Worship Starts With Acknowledging God

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

When we gather for worship, our goal is to direct our focus on God in such a way that He becomes the center of our attention.

Sometimes we are in church, without really ‘being’ in church. Our bottom is in the pew, the worship bulletin is in our hand, but our hearts and our minds are far from God.

When our minds are filled with the worries of the world, it’s hard to be present to God during worship.

When our hearts are broken it’s difficult to engage with God with our affections.

Sometimes it’s not until that moment when we experience God, “High and lifted up” as Isaiah did, that our worries start to dissipate and the heaviness of our hearts starts to heal.

There are so many things that compete for our attention. But keeping God in focus through worship helps to put everything in its proper perspective.

As we acknowledge God’s Grace, Glory and Greatness, our acts of worship flow from us naturally. Let’s stay focussed on God and learn to say with King David:

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Psalm 122:1

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Never Alone.

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:25‬

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

T.S. Eliot’s words in his poem, The Wasteland, were inspired by the account of three adventurers; Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, and Frank Worsley.

The God who is with us on the mountain

In 1916, on a rescue mission, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley crossed the rugged glaciers and uncharted mountains of South Georgia Island. Their 36 hour journey tested their strength and endurance. Three men, tied together with frayed ropes, braved deep crevasses, icy ledges, and deep valleys with nothing more than heroic will and a carpenter’s adze.

Their story, which began when their ship was destroyed by ice in 1914, has been hailed as one of the greatest feats of survival in all of history. The full account of their suffering and survival can be found in Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is one of the few books that I have read multiple times in the past few years.

As Shackleton, Crean and Worsley traversed South Georgia Island, they perceived the presence of a fourth person among them. Each man, unprompted by the other, shared at different times that they felt as if they were accompanied by someone they could not see.

Shackleton shared this with one of his biographers:

When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snow-fields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.

Frank Worsley later shared with Shackleton, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.

Tom Crean later confessed to the same strange sensation. Each of the three men had come to the same conclusion independently of the others: that they had been in company with another being.

The God who is with us when we are at the end of our rope

We can never be certain about what the trio who crossed the South Georgia Island mountains experienced. But one thing we can be certain of, when we feel alone and abandoned, God is right beside us.

God’s promise is to never leave us for forsake us.

When we meet with the end of our strength, God’s provision and mercy are there for us.

When we find ourselves in uncharted territory, God is there to guide us back to green pastures and still water.

The God who was with his children in the furnace

Shackleton’s, Crean’s and Worsley’s experience is not unique. When God’s people were exiled to Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar tried to force them to worship an idol of his own making.

“As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭

There were three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who defied the order of the king and risked their lives in order to be faithful to God.

When the king heard about their disobedience, he summoned them and asked them:

“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?”
‭‭Daniel‬ ‭3:14‬ ‭

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded courageously:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majestyʼs hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:16-18‬ ‭

The furious king had them bound and thrown into a furnace that was 7 times hotter than normal. The furnace was so hot that some of the men who carried them to their execution were overcome, and perished, because of the intense heat.

But as King Nebuchadnezzar watched this execution, he noticed something extraordinary: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, rather than being consumed by the flames, were walking around in the furnace, unharmed, and in the presence of a fourth person.

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:25‬ ‭

The king ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out of the furnace. They had been so completely protected from that their clothes were not scorched, nor did they smell of fire or smoke.

King Nebuchadnezzar was so moved that made a decree that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be honored among all of the people of Babylon.

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the kingʼs command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
‭Daniel‬ ‭3:28-29‬ ‭

The ONE Who Stands Beside Us

Whether we see him or not, he is with us.

On icy slopes, or in the furnace, he is our constant companion.

In chaos and in calm, God is among us.

If you are struggling to perceive God in your life, start with trust. God shows himself faithful to those who are faithful enough to believe. Our struggles, especially those that would cause us to doubt, are faith-growing opportunities.

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Tether yourself to the one who stands beside you by taking a little bit of his word with you along today’s stretch of your journey. Consider Psalm 121. I’ve leaned on it, and learned from it, through many uncertain moments.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭121:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Worship God in His Holiness

Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.

Revelation 4:8

Worship is an eternal reality.

Right now in Heaven, around God’s throne, worship is taking place.

In fact, everywhere God is acknowledged, God is worshipped. How can we come to a realization that there is a God, and that God is good, and that God loves us, and not offer Him our worship?

Our hearts aren’t the only part of who we are that gets involved in the act of worship. Worship would be empty without the engagement of our mind.

When Jesus had a discussion with the woman at the well in John 4, He told her, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

When we worship, whether it’s in a private moment of devotion, or crowded gathering of believers, we must engage both our hearts and minds in worship. God wants us to offer Him the fullness of who we are; both our emotion and our intellect.

Emotional worship without the boundaries of doctrine is a “strange fire.”

Intellectual worship without the engagement of our heartfelt, passionate gratitude for what God has done for us through Christ is lifeless.

The worship John sees, and records in Revelation 4, is both intellectual and impassioned. The living creatures who sing at the throne of God know exactly who God is: He is Holy. Their song has been sung in the church down through the ages. Even before the church, Isaiah heard the creatures around the throne of God declaring the holiness of God in the Old Testament. God has always been Holy, he is Holy, and He will always be Holy.

His Holiness ignites the passion of our hearts to be connected to Him.

I hope you look forward to worship on the Lord’s Day each week. I trust that you are spending meaningful time with God every day of the week. As we approach the throne of God, know that God wants the entirety of who we are to be redeemed in the presence of His holiness.

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Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

Revelation 4:9-11

Jesus, Too, Was Touched With Sorrow

On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:29‬

Jesus was familiar with losing friends and family members.

We assume he lost his step-father, Joseph, sometime in adolescences or early adulthood. The Gospels make no mention of Joseph beyond when Jesus was 12 years old.

And then there is Lazarus. Jesus was so touched by Lazarus’s passing that he wept publically. Weeping, though, isn’t the only thing Jesus did. Going to the tomb, He called the dead man’s name and Lazarus walked out of the tomb that contained him.

But then there was John the Baptist. Jesus and John shared a special connection while they were still in the womb. They shared a special connection to the ministry that God planned for both of them. And they were enduring the common misery their calling would demand of them.

In Mark 6, the evangelist tells the sordid story of how John the Baptist came to be beheaded. It had to do with lustful dancing and political intrigue. It’s not a PG rated story.

How did Jesus feel about John’s execution? He doesn’t tell us, but His actions speak louder than words. After a day of ministry and miracles, Jesus seeks solitude. He gathers His disciples into a boat so that they could leave the crowd behind and find comfort in each other and with God.

When we hurt, we need to grab our closest friends and pour our hearts out to them. We don’t know what Jesus said to the disciples about His personal feelings, but we know that Jesus loved John, and that John’s and Jesus’ ministry were intricately tied together.

When you have suffered the loss of someone close to you, who do you go to for comfort? Even Jesus had a group of friends whom He could take a boat excursion with for a break from the work of ministry and the pain of loss.

Be thankful for all of the people God puts in your life.

Be the kind of friend who finds themselves often in the boat of those who are mourning. Perhaps you will be the mourner someday as well, and you will be blessed by the presence of others who are gathered to share your sorrow.

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Be Holy, Not Lowly

I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
Leviticus 11:45

We become like that which we worship.

Nike knows this. They pay professional athletes millions of dollars to wear their sneakers and endorse their t-shirts. And what happens because these popular athletes wear Nike shoes? People all over the world dip deep into their pockets to purchase Nike shoes and other apparel because it provides a connection between themselves and their favorite athletes. Whether or not buying Nike shirts and shoes gives the purchaser a competitive advantage…I really doubt it.

I don’t have a favorite athlete so I guess I can go on wearing whatever kind of shoe is on the clearance aisle!

God is jealous for our worship.

His jealousy is not because HE is needy. It’s because WE are needy.

We gravitate toward what is familiar, common, and easily accessible. We are drawn to what is lowly rather than the One who is holy.

Have you ever wondered why the 2nd Commandment is against making images of God to worship?

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:4-6

The Israelites tried many times to CREATE gods for themselves that reeked of things that were familiar. The first such god they tried to create was a golden calf. At other times, especially after they entered the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they set up altars to the god Baal and erected Asherah poles; gods carved of wood and stone worshipped in Canaan. The Lord warned them in the 10 Commandments not to even attempt to make an image of Him.

God does not give himself to being defined by our limited abilities or confined to our small imaginations. He is infinite. The creator of all things cannot be summarized by the shaping of things that we might worship Him.

God declares His holiness. To be holy is to be separate. God is not like any of the animals. He is greater than all of the celestial lights. He fills the universe, yet is mindful of every atom He spoke into being.

God calls His people to be holy because He is holy.

Rather than gravitating toward what we know we can control, that which is lowly, God calls us to reach toward Him, the One who is holy. We can’t control Him or define Him, but we know He’s good. We know He is gracious. We know He is forgiving. We know He loves.

God is love.
1 John 4:8

When we worship God, we allow Him to cultivate us so we can bear the resemblance of our Heavenly Father.

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Don’t You Care?

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
‭‭Mark‬ ‭4:37-38‬

Jesus and the disciples endured some long days. Sometimes the only way for them to get out from among the crowd was to get in a boat and row towards the next destination. An excursion on the lake can be a peaceful conclusion to a restless day of teaching, preaching and healing.

On this particular day the escape to the water was unsettling. Many of the disciples were experienced sailors, but not all of them. The Gospel of Mark describes a “furious squall” besieging the disciples’ boat.

The disciples, including the sailors I assume, panicked. Jesus, undisturbed, slept.

“Don’t you care if we drown?” The disciples asked Him as they woke Him.

Jesus woke up, but He wasn’t worried. He didn’t address His bewildered companions. He addressed the storm.

“Quiet! Be Still!”

Thats it. No explanation about how changing barometric pressures lead to high winds and extreme weather events. No discourse on how God organized the water cycle to keep rivers flowing, grass growing and fish swimming. Just a display of absolute authority over the natural order.

When we get panicked, regardless of the nature of the storm that rocks our boat, it may seem like Jesus is sleeping, but He still in control. He reserves the power to speak a word and change the elements around us.

After Jesus stilled the squall, he turned to the disciples and asked: Why are you so afraid?

They didn’t realize that the one who slept in their boat was present when creation was spoken into existence.

Here’s the good news, Jesus is in your boat, too. He’s there because He cares! Have faith and wait on Him to calm the storm.

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Delight yourself in the LORD

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

I’ve said a lot of things that have been cringe-worthy, but there is one phrase that I’ve landed on (a phrase I’ve not been able to attribute to anyone else, yet) that I think is quote-worthy. See if this phrase doesn’t fit that description: People Find ONLY What They Are Looking For.

I’ve seen this maxim lived out over and over and over again in my life, and in the lives of the people I’m connected to.

When we set our hearts on something, it seems that everything in life is filtered through that desire.

If we want more money, we tailor our existence to gain more money.

If it’s a job promotion or career advancement we desire, then we put the entirety of our existence into the service of that promotion or career step.

If we are seeking greater comfort, we go to great lengths to achieve that level of comfort our hearts desire.

But what are those kinds of desires God is eager to grant us? Is there a key here to satisfying the insatiable desires of the heart?

King David gives us a key insight into this mystery: Delight Yourself In The Lord.

When we make the Lord our first priority, then the desires of His heart become the desires of our heart.

I’ve often said in prayer meetings, if you want to pray prayers that God answers, ask for those things that God is eager to give.

The same holds true for what we seek in life. When we are looking for MORE of God in our existence, God shows Himself to us. When we are looking to fill our lives with the things of God, God readily supplies our lives with those things that honor Him. When we look for God’s grace in its myriad forms, we find such an abundance that we are able to share in the grace we’ve received with others!

What are you looking for today? As you walk through the pages of Scripture, what stands out to you that God would have you search for? Seek those things as the desire of your heart and God will bless you with those things in abundance!

Remember Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

If He is our delight, then our heart will always be satisfied. We find only what we are looking for, so let’s make sure what we are looking for is that which ultimately matters.

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Come And See

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
John 1:46

Evangelism takes on many forms.

One of the first evangelists in the Gospel of John is the disciple Philip.

Philip was an INVITER.

After Philip’s first encounter with Jesus he knew there was something to share. He went to a friend, Nathanael, who received Philip’s word about Jesus with skepticism.

But Nathanael’s skepticism didn’t deter Philip from offering a life changing invitation.

“Come and See.”

Philip did not know all of the answers about Jesus, but he knew enough to know Jesus was worth sharing.

“Come and See.”

We find ourselves in the same place Philip was in. Our enthusiasm for Jesus outstrips the information we know about Him. Lack of information wasn’t an excuse for Philip, and neither should it be for us. We can always say, “Come and See.

I’ve heard it said many times that our church is a welcoming and friendly place. That’s a mark of pride for our congregation. And to build on that reputation, we need to add to it that we are an INVITING church. We need to follow in the footsteps of Philip and encourage those who are close to us to “Come and See” the Jesus who saves us.

The result of Philip’s invitation to Nathanael was a face to face meeting between Nathanael and Jesus. Here’s proof of the fruit of the invitation from the Gospel of John:

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

John 1:47-51

Nathaniel came to faith in Christ because someone gave him and invitation to “Come and See.”

Think of the people who invited you to church, VBS, a revival service or a conference, where you had the opportunity to “Come and See.” Be thankful for their invitation and look forward to an opportunity to invite someone in your live to “Come and See” the one who can offer them eternal life.

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The Texas Department of Public Safety recently learned a valuable lesson about asking. The state formerly had the nation’s lowest percentage of registered organ and tissue donors. On January 1, 2010 a new state law went into effect that requires clerks to ask all applicants for a driver’s license or ID card if they would like to register as an organ donor. Participation has more than doubled simply because people are being asked. Imagine what might happen if Christians, like these clerks, were required to ask every person encountered if they want to have a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Many would still say no, but the number who favorably respond might literally double. Houston Chronicle, 7/28/10

Go To Your Solitary Place

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:35‬

If Jesus needed solitude, then we need solitude.

The previous day, according to the Gospel of Mark, had been full of teaching and healing and crowds and activity.

Rather than coasting into a late breakfast in bed, Jesus chose to rise before sunrise to commune with the Father.

The disciples were a little stunned. By the time they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes, and noticed Jesus was missing, Jesus had already completed the most important part of His day.

Waking up a little extra early to tend to you alone-time with God might seem like too great a cost, but it’s the best investment we can make toward having a meaningful day!

I think it’s needless to say that Jesus was “self-directed.” But He was giving us a pattern for how to have a “God-directed” life.

When we chose to meet with God before they distractions of the day encroach, we find that we have a greater capacity to encounter God throughout the day. We have deeper spiritual resources to draw from. We start the day with an abundance of hope rather than desperation.

How does being alone with God at the start of your day make a difference in your life?

How does it affect you when you miss your time with God?

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Moving Mountains to Bring People to Jesus

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.
Mark 2:3

When it comes to bringing people to church, and more importantly to Christ, what is our attitude?

Enthusiastic? Hesitant? Reluctant?

There 4 men in the town of Capernaum who were so eager to bring their friend, who was paralized, to Jesus even when doing so required the destruction of property!

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
Mark 2:1-4

Regardless of the cost, these for men completed their mission for their friend. Even better, their friend had a life changing experience!

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 2:5-12

Who are you willing to move mountains for to see them transformed by the Lord?

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During the ministry of D.L. Moody (1837-1899), a young orphan came to hear the great evangelist preach in London. His presence at church was the result of enormous effort. He had walked across the large city to be there and was thrilled to have finally found the church. As he approached the main door, a man seized him by the collar and gruffly asked, “Where do you think you’re going?” His reply was simple, “I’m going inside to hear Mr. Moody preach.” The doorman reprimanded the boy for his dirty, shabby attire and refused to let him in. Devastated by what had just happened, he sat down on the church steps and began to cry. While he was sitting there, a coach pulled up and a large man stepped out. He immediately noticed the disappointed boy and asked him why he was crying. The orphan explained how he had made a long trek across the city to hear Moody’s sermon but was denied entrance because of his filth. Moved by what he heard, the man took the boy by his hand and escorted him not only through the front door, but down to the front of the church. He stopped at the front pew and motioned for the boy to be seated. The large man then walked up to the platform and prepared to deliver his sermon. This gracious man was none other than D.L. Moody, a true evangelist.
Pulpit Helps, March 2002