Tag Archives: Casting Crowns

God’s Power in Us

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV*

I’ve heard these verses quoted at the close of worship services so often that even to read them silently, my mind takes on a sober, official-blessing tone. They’re a commissioning, a reminder of God’s power and our goal of living to His glory.

Something new struck me this time I read them. Don’t you love it when God does that?

Paul isn’t writing about God’s power working on its own, restraining or unleashing forces of nature or holding the universe together. He’s talking about God’s power at work in us.

Earlier Paul prays that God will “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16, NIV*)

How often do we stop to consider that God’s power is at work in us? That when He wants to work through us it’s by His power, not our own?

Do we really believe it? Too often, I don’t. My mind knows the words, but the rest of me knows how little energy or ability I have and gets frustrated by the demands on my time.

Paul also says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV** ) and I need to understand that not just to mean Christ giving me a boost as I climb, but Him being the power source that supplies energy, ability and vision.

Father, when I limit myself to my own ability with Your “help” I miss chances to show how glorious and powerful You are. I place more trust in my own understanding than in Your strength. Please forgive me, and help me truly believe and trust Your power working in me to accomplish what You direct me to do. Help me not to view my tasks as drains or burdens, but as areas where You want to work through me. You are the Potter; help me be a vessel You can fill and pour out of.

A good reminder song is “In Me” from Casting Crowns:

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

**New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

It Shouldn’t Happen at Christmas

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23, NIV*

In the past few weeks, three people have lost parents or spouses, two have received bad medical news, and another is suddenly out of work. And these are just the ones I know! News coverage expands that list dramatically.

What’s the first thing we say? “It shouldn’t happen at Christmas.”

We have this instinctive sense that Christmas is about good news, not about pain. Some of that’s spiritual—the angels came proclaiming the wonder of God with us. Some of it’s human—remembering childhood’s warm anticipation of presents and surprises.

In the midst of the celebrations, pain happens.

Maybe that’s not so bad. The pain reminds us why Jesus came.

Let’s be sensitive to those who are suffering while the culture wants them to be smiling. Last week’s devotional thought was about “faithfully administering God’s grace” and one way we can do that is to bring God with us into every encounter. May His grace in us bring comfort and a sense of peace.

Father, I praise and thank You for the gift of Your presence. Jesus—Emanuel—God with us. Because You are with us, we are not consumed. Because You have rescued us, we have hope. Let us live in You and share Your presence with those around us.

Our song this week captures the tension between pain and joy: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” sung here by Casting Crowns.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Consciousness of God

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know….  It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.
1 Peter 1:18, 19, 21 MSG*

Is there such a thing as spiritual attention deficit disorder? “SADD” sounds kind of applicable. It’s so easy in the quiet of prayer to bask in God’s presence, but it seems as soon as I get around other people or performing routine tasks I forget to keep my spirit tuned to His.

I need to live each part of each day in relationship with Him, conscious of and relying on Him, serving and worshipping Him. Neither working in my own strength nor begrudging some duties because they keep me from the “important” stuff. Not leaning on my own understanding, trusting my own perspective.

It’s up to Him where He assigns me, after all. Whatever there is to do, I’m to be God’s child serving Him in that role at that time. Being with him there instead of wanting to be somewhere else.

Father, You know how easily distracted I am. Please open my heart and my spirit to a deeper awareness of You. Help me rely on You and rest in Your love. Help me be conscious of You and live in Your care wherever You place me. Thank You for giving me faith to trust You, and thank You for giving me a future in You.

There are some excellent songs lamenting how quickly we fall away or forget to follow through on our commitment to God, and celebrating His grace to take us back, but I can’t find a song that says “Help me remember You and learn to live moment by moment in Your presence.” If you know one, please leave me a note in the comments….

That being said, here’s Casting Crowns’ “I Know You’re There,” to celebrate those moments when we’re conscious of God’s presence… as a prayer that we’ll learn to stay there more and more.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

CD Review: Better Questions, by Todd Agnew

Better Questions, by Todd Agnew

Better Questions, by Todd Agnew (2007, Ardent Records)

Todd Agnew is the gifted songwriter who brought us the life-changing “Grace Like Rain” and “My Jesus.” Better Questions came out in 2007. The title of the CD comes from the first track: “I’ve got better questions than I have answers….”

Although I don’t ordinarily do music reviews it got into my head and wouldn’t rest until I talked about it. So here’s my review, formerly posted on my reviews page where it may not have been seen.

Better Questions’ music ranges from the rocky, driving “Least of These” and “War Inside” to the pensive “If You Wanted Me” and “Can I Be With You?” to the playful and catchy “Funny.” “Martyr’s Song,” co-written with novelist Ted Dekker, gives a poignant view of God’s longing to welcome His children into Heaven.

The songs are Agnew’s own, except for “Our Great God” (a duet with Rebecca St. James) , “Can I Be With You?,” and the bonus track “Glorious Day,” which continues his tradition of reprising a public domain hymn in his own unique style.

Todd Agnew sings as everyman/woman, exploring Christians’ struggle to live right and challenging us to see past the labels we put on others into their hearts and needs. His lyrics leave no room for plastic Christianity.

The songs remind me of the group Casting Crowns, who also call Christians to authentic living, although Agnew’s music is heavier. His straightforward lyrics remind me of contemporary Christian music pioneer Keith Green, but they don’t have the harshness I sometimes felt in Keith’s delivery. There’s no judgement here, just an awareness of our common need for grace and a heartfelt “We have His heart, what is keeping us from being His hands?”

Better Questions packs a challenging message, but it’s no sermon set to music. Todd Agnew delivers vibrant music with raw, honest lyrics that could have come from our own souls—or our neighbours’. Like the old man in “A Corner in Memphis,” “he’s telling us our story, or at least his side.” It’s worth a listen.

Todd Agnew’s newest CD, Need, comes out on October 6, 2009. I took advantage of the pre-order special and got an immediate download of his new single, “Joy Unspeakable,” along with a downloadable 5-song acoustic EP. I did it to get the bonus tracks that’ll be available when the CD releases, and I’ve got to say, I’m enjoying the acoustic EP and “Joy Unspeakable.”

Taught by the LORD

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back.
Isaiah 50:4-5 NIV*

Reading this, I feel something inside whisper this is how it should be: close to God, taught by Him, useful to others… to sustain the weary is a needed gift.

The end of verse 5, about not being rebellious and not drawing back, gives me a bit of a pause, but we do need to make the choice of His will or our own.

Then come verses 6 – 7:

I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
Isaiah 50:6-7 NIV*

This is Jesus, His suffering. What He voluntarily endured out of obedience and trust toward God the Father. For us.

He was not rebellious, and didn’t draw back, so we can be saved from our sin – and ourselves – and thrive in relationship with God today.

I don’t think I could face that level of obedience. I don’t even want to think about it. Rebellion, drawing back?

God calls us each to walk a different path with Him, and this hardest path He entrusted to His own Son. For all the martyrs and suffering saints in the world, there are others whose faith leads them in quiet and unremarkable lives.

But to be a Christ-follower is to face at least occasional opposition from those who oppose Him. Rejection and ridicule, however subtle, are part of the package. Nobody’s going to want to choose that.

Lord, help me choose You, for You have chosen me. Give me a hunger for You that won’t let me draw back or rebel against You. Help me want You more than I want self-protection. Help me trust You like Jesus, secure that the Sovereign Lord is my help.

I’d like to learn words to sustain the weary. And I’d love it if You’d wake me each morning and open my ears to Your teaching. Please give me an obedient and trusting heart. Because of Jesus, amen.

Somewhere in the Middle,” from Casting CrownsThe Altar and the Door cd, talks about this struggle. But for this week’s song I chose the next one on that album, “I Know You’re There.” May the lyrics and melody be our prayer and help us to surrender in trust to our great God.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Commanded to Love

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21, NIV*

Seen… not seen…. But I have seen God, at least His character: in the ways he cares for me, in His Word, in creation around me. I love Him because He’s already proven His love for me.

And I’ve also seen my brothers’ and sisters’ characters in what they do. Some generate an automatic response of love. Others, my instinctive response is avoidance… perhaps even dislike.

John calls us to an active love: “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, NIV) It’s not “feel love for,” it’s “show love to,” perhaps even “serve.”

I’ve told my sons many times over the years, “you don’t have to like one another, but it’s your job to love one another.” Maybe that’s the point of this command to love.

John goes on to say “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:3,4a, NIV) And he says we overcome the world by believing in Jesus, the Son of God. (1 John 5:5).

With loving my brothers and sisters in mind, I wonder about this overcoming the world. Maybe in part it means overcoming or breaking free of the world’s default mindset. Taking on the perspective of Jesus, learning to see like He does. Learning to love the unlovable because He sees something in them—in us—that is lovable: we are designed and created by the God of the universe, and He deems us worthy of love.

In the strength and grace of Jesus, I can find what I need to show love to the difficult ones who come my way. They need it most.

Father, please forgive my hard-heartedness—there is still so much world in me to overcome. Please help me see people as You see them. And give me not only love and compassion, but wisdom too, because with the demanding ones, sometimes what they want isn’t what You would give. Help me to depend on You and not trust my own instincts.

This week’s song is Casting CrownsIf We Are the Body:

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Keep in Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:25, NIV*

Not just “keep step” as in “walk beside” but “keep in step”, which to me speaks of pattern, maybe even choreography, as well as pacing.

I’ve always thought of these verses about God directing our steps in terms of His leading. With dance in mind now, I see it means more than leading us to our destination, it includes any side-steps along the way.

He is LORD of the Dance, after all. And when couples dance, one leads and the other follows. At least when they dance well. My trouble is, I’ve never learned how to follow my partner’s lead.

I like the image of the spiritual life as a dance with God. All week, I’ve been reminding myself, “Keep in step with Him.”

LORD, please help me remember to listen to the music, feel the rhythm… and let You lead.

Here’s a Casting Crowns song that’s new to me, from their first CD: “Praise You With the Dance.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5, NIV*

“I can’t do this without You, LORD.”

Many of us pray this way regularly, about hard tasks or scary appointments, or just about hauling our exhausted selves out of bed to face another day.

It’s a fine prayer, and it’s scriptural. Jesus warned us, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

The key is where we put the emphasis. If we focus on the difficulty “I can’t do this” it weighs us down. If we focus on Jesus, our hope and strength “I can’t do this without You” it reminds us where our confidence lies.

Acknowledging our weakness keeps us from getting into messes. Focusing there could keep us from doing anything at all. Let our weaknesses remind us that Jesus offers His strength. Our confidence is in Him, and He is enough.

Our song for the week is Casting Crowns’ “In Me.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

God Sees

“I cannot find God anywhere—in front or back of me, to my left or my right. God is always at work, though I never see him. But he knows what I am doing, and when he tests me, I will be pure as gold.” Job 23:8-10 CEV*

When he says this, Job is enduring unimaginable suffering. And his friends’ pious half-truths aren’t helping. He wishes he could find God and plead his case in person. His conscience is clean, and he knows he’s not suffering as a punishment. Why won’t God rescue him?

Pastor Charles Price (www.livingtruth.ca) caught my attention by paraphrasing the verse this way: “I don’t know where God is in this, but He knows where I am. And when it’s over, I’ll emerge as gold.”

His point was, sometimes things are so hard that we can’t see God anywhere. But don’t panic. God sees us. Where we can only see the problems and pain, He sees how He plans to bring good from it.

I link this to one of my favourite comfort verses: “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” Isaiah 50:10b, NIV.**

When we don’t understand, when all we have is questions and pain, we can choose to trust God. He knows. He loves us. And He will never abandon us.

A song for those hard times: Casting Crowns’ “Praise You in This Storm.”

*Contemporary English Version (CEV) Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society

**New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.