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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

It’s about the Heart

I was reading my Bible yesterday and was taken aback when I read these verses from the prophet Isaiah:

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; 4 I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.” – Isaiah 66:3-4

God is describing various acts of worship and how he views these acts of worship. Slaughtering an ox is an act of worship in the Tawrat (the law), but to God when these people slaughtered oxen it was like they were killing men. Pigs are just as unclean in Judaism as they are in Islam. Imagine someone coming to the temple to worship God and then offering pig’s blood as a sacrificial gift. Blasphemous! And yet their grain offerings were equivalent to this.

What was the problem here? The problem was not that they were failing to offer acts of worship. The problem was their hearts. Even though they “obeyed” God by “worshiping” him, they had actually chosen their own sinful ways and delighted in their sinful abominations. Theirs hearts were far from God. As the Messiah said in the Injil (he was quoting Isaiah!), “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Gospel according to Mark 7:6).

I think this is true today more often than we realize. Look at these pictures:

How many of the people here are only performing acts of worship while their hearts are elsewhere? How many are simply going through the motions?

Perhaps we should come closer to home and examine our own hearts. How often is your worship mingled with unholy thoughts? How often are you going through the motions while your heart is full of anger? or full of lust? or full of greed? or full of discontent? or . . .?

When we come before the Holy Creator of the universe, we ought not be so presumptuous to think that he won’t mind when our actions say he is great, but our hearts and minds reveal the opposite.

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Coldplay and God

I had the pleasure of seeing Coldplay in St Paul last Saturday. It was a great show. Not only did Coldplay do a phenomenal job, but God really met me in this concert and helped me worship him. Here are a few things God was teaching me at the concert.

1. Excellence. Watching and listening to Coldplay inspired me to excellence (the Olympics also did this for me). If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I was inspired to work harder and pursue greater excellence in what I do.

2. Gratitude. God gave me ears to hear great music. He gave me eyes to watch a spectacular show. He gave us creativity to create great music and stunning light shows. I felt really grateful for how God had made us to enjoy things with our senses.

3. Community. I enjoyed the show much more because I was part of a large community of people. It would have been a very different experience if I had listened to all the same songs by myself in my home. The music would still have been great, but the experience would have been much less enjoyable. Even if I had been able to watch the whole concert in the stadium, if I was alone it wouldn’t have been as good. The joy of those around me increased my enjoyment.

4. Heaven. God is better than Coldplay. It was a great concert, but heaven will be better. Much better. I really enjoyed this show and I kept thinking about how much greater it will be we are all centered around the throne of God rather than a stage of musicians.

5. Social media. All over the stadium people were recording videos and snapping pictures. This was good. But some of these people were also posting to Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging others. I think that in our society of social media we can become so eager to share our experiences with others that we actually don’t truly enjoy and enter into the experience at hand. It is as if we are outside of ourselves describing the experience to another rather than simply enjoying the experience.

6. Humility. I don’t know if the members of Coldplay are humble are not, but during the concert they seemed genuinely grateful for their fans. It was as if they knew they were dependent on the fans. Many celebrities have become so consumed with themselves they don’t recognize that pretending to be someone else (actors), singing a song, shooting a basket, or kicking a goal really aren’t that big a deal. Many people we’ve never heard of are doing much more important and lasting things. Coldplay, though, seemed genuinely humble. This encouraged me to be humble as well.

Here is a Coldplay video that my kids really liked:

Here is a video my friend took during the concert:

 

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Defilement is dangerous; the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 from the Bible makes this plain. He was helping move the ark of God to Jerusalem (the ark was a box that contained the 10 commandments from the Tawrat written by God on tablets and given to Moses). The ark was put in an ox cart and they were merrily making their way. “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled” (2 Samuel 6:6).

His desire was noble. The ark was holy, for it contained the very word of God. He did not want it to fall onto the ground. The problem was that he did not take into account the holiness of God and his commands regarding who could come near to him and in what way.

Touching the ark was off limits, especially for a non-Levite.1 The ark was the symbol of God’s presence and therefore the holiest thing on earth. Uzzah was not only disobeying the clear commands of scripture regarding who could carry the ark, but he was also wrong to presume he was properly purified and consecrated to even touch the ark. God’s holy judgment was swift and severe, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).

Approaching the holy while unclean or unconsecrated is deadly. One cannot simply presume to enter the Holy One’s presence. To enter God’s presence we must be made ready and we must enter through the way he has provided, that is, through the cleansing and forgiveness that God provides in the sacrifices. Worship is truly weighty, for it is a matter of life and death. If the priests failed to be purified from their defilements before worshipping the Lord, they would be cut off from his people, that is, they would be cut off from God himself.2

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1. The Levites were the tribe of Israel that had been commanded by God to be the ones who were responsible for leading worship and caring for all the elements involved in worship. Among the Levites, only the Kohathites could actually carry the ark. However, even they were not allowed to touch it. God makes this clear in the Tawrat in Numbers 4:15, “the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.”

2. Speaking of the priests, the Tawrat says, “The person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 7:20).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Christians in the West rejoice that they are forgiven of sins and declared righteous before God. For many, this is the gospel. There is no thought about being unclean or impure. There is no felt need to have defilement removed. Other cultures, however, live daily with the truth that we are defiled and in need of cleansing, especially if we hope to approach God. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, but before each prayer they must perform ablution (wudu [الوضوء‎]) to cleanse themselves and be ready to enter the presence of God. This is also necessary before one even touches the Qur’an let alone reads it. Purification is a necessary and real everyday issue for 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.1

Muslims are right to believe they must be cleansed before coming to God in worship. Many Christians, though, don’t see the need for such cleansing. My Muslim friends have helped me see this need. Being in their culture has helped me read the Bible with new eyes. Now I see what was plainly there.

God is pure and holy. We are in mortal and eternal danger if we seek to approach him while undefiled. My first goal in this series of posts is to help us all see the need for cleansing before approaching God in worship. My second goal is to help us see how God makes us clean through Jesus the Messiah. Through Jesus we are able to receive a once and for all cleansing that changes our lives and the way we approach God. Simply put, we are made forever fit for worship.

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1. The Qur’an says in Surat Al Baqara [2]:222, “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” In one of the hadiths (the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Muhammad said, “Purification is one half of faith” (Quoted in Hajjah Durriah Al-Aytah, Jurisprudence of Worship: According to the Shafi’i School of Thought, Translated by Dr. Lama Al-Jabban [No publisher. 1999], 14).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Jesus Christ Died

No doubt, many of you are already protesting that he didn’t die. I know what Islam teaches regarding this. But as a follower of Jesus who believes the Injil we have today is the accurate and unchanged word of God I have to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died because the Injil so clearly teaches it.

Today is Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died. Some Christians act as though it is a day of sadness because the Messiah died. It is not a day of sadness. It is a day of rejoicing. In fact, the prophet David wrote this about the day of the Messiah’s death in the Zabur:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:22-24

The Injil makes clear that this cornterstone is Jesus Christ (see Mark 12:10-11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-7). His rejection is from God. Certainly God could have protected the Messiah; here is no doubt about that. But what if God wanted Jesus to die as part of his great plan to bring glory to himself by defeating Satan and removing his people’s sin? Jesus Christ did not die apart from God’s will; he died because of it: “This is the Lord’s doing.”

So we call this day Good because on it the Lord did a marvelous thing. Through the death of his beloved servant he accomplished salvation for all who would believe. Let us rejoice in this day!

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Lack Peace of Mind? Pray!

From The Works of God:

D.A. Carson, on God and prayer in the midst of suffering:

The degree of our peace of mind is tied to our prayer life (Phil. 4:6-7). This is not because prayer is psychologically soothing, but because we address a prayer-answering God, a personal God, a responding God, a sovereign God whom we can trust with the outcomes of life’s confusions. And we learn, with time, that if God in this or that instance does not choose to take away the suffering, or utterly remove the evil, he does send grace and power. The result is praise; and that, of course, is itself enjoyable, in exactly the same way that lovers enjoy giving each other compliments.

I cannot tell you how many times I have visited some senior saint who is going through serious suffering, perhaps terminal illness, only to come away feeling that it was I who benefited from exposure to a believer who was already living in the felt presence of God.

D.A. Carson, How Long, Oh Lord? p. 217-218.

 

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From Vitamin Z:

“Most people in the world believe that if there is a God, you related to God by being good. Most religions are based on that principle, though there are a million different variations on it. Some religions are what you might call nationalistic: You connect to God, they say, by coming into our people group and taking on the markers of society membership. Other religions are spiritualistic: You reach God by working your way through certain transformations of consciousness. Yet other religions are legalistic: There’s a code of conduct, and if you follow it God will look upon you with favor. But they all have the same logic: If I perform, if I obey, I’m accepted. The gospel of Jesus is not only different from that but diametrically opposed to it: I’m fully accepted in Jesus Christ, and therefore I obey.”

- Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus

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The Holiness of God

When I was in college, God used The Holiness of God by RC Sproul to rock my world. It was the first book of any theological substance that I had read. Before reading that book my theological understanding of God was about an inch deep. That book was like a meteor that crashed into my world and left a theological imprint a mile deep. It was seeing the holiness of God through this book that started my love for theology. Once I had seen a glimpse of God’s greatness I wanted more. Since then I’ve studied the biblical languages, read the Bible many many times and read lots of other theology books. But it all started with The Holiness of God.

This month you can get the audio book for free from Christianaudio.com.

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The Prophet Noah

Because we named our new son after the prophet Noah, I have spent some time reading the story of Noah and thinking about ways I can be praying for our son from the things I see in his life. As I have read the prophet Noah’s story (in the Bible it is found in Genesis 6-9), I have pulled out five things that I am praying for our Noah.

1. Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD

Noah lived during days of great wickedness. The Bible says, “The LORD saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God determined to judge the people of the earth for their wickedness, but he would save Noah, for “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).

2. Noah did all that God commanded him

God gave Noah the crazy command to build a giant boat in the middle of the desert. I cannot imagine the kind of ridicule he must have faced as he built that boat far from any water. It was not a small act of obedience and it was not a simple act that Noah could accomplish in a day and then go on being “normal.” It would have required lots of resources, lots of enduring of ridicule, and lots of faith. What was his response? “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22).

3. God remembered Noah

After the ark was completed God told Noah to get on with his family and all of the animals. Then the Lord shut him in and it began to rain and rain and rain. It rained so much that the entire world was flooded and all living things, animals and people, were destroyed. It was catastrophic. And there was Noah and his family floating on a truly endless sea. God did not forget him. “But God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). He caused a wind to blow over the earth so that the waters subsided, the ark settled on dry ground and Noah and his family were able to come safely out.

4. God blessed Noah

After Noah came out of the ark, his first act was to build an altar and worship the Lord. God promised that he would never again curse the ground because of man. “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1).

5. God established his covenant with Noah

The covenant God made was to never again destroy every living creature. It was a covenant of life. It was a promise of life. I am still amazed that God would come to our level and actually make covenants with us, that he would bind himself to promises made to creatures.

So I am praying:

  1. My Noah will find favor in the eyes of the LORD, that God will be pleased with him.
  2. My Noah will obey all that God commands even when others might thing he is crazy.
  3. God will remember Noah, that in the midst of all he encounters in his life the Lord will remember him and then act to bring salvation, deliverance and good into his life.
  4. God will bless Noah (see my posts on God’s blessing for what I mean by this [Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4]).
  5. God will establish his covenant with Noah and specifically that it would give him the new covenant promises so that Noah will be among his people and God will be his God, that Noah will experience the full blessing of all of God’s promises that are yes in Christ Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 1:20).

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The Prophets’ Story

The following video is a great telling of the story of the prophets leading up to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary.

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