Focus on Jesus

Happy December! I trust you had a great Thanksgiving and are continuing to count your blessings. There are some things trying to bring me down right now but I am still very blessed. I know the enemy is just trying to make me lose sight of that. One problem with writing is that I am often tested on the very things I write about, but this does not make the words less true.

I know many people deal with depression this time of year. If you are one of those, I want to encourage you to fill your mind with things that are pure, true, lovely, of good report, etc.  It is easy to lose sight of those things, but it is often when we take our eyes off of Jesus and everything He has done for us that the weight of the world begins to overwhelm. Sometimes feelings of oppression, anxiety, etc. are simply reminders to draw near to Him. I definitely feel the difference when I allow the busyness of life to keep me from quality time with my Father. I hate that feeling, so I make more effort to stay close to Him.

Even now, I feel my Savior calling me to spend some time with Him while it’s quiet. Therefore, I must go, but I will write again soon. Be blessed, dear Brothers and Sisters, and remember that it will be worth it all.

Love Thy Neighbor

The pastor commented yesterday on how he had more friends when he was in the world than he did in the church. I remember an unsaved friend telling me the same thing. She preferred hanging out with prostitutes and people who did drugs, because they were “loving and accepting.”

I realize that is a cop out, but there is some truth to that. Unbelievers often treat their “friends” better than Christians do. It seems we forget the greatest commandment: love.

I feel bad that “What would Jesus do?” was a fad, because that is a question we should ask ourselves. Are we responding to others the way Jesus would?

I am not of the belief that Christians should not “judge,” but there is a difference between acknowledging that someone is sinning and actually being judgmental.  As humans, it is easy to look down upon those living in sin instead of realizing that, but for the grace of God, that could be me! Even in the Church, people tend to gossip about others instead of going to them and challenging them to keep walking with God. This is not really love for others. It is more focusing on others’ sin in order to get the focus off of your own.

God did not save you because you are a good person. If you are truly saved, it is more than likely because you saw your need and knew that you were wretched without God. Don’t lose sight of that. No one is hopeless, but I believe many have been turned off due to the lack of love they see in those who claim to love God. As John asks us, though, how can we love God when we don’t love our Brothers and Sisters (1 John 4:20)? And I would add, how can we love God when we don’t love everyone that He died to save?

True love is carrying a burden for those who are hell bound. It is interceding for them and being willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus when necessary. There are a lot of hard hearts in the world, but I’m convinced that there are still many who will respond to love.

Love is also seeing the needs of your Brothers and Sisters and looking for ways to lift their burdens. It’s taking time to listen to their struggles when you would rather be doing anything else.

I work with Christians, so I am not around unbelievers that much. I am also not good with words, except on paper, so I struggle to walk up to someone I don’t know and begin a conversation. But I hope I am never too busy to share a kind word or a smile, to recognize a need when there is one and be willing to fill that need. I pray that, every time I walk out my door, people see Jesus in me. This time of year, especially, people are hurting, and they need hope. Don’t neglect to show God’s love wherever He opens the door for you to do so.

I also hope I am never too busy or preoccupied with my own struggles to be available for a Brother or Sister in need. Jesus was constantly giving, and we need to be willing to do so too.

A Note of Encouragement for Pastors

I don’t know how many pastors read my blog but, if you are a pastor who is discouraged, I hope this will help to lift your spirits. If your pastor is down right now, feel free to share this with him. Even if he’s not down, this may provide the extra lift he needs.

I have several friends who are pastors, and at least one is very discouraged with the state of the Church. Unfortunately, many attend church because it’s what they do on Sunday morning, but they are not there to hear a word from the Lord. In fact, if God really showed up, I expect some would get up and leave. Gone are the days of growing and repenting and crying out, “Search me, O God!” People simply want a peppy worship service, with a feel-good message afterward, so they can then go back home and live their comfortable life.

Some pastors probably are fine with this, as they want the same thing, but I know there are some whose heart is toward the Lord, who desire His will above all else, who wonder if anyone hears a word they say week after week. It seems, many times, a congregation will not tell a pastor what a blessing his messages are (even if they think so), but he will definitely hear about it if he preaches too long, gets too excited, doesn’t get excited enough, etc. Let me just remind you that your job is to preach the Word. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to change hearts. It’s possible, though, that you can help that change come about through prayer and crying out to God for it. It is not the time to be discouraged. Faithful is He who called you, and HE will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24). If you know that you are where God put you, you must trust that He has a plan. Your job is simply to be faithful.

I know you already know this, but let me remind you that success in God’s eyes is not measured by numbers, wealth, or any such thing. God is looking for people who will speak the word He gives them to speak whether people want to hear it or not. He wants bold men and women who will say, “Here am I. Send me. It doesn’t matter if anyone makes fun of me, criticizes me, etc. As long as I know You are pleased with me, that’s all that matters.”

You may never see results this side of Heaven but, one day, when you finally get Home, you will hear your Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” At that moment, all the struggles and frustrations you had while on earth won’t matter. It will finally be worth it all.

Pass Me Not

Pass me not, O gentle Savior
Hear my humble cry
While on others Thou art calling
Do not pass me by

As I sing this song this evening, I have a picture of Bartimaeus sitting by the side of the road crying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” It is so rare that I hear that kind of desperation in people’s prayers today. Especially when praying for others, I tend to hear monotone prayers, with words such as “Lord, be with _____ as he (or she) goes through surgery,” “Save _____,” “Be with us this coming week,” etc. Rarely do I hear people literally crying out to God, “Please save my loved ones. Don’t let them perish. Show me if there is anything I can do or say to help them find you.” Prayer should be more than a daily or weekly ritual; it should be a time when we enter God’s presence and present our petitions, knowing that He hears and expecting that He will answer as we pray in accordance with His will.

There are times I pray for a loved one, and I am not sure what God’s will is. This is especially true when a friend has a terminal sickness. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God can heal, even from Stage 4 cancer, but I also know He often doesn’t. During these times, I will still pray for healing until I am convinced that that is not His will. Then I pray for strength for the family to walk through the difficult time ahead.

God is not obligated to answer every prayer. I know that. But He has told me to ask, so ask I do. And I ask in faith, knowing that He hears me and that He will do what’s best for me and my loved ones.

Right now, I have a friend who deals with a lot of pain and sleepless nights. I am praying for His healing but I also know that God’s strength is made perfect through weakness. If God chooses not to heal my friend, He will use the pain to make my friend stronger and draw my friend closer to Him. Although we often refuse to look at it this way, pain with God close by is far better than a youthful body that lives apart from God.

In closing tonight, I just want to remind you that Jesus is very near. Present your needs to Him as if He is sitting or standing beside you, because He is. Then, when you’ve presented your requests, take some time to listen. At the very least, you may feel His peace and His presence, but you might even hear His voice as He speaks comfort or gives you direction. Then be sure to thank Him for not passing you by. He is such a good God. I’m so thankful to know Him.

Draw Me Nearer

I am Thine, O Lord
I have heard Thy voice
And it told Thy love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee

You have not experienced love until you’ve known the love of Jesus. Human love pales in comparison to the One who never sleeps nor slumbers. He is not moody but is available to listen any time, day or night. If you can even grasp a little of just how much Yahweh loves you, it should make you want to please Him in everything you do.

I was born in the 1970s, and some of the songs of that era have been running through my head lately. Songs of love for God and for each other. But I also think of songs like:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free

When I think about the deep love of Jesus, I am ready to run into His arms, but then I remember that sin cannot dwell in His presence. What to do! My pride could keep me from Him as I determine to do better so that He will accept me but, alas, no matter what I do, I will never be good enough. The solution then is to humble myself, fall at His feet, confess my sins and my struggles, and turn them over to Him to get rid of for me and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

Oh, the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole

What a relief! I never knew I could experience such joy! Why didn’t I surrender sooner? I can’t think of one good reason.

You see, sometimes life is hard because we make it that way. We “look for love in all the wrong places” as the old song says, when we should be looking to God to fill the voids in our lives. Every once in a while, life gets hectic, and I neglect to spend much time with Him, and I feel the difference. Not always right away but there comes a point when everything is “off,” and I realize I have not stayed as close to the Shepherd as I should have. Thankfully, He is always there to welcome me back. He just wants me to understand that, without Him, my life would be empty. I remember life before really knowing God, and there is no way I desire to return. That’s why I sing:

Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord to the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to Thy precious bleeding side

CD Review: Come on Aboard! (Buddy Davis)

Many know Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, or the Creation Museum but fewer know the name, Buddy Davis. My nieces and nephews are huge Buddy Davis fans. When my nephew was four, he would go around singing, “God created me to be a swamp man.” When I asked where he learned that, he said, “Buddy Davis.” (Of course.)

Mr. Davis has written a lot of songs for children, and this CD has twelve of those songs on it. Through these songs, children learn the Books of the Bible, memorize Genesis 1:27 and John 3:16, get a picture of what it may have been like to clean the animals’ stalls on the Ark, and dance around while singing, I Don’t Believe in Evolution. They will also learn The Ten Commandments and are told God Loves You Just the Way That You Are. Each song is catchy yet has a good message.

Other songs include Noah’s Ark Blues, We’re Created in the Image of God, We Hold Our Breath and We Pinch Our Nose, The Rain is Coming Down, The Unicorns Went Poof, and Tower of Babel.

Thinking of Faye Speer

I awoke this morning to hear that one of the classiest ladies in Southern Gospel Music, Faye Speer, passed away early this morning. My mind instantly went back to the only time I saw The Speer Family in concert, which was right before they retired. Brock was obviously not feeling well, and Faye talked about how their family is not immune to hard things but God is always there. I was impressed with the strength she exhibited, even though it had to be a very difficult season for her.

One of the earliest songs I remember hearing from The Speer Family was “He’s Ever Interceding.” I also liked the way Faye sang, “Look me in the heart and tell me there’s no saving grace.” She had a great alto voice with good control.

She will be missed but I know she is happy to be rid of pain and death, to finally see the face of the One who was ever interceding for her while she lived on earth.

 

Victory Is Ahead

Most of those who know me will be surprised to know that I have dealt with periods of depression the last five years or so like I’ve never felt before. It is a struggle to get out of bed some days and yet I have a work to do which requires me to keep fighting.

The Christian life is not always easy. I’ve seen people who “try Jesus” walk away, never to return. The writer of Hebrews explains why when he says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Brothers and Sisters, if you name the name of Christ, quitting is not an option. Many quit every day. Hopelessness takes over until some end up taking their own lives. Where is the victory that comes to those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior?

I think many try Jesus like they try on clothes. If He doesn’t fit their lifestyle, He gets put on the shelf until a crisis occurs. Then He gets blamed for not caring when He doesn’t answer. God does care, but He is not obligated to answer the prayers of those who just want to use Him. James 5:16 says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much.” Are you righteous, or is there a hidden sin that you’re hoping God will overlook and answer your prayer anyway? Maybe that sin is simply living for self but wanting God on the side. You cannot serve two masters.

I’ve derailed slightly, as I want this to be encouraging to those who are discouraged but, before you can be encouraged, you need to examine your heart as to whether or not you are truly in the faith. Is there any area of your life that you have not surrendered to God? If not, then I want to encourage you to keep pressing on and don’t give up. Your answer will come. If life were too easy, we would not need God. Our depression, discouragement, etc. reminds us of what life is like without Him: hopeless. Don’t give in to those feelings. Praise Him when you don’t feel like it. Intercede for others. Get your mind off of yourself and your problems. Learn to be content wherever God has you. Don’t envy others. God’s plan for you is good and not evil, and He will complete His good work in you if you are diligent to fight the good fight. Be encouraged today, dear friends. There is victory ahead!

NQC 2015 Highlights: Day 6

The last night of the National Quartet Convention was the best yet. The Jim Brady Trio kicked off the evening once again.

The Bowling Sisters did a splendid job on “If That Isn’t Love.” It was neat seeing Mike and Kelly Bowling get blessed as they watched their girls harmonize on that song.

Greater Vision did all requests which included: “I Know a Man Who Can,” “Put Out the Fire,” “Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is,” and “‘Til the Storm Passes By.” Gerald Wolfe cried as he sang this song, and I was crying along with Him. This is such a timely song for a lot of people.

Libbi Stuffle of The Perrys sang, “I Claim the Blood.” I cried during this song too, as I know this is even more meaningful to her now. I used to listen to Labreeska Hemphill sing this back in the 1980s so I was very happy to hear it again. Libbi did a great job. The Perrys’ message is not one of grief but of hope. It is summed up in the lyrics of their song which says, “Keep on. Be brave. Hold fast. Have faith. Pray hard. Fear not. Stay strong. Keep on.”

Karen Peck and New River sang, “We Shall Wear a Crown” with The Whisnants, Devin McGlamery, and Eric Bennett. I still enjoy hearing that song. It was fun watching Ricky Braddy, as he obviously loves it too.

The evening ended with different groups singing one of their number one songs. Songs sung are as follows:

The Whisnants: “I’ll Pray For You”
Mark Trammell Quartet: “That’s Enough For Me to Know”
Karen Peck and New River: “Four Days Late”
Triumphant Quartet: “Saved By Grace”
Greater Vision: “My Name Is Lazarus”
Ernie Haase and Signature Sound: “Get Away Jordan”

NQC 2015 Highlights: Day 5

What a week this has been. I have laughed and cried and praised each night. I will probably not have a chance to post tonight’s highlights until tomorrow or Monday but I want to take a moment now to thank each of you who have read what I consider to be some of the highlights of this year’s National Quartet Convention.

Yesterday, I watched Kim Collingsworth’s Majestic showcase. I confess I miss the days where there would be 6-8 piano players at a time but Kim invited Tim Parton and Stan Whitmire to play with her on some songs so that was nice. Kim mentioned that it was ten years ago that Roger Bennett first invited her to be a part of his Parade of Pianos. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.

One of Kim’s other guests was her nephew, Jesse. Kim told the story of how, when he was 2 1/2, he was diagnosed with retinal cancer. The doctor removed one eye and, in spite of trying hard to save the other eye, they ended up removing it when he was 4. It was a hard transition for him to go from seeing to being totally blind and he had a lot of anger. One day, when his anger was really bad, his mom prayed that God would heal Jesse’s heart. The next morning, he was able to tell people, “It’s OK. I’ll see in Heaven.” He then played “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on the piano and played and sang “Great is the measure of our Father’s love.” I’m sure there was not a dry eye in the place.

After that, Kim led the congregation in singing, “Jesus, We Just Want to Thank You” and “I Love You, Lord.” She mentioned that “Even in the midst of tragedy and when things don’t go our way, it doesn’t change God’s goodness.”

In the evening concert segment, Wilburn and Wilburn sang a song that was fitting since the shooting in Oregon the other day. It said, “God Wasn’t There … You Asked Him to Leave.” Stop and think about that one.

Riley Clark of Tribute Quartet did an excellent job on “Mary, Did You Know” with just the piano accompanying him. Then Tribute and the Talleys sang “Sweeter As the Days Go By,” each group singing their rendition and then joining together to sing the last chorus. Later, during the Talley’s set, Lauren Talley and Riley Clark sang “Our Prayer.” It was excellent!

The highlight of the Inspirations’ set was “Shouting Time.” Claude and Mike Hopper (who were hosting the show) joined them in singing at the end.

The Primitive Quartet did an instrumental of “He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need.” Jeff Tolbert was featured on the violin. The presence of the Lord was definitely there through that.

I don’t remember if I’d heard The Littles before, but they were good. One song they sang said, “We’ve just a few miles left to roam. We might as well make it on home.” I listened to it closely to make sure I knew what was being said. Sometimes life is hard and we don’t know how much more we can take, but it can be helpful to remember that we may have more years behind us than we do ahead of us. This is not the time to quit but to press on like never before.

Michael Booth said that a lot of people come up to him and tell him that singings is where they get close to Jesus. I can relate to that but he reminded people that, although music is great, and God uses music, it’s more important to read His Word. He challenged everyone to get into the Word and then listen to Gospel music.

Connie Hopper sang, “I’ve Come Too Far.” I love hearing her sing that.

The Dixie Echoes announced that Junior Shelton is leaving the group to spend more time with his grandchildren. They brought their new tenor on stage to sing a couple songs with them. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch his last name but I think he will do a good job.

The Kingdom Heirs brought the house down with “He Locked the Gates.” I was at the NQC where that was their new song. I loved it then and still love it now.

They ended the night with Jubilee (The Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, and Legacy Five). My favorite song they sang was the last one: “Beautiful Home.”

Claude Hopper had a stroke last month and has a hard time getting his words out at times but it hasn’t slowed him down. He is still doing what he loves: singing and telling stories. Thank You, Lord, for leaving him with us a bit longer.

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