Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul – New Album, Feb. 1

Album cover by Emily Sloan

Album cover by Emily Sloan

I love Johnny Cash songs. It may sound cliche, but I really do. Ever since I heard “Walk the Line” on the radio years ago, I was hooked. He had an incredible way of writing lyrics that painted a real story that you could believe in. Interestingly enough, no many people know that he wrote more gospel songs than any other genre, and he even earned a Bible degree via correspondence while he was making music.

Every Cash fan has his or her favourite song, but mine has always been Daddy Sang Bass.” This song tells the story of growing up during the Great Depression, the hard work, and singing together on the front porch.

The chorus goes:
Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor,
me and little brother joined right in there,
Cuz singing seems to help a troubled soul

That line, singing seems to help a troubled soul, has always captivated me. How true is that? King David knew this, and the psalms he wrote reflected this. In churches all over the world, people are incredibly passionate about the music sung every week. In my life, there is no other feeling than when I can sing my heart out, especially when I get to sing my heart to Christ who saved me.

IMG_7958

Photo by Shelby Hurst

In just a few days, I have the privilege of releasing my second album, “Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul.” This a huge honor, and I am extremely grateful to Cedric Hardimon & Church Boy Entertainment for the support and funding behind this project and for supporting me as an artist on the label. Thank you also to Dustin Ragland for your brilliant work on helping produce this album and your encouragement along the way.

Preparing for this album, I was looking for a thread to tie it all together. Over the past few years, I had been writing songs, and the few favourites made it to the recording, but I had no idea what to name the album. I loved this Cash lyric, but I didn’t have a song called that. So, I wrote one. It’s the first track on the album.

“Singing Seems To Help a Troubled Soul” is a short song about the challenges of life but the light of God shining through through the melodies and chords of His song. I even invited a group of my friends to sing on the chorus with me.

Truthfully, all of these songs deal with singing and the troubled soul. Every song I wrote came out of times in my life when I was longing for God’s song in my heart. And I hope that they minister to your heart as well.

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

There are several friends who sang with me on this album, including Robbie Seay, a worship leader and artist from Houston, TX, who sang on “Psalm 23,” Aaron Boyd sang on “Nothing Here or Yet to Come,” and he is from the band Bluetree who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. CedEnough, artist and CEO of Church Boy Entertainment, adds his talents to “Goodbye Yesterday,” and Laura Medcalf, a long time friend with an amazing voice joined me on “Love Has Come For Us.” A group of my friends sang on the first, third, and final songs on the album, and I was also excited to have my wife Courtney sing with me on “Walk With Me.”

The album releases on iTunes on February 1, and CDs will be available at the CD release at First Baptist Church in Chickasha on Sunday night, February 9, at 6:00pm. They will only be $5, and I will include an Irish jig for free. Please join us – we are not just singing songs but we are seeking to share the Gospel as well.

Over the next several weeks I will be releasing some blogs to talk about each song, so you can hear the heart behind the music. I’m a firm believer in my calling to be a minister and pastor to people, and the songs God gives me are a big part of that. You can watch tv or look in a music store and see plenty of songwriters, and I do not want to be just another one in the list. I want my songs to make a difference and have a purpose.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me through the years, my wonderful family, and to Jesus for giving me a reason to sing.

Thank you to Philip Sullivan (AKA Captain Awesome) for designing the album art, to Emily Sloan for the awesome album cover, and to Shelby Hurst and Ethan Hickerson for taking photos.

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Also, thank you to Dustin Ragland for the drums, bass, and production on the album. Ethan Hickerson rocked the electric guitars, Kyle Forgety brought the banjo heat, and Laura Medcalf had brilliant background vocals.

And THANK YOU for listening and your support. To help this project keep going, and to help us make more in the future, there are a few things you can do to be a part:

Buy the album – Feb. 1 on iTunes or in person after Feb. 9. You could do both!
Share – It’s always more fun to share with everyone. Tell others about the music, buy them a CD, write tweets and Facebook posts! Anyway to spread the word helps so much.
Have us come play for you! I would love to come share some songs with you. We don’t eat much, are a lot of fun, and I’m just kidding we eat a lot.
Pray for us and our families.

For more info about Church Boy Entertainment, you can visit www.churchboy.com

“Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul” – Psalm 84

Stained Glass6I love music. For me, music really is an emotional experience. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite songwriters, and his song “Daddy Sang Bass” is my number one Cash tune. It’s all about times singing with his family during the depression. During those days, families would often spend evenings playing and singing songs on the front porch.

A line from that song, one of my most loved lyrics of all time, is “Singing seems to help a troubled soul.” And how true that is! When I sing songs, lead worship, or take part in a worship service, it truly brings joy to my soul.

You may not be a music fan, but I am sure that you have experienced times when your soul is skinny. Maybe you’re there right now. There is a Psalm that talks about worship and the presence of the Lord and how it truly satisfies the soul.

Even music isn’t something you really connect with, the presence of God is so much more than that. Let’s see what this songwriter had to say about being the presence or God in Psalm 84:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

This Psalm is one of my favourites, and is written by a psalmist speaking of the joy of worship in the temple. The idea behind it is someone who is making a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, which was a difficult journey for some.

Notice the focus of the writer in this psalm – it’s all on the Lord. His soul, thirsts for presence of God. His heart and flesh sing because of who God is and what He has done. And he says that “Blessed” are those who are always in the presence of God, from the priests to the birds who make nests around the temple.

The writer then makes a turn in his thoughts to where we find our strength. He says that blessed are those find their strength in God and whose hearts are set on being with Him. People who live like this can go through the Valley of Baca but make it a place of Springs.

The Valley of Baca was a very arid and dry place on the way to Jerusalem. Anyone singing or hearing this Psalm would understand the depth of this statement. Finding a spring in Baca is a wonderful thing. But those who find their strength in the Lord find refreshment and nourishment in the midst of any circumstances.IMG_6825

In verse 10, we see a line that is also the chorus of a worship song many of us today will recognize, “Better is One Day,” written by Matt Redman. The pure joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God is without comparison to anything else that we could experience or now.

The psalmist concludes his psalm with a wonderful statement, “Blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

The word “blessed” is an interesting word as well. The author uses it several times in this psalm to describe the person who trusts the Lord and seeks His presence. Jesus also emphasizes this in the Beatitudes in the Gospels. What do you think this word really means? Blessed is more than being happy or some other emotion; it really means being truly satisfied, no matter what the circumstance. And what this psalmist emphasizes over and over again is that in God’s presence is where someone is truly blessed.

For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this was commonly considered to be in the temple. Before the temple, God’s presence was equated with the Ark of the Covenant. Even in the temple, there were big curtains that separated areas where only certain priests could enter because of God’s holy presence. Those who had sin in their hearts could not go into the “holy of holies” because they would die!

But Jesus really changed all of that. The Letter of Hebrews addresses this idea at length, but a few verses in chapter 4 give us a glimpse of the concept:

Hebrews 4:14-16: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The presence of God for us is a different truth all together. Jews would travel so far to worship at the temple, but we can be in God’s presence anytime! Jesus made the way for us, and He intercedes for us. His work on the Cross tore those big veils in the temple away.

The same truth applies then and now: God’s presence is what our souls are truly longing for, and He is what truly satisfies. True strength, true purpose, true happiness are all found in Him. He makes springs in the dry places in our lives. We can walk through the Valley of Baca and find living water.

Notice, the psalmist’s focus is on the Lord and His presence. He comes to worship seeking to be with God. What do we come to worship seeking and expecting? What is our focus?

Without God’s presence, our lives are missing what they really need. We can fill our souls with other things that placate our hunger, but we are never truly satisfied apart from Him.

In life, we are going to walk through the oasis and through the valley. If we walk through the valley alone, it’s dry, desert land. If we walk through with the Lord, that’s a whole different story.

When is the last time you were really in the presence of God?  What are some ways that you worship Him and spend time with Him? 

When we come to church and worship, it is easy to get misguided about God’s presence. We will often mistake different factors of the service for God’s presence. Other times, we come with a focus on everything but the Lord even.

Do you feel like you are in the Valley of Baca and your thirst is parched? Do you feel like you are spiritually unsatisfied? Maybe you need to let your heart and flesh cry out for the Living God.

If you have a difficult time worshipping during church services, ask yourself where your focus is. Are you looking for the Lord or something else?

When was the last time you spent quality time with the Lord? When did you last truly let Him fill your soul?

Take a few minutes to listen to “Better is One Day.” As it plays, just spend time in God’s presence. Remember His love and all that He is done. Maybe you want to pray, read some Scripture, write a prayer, or something to spend that time with Him. But as you leave today, make seeking His presence a priority in your life. Find all that you need in Him.

What is your favourite Psalm?

BiblePsalmsI have been asked these question in the just past few days, and I wanted to ask it of you as well.

What is your favourite Psalm? Why? How has it brought you closer to the Lord?

Talking about our favourite Psalms is like talking about the songs we love too. They all affect us differently. So please, let me know about yours!

I’ll post thoughts on my favourite, Psalm 33, later on. I’m actually teaching through it tonight (along with Colossians 1:15-23 & Romans 8:28) tonight with some college students.

I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below!

Grace and peace,

Doug

In a world full of lies, we need to speak the truth into other’s lives.

Story of Barnabas: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5IMG_3391

Have you ever had someone who believed you and really encouraged you? Doesn’t it just make all the difference in the world? Over the past week, I’ve had some conversations with some folks in our church who have a heart for encouraging and praying for young families who are just starting out.

Then, in Church Planting Apprenticeship class on Monday, we talked about Barnabas, and how his life of encouragement was an incredible way of discipling others. And then today! A friend of mine posted a video on Twitter called “Street Compliments” that just blew me away. You can watch it here:

So it seems apparent to me that God is really trying to show me something about encouragement and building one another up. And don’t we all need it? This world is full of lies that are given to us. Facebook, TV, magazines, people we know, and so many other places fill our heads with lies.

And in a world full of lies, we need to hear and speak the truth in lives.

In Acts, the life of Barnabas paints a clear picture of how living this way can change lives. Acts 4:36-37 shows us that encouragement is selfless! Barnabas’ real name was Joseph! The apostles saw what kind of man he was, an encourager, and nicknamed him Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement!”

He was a selfless, generous man, which is what encouraging is all about: giving and investing into others (vs. 37). When we don’t encourage others, we are generally focused on ourselves – we are selfish. Even if we don’t think we are overtly selfish people, keeping the truth to ourselves is being selfish! Barnabas was generous and selfless with more resources than just words. His whole life reflected encouragement.

Encouragement is speaking the truth, even when it is difficult (Acts 9:26-28). Paul (or Saul) was not at all popular with the apostles, because he had been ferocious in trying to hunt them down! Even though Christ changed His life, these men were still wary.

Barnabas was able to see the potential in Paul and see the truth in His life. Christ had really changed him. That was the Holy Spirit working in Barnabas’ life to see what Paul could be. It’s hard for us to have that vision sometimes, but when we live life by the Holy Spirit, He speaks to us the truth to give to others. We live that kind of life through time in the Word and prayer. THAT is where our real truth comes from! Sometimes the truth is tough to speak.
In this part of Acts, Barnabas had Saul who had a rough past. But other times, the truth means confronting the past, or even the present. Paul did this with Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter was living in the wrong, and Paul gave him a hard truth. The way Paul did it is not the model for us always to do that, but it shows all of us that we must speak the truth, even when it is difficult.

Encouragement is also contagious (Acts 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5). In Acts 11, Barnabas’ encouragement of believers led to even more disciples being made! He then takes Paul with him and they begin to minister together.

In Acts 13, Paul, who Barnabas had taken under his wing, steps out into the lead and begins sharing the word of the Lord!

In Acts 16, even though Paul and Barnabas are not together anymore, Timothy joins Paul and the cycle begins again!

When we encourage others, we cannot think in a linear progression. Encouragement and discipleship are EXPONENTIAL!

You know what I think is amazing about the life of Barnabas? It’s simple. He didn’t have discipleship books or classes. He shared the truth of God and invested in a few others, and that changed the world!

Encouragement is not fleeting or meaningless. Real, truthful encouragement changes lives.

And don’t sell yourself short either. You may think that you don’t know enough to disciple someone or be that Barnabas to someone else, but you can! We call can! In fact, that’s our calling from the Lord – to make disciples!

I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. My heart is full of joy when I think of those in our church who want to be like Barnabas to other believers. Because without Barnabas, what would have become of Paul?

If I can encourage you, or help you in being that person for others, I would love to! And what are some ways that you have been encouraged? Who is God calling you to encourage? the right heart.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Christ Makes Things New // 2 Corinthians 5:17

2013. Somehow we survived the “end of the world” and other crazy things, but now, it is a new year. Isn’t new great?

This is a pic of my grandpa's 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

This is a pic of my grandpa’s 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

The New Year has always been somewhat interesting to grasp, especially when it seems to fall in the middle of everything we are involved in our lives. School starts in the Fall, many fiscal years begin in mid-Summer, but yet, our calendar begins on January 1.

Here in America, “new” is a concept that we understand but don’t always fully appreciate. We have a very “throw-away” based society where if something is overused or completed, we get rid of it. Also, we have so much freedom and opportunity with work and beliefs, that we can start a “new” career whenever we want.

So, for many of us, a “new beginning” may not be as incredible as it is to some.

Over the past 10 years, I have been very blessed to serve and do mission work in East Asia in a communist country. Several times I have traveled over there, but the first time the missionary I worked with taught our team what “new life” and “new beginnings” meant to these people.

For them, communism traps economically, spiritually, and geographically for the most part. Some younger students may travel to a university, but generally where you are and what you do stays the same. Not everyone is a communist. In fact, one has to be a part of the communist party to have higher paid jobs and power, but it restricts your lifestyle even more. IMG_1438

So, when our conversations would turn to Jesus, we would talk about John chapter 3 and the conversation Nicodemus about being “born again.” We would also show them 2 Corinthians 5:17,

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The idea of a life with Jesus being brand new with a new beginning was simply astounding. It wasn’t a rescue from the life that surrounded them, but it was a life with hope, purpose, and love.

For me, I had never really appreciated that idea until then. There are many days when I even forget it. Jesus has made me brand new. He hasn’t just cleaned up the old me – He paid the price with His life and purchased me with His blood.

Whatever your past year or years has been like, or wherever you are right now, do you long for a new beginning? Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you try you just can’t get things right?

Give your heart and life to Jesus. Let him make you brand new. Baptism is an incredible symbol of this. Before Christ, our lives are above the water, then we are submerged and we die to our old life, then we are raised out of the water to walk in new life with Him. IMG_2654

Doesn’t that sound amazing and refreshing? Even if you are already a Christ follower, today you can make that commitment and resolution to walk in the new life Christ has given you.

Life with Christ is full of new hope, purpose, and love. Walk with Him this year and the many to come!

ps…Do you have a story of new life in Christ? Leave a comment below!

pps…I would also like to hear some of your favourite new things: like new car smell, new clothes, etc. Leave a comment below!

A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: Be Who You Say You Are

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – 4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

James 2:14-17 – 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 3:13 – 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

When I was in the 7th grade, there was a girl I liked. Being the 7th grade Casanova I was, I asked a friend to ask her out for me. Smooth right? I know. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go in 7th though?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I'm really him?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I’m really him?

Well, surprisingly, she said yes, and we were “a couple.” However, after about a week, we called it off (more she than me). We talked on the phone once maybe, but we never went out or did couple-like things. I mean, come on, we were in 7th grade! Still, there was no point in being boyfriend and girlfriend in title only. I’m also going to say she had something against gingers, but that could just be my bitterness talking.

How silly would it be to say “I’m married,” or “we’re dating,” but never do anything to demonstrate it? What if I said I was a pro basketball player but never played any games or put on the uniform? What if you needed emergency surgery, I stepped in and said, “Hello, I’m the Doctor,” and you asked me how many surgeries I had performed to which I answered, “absolutely none”? What would your reaction be?

The principle is the same for any relationship. Imagine if you got married to someone, but you never talked, never spent time together, or never did anything that showed people you were a married couple. What kind of marriage would that be? Husband and wife would be mere titles without any significance.

Our relationship to God is quite similar. So many of us will claim the title “Christian,” and yet our lives do not demonstrate a walk with Christ. Quite simply, many of us are not who we say we are. I have been there before – I really think we all have. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In the verses above, we see a cross-section of the Bible that goes from the Old Testament to the New. Deuteronomy 6: the “greatest commandment” as Jesus put it in the Gospels, and also known as the shema to Jews, tells us to love God with everything we are – our heart and soul and might. This is quite interesting considering where this idea is found. These words appear in different forms all throughout the book of Deuteronomy, interwoven between instructions God gives His people to live by.

The Old Testament is often considered nothing but rules and regulations, and many consider that to the “old way of life” before Jesus came. But it was never about just doing this or not doing that in order to be a good Yahweh worshipper. A relationship with God back then was just the same as it is now – in the heart. HOWEVER, all those instructions surrounding those incredible words of “love the Lord your God,” are how we demonstrate that relationship with God. It’s how a life with God is lived out!

How we live for The Lord is an external sign of the internal relationship with Him in our hearts.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes words that have long been studied by the Church. He says that faith without works is dead – a Christian that does not really follow Christ is a Christian in title only! And as he continues on in chapter three, you should be able to tell who is and isn’t a Christian by how one lives his life!

In other words: be who you say you are.

Does what we do save us and make us right with God? No. God has always been interested in our faith from our heart first, but what makes that faith real?

A real faith is one where God makes a difference in every aspect of your life – from how you talk to your parents, kids, or wife to how you act at school to what kind of business person you are. Christ followers are not trying to just be seen, but a real faith can’t help but be the “light to the world,” shining through the darkness.

As the New Year approaches, you may be considering making some sort of resolution. This year, make one that really counts. Be who you say you are. If you follow Christ, then make that relationship with God real by how you life with and for Him.

What Made David So Special? // 1 Sam. 13:14, 16:7, Acts 13:22

Lately I’ve been asking myself this question, what made David so special? He is described as a “man after God’s own heart,” and yet there were so many things David did wrong. He committed adultery, murder, lied, and even battled some pride issues. He even writes in Psalm 51 that “surely I was sinful since birth” and asked for a new heart to be created in him by God.IMG_4481

So how was he a man after God’s own heart? Despite all his faults, God never left him, and David was always a huge figure in the history of Israel. The answer lies in what really set David apart from so many others.

When it came to the Greatest Commandment, David nailed it. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 has written the “Greatest Commandment” which is also quoted by Christ in the Gospels, “4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

If you look through the history of all the Kings of Israel, David clearly sets himself apart by his worship. He truly loves the Lord with everything. He never worships a foreign god, consults a medium, or tries to be God. He had no other gods before him.

There are only a few other kings that come along – Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others – that display this some type of attitude and behavior, but David is the shining example of it. And what set the other kings apart was their actions concerning the worship of other gods in the land. Asa was even described in 2 Chronicles 14 & 15 as serving the Lord “wholeheartedly.” He had an amazing prayer in 2 Chr. 14:11,

“Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God: ‘LORD, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, LORD our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You.’”

So what’s the point of all this? What amazes me about David is the dynamic of his relationship with God. In spite of his moral shortcomings, God never leaves Him. Times got tough and David even underwent discipline, but God never left Him. What David did was a lower priority to the condition of his heart.

God looks at the heart first. He does not ignore what people do or don’t do, but those things come second. Notice what Isaiah 29:13 says, “And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” God is not upset with what His people are doing; He cannot stand the difference between their hearts and lives.

What does this mean for us today: What or who is number one in your heart? What drives your life?

We are not going to be perfect. We are going to mess up, and God knows that. God knew David would mess up, and boy did he! But he still sought the Lord first, and that is what drove his life. When David did mess up, he turned back to the Lord and not something else to make things right.

Our hearts need to be our number one concern before we try to “live better.” God wants us to live for Him, but He wants our hearts first.

That is what made David so special: God had his heart. That is why he was a man “after God’s own heart.”

Who has your heart?

The Real Heart of a King – The Real Heart of a Leader // Deuteronomy 17:14-20

I read a great book not long ago entitled Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, written by a man named John Dickson. It was a leadership book with the main idea that the greatest leaders are those who are humble and servants. Those are the types of leaders we look up to and admire. In the past few days a photo has been going around the internet of a NYC police officer kneeling down to give a homeless man some boots for his naked feet.

NYC Police Officer giving a pair of boots he bought for a homeless man with no shoes.

Conversely, we tend to think negatively of those who are arrogant and full of themselves. Celebrities, athletes, and other leaders who lack humility are the ones that we tend to not be a fan of. When he left Cleveland to go to Miami, Lebron James experienced quite of bit of backlash when he held a press conference and had a one-hour special just to announce his move. Brett Favre could have been a legend in Green Bay and football but tarnished his legacy when he chose to not gracefully bow out of the game, along with some moral issues that came later. Political leaders like John Edwards who misused money to meet own needs or men like Castro who live in wealth while his country is in poverty are vilified.

However, long ago the world was different from today in this respect. Ancient leaders were qualified by their status, wealth, and displayed greatness. The Caesars of Rome put up giant statues of themselves and put their faces on the currency.

What is interesting about this time is how God defined the type of leader He wanted to see for His people. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is laying out how life is to be lived in His Kingdom for His people. The main theme of the whole book is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength – with one’s everything! But in chapter 17, God describes the type of leader in His Kingdom; He gives the description of a king:

14″When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” 17And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18″And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.19And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

A king by the Lord’s standards is a man who does not build himself up by an army, wealth, or wives – He is a man who follows and depends on the Lord. He is also a man who is not above His people but serves His people. The king is not above the law but embodies and enacts the law. He is a true servant, humble leader.

If you read forward from this point, you will not find any kings of Israel that really fit this description. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, falls short of many of these standards. Josiah is a bright spot in the kings that follow, but still none seem to come even close to this…until the real King arrives.

Then Jesus Christ came into the world in a manger, in a barn, in a small, unimportant town. Wise men and shepherds bow down before Him in the midst of animals, hay, and the smells. He grows up poor, lives without a home, and has 12 men that follow Him.

Jesus says things like, “The greatest of these will be your servant,” and “greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” But He also says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

And there it is. Jesus is the King that Israel has always needed, but never really wanted. Even the disciples, after Jesus had died and risen from the grave, were asking when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom. No one could quite get it then, but soon they surely did. Jesus displayed what a true king was like – what a true leader should be, 1400 years (or so) in the making.

John Dickson writes in his book about how Jesus totally revolutionized our view of leaders. It was only after Christ that humility was a quality desired in leaders. He was the one who changed it all! Now we really can’t stand those that don’t follow His example. Even most people who do not believe in Jesus feel this way!

But it all started back in Deuteronomy 17, and it tells us so much about God. With Him, it’s not about status, accomplishments, or all the things we think make people great. Greatness comes from a heart that loves God with everything and a heart that loves to serve people.

May we all, especially those of us that lead, have the heart of a true leader, the heart of a true king.

The Nose Knows // 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Grilled PB&Js – Absolutely Delicious

The olfactory senses are absolutely brilliant. Our minds connect to so many things through the senses, but a certain fragrance can bring up so much imagery in the mind.

Not long ago, we had a small cabinet built and painted to put over the washing machine. The first several days it was there, I could smell that fresh paint smell. That exact smell took me back to when my family moved into the house I grew up in many years ago. As soon as we moved in we painted most of the walls in the house, and it had that same smell for days. Specific memories and impressions came to my mind the instant I smelled that paint.

Counselors and other therapists will often not wear cologne or perfume because of this same concept. However, their reason is to avoid bringing up certain memories. Someone who had been abused, for instance, can be taken back to the horrible time when it all happened by smelling a similar fragrance. Those who work with rape victims are never supposed to wear any kind of cologne or even lotion that smells.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the “fragrance of Christ.” The apostle was writing about the previous confrontation that we can read about in 1 Corinthians 5, and by the end of chapter 2 in this letter, he takes a different direction.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?”

As Christians live their lives out, we leave an aroma of Christ to the world. People see and experience Christ through us, whether we know it or not. And just like the olfactory senses in our noses, the aroma of Christ can have a powerful effect on others.

For some we are going to be a sweet smelling, life-giving fragrance that people are longing for. Paul’s imagery is most likely centered on incense, a powerful thing in the ancient world. And our goal should be to bring that “smell” that helps to bring people to a positive image of Christ.

Some folks won’t like how we smell at all. One reason is some people just don’t like the smell of good things, or the fragrance of God. To these people we can’t really do anything at all. God must work on their hearts. Still, we can be a stench in other ways that we can control. We can be “burnt toast” Christians that cause people to wrinkle their noses and not have anything to do with Christ or the church.

Paul asks a great question though, and it may be one that you are asking too: “Who is competent for this?” In other words, “Who can possibly achieve this kind of life?” Being a pleasing aroma is often difficult. We sweat. We stink. And sometimes, we just don’t care about how we smell. Sin does that to us.

Our only hope is to let the Holy Spirit guide us and make us the fragrance of God. The transforming power of His leadership is what makes us smell sweet. Doing it on our own may produce some results, but ultimately we will fall short. Have you ever had that one friend who put on way TOO much cologne? Or maybe you knew someone who felt like deodorant was a conspiracy and no one really needed to wear it? That’s how we get when we try to do it ourselves.

Today, just pray that you would be a sweet smell to the world. May we lead people to Christ in a way that their minds are eternally etched with the aroma of life.