Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Unavoidable Result of Exalting God

Exalt the Lord our God
And worship at His footstool;
Holy is He.
                            Psalm 99:5

It is a simple and unavoidable truth that exalting God inherently means humbling ourselves. We cannot lift God up and make much of Him without ourselves being brought low. The higher God is lifted up the lower we are in relation to Him. Look at today's verse. Once God is exalted, where is the worshiper left? At his footstool. The word for worship here carries the idea of bowing down. So the image is of God being enthroned on high while we worship Him from a position at or below His feet.

This is what proper worship does; it exalts God and humbles man. You cannot make much of God and make much of yourself at the same time. True worship doesn't work that way. If you are not willing to decrease, then you have no part to play in Christ increasing (John 3:30).

So are you willing to decrease? Are you ready to be humbled? To be thought less of? And to think of yourself less? If not, then you need to stop and ask yourself, who am I really trying to lift up, God or myself?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Rhythm of Praise

Every morning and evening they burn to the Lord burnt offerings and fragrant incense...
2 Chronicles 13:11

They are to stand every morning to thank and to praise the Lord, and likewise at evening,
1 Chronicles 23:30

This past week my family went on vacation to the beach. As every parent dearly hopes will be the case, on the very first morning of our vacation our kids made sure that my wife and I were awake a full hour before sunrise! My wife decided to make the best of it and made sure that we caught the sunrise on the beach that morning together as a family.

Later that same day, after a swirl of activity, we found ourselves back on the beach enjoying the sunset. That's when it occurred to me that every single day God gives us these two amazing gifts, these works of art: sunrise and sunset. Yet, I never even notice them. I certainly don't stop to take them in and appreciate them.

This made me wonder, what other gifts is God giving me on a daily basis that I fail notice? What other blessings am I taking for granted? The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it's probably more than I could count.

How can we change that? What can we do to help ourselves appreciate the millions of big and little ways God blesses us each and every day? Here's where the rhythm of sunrise and sunset, morning and evening might be able to help us.  

In the Old Testament, morning and evening created a kind of rhythm for Israel's worship at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Each morning and evening burnt offerings and incense were offered up to God. In fact, I Chronicles 23:20 tells us that this practice was more than just ritual. Every morning and evening the Levites were to stand to thank and praise God.

I think this gives us a great example to follow as New Testament believers! Why not allow the natural rhythm of our days, and the natural beauty of sunrise and sunset to serve as a prompt for us to thank and praise God? Why not spend time in prayer each morning and each evening thanking God for the infinite number of ways He blesses us each and every day? Blessings that we are so used to that we no longer even notice them. And spend time praising Him for what these gifts and blessings reveal to us about His nature, who He is.

Let's pause right now and take notice. Thank God for something that you normally take for granted and praise Him for what it reveals about His character.

I'll go first. I thank God for the unrivaled beauty of the sunrise and the sunset; and I praise Him for making this beauty a daily part of a world that is often cold and ugly. I praise Him for giving this beautiful gift to both evil people and good people (Matthew 5:45). This shows just how good and gracious God is. And I praise Him that one day sunrises and sunsets will stop altogether because God will give His people a gift far greater: His presence. Scripture tells us that in eternity we will no longer have the sun for the Lord will be our everlasting light, and God will be our glory (Isaiah 60:19).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hope for Hurting Hearts

When the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Matthew 14:35-36

The gospels regularly highlight the miraculous nature of Jesus' work on earth. It would be hard to overestimate the dramatic impact Jesus had on the lives of the people He healed. Think for even a moment about the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years (Matthew 9:20), or the woman who had been crippled by demonic possession for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-13) and it's impossible to deny the amazing life change Jesus wrought for them. Even more, if you pause to consider that the man Jesus healed by the pool of Bethesda had been invalid for thirty-eight years (John 5:5-9) or that the blind man He healed in John 9 had never known sight at all, then it's impossible to miss how completely their lives were turned around. 

Today's passage, however, highlights for us just how easy it was for Jesus to bring about these major changes. All it took was one touch of the garments He wore and the course of a person's whole life was changed.

This should bring us hope. It tells us that our problems and our struggles are not beyond God's power! Whatever you are anxious about today, whatever you are stressed about, whatever keeps you awake at night is easy for God to handle. But this truth that ought to bring us joy and cause us to reach out to God in faith like the people in this story reached out to touch His cloak, instead often causes us to doubt and to question.

"If it's easy for God to solve my problems, then why doesn't He?" We ask. "Is God punishing me? Does He enjoy the fact that I am suffering? Why isn't He helping me?"

As believers we know that God is good and loving and that He doesn't take joy in our suffering. He has promised us that although not everything that happens to us will be good, He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). And so, we choose to trust that God hasn't solved our problems yet because there is some good for us in them. There is some good in us learning to hope in Him, in learning to wait on Him, in learning to reach out to Him and pray to Him. Sometimes there is even good in persevering through the trial. (According to II Corinthians 12:7, Paul's thorn in the flesh was ordained to help keep him from pride.) 

It's hard for us to imagine that the things which pain and challenge us have been allowed or even ordained by God for our good. But if we are to believe in a good and a sovereign God, then we must accept this truth. If you are struggling to do so today, then I commend to you Psalm 13. Make it the cry of your hurting heart. Make it your prayer.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
  How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
  and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
  How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
  and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
  my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
  for he has been good to me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ugly Thoughts About Scripture

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli... The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!”
I Samuel 3:1-4

I was reading Scripture just now. I opened my Bible to the story where God calls out to Samuel in the temple, but Samuel is just a boy and he thinks it is the old priest Eli calling him. Before I started reading, this thought flitted across my mind: "Oh, I already know this story. There's nothing new for me in this one." I'm ashamed to admit it but there are times when I come to one of the less exciting passages in Scripture and I even catch myself thinking "This passage really isn't very interesting. There really isn't much in it. I need to find a passage with something good in it if I am going to teach on it."

Now, I am a pastor. I've committed my life to God's Word, to reading it, interpreting it, and preaching and teaching it. So I was thinking, if I can underestimate God's word in this way, if someone who has committed their life to the Bible can take it for granted like this sometimes, then maybe you do too. The truth God is reminding me of today is that every single word of Scripture is here by His expressed desire. Every passage is a precious treasure that is there to encourage, challenge and teach us. We can open our Bibles to literally ANY section and with enough study, prayer, and help from the Holy Spirit mine out precious truths that will nourish our souls.

God reminded me of all that by showing me something in this passage I had missed. Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle. If I understand the book of Leviticus rightly, then only certain Levites were even allowed in the tabernacle at all. Samuel was not one of these Levites, but by virtue of him being dedicated to the Lord from birth and being placed in the charge of the priest Eli, he had received this great privilege. As a young boy he slept in the presence of God! Not in the Holy of Holies, mind you, but in the tabernacle just a stone's throw away from God's presence. What a privilege! What a blessing!

But you know, this is a privilege all New Testament believers can enjoy. We ought not to "visit" God once a week in church but we ought to dwell with Him throughout the week. Stay in His presence young Christian! Pray, read Scripture, cultivate an awareness of Christ in you, learn to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to enjoy His presence. And when you lay down your head at night may you sense the Father's presence so strongly that you can almost hear Him singing over you (Zephaniah 3:17).