“An Italian newspaper recently carried an interesting story about a young couple in Milan who had a wonderful attendance record at a particular cathedral. The priest assumed they were very devoted to their faith because they regularly spent an hour before one of the statues in the church’s worship area. He thought they were doing some intense praying. Only later did he discover the couple simply came to re-charge their cell phone from the electrical outlet behind the statue” (King Duncan, via Waterview, Richardson, TX, 3/16/14).
My first reaction to that was to chuckle, then be a little indignant, and then become introspective. The thought that someone may come to church services for apparent honorable intentions but be serving some baser motive may be shocking, but it is not unheard of. Jesus taught, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat. 15:9). Jesus is quoting Isaiah, and it was a problem in that prophet’s day, too. Think of what another prophet wrote. Ezekiel said, “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain” (Ezek. 33:31).
When I come before the Great I Am, not only must I keep from distractions. Deeper than that, I must examine my overall motivation for being at worship or serving the Lord. Why am I a Christian? Self-examination is as important as any spiritual exercise there is (2 Cor. 13:5). Nobody else may know why we are before the Lord in worship, but He does. May He see our motivation as transparent and true, honest and sincere!
It was a great Sunday night crowd. Why not? Between the monthly Q&A sermon, the monthly singing night, and the ice cream fellowship, there were several additional drawing forces. It was so enticing for one grade-school boy that he made the unusual decision to sit on the front row, dead center. If you were there, you probably saw him. If you weren’t, you can see him on YouTube.
This young man had an unobstructed, undistracted view to some significant events. First, he was literally a couple of feet from Hiram as he preached. On multiple occasions, when he posed a question to the audience in his sermon, this young man nodded in silent answer. He was “locked in.” If he moved or squirmed, I didn’t see it.
Second, he witnessed the love, care, and support of the church family during the invitation song. One of our new Christians responded, asking for prayers and expressing a desire to live a more faithful life. Joe not only had the preacher on one side and an elder on the other, but the little boy had to move down to make room for several men who came down front to show their love and support for Joe. This great young man watched the emotion, joy, and concern of a church obeying the command, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16).
Third, he sat there and sang several songs after the response. Each time I looked, he was enthusiastically trying to sing even songs he probably did not know. He has an expressive face, and the prevailing emotions I could see–including when I led–appeared to be all positive and interested.
After services, he was in the multipurpose room (MPR) indulging in some ice cream and having as much fun as a little boy could hope to. He was visiting and playing, and he was eating. Then, he went home.
I did not get the chance to ask him if he enjoyed being at church last night, but I think I know the answer. Children don’t do the best job of pretending, if they do or don’t like something. He appeared to have enjoyed himself. But he did more than that. He served as a great example to me. Not only did he come to the worship, but he came to worship. As he gave, he also received. I’d like to think his experience last night will be something he never forgets, something that serves as a foundation for his spiritual future. His mom brought him last night. Pray for him, that as he grows up, he will develop a faith that brings him to worship and carries him through life (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5).
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me…” (Mat. 18:1-5).
For the next several weeks, I’ll be repeating the book of I Peter in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today.
This is not an essentially literal translation, and should be read as something of a commentary.
I Peter – Part VIII
Our lifestyles were hostile to God, but he died for us anyway! Moral perfection died to save morally imperfect people. He wanted to bring us to God! He was killed physically, but his spirit was brought back to life. This is the form he had back in Noah’s day. Even then he wanted to save people who were about to face total destruction! God waited patiently for them to change, giving them chance after chance while Noah was building the ark. They died; in fact, only eight people survived that flood.
Water saved Noah and his family from those evil people, and water saves us from evil, too. We don’t bury ourselves in water to take a bath. We bury ourselves in water to ask God for a clean slate. We can only do that because Jesus was brought back to life, sat next to God, and was given total control of every supernatural force.
Mentally prepare yourself to suffer. Jesus suffered while he was human! When we suffer physically, it’s because we stopped doing bad things. As long as we’re alive, we’re not chasing the unhealthy passions humans have. We do what God wants. You used to chase those unhealthy passions! You craved all things bad, got drunk, partied without restraint, and practiced horrible things while worshipping fake gods.
Since you used to do this, your old friends are shocked that you don’t anymore. They hate you and mistreat you now, but they’ll have to answer to God. He’s going to judge everyone who’s ever lived. Remember, the hope for rescue that Jesus gave us was offered to people who aren’t alive anymore. Since everyone’s going to face God, everyone is given the chance to live like God wants.
There is nothing like the satisfaction of completing a task that was especially hard-fought and challenging. But, there was Judah in Ezra’s day in Ezra six after Haggai and Zechariah’s message propels them to the finish line concerning the temple (14). After earlier opposition from their neighbors, Judah is assisted by the most powerful nation on earth “with all diligence” (13). It was not nearly as glorious as the original temple (3:12; Hag. 2:3), but it was rebuilt and available for Judah to use to worship God as before the captivity.
Consider some of the fruits of their obedient, faithful efforts from Ezra 6:13-22. These are the some of the fruits of restoration.
In a world where everybody just wants to be happy, few know genuine joy. The happiness for the people here is so intense and deep-seated because God is the source and reason for it. They celebrated the dedication (16) and Ezra says “the Lord had caused them to rejoice” (22). There is a unique, genuine joy available to those who are seeking to build their lives and religion according to the Lord’s pattern (Rom. 15:13).
Faithful Worship (17-20).
Following the revealed instructions from God through His leaders, the people were now enabled to dedicate the temple (17), appoint the priests (18), and observe the Passover (19-20). They have returned to the proper place, people, and practice of worship. That is the epitome of restoration. When we submit to the instructions of the New Testament regarding who leads (1 Tim. 2:8,11-12), where we participate (Heb. 10:24-25), and how we worship (cf. Col. 3:16-17), faithful worship, when done in proper spirit, follows (John 4:24).
The ones who could participate in the Passover were those who had purified themselves. That started with the leadership (19) and extended to the rest of the participants (19-20). It mandated separating from “the impurity of the nations of the land” (20). They could come before God with pure and holy hands (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). Think about what Peter tells believers: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Divine Aid (22).
Do your best and try your hardest, but you will fall terribly short without this factor. God’s providence paved the road and opened the door to restoration. The Lord “…had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God.” “The Lord had caused them to rejoice.” One of the fruits of seeking to restore God’s will and ways in our public and private lives today is this assurance. Jesus promises, “I am with you always” (Mat. 28:20). “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you so that we can confidently say, The Lord is my helper…” (Heb. 13:5-6).
Be body builders, building the Lord’s church the Lord’s way. Let’s go all the way back to the Bible. The end result is a multitude of blessings (Eph. 1:3) like those mentioned in Ezra 6:13-22.
Each Sunday, Christians come together to worship our Creator. But before we can properly worship God, we need to know what He wants from us. We can’t just come together and do what we think God would want. There is no guesswork required because God has plainly told us. This isn’t an article on our singing, taking the Lord’s supper, or reading scripture. But worship requires knowledge, and this knowledge will help us to properly prepare when we come together.
If our knowledge is lacking, what happens? In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu offered God something He did not ask for. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (1-2).
Depending on your translation there are several different interpretations of what they offered.
None of these translations speak well of their actions, and we read the consequences of their actions. They offered God a sacrifice without proper knowledge. Some would say that how God responded was uncalled for, and while His actions may seem extreme, there are several facts we learn about Worship.
We learn that when God tells us how to do something, we better listen. We learn that proper knowledge of how to worship is essential. We learn that God takes worship seriously.
I’m thankful that God doesn’t deal with us today in the same way. The times that I’ve caught my mind wandering in the songs we sing, or when I loose my train of thought during the Lord’s supper, I’m sure that God has had plenty of opportunities to strike me down.
Leviticus 10 is a sobering reminder. And we need to ask ourselves, “Are we offering strange fire to God?”
We can avoid doing this by having the proper knowledge of what God has commanded.
It’s not about what we think sounds good, or what we think God would like.
It’s about our Creator. We don’t need to guess; He has clearly told us. In John 4:23-24, Jesus in speaking with the Samaritan woman says, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”
What does God want us to know about worship? The people God seeks to be His are the ones who worship in Spirit and Truth.
The word Spirit literally means, “As the source and seat of insight, feeling, and will.”
Basically what Jesus is trying to convey is that:
When we sing, we sing with feeling
When we pray, we pray with feeling
When we remember Christ, we feel the weight of the sacrifice.
When we read God’s word, we do it with feeling.
God wants our hearts to be in worship.
A knowledge of God helps us accomplish this command. Which is exactly why Jesus says to worship in spirit, but also in Truth. Our emotions and feelings are based on the truth that God has revealed. The truth that comes from divine inspiration. If we worship in spirit and neglect the truth, we are offering strange fire. If we worship in truth alone without emotion, we are offering strange fire to God.
In order to worship, we must have a knowledge of what God wants from us.
Today’s article may be a little chaotic. It’s about something not well-defined or understood, and its solution is unknown to me. This article will hopefully serve as a target; it’d be good to have lots of Christian minds brainstorming solutions to this issue.
Just about everyone’s had THE virus. I’ve had it once for sure, maybe twice. It don’t mess around. I started developing symptoms after recovery that, apparently, quite a few people have developed. It’s commonly called Long Covid or PASC. Symptoms include fatigue, cognitive difficulties, decreased mobility, respiratory and cardiological issues, pain, malaise, and many others (psu.edu). You probably either know someone dealing with this now, or are dealing with it yourself.
Research is not super easy to get ahold of, and what I could find was either low-quality or not peer reviewed. Its existence isn’t really contested, but little is known about its prevalence. Best I could find was that about 43% of those who recover will experience Long Covid. Many haven’t recovered after almost two years!
My concern with this is its potential effect on faith. Things like driving at night, interacting with lots of people, spending time together outside of worship, church events, service projects, teaching/preaching/song leading, evangelism, etc. are part of our Christian life. While some of these can be difficult on a good day, they’re now practically impossible (or significantly more difficult) for people with Long Covid.
The church has always had members with chronic, debilitating diseases. Normally, our shut-ins are a very small percentage of overall membership. With Long Covid often compared to the effects of chemotherapy, this number is likely to grow significantly. If roughly half of our recovered members end up with these long-term effects, how do we address this?
Since it affects both young adults and senior citizens, how do we navigate its impact? What can members who now have Long Covid do to stay active in their churches? While living with a chronic health condition is no cake walk, those of us who do are at least mentally equipped to accept it. Members who enjoyed good health before Long Covid are struggling to adapt to this change.
At some point in the near-ish future, I hope to write an article with potential solutions. It will be geared toward those who’re experiencing major health issues for the first time. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to do a lot of praying, planning, brainstorming, and creative problem solving. Nothing’s too big for God, and we’ll find a solution with his help.
Your version may use the word “hallelujah” to begin Psalm 135. Hallelujah means “praise the Lord.” While it is synonymous with giving thanks, it means to laud a superior quality or act, to acclaim and express joy in doing so. What is so noteworthy is that the psalmist does this in very specific ways, recounting times in history when God demonstrates His power and glory on behalf of His people. As we walk through the psalm, we see this. Why is He to be praised?
HIS CHOOSING OF HIS PEOPLE (4)
HIS NATURE (5)–Great, Above All
HIS WORK IN CREATION (6-7)–Heaven, Earth, Seas, All Deep, Vapors, Lightning, Wind, Rain
HIS DEFEATING OF THEIR ENEMIES (8-11)–Egypt, Amorites, Canaanites
HIS BLESSINGS (12)–Gave His People A Heritage (Possession)
HIS POWER (13)–His Name And Remembrance
HIS PROMISES (14)–Compassionate Judgment
HIS SUPERIORITY OVER HIS RIVALS (15-18)–Deaf, Dumb, And Blind Idols, Just Like Humans
The writer calls on God’s people to praise and worship Him in song, expressing their adoration (1-3). He ends with a threefold call to “bless the Lord” (19-21). May I suggest that you work through something both in your daily life and in your preparation before every time you assemble to worship? Call it setting the table for fellowship with the Divine. Either meditate on the specific works and ways of God that are worthy of admiration, praise and honor or pray to Him, expressing these matters in specific terms. Focus on how He’s demonstrated greatness in blessing your life and the lives of those around you. Perhaps it’s answered prayer, providence, deliverance, or relief. Focus on His power and might in the affairs of our nation, in the activities of our congregation, and the occurrences within your family and personal life. Let the worship flow as you look around at all you see in nature, from the universe to right out your window. Think about the gift of Jesus for your sins. All of this will surely cause you to echo the writer in Psalm 135 and call out to others, “Praise the Lord!”
Fifteen consecutive psalms (120-134) are so-called “Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this name because they were songs designated for the Israelites to sing on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Moses had instructed them at the giving of the Old Law, “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God” (Ex. 34:34). You can imagine how especially those who came a long distance to Jerusalem (it’s over 100 miles from Mt. Hermon and Beersheba, for example) might benefit from a reminder of why they were making this lengthy journey. As most would walk, this would help pass the time while preparing their minds. This is not a bad idea for us even on a 10 or 20 minute drive to the church building on Sunday morning.
There is quite a bit of uneven terrain, mountains and valleys, in the area around Jerusalem, and the temple required a steep climb as there were three valleys surrounding Mount Zion and the temple complex. So, people coming from every direction would have to “go up to Jerusalem” (Zech. 14:17; John 2:13; 5:1). But, it was more than a physical ascent, this trip to the temple. It was more significantly a spiritual ascent, an effort to get closer to God. While we can and should draw near to God daily in our personal devotion, there is still great significance and benefit when we join each other in the presence of God to worship Him and fellowship with Him and each other (Heb. 10:24-25). Each time, this should be an ascent for us!
Notice the repetitive use of “will” in Psalm 121. The word is used eight times in these eight verses. The word points to the future and indicates either anticipation or trust. The writer is confident, especially of what he expects God will do. Such assurance had to take his heart higher!
I WILL LIFT UP MY EYES TO HIM (1)
He starts with what he will do. The writer will look up to God, seeking help and strength. A heart ready to worship is one who sees things as they really are. I am spiritually destitute and needy, and I depend on God for everything. When that is my mindset, I am prepared to praise, thank, and petition Him!
GOD WILL HELP ME (1-2)
Whatever problems, distractions, struggles, and temptations are weighing me down and wearing me down, God will help me! His power is proven. Just look at the creation (2). He has not lost an ounce of strength from that moment to now.
GOD WILL NOT LET ME FALL (3)
The terrain around Jerusalem is often rocky and uneven. I suppose it is easy for anyone’s foot to slip on those roads up to the holy city. But, spiritually, it is a different matter. If I fall, it will not be God’s fault (John 10:27-29). If I hold to God’s unchanging hand, I will successfully complete my journey.
GOD WILL NOT FALL ASLEEP ON THE JOB (3-4)
Night and day, moment by moment, God is alert. He sees everything I do and everything that is done to me. How comforting to know that the All-seeing eye never droops or closes. He does not nod off, even for a moment.
GOD WILL GUARD AND PROTECT ME (5-8)
Half of this psalm is devoted to this idea. God is not just passively involved, watching me. He is actively involved, keeping me (5,7), providing me shade (5-6), protecting me (7), and guarding me (8). Our God is not inanimate! He is involved! It is why we pray. It is why we trust in His providence. It is why we serve and obey Him. As we love to sing, “There is a God! He is alive. In Him we live and we survive.” The writer of Hebrews quotes three Old Testament passages (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Psa. 118:6) to convey two promises: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (13:5-6).
When you enter to worship, enter with the heart and faith of the righteous pilgrims on their way to the temple for one of the annual festivals. Come with your heart ready, and come with a heart full of faith and trust in the object of your worship. You will leave rejuvenated and resolved.
Lying in a bed for three and a half months will make you feel icky. You can only bathe with washcloths. Some nurses loaded those cloths with water and got me wetter than an Anglican baptism. Those “baths” made me feel better. However, before being discharged, I finally took a shower. That was the best. I felt refreshed. The only downside was seeing my hair come out in clumps as I washed my hair. It seems I am fated to look like the Stooge, Larry Fine.
Where do you find your refreshment? Is it in a cool drink on a sultry day? Is it standing by a fireplace in winter? Such actions reinvigorate us. This result is what refreshment accomplishes. The sinner can find refreshment in obedience. In his second recorded sermon, Peter says:
“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3.19 NASB1995).
This refreshing comes from being immersed in Christ (cf. Acts 22.16). I would encourage any who have not yet clothed themselves in Christ to allow their faith to lead to this total submission, in which one joins the Lord in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). No, it is not a work, nor is the power in the water. It is where we symbolically contact the blood of Christ and express a clear conscience before God (1 Peter 3.21). It is a necessity for salvation.
Yet, there remains refreshment for the Christian as well. Paul speaks of his desire to meet with the brethren of Rome in Romans 15. He tells them to join him in prayer so his arrival will refresh him (Romans 15.32). That is an interesting word choice. In fact, this is the only time this word, συναναπαύομαι, appears in Scripture. The word means to rest along with, but here implies a spiritual refreshing.
I like that idea of “resting with”, though, especially as it applies to Christian fellowship. We spend our weeks in the world and get beaten up by the forces of the adversary. How refreshing is it when we pause and rest with our brethren in worship and Bible study? I know I have gone to services feeling poorly, physically, only to find myself reinvigorated on my way back home. It has the same effect mentally and, most importantly, spiritually. Unfortunately, my recovery prevents me from joining the brethren currently. Still, you better believe that I eagerly await the day I can rejoin them even more than when I wished for a shower.
It is sad when brethren find excuses to avoid refreshment since it is one of the blessings we receive in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1.3). Earthly diversions cannot reinvigorate the spirit as can God. Oh, it might bring temporary happiness, but the participant of earthly delights is left feeling empty, needing entertainment and diversion yet again. Services are not a chore when one comes seeking to worship God and rest beside their brethren.
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10.24-25 NASB1995)
Genesis 3 records for us the fall of man. This account reveals to us the methods Satan uses to tempt us, and the choice that changed the course of the world. We can learn a lot about the devil in his first interaction with God’s creation.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.””
We don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden. There is no timeframe between chapter 2 and 3.
It could’ve been a month, a year, a century that has gone by. Whatever the time frame, Satan comes to Eve and places doubt in her mind. This is quite possibly the worst lie ever told. “Did God really say…?” While Satan doesn’t physically appear and speak to us today, he still uses this same tactic. He has destroyed many churches’ worship to God. “Did God really ask for music with no instruments?” “Did God really say for the women to be silent?” By casting doubt Satan has corrupted the worship and faith of millions.
After he casts doubt, he then blatantly contradicts God, “you will not surely die.” And once again he continues to blatantly contradict God’s word today. The message Satan tells the world is completely different from what God has given to us. Satan contradicts the Father. Rather than “love you neighbour as yourself” he says “love yourself above your neighbour.” Rather than “serve God and keep his commandments, he says “serve yourself and listen to no one.” Satan contradicted God in the past and continues to do so today.
After he casts doubt and blatantly contradicts God, he then offers power, “you shall be like God.” Obviously in their close relationship with God, they understood who created the world. The created wanted to be like the creator, but the devil offered a lie. Satan only has one thing to offer– sin. He oftentimes portrays this lifestyle of sin as a lie.
He offers happiness and joy, but at the end of the day all he has to offer is sin and regret.
Eve was tempted by Satan, and he used the same methods then as he does now. Eve experienced:
The lust of the flesh (she wanted to eat of the fruit)
The lust of the eyes (literally says “it was a delight to the eyes,” v.6)
Pride of life (she wanted to become wise and have power)
The devil always knows what to say in order to get us to stumble. We must be vigilant and ready to refuse the tempter when he appears.