When you enter some of the greatest cities in the world, you can encounter famous gates such as the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin), the Jaffa Gate (Jerusalem), and the gates at Downing Street (London). Whether the gates were built for defensive or ceremonial purposes, they all represent the difference between being outside or inside certain areas of the city. Some are open; some are closed to all but a few.
The gates into the presence of God are always open. The familiar song of Psalm 100 is an invitation for the Israelites to enter into the presence of God through the temple gates. They were told to “shout for joy” and “come before him with joyful songs” (v. 1). Shouting for joy was an appropriate expression when greeting a monarch in the ancient world. All the earth was to sing joyfully about God! The reason for this joyful noise was that God had given them their identity (v. 3). They entered the gates with praise and thanksgiving because of God’s goodness and His steadfast and enduring love which continues through all generations (vv. 4-5). Even when they forgot their identity and wandered away from Him, God remained faithful and still invited them to enter His presence. The gates into God’s presence are still open, inviting us to come and worship.
Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted a disturbing trend among his students and colleagues—a “comparison obsession." He writes: “More so than ever before, . . . business executives, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. . . . This is bad for individuals and bad for companies—when you define success based on external rather than internal criteria, you diminish your satisfaction and commitment.”
Comparison obsession isn’t new. The Scriptures warn us of the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. When we do so, we become proud and look down on them (Luke 18:9–14). Or we become jealous and want to be like them or have what they have (James 4:1). We fail to focus on what God has given us to do. Jesus intimated that comparison obsession comes from believing that God is unfair and that He doesn’t have a right to be more generous to others than He is to us (Matt. 20:1–16).
By God’s grace we can learn to overcome comparison obsession by focusing on the life God has given to us. As we take moments to thank God for everyday blessings, we change our thinking and begin to believe deep down that God is good.
Richard needed a push, and he got one. He was rock climbing with his friend Kevin who was the belayer (the one who secures the rope). Exhausted and ready to quit, Richard asked Kevin to lower him to the ground. But Kevin urged him on, saying he had come too far to quit now. Dangling in midair, Richard decided to keep trying. Amazingly, he was able to reconnect with the rock and complete the climb because of his friend’s encouragement.
In the early church, followers of Jesus encouraged one another to continue to follow their Lord and to show compassion. In a culture riddled with immorality, they passionately appealed to one another to live pure lives (Rom. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:1). Believers encouraged one another daily, as God prompted them to do so (Acts 13:15). They urged each other to intercede for the body (Rom. 15:30), to help people stay connected to the church (Heb. 10:25), and to love more and more (1 Thess. 4:10).
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has connected us to one another. Therefore, we have the responsibility and privilege with God’s enablement to encourage fellow believers to finish the climb of trusting and obeying Him.
Until recently, many towns in rural Ireland didn’t use house numbers or postal codes. So if there were three Patrick Murphys in town, the newest resident with that name would not get his mail until it was first delivered to the other two Patrick Murphys who had lived there longer. “My neighbors would get it first,” said Patrick Murphy (the newest resident). “They’d have a good read, and they’d go, ‘No, it’s probably not us.’ ” To end all this mail-delivery confusion, the Irish government recently instituted its first postal-code system which will ensure the proper delivery of the mail.
Sometimes when we pray we feel like we need help delivering to God what is on our heart. We may not know the right words to say or how to express our deep longings. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit helps us and intercedes for us by taking our unspeakable “groanings” and presenting them to the Father. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (v. 26). The Spirit always prays according to God’s will, and the Father knows the mind of the Spirit.
Be encouraged that God hears us when we pray and He knows our deepest needs.
Health clubs offer many different programs for those who want to lose weight and stay healthy. One fitness center caters only to those who want to lose at least 50 pounds and develop a healthy lifestyle. One member says that she quit her previous fitness club because she felt the slim and fit people were staring at her and judging her out-of-shape body. She now works out 5 days a week and is achieving healthy weight loss in a positive and welcoming environment.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to call the spiritually unfit to follow Him. Levi was one such person. Jesus saw him sitting in his tax collector’s booth and said, “Follow me” (Mark 2:14). His words captured Levi’s heart, and he followed Jesus. Tax collectors were often greedy and dishonest in their dealings and were considered religiously unclean. When the religious leaders saw Jesus having dinner at Levi’s house with other tax collectors, they asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16). Jesus replied, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17).
Jesus came to save sinners, which includes all of us. He loves us, welcomes us into His presence, and calls us to follow Him. As we walk with Him, we grow more and more spiritually fit.
When people drill holes deep into the earth, it is normally for pulling up core samples of rock, accessing oil, or finding water.
In Isaiah 12, we learn that God wanted His people, who were living in a spiritual desert as well as a geographical desert, to discover His “wells of salvation.” The prophet Isaiah compared God’s salvation to a well from which the most refreshing of all waters can be drawn. After many years of turning their back on God, the nation of Judah was destined for exile as God allowed foreign invaders to conquer the nation, scattering the people. Yet, said the prophet Isaiah, a remnant would eventually return to their homeland as a sign that God was with them (Isa. 11:11-12).
Isaiah 12 is a hymn, praising God for His faithfulness in keeping His promises, especially the promise of salvation. Isaiah encouraged the people that deep in God’s “wells of salvation” they would experience the cool water of God’s grace, strength, and joy (vv. 1-3). This would refresh and strengthen their hearts and cause praise and gratitude to God (vv. 4-6).
God wants each of us to discover through confession and repentance the deep, cool waters of joy found in the everlasting well of His salvation.
After Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan scored a goal against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, he and his teammates did a coordinated dance step. When Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored a few minutes later, he did a running front flip. “Soccer celebrations are so appealing because they reveal players’ personalities, values, and passions,” says Clint Mathis, who scored for the US at the 2002 World Cup.
In Psalm 150, the psalmist invites “everything that has breath” to celebrate and praise the Lord in many different ways. He suggests that we use trumpets and harps, stringed instruments and pipes, cymbals and dancing. He encourages us to creatively and passionately celebrate, honor, and adore the Lord. Because the Lord is great and has performed mighty acts on behalf of His people, He is worthy of all praise. These outward expressions of praise will come from an inner wellspring overflowing with gratitude to God. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” the psalmist declares (150:6).
Though we may celebrate the Lord in different ways (I’m not encouraging back flips in our worship services), our praise to God always needs to be expressive and meaningful. When we think about the Lord’s character and His mighty acts toward us, we cannot help but celebrate Him through our praise and worship.
In August 2013, large crowds gathered at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to witness the blooming of the tropical plant known as the corpse flower. Since the flower is native to Indonesia, and may flower only once every several years, its blooming is a spectacle. Once open, the huge spiky, beautiful, red bloom smells like rotten meat. Because of its putrid fragrance, the flower attracts flies and beetles that are looking for rotting meat. But there is no nectar.
Like the corpse flower, sin holds out promises but in the end offers no rewards. Adam and Eve found this out the hard way. Eden was beautiful until they ruined it by doing the one thing God urged them not to do. Tempted to doubt God’s goodness, they ignored their Creator’s loving warning and soon lost their innocence. The God-given beauty of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil became like a corpse flower to them. The reward for their disobedience was alienation, pain, emptiness, toil, and death.
Sin looks inviting and may feel good, but it doesn’t compare with the wonder, beauty, and fragrance of trusting and obeying God, who has made us to share His life and joy.