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

Transparent Waiting

Transparency of heart is when the thoughts and feelings of our heart are apparent to all who watch us in action. For the follower of Jesus Christ, one of the marks of a transparent heart is a deep desire to do the will of God — to live a holy and godly life. It is not self-centeredness, but “Christ-centeredness.”

In the apostle Peter’s day, those who wanted to live a self-centered life would scoff at the idea that we are waiting for Christ, our King, to return. They wanted to live their selfish lives as if there was no King, no Judge and no day of judgment.

Sadly, their selfish way of life was deceiving some of Peter’s listeners. So Peter is forced to reaffirm that Christ is not going to be a “no-show.” His return is timed perfectly to match God’s patience. And God is patient because he wants as many people as possible to repent and be saved.

We don’t know what that timing is. But come he will. Swiftly and unexpectedly. And on that day, everything around us will be destroyed. Our entire material world will be laid bare.

As we wait for our King’s return, we are to live as people who know that the King is alive. We know this because we daily witness the living King’s work in our own hearts. Being transparent people, our actions allow people to see through to our hearts. And to see Jesus living in our hearts.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the glorious return of our King. And we wait for it expectantly — we speed its coming, as Peter says — when we live holy and godly lives. Living with a transparent heart is, in other words, the very best preparation for the return of our King.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:9-12a, NIV).

Jesus, my King, as I wait for your return, help me to live transparently, with holiness and godliness. Forgive me for the times when my sinful heart takes over. Wash me clean again in your blood, shed on the cross for me. I want to give you glory every day as I anticipate your coming.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 29, is Daniel 4:19 – 5:16, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Psalm 135:13-21.

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The Way Up Is Down

The way God works is sometimes counterintuitive. This happens in so many areas of our life. With God, for instance, we don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness. We find it by pursuing God. We don’t discover our true selves by looking to ourselves and following our own path. We discover our true selves by looking to Jesus and following his path.

And it works that way with moving upward in life. Most of us hope to see some kind of progress in our life. So we try to climb the corporate ladder. Or we try to move the needle on our saving accounts upward. Or we take the extended trip to discover ourselves. All of that, we hope, will tell a story of us moving on up.

We try to go up by going up. Seems natural.

But this too, with God, requires a counter-intuitive approach. God’s grace is the operating principle of the Christian’s life. That is, God’s undeserved love and favor on our lives is what makes our life truly move in a positive direction.

Earning God’s grace and favor is not possible. But we certainly can ward off that grace and favor. We do that with a prideful heart. By definition, grace requires a person to know that he doesn’t deserve it, to realize that he has not earned it. Pride says, “I did this. I have earned the credit for achieving and accomplishing this result.”

The two attitudes cannot coexist.

Which is why James says we are to humble ourselves before God, and submit ourselves to his will. Shout a loud “No!” to Satan, and a quiet but firm “Yes!” to God.

That may mean hitting rock bottom. It may mean pain, grieving, and getting really, really tired of where our rebellious streak is leading us. It may mean a period of time in our lives that is dark and gloomy and depressing. The fun and games are over. Hitting rock bottom hurts because rock bottom is hard.

But it also humbles us enough that we become willing to cry out, confess our sin, grieve over the hurt we have caused ourselves and our God, and finally — finally! — stop trying to lift ourselves up and make our own progress.

Because lifting us up is God’s job. And he promises to get his job done.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10, NIV).

Father, humble me so that you can lift me up.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 20, is Ezekiel 38:1 – 39:29, James 4:1-7 and Proverbs 28:7-17.

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Live By Faith

There are really only two possible paths to God. One path works. The other does not.

One is the path of attempting to leverage the commandments and striving to be worthy. Rely on yourself. Obey the rules. Work hard. Be a good person.

The other is the path of faith. Not leveraging, but leaning. Not striving, but receiving.

This path involves relying on Jesus. He has obeyed for you. He has done all the work. Because of his perfect life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, you already are counted as a good person in the eyes of God. You are worthy, by faith.

The first path — the path of works — is a deceptive and dangerous dead end, because to reach God by this path you must have a perfect record. Falling short is not allowed. Missing the mark is not permitted. No mulligans. No second chances.

This cursed path ends not with God, but in death. Because by the dictates of the law that is the only thing we are worthy of.

The second path — the path of faith — trusts that the perfect record already exists. But it also recognizes that this perfection does not exist with us. This side of heaven, it never will. It only exists with Jesus.

For sinners like us, this is the only path. Because we need forgiveness every day. We need chance upon chance upon chance upon chance. And God’s grace in Jesus Christ provides us with just that. Jesus is the only path — the only way — that any of us will ever need.

So live! By faith in him.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith'” (Galatians 3:10-11, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my path to a restored relationship with God. Thank you for forgiveness, mercy and life — all as gifts of your grace. Send your Holy Spirit and grant me the gift of faith, so that I may receive and hold on to these wonderful gifts. I want to live by faith in you.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, September 17, is Isaiah 41:1 – 42:25, Galatians 3:10-25 and Proverbs 22:28 – 23:9.

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Come Out of The Hole

Imagine solitary confinement in “The Hole,” the darkest of dark cells. You can’t see, because there is absolutely no light in your windowless cell. You are under a sentence of death. The prison warden and all the jailers clearly enjoy their work. They are brutal and violent.

There are no friends here, only enemies.

This is the picture that Isaiah uses to portray our natural condition under sin. But now, imagine that jail door opening and the light streaming in. God has sent his Holy Spirit. He enters our dark prison cell through the teaching of the gospel.

He removes our chains, opens the cell door, leads us out past all the jailers and the warden himself. He takes us past the main gate of the prison out into the full light of day.

We are amazed. And we feel so grateful to lift our faces up to that warm sun, to see the blue sky, to enjoy the sight of the trees and the grass, to pull in a deep breath of fresh air. It’s an utterly transforming moment.

Isaiah puts it this way: He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:14-16, NIV).

Hundreds of years later, the apostle Paul personally experienced this transforming moment.

Paul knew the cell in which his wrong-headed Pharisee beliefs had once kept him. He knew the chains of trying live the “exemplary, perfect life” meant for humans to witness and praise. He knew the darkness of trying to earn and win his own way into God’s heart by being good and living righteously.

In fact, Paul even knew what it was like to be a collaborator with the prison officials and had at one time persecuted those who believed in Christ.

Then came his release from all that. Then came Jesus — on the road to Damascus — personally challenging him to walk out of that prison with him. Then came the Holy Spirit into his imprisoned heart to release him into the light.

“I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:22-24, NIV).

Are you prepared for the total change that the Holy Spirit wants to bring about in your heart? Are you ready to come entirely out of your dark cell and live a Spirit-transformed life?

What “gates of bronze” or “bars of iron” do you need your gracious God to break down for you?

As Isaiah promised, and as Paul experienced, God wants you out of that dark prison cell. He wants you fully walking in the light. He wants you to experience the joy of freedom, and the peace that comes from knowing — as Isaiah words it — “the Lord’s unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Lord Jesus, lead me out of the dark prison cell of sin. Forgive me for the wrong I have done. Change my heart and my mind. Break down the gates of bronze and the bars of iron that limit me from being transformed into your image, so that you may be praised for the work of change done in me.

Our Bible reading for Monday, September 14, is Isaiah 33:1 – 35:10, Galatians 1:1-24 and Psalm 107:10-22.

Header image based on "the hole" by sean hobson, CC By 2.0

Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits

There are a total of 150 Psalms. And this is one of the most beautiful of them. For me, it ranks right up there with the 23rd Psalm.

The key verse is verse 2: Praise the LORD, and do not forget all his benefits.

With God there is always a reason for gratitude and applause. Why? Because with God there’s continually one blessing after another.

And here David takes inventory of those blessings. He calls them benefits. Man, are there ever a lot of those benefits! And like David says, we don’t ever want to lose sight of them.

See for yourself. And take some time today to pause and really meditate on this Psalm. There’s so much here.

Healing. Redemption. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness.

That’s how great God’s love is!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-12, NIV)

Lord, your healing, redemption, compassion, love, grace and forgiveness are truly amazing. Help me remember all these benefits (and more!) you grant me every day, and praise you for them. Truly, you are worthy of my worship.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 26, is 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Psalm 103:1-12.

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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!

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