Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid--that is the paradox of faith."    ~~A. W. Tozer

"Why are we here?"  We had just finished a weekly choir rehearsal that had gone very well that night.  Before dismissing the choir, however, it was the practice of the director to take a few minutes at the end of rehearsals to discuss things like worship, praise, hymns, and other types of music and their function in the church and its ministry.  We spend hours every week involved in all of these things, praise, worship, etc.  So he naturally wanted to make sure we understood what they're all about, and our role in relation to them.  Tonight, he turned our attention to the choir itself and its role.  Hence, the question, "Why are we here?"

Silly question, some of us thought.  We're the choir.  We're here to lead the congregation in the worship and praise of God --- right?  Not exactly.  King David gave us a hint when he laid plans for the temple.  Although God would not allow David to build the temple, the king could design it, organize its services, and finance the building of it.  First, he took a census of the Levites, the God-appointed ministers of God's worship.  Then he assigned them specific tasks with regard to the temple.  Some were keepers of the gates.  Some were assigned to the actual service of the temple itself.  Others the king organized into a choir, who were "singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy" to the Lord  (1 Chronicles 15.16).  Altogether he had appointed to that choir 4,000 Levites who were just "praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise."  (1 Chronicles 23.5)  It didn't matter if anyone else were present in the temple to share in the praise.  This choir just praised the Lord continually.  They spoke His wonders.  They praised His name.  They told of His glory.  They sang of His works.  They honored His name.  They ascribed greatness to Him.  They sang to the Lord (cp. 1 Chronicles 16.7-36).  And that's why we're here --- not just our choir, but everyone who is called by His name.  We're here to praise the Lord!

Take a look with me at Psalm 113.  Its opening words, Praise the Lord!, continue to echo through my heart.  We've already seen that it means to be boastful of the Lord, but it means so much more.  It comes from a family of words that expand and elevate its meaning.  For example, its Arabic relative means to "appear on the horizon," kinda like the glow that precedes a sunrise.  I remember my first camping trip to Worth Ranch with Scout Troop 83.  We camped on a cliff on the side of a hill overlooking the Brazos River Valley spread out below us.  Early the first morning, I crawled out of my tent to the aroma of fresh coffee and the slender glow of light outlining the mountaintops to the east.  And the glow grew and grew until it blossomed into a full sunrise.  Hallel, praise, is like that glow and the sunshine, because one of its relatives also means to make shine.  When you focus your attention, your words, your heart, your songs on the greatness and the condescending goodness of God, you make Him shine!  That is praise!

And that is why we're here.  To make Him shine.  The command in Psalm 113.1 is to praise the LordHe is the focus of our praise.  He is the subject of our praise.  He is the object of our praise.  He is everything, our all in all.  And the command is Hallelu-Jah!  Praise ye the Lord!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Marks of Godliness

What is godliness?  You don't find it mentioned much in the Bible, yet nearly all of the fifteen references where it is found challenge us to godly living, relating it to our knowledge of God and our devotion to Him.  The Apostle Paul, for instance, urges us to pray for all men "in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2.1-2).  Concluding that  "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6.6, KJV), Paul instructs us, therefore, to  pursue godliness along with "righteousness..., faith, love, perseverance and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6.11).  Peter tells us God provides everything we need to live godly.   "His divine power," says Peter, "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him" (2 Peter 1.3)  Then he lists godliness among the qualities of character we are supposed to develop diligently (verses 5-7).

Before long, you get the idea that godliness is a major quality of life.  What, then, does it mean?  How can we live a godly life?  To help answer that question, let's look at a man who lived such a life.  Daniel, when he was taken captive into Babylon, exemplifies godly character in an ungodly world.  Much like each of us, Daniel was a child of God in an alien environment--he a Jew in Babylon; we, Christians in the world.  Daniel began his life in that land with devotion to God.  When we first encounter him in chapter one, we learn that "Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food...." (Daniel 1.8).  As a result, "God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials" (Daniel 1.9).  Daniel continued his devotion to God through the reigns of four emperors.  Late in the statesman's life, Darius, the fourth of these emperors, appointed Daniel as one of three commissioners over 120 satraps, lesser government officials.  Before long, the emperor planned to promote him to a position of authority over the entire kingdom because Daniel continued to distinguish himself (Daniel 6.1-3).  When they heard about this, the satraps and the other commissioners decided to discredit him.  But the more they tried to destroy him, the more they uncovered marks of godliness in his life.

The first mark is a godly spirit: "this Daniel began distinguishing himself...because he possessed an extraordinary spirit"  (Daniel 6.3).  Daniel was winsome, positive, teachable.  What he had was something like school spirit only far better.  Perhaps we could best describe it as an excellent attitude, an attitude that radiated God-likeness.  He had a consistent spirit that reflected God's control of his life and God's character in his life.  Whether at home, or walking the street, or in the palace, or shopping in the market place, Daniel conducted himself in such a way that, without his saying a word, people could see his love for the Lord and devotion to Him.   Ever notice how people can identify a christian even when he doesn't say a word? Daniel shows how. He was committed to the Word of God and to the God of the Word.  Therefore, he lived his life with an enthusiasm and energy that radiated the Spirit of God within him.  In the gait of his walk, in the sparkle of his eyes, in the glow of his countenance, anyone could see that "extraordinary" spirit.  It was extraordinary because it was godly, or more precisely because it was the Spirit of God Himself living in Daniel.  The verse literally reads, "there was in him an extraordinary spirit."

The second mark of godliness Daniel possessed is faithfulness in his work.  Although Daniel was faithful in his religious duty as well, we need to see that this refers to secular work, what we do for our employers "between Sundays."   The satraps tried "to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs" (Daniel 6.4 ).  When they investigated his daily work, "they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful...." (emphasis mine).  Godliness applies to secular jobs as well as our sacred occupations and reveals itself in loyalty or faithfulness to God and to our employers.  The Bible teaches us that "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3.23-24).

I frequently think of Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century priest who was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial task into a living hymn to the glory of God.  He once prayed, "Lord of all pots and pans and things...make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates."  In the palace of Babylon, Daniel had a more exalted responsibility than Brother Lawrence; but he carried it out in the same spirit and with the same devotion.  As if he were a member of the church at Smyrna, he was faithful unto death (cp. Revelation 2.10) or at least in the face of death on more than one occasion.  As a child of God, Daniel led a life of integrity, consistency, and faithfulness.  Although not particularly a tranquil life for him, it was a life of godliness and dignity.  Daniel had accepted the challenge of godly living.  Have you?