I must confess that I am not a very good singer. In fact, my singing is quite bad. It is not that I do not like to sing; on the contrary I find great delight in it. The problem is that those who hear me find absolutely no delight in it. Yet singing is something that the Bible says we are to do in response to the person and work of God in our lives. Moses and the Israelites sang “to the Lord” after He led them through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-19). King David was a mighty warrior, but an even mightier composer of songs to and about God (2 Samuel 22:1-51). The book of Psalms is a divine hymnal of praise to God for His mighty works. In the Old Testament singing was a part of great and historic events, such as the restoration of the temple (Ezra 3:11), while in the New Testament singing is a source of instruction for others (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). And as the book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into heaven we see singing there as well as the saints and the host of angels are gathered around the throne of God praising Him in song (Revelation 5:8-10, 14:3, 15:3-4).
The Old Testament book of Zephaniah speaks of singing as well. The majority of the book is taken up with the theme of the coming day of the Lord when He will judge the peoples of the earth for their rebellion against Him. God through Zephaniah describes that day as “a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” as the peoples of the earth come face-to-face with the righteousness and justice of God (Zephaniah 1:15). But after two-and-a-half chapters about God’s coming judgment God says, “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (3:14). Sing? Up to this point in the book there has not really been a lot to sing and rejoice about!
But then God gives the reason for their singing, “The LORD has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more” (3:15). Their singing is not based upon wishful thinking, nor does its foundation rest upon their ignoring the circumstances around them. Their singing flows from the truth that God’s judgment has been taken away from His people, their enemies have been triumphed over by God Himself, and God’s very presence is with His people. Now that is a reason to sing!
For those who have a personal saving relationship with Jesus we too can praise God for those very same things. The judgment of God has been removed from us because Jesus has taken away and paid for our sins and rescued us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:8, 8:1, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Thessalonians 1:10). Our enemies have been triumphed over through the finished work of Jesus (Romans 8:37, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). And now, through Jesus, God is always present with His people to care for them and to bless them (Romans 8:31-39, Hebrews 13:5-6).
But the most shocking thing about this passage from Zephaniah is not that God is calling His people to sing, but the fact that God Himself is singing! God says, “The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17). As God is in the midst of His people that He has saved He is rejoicing and singing over them.
If you are like me this seems too good to be true. At first glance it does not even really make sense. I mean think about it: there is nothing in me that is worthy of rejoicing. There is nothing about my life that is song worthy. So how can God rejoice over me with singing? The answer is found in the fact that “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12). He sings over me because of the triumphant and sin removing grace of God that has been demonstrated in my life through Jesus Christ.
No matter what your musical ability, “break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises” (Psalm 98:4). Whether you are a baritone, a bass, or something in between, “sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises” (Psalm 47:6). And as you sing know that in Jesus Christ God is rejoicing and singing over you as well!
On Saturday, June 4 we left Callahan, Florida headed for North Carolina and our pre-field training. Nine hours (and one flat tire!) later we arrived at the Center for Intercultural Training in Union Mills. We just finished up our first two weeks here and are loving it! We are receiving this training alongside other missionaries bound for Indonesia, Scotland, Malawi, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and just about every part in between.
While we are in class Ezra, Thea, and Hosanna are also in class learning about different cultures and how to make a healthy transition to the mission field. (Thea has also learned to greet people in about ten different languages so far and spends much of the day singing "God is So Good" in Swahili!) They love their classes and the new friends that they have made while living here.
We are currently in the "Equipping for Cross-Cultural Life and Ministry" class. We have addressed topics such as spiritual warfare, animism, cross-cultural communication, and worldview. We also thoroughly examined our own personalities and the way that each of us thinks and how that impacts our life and ministry.
Over the last two weeks while our minds have been full of new thoughts and new ways of looking at the world and culture, our hearts have been learning what it looks like to rest fully and completely in Jesus. A culturally adept missionary is of little use if his heart does not rightly treasure the grace of God in the Gospel. The heart work is the most painful, but the most rewarding and the most needed. God has surely met us here over the last two weeks.
Please continue to pray for our family while we are at CIT. Our desire is to get everything that God has for us while we are here learning from Him.
At the age of 22 Jim Elliot wrote these words to his father in a letter dated April 13, 1950, “I met with twenty-five young people, high school age and over, last night after the meeting before I went to the bus and had a serious time dealing with them about private study of the Scriptures, personal holiness, and down-to-business living for Christ.”
Jim Elliot was more than qualified to speak about down-to-business living for Christ. His life was permeated with a desire to live a life that thoroughly glorified Jesus in all that he did. When Jim was between the ages of 20 and 24 he penned the following quotes in his journal and in letters to family and friends:
“God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.”
“He makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame.”
“Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”
“Christ needs some young fellows to sell out to Him and recklessly toss their lives into His work.”
“He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
After college and some time spent in various ministries Jim traveled to Ecuador to minister among the Quichua Indians. God had also implanted within Jim’s heart a desire to reach the Auca people. The Auca were a primitive and savage people who were hostile toward the Quichua and outsiders. It was dangerous to attempt to reach the Auca, yet Jim knew that this was what God had called him to do and that the Gospel was the Auca’s only hope.
Less than six years after he wrote to his father about “down-to-business living for Christ” Jim Elliot would lie dead on the banks of a secluded river in the jungles of Ecuador having been run threw with a spear by the very people that he desired to share the Gospel with. His widow concludes her story of Jim’s life in this way:
“Suffice it to say that on Friday the thrill of Jim’s lifetime was given. He took an Auca by the hand. At last the twain met. Five American men, three naked savages. Two days later, on Sunday, January 8, 1956, the men for whom Jim Elliot had prayed for six years killed him and his four companions.” Jim Elliot, at the age of 28, lay dead on the banks of the Curaray River in the jungle of Ecuador.
As his widow begins the Epilogue she writes, “W. Somerset Maugham, in Of Human Bondage, wrote, ‘These old folk had done nothing, and when they died it would be just as if they had never been.’ Jim’s comment on this was, ‘God deliver me!’” And God did indeed deliver Jim Elliot from such a wasted life. His life and death were characterized with bold obedience to Jesus Christ. And though when he died he had very little of material value, he left an enduring legacy and an example of self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ to the peoples of the world.
God deliver us so that we would not waste our lives, but would live them for the glory of Jesus Christ and the spread of His Gospel to the nations!
All quotes are from: Elisabeth Elliot. Shadow of the Almighty. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1958.
Hosanna is three years old which means that when she prays it usually vacillates between being totally adorable and slightly heretical. The reason for this is that three year olds experience the freedom of dependency where they are not afraid to ask God for anything and everything. But they make these requests as they process life through a three year old's yet-to-be-fully-formed theological grid. The end result is precious moments for her parents and at the same time theology that you really hope not to hear preached on Sunday mornings!
But more often than not Hosanna speaks truth and does not even get the magnitude of what she says. Friday night was one of those nights. As she was praying (right between thanking God for a good day and thanking Him for the snicker pie that Gayle made a month ago) she said, "God, I want to see Jesus." It was that quick, that simple, and then she was on to praying something about getting to go swimming. But in that short petition she gave verbal expression to the cry of the Christian heart: "God, I want to see Jesus."
The Bible closes with this amazing future promise for those that know Jesus Christ: "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4). They will see His face because they will be living forever in His presence. His name is on their foreheads because they are His purchased possession.
In a world filled with chaos and hurt and pain and things that do not always make sense, may we turn our hearts toward Jesus and long to see His face. As we do, I suspect that more and more people may begin to see Christ in His followers. And more and more our affections will long for a deeper communion with the one that gave His life so that we could forever be in His presence as His possession. And when that happens we may begin to pray and ask to see Jesus too.
God says in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another." He reiterates much the same thought later in Isaiah 48:11 where He says, "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another." There is no missing the point that God is consumed with His own glory and rightly so for He is infinitely glorious!
That is why it is not an understatement to say that God deeply hates pride. The reason that God hates pride is that He rightly loves Himself and pride is a person taking the focus off God and putting it on them. It is a person taking the glory and trying to put it on them; taking the spotlight that exclusively belongs to God and seeking to have some of it shine upon them and who they are and what they have done.
In our home we have a term for this: GLORY THIEF. A thief is someone that takes something that is not theirs. God has said that His glory He will not share with another because it does not belong to another; it is exclusively His possession. So if I am seeking glory for me then I am in the process seeking to steal something that belongs to God and that makes me a glory thief.
The world is filled with glory thieves because the world is filled with pride. It is filled with self-centeredness. It is filled with those who desire their glory at the expense of giving God all the glory that He and He alone is due. And if we are all honest with ourselves, everyone of us has a glory thief within us.
With God's grace and strength, may our lives point others away from us and toward the only One who is truly glorious!
I have recently been thinking much about the love of God and the grace of God. And it seems to me that God wants to prove His love for us by demonstrating His grace toward us. Throughout Scripture it is as if He is saying, "You know that I love you when you see that I have shown you grace."
That truth is seen in Romans 5:8 where the Apsotle Paul writes, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." There are many ways that God could have inspired Paul to write that verse. He could have simply said, "God demonstrates His love for us in that Christ died for us." If that would have been how Romans 5:8 was written then it would have still been amazingly true and would have been infinitely worthy of our praising God for all eternity.
But Paul adds a phrase that magnifies God’s grace. He says that God shows His love toward us in that "while we were still sinners" Jesus died for us. That phrase magnifies God's grace toward us in that it shows us love inspired grace. Jesus did not just die, He died while we were rebels, while we did not love God, while we had nothing good in us, while we were deserving of nothing but hell and punishment, while we were going our own way, while we could care less about God, while we were committing sin after sin against the God of the universe, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus did the dying and the saving while we still did not deserve it.
That is grace. And that is how you know that God loves you: you know that God loves you when He shows you grace like that. It is one thing to see love; it is a more amazing thing to see grace-filled love!
This Wednesday we will have a few words with our picture because we would ask that you be praying for our family. Early Saturday morning we will be leaving Florida bound for the Center for Intercultural Training in Union Mills, North Carolina where we will be spending nearly three months in preparation for our move to Senegal. Pray that we will all make the transition well, learn things that will equip our family to live cross-culturally in Senegal, and that we will walk close with Jesus and each other during our months at CIT.