I have always loved to sing, and more than that, I have always loved to sing songs that I could feel in my heart. When I stand with a congregation to sing praise songs to God, I look for the deepest meaning I can find in the song, and I try my best to sing it to Him directly. It’s a struggle for me to sing something I cannot feel. I have often stood crying when it seemed the music around me was just cluttered noise. Sometimes I would cry because I felt the presence of God by seeking God in the midst of whatever was going on around me, and sometimes I would cry because I was hurting over the shallowness I felt in what should have been the holiest time of our fellowship together.
Long before King David and the Book of Psalms he filled with praises toward Yahveh Almighty, God taught men how He wanted praise to be delivered to Him. In today’s reading from Exodus 30:1 through Exodus 30:10 we learn about the Altar of Incense which represents praise. Beyond offering a regular sacrifice twice each day, God also commanded the priests to offer fragrant incense twice each day. He gave instructions for an altar that would be used specifically for this purpose.
The most important instruction about the Altar of Incense is where God said to locate it. He said to put it in front of the curtain by the Ark of the Covenant. Remember that the priest, and only the high priest, could go into the Holy of Holies, and then only once per year. Many layers of drapery separated that area from the rest of the tabernacle. But, while men could not go beyond the curtain, the smoke that ascended from the incense would be able to penetrate the material to reach the ark that represented God’s presence.
Because this smoke went directly into God’s presence, God was very specific about what to burn on the altar and how to burn it. Unholy things cannot dwell in God’s presence, so anything not created by God’s exact instructions was considered “strange fire,” and should never be put on God’s altar. He said to offer no grain offerings on it and to pour no drink offerings on it. In addition, God told Aaron to put the blood of atonement on it once per year to keep it holy because, according to God, that altar was especially holy to Him. Imagine, something that represents praise being called “especially holy” to God then and throughout all the generations of His people.
Since we are now able to come boldly before the throne of God and into His presence, it might be easy to forget just how holy praise is to Him. We sometimes sing songs because they sound good or because a certain singer or band does a good job with their performance. I know how hard it is to lead music and remember that it’s not about performance at the same time. But I also know the experience of how I’ve heard my own voice, as if it wasn’t even coming out of me, somehow sound better than any practice or performance because my heart went to a place of true worship as I sang.
While we often start services with praise because we want to change the atmosphere by ushering in the presence of God, I love the times where we sing to change ourselves and usher our own spirits into His glorious presence. Since the smoke of incense rises, and since incense represents praise entering God’s presence, I feel like praise is a way to rise up out of our flesh and actually send a part of ourselves into the holy presence of our Holy Creator. Sometimes, it may even take a sacrifice–a break away from our own thoughts and ways–but to me, there is no greater joy than to lead my heart into a place of worship that God can receive as a holy and acceptable offering to Him. And on that note, enjoy this video with lyrics of the song Heart of Worship by Matt Redman.
There are a lot of ways to not know God. For one example, we can imagine a husband and wife who live together more like roommates than spouses. They know each other in basic ways, but they don’t know each other’s heart. For another example, we can imagine neighbors who live on the same street, maybe even right next door to each other, but they cannot tell anyone else much of anything about their neighbors. In reference to God, there are people that don’t know anything about Him even if they have heard about Him their whole lives. Maybe they even go through the motions of serving Him, but there’s no depth, so their relationship with Him is based on their life circumstances rather than vice-versa.
In today’s reading from Exodus 5:1 through Exodus 6:1, God has sent Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel to speak with Pharaoh and request that the nation of Israel take three days to celebrate a festival and worship God. Since Pharaoh does not know God at all, (though remember that God knows him and predicted his reactions), he takes this request as a way for people to just get out of their work. As payback, he tells the slave masters to stop giving them straw for their bricks but to expect the same output even with them having to collect their own materials.
When the foremen of the people went to complain to Pharaoh, he told them they were just lazy, and that’s why they wanted time away to worship God. I’m guessing they knew nothing of God’s plan because when they came out from Pharaoh and saw Moses and Aaron at the side of the road, they began to accuse them of causing their troubles. So, even though they were depressed because Pharaoh kept making their lives harder, they didn’t know or trust God enough to deliver them and actually accused His messengers of making things worse. But in truth, Pharaoh was likely going to keep making things worse for them anyway since that what he had already been doing. But they had somehow allowed themselves the false mindset that if they just kept their mouths shut and did the work, all would be fine for them.
I see this happen in so many ways these days, and I have participated in it myself. I fear speaking out sometimes because I think that it will keep the peace, but that means I am making my service to God subject to my circumstances. But if I am trusting God and His word, my service to Him, and my beliefs about Him, should not change based on the opinions of others. No matter what I do or say, there are those who don’t know God that may turn my blessings into an excuse to be jealous of me like Pharaoh did just by seeing the growth of the Israelites. With them, I could say something like, “God loves you and wants you to have these blessings as well,” and they could hear it as, “You’re saying I don’t have blessings because God hates me.”
For people who don’t know God and won’t take the time to seek Him, the high cost is that they miss out on the blessings He wants them to have. And if I allow the opinions of others to change me, my high cost could be missing an opportunity to share God’s word with someone who would listen and may have already been seeking Him. Even Moses went back and accused God of making things worse and not rescuing His people, which should not be surprising since he didn’t trust God enough to help him speak. But that is so much like all of us. We might fear the kind of backlash that could come against us for speaking our hearts. We saw it in the recent attacks against Phil Robertson. But there have been some surprises in those who have stood for Phil’s right to free speech, and God can use Phil’s willingness to stand in spite of opposition to win the heart of someone who needed to see that there is stability in serving God.
Today’s reading, and this week’s portion, ends with God telling Moses, “Now you will see what I am going to do to Pharaoh.” Let us be more willing to pay the low costs of knowing God–that is a short life that could include some tough circumstances, rather than the high costs of not knowing Him at all. We can be encouraged that John 15:18-21 reminds us that if the world hates us, it is because it hated God first and that we are chosen out of it by God rather than left to be a part of it. And we can keep our hope in the promises of eternity that kept Paul the Apostle strong. As he said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT), “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”
Yesterday, we read about God giving Abraham’s servant a sign that he was moving in the right direction, and through it, the servant found Rebekah as a future wife for Isaac. Today, we read in Genesis 24:27 through Genesis 24:52, and the story is almost exactly the same except that it is being retold by the servant to Rebekah’s relatives.
In verses 47 & 48, the servant begins to share his personal reaction to being shown a positive sign about Rebekah. He tells the family how he put the gifts of jewelry on her, and then he describes bowing before Adonai and worshiping Him for bringing him to the right place. In verse 49, he gives his audience the chance to make a decision about whether or not they will believe and adhere to the direction that has been shown to the servant and confirmed by the sign, and I love their response.
In verses 51 & 52, the two men respond by saying (my paraphrase), “Well, since this is obviously from God, we can’t say anything good or bad. Since Rebekah is here before you, take her and go, and let her become your master’s son’s wife…since God said so.” And at that point, the servant again bowed on his face to worship Yahveh Almighty.
If only we could all respond as calmly and without argument, right? I know I have thought for sure that God said things, but then I waited for a person to confirm what I knew in my heart. When I didn’t get the human support I felt I needed, I backed down only to find later that I should have listened to that still, small voice in my spirit. If only I would always understand that His ways and thoughts are above my ways and thoughts and, with or without human support or understanding, move forward in obedience just because God said so. There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end leads to destruction. And then… there is God’s way.
Today’s reading begins Parashah (Portion) Four, which includes Genesis 18:1-22:24. Part 1 of this portion is Genesis 18:1 through Genesis 18:14, and it tells the story of when God stopped by Abraham’s house. It says that when Abraham looked out his door, he saw three men standing under the Oaks of Mamre, and he knew immediately who was on his property. The picture below from Wikemedia Commons, can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abrahams_Oak,_1880.jpg.
So, here’s Abraham just going about his daily routines, having many of the same needs we all experience on a daily basis, and suddenly he looks outside and sees God. If that happened to you, what would you do? How many people do you suppose would say something like, “Oh, hey God. I’ve been meaning to talk to You. I’ve got this list of things I’ve been needing from You, and, well, since You’re here anyway.” I grieve that many would see it as the magic lamp is here. Let’s rub it.
But not Abraham. He ran–not walked–from his tent door and fell at his feet in humble worship. He asked these visitors to be his guests; to wash their feet, have some food and drink, and to rest before they traveled on. He was beside himself trying to give to them and do FOR them rather than trying to get something FROM them.
This has always meant something special to me. I have asked myself more than once if, when I am in the Presence of the Almighty, am I more concerned about what I can get or what I can give. So many altar services are all about coming forward to receive something from God. We have services and gatherings centered around gifts and getting. Even Christmas, a time when people claim to be celebrating the birth of our Messiah, is more about getting gifts from each other than giving gifts to the birthday child. And whether it’s in the natural or the spiritual, this taking more than giving breaks my heart. And I wonder, after all God has given us in creation and salvation, does it break His heart too?
See, Abraham knew that the Creator of the Universe didn’t have to bless him as He already had. He knew God didn’t even have to stop to visit. Thankfulness exceeded his desire to request things from Him. His biggest request was that he would find favor in God’s eyes, so that He would stay and visit for a while. In return, God reminded Abraham once more that his wife Sarah would be having a baby soon. This time, it was Sarah who laughed, and I love today’s final verse in response to Sarah’s laughter: Is anything too hard for the Lord? The Amplified Bible adds “or too wonderful.”
I want to go before the throne in thanksgiving and humble adoration proclaiming how great is my God and praising Him that He reigns supreme in my life. I want to praise Him because I know that NOTHING is too hard or too wonderful for Him. And I pray this blesses Him so much that he will want to stop by and visit often.
I mentioned one of today’s verses in a previous post when I talked about it being strife for God to dwell within man because of our flesh. To clarify, it is because of the evil of our flesh using the definition of evil to mean “minus God.” The whole of today’s reading is from Genesis 5:25 through Genesis 6:8, and it tells about the multiplication of mankind which includes the multiplication of evil because of the sheer abundance of flesh.
While I’m not sure what is meant here by the “sons of God” vs. the “daughters of men,” I wonder if God created more men from “scratch” than just Adam. And then in chapter 6, verse 3, God says, “My Spirit will not live in human beings forever, for they too are flesh.” I think it’s talking about the “oil and water” mix of flesh that yields evil and God’s Spirit that yields good.
In verse 5, we find that men are filled with wickedness and that all the imaginings of the hearts of mankind are of evil only. The King James Version states it as that their thoughts were “only evil continually.”
Some years ago, I was told that the truest definition of evil is, as I mentioned above, “minus God.” Another statement I read states that evil is a living thing with all of its molecules flowing in a direction that is opposite God. That makes sense when compared to Genesis 8:21 where it says that men’s thoughts are inclined toward evil from their childhood. The flesh by itself is minus God. So, while wickedness is not the definition of evil, it is caused by evil; by those whose thoughts are always in and on the flesh instead of in and on God.
So in chapter 6, we read that it was a constant state of mind–always thinking of self and never thinking of God. In the new testament, in Luke 17:26-27, we read that in the days when Christ returns, things will be just like they were here in Chapter 6. And the thing is, that doesn’t just mean what we would consider to be wicked men. The idea of men thinking more of themselves than thinking of God happens plenty with “the church” as well. When men pray, worship, preach, etc., just to be noticed, they’re thinking of themselves. When men think more about what they can get from God instead of what they can give to Him, they too are thinking of themselves. And when men worship the creation more than the Creator, well, that’s definitely thinking of self.
I asked someone one time, after they told me about an altar call where almost every person in the congregation went forward, “Would the same number of people move to the altar if the preacher asked how many wanted to give something to God as did when he called to everyone who wanted to receive something special?” The thought that fewer are willing to give than receive grieves me because I feel that God is worth more than a “genie in a magic lamp.” If the last thing we received from God was our salvation, it’s still deliverance from eternal death, and that makes it worth more than anything else–especially considering that it is a gift of God’s love to us.
I desire to worship God for who He is more than for what He does. I believe that will keep my thoughts from resting in the thoughts of the flesh, whether those thoughts lead to wickedness or just self-centeredness. For those who are followers of Christ, I find this perfectly summed up by author Chip Brogden from The School of Christ, in the following statement: “What is greater than the work of the Lord? It is, the Lord of the work.” May we always keep it in this perspective.
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