Overwhelming Praise

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Have you ever had such a strong emotion that it seemed like it was coming from the core of your being? Your whole body seems to be overcome by this emotion. It feels like you can sense it in your skin and body parts. You might even tell someone that you feel like you are going to burst with the emotion.

The writer of today’s psalm expresses a desire to have such an emotion. Specifically, a desire to praise the Lord with a level of emotion that comes from the core of being. A list of reasons then accompanies the desire; reasons that should never be forgotten.

This is a good reminder for each of us. We have more than sufficient reason to offer praise to the Lord. The reasons listed in this psalm apply to each of us. There are other reasons not listed here which we could, and should, add. Our praise should not just be half-hearted but consume our very being.

Take a moment right now to recall all which the Lord has done and is doing for you. Then after reviewing that list, determine the level of praise which befits the list. Finally, offer such praise to the Lord.

Reasons to Sing

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33 (NIV)

Singing is something which I have always greatly enjoyed. I am not a highly talented singer. I never truly learned to read music. I am able to know when notes go up or down and can follow that guideline with my voice most of the time. My ability to sing melody is much stronger than my ability to sing harmony. If I have a strong and gifted singer beside me, I can follow fairly well. While my skills may be limited as a vocalist, my love and passion for singing is limitless.

Throughout the Bible many different songs can be found. In the book of Exodus, the songs of Moses and Miriam are recorded in chapter 15. The victory song of Deborah and Baruk is located in Judges 5. A song of praise for the Lamb can be found in Revelation 5. One book of the Bible which is a love song is the Song of Solomon. The greatest collection of songs is the book of the Bible entitled Psalms. This book is likely the first hymnal compiled for the worshippers of God. Today we turn to the 33rd psalm.

In our psalm for the day, the song encourages us to sing joyfully and praise the Lord, even using instruments. The song continues by listing all the reasons to sing praises to the Lord. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. All of creation came into being through the work of the Lord. The plans of the Lord endure while human plans fall apart. By looking to the Lord, we find salvation, deliverance and hope.

The psalmist gives us an outstanding list of reasons to sing praises. I am sure we can add to that list. My list would include the Lord’s unconditional love. The grace and forgiveness which I endlessly receive from Godi s another reason for singing praises. All which has been provided and daily is added to from the Lord’s hand gives reason. My list really seems to grow each minute of consideration as to why to sing. What would you have on your list? Consider your list and then sing and play praises to our Lord without ceasing!

Pastor Crush

Why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry? This is a question that many people ask especially today. There used to be a time when full-time ministry, or becoming a pastor, was considered a noble aspiration. During the Middle Ages, it was considered an academic pursuit that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford to get a formalized education. The culture of today seems much different and many factors contribute to the less than lofty stature full-time ministry now occupies. So, why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry?

For me, I consider it to have been a limited choice. Why I state it in such a manner is because long before I would “choose” to enter full-time ministry, a sense of call was placed upon me. I come from a denomination which emphasizes the understanding of a call. The church culture in which I grew up, and would eventually seek ordination from, felt that every person has a call placed upon her or his life by God. Some are called to be teachers, some business leaders, some lawyers, some medical professionals, and the list goes on through every form of employment and volunteer opportunity that comes to mind. I was taught that each person has a call, or often multiple calls, placed on them by God. Just because God places a call upon a person, the person is not required to fulfill the call. In fact, many individuals pursue other courses in their lives. However, after years of resisting the call into full-time ministry, I chose to respond reluctantly in the affirmative.

General themes of why a person answers the call to full-time ministry exist. One of the reasons some give is a desire to help others on a daily basis experience the love of God. Another reason is to assist others in developing answers to their questions regarding their faith. Other responses might include a fulfillment in walking through life’s challenges with another person. For me, it was a strong desire to open for others the wonder of what a relationship with the Lord might mean in their life.

Whatever the answer to the question of why a person has gone into full-time ministry, a sad reality exists…the church is crushing pastors at a very alarming rate. What I mean by this is that in too many conversations with colleagues and those who have exited from full-time ministry, I have heard too often that the demands of the congregation and the denominational hierarchy crushed their passion and desire to continue in full-time ministry. Too often these demands distract the pastor from their role as a shepherd, teacher, companion, and spiritual leader. I would say that the demands actually prohibit the pastor from fulfilling these other roles. Yet, these are usually the roles which lead the person to enter full-time ministry.

Let me share a few examples of these demands. The first one which quickly comes to mind is the demand of being the referee. What does refereeing have to do with being a pastor? Well, it really should not have anything to do with it but often the pastor is the one expected to enter conflicts within the church and reduce or eliminate the conflict. Imagine being a parent who has over one hundred kids who have a tendency to enter squabbles over toys, control of the television, or who gets to play the Xbox next. This is often what a pastor feels like when trying to maneuver through all the he-said, she-said arguments which arise out of situations such as who decides what to serve at the Fall Festival Dinner.

Another example of the demands which crush a pastor is the endless amount of discussion and input from a variety of individuals in order to make a decision. Churches love to have committees to discuss and plan everything from what coffee to serve during fellowship time to what songs to sing during the Christmas season. While there is indeed value in seeking input from various voices and creating an atmosphere of participation among the members, these groups often get bogged down in details and personal opinions. These details and personal opinions frequently lead to the squabbles I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other issue which arises is that little progress is made in making a decision and it all is very time-consuming.

A third example which is too frequent is the financial stress the pastor absorbs. When it comes to church finances, the same story exists in some level in every church, there never seems to be enough money for anything. This leads to many different burdens placed on a pastor. One is the idea that a pastor should be the chief fundraiser of the church. Some members view it to be the pastor’s responsibility to find creative ways to bring money into the congregation and then lead those fundraising efforts as spokesperson and arm twister but do these things in a very unintimidating manner. The other side of the coin is that the pastor is often charged with the responsibility to reduce and maintain spending at the lowest level possible. The pastor is left to rely on volunteers and donated monies to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished from repairing the leaky flat roof to having weekly activities for youth from age 0 to 35. Of course the use of volunteer labor will also require being flexible and understanding that they have real lives so cannot accomplish what they commit to doing for four to sixteen weeks. Yet the pastor gets the blame when things are not done correctly and in a timely manner.

The list of examples can grow with each exhausted pastor with who you have the chance to speak. Horror stories and tears are in abundance as pastors tell of the demands placed upon them and the way in which they are often treated. Besides the personal anguish and abuse, yes, I will call it abuse, the issue that tears most pastors hearts the most is that they do not have the time or the energy to live out the passion which called them to full-time ministry in the first place. Every once in a while they are fortunate to see a glimmer of their call fulfilled in the life of another person but these occur like shooting stars at night which are fleeting and way too infrequent.

The congregations and denominations of the church are crushing the pastors who feel God calling them to full-time ministry. It is the congregations and denominations who are losing out on women and men who would love to shepherd, teach, walk alongside, encourage, and spiritually lead in the example of Jesus. Until the church wakes up to this reality and does something meaningful about it, you will continue to see pastors step out of full-time ministry, pulpits remain empty, and seminaries have fewer and fewer students.

Where Is Hope

For me, a benefit of believing in Jesus Christ is that I have hope. Hope is truly an interesting word. Much like the word love, hope has such a varied number of meanings depending on the context in which it is used. I can hope that the Hawkeyes will win their football game. Right now, rain is something I hope for in the area in which I live. I have hope that I will stay healthy and active for many years into the future. I am confident in the hope of Jesus’ promises. Each example is a different understanding of hope since the focus of that hope changes.

Having hope does not mean there are not times of discouragement, disappointment, and a level of despair. A person who has hope does not experience any fewer hardships in life than one who lacks hope. The difference is that a person who leans upon hope responds to the hardships much differently.

I recall a situation during my ministry when I was called to the emergency room of a hospital. A person in the community had been found hanging by a belt in his garage. Upon arriving at a local hospital, the medical staff attempted to revive the man but were not successful and pronounced him dead. The partner refused to leave the body so the staff requested I talk with him and convince him to leave in order for them to finish preparing the body to be transported. After much conversation, I was able to get the partner to leave the room. In talking with him and the family of the victim, I quickly realized that the issue which was causing problems was they lacked hope. This became clear again after the funeral service which they asked me to officiate. They would not leave the room where we had the service because they were convinced that this would be the last time any of them would ever see the dead man again. They had no hope in Jesus Christ, no hope in the resurrection, and no hope in life beyond death.

Hope is not always an easy thing to maintain. There are times in which I need others to remind me of the reason to hope. I need to hear words of reassurance. I need prompted by the Spirit to read passages of Scripture which speaks of the hope found in Jesus Christ. Rereading the promises which Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles set before us is a great way for me to replenish hope in my life.

Faith and hope are strongly linked. Being able to hope in the promises of God requires having faith in God. A person must believe that what we read in Scripture regarding the love and the sustaining presence of the Lord is true. This requires us to have faith in not a physical reality but in a spiritual truth. This faith is the source of our hope.

Looking around the events in our world today, or even specific times in our own lives, it can become easy to lose touch with hope. Life can have some very depressing realities. Difficulties can mount and appear insurmountable. Messages which we often hear can lead a person to despair, grief, and a sense of abandonment. For some, this all piles upon each other to lead the individual in believing that there is no hope. Yet, let me declare to you that there is always hope. This hope is not sustainable in trusting of any human or human institution. This unfailing hope can only be found in Jesus, the Christ.

Hope in the Lord. It has never failed me yet.