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Where God Is, There Is Singing

Oct 01, 2015 -- 2:20pm

I can’t imagine a world without singing.  Let’s face it, both vocal and instrumental music are part of our daily lives, no matter where we live, and no matter what we do.  At some point of the day, in some context, we are all going to encounter a song.  And, I for one am very happy about that!

I really don’t remember how old I was when I first was taught that the book of Psalms was really a book of songs, but it made an impact on my life then.  The realization that the people of God in the Old Testament had an organized songbook was of great interest to me. 

Now, I grew up in a church that sang only from hymnals, and it was a regular occurrence for the “song leader” (as he was known back then) to direct us to sing the first, second, and fifth verses of a hymn.  (I always wondered why they did that, and what was wrong with verse 3 or 4?...but I digress…)  Some of those songs spoke of the blessings of God.  Some spoke of heaven, and our longing to go there.  Some songs were built around and based upon the Psalms themselves, and those were some of my favorites, and still are.

The reason that the early church sang…the reason that Israel had a book of songs…is because God loves music!   Can you imagine what kind of experience it would be to hear HIM sing?  And what is so amazing – He, the Lord Almighty, sings over His own.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

(Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

That concept is almost overwhelming, but it is true.  If you are a believer, God sings over you…loudly!  And God delights in our singing and offering up praises to Him.

I was privileged to study the writings of Derek Kidner, a British theologian of great renown, whose works and study on the Psalms are legendary.  He passed away in 2008, but not before giving us great commentaries, including some on the Psalms and Proverbs. 

One of my favorite quotes from Kidner is this:

"Where God rules, where God is, there is singing."

Today, regardless of what you are facing in your day, I believe that you will benefit from remembering these simple truths…first, God inhabits the praises of His people, and secondly…He is singing over them as well. 

No wonder worship is so fulfilling…God’s people are being blessed by the Singing God. 

So, remember that…and…check out some of those third verses too!  They’re really pretty good!

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland




The Peril of a Hard Heart

Sep 22, 2015 -- 6:37pm

Most reading this blog are familiar with the story of Moses and his plight with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt who stubbornly lived through the plagues sent from God.  Most of us would capitulate after the first plague, but not Pharaoh. He hung on through ten amazingly difficult and costly trials (plagues sent upon him from God) before releasing his hold on the people of Israel and granting them freedom.

So is the nature of a hardened heart.  When one substitutes his will for God’s, bad things are going to happen. 

Stubbornness is not always bad – if we stubbornly believe in God in the face of persecution or mocking, then it has some virtue.  But the trouble comes in a hard-heartedness that is more selfish in nature, the kind that manifests itself in opposition to God, or His will. 

I grew up hearing a phrase that was often used to describe this particular character flaw – “He’s as stubborn as an ox.”  You’ve probably heard that one too.  There is good reason why this analogy became part of mainstream vernacular.  In fact, Paul – when he was still known as Saul, was himself sort of described as being “stubborn as an ox.”  Here is the back story…

Acts 26 tells of Saul as he was on the Damascus road.  As he was struck to the ground by the Lord, Saul heard God challenge him: 

'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'  (Acts 26:14b, NIV)

In that culture, that last phrase was very common.  A farmer would use a goad to control and guide the oxen in his field.  The goad was often wooden, and had one end sharpened to a spike.  When the ox would stop, and ignore commands to move, the farmer would take the goad on poke the flesh of the ox.  Sometimes that worked.  But sometimes, the ox would be so stubborn that he would resist, and kick back on the sharpened end of that goad.  Amazingly, though the pain had to be great, some oxen would continue to resist and continue to kick, causing bleeding and injury to their hooves and legs.

That was the message that God gave Saul.  Yes, it is hard to continue to kick the goads.  Better yet – STOP, listen, and obey!  That was good advice for Saul, and for us as well.

Pastor Shawn Thornton tells a story that captures our need to listen, and heed, choosing NOT to continue to kick against that thing that God has placed in our lives to guide us.  The scene is a darkened night on the ocean, and the captain of a ship is looking over the waters when he sees a faint light in the distance…

He orders his signalman to give this message:  “Immediately alter your course ten degrees south.”  Moments later, the ship received this response:  “Alter YOUR course ten degrees north!”  The captain was angered, and sent a more stern message back:  “Alter your course ten degrees south…this is the Captain named Smith.”  A reply was quickly given: “Alter YOUR course ten degrees north – I am a Seaman First Class named Jones.” 

Now overcome in his pride and anger, the captain signaled a third message:  “Alter your course ten degrees south…I am the captain of a war ship.”  A moment later, this message was signaled back to the ship:  “Alter your course immediately – ten degrees north.  I am a lighthouse.”

How foolish – and costly – it would be for the captain to maintain his course.  Yet, that is exactly how many of us respond in life.  Like the captain in the story, we can be blinded by our pride, refusing to back down.  We don’t listen.  And often, we run aground.

Thank God that we can have a different outcome.  The answer to this dilemma of stubbornness is humility – may we humble ourselves before a holy God, repenting of our hard hearts and pride, and turn from our sinful ways.  How good it is to know that God hears such a heart cry, and He answers our prayers!

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland




Time Well Spent

Sep 10, 2015 -- 11:48am

My last blog post was on “Getting Alone With God”.  While this new post is along a similar subject line, I truly believe that another post on time spent with God is critical.  Take a few moments, and I think you will see why.

The new movie “WAR ROOM” is out, and it is making waves among believers.  Not only is it entertaining and excellent in production and acting, it is downright convicting.  I left the movie theater inspired, and yet there was a tinge of sadness in me…caused by a realization that it took a movie to remind me just how prayer-less I can be in any given week.

Oh sure, I whisper prayers regularly, and many times, those are more than just mere utterances under my breath.  But this movie portrays the call in the Word to separate ourselves from our surroundings, find a “prayer closet”, and spend time alone with the Lord.

Now, that is easier said than done.  If only we could, we might get a testimonial from those three good friends of Jesus, when they accompanied Him in the Garden on that fateful night.  They could hardly keep their eyes open.  At least we can take consolation in the fact that we are not alone in our prayerlessness…that state has been shared by all.

Still, we have been given the call to pray.  And, to pray earnestly, without ceasing.  We have been given the mandate to call upon the name of the Lord, to petition Him in prayer.  We’ve been given the promise that such prayers are not ineffective.  James 5:16b:  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

So, why don’t we pray more?  We can list a bunch of reasons, most of which are closer to being excuses.  But I have a feeling that, at the root, way down deep in our soul, we just don’t think we absolutely need to pray.  That rather serious misread of our true human condition is common to us all.  We forget.  We minimize.  We misappropriate our priorities. 

Several years ago, a then well-known pastor made a statement about prayer that I never forgot – he took a rather “3-D” approach to prayer, saying that as we pray regularly, we move from “Discipline” (making ourselves spend those moments) to “Desire” (finding ourselves being drawn to spend that time) to “Delight” (actually enjoying and anticipating the time with the Lord).  That was a helpful picture then, and it still is today.

Just like the movie’s main character’s discovery that spending alone time with God may seem awkward and difficult in the beginning, the “delight” stage awaits all who press through the distractions and into engagement with the Lord.

Yep.  I am convicted.  I hope we all are.  After all, we have some big needs that can be brought to our even bigger God.  And the good news?  He is waiting there…for you and me.

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland




Getting Alone With God

Aug 24, 2015 -- 2:14pm

It was a most unexpected moment, and it happened while reading through Psalm 73.  I shouldn’t really ever think it strange that God would speak to us when we are reading His word, but still…the way that He surprised me with a sense of His presence is something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Going into that time of reading, I wouldn’t have realized just how stressed I had become about things ahead…at that point in time, I had two daughters’ weddings looming in the future, and questions over my own future retirement account, healthcare…you get the picture!  

This Psalm resonated with me as I read it, how that the writer (Asaph) had been comparing his current life situation with those around him who were NOT attempting to follow and obey the Lord.  It was as if  Asaph were saying, “What’s the use in trying to do what is right?”  His complaint was that those who were openly sinning against God seemed to be doing just fine, while he was encountering all sorts of difficulties.

In a way, his plight was the same as mine – my own eyes were not fixed on the Lord as they should have been, and that almost always leads one down a path that will end in either discouragement or defeat. 

Asaph’s help came in verses 16-17:

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;

then I discerned their end.”

(Psalm 73:16-17 ESV)

It was when Asaph drew in to God – that God drew close to him, and graciously led him to see the truth.  And the great news was that he did see through the fallacy of his previous way of thinking. 

God’s grace to Asaph is so evident in his description of himself prior to this encounter with God…he spoke of himself as being “brutish”, like a “beast” toward God.  But he learned that even when he was in that place, God had never left him. “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.”  (Verse 23)

Asaph received from God’s grace – favor that was not in keeping with where his heart had been.  And that is what happened to me too…God so touched my heart, in such a way that brought healing and hope for the future. 

If this resonates in your heart too, then do what Asaph did – get alone with God – He will help you discern what to do.

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland





Committed to Worship

Aug 11, 2015 -- 7:05pm

                                    (L-R:  Allison Gilland, Max Garcia, Mike Gilland, and Cindy Gilland)

It takes a lot of commitment to be a Division I athlete, something I can’t even begin to comprehend.  First of all, there’s the needed talent.  But there is a massive amount of dedication that goes into the mix too.

Both talent and dedication were appropriate adjectives for one Max Garcia when he transferred to UF from the University of Maryland.  In Gainesville, Max found a good fit with the Gators, but he also found a few other things – deep friendships, and an even deeper commitment to Jesus.

Some of those friendships opened the door to an invitation for Max to attend a local church…and he went with them.  Turns out it was my church, and I was privileged to get to go with the gang to lunch on one of those first Sundays, and I sat to Max’s right, and truly enjoyed the chat.  To say the least, I was more than impressed with this gentle giant, and couldn’t wait to see how things would go for him here in Gainesville. 

Over the next couple of years, we watched Max in all sorts of situations, including the trials of team enduring some struggles.  Through it all, he never lost his smile. 

Most importantly, Max never lost his drive to worship God.  Even on weekends when the Gators played out of town, and arrived back in Gainesville in the middle of the night, he still made it to church on time.  Eventually, he joined the worship team as a vocalist (and he is good!), and took part in all sorts of church activities.

Last December, Max graduated from UF in the same commencement ceremony with my daughter Allison.  His smile (after getting that diploma) was as bright as ever.

Weeks later, during the NFL draft, we all learned that Max had been drafted by the Denver Broncos – and this week brought news that he has been chosen to be a starter.  He will be playing left guard, protecting the quarterback to his right, who just happens to be Payton Manning.  Now, that is cool.

But what is really cool is this – Max is still Max, and he is still committed to worship.  I am thrilled that NFL success has not changed him one iota in that regard.

I congratulate a good friend, one with whom I spent many Sundays over the past couple of years.  Now, it is a new day, and I look forward to spending some time on Sundays with Max once again.  Except this time, I will be watching him on TV, as he plays pro football as a Bronco…still dressed in blue and orange. (OK, a slightly darker shade of blue!)

Go Gators.  Go Broncos.  Go Max.

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland



The Utmost Confidence

Jul 31, 2015 -- 8:19pm

It happens all the time – words that are so meaningfully important to our lives can be “boxed in” by our brains and hearts, and stripped of their deepest impact in our lives. 

I believe that faith is one of those words.  We hear this term spoken, preached, and even sung about regularly.   And most believers can recite by heart at least one passage of scripture that would contain this word.  No doubt, for a small 5-letter word, it has had a lot of usage.

But hearing it, and applying it are two very different things…at least, that has been the case in my life.  Recently, I have been taking a fresh look at this most important facet of my walk with the Lord, and asking God to give me a renewed sense of appreciation for the role it plays in my everyday existence.

The writer to the Hebrews (preachers use that term because we don’t really know who authored of this amazing book in the Bible) has given us a chapter that many call the “Hall of Faith”.  Yes, no doubt, this is a phrase that conjures up a “hall of fame”, for the many Bible personalities contained in chapter 11 are very well known.  In today’s celebrity culture, they would no doubt be considered famous.  But in this case, they are not noted or famous in and of themselves, but for the role that faith played in the outworking of their lives.

Verse 8 begins with 4 simple but critical words…”By faith Abraham obeyed…”  The Greek word for faith is pistiv – and it carries the thought of having the deepest conviction and confidence. Abraham, known as the “father of faith”, had confidence in all things God.  To him, if God spoke it, it was fact.  Simple…end of story.

But that second word got me…”By faith Abraham obeyed…”  To see this completely, you have to also go deeper into the meaning.  The Greek here is hupakouo, and it means to listen, or to answer.

Seeing these definitions helped me to understand more about Abraham…he trusted God so much that he listened, and simply answered God.  His trust equaled faith.  His action of answering equaled obedience.  I like that.

Abraham trusted – even when he didn’t see the answer with his own eyes.  In fact, most of those in Hebrews 11 are in that category.  They saw from afar, and never experienced the promise fulfilled that we now enjoy in the Gospel.  But they knew it was coming.  And even in its absence, they believed in the promise – and acted accordingly.  That, my friends, is faith.

I learned so much from my Granddaddy West.  He had a small farm, and it was often my privilege to help him with the crops.  I remember well the first time he took me to his potato patch, and the wonder I felt as he showed me how to carefully dig down into the dirt to unearth those spuds.  He stressed the need to dig carefully and confidently, because…those potatoes were there.  Even if I couldn’t see them, they were there, in that mound.  That first time that we dug down, and the dirt rolled away from that first bunch of beautiful potatoes…was a moment I’ll never forget.  He was right – though he had never seen that bunch of potatoes, he was confident that he would find them.

That is how faith works.  We believe in God.  We have great confidence in His promise.  We respond to Him, answering Him.  And in so doing, we obey.

Hey – that small word “faith” packs a pretty good wallop!  And those delicious potatoes…well, that is another story.

Till next time.

~ Mike Gilland



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