What precedes worship?

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2 Samuel 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 50:15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me

Isaiah 43:7 .…..everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made

Prayer is our life blood, in this body.  But we will not pray forever. When we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus, we won’t need to ask for anything. We won’t need faith. We will SEE.

ONE activity we WILL continue in heaven is worship. Praising God, enjoying His worth, and making much of Him will be a pleasure.  If joy in worshipping God seems fleeting here and now, it won’t be when we are in His presence.  After all, scripture gives us glimpses of the angels thriving on worship.  Their experience seems so qualitatively different from mine.  But when we join the angelic host, worshipping God will be a natural and beautiful way of life.   And if that is so, then doesn’t it makes sense to take it seriously now? To practice it?

With that idea as a backdrop, something I read triggered the following thought.  When I rely on myself, I deprive the LORD of worship.  And I, myself, LOSE an opportunity to grow in my enjoyment of making much of God.

What do I mean?  Just this – when I rely on myself and things go well, whom do I thank? I probably don’t even think to ask. Why should I thank anyone since I was the one who came through?  My own initiative, experience, skill and wisdom led to the good outcome, right?

What’s wrong with this thinking? For one, if the situation turned out well, it wasn’t because of me, but God’s mercy.  I’m just blind to that FACT.  And second, who granted me the necessary tools to do ‘good’ work?

But worse than my faulty analysis is that I have just stolen worship that belongs to God.  Yes!  Number me among the glory thieves.

For how does God get any glory when I rely on Maria? And if I do acknowledge the Lord, my hat-tip to Him is more like the smug pharisee who thanks God he is not like the tax-collector. He’s really praising himself, not God.

But when I throw myself totally on Him to come through in the ‘hards and impossibles’, when I count on Him to provide energy and wisdom in the ‘ordinaries’, THEN after every provision, I have AMPLE reason to thank and praise the Lord!

It’s plain and simple.  Isn’t this why God in His Word commands us:

  • to hand over our situations that drive us nuts and count on Him?
  • NOT to trust ourselves or our insight in situations but to look to Him to show us what to do?

The Lord has even built into this broken, fallen universe a practical design feature to help us REMEMBER to depend on Him.  What is that?  He has created us as needy, finite, people desperate for help. Why pretend otherwise!! The psalmist knew this fact and was not ashamed to announce it.  See how his very dependence on the Lord produces praise:

Psalm 71:6  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb; I praise you continuously. (ISV)

How has this realization changed my attitude?  Each morning when I am getting dressed, I bring to mind how my neediness is God’s good gift to me, not a deficit.  Not only can I relax and count on Him coming through in all my situations for the day, I am also practicing my eternal career – worshipping and enjoying the One who is the most worthy person in the universe.

 

Meditating on half a verse is enough

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Proverbs 30:8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me

Just that a portion of this verse was enough to teach and encourage me!

Mike and I read through the Bible each year, following a chronological plan.  That means sometimes we are reading 3-5 chapters at a time.  We gain so much by studying and discussing God’s storyline year after year.  More sinks in through the repetition.  But it is also good to slow down and meditate on just a small portion of God’s Word. I did that this morning from our assigned chapters, Proverbs 30 and 31.

Here are some riches I gathered from 10 minutes max of thinking and checking the Hebrew of the highlighted snippet above:

  1. Feed me: The writer understands that we are incapable of feeding ourselves in the spiritual sense.  He asks God to nourish him.  The Hebrew word for ‘feed’ means a tearing into little pieces.  I pictured an animal momma preparing bite-sized morsels for her young.  I need to remember, that daily, even hourly dependence on God is how I am to live.
  2. with the food: I can think of all the wrong kinds of ‘food’ I am apt to grab.  Others’ life’s circumstances that look ‘happier’ and travel photos that I wish were mine, to name two.  Neither promote contentment nor rest and trust in Jesus.
  3. that is needful: Again, another corrective: I’m not wise enough to know what is needful, what is good.  But God is! The Hebrew for ‘needful’ has the sense of: proscribed, appointed, assigned.  Reminds me of the psalmist’s assertion about pleasantly placed boundary lines in Psalm 16: 6
  4. for me: Ah, the individual love that our Father gives us.  What I need is different from what you need.  Sure, we all need God’s rescue, His heart surgery, and sustaining grace. But because He fashioned me and placed me, an individual, in THIS epoch, in THIS geographical area, in THIS family, in THIS physical body, He knows precisely what I require to grow more holy, like Jesus. His purposeful arrangement of circumstances and events are what He calls GOOD for me.  Remembering this fact, I let out a breath, and settle down into His care.

What was my overall take-away from meditating on just this partial verse?  That I can unreservedly submit to God, that He knows just what I need, at every moment, and that He gives me the perfect quantity of chosen circumstantial ‘necessaries’.  All to the end of preparing me to share in the happy glory of His forever Kingdom.

The few minutes of this kind of deeper engagement with a small portion of text makes me more apt to recall His sustaining Word throughout the hours of this day.

 

 

My New Year’s Resolution in 2018

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Moses said, “Please show me your glory. – Exodus 33:18

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2b

Verses like the above have always startled me and caused me to think that some Christians must be VERY different from me.  I don’t even understand what that hope looks like.  Just what is it about God’s glory that others find compelling?

This theme of God’s glory as being something to be VERY happy about has birthed a growing desire to understand just what this glory is.

What tipped this quest into the ‘gotta know NOW’ category was a recent Pastor John Piper’s meditation on glory. John Piper writes about God’s glory.

Reading that, I knew that the only New Year’s resolution I wanted to set for myself was to keep my eyes open as I journey through the Bible again this year, searching for all the mentions of God’s glory.  I mean to write them down in order to grow my understanding and (I hope!) appreciation of this gift our Father holds out to His adopted sons and daughters.

And if I need a compelling example of someone else on the hunt for this kind of intimacy with God, the apostle Paul comes to mind. Beyond question, this former Pharisee had re-oriented his life toward KNOWING God’s glory.  Just read how he encouraged believers in Philippi  (chapter 3, verse 14):

  • I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  

Just what did this formidable evangelist long for that he willfully embraced hardship to hold out this prize to many?  Nothing else but seeing God face to face and experiencing His essence as much as possible.

So what is God’s glory?  In one sentence, I would say that God’s glory is the visible, physical manifestation of His holiness.  It would be akin to describing patriotism as the love of country made manifest in military service, citizen action, political representation, etc.  We can apprehend something of God’s holiness through this observable and usually physical and emotionally OVERWHELMING experience of His glory.  Beyond that, I cannot say.

What am I hoping for?  That my love for the Triune God will warm up and that I’ll long for Him more, so that I can say with all sincerity, “Come Lord Jesus”.

 

Are you exhausted?

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God helps those...

Have you ever heard this American-ism?  Who hasn’t?  In fact, my father used to quote it to me all the time growing up.  Trouble is, he wasn’t a Christian.  But he was a self-made man.  He grew up in a family that had money, pre-1929!  Born in 1924, he lived a while in Alaska as his family raised silver blue foxes for their fur-fashioned luxury stoles and coats supplied to wealthy blue bloods.

Silver Fox Fur Jacket

That niche soured quickly as the depression dried up the demand for expensive accessories.  Reduced to poverty, the family moved south to Arizona where his father was killed by a drunk driver in 1930.  ‘Mom’ relocated back to Arkansas with my dad and two brothers to eke out a living. There were cousins there, I think. The family scraped by, subsisting at the lowest economic rung. FDR saved my dad through innovative Civilian Conservation Corps camps for young men.  Spending his senior year of high school away from home, Pop studied at night in order to graduate on time with his class back in Mountainburg, Arkansas. His checks provided the funds so his mom and youngest brother could eat.  From there my dad joined the army, grappling his way up the military ladder. He earned a BS and an MA at night. He commanded units in Korea and Viet Nam during 5 combat tours. He pioneered and wrote aviation doctrine as well as a book.

About his relationship with God, all he would ever say when I gently pressed amounted to: “I’ve made my peace with the Lord” But my dad DID live by the ‘Gospel’ – the American good news of ‘work hard and make something of yourself’.

And Ben Franklin’s aphorism about God lending a hand to independent self-helpers fit his worldview. See this brief Wikipedia explanation of the history of the phrase that Ben Franklin popularized. For a long time I didn’t know how to counter that statement.  After all, the Bible does extol working hard to add to our virtue.   Take Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter: 1:5-7

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

That sounds like effort!  If the God-waiting-on-us-to-do-our-part doctrine is not so, then what do we make of much of the moral law in the Bible?

After thinking about how to reconcile “work hard and your efforts will be supplemented by God v. to trust God and watch Him do it all” I think I can propose the right way to consider this topic.  Here’s my attempt:

It’s a matter of one’s starting point, having the correct ‘mindset’ to borrow a term in vogue in my field of education. Do we believe that God created us and then left us to follow our interests and passions, with our calling the shots in life?  Or do we take our cue from our Creator and ask some of those foundational questions such as:

  • Since God created us, He must have had a purpose. What might that be?
  • And if it makes sense to look at what He has written to discover His plans for us, what has He said?
  • And how are we to DO this work for Him?

It would also be prudent to identify God’s own ‘teleos’, His goal for offspring created in His image. Fortunately, He does not leave us guessing.  God writes in Isaiah 43:6b-7:

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Paul in the New Testament echoes the same purpose when he writes to the Christians in Ephesus: (Chapter 2:10)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here’s the  64 thousand dollar Q

How does God get the glory when the spotlight shines on us and what WE do…..with a little boost from God?

That was rhetorical, obviously.  He can’t!

God ONLY gets the praise and glory and acclaim He deserves when unlikely, weak people accomplish His work where it’s evident that only He could have enabled either the attitude of the ‘worker’ or the results. Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish accounts?  Were the disciples praised for their supply of enough food to satisfy 5000 hungry men? Do you understand a bit more Jesus’ curious exhortation:  Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

I never could figure that out!  If we’re doing the good works, wouldn’t WE get the kudos? Why would anyone think to praise God?

Good question!

The good deeds we are to do, we are to do with His strength, in a humble way that magnifies the surpassing greatness of God. No surprise there!  If we actually read His Word, we find out that God expects nothing less from us. After all He explicitly created us to carry out and accomplish pre-planned tasks, each one initiated BY HIM for you and for me.

So back to my blog title: Are you exhausted?  Could it be that you are doing a lot of ‘good stuff’ that you initiated without reference to Your Creator?  And working hard in your own strength, in a way that makes you look good?  No one is denying that much good is done in the world by Christians and non-Christians alike.  But IF we’re worn out, maybe, just maybe it might be because we are functionally living out the American Credo.  After all, who could possibly criticize our good works? Have you considered the answer to that question might be God, Himself?

Here’s a sobering thought: …..anything that is not done in faith is sin.  Romans 14:23c

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