Make An Example Out Of Me

Squeeze Blessing Out Of A Really Bad Day

When you are going through a really difficult season, no matter what its source, simply appealing to God to use you as a example of his grace and mercy for future generations is a great way to squeeze blessing out of what is otherwise a really bad day. Go ahead, ask him to make an example out of you!

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Read: Psalm 102 // Focus: Psalm 102:18

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD. — Psalm 102:8

The writer of this psalm is in a bad way—a very bad way. In fact, the title says the author was a man who had been severely “afflicted”. We don’t know the man’s name, nor do we know the specific nature of his affliction, but we do know the depth of his despair since, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all been there at some point in our lives.

Perhaps you haven’t experienced the severity of the psalmist’s affliction, but you can at least identify with portions of what he is feeling. There have been times when something so hurtful has happened that you can’t even eat: “I forget to eat my food.” (Psalm 102:4) It could be that you are so devastated that you have even experienced a notable weight loss: “I am reduced to skin and bones.” (Psalm 102:5) Perhaps you have gone through something that has caused sleepless nights and has even isolated you from sustaining relationships: “I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.” (Psalm 102:7) Maybe you have even had something happen that has made you the fodder of gossip and ridicule: “All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse.” (Psalm 102:8) Chances are, you have gone through a dark period that has reduced you to nothing more than an emotional wreck: “For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears.” (Psalm 102:9). And at the bottom of all this despair, like the psalmist, you have laid the blame at God’s feet: “Because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.” (Psalm 102:10)

Now we can debate whether God is the source of all that pain (although the ancients tended to look at both personal pain and national despair, first and foremost, as the result of God’s displeasure with their sin—no matter what form his wrath came in), but I think the more important point of discussion ought to be what we will do about it going forward.

The psalmist decided to take his pain to God: “Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you.” (Psalm 102:1) Then he boldly made an appeal to the Lord’s greatness and compassion: “But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her.” (Psalm 102:12-13) And then he even had the holy chutzpah to ask the Almighty to make an example of grace and mercy out of him to future generations: “Let this be written for a future generation that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” (Psalm 102:18)

I love that! I think that is a great way to pray when you find yourself in a really bad way! Of course, pouring out your lament before the Lord is appropriate. Repentance, or a least honest soul-searching will certainly be called for. It is not even a bad idea to detail the cause and effect of your situation. But at the end of it all, simply appealing to God to use you as a example of grace and mercy for future generations is a great way to squeeze blessing out of what is otherwise a really bad day.

Making an example of grace and mercy out of you—it is certainly better than the alternative!

Making Life Work: Are you going through a really difficult season? Submit your life to God and ask him to purify your heart. Make changes where you can—where he shows you. Then humbly, but expectantly and confidently, ask him to make an example of you to future generations of his mercy and grace. He is in that business, you know?

Intentional Blamelessness

Action Steps For A Pure Life

How serious are you about purity? Of course, being blameless before God starts with him. Through Christ’s death you are alive unto righteousness. But here’s the deal: You now have to walk in Christ’s righteousness. That’s right, YOU! You have to walk in it. Nobody can do that for you—not even God. He will help you, but you need to get intentionally blameless!

Ray Noah Blameless Walk

Read: Psalm 101 // Focus: Psalm 101:2

“I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart.” –Psalm 101:2

As Jack Nicholson famously said to Tom Cruise in the movie,  A Few Good Men, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”, I would said to you, you’re not ready for it either! You’re not tough enough! Sorry, but I’m just being real! My guess is, you’re just not up to it!

I hate to admit it, but, me neither. I wish that weren’t the case—I pray, literally, that this sad admission will not be the case for long. I pray that God will transform my heart, and yours, too, so you and I can truly offer a Psalm 101 declaration to the Lord: “I will live with a blameless life.”

Walking in total purity is the subject of this psalm. And my opening admission of not being ready for it is not making excuses for you and me, it is simply stating our current reality—a reality that desperately needs to change since only those with pure hearts, clean hands, honest tongues and transformed minds will experience the fullness of God. Intentional blamelessness—that’s what this psalm is describing.

The psalmist was committed to that kind of aggressively intentional blamelessness—not just in his theology (we are all committed to it in theory) but in the reality of his everyday life. Perhaps you would disagree with my assessment of your weak commitment and failure to practice that kind of aggressive blamelessness in your everyday life. Okay, then tell me how you stack up against these different arenas where the psalmist is calling for practical purity:

In your thought life: “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.” (Psalm 101:3). Have you banned all wickedness from entering your mind through what you watch or think about?

In your relationships: “The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil.” (Psalm 101:4) Have you deliberately distanced yourself from unabashedly sinful people?

In your conversations: “Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence.” (Psalm 101:5) Do you cut off dialogue with those who fudge the truth and traffic in rumors, gossip, innuendo and negativity?

In your tolerance levels: “Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.” (Psalm 101:5) Do you find unacceptable and intolerable those whose attitudes that are uppity, arrogant, and prideful?

Yeah, me neither!

Here’s the deal: Let’s ask the Lord to help us to become intentionally blameless. That is always a great way to pray—and a smart thing to do since you and I can’t pull this off just with our own resources. We need God’s help. And we can put feet to our prayers in joining King David, the writer of this psalm, by committing to daily practices that are congruent with our prayer for purity: Here is what the psalm says intentional blamelessness should look like:

Surrounding ourselves with others of likeminded purity: “My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me.” (Psalm 101:6)

Distancing ourselves from the dishonest: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” (Psalm 101:7)

Actively challenging those who live in opposition to the values of heaven: “Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the Lord.” (Psalm 101:8).

You want the truth? That’s what it will take to step forward on the path of intentional blamelessness. And I think you can handle that!

Making Life Work: Do you want to be blameless in your walk? Then pray this prayer and take the steps King David did to get intentional about his purity. It will cause some upheaval in your life, but done under the direction and in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be eternally glad you did.

Pre-flight Checklist for Worship

Experiencing Worship At A Higher Level

Most of us wait until we are comfortably situated in the sanctuary, the lights are dimmed and the worship leader gives the downbeat before we begin to worship. That’s too late! That’s a recipe for a less-than-satisfying experience of the greatest activity to which we are called: worshipping in the presence of Almighty God. True worship begins long before we get to church.

worship

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 100 // Focus: Psalm 100:4

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

The psalmist is speaking of what you do before you get to church. He is talking about how you enter the sanctuary. He is thinking of pre-worship—how you ready your heart in anticipation of meeting the God of all creation as you gather with his people in corporate praise. He is describing your preparation for worship.

So how do you prepare for worship?

Perhaps you have a set routine as you ready yourself for church services, or maybe you don’t. It could be you go through a checklist of pre-flight instructions—I doubt it. Quite likely, your preparations for church just simply happen—a random scramble followed by a mad dash to get you, the kids and the dog out the door. Hopefully, the dog doesn’t go with you. I totally understand that scene.

I would like to suggest couple of things, however, that will not only enhance and elevate your experience of worship, but it is wholly appropriate in light of the One you are preparing to worship. First of all, as you and your family are driving to church, go through a preflight checklist of things for which you are grateful. And just so it doesn’t become routine, add this rule: your thankfulness has to be from the past seven days.

Second, actually begin to sing a song of praise as you drive onto the church parking lot. As you walk up to the church, sing to the Lord. I know, people will think you are weird—who cares. They’re just thinking the obvious. The parking team may give you a quirky look, but what does that matter? You aren’t singing for their benefit; you’re singing for Jesus. I know: I’ve lost you on this one, but I’m serious. Try it for a month, along with the gratitude exercise, and see if it doesn’t elevate your worship game.

By the way, I am not the first to suggest such a thing. Two hundred years ago, John Wesley printed a pre-flight checklist in the front of the hymnbook he authored. Here are his “Directions For Singing”:

  1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
  1. Sing them exactly as they are printed here without altering or mending them at all.
  1. Sing all. See that you join with a congregation as frequently as you can, let not a slight degree or weariness hinder you.
  1. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  1. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation so that you may not destroy the harmony.
  1. Sing in tune. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it, do not run before or stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move there exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow.
  1. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing.

Great—you can sing lustily, but no bawling!

Making Life Work: You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving this a try. If you want a heightened experience of worship, go this this pre-flight checklist each Sunday for a month, and see if it doesn’t change the way you worship. I have a feeling you will enjoy it at a whole higher level.

Approaching The Unapproachable

Confident In His Holy Presence

What a thought: God is unapproachable in holiness, yet you have been invited through Jesus to confidently approach his throne of grace where you can hear his voice, experience his power, receive his forgiveness, pour out your heart—and be heard! What other god is like your God!

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 99 // Focus: Psalm 99:6

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the LORD and he answered them.

Over the course of several palms, the writer has been extolling the majesty and holiness of God—which makes him separate, distinct and higher than other beings. He alone is God—high and exalted, pure in righteousness and justice, beautiful in his majesty and unapproachable in his holiness. The only possible response anyone, either high and low, has in his presence is to tremble before his throne.

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble. he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. (Psalm 99:1-2)

Yet he is a God who has made it possible to approach him; he is a God who listens to his people when they call upon him; he is a God who, although he punishes misdeeds, also forgives sin and restores the penitent heart.

Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. (Psalm 99:8)

Of all the people on the earth, arguably, Moses, Aaron and Samuel (Psalm 99:6) were three men who were the closest to God. They witnessed his awesome power, heard his voice, and represented his will to the people of Israel. Yet each were still flawed, fallen human beings—one a rehabilitated murderer, another the designer of the golden calf-idol, the third a relationally isolated hard-nosed prophet.

Although we hold each of these three men as bona fide Bible heroes, and rightly so, the details of their lives demonstrate that they were just regular guys—and yet each was invited to walk with Almighty God in an intimate relationship. Perhaps through these three holy men, God was saying that he desires to bring his people into a saving, sanctifying and enduring relationship, and that includes you and me.

What a thought: you can walk and talk with God like Moses. You can minister to God and for him like Aaron. You can hear God’s voice and know his will like Samuel. You can hear God’s voice, experience his power, receive his forgiveness (although, keep in mind, he is never soft on sin), present your needs before his throne—and be heard!

Now tell me this: What other god is there like our God? And what other people are so blessed like us to have a god who walks with them, forgives their sins, and hears their prayers? There is no other god like that—only our God.

What great nation ever had their gods as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we pray to him? (Deuteronomy 4:7)

Perhaps today you are not feeling so blessed. Not true, you are blessed beyond measure, because you belong to Almighty God. And when that truth hits you today—and I pray that it does—perhaps you will respond as the psalmist did in his final verse,

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy. (Psalm 98:9)

How blessed you are to be able to approach the Unapproachable!

Making Life Work:Read Hebrews 4:15-16 (and memorize if you dare), then come confidently before your God through Jesus Christ to ask boldly, praise unashamedly and receive expectantly.

Go Ahead—Dance!

Lose Yourself In The Wonder Of Worship

Wouldn’t it be great to be so in love with Jesus and so overwhelmed by his saving grace and so grateful for his undeserved kindness that you just lost yourself for a season in unfettered worship—and you danced and shouted and jumped for joy in his presence? Pictured is Ashley Brown from Brooklyn, New York serving in Gojo, Ethiopia. Goes to show . . . you can dance anywhere!

Dance

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 98 // Focus: Psalm 98:4-5

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing.

On one of my missions trips to Africa, in a western region of Ethiopia, and I was called upon to preach in one of the thriving churches that are springing up every year there by the hundreds. This is a backwards part of the world, to say the least, but it also seems to be ground zero for a modern day Holy Spirit revival. One of the things I love most about being there is the unfettered praise these people lift to God when they gather as the church to worship.

Right before I was to preach, the choir sang—two songs. Back-to-back songs. Songs that were twelve minutes each! I know; I timed them. And not knowing the language, I sat for twenty-four minutes listening to singers I didn’t know lifting love songs I didn’t know to the God who has rescued them from utter darkness and brought them into the kingdom of his Son. And I’ve got to tell you: I was moved.

In the front row sat a man began who began to get “blessed” by the choir. He began to shake, then he began to shout, and then he began to dance back and forth across the front of the sanctuary with dance moves that that I suspect would be physically impossible for any American to duplicate. Not a practiced routine, mind you, you could tell this was totally spontaneous. After a bit, this fellow finally danced back to his seat, only to get “re-blessed” within a few seconds, whereupon he begin his shaking-shouting-dancing routine all over again—for twenty-four minutes.

My first thought was, “wow, this would never happen where I’m from. This man is calling attention to himself, and I’d have to set him straight about propriety in worship.” But then I begin to notice that this man was lost in the wonder of worship. He wasn’t calling attention to himself; he was expressing unfettered praise to God in a way that I had never, ever come close to experiencing. Although not dancing as he was, so was everyone else in the place that day.

And then I was a bit jealous!

Wouldn’t it be great to be that in love with Jesus and that overwhelmed by his saving grace and that grateful for the most dramatic search and rescue that ever took place when he saved you from utter darkness and eternal damnation that you just lost yourself for a season in unfettered worship? Of course there are cultural differences that will shape our expressions of worship—I get that—but wouldn’t you agree that we need to loosen up a bit in how we express our love and gratitude to God in worship from time to time?

Certainly the psalmist thinks so.

Making Life Work: You might want to get in a place all by yourself for this one, but be open to losing yourself in the wonder of worship. As you lift your gratitude and praise to God, shout, jump and dance if you dare. It will do your soul wonders!

 

 

Love-Hate Relationships

It is impossible to love God with all your heart, and at the same time mindlessly embrace the values of this fallen world. You are actually called to hate those values. Now keep in mind that it will be risky to hate what is going on in your world. In fact, you will be hated back by the very world you hate, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But here’s the deal: If you throw in with God, Psalm 97 promises that he will guard your life, deliver you from trouble, favor you and fill you with joy. That’s an unbeatable outcome for choosing Almighty God over this present world.

love-hate-rev

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 97 // Focus: Psalm 97:10-11

Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.

If you love the Lord, then you’ve got to hate! Hate evil, that is.

You see, it is impossible to love God with all your heart, and at the same time mindlessly embrace the values of this fallen world. You are actually called to hate those values. You see, the very foundation of God’s rule over both the larger universe and the smaller world of your life is righteousness and justice. (Psalm 97:2). In other words, from the center to the circumference of his being, God is holy and fair.

Now tell me, what is there in this present world that is fundamentally holy and thoroughly fair? Not much! For sure, you can find pockets of righteousness and justice here and there, but the prevailing forces of this present world are anything but. Everywhere you look—the media, the courts, the economy, the entertainment industry—most of what you see is unrighteous and unfair.

Now the scary thing is, we are so continually and strategically pounded with the systemic evil of this world that we start to become immune to it. It is highly likely that the daily barrage of unrighteousness and unfairness has brought us to the point of not even seeing it anymore—and if we do see, we’re not even bothered by it. That is scary, sad and wrong!

And that has got to change! It is time to embrace a love-hate relationship with our current situation. We belong to a righteous and just God, whom we are called to wholeheartedly love. But our love for God requires us to wholeheartedly hate this unrighteous and unfair world in which we live for the time being.

So it is high time we change the way we think about our temporary residence. The Apostle Paul’s call for the transformation of our worldview is long overdue. Romans 12:2 says,

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (The Message)

A passionate love-hate relationship is called for. It will be a little risky to hate what is going on in your world. In fact, you will be hated back by the very world you hate—that is understandable—so get comfortable with it. But here’s the deal: God has promised to guard your life, deliver you to a better place (Psalm 97:10), shine his favor upon you and fill your heart with joy (Psalm 97:11) if you throw in with him.

Making Life Work: Love God—hate evil! That’s what I’m going with!

Don’t Forget–God Is Holy

The venerable C.S. Lewis once said, “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.” How true! True holiness is irresistible—plus it is available and attainable, by God’s grace. That is why, as intimidating as it may seem, we ought to make the pursuit of holiness the great business of our lives.

Holy

Making Life Work
Read: Psalm 96:1-13 // Focus: Psalm 96:9

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

I don’t know that we really “get” the holiness of God. And that’s too bad. We throw that term around a lot—holiness—and we have a sense that his holiness is not to be trifled with, but I don’t think we know how to wrap our minds around the concept of a holy God.

We know God as a loving Father—guiding, providing and protecting. That one’s easier to absorb, at least in theory. We know God as revealed through his Son, Jesus—compassionate, servant-hearted, gentle and caring. We know God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit—empowering, energizing and enabling us to do his bidding. But the holiness of God—do we really know him that way?

The saints of old did. When God passed by Moses in the cleft of the rock, Moses tasted the holiness of God. When Elijah called down fire from heaven on the false prophets, the people saw the holiness of God. When Ananias and Saphira were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit, the church knew the holiness of God. When the Apostle John received his revelation, we are told that he “fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1:7) The pure in heart were somehow able to partake in the holiness of God without being consumed by it; the impure weren’t so fortunate!

Leland Ryken noted that “for the Puritans, the God-centered life meant making the quest for spiritual and moral holiness the great business of life.” I wish that for you—and for me, too—that holiness would be the great business of our lives; that we could partake in God’s holiness without being consumed by it. Frankly, though, I’m not sure how we can come into that kind of experience—and perhaps I don’t really know what I am asking for. Yet there is something deep within my spirit that cries out to know God in his holiness. I’m guessing that longing is in your heart, too.

How do we posture ourselves for an experience of the holiness of Almighty God? Andrew Murray wrote, “Nothing but the knowledge of God, as the Holy One, will make us holy. And how are we to obtain that knowledge of God, except in the inner chamber, our private place of prayer? It is a thing utterly impossible unless we take time and allow the holiness of God to shine on us.”

Beyond the positional holiness imputed to us at salvation and the empirical holiness of our obedience to Christ, may the Lord grant us  a deeper, transformational revelation of Divine holiness so we can truly worship Almighty God in the splendor of his holiness.

Making Life Work: Offer this simple but sincere prayer to the One who hears and answers prayer: Oh that I may know the beauty of your holiness!