He Delights in Us

What makes God happy? His redeemed people do. What does he delight in? He absolutely loves to take people who are in humble situations or adverse circumstances and lift them up. He loves making winners out of losers.

The biggest example of this, of course, is when God became man. He did this to take us from being lost, alienated and condemned sinners and bring us into the kingdom of those he loves. That’s where, as his found and forgiven children, we can enjoy his presence and kindness forever.

But there are many smaller (though still quite momentous!) examples throughout the Bible. Abraham and Sarah, a couple who couldn’t have children, became the parents of a people as numerous as the stars in the sky. David, a shepherd boy, would slay a giant and become a king over God’s people. Paul, a murderer, would transform into a missionary apostle and the author of much of the New Testament.

Whenever we go “from zero to hero,” our response of faith is to think, “I couldn’t have done that without God.” That’s what all three of the above certainly believed. They rejoiced to think that God was their Maker and their King.

And in that joy, they worshiped.

As you think back over the past year, perhaps you recognize that you were the object of God’s delight. There were blessings that came from your Maker and King. Perhaps God took you once or twice from a losing situation to a winning one. It’s quite certain that he provided for you and protected you in 2015 — especially through the difficult times and in the hardships you experienced.

That’s not to mention that he daily forgave your sins, and strengthened your faith through the teaching of his word and the blessing of the sacraments. And he enabled you through the Spirit’s power to walk a little closer to him, a little more deeply in his grace, a little more obedient to his holy will.

In that joy, let us worship. Because, clearly, he delights in us. And again and again, he crowns us with victory.

“Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds” (Psalm 149:2-5, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your provision and protection in 2015. I praise you for redeeming me from my sins and unbelief. I know from this — and from my own life experience — that you delight in me, your child. And I rejoice that you will crown me with eternal victory through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 29, is Nehemiah 9:38 – 11:21, Revelation 20:1-15 and Psalm 149:1-9.

Header image based on "never underestimate the joy of victory" by Kira Westland, CC By 2.0

Worship, Our Present and Our Future

In the apostle John’s vision that he is given on the island of Patmos, he sees people from every nation singing praises to Christ. This is a picture of what it will be like in heaven. God’s message of salvation through faith in Christ is not limited by race, ethnicity, culture or national origin. What a beautiful picture of eternal life!

All these people are singing to praise the work of Jesus. He was killed so that he could pay a ransom for our souls with his own blood. He gathered us into a kingdom. He turned all of us into priests who serve him. And one day we will reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

Worship is a beautiful privilege. It’s something we get to enjoy now, and by God’s grace, something we will enjoy forever in heaven.

Jesus makes all of that possible. More than that, actually. Jesus makes it all a present and future reality.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV).

Lord, thank you for redeeming me and giving me every reason in the world to thank and praise you. I will worship you now, and eternally, for all that you have done for me.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 14, is Esther 9:1 – 10:3, Revelation 5:1-14 and Proverbs 30:11-23.

Header image based on "Worship" by Ashley Campbell, CC By 2.0

Tribal Faith

Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes, gives us an excellent definition of what a tribe is: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

What better word to describe the people of God than “tribe”? We possess all the characteristics of that term. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are deeply connected to one another because we are all members of the family of God. As Christ-followers we have a strong connection to our leader, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we are firmly connected to an idea — an idea that the Bible calls the gospel.

We are definitely a tribe.

And if we follow what Godin says next, then there are two things we need to be a tribe. We need a shared interest and we need a way to communicate.

Our shared interest is to love, thank and honor the God who first loved us and gave his Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And our way to communicate with God is through worship. We listen to God as we hear the preaching and teaching of the word. We speak to God in prayer.

Perhaps that’s why the two concepts — tribes and worship — are connected by the author of Psalm 122. As the Psalmist writes, “the tribes of the Lord” go up to Jerusalem, they ascend to the temple, the house of the Lord. And why do they do this? To praise the name of the Lord.

Every Sunday we have a chance to “go tribal”… to show our connection to one another, to our Lord Jesus, and to God’s brilliant idea, the idea called the gospel. We have the opportunity to show that we are part of a cause, a “shared interest” in honoring God. And best of all, we have a sacred time set apart to communicate with our God, and to have him communicate with us.

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ …That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the Lord—to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel” (Psalm 122:1, 4, NIV).

Lord, help me to see that I have a huge privilege in being able to worship you together with all my brothers and sisters in the Christian “tribe.” I thank you that you have included me in this tribe, and I pray that you will instill in all of us a joy in going to the house of the Lord — and a deep desire to praise your name.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 10, is Ezekiel 19:1 – 20:44, Hebrews 10:1-18 and Psalm 122:1-9.

Header image based on "Worship Cafe" by Sentinelle de mattino International , CC By-SA 2.0

Humility and Worship

Sometimes when we realize how much God has done — and is still doing for us every day — it’s very humbling.

All of creation. This entire universe was made for our benefit, made to provide for all our physical needs. All this beauty is ours. And we can make even more beauty using the materials provided by God. All this is provided so that we can have the comforts of home, awe-inspiring destinations for adventure, and an infinite outlet for our creativity.

All of redemption. When we dragged God’s perfect world — and ourselves — down into the dust, God pulled us back up again. He sent his Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and die on a cross in our place so that we could be saved. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof-positive that our redemption is really real.

All of life-change. In our fallenness we often make a mess of things. When we couldn’t get our act together no matter how hard we tried, God sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds. He transformed us into people who know and trust Jesus. We heard God’s life-giving word and with the Spirit’s help we are putting his word into practice. We are living as if we are God’s people. And that changes everything!

When we think about all of that, the only response is humility.

And worship.

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 13, is Ecclesiastes 7:1 – 9:12, 1 Corinthians 7:36 – 8:13 and Psalm 95:1-11.

Lord, thank you for all you’ve done for me. Your works of creation, redemption and sanctification are awe-inspiring. I’m humbled by your love for me. Truly, you are worthy of my worship!

Header image based on "SQUINT: Birds over cross" by Keoni Cabral, CC By 2.0

Stay Sharp!

Life is often full of constant activity, consistent pain, and confusing issues. And frankly, there’s quite a bit of pressure that goes along with all these situations.

If nothing else, we can simply end up feeling “busy, busy, busy!” on a constant basis. All of this is why it’s so important to have a place of spiritual retreat and rest, a time of recovery and restoring the soul’s batteries.

God gave us such a place. It’s called church.

God gave us the time, too. It’s known as worship time.

We just need to make sure that we don’t allow ourselves to feel so pressured, or become so “busy, busy, busy”, that we lose track of our need for recovery and restoration.

Remember, Jesus came to be our rest. When we find him and focus on him in our worship life, we benefit from that rest. He brings forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace and joy to our restless souls. He relieves us of the relentless pressures, the tiresome troubles, and the constant dull ache of our guilt and shame. He carries away the taxing burden of our sins.

As one famous author put it about a quarter of a century ago, we can be the “saw blade” that just keeps on cutting and cutting and cutting, but never gets sharpened. Eventually that saw gets dull and it becomes difficult to be productive with it.

Or we can, as God hopes we will, find time to sharpen the saw. The Psalmist points out that those people who take time for spiritual recovery will be “blessed, blessed, blessed.” He promises that they will find their strength in God, and go “from strength to strength.”

They stay sharp. They remain resilient.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion (Psalm 84:1-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 12, is 2 Kings 23:1 – 24:7, Romans 1:1-17 and Psalm 84:1-7.

Lord, I love my worship time each week when I attend church. I love my daily worship time when I sit with my Bible in prayer and listen to your voice. These are key times for me to rest and restore my spiritual batteries. Help me to repent of the temptation I sometimes have to forgo these times. Help me by your Spirit’s power to know the blessing of worship, and grant me the resilience you promise when I plug into your word and sacraments to get recharged.

Header image based on "Portrait of a Saw Blade" by Christopher Sessums, CC By-SA 2.0

One God, One Undivided Heart

It sounds so simple, but it’s really an impossible demand: Put God first. Place him above all other things, all other people, and all other powers.

Don’t be afraid of anything else as much as you are afraid of God. Don’t respect anything more than you respect God. Don’t love anything, and don’t trust anything more than you love and trust God.

The Israelites never got the hang of it. Even under the best of leadership — Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon — they just couldn’t make it happen.

What about when the leaders — the not-so-great kings — worshiped other gods? Well, the people followed their example very well. By the time we get to the disintegration of the kingdom of Israel, neither the kings nor the people are anywhere close to keeping God first in their lives.

And that “have no other gods” thing? They wouldn’t be able to reduce their gods to a dozen. They had become typical of their day. They were polytheists.

It’s maybe not so visible nowadays, but many of us are polytheists as well. We might fear, respect, love and trust Jesus. But it’s nice to have a healthy bank account too. It’s good to have a solid position at work, one that makes us feel safe and secure. It’s a confidence boost to have a solid family around us, and friends who will have our backs when we need them.

We are willing to listen to the Bible. But we want to listen to our own reason too. And our culture. And our family and friends.

It’s not that any of those things are wrong or spiritually unhealthy in and of themselves. It’s just that our hearts love to take good things and turn them into ultimate things. We build our identity around them. We see our destiny springing from them. We find our purpose in them. We build community around them. And we see our possibilities as arising from them.

God was always ready with the Israelites to have them rid their hearts of their false gods, and simply return to him as the One and Only.

And God is still more than ready today to have us rid our hearts of our secret idols and false gods too. The one and only truly “Ultimate Thing” is the Triune God. And there is nothing better than to worship him alone through Jesus, his Son.

“When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies'” (2 Kings 17:35-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 8, is 2 Kings 16:1 – 17:41, Acts 26:24 – 27:12 and Psalm 81:8-16.

Lord, I repent of being a closet polytheist. Forgive me for my sins of secret idolatry. Send me your Spirit that my heart may be undivided and worship you alone. I want my identity, my destiny, my purpose, my community and my possibilities to come only from Jesus.

Header image based on "Temple of Baal at Palmyra, Syria" by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, CC By 2.0

Worship Shouting

Sometimes when I read about Old Testament worship, I get a picture in my mind that more resembles a World Cup match, or an MLB playoff game, than it does a church service.

It seems that the singing is joy-filled, brash and enthusiastic, as people contemplate all that God has done for them. And loud shouts seem to often accompany the singing.

The reason for all the enthusiasm is clear. As Asaph writes, the same eternal God who operated powerfully in the days of Jacob, is still operating powerfully in their own day many centuries later.

And that’s definitely worthy of a worship shout!

So when was the last time you let out a good, healthy worship shout? When was it that in your singing you could just feel the joy coming forth?

Because that’s what our Savior Jesus hopes for you. He wants you to have a song of victory on your lips, and a shout of pure championship joy forcing its way out from the depths of your belly.

Worship. It’s the sound of pure joy! It’s an uproar of victory!

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” (Psalm 81:1, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 6, is 2 Kings 12:1 – 14:22, Acts 25:1-22 and Psalm 81:1-7.

Lord, renew in me the assurance of my salvation. Your Son Jesus has secured victory for me. Move me to unabashedly sing and shout as I worship you from a grateful and joyful heart. I want to be part of the worship uproar.

Header image based on "Baltimore Orioles Victory" by Keith Allison, CC By-SA 2.0