Archive for April, 2009

This blog is a part of a blog series called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. My prayer is that you will be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

“Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength” Worship, Part 2

In Part 1, we began to look at Warren Wiersbe’s definition of Worship:

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and it’s practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better. And what should be the result of all this? Transformation.”
     (page 26, Real Worship)

The blog title came from comparing Wiersbe’s definition with Mark 12:30:

Mark 12:30

Wiersbe’s Definition of Worship

Love the Lord your God with
all your…
Worship is the believer’s response
of all their…
     Heart      Emotions
     Soul      Will
     Mind      Mind
     Strength      Body

Today we want to look at what it means to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

With All My Heart and Soul (Emotions and Will)
Good worship defies description because it is a time when we experience the indescribable God. Psalm 34:8 says “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” I don’t know about you, but that has always seemed kind of strange to me. “Taste and see.” It speaks of both the experiential and the objective. Have you ever tried to describe how something very unique tastes? Well, our God is unique in the truest sense of the word – there is none like Him. Or how about describing to someone who’s never been in love what it feels like to fall in love. There are many words that you might use, but none are adequate to convey the experience. Similarly, true worship often defies adequate description. It includes adoration and subjectively experiencing the Presence of God or hearing the Voice of God.

In the first blog in this series, I quoted William Temple, the archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s. He describes adoration as “the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.” I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing that you’re a lot like me and you could use some of that remedy for self-centeredness.

How should our emotions be involved in worship? We worship God because He is worthy and because He commands us to, not because it makes us feel good or because it’s fun (even though it is fun and it does make us feel good!). True worship must begin with the character of God. True worship involves a revelation of who God is – the Holy Spirit reveals God’s nature and character to us and we are compelled to worship Him. It’s not an emotional thing, it’s our response to the truth of God’s nature and character.

Our response should involve our emotions, however, because one can’t look upon the nature and character of God without responding emotionally. To hold back those emotions or to deny them is being dishonest with ourselves and God. It also cheapens our worship. Our emotions are part of what it means to be created “in the image of God”. We worship and serve an emotional God – not one who is ruled by His emotions, but certainly one who experiences them. To deny our emotions is to respond dishonestly to what the Spirit is revealing to us. But worship isn’t based on our emotions or how we’re feeling; it’s based on the character and nature of God.

With All My Mind and Strength
Some friends were discussing some doctrinal issues and differences. I made a comment about sometimes becoming frustrated with discussions about seemingly minor points of doctrine that have no practical application. One of them appropriately corrected me, saying “But Sandy, this is loving God with our mind.” He wasn’t saying that arguing about doctrinal differences is OK; rather that honest discussions about what Scripture teaches sharpens our knowledge and understanding of it. 2 Timothy 2:15 says “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (NASB)

We love God with our minds by studying Scripture (even those parts that seem to us to have no practical application), by memorizing it so that we can carry it with us, by meditating on it so that God can reveal the full meaning of it to us, and by discussing it with others. I think it brings a smile to God’s face and a warmth to His heart when His children excitedly discuss His word. After all, He wrote it. Scripture tells us that ” All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

But it’s not study, study, study all the time…there comes a time to implement what we learn! Wiersbe describes this as the “practical side” of worship – “obedience to God’s revealed will.” Phil and I often jokingly say to one another “If you really loved me you’d ____________.” We fill in the blank with whatever chore it is that we don’t want to do at the time – wash the dishes, visit a client, be the first one to get out of bed and into the shower! We’re joking, because we know that our love isn’t conditional upon doing those things. But there is also truth in the statement. When we love someone, we do things to please and help them. Those actions demonstrate or show our love.

In the Lord, that means that we are obedient to God’s revealed will. What is God’s revealed will? It’s first and foremost the whole of Scripture and secondarily those things that He has revealed to use as His will for our lives (such as being called to teach Children’s Church or participate on a worship team or lead a small group). It sometimes seems like the equivalent of washing the dishes for the one you love, but when it’s done out of love and devotion to God, the “chore” becomes an act of adoration.

Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength Worship…Brings Transformation
True worship also must touch God’s holiness. Returning to Weirsbe’s definition, “Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.” No matter how near we draw to God, our worship must remain authentic (real) and respectful. God is not fooled by displays of worship that do not come from repentant and loving heart. As we worship God in holiness and truth, He reveals more of Himself to us. He allows us to gaze upon His beauty and to experience His love in a greater way. This evokes in us a deeper response in us.

Scientists have proven that looking at a picture of someone we are passionately in love with releases the same chemical in our brain that causes a person to become addicted to drugs. When we are in love with Jesus, gazing upon His face can have the same affect! I want nothing more than to become addicted to Jesus! I want my worship of the Lord to be “all gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” True worship brings us to the point of surrendering all that we are and all that we have to God’s purpose. That’s the transformation that Warren Wiersbe talks about.

It’s the transformation that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1-2. Notice that this is a passage about worship:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. (italics mine)

Lord, Help Us to Worship You
Worship has both an experiential and an objective element. So we pray, Lord, free our minds and our emotions to respond as You would have us respond. Give us a willingness to be touched by You in worship, both experientially and objectively.

Worship is based on God’s revealed nature and character; it touches God’s beauty, His holiness and His heart. So we ask: Holy Spirit, reveal more of God’s nature and character to us. Lord, we ask that you reveal Your beauty and holiness to us. We ask that You show us Your heart. Give us Your heart, Lord.

True Worship requires that our total devotion and attention focused on God. So Lord, we ask for your help. We confess that we are easily distracted, and we don’t want to be. We want to focus on You and You alone.

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This blog is a part of a blog series called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. My prayer is that you will be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

“Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength” Worship, Part 1

What is worship? That’s a question that I continually return to in my own study of the subject. If we were to survey the congregation asking for a definition of worship, I’m confident we’d get many different answers. A previous blog in this series focused on Eugene Peterson’s definition, in which he encourages us to “interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.” Peterson spurs me on to deny myself in pursuit of God (and that’s a good thing!).

Another favorite definition of mine comes from the excellent book Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe. Wiersbe’s definition begins much as God’s first commandment does and continues through to the end result of worship:

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and it’s practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better. And what should be the result of all this? Transformation.”
     (page 26, Real Worship)

In eighty words, Wiersbe:

  1. Defines worship (first sentence);
  2. Explains what it looks like (second sentence);
  3. Addresses a major area of confusion in worship – loving the Lord vs. fearing Him (third sentence);
  4. And defines what the result is (fourth and fifth sentences).

He has my vote for being able to pack a lot of meaning into eighty words! Let’s look at each of these points.

What is Worship?
Wiersbe’s definition of worship mirrors Jesus’ exhortation to us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Look at the similarities:

Mark 12:30

Wiersbe’s Definition of Worship

Love the Lord your God with
all your…
Worship is the believer’s response
of all their…
     Heart      Emotions
     Soul      Will
     Mind      Mind
     Strength      Body

Jesus introduced us to wholehearted devotion to the Lord. He said “Give it all you’ve got; don’t hold anything back.”

Jesus wants our heart – our emotions. But not just our emotions because He knows that we can be quite fickle. He also wants our will – our commitment to follow Him even when we don’t feel like it. He doesn’t expect us to follow Him blindly, He’s give us minds with which to evaluate His claims and the claims of others. He wants us to study Him and His Words, to engage our minds. Yet He doesn’t want only our love and our commitment to follow Him and our engaged mind seeking Him, He also wants our bodies – He wants us engaged in acts of service.

Wiersbe goes on to explain how these four elements (heart, soul, mind and strength or emotions, will, mind and body) interact. He points out that true worship is both experiential (mystical) and objective (practical).

A question I frequently ask myself is this: “Does my worship reflect Mark 12:30? Am I worshipping God with my whole heart (or my emotions), with my whole soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength?” Sometimes I answer that question too easily – a quick “yes” or “of course” – because I don’t really evaluate the question, I just answer it. To avoid this automatic response I sometimes ask the question a bit differently: “What am I doing that reveals that I am worshipping God with my whole heart? What evidence is there that I am worshipping God with all my emotions? How am I worshipping God with my mind? In what ways am I worshipping God with all my strength?”

Think about it for awhile…tomorrow I’ll blog “Part 2”  of “Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength” Worship. See you then!

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20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
          Romans 9:20-21

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
          Romans 12:3-8

Are you happy with the way God made you? Or do you long for a better singing voice, or greater organizational skills. Do you wish you had curly hair or straight hair or more hair? In my family, my siblings always thought I had all the brains and I always thought they had all the common sense. None of us were happy with the way God had created us. (Now just for the record, I didn’t get all the brains and they didn’t get all the common sense. I’ve come to understand that as an adult, but childhood images of one’s self can be hard to shed.)

God has created each of us uniquely to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us. He has custom-made us to fill the hole in the universe that He created for us to fill. If we don’t fill it, it will just be a void – a place in time and space that is empty, waiting for the perfect fit to come and fill it.

We have such a tendency to be dissatisfied with ourselves, when what we ought to do is celebrate that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God for His purposes (Psalm 139:14, Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 2:10).

I cannot fulfill God’s purposes for me when I am wishing I were or trying to be someone else. That either makes it really crowded in the space that God’s created for them or makes my space seem ill-fitting. But when I celebrate and grow in the person God has made me to be, my space begins to feel just right for me. In fact, my space probably expands a bit because I fill it so well.

How insidious is this desire to be other than we are! While writing this blog I began to look up a Scripture. It was the Ephesians passage I referenced above. But I didn’t know it was in Ephesians. So I started using the search feature in my Bible software. In the meantime, I asked my husband for help. He immediately gave me the reference I was looking for. The words that came out of my mouth next are the exact opposite of what this blog is about! Aargh! I immediately said, “I wish I could do that.” Well, yes, it would be nice to have the recall of Scripture that my husband has. But God hasn’t wired me that way. I have read and studied Scripture as much as he has. I have applied myself to memorizing it as he has. But unless I continually review those memorized passages they are easily lost from the front of my mind. He, on the other hand, has probably not reviewed Ephesians 2:10 lately. He just learned it once and now he knows it. He just knows where to find whatever it is he is looking for. And the truth is I’m jealous of him because I have to research to find those passages that I already know or once knew. I need to keep a good concordance or search feature nearby. Does that make him smarter than me? No, it just means he was created differently and for different purposes. And instead of wishing I were like him, I want to pursue the place God has uniquely created me for.

There is a flip side to all of this. Just as we ought to celebrate and grow into the person God created us to be, we ought to be very careful to not try to fit anyone else into a slot that God has not created for them. Phil and I served as co-pastors for a short time. We work very well together. Where one of us is strong, the other is weak and vice versa. We submit to one another according to our areas of strengths and God’s leading. During the time that we were pastors, our supervisors tried to force each of us into roles for which we were not created – roles in each of our areas of weakness. It made for an exceedingly difficult experience for all of us. In fact, the affect it had on Phil and I was that it made us feel like failures and doubt the abilities God has given us. We were not, in fact, failures. We were just the proverbial square pegs being required to fill the round holes. Had we been given the freedom to let Phil fill the holes that he was created to fill and me fill the holes that I was created to fill, the needs of the church would have been met as God intended them to be.

When we force someone into a role that God has not designed them to fill, we not only are working against the plan of God for that person’s life, but we are assisting in making them ineffective for the Kingdom of God. As a coach, we ought to look for the best in each person, celebrate it, water it and nurture it.

So this week, my goal is to do just that – in myself and in others. Lord, let me celebrate the woman you have made me to be, trusting that you have created a perfect hole for me to fill. Let me also see others as You see them, celebrate who they are, and encourage them to grow into the person you’ve designed them to be.

I invite you to join me in celebrating God’s creation – you, me and those around us – uniquely created to fulfill God’s purposes.

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This blog is the second in a new series of blogs called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. You’ll find the first article here. My prayer is that you will be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

Deliberate Attentiveness to God
You won’t find a definition of worship in Scripture, but you will find a first commandment:

Thou shalt have no other God’s before me.
          Deuteronomy 5:7

You’ll also find the exhortation by Jesus (quoting the Old Testament) to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
           (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).

These Scriptures are at the heart of worship and must be in the forefront of a worshipper’s mind.

I find it pretty easy to put my own needs, wants and desires before God; I find it pretty easy to love God with only a portion of my heart, soul, mind and strength, reserving the rest for my own pursuits. True worship, however, begins and ends with the Lord. He and he alone is our audience. When our focus is on ourselves or others (or what others think of us), our worship turns into performance and then quickly becomes religion. Our worship ought to always be for an audience of only One, the Lord.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m singing, praying, meditating on Scripture or listening for God’s voice during worship, though, I find that focusing completely on the Lord (and not on my wants, needs and desires) can be a challenge. It requires discipline. I include sign language in my worship to the Lord because it helps me to stay focused on Him and on the words of the song I’m singing to Him. Christ alone deserves my attention in worship.

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, includes a definition of worship in his book Leap Over a Wall that addresses my proclivity to be more concerned about my agenda than about God. His definition begins like this:

“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God….” 
          Eugene Peterson

I like this definition so much because it goes right to the heart of the matter – that I need to interrupt my preoccupation with myself. This tells me that the very act of worship works in me the process of dying to self. It helps me to make John the Baptist’s statement “He must increase and I must decrease” a reality in my life. Worship strikes at the root of my self-centeredness. As I learn to “attend to the presence of God”, the fleshly “me-first” response that is in me is cut away. Worship transforms me by creating in me a heart and mind that thinks of God first instead of me first.

This is what Eugene Peterson is saying. Let’s look at his entire definition:

“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God. Worship is the time and place that we assign for deliberate attentiveness to God – not because He’s confined to time and place but because our self-importance is so insidiously relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to Him at all at other times and in other places.”

The words and phrases Peterson uses in this definition are so strong: I must “interrupt” my “preoccupation” with myself and set aside time for “deliberate attentiveness” to God because my preoccupation with myself is “insidiously relentless.” I’m afraid that this is a true statement. My preoccupation with myself is insidiously relentless. If I’m not proactive to set aside a time and place for worship it doesn’t happen. Furthermore, if I’m not deliberate in my attentiveness to God during those times, I might as well spend the time watching television!

Being deliberately attentive means that we must be participants in worship, not spectators. It’s not enough to come to a place where others are bringing their offering. We must bring our own offering and personally give that offering to our Lord. To do less is to miss the mark.

Perhaps you’ll join me in this prayer as you set aside time for personal worship this week or join others in worship next Sunday:

Lord, I want to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Please break into my preoccupation with myself and help me attend to Your presence. Begin (or continue) the process of transformation today, Lord. Cut away my self-centeredness. Circumcise my heart, Lord.

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As I’m reading through Deuteronomy, I confess that I somewhat breezed through the Ten Commandments. Yeah, I know them. No need to read closely or slowly. I’ve read all this before… That was my attitude. Not a good attitude, but that’s what it was. I slowed down a bit on the commandment about honoring the Sabbath, but that’s just because it’s one of my favorite topics. I will write a book about it someday…but not today.

Then I came to chapter 9, our Resting at the River’s Edge reading for today. Verse 10 struck me:

The LORD gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you…
          Deuteronomy 9:10

The Ten Commandments were so important that God wrote them with his own finger. He carved each word and each letter Himself onto tablets and gave the tablets to Moses.

Then, of course, Moses threw the tablets on the ground in his anger at the golden calf incident.

This made an impression on me, but not so much that I quit reading to writing a blog. Then I came to Deuteronomy 10:

1At that time [after Moses had broken the first tablets that God had written on] the LORD said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden chest. 2I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the chest.”

3So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4The LORD wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me. 5Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the LORD commanded me, and they are there now.
          Deuteronomy 10:1-5

God again wrote on the tablets, etching each letter into the stone with his finger. So I can’t help but think how very important they must be to him. And how precious those stones must have been to the Israelites.

My dad wasn’t much for writing letters, but there was one Christmas when he was unemployed and had no money for gifts. He wrote me a letter instead. How very special that gift was. I still have the letter. I don’t still have many other gifts I received from my dad over the years. Somehow, when someone takes the time to put their thoughts into words and onto paper, it creates something very almost magical.

That’s what God did for the Israelites. He wrote out the Ten Commandments in his own hand. I wonder what the handwriting of God looked like!

Also…think of this…the only thing God ever wrote was the Ten Commandments. That puts them pretty high on the list of things that are important to Him. And He didn’t just write them out once. When Moses broke the first set, God wrote them out again.

(Imagine that conversation…”God, umm, well, umm…you know those tablets you, uh, um, the tablets you, uh, wrote out and, uh, gave me a few days ago? Well, I uh, I sort of, well, the Israelites…I was so angry … and I dropped…well, uh, not really dropped, but…I broke them…And I didn’t have time to memorize them first, so…I um, I was wondering if you, uh, if you could write them out again…or, or maybe at least dictate them to me so, uh, I could write them. Would you mind, Lord?)

But I digress. The point is the Ten Commandments were so important to God that He wrote them out Himself, not once but twice. And I breezed over them like I was reading old news. And quite frankly, I’m not the only one. Our society has pretty much trashed the Ten Commandments. We’ve taken coveting to a whole new level – in fact, we’ve created a whole industry around it. Adultery is so common that when we hear about it or see it on television we barely blink an eye. Even Christians take the Lord’s name in vain (yes, using the acronym “OMG” is taking the Lord’s name in vain). Very few of us honor the Sabbath. Or our parents.

I’m not trying to heap guilt upon you. That’s not my job, it’s not my approach, and it’s not what this website is about. But I can’t help but be grieved at how far down the slippery slope we’ve fallen. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve fallen down the slippery slope and you’re still at the top. That’s great! We need folks at the top to help those of us who have been too influenced by the world to help us get back up there. I confess to being too molded by the world at times. I don’t want it to be that way. I want to honor the Commandments that God considered so important He wrote them out Himself. Will you join me in that?

The Ten Commandments

7“You shall have no other gods before me.

8“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

12“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

16“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

17“You shall not murder.

18“You shall not commit adultery.

19“You shall not steal.

20“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

21“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

          Deuteronomy 5:7-21

Lord, may I not dishonor you by glossing over that which is so important to you that you wrote it with your own hand.

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Well, we’re coming to the end of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and Moses knows he will die before they cross over to the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy is all about Moses’ last words to the Israelites before he dies and they make the significant crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land. He isn’t talking to the generation that lived in bondage to the Egyptians and saw God’s great deliverance. He is talking to their children and their children’s children.

Imagine yourself, near death, knowing that your entire extended family was about to embark on a dangerous but exciting journey to a new home. The God you know so intimately they know only as a shadow. What would you say to your family? How would you communicate the goodness of your God? How would you instill in them the faith they would need to meet the challenges ahead.

Moses’ Three Sermons 
That is the task of Moses in Deuteronomy, and he accomplishes it by preaching three distinct sermons. In the first one (Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43), he reminds the Israelites of their history with God, concluding with this passage:

32“Search all of history, from the time God created people on the earth until now. Then search from one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened before. 33Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire-as you did-and survived? 34Has any other god taken one nation for himself by rescuing it from another by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, awesome power, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the LORD your God did for you in Egypt, right before your very eyes.

35“He showed you these things so you would realize that the LORD is God and that there is no other god. 36He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it… 39So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The LORD is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other god! 40If you obey all the laws and commands that I will give you today, all will be well with you and your children. Then you will enjoy a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

          Deuteronomy 4:32-41

Reading Deuteronomy is good for my soul! It is good for me to remember what God has done for me. It is good for me to be reminded that I could search all of history and never find a God as great as my God. He is the Lord of both heaven and earth and there is no one else like Him.

Moses second sermon (Deuteronomy 4:44-28:68) takes up most of the book, and it expands on the law, teaching the Israelites how to live in relationship to God and one another. Beginning with the Ten Commandments (5:6-21), the sermon ends with a long list of blessings associated with obedience to the Lord (28:1-14) and curses associated with disobedience (28:15-68). In between, if your Bible has .headings, you’ll find that many of them include the words “Remember…” and “A Call to…” Moses is urging the people to remember where they have come from, how they have acted toward God and how He has responded to them. He is also lifting them toward their destiny, calling them to higher things as they move closer and closer to entering the Promised Land.

Finally, Moses preaches his last sermon (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20), in which he calls this new generation of Israelites into covenant with the God who made a covenant with their ancestors. Read some of his closing words

11“This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand or perform. 12It is not up in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go to heaven and bring it down so we can hear and obey it?’ 13It is not beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear and obey it?’

19“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! 20Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
          Deuteronomy 30:11-13, 19-20

May Moses’ words pierce our hearts as we read them! May we hear the Lord urging us to choose life!

Moses’ Postscript and His Death 

There is a bit of a postscript to Deuteronomy in chapters 31 through 34. Moses installs Joshua as the Israelites’ new leader with the words “Be strong and courageous” (31:23). He writes and sings a song to the Israelites (32:1-47) and he gives them a final blessing (chapter 33) Finally, Moses dies and Deuteronomy ends with this epitaph:

10There has never been another prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11The LORD sent Moses to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and his entire land. 12And it was through Moses that the LORD demonstrated his mighty power and terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.
          Deuteronomy 34:10-12

Deuteronomy is a great conclusion to the Pentateuch. I know that some of you have found Numbers and Leviticus a bit difficult to read. Look forward to reading Deuteronomy, friends. I am confident that God will speak to you as you read through the book.

Be blessed!

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A commonly memorized verse is Romans 3:23

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It’s a great verse, confirming that each of us – every person on this earth – has fallen short of God’s glory – we have all sinned. The word “sin” means “to miss the mark.” We have all missed the mark. We all need someone to make up for that shortfall. That someone is Jesus Christ, as the passage in which the verse is found makes so clear. Let’s look at the whole passage.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious
of sin.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been
made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God
presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
          Romans 3:20 -25a

The passage I’ve included here begins with verse 20, but you’ll notice that the first word is “therefore.” That means it’s worth looking at the previous verses to understand our jumping off point. Verse 20 follows a discussion about how we have all done wrong. We have all cursed or slandered or hurt others. We have all gone our own way instead of God’s way. “Therefore” – in other words, because of that – no one will be declared righteousness in God’s sight. God’s standards haven’t kept us from wrong-doing; rather, they have made us conscious of how far we have missed the mark.

“But now a righteousness from God…has been made known.” (V21) I love it when God says “but now.” Things used to be like this, but God stepped in and now things are different. Hallelujah! In this context, we were a sinful people and none of us could be considered righteous. But God stepped in and has introduced us to a righteousness that is available despite our sinful nature.

Righteousness means “equity of character or act” and “by implication, innocence or holiness.” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries) In other words, we can read this verse as “a holiness, or innocence, from God has been made known.” The holiness or innocence is from God, not from ourselves. We fall short of the mark; we are guilty. But He has provided an innocence that He wants to give us.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (V22) God has provided an innocence, a holiness for us, and it comes through faith in Jesus Christ and is given to all who believe. It does not come by what we do – the discussion prior to verse 20 makes it clear that we haven’t and can’t do it – we can’t keep God’s holy standards. The truth is that we probably don’t even want to.

Let’s think about that. Most of us would like to believe that we’re good people, and by earthly standards we probably are. But God’s standards are so much higher than ours. (Aren’t you glad about that? I am. I would not want to worship a god who is as morally corrupt as I can be!) Again, think about it:

Have you ever hurt another person intentionally? Have you ever said or done anything to hurt someone? Sure, it might have been because they hurt you, but that’s not really relevant. What is relevant is that out of the darkness of your heart you intentionally inflicted pain.

I have. I’m not proud of it, but I know that there have been times when I’ve said things to try to make me seem superior to others. Maybe it was in sarcasm or in debate, but again, that’s pretty irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the other person was hurt by something I did or said. In doing so, I killed something in that person. And so have you. It’s part of who we are in our fallen nature. We seek to build ourselves up, do what’s best for us and think of ourselves first. In doing so, we often put others down, take actions that hurt or hinder them, and ignore their needs and feelings. My friend, that’s missing the mark. Big time.

So we all need this righteousness which comes from God. And in His goodness, He provided it. He has made available to us an innocence – a holiness, a righteousness – to replace our sinfulness. That righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

The words “faith” and “believe” are related in the Greek. They mean a “continued reliance upon.” They don’t mean “intellectual agreement with.” My husband can intellectually agree with the doctors that he should take certain medicines to regulate his heart, but he is not demonstrating faith until he is actually taking the medication – he’s not relying upon the medication by knowing that they will help him; he relies upon them when he makes them a part of his everyday life. The same is true with faith. Placing our faith in Christ means relying upon Him for our righteousness before God and making Him a part of our everyday life.

This point is so important that Paul repeats himself in verses 23 through the first half of 25:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.”

This passage uses many words that are foreign to our western mind. Words like justified, redemption, sacrifice and atonement don’t bring up the same images as they did for Paul’s audience. But if you’ve been following along with the Resting at the River’s Edge readings, perhaps you’re seeing a shadow in the words that gives them more meaning. The word “justified” is from the same root word as “righteousness,” but it carries with it the act of bestowing that righteousness – that innocence – upon someone else. Being justified means that God has put His righteousness upon us. It is by His grace, looking upon us with favor that he freely chooses to do this.

That righteousness that God bestows upon us comes “through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The word redemption isn’t used often in today’s language. Sometimes you’ll see the word “redeem” on the bottom of a grocery store coupon. “You may redeem this coupon for…” In other words, you can exchange this coupon for whatever it’s “value” is. Jesus Christ is the “coupon” and God’s righteousness is the value the coupon carries. We don’t cut the coupon out of the newspaper or magazine, we receive it through faith – by relying upon what Christ did for us to close the gap between God’s righteousness and our sinfulness.

You see, “God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” (V. 25) In the Old Testament, the Israelites sacrificed a bull, goat, lamb or some other animal as an atonement for their sins. Atonement literally means “to cover” or “covering.” To cover their sins, they sacrificed the animal and poured the blood on the altar. God is now saying, that Jesus was sacrificed as a covering for our sins. We receive or accept that sacrifice when we trust in it to make up the difference between God’s standards and our sinfulness.

What a wonderful God! Choosing so great a sacrifice to cover our sins – yours and mine. And having done so, He then makes a phenomenal exchange – our sinfulness for His innocence – He actually bestows upon us His righteousness. And it all happens when we simply decide to rely on Him – to believe that He has done it for us.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious
of sin.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been
made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God
presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
          Romans 3:20 -25a

Hallelujah!

If you haven’t ever decided to rely on Jesus – to believe His blood serves as the covering, atonement, for your sins, you can do so today. Please take a minute to e-mail me at Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com. I’d love to correspond with you to help you understand what it means to put your faith in Christ and to help get you started off on the right foot.

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This blog is the first in a new series of blogs called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. May you be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

Changed by Intimacy with God
I am an enthusiastic worshipper, but I haven’t always been so. I’ve known and followed the Lord for almost thirty years. Throughout that time, I’ve done a lot of teaching and shepherding, but it wasn’t until about fourteen years ago that I started to become a worshipper – that is, I began to understand the difference between singing hymns and songs in church services and worshipping God. Those who have known me for only a few years can’t begin to know the degree to which I was an uptight, overly serious, self-conscious worshipper of God. Much of the change that I have experienced has come through the transformation that occurs as I pursue God in worship.

Let me say at the outset that I recognize that worship is so much more than spending time with God. Many things can be considered part of our worship, including acts of obedience and service. Those are at least as important, perhaps more so, than the worship I’m addressing here. I find, though, that most of us are better at the obedience and service than we are at sitting at the feet of Jesus. It’s easy for the more personal and intimate type of worship to be neglected sometimes. Most of us are much more like Martha than Mary. But Jesus told Mary that Martha had chosen “what is better.” (Luke 10:42) Sitting at the feet of Jesus in adoration and love is what I’m addressing in this blog and in a series of blogs that will follow in the coming month.

This kind of worship has transformed me into a child of God, instead of being an adult of God. It has allowed me to experience awe and wonder as I gaze at His beauty. It has also allowed me to shed much of my self-consciousness as I began to understand the great, great, unconditional love God has for me. Caring too much about what others think is a form of bondage that keeps us from responding to God and from enjoying life. In worship I’ve experienced and come to understand more about how very much God loves me, and as a result I have become much more obedient and I enjoy life a whole lot more.

Worship has trained me to run to Him for comfort and protection in a way I never did before, because He holds my heart. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21) It wasn’t obedience or serving Him that enabled me to give Him my heart, it was sitting at His feet in worship. Obedience and service caused faith, trust and character to grow in me. Sitting at His feet developed love.

So I am excited about writing this series of blogs about worship. I can truly say that worship has transformed my life and that the deeper I go in worship or the higher priority I make it in my life, the more the Lord is able to change me into the image of Christ. It’s my prayer that through these blogs, you will be inspired to pursue worship to a greater degree.

I am not Unique!
As I’ve studied worship over the past few years, nearly every book I’ve read validates my experience. They all say that worship transforms the worshipper, enabling him or her to accomplish the things God has for them. Tozer put it this way:

“The beautiful part of worship is that it prepares you and enables you to zero in on the important things that must be done for God.”
          A.W. Tozer

William Temple, the archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944 provided a rather long but excellent definition of worship. It explains how worship transforms the worshipper:

“Both for perplexity and for dulled conscience the remedy is the same; sincere and spiritual worship. For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is:

          the quickening of our conscience ………………………. by His holiness;
          the nourishment of mind ………………………………….. with His truth;
          the purifying of imagination ……………………………… by His beauty;
          the opening of the heart ………………………………….. to His love;
          the surrender of will ……………………………………….. to His purpose

– and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. Yes – worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution of perplexity and to the liberation from sin.”
          William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944

Can one help but be transformed by worship, when it has the potential for all these things? If you want to grow in holiness, truth, love, service, and your capacity to enjoy the wonder of God, there can be only one remedy – spend more time in personal, private worship. Just you and God. Alone. Together. It will start a transformation process that can only lead to good things!

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We’re under a bit of pressure these days. My husband is spending tonight in the hospital…again. Our finances are awfully tight since must of our customers have had their budgets severely cut – no work means no paycheck when you’re self-employed. We are reaching the point where our personal finances won’t pay the bills much longer. As I walked through the hospital this afternoon, I was starting to stress a bit. In mid-stride, God reminded me that I’m in the middle of writing a sermon that is about praising Him in the midst of our trials. (Warning…whatever you choose to teach on, God will probably allow Satan to test you in so that you learn the lesson well before you teach it to someone else.)

So I shifted my focus from the problems to the Lord, and I began to anticipate the solution that God was going to provide. As I pondered this, having no specific solutions in mind but knowing that God is a creative guy, in the back of my mind there was this little place that still wanted to stew over the problem. (Come on, I’m sure you’ve been there.) The back of my mind was saying “you know, you’re living awfully close to the edge these days…if God doesn’t deliver soon…” And that’s when it hit me – thank You, Lord! Thank You, Lord, for whispering in our ears when we need to hear from You!

If you study Scripture much and if you have any history with the Lord, you know that He is the God who provides solutions when they’re needed…and usually not a moment sooner! In the business world we call that Just-In-Time delivery – JIT. I’ve often said that we have a Just-In-Time God. What occurred to me as I walked across the lobby of the hospital is that if I’m really as close to the edge as my checkbook says I am, God’s solution must be just around the corner! How exciting is that? I’m pretty excited about it! I am already convinced that God is able and that He is faithful. The issue is just a matter of timing. I’ve studied and experienced that his timing is Just-In-Time.

Another preacher has put it this way “You don’t need a miracle until you need a miracle.” In other words, God could provide your answer today, but it wouldn’t be a miracle when He provides it today…it would just be His grace at bringing to you what you need. But a miracle…well, that can’t come until you’re living on the edge.

When we’re living on the edge, we can choose to live in fear or in anticipation of the provision…even the miraculous provision…that God has for us. I think I’ll choose anticipation, how about you? Remember, the closer you are to the edge, the closer God’s provision is. I choose to get excited about that provision even before it gets here because I know it’s coming!

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Scriptures teaches that Jesus suffered greatly on the night he was crucified. Read about some of his suffering:

Then they spit in Jesus’ face and hit him with their fists. And some slapped him, 
          Matthew 26:67

They made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head, and they placed a stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery, yelling, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and beat him on the head with it.
          Matthew 27:29-30

Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and hit his face with their fists. “Who hit you that time, you prophet?” they jeered. And even the guards were hitting him as they led him away.
          Mark 14:65

As they led Jesus away, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country just then, was forced to follow Jesus and carry his cross.
          Luke 23:26

Even the guards were hitting him…he wasn’t being punched in the face by people like me who throw wimpy punches. He was being punched in the face by Roman guards. Can you even begin to imagine how disfigured He must have been?

In an Easter devotional from a number of years ago, Chuck Missler makes the conjecture that the reason He wasn’t recognized after His resurrection was in part because he was so disfigured.  His beard half torn out and a scarred face. Maybe He even walked with a limp.

I have a large scar on my arm. I haven’t done anything to reduce it’s ugly appearance, because to me, it is a constant memory of God’s goodness to me at a time when I could have lost much of the use of my arm. I would rather carry the scar than have a “perfect” arm. The scar is more beautiful to me.

I have long been convinced that what we consider to be beautiful is vastly different from what God considers to be beautiful. Not in all ways, certainly. I’m sure he considers the same beautiful sunset you and I admire to be beautiful. But I also think He considers the scars of His saints beautiful. I think that we, His bride, are often most beautiful to Him when we are battle-scarred but have persevered; when we show the signs of one who has relentlessly taken the blows of the enemy and stood firm in Christ.

Missler says in his article “that the only man-made things in heaven are His [Jesus’] scars.” And yet, “the marks of His humiliation are also the marks of His glory.” Without the scars and the crucifixion, there would be no resurrection. Jesus’ glory is His willingness to die on the cross to save us. God’s glory is Jesus’ resurrection after His death on the cross.

Beloved, today is Easter – Resurrection Sunday. Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! He has risen, carrying the scars for your sin and mine, so that we might also rise. His love for us goes beyond anything we have ever experienced or can imagine. Trust Him today with your life.

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