Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly… But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all — to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all…

But supposing God became a man…He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and he could do it perfectly because He was God… Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying…but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Why Discipleship is Important for Children

Today’s blog post is adapted from a speech written for the children’s moment at my home church. One of my greatest passions — children’s ministry — comes in many shapes and forms. In this article, I posit that the most important way we can minister to children is to introduce them to Jesus Christ through the Word of God. 


Today, we see Jesus welcoming the little children. Would you hear the Word of the Lord today?

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
— Mark 10:13-16

Jesus was preaching to the crowds “as was his custom” (Mark 10:2). Earlier in the passage, it states he was in Judea, across the Jordan. Just before this passage, Pharisees were testing Jesus with questions about divorce and the law of Moses. And then, parents interrupt with their children.

Can you imagine what the children were like? They would be learning the Torah, perhaps they quoted passages to Jesus. Maybe they plopped themselves at his feet, as would be customary for a child to do with their rabbi. It would have been a disturbance to the Pharisee’s questioning to be sure. In fact, Luke’s gospel says parents were bringing their babies to Jesus. It might have been noisy, messy, and stinky.

No wonder the disciples were so upset!

In that culture, children were seen as the responsibility of their own families, specifically their parents. In the home, children were thought of as nuisances, tale-bearers, and spreaders of gossip. They even represented foolishness in the Jewish culture.

I imagine the disciples thought the children should go to their own rabbi to be blessed. Why bother Jesus? He was clearly in the middle of an important discussion. Surely the children could wait!

Instead, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Can you believe that? The Scripture even says that he was indignant about it. “He took them in his arms and blessed them.” The Greek says that he blessed them fervently and with emphasis.

He even says that everyone should be like the children. “Anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” The English Standard Version says it this way — “Anyone who refuses to come to God as a little child will never be allowed into his Kingdom.”

But what does this mean? What were the children doing that was so noteworthy that Jesus pointed it out to his disciples and the crowd?

They were sitting at his feet, learning from him. They were humble, teachable, and eager to receive blessing and understanding from him. And, they had a simple, unwavering faith.

Jesus was once a child, too.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it…
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
— Luke 2:41-43, 46-49

Jesus was sitting among the rabbis and religious leaders, listening and asking questions. As a twelve-year-old, he would not have been recognized as a full member of the synagogue. Traditionally he would not have completed his course of study, which included memorizing the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. And yet he was amazing the rabbis with his understanding of the Scriptures.

What does it mean to sit at a rabbi’s feet?

It means you were interested in learning from them. For example, Paul says in Acts 22:3 that he learned “at the feet of Gamaliel,” the rabbi he studied under. The disciples would have sat at Jesus’ feet, along with the vast crowds who followed to listen to him speak. The man who had the legion of demons cast out of him is specifically said to be found in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet in Luke 8:35.

Where else do we see it in Scripture?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
— Luke 10:38-42

Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, and he commends her for it, even when her sister complains that her place is in the kitchen. Can you imagine that? Sitting and seemingly doing nothing at all! But sitting in the presence of God, learning from him, listening intently to everything he says — that is what Mary was seeking, and Jesus recognized that.

I’m going to tell you a story about another woman who sat and listened intently — and she was only three years old. In a previous church, a girl named Blakely was sitting in the nursery during the sermon. Mom preached on the Ascension of Jesus that day. The service proceeded as usual and dismissed. Her parents picked her up and got in the car to head home…when Blakely began talking about the Ascension of Jesus! In this particular church, speakers had been outfitted in the nursery so the staff could listen to the sermon. It turned out that Blakely had listened closely to the whole sermon, even while she was playing.

That Christmas, Blakely served communion to the church, and in the spring, she was baptized based on her own choice to profess her faith. Since then, she has evangelized to anyone who will listen — to her family, to neighbors, at daycare, and even at the store. She wants to be a pastor when she grows up.

Where else do we see a child sitting at God’s feet? How about in 1 Samuel?

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am…”
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.
— 1 Samuel 3:2-4, 19-20

Samuel was raised in the temple, sitting at the feet of Eli, a priest. But he slept in the room with the Ark of God — at God’s feet. Samuel was a “young man,” the Hebrew implies him to be about eleven years old at the time of his call. And he grew up to be a prophet, a judge, and the last leader of Israel before anointing the first king, King Saul.

His childhood was steeped in the Word of God and the Presence of God. The Scriptures say that he had his own priestly robe — perhaps he ministered as a priest, even as a child. Can you imagine that? A boy of maybe eight years old, praying for you, guiding you through communion, and giving you words of knowledge from the Lord — after all, Samuel was a prophet! And his unwavering faith would carry him through it all.

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.”

Can you remember the earliest time in your childhood when you prayed? What is your earliest memory of faith?

The earliest thing I can remember is at two years old, singing Bible songs in Sunday school. Zacchaeus was a wee little man…The wise man built his house upon the rock…I have decided to follow Jesus…I can remember what an impact those songs made on me, even as a small child. I remember being so proud to wear my little red polo shirt and sing as a part of the children’s choir before the church. It felt like such a huge honor to be standing in front of everyone and sharing my faith! It still bears that weight now.

And that brings me to my next point.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many…
— Deut. 11:18-21

We are called to teach our children, to allow them to come to Jesus. Not to hinder them when they sit at Jesus’ feet, tugging on his sleeve, pestering him with questions and worries and excitements. Jesus brought the children into his arms and blessed them fervently. All we have to do as disciples is to bring them into the presence of Jesus.

How can we do that? The answer is simple — introduce them to the Word of God.

I remember the first Bible I ever read. It was a small, hardcover, children’s Bible called “My First Study Bible.” Each story was introduced by the main player, illustrated in cartoon color. I remember Peter’s bushy black beard, Paul’s short stature and green robes, Elijah’s wild red hair, King David’s kind blue eyes. Each of them explained the context of their story — Ezra explained being in exile, Luke explained his travels as the early church was established. And then they told their stories.

I read this little white book so many times that the cover fell off — twice! This little Bible led me to my baptism at five, and my brother to his, also at five. I remember being at my brother’s baptism, watching him listen intently to everything the pastor said.

At one point my brother asked the pastor to repeat what he had said. The pastor replied, “You can just say, ‘I do.’” This five-year-old boy wrinkled his nose and shook his head and said, “No, I need to hear what you said.” He wanted to understand each part he agreed to, as he confessed his sin and professed his faith.

I want to leave you with a Scripture I have found helpful in my own life.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.
— 1 Timothy 4:12

I like another sense in the Greek that translates “look down on you” as “underrate you.” Jesus was underrated by the people in his time. For one thing, he was young to be a teacher. Timothy is thought to be in his early thirties when Paul writes to him here, just like Jesus during his ministry — far too young to be considered wise or to even have a lot of life experience. The culture would not have considered him credible at all! And yet, he gave us the perfect example for us to set our own lives by.

How many of you were once children? Yeah, that’s what I thought!

Just as each of us were once children, we have the opportunity to invest in children who will one day become leaders and pillars in the church.

I invite all of you to invest in the lives of children, living with an example of generosity, faith, and love. Just as Jesus invited the children to come to him, we have the opportunity to give that invitation in person.

Are you willing to come and allow children to sit at your feet?

Take time to invest in the youngest generations this week. Your children…grandchildren…nieces and nephews…neighbors…the children who might come to our church…and the children who may never have been in a church before. Pray for them, teach them, open the Word to them.

Let the little children come to Jesus.

 

For Further Reference

Bible Gateway, Zondervan, www.biblegateway.com.

Rienecker, Fritz, and Cleon Rogers. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan Publ. House, 1995.

Severance, Diane. “Jesus Loved Children.” Christianity.com, Salem Wed Network, 28 Apr. 2010, www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/jesus-loved-children-11629553.html.

“What Does the Bible Say About Children?” Compassion International, Compassion International, www.compassion.com/poverty/what-the-bible-says-about-children.htm.

Wilson, Ralph F. “#79. Little Children Come to Jesus (Luke 18:15-17).” Jesus Walk, Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries. http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/18_15-17.htm

Oriental Rice Pilaf with Stir-Fried Vegetables

This one is adapted from about four different rice pilaf recipes around the internet. Most of the recipes I’ve found were either too bland or too complicated for my tastes. I like the freedom of being able to add my own spices and additions, but without the complete lack of any spices at all! Hopefully, this turns out to be somewhere in the middle.

As always, my measurements are completely estimated since I never measure anything. (I should probably start doing that, shouldn’t I?)

I literally made this earlier today, and it turned out amazing! It will undergo some tweaking as I make it again, so watch out for updates on this post. (Read: I’m going to try adding some stir-fried vegetables and cutting down on the butter! A little healthier. And besides, who doesn’t like water chestnuts?!)

UPDATE 7/30/18: The promised additions to this post are here!!! With water chestnuts, of course. The stir-fried veggies are optional, but they really put this meal over the top delicious for me! You can sub in whatever vegetables you like, or happen to have around the house. But I provided my favorite stir-fry veggies for a start! 🙂 The sauce is also optional, you can cook the vegetables in plain chicken broth with a little seasoning and it’s just as good. Pictures with the vegetables were planned, but the meal was eaten up so quickly I didn’t get a chance!!

Oriental Rice Pilaf with Stir-Fried Veggies

Ingredients

RICE
1/2 cup orzo pasta
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 stick butter
4 cups chicken broth (about a carton)
1/2 onion, minced
3 Tbsp minced garlic
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
2 Tbsp coriander
2 Tbsp black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
STIR-FRY VEGETABLES (OPTIONAL — BUT DELICIOUS)
8oz fresh pea pods (1/2 package)
8oz fresh baby carrots (1/2 package)
8oz baby corn (1 can — I recommend you DON’T get pickled)
8oz water chestnuts (1 can)
2 cups chicken broth (1/2 carton)
1 cup sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
SAUCE (OPTIONAL)
1/3 cup soy sauce
dash Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
1 Tbsp (or more as needed) cornstarch
TOPPING (OPTIONAL) 
1 handful toasted slivered almonds

Steps

  1. Start with 1/4 stick of butter in a large, deep skillet with a lid. (You’ll need it, but don’t cover it yet!) Pour orzo into the skillet and allow to brown over medium-low heat. Once it’s beginning to brown, add the onion and cook until translucent (about 3 minutes). Then add 2 Tbsp garlic (reserving 1 Tbsp) and cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in jasmine rice. Allow cooking for another couple of minutes, and then cover with 4 cups of the chicken broth. (If there’s not enough room — reserve some chicken broth.) Turn up to high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cover and reduce to medium-low heat. Rice should be simmering, but just barely. Allow rice to cook and expand, about fifteen minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, pour 1/2 carton chicken broth, sugar, and soy sauce (optional) in a wok over medium-high heat. Add in baby carrots and pea pods. Cover and let cook.
  5. Check on rice, seasoning with 1/4 stick of butter, 1 Tbsp garlic, coriander, black pepper, and more salt as needed. (Add the reserved chicken broth, if applicable.) If still crunchy or uncooked, add more chicken broth, or water. Allow to cook down for another ten minutes, then turn off heat.
  6. When the vegetables are cooked to the desired consistency, remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl. Add marmalade, mustard, and Worcestershire, and whisk together thoroughly. Finally, add cornstarch, whisking until the sauce reaches desired consistency. (Add more cornstarch as needed.)
  7. Put vegetables back into sauce. Add water chestnuts and baby corn and allow to warm.
  8. Stir fresh parsley, and fresh cilantro into the rice, and fluff with a fork. (If not serving immediately, put a towel over the pot and cover with the lid to keep pilaf fluffy!)
  9. When serving, put the rice pilaf as a base, put the vegetables on top with a spoonful of the sauce, and sprinkle the almonds on top!

Ultimate Velveeta Mac n’ Cheese

The best comfort food, in my opinion, is the kind that is easy and quick to make so you can get down to the serious business of actually enjoying the comfort! Although maybe it’s just me, sometimes those traditional, out-of-the-package comfort foods could use just a little oomph to get them to that next level.

Why not start with the uber-classic, everyone’s favorite, macaroni and cheese? And not just any ol’ mac, but the Velveeta  — the good stuff. This lends a little kick, nothing huge. (Although if you’re like me and you love spice? A little Tabasco wouldn’t hurt this dish a bit!)

Ultimate Velveeta Mac n’ Cheese

Ingredients 
1 box Velveeta cheese
1 box pasta (macaroni preferred)
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1/4 stick of butter
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp white pepper

Optional topping (per serving)
1 Tbsp bacon bits
Tabasco sauce to taste

  1. Make the box of pasta, drain and set aside.
  2. Cube Velveeta and add to pot over medium-low heat. Allow melting, adding milk and butter.
  3. Put pasta back into the pot with the sauce and stir well. Add Mexican cheese, continuing to stir until melted.
  4. Serve with topping if desired.

Semihomemade Bowtie Alfredo

It’s been a long recovery from chronic mononucleosis and POTS Syndrome this past couple of years. I’ve learned that both conditions will be lifelong…hard to hear at only twenty years old. The good thing is that my faith has grown by leaps and bounds! And now that I know what has been bothering me, I know how to take care of myself! Praise God for doctors who care about their patients.

One of the things I have discovered about myself during this time is that I love to cook. Love it. Learning to cook is one of the most fulfilling creative endeavors I could ever have embarked on. The best part of cooking is what every elementary schooler knows is the best part of any science experiment, game, or activity — at the end, you get to eat it!

I’m one of those cooks who eyeballs measurements and adds extras that weren’t included in the recipe. So this, the very first recipe I ever wrote down based on my cooking adventures, has a lot of options!

Recipe Notes

I recommend bowtie pasta to go with it, as I think it does a great job of holding the sauce, but any pasta on hand should do nicely. I absolutely love garlic, so I add some extra garlic to this sauce — twice! If that’s too much garlic for you, omit the second helping. In my opinion, the white pepper instead of the black really makes this dish special but black pepper can be substituted. If you use any pre-made sauce other than Ragu, you may need to adjust the seasonings. (I don’t recommend using any store brand, it tends to come out very bland.)

Like I said, I’m not much for measurements, so if any of these measurements come out too much or too little, let me know and I’ll adjust!

Semihomemade Bowtie Alfredo

Makes about six portions

Base
1 box of bowtie pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp salt

Sauce
1 can Alfredo sauce (I recommend Ragu)
1 cup fresh shredded Parmesan (I use Kroger Private Selection pre-shredded)
1 can of chicken
1 Tbsp minced garlic (fresh or jarred)
2 Tbsp dried basil (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
1 Tbsp oregano (or 1/2 Tbsp fresh)
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning (I use Kroger)
Dash nutmeg
2 Tbsp white pepper

Topping 
2 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
2 Tbsp minced garlic (fresh or jarred)
Handful pine nuts
Bacon bits
1/2 diced onion
1 can of mushrooms

Garnish
Fresh parsley
Fresh shredded parmesan

  1. Put a large pot of water over high heat, with a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and salt. Bring to a boil, then pour in pasta.
  2. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt two tablespoons butter (or heat two tablespoons olive oil). Put can of mushrooms in, allow to heat for a few minutes. Add pine nuts and bacon bits. When pine nuts are beginning to brown, add onion and saute until translucent (about 3 minutes). The mushrooms should be releasing some liquid. Finally, add two tablespoons of the minced garlic, allow to cook for about a minute, and turn off the heat. The entire cooking process should take about ten minutes. (If it takes longer, you may need to turn up the heat slightly.)
  3. When the pasta is cooked to desired texture (I like mine a little softer than al dente), turn heat to low and strain pasta.
  4. In pasta pot, while still warm, pour can Alfredo sauce, one can chicken, and parmesan cheese. Stir until cheese is melted in, it should have a slightly stringy texture. Season with basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, white pepper, and reserved garlic. Add hot pasta and mix well.
  5. Serve with topping spooned over the pasta, and garnished with fresh parsley and parmesan sprinkled over the top.

 

 

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
— C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly On Prayer

A Collection of Songs

After having sung in church and for family in several capacities, I wanted to collect the songs I had done, mostly for my own convenience, but also for whoever might be looking for a resource for your own repertoire. I have a mid to high soprano range, and have included keys that work best for me. This post will be regularly updated as my repertoire expands.

Christmas

Solos

Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) by Amy Grant
I sang this with the accompaniment found on Daywind. I used the low track, which seems to be better suited for female voices, even though it was a little low in my range.
Key: Bm | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics | Chords

Once in Royal David’s City as recorded by the Chieftains (UMH 250)
I recommend this to be sung a cappella, or at least the first verse, for the full effect.
Key: F | YouTube | UMC Hymnal | Lyrics

O Holy Night (Traditional)
The key can and should be adjusted to fit your range. If using an accompaniment track I recommend GarageBand as a software that can change the key of your track to whatever key you need.
Key: C | YouTube | Lyrics

The Coventry Carol (Traditional)
This song is mournful, and laments the loss of the children of Bethlehem when Herod ordered them killed. Perhaps it may be best suited to Blue Christmas/Longest Night services for this reason.
Key: E flat| YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

The Wexford Carol as performed by Allison Krauss
I sang this a cappella, which was a lovely challenge, as it modulates mid-verse. Allison does an amazing cover of this song.
Key: E flat | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

O Sing A Song of Bethlehem as recorded by Chicago Metro Presbytery (UMH 179)
This song ties together beautifully Jesus’ birth, childhood, ministry, death, and resurrection.
Key: G | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

Small Groups

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly as recorded by the McMakens (UMH 229)
This particular arrangement (for three women’s voices) is my absolute favorite.
Key: E | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

Easter

Solos

Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck
The translation is roughly “Heavenly Bread of Life,” and is suited to other times of the year as well.
Key: F | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

The Power of the Cross by Kristyn Getty
This song chronicles Jesus’ journey through suffering, death, and resurrection.
Key: C | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
A popular contemporary song that can be easily adapted to a cappella solo.
Key: E | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

Ordinary Time

Solos

‘Tis Me, O Lord arranged by H. T. Burleigh (UMH 352)
This was one of my college audition songs and works well in a traditional setting.
Key: A flat | YouTube | Sheet Music | Lyrics

By Faith by the Gettys
A beautiful song that pairs well with many Scripture passages.
Key: A | YouTube | Sheet MusicLyrics

Revelation Song by Kari Jobe; Phillips, Craig & Dean
A contemporary song suited for both male and female voice.
Key: D | YouTube (female) | YouTube (male) | Lyrics | Chords

Oceans by Hillsong United
This song is a little low in my range, as it is written for an alto.
Key: Bm | YouTube | Lyrics | Chords

Small Groups

Stand Still by the Isaacs
I sang this in a duet, but it was originally written for a trio, and can be adapted to different voices.
Key: D | YouTube | Lyrics | Chords

Movie Review: Rogue One

Rogue One was a movie with a lot of untapped potential. The entire plot was original and inventive, but it also lacked the character development it needed to drive the story forward. The banter was forced, and the characters lacked the richness associated with the Star Wars franchise. Jyn Erso had a good concept and backstory, but lacked development as a protagonist. She was more pushed around by the plot rather than acting to forward it. The only notable contribution she made to the plot was to attempt to rally the Alliance for battle, which made little sense. Her motivations did not match with her actions and the whole scene felt very out of character for her.

The locations were well-developed and felt very true to form. It was a much grittier Star Wars than we had seen before, and for that reason the movie was much more intriguing. This was a war story, treated almost as a historical tribute. The effects were carefully developed and chosen, including a fully CGI animated Grand Moff Tarkin that was realistic, but felt somewhat alien next to the real actors. The inclusion of many small nods to the main franchise kept the movie feeling close to home. One thing I thought was excellent was the inclusion of non-Jedi Force users and believers. The whole story noticeably sagged in the middle. It felt like two movies smushed together. It was as though they had rushed through the script and filming to get it straight to post-production. (It’s likely they had to, in order to animate Tarkin as well as much of the battles.) The movie would have had much more of an emotional impact with only a little more character development and attention to detail in the script.

Rogue One was good, but did not live up to the example set by the Star Wars franchise. It felt alternately original and artificial, rushed and slow, captivating and distracting. With only a little more work it could have easily gone from good to great. I will be forever disappointed that this story did not get the attention it deserved.

The Secret to Happiness

Paul talks about salvation in Titus 2:11-14:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.1

We are living already as a people saved by grace, even as we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. Just as the Jewish people kept the law as they waited for their Messiah to come, we are to keep on living into our salvation as we wait. This means we set a Godly example to others, yes, but we must be careful not to become Pharisees, living for the approval of others. Salvation is for one’s own self and no one else, and if we aren’t living into it for our own self, we miss the whole point.

It sometimes seems as though saying ‘no’ to sin is a practice in self-restraint and denial of pleasure. But everything that we are asked to do is for our good, not punishment or severity. God’s plan is best, because he wants us to be happy, and he knows exactly what will make us happiest. Our souls long for a connection that goes far beyond human relationships, a joy that far outweighs any pleasure gained from worldly things. We can seek, but only in Jesus will we find.

Gratification is one of those things that seems as though it would give all the happiness in the world. Instead, it brings only temporary relief, and a growing desire for more. The problem with earthly things is that there can never be enough to fill that place inside that cries out for more, and with many things overindulgence can cause us to hurt our bodies, minds, and hearts. But God’s grace is all-sufficient, overflowing, and fills that empty place with a puzzle-piece exactness.

Salvation is a two-way street. God offers it freely, but we must accept it and live into it as Christians, whole-heartedly. This is where our souls can find joy.

Turning Points

  1. What have you had trouble saying ‘no’ to?
  2. Are you accepting God’s salvation every day and living into it? How can you do that even better?
  3. Where are you struggling with God’s plans for your life? Talk to him about it. Allow him to reassure you that his plans are “to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”2

A New Song

What is an attitude of worship? What does that look like in everyday life?

The psalmist calls us to worship the Lord with gladness in Psalm 96:

1Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

4For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
6Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

7Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
9Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.

10Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
11Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
12let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
13they will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.1

This seems like a pretty straightforward request. Sure, I’ve been going to church. I put in my offering on Sunday. I’ve been worshipping the Lord. Right?

It’s easy to think we’ve got it all together. Except, worshipping the Lord is a lot more than just doing what’s expected of us. True worship goes above and beyond. In the words of Isaac Watts, “Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”2 Worshipping the Lord means our whole lifestyle is dedicated to him as a living sacrifice. That includes both what is visible on the outside, and what is invisible, on the inside.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for having a double-minded outlook on worship:

25″Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.27Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”3

In the same way, we too must clean both the inside (heart, mind, will) and the outside of ourselves to remain holy and pure in the sight of the Lord.

So what is a worshipful attitude and how can I reflect that in my everyday life?

First, my heart needs to be right before the Lord. What do I love? What do my emotions focus on? I know oftentimes my heart is turned toward my family and my desire to help others. These seem like good things to focus on, but without my focus on Jesus, my emotions can easily be turned away to jealousy, fear, and selfishness. If my heart is focused on Jesus first, everything else will fall into place.

My mind also needs to be pure. What do I think about? What does my intellect focus on? Everything I plan, everything I dwell on, everything I imagine — these must be in line with things that are Godly. Paul says it best in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”4

And finally, my will is to be aligned with the plans of God. This is perhaps the hardest of the three, and is affected by both my heart and my mind. The things I desire and the things I plan both become a part of my will. What do I want? Is it good for me? If it doesn’t line up with Scripture, it isn’t worth it. Praying about everything will help the will of God be revealed. In everything, God’s way is the best way.

An attitude of worship is more than just these things, though. Humility is the primary component, because without humility we go right back to the same stuff we always do, believing we know better than God.

I pray that an attitude of worship will overtake me and you in this Christmas season.

Turning Points

  1. What’s in your head? What’s in your heart? What’s in your will? Does it reflect an attitude of worship toward the Lord?
  2. What does humility look like to you?
  3. How can you take an attitude of worship in your everyday life?