You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—Col 3:9b-10 NASB

Renewed.   That word has never had much force for me. Remember the dryer setting called Air Fluff? It was a setting with no heat, a gentle tossing, designed to freshen linens that had been in storage, or perhaps to fluff a pillow that had gotten flat and worn over time. That’s what the word renew makes me think of—fluffing up, maybe the addition of a little scent, designed to make something that is a bit stale seem fresher.

But in the margin of my Bible, there is a note about that word renewed. It says:
“Literally: renovated.”

Renovated? Well, that gives me a completely different idea! We renovated our kitchen this winter, and it certainly wasn’t a fluff job. The cabinets were torn out, the walls stripped down to bare studs, the windows and door replaced…even the ceiling and floor didn’t escape the purge! My husband worked for many long hours, and the transformation was dramatic. Now it looks absolutely nothing like the old room, even though the outside shell is still the same. Not only are the colors and finishes brighter, but it is completely different to work in. The cabinet doors close properly. There is light where once there were dark corners. The new insulation in the walls makes it warm instead of cold and drafty. There is a spacious feel when before it was cramped. It is simply a different room!

When I look at the passage above, I realize that Renew is actually a perfectly good word—it means “made new,” after all—but I simply hadn’t thought of it in quite that way. Renewal isn’t the ka-chunk of a library stamp or the click of mouse button. It’s not just writing a check in order to receive another year’s subscription to Reader’s Digest. Renewal is a complete makeover! It’s ripping out the old stuff and installing brand new! The Complete Jewish Bible words the end of verse 9 more strongly: “you have stripped away the old self, with its ways.” Stripped away! There is definitely more ‘oomph’ there…a bit more intense than “laid aside,” isn’t it?

But not only is this process a complete destruction of the old you and putting on a whole new you. It also says that the new self is being renewed! God isn’t content to simply give you a “new You”—He is constantly working on that new self, too, making it even better. I also really like the CJB interpretation of verse 10.

“and have put on the new self which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.”
Col 3:10     Complete Jewish Bible

God isn’t content with a one-time makeover. He isn’t finished with the remodel job. He keeps working on us all our lives.

…fuller and fuller knowledge
…closer and closer to the image of our Creator.

Yes, Lord.   That is exactly, exactly what I want!

Renovate me!
Make a new “me”…not just once, but continually.
Teach me more and more.
Transform me again and again.
Bring me closer and closer to Your Image!

Yes, Lord.

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Isn’t it strange how a well-intentioned thing can become a distraction?

This morning I was knocked flat by my Bible study. I was finding truth after truth that hit me squarely between the eyes. I was sort of reeling at all the things God had shown me.   It was overwhelming, but in a good way.   There was just so much in the lesson that seemed to have been written exactly for ME. I wrote and I underlined and I marveled and I repented.

As I read the commentary, I drew a box around a sentence that really spoke to me. As I was finishing the lesson, I looked back over all the things I had underlined and starred, and my eyes were drawn to that box.   I admired the way it looked, the style of the lines, and realized that it would make a great little piece of clip art. I wished that it hadn’t been simply scrawled in the margin of my book, but that I had drawn it separately so that…

Wait. It’s a BOX. It’s a simple little collection of lines that was intended to draw my eyes back to the thought that it contained. It drew my eyes all right, but where did that lead? I began to admire the work of my hands rather than the Truth.

Scrawled square

It’s crazy how innovative the enemy is. The sentence in that box was this: “Satan persists where a stronghold exists.” And he managed, for a couple of minutes there, to persist. Satan coaxed me to take my eye off the principle and set it on the peripheral. Like a movable traffic barrier, this marking that was intended to guide me in the right Way was repositioned as a roadblock to direct me elsewhere. He found a stronghold in a few hastily scratched lines—a trap I would not have even suspected. I hadn’t planned for it to be artsy, had taken no time for it.   When I made the box, I was focused on the words, not my pencil, but it became something that tripped me.
How often does this happen? And I don’t mean just on paper. Are there projects that are begun in an effort to do God’s work, yet they somehow take on a life of their own and the framework of the ministry becomes the main focus, rather than the souls it was intended to reach?   Do I ever get hung up on external trappings and forget that God judges my heart?

This was such a small thing, but eye-opening. It was a good reminder to discern, to constantly check my navigation, to take my thoughts captive, keep them steadfast on Him.

Am I focused on the frame or on the Framer?

Lord, keep my eyes on YOU.

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Why Evil?

Why Evil?

Why does God allow it?

God is perfectly good, so I have heard it said that He could not create evil. I am wondering how that can possibly be true. God is the Creator of everything. It is He who gives life to all living things, who gives form to every star and every stone, He is the essence of all things. He is omnipotent, all-knowing, and eternal.   He could certainly wipe out all evil in a moment. Therefore, God has a reason for allowing evil to exist.

Without God, no man draws a breath. The Creator opens and closes the womb. Life and death are decided by Him. The wind and the seas obey His command, and the earth hangs suspended in space because He spoke it into being. So logically He has perfect control over evil. It is the exact opposite of all that He is, and yet He allows it to be.

He granted men free will, but without the existence of evil, there can be no free will. How could one choose evil if it did not exist? So why? Why evil?

Evil existed from the very beginning. If there had been no evil, Satan could not have rebelled against God. Adam and Eve could not have given in to temptation. God created angels and men with the capacity for evil, which He wouldn’t have needed to include in the their composition at all. Therefore, God has a purpose in evil.

It’s an unsettling thought, but I can’t make the logic work any other way. To say that God has no part in evil is to say that He cannot stop it, and my view of an omnipotent God simply doesn’t allow for that. God is perfectly good, and yet He allows evil.  Why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Who Am I?

God told Moses, “Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go!”  Exodus 3

Yeah. Just imagine God speaking to your eighty-year-old quietly comfortable self and saying, Okay, now, let’s get moving. I want you to go talk to this tyrant king and boss him around. Take away all his slaves and lead them to another country.

It’s hard to even imagine. Surely we can understand why Moses seemed a bit hesitant. In his younger years, Moses had been on fire to mete out justice for God’s people, (Ex 2:11-12) but at this point he had been living quietly in the back country for forty years. Though he had received an excellent education and understood life in the palace, he surely thought he had left that life forever. When he had fled the country with Pharaoh’s execution orders hanging over his head, he probably didn’t plan to return, and certainly didn’t ever want to attract the attention of Pharaoh again. Besides that, his Israelite brothers hadn’t been very happy with him either!

And so he said it. Humbly.   “Um, Lord? Who am I to do a thing like that?”

God’s response? “I will certainly be with you!”

Moses wasn’t completely reassured. “But why would they listen to me? I can say You sent me, but they’re going to ask me who YOU are!”

And God said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Of course, we can’t really wrap our minds around “I AM.”   It encompasses past, present and future tense:   I was, I am, I will be, I began being, I encompass all being, and I never have any end. His Being is beyond the understanding of our tiny minds.

I see myself in my wilderness years, quietly comfortable and seeming to accomplish nothing of any importance. It becomes easier and easier to expect very little from myself.   And yet, reading about Moses, I realize that God could decide at any time to call me from my lethargy, to give me a charge.

And my response to that thought is like that of Moses—Who am I?

And the answer is clear. Who I am is irrelevant.
What matters is Who is within me. The I AM.

Who am I? No one.

Whose am I? The great, the all-powerful, the all-knowing, the indescribable, uncontainable, unfathomable I AM.

I am His.

It makes me think of this beautiful song.

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What is Worship, Part 2

Perhaps you can remember a time when God drew very close to you, almost seeming to whisper in your ear, a time when light seemed to fill your very being and every cell in your body felt vibrantly and vividly alive? And you were overcome with a joy that you can’t explain or describe, but it felt as if you had just received the sweetest gift ever, and you simply couldn’t express the overwhelming gratitude that flooded you.   Those mountaintop experiences are the ones that we remember and wish to experience again, and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful form of worship.

And then I wonder…should we expect that kind of closeness with God whenever believers gather?   Or are corporate worship and personal worship two completely separate things? Are we simply trying to manufacture something of our own when we expect to slip into a heightened feeling during church worship time? There have been many instances where the Spirit of God has fallen onto a person and caused them to speak or act for Him, but are we supposed to be seeking that when we gather in His name? Some groups believe that if you have never spoken in tongues, then you aren’t saved. They see that as the evidence of a changed heart.   Others have their own evidences and expectations that a new convert should follow. But could we be putting too much trust in what our eyes see (which could possibly be what our own hearts and minds manufacture) as opposed to the heart that God sees? Do we put pressure on ourselves to look and act as others do in order to confirm our spiritual standing? Do you find yourself closing your eyes, raising your hands, nodding your head, saying “Amen” or ”Alleluia” as a habit rather than a true affirmation of God’s message in your heart? Do you try to attain a blissful oneness with God (and complete unconsciousness of other people) during the worship time?

–Do you ever feel that maybe you’re trying too hard?

Perhaps corporate worship is more for proclaiming the gospel, for questions and answers and discussion of ideas, rather than actual ethereal worship (an otherworldly experience.) Of course it happened at Pentecost and at other times that many people spoke in tongues or were otherwise overcome by the Spirit, seeming almost to be drunk, but there is no doubt that was an exception rather than an everyday occurrence.

I guess the point I am getting around to is this: Has the feeling of ethereal worship become an idol? Could it be possible that, in our quest for something greater, we have pursued the feeling rather than the reality? Are we wishing for a “high” from worship rather than simply serving God and showing our devotion to Him? And has that desire actually short-circuited the worship experience?  Are there people drifting from one church to another searching for a certain surge of emotion?

Most of us attend a worship service on Sunday. Did you ever stop to think why it is called a “service?” The dictionary defines service as “a helpful act” or “the performance of a duty.”   Isn’t it odd that we use the word, yet we recoil from that meaning? The King James Bible uses the word service in Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. In most modern translations, that word service is translated as worship. Worship is not necessarily a euphoric feeling. It can be, but it’s not always. It’s not for the purpose of having a good time. It’s not about sitting under stained glass, following a prescribed order of events, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, saying words in unison or singing in harmony.   It’s about yielding ourselves to God and allowing His Spirit to fill us. Worship isn’t receiving—it’s about giving.

If you’re not feeling close to God during worship, the problem is not the pastor or the songs or the church you attend. It’s YOU. You haven’t gotten yourself out of the way. You are trying to obtain a feeling rather than give up your will.

The euphoria I have described is a beautiful thing and very much to be desired, but there are many other aspects of worship that are just as vital. Remember Romans 12:1? Offering your body as a living sacrifice is worship! What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? It means to serve selflessly. It means that even when I really want to just relax, I will read that same story to my two-year-old for the twenty-fourth time this week. It means when I am racing to get home, I stop to talk with an older person who is in no hurry at all. Selflessness means that I give up my wishes when outnumbered (or outranked) even though I am sure that my plan would be better.

Those aren’t exhilarating experiences at all. There’s nothing thrilling about giving up my plans and doing things I don’t want to do. It’s more like drudgery, and sometimes really frustrating.   The feelings aren’t what make it worship. Sometimes it’s just… performing a duty. This isn’t at all what we think of when we talk about worship.   But God calls it worship.

And sometimes, if we truly give up our selfishness and instead give ourselves, we do receive a burst of that much-coveted joy that is true worship. Yielding myself to God and allowing Him to work through me –a living sacrifice–IS my worship.

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

I’ve heard this question asked before and sort of dismissed it.   Well…duh. It’s putting something/someone above everything/everyone else. It just didn’t seem like much of a question to me. I mean, I’ve always known that worship isn’t just the music on Sunday. Worship is a way of life. It’s what you focus on.

But today the exact same question hit me in a different way.   Have you ever had that happen?   It’s a strange thing… Same words, but after reading Isaiah 44:9-20 and thinking seriously about idolatry and how it affects us today, I was faced with these words in Isaiah 2:8.

Their land has also been filled with idols;
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made. 

And then in my Bible study came that question, What IS worship? What does it mean to worship the work of your hands? And suddenly, it was a new question for me. I had always thought it was asking, “What is the dictionary definition?”   But suddenly I was faced not with the abstract What, but instead with the hands-on How. HOW do we worship? What does it looks like, feel like, to worship? What is our method?

“To worship the work of your hands” naturally leads us to think of our work.   Businesses and careers can certainly become idols. When you think of the job constantly and make that the center of your existence, you begin to sacrifice other good things in order to focus on your work.   I would guess that many successful business people are guilty of some degree of idolatry. When you sit in church and plan the week ahead in your mind, it’s time for a heart check. 

Lifestyles vary, but this is a very common theme. I once heard of a woman whose spotless, perfectly decorated home had become her idol. Her children played outside, and she rarely allowed them to spend much time indoors because they messed up her clean floors. Her neighbors remember the children knocking on the door of their home asking to come in, but being refused. Her children remember that, too—with bitterness. When relationships suffer because of time and attention devoted to other things, it’s a good time to check for idols.

In years past, Christians heard quite a lot of admonitions about pride. Lately, that has become a much less common theme, but there’s no escaping the fact that pride is an abomination to God and we shouldn’t allow it in our lives. Pride is most definitely wrong, giving credit to ourselves for something God has accomplished.

But is that worship? I never bow down to myself or sing songs to myself or tell myself how much I adore me, nor do I set out sacrifices or offerings to show myself how eager I am to serve me. So those words and actions aren’t really the crux of worship, are they? Those are just the trappings.

I heard a message this weekend about how we have lost, to a degree, the awe that people once had for God. Many people portray God as just a good buddy with cool super powers, rather than an omnipotent Creator of the Universe who holds all life in His hands—a fearsome God who we could never possibly please on our own. I think we may have lost, at the same time, our understanding of worship. When worship becomes the singing of love songs and an inspirational speech, we have missed the real point. It becomes something we do for us, to receive a particular feeling, rather than something we offer to God in thanksgiving.

So how exactly should we worship God? What are the things that comprise true worship? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’ll post more of mine in a day or two when I have sorted them out a bit better..

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False Gods?

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”  Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”  So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”                             Exodus 32:1-8

 The people had gotten tired of waiting. This man Moses had disappeared. Perhaps he had encountered a wild beast up on the mountain. It had been over five weeks now, and that was a long time—how long could they just hang around waiting on him? They were bored. Nothing was happening. This God had evidently deserted them.

We understand that. I think we all get bored with waiting on God at times. It’s hard to just…wait. The thing we have more trouble understanding today is the eagerness with which the people accepted this new god. After watching Aaron melt down their jewelry and re-shape it, they immediately proclaimed the calf a god and proceeded to make offerings and have a celebration.

Moses was enraged when he saw the people in their ‘play,’– so angry that he broke the most precious things he had ever held, tablets that God had engraved with his own hand. Have you ever wondered why he reacted so violently? While he was up on the mountain, God had already told him that the people were worshiping a golden calf. He surely was expecting that. So why the eruption of rage?

I think there is a clue in verse 25–Moses saw that the people were out of control. The different Bible versions have widely varying translations, (click here to see them) so it’s not exactly clear what the people’s ‘play’ consisted of. Several versions refer to nakedness, some imply sexual immorality, and all of them refer to some type of lawlessness—running wild, breaking loose, out of control. In other words, not only were the people of Israel sacrificing to and worshiping a false god, but they were also doing it in a way that was an abomination to the true God.

2 Chronicles 33 has an interesting message. Manasseh had been a very bad king. He had “misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.” God was very angry with him, yet instead of destroying Manasseh, He gave him another chance. When Manasseh was captured by his enemies and in great distress, he humbled himself, and then “Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”   The released and newly repentant king set to work and strengthened his kingdom. He got rid of the idols he had placed in the temple and

16 He set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the Lord their God. 

Did you catch that? They were worshiping the one true God…in the high places. The places that had been created and dedicated to false gods.   Just in case you think that may be acceptable, notice what we’re told about the next king, Josiah.

While he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.

So those who had been worshiping the true God in the high places had been doing so before false gods. Manasseh had gotten the idols out of the temple, but he hadn’t done away with them. They were still very present.

Are we guilty of doing that today? Could there be remnants of other gods present even in our churches today? Have we failed to destroy the old idols, maybe even incorporating them into our worship of the one true God? Do we make excuses, as Aaron did? “You know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us ” (Ex. 32:22-23) In other words, Aaron was saying, “You know how they are. We need to keep them busy here so that they don’t wander off and hang out with the heathen. I was just trying to keep them happy.”

Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t so very far from that unquestioning acceptance of another god as we would like to think. To the followers of Moses, including Aaron, the adoring worship of lifeless things was perfectly normal. After all, they had spent their entire lives in Egypt, where that was the common and accepted thing, quite ordinary and rational. They didn’t see it as a huge departure from what they had been doing already. They still made sacrifices and feasted, just with a slightly different twist, in a way that seemed fun and exciting. They may very well have seen that calf as the same god they had been worshiping all along, equivalent with the pillar that led them. Remember they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” In their culture, gods took many different forms.   It probably was easy to rationalize the change.

We still have widespread gods in our world. The difference is that most people no longer admit that they worship. They simply are ‘fans,’ they ‘follow’ or are ‘into’ various endeavors. They don’t see that their passion often IS worship. My question is…could we possibly be bringing things into our churches that are introducing other gods without even being aware of it?

I realize this idea could be taken a lot of different ways, and I’m certainly not going to give a list of offenders or call out particular practices as false gods, because I don’t know, but it’s food for thought. Are we bored with waiting on God and looking for a new way to worship Him? Do we ever look in the wrong places? Sometimes I wonder.

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