Archive for May, 2009

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Reading about Kings and Churches…

If I were to break the Israelites history into major segments, it would look something like this:

  • The Years of the Patriarchs: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (Genesis)
  • The “Moses Years” (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy)
  • Moving into the Promised Land (Joshua)
  • Period of the Judges (Judges, part of 1 Samuel)
  • Period of the Kings (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, most of the prophets)
  • After the Captivity (Nehemiah, Ezra, Esther, Malachi)

In June our Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan has us leaving the period of the Judges and moving into the period of the kings as we read 1st and 2nd Samuel. First Samuel begins with the grief of a woman who has been unable to bear children and ends with the death of Israel’s first king, Saul. Second Samuel begins with David learning of Saul’s death and carries us through most of David’s Kingship.

 A study of the life of David has been rich food for Christians for 2,000 years. There is much we can learn from the life of this key figure of the Old Testament.

Have you ever been to a church that had problems? I mean real problems? The church in Corinth was messed up six ways to Sunday, but Paul still found some good things to say about them. This month in Resting at the River’s Edge, we’ll dive into Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church. Read along with us as we watch how this master church planter tries to straighten out this can of worms.

Enjoy!

To download a PDF of June’s reading schedule, click here.

April Reading

June Reading Plan

Enjoy your time at the river’s edge this month!

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A God Chaser is a person whose hunger for God exceeds his grasp, whose passion for God’s presence presses him to chase the impossible, in hopes that the Uncatchable might catch him.
         
Tommy Tenney, in his book The God Chasers

 I want to be a God Chaser! How about you?

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Note: There are many references to Scripture in this blog. All are to the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
1 Corinthians 1:1

Yesterday’s blog about Paul’s calling (and my calling and your calling) encouraged me to dig a little deeper. Simply by looking up the other usages of the word that is translated “called” The word is only used eleven times, and in all cases it is used one of two ways: (2) by Paul referring to his calling as an apostle and (2) by various authors to refer to those who are children of God. Yesterday we looked at Paul usage of the term. Today, let’s look at how it is used in relation to others who trust Jesus:

  • In writing to the believers in Rome, Paul says we are called “to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:6)
  • Paul addresses his letter to the Roman believers as those who are “called to be saints.” (Romans 1:7)
  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul describes us as being “called to be holy.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Later in that chapter, Paul writes that for those who are called by God, Christ is the power and wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
  • In the book of Jude, those who have been called, are described as those “who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1)

In each of these cases, the word translated “called” means “ongoing (or continuing) choice.” It is the derivative of a word that is also translated “called” but refers to the single act that is done or has been done. Looking at this word gives us more insight into our calling. Read over this list slowly to understand who you are in Christ and what you are called to do or be.

  • We are called into fellowship with God’s Son Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
  • We are called to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15c, Colossians 3:15)
  • We are called “by the grace of Christ” (Galatians 1:6)
  • We are called to “freedom” (Galatians 5:13, NRSV)
  • We are called to live a life “worthy” of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1)
  • We are called to “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4)
  • We are called “into His kingdom glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12)
  • We are called to “live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7, 2 Timothy 1:9)
  • We are called to “share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
  • We are called to received the “promised eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15)
  • We are called “out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
  • We are called to suffer unjustly (1 Peter 2:19-21)
  • We are called to return evil or insults with a blessing (1 Peter 3:9)
  • We are called to God’s “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10)
  • We are called to “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9)

That’s quite a list! As I created the list there were several items that caught my attention. Rather than talk about them, let me give you an example and a challenge, then offer an encouragement and a prayer.

The example: As I typed “to live in peace,” the questions came into my mind “Am I living in peace? Am I appropriating God’s peace?”

The challenge: Read over the list prayerfully. Which of the things you are called to would God like you to experience more fully? Make it a part of your daily prayers for the next two weeks.

The encouragement: God doesn’t call us to anything He cannot give us or enable us to experience. If He has highlighted one of these “callings,” it is His desire to help you attain it.

The prayer: I pray that this week you will apprehend the grace that God has for you. And I bless you with a supernatural ability to see God working in your life as you pray to bring about His calling this week.

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Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
1 Corinthians 1:1 (NIV)

As I read these words today, I was struck by Paul’s confidence in his calling.

Shortly before reading this verse today, I had written out my calling in one sentence, then broken down that calling by looking at several words and phrases within the sentence. My calling doesn’t come with a single word title as Paul’s does.

I am called to help men and women become the people God intended them to be.

I am confident of this. I’m not so confident about how He wants me to go about it! 🙂 And that’s OK. Because He’ll direct and He’ll open doors and He’ll provide opportunities.

It was an interesting task, though, writing out my calling. Although I have had the single sentence calling for many years, I have never broken it down to its various components and defined what that meant. May I suggest you take half an hour (or half a day, or perhaps even half a year) to sit before the Lord and define your calling? It will help you focus your activities and your life. Even if you don’t know how He wants you to go about fulfilling that calling!

Back to Paul’s calling: As I looked at Paul’s assertion, two things caught my attention – the word “called” and the phrase “by the will of God.”

The word translated “called” is the Greek word kletos, and it means “invited, that is appointed…called” (G2822 in Strong’s Greek Dictionary). Now there seems to me to be a bit of a difference between “invited” and “appointed” but both words are interesting. Paul was (and we are) invited to serve God and we are appointed to serve God. Nowhere does it say that we are commanded to serve God. Both words, invited and appointed, have a bit of honor associated with them. I feel honored when I receive an invitation to a party or am appointed to a position. Both mean that I am considered to have value by the one offering the invitation or making the appointment. I love that! I am invited by God and appointed by God to serve Him. What an honor!

Paul says specifically that he was called “by (or through) the will of God.” The word “will” might best described as the “ongoing (or continuing) choice.” God’s calling is not capricious or made lightly. Rather, it is a choice that He made and He continues to make. Being the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), God doesn’t change his mind once He has invited and appointed us. In fact, Romans 11:29 tells us that his gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Friends, we have been invited to serve the Living God, the Creator of the Universe, and it is an invitation He never rescinds. That’s something to get excited about!

Watch this space…more about calling tomorrow…

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In the last two blogs in our “The Heart of a Worshipper” series (HWS) I wrote about the need for our hearts to be hungry for God because the hungry heart gives birth to the pursuing heart, causing us to pursue God more diligently. Pursuing God is the first step toward becoming changed people. In this blog, we continue to look at the qualities of the worshipping heart. May you be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings. 

A Transparent or Unveiled Heart 
If pursuing God is the first step toward becoming a changed person, this next in the process process of allowing God to transform us is having a heart that is transparent or unveiled before God and before others. What does that mean? I looked up the word transparent in the dictionary and absolutely love this portion of the definition: “having the property of transmitting rays of light through…so that [things] situated beyond or behind can be distinctly seen.”

A Transparent Heart Has No Walls
Our hearts must have the property of allowing the Light of Life (Jesus) to shine through it so that He can reveal to us what is hidden in its deepest, darkest corners. Scriptures tells us that God searches our heart, but do we remember that even though He knows all there is to know about us, He doesn’t impose His knowledge on us. He allows us free will.

He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” We think of that as an evangelistic verse, but those words were actually spoken to the Christians at Laodocea whom Jesus described as “lukewarm.” He is asking permission to come into their heart and reveal things to them and rekindle the love relationship He once had with them. He would not usurp their will and force himself upon them, and He will not usurp our will and will not change us without our permission. No, He says “If anyone opens the door, I will come in to him” (Revelation 3:20, emphasis mine).

God is asking us to have hearts that are transparent to him; He’s asking you and me to open the doors of our hearts to Him. Don’t put a wall between your heart and God. Don’t keep little recesses that belong only to you.

The similar word, unveil, means “to reveal or disclose, to display.” Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 3:13-18 for a discussion about a transparent or unveiled heart, and the promise it holds.

13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. [That is, the radiance from being in God’s presence.]

14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It [the veil] has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. [If we are in Christ, the veil has been removed.]

15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers [or hides] their hearts.

16  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. [Again, for those of us in Christ, the veil has been taken away – our hearts are displayed before God.]

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [Hallelujah!]

18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

          2 Corinthians 3:13-18 (bracketed comments mine]

When we receive the Lord, the veil that blocks our understanding of God and blocks our direct access to Him is taken away. It’s taken away from our face so that the work God is doing in our hearts is revealed for others to see. It’s also taken away from our hearts if we allow it to be, so that God can shine through and reveal to us the areas that need work. This unveiling happened the moment we accepted Christ. A transformation began. Hallelujah!

A Transparent Heart Works to Remain Transparent
But I’ve found that unless I consciously and continually ask the Lord to come in, unless I consciously and continually remove the veil from around my heart, it begins to come back. Sometimes slowly and sometimes with the force of a slamming door, the veil slips back over my eyes and over my heart as I allow things of this world to encourage me to hide myself from God and from others.

All of us have experienced this. Sometimes, a friend says something hurtful…and you say in your heart, “I’ll never let her see the real me again.” Or something you try to do is a complete failure…and you say in your heart, “I’ll never stick my neck out like that again…look, everyone thinks I’m a fool.” Or you’re not obedient and perhaps you don’t say anything in your heart, but you begin to hide a little from God.

Those are the kind of things the enemy uses to encourage us to let the veil fall back into place, to hide our hearts from God and from others. But we read above what the Scripture says: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Christ, we can have freedom from the pain caused by those failures and disappointments, and we can have freedom to live a life that is inencumbered by the need to keep things hidden and secret.

As we continue to reveal our heart to God, He continues to transform us into His likeness with ever-increasing Glory. Notice that Moses wore the veil so that the people wouldn’t see the radiance from being in God’s presence fade away. But the last verse says that our transformation is ever-increasing. I want that ever-increasing transformation. That means that I need to be continually transparent before God.

I need to become more like David, who God described as “a man after my own heart.” In Psalm 38:9 he says:

All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.

A Transparent Heart is Honest before God
A transparent heart is also honest with God about how it feels. Read through the psalms of David and you’ll see that he wasn’t happy, carefree and sinless throughout his life. Far from it. In his struggles and in his sin, though, you’ll see that he is honest with God. Read Psalm 22:1-2 and you’ll see David crying out to God because he feels forsaken by God. Psalm 38 shows David anguishing because of his sin and guilt. In Psalm 42 you’ll find David encouraging himself to turn to God when his soul is downcast. David isn’t just honest with God in his discouragement and repentance, but also in his triumphs and rejoicing. Psalm 47 and 148 are just two of many psalms of unrestrained praise. Our God is worthy of extravagant praise!

What’s my point? My point is that worship should be a time when we pour out our heart to God and express our greatest sorrow and greatest delight. My point is that honesty before God means not “putting on a happy face” every time we approach him. Having a transparent heart allows God to see into our heart. When I read David’s Psalms, I know that I often have a long way to go if I am to be totally honest with God in my emotions.

A Transparent Heart Uses His/Her Own Words to Worship the King of Kings
God wants us to be transparent before Him. And sometimes that means using your own words to express your devotion to Him. LaMar Boschman, in his book A Heart of Worship says this about worship:

“We worship [God] as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to our seeking hearts. In that way, our worship is Spirit-inspired and Spirit-directed. This often requires launching out in faith beyond our prepared songs and prayers to find the Spirit of God revealing the incomprehensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable.”

This is something I had to practice quite a bit before I became comfortable doing it in worship. I was much more comfortable with the prepared songs and prayers. But sticking to them seems “too safe” – it seems inconsistent with what I see in Psalms. I’d like to encourage all of us to be transparent before God. Write some of your own psalms. Write some of your own worship songs. God isn’t looking for the best verses or the best melody. He’s looking for the unveiled heart of a person willing to be transformed by Him. I hope you’ll decide to be that person today!

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  • Casual reading. This is my term and I recognize that some may be offended by it. Let me implore you not to be. I am not in any way implying that we regard Scripture with anything but the respect that God’s Word deserves. I am simply recognizing that sometimes, perhaps most of the time, we pick up God’s Word and simply read it on a very surface level. We read it in a way similar to how we would read any material. This is how I do most of my reading as I read through the Bible each year.
    • The value of casual reading: Casual reading usually involves reading larger portions of Scripture and allows the reader to get a sense of the “big picture.” It is how we learn the stories of the Bible and the timeline of the Bible. 
            That is not to say that God can’t speak to us through casual reading. At times He will speak to us through the message of the whole story. For example, there is an awesome message to be learned from the whole of Jewish history – that God’s faithfulness has been proven over and over and over again. We don’t learn that from just one story, we learn it from reading through major portions of the Old Testament.
            At other times, God may speak to us as we read Scripture casually by causing a verse to jump off the page and explode in our minds. That verse speaks to us by itself in the midst of many others. This is how most of my blogs originate. I am reading and along comes a verse that says “look at me!” Perhaps I do more study on that verse, perhaps not. It depends on the message of the verse and what God is speaking to me. But it comes out of my casual reading of a passage.
    • The drawbacks of casual reading: In casual reading, the reader typically will not catch the exciting nuances of Scriptures, the relationships between words or passages, and perhaps even the underlying theme of a passage. Without knowing the background of the book, its author and intended audience, we can sometimes take verses out of context and misuse them. Without taking time to learn what the words meant in their original language we lose the richness of the meanings. Without diligent study we lose the joy of discovery.
  • Meditative reading: While there are many different approaches to reading Scripture meditatively (we’ll look at some of them in future blogs), the approach generally means to linger over the text in a meditative manner. It involves centering ones’ self and quietly entering into God’s presence while reading His Word.
    • The value of meditative reading: Reading God’s Word meditatively puts us in a position to be more “present” with God. It allows God to touch us in a different way than casual reading or in-depth study. It brings a stillness, a peace, a quiet assurance, into our world as we meditate on God’s Word in God’s presence.
    • The drawbacks of meditative reading: Meditative reading is wonderful, but it is not a substitute for casual reading and in-depth study. One cannot read large passages of Scripture meditatively in one sitting – the two concepts are antithetical. Similarly, reading meditatively does not usually uncover the gems that can be mined from in-depth study.
  • In-depth study: In-depth study enables the reader to find treasures hidden in God’s Word that might otherwise go unnoticed. As with meditative reading, there are many different ways to study Scripture in depth, but all include asking questions of the text – who, what, when, where, why and how. It involves looking up the original meaning or derivation of key words using Bible dictionaries. It takes the reader on a journey to similar passages using a concordance to find those passages those that carry the same theme or include the same key words. It often includes reading what others have written about the passage using Bible commentaries.
    • The value of in-depth study: In-depth study uncovers gems that you’ll never discover from casual or meditative reading. It is the kind of reading of Scripture that ensures orthodoxy, that is “correct thinking” or “correct belief.” In other words, it keeps us from error. It is sometimes like taking a journey into the mind of Christ. Additionally, I find that the lessons I’ve learned from studying passages in-depth stay with me the longest. Those discoveries are “my discoveries” and they have become more deeply planted in my spirit than the lessons I’ve learned through the other two approaches to reading Scripture.
    • The drawbacks of in-depth study: In-depth study, by its nature is slow and plodding. The reader makes slow progress through the Bible as he or she studies single verses or paragraphs. The “big picture” is outside our field of vision as we search the depths of a single verse. I also find that I have a more limited capacity for in-depth study than for the other two methods. It’s not an issue of discipline, it’s an issue of giftings and callings. I truly enjoy in-depth study, but at least at this time in my life, in-depth study isn’t something that is a part of my every day life. In-depth study is often my Saturday morning time with God – a day during the week when I can devote more time to finding God’s hidden morsels.

As I write this blog, I am spending a couple of days at a friend’s retreat cabin. What a blessing to be in such a serene place, nestled in the middle of a forest of trees! As I look out, I see the beauty of the forest of green leaves and brown tree trunks. They sway and rustle in the light breeze. There are various shades of green and brown against a blue sky that’s scattered with white puffy pillow-clouds. It’s beautiful and quiet and peaceful. I can sit here and breathe deeply and listen to God’s voice. I can also stand at the edge of the porch, though, and see that some of the leaves have jaggy edges and some have smooth edges with sharp points. Some are large and broad; other are small and slim. Some have obvious veins in them, others are more subtle. Some of the tree trunks aren’t really brown but a shade of gray. And I wonder at the creativity of the God who created it all. Such is the nature of the casual observation, the meditative observation. Were I to do an in-depth study, I would learn about how nutrients are carried from the roots of the plants to the very tips of the leaves and how various species have different characteristics and I imagine that God would teach me more about His nature and character through such a study. So it is with our reading of Scripture. Each method is valid and valuable and we benefit from incorporating them into our time with God.

No how matter how we read Scripture, it’s important to ask the all important question “Lord, how does this apply to my life? What would you have me to do or become?” Reading Scripture without making personal application is like the person who looks in the mirror, sees that their hair needs to be combed, then walks away without doing so. The blessing is in the obedience to God’s Word (James 1:22-25).

May you come to know the Living God who inspired every word that appears on the pages of your Bible as you read it casually, meditatively, and studiously.

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In these past few months, you may have been tempted to cry out “Lord, where will I get a job?” Rather than cry “Lord, where will I get a job? Cry out “Lord, where can I be most useful for the Kingdom?”
Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Fowler

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In the previous blog in our “The Heart of a Worshipper” series (HWS) we looked at the first condition of the heart of a worshipper: it is a heart that is hungry for more of God. In this blog, we continue to look at the qualities of the worshipping heart. May you be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

A Hungry Heart
The first condition of the heart of a worshipper that we looked at is a heart that is hungry for more of God. Psalm 42, verses 1 and 2 describe the condition well:

          1    As the deer pants for streams of water,
            so my soul pants for you, O God.
       2    My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Verse 2b tells us where a hungry heart leads us – to a desire to meet with God. Proverbs 16:26 says:

“The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.”

Satisfying the Hungry Heart
When the condition of our heart is that we are hungry for God, the response of our heart is to pursue Him more aggressively. Spiritual hunger is fed by pursuing God. A pursuing heart is one that is trying to satisfy the hunger for God that is within it.

In His book The God Chasers, Tommy Tenney explains his title like this:

“A God Chaser is a person whose hunger for God exceeds his grasp…whose passion for God’s presence presses him to chase the impossible, in hopes that the Uncatchable might catch him.”

He goes on to say that the chase begins with worship – recognizing Who God is. Become a “God Chaser” Pray “Lord, make me a God-Chaser!” Chase after God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – He will not disappoint you!

A Pursuing Heart
Let’s look at Deuteronomy 4:29:

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The word for “seek” is baqash (baw-kash’) which means to search out (by any method, spec. in worship or prayer); to strive after, ask, beg, beseech, desire, enquire, get, make inquisition, procure, (make) request, require, seek (for).

That same word is used in Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek (baqash) me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” What a great promise! But God doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say in verse 14 “I will be found by you.” These verses provide a prayer that we can be confident is always in God’s will: “Lord, I want to know You more. Teach me more of Your ways.” God will satisfy the hunger in our heart when we pursue Him.

Baqash is the word used in the Old Testament; there’s a similar word used in the New Testament: zeteo (dzay-teh’-o). It means to seek (lit. or fig.); spec. (by Heb.) to worship (God),to desire, endeavour, enquire (for), require, seek (after, for, means). This word is used in Matthew 7:7-8.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek (zeteo) and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks (zeteo) finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Again, God promises that we will find Him when we pursue Him.

Zeteo was also used by Paul in his sermon at Mars Hill. Acts 17:24-28 is a passage worthy of meditating on in worship:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek (zeteo) him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Wow! God did all this, he created this world and mankind and determined the time in which we were to live and the exact places where we should live…why? So that men and women would SEEK him. God’s desire is that we seek Him. He makes us hungry, then rewards us with a stronger relationship with Him.

Let’s look at 2 more verses that give us God’s perspective and response to those with a hungry and pursuing heart:

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17

“Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Psalm 107:8-9

God’s ways truly are not our ways. He loves us beyond our understanding, and He’s implanted in us a desire to know us. He created and controls the entire universe for the purpose of bringing you into a greater loving relationship with Him.

A hungry heart develops into a pursuing heart. If you have a hungry heart, don’t ignore your hunger pains. Don’t put yourself on a spiritual diet. Know that it is God Himself who has made you hungry and wants to satisfy that hunger by revealing more of Himself to you. Pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Do it today!

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My Baccalaureate service was last night and I am taking my theme from the message that was preached by the Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Fowler. Some of these points came directly from Rev. Fowler’s message, but others are my own. In truth, it’s difficult for me to separate them because his theme has gotten into my spirit and become a part of me. So, thank you Rev. Fowler.

My prayer as you read this blog is that its theme will also get into your spirit and bring an enthusiasm, a rejoicing, and a commitment that perhaps has begun to wane in recent months.

Sanctify Yourselves

Then Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”           Joshua 3:5, New Revised Standard Version

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”          Joshua 3:5, New International Version

The Israelites were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They were about to enter the land that God had promised them hundreds of years before. Talk about a long-awaited dream! It was the dream that their parents and their parents’ parents dreamed. It had been passed from generation to generation through hardship after hardship. Now the time has come for the dream to become a reality.

Yet, like the fulfillment of many dreams, the reality of life pushes in with its share of heartache and trepidation. Nothing this side of heaven is perfect. Moses, who had led the Israelites through their greatest victories, who had spoken to God face to face and relayed God’s messages to the people, who had prayed for and protected the Israelites since their release from Egypt – Moses had recently died. Just before dying, he installed Joshua as the next leader. I imagine that the people were still grieving and that they were unsure of Joshua’s ability to lead them. They were also nervous about what tomorrow would bring. The long-awaited tomorrow now loomed in front of them bigger than life itself.

And what advice did this new leader Joshua give to the people? “Sanctify yourselves.” He doesn’t say “get a good night’s sleep” or “pack your clothes” or “be sure your weapons are ready for battle.” He says “sanctify yourselves” – “set yourselves apart.”

Hmmmm…Several things about that passage interest me.

The first thing that catches my interest is the kind of advice Joshua gives. He didn’t give advice that we might consider practical or even useful. I think that I’d want some practical advice at this point. I went to my Commencement rehearsal two nights ago because I wanted to know how to get ready for the event. What do I do? When do I do it? How do I do it? When it came to the battle they were facing, my guess is that Joshua himself didn’t know the specific answers to those questions yet. Joshua had a promise from God that tomorrow would be the day they would begin to move into the Promised Land. Beyond that, he had a confidence that God would keep His promise. And that’s all. He didn’t know much about the “how.”

It’s important to take a short step backwards here, because Joshua had given some practical advice:

When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.          Joshua 3:3b-4a, New International version

While that sounds like it is only practical advice, it is really much more than that. To the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. It is the place where the spirit of God dwelt. Joshua was saying, “Follow the Ark of the Covenant closely. Turn where it turns, stop when it stops. Stay close to the Lord.” The Israelites were to keep their eyes on the Lord and to follow His every lead.

Still, where’s the battle plan? I’d want to know. “OK, Lord, I’ll follow you, but can you just tell me what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it? Please?” But that’s not the instructions Joshua had, so it’s not the instructions he gave. Instead, Joshua said, “Sanctify yourselves.” “Set yourselves apart as holy.”

The second thing that amazes me about this passage is the advice itself: “Set yourselves apart as holy.” Sanctification strikes me as something that God does in me, not something that I do myself. Yet Joshua’s instruction to the people is to set themselves apart as holy. He doesn’t say “prepare yourselves to be made holy by God.” Instead, he says, “Set yourselves apart as holy.” “Sanctify yourselves.”  He says, “You do it!” He is imploring the people – no, as their leader he is commanding the people, to develop a mindset, a positioning of the mind, which recognizes that they have been established for holy purposes. I am not denying that there is a physical aspect to this command, that is, to put away those sinful things and habits that might be a part of their lives, but beyond that, I believe there is a frame of mind that says, “I am God’s, set apart for His purposes, His holy purposes.”

While the actions of purifying ourselves may come before the mindset, it is the mindset that gets us through. It is the mindset that establishes our identity, and I think Joshua is referring to the development of that mindset as much as he is referring to physical and spiritual cleansing in preparation for moving into the things God has. You see, God had already sanctified the Israelites – He had already set them apart for His purposes. But it was necessary that they recognized that they were set apart for His purposes.

God wouldn’t reveal the “what” and the “how” until the Israelites obeyed His command to sanctify themselves and thus be prepared to receive His next instruction. They would never be ready for the “what” and the “how” until they were sanctified for God’s purposes. The natural man is consumed with the “whats” and the “hows” of life, but those things are low on God’s priority list. God has an infinite number of “whats” and “hows,” but they are insignificant compared to the preliminary step of sanctification. Once we have entered into that dynamic partnership of allowing Him to sanctify us and then sanctifying ourselves for His purposes, we are prepared for whatever God has for us.

The same is true for us, friends. God has sanctified each of us – He has set each of us apart for His purposes; but until we establish that in our minds and develop a mindset that says, “I am set apart for His purposes” we have not sanctified ourselves and prepared ourselves to move into what God has called us to. This message has grown in my spirit overnight and I am beginning to become quite excited about it. I have been set apart by God to establish His purposes on this earth. That’s a pretty amazing statement. He has already sanctified me. I am now in the process of sanctifying myself, internalizing and identifying with the work that God has already done in me.

And that’s a good thing, because tomorrow…tomorrow…tomorrow…

Again, put yourself back in the Israelite camp. Joshua has told you to consecrate yourself because tomorrow God will do wondrous things. We’ll get to the wondrous things in a minute, but first let’s look at the word “tomorrow.” “Tomorrow.” The very word holds such promise. The Israelites have been wondering the desert for forty years, but tomorrow…Wow! Friends, the same is true in our lives. No matter what the past ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or even seventy or eighty or ninety years have been, tomorrow God can do a new thing. Sanctify yourself because tomorrow holds a new adventure with Him. It might be a continuation of the same adventure, but it is “with God” if you have sanctified yourself! Yes, I’m a bit off message here, but I am so excited about it. Tomorrow God has new mercy, new strength, new blessing, new courage, new power, new love to pour into your life. Tomorrow…

“Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.

Amazing things.

Wonderful things.

Adventurous things.

Friends, may I encourage you to get as excited about this promise as I have? No, you may not be an Israelite who has wandered through the desert for the past forty years (in fact, I’d bet money on it!), but my guess is that you have been doing some wandering of your own. My guess is that you have dreams that have not yet been fulfilled. Maybe they are dreams that were passed on to you by your parents. Maybe they are dreams God has put in your heart. Dreams are given to us to help us recognize the “more” that God has for us, but if left unfulfilled, it’s easy for those dreams to become the source of your defeat. Instead, God says, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Set yourself apart for God, follow the Ark (which represents the presence of God) and tomorrow He will do amazing things to bring about the fulfillment of those dreams. You set yourself apart, you follow the Ark. He will do the amazing things. Praise God!

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In the first four blogs of this series called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS, we’ve looked at various definitions of worship. A predominate theme in each article is that worship transforms us – as we look into the face of an almighty God, we are changed. Yet there are attitudes of the heart that put us in the place of searching and submission that make us ready to see God and be transformed by Him. In the next several blogs of this series, we’re going to look at the qualities of the worshipping heart. May you be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

A Hungry Heart – My Soul Yearns for You 

Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.
          Isaiah 26:8-9

A worshipping heart is a heart that hungers and thirsts for God. It yearns for God. Regardless of how well we know God, the hungry heart longs to know Him more. You will find this attitude throughout Scripture.

Many of the hymns and worship songs we sing are based on the Psalms, and the Psalmists understood yearning for God. Come on, sing along with me…

“As the dear panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after You.”

That’s Psalm 42 written by the Sons of Korah. The Book of Psalms was essentially a hymnal, and the Sons of Korah were Levites who were temple singers. Let’s look at the passage:

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
  
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
  When can I go and meet with God?
          Psalm 42:1-2

I love the end of verse 2: “When can I go and meet with God?” That’s the cry of the hungry heart. I’m reminded of the child who has been told that he’s going to a party on Saturday. Each day, he will ask his mother “Is it today, Mom? Can we go today? When can we go to the party?”

In the bustle of life, it’s easy for things to crowd God out. Pray that God would give you such a desire for Him that you cry out “When can I go and meet with God?”

Psalm 84 contains part of another song some of you may know:

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
          Psalm 84:2

Then there’s Psalm 73. Your Bible probably describes it as “A Psalm of Asaph.” Asaph was another prominent group of temple singers. My Bible has been slightly altered to read “A Psalm of Sandy,” not because I wrote the Psalm, but because I adopted it as “my psalm.” The first time I read this psalm, many years ago, I jumped up and said “That’s me, that’s me.” It begins “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (v. 1-3) That describes my life before coming to Christ. But the psalm goes on and in verses 25 and 26 it describes how my desires have changed.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
          Psalm 73:25-26

Verse 25 describes someone with a hungry heart, a heart longing for the Lord. The exciting thing is that when Psalm 73 became “Sandy’s Psalm” about thirty years ago only the first verses were true. It wasn’t until I went back and read it many years later that I realized that the entire psalm had become true in my life. God, in His goodness, has turned me into a worshipper of the Almighty.

God Makes us Hungry for Him
God works in us to transform our thought patterns and desires. Deuteronomy teaches us that God has wanted His people to hunger for Him since the very beginning. Moses is talking to the Israelites in this passage and says:

He [God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
          Deuteronomy 8:3

God desires that we be hungry for Him. This passage tells that God purposefully made the people of Israel physically hungry so that they would be reminded of their dependence on Him. God is using the physical condition of man to point to the spiritual condition. He longs for us to long for Him.

You might be reading this and thinking “That sounds great, but I’m just not there. The truth is that I don’t hunger for God. I go through my devotions from a sense of duty and sometimes I don’t even do that. I want to want more of God, but the truth is that I’m tired and my spiritual life is stale.”

Been there, done that! You are not alone. There can be many reasons for spiritual staleness, but let me encourage you in two things:

  1. Ask God to make you hungry for Him. Pray “Lord, make me hungry for You, today. Father, I give you permission to do whatever it takes to make me desire a closer relationship with You.” There can be no question that this prayer is in God’s will. He will answer it.
  2. Pursue God. Keep doing the things you should be doing. Make your devotions a priority. Don’t forget to pray. Trust God to restore you to your first love.

Next week we’ll look more at the concept of pursuing God. It’s the natural response of a hungry heart. In the meantime, ask God to increase your hunger for Him. You won’t be sorry you did!

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