Category Archives: Musings

Fresh and seasoned thoughts about the practice of Sabbath.

Being Intentional About Worship Even When We Can’t Worship Together

A few years ago, when Kristi and I were out of town on our sabbatical, we made Sunday worship a priority. We did different things and went different places and experienced worship in a variety of settings.

One Sunday was spent reading Scripture and praying on the top of a mountain.

Another Sunday was spent gathered with all of the other Texans at the campground.

One Sunday, though, was frustrating. The evening before, we decided that we were going to go into town, rather than attend worship at the campground. I’ve always assumed that at 11 AM on a Sunday morning, you can find a church, somewhere in a town, that is conducting a worship service. I was even going to be ambitious enough to leave about 30 minutes early in order to get a good back row seat (I never get to sit in the back and that was one of the joys of worshipping while out of town).

Well, we get in the car, and head straight to a little church that we’ve been to before. As we got close to it, we noticed that we were meeting a LOT of traffic. Somehow, at some point, they had changed their worship time. Instead of meeting at 10, or 10:30, or even 11, they held their worship at 9 AM! As we were trying to pull into the parking lot, the last people to leave the church were pulling out!

We were really intent on worshipping with someone, somewhere. So we drove to the next town about 15 miles away. The cell phone reception isn’t great in that part of Colorado so we couldn’t ask Google for help in locating a church. But I figured, since it was still well before 11 AM that we would find a church just starting their worship, or we might enter a few minutes late, but that was acceptable.

We pulled into the next town, Del Norte, CO, and we could NOT find a church that was open. We were at a loss.

So here’s what we did…

Del Norte doesn’t have much going on, but it does have a brick oven pizza restaurant. I mean it’s a good one. And since it was a little after 11 AM Colorado time, they were open for lunch, and we were hungry. So we pulled in, and got our table and started looking at the menu.

But the best thing about this brick oven pizza joint that morning wasn’t the pizza they were cooking…the best thing going on was that they had WiFi!

Kristi and I got on Facebook, and we worshipped with First Baptist Nederland. As we tuned into the worship service posted on Facebook Live, we felt like we were back home. We were 1000 miles away, but we were, in a sense, together.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25

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I Want To Initiate The Day With Prayer…

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
Jeremiah 33:3

(I stole all of this off of Kristi’s post. I love her writing. Her words minister to me. Follow her at KristiBurden.com)

His alarm blares and I roll over with my eyes still closed. I thank God for another day because I’m learning that every day counts.

  • I want to initiate the day with prayer.

I fold a blanket and start a load of clothes. I grab the handful of items that are cluttering the ottoman and put them where they belong. I create a space to talk to God.

  • I want to feel settled in for prayer.

I come across a verse. I wonder at how God can be so vast. I listen to a song. I’m captured by how He can so speak to me so intimately.

  • I pray with silence, with awe, with a chorus.

I watch my kids chattering in the living room. I unexpectedly get to pack a lunch for the grown one.

  • I pray with a grin.

Houston traffic is squeezed into a single lane. Barricades allow no escape. My heart hammers. There’s a 2 am phone call. My heart stops.

The twentieth piece of anxious news blares from the TV screen.

  • I pray a single word in desperation, sometimes over and over and I know I’m heard.

I get angry, hurt, impatient, insecure.

  • As the song says, “I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed.”

Friends are in overwhelming situations. Loved ones have difficult decisions to make. I’m wordy, thoughtful and specific as I propose a way it could be fixed.

  • I make my requests known to God, and then pray His will be done.
  • Other times I come to the conclusion “I’ve got nothing”, and recognize, in prayer, that the Spirit intercedes for me.

The day is done. Or is it? Problems, scenarios, fill my head, connected to boxes left unchecked. I borrow thoughts meant for tomorrow, or maybe not meant to be had at all.

It’s after midnight. I’m restless.

I’m thirsty like I was when I was a child asking my Father for nighttime water.

  • I pray His grace pours over me. And it always does.

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RESOURCES TO HELP WITH WORSHIP 

Bro. Allen and I talked about these books on our 7&7 Livestream. You can check out the Livestream HERE.

Click on any book to be taken to Amazon for more details.

When Peace Is In Short Supply

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

What we need most in these uncertain days is not more toilet paper on the shelves, more food in our pantry, or more soap by our sinks.

We need more PEACE.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace is His domain and He invites us to abide with Him in a state of PEACE.

The world, especially right now, is anything but peaceful.

Each of us can either contribute to the chaos, or we can promote the PEACE.

A Battleship is constructed of thousands of tons of steel, yet it floats on water. It floats on the roughest waves, through the toughest storms, as long as the water around it stays outside of it.

We are all enduring one form of a storm or another on the outside, but we can direct our attention to God in such a way that He gives us PEACE on the inside.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7

Go to the market of the soul and purchase from the Master PEACE that settles your heart and mind with the currency of FAITH.

May God Bless You, Protect You, Guide You, and Strengthen You to be a person of PEACE amid the storms you face.

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Don’t Lose Sight of Jesus

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Luke 2:48-49

Joseph and Mary really had a hard week! The week started out with their little family making their way up to Jerusasem for the Passover, singing songs about victory and preparing their lives to encounter God in the Rituals and the Readings that accompanied the Festival of Passover.

But something went radically wrong. At some point Jesus became LOST. That phrase, “Jesus Became Lost” makes NO sense theologically, but that’s exactly how Mary and Joseph felt about Jesus. Jesus was with them at the Festival, and then when they are leaving He was not.

What do parents do when a kid goes missing: They Freak Out! As the story goes, Mary and Joseph had some time to experience the full heartache of having misplaced a child as it took them 3 days to find him! Three days!

But Jesus, from before the time of His birth, was known by Mary and Joseph the Savior of the World!  They were responsible for raising Him and protecting Him with all of their energy!  How could God forgive a slip like this?

With the millions of people who would have swarmed Jerusalem, finding Jesus would have been like finding a needle in a haystack. He could have been ANYWHERE!

As Joseph and Mary arrived back to the holiest place they visited over the past week, there He was, at the Temple. Jesus was there with the teachers of the law, asking and answering questions. He was impressing them with his insight and wisdom.

In our culture, when a frantic parent finds a child after three days of panic and anxious searching,  we expect weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of the parents, and then later on the part of the child. But that’s not what happened here. Mary simply said to Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

There was no spanking. No grounding. No cell phone was taken away. He didn’t even get put in time out. I suspect Jesus spared himself these with the wise words He offers:

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Think about that for a moment! Where is Jesus Right Now in the midst of our confusion and fear? He’s in His Father’s house!

What’s He doing in His Father’s house? He is praying for us!

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:25

He’s in His Father’s house praying for me and you. And because He is God, He is right next to us, closer than a friend. He is omnipresent!  Wherever we go, He is with us. There’s not situation we find ourselves in where He is not available to us.

Trust in Jesus today. We find ourselves in desperate situations where we lose sight of the Savior, but there is never a situation where He has lost sight of us!

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God is Our Strength

God is our…Strength.
Psalm 46:1

We find the limits to our natural abilities pretty quickly. We don’t need much of a challenge to prove to ourselves that our resources are finite and our energy is fleeting.

There are times when the task before us is greater than the power within us.

What are we to do?

David, in Psalm 46, calls on the Lord’s strength for those occasions that he is overwhelmed by the troubles of life. He claims that God is not only his Refuge in this verse, but also his Strength.

I think we can identify with David. When our enemies seem to have the upper hand, and the sorrows of life have taken the wind out of our sails, we feel absolutely powerless. Worries and anxieties can absolutely sap our strength, draining us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. David was often on the run from his enemies as he ascended to the throne. And once on the throne, his life was filled with worries and insecurities. But David was never alone. The God who called him to be the shepherd king of Israel sustained David and empowered him.

God empowers us as well.

God gives us HOPE. Because we have HOPE we can borrow from the blessings of the future to stay committed to the course God has us traveling today. Since we have HOPE in a good future God has created for us we can bear up underneath the burdens of the moment, knowing those burdens will soon give way to the blessing that await us in eternity.

God gives us His PRESENCE. We are never alone. Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the book of Matthew ought to ring in our ears.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

God’s presence is with us to hold us steady and keep us on track. He is with us to encourage us as we pursue Him along the path of righteousness, and to convict us as we stray from the course He has set for us.

God gives us COMMUNITY. We are connected to the saints of old as we find commonality with them in their struggles as we read Scripture. Those heroes of the past have become part of that “great cloud of witnesses” that cheers us forward as we persevere through life. We are also connected to a living spiritual family. We draw strength from the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Community implies commonality. When one part of the community struggles, the entire community feels the pain. We realize our need for each other as God’s strength flows through the hands of the saints He places in our life.

And God has given us the SPIRIT. Even when we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the SPIRIT intercedes for us with “groanings too deep for words.” The SPIRIT of God is the indelible mark of God’s redemption of our lives, a constant reminder that even though we are powerless on our own, we are precious to God. Our worth in the eyes of our Heavenly Father keeps us moving forward toward the goal for which He has called us.

Keep pressing on today in the Strength of the Lord.

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God is Our Refuge

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

This is such a good verse that we need to make two posts out of it.

It would probably do us well to spend about a month exploring the depth of these 11 powerful words (12 if consider ever-present as 2 words).

The reason we’ve come across this passage is because it’s part of our year long Bible reading plan. If you started with me on January 1, then you’re in the same neighborhood of the Bible that I’m reading right now. As of the writing of this post, I’m actually running about half a day behind. Psalm 46 was included in the reading on March 2, and today is March 3.

We have to remember, the Bible reading plan is just a tool. We use it to get exposed to a greater breadth of Scripture, but it shouldn’t prohibit us from going deeper into Scripture.

The Lord has used Psalm 46:1 many times to speak to me, get my attention, and most importantly, to comfort me. In times when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, when it looks like we have no shelter for rescue, there is this verse: “God Is Our Refuge…”

I think back to how Moses must have felt after he had led the people of God to the banks of the Red Sea only to have Pharaoh’s army bear down upon the defenseless Israelites. He couldn’t turn to the right or to the left, and there was no use sending men with sticks and stones up against an army with chariots and armor. So what does God do? He makes a path through the sea! Moses didn’t have to create a battle plan; God made an escape path. God proved to be the refuge His people needed.

Recently I wrote about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how they defied the command of the king in the book of Daniel. They could have prevented hardship for themselves if they had just worshiped the king’s idol. But fearing God rather than a mere man, they chose to be faithful to God and God proved Himself faithful to them. After Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the furnace as punishment for defying the king, a 4th person was seen walking around in the fire with them. The king called to them and they came out, without a hair on their bodies singed or the smell of smoke on their clothes. God was their REFUGE.

And God is our refuge. When we think all is lost, God shows us that we have “another think coming.

We can’t always see our way to the refuge God has waiting for us. We must faith our way there. I think that statement, too, will require a little bit of unpacking, but I’ll save that for another time.

For whatever you might be going through now, or in the future, let’s keep our eyes on the Lord who leads us to that spacious place of refuge by His grace.

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Who Do You Say He Is?

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Mark 8:29

To know who Jesus is, we have to move past who the crowd says He is.

Jesus paused with the disciples in the area of Caesarea Philippi to have a crucial conversation. This was pagan territory. In the cliffs behind the city there was a great temple to the god Pan. Pan’s temple was built around a grotto, or shallow cave, in the side of a cliff with a great spring flowing from it. The ancient people of that area believed the grotto and the spring were the entrance to Hades.

What a place for Jesus to ask the disciples an important question: “Who do people say I am?”

In reply to Jesus’ question, the disciples start rattling off answers from what they have heard from the crowd.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
Mark 8:28

All esteemable responses. The people recognize that Jesus is a “somebody”. They don’t exactly know who He is, but they know He is special.

But then Jesus makes the questions personal: “Who do YOU say I am?

Jesus does not permit us to hide from Him among the crowd. He calls us out and asks us personally what we think of Him. He will not be satisfied in hearing what others have told us about Him. Jesus desires that we come to know Him for who He has revealed Himself to be.

Peter offers the only response that can come from a heart that knows Jesus personally: “You are the Messiah.”

Messiah. That’s a word packed with meaning! I find it interesting that former iterations of English translations of the Bible have often used the word ‘Christ’ here rather than the word ‘Messiah.’ ‘Christ’ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah.’ I think it would be safe to say that Jesus is the fullness of what the Hebrew speakers were looking for in a Messiah, and the breadth of what the Greek speakers were expecting in a Christ. For us who do not use the words Messiah or Christ in our everyday language, Jesus is SAVIOR.

The better we get to know Jesus, the more evident it becomes that He is the Savior we need. When we come to know Him personally as Savior, the answer to every other question becomes a little clearer.

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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?
From T.S. Eliot THE WASTELAND

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