During my first year of studies at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, I had the privilege of playing my violin in the orchestra pit for North Raleigh Christian Academy's production of Singin' in the Rain. The production was a lot of fun, and even now, there are times when this song and others from the musical will get stuck in my head (like right now). If we choose to sing in the rain, doing so can make us "happy again."
But what about pain? Maybe you lose a loved one. Maybe you lose your source of income. Maybe you lose your health. Maybe someone important walks out of your life. Maybe you are a victim of emotional or other abuse. Whatever the source of your pain, your first reaction is seldom if ever - to sing. But it is possible.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A first century Philippian prison would not be the most conducive place for singing. Despite their pain and their circumstances, Acts 16:25 tells us, "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." How many of the Psalms (songs) in our Bible were composed out of painful circumstances! The Bible teaches that God not only gives us a song in the night (Psalm 42:8, "In the night, His song shall be with me.") but that He Himself is our song (Exodus 15:2, "The LORD is my strength and song; and He has become my salvation."
No matter how painful your circumstances may be at this moment, ask God to give you the ability to sing in the pain.
Photo Credit: torbakhopper Used by permission under Creative Commons License
Whether you've finalized your 2020 resolutions, don't have plans to make any, or are somewhere in between, the best place to start thinking about change in the New Year is with the Word of God. Before you start figuring out how to get out of debt or shed those holiday pounds (and those are wonderful goals!), start with the Bible, and with prayer, ask God to guide your priorities. Even within the 66 books of the Bible, you may wonder where to begin, so here are some suggestions.
Are you like most Bible readers who skim past the genealogies? Sometimes we call them "the begots." Here at Christmas, the genealogies of Jesus give us insights. Matthew 1:6, in tracing Jesus's legal lineage, makes this point: "David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah." Those familiar with the Old Testament know the story well. Have you ever heard Jesus' family called "the holy family?" Go back a bit more, and you find that His ancestors weren't all that holy. David was king of Israel, and at a time when kings should have been at the battlefront, David was on the roof of his palace. He happened to see a woman named Bathsheba bathing, and in his lust over her, he committed adultery with her. Not only that, he also had her husband Uriah essentially executed by ordering him into a certain-death frontline situation. The sin would be found out, though, because Bathsheba became pregnant. That child perished, but a future child of the couple was named Solomon. This child became king and - get this - part of Messiah's lineage.
We've heard Romans 8:28 many times. We have it on paperweights, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and more. What God did in the birth of Christ, though, is an example of His Romans 8:28 ability. God endorsed neither David's murder of Uriah, nor his adulterous union with Bathsheba. But He did work David's tragic mess together for good - to bring us Christ.
The message is clear and powerful. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." (Rom. 5:20). That's what Christmas is all about. God is so wise, magnificent and gracious that He took a situation as shattered and horrific as what we created through sin and brought out of it the spotless Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Glory to God in the Highest!
If you do not plan ahead, you could unintentionally allow this year's Black Friday to give your church a black eye. You love your church, and you believe in the work that the church is doing. You sincerely want to see it thrive, and you believe God is blessing. Even if you are someone who is not easily lured into impulsive bargain snatching, despite your best intentions, if you do not set aside funds now for your year-end donations, those donations will likely be weaker if they happen at all.
A little less than a third of all tax filers itemize deductions, but we give to God's work for reasons beyond the Internal Revenue Code. For Southern Baptists, December is the month we emphasize international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are many opportunities for charitable giving, and I love what one speaker from the NC Baptist Foundation set forth awhile back. Christians should give to Christian causes; who else is going to do so?
Pray about an amount God would like for you to give, and go ahead and give those funds or set them aside if you can discipline yourself not to spend them later. By taking care of what is most important first, you avoid the possibility of accidentally omitting your church from the cash outflows of the season. Remember, whatever you do, don't give out of compulsion or obligation. Give out of a cheerful heart, because you want to - not because you felt guilty after reading this blog post.
Picture a home builder that needs to support about 100,000 pounds of house. If he has just one support beam under that load, that one beam has to support it all - all 100,000 pounds. Say he configures the plan to call for ten support beams - each one only has to support 10,000 pounds. But increase the number of beams to 20, and now these beams can enjoy a 5,000 pound walk in the park. I know you can do this simple math, and so what was the point of this elementary math lesson?
If we were to quantify the ministry that is to be done in the local church in terms of man hours, or the funds that it will take to help God’s work in the local church flourish, and place all of that responsibility on the shoulders of one person - wow! The person is going to crumble. Even if someone could sustain the load for 3 seconds, they are toast afterward.
You may be happy to learn that I have the same church attendance trends in my church that you have in yours. I have a handful of people who attend every week (and two of us are paid to be there). I have Chreaster Christians - those who attend Christmas and Easter. I have everyone in between. On average, it is safe to say that my people attend a couple of times a month. When I mentioned this to my Assistant Pastor, who joined our team a few months ago, he helped me learn that this is a nationwide trend. It didn't use to be the case, when I was a child. To be sure, there are cultural trends that have driven much of this, but it feels like there is more. To show my cards a little bit up front, I sense that we need a fresh look at our theology of corporate worship. So as I go through answering this question which headlines this blog, I hope to do so in a way that gets us thinking about the bigger picture.