True Worship; November 20, 2017


Psalm 111:1 Praise the Lord.
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

And here we have a replay of yesterday’s message! In fact, where the NIV says “extol,” the Japanese says, “thank,” which is exactly what yesterday’s message was about. We do indeed need reminders to thank God for His goodness toward us, because otherwise we are all too prone to overlook it. We tend to look down on others who act “entitled,” not recognizing how much we do it ourselves. This particular verse talks about thanking God in the presence of like-minded people. I talked yesterday about how non-believers are surprised (and possibly offended) when we give God thanks verbally, but that doing so can lay the foundation for sharing the Gospel. However, this is talking about thanking Him where everyone around us should be doing the same thing. The sad thing is, too many churches’ “worship” services are focused on man rather than on God. That is evident in the songs they sing as well as in the messages proclaimed. “Your Best Life Now” is an abomination on the face of it, because the focus is entirely in the wrong place. In church services and in small-group gatherings, the focus needs to be on God and what He has done, and that is exactly what this verse says. We can have worship teams and special music and the like, but when the focus goes to performance, it ceases to be worship and God doesn’t receive it. It is possible to do almost anything moral as an act of worship, if that is the attitude of our heart, but if our heart is not in it, religious ritual and custom ceases to be worship. As this verse says, we are to serve God with all our heart. That is when it becomes worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

Having been in church from my mother’s womb, I can “play church” with the best of them, so I’ve got to be doubly careful I’m not just going through the motions. Yesterday I was really down and discouraged. I recognized it was a spiritual attack, but I had real trouble focusing on God sufficiently to climb out of the pit. Then a sister shared how she has “come to realize what we’ve been talking about,” experiencing more joy than any time since she was baptized almost 40 years ago. It was confirmation that my labors aren’t in vain, and my heart lifted – just in time for the message! Right now I’m being called on to do a lot of different things, only some of which I actually feel like doing. I need to do each thing as unto the Lord rather than as for man, (Ephesians 6:7) so that it will be worship and not drudgery. I need to remember what the Lord spoke through me yesterday: gratitude is the antidote for selfishness, and is the path to true happiness.

Father, thank You for straightening me out, even through things You have me say. Thank You that I was able to help a fellow pastor with programs for the wake he had unexpectedly last night, in the middle of my busyness. I ask for wisdom as I do the programs this morning for the memorial service from 1pm. Help me rejoice and give you thanks and glory for the things You enable me to do, even when they aren’t on my preferred schedule. I’m going to have plenty of practice in that over the next 40 days. Help me not draw back from any of it, but serve You with my whole heart indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Learning from History; November 19, 2017


Psalm 107:43 Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
and consider the great love of the Lord.

This verse gives the purpose of the whole Psalm, and it’s an important one. It fits in with the secular proverb that says, “Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.” (And no, that’s not talking about failing a history class in school!) This verse agrees completely with other verses in the Old and New Testaments. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11) God doesn’t change and human nature doesn’t change, so it stands to reason that we can learn a lot about how we should live by knowing what people did in the past. It’s interesting that in this verse, where the NIV says “love,” the Japanese says, “grace.” God’s love is part of who He is, (1 John 4:8) but it is also grace, because we don’t deserve it. Also, where the NIV says “consider,” the Japanese says “understand,” or “grasp.” It’s the same term the Buddhists use in talking about “enlightenment.” We talk about the love and grace of God, but often we don’t really understand it, particularly because we don’t understand how totally we are dependent on it. We indeed do well to look back over history and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live.

This certainly applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. I have many good examples to learn from, starting with my own parents, but they were no more perfect than I am, and I need to learn from their mistakes as well. The same may be said for countless people in the past, from Biblical figures all the way to people who are still alive today. My big trap is in feeling I am exceptional. My gifting and weaknesses may be different from someone else, but we are identically in need of God’s grace and love. Likewise, my failures are nothing special; others have failed more grandly than I have, and God has still redeemed and used them. My goal should be to leave a good example to those who follow me, either in the present or after I am gone. I am very aware that the reason we exist is that God wants children, and I am to strive to be the child He desires me to be and lead others to do the same, for His pleasure and glory.

Father, yesterday contained a real disappointment, but Your plans haven’t changed. I was feeling pretty negative when I went to bed last night, but You’ve scolded me gently this morning. Thank You. The schedule through the end of the year is certainly packed, and I get tired just thinking about it. Help me indeed not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests to You, so that Your peace may guard my heart and mind, for Your glory. (Philippians 4:6-7) Thank You. Praise God!

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Response to Trials; November 18, 2017


Psalm 107:19-20 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent forth his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.

This whole Psalm is a marvelous recitation of the foolishness of man and the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God. Whatever our circumstances, God intends them to turn our hearts to Him. If things are going well, He wants us to turn to Him in thanks and praise. If things are going badly, (in our eyes at least) He wants us to turn to Him in repentance to receive the help we need. We have such a hard time getting it through our heads that God never picks on us. Everything He does, even everything He allows, is because of His great love and mercy. He has made it clear to me personally that there is much that goes on that He would like to be different, but we are in the age of free will, and we are impacted not only by our own choices but by those of others. However, when by our free will we turn to God and seek Him in all humility, He is then free to act as He would like to, rescuing and blessing us. The important thing in reading this Psalm is to see ourselves in the various types of people mentioned, and recognize God’s great grace toward us. That’s precisely where the song, Amazing Grace, came from: John Newton cried out to the Lord in extreme emergency, God answered, and John Newton responded as God intended, eventually becoming a pastor.

I have had some rough/tight moments, but not as severe as I see some people going through. I’ve got to remember that it’s all just differences of degree, and I am no more innocent than anyone else. I am to turn to God in every situation, whether it feels good to me or bad, and seek His will for how I am to respond to whatever is going on. I am to maintain an awareness of God’s grace, love, and mercy at all times so that my life may be lived in gratitude and praise. Not only does that give God the glory He deserves, it is also the path of greatest blessing for me by far.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the aches and pains I’m experiencing right now, as a reminder of all that You have enabled me to do physically over the past couple of days. Thank You that You will give me the strength of body and will to do everything You have for me today. I ask particularly that You guide me in making this a genuinely happy birthday for my wife, expressing Your love and mine to her in ways that she can recognize and receive it, for her blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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The Purpose of Blessings; November 17, 2017


Psalm 105:43-45 He brought out his people with rejoicing,
his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
he gave them the lands of the nations,
and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—
that they might keep his precepts
and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord.

This Psalm recounts the events of the Exodus, and here we have both the result and the purpose of that. Verse 44 is rather brutal, when you think about it, and very politically incorrect. However, the nations that Israel dispossessed were idolatrous in the worst way, sacrificing their own babies to their gods and using sex as an element of cultic worship. (To be blunt, that sounds a lot like America today, with widespread abortion and depraved sexuality.) Verses 43 and 44 give the “perks,” so to speak, of being chosen by God, but verse 45 gives the purpose: obedience to God. The problem was, and is, that human beings are easily distracted from following God, and Israel did that big time. God delights to bless His children, as Psalm 85 says very accurately. “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints— but let them not return to folly.” (Psalms 85:8) I feel sure the “peace” in the English is actually shalom, which can also mean prosperity and general well-being. God blesses us, but those blessings aren’t random or arbitrary. Rather, every blessing is intended to draw us into right relationship with our Creator, which certainly includes obedience to everything He tells us. God gives us far better than we deserve, but our response must be humble obedience, or we will throw it all out the window.

When I look back over my life and see how much God has blessed me I am somewhat overwhelmed. I have indeed been given far better than I deserved, and I need to seek God for His purposes for all of it. I have learned that nothing God gives is exclusively for the direct recipient. Even the gift of tongues, which is the most personal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament, is to build us up spiritually to make us more effective as God’s servants, (Jude 1:20) as well as to pray effectively when we don’t know the details of the situation for which we are praying. (Ephesians 6:18) I am called to be a faithful steward of all that God has placed in my hands, never thinking I have created or even earned any of it, but walking in humble gratitude. I too am prone to folly, as the Psalmist said, and I must avoid it like the plague.

Father, thank You indeed for the abundance of Your blessings to us. Thank You for giving wisdom and physical strength for the things we got done yesterday. I’m very pleased, and a little surprised! Thank You that You will likewise provide all that is needed for today. Help me flow with Your Spirit on Your schedule to accomplish Your will throughout today, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Giving Thanks; November 16, 2017


Psalm 105:1-4 Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.

When you get going reading this Psalm, it’s hard to stop! (I really wanted to go through verse seven just for this quote.) That’s because we were created to praise God, and it really feels good to do so. When we unite in praise and thanks our hearts do rejoice, just as it says in verse three. Giving God credit for His goodness is an excellent method of evangelism. Generally when we speak of “acts of God,” we are talking about natural disasters, from lightning strikes to earthquakes to tsunami and the like. We need to recognize that all the good stuff comes from Him too, and focus on that. James reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) Remembering that goes a long way toward putting us on the right footing with God. When we recognize God’s goodness and talk about it to others, they are drawn to seek Him themselves. We all have a naturally selfish bent, wanting to know “What’s in it for me.” When we realize that everything we really want comes from God, then we will seek Him! The problem is, most people don’t realize the truth of James’ statement, and seek security, pleasure, peace, and everything else in all sorts of different ways. What we need to realize ourselves, and then communicate to others, is that any other avenue of getting those things is at best secondary, just a tool God uses to bless us, and often enough is a complete illusion. The more God opens our eyes to see His goodness, His abundance, the more we need to tell others about it as well.

I was taught to express thanks from childhood, and I’m grateful. We weren’t raised with Santa Claus, for example, but with the understanding that every gift, Christmas or otherwise, came from someone, and we were to express thanks for it. That prepared me for discovering praise as connected to worship back in the early ’70s. I have sought to make this a praising, worshiping, praying church, but with mixed results. Some people have caught the vision, and many have not. I’m not to give up! We have a tradition now of decorating the building for Christmas the last Sunday before Advent and then having a Thanksgiving dinner. People are always thankful for good food! This is an opportunity for us to express our thanks to one another and to God, but it should not be so unique in the Church year. As this Psalm says, I need to encourage everyone to recognize God’s blessings to them throughout the year and proclaim them in thanks and praise to Him, so that others may know that He exists and that He is good indeed.

Father, I know that You wanted me to speak on this Sunday, and here you’ve practically dumped the notes in my lap! Thank You. Help me express Your goodness in such a way that people will both expect good things from You and recognize them when You give them, overflowing in thanks and praise, not only for Your glory but so that many more will be drawn to You as well, for a great harvest. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God the Creator; November 15, 2017


Psalm 104:33-34 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.

These verses are set to music in a song I like very much, appropriately enough, since they talk about singing to God. The context is that they come at the end of a recitation of many of God’s wonderful works, particularly in creation and provision. A well-known hymn says to “count your blessings,” but this goes beyond that to things that don’t just impact us, but bless all mankind. Actually, any of the “natural sciences” should generate feelings of awe and praise to our Creator, because this universe is marvelous beyond our capacity to appreciate it all. Several scientists have pointed out the incredible complexity of it all. I don’t remember how many zeros are in the number that expresses the probability of it all happening by chance, but even so, some people still insist that it indeed happened by chance, because they don’t want to face accountability to their Creator. How much better to be like the Psalmist, who rejoiced to praise such a marvelous Creator! Whether we believe something or not doesn’t change the facts, but it certainly changes our response to them. When we understand from the Bible that our Creator is our heavenly Father, who loved us so much He not only created this universe for us to live in, He sent His Son to take the penalty for our sin so that we may live eternally with Him, then gratitude, praise, and joy are unending. When we reject that Biblical picture of God, then we are left with various futile imaginations which are powerless to give us the joy, peace, and security our hearts crave.

I keep coming back to how incredibly blessed I am to have been raised in a family that was intellectually rigorous and loved God above all. Sadly, that combination isn’t common. Forced to a choice, I would certainly choose a right relationship with God above all else, but being thoughtful about it, investigating this world He created, is certainly desirable. An article I read recently said that intellectually gifted people are less likely than others to be religious, but it also said that such people are prone to believe absurdities. In my book, atheism is one of those absurdities! I delight in the continuing scientific discoveries and inventions that are being made, at a pace that has accelerated to the point that many people are unable to keep up emotionally. However, I must be careful to keep all of it in the context of the One who created it all in the first place and then gave us the ability to investigate it. Images from the Hubble space telescope produce awe and delight in many, but I need to be sure they also generate gratitude and praise, at least in my own heart. That the One who created all of that would love me so personally and intensely is beyond comprehension, but it is the greatest miracle of all.

Father, thank You for the magnificence of Your creation. Help me live in a right relationship with the physical universe because I’m in a right relationship with You. Help me be effective in drawing others into that right relationship as well, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Plans; November 14, 2017


Psalm 94:9 Does he who implanted the ear not hear?
Does he who formed the eye not see?

Very simple, irrefutable logic here! However, it’s the implications of this rhetorical question that cause people either to insist that God is a “divine watchmaker” who created the universe and “wound the stem” but then had nothing more to do with it, or else that God doesn’t exist at all. The whole issue is accountability. We don’t like to answer for our actions! However, protests are futile, and the logic in this verse is inescapable. God does nothing for no reason, and the creation of each individual is no exception. If God created me for a reason, then it should be my highest priority to find out that reason and fulfill it. That’s where it gets sticky, because we want to plot our own paths and fulfill the purposes we dream up. However, every person alive has to come to the place where they admit things haven’t turned out as they had planned, and that can be pretty depressing. Conservative commentator Dennis Prager put it this way: Unhappiness = Image – Reality, or U=I-R. In other words, unhappiness is caused by reality not matching up with the image we have created of how things should be. It follows that the way to happiness is to trust that God’s plan for our lives is a good one, and let that be the Image for which we strive. (Jeremiah 29:11) The faith to do that includes the assurance that God is indeed aware of everything that goes on, as this verse says, and trusting Him with every outcome. That’s not to say that our way is going to be easy. Jesus Himself said very clearly, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) It is trusting that God’s outcomes are good that enables us to be at peace and joyful.

This certainly applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I have had to release all sorts of plans and dreams to God, choosing to trust that His plans for me are good. There are many things about my life that I would have plotted differently, but I have to concede that I have been extremely blessed. I have a marriage that is the envy of many, and I have had a militant Buddhist twice bring people to meet me because he wanted them to “know someone who really enjoys living.” I had the huge advantage of being raised by parents whose Image (to go back to Dennis Prager’s formula) was simply serving God, which they did as missionaries. I have followed their example, and it has certainly been a path of blessing. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things I wish were different. I pray earnestly about such things every day! However, it does mean that my ultimate goal is simply to be in Christ, pleasing Him, and that doesn’t depend on things of this world. Paul put it this way: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) That “somehow” doesn’t mean that he doubted it would happen, but simply that he didn’t know the details. That is my prayer as well, because “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Father, thank You for Your good plans for me. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice, just as You have told me to do, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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