Archive for the “worship” Category

1Faith is the confidence and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

Faith is this wonderful, supernatural, practical, every-day living thing. I’ll use a word that might offend some and say it almost seems magical. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. When you have it, you feel like nothing in the world can hold you back and nothing in the world is going to discourage you. When you don’t have it, it’s so easy to slide into defeatism and wonder if you’ll ever have enough faith, if you’ll ever be able to accomplish things, maybe even if you’ll ever be good enough for God. Of course the answer to that last doubt is no, you’ll never be good enough…but God doesn’t require that you be good enough. He’s already done the heavy lifting and is ready to forgive your sins if you just turn your life over to Him. If you’ve never done that, I encourage you – I urge you – to do so. You can learn more about it here. Or send me an email (sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com) and I’ll respond.

Yet even those who are confident they are living in Christ can become discouraged. As we continue to walk with the Lord, He expects us to mature in our faith. He no longer spoon feeds us to help us get through our daily life. We learn to live in Christ and overcome the things of this world. Don’t misunderstand and think that Christ isn’t always with us. He is. Just as a loving parent, though, He allows us to grow up and confidently face the challenges and experience victory in Him.

So how do we encourage ourselves in our faith? How do we increase our faith when we feel it lagging? In this series we’re going to look at five specific actions we can take that will move us past discouragement toward faith and confidence. Each of the steps will strengthen your walls of faith. They will patch the weak spots and repair the broken edges.

Remember that if you’re at a weak point, it’s unlikely you got there overnight. You’ve probably been sliding for awhile and now you find yourself at the turnoff to discouragement valley. Or perhaps you’ve already taken the exit ramp. It may take a little time to get back to the road that leads to confidence and faith. Take your time and be consistent. Take these actions – starting today – and trust that God will restore you.

Faith Building Action 1 – Praise
There is no substitute for spending time praising God and it is the single-most important action you can take when your faith is dwindling. Often, however, when your faith is low, it can be difficult to remember how to worship and praise God. (Lord, forgive us. Lord, help us.) There are two practical things you can do to help you praise God when your heart is heavy and your mind is blank:

  • Remind yourself who God is. There are many ways you can do this.Here’s just a few.
    • Study or read about the different names of God. He Jehovah-Jireh – The Lord, My Provider. He has always provided for me and He always will. He is Jehovah-Raffe – The Lord, My Healer. He has made me whole!
    • When I’m having one of those medical tests that cause me stress I work through the alphabet identifying characteristics of God that are praiseworthy. He is the Alpha – He’s always been. He existed before the beginning of the world. He’s Big – bigger than any problem I’m facing. (He’s also Better at dealing with them than I am.) He Cares for me – like a mother hen wants to protect her chicks. You get the idea. If you’re working on faith building, don’t just do this in your head as I’ve done during uncomfortable medical tests, do it on paper – journal your way through the alphabet. It is a powerful exercise that can easily take several weeks. Make it a special time between you and God.
    • Read through the Psalms. Many of them describe God in ways that wouldn’t be on the tip of our tongues. He is the good shepherd (Psalm 23). He is a shield around me (Psalm 3:3). He is my rock (Psalm 18:3 and many others). You’ll also find example after example teaching you how to praise Him. “I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)
    • I love to read the creation story in Genesis 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said…” (Genesis 1:1-3a, NLT). I am blown away by the power of God each time I read it – His ability to create all that exists from nothing. God’s Spirit hovered, then He spoke. And the world came into being.
    • Sing praise music. This Sunday, after each worship song our pastor had us call out things we were thankful for that we had just sung about. It made us think about the words we were singing – making it impossible to treat the worship time like a songfest. Engage while you sing praise songs and pause after each one to audibly praise God for things the song identifies.
  • Remind yourself of what God has done for you. Be specific.
    • Tell yourself your “God story.” How were you saved? What prayers has He answered? How has he protected you? How has He intervened in your marriage? How has He changed your life and the lives of your children? Who has he put in your life to bless you? How have they blessed you?
    • If you’ve kept a prayer journal, re-read it. Slowly.
    • Think through the major seasons of your life and identify how God has been a part of them.
    • Think through the major events of your life and remember how God has directed them.

Our pastor said something this Sunday that I put two stars next to in my notes:

“There isn’t a wall that satan can build that cannot be torn down – demolished – with praise.”
Pastor Dan Caudill

He followed it with a second double-starred note:

“Praise disarms a complaining spirit.”
Pastor Dan Caudill

How very true this is. It’s that complaining spirit that drives us to discouragement valley. Praise takes the keys away from it and returns them to the Holy Spirit. Then He drives us to faith and confidence.

Friend, praise Him! In the morning, throughout the day and before you go to sleep every night.

It will keep you off the road to discouragement.

In a few days I’ll give you a second action to build your faith when it’s wavering. For now, let’s praise Him.

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The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV)

Tuesday morning was a little unusual. During the week I do my morning devotions at my desk in my home office. Tuesday I was reading more than usual, but not really directed reading as I normally would. I was a bit spacey, bouncing from one thing to another. At one point, I felt like I wasn’t really “done” but didn’t know what else I was to be doing. Duh – you think maybe pray a bit more…but I didn’t – like I said, I was spacey. Instead I opened my internet browser with the thought of checking email and beginning my workday. Pandora began playing “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe and the song just laid me out. From the first phrase of the song I was arrested and focused on the Lord.

It’s been a strange week in general with me being in the office alone most of the time. Chalk it up to the end of summer when everyone has so many other things going and work being slower than usual. (It’s a wonderful thing when these two events coincide.) Thursday afternoon I was diligently working away when I realized that the office was unusually quiet. Yes, I was the only one there, but sometimes the quiet seems quieter and this was one of those times. So again opened Pandora. Almost immediately, “Word of God Speak” was played. Again, I was stopped in my tracks.

This morning I woke up singing the song.

Do you think God is trying to tell me something? I hope so. I don’t know what yet, despite pausing each time He got my attention. That’s OK. Sometimes (often times?) it takes more than a pause to hear the Lord. I’ve set aside a good chunk of the day on Saturday to hear the Lord speak. I pray His schedule will be on my schedule. 🙂 But even if it isn’t, He’s got my attention and I’m listening.

Perhaps He wants your attention, too. Tune your ears to hear the Word of the Lord.

So this morning I went looking for the song on YouTube. I found this and I love the intermingling of Scripture with images while the song provides the background. There are some great verses about God’s Word in this video. Watch and listen. Or perhaps listen, then watch and listen.

As I watched, however, A verse that is not included here came to mind. It’s not included because it’s not really a verse about the Word of God. But it is…Read tomorrow’s blog for more on that special verse. In the meantime, spend just a few minutes with God…Watch and listen. Or perhaps listen, then watch and listen.

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Therefore I [Paul], a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

I like the word “worthy.” The word evokes in me a strange combination of awe and respect and allegiance. God is worthy – He is worthy of my praise, my respect and my allegiance. I love to worship Him by singing/chanting the word “worthy.” He is worthy. He is worthy. Not vain repetition, but heartfelt and sincere adoration. Sometimes I engage my mind more by emphasizing each word and meditating on them individually.

He is worthy. (He is God. God is worthy. Only God is worthy. He is worthy.)

He is worthy. (The one who is and was and is to come – the everlasting God, the God who is ever-present – He is worthy. He is alive and active in my life. He is now worthy and always will be. He is worthy.)

He is worthy. (He has value. He is honorable. He is righteous. He is good. He loves me. He took the punishment for my sin. He paid the price I owed so that we could spend eternity together. He created the heavens and the earth. He knows my heart and still loves me. He is worthy.)

That’s my take, my strongest association with the word “worthy.” So when Paul “begs” me to live a life worthy of my calling I take a step back. Let’s take the end of the sentence first – “for you have been called by God.” That’s the answer to the question “why should I?” I have been called by God. You have been called by God. Invited. Beckoned. Bid. Urged. By God. Who is worthy.

Imagine that you received a personal phone call from ________________. Fill in the blank with the person that you would be the most impressed to receive a call from – the President of the United States, a Hollywood celebrity, a sports icon, the president of the company you work for. How would that make you feel? That such a person found you worthy enough to call. Wow!

Well, friend, the God who created the universe has found you worthy enough to invite to spend eternity with Him. The One I call worthy has called me! I am blown away by that. God’s very act of calling me makes me worthy to be called. The One who is most worthy finds me worthy. Can you imagine that? It’s true. No matter what your experience with me is, no matter what my life experiences have been – the One who is most worthy finds me worthy. By definition, then, I am worthy. Period. I am worthy.

That makes me want to respond positively to the Apostle Paul’s urgings – to live a life worthy of that calling. Let’s not squander the value God has placed on us. Let’s respond by stepping up to that calling. By purposefully stepping away from our own failings and sinful desires and living as He calls us to live.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by explaining what that worthy lifestyle looks like, but I think it best for today to meditate on our value to God. Make that your task throughout the day tomorrow – meditate on God’s worthiness and the fact that you are of great worth to God. What a blessing that is!

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1 Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. 2 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. 3 Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the LORD. 4 Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him. 5 Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, 6 you children of his servant Abraham, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.
Psalm 105:1-6 (NLT)

We can never be reminded enough to give thanks to the Lord, proclaim His greatness, tell of His wonderful deeds, and seek Him. The world bombards me with information to process and issues to deal with. It holds innumerable bright shiny objects that catch my attention. It is so easy to go for hours without giving thanks, proclaiming God’s greatness, telling of His wonderful deeds or seeking Him. I don’t think it’s meant to be that way!

Lord, let all that comes into my life be a catalyst for turning to You!

I want to turn to Him when I’m frustrated. I want to turn to Him when I’m rejoicing. I want to turn to Him when I experience sadness. I want to turn to Him when I experience love.

How do you do it? What prompts you to turn to the Lord? I’ve found two mainstays that keep me returning to Him: habit and triggers.

Habits are not bad things – when the habits are good ones. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I want to be in the habit of turning to God in all circumstances. To develop and strengthen the habit, I must repeat it regularly. That’s where triggers come in.

My computer hasn’t been acting quite like as peppy as it should lately. Today I growled at it as I took the monitor in both hands and mimicked shaking it! Just about that time, one of my very favorite worship songs played in my Pandora playlist. (Thank You, Lord.) I immediately went from frustration to worship. As I type the previous sentence, I first typed “I immediately transitioned from frustration to worship.” Nope. There was no transition. I simply let go of my monitor and raised my arms in praise (while in the back of my mind wondering what my employee must be thinking of such inconsistent behavior). Needless to say, worship music is a trigger that causes me to praise God.

What makes you turn to praise? It might be a picture, a person, a piece of jewelry, a sound, a knickknack, a sensation – anything that breaks you free from focusing on the world’s agenda to focusing on God’s.

Let’s brainstorm some unlikely triggers. It might take a little work for you to develop these circumstances into triggers that cause you to praise God, but I know it can be done.

  • Your child – especially when he or she is coming to you with the hundredth challenge of the day. Can you learn to thank God for your child – and the wonderful things God’s done in your life through that child – each time he or she comes to you throughout the day? What kind of difference would that make in your life? Even more important, what kind of difference would that make in your child’s life?
  • Pain – I shattered my elbow about twenty years ago. God did a miraculous work putting it back together. Yet after working on a computer an average of ten hours a day since the accident, I’ve begun to have pain more regularly than I’d like. Can I learn to remember God’s tremendous goodness to me each time my elbow twinges? I believe I can. I just need a little reminding from time to time.
  • Frustration – I am guessing that your weeks are filled with regular frustration – situations that repeat themselves daily or weekly that cause you frustration. Can you find the good in the situation and praise God for it? As I age, there are a number of things that frustrate me that never hit my radar when I was younger. Either they didn’t exist or they were so minor they didn’t bother me (or dare I say that my tolerance of some things seems to diminish as I grown older). I try to turn those things around. My husband and I frequently look at each other and say “we’re achieving our lifelong goal!” What we’re referring to is that when we were young we regularly told one another that we wanted to grow old together. Lord – You have done great things in my life. Thank you for allowing me to grow old with my husband. (OK, let me set the record straight…I’m not old yet…but I sure seem to be getting there faster than I used to!)
  • BillsThank You Lord, that you have provided in my life so faithfully. Business has had its ups and downs, but You have been faithful. The various bills we have are a direct result of God providing abundantly. My mortgage payment comes from owning a home (OK, buying a home – I don’t own it yet). Having electric bills means I have electricity. My telephone bills are the result of living in a time when I can immediately contact loved ones and friends.
  • Taxes – While we don’t enjoy paying taxes, Phil and I have always said that paying more in taxes means we made more money last year. Thank You, Lord. And thank You for the protection and services that are provided to me by my government.
  • Interruptions – Are you convinced the Lord is in control of your day? He has allowed the interruption – what do you think His purpose for it is? I can’t answer that question, but I do know it isn’t to cause us to grumble and complain!

These may be unlikely triggers, but when we learn to use them as reminders to praise God – to tell ourselves and others about His wonderful deeds, to sing His praises and exult His Name – our lives will be transformed and our God will be honored. A Psalm comes to mind:

 Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise.
Psalm 90:12 (NCV)

Our lives are too short to let the frustrations of life pull us from the goodness of God and the life He’s given us. What negative triggers are you going to turn into praise this week?

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Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Romans 13:14 (NLT)

This verse caught my attention last week during my Resting at the River’s Edge reading. As I meditated on it, several questions came to mind. Come with me as I explore the topic of clothing ourselves in the presence of Jesus.

What does the presence of Jesus feel like?
I’ve quoted this verse many, many times in recent weeks, but I can’t think of a better one to answer this question:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:17 (NIV)

The presence of Jesus feels like freedom – no condemnation, but overflowing love – deeper, wider, longer and higher than we can imagine:

18 And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. 19 Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:18-19 (NCV)

The presence of Jesus is peace. Christ came to earth, reconciled us with God and brings peace where chaos and fear want to dominate. Paul wrote to the Colossians that they should “let the peace that comes from Christ rule [their] hearts (Colossians 3:15a, NLT).

The presence of Jesus holds freedom, love and peace. When we are conflicted, anxious, bound by anything in this world, or lacking in love, the presence of Jesus is not ruling in our lives.

What does the presence of Jesus look like?
The presence of Jesus has the look of compassion, contentment and joy. It is not stern-faced or angry. It is not hassled or frenzied. The presence of Jesus is also modest. Holiness is embodied in the presence of Jesus leaving no room for many of the fashions of today.

How do I put on the presence of Jesus each morning?
Before we talk about the “how” notice the language in the verse – “clothe yourself.” Some translations say “put on.” These are action words action – they form a command telling us to prepare ourselves to meet the world by wrapping ourselves in the presence of the Christ. Living the verse requires purpose, intent and will. We decide each day what to wear – and those decisions, in part, define the impact we have on the world. People decide whether or not they’ll trust us and how much they’ll tell us about themselves initially by how we present ourselves – and that has a lot to do with what we decided to wear that day. Scripture tells us to “clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s something we must be intentional about; it doesn’t just happen, even if we’ve known the Lord for many years. (Actually, it might be less likely to happen if we’ve known the Lord for many years. It’s easy to become lazy in our faith if we’re not purposeful and intentional about it.)

There’s another thing about the language of the verse. The word translated as “clothe yourself” is a Greek word that carries the “sense of sinking into a garment” (Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). We’re not to simply put on the presence of God like we might thrown on a sweater, but we’re to sink into it – so that it fully wraps around us. There is so much imagery in this phrase. I get the picture of sinking into something wonderfully comfortable. That carries to an image of being fully wrapped in the protection of Christ – nothing can get through the heavy, yet comfortable weave of His presence. (Remember, Scripture wouldn’t tell us to do it if it wasn’t possible!)

So how do we put on the presence of Jesus each morning? I was at a prayer meeting recently and during prophetic ministry a friend of mine was praying for a woman she didn’t know. She rather hesitantly said “I feel like God is saying that He appreciates the way you include Him in everything you do.” The woman smiled and said “every morning before I leave for work I say, ‘OK, Lord, let’s go to work!’” I loved her attitude. She was intentional about inviting Jesus to join her at work that day. One of the ways we clothe ourselves in His presence is by inviting Him to be a part of what we’re doing.

It’s a little hard to clothe ourselves with the Lord’s presence if we don’t enter His presence each morning. We are each created uniquely, so there is no one way to enter the Lord’s presence. Most people will find the Lord’s presence each morning through some combination of Bible reading, worship and prayer. Find what works best for you and develop the habit of meeting with the Lord each morning. Sure, there will be those mornings when your time with the Lord will be shortchanged, but even on those days, you can develop the habit of talking with the Lord as you get ready to face the day. Don’t arrive at your first destination for the day (even if that destination is your own kitchen to make breakfast for your family) without greeting the Lord and settling into Him.

How does the presence of Jesus impact the world?
I hope all of you have had the experience of knowing that what you had just done wasn’t really done by you at all, but by the Lord. Maybe you responded kindly in the face of cruelty. Maybe you exhibited uncharacteristic patience that blessed someone who needed it. Maybe you spoke Truth into someone’s life at just the right moment. When we clothe ourselves in the presence of Jesus, we take Him into the world with us and His love, His compassion, His wisdom, His power and all His other characteristics impact those around us as we walk through our day.

The alternative, of course, is that we face the world dressed in our own “clothes.” I don’t want to think that the impact I’m having on the world is limited to my own abilities – because however good I might be, even on my very best days I still have inadequacies, insecurities, anxieties and general “ouchiness.” Clothing myself in the presence of Christ smooths those things out – I’ve found over the years that Christ has graciously softened my hard, sharp edges. I’m so glad, because those edges could be pretty cutting at times – intentionally or unintentionally.

When you got dressed this morning, did you take time to clothe yourself with the presence of Jesus? Did you take time to sink into the garment of His presence before facing the world? I hope so, but if not, give it a try tomorrow.

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Francis Frangipane wrote the following in an email to subscribers. I appreciated the warning and wanted to share it. You can check out his books and training school here. The emphasis in the middle paragraph is mine.

Jesus warned about our days, saying, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:10). The Lord’s warning was not just about conditions in the world; He is speaking to His disciples. He warned about conditions in the church.

Today, the church is overstocked with Christians whose love has grown cold. As a result, rancor fills our conversations. We have become a sub-culture that is mad that the world has not become Christian, while we are tolerant that we are not Christlike.

When you discuss things that are wrong, does rancor come forth or prayer? The word rancor came from Latin rancere, which meant, “to stink.” (See rancid). This is exactly what we exude heavenward when all we do is find fault and criticize. The smell of our rancor ascends into the awareness of God. These things ought not to be.

On the other hand, intercessory prayer is a sweet aroma to God. Again, when we pass through trials and determine to emerge more like Jesus, our very lives become “a fragrance of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). Amazing! in spite of our flaws and weaknesses, while we are living in this harsh world, we can actually become like Christ. Indeed, may this be the passion of all who trust God’s Son: to become a fragrance of Christ to

Let’s major in love and prayer – that is, becoming like Christ – and not even minor in rancor.

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3And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3-4 (NIV)

I spent about a year with this verse in the front of my mind. What struck me as I first read it during that year was the phrase “unless you change.” Hmmm. That means I need to be doing something differently. The way I’m to change is to become childlike. Being childless, I don’t have a lot of experience with childlikeness. So I began to observe other people’s children more intentionally.

God spent that year changing me more than I’ve changed during any other year of my adult life. Much of it came from the lessons I learned from this verse. One of the first things I learned from watching children is their proclivity toward being awed by things around them. They live in a world of wonder.

I do not. Unless I change and become like little children…

Here are some of the definitions for the word “wonder” from Merriam-webster.com:

a cause of astonishment or admiration…miracle…rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience

Do you live in a world of astonishment? Do you see miracles everywhere? Do you live in a world that is awesomely mysterious?

Probably not. You probably live in a world that is incredibly practical and pragmatic. Somewhere in our growing up we learn to value qualities that are the antithesis of mysterious. We learn to be cautious, even in our risk-taking. In business we’re to always have an answer for the boss before he or she asks the question. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

In God, “I don’t know” is part of the wonderful mystery of a God that is bigger than we can fathom.

In much of evangelical Christianity today (both charismatic and noncharismatic flavors of it), we encourage one another to live by faith but expect one another to have a fully-developed plan before we take that first step in faith – and a fully-developed plan by definition requires little of the mystery and miracle of God.

I read a great article recently on Charismamag.com called A Cathedral of Astonishment. Here are a few excerpts:

If explanation had been the first response to the Resurrection, something would have been wrong.

And something is wrong!

What’s wrong is that we have precious little astonishment in our modern gospel….

But in our modern sophistication we have replaced astonishment with something a bit tamer. We have made the gospel reasonable, sensible and practical. We explain the gospel in cogent terms such as “the plan of salvation” and “spiritual laws”—as if it is simply the most rational thing in the world.…

Without astonishment we inevitably reduce the gospel to inert “-ology” and “-ism.” Or worse, it becomes a spiritual “product” that we must “market.” This is consumer Christianity, and it is the bane of our age.…

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, American evangelicals have increasingly touted the virtues of the gospel by promoting it as “practical.” This has become something of an article of faith. It is unquestioned and fully assumed that we should make the gospel practical.…

But do we fail to see that this is the secular language of the market and not the sacred language of mystery? This is the language of consumerism, not the language of Christianity. This is the language of business, not the language of faith….

We’ve lost mystery and beauty and the power they have to produce the kind of astonishment that naturally leads to worship. …

We’ve lost a bit of our childlike wonder at the Gospel. In our need to be “adults,” in our need to have all the answers, we unconsciously push away the wonder of God.

Yet I think there’s a deeper issue at work in the loss of our wonder. It is the issue of pride and lack of humility. For us to experience wonder requires a humility that allows us to admit our own inadequacy – our own inability to understand and explain. Both qualities put us at odds with the values embraced by those around us.

Our culture values being in control. In the midst of embracing the mystery and wonder of God we can’t help but recognize that our sphere of control is puny and fleeting.

Our culture values power. Wonder is a childlike quality that renders us powerless. It puts us at the mercy of the object of our wonder.

Embracing the mystery and wonder of God requires that we embrace childlikeness. It’s a small price to pay for a glimpse of the eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God.

Read the article. The author will challenge you to pursue the mystery and beauty of God.

Let your inner child out. He or she will lead you into the awesome presence of God.

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Bleeding HeartI love the Book of Hosea!
Its beautiful language and touching story illustrate allegorically the love God has for His people – people who again and again prostitute themselves with other gods. I am convicted as I read about the people of Israel chasing after other gods – because I know that I am as easily swayed by bright shiny objects as they were. And I fall in love with God again and again as I read His enduring and tender love for Israel.

When I read Hosea, my journal becomes filled with passages that speak to me. Let me share some of them with you. The only commentary I’ll add are subheads because God’s Word tells the story best.

God Punishes Israel…and Restores Her…and In the Restoration Betroths Her to Himself Forever

13    I will punish her for the days
    she burned incense to the Baals;
    she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    but me she forgot,”
    declares the LORD.

14    “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her.

15    There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
    There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16    “In that day,” declares the LORD,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’

17    I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.

18    In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
    Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.

19    I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.

20    I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the LORD.

21    “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the LORD—
    “I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;

22    and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.

23    I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
    I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
Hosea 2:13-23 (NIV)

The Cause of Destruction

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6a (NIV)

My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. Hosea 4:6a (NLT)

Israel’s Desire…God’s Desire

1“Come, let us return to the LORD! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. 2In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. 3Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 5I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces. I have slaughtered you with my words, threatening you with death. My judgment will strike you as surely as day follows night. 6I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:1-6 (NLT)

False Worship by People Who Have Forgotten God

11“Israel has built many altars to take away sin, but these very altars became places for sinning! 12Even though I gave them all my laws, they act as if those laws don’t apply to them. 13The people of Israel love their rituals of sacrifice, but to me their sacrifices are all meaningless! I will call my people to account for their sins, and I will punish them. They will go back down to Egypt.

14“Israel has built great palaces, and Judah has fortified its cities. But they have both forgotten their Maker. Therefore, I will send down fire on their palaces and burn their fortresses.”
Hosea 8:11-14 (NLT)

Plough Up the Hard Ground of Your Heart – Now is the Time to Seek the Lord

11“Israel is like a trained heifer accustomed to treading out the grain—an easy job that she loves. Now I will put a heavy yoke on her tender neck. I will drive her in front of the plow. Israel and Judah must now break up the hard ground; their days of ease are gone. 12I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’
Hosea 10:11-12 (NLT)

The Heart of God – I Love This Picture

1“When Israel was a child, I loved him as a son, and I called my son out of Egypt. 2But the more I called to him, the more he rebelled, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. 3It was I who taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. 4I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.

5“But since my people refuse to return to me, they will go back to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria. 6War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates and destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. 7For my people are determined to desert me. They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me.

8“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. 9No, I will not punish you as much as my burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.

10“For someday the people will follow the LORD. I will roar like a lion, and my people will return trembling from the west. 11Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Flying like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again,” says the LORD.
Hosea 11:1-11 (NLT)

Come back to your God

      6So now, come back to your God! Act on the principles of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God.
Hosea 12:6 (NLT)

Listen Carefully…Hear God’s Love

1Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. 2Bring your petitions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you the sacrifice of praise…

4The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever! 5I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. 6Its branches will spread out like those of beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedar forests of Lebanon…

8“O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who looks after you and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year.”

9Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are discerning listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But sinners stumble and fall along the way.
Hosea 14:1-9

Let’s Return to the Lord
Friends, let’s return to the Lord wholeheartedly. Let’s step away from the things of this world that we hold tightly and that keep us from pursuing Him – things that keep us from loving Him and stepping out to follow Him more deliberately. Let’s just do it!

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1The LORD said to Moses, 2“Give the Israelites instructions regarding the LORD’S appointed festivals, the days when all of you will be summoned to worship me.
Leviticus 23:1-2 (NLT)

Imagine! The Israelites worshipped God not only on Sunday, but there were festivals throughout the year – “appointed festivals” – when they set apart time to worship God. I want to live in that society! Sure, we worship God every day…but how many days a year do we set aside to focus solely on Him?

You may work for six days each week, but on the seventh day all work must come to a complete stop. It is the LORD’S Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day to assemble for worship. It must be observed wherever you live. 
Leviticus 23:3 (NLT)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am a big fan of practicing a Sabbath. I’m a fan…but I don’t do it as well as I’d like. Now before you voice the objection, let me clearly state that I am also not that Sabbath be Saturday, as it is in Judaism. I prefer to call it a Day of Rest (DOR at our house), and in the Christian culture that’s often Sunday. You may call it the Lord’s Day. Call it what you want, and make it whatever day you want, just do it! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater because we’re no longer under the Law. Scripture is full of injunctions about keeping the Sabbath – and I’m convinced it’s a principle God instituted that remains in effect.

Back to Leviticus 23:3. Words that strike me in this verse…“complete rest,” “worship” and “wherever you live.”

In Exodus 34:1 God instructs the Israelites to observe the Sabbath “even during the plowing season and harvest.”

No matter where you live,

No matter how busy you are…

Complete rest.

Lord, help me. Complete rest. Once a week. Even when my schedule is over-the-top. Help me get better at it, Lord.

I do pretty well with the “worship” part. I sometimes struggle to define “rest”. The word used there generally relates to occupational work and “creation” type work. Remember, the Lord practiced a Sabbath Himself – after creating the world we live in, He rested on the seventh day.

What Counts as “Rest”?
So, what kinds of activities can I be involved in that honor God? I am firmly convinced that visiting family falls within the boundaries of activities that would honor God on the Sabbath…but do they still honor God if they leave me drained? Somehow I don’t think so. So what needs to change – my perspective (so that I’m not so drained by visiting) or my activity (not visiting family on my day of rest)? I’m working on that one. (I mean no disrespect to family with this example – I have to travel an hour or more to visit family and doing so after church just makes for a long day that often tires me out.)

Is writing a blog a violation of the Sabbath? I am both energized and drained by writing blogs – I love hearing from God, but the act of getting the thoughts on paper is hard work. If I can write the blog, can I post it? While writing a blog is often enjoyable, posting it is drudgery.

Is mowing the lawn a violation of the Sabbath? Does it matter whether or not I enjoy mowing the lawn? Is taking a walk in the woods an acceptable activity? Is exercising? Is organizing a room if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?

I am not becoming legalistic about this…I understand the principle of staying God-focused and providing rest. I also understand the value of the Sabbath being a full day, not just the hours we spend in church or the day and an afternoon. Whether or not we like to admit it, our bodies were created to need down town. Our brains also work better when rested – and I don’t mean when we get the sleep we need. Our brains work better when they are given a break from thinking about the issues associated with our work, regardless of what that work is. I recognize that everyone’s work is different, so defining what constitutes not working will differ from person to person.

It’s important to recognize, though, that most of us are so un-Sabbath oriented, that our tendency is to violate the concept. I try to combat that by being very conscious of what I’m doing (and not doing) on my Sabbath.

Not only are we un-Sabbath oriented, we are as a culture to me-oriented. For example, a few paragraphs ago, I asked if I could organize a room on the Sabbath “if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.” Do you hear how me-focused that is? The Sabbath is supposed to be God-focused. It’s not about my accomplishments – actually, it’s supposed to be an anti-accomplishment day! (I’m thinking organizing the room violates the whole Sabbath principle.) God commanded the Sabbath as a blessing for us – a time toget away from our world and enter into His. What a great God He is!

Festivals! More Occasions to Worship God
In addition to the Sabbath, God identified annual festivals:

  • Passover
  • The Festival of Firstfruits
  • The Festival of Harvest
  • The Festival of Trumpets
  • The Day of Atonement
  • The Festival of Shelters (or Booths)

Each of the festivals focused on a different element of God’s goodness. Each involved worshipping God, although in different ways.

What impressed me most about the establishment of the holy days is that they developed a culture of worshipping God in special ways throughout the year. They took the people away from their daily lives to focus on the God who delivered them, who provides for them, the God who forgives them. These festivals were in addition to the practice of the weekly Sabbath.

We have lost that culture. We rush through church to be off doing our own thing. We take vacations (designed to help us “vacate”) instead of setting aside days and weeks throughout the year in which we worship God. I know few people who set aside a day or more during their vacation to celebrate, worship and honor God.

God is most honored by His people honoring Him. In America, I’m afraid we honor our time more – insisting that it be OUR time that we schedule Him into.

I don’t have answers in this blog – just questions about how we ought to live in a way that honors God. We’re not required to keep the festivals God instituted in Leviticus. But I think they reflect an approach to living that keeps God at the forefront of our life, and that requirement remains for all Christians. Lord, challenge us to return to You.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ramblings here. Comment below or on Facebook.

In the meantime…enjoy God!

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Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant Today?

After reading the excitement of the books of Genesis and Exodus, we come to a book of regulations and instructions – the change in drama is significant. Leviticus seems boring compared to the two books that precede it. It is, however, part of a natural progression of the same story.

  • In Exodus we read about how God had chosen the Israelites as His “treasured possession” and a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6). The book of Leviticus establishes regulations for the priesthood. .
  • In Exodus, the design for the tabernacle was given, it was built and the Lord’s glory filled it. In Leviticus God teaches the Israelites how to minister in the tabernacle.
  • In the final chapter of Exodus, the glory of the Lord – His very presence – filled the temple. The book of Leviticus begins with God calling out to Moses from the tabernacle. What follows are instructions to the Israelites about how to live a holy life in and with the presence of God.

Do the instructions, regulations and lessons of Leviticus have relevance for us today? Yes. As I wrote in my previous blog, even when we can’t find or see the relevance of a passage, we believe that it is profitable for study because Scripture says it is. Beyond that, however, looking at the three bulleted points above, a New Testament Scripture comes to mind:

5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… 9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:5,9 (NIV)

Believers today are a part of the “treasured possession” and “nation of priests” that God called out in Exodus. We gain a much deeper and richer understanding of that role and its responsibilities by understanding its history.

Finally, in response to the question “Is the book of Leviticus relevant for believers today?” let me say that I was surprised to learn that it is quoted at least forty times by New Testament writers! That alone makes me think there’s more to this book than I was getting as I began reading it this week. And there is! Let’s take a deep breath and dive into the first seven chapters.

Leviticus 1-7: It’s All About the Sacrifices

Chapters one through seven are all about sacrifices (but then you knew that if you’ve been following along with our Resting at the River’s Edge readings). It’s easy to get lost in the details of the five different types of offerings identified in these chapters, so we’re going to take them one at a time and look at what they teach us that is relevant to us today.

Burnt Offering: The word used to describe the burnt offering is olah. It comes from a root verb (alah) that means “to ascend.” The burnt offering ascends to God, going before the priests as a way of purifying the path so to speak.

He [the priest] is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
Leviticus 1:4 (NIV)

Laying his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed shows his identification with the animal. The action reminds the priest that it is for his sins that the animal is being slaughtered and the burnt offering goes before him making him acceptable in God’s sight. It also a “complete” offering – the entire offering is burned, which reminds us that we are to surrender not just a portion but all we are and have to the Lord.

Grain Offering: This offering was made of flour, oil and incense. A portion of it is burned before the Lord and the remainder given to the priests for food. The burned portion and the burnt animal offering seem to me to be a complete “plant and animal” offering – a picture that God is redeeming to Himself all that He has made. The portion of the grain offering that is given to the priests for food foreshadows the One who would become the “Bread of Life” and who would give eternal life to those who trust in Him. Interestingly, honey is forbidden to be used in the preparation of this sacrifice. No reason is given, but one writer made note that honey “does not smell very nice but frankincense [the incense that was commonly used] receives its highest degree of fragrance after it had been burned.” (http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/levitic.html)

Peace Offering: Unlike the burnt and grain offerings, everyone shares in the peace offering – the one giving the offering, the Lord and the priests and their families. It is truly an offering of reconciliation – between the one making the offering and the Lord, and all those involved.

Christ has given us – delegated to us – this ministry of reconciliation:

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NIV)

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” We are that peace offering. A portion is to be burned to rise to the Lord atoning for our sins and the sins of those we represent, and the rest is to be shared with others. Wow!

Sin Offering: The first three offerings were made as burnt offerings on the altar in the Tabernacle. The sin offering, on the other hand, was burnt on the bare earth outside the camp. The writer of the book of Hebrews references the sin offering and tells us that Jesus’ death outside of Jerusalem is an atonement for our sins:

11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Hebrews 13:11-12 (NIV)

Guilt Offering: The sin offering and guilt offering are very similar. It is also burned outside the camp. Christ’s crucifixion outside Jerusalem takes away not only our sin, but also our guilt. He sets us free, indeed! The guilt offering includes financial compensation to parties who have been wronged, introducing the principle of restitution. Christ frees us from our sin and guilt before God, but we have a responsibility to be reconciled with others and that often requires restitution.

Interestingly, this offering is the only one which is not described as a soothing aroma. Perhaps I am stretching an analogy too thin, but I can’t help but remember that guilt is never pleasing to God. He brings condemnation and desires/requires repentance. But ongoing guilt is simply a malodorous burden from the enemy.

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Romans 8:1-3 (NIV)

We were guilty, but Christ’s offering removed that guilt from us. Hallelujah!

Final Thoughts about Offerings

The word for “offering” in Hebrew is corban. It comes from a root word meaning “to bring near.” The offerings described in Leviticus brought the Israelites nearer to the Lord and to the holiness that the Lord required. The offering itself brought them near to God – it went before them to make them acceptable to Him. The act of bringing the offering demonstrated their obedience and that obedience was a precursor to holiness. The offerings we bring today do the same – they bring us near to God and develop an obedience in us that moves us closer to the holy standard God requires. I am not, of course, saying that we become God or we earn a righteousness by our actions. We are righteous only when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice as the atonement for our sins – when we believe that He paid the price we owe and we live our life according to His plans and purposes.

Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant for Today?

You bet it is! When Jesus represented Himself to be baptized, John the Baptist proclaimed:

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29b (NKJV)

John the Baptist recognized that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system – that Jesus’ death met all the requirements and did so forever. Hallelujah!

Many thanks to the following blogs for their help in writing this blog:
http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/levitic.html

http://bible.org/seriespage/learning-love-leviticus#P89_4464

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