Monday, September 30, 2013

Good As Gold

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have those who will bring offerings in righteousness.”  (Malachi 3:3) 

In the industrial world, being “refined” means having impurities or unwanted elements being removed by a certain type of process.  And so it is with spiritual’s allowing God to cleanse us from those things that hold us back from His be purged of encumbrances that prevent us from “Spirit and Truth” worship so that we can walk in holiness.  Hebrews 12:14 declares, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; for without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  “Lord, refine me by the power of Your Holy Spirit” should be the cry of every Christian’s heart.

I read recently where a silversmith explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the metal in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.  It is essential that he be completely attentive to the heat and intensity, as too much could destroy the silver and all would be lost.  And, as in many such procedures with other metals, the refining is complete when the silversmith can see his reflection in the metal.

What a great analogy for God’s process of refining us in preparation for His Kingdom.  At many points in our lives (if not continually,) we must all endure the Lord shaping and molding us into His image, and it is often a painful process... in fact, it seems that God’s purest form of cleansing us and preparing us for eternity is through the fires of affliction.  We cry for holiness in our worship, yet purity comes with a price.  God never said that we wouldn’t experience trials and difficulties. But, He does promise that He would be with us through adversity...through the fire.  Sometimes, our own sin can cause suffering; even hidden weaknesses caused by sin can come to our attention through our pain...but God can use that pain to cause us to turn to Him.

Just as the three men were thrown into the furnace, God was with them and they came out unharmed; yet, they had to “go through” the fire before the Lord could reveal Himself in that furnace.  When God puts you through the flames, you will not be consumed or burned, for He is there watching and completely focused on you. (Is 43:2) He sees the impurities being burned away, and just as the silversmith, He removes you from the fire when He sees His image in you. 

During the difficult times of your life, remember...the Great Silversmith has His eye on you, and will continue to watch and purify you until you are made in His image...then, in God’s eyes, we are “Good As Gold!”  

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship
of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in
our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  (C.S. Lewis)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sotto Voce Deo

Sotto Voce is an Italian expression which means to “speak under one's breath” or to speak confidentially…literally "under voice.” In music, the term refers to a dramatic lowering of the vocal or instrumental tone -- not necessarily whispered, but with a hushed quality translated as meaning "Soft Voice.”  Historically, God is known for speaking with a still, small voice; so, I’ve coined a new phrase that integrates music with scripture… “Sotto Voce Deo”… the “soft voice of God.”

Many will say that they have never heard the voice of God, yet He is ALWAYS speaking to us…we’re just not listening.  And sometimes, even when we’re listening, we don’t always recognize that it’s the Lord’s spirit speaking to us or directing our daily lives.

Over the years, I’ve had many ask me how to know when God is speaking to us.  Discerning His voice is not a special gift from Heaven, but rather, just taking the time to do so.  Taking time to listen, seek, read, absorb, experience, rest and wait. Sometimes He speaks so softly so that we have to lean in real close to hear Him.

In I Kings 19:11-12, the Lord spoke to Elijah and said, “Go stand on the mountain, for the Lord is about to pass by.  And then a mighty wind tore the mountains apart but the Lord wasn’t in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  Then suddenly, after the fire came a gentle whisper.”  This whisper was the voice of the Lord!  We often expect earth-shattering moments, smoke, mirrors, and pyrotechnics if God should speak to us, yet He seems to revel in that still, small voice. 

I have always believed (and experienced) that God speaks to us in a myriad of venues.... through the Word, Dreams, Visions, Music, Sermons, Circumstances, Events, Confirmations from others, Godly Counsel, Prayer, and even the Voice of God Himself.  Sometimes He whispers, and other times He hits us over the head with a brick.  I would rather hear the whisper! 

Many years ago, in the middle of the night, I woke up begging God, “Lord, I need to hear from you!”  And immediately I heard a quite, yet powerful voice speak the following statement to my heart:  “How do you expect to hear from someone you don’t know?”  It really shook me up when I heard this, so I opened up my Bible and researched passages on “knowing God.”  In John 10:14, 27, Jesus said, “"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  I realized immediately that I had not been obedient to what the Lord had asked me to do, and I understood why I had not heard from Him.  In other words, we listen and then obey.  And if we don’t obey what He has already directed, it is unlikely that we will hear His voice speak to us!     The sheep (believers) will hear the voice of the shepherd and then they will obey what they have heard.  This then becomes a perpetual promise… obey the Lord, and you will hear from Heaven!  Fresh bread daily!

There is a deep hunger innate in all of us to commune with God and hear His voice speak to our hearts.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  And that can happen as often as we are able to quiet our bodies, minds and spirits to “tune-in” to what He has to say.  However, let’s make sure we’ve already done what He has asked us to do so that there is no “break” in the flow of communication with Heaven!  And the best news of all…God wants to speak to us more than we want to listen! Sotto Voce Deo!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Times...They Are A' Changin'

Music is constantly changing, and how much more so with Christian music.  It’s been said that most churches don’t split over theological issues; rather, they split over worship styles.  What works in one congregation doesn’t necessarily carry over to the next.  Dr. James Dobson said that, without a doubt, the most controversial program they ever had in the history of “Focus on the Family” was about church music, because music styles are so personal.  No matter which church one attends, music will define “who” the church is in the community!

Change isn’t new to the current culture. Every generation has had its own “contemporary” music.  I know of a very famous music director and worship leader who is also a terrific composer and songwriter. At one church, he was criticized for confusing the congregation with new types of orchestrations and was even chastised publicly for lengthy intros to his songs. So, to counter the criticism, he wrote some songs that were too short, which brought complaints from the other side. He also got into hot water by changing the songs that had been chosen by the pastor, and for introducing too many new songs into the traditional services. Sound familiar? The period was 1685-1750, and the worship leader was Johann Sebastian Bach. Things haven’t changed that much, have they? 

When I was a teenager in the 70’s, I was a songleader. We had times of worship, but it never seemed to be while the music was being played or sung. After the Maranatha revolution, we started entertaining the concept of “worship” during our music...and then we found ourselves immersed and enamored by the Integrity Music paradigm. This was exhilarating new worship which infiltrated our congregations, and although I was apprehensive, the congregation embraced it...and there was a subsequent explosion of new worship material by many new artists! 

And worship is still evolving. New worship CDs seem to come out every day and it’s impossible to keep up with them. There is undue pressure placed upon worship leaders to sing the hottest, latest, greatest worship songs and to present them to the congregation as fast as the team can learn them. Yet, the Lord still blesses time-honored music as much as the new. What’s a worship leader to do? Sing the old? The new? Blended? What kind of music pleases the Lord?  If God would answer that question, I believe he would say, “Any music that causes a change in your behavior to make you more like Christ is the kind that captures my heart!”

So...with these changing times, what is the secret to a successful music ministry?  Psalm 45:7 and Hebrews 1:9 both declare how we can receive the anointing of God on our music, our ministry and our lives.  “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”  When we pursue righteousness, God anoints us. And when He anoints us, it’s because He has others in mind! As a worship pastor, I try to “tailor” the worship experience to incorporate a mélange or “potpourri” of styles that all might be drawn into fantastic, genuine and authentic worship, allowing people to encounter God. 1 Peter 4:11 says,
“If anyone ministers, let him do it with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”  That should be the goal of every music ministry... to provide an atmosphere where others can encounter God!

Despite our challenges with the “styles” of worship, the Lord said, “Whosoever will may come!”  May He help us be vessels of His Spirit to change the hearts of those who “won’t” to be those who “will!” We need that same power of God to take our dry songs, whether old or new, and breathe in anointed life! Amen!

Bulgaria - Week #4

We have witnessed first hand the persecution of Evangelical Christians at the hands of the Orthodox Church here in Bulgaria, yet the believers are still thriving and turning the hearts of the nation to accept and bless them with favor!

Dale Rhoton, the International Director of Operation Mobilization wrote the following note to me in a personal Email today: “For 7 years we lived in Austria working with a team taking Scriptures and other Christian literature into the communist world. The saddest country we visited was Bulgaria!”

Signs of the communist influence are still evident…hundreds of huge complexes of apartment “flats” are evident in every city we’ve been to…and most are painted a depressing dull gray, and many are dilapidated. There are newer areas popping up in every place we’ve been, but it seems that all construction has come to a halt because of lack of finances to build places for people to live.

Also, the Gypsies here are not looked upon favorably…even the Christian Gypsies who are doing marvelous work with their churches in their “areas” of each city and village.

I preached on Sunday at Sion Church in Varna, and there was a wonderful response of people coming forward for prayer and rededication. It is humbling to pray for these people who have so little but give all they have to the Lord! The pastor of Sion Church had been persecuted during communism (less that 20 years ago) and was even tortured and imprisoned for the cause of Christ. In fact, he spent 3 months in solitary confinement in a cell about the size of an old phone booth!  Now, God is blessing him with a growing church and even the finances to buy the building where they are worshipping! AMAZING!

We were in Shumen leading 2 conferences over 2 days at EPC Church with Pastor Plamen Vassilev, and worship leader (and interpreter) Ivo Gorchev. The church is filled with talented musicians and singers and they worshipped the Lord with great confidence, ability, and in the power of God…it was another remarkable experience!  Pastor Plamen was a leader in the communist youth party until he accepted Christ and then dedicated his life to full-time pastoring.

After the Seminar, the attendees asked to hear Brenda sing, so she sang the wedding song that David wrote called “You Will Be” (which many of you have heard).  When Brenda read the words to the song, a young newlywed couple were looking at each other and smiling…then, when she started singing, they got up and went to the back of the hall and started dancing in a Christ honoring way between husband and wife! Since the words are Christ-centered it was actually a beautiful and moving experience watching them!

We then went to Shalom Church in Sevlievo and to Sion Church in Veliko-Tarnovo and the people overwhelmed us with their spirits and heart for worship! In fact, every church to which we’ve been we’ve seen a remarkable outpouring of the Lord!