneasy because I wasn’t really a furniture expert or salesman. I had no problems answering questions about smaller items, like lamps or small end tables (or candles or candy from the little gift shop that was part of the store). But when it came to bigger ticket items - like couches, bedroom suites, grandfather clocks – I didn’t feel real adequate. I didn’t know enough to answer all their questions, which of course, was necessary in making sales. So I would greet customers and offer to help, and would do so until such a question arose. Then I would politely tell them the owner would meet with them as soon as he was free. That’s when I began to believe in the simple principle “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

Now, many years later, I realize this is an important principle for life as well. So many times I do not have an answer for a question, or advice for a problem, or direction for a situation. I have learned, the hard way, that “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.” If I’m driving a rental car and it has a problem, I call the owner – They own the car and it’s their decision that counts. If the plumber finds a problem with our drain, before he fixes it he gives us the information and asks us if we want him to proceed.  As the owners, it’s our responsibility to make the call. That’s why Paul wrote that “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) When faced with a question, or a problem, or a situation it is only wise to check with the owner so we can do what He wants us to do. Wise obedience is the only way to be sure and right.

But while it’s possible that an owner knows little about his possession (I own some things I know little about!) Paul is talking about an owner knows what He has. Consider Paul’s frame of reference – certainly he knew the Psalmist’s words (139:13-16 MSG):“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.” Our owner is our creator! He knows us inside and out. Her knows what makes us tick. He knows what it takes for us to be whole and healthy. He knows what brings us into peace. And He loves us so deeply that when we were lost He paid the price to purchase us back. And He so deeply desires that we live in wholeness and health that He wants us to check in with him. “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

Perhaps you’re wrestling with a question. Or maybe you’re struggling to solve a problem. Possibly you’re searching for direction. “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.” It’s the wisest choice you can make. This might be the best reason when waking up each morning to declare, I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

Remember Your Pin

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”

The van was new, just a few weeks old. It was an Econoline Van, perfect for our family of five, for anticipated years of hauling stuff to and from the college campus, and for pulling our camping trailer. We were loving it. Early one Sunday morning I drove up 131 from Kentwood (where we lived) to our church near downtown Grand Rapids – a trip I made numerous times each week. I pulled into the parking lot of the church and started to back into a parking space. I turned the steering wheel to straighten in between the lines and nothing happened. In fact, the steering wheel just kept going round and round. It was impossible to turn. I just backed in as best I could and went about the business of Sunday morning. After church I rode home with Barb in our other car. Monday I called the car dealership and the van was towed for repair.

The verdict? One of the main pins that held the steering column to the axles was missing. In fact, it appeared it had never been put in – which means we had been driving it around all those weeks with no pin. It was a miracle things held together all those miles on the highway in the middle of rush hour. It made for some scary thoughts as we considered all the possible scenarios of what could have happened. We were convinced that with the pin gone, God held it all together. He was the pin.

I realize now that God was teaching us a lesson: “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.” I shudder to think how many times in my life I went round and round and getting nowhere. If only I had stopped and remembered my pin, the One who holds it all together. The apostle Paul put it poignantly in Colossians 1:16-17. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus Christ is the pin that holds everything together. Only in Him can I steer safely through life. So “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”

I invite you today to pray. “Lord Jesus Christ, it is important that we focus on you, for our lives spring from and revolve around You. This is good because in You all things hold together.
Sometimes we feel our personal world and life is falling apart – but in You all things hold together. You work all things together for good for those who love You.
Sometimes we feel lost, confused by all the directions and lures of the world around us – but in You all things hold together. You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Sometimes we feel all alone - but in You all things hold together. You have promised that You will never leave us or forsake; You will not leaves us as orphans.
Sometimes we hurriedly go round and round, getting nowhere fast. But in You all things hold together. You are the pin that keeps the steering wheel of our lives intact and functioning correctly and safely.
Sometimes we feel unloved - but in You all things hold together. You so loved us that You died for us.
Sometimes we feel abused - but in You all things hold together. For our sakes you were despised and rejected.
Sometimes we are ill, in body, mind, or soul - but in You all things hold together. By your stripes we have been healed.
Thank you, Lord, for pinning my life together. Amen.”

“When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”