Christianity 201

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

July 5, 2021

Gifts Used to Bless Others Can Also Edify Yourself

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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A year ago we introduced Mutsawashe Chipuriro who writes at Grace Unmatched. Her articles are often inspired by videos she sees on YouTube or conversations with friends. Great devotional writing finds its themes in real life living! Click the header which appears next to read this one at her page.

Working in ministry

One morning, after I completed my chores, I started singing a song. Mid-way through the first stanza I stopped and just thought, “wow.” The way I had been singing just really blended in with the lyrics and it was beautiful. It had quite the healing effect because I was tired from the chores.

God blessed me with the gift of singing, among the many other gifts He bestowed upon me. Whenever I share the voice with others, they indicate that the voice has a certain presence to it. I never believed it until a few years back when I truly started listening my voice.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to how He sees fit, so that they are used well to minister to the world and, in turn God is glorified :

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good.

To one is given through the [Holy] Spirit [the power to speak] the message of wisdom, and to another [the power to express] the word of knowledge and understanding according to the same Spirit; to another [wonder-working] faith [is given] by the same [Holy] Spirit, and to another the [extraordinary] gifts of healings by the one Spirit; and to another the working of miracles, and to another prophecy [foretelling the future, speaking a new message from God to the people], and to another discernment of spirits [the ability to distinguish sound, godly doctrine from the deceptive doctrine of man-made religions and cults], to another various kinds of [unknown] tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues.

All these things [the gifts, the achievements, the abilities, the empowering] are brought about by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, distributing to each one individually just as He chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:4‭-‬11 AMP

I’ve noticed, however, that many who posses gifts, use them to edify others but don’t believe that these gifts can in turn edify themselves as well, because at the end of the day it is actually not the person at work but, the Holy Spirit. The person is just a vessel. Therefore, if the individual is just a messenger, even the message they carry can also be delivered to themselves!

There are many people out there who are laboring for God’s kingdom. They pray for others, preach, teach, motivate and encourage, among other things yet they’re overwhelmed and troubled within. I believe that, this is why:

When you minister to others, you are pouring out. As with any vessel that empties out its contents, it has to be filled up again. Yet we’re not doing that. We go on to edify others and that’s the end! Very few go back to their tools for edification to understand why it had the power to edify.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts are for edification of the body of Christ. The parts of the body of Christ are you and I, among countless others :

For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ. For by one [Holy] Spirit we were all baptized into one body, [spiritually transformed—united together] whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit [since the same Holy Spirit fills each life]. For the [human] body does not consist of one part, but of many [limbs and organs].

1 Corinthians 12:12‭-‬14 AMP

If you believe that your neighbor, your friend, your colleague or any other person deserves to be edified through your use of your gifts, why do you think that you are exempt?

Next time you edify someone, take time to revisit that situation. You will be amazed just how much you can be ministered unto as well!

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

April 11, 2010

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord  (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  (NASB)

Christianity is a singing faith.   No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.

Why?

The verses give us the answer,   we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course,  we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text.   Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence.   Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.