Writing as Worship: crafting a psalm

psalm-writingAs we pursue the Psalms in a series this summer, “Worship Together, Focusing on Jesus,” we find that they are mostly written by King David. Other writers include Asaph, sons of Korah, Solomon, and Moses.

Q: Have you ever written a Psalm?  No? That’s okay. Here’s why you might want to.

Let me be clear at the outset: you will not write a “Psalm.” Sorry, the Scriptures are written–signed, sealed, delivered (Hebrews 1:2).

But, you can write a psalm–really!

A psalm is simply a song to the Lord. And because I am now reaching beyond my creative abilities, I’d like to introduce a friend, sister in Christ, and enthusiastic worshiper, Iris Heeter.

As Iris reads and meditates upon the glory of Scriptures, she will then write out her heart in prayer to her Savior. These pieces now fill a 3-ring binder which I was recently given access to.

Recently we covered copying Scripture as an act of worship. Here, we cover writing out prayers, crafted in prose and poetry, as worship.  Thank you, Iris, for these gorgeous songs.

Father,

Your goodness is overwhelming
Your kindness leaves me
breathless
choking back
tears of gratitude

Fill me, Lord,
fill me to overflowing
every nook
every cranny
nothing but You

May my countenance
resemble Yours
may I walk daily
in the knowledge of
Your sacrifice

Resting assured of Your love
Soaring on the wings of
Your victory.
Selah.

GHC, November 2, 2014, ©Iris Heeter

Oh Jesus,

We worship You
we glorify You
You alone are worthy
You alone are holy

There is no other

We adore You
You alone are awesome

You take our breath away
You fill our hearts
with eternal gratitude
Your grace abounds
Your mercy is unending

Fill us, Lord,
Let us be Your vessels.
Selah.

Grace Heartland Church, August 24, 2014, ©Iris Heeter, 2014

Pour me out, Lord
Let me be a drink offering
Use my life for Your glory

Let Your light shine brightly through me
Let others see my Lord and Savior in me
Let me be about Your work

I yearn to glorify You
Laying down my ego for You
Letting go of my pride
Making my heart Your home

That I may walk in Your footsteps
That Your words may be my sustenance
That Your Spirit may fill my soul

That You may be my everything.
Selah.

February 9, 2014 ©Iris Heeter, 2014

Want to write out your own psalm/song? Go ahead. God’s blessings. Send a copy to Iris and me.

Author credit tag detail: this blog written mostly by Iris Heeter with just a little help from Daryl Pepper

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Writing as Worship & Worship by Writing

Struggle to pay attention in personal worship?journal_pen

Or, maybe you just want a new way to worship?

Try this: write your way to worship.  I recently asked a group of mature Christian adults: What are some of the best Bible study tools?  They listed a study Bible, concordance, commentaries, Bible dictionary, maybe some software?

But sometimes we overlook the simple tools–pen & paper. Yep. Two of the best Bible Study tools. Ever.

So, if you’re struggling to pay attention while having a devotion. Or, you just want a change-up in how you pursue God, try writing.  Here are a few suggestions.

Copy Scripture.

That’s just what it looks like. Open the Word, find a chapter, copy. Writing Scripture word for word engages other senses–hand and eye join heart and soul. This easy-way to engage with Scripture slows down the quick read, forcing you to pay attention to words, structure, order. It will allow you to see descriptions and begin to ask questions.

As prayer naturally follows Scripture reading (or copying or both), feel free to write out your prayers in response to what God is saying.

Beyond the basics.

Sure, you can use the basic logo-stamped ball point pen rescued from the kitchen counter and some notebook paper.  That works. But, if you try this a few times and like it, why not add some style and art to your writing?

My wife prefers a crisp, sharp No. 2 lead pencil with angled sides, not round. For me, nothing beats a fountain pen–and if it’s a family piece or one I picked up cheap in an antique store and rehabed, even better.

Then, there’s the paper–I like a journal with a leather cover and quality paper with lines.  I’ve seen the more free-spirited among us using brightly colored pens and unlined paper. Highly unstructured, but very artsy!

Something about the italic nib brushing bright blue ink over an ivory page slows me down, gets me out of the digital zoo and focuses, at least to some degree, my distracted soul. Perhaps it allows my inner-artist some fleeting release?

Want to try it?

I hope so. Open to Psalm 1. Copy it entirely, word for glorious word. Then, look at it again. Reflect. Ask good questions. Pray as you reflect. Jot down some of your prayers.

Be careful!

There’s more to you than you think. Here’s what I mean–you may well find that this way of engaging with the Lord brings things to the surface you did not know were there. The Lord uses this process to affirm what He is doing in your life. He can also convict, correct, and instruct as well as encourage.  He will free your soul to worship.

And in the worship we glorify Him. So, try writing out some Scripture word for word. If this works for you in a Psalm or two, try tackling an entire book–many of the letters in the New Testament are just a few chapters.

Let me know how it goes.

Daryl Pepper, journal junkie, fountain pen lover

Vertical Worship on Vacation, Part 2, Evaluation of Relationships

A Vertical Evaluation of Relationshipsvacation_gas-texaco-57

There’s nothing like a vacation to allow for our most precious commodity to be well-spent. No, it’s not money. Our greatest gift is time. In the last blog, we discussed an evaluation of our responsibilities and our possessions–two major items that vacations force us to give focused attention.

Another major area of life is our relationships.  With whom will we vacation? Certainly our own kids!

But, watchout: vacations force us to evaluate the ages and stages of our kids.

  • Should we invite someone to come along?
  • Do they need a buddy their age?
  • What is unique to the age and stage of our children?
  • In what ways is each child excelling? Being challenged?
  • How can we best celebrate with them?
  • How can we best encourage them?
  • How do they need to be challenged?

Are there others that you include on vacations? Maybe your family combines an all-out reunion as part of the trip? Or, maybe your family needs to start this tradition? Do you invite the grandparents to come along? Is there a family you’d like to come along? Why? Chances are they have kids of similar age & stage and enjoy the same activities and places.

Sadly, this year our family vacation features only five instead of six.  Our oldest daughter is in college and working all summer. It is also a final trip just before our second-oldest leaves for life as a student and soldier at an academy.

A vacation can allow us a heartfelt, prayerful evaluation of our responsibilities, possessions, and the people who matter most. They allow us to frame our lives according to seasons and stages. We can put down the to-do list long enough to see life through the lens of seasons and to see how God is working.

As a practical help, praying through and talking through Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 can be a blessing.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
   a time to be born, and a time to die;
       a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
   a time to kill, and a time to heal;
       a time to break down, and a time to build up;
   a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
       a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
   a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
       a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
   a time to seek, and a time to lose;
       a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
   a time to tear, and a time to sew;
       a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
   a time to love, and a time to hate;
       a time for war, and a time for peace.

Daryl Pepper, Associate Pastor

Vertical Worship on Vacation? Part 1, Evaluation of Life

55_Nomad_wagonJust when we thought it was safe to go back into the water, here’s a pastor using our trendy church word, “vertical” and applying it to the family vacation!  By vertical we mean enjoying the presence of God in our worship—and all of life should be, can be, worship! So, why not think about a vertical vacation?

Defining Vertical Vacationing

A vertical vacation is not taking a week-long break from worship, holiness, or the presence of God! Rather, let’s apply the idea of being vertical in our worship of God to our vacation. Why not infuse the family vacation with a very real vertical presence of God?

This multi-part blog will discuss allowing a very-real vertical presence to permeate our vacationing. In this post, we focus on the evaluation of life.

A Vertical Evaluation of Responsibilities and Possessions

One of the practical benefits of taking a vacation is that it forces us to think about our responsibilities in life and our possessions. What else causes us to pay attention to every area of life all at one time?

In preparing to get away, we have to make plans for:

  • Pets—grooming, shots, feed, toys, care while we are gone?
  • Home—doors and windows locked? Heating or cooling okay? Lawn mowed?
  • Work—just trying to get it all done so we can be gone!
  • Cars—is the family grocery-getter clean and maintained?
  • Technology—do we have enough data for all the new pictures and video?
  • Other meetings and sports—do others know we will be gone?
  • Church—can my volunteer positions be met by someone else? Giving done?
  • Finances—are the bills paid? Do we have the money we need while traveling?

Responsibilities. In all of the above areas we can prayerfully evaluate what responsibilities we have. This is a great time to ask good questions.

  • Am I trying to do too much?
  • What am I doing that someone else can do?
  • What are my roles in relation to my family? Community?
  • What am I doing that only I can do—because of training, skills, education, experience, etc.?
  • What stressors do I need to deal with in my work?
  • What are the benefits of working where I work and with my co-workers?

This work may be the kind you get paid for or the roles you have in the life of your family and home.

A vacation will force us to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears that we all have in whatever work the Lord has given us to do. Why not use the time leading up to the vacation, being gone, and returning, to prayerfully evaluate the work of our hands?

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established (Proverbs 16:3).

Possessions. We are also forced to measure the amount of stuff we have—the few items we will take with us as we travel, and the vast amount we leave behind. Do we own our stuff or does our stuff own us? Most of us can get along quite well with far less!

  • What do we really need?
  • What can we live without?
  • When should we put a yard sale on the calendar?
  • What do we own that could be a blessing to someone else?
  • What items are worthy to donate to Mission Hope for Kids? Hosparus?
  • What needs to be consigned or sold outright?

Vertical vacationing includes an honest assessment of our stuff. Prayerfully evaluate the possessions we need and what we can do without. Use this time to challenge your soul to be content with what you have.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Next post: Vertical Worship on Vacation and the evaluation of relationship.

Daryl Pepper, Associate Pastor

NEPAL: Missionaries Hugh & Joanne Roberson Report

Nepal_2015When seeking to help Grace Heartland Church stay up-to-date on the crisis in Nepal, who better to catch-up with than some of our own missionaries?

Photo: Nepal, 2015

Hugh & Joanne Roberson serve with Cru (Campus Crusade) at the headquarters in Orlando, FL.  They are in charge of directing Cru’s efforts to reach Asia. Recently, I was able to communicate with them while they are in Bangalore, India–even as they stay updated about Nepal!Nepal_hugh_1980

Hugh:     It was 1980. We lived in Manila, Philippines. Hugh was asked to go for 6 weeks to a country to help train a group of college students and to help initiate a rural training for lay pastors. It was illegal to become a Christian in this Hindu/Buddhist kingdom. In fact our national director spent time in jail simply because he was ‘breaking the law’ by ‘proselytizing ‘.

This was our first exposure to Nepal. Years later through a peaceful coup this kingdom transformed into a democratic parliament. Today, at least two of those college students serve as CCC staff members, giving significant leadership to Nepal and to the South Asia area. Another is an elder in a church now pastored by one of our former staff. In 1980 a small house church was formed and met secretly in a room on top of a bookstore. Today there are 15,000 members with 62 church plants!

Our national director was instrumental in forming the Nepal Christian Fellowship, which today is one of the largest associations of churches in the country. The number of Christians has grown from about 500 in the mid 70s to about 1.7 million. Today Nepal CCC [Campus Crusade] has 100 national university graduate staff, 66 of whom minister on the university campuses. In light of the recent earthquake here’s the miracle. All 100 staff are safe, although many are now living in tents. Nepal is part of the South Asia area in which we continue to work.

Another update from Hugh places the number of Christians in Nepal as closer to 4 million believers!

Hugh also shares the following ways to pray for Nepal:

  1. Pray for God’s comfort and peace as the people deal with displacement, loss of loved ones, anxiety over missing family members and friends, loss of property, injury and fear, (especially with the continued aftershocks).
  2. God will prepare hearts and that this tragedy will draw many to Christ who alone will satisfy spiritual hunger and thirst.
  3. All government and other aid agencies involved in rescue and relief work. Pray for strength and perseverance. Pray for all those in authority to make timely decisions and to respond to needs.
  4. Tara Singh, our CCC Nepal National Team Leader and his team as they coordinate local relief efforts; best possible ways to respond to the huge needs all around them.; pray for staff families (especially women and children)
  5. The Church in Nepal (even as they grieve over the death of some of their loved ones) to be “salt and light” in the midst of gloom and darkness; to show genuine love, care, unity and authentic faith; to bring HOPE to the people around them.
  6. God’s wisdom for Nepal and South Asia CCC as we look beyond the immediate relief; to know a course of action to take in rebuilding the lives of people; pray for favor with the government in providing long term, needed resources; how to engage with both believers and non- believers in a God glorifying way that is conducive to building spiritual movements.
  7. The future needs of all our staff members in Nepal – Staff support has been a huge challenge in Nepal as they try to raise funds from a relatively poor and small community of Christians. With this earthquake and large scale damages and property loss, we have no idea how this is going to affect the Christians in general and specifically our staff’s support. Pray that the God of Elijah will provide for every need of our staff members in the coming months.  Pray that the Lord will open up unprecedented ministry opportunities as they seek to minister to people. You can go to www.cru.org/give to support staff.

Hugh and Joanne can be reached at hugh.roberson@cru.org or joanne.roberson@cru.org.  They would love to hear from you.  If you’d like to partner in prayer and/or with finances with the Robersons to reach Asia, be sure to contact them.

NEPAL: Pray. Give. Go.

IMB_Nepal

GHC Family,

How do we even begin to respond to the–now double–tragedy in Nepal?  You’ve seen the news stories with updates and pictures of devastation.

So, how do we respond?

More than keeping up with the news stories, as Christians, we can trust God to use these catastrophic earthquakes to bring the gospel right into these areas.  There are really 3 responses that need to be made: Pray. Give. Go.

Pray.

Certainly we need to pray for: relief aid efforts currently underway–many of these are done by Christian ministries who literally stand ready to rush in at a moment’s notice. Most of the people in this region have never even heard of the name of Jesus Christ.  Now, mission agencies have an open door to both meet very real physical needs while also meeting their eternal need of knowing Jesus.  See the links below where those on the front lines are posting ways to pray.

Give.

While we can give to many humanitarian groups who are handing out water and food, I encourage Christians to give through mission agencies who also tell about God’s love.  Links are posted below to inform your giving.

Go.

Many more Christians need to go to this region of the world to help. Go short term–go for a a few days or weeks and be part of the answer.  Go long term–take a long-term view and decide to go to this region for several years or more. GHC partners with many mission groups who equip believers to serve overseas.  Some of the links below also have information on how to go to this area, or feel free to contact me.

Links to missions groups we trust:

Samaritan’s Purse is run by Franklin Graham.  http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/second-major-quake-shakes-nepal/?utm_source=Bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=m_YYNP-015V_BingSPNEPAL

Cru is the new name for Campus Crusade for Christ who are directing efforts through Global Aid Network. https://give.cru.org/0775884_5843?CampaignCode=854BAN

Baptist Global Response is the relief agency of the International Missions Board.  https://gobgr.org/projects/project_detail/nepal-earthquake-response/%22%20%5Ct%20%22_blank

Daryl Pepper, Associate Pastor

3 Ways We Misread Scripture

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1. Misreading Scripture As a Scrapbook

Lee Ann and I have not celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, but that doesn’t keep our kids from finding our wedding scrapbook and having a good laugh at the styles of hair, dresses, and decor of the early 1990’s. Tempted to be offended, I’m reminded that I’ve done the same with old family scrapbooks since I was a kid.

The problem lies in reading the Bible this way: dismissing the cultural settings and situations as quaint, outdated, and irrelevant. It is good to understand the context or the setting of a passage–to include the customs and traditions.  We will miss the full weight of a situation if we dismiss the details.  When we know the Jewish law forbidding the raising of pigs as unclean animals, it deepens the abject horror of the prodigal son who is longing to eat their food.

2.  Misreading Scripture As a Selfie

A casual glance at social media informs that it is not only tweens, teens, or twenty-somethings who take selfies.  From grandmothers to presidents, everyone is snapping away.  The nature of a selfie is usually places us in the center of the shot in a positive light.

The problem is when we read Scripture this way. We are guilty of placing ourselves in the center of the biblical picture frame.  In our minds’ eye, we place ourselves in the scene and in the best possible light.  Peter denying Jesus three times?  Tsk, tsk we muse, pridefully believing that we would be so bold as to identify with Jesus?  Careful! A more sober selfie is of our backsides running far, far, away outpacing the other disciples.

3. Misreading Scripture as a Yearbook

Remember the day the yearbooks were handed out every spring in school?  100% of us scanned the pages quickly trying to find . . . ?  That’s right–you’re own big, fat face.  Did they use the right picture? Is my name spelled right?  Where else do I show up? Any casual shots? If so, are they good?

The Yearbook Misread applies to Scripture in this way–we read the stories seeking to jump to application far too quickly.  What’s in it for me? What am I supposed to do? Sometimes we hope we do not show up–since we don’t want to change our actions anyway.  Other times we are sure that the tough lesson does not apply to us, but can think of many in our class (church) that it would really help. Jesus teaches that all Scripture points to him and is fulfilled in him (Luke 24:27; 44). The main picture we need to find is the one of Jesus. Once we find his picture, we can then more humbly find our face in the crowd of brothers and sisters being transformed into his likeness.

1 Helpful Solution

Recently a Bible study class was asked–What are some good Bible study tools? They were right to answer: Bible dictionary, Bible handbooks, good commentaries.  But, some of the simplest and most powerful tools were overlooked: pen, paper, and  good questions.  Stopping to ask the “5 W’s and an H” slows us down and allows us to observe the details: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?  A particularly good questions to help us avoid the 3 Misreadings is: What did it mean to them, then? The “them” is the original audience. The “then” is the time frame in which the text occurs.

1 Brief Example

When reading the 4th Commandment, it states: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).  Before asking how this possibly applies to us right now; ask, “What did it mean to them, then?”  Why does the text tell them to “remember”? Reading the rest of the commandment (verses 9-11), we note that Moses roots this command in creation. They were to “remember” that God created for six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 1:31-2:3). They are to “remember” this pattern.  Next, we can recall that they were instructed about the Sabbath in the giving of the manna–six days to collect the bread, one day it will keep and be preserved (Exodus 16:23-29).

Later, when seeking to move toward application, we can ask other questions of the 4th Commandment: What does Jesus teach about this text? About the Sabbath? About rest?  But, for now, it is good for us to see that God is establishing a pattern of work and rest for his people and that the Sabbath is a gift (Exodus 16:29; 20:8-11).

Read! Read the Scriptures! Enjoy them deeply.  But, read them with an eyes fully opened to observation and interpretation before jumping fully into application.

The Gospel According to Cinderella: How to watch a movie with your kids!

moviereel2The Gospel According to Cinderella?

One of the joys of kids is having an excuse to do the really fun kid-stuff!  Like, going to see Disney’s new release of Cinderella.  My 9-year old Elizabeth and I caught it at a matinee the first weekend of release.  Since then I’ve read several well-intended Christian reviews that are consumed with the types of dresses worn, how mean the step-sisters are, and concerns over having faith in such things as fairy godmothers.

Ballyhoo!

Yes, there are some tight corsets and plunging necklines that are in keeping with era in which is is placed.  Overall, the costuming, set-designs, scenery, staging, and filming are masterful!  Far more than I expected even from Disney’s bankrolls!  So here’s my plea:  don’t let the wardrobe get in the way of the bigger picture.

Yes, the step-sisters are full-on meanies. You would not want your kids to emulate their behavior.  That’s just the point the picture makes: only the most demented of children will look at their actions and want to be like them.  Especially as Cinderella is so genuinely innocent,  kind, and gracious.

And yes, there’s a good old fashion fairy godmother thrown in to make everything all right.  Spoiler alert: Disney is not a Christian company and does not seek to share the gospel in it’s stories.  Maybe that’s even more helpful than if they did share Scripture.

Before you shriek and count me a Bible hater, let me try to explain.

There really is the Gospel According to Cinderella.  No, they never share the plan of salvation. No, they do not quote Scripture or throw in any God-references.  Nevertheless, we see a gospel-laden story within this story.

First, the grand theme of this movie is just what Cinderella’s loving mom tells her as she lays dying: be courageous and kind.  These themes are developed throughout the movie and sustain Cinderella. When she does falter in her faith in these traits, along comes a fairy godmother to the rescue–complete with footmen, coach, and glass slippers!  Certainly the Bible–through the Old and New Testaments–emphasizes having courage and exercising kindness.

Another gospel theme is never developed in words, but is strong in idea and symbolism.  This is the gospel idea of being fully-known and yet fully-loved.  The prince is handsome, charming, and well-clad. All he knows about her–from their first encounter in the forest to their dancing at the ball–is that she is a simple country girl with no royal ties and no dowry.  When the prince finally finds Cinderella, and the slipper fits, he asks for her name.

And, just how does she answer? In our yearning for justice to happen, we want her to plead her own case–that the estate belonged to her parents, is rightfully hers, and that the wicked step-mother has made her a servant!

But that’s not what she pleads. Rather, she uses her step-name, “Cinderella,” complete with soot on her dress and face and hair.  She makes it clear that she has no dowry–absolutely nothing to offer.  He loves her anyway! What a picture of the gospel.

Then, as she is going out the door with the prince to live happily ever after, she stops to look her step-mother in the face and have one last word with her. Again, our inner-judge wants her to scream “Your Momma!” Or, something equally as defensive or condemning.  Instead, Cinderella takes the higher road and offers with the powerful and freeing: “I forgive you.”

No Scriptures. No plan of redemption. No explanation of atonement.

Parents, this is where we come in!

Disney does help us to move toward a gospel-centered conversation with our kids in this film by what they do not do. They do not change the original rages-to-riches by way of rescue story that makes Cinderella a classic. And, they do not use the well-worn Disney theme of look into your own self for inner-strength.

What they do is allow us to talk about courage and strength, about being fully-known and yet fully-loved, and about the power and dignity of forgiveness.

So, go see Cinderella with your kids and have a blast!

But, don’t miss this part–make sure you follow-up with a good conversation about the gospel. After watching the flick, go enjoy something yummy together (we went to Red Mango for frozen yogurt, Elizabeth’s favorite), and then start asking good questions:

  • What was your favorite scene? Character? Situation?
  • What were the 2 big traits that Cinderella’s mom told her to live by? Does she?
  • Why are courage and kindness so important?
  • The prince is supposed to marry what type of person?  Does he?
  • Why does he love Cinderella?
  • When she sees her wicked step-mother for the last time, she stops to speak to her. What did she say? Why is that important?

The gospel according to Cinderella? The beginning of it is now playing in a multiplex nearby.  The rest of it is up to us!

Daryl Pepper, Dad, movie-goer and lover of the gospel

The 10 Commandments . . . of Worship?

angry_godThe Ten Commandments have come under fire.  Perhaps we’ve been so worried about who can and cannot post them, and where they can or cannot be posted, that we’ve missed the beauty of them? But can a commandment given back then lead to worship today?

Here are 4 Q’s to go from commandment to worship.

1) What did it mean to them?
2) What does it mean today?
3) How does it lead to confession?
4) How does it lead to worship?

Let’s take Commandment #1 and apply these 4 questions.

Worship Commandment #1:
                     You shall have no other gods before me.
                                                                     –Exodus 20:3

What did it mean to them?

The setting is the nation of Israel coming out of slavery in Egypt. They were slaves in a land of polytheism. God sends teh plagues, through Moses and Aaron, to refute the false gods of Egypt and to establish that He is the one true God.

The two verses before this commandment present the setting:  And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ (vv. 1-2).  God is a speaking God–unlike other “gods” who remain mute. He reminds them who He is, the Lord your God; and what He has done–rescued them from slavery.  This means that God has the authority to tell them He is the one true God, and that He has the expectation of their worship.

Do you remember what is happening in the camp?  Even as Moses is receiving the Ten Commandments, worship is happening–very misdirected worship.  Aaron carves a golden calf and then announces that this is the god who led them out of Egypt?! (Exodus 32:1-6).  It’s hard to fathom that the Israelites really believed this calf–fashioned after the great exit–led them out of slavery. The beauty of the golden calf, to them, is that in the worship of this mute idol they could eat and drink and rise up to play (v. 6) as they wished.  Whatever types of “play” this was, God considered it corrupted (vv. 6-7).

What does it mean today?

Their story is our story.  No, believers today were not held under slavery in Egypt. No, we have not stood at the base of Mount Sinai while our pastor hikes up to receive stone tablets.  But, rest of the Old Testament–the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets refer to this image of coming out of slavery and into freedom.  Then, the New Testament speaks of coming out of slavery and into freedom.  The forgiveness and redemption Christians have in Jesus Christ leads us from slavery to sin and self into freedom to worship the one true God.  We have both the desire and the power to obey the first commandment: You shall have no other gods but me.  As Paul states:  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

          To dismiss the 1st commandment is to reenlist in slavery.

As Paul instructs:  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  (Romans 8:15).  Did Jesus ever repeat the first commandment?  Jesus teaches, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). He states that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).

For believers today, to be free in Christ is to be free to keep this commandment.  And, to dismiss the first commandment is to submit again to slavery.

How does it lead to confession?

Wouldn’t living the Christian life be far easier if we could just have other gods? If we could have God, sure, as the one, true, capital “G” God. But isn’t it helpful to have some lesser gods?  Believers need to confess the golden calves of our Christian culture.

  • Confessing the gatekeeper god.  This god allows us to believe that our neighbors can go to heaven through some lesser god. This means we do not have to be concerned about the Muslim at the end of the cul-de-sac or the professed Baptist next door who claims belief but hasn’t been to a worship service in years and years. This god simply commands a surface relationship with neighbors. It dismisses the 2nd greatest commandment given by Jesus: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37). After all, this gatekeeper god will probably allow good people–and maybe everyone–to go to heaven.
  • Confessing the a la carte god.  This god can be specifically created as best fits the worshiper.  This means that people can talk about “my god,” and then go on to define him as they wish. This god may in some ways resemble the one true God–like being a god of love.  More Picasso than Michelangelo, he has parts that resemble the one true God, but not an entire picture.
  • Confessing the sensual god This god allows its worshipers to define sexual preferences, ethic, and relationships as they please.  Like the golden calf of old, it allows these adherents to be like the people [who] sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play (Exodus 32:6). Never mind that the one true God still sees that they have corrupted themselves (v. 7).

Confessing these lesser gods could go on and on. And we all have them.  We do well to look at each commandment and ask–how am I breaking or compromising or just not caring about–this commandment?  One of the benefits of true soul-searching confession is that it frees us to enjoy worship more fully.

How does it lead to worship?

You shall have no other gods before me.   We worship because God is a speaking God! He is not a mute idol or calf. He speaks! He initiates with us.  He gives us His Word!  We are those who know Him and draw near.  Having been rescued from hundreds of other lesser gods, having been rescued from our slavery to the world and the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-4), we are free to worship God–the one true God.

It is this God who allows us to see the commandments as beautiful and attractive.  So we look at Commandment #1 and rejoice! We are the ones who do not have to gather for worship; we are the ones who get to worship–as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We love Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). We love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.  We love our neighbor as ourself.

Worship Commandment #1:  You shall have no other gods before me.

Daryl Pepper, Associate Pastor

Does the Snowfall Lead to Worship?

snowfallIn our beloved Heartland this morning the snow is blowing with blizzard. How do you respond? At least this storm is only supposed to produce a light dusting. If 1 flake to sticks to the roads, you know just what will happen–everyone in this area is required to report to the local grocery store to stock up! After the grocery binge, we will meet the salt trucks on our way to pick up the kids because the schools dismissed early.

How do you view the snow? Beautiful or troublesome? Sure, the snow can lead to shoveling the drive and digging out the cars. But, I still confess to having a kid-like excitement at the wonder of a robust snowfall. Beyond the grocery, lost sidewalks, and closed schools, I hope you still see the glory in it all.  We were built to respond to the beauty of a heavenly downpour.

So, just how does the snowfall lead to worship?

See the Snowfall and Worship the Sender

God both creates and sends the snow. The last prediction of snow for our area was a mere “dusting” which amounted a full 5 inches!  While this accumulation surprised the forecasters, it did not catch God off-guard.

God thunders with His voice wondrously, Doing great things which we cannot comprehend. “For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’ “He seals the hand of every man, That all men may know His work. Job 37:5-7

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, Which I have reserved for the time of distress, For the day of war and battle?  Job 38:22-23

He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. 16 He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. 17 He casts forth His ice as fragments; Who can stand before His cold?  Psalm 147:15-17

See the Snowfall and Worship the Provider

God promises that He accomplishes His own will in the snowfall. Then, He uses this picture to remind us of the glory, power, and beauty of His Word.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

See the Snowfall and Worship the Forgiver

God uses the purity of new-fallen snow to paint of picture of the cleansing of forgiveness.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

So, see the snow. Pause for a moment and watch it blowing through the trees or dancing on the driveway. Be reminded of God and His majesty. See the snow.  See the snow with new eyes. See the snow and allow your child-like wonder to lead to worship.

Daryl Pepper, Associate Pastor