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Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Psalm 29:2 (NKJV)

To the preacher/speaker it’s the accolades of those who have heard his/her latest presentation. To the author it’s seeing your work in print, or better yet on the best sellers list. To the builder it’s seeing the superstructure rise to the sky as planned. To the parent it’s watching your child receive that diploma (whether it be for a doctorate or kindergarten graduation). To the young bride it’s coming home to flowers and chocolate from her husband for no apparent reason. To some, it’s the beauty of wildlife living free in the wild, for others it’s the euphoria of the successful hunt.

Each of us, in whatever role of life, has those things that bring us joy. Those things that say “all that hard work was worth it.” It’s paid off.” They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that’s true in so many areas of life. I have friends who love to knit and find beauty and fulfillment in a new scarf or handbag or whatever else you can knit. While I admire their work and ability, to be honest I have a hard time finding the beauty in fancy string (sorry knitters).

On the other hand, the things I find beauty in may not be the things you find beauty in. That’s a part of human nature. We each find beauty in those things we have a special connection to.

So what does God find beauty in? Generally, beauty is found in those things closest to our character. God, Jehovah God, by the very nature of his name tells us what he finds beauty in. The name Jehovah, a name so beautiful, so powerful that the Hebrews dare not even say his name, brings us a picture of mercy, love, power, and wisdom. These are the things that make up our heavenly Father, and they are the things that are beauty to him.

The priests in the OT/NT times wore robes. Beautiful, elegant robes to approach Jehovah. Growing up in the church, I saw certain standards that were to be met to approach God. Men wore suits and ties, women wore dresses. Some pastors wore robes.

Today we have moved beyond that in some circles. Shorts and T-shirts are perfectly appropriate for church goers, although some still hold pastors to a different standard of ties/suits or robes. But does God see beauty in those things? I think not. Our Father is far less concerned about how we adorn the exterior than he is how we dress up our hearts.

We come before him this weekend to worship him for his mercy, love, power and wisdom. Does he see those things in us? Let me vent just a little here. Over the years we’ve fought for position over what kind of ‘worship’ we do. Do we follow a lectionary or experience ‘free worship’? Do we hold to traditional worship or move towards contemporary worship. Do we allow pastors to wear shorts and T-shirts in the pulpit or require they dress more ‘suitably’?

The question isn’t how our worship looks to each other. The question is, is our worship beautiful to God. Worship isn’t one day a week, or a segment of our weekly club meetings. Worship is wearing the character of God in such a way that there is no question of who we belong to. That’s true beauty to God. That’s true worship.

PRAYER: Father, here I am to worship you. I confess my worship has been shallow and surface based. Empower me with your spirit to show the world your beauty. In Jesus name, Amen.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

When my son was in High School he loved sports. His favorite sport was basketball. He started playing in 5th grade and looked forward to basketball season all year long. What he lacked in ability, he made up for in passion. The unfortunate thing in our society is that we place far more emphasis on ability and don’t recognize passion enough.

During his junior year he was fighting for the final spot on the varsity team. He talked with me the night before he was to play a one on one contest with another guy. My son said how every time he went up against this guy he ‘knew he could beat him’ but always seemed to find a way to lose. He was very nervous.

I’m by no means a perfect father or parent. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and overlooked many opportunities to mentor and guide my kids. I’ll admit that what I said next wasn’t thought out well, or planned. We were in the car, driving home in the dark.

“You know,” I said, “Whether you win or lose won’t affect who you are as a person. I love you for who you are, not for your ability. Give it your best shot, but don’t base your self-worth on the points you score or don’t score.”

My son told me that my words would give him even more incentive the next day. He entered the contest with renewed confidence in his ability. The nervousness was gone.

My son lost the contest that day and the chance at a position on varsity. But he won something far greater; he won the assurance that his worth wasn’t based on the scoreboard or the win/loss column. His worth was based on who he was as a person. My words gave him the confidence he needed to enter the battle and the assurance that win or lose, he was valued in the sight of his father.

The same is true for each of us. Society tells us value is measured by ability and success is measured by money, status and power. God’s kingdom tells us otherwise, and our responsibility as Christ-followers is to build value in a person even if their actions are contrary to our comfort level.

Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that every word that comes out of our mouths should have the purpose of building each other up. Anything less is contrary to God’s calling in our lives. At the beginning of this section in his letter, Paul admonishes his readers to ‘live worthy of the calling’ each of us has. Part of that calling is to build one another up by what we say.

Guard your words carefully because everything you say will either build someone up and draw them closer to Jesus, or tear them down and push them away from the only true source of forgiveness and grace. Criticism, sarcasm, angry outbursts, swearing and bullying (adults and children) have no place in the life of a believer and are contrary to our calling.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for the times my words have attacked your loved ones. May the words of my mouth encourage others and draw them to you. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

I will live among my people Israel in this Temple that you are building, and I will never abandon them. 1 Kings 6:13 (GNT)

There was a story on the news some time back about a man who witnessed a horrific accident. He went to assist the victims. The two passengers were able to be helped from the wreckage, but the driver was trapped and bleeding badly. It was obvious he wasn’t going to make it, but he was conscious. The ‘rescuer’ knelt beside him.

The driver told him he wasn’t going to make it but asked the ‘rescuer’ to stay with him. Over the next several minutes, as sirens grew louder the two had a short conversation. The driver asked him to say good bye to his family and the two talked briefly about life until the driver breathed his last breath.

There are times when people isolate themselves from others because the pain people have inflicted on them cause them to withdraw, but in reality none of us want ever to be alone. This is especially true during the crisis times of our lives.

Bearing the pain of divorce is much easier if we have just one of two friends who will help us through the battle. Health concerns, financial setbacks, career changes and a plethora of other events in life can drag us down, but having someone we can count on to sit with us through it all makes all the difference in the world.

The sad fact is, it’s hard to find someone who will always be there when we face crisis. Friends may give us some relief, but they have their own lives, or they move away. Perhaps the most painful wound is when family rejects us. A friend of mine recently went through a messy divorce. He was the first one in his family to be divorced and in the midst of his pain, shame and guilt he turned to his family for support to get through the pain, but he got none. His family was to embarrassed by his failure to see the pain. When family members leave you and friends abandon you, what’s left? Who will pick up the pieces and help you put them back together?

When Solomon was building the temple, the Lord God of Israel made a promise. This temple would be his dwelling place. The people of God would know two things. They would know where God lived, and they would know he was there for them.

Thousands of years later the Apostle Paul writes “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16) What a great reminder to us during those times when crisis faces us and we’ve nowhere else to turn. Our creator God lives with us. He will never leave us, never let us down, never be too busy to hear us, and never overlook our pain.

That’s a promise each of us can cling to when life gets harsh; when we want to give up; when we aren’t sure we can go on. Invite him in to those darkest hallways of your existence. He will never ever leave you or judge you. He only wants to show you his love, comfort and forgiveness.

PRAYER: Father, it seems like during the darkest times of my life, when I’ve needed someone the most, no one is there. Some have tried, but they don’t really understand me. I thank you for loving me, understanding me and living with me through all of life. Amen.

Love the Lord, all his faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full. Psalm 31:23 (NIV)

Mom grew up in rural Minnesota long before cell phones and microwaves and cyberspace were even words in the dictionary. She’d often tell stories of riding to church in the sleigh or buggy with nothing but hot stones to warm their feet. When electricity came to their farm it was an amazing, exciting event!

In mom’s world, frugality was a lifestyle, not an option. The things she learned on the farm prepared her for her life as a pastor’s wife. With five boys to feed and a husband serving small, rural churches like she grew up in, excess was rare and simple things were cherished.

One of the many things mom did to make ends meet was to always have a big garden. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the fresh vegetables and detested the thought of having to help plant, weed or harvest. I don’t ever remember, however, being upset about having the fruit and vegetables mom canned on those cold winter evenings or for Sunday dinner!

I never once complained about having mom’s strawberry preserves on a piece of her warm, homemade bread.

Today, for the most part, people who preserve fruits and vegetables and make jam and preserve other fruit do so for nostalgia or to help make ends meet. For mom (and us) it was a necessity. Rows of colorful jars on the basement shelf in the fall provided assurance of food for the winter regardless of anything else that might happen.

I think of that when I read Psalm 31:23. The Lord ‘preserves’ those who are true to him. We, as his children are protected from the ravages of life. Regardless of what goes on around us, we stay safe in secure in him, like a jar of strawberry jam, unaffected by all that goes on around us.

Today the things I see around me make life difficult. Today I’m confused, frustrated, worried and maybe even angry at times by where I see the world going. But I’m preserved! I know that someday all this will pass and I’ll receive in full measure all that the Father has for me. The Father’s preservation of me means I’m changed so that life’s struggles will not affect me, yet I maintain the basic identity of who I am.

Those who reject his love, the psalmist says, will receive, in full measure, the consequences of their rejection. They will seek fulfillment in things unpleasing to God and suffer the despair of loneliness. They’ll openly reject the principles of his word and continue on a path of hopelessness. Will God punish them severely? I think the psalmist implies that he won’t need to. He’ll simply let the consequences of their behavior run its full course in their lives. Rejecting God carries its own penalty.

For us, though, as his children there is forgiveness, restoration, and best of all, preservation.

PRAYER: Father God, I thank you for preserving me. The things I see around me scare me. The trials I’m enduring now weigh me down. But I rest in your promise and wait for your blessing to unfold because I know that through Jesus Christ I am preserved. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. James 1:2-3 (NLT)

I remember the registrar at the small MidwesternBibleCollege I went to in the early 70’s. Robert had a heart for God and a heart for us ‘kids’ entering college. The thing I remembered the most about him was that it didn’t take long for us students to learn to never, ever use the word ‘problem.’

As soon as the word ‘problem’ left your lips he’d put his hand up and gently interrupt with his favorite phrase:

“Ah! No such thing as problems. Only opportunities to see how the Lord can work.”

Those words have stuck with me ever since, but it’s far easier for to focus on the problem than see the opportunity. It’s easier to succumb to worry than to rely on trust. It makes more sense in our human minds to figure out a way to avoid issues than it is to rely on an outside source.

Opportunity is hard to see when we are in the midst of trials, but even more so when those trials are a result of our own choices. When we look at trials as problems our options are many, but results are limited. We can blame others, we can blame God, we can worry, we can go into denial, try new relationships or surroundings or a whole basketful of other options.

When we look at trials as opportunities, our options may be few (one actually) but the results are infinite. When I look at a trial as my own problem, then I am the only one that can solve it. When I look at a trial as the Lord’s opportunity to show himself to me, then the responsibility for solution becomes his. My response is to trust him so that I can grow stronger and have more courage.

Fear and worry paralyze us. Courage is knowing that whatever trials are before us, we will be stronger on the other side. Faith is knowing that regardless of the reasons for my struggle, my God will never leave me and can use anything I encounter as an opportunity for him to show his grace, mercy and love.

Is what you are facing today a problem or an opportunity? Your response to that question will determine how you approach the future.

PRAYER: Father God, the things I’m facing scare me. In my humanity I tend towards trying to solve my own problems rather than relying on you to show my how to grow through them. Empower me with your Spirit to see all of life as an opportunity for you to make me stronger. Amen.

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August 2012
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