Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to give

God told David that he was not the one to build the temple for the ark of the covenant. Instead, his son Solomon would be called to fulfill this great work. The project will take lots of money, workers, and material to build the house of the Lord. 
David exercised great leadership and first gave an extremely generous gift. Then he then turned to his other leaders and invited them to do the same. He did not force them; giving is a matter of the heart. He asked them to give a free-will offering toward God's great work (I Chronicles 29:1-6). 
The response was overwhelming and David praised God for his goodness and greatness:
All good things come from God! Sometimes I forget this. God owns everything. I know this is true from an intellectual sense, but in practice, in my daily living, I often forget. All that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. 
Both riches and honor come from you and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 
For all things come from you and of your hand we have given you. This one of the most important principles for giving. What you have in your house, in your wallet, in your bank account, the car in your yard, your furniture, your clothes, your food in the refrigerator, the place where you work, your family, your health, your retirement savings, everything, comes from the hand of God. So when we give, we are really giving back what we received from the Lord in the first place. 
David says, O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house...comes from your hand and is all your own. 
These are great principles to remember when thinking about how to give our lives, our resources and our gifts.

Worship Matters from Psalm 24

This is an amazing psalm of David. The Lord God, who has dominion and ownership over all the earth, invites us into his presence. However, as we come before God in worship, self-examination is critical. Only those who have clean hands and pure hearts; who have not lifted up their soul to what is false and does not tell lies will receive a blessing from the Lord.
If this is true, then worship is not about external mechanics, per se, but about internal preparation, self-examination, humility, repentance, and honesty before God. This is definitely not seeker sensitive but God sensitive.

The vision of worship in Psalm 24: 1-10 is very different from worship in modern day America. We are preoccupied with music; is it traditional or contemporary? Did we finish on time? Was the sermon too long or short? Did the sermon make me laugh, or was it too heavy on the bible? The result is we are less aware of God's transforming work in our lives and more fixated on how worship makes us feel. So, whose worship is it?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reading Scripture this week

Please join me in reading God's word this week. Try reading from your screen or from your bible. If you are reading from your screen, pass your mouse over the text and it opens up. 
May the word of God dwell richly in your heart and among your loved ones, and may the Holy Spirit grant you a deep, deep love to know and obey God this week. Use the comment box at the end of the post and bless your fellow readers with your insights. 

Also, take a look at these instructions for reading Scripture from the Puritan, Thomas Boston: here

Sunday 23
Psalm 22: 1-31, Genesis 21:22-34, I Chronicles 26: 1-32, Luke 14: 1-35

Monday 24

Psalm 23: 1-6, Genesis 22:1-24, I Chronicles 27: 1-34, Luke 15:1-32

Tuesday 25
Psalm 24: 1-10, Genesis 23:1-20, I Chronicles 28: 1-21, Luke 16: 1-17:10

Wednesday 26
Psalm 25:1-22, Genesis 24:1-67, I Chronicles 29: 1-22, Luke 17: 11-37

Thursday 27
Psalm 26: 1-12, Genesis 25:1-18, I Chronicles 29: 22-30, Luke 18:1-30

Friday 28
Psalm 27:1-14, Genesis 25:19-34, 2 Chronicles 1: 1-17, Luke 18:31-19:27

Saturday 29
Psalm 28: 1-9, Genesis 26: 1-35, 2 Chronicles 2: 1-18, Luke 19: 28-46

The family that worships together

David and the leaders of the Levites divided the musicians for the coming temple into three family groups: Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman (I Chronicles 6:31–47), who prophesied with musical instruments, i.e., wrote songs. In some cases, their songs seem to have become part of OT Scripture, for Asaph is named in the titles of Psalms 50 and 73–83, and Jeduthun in the titles of Psalms 39, 62, and 77. In addition, Heman here may be the same person as Heman the Ezrahite named in the title of Psalm 88
The verb “to prophesy” (Hb. naba’) indicates that their songs were prompted or guided by the Spirit of God. This shows that “prophecy” is not always a direct announcement of God's plans; it indicates that the person is operating as God's authorized spokesman, here providing the right way for God's people to sing to him (they prophesied … in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, I Chronicles 25:3).
It's also noteworthy that their ministry was a family affair. Heman's 17 children were all involved in his ministry. How did he do it? Scripture says they were all under the direction of their father in the music of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God (I Chronicles 25: 6). 
Heman stepped up as a father and led his large family in the way of the Lord. What mattered to him, mattered to them. He led by example and they followed him. O that God would grant to our church fathers and mothers who live in such a way that their children join them in service and worship to Christ. 

Who deserves the credit?

If it's to's up to me?
In the last post,  two angels promised Abraham and Sarah that a year from now she would give birth to a son and Sarah burst out laughing. What they said did not square with reality or biology (Gen. 18:12).

 A year quickly went by. Genesis 21: 1 confirmed that the angels were right: The Lord did visit Sarah as he said; the Lord did to Sarah as he promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his Son who was born to him, Isaac. God's grace is never based on our efforts. 

Have you ever heard people say or imply that your life could be better if only you had more faith? If  you haven't had someone say this to you yet, hold on, they will. These well meaning folks fail to realize their mistake: they place their faith in faith. For them, faith is a force, a lever, a tool that one uses to get all the goodies from God. If the goodies are not coming in, then it's time to burnish one's faith. 

What's wrong with this picture? Well, for starters, God is faithful even when we are faithless(2 Timothy 2:13). Furthermore, faith in faith is basically another God-helps-those-who-help-themselves-lie. The truth is, God delights in helping those who know they can't help themselves. This is what grace means. 

Faith focuses squarely on the Lord. The Lord acts before Sarah does anything. The Lord visited Sarah; the Lord did to Sarah as he promised; she conceived and gave birth to a son just as God promised.  

This is the good news of the gospel: when we stumble and fall, God is faithful; when we laugh (and inwardly doubt), God is faithful. God, says the Psalmist, knows our frame and remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103: 14). Stop trying to whip yourself into spiritual shape. Focus instead on the grace of God shining forth in the face of Jesus. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103: 8). We are saved by grace, through faith, it is the gift of God, not works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Who deserves the credit? Christ, and Christ alone!

Read through the bible in 2011
Psalm 21: 1-8
Genesis 21: 1-21
I Chronicles 25: 1-31
Luke 13: 10-35

Friday, January 21, 2011

Impossible? Never

Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”Genesis 18: 14

What's the most difficult thing you are facing in your life? Is it financial problems, unemployment, a struggling marriage, sickness, a horrific childhood, being a parent, losing a loved one, infertility?

In Genesis 18: 1-15, Abraham and Sarah are senior citizens and during the course of their married life Sarah is unable to give her husband a child. 

Two angels on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah are invited to share a meal in Abraham's house. During the meal, one of the angels told Abraham that a year from now Sarah would have a child. Sarah was inside the tent and when she heard the words of the angel she burst out laughing. She looked at her body, the age of her husband, and laughed because old people do not have babies. Had she been younger then she would have believed them.

When they heard her chuckling behind the tent, they asked the pivotal question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? Does the size of our problems intimidate God? Take your biggest challenge right now and ask yourself, does this problem limit God?

The answer is no. God is creator of everything. Everything owes its existence to the Lord. Nothing is impossible with God:

  • From the dust God created the first humans
  • After 430 years of slavery in Egypt God delivered Israel with a mighty hand and outstretched arm
  • After three days buried in the ground Christ rose from the dead!
Don't limit God's work or plan for your life. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 
Turn this up and sing as loud as you can!

Read through the bible

Psalm 17:1-15
Genesis 18: 1-15
I Chronicles 18-20
Luke 11: 1-36

Pray this prayer every day!

Every now and then I find a prayer that speaks to the longing of my heart to know Jesus in a deeper way. Scotty Smith is pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN. Check out his blog and his church; he has blessed me with his prayers many times.
   Rekindle and stoke the fire of our wonder, Jesus. We’re too easily distracted and attracted to far lesser luminaries than yourself. We don’t want to waste our amazement on fool’s gold. It’s a perilous thing to take your great love for granted. It’s an arrogant thing to presume on your welcome. It’s a deadly thing to be underwhelmed with the riches of the gospel. Meet us… melt us… mesmerize us again.
Read the rest of the prayer here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Three Lessons About Good Intentions

In I Chronicles 17: 1-27, David wants to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant (read Time article). Since the exodus out of Egypt, the ark has been the embodiment of God's presence with Israel.
God's ideas

Now David has it in his heart to build a temple for the ark. This is a good and noble desire and even Nathan the prophet green lighted his idea.  

Later that night God came to Nathan and essentially said, "Bad idea. Tell David he's not the one to build the temple." Consider these three lessons from David's experiences:

  1. Logic is not enough: There are times when what seems right to us could be wrong to God. Just because it makes sense, or it seems logical, or noble, does not mean it's God's will. Even when other people validate our ideas, as Nathan did to David (I Chronicles 17: 2), the question still remains, what is God's will in the matter? It's important to seek insight from others but don't forget to seek the Lord.
  2. God knows all things: God knows the end from the beginning. God is sovereign; God is in absolute control and therefore knows the future in a way finite humans will never understand. The Lord determined that David's son, Solomon would be the one to build the temple (I Chronicles 17: 11-12). David could never have known this because knowledge of the future belongs to the Lord Isaiah 55:8-9). 
  3. Submission to God's will: When David found out that this idea was good, but that he would not be the one to implement the building plans, he humbled himself and submitted to the will and word of God (I Chronicles 17: 16). In the end, David praised God: there is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you.
As you contemplate your important decisions and plans, do think clearly and logically, share your ideas with other wise and respected friends, but in the end, be prepared to seek God and allow God's Spirit to surprise you and redirect your plans. In the end, God's ways are always better than our plans. 

Read through the Bible in 2011
Psalm 16: 1-11
Genesis 17: 1-27
I Chronicles 17: 1-27
Luke 10: 25-42

Monday, January 17, 2011

Passionate Worship part 2

This is a hymn celebrating the ideal worshipper of God. My last post focused on the external aspects of passionate worship. In Psalm 15: 1-5, the psalmist attends to the internal, unseen condition of the worshipper's heart. 
Be careful: even if worship is organized, creative and full of passionate emotions, but lacks purity of heart before God, worship amounts to nothing. God works from the inside-out; who we are is more important than what we do. 
The central question for all who worship is not what, or how, but who: who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell in your holy hill? The answers are given in Psalm 15: 2-5: 
  • The one who walks blamelessly and speaks the truth
  • Who does not speak ill of his neighbor
  • Who despises evil but celebrates what is good
  • Who lives with integrity and does not change based on circumstances
  • Who uses money wisely and does not extort the poor.
  • The one who does these things shall never be moved
How sad that many of the worship wars going on in churches are based on superficial matters like music, singing or not singing the Gloria Patri, organ vs. guitar, hymns vs. praise songs, and other personal preferences. 
I have never heard of a congregation evaluating its worship based on the parameters of Psalm 15: 1-5. 
I wonder why?
Read through the Bible in 2011
Psalm 15: 1-5
Genesis 16: 1-15
I Chronicles 16: 4-43
Luke 9: 51-10:24

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Passionate Worship

How passionate is your worship? How deliberate and comprehensive is your adoration of God? Does worship cost you anything?

In I Chronicles 15:1-16:3, David's attempt to return the ark of God from the home of Obed-edom to Jerusalem gives many helpful insights about personal and corporate worship:

1. Preparation: how prepared are you to worship God? In I Chron. 15:1-3 David uses a three-month interval before the ark arrives in Jerusalem to make needed preparations. Worship preparation shows shows its importance and reveals our awe and reverence for God. What preparations do you undertake before gathering with other believers?

2. Organization: How organized is our worship? Is it marked with chaos? Preparation and planning fosters clarity and limits chaos. Nothing is more distracting than worship that lacks purpose. David organized the Levites into three main divisions, each having a specific responsibility (I Chronicles. 15: 4-10, 15:17-24).

3. Consecration: How spiritually prepared are you to worship God? The priests were required to consecrate themselves for the task of carrying the ark of the Lord. The act of consecration means to set aside any and everything that is profane in order to take on the important task of worship. Since God is holy, his worshipers come before him with clean hands and pure hearts (Psalm 24: 3-4).

4. Celebration: Worship is a passionate celebration of the glory and greatness of God. In In Chronicles 15: 25-6:3, there is rejoicing, dancing, joy, festive music, sacrifice, singing, shouting, playing of instruments. Unfortunately, Michal, David's wife resented his dancing and rejoicing; maybe she thought his exuberance was unbecoming for a king.

Compare this expression of passionate worship with worship in many north American churches. Is your worship of God routine and dry, focused on self, or is it passionate,  and Christ centered?

How to engage in passionate worship

  • Keep the focus on the glory of God not the glory of our needs and wants
  • Pray for all who will lead worship
  • For Sunday worship, read Scripture and pray for a humble and receptive heart before each gathering
  • Worship each day. After all, worship is not just on Sunday. We are called to worship and glorify God in all that we do (Colossians 3: 16-17).

Read through the bible in 2011

Psalm 14: 1-7
Genesis 15: 1-21
I Chronicles 15:1-16:3

Luke 9: 1-50

Friday, January 14, 2011

5 questions for God

Ever since my conversion to Christ I have deeply loved the Psalms. The Psalms are honest, very human, and resonates with my changing emotions. By far, my love for the Psalms comes from the Psalmist's serious engagement with God. The Psalmist wants every human being to know and love God, whose spotless moral purity, magnificent power and wisdom, steadfast faithfulness and unceasing love are evident in beauty for all to see.

But there are times when the Psalmist finds God to be a mystery; there are times when God's ways do not make sense. Psalm 13 is a personal lament; the writer is on the verge of despair because his prayers are not being answered. So he poses 5 rapid fire questions to God:
1. How long, O Lord?
2. Will you forget me forever?
3. How long will you hide your face from me?
4. How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
5. How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

He had the temerity to say, "God, what is going on? How long are you going to allow these life-draining events to continue in my life?" God did not strike him to the ground; there was no vengeful reaction from the heavens.

This is what an authentic relationship to God looks like. God is glorious and great and can handle our hurts, pains, doubts, and even anger. The believer's relationship to God is undermined when he tries to mask his emotions and portray a false sense of being in control, or by acting as if everything is OK.

In life things are often far from OK. Yet, life's hardships should not necessarily stifle one's need to pray to the Lord. Even though God seemed delayed in answering his prayers, and he is clearly distressed, he continues to pray!
In 13: 3-4, he pleads with God for an answer and for relief
In 13:5-6, he rests in the confidence of God to ultimately care for him even though life is less than ideal. Notice his resolve: I have trusted; my heart shall rejoice, I will sing because God has dealt bountifully with me.

In an authentic relationship with Jesus, we must be honest with God and yet still walk by faith in the ultimate goodness of God.
Question: How do you live with your questions/disappointments and still retain faith in the Lord?

Read through the bible in 2011
Psalm 13: 1-6
Genesis 14: 1-24
I Chronicles 14: 1-17
Luke 8: 22-56

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Miracles still happen

Last night I attended a prayer gathering sponsored by the Employment Network Ministry of our church. While we didn't break any attendance records, several families showed up to pray, find hope and consolation in the Lord during this season of unemployment.

Time was given to hear the testimony of a young man whom God delivered from a life of drugs, brushes with the law and other misdeeds. His testimony also gave thanks to God for providing him with a job.

As I listened to his story I kept thinking about the authority of Jesus over every sphere of life. Paul eloquently depicts Jesus as...the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1: 15-17). Every area of of life is subject to his authority.

In Luke 8: 22-25, Jesus is Lord over the wind and the waves. If the events of your life seem out of control, Jesus is Lord and he has the authority to still the raging storms swirling in your life.

Luke 8: 26-39, Jesus is Lord over the powers of demons. By the power of his word, Jesus dethroned the legions of demons that enslaved the poor man's life.

Luke 8:40-56, Jesus is Lord over death. Jairus, the ruler of the local synagogue, begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Before Jesus reached the man's house he heard the horrific news, "It's too late; your daughter is dead." But Jesus told the grief-stricken man, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will live." Entering the home, he took the girl by the hand and at once her spirit returned to her body.

I wish I could have been with Jesus in the boat and watch him pacify the howling winds and crashing waves with nothing but a whisper. I would give anything to be among the crowds watching Jesus deliver a man possessed by thousands of demons. As a father of three children, I would have loved to see the look on Jairus' face as his emotions moved from depths of grief, to the dizzying heights of joy overflowing when Jesus brought his daughter to him alive.

But last night I saw and heard a miracle. Jesus was in the midst of our gathering. He called, touched, healed and delivered a young man from a life of darkness to light. Look around you, the miracles of Jesus are still going on.

Question: How has Jesus shown his power and authority either in your life or in a friend's life? Share a brief story in the comments box.

Are you reading through the bible in 2011? Here are today's readings:
January 13
Psalm 12: 1-8

Genesis 13: 2-18
I Chronicles 13: 1-13
Luke 8: 4-21

Monday, January 3, 2011

You will be my witnesses

Our first worship service of 2011 was filled with the presence of Christ! I am also starting a new series of expository messages on the book of Acts. As I closed the sermon from Acts 1: 1-11 on Sunday, I shared some practical ways through the power of the Spirit we can be witnesses for Jesus Christ in the Market place. Several of you asked me for the witnessing steps. Here they are:

Spend this week thinking about which areas God might be calling you to take action.
  1. Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those who are far from God.
  2. Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith.
  3. Choose a few friends, co-workers or family members to pray for.
  4. Become aware of openings to talk about your relationship with Christ in everyday conversations.
  5. If someone seems open, suggest going to coffee -- be prepared to really listen to them!
  6. Invite a few folks to join you for an informal, short Bible study.
  7. Propose to a few friends that they serve with you in a volunteer opportunity.
  8. Invite a neighbor to come to a social activity or worship gathering at church.
  9. Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith.  (from Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross)
I have a question for you: What experiences have you had sharing Christ with others? This could be a positive or negative experience.