Monday, November 25, 2013

The Key


[Photo of the gate to the chancel of a cathedral]

 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”
 —Psalm 100:4

So many times in Scripture, especially in the Psalms, we are encouraged to “Give thanks to the Lord.” The Psalms also persuade us to “Praise the Lord” and to “Worship the Lord.”

To me, praise and worship stem from a mindset that understands to Whom we belong and also understands His greatness and power. We worship because God is worthy of our worship. And, we praise Him for His attributes and those universal benefits we receive from His magnificent grace and power.

To give thanks, however, brings praise to a personal level. In fact, I would like to assert that we open the door to God’s presence with thanksgiving. Has your heart ever felt cold and indifferent when you came to God in prayer? Certainly none of us can claim that we always come to God with the totality of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, even though He requires that of us.

May I suggest that, when you feel distant from your Lord, you consider beginning your prayer time with a round of thanksgiving. It doesn’t take long before our hearts engage more fully when we think how personally God has intervened in our lives, even during times when we wait and wonder at the way He leads us.

This idea has come to me through two passages of scripture. The first comes from Romans 1:21-32. Here the writer describes the wrath of God against wickedness, and the steps to the decline of evil in a person. The very first step downward in this list of sins is a lack of thanksgiving. Romans 1:21:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him.”

As you read the rest of the first chapter o Romans, you recognize with me that the sin only gets darker and deeper. One commentator uses the phrase: “…sin begets sin.” New sin heaps itself on existing sin.

You can find the other passage in which I read this kind of progression in Psalm 106. Here we find a record of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Interestingly enough, the Psalm begins with the admonition, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” When the psalmist recounts the history of the Jewish nation and recalls their sin, the very first thing the psalmist writes states in Psalm 106:7:

“When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles, they did not remember your many kindnesses.”

From there on, the list includes: rebellion, discontent, jealousy, idolatry, unbelief, apostasy, insurrection, and accommodation to the culture around them. This represents quite a list of terrible sins. But, please take note that not remembering the Lord and His goodness with thanksgiving first started them down the wrong path.

During this Thanksgiving week, I invite you to rediscover with me the wonderful way in which giving thanks provides the key that opens the gate, allows us to come into the very presence of our Lord, and allows us to experience anew His sweet Spirit.



Monday, November 18, 2013

Here Comes the Bride


[Photo of a woman and man opening a door]

 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
   was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
 —Revelation 19:6-9

Recently I received a thank-you note from a young bride for whose wedding I played the organ. She commented that everyone kept saying what a dramatic entrance she had made at the wedding. I did nothing out of the ordinary for her, because I always prepare the bridal professional with a fanfare and loud flourishes.

Her note has me thinking about the great Wedding of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:6-9, which I quoted at the beginning of this blog post.

Many times in Scripture, the Bride is regarded as the church prepared for her groom, Christ Himself. Such a fuss over the bride! It would seem that with Christ as the groom, the focus should be on Him. Yet here Scripture says that she has made herself ready in fine linen, bright and clean. Nothing is spoken of the Groom.

Psalm 45 is a wedding song. In verse 15, the bride is described as wearing gold and embroidered garments. She and her companions are:

“…led in with joy and gladness; they enter the palace of the king.”

Isaiah refers to the Bride in Isaiah 62:5:

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Something of the symbolism of Christ and His church has been lost in modern wedding ceremonies. In fact, like in the wedding ceremony I referred to earlier, there was neither prayer nor mention of Christ. No wonder this young bride was a bit surprised at her role in the wedding drama. Oh yes, the money and time and dreaming that young girls spend on that perfect dress still exists, but the real meaning of such a dress has been lost.

Recently I read of the Greek Orthodox tradition of crowns in their wedding ceremony. One of the elements of the service involves “crowning” in which the bride and groom receive crowns united by ribbon, representing their union in Christ. The priest says “Crown them with Glory and Honor.” The crowns also symbolize the heavenly crowns we receive when we enter paradise. They are a reminder that marriage involves “dying of self” in the same way that we die to self so that Christ can live in us. After the marriage ceremony, the crowns are typically displayed in a case above the bed as a constant reminder of the holy state of marriage.

The Apostle Paul also speaks of this symbolism in his letter found in Ephesians 5:25-28:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.”

Yes, Christ has chosen to put the emphasis on the Bride. He chose her, bought her with His own blood, brought her to a relationship with Himself, and waits to present her to the Heavenly Hosts and all creation.

I wonder what the music will sound like when we are presented to Him in the Heavenly Kingdom? Will it be dramatic? I would imagine it will!!



Monday, November 11, 2013



[Photo of a woman praying over her Bible]

 I reach out for you.
I thirst for you as parched land
thirsts for rain. Selah.
 —Psalm 143:6 NLT

How many times have I skipped over this little word “Selah” when reading the Scriptures! Yes, I rushed right by it without thinking. This word has caused many Christians to scratch their heads and just move on to more understandable English text.

The word, “Selah” is Hebrew, and translates best as “interlude” or “Pause and think about that!” Well, I guess we do just the opposite of its purpose when we rush right past the word in our reading.

The interlude, in music, creates a space between other things, like acts in an opera. In church music, the interlude gives worshipers the opportunity to pray and settle their thinking between other elements of a worship service. I like to think of it as the instrumental music between sung hymns or anthems.

“Selah” occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in the book of Habakkuk, another poetically composed book.

So, what should we consider about giving heed to this little word?

Of course, when we encounter a “Selah,” we should first pause in our reading and meditate on the passage before it, just as the text instructs.

But, even more importantly, I think we need to create “Selah moments” now and then in our busy lives. A daily “Selah”—and here I’m taking freedom and using the word as a noun—happens when we carve out time to meditate on God’s Word. Some have found value in a once-a-year retreat alone where she can spend the entire time focusing on God to nourish the soul.

My personal “Selahs” occur on New Year’s Day, birthdays, after big life events, like a death of a friend or relative. I purposefully allow extra time to consider what God is saying about this new page of life.

I think we bring pleasure to God when we take the time to be thankful, or to turn over a new leaf, or to listen to Him instead of hurrying before Him and making requests.

In this noisy, busy, non-stop world, I urge you to find a quiet place and enjoy the “Selah” moments. What a beautiful way to grow in our understanding and appreciation of all that God is and wants of us!



Monday, November 4, 2013

On the Road Again


[Photo of a woman hiking]

 “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promised. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
 —Hebrews 11:9-10

I admire Abraham. Nowhere does Scripture say that HE decided to leave Haran in Mesopotamia for a new place to live. He didn’t decide to “retire” to a Mediterranean villa where he could put his feet up and enjoy his old age.

Scripture does tell us in Genesis 12, that God called him and told him to leave his country, his people and his family and go to a land God would reveal. He was seventy-five years old, established in Haran with a large accumulation of possessions.

I admire Abraham. From the day he left Haran, he never had a permanent home again. The scripture says, “He lived in tents.” I don’t know about you, but the older I’ve become, the more I want my “creature comforts.” Starting over, traveling in less than ideal conditions, living in a tent, just don’t appeal to me anymore.

Somewhere in the last year or two, in response to my church situation, I formed the phrase, “Ever on the road—never home.”

We all crave stability and the comfort of home. We resemble the restless swallow of Psalm 84 that flits around looking for a place to have her young and often discovers that place near the altar of God’s house.

Yes, I admire Abraham. He obeyed God and set out in faith, not knowing where he was going. He did not have the provision of the Scriptures we have, the richness of the Psalms to encourage him, the stories of other heroes of faith we see in Hebrews 11. God commended him for good reason.

I, too, need to follow in faith, when I don’t know where I’m going or how long the journey will be, regardless of my age. Moses, probably also an old man, penned Psalm 90 which begins:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.”

He, too, knew an old age full of wandering and trusting God.

The Apostle Peter knew what it meant to feel “Ever on the road—never home.” In his first letter, he referred to Christians in 1 Peter 2:11 as:

“…aliens and strangers in the world.”

Similarly, the old gospel song states:

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue,”

Even if we have a sense of home and stability in our lives, we must remember that God never meant us to completely settle here. We can rejoice that He has given us a real home and that some day, we will all come to “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

On that great day, we’ll never be “on the road again”!