Seize The Day!

“Ah, the good old days…” How many times have you heard somebody say this, or something similar? How many times have you said it yourself? I have to admit, I am guilty as charged.

“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”

Ecclesiastes 7:10 NASB

Isn’t it interesting the people in Old Testament times had this same lament that we often hear today? So much so, apparently, that the writer of Ecclesiastes felt the need to address it.

When we dwell in the past, longing for “the good old days”, we become distracted from living today to its fullest potential. Today is a gift from God to each of us. He wants us to enjoy it. So let us celebrate today! Live it! Enjoy it! Relish it! Indeed, Seize It!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Enjoying Life “Under the Sun”

I remember as a boy a commercial jingle for a fast food chain that started, “Eat, drink and be merry!” This chain is famous for its ice cream treats and, indeed, as a youngster it was always a treat when my parents would give in and take us to Dairy Queen to enjoy one of their sweet, sugary concoctions. Truth be told, I still enjoy the occasional visit; drive through almost any small town in Texas and you will likely see the DQ sign somewhere along the main drag. What better way to enjoy the Texas countryside than an ice cold shake (vanilla is my fav)?

“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18

Do you enjoy your work? Do you enjoy your life? Did you know that God wants us to enjoy life? He does. Now, we must be careful here. This is one verse that is easy to take out of context and go way off the rails with how we apply it to life. Pull this out of the context of the whole of Scripture and it appears to be a license for gluttony, drunkenness and “whatever”. Taken within the context of the whole of Scripture and we quickly realize that is not the message here at all. So, what is the message?

Let’s work backwards through the verse. “This is his reward.” According to Merriam Webster, a reward is “Something that is given in return for good or evil done or received or that is offered or given for some service or attainment.”1 What is the reward here? The reward is to “eat, drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor.” Simply put, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is not a careless free-for-all; it is, however, an expression of joy.

The writer of Ecclesiastes writes much about the futilities of this life. He goes on about the vanities of life. The lack of purpose of life. But as one reads through this book, the author’s point is revealed: Life lived absent of God is futile. Life lived in relationship with God is fulfilling. Daily toil with no perceived purpose is futile. Daily work with an attitude towards service to God is fulfilling. And in the midst of all this, he tells us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, for that is our reward. It is not a license to sin, but it is a reminder to enjoy life’s blessings.

A fictional young man named Ferris Bueller summed it up quite well:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.2

[Ferris Bueller’s Day Off]

As strange as it may seem to quote Ferris Bueller in seeking to understand a passage of Scripture, I think young Ferris hit this one square on the head. A wise person once said, “Stop and smell the roses.” I think that about sums it up.

So – here are some things I enjoy “under the sun”:

  • I enjoy the relationships of family and friends.
  • I enjoy a Blanton’s bourbon on a large rock after a long day of work.
  • I enjoy a thick steak accompanied by a bold Cabernet Sauvignon at a fine restaurant with family, friends and coworkers.
  • I enjoy a long walk on the beach (yes, I really do).
  • I enjoy the fresh air of the early morning.
  • I enjoy boarding an airplane to travel someplace new or someplace familiar.
  • I enjoy watching an Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park, and I really look forward to the day when we fans can return.
  • I enjoy reading and meditating on God’s Word. That is partly why I write this blog. In fact, I am enjoying listing things I enjoy!
  • I enjoy live music and dancing a two-step to a good country band.
  • I enjoy reminiscing with my friends from Concordia days.
  • I enjoy singing in the choir.

I could go on. As I write this, I am reminded of how much I enjoy my life and that God wants me to enjoy my life. What a blessing that is!

What do you enjoy “under the sun”?

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

1“Reward.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reward. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

2Hughes, John, et al. Ferris Bueller’s day off. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures Corp, 1987.

Church Music: Unity or Division?

I love music of almost every genre. My favorites in the secular world include classic rock, country, classic pop and easy listening. My favorite station on Pandora is Dinner Party Radio. I like musicals, both on stage and film. Music brings joy to my life. It is an important part of my life. And, you know what? It is important to God, too.

“David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;”

1 Chronicles 25:1

As I read through the Bible I am struck by the number of times music is mentioned. The entire 25th chapter of 1 Chronicles describes how the various roles around music were assigned in the Jerusalem temple. The Chronicles can admittedly be some dry reading. But what I see in these books is a characteristic of God around organization, both in terms of keeping records and setting up the temple for the worship of God. Chapter 25 of 1 Chronicles is all about the music, and it concludes by telling us that 288 priests were assigned to provide the music for worship. That is a significant investment of talent!

Sadly, musical preference often causes division in the modern church. Believers sometimes argue about music, even leaving one church for other over musical style. Me? I grew up with the worship service built around a chanted “high church” liturgy. The liturgy I grew up with in the Lutheran church comes straight from Scripture; we use God’s Words in worship! I grew up singing beautiful hymns accompanied by a majestic pipe organ played by skilled hands and feet. These styles of worship seem to be diminishing in popularity, but they are still offered in many churches today.

My church offers a beautiful and meaningful “traditional” worship service each Sunday. I sing in the Chancel Choir. It is a God-honoring worship service. We also worship in more contemporary fashion led by a praise band that, quite frankly, can rock! Our band plays traditional hymns and they play modern worship songs as well. Some in the congregation sing along while others soak up the music as they worship God. Me? I’m a singer. I like to sing. This more modern style of worship is also meaningful. It also honors God. And I like it, too.

It saddens me, though, that churches sometimes divide over musical style. My church, for example, offers “contemporary” worship and “traditional” worship. These services take place at different times on Sunday mornings. This is a common phenomenon these days. And it bothers me. While music is clearly important to God as evidenced by the number of mentions in Scripture, it was never intended to divide us. But, if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that some of the more heated discussions that flare up in a church are around musical style and taste. Indeed, musical style for some is sacred ground on which another must not tread.

Houston, as you know, was hard hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. During the months that followed the storm, my church offered one service each Sunday morning due to the number of members impacted by the storm and unable to attend worship. The service was “blended” musically. The pipe organ played beautiful hymns, the Chance Choir offered an anthem, and the praise band led much of the music with the praise team leading much of the singing. It was amazing! We demonstrated that a variety of musical styles can contribute together to a very meaningful and God-honoring worship service. Many of our members (myself included) were disappointed when the time came a few months later to resume our normal worship schedule – contemporary at 9:00 and traditional at 11:15.

I may be stepping on some toes here, and that is not my intent. I’m simply suggesting that we believers keep an open mind when it comes to musical style in church. Let us not allow this to become a point of contention or division. Music that glorifies God and honors His Word should be embraced, whether accompanied by a majestic pipe organ and led by a choir, or accompanied by a praise band and led by a praise team. I find great joy in both. Both can coexist. Until then, on many Sundays, I attend both services: contemporary and traditional.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord all the earth!”

Psalm 96:1 NIV

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

God’s Instruction Book

I often call the Bible “The Treasure of God’s Word”. This Treasure is available to each of us, and when we open it, God reveals His nature, His character and His plan for our eternal success.

Study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Joshua 1:8 NASB

This was one of God’s instructions to Joshua as he prepared to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The “book of instruction” was the Torah – the five books of Moses that comprise the first five books of the Bible. Pastor Allistair Begg of Truth for Life often reminds his listeners that we are to read and understand the Old Testament in the context of the New Testament. Specifically, we are to view the Old Testament writings through the revealing lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I want to call out a few words in this passage:

  • Instruction – The Torah reveals God’s Law under which all will be judged. It also lays out the covenant God made with Israel as He freed them from the bondage in Egypt. Succinctly stated, that covenant said God would free Israel if they would obey His laws. It also provided a system of confession and sacrifice to address violations of the Law (sin). For Joshua and for Israel, this system would preserve them in God’s eyes until the promised Messiah came. For us, the Book of Instruction is the complete Book of Scripture, the Bible. Not only does the Bible help us understand our condemnation under the Law, but it also assures us of redemption and salvation through faith in Jesus. The Bible instructively informs us of God’s eternal plan for our lives, already assured and secured through Jesus.
  • Continually – God did not give us Scripture with the intention that we only consider it when read to us in church on Sunday mornings. He did not intend for our Bibles to sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. No! God wants us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” His Word (1662 Book of Common Prayer). I have discovered over the years that my outlook and my life are in a much improved place when I read my Bible daily than when I let the book sit as the dust gathers. God speaks to us through His Word, and we gain the most benefit from His Word when we spend time in it.
  • Meditate – More than just reading the Bible, we are to ponder God’s message to His people. Often, after my morning reading, I use my morning walk as a time of solitude to pray and think about what I just read. Through prayer and meditation, we connect with God and He helps us discern His message. The Bible does not say different things to different people. Its message is singular, it is consistent, and through prayer and meditation God helps us understand what we have just read.
  • Day and night – I love this. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, and it is also our instruction manual for living our lives. It is the foundation on which the Christian is to build her values, organize his priorities, conduct her daily activities, and approach his sphere of influence. It is the complete package. We are to carry God’s Word into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and each of our human interactions.
  • Obey – Actually, I should highlight “obey everything”. In Old Testament times, obedience to the Law was the focus of the covenant. In New Testament context, we know that our obedience does not secure our place in Heaven. No, our place in Heaven has been secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our obedience to God is an outflow of the salvation we know. We obey God because we know Him, we love Him, and we want to glorify Him so others see and give Him glory as well. This obedience is not easy. In these modern times, much of what the world esteems as right and good is contrary to the instructions found in the Bible. The easy path is to align with the world’s values. The more difficult path is to remain in alignment with what the Bible teaches us, even when society says otherwise. I pray every day that God would give me the courage to obey Him completely.
  • Prosper and Succeed – This is not “name it and claim it” prosperity. This is not about a growing bank account, a nice home, or a fancy car. This is not about those things at all. Prosperity and success are eternal. That is not to say that God is not interested in our daily lives or that He does not provide for our needs – He is interested and He does provide. But this prosperity and success is most appropriately viewed through an eternal lens, extending far beyond anything we can achieve, accomplish or gain in this temporal life. When we surrender our lives to God, fully trusting in Him, we will prosper and we will succeed. For ever and ever.

See what I mean? This, my friend, is Treasure! There is so much negativity and strife in the world today. Indeed, 2020 is shaping up to be quite the strange year. The world faces a pandemic. We have rioting in our streets as some seek to unravel the threads of American Democracy in exchange for something else. We live in a society that considers the killing of children in the womb to be healthcare and of supreme importance. Law and order seem to be diminishing in importance as many with power and influence support these movements. These are scary times. But, thanks be to God, He reminds us in His Word that He is Almighty. God is sovereign. God has a plan for us that will not be derailed. In fact, that plan is already achieved through the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

When is the last time you picked up your Bible, found a quiet place, and read God’s Word? If it has been a while, why not dust it off and start anew today? There are a plethora of Bible reading plans on the You Version Bible App. I am in my third “Bible in One Year” reading plan, and I can tell you, the Treasure is real, it is tangible, and it awaits you.

Soli DEO Gloria! To God alone be all honor, glory and praise! Amen!

(c) workisministry 2020

Abandoning God

Have you ever wondered what a society might look like if it abandoned God? The book of Judges is one of the toughest reads in the Bible. It describes a society in chaos; a society in which everybody did what they wanted to do with no fear of meaningful consequence or repercussion. Every time I read Judges I ask myself, “could my country descend to this depth?”

“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 17:6 and 21:25 NASB

Indeed, the days of Judges were very dark days in Israel’s history. Israel, of course, is God’s chosen nation. These are the people He rescued from bondage in Egypt and led to the Promised Land. These are the people with whom God entered into a special covenant. But what we see here, at least in part, is that God will allow people to reject Him. And when they do, they reap the consequences of their choice.

I am concerned about the current state of affairs in the United States and what this might mean for our nation’s future survival. We see before our very eyes the sinful nature emerging in our country. The greatest example of this is the legalized killing of innocent children inside their mother’s wombs, with many political leaders celebrating as they gleefully sign bills expanding this “right” through laws supporting late-term abortion. I know many Christians who staunchly stand for the right to kill these children; yes, Christians. Indeed, the wolf in sheep’s clothing is alive and active in this great nation. This is just one of many examples of his deceptions. And the chief aim of the enemy is to separate people from God.

Our nation is becoming increasingly divided in many aspects of life: rich versus poor, race versus race, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, mask versus no mask, reopen versus quarantine… There are a plethora of examples of the division that is rife within our society. The rhetoric tossed from one side to the other is increasingly volatile and hateful. Don’t believe me? Listen to how our leaders in government attack one another, seeking to belittle their political opponents like a bunch of seventh graders fighting over a kickball. Listen to the so-called “discussion panels” featured on many cable news channels as they talk over one another as they attempt to prevent one from making his point. Even the moderators interrupt when they do not agree with what a panelist is saying. Consider the flow of comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as people launch personal attacks against the person who posted her comment. Rather than listen, many simply shout louder in an attempt to drown out the voices of those with whom they disagree.

Truth be told, a nation divided within itself cannot stand.

I believe that the root of this growing division is in our country’s collective rejection of God. Oh, to be sure, many people claim to believe in God, but the god that many claim for themselves is not the God of the Bible. Many who regularly attend church claim to believe in God, but many who regularly attend church do not believe in the God of the Bible. And when the church fails to preach and teach the full truth of God’s Word, this societal reimagining of God infiltrates the very Church He established. Indeed, in this era of relative truth, where man is free to reimagine god as each sees fit, deception slowly replaces Truth and the society descends into chaos. As I look at my country, I see a country placing its collective faith in the wrong place. I see a country headed for deep trouble.

Have you ever wondered what a society might look like if it abandoned God? Sadly, I don’t think we have to look far.

The good news is that it is not too late to turn back to God. Redemption and forgiveness is available through God’s Son, Jesus. I pray every morning for our nation and her people. I pray that we would turn back to God as a nation. I pray that we would rise above the fray of division and strife, choosing to listen rather than drown out. I pray that those of us who know Jesus as Lord and Savior would be salt and light to our nation and our world. And I pray that my voice would not feed the fires of division and enmity, but instead fan the flames of faith and unity built on the foundation of God’s Word.

One of my favorite songs is called “Prayer”. Released by Christian rock band Petra in 1990, here are the lyrics to the bridge followed by the chorus:

As we face the last and final hours
Turn a wayward country back to You
And keep us from the evil that devours
Keep us on the path and lead us through
Keep us in Your light until Your kingdom comes
And our work is done.

This is my prayer
Lifted to You
Knowing You care so much more than I do
This is my prayer
In Jesus’ name
Your will be done I humbly pray.
This is my prayer.

This is my prayer, too.

One of the reasons I started this ministry is to build a platform from which to be salt and light to this increasingly lost and fallen nation; yes, to shine the Light of the Gospel so eyes might be opened and many might come to faith in Jesus. I pray that God will use this ministry to achieve His good and perfect purpose according to His good and perfect will.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Watch Petra’s “Prayer” video here.

Image Credit You Version Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Taste and See…

Yesterday morning I emailed my work team under the subject line, “WFH Week 5” and I stopped in my tracks. Week 5!? We are going into our fifth week of working from home?? Good grief, where has the time gone? It seems it was just yesterday that my wife and I were enjoying Ramon Ayala’s performance at Rodeo Houston (it was March 8), and now, all of a sudden, here we are. Week 5.

I enjoy reading on social media about the various ways people are spending their time as they do their part to flatten the curve. Seems that crafts, puzzles, games and conversation are making a comeback. And that’s good.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8

Here is something else to consider as we shelter in place: how about starting a Bible reading plan? These are strange and stressful times. Many around the world are out of work or furloughed. The COVID-19 death toll continues to rise and the economic fallout will be felt for years. People are worried. People are scared. People are angry. Fact is, we are living through a most challenging time, with many long-term ramifications. Scripture offers abundant hope, comfort and reassurance as it conveys God’s revelation of Himself to His creation. I begin every day with my Bible reading plan. And when I miss it, I miss it.

The You Version Bible App offers a plethora of reading plans of various lengths and topics from which to choose. It is also the source of the Scripture images I share here. I am currently working through Pastor Nicky Gumbel’s Bible-In-One-Year reading plan for the second time. God truly does speak to us through His Word.

Indeed, taste and see that the Lord is good. I double-dog dare you.

Soli DEO Gloria!