The Cold Shoulder

Most of us have experienced the cold shoulder; and most of the time, we know exactly why we are receiving it. If the relationship means enough to us, we seek to resolve the issue so pleasant interactions can resume; otherwise, the rift widens.

H.T., a brother in Christ, recently asked in a Wednesday night devotional, “Life is about change…How has your worship changed?” It stung. Why? Because I’m afraid that my worship, after ten years of being a disciple, may still sometimes strongly resemble what it was soon after I put on Christ. Growth should be apparent to me, and I confess that there is less of it than there should be. So, what does this have to do with the cold shoulder?

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. (Isaiah 1:15)

Simply put, if I feel like I’m getting the cold shoulder in worship, it’s my own fault. You reap what you sow; you get out what you put in. The Lord wants worship to be meaningful to us; He wants us to grow in it, to develop a deeper understanding of its purpose and power. But it can’t happen if we don’t do out part.

Part of “our part” is having our lives in order. How? God follows His “cold shoulder” warning above with nine simply stated (though incredibly challenging) suggestions:

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16)

When these God-like characteristics begin to permeate our lives, then the Lord will again give His ear to our prayers and remove the cold shoulder.

God, give me strength to remove my evil deeds and pursue the justice, mercy, and goodness you desire to see in us so that there may be open, unhindered communication between us. Amen.

rocky mountain low

According to the Huffington Post, Colorado is now filled with a puffing host! The article gives the full statistics for the first month of recreational marijuana sales in the Centennial State, along with projected uses of tax revenue from the product. Ironically enough, the first $40 million in taxes is promised away for school construction–now that’s what you call a “higher” education. The Holy Spirit through Paul outlined what is surely a more effective educational strategy:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

#christianity, #colorado, #drugs, #education, #huffington-post, #marijuana-sales, #recreational-marijuana, #sin-taxes, #sober, #sobriety

there she stood in the doorway…

In Proverbs 9, two ladies call out from high places in the city. They invite those lacking understanding to dine with them. One of the ladies has prepared the meal she offers; the other has stolen hers. One lady does not seem to mind if people know about your visit; the other wants to keep it a secret. One offers wisdom; one offers pleasure. You must dine with one of these women. Choose wisely. They may both mean well, but one of them will kill you.

For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. (9:11)

‘Stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is sweet to a man.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (9:17-18)

Lord, deliver us a daily dose of discernment and decision-making power: the discernment to distinguish between these two ladies; the decision-making power to accept the right invitation.

#choices, #death, #dinner, #invitation, #life, #pleasure, #proverbs, #solomon, #wisdom

Israel’s land survey

I purchased a house last year, and the seller split his larger property into two lots, selling me the smaller of the two. To make this happen, the property had to be surveyed, and a description had to be drawn up specifying the exact locations of the borders. I could describe the borders in one sentence, but the surveyors have to be much more precise. The document they created describes in very technical language the latitude, longitude, angles, curves, etc. from corner to corner of the property, and is quite lengthy. The precision is a result not only of the desire to establish a clear understanding between buyer and seller, but to prevent future disagreements about the exact locations of the border.

When the children of Israel conquered the land of Canaan, there were twelve tribes. The conquered land had to be divvied up between them. I used to read Joshua 13-21 with dread, trudging through the city names and border descriptions with only the purpose of getting through it. Not so anymore. As I struggle to pronounce dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of city and village names, I think of the towns, cities, suburbs, metropolises, counties, and states in my own country and the different climates, accents, histories, cultures, landscapes, laws, traditions, products, arts, disciplines, stereotypes, etc. peculiar to each one. I imagine what conversations may have sounded like in ancient Israel. Did the young Issacharians in Tabor ever complain about how there was nothing to do in their town? Did they long for the day when their parents considered them big enough to go with big brother and his friends to Shahazumah where they could fish or swim in the Jordan River (I may be misrepresenting the geography here). Which one of the cities on the Great Sea did people vacation to the most (think of Myrtle Beach or Gulf Shores)? Were Manassehites arrogant like Texans because of the size of their inheritance? Was there trash talk among the tribes about whose land was, as we sometimes say, “God’s country”?

These 9 chapters are a testimony of the Israelites’ desire for accuracy, understanding, and peace between the tribes. We are given the bare details, but they open up speculation about what life was like as they settled into their new territories. God’s current people have not yet crossed their Jordan. We, too, will settle a new territory one day, but I don’t think we’ll be as concerned about borderlines as they were.

#book-of-joshua, #borderlines, #children-of-israel, #christianity, #heaven, #jordan-river, #land-of-canaan, #land-survey, #old-testament, #promised-land, #tribes-of-israel

spiritual rash

If you’ve ever had a rash, your experience may have gone something like this: you notice yourself scratching at the irritated part of your skin and it dawns on you that it’s been itching a lot. You realize the rash is there. You put cream of some kind on it to treat it and make a conscious effort not to scratch it. Your concentration on not scratching it makes it itch more. You hold yourself back, but your self control eventually breaks down and you scratch feverishly until it attains that raw, hot, yet strangely soothing painful sensation that you know deep down means it’s going to be twice as bad tomorrow. You’re relieved for a moment, yet you know that you’ve done the worst thing you could have done to it.

Sin is sort of like that.

Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:19,24-25)

Lord, give us the self control to let Your Spirit dictate our actions when we are in the throes of temptation.

#christianity, #guilt, #itch, #rash, #self-control, #sin, #skin, #temptation

the whole counsel of God

Joshua 8 records the battle the children of Israel fought against the people of Ai. It is an interesting study in military strategy, but more importantly, the end of the chapter provides a lesson for us regarding our spiritual lives. After the victory, Joshua built an altar, wrote a new copy of the law of Moses, and the nation held a ceremony in which the law was read to the people. According to the last verse of the chapter, “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.” It was not enough to know some of the law. The people needed to know ALL of the law. As the Lord told Moses, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Lord, make us hungry to glean everything we can from the pages of Scripture, for we do not live by some of Your words, but by all of them.

#battle-of-ai, #bible-study, #book-of-joshua, #children-of-israel, #christianity, #joshua, #land-of-canaan, #old-testament

vain repetitions?

When I hear men pray in public, I like to hear the usual requests put into different terms. It is more thought-provoking to me if I am a bit surprised by the way something is said than if I can stay three seconds ahead of the “pray-er” as he treads down the ever-trodden path of “guardguide’n’direct,” “keepusuntilthenextappointedhour,” “happyrecollectionofthethingshehasprepared,” “keepusinthehollowofthyhand,” etc. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those phrases. They can be just as genuine as a newer, more creative arrangement of words, but I confess that I find myself being judgmental when I hear the “standard” phrases because I tend to use them when I have not been especially attentive to my own prayer life. God forgive me for thinking that way.

What made me think of this was either hearing someone begin a prayer recently or beginning a prayer myself with “Dear Lord, thank You for this day.” I sometimes give myself an internal kick when I begin a public prayer this way, because it rolls off my tongue unconsciously if I am underprepared. But it struck me a few days ago that I am silly for thinking that way. Just because that phrase has been overused a bit doesn’t mean that it has to be meaningless. After all, what more are we promised than this moment? We can’t thank God for tomorrow–Christ might return at midnight, or 30 seconds from now. When people are assembled with their heads bowed in prayer, it means God has granted them an opportunity to be together fellowshipping, studying, edifying, exhorting, encouraging, and basking in God’s lovingkindness with each other one more time. It means there is yet one more opportunity for those who have not obeyed the gospel to soften their hearts and make that decision. It means the Lord yet has some work He’d like to accomplish in each one of us, and He’s not done with us yet. Yes, come to think of it, “Thank You for this day” is no shameful way to begin a prayer. Perhaps there is a reason it has become one of our “standard” phrases. God help us not to let the rich meaning of those syllables be lost on us the next time we hear them uttered.

You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)

Lord, thank You for this day. Help us use it to lift up the name of Jesus Christ.

#gratitude, #james, #jesus, #meaningless, #prayer, #repetition, #stale

stop and smell the… lilac?

The human soul has this tendency toward discontentment. The status quo is not quite enough, no matter how great it may be. This concept is all over the book of Ecclesiastes–the diary of the man who, seemingly to us, had everything he could ever want at his fingertips–wisdom, wealth, power, sex, fame, influence. Yet, as you read his account, you discover one of the most miserable, unhappy, tormented individuals that ever lived. Seems that “everything” turned out to be “not enough.” So he drops these little hints throughout his thesis that man’s purpose is simply to enjoy the lot he’s been given. Why? It does no good to fantasize. As you’re walking past the lilac bush, it’d be an awful shame to waste the moment dreaming about roses.

What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires.
~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

#contentment, #ecclesiastes, #solomon, #stop-and-smell-the-roses, #wealth, #wisdom

a visit from Gabriel

In Daniel 9, Daniel records that when Darius the Mede began to reign over the Chaldeans, he (Daniel) read the prophecy of Jeremiah about the number of years that were left to complete the desolation of Jerusalem. Daniel then uttered one of the humblest, most heartfelt, honest prayers recorded in Scripture. While he was still praying, Gabriel came to him and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.”

Two things here give me chills. First, the phrase you are highly esteemed. Men have speculated for millennia about the nature of events in the spiritual realm. One would think that in such heavenly assemblies, men would be regarded as lowly and weak. What are men in comparison with angels–at least at this point in time? Yet the text here says that Daniel was highly esteemed. Angels held Daniel in high regard. What a compliment paid to the value and worth of those who do what is right in the eyes of God.

Second, the command was issued at the beginning of Daniel’s supplications. They didn’t even wait until he was done praying! Yet it seems that the command could not be issued until he prayed. How many blessings do we miss out on because we simply do not ask?

Lord, give us the courage to pray, the wisdom to know what to pray for, and the integrity that allows us to be heard.

#angels, #daniel, #gabriel, #integrity, #prayer, #wisdom

in the presence of God

Exodus 32 chronicles the building of the golden calf made by Aaron when the Israelites began to miss Moses. Their leader seemed to have disappeared, and his second-in-command either did not know the law or did not have the spine to stand up to the people in their error. He made the idol, and according to verse 6, the people “sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”

Fast forward to chapter 33. The people have been rebuked for their sin, and many were executed. God has withdrawn His presence from the people because He does not want to destroy them. A tradition begins of Moses meeting with God in his tent outside the camp.

And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. (verses 8-10)

Here is an interesting contrast: in the presence of the idol, the people ate, drank, and rose to play. In the presence of Jehovah, the people rose to worship. The point? What is our demeanor when we assemble for worship, and what does that say about our understanding of what is taking place? If we feel no sense of awe at the presence of God, and therefore demonstrate a lack of reverence in the assembly, then perhaps there is some kind of idol inhibiting our communion with the Creator.

Lord, open our eyes in the assembly; remind us that You are in our midst during worship, for only then can we begin to show the reverence You demand.

#aaron, #book-of-exodus, #christianity, #god, #golden-calf, #idolatry, #israelites, #presence-of-god, #reverence, #worship

then you shall know

A phrase that occurs over and over again through the Scriptures is “then you will know that I am the Lord.” There are variations on it, but it can be found throughout the Old Testament, and the concept is present in the New. Sometimes the telltale event is a good thing; sometimes it is bad. What is constant is that God is repeatedly trying to show His people that He is in control, and He will be glorified. The next time you read through Ezekiel, count the times this phrase is used. I am fairly certain it occurs more than fifty times in that one book. It occurred in two of the chapters of my Bible reading today:

Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish, that they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, are the most high over all the earth. (Psalm 83:17-18)

I will be among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:46)

Lord, cause us to open our eyes and see all the things You’ve made and all the things You’ve done; and may the way we live reveal this to others: You are the Lord our God.

#bible-phrases, #book-of-ezekiel, #christianity, #exodus, #old-testament, #psalm-83

victory

I was recently afforded the opportunity to perform in the Murfreesboro Symphony Chorus at a concert with the Murfreesboro Symphony Orchestra. I had been to orchestral performances many times before, and while they can be very exciting, they can also be a bit tiresome during some passages. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself waking up to the applause of the audience at the end of a piece. This one, however–almost every moment of it–was different.

Perhaps it was the acoustics–the reverberation in the venue; perhaps it was the one or two thousand faces focused in on the stage; perhaps it was being able to see the conductor’s face for once instead of his back; perhaps it was getting to be part of a group of incredible singers to which I felt inferior; perhaps it was the beauty of the music, much of which was written by one of the best-known composers of our time. As I sang with the choir, or simply sat and listened as the orchestra played alone, excitement flowed through me like electricity during almost the entire concert. Every solo, every climax, every quiet passage, every pause created a sensation I could feel, not only in my mind and heart, but in my body. Here was a group of some of the best musicians (and me) performing excellent music by one of the most well-regarded modern composers on some of the finest instruments in a superb venue, led by one of the most talented conductors in our region. Every person there (on stage and in the audience) was focused on one thing–the music. Being in the midst of the ensemble provided for one of the most intense musical experiences I’ve ever had.

Revelation 14, 15, and 19 have descriptions of multitudes of people and angels singing praise to God. I’m afraid sometimes we think of that image and liken it to our local congregational singing, which–like any other thing we do on a regular basis–can often seem less than thrilling. Continue reading

#assembly, #book-of-revelation, #christianity, #heaven, #music, #orchestral-music, #praise, #revelation, #singing, #worship

Katy Perry on agape love

Generally speaking, I am not impressed with the work of Katy Perry. Much of her music puts sin on a pedestal like lots of other popular music. “I Kissed a Girl” promotes the homosexual/bisexual agenda; “Teenage Dream” encourages premarital sex and promiscuity in general. Those two may be the worst of her music that has been released for radio airplay. I can’t say much about the other music on her albums because I haven’t heard much of it. However, there’s an old saying: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Consider the following lyrics from Katy Perry’s recent hit “Unconditionally.”

I will love you unconditionally / There is no fear now / Let go and just be free / I will love you unconditionally / Come just as you are to me / Don’t need apologies / Know that you are unworthy / I’ll take your bad days with your good / Walk through this storm I would / I’d do it all because I love you

The song, of course, speaks of love between a man and a woman, but it is hauntingly reflective of the love of God toward us–a love that knew no bounds, that did not stop because of any man’s sinful, pathetic behavior; a love that caused Jesus to submit to the mob, to keep silence before His accusers, to endure the whip, to ignore the blood and saliva streaming down His face, to stay on the cross despite the insults being hurled at Him, to reject the mocking invitations to save Himself, to take on the weight of the combined sin of billions of people, to willingly yield up His sinless spirit to God above.

The world is searching for meaning. It is all over the music of our culture, even in some of the most crass songs you hear. It knows what real love looks like, and this Katy Perry song is an unwitting compliment to the God who is the personification of unconditional, agape love. People all over the world are listening to that song and being inspired to exhibit unconditional love in their own relationships. If we could only make them see where that love came from in the first place, and then convince them to obey the gospel!

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

#agape-love, #american-culture, #christianity, #jesus, #katy-perry, #music, #unconditionally

incessant grumblers

Being a teacher requires a certain resolve. It doesn’t matter how intriguing or boring your lesson topic is for the day, there will be students who just won’t open up to it. Sometimes I say, before giving instructions for an assignment, “Everyone listen closely, because I am only going to explain this once.” By the end of the day, on a good day, I have explained it at least four or five times. This holds true no matter how simple the task–even writing down notes I am speaking verbatim. At times it can be exasperating, leaving you exhausted after a simple activity.

Exodus 16 makes me think of my classroom. It shakes out like this: In verse 2, the people grumble against Moses and Aaron. In verse 4, God says He is going to test them to see whether they will follow His instructions. In verse 14, they see the first manna. In verse 19, Moses tells them not to leave it til morning. In verse 20, they leave it til morning. In verse 25, Moses told them they would not find any manna because it was the sabbath, so don’t go looking for it. In verse 27, the people went looking for it. At this point the Lord seems exasperated, for He exclaims, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?” Finally in verses 29 and 30 they get it right.

Lord, sometimes it takes us a little while to catch on. Please be patient with us while we learn to walk in Your instructions.

#christianity, #classroom, #exodus, #instructions, #israelites, #manna, #moses, #obedience, #test

brought out

Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that same day the Lord brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. (Exodus 12:50-51)

What a beautiful, succinct portrait of the dynamic relationship between God and man! It’s like a Scripturized “gif.” God’s relationship with man has always involved three steps. 1) God issues a command with a promise, 2) man obeys, 3) God delivers. We see it in this passage; we see it at Jericho and so many of the military victories over cities of Canaan, we see it in the judges, we see it with the kings, we see it occasionally in the prophets, and most importantly, we see it in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

1) Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

2) So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).

3) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

#acts-of-the-apostles, #baptism, #christianity, #deliverance, #god, #jesus, #moses, #obedience, #promise