Praise and Worship


2 Kings 16-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He accepts our worship that is untainted by the worship of any other

One afternoon several years ago I watched an interesting exchange on the Oprah Winfrey show between Oprah and guest Shirley MacLaine regarding Shirley’s religious beliefs.  As Shirley explained her belief that anything or all things can be god if they are meaningful to you, I detected through Oprah’s nodding and verbal exchange an acceptance of this notion, an odd response from a former evangelical girl.

Through the years, we have seen a slow acceptance of these new age ideas by those who certainly should know better. For many, a belief system that is more encompassing, more accepting of different views and with fewer restrictions whether based on truth or not is more appealing than acceptance of a single God, a single Redeemer.  Israel found itself in this same position after the Assyrians settled in their land. 

@ 2 Kings 17
The invading Assyrians took captive over 20,000 Israelites from Samaria, sent them to live in Assyria and replaced them with groups of people from their own territories.  Many believe that their ulterior motive was to infiltrate the population through intermarriage in hopes that it would weaken the people’s loyalty and destroy national ties as they had done in other cultures.  This new people group became known as the Samaritans.  I’ve always understood that the Jews of Judea hated the Samaritans because of the Jewish intermarriage with the Assyrians.  They believed that it diluted the bloodline of God’s chosen people; but from this story, I realize that their hatred was based on so much more.

There was a slight glitch in the Assyrian plan when the Lord sent lions to devour the new residents.  “So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land.  He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped Him correctly.’” (26)  The king sent one of the exiled Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the new residents how to worship God.

As corrupt as the Jewish priests had been, it was like the blind leading the blind, and the Assyrian residents continued to worship their own gods and the God of Israel.  Soon their offspring, the Samaritans, did the same.  Not good.  The new religion of the Samaritans in Israel was more encompassing, more accepting of different views and with fewer restrictions.  This sounds familiar.

God’s warning at that time is every bit as appropriate for us today as it was for Israel, “You must not worship other gods.  Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship others gods.  You must worship only the Lord your God.  He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” (37-39)  While we want freedom for everyone to worship as they please, it is terribly dangerous to embrace anything that dilutes our belief in the only true and living God and the powerful redemption through His son Jesus.  I really don’t care if I’m unpopular and considered intolerant on this point, I’m not going to budge! 

Moving Forward: Call me stubborn if you want, but I won’t allow the genteel, all-accepting philosophy of this day to infiltrate my belief in my God and my Redeemer.  “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12KJV) 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 87-89

Luke 17-18 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He responds to our heart-felt praise and thanksgiving

My husband and I didn’t stay in youth ministry for 40 years because of the spontaneous and habitual outbursts of gratitude from teenagers.  No, it was because we just couldn’t help ourselves – we loved those kids.  But when those words of thanks came on occasion, they were deeply appreciated, and they encouraged us to do even more to minister to them and get to know them in a greater way.  Because we are made in God’s image, no doubt He feels the same way towards words of thanks, and the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17 is a beautiful illustration of gratitude and the blessings that flow from it.  Just for the record, I would never compare teenagers to lepers. 

@ Luke 17
“As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria.  As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” (11-13)  This was the last road trip for Jesus before His death and wouldn’t it be just like Him to travel right through Samaria, the town that other Jews went out of their way to circumvent.  I must admit I might have been tempted to avoid groups of lepers calling out to me, but not Jesus.

Jesus made one request of them, “He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.” (14)  From verse 13, we know that the lepers knew who Jesus was and perhaps had heard of His healing power.  Even before they saw the evidence of healing, they responded in obedience and did what He said, and because of it, they were cleansed

“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’  He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done.  This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Didn’t I heal ten men?  Where are the other nine?’…And Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.’”(15-19) The nine lepers were so focused on their healing that they forgot about the Healer, but the Samaritan man who had every reason to avoid Jesus, returned to give thanks.  This allowed him to move on to Round Two.

By returning to the Healer, the man not only was healed from leprosy like the others, but he found out why he was healed.  His heart of thanksgiving opened up a face to face dialogue with Jesus who gave him the key to future healing, “Your faith has healed you.”  However, in the original language, this word “healed” has a deeper meaning and is often translated made whole, speaking not only of a physical healing, but of a spiritual healing as well.  The man’s belief in the Lord and His wholehearted act of giving glory to the Lord made him the winner that day!

God revealed in Psalms, “But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.  If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” (50:23)  And that is what happened for the Samaritan leper!  His words of true thanksgiving were not given in order to get something more from Jesus, but blessing came because of them.  Just as gratitude encouraged my heart to do even more for our youth and to know them better, I imagine that God is also encouraged to do even more and to reveal Himself in a greater way in response to our praise and thanksgiving given in honor to Him.

Moving Forward: I will move through this day with praise in my heart and words of thanksgiving on my lips for who He is and all He has done.  It’s a win/win situation. 

Tomorrow @ Colossians 1-2

Leviticus 4-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He desires that our lives are a perpetual flame for Him

There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire, reminiscing with friends and family, toasting marshmallows and enjoying the warmth…hair smelling of smoke, the swatting at mosquitoes, listening to ferocious animals in the distance.  OK, let me change this scenario.  There’s nothing like sitting in front of a cozy fireplace, sinking into a comfy sofa and sipping hot chocolate with worship music wafting in the background.  Ahhh…

My husband has completed training in Fireplace Fire Construction 101, and after many years of diligent practice, he’s got it down. Each log is artfully placed to provide the proper airflow, kindling is strategically located to ignite the artfully placed logs, and before you know it, we have a beautiful fire.  I love him for that.  The fire smolders in the fireplace until long after we have dozed off to sleep, but by morning, not even a spark remains.  I can’t imagine the dedication it would take to keep that wood fire going all night long.

Tucked in between the instructions for many offerings to be burned by the Israelites for the atonement of their sins is a paragraph regarding the burnt offering.  Offered once in the morning and again in the evening, the burnt offering was presented by the priests for the atonement of the entire congregation.  The Lord instructed Moses five times in this short paragraph that the fire was to be kept burning at all times. “Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times.  It must never go out.” (6:13)

Jews have long believed that the fire never went out from this moment of instruction from God until the Babylonian captivity some 860 years later.  Talk about dedication!  Why was this fire so important that God expected this commitment?  In Leviticus 9:24 we learn that the first burnt offering was set on fire by God Himself, causing the entire congregation to fall face down on the ground.  The perpetual flame honored the original fire that came from God and the continual need for atonement or forgiveness for their sins.  It was symbolic of perpetual worship and a habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things.

Do we remember and honor the original fire that set our lives aflame for God?  That moment when the Holy Spirit’s conviction burned deep within our hearts and the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed us from our sins?  This question causes me to consider what I am doing to keep the fire of God going in my life, a habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things rather than the myriad of things that seem to consume my time.  Are the gifts and talents He has given me totally dedicated as perpetual worship and service to Him?  Have I fanned the flame of these gifts (2 Timothy 1:8) and put another log on the fire, so to speak, to keep it burning?

I pray that I will never be listed with the dying embers of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold…I will spit you out of my mouth.”  I want to be hot, a perpetual flame for Him!

Moving Forward: I desire that my life burns hotter for Him today than ever before, dedicated to keeping His flame going. 

Tomorrow @ I Kings 14-18

Leviticus 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He receives the sacrifice of praise offered from pure hearts

As a rule I don’t wake up in the morning thinking that I just can’t wait to read Leviticus today. Of course, God included this information in His Word for a purpose, and the joy of reading it is often in discovering His intention.  The lengthy process of constructing the Tabernacle had just been completed and next came the instruction on its purpose and its use for God’s people.

The overall message of Leviticus is that God is Holy, and sinful man must follow rites of purification in order to fellowship with Him.  Israel had already proven during their golden calf incident that this message could be easily forgotten, and God was restoring their relationship with Him through His instructions to Moses in Leviticus.  Over the next 27 chapters God directed their focus to purification through sacrifice, worship, physical principles, holiness and leadership.  By following these instructions, the Israelites who had dabbled in all forms of idolatry would once again commune with their Holy God.

After reading just a few verses in Leviticus, I have cause to stop and thank Jesus for His death and resurrection.  Can you imagine stopping by the farm on Sunday morning to purchase a perfect little lamb to be sacrificed at church.  With somewhat of an affinity for sheep, I think I’d have to go with a dove. 

@ Leviticus 2
“Do not use yeast in preparing any of the grain offerings you present to the Lord, because no yeast or honey may be burned as a special gift presented to the Lord.” (11) After moving to Florida, it didn’t take long for me to see the destructive nature of mold and mildew.  Items attacked by this spreading bacterial fungus are soon discolored or destroyed.  Bleach became my friend.

One tiny spore of mold can multiply rapidly consuming everything in its path, just like sin will do.  Because of this similarity to sin, yeast was forbidden in the grain offering that was sacrificed as a gift of thanksgiving.  The lesson for us today is clear.  When we offer our thanksgiving and praise to Him, let us come with clean hands and pure hearts, free from even the hint of sin so that our sacrifice of praise will be received by our Holy God.

“Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant.  Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings.”(13)  I agree!  Salt makes everything taste better.  However, God wasn’t so much concerned about the taste, but rather that the offering would be a reminder of God’s eternal covenant with them.  I learned early in the kitchen that while salt makes food taste better, too much salt in a dish is impossible to remove – it’s eternal.

God’s covenant through Jesus is eternal – impossible to remove. Jesus will always be the Savior. Salt seasons the entire dish, penetrating every part.  In this same way, His influence in our lives encompasses every area.  Salt preserves and protects foods with a coating that serves as a barrier to bacteria just as God preserves and protects our lives from the attacks of the enemy.  Salt also has a healing property for our bodies that soothes and mends.  How well we know of the healing power of God in our lives – body, soul and spirit.  The symbolism speaks loudly to our spirits – salt is good!  Please pass the salt!

The grain offering of thanksgiving was “a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”(2)  May our sacrifice of praise be a sin-free, well-seasoned offering to our Holy God, one that will be received as a sweet aroma to Him. 

Moving Forward: With clean hands and a heart of thanksgiving, I offer a sacrifice of praise, ever mindful of His eternal covenant with me through Christ Jesus. May its sweet aroma fill His space. 

Tomorrow @ 1 Kings 10-13

Psalms 57-59 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He shelters me from all harm and places a song in my heart

When I was a very little girl, I used to run to my mom’s billowy skirt when I was afraid, embarrassed or shy.  Just like June Cleaver, mothers years ago actually wore dresses or skirts all day long at home, and my mom’s skirt often offered the security I was looking for.  I remember hiding within its folds as it wrapped itself around me.  She would reach down with a hand and caress me to let me know she was there and everything was just fine. As the years went on, I found an even greater place of safety during troubled times, a place known well to our Psalmist.

As he did through much of his life. David was living through some difficult times in these three Psalms.  In them we see his humanity, his frustration and anger at the deeds of his enemies.  We can identify with him, whether on a personal basis or in our disgust with societal evils.  David’s ability to tell God just exactly how he felt without embarrassment or fear of retribution reveals how intimate his relationship with God truly was.  Psalm 58 shows David fiercely angry with evil justices and rulers, calling for God’s judgment on them; but before long he, too, was judged for his evil deeds.  Yes, David was very human.  However, in all his troubles, he knew that God was his only hope. 

@ Psalm 57
David was in a cave hiding from King Saul, his one-time mentor, who was now gunning for him in a jealous rage.  Even when given opportunity to kill his enemy, David had chosen to hide rather than touch God’s anointed one.  In our challenges, sometimes we fight and sometimes we wait and trust. David often referred in Psalms to his hiding place, the shelter of God’s wings: “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.” (1)  Just like David, I sometimes run to shelter myself beneath the shadow of His wings as His billowy garments wrap themselves around me.  I feel His caress and know that everything will be just fine.

Although David was surrounded by his enemies who devoured their prey and whose words cut like a sword, he proclaimed, “My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident.  No wonder I can sing your praises!  Wake up my heart!..I will wake the dawn with my song.” (7-8)  If he was able to wake the dawn, then David must have known some sleepless nights.  What a victorious way to welcome the dawn, with a song from his heart!  His mind would advise him to quake with fear, to fret away the sleepless hours, but his heart was filled with a song of confident trust in God.

While I’m not so sure that hearing my early morning vocals is the way my husband wants to start his day, I’m determined to sing through those sleepless hours that I face from time to time and wake the dawn with a song of confident trust in Him.  Knowing my husband like I do, I’m fairly certain he’ll sing right along. 

Moving Forward: In the challenges I face today, whether called to fight or to shelter, I will run to Him for help.  From early morning I will sing the song of confident trust in Him. What a great day!

Tomorrow @ Job 39-40

Luke 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Filled with unexplainable love for us, He sent His Son to us

Details, details, details! Women especially love details, and the Book of Luke is loaded with them.  Because most of the women in Luke’s day were uneducated, I’m fairly certain he wasn’t writing to accommodate the female reader.  His detailed accounts of the life of Christ more than likely resulted from his profession as a doctor.  Luke’s life had been filled with accuracy, details and careful observations, and we are blessed by what he has added to our understanding of scripture because of this. He talked with eye witnesses, many believe he interviewed Mary, and “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” (1:3) As a Greek, Luke was the only known Gentile author of the New Testament, but his love and devotion to the Lord was evident in both of his books – Luke and Acts. 

@ Luke 1
“Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.” (6-7)  Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, appeared saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.”(13)

I’ve tried to imagine a visit from the angel Gabriel, and I would like to think that after I picked myself up off the floor, I would believe all that he had to say.  Zechariah, however, doubted the angel’s message because of the sheer impossibility of it all. This obviously offended Gabriel and he made Zechariah mute, temporarily.  Physical limitations clashed with the power of the living God.  I’ve often wondered if it offends the Lord when we pray for something to come to pass, and when it does, we are completely shocked.  Thankfully, He forgives our faltering belief and does the extraordinary any way.

On the other hand, Mary’s reaction to Gabriel and his news that she would bear God’s son was different.  News that she would be an unwed pregnant teenager was not met with resistance.  As a virgin, Mary must have been confused by Gabriel’s message, but she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (38) The miracle pregnancy of her relative, Elizabeth, did more than provide the forerunner to Jesus, but also added credibility to the miracle that Mary was experiencing and must have encouraged her in the weeks ahead.  “For nothing is impossible with God,” declared Gabriel. (37)  Nothing is impossible with God!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary.  Two miraculously pregnant women – emotional, joyful, wondering, and awestruck – bring out the tissues!  Two observations have always blessed me in this meeting.  “When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  Now, how could a soul-less, unborn, useless fetus be filled with the Holy Spirit (15) and respond with such emotion?  David explained it so beautifully, “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139:15-16)  As a society, how can we be so bold to tamper with God’s plan?

Then came Mary’s beautiful Song of Praise.  Knowing she would face ridicule, disbelief and disdain for her explanation of this pregnancy, Mary submitted herself to God with a song of praise on her lips.  “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (46-47) Jesus left heaven’s splendor and came to this world for us. I can’t help but rejoice with Mary at His goodness.

When Zechariah was finally able to speak, he eloquently expressed, “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (78-79)  And I sing with Mary, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” 

Moving Forward: How can I do anything today without praises in my heart for His amazing love and grace?  He came, He conquered, He reigns in my heart. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 9-10

Job 35-36 (NLT)

Discover His heart:   He uses our challenges to teach us and help us grow

Shortly after surviving the terrible twos when raising our children, we enter the world of Why?  Why do I have to brush my teeth? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? Why do I have to go to bed?  Why do stars shine? Why, why, why?  When my grandson, Kai, entered his twos (not terrible in the least bit) his inquisitive mind jump-started right into the world of why.  Is it ever okay to say that I just don’t know why? It was a long year, but we loved every minute of it.

This ritual seems to be the way we accumulate knowledge in our early years, and sometimes that nagging why continues to plague us even into adulthood. We just can’t seem to get past why things are happening to us.  Most of the great leaders in the Bible asked God why at one time or another, but Job seemed to be stuck there. At some point along the way we all learn that the real question is not why, but what. 

@Job 35
When we’re making every effort to live right, resisting things that we would like to do in order to remain pure yet pain and suffering come our way, we’re attempted to share Job’s dismal outlook.  What’s the use of it?  If we continue to wallow in this opinion, we give the impression that we are more correct about our circumstance, more righteous than God in how it should be handled. Not good. Just like Job, we may not have the full picture of our situation, but God most certainly does.

Elihu raised an interesting point, “If you sin, how does that affect God?  Even if you sin again and again what effect will it have on Him?  If you are good, is this some great gift to Him?  What could you possibly give Him?” (6-7) Elihu was right in saying God is neither damaged nor improved by our behavior, but He failed to say that God is blessed by our praise and grieved by our disobedience. 

@ Job 36
“God is leading you away from danger, Job, to a place free from distress.  He is setting your table with the best food.  But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged.” (16-17) In his dissertation, Elihu was attempting to stop Job from focusing on why he was suffering and why other, more evil people, were not.  Self pity never serves us well.  He wanted Job to learn what God was trying to teach him through his suffering.

When it’s all said and done, I’ve found it’s always better to ask the Lord what rather than why when I am going through a challenging situation because it usually shortens the length of my discomfort.  What can I learn through this suffering?  What lesson will help me move forward to the other side?  Job’s what was right around the corner in Chapter 38.

Look, God is all-powerful. Who is a teacher like Him?  No one can tell Him what to do, or say to Him, ‘You have done wrong.’  Instead, glorify His mighty works, singing songs of praise…Look, God is greater than we can understand.” (22-26)  Some good advice from Elihu at this point.  When I am in that holding pattern, with few answers and little direction, one thing I can do is glorify His mighty work in my life, thanking Him for all His blessings in days past.  I can sing songs of praise to Him, expressing my love for Who He is and for His power to deliver. 

Moving Forward: I will praise Him today through my circumstances, opening my heart to what He is longing to share with me.. 

Tomorrow @ Jeremiah 27-31

 

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