A fundamental piece of advice for writing fiction is “Show, don’t tell.” A good writer will use words to paint a picture or set a mood. Poets and songwriters are masters of this advice. Metaphors, analogies, figurative language, even alliteration– all create memorable images with very few words.
Jesus (hardly surprising, as He is the Word of God) was a master storyteller, using parables that we still recognize and identify with today–mustard seeds and prodigal sons, good Samaritans and lilies of the field– Jesus didn’t “lecture” about forgiveness or holiness or love; He provided word pictures, even as He demonstrated each concept in His actions.
When Jesus was getting ready to return to Heaven, He commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.. (Matthew 28:19 NIV) He also said to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..(Mark 16:15 NKJV). And as I review Jesus’ methods and actions, I see that I need to make some changes.
I need to listen more and lecture less. I need to spend more time with those who are shunned by the “righteous,” but cherished by God. I need to spend less time defending myself and more time testifying about Jesus. And I need to spend less time “telling” and more time “showing” love, obedience, joy, mercy, peace, and hope.
This doesn’t eliminate the need to talk and write and “tell” about God– but I want to learn more about doing it God’s way!
It’s the end of October, and tomorrow will be Halloween. Stores and houses around the neighborhood are decorated with frightening figures of skeletons, witches, ghosts, and gravestones. Some of my friends love this time of year, and they look forward to binge-watching movies about zombies or vampires– anything scary, spooky, or terrifying.
I don’t like Halloween. I don’t like scary movies. But I believe in the value of fright. Life is filled with things–natural and supernatural– that fill us with real fear. And that is as it must be in a fallen world. Sin and death, evil and darkness, fires, earthquakes, violence and plague–they are real and should produce both fear and caution. The Bible is not silent or dismissive of such things. God’s laws warn against evil spirits, calling on the dead, consulting with witches, fortune telling, even giving in to anger, envy, and hatred. God’s laws also provide for hygienic practices to ward off disease and plague.
And yet, the Bible also gives hundreds of warnings against giving in to fear and letting it control our lives. We are to be cautious and wise where fear is concerned. Over all, we are to remember that God is bigger and more powerful than our fears. God can calm storms, put out fires, even conquer disease and death! There is no power, no force, no terror, that can overwhelm God, or touch those under His protection.
Terror holds no power in God’s presence. Therefore, if we know God, we can experience no true terror. But where there is no God, terror will reign. It’s like the saying: “No God; No Peace–Know God; Know Peace”. Terror comes with darkness, with chaos, with lawlessness and loneliness.
There is only one other kind of terror– a Holy Terror. We can be terrified by the awesome Holiness of God. It is altogether more powerful and alien than anything we can even imagine. Even for those who know God, there is the knowledge that God is GOD, and we are not worthy to look on His face or enter into His presence on our own. Normally, when we think of terror, we think of things that are very unholy–evil things; supernatural forces of darkness. Yet Holiness can also inspire terror because it causes us to see our own unworthiness; our own sin and failure. I am reminded of the “face-melt” scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark– Nazis, who have been fearlessly and relentlessly pursuing the Ark of the Covenant, believing that it holds supernatural powers they can use to gain power over life and death, are suddenly and horrifically destroyed when they gaze inside–as they come in contact with the very Glory of God, their terror is absolute, and they are destroyed by its presence.
This season, may we celebrate that God, in His awesome and mighty power, constantly reminds us that we can “Know” Him without fear; instead of running, cowering, or melting, we can come to Him with confidence and joy! And in doing so, we can face any other terror, knowing that God is with us, and for us, and even filling us with His peace! We need not be filled with Holy Terror– instead, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit!
He said to them, “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!”
Matthew 21:13 (Christian Standard Bible, via Biblehub.com)
It’s October. Time for apple cider, falling leaves, pumpkin spice cookies, bonfires, corn mazes, and “haunted houses.” I don’t know about other parts of the world, but in my neighborhood, we usually have dozens of local charities decorating barns or old factories or houses, and charging people to visit in the nights leading up to Halloween. They hang cobwebs and mirrors, create mazes and special effects– creaky doors, moving floors, glowing objects, eerie moans, flashing lights, and pop-up creatures , along with volunteers dressed up as ghosts or mummies or zombies to guide them along the way. Hundreds of people tromp and shudder, laugh and scream, as they travel through the house. They come back and bring their friends, eager to watch their reactions, and see if they can remember all the “surprises” to come.
I’m not a big fan of haunted houses. I don’t like being frightened for “fun.” And I don’t like giving money, time, and thought to making “fun” of death and evil spirits. This year, with COVID still a factor, many of the haunted houses are closed or operating very differently. So are many other venues, including churches.
Which brings me to a startling thought–have some of our churches become nothing more than a kind of haunted house? People come to be entertained; to feel their pulse beat faster, or get excited about a particularly good worship sequence. They may even come to be “frightened” a little by sermons about hell and death, sort of like watching a spooky movie or listening to ghost stories by the campfire. They meet up with their friends, and go out together afterwards to their favorite restaurant. The service is filled with special effects– lights and videos, booming bass lines and dynamic guitar solos, volunteers dressed up to greet visitors, serve coffee and donuts, collect money, and take attendance; sometimes even gimmicks, and props, and prizes.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for churches to be warm and welcoming; I don’t think they have to be gloomy and boring. But we’ve spent so much time making our churches “attractive;” put so much of our time and effort into making worship thrilling and fulfilling, that we’ve lost our focus. This isn’t “the people’s house.” It isn’t a “fun house.” It is God’s house. A house of prayer. A house of honor and reverence. A Holy place. We’ve made our churches places of basketball courts and coffee bars; playrooms and gift shops; social networks and small business incubators…
We read about Jesus chasing the moneychangers out of the Temple, but we erect huge signs in front of the church tracking our fundraising efforts for a new roof. We are not a “den of thieves.” But are we a “house of prayer?” Are we meeting together to pray, or to be entertained? To meet with God, or to meet up for fellowship? Are we creating a maze of mirrors and gimmicks, instead of calling out in urgency and humility to Almighty God? Are the pews, or chairs, or stadiums, filled with the (spiritually) walking dead?
Jesus created a stir when He rebuked the money changers. They hadn’t suddenly appeared and set up shop. They didn’t see themselves as “thieves.” After all, they weren’t stealing from anyone. They were buying and selling items connected with the Temple worship–animals for sacrifice, incense, food for hungry travelers… They weren’t stealing money– not exactly. Maybe they charged extra for their services; for the convenience. Maybe they had bribed someone or used their influence to get a prime marketing spot inside the Temple perimeter. But that’s just business. And, until Jesus kicked up a fuss, no one seemed to notice or mind.
Jesus wasn’t upset about money– He was upset about those who were stealing from the Father. Cheapening His glory, crowding in on His House, bringing the noise of everyday commerce into the court of contemplation. Bringing dust and pettiness into His Holy presence. Trading the Awe of His Majestic Temple for the “aw, shucks” of a day at the mall– or a trip to the Haunted House.
We have a real opportunity as “The Church” to take a close look at what we have become, and how we want to adjust to “life after the pandemic.” If Jesus were to visit our church, would He find it a House of Prayer, or a Haunted House?
I have to admit, this is not a reaction I enjoy. I want to meet with God in prayer, feeling loved, confident, and joyful. And I know that God is sovereign, awesome, and powerful…but I want to revel in the goodness of redemption and the hope of glory, not tremble in fear or awe.
Yet, we are told to do both throughout scripture. I can’t really have one without the other.
Today, I need to tremble– to see and acknowledge the awful wrath of God, fully and horrifically borne by Jesus on the cross. God did not send His Son to tidy up an uncomfortable or embarrassing “slip” on the part of one man. Jesus bore the weight of the Holocaust and the nightmares of genocide, abortion, plague, and famine throughout the ages. Jesus paid the price of slavery, and sex trafficking, and human sacrifice committed over centuries and millennia of hatred and abuse. Jesus faced the punishment justly deserved by billions of acts of rebellion and rejection by people He had lovingly created. And He did it so that you (and I) could be held guiltless and allowed to enter the courts of praise.
Someday, we will see Him face-to-face. Yes, it will be joyful, and glorious. But it will also be cause for trembling. To see perfection, righteousness, Holiness, and Love, and yet see the One who was “pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities…”
There is little glory in momentary happiness or small victories. But when we stop and tremble at His Majesty, we arise with joy unspeakable, and true worship!
We like to point out scripture that assures us that God will hear (and answer) our prayers. We like to remember God’s promises of blessing and peace and grace. And we tend to ignore or forget that there are some prayers that God has said He will not hear or answer.
God will not answer prayers that are selfish, or hypocritical. He will not answer prayers offered in pride, self-righteousness, or unbelief (see Luke 18:9-14, and Hebrews 11:6). He will not listen to prayers offered by those who oppress the poor, those who worship idols, or those who practice violence. And He will not listen to the prayers of those who reject Him, and remain in sin. https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA160/does-god-answer-the-prayers-of-unbelievers (Please note: I don’t totally agree with the general conclusion here, but there are several great references for the individual points..)
Please note that God does not say that He will not answer prayer based on WHO a person is–God does not refuse to answer prayers based on a person’s age, nationality, gender, physical health, mental health, height, weight, social status, or any other label, including their past religious affiliation! This means that a sincere prayer of a person who is seeking God may be heard ahead of (or instead of) a prideful prayer of someone who claims to be a Christ-follower.
God is sovereign and omniscient– He knows what is in each heart, and He answers, not according to who we are, but according to who HE is. And just as He can separate our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), and “remember (our) sins no more”(Hebrews 8:12), He can choose not to hear prayers that are offered with wrong motives or offered in defiance of His sovereignty and holiness.
None of this takes away from the fact that God DOES hear and answer prayer…God LOVES to hear from anyone and everyone who seeks His face. Nothing external can separate you from His love. Come with your anger, questions, sorrows, pains, gratitude, hope; bring your failures, your fears, and your triumphs. But God, like a wise father, doesn’t suffer fools and fakers. Even if you can fool your neighbors, friends, family, or yourself, you cannot fool God. He doesn’t want a false narrative– He wants you as you really are. And He will listen with an everlasting love and compassion to all such prayers!
I have known some excellent fathers– including my own father and my husband. Fathers who do their best to provide for, pray for, protect, and prepare their families. Fathers who show patience, perseverance, wisdom, and selflessness.
But I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have also known some wicked fathers– fathers who are physically, verbally, and mentally abusive toward their wives and children. Fathers who abandon their responsibilities, and leave behind a legacy of need, chaos, anger, and despair.
Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a Father. Not as a “man”– Jesus took on flesh and became a man– but the Triune God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. God has all the characteristics of a perfect father. God also embodies all the characteristics of a good mother. But there is something about Fatherhood that God particularly wants us to learn and understand.
When God chose Abram for His special covenant, Abram’s name meant “exalted father.” But Abram was childless. God chose someone whose name had no meaning (or an ironic meaning), and changed it– not a lot–he added an “ah”, so that Abraham’s name meant “father of many” or “father of multitudes.” I don’t think it was any accident that God chose a man named “Abram,” or that He changed his name only slightly. God chose Abraham, not because he was a father, but so that he could become a father– to many! It was as a father (to Isaac, but also to Ishmael and all his other sons and descendants) that Abraham was exalted and revered.
But Abraham was not a perfect father– far from it! God gave us the story of Abraham, and drew attention to Abraham to help us learn the importance of GOD as our Father. Abraham was willing to give up his heir– the son of God’s promise– because Abraham was a “son” of God before he was a father to Isaac. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=NIV
Even though I have known some excellent fathers, I know of only one who is perfect. And He isn’t someone else’s father, that I should be envious, or discouraged. He isn’t only “my” father, that I should be smug. He isn’t my father by birth, that I should make little of His sacrifices or His promises– they are not given out of duty or a sense of genetic obligation. He is OUR Father– He invites all of us to become His children. He lavishes love and grace, sheds tears and aches, sacrifices and pursues, rejoices and grieves– for and with every soul.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He wasn’t giving them a rote prayer to memorize, but a pattern. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/the-lords-prayer-be-encouraged-and-strengthened.html If you look through the Gospels at Jesus’ other prayers you will see it–He always begins by addressing His Father. For the group of disciples, He began with “Our Father.” Jesus, who could have claimed sole son-ship, made it clear that He (as Son with the Father and Spirit) desires this amazing relationship– more than power, more than honor, more than life! And God the Father is not a man or a mere mortal– He is Holy, Perfect, Eternally Loving and Eternally Sovereign!
What a wonderful thought for Father’s Day this year– no matter what kind of earthly father(s) we have known!
Today, my husband was finally able to get out and go to the grocery. He saw that they were unloading some herbs, already started and ready to plant. It got me thinking about various herbs and their symbolism. What we plant in our garden; what we use in our cooking; how we “season” our prayer life– it all makes a difference. So here are some tips for “seasoning” our prayers…Make sure to add:
Rosemary– for remembrance. Remember and worship God for who He is. Remember His past goodness. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Great Love. Remember that He sees and hears you; He knows you intimately, and loves you eternally.
Sage– for wisdom. Ask for it. God longs to give you stores of wisdom and guidance. He longs for you to seek His wisdom every day.
Fennel– for praiseworthiness. God is worthy of all our praise and worship. Prayer is just one way of expressing His worthiness and glory!
Mustard seed– for faith. Faith grows exponentially larger and stronger when it is tended. One seed of faith can produce a large plant, which in turn produced hundreds of new seeds. Don’t let the weight of doubt crush that little seed–it really is enough! Not because of the size of your faith, but because of the size of the One in whom it rests.
Horseradish/radishes– for bitterness and contrition. A Holy God can only be approached by those whose sins have been forgiven. God offers mercy and grace in abundance– for those who acknowledge their sin and wish to be restored in Grace. Confession and repentance should be a regular part of our prayer life… and this leads to..
Hyssop– for cleansing. King David prayed: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51: 7, 10) May we seek to have a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. And as we are cleansed, we will have…
Parsley– for gratitude and joy. Parsley brightens and garnishes; it brings a finishing touch and its bright green color suggests growth and abundance. Prayer should result in thankfulness and rejoicing as we enter into the very presence of the Giver of All Life.
Thyme–for, well, time. Take time every day to meet with God. Make both “quality time” and “quantity time” when you can, knowing that God wants to be part of your day, all day, every day.
Chives– for usefulness and peace. Chives add flavor and balance when used in cooking. Bring your daily tasks, your goals, even your everyday worries to God in prayer. Pray as you work, as you run, as you do useful things throughout the day. This will lead to peace and purpose.
Garlic– for strength and healing. Especially in times when people are experiencing sickness and confusion, prayer brings strength. As we pray for healing– physical, emotional, and spiritual– we cast our cares upon a Loving and Omnipotent God.
We’re getting ready to enter the Lenten season–six and a half weeks of reflection and preparation before Easter. Lent is not a celebration in the traditional sense– it is solemn and reflective, personal and, sometimes, painful. It is a time of getting “real” about our sinful condition. The Bible says we have all fallen short of the Glory and Holiness of God (Romans 3:10) and deserve God’s wrath. The natural consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and permanent separation from the goodness of God.
There are many ways we can react to this reality. I know many people who resent God’s Holiness and His laws. They do not want to face God’s righteous judgment; they believe that God’s laws are cruel and unjust, and that they do not have to answer to anyone greater then themselves.
Others want to bargain with God. They feel that if they relent– if they set a goal to do more good than harm, if they strive to be better than “the next guy”–God will weigh their good deeds in the balance and judge them in comparison with how bad they “might have been.”
But God doesn’t judge on a curve– He doesn’t judge us by our measure, but by His. And none of us “make the grade.”
If that were the final word– the end of the story– there would be no reason to relent, and it wouldn’t make any difference if we were resentful. But God, from the very beginning, designed a different outcome. His judgement is just, but it is not without hope or remedy. God Himself has given us the chance to change– to repent. Repentance is agreeing with (not resenting) God’s judgment, and responding (not bargaining) with changed behavior and a changed attitude.
Lent begins when we confront the great gulf between God’s Holiness and our sinfulness. It stretches through the realization that sin and its consequences surround us, hem us in, and poison our world. It is a time of sadness and gaping loss, when we long for healing, for hope, and for a home we’ve never seen. It is a time for reflecting on the cost involved–not just in human suffering, but in God’s suffering as a human. God, who could have, in His righteousness, destroyed even the memory of mankind, chose to share our sufferings– hunger, cold, exhaustion, rejection, heartbreak, betrayal, death– to that we could be delivered into everlasting life.
Lent ends as we remember Jesus’ death and burial– His ultimate sacrifice for our debt. It ends with a shattering trumpet-blast of hope and joy on Easter Morning. Our sadness and loss is NOT the end– Sin’s power and poison are illusory. They have no power over our Great God.
It can be tempting to respond to our present circumstances with resentment. It can be tempting to relent in our rebellion– trying to bargain with God, and minimize the cost He had to pay, trying to pay the price ourselves with a show of good behavior and a superficial devotion.
But God’s great Love and Mercy should draw us to worship and true devotion. As we reflect on the great gulf between sin and holiness, it should cause us to gladly repent– to lay on the altar all the substitutes and lesser things that keep us from full communion with the Lover of Our Souls.
Our prayers during this season may be difficult. They may be filled with grief, loss, and pain. But they may also be filled with hope and joy as we anticipate the gift of Grace. And they should be filled with praise. After all, Lent is a season; a season to reflect, a season to repent, a season to mourn, but a season with a beginning and an end; a season that gives way to celebration and a sure hope of resurrection!
I worked for many years at a public library doing pre-school story time programs. One of the favorite songs among the children was “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Children love rhymes, music, and movement, and this song involved all three. Children stood, ready to stretch and bend, point, and sing: “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Their hands flew from one body part to another as we sang, faster and faster. “Eyes and ears and mouth and nose; head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Faster and faster, louder and louder, the excitement growing, until the song ended in a breathless shout, “Knees and toes”!
Another favorite was the “Hokey Pokey”, in which we formed a circle and took turns “putting in” and “putting out” various limbs and body parts, “turning (ourselves) about” and clapping. We “put in” our right arms, our left legs, our heads, and “our whole selves.” From the earliest of ages, we become aware of the various parts of our bodies, their names and functions, and how they work together.
As God’s people, we are to be the “Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and our bodies are to be His temple(1 Corinthians 6:19). It is important that we recognize how every part of our body needs to be consecrated and ready to serve, to worship, and to reflect God’s Glory.
This is not a new concept. In fact, much of the book of Leviticus is given over to consecrating every aspect of the worship of God by His children. There are detailed instructions for the priests– how and when to enter the Tabernacle; what to wear, what kind of offerings to bring and how to prepare for service. One set of details involves the installation ceremony for the priests. They were to wash from head to toe, before putting on the sacred garments. They were to offer a blood sacrifice, and some of the blood was to be placed or smeared in three places– the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot (Leviticus 14:28).
Scholars through the years have given us many reasons for these detailed instructions (see this link for a terrific overview) https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ears-thumbs-and-toes/, and most of them bring out the idea that God wants us to worship and be consecrated “from head to toe.” God has authority over how we choose to use our ears, hands, and feet– He wants purity in our words and deeds. He wants us to listen to Him, obey Him, and follow Him.
The smearing of blood in these three areas also demonstrates a need for atonement– only blood can cover or atone for our lack of attentiveness, our lack of obedience, and our open rebellion against God’s authority. The blood of the ritual sacrifices in Leviticus are a foreshadowing of the ultimate atonement we receive from the sacrifice of the Only True Lamb, Jesus Christ. Christ takes away our sin, and consecrates us to His service and worship– from head to toe!
And, unlike the Hokey Pokey, THAT’S what it’s all about! God gives us His life and purity, His Grace and forgiveness, His divine purpose and eternal Glory when we “put our whole selves” in His hands, and He “turns us all about,” to become more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
A Psalm of David. 103 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. 17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them. 19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. 21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. 22 Bless the Lord, all His works, In all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Often in our churches, we focus on two factors of our relationship with Christ– worship and obedience. Worship focuses on His majesty and worth. Obedience focuses on His power and authority. But when the Psalmist speaks here, he is actually focusing on another element. Blessing isn’t so much about majesty or authority; it isn’t about obedience or worship. It is about communion. We bless and are blessed, not just by a word or deed, but by the speaker or doer–they bless us by what they say or do, but they ARE a blessing to us for who they are.
God is worthy of our worship and obedience, but he wants us to be a blessing– to come to him in Love and fellowship, and to be blessed by Who He Is as we meet with him.
Today, worship God. Obey Him. But let’s take time to bless Him and be blessed in return as we spend time with the Lover of Our Souls.