Monday, July 26, 2010

Praise Patterns: The Holy One

Here's an excerpt from Chapter Six--the chapter about the Holy One. The third day of each chapter features a passage from the Gospels.

They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers' tables and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.

Then He began to teach them: “Is it not written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' But you have made it a den of thieves!”
(Mark 11:15-17)

Out of town visitors to the temple bought their sacrifices from these merchants in the temple's court. Money-changers were conveniently located nearby to convert the traveler's money, but they weren't always honest in their exchanges. The merchants and money-changers were all focused on money rather than witnessing. Other people used the temple courtyard as a shortcut, traipsing through it carrying various baggage. Jesus knew what belonged in the holy place, and what needed to go. He brings this same discernment to our lives.

For the grace of God has appeared, with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; (I Peter 1:14-16)

So rid yourselves of all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander.
(I Peter 2:1)

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord's slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness...(2 Timothy 2:22-25)

As we strive to follow the Holy One who calls us, we can praise Him for understanding us completely and being ready to set us back on the right path every time we fail.

For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Reflect & Respond
“Jesus knew what belonged in the holy place, and what needed to go. He brings this same discernment to our lives.” Have you ever felt that He was toppling everything over in your life and removing things that didn't belong?

Look back at today's scriptures and list things that belong, and things that don't belong in our lives as Jesus' followers.

How does Hebrews 4:14-16 describe Jesus?

Praise Patterns will be available to order very very soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Hymn for Monday Morning

Every chapter of Praise Patterns has a hymn--a poetic prayer of praise. Chapter Five's theme is "The God Who Sees." This hymn reminds us to see, look for, and be more aware of His presence.

This is My Father's World
The author of this hymn was a pastor who loved to go for long walks. As he left his home he often announced, “I'm going out to see my Father's world.” It's a great reminder that whatever frightening news is filling the airwaves today, this is still my Father's world.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heaven be one.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

--Maltbie Babcock, 1901

...Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. (2 Peter 3:18)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Praise Patterns Excerpt: The God Who Sees

The theme of Praise Patterns Chapter Five is "The God Who Sees". This is a very meaningful chapter to me because I was writing it when my friend Maura was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. As I worried about her and prayed for her, I clung to the knowledge that The God Who Sees was aware of Maura's condition, her needs, and her service to Him.

This excerpt comes from Day Three, and it follows Day Two's discussion of the story of Hagar (see Genesis 16).

The story of Hagar shows us that God is aware of our circumstances. Today we'll see that He is aware of our service and sacrifice.

While all the people were listening, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive greater punishment.”

He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins.”I tell you the truth,” He said.“This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 20:45-21:4)

Jesus talked to His disciples about the religious leaders who bragged about their faith and righteousness while demanding honor and being unkind to the poor and taking advantage of helpless widows. Then, while watching people leaving their offerings at the temple, He drew their attention to a woman of great faith: an impoverished widow giving her last coins to God. I wish I knew the rest of this story: why did the woman offer God all she had? What did she eat that night? Did she have a place to sleep? Yet the more I meditate on this story, the more I see that that it is more meaningful this way. When I don't know all the details, Jesus does. He sees the heart attitudes and motivations, the sacrifices, the unnoticed service to Him. I don't have to remind God who is valuable to Him, or how much someone loves Him. He sees. He knows.

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord's work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
(I Corinthians 15:58)

Isn't that encouraging? Here's the Message Bible's contemporary paraphrase:

With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

God calls all His children to serve Him in some way. Some Christians serve God in obvious ways on church platforms and in mission organizations, while others serve in less visible places. Perhaps today you are serving God by being kind to less-than-courteous customers or making sure your family has clean laundry. Maybe you are discouraged by the dishes piling up in your sink or the e-mails flooding your inbox. You might be offering the sacrifice of a quiet demeanor when you feel anything but serene inside. Whatever your act of service is today, you can be sure that He sees both your sacrifice and your heart.

Reflect & Respond
How has the Lord called you to serve Him—or sacrifice for Him—in this season of your life?

Do you know someone who serves the Lord in a thankless or not-very-visible way? Pray for that person today.

Read more about my Praise Patterns book here.

5 Minute Devotional Books

There are seasons of life when an hour of Bible study all at one time is easy to schedule every day, but there are other times when even ten minutes at once is difficult. It's better to spend five minutes than none at all, and often I find I can fit several five minute readings into a busy day. Or perhaps I have a nice long study in the afternoon, but I want to begin the day with a quick upward glance: a focus on the Lord as my strength for the day. Of course there are also the days when I have lots of spare time, but, well, very little brain. Needier-than-usual children or a backache or a migraine can really be distracting. These are the times that short devotional books are useful.

I like to keep a few devotional books in various places around the house so there's one handy whenever I have a few moments. I can read while I wait for my tea kettle to boil, when I grab an afternoon snack or just before I fall asleep.

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite short devotional books. Please leave a comment about your favorite and how you fit it into your busy schedule or tell me about a time in your life when you found short studies especially helpful.

First, of course, is the Bible. In busy seasons of life it is too easy to read other people's thoughts on the Bible and neglect the most precious book of all. Psalms is easy to dive into when you only have five minutes. Try Philippians too: a joyful book full of verses you can meditate on a few at a time.

Ruth Myers wrote a wonderful series of books: 31 Days of Prayer, 31 Days of Praise, 31 Days of Power and The Satisfied Heart. These Scripture-based prayers will encourage readers to pray and praise and respond to God's word. The daily segments are only two pages long.

I'm currently enjoying Jennifer Rothschild's Fresh Grounded Faith. The author's goal was to write daily devotions that you can easily read in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee. She shares meditations on Scripture and stories from her own life in a thought-provoking way that is not too deep for those early in the morning still-haven't-finished-your-caffeinated-beverage times.

Ken Hemphill wrote several short books with titles like God Is, God Will, We Are, and We Can. Daily segments are two pages long and begin with a scripture about who God is or what God says about us. Ken Hemphill explains the scripture with everyday illustrations and personal examples.

Joni Eareckson Tada's book More Precious than Silver has 366 daily readings. Joni's testimony of faith and endurance is encouraging; her thoughts are especially relevant to anyone experiencing pain or difficulty. Joni wrote at least two other devotionals in this format: Diamonds in the Dust and Pearls of Great Price.

Daily Light on the Daily Path has been a popular devotional book since it was published in the 19th century. Author Samuel Bagster chose two topics for each day (a morning reading and an evening reading) and wove together scriptures that speak on those topics. There are many versions of this available: paperback, leather-bound, abridged, KJV and NKJV. Mine is a leather-like substance in hunter green.

Another classic devotional is Amy Carmichael's Edges of His Ways. This missionary's prayers and meditations are encouraging and challenging.

The Divine Hours by Phillis Tickle is a weekly pattern of short scripture readings and classic prayers. It is set up for believers who want to pray several times a day and desire a little guidance to begin praying or to stay focused during their prayer times. I really appreciated this book when I was in a very exhausted season of life, wanting to converse with God but not coming up with many of my own words. The Divine Hours would prompt my own prayers. It's a small book, very handy for an early morning in the park or a long vacation. Not every prayer in this book will fit every denomination's theology, but I found I rephrased the prayers in my own words anyway.

Ann Spangler's two books on prayer will take a little longer than five minutes a day, but you can certainly divide up the reading into smaller portions if you need to. The titles are Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus. She also co-wrote a one-year devotional with Jean Swyserda: Women of the Bible.

If you like a little artwork with your quiet time, try Lillias Trotter's Blossom in the Desert. This missionary woman gave up a promising art career to be a missionary in North Africa from the late 1800s until 1928. This book blends exerpts from her writings with sketches from her diaries. Every page is beautiful. Open this book up on a cookbook stand and enjoy it.

Another book that's great on a cookbook stand is Catherine Martin's Drawing Strength from the Names of God. Georgeous landscape photos accompany Catherine's prayers and explanations of the names of God. I like to read a page or sometimes just a paragraph while I wait for my teakettle to boil in the morning.

Catherine Martin also wrote a devotional book: Quiet Time Moments for Women. Themes include love, grace, prayer, quiet, and ministry. I like to read this in the evening before bed.

What are your favorite five minute Devotional books?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Praise Patterns: Praising the Savior

In Praise Patterns, these Praise Psalms follow yesterday's post.

Our God is a God of salvation, and escape from death belongs to the Lord God.
(Psalm 68:20)
But as for me—poor and in pain—let Your salvation protect me, God.
(Psalm 69:29)
God of our salvation, help us—for the glory of Your name.
Deliver us and atone for our sins, because of Your name. (Psalm 79:9)
I will give thanks to You because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.(Psalm 118:21)
I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. (Psalm 62:1)

God my Savior, as I contemplate the crucifixion I am once again amazed by Your sacrifice and Your love. I praise You and thank You and rest in You.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Praise Patterns: excerpt from Savior Chapter

Here is an excerpt from my new book Praise Patterns. This is from Day Three, which in every chapter focuses on Jesus in the Gospel section of the New Testament. Day Three also includes a Practical Praise section with a simple idea to help you insert more praise into your day. (Day One is an overview, Day Two contains an Old Testament passage and a praise quote from a historical or contemporary Christian, and Day Four's scriptures are taken mostly from the Epistles.)

God My Savior
My bedroom window looks out toward the rugged mountains that surround Las Vegas. The red and orange layers in the mountains seem to shift as the sun moves across the sky. Between me and the mountains stands Red Rock Casino, a sleek copper building that reflects the mountains and the clouds and, best of all, the sunrise. If I wake early enough in the morning, I watch the sunrise change the skyline. The rocky mountains, the neighborhoods, the casino, the palm trees...all are touched by the light. I love to think of my Savior as the sunrise, His rays of love bringing hope and change to our world.

In the first two chapters of Luke, the praises of three people are recorded. The first is Mary's prayer of praise. Today, we'll read the other two: the joyful announcement of Zachariah (the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist), and the words of Simeon, the elderly man we met when we read Anna's story.

Because of our God's merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Zachariah's words in Luke 1:78-79)
Now Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel. (Simeon's words from Luke 2:29-32)

These two prayers speak of Jesus as a light dawning upon the dark world. Later, Jesus called Himself the Light of the World, and even on the dark day of His death, His light dawned upon a criminal hanging next to Him:

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”

But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don't you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we're getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Practical Praise: Thank God for Your Mentors
Who taught you about Jesus the Savior? Who models Christlike living to you? Whose attitude of gratitude encourages you to be more grateful too? Who mentors you in practical areas? Praise God for those people today, and write one of them a short thank-you note this week.

I need to write a note to my friend Gina. We've gotten acquainted chatting on Facebook—she writes the funniest status updates and she shares prayer requests too. A few weeks ago at a church service I could see Gina and her husband in the sanctuary. While the congregation sang, Gina sat in her wheelchair, and her husband stood up, but as we began to sing “How Great Thou Art” Gina's husband helped her stand up. Even from a few rows away, I could see that though Gina's life is filled with health issues, she trusts God and makes praising Him a priority. Because I could see the song was meaningful to her, I reflected on the words a bit more than usual myself. The verse about God not sparing His son reminded me to praise my Savior. Gina didn't know that she was my mentor that day.

Praise Patterns will be available for purchase very soon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Praise Psalms

Another excerpt from Praise Patterns:

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God!
I will praise Him again—my Savior and my God! (Psalm 42:11 NLT)
Lord my God, You have done many things—Your wonderful works
and Your plans for us; none can compare with You.
If I were to report and speak [of them], they are more than can be told.
(Psalm 40:5)
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His faithful love
and His wonderful works for the human race. (Psalm 107:8)
Sing to the Lord, you His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. (Psalm 30:4)

Wonderful Lord, tonight my heart longs to praise You, but I am exhausted. I will borrow phrases from a few Psalms and praise You with words that are not original but are certainly heartfelt.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Praise Patterns: the back cover summary

Click on the image here to view this larger. Click on it once, and then hover over it with your mouse and click the plus sign to see it actual size.

Also, check out the Chapter Titles,
the Front Cover,
and an excerpt from the first chapter.

Responding to Exceeding Joy

Here is an excerpt from my Praise Patterns book, Chapter Three ("My Exceeding Joy"), Day Four. Each chapter's Day Four is focused on our response to God. Praise is not just a bunch of nice things we say to God; praise is responding to God in obedience and love.

I think it's impossible to talk about joy without talking about troubles, and finding joy within troubled times. Let's think again about that scene in the temple, when Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna were praising God together. The Jewish nation was expecting the Messiah to come and deliver them from Roman oppression. This little group probably had this in mind as they praised. They didn't know God's great plan of redemption in detail. They just knew He had arrived, so they praised Him.

I think there is a lesson here for us. In the midst of a situation with no solution in sight, God's presence is our comfort. When worry or grief or pain darken the sky, we can whisper the name of Jesus and remember that He is with us. This knowledge may not instantly produce a spectacular sunrise of joy, but it can light a tiny candle within the dark night, a gleam of hope within our hearts. Maybe our praises are timid, perhaps they aren't as eloquent or determined as Habakkuk's—but God accepts what we are capable of offering. Look at these Scriptures about joy and rejoicing:

...through Him, we have received access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith —more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy. (I Peter 1:6-8)

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:12-14)
May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father who has enabled you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light. (Colossians 1:10-12)

When circumstances are bleak and grim, the Lord never leaves us, and we can ask Him to be our Exceeding Joy—our joy that exceeds our situation.

Praise Patterns
will be available to purchase in about a month.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Exceeding Joy

The third chapter of my book Praise Patterns is titled "My Exceeding Joy." Here's an excerpt from Day Two:

Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet who wrote the book that bears his name. It begins with a prayer of questions and a longing for justice. God answered him with the frightening news that Israel's enemies were going to sweep in and conquer the land. Habakkuk kept praying, pouring out his questions and concerns and heartbreaks to God, and God continued to show him the judgments that were coming to his nation. In chapter three, Habakkuk proclaimed God's power, and closed the book with a prayer of determined joy. Habakkuk's circumstances didn't change; in fact he had God's assurance that things were only going to get worse. Yet Habakkuk responded to God with praise. Notice the last phrases—not only did Habakkuk write this beautiful prayer, he set it to music.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
For the choir director: on stringed instruments.(Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk didn't start out with this joyful attitude. First he took all his concerns and complaints to God, listened to God, and responded in prayer. Then he praised. I see a similar pattern in David's words in Psalm 42.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?”
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock,“Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.(Psalm 42 NKJV)

Praise Patterns
will be available to purchase in about a month. In the book, this segment is followed by a Prelude to Praise (a quote from a historical Christian and a few details about that person's life), discussion and application questions, and a selection of Psalms.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Praise the Mighty God!

These are the verses from Psalms that follow the segment of Praise Patterns I posted yesterday. (Praise Patterns is written in a four-days-a-week format. The first three days end with Psalms and the fourth day ends with a New Testament benediction.) This is from Chapter Two, Day One. The chapter's title is "The Mighty God."

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awe-inspiring are Your works!
Your enemies will cringe before You because of Your great strength.
All the earth will worship You and sing praise to You.
They will sing praise to Your name.”
Come and see the works of God; His acts toward mankind are awe-inspiring.
He turned the sea into dry land, and they crossed the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in Him.
He rules forever by His might; He keeps His eye on the nations.
The rebellious should not exalt themselves. Selah.*
Praise our God, you peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard.
He keeps us alive and does not allow our feet to slip.
(Psalm 66:1-9)

*“Selah” means “pause and think about this.”

O Mighty One, You are powerful and personal. You keep the stars in place yet You listen to my whispers. I praise You, glorious loving God.

Praise Patterns will be available for purchase in about a month.