Sunday, June 24, 2012

Practicing Glory: Confession

The picture above is my friend Anna, photographed by her sister Rhoda. I love the snowy scene. It reminded me of this verse:

The Lord says,“Now, let's settle the matter. You are stained red with sin, but I will wash you as clean as snow. Although your stains are deep red, you will be as white as wool.”
(Isaiah 1:18 GNT)

I love Anna's dancing pose. Anna knows who she is! Anna knows who God says she is! So Anna can serve Him and celebrate.

In each chapter of Practicing Glory, you'll meet a cast member of a Christmas Pageant. Today, it's a man playing Isaiah.

They're kidding, right? That has to be a misprint in the cast list. Third shepherd on the right is what I do every Christmas. Everyone knows that - it's tradition. Bathrobe, towel, flip-flops and a "behold, some aerial being that gloweth like the sun disturbeth my slumber and frighteneth the sheep" expression behind my fake beard. I can do that. But Isaiah? Seriously?

This means I actually have lines to speak. Real, powerful words anticipating the advent and redemptive work of the Messiah himself, the creator of the world. "For unto us a child is born... And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father..." You need a voice for that. Sonorous, melifluous, low and powerful. Like James Earl Jones, or Barry White.. My voice is more like Betty White. I mean, I'm just a guy who wants to serve God in a not-too-conspicuous fashion. I like the wings, not center stage.

Why did the director choose me for this? What could he possibly have seen in me? I know what I see. I see a quivering wannabe that melts into a pathetic little puddle of forgotten lines and missed cues at the first flash of the spotlight. All I wanted was a minor role, and here I am stuck as a major prophet. Me? As Isaiah? What could I possibly have in common with him? God... help! I am so not ready for this.

Though he lived centuries before the Messiah appeared on earth, Isaiah proclaimed prophetic messages that included many details of the Savior's life. Isaiah was a prophet who called the people of Israel to repent and to remember God's great love for them. God gave Isaiah a vision of Himself, not in a manger but on a glorious heavenly throne. Notice his reaction.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.” The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.

Then I said: “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips,and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed and your sin is atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Who should I send? Who will go for Us?

I said: “Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Isaiah shows us the spiritual discipline of confession. Though current use of the English word “confess” usually involves admitting wrongdoing, the Greek words have a larger meaning. There are two verbs translated “confess” in the New Testament: homologeowhich means “to speak the same thing, to assent, accord, agree with” and exomologeo which means “to confess forth” as in acknowledging sin, professing something openly or praising and gladly acknowledging.

How did Isaiah agree with God in this passage? I noticed three agreements:
Isaiah acknowledged God's identity as the holy King,
he confessed his own sinfulness,
and he agreed with God that he was forgiven and ready to serve.

Which agreement will you use in your prayer today?

Practicing Glory is a ten chapter Bible study designed for individual or group use. Look for the label "Practicing Glory" under this post and click it for all the posts about this book. Practicing Glory will be available in September. My husband Mark wrote the Cast Member quote.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Practicing Glory: Making Worship a Priority

As I wrote Practicing Glory, it was important to me that it not become a book about how Ruth worships God. I wanted to share scriptures about worship, tell a few personal stories, and then show a wide variety of worship practices to give you ideas to refresh your spritual practices. The Bible shows us so many different personalities worshiping God in their own ways. Mary broke open a costly jar of perfume, Paul risked his life to spread the gospel, and an unnamed little boy gave Jesus his lunch.

So I posted a question on Facebook, asking my friends to join a private worship research group.

As I wrote about spiritual disciplines, I asked my friends how they put these into practice. The variety of answers was fascinating.

One week I asked my friends to fill in the blank: “When I want to make worship a priority, I ______________________________.”

Roseanne said, “I sit on my back porch and look at my tree and talk to Him.”

Christie answered, “I make reading the Word and uninterrupted prayer an even bigger priority. Sometimes I have to drive to town very late at night and sit in a restaurant with my Bible and a soda to get that uninterrupted time. With four little ones at home, it's nearly impossible to be very focused.”

Melany shared that she goes to bed early and prays herself to sleep.

Kerry is a pastor and an artist. He said, “I get away from the city and all media. I listen to music and pray in color.”

Mary answered, “I pack a snack and coffee and drive anywhere, using my Bible and my choir music to give me focus on Him. He always gives me a new direction or unlocks a knot in my neck, and I am freed to view the blessings in my life through His eyes.”

Dana said, “I go for a prayer walk. Getting outside clears my mind and I truly connect with God.”

Erica mentioned the outdoors also: “I take my kids for a ride in the car through the beautiful Black Hills. We listen to music from Sunday School and we sing. We stop along the road and take pictures of the miracles God put in this world.”

Varina reads past journal entries. “It's amazing how much I forget in even just a few days!”

Karen makes an effort to really read and ingest His word, not skim it, asking God along the way what in the world He meant by that passage, and wonder how she can put it into practice today.

Laura goes somewhere alone and quiet. “In the stillness, away from everything that is frustrating me, I can listen to God and talk to Him. I often pray a psalm of praise.”

Sara says, “I put on worship music and dance around with my kids.”

Lissa tries to find a chance to worship the Lord near water—a lake or a river.

How about you? When you want to make worship an even bigger than usual priority, what do you do?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Practicing Glory: a gift-giving guide

Last Christmas, I took my youngest daughter shopping for her sisters. Tina wanted to buy a gift for her daddy too, and (because she admired it) she thought baby blue nail polish was just the thing.

I offered a few other suggestions, she remembered gifts that I had given in the past, and in the end, she chose a scarf.

It was wonderful to watch her give it to Mark on Christmas Day. Mark is the wage-earner who enables all the gift-giving in our home, but Tina enjoyed the giving and Mark appreciated the gift.

In a similar way, I have nothing to offer God without His enabling me to do so, and I need a little guidance in how to worship Him. I want to serve Him thoughtfully, to look at the commands in His word, and to see how others have put those into practice over the centuries. As I mentioned in a previous post, the spiritual disciplines are a suggested gift guide for us as we worship the Greatest Giver.

Let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe.
(Hebrews 12:28)
And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word. (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)

Practicing Glory explores ten spiritual disciplines that I see in the lives of the first worshipers of the Lord Jesus: worship, confession, stillness, surrender, service, fellowship, sacrifice, discernment, celebration and simplicity.

Click here to find other posts about this Bible Study book.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Practicing Glory: Illuminating Worship

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella,
Bring a torch, come swiftly and run.
Christ is born, tell the folk of the village,
Jesus is sleeping in His cradle,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is her Son.

--Renaissance carol, translated from French to English by E. Cuthbert Nunn

This old French song describes a custom of bringing candles to light a nativity scene, joyfully lighting up the scene so everyone can admire the beauty and ponder the mystery of the Son of God. Did you notice the words “beautiful is the mother”? Mary was beautiful because she reflected the glory of the God to whom she surrendered her life.

That same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the spirit, transforms us into His likeness, in an ever greater degree of glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18 GNT)

Imagine for a moment that you are Jeanette or Isabella, holding a candle to illuminate the figure of the tiny Baby. Pause there for a moment to wonder at the mystery of the Creator living among His creation.

Now your candle's light falls on the people surrounding the manger. Mary quietly ponders her Son, Joseph thanks God for the angel that told him the truth about the baby, and the shepherds merrily rejoice together. Others will arrive in the scene a little later: the elderly Simeon will pray over the Child, the equally aged Anna will proclaim a celebration, and the travel-weary wise men will offer expensive treasures.

The characters of the Christmas story show us specific worship habits, called spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. Think of the word “discipline” as a choice to participate in a training program. Let the word “practice” remind you that these things take time and repetition.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Practicing Glory explores ten spiritual disciplines, what the scripture says about them, and how we can put them into practice. Think of the disciplines as a gift guide--gifts of worship you can offer to the Greatest Giver of all.

Practicing Glory is a ten-chapter Bible study, suitable for individual or group use. It will be available in September. I will be blogging through the book and posting short video messages each week, beginning in early September.

Artist Kerry Jackson gave me permission to use his painting of Mary. View more of his work and learn about his ministry at

Friday, June 8, 2012

Practicing Glory: a first glimpse of a new study book

new Bible study coming this September

Practicing Glory

worship lessons from a Christmas Pageant

On a dark hillside near Bethlehem, a group of sleepy shepherds are startled awake by the glory of God. Center stage, an angel's mighty voice booms out the joyful news of Messiah's birth. An enormous chorus of angels enters from stage everywhere proclaiming, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!" In the middle of this spectacular message, the angel reveals the location of the Son of God. He's lying in a feeding trough, surrounded by animals. Glory is mingling with dust in a stable and sending invitations to lowly ragged shepherds.

The Baby grows up, and shares the glory:

I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. (John 17:22)
That same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into His likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18 GNT)

Jesus Christ calls us and enables to become like Him in attitudes and actions, putting glory into ever-increasing practice in the dust and mud of everyday living.

...Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. (Philippians 2:12-15)

He calls us to work out (not work for) our salvation as we reverently serve Him and shine for Him.

Doesn't that sound glorious? But what does it look like? How do we practice glory today? Where do we start?

Let's begin by watching a Christmas Pageant. How will this cast of characters worship God in their own unique ways? Have a seat. They’re dimming the house lights, and…curtain!