Category Archives: worship

What Prayer Does

This morning, I read Psalm 13.  Written by David, it reflected a painfully trying time in his life.  Some scholars believe that he wrote while fleeing from Saul. Others put it at the time of his flight from Absalom.  No matter when he wrote, his words probably convey the way many believers have reacted to their circumstance.

“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2 HCSB)

It seems that David was imagining every conceivable worse outcome to his situation. He felt that God had forgotten him and that God was hiding from him.  His prayer request was simple in such circumstances.  “Consider me and answer me, Lord.”

That does not sound life much of a prayer.  One can’t even get half a blog out that. No one, except those most extravagant with words, could write a book about it.  It doesn’t seem like a power prayer, or something that will result in mountains being cast into the sea.  But, it moved David’s heart, and that was what mattered, because when you ask God to think about you and believe that he does, all the reasons you have to fear and to worry seem smaller.

No longer feeling abandoned, David trusted in God to deliver him.  He heart rejoiced because he had hope of deliverance. David sang because God had been generous to him.

What changed between verse one and the end of the short Psalm?  Nothing changed in David’s outward circumstances.  The only change came in his perspective.  He saw God for who God was. Prayer does that.

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What to remember this weekend

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53-54:1 ESV)
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53 ESV)

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
(Matthew 27:1-61 ESV)

Being Mindful of the Holy

Suitcases lie scattered all over the house.  In this place or that, there are piles of things, clothes, books, papers and toys.  My wife is packing our bags for our move back overseas, and I am trying very hard not to feel guilt while watching her do it. I try to be helpful in other ways such as keeping up with other household chores.  Moving is kinetic chaos.

Actually, the world is kinetic chaos, or it seems to be.  Whenever we return to the US from overseas, I have this sense that I am running and everyone around me is running.  In our society, people live at the same pace as a hamster spinning a wheel in his cage, and it seems that people often equal the hamster in progress.  Our society is nervous, and we are running off its nervous energy.

Even in the things of God, many people live in the frenzy of kinetic chaos.  Church activities are additions to the chaos.  They are things on a check list to done, and afterwards, move on to the next church activity or sports practice or recital or club meeting.  We, the body of Christ, run in and out of his presence.  We make small talk with our fellow family of God members about the game and the stock market news or hunting and fishing or politics and elections.  We enter His presence and hardly give Him a thought.  Our presence with His body is just another part of the chaos of life and not a relief from it.

How completely sad and utterly pointless.  What is the point of gathering as a body to worship if we are not going to worship?  What’s the point of entering His presence if we aren’t even going to acknowledge it?

For the past ten days or so, I have been reading the book of Leviticus, the laws for the priests about serving in the Temple.  So many times, they are warned to treat the things of God as holy.  They were not to take anything lightly.  They served a holy God, who demanded that He was treated as such.  How often do we look up from our kinetic chaos to see the One who never changes.  Do we even acknowledge His  presence when we worship or is the focus on us?

So, let’s slow down, and worship God.  As we go to worship in the coming week, let’s recognize who He really is, and worship with hearts and minds fully engaged with God and not distracted by the kinetic chaos.  Rather, let’s give Him our chaos and see Him make sense of it.

Fear is…

…a failure to trust God. There are two fears that paralyze disciples. One is a fear of the future and the other is a fear of people. In this post, I want to talk about fear regarding the future. Another word for such fear is worry. I must confess that I used to be a chronic worrier. If I wasn’t worrying, I worried that I had forgotten something. Why are worry and fear wrong?

Fear believes that God either is not good or is not in control. Faith is the cure to fear and worry. Even when the worse is happening, we need not fear, but rather we need to have faith. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Dealing with tough circumstances with faith instead of worry or fear is an act of worship that results in Jesus being glorified. When we look past the circumstance to see God’s loving hand shaping our lives to be more like Christ or bringing a greater good for more people, we glorify our Lord.

So no matter what we face or will face, we must choose faith over fear.

Looking for Home

Last week, we took our sons to their new home for the next four years (at least).  Both are entering their freshman years at a small Baptist university. However, their having a new home has left me confused about where my home is.  Since we were married, my wife and I have lived in four different states and three different countries, four if you want to count the one where we unexpectedly had to spend about four or five months.  Our children were born in three different countries, and the two that were born in the US were born in different states.  I have lost count of how many apartments and houses we have lived in.

So, for me, I don’t consider any place to be home. I had come to think of home as the place where we were all together as a family.  For example, if we were staying in a hotel somewhere and went out for dinner, I would say when we were done eating, “Let’s go home.”  Home was wherever we were as long as we were together.

Now, we are not together.  One-third of the family is away making a new home.  So, do I have to change my definition of home?  Actually, I think that I just need to radically correct it.  God created us to be with Him.  Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the Only True God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. (John 17:3) We are at home when we are close to Him.  In this life, many distractions interrupt our being with Him. Yet, we should pursue the practice of His presence, learning to pray without ceasing, talking with Him as we would a friend standing nearby.  In the end, we will have perfect fellowship with God when we are in heaven.  Heaven is our true home, but heaven is where we will live in complete fulfillment of the purpose for which God created us.

Yes, I still want to be together with my family. I would love for that to be in one place and not to be constantly moving.  But my longing for home should help me to understand my deeper longing to be at home with the Lord and to practice His presence in this life so that I will be ready to stand in His presence in the one to come.

College Football as a Religious Experience

(Author’s note: The following is meant to be humorous.  As I write about the South’s great religions of Christianity and College Football, I realize that I run the risk of being misunderstood.  Please, chill out and enjoy.)

Ok, I must confess.  I am bored out of my mind with sports right now.  It is that lull time when Baseball division races haven’t heated up that much and college football season hasn’t started.  While I like baseball, I would say that like many southerners I have a nearly unhealthy attachment to college football.   In what little remains of the Bible Belt and in significant parts of its former territory, high school and college football are forms of religion.  What’s more, like the Israelites of old, people have a way of mixing their worship of idols with their worship of the one true God.  On Sunday morning, don’t be surprised if you go to church in Athens and see someone in a red and black suit with a Georgia Bulldog tie.  The gold and purple suits in Baton Rouge, however, are a bit shocking to the senses, yet not surprising considering the religious fervor.

So, it is not surprising that I ran across this on Amazon.com.  That’s right:  it’s a devotional book for the die-hard Georgia fan.  But don’t worry, if you are not a Georgia fan.  The same author has written similar devotions for Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Clemson, NC State, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Duke, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Virginia, Virginia Tech and even, Georgia Tech.  Outside of the South (of which I hold the membership of Texas questionable), there is one written for Penn State.  The same author also has written a devotional book for NASCAR fans.

I must acknowledge that I have never read any of these devotions.  I haven’t even read part of one.  My devotional reading is limited to the Bible and maybe another book that I read after prayer in the mornings such as Practicing the Presence of God, The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, and E.M. Bounds’ Works on Prayer.  It appears that these sports devotional books consist of some pieces of trivia about athletics at the schools.  I am sure some of these lend themselves to thoughts of God and Christ, but I would suspect that some need a major Jesus juke to get to the spiritual end zone.

Being a somewhat occasionally sarcastic individual, I couldn’t help but think that such books for college football fans needed subtitles.  So, here is my list:

Devotions for Alabama Fans: Nick Saban Will Have No gods Before Him
Devotions for Auburn Fans: Confession Is Good for The Soul
Devotions for Tennessee Fans: Prayers that Overcome the Demon of Lane Kiffin
Devotion’s for Georgia Tech Fans: Life’s M-Train
Devotions for Georgia Fans: Overcoming Life’s Disappointments
Devotions for North Carolina Fans: Cheaters Never Win and We’re Proof
Devotions for Ohio State Fans: I Wouldn’t Stand Close to Jim Tressel if I Were You
Devotions for Florida Fans: The Glory Hath Departed—Life after Tebow