How Well Do We Celebrate God?

The prophet Amos had some condemning words for the people of Israel. Through Amos, God unleashed a lament against his chosen people. He says he despises their religious festivals, and their assemblies are a stench to him. Yeah, I get that. Those people sure rebelled against God; they deserved his stern rebuke. They went through the motions of worship but forgot to focus on why; to their shame they didn’t really understand who God is.

Yet, I wonder if those words also apply to us today. Does God also despise our efforts at church? Are our gatherings a stench to him?

God continues his stinging reproach. He calls their songs noise and refuses to listen to their music. Does God think the same way about our worship music today? Does our preoccupation with music style, instrument selection, volume level, worship team, and pursuit of excellence repeal God? I hope not, but I fear it might be so.

A couple chapters later God says what he will do. He will turn their religious celebrations into mourning; he will change their singing into tears.

Sometimes (too often) I sit in church and want to cry, at least on the inside. I thought this was because I was bored and disconnected, but now I wonder if maybe God isn’t revealing a bit of his heart to me.

I fear there is more to worshiping God, so much more, but we largely miss it.

[Amos 5:21, Amos 5:23, Amos 8:10]

Worshiping Modern-Day Idols

The prophet Habakkuk, like many Old Testament mouthpieces for God, talked about the folly of a person who fashioned an object and then turned around to worship it. In essence, these ancient people would make something less them themselves and then revere it as something more. They would turn a log, a rock, or something they created into their god, an inanimate object they bowed down to, worshiped, and served. How foolish.

The idea of man making an object and then worshiping it seems ludicrous, yet are we any different today? It’s now fashionable to conceive of God as we want him to be. We keep the parts we like and throw away the parts we don’t. We assign him traits that don’t belong and ignore what does.

Modern culture often makes God into who we want him to be. Is that any less ridiculous than bowing down to an image made from wood or stone? Can a god concocted in our minds save us any more than a god fashioned with our hands?

[Habakkuk 2:18]

Celebrate Jesus Throughout the Year

Yesterday was Christmas. Many people went to church to acknowledge the Christ behind Christmas and even more celebrated Jesus in other ways. For my family, the day marked the last of four celebrations.

Now Christmas is over; we put it behind us for another year.

Yet long ago, Isaiah looked forward to Christmas, anticipating what was to come with these familiar words:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Christmas may be over, but the celebration of Jesus continues.

Thank you Jesus for who you are and what you did.

[Isaiah 9:6]

The 2014 Bible reading plans are now available:

Two Kinds of Fasts

A curious phrase pops up in the book of Joel: holy fast.

A fast is going without something, such as food, to draw closer to God. By implication it should be a holy act, so why does the prophet Joel make a point of specifying a holy fast?

I wonder if it might be because the people lost sight of why they were fasting. Perhaps they were going through the motions and forgot the God focus of their fast.

When done for the right reasons, a fast is a physical denial that elevates our spiritual awareness. When done for the wrong reasons, a fast is a physical denial that just makes us feel deprived, forgoing any spiritual benefit. I guess that would make it an unholy fast, secular and meaningless.

If you practice the discipline of fasting, may it be for the right reasons. If you’ve not experienced a fast, I encourage you to consider it.

Either way, may you fast well, may it be a holy fast.

[Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:15]

The 2014 Bible reading plans are now available:

Who is the Son of Man?

The phrase “son of man” occurs in 178 verses in the Bible. Sometimes it’s written as “son of man” and other times, as “Son of man.”

When used as Son of man, the references are to Jesus, as seen in all four gospels (28 times in Matthew; 13 times in Mark; 25 times in Luke; and 12 times in John). It’s also written this way in Psalm 80:17, Daniel 7:13, and Acts 7:56, again implying Jesus.

Additionally, I understand “Son of man” as a euphemism for Son of God, which occurs 41 times throughout the New Testament and is in all four Gospels, all referencing Jesus.

What’s really interesting is the use of son of man. It’s used 93 times in the book of Ezekiel as God’s pet name for his prophet. But God also uses this as a name for Daniel (Daniel 8:17).

Three other mentions of son of man are in Hebrews 2:6, Revelation 1:13, and Revelation 14:14, which somewhat seems to straddle these two understandings of the phrase.

So, how can the Son of man refer to Jesus, while son of man refer to people?

Here are my thoughts: Jesus is the only son of God. We, as his church, are his bride. Therefore, through this spiritual marriage, we also become children of God, that is, sons of God, or to slide back into the euphemism, sons of man.

Do Ezekiel’s Words in the Bible Apply to Us Today?

Ezekiel was a prophet at a time when the people had little to do with God. God told him what to say and do. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would physically move Ezekiel to show him things.

In Ezekiel 18, God grabbed his prophet by the hair, lifted him up, and brought him to the outer court in Jerusalem and then later to the entrance of the temple. There, at the temple, Ezekiel saw men literally turn their back to God and bow to gods in the east.

God detested what they were doing. By seeking other things to worship, they aroused his anger. So, he ignored them, to “not look on them with pity.” Despite their shouts, God said he would “not listen to them.”

Consider this carefully: In our churches today, do we do things that God detests? Do our actions arouse him to anger? Do we cause him to ignore us?

Certainly, we would say, “no.” But when God seems distant, when he doesn’t listen to our pleas, I wonder if we might be the cause.

[Ezekiel 8:3 and Ezekiel 8:16-18]

Happy Thanksgiving

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a time to give thanks for all we have. However, it’s morphed into a day of eating too much, watching football on television, and maybe even starting Christmas shopping. No matter where you live or what you’re doing today, take a moment to thank God for what he’s done in your life over the past year and how he’s cared for you.

As we do this, we might want to consider what the Bible says about thanksgiving. The word “thanksgiving” occurs twenty-two times in the Bible (thirty, if you include the headings that were added later).

Leviticus mentions offerings of thanksgiving.

In Ezra and Nehemiah, there is much thanksgiving as the people return to their homeland and rebuild the city.

Of course, Psalms uses the word, too.

Even the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, which have little to celebrate, both mention thanksgiving, albeit as a future event.

Lastly, many of Paul’s letters include thanksgiving in them.

May you and your family have a happy thanksgiving!

God’s Creative Force

Jeremiah provides a succinct summary of God’s creative force: power, knowledge, and wisdom. Through it, he established the entire universe, our physical realm of existence.

Power: God is a god of power. He is all-powerful, that is, almighty; he is omnipotent. There’s nothing he can’t do; nothing is too big for him, too complicated, or too hard. He unleashed his unlimited power to create us, our world, and the universe we live in. How he did it doesn’t matter, but he was there at the beginning and before the beginning, creating our temporal reality out of his power.

Knowledge: Power without knowledge is, at best, a wasted effort; at worst, it is a tragedy. Fortunately, God is also a god of knowledge. He knows all things; nothing is beyond his comprehension; he is omniscient. Creation is birthed by his power and through his knowledge.

Wisdom: Without wisdom, knowledge and power have no purpose. God is wisdom; he exemplifies the ultimate in understanding. Wisdom guides power and informs knowledge to create something truly marvelous. In his wisdom he made all things, working perfectly together in the ultimate masterpiece.

We are an amazing creation, living on an amazing world, stationed in an amazing universe. We applaud God for making it all, using equal parts power, knowledge, and wisdom.

Thank you, God. You are awesome.

[Jeremiah 51:15]

Is God Your Fortress, Stronghold, Deliverer, and Shield?

Some of the Psalms are a lament, while others are a rant. (Too many, for my taste.) However, there are also Psalms that celebrate God and affirm the Almighty. (I like those.)

Psalm 144:2 proclaims God is our fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield. In short, he keeps us safe from harm and our enemies.

But to realize this, we need to be at the right place. A shield only protects when we stand behind it; a citadel only keeps us safe once we’re inside; and a liberator can only free those who will follow him.

If we’re not in the right place, we may be foolish to assume no harm will befall us. Yes, I believe God wants the best for us, but I also realize I need to cooperate with him to fully realize it.

May we strive to remain where we need to be, so we can fully receive all God has to offer.

[Psalm 144:2]

Do You Want a Double Portion?

Prior to his birth, Samuel’s father would give Samuel’s mother a double portion of the meat from his sacrifice. This showed his love for her and affirmed her, despite her being childless. She was doubly honored.

Just before Elijah went up into heaven, Elisha requested to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. He did; he was doubly blessed.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed that those once shamed would receive a double portion, making up for what was lost. They would be doubly restored.

Given these examples, wouldn’t it be great to receive a double portion?

Not so fast.

In Revelation, God proclaims a double portion of punishment on Babylon for all the evil she had done.

We’d all like a double portion of God’s goodness, but no one wants a double portion of his punishment. But when we follow Jesus and go all in for him, we can in fact receive his abundance and escape his punishment.

Thank you Jesus!

[1 Samuel 1:5, 2 Kings 2:9, Isaiah 61:7, Revelation 18:6]