Abraham: Called to Wander, Worship, and Witness

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Abraham: A Man of Faith and a Friend of God

Welcome back to Act 1, Scene 2 of God’s One Big Story.  Although it has been a while since we last met, when we did, we were introduced to Abraham, the first of the four Hebrew Patriarchs who are showcased in Genesis 12-50.  Since these men were the ones most responsible for the birth and development of the Nation of Israel—and, since Israel will be making her first appearance on our stage in the next scene—this one will be given over to an examination of the Biographical Pictures—or, Biopics—of these important men.

As for Abraham/Abram,[1] here is what we have learned so far about the Man who would eventually become known as the Father of Israel, the nation that would one day become the Wife of Jehovah…

  • He was a descendant of Shem through his son, Arphaxad;
  • He appeared on the human stage sometime between 2100-2200 BC;[2]
  • He came from a family of idol worshipers;
  • He was born as Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, left Ur with his family to travel to Canaan but was waylaid for a period of time in Haran, an important trade city about 600 miles northeast of Ur (an area part of southern Turkey today); and,
  • He was married to Sarai, who was childless.

With this brief but valuable background information now in hand, we are ready to launch out on our journey with Abram, just as he is preparing to embark upon his journey of faith with God.  In our travels with him, we will be privileged to share in his Spiritual Transformation, witnessing his growth from Paganism to Faith—from his first faltering steps of obedience to his complete surrender to the will and purposes of God.  This transformation will certainly not be an overnight occurrence but will take a lifetime to accomplish; and, as we shall soon see, it will be achieved through the on-going process of Revelation and Testing, in which…

  • Abram will first have an Encounter with God, when God will reveal more of His plans and purposes for Abram; after which,
  • Abram will undergo A Period of testing (usually an extended one), designed to reveal how faithful a steward he has been with the revelations received so far.

Since this process is in no way unique to Abram, but is the same one God uses in the training of all of His Children, it will serve us well to pay careful attention to Abram’s experiences; for, through them, we will be discovering some valuable Life Lessons, as well as some important insights into the Nature and Purposes of God.

Abram’s Journey from Ur to the Land of Promise

Episode #1 of Biopic #1—Showtime!
(Genesis 12:1-13:18)
Cast:
     Narrator     God     Abram     Lot     Sarai     Pharaoh

Now that Episode #1 of Biopic #1 is ready to begin, let’s get settled in our seats, for the lights in the theatre are dimming and the curtain is slowing starting to rise.  As they do, we can hear the resonant voice of our Off-Stage Narrator, informing us that at some time in the past, God had met with Abram and instructed him to…

Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

With the Stage now fully lit before us, we can see a large company of people on the outskirts of Haran, packing up and preparing to leave that bustling caravan city.  And, we hear our Narrator again, as he begins detailing the action taking place on the Stage before us…

It’s Off to Canaan–after too long in Haran!

So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.

Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh.  And the Canaanites were then in the land.

After what must have seemed like an interminable five hundred-plus mile journey, Abram and his company finally arrive in Shechem; and, in spite of the fact that the land is currently occupied by the Canaanites, once he is there, the Lord appears to Abram and makes him this surprising promise…

To your descendants I will give this land.

We watch as Abram responds to this amazing promise by building an altar and worshiping the Lord on the very spot where He has just appeared to him.   But, Abram doesn’t linger in this place for long because, as our Narrator quickly informs us…

…he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.  So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

Now, It’s Off to Egypt!

All is not well for very long, however, for our Narrator soon adds…

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.  And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that…

…we find Abram, motivated by fear rather than by faith, acting very deceptively when he says to his wife, Sarai…

Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance.  Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.  Please say you are my sister,[3] that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.

Here, our Narrator interjects…

So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful.  The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.  He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

However, God was not at all pleased with this, so…

…the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

When Pharaoh discovers the source of the plague, he calls Abram and demands an explanation for his deception…

What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?  Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.

And, It’s Out You Go!

At this, our Narrator resumes his commentary

So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had…

Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.  Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.  And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.  Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.  And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

Next, we hear Abram—the epitome of grace and generosity—tell Lot

Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.  Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.

To which, our Narrator adds…

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.  Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.  Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.  But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.

With Lot’s separation from Abram, we hear the LORD addressing Abram once more, telling him to…

Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.  Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.

At this, our Narrator closes out this episode with these fitting remarks…

Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.

***********************************

Episode #1—Review

The Critics Hat

It’s Been Way Too Long!

With this first Episode of Biopic #1 now behind us, it’s time for us to pull out and put on our trusty, albeit somewhat rusty, Critic’s Caps, and begin our Review of this segment of Abraham’s Story.  Given that it’s been so long since we last did a review of this sort, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of what we will be looking for.

From the beginning of this Study Tour, it has been our practice to examine each Bible Story on the following three levels…

  • First, we approach it from an Earthly Level, analyzing the everyday events taking place on the Earthly Stage before us, looking specifically for any Life Lessons that we can take away from it;
  • Once we understand the practical significance of these events, we then move on to a Heavenly Level examination, where we seek to identify the contributions they have to make to the One Big Story taking place simultaneously on the Heavenly Stage above us; and,
  • Finally, we re-examine these events on an Eternal Level, looking for any Revelations of God that they may provide.

The Earthly Level Review

Revelation #1…

For reasons known only to Himself, God chose Abram and initiated a relationship with him while he was still a sinner, living in a family of idol worshipers, and living in a culture completely given over to idolatry.  Then, in order to get Abram to the place where He wanted him to be, both physically and spiritually, God met with him three times during this one episode—each time revealing a more expansive view of His Will and Purpose for Abram’s life;

During their first meeting, God gave Abram a very specific set of Instructions and an incredible set of Promises—these being…

God’s Initial Instructions and Promises to Abram

While it may not be readily apparent, these Instructions  are actually God’s Short-Term Goals for Abram, and were meant to move him from where he was to the place where God would begin fulfilling His Promises—or, His Long-Term Goals for Abram.

For these Long-Term Goals to be realized in his life, though, Abram would have to learn…

  • To live a life of Separation—from the evil influences that he had known in his homeland, influences which would hinder him from living a holy life;
  • To Wander, walking by Faith and becoming totally dependent upon God (because it was going to take a lot of faith on his part to meet the challenges that would be waiting for him in the future);
  • To Worship, something we have no record of him doing while he was in his homeland;
  • To become a Witness of God’s Grace and Mercy to the people already living in the land.

…in Progress

Test #1—When called to a Life of Separation, Wandering, Faith, Worship, and Witness, what was Abram’s Response?

While he succeeded in separating himself from his country and his extended family, he failed to leave his immediate family behind—a decision which not only delayed his arrival in the land, the beginning of his worship and witness, as well as the Fulfillment of God’s Promises to him, but which revealed how immature his faith was at this point in his journey.

Revelation #2…

In spite of this failure, however, once Abram arrived in the Land of Promise, he was blessed by another visit from God.  As brief as it was, this encounter served as a confirmation that he had indeed arrived in the place of God’s choosing—and, it was also an opportunity for God to add to His earlier Revelation to Abram.

In this newer Revelation, in spite of the fact that the Canaanites were already occupying the Land, God promised to give it to Abram’s descendants.  This surely must have come as a shock to Abram because, at this point in his life—at seventy-five years of age—he didn’t have even one son to carry his name forward into the future—or the hope of ever having one!  Since it was going to take a lot of faith for Abram to believe this promise, and since his faith was still so immature, a lot more testing was going to be required.

…In Progress

Test #2—What was Abram’s Response when promised Descendants to possess the Land?

His immediate response was to build an Altar and Worship God, first at Shechem and then at Bethel.  Later, however, when faced with a Famine in the Land, and seeming to forget all of God’s Promises, Abram abandoned the Land and his new Walk of Faith, and headed for Egypt—a picture of the World—in an attempt to deal with this situation on his own.

However, this proved to be a costly decision, because it…

  • Caused him to break fellowship with God and to stop worshiping;
  • Caused him to jeopardize not only his relationship with Sarai, his wife, but more importantly, her life;
  • Destroyed any witness he may have had to Pharaoh and the Egyptians;
  • Brought him so much wealth that it later created strife and division within his household.

So, after being unceremoniously booted out of Egypt, Abram chose to do the best thing possible, and that was to go back to Bethel and start over again.  When he did, his fellowship with God was restored and he became a worshiper once again.

Revelation #3…

Even though Abram’s relationship with God was restored at Bethel, his problems didn’t automatically disappear.  In fact, they only increased.  Because both he and Lot had become very rich in Egypt—not just in gold and silver but in livestock, too—when they returned to the Land and it couldn’t support their greatly increased flocks and herds, conflict arose and the two men found it necessary to separate.  (This would have been unnecessary had Abram let Lot remain in Mesopotamia, as God had originally instructed him to do.)

While Lot’s choice to relocate to the suburbs of Sodom would later prove to be a disastrous one for both him and his family, the decision to separate turned out to be a blessing for Abram, as it resulted in a third visitation from God.  In this latest encounter, God expanded on His earlier Revelations even more; this time marking out the boundaries of the Land He was giving to Abram, to as far as his eye could see in all directions—and by increasing his descendants to more than could ever be numbered.

…In Progress

Test #3—What was Abram’s response to this latest Revelation?

He packed up and left Bethel, the place of repentance and restoration, and moved on to Hebron, the place of Fellowship with God.

Life Lessons from the Earthly Level Story

In this first Episode in the Abram’s Story, it should be relatively easy for us to see that our Life Lessons closely parallel the Short-Term Goals which God had established for him.   Like Abram…

  • Those of us who have come to Faith in God, have done so because of God’s gracious intervention in our lives, and not because of any merit of their own;
  • We, too, have been called to a life of Wandering, Worshiping, and Witnessing;
  • We have also been called to Walk by Faith, not by sight, learning to depend upon God and His provision for us;
  • In our walks with God, we are going to be Tested so that the faithfulness of our Stewardship of God’s Revelations can be revealed;
  • Disobedience on our parts will not only delay the work that God wants to do in and through us, but also the fulfillment of His Long-Term Goals for us;
  • God will not give us any New Instructions until we have obeyed the last things He told us to do; and,
  • Even though God watches over us during our periods of disobedience, He will not negate the poor choices (and their consequences) that we may have made (and incurred) during that time.

Heavenly Level Review

In the reviews of the Bible Stories we’ve studied so far, we have learned that in addition to their valuable Life Lessons, the people and events in each one were also intended to paint a Spiritual Picture for us.  This is certainly true of the Story of Abram; for, when we backup and look at God’s Big Picture of Redemption, we can see that in this Episode…

  • Abram was being prepared to step into his role as the Exalted Father of Israel, who, at the appropriate time, would enter into a Marriage Contract or Covenant in which Israel would be Promised to God.
  • Abram was being re-located to the Land where God would eventually make His home, where he would live among His People in an Earthly Tabernacle.
  • God, from this Pivotal Piece of Real Estate, would establish a Witness to the World through Israel.  As long as she remained faithful to Her Husband, He would bless her to such a degree that she would become the Light of Truth to all the Nations of the Earth; and through her, God’s Son would come into the World to provide for its Redemption.

Eternal Level Review

In the past, we have described the Bible as the Progressive Revelation of God, in spite of the fact that He rarely gives us a verbal description of Himself in Scripture.  Instead, He has chosen to reveal Himself through the things He does and the ways that He relates to people.   So, if we are going to uncover the Truths about God hidden in this Episode, then we will have to look closely at His actions and His relationships with the people involved in this portion of the Scriptures, if we are to discover that…

God Reveals Himself in Everything He Does

As you can see, there is a lot to be learned about God and about Living a Life of Faith in this one Episode of Abram’s Story.  But, there is even more to be discovered when we get into Abram’s Call to Warfare coming up next, in Episode #2 of Biopic #1.  In anticipation of that, please read through Genesis 14, asking yourself the following questions…

  • Why is this Episode important enough to be included in this Story?
  • What part does it play in the Life of Abram?
  • What Life Lessons are there to be learned from it?
  • Does Worship, Witness, Separation, or the Principle of Expanded Revelation play any part in it?

Something to Ponder…

Have You Been Able to See God Creating Faith in You through Your Trials?

 

* Some illustrations courtesy of Free Bible Images at http://www.freebibleimages.org/

[1] For clarity’s sake, we will use the name Abram until the point in the story when God changes his name to Abraham.

[2] Note on Calculations—In 1 Kings 6:1, we learn that the 4th year of Solomon’s reign—966 BC—was 480 years after the Exodus [966+480=1446], and from Exodus 12:40-41, we learn that the Israelites lived in Egypt 430 years.  So 1446+430=1876, making that the year that Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.  Since Jacob was 130 when he appeared before Pharaoh, Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, and Abraham was 75 when he entered the Promised Land, this would mean that the total time spent in Canaan would have been 215 years [130+60+(100-75)=215]. Adding 215 years to 1876, then 75 (for Abraham’s age until then)—the year that Jacob and his family moved to Egypt—we arrive at a date of 2166 BC for Abram’s birth.

[3] In Genesis 20:12, we learn that Sarai is Abram’s half-sister—the daughter of his father Terah and another mother.

 

Spiritual Warfare: A Question of Authority

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So far, in our efforts to become more spiritually fit, we have successfully worked our way through three of the four levels of exercise in our Workout Program; where, at…

     Level 1, we covered the basics of our Faith; learning how, through Salvation, we are Redeemed from Sin and Death, and adopted as children into the Family of God.

     Level 2, we dealt with Sanctification; or, the life-long training process by which the Holy Spirit transforms us from the Sinners we once were into Holy Sons and Daughters of God.

     Level 3, we learned about Service; or, the Work of God that we, as His Children—the Church—have been commissioned to carry out. It was here that we were introduced to the concept that…

…as the Corporate Body of Christ, we are to reach out to those in the world around us, bringing them the good news of God’s Love and Salvation;
…as the Corporate Soul of Christ, we are to relate as Family to those who are already a part of God’s Family; and,
…as the Corporate Spirit of Christ, we are to serve as the Army of Spiritual Warriors charged with the task of liberating those still held in captivity by Satan, and taking his territory captive for the Kingdom of God.

Since this last matter deals with Spiritual Warfare, something which we have only recently touched upon, we will make its study the objective of this fourth and final Level of Exercise in our Program—a Program which, when completed, will have helped us…

Define our Position, as a Child of God;
Refine our Person, as a Child of God;
Outline our Purpose, as a Child of God; and,
Underline our Power, as a Child of God. 

It is through this progressive pattern of growth—from Position to Person to Purpose to Power—that we have advanced from our original state of spiritual infancy to God’s more highly desired state of spiritual maturity, becoming better equipped along the way for our eternal destiny with Jesus Christ.

Not How to Spend Eternity

It’s Certainly Not Biblical

What is this destiny for which we, as the Children of God, are presently being equipped?   Contrary to one of the more popular conceptions of what life will be like in the hereafter, we will not be floating around on a cloud, with a crown on our heads and nothing better to do than strum on our harps for all eternity.  Not only is this a perfectly wasteful—not to mention boring—way to spend one’s everlasting life, but it in no way compensates us for all of the hardships we suffered through during our earthly sojourns.  And, it certainly doesn’t call for any specialized equipping on our parts to prepare for it.

On the other hand, the destiny that God has planned for us is a gloriously challenging one.  In keeping with His divinely ordained principles of Sowing and Reaping, it is one that will provide us with levels of rewards commensurate with the levels of faithfulness we have demonstrated during our times of training on the earth, and elevate us to positions of authority in the coming Kingdom of God.  From these positions, we will exercise the Dominion originally gifted to us by God, lost to us as a result of the Fall, and restored to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Destined for Dominion, Subjected to Slavery 

We first learned about this matter of Dominion during one of our visits to the story of Adam and Eve.  For, it was there that, upon his creation, Man—as both Male and Female—was commanded by God to fill the earth with people, and to rule over everything in it.  This Right to Rule, however, was lost when Adam, as a result of his disobedience to God, forfeited his Position of Power—a position which Satan immediately claimed as his own.

In his classic book, Destined for the Throne, the late Paul Billheimer explains some of the legal issues involved in this transfer of power…

The entire universe is governed by law…God’s grant of authority and dominion over the earth to man was a bona-fide gift.  This authority and dominion became legally his.  What he did with it was his own responsibility.  If, so to speak, he ‘fumbled the ball’ and lost it, God could not lawfully step in and repossess it for him.[1]

We know from Romans 6:16 that…

…if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.

Therefore, when Adam chose to obey Satan instead of God, he became Satan’s slave.  And…

As a slave of Satan, Adam lost all of his legal rights, not only to his person but also to his domain.  This gave Satan legal authority to rule over man and the earth.  If Satan’s dominion was to be revoked, a way had to be found to redeem fallen man and recover his lost authority without violating universal principles of justice.

No angel could enter the contest because these legal rights were never his.  Thus a member of Adam’s race had to be found who could qualify to enter suit in universal court and wrest Adam’s lost heritage and dominion from Satan.  The government of the earth had been given to man.  It was lost by man.  It could be legally recovered only by a man.[2]

But where was such a man to be found?  To qualify for the task at hand, he would have to be a full-fledged human being; and yet, because Adam and all those who would eventually descend from him had become the slaves of Satan, he would have to be sinless in order to be free from Satan’s control…

To the human mind the situation was hopeless, but God found a way.  ‘When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal. 4:4).  God solved the problem by the Incarnation.

Since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the divine nature was present in Him.  Because he was sinless, Satan had no claim upon Him.  But because He was ‘made of a woman,’ He was an authentic human being and could therefore qualify as a bona-fide member of the human race to enter the legal fight to reclaim Adam’s lost estate.[3]

Victory in Jesus

He Has Made Us More than Conquerors

The Spiritual Battle to the Cross 

Although I can’t think of anyone who would willingly sign up for a task like this, the spiritual battle to win back our freedom that Jesus freely committed Himself to was one that was repeatedly characterized by humiliation, rejection, opposition, and affliction; which, when you put them all together, add up to a whole lot of suffering.

Just think of the humiliation involved when…

…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2: 5-8).

Or, the rejection He must have experienced when…

  • His family…went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind (Mark 3:21).
  • The people in His hometown said, ‘Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him?  How are such mighty works done by his hands?  Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?’  And they took offense at him (Mark 6: 2-3).
  • John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus, asking, ‘Are you [sure] you are the one [the Messiah] who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Matt. 11:3)
  • Upon hearing some of Jesus’ hard sayings, ‘…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.’  (John 6:66)

As for opposition, Jesus had that in abundance; for, even as a child, when He was perceived to be a contender for his throne, King Herod tried to have Him killed.  And later, during His earthly ministry, He found Himself constantly at odds with all factions of Jewish society…

  • With the Sadducees, because He threatened their economic and political power;
  • With the Pharisees, because they considered Jesus a law-breaker, and His teachings overturned their religious traditions;
  • With the Essenes, the ascetics of the day, who considered Jesus too worldly because He socialized with “sinners;”
  • With the Zealots, or the anarchists of the day, because Jesus preached a message of love instead of rebellion; and,
  • With the people who, in their apathy, did not want to be confronted with change.

And, when it came to affliction, no one has ever endured more.  Of Him, it was said that…

…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?  (Is. 53: 2-8)

And, if all this wasn’t enough, from the time of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry until the moment when He drew His final breath, Satan, in an effort to take Him captive through sin just like the first Adam, was constantly working to trip Him up…

The fallen Lucifer, once the Light Bearer, the guardian of the throne of God, the highest of all pre-Adamic created beings, marshaled all of the available resources of the underworld in an effort to break down the allegiance of the God-man to His heavenly Father.  One weakness revealed, one thought of rebellion or self will entertained, and all of Jesus’ efforts to repossess the world and its enslaved race from the usurping god of the world would be lost.[4]

But, Praise God, in spite of all this pressure, Jesus didn’t give in; for…

When Jesus died without failing in the smallest detail, His death resulted not only in defeating Satan’s purpose to obtain a claim upon Him—it also canceled all of Satan’s legal claim upon the earth and the whole human race…

Therefore, since Calvary, Satan has absolutely no rights or claims upon anyone or anything.  Whatever authority he carried with him on his banishment from heaven passed into the hands of the new Man along with the lost heritage of Adam[5]

Dominion Restored

So We Can Rule and Reign with Him Throughout Eternity

Our Authority Restored

It is this authority that Jesus restored to His disciples; the same authority…

…to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you (Luke 10:19)…

…that Jesus delegated to the seventy-two He sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God—and, it is the same authority that we possess today.  For…

As individuals we have authority over all the combined powers of the enemy.  This is an incredible, wonderful truth.  Everything at Satan’s disposal—every demon, every coven, every cult and religion, every work, and every influence—is subject to the authority given to us by Jesus.

When Jesus rose from the dead after ripping the usurped authority from Satan’s hands, He did not immediately go to heaven.  He stopped off to see the eleven remaining disciples…Jesus handed to them the authority He had taken from Satan.  The authority legally changed hands once more and belonged to man again.[6]

This truth is what we need to keep at the forefront of our thinking as we approach our upcoming exercises in Spiritual Warfare—because our success in any battle will be totally dependent upon our acknowledgement of the One who has already won the victory.  Satan and his demons certainly know who it is; for, it was Jesus who, after overcoming every form of Spiritual Warfare in His life–on the Cross and through His resurrection…

…disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15).

Even so, Satan and his legions continue to fight on, using our ignorance of the authority in Christ as one of their chief means of success.  Let’s determine not to give them that critical edge over us; always bearing in mind that, in whatever situation we may find ourselves, the One who won the war for us has already been there on our behalf…

…For, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Therefore…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  (Hebrews 12:1-4)

The Victory of the Cross

The War Has Already Been Won for Us by Jesus

 

In our next exercise, we will learn more about the destiny for which we are being prepared.

 

 

The Gaither Vocal Band reminds us of who we are in “On the Authority”…

 

 

[1] Paul E. Billheimer, Destined for the Throne (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1975), 73.

[2] Billheimer, Destined, 73-74.

[3] Billheimer, Destined, 74.

[4] Billheimer, Destined, 76.

[5] Billheimer, Destined, 79-80.

[6] Dean Sherman, Spiritual Warfare for Every Christian (Seattle, Washington: YWAM Publishing, 1990), 130-131.

Sanctification: Restoring the Soul through Worship

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A Sanctified Soul

Sanctification Restores the Soul of Man

So far, through our exercises in Sanctification, we have learned that part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to restore our emotions through Prayer and our minds through the study and application of the Word of God; a ministry which brings our hearts into alignment with that of the Father, and transforms our minds into ones more like Christ’s.  However, this part of the sanctification process only takes care of two of the components of our souls—leaving the third one, our all-important and powerful wills, for the Spirit to deal with.  And deal with them, He must; because unlike our emotions, which are simply expressions of how we feel, and our minds, which merely reveal what we think, our wills through their actions express what we want and who we really are.

Also, through these workout sessions, we have learned that it is God’s will for us is to be saved from our sins and be adopted into His family; as sons and daughters who have not only been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but as ones who have also been conformed or remolded into His image.  This means that we are not only to become like Jesus in His character, but we are also to share in His mission and ministry here on the earth—which, as He stated in John 4:34, 5:30, and 6:38, was to do the will of His Father

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work;
I can do nothing on my own…because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me; and,
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Your AssignmentSince doing the will of the Father was at the heart of Jesus’ mission, and since becoming like Him is the goal of our Sanctification, it stands to reason that doing the will of the Father must become the mission in our lives, as well.  This, however, is something that is a lot easier said than done!

That’s because, before coming to Christ, our wills and the actions they precipitated were dominated by our flesh—which is to say, by how we felt and by what we thought.  If our bodies hungered for or lusted after something—regardless  of whether it was appropriate or beneficial; or, if our minds harbored certain thoughts about anyone or anything—regardless of whether they were true or not—our wills would initiate actions geared toward satisfying those feelings and vindicating those thoughts.  In short, before our Salvation, with no access to or Godly input from our dormant spirits, our wills were like puppets whose strings were being pulled by our baser human instincts; instincts concerned with the pleasing and preservation of our unregenerate and ego-dominated selves.  But, all this began to change the moment we said yes to Jesus and were Born Again.
 

Salvation and the Will of Man

The goal of and long term impact of Salvation on our wills has been well described by Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man, where he remarks…

What is salvation?  It is none other than God saving man out of himself into Himself.  Salvation has two facets:  a cutting off and a uniting with.  What is cut off is self; the uniting is with God.

What is self? …were we to say self is self-will we would not be too far from the mark… [because] man’s essence is in his volition…

Salvation, then, is to deliver man from his created, natural, animal, fleshly, and self-emanating will…

The gospel is to facilitate the union of our will with God.  Anything short of this is failure of the mission.  God aims his arrow of salvation not so much at our emotion or our mind, but at our will, for once the latter is saved, the rest are included.

[For] …God intends to destroy the life of the soul but not its function, so upon being joined with the Lord in life, He launches forth to renew our soul with its various parts in order that our soul may be one with our new life and consequently one with His will.[1]

In the face of such a challenging, time-consuming, and (on our parts) painful prospect as the transformation of our self-absorbed wills into ones totally given over to the pursuit of God’s will, we might find ourselves wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for us, instead of being endowed with the capacity to choose, to have been pre-programmed for obedience by God.  Surely, this would have been much easier on everyone involved; and yet, if God hadn’t designed us in this way, we wouldn’t have been created in His image and would therefore not be eligible to be adopted as His children.  For us to be like God, then, we would have to be free to choose to act in ways that He would; ways such as…

  • Choosing to do what’s right, rather than what’s expedient;
  • Choosing to do what’s in the best interests of others, even at the expense of our own interests;
  • Choosing to speak nothing but the truth, even if we are the only ones doing it; and,
  • Choosing to believe God and take Him at His Word, even though we can see no evidence of His existence; and even when our thoughts and feelings do not concur.

The failure to make this last choice—which is really the first one we each need to make—is what caused our first parents, and eventually us, to be at odds with the will of God in the first place.  For, as Genesis 3:6 relates it, in spite of the fact that Adam and Eve had been told not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil…

…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Sadly, when Adam and Eve were given an opportunity to prove that they would carry out the will of God, they failed the first test of “Sonship,” which was obedience to their Father.  Rather than complying with His will, they allowed their own to succumb to the desires of their flesh, and to be seduced by the promises of self-achieved divinity being offered to them by Satan, the one whose will has always been in direct opposition to God’s.

On this, Watchman Nee comments again…

We may say that there are two massive contradictory wills throughout the universe.  On one side stands the holy and perfect will of God; on the other is arrayed the defiled, defiling, and opposing will of Satan.  In between subsists the sovereign, independent, free will of man.[2]

The War of the Wills

When overwhelmed by the countless mundane issues in life, it is very easy for us to lose sight of the fact that the driving force behind everything that takes place in our lives is this unseen, on-going conflict of wills between the one Righteous Ruler of the Universe and the evil imposter who is seeking to overthrow Him.  The evil imposter is none other than the powerful fallen angel, Lucifer—who is also known as Satan, “the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2),” and “the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).”  His bio, in Ezekiel 28: 12-17, reads like this…

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, in the garden of God…an anointed cherub…blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you…

So I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor…

His arrogant ambition and the self-centered nature of his will are also noted for us in Isaiah 14:12-14…

How you are fallen from heaven, O Daystar, son of Dawn!  How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!

You said in your heart…

I will ascend to heaven;
…above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the height of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.

His opponent, of course, is God—the Sovereign, All Powerful, All-Knowing, Holy Being who not only…

…created the heavens…formed the earth and made it…[and] formed it to be inhabited;
…speak[s] the truth…[and] declare[s] what is right (Is. 45:18-19);
…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4:17);
…is light and in [whom] is no darkness at all (1 John 1:50;
…is love (1 John 4:10)….

…but is the One who could, at any time He chooses, destroy His impudent adversary with just one word from His mouth.  Instead, in His wisdom, He continues to allow him to “…prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).”  And, why is that?  Because in this cosmic battle of wills, the decision as to which one will prevail on the earth has been delegated by God to the will of each—relatively speaking—puny and seemingly insignificant human being who lives on this planet; and, is determined every time he or she is faced with the choice of doing what will satisfy his or her own selfish desires, or what will be pleasing to God.

Screwtape

Screwtape’s Perspective on Humanity

In the classic apologetic novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides us with additional insight into the nature of this war of wills through the instructional letters that seasoned demon, Screwtape, writes to his nephew, Wormwood, a lowly demon-in-training.  Here, in a slightly abridged version of one such letter, we learn that in the view of Satan and his minions

…Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…As long as [they live] on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty…

…To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us (demons) a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.

He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy (God) wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. 

And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.

Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice.

He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys…[3]

 

Servants to Sons

God’s Desire is to have Sons who Choose to do His Will over their own


Worship and the Will of God

Although he didn’t refer to it as such, the act that Screwtape is describing when a child of God chooses to obey the will of His Father—even in the face of any thoughts, feelings, or circumstances to the contrary—is something that God looks upon as Worship.  For, in spite of what we have been conditioned to believe, worship isn’t so much about what we do as we gather together in church on Sunday morning; it is more about what we do when we leave church and, going back out into the world, we come face to face with the people and situations that Satan likes to use in an attempt to get us to abandon God’s will in favor of our own.  It is then that, as we are strengthened by the Spirit and reminded that…

God is God, and we are not;
He created everything, He owns everything, and He established all the rules by which His creation operates;
He knows everything, is everywhere, and has all the power;
He is holy and always does what is right; and,
His thoughts or ideas, and His ways of doing things are better than ours; and,
He can always be trusted to do what is right, not only for us but for everyone else, as well…

…we can lay aside our will and what we want, and choose to do what Jesus would do, if He was there in our place.  This, in fact, is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in the face of the Cross and in spite of His own human desires, He surrendered His will to that of His Father, so that His Father’s would be done on the earth.  What we learn, then, from His example, is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered to Him, in any and every circumstance in life, and anything less is not true worship.

With that in mind, then, we need to submit to and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit as He continues the work of restoration in our souls, so that in every situation our attitude will be…

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Ps. 95:6).

Worship the Lord

 

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The song of a soul restored…

 

 

[1]  Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Incorporated, 1968), Book 3, 81-83.

[2]  Nee, Spiritual Man, 77.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), chapter 8.

The Capstone of God’s Creation

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As we wait for the curtains to re-open for Vignette #2, here at Stage #1 of God’s One Big Story, let’s take a moment to recall where we were in the Story when these very same curtains were closed so abruptly on Vignette #1—The Creation of the World.  At the time, we had just witnessed the most astounding display of power, wisdom, order, and creativity ever, as God in three Persons created, out of nothing, the cosmos and everything in it—everything, that is, except the human life which had been His ultimate objective from eternity past.  It was at this pivotal moment, when everything else in God’s created order was in place, that a light shone on the Stage and God, in His Tri-unity, announced plans for the imminent creation of a Capstone—that is, a crowning achievement, point, element, or event, for all of His work, by saying…

…Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
(Gen. 1:26)

It was with this pronouncement that the curtains closed temporarily on the Creation Story; leaving us somewhat bewildered and confused as to why the Story would come to a screeching halt right at this particular point.  The reason for this seemingly inconvenient and unnecessary delay will become clearer to us, though, if we think back to Here at Last, at Stage #1…, where we were, for the sake of improving our scriptural navigation skills, introduced to the concept of Surfing our way through Genesis.  As we learned then, Surfing through Scripture is very much like going to a website and then clicking on one link after another, until we finally get to the information we are looking for—which, in this instance, means going to Genesis 1, and looking for the most important piece of information contained there.  This information, in verse form, will then provide us with the link needed to connect us with the action that will be taking place in next chapter.   In Chapter 1, this connecting link is found in verse 27, the Creation of Man—the very place where the curtains closed on us before.

You see, quite often when people are reading through Genesis 1 and 2, they make the mistake of thinking that there are two separate Creation Stories being recounted when, in fact, the Story that is being presented in Chapter 1 is an overview, a big picture, or a master shot of this one particular scene—while that which is taking place in Chapter 2 is the close-up of the very same scene. This is exactly where we find ourselves now, as Vignette #2 begins—we are flashing forward to view the close-up of the Creation of Man, the Capstone on all of God’s Creation! 

So, with the lights in the theatre dimmed again, and with the curtains parting once more, here is the paradisaical setting that we find on the Stage before us…

Paradise1a

The Paradise of the Early Earth

The pristine beauty of this scene serves up a such a visual feast that it is almost too much for our eyes to fully savor; and yet, almost immediately after the curtains part, our other senses are pushed to the brink of overload as the sound of a heavenly choir, somewhere off-stage, begins singing praises to God for bringing all of this splendor into existence.  Suddenly, we are so overcome by all of the majestic sights and sounds we are experiencing, that we find ourselves singing along with them…

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth!
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth!
(
Psalm 57: 5, 10-11) 

[For] The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm 19: 1-4) 

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!  For he commanded and they were created.  And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps…mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
(Psalm 148: 1-6, 7,9,10,13) 

[For] Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
(Revelation 4:11)

Enraptured as we all are in the wonder and worship of the moment, not one of us is giving a single thought to what things looked like just six days prior to this; and yet, it is to very these things that the off-stage Narrator now redirects us, as he summarizes the events leading up to this all-important moment…

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens…[in that day] when no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground …(Gen. 2:4-6)

As soon as these words are spoken, the bright light we had seen previously in Vignette #1 reappears, and begins shining again on the same insignificant looking piece of ground that it had illuminated before.  With our attention now riveted on this spot, we hear the Narrator describe that action that is taking place on the Stage, when he says…

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature [soul].  And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  (Gen. 2:7-9)

Our Narrator pauses for a moment in an effort to give us with a little more information about the richness and expansiveness of this Garden, by telling us that…

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.  The name of the first is the Pishon.  It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.  The name of the second river is the Gihon.  It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush.  And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria.  And the fourth river is the Euphrates.  (Gen. 2: 10-14) 

…before returning to the action of the Story, where we learn that…

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  (Gen. 2:15-17) 

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  (Gen. 2:18)

Adam in the Garden of Eden1a

Adam Surveying His Dominion

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.  But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen. 2:19-20). 

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of Man.”  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And the man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen.2:21-25). 

With this, we now flash back to what we heard from behind the curtain at the end of Vignette #1, as our Narrator then announced…

Adam and Eve1

“It is not good that man should be alone…”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth…Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.  (Gen. 1:27-30) 

Satisfied that this, the Capstone of His Creation, is not just good but very good, God brings His work on this sixth day of Creation to an end.  With the heavens and the earth thus completed…

…on the seventh day, God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.  (Gen. 2:1-3) 

As the curtain closes on Vignette #2, we are once again treated to the sound of the heavenly choir as it praises God…

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is you name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens…
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the star, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8)

Garden of Eden1a

“…And it was very good.”

And to this, all that we can add is…Amen!

Smiley Face with Earphones2

 

Let’s continue the worship of our Wonderful Creator with Susan Boyle’s rendition of “How Great Thou Art”

 

 

 

A Pause, and a Cause, for Worship

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A Thinking Woman

A Thinking Woman…Can Be a Dangerous Thing

After each of our visits, I like to take a little time to ponder what we have been talking about so that I can try to decide where we should go in our next discussion.   As a goal-oriented person, I usually have a very good idea of where that is and just how to go about getting there; but, as is so often the case in my life, that isn’t the way it usually works out.  All too frequently in my estimation, what I consider to be my good plans are side-lined by God, and replaced by ones that He thinks are far better (imagine that!).  And this is exactly what happened as I was preparing for our visit today.   While I was all set on devoting more time to the subject of overcoming, the Lord made it clear that He wanted me to use this visit to focus on worship.  How did He do that?  Well, each time I thought about my proposed agenda, He would interrupt those thoughts with a particular song, “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name.”  Having been down this road more than once, it wasn’t long before I got the point that He was trying to make—which was, if we don’t worship first, there will be no overcoming!

Well, if worship is so important, it goes without saying that we should all have a clear understanding as to what it is. We certainly hear the term tossed about often enough; so often, in fact, that it tends to leave us with the impression that everyone who uses it must know what it is, or that they are all referring to the same thing.  Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case.  That’s because worship has too often become something so subjective and soulish that we no longer have a correct concept of its meaning, but are left, instead, to devise our own interpretations of what we think it should be.

Church Members Greeting One Another

Surveying Church Members

I would be willing to wager a guess that if we did a survey of people as they were leaving their respective churches, asking them for their definitions of worship, we would get some or all of the following answers:

  • Worship is the meeting together of believers for fellowship, prayer, and the preaching of God’s Word;
  • Worship is the regular practice of prayer and Bible study;
  • Worship is the giving of tithes and offerings for the support of the church;
  • Worship is the giving of time and talents to do works of service and/or charity;
  • Worship is the singing of songs of praise to God; and,
  • Worship is the experience by some of being transported to other realms in moments of ecstasy.

On the surface, each of these definitions has merit, for each one represents a form that worship can take; however, if we could look below the surface—that is, to the motives of some of those engaged in these activities, we would probably find that much of what passes today as worship is more emotional than spiritual, and more about us than it is about God.  That’s because, all too often:

  • When we come together, instead of doing so to exalt God, we are looking to be entertained;
  • When we pray or study the Bible, we are doing so with the intention of getting something from God rather than learning about Him and His will for us;
  • When we give of our money, instead of giving joyfully and sacrificially, we do so out of obligation or with the expectation of being rewarded by God with material prosperity;
  • When we give of ourselves to the service of others, oftentimes, we are more interested in scoring points with God, or in impressing others with our piety; and,
  • When we sing our songs of praise, or revel in the ecstasy of those mountain top experiences, we quite often do so for our own temporary pleasure, instead of allowing God to use these experiences to bring about lasting changes in our lives.
What worship is about

True Worship

Now, knowing what we know about God, can we honestly say that this is really the kind of worship that He desires from us; or, is it the kind that Jesus was describing when He said to the woman at the well, in John 4:23-24:  “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”?  Obviously, the answer to this question is “no,” but how are we to know what it really means when Jesus tells us that true worship must be in spirit and in truth?

In our effort to answer that, let’s start with the truth part first.  You see, before any of us can come to God in worship, the truth that we must acknowledge is this:

  • That God is God, and we are not;
  • That, as God, He created everything, He owns everything, and He established all the rules by which His creation operates;
  • That, as God, He knows everything, is everywhere, and has all the power;
  • That, as God, He is holy and always does what is right; and,
  • Because of all of this, God’s thoughts or ideas, and His ways of doing things are better than ours;
  • Meaning, that when we come to Him, we can always trust Him to do what is right, not only for us but for everyone else, as well.

As for the spirit part, what Jesus is telling us is that when we come to God in worship, we must do so through a meeting of our spirits with the Spirit of God, and not through any fleshly means.  You see, here is the way this spiritual connection is supposed to work:  when God decides that He wants to tell us something, He has His Spirit speak to our spirits, and then our spirits deliver those messages to our souls.  Our souls—or, our minds, emotions, and wills—are then supposed to communicate God’s directions to our bodies for their implementation.  Our bodies and souls are, in fact, what constitutes the flesh, or that which is perishing; while our spirits are the parts of our beings which are like God and which will live on forever.  So, if we attempt to come to God through our flesh, He will not accept us or our worship—for, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:6, “…that which born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit,” indicating a separation existing between the two which cannot be eliminated.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus at Worship in the Garden

What this means is, that when we come to God in worship, we open our spirits to His Spirit, we acknowledge His superiority and authority over us, and we bring our wills into alignment with His will, for the ultimate purpose of establishing His Kingdom, or His rule and His reign of righteousness, here on the earth, even as it already exists in heaven.  This, in fact, is what we see Jesus doing in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in the face of the Cross and in spite of His own human desires, He surrenders His will to that of His Father, so that His Father’s will would be done on the earth.  What we learn, then, from His example, is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered, and that anything less is not true worship.  And why did He, and why should we, worship in this way?   For no other reason than the majesty and glory of His name, hallelujah!

 

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2

The Metro Singers and their rendition of, “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name.”