Christianity 201

December 9, 2018

Lay Participation in Sunday Worship

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NET)  What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.

1 Corinthains 12:4 (The Voice) Now there are many kinds of grace gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are many different ways to serve, but they’re all directed by the same Lord. There are many amazing working gifts in the church, but it is the same God who energizes them all in all who have the gifts. 7a Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence

This first verse above (from chapter 14) has resulted in many different expressions of spontaneous interjections to any given worship service. I’ve seen it expressed in the Brethren style of worship where there are often long silences before the next person will stand up and share something which blessed them through the week. I’ve seen it happen in the Pentecostal style of worship where people will suddenly start speaking in tongues and as soon as they are seated, someone else will suddenly offer the interpretation.

My favorite was an interdenominational meeting* which wasn’t entirely different from the apparent spontaneity of the Pentecostal service but seemed to also imply the preparation which might have gone into the Brethren service. The thing that made it different is that before speaking, people would first define the gift they were about to bring.

The people would simply jump to their feet — not unlike the figures in the arcade game Whack-a-Mole — and announce:

“I have a word of prophecy!”

“I have a Psalm!”

“I have a teaching!”

or whatever; followed by the short message itself. If my description sounds irreverent, you need to know this also a group that could be brought to complete silence for minutes at a time in what I later referred to as “a holy hush.”

I wrote about this experience on my other blog back in 2008. At the time I noted that with each participant clearly defining what it is they were going to say, nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog.” It was also not the time for prayer requests. It was a time for using spiritual gifts to build up the body.

Their motto was: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

That should be the motto of every church…

…I realize writing this that lay participation in the service is perhaps quite uncommon where you worship. It certainly doesn’t fly in a megachurch environment, or where a church has bought into the idea that the people in the seats are an audience or spectators. I got thinking about this after reading an article by Ned Berube at the blog Lionshead Café. The article was titled, Thoughts on Evangelical Corporate Worship.

He first describes the worship pattern for a church where two friends attend:

Because they are quite clear that every believer is inhabited by the Holy Spirit and consequently hearing the word of the Lord hopefully on a very regular basis, they make room explicitly for individual members to share what the Lord may have put on their heart. Two or three may share for 5-10 minutes before an elder speaks for 30-40 minutes on a prepared text. The others might be more spontaneous or thought through earlier in the week. The value of this is apparent-the whole congregation is “on call” for sharing the word of God and they are quite clear that they are part of a gifted body of believers that are to bring forth God’s word to God’s people. They are central to the Liturgy (Greek liturgia– the work of the people). And it derives very clearly from Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians in chapter 14 of the first letter: “When you come together, you all have a lesson, a revelation, a tongue etc”). They were led to believe that every time they came together they could expect the presence of the Spirit who would use the whole body of gifted believers to minister to the whole body.

Next he describes another church which he started himself:

A good 15-20 minutes was separated for “Sharing” from the congregation. We tried to have a 90 minute service but more often it was closer to 2 hours. Sometimes a bit beyond. And I’m sure that the length eliminated a few folks. Maybe a lot! But our thinking was built on what we perceived as a dearth of spiritual impartation by the body to each other. And many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups. In fact, one couple that visited thought our service was more like a big small group, which they meant largely as a critique, but we felt that the trade-offs were worth it.

There’s one more paragraph I want to get to from Ned’s article — I realize I took most of the space myself today — but before doing so, I don’t want you to miss his description of Simon:

I would consider Simon the most skilled worship leader I have met in the world. The first time I watched and heard him lead worship was an amazing personal event. Simon is very small of stature and he took his guitar and turned his back to the congregation/audience and proceeded to lead us in music that was rich toward the Person of God and circumvented most of the “how I am feeling about God” lyrics that have dominated so much of modern evangelical worship.

Talk about avoiding a personality-driven church!

The timing on this is interesting because just this week, I remember reading someone saying that in a really well-run small-group, it’s not apparent who is in charge of the meeting. My personal longing would be to experience this in our weekend worship as well, on a more regular basis. (‘Who’s in charge? God’s in charge.’)

I’ll let Ned have the last word:

If we do not provide a venue for the general sharing of the body in a worship service or small group, we run the risk of creating an elite that alone can speak the word of the Lord. And that is not to dismiss gifted preachers who should indeed be handling the bulk of preaching and teaching, but there must be a place for the larger body to bring their unique perspective into the mix of a worship service. And as I share these sentiments, I am also personally aware of pastors and friends who would consider these thoughts anathema. And there are decent reasons for so thinking. There are a lot of ways for this to go off the rails. But if there is sufficient teaching and healthy leadership during the worship service that can be minimized. We did this for 18 years at Christ Community Church with far more blessing than weird off-key expressions.

…read the full article at this link.


*The meeting I referred to took place in Toronto under the name Reach Out. “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

 

 

August 12, 2018

A Year of Sunday Worship

53 Weeks ago I introduced our Sunday Worship feature, and then 52 weeks ago, we began including a number of articles on the subject of worship which introduced us to a number of new writers. Our first stop was Ascents and while we won’t return to each and every one of our sources as this series continues, this one is no longer active and I wanted to include a third and final article from writer Tim Adams.

Before you start reading, click here to read Psalm 74.

Psalm 74 – How long, O God?

Can there be a more desperate state than to think that the creator of all that exists, the singular infinite power, has cast you aside? To feel as though God has rejected you?  I can think of nothing more desperate than to see myself forgotten by God.  Psalm 74 informs us how to respond when those thoughts overtake us, and we find ourselves full of despair—feeling useless.

I struggle with the 74th Psalm; particularly, with phrases such as “…why have you rejected us forever?” or, “remember your congregation which you have purchased”.  Does God reject His own?  Does God “need” us to remind Him of His promises? Does God forget?  These notions seem to challenge what we know to be God’s divine attributes, and what we see as absolute Biblical certainties.  Certainly, the psalmist cannot be affirming these ideas, but there is no question that he is struggling with feelings of abandonment by God, and those feelings can be consuming.

In this prayer, I see four stages that the psalmist goes through in his despair.  In the first three verses, he expresses to God his feelings of abandonment—feeling that God has forgotten him.  He feels that God has forgotten His promises to His people.  Even though we know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20, John 14:16, Heb. 13:5), there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the closeness of God.  There are times when it seems like our prayers bounce off the ceiling right back down on us, never to find the ear of our Creator.  I have actually prayed, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say and I don’t feel like you’re listening… amen.”  I’m not proud of it, but I’ve said it.

In the second stage, vs. 4-10, Asaph recounts the circumstances God’s people find themselves in. Their enemies have taken over the sacred meetings of God’s people and arrogantly “roared” in defiance of God.  They have burned the sanctuary to the ground, and there is no one to speak for the Lord (v.9) to tell them when this time of tribulation will end.  So, the psalmist asks again, “How long, O God?”.  Certainly, God doesn’t need me to tell Him what’s going on.  He knows better than I.  But, honestly and humbly taking stock of my troubles helps me to acknowledge that He is my only hope for deliverance.

The third stage is praise (vs. 12-17), and this is also one I tend to miss in my prayers.  It’s not that I don’t tell God how great, how powerful, and how marvelous He is.  But, far too often, those are just words I’m obliged to say.  The fact is, praise is hard when life is at its low points and God feels far away.  The importance of Asaph’s praise is that it not only ascribes God’s worth, but it also serves to remind Asaph who he’s talking to.  It renews his awe, and strengthens his faith.  It prepares his heart for the fourth phase of the prayer.  He knows that His Lord and Savior can, and will, deliver and care for His chosen people.

In the fourth and final phase, Asaph tells God precisely what he desires Him to do.  With confidence and faith, he petitions God to remember His people and avenge His holy name.  Asaph’s request is not only for the oppressed nation, but also for God’s glory.  Again, God doesn’t need our insight, our wisdom, or our perspective on what needs to be done.  Nor does he need our permission to do what He has promised.  The need, rather, is ours.  We need to remind ourselves of what is true, what is honorable, what is righteous, pure, and so on (Phil. 4:8).  It is then that …the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).

Something that needs to be noted is that when the psalm ends, there’s no indication that the trials are soon to be over.  There’s no indication that Asaph “feels” any better about the circumstances he and the nation are in.  The fact is, feelings can deceive us, and distract us from what is true about God’s character.  Let’s not forget that God wants the best for us, and only He knows exactly what that is.

He will always bring about His perfect will, and even though His will may be hard, He is always a good Father who hears and cares for His children.

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Kevin Stokes & Tony Wood,
©1995 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs 

 

March 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.  – Hosea 6:3 NLT

High Versus Low Thoughts about God: A.W. Tozer

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. …

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ”What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. …

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God….

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him….

The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges….

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, Chapter 1


••• The quotation in the first paragraph figures largely into the opening of John Mark Comer’s book God Has A Name.

  • For a 50-minute video teaching of this material, go to this link on our other blog.
  • For a review of the book, go to this link at Thinking Out Loud.
  • For an excerpt from the book, go to this link from here at C201 two weeks ago.

••• For more about A.W. Tozer:

  • A classic A. W. Tozer Devotional; go to this link from C201 in November, 2013.
  • Tozer on the Trinity — Job Descriptions: Who Does What? Go to this link from November, 2014 here at C201
  • For excerpts by Tozer on Christian Leadership which then links you to a series of short excerpts, start at this link from C201 in October, 2013

••• Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

 

March 4, 2018

Sunday Worship

A Vision of the Glorified Christ

My wife had been working on this song a long time ago. Because our pastor was preaching on Revelation 1 and 2 this morning, she dusted it off and performed it for the first time after the sermon while we were receiving the Communion elements. It’s based on this passage:

HCSB.Rev.1.12 I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven gold lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool—white as snow—and His eyes like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and His voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in His right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from His mouth, and His face was shining like the sun at midday.

Revelation 1

by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus, your face shines like the sun with jealous love and pity
My face, my God, a brittle mask of who I try to be
Jesus, your feet are burnished bronze, with integrity you stand
My feet, My God, are clay and dust that crumble into sand

Jesus, your eyes are blazing fire that burns the fog away
My eyes, my God, unfocussed and blinded by the grey
Jesus, your voice a river’s rush, cleansing as it is pure
My voice, my God, a muddy stream, selfish and unsure

You hold the whole world in your hand,
The stars, the past, the sea
But with that pow’rful gentle hand
You reach to find, to touch, to comfort me

Jesus, your hair is white as snow – from eternity you are wise
And who am I? An empty fool – or your child in your eyes
Jesus you wear a sash of gold, my High Priest, all you’ve done for me
So I come, my God, in my tattered rags, ’cause I know you’ll cover me

Go Deeper:

Comparison to similar passages:

February 25, 2018

Sunday Worship

You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
– Psalm 22:3 NET

Today we feature the writing of singer, composer, recording artist and worship leader Tommy Walker. Today’s writing is part testimony, part teaching.

Understanding the Breakthrough Power of Worship

I can’t remember how many times I have felt like God was a million miles away and then, in an instant, I recognized that He was closer than the air I breathe.

The Bible says in Psalm 22:3 that He actually lives and dwells in our praises. This is the mystery and the miracle of the breakthrough power and presence of God when we worship! When we worship, we affirm the truth of God’s Word, and it is being rooted deep in our hearts.

When I was 11 years old, the Jesus Movement was taking hold in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. The church I attended began to be filled with long-haired, barefoot hippies. We sang acapella songs like “Hallelujah” over and over again. It really was an authentic, powerful move of God, but I was very young, so most of the time I was bored and distracted. However, I do remember watching the Holy Spirit move on people’s lives in a special way. I remember seeing high school kids worshiping and weeping at the mention of God’s love. There was such an amazing sense of grace and unity among everyone.

One Friday night as a Christian band was playing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” it happened – for the first time, while observing everyone worshiping God, I began to sense God’s presence. I’ve heard it said that worship is a picture of the Gospel in motion, and it certainly was for me that night. I saw people displaying a kind of personal, intimate relationship with God that I wanted and needed. A relationship that I knew was made possible only by the blood of Jesus.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents gathering us around my mom’s baby grand piano and having us sing the old hymns of the church for what felt like hours. At 5, I would end up lying under the piano and eventually falling asleep. I didn’t think much about Jesus and the Gospel then, but on that Friday night as the Christian band performed, the God we had sung about became my own personal God. I sensed Him saying to me for the first time “Tommy, I love you and I have called you to do great things for Me.” I wept at the thought that the God of heaven wanted to save and use a young boy like me. I surrendered my life to Jesus that night. One of my life verses has been Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (NIV).

Every person is created to be a worshiper. God dwells and, I believe, manifests Himself in the praises of His people. It has always been my prayer when I write songs and lead worship that the breakthrough power of God would bring the lost to Him–just like it happened for me.

After graduating from high school, I went to Bible college, and one of the areas I learned about was spiritual warfare. At first I resisted the training because I met people who spent so much time rebuking the devil. I thought they were giving the devil too much attention. To this day, I don’t agree with everything I saw there, but over time I have recognized that we are in a battle and there truly is an enemy that is out to destroy us.

Several years ago when I was doing a worship event in a poor neighborhood in Zambia, I sensed a darkness all around us–poverty, violence, abuse, hopelessness, hunger. We worshiped the Lord every night for more than an hour before we felt we could even begin to present the Gospel. Only then did we sense a real breakthrough in the spirit, and we saw hundreds come to Christ.

Through that event and others like it, I came to realize that worship is how we allow God to fight our battles for us. You may be familiar with the story of Jehoshaphat. Second Chronicles 20:22 says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (NIV). What a strange battle plan–but the result was that the Lord won the battle for them! There is something inherent in the act of worship that enables us to encounter the power of God like nothing else. It is not effective to simply tell someone to stop worrying; stop being proud; stop being self-consumed, distracted, insecure, bound and materialistic. But it is effective to tell them to start worshiping. When we make that decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we quickly realize that God has already begun to release the grip these tendencies can have on our lives.

Worship is a declaration of our weakness and God’s strength. I challenge you in your next point of need to make that hard choice to be a worshiper and let the breakthrough God fight your battle for you.

When we worship, the invisible God is at work doing invisible and powerful things. We get realigned, refreshed and refueled; we find unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. We discover the breakthrough strength of God, which enables us to walk in the truth, live in His presence and see Him fight our battles for us. It is how we can put the beauty of the Gospel on display, receive His many blessings and at the same time be a blessing to the world.


If you’re not familiar with Tommy Walker’s music, here is one of his best-known songs, He Knows My Name

 

February 18, 2018

Sunday Worship

This is the third in a series which was posted last spring at Whole Life Worship. I’ve added links to the other two parts. In their original order, the three deal with the breadth of God’s character, the depth of His Love and the height of his greatness.  Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a worship pastor, conference speaker, and seminary professor. He is currently on staff as the Associate Pastor of Worship Arts at Community Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga (California) and serves as an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology

God-in-a-Box

Worship is a response to the goodness and greatness of God. The problem is that most of the time we are unaware of how good and great God is. The way we overcome this is by improving our “view” of God. I touched on expanding our perception of God in the breadth of His character and the depth of His love. Today, I want to talk about the dimension of “height.” We need to grasp how “high” God is, how He is so far beyond what we can think or even imagine.

It’s easy to put God into a “box.” In fact, it’s so easy we do it without thinking. Whenever we get a little too familiar or cozy with God, we are doing it. Whenever we think we know how God operates or what He’s going to do, we’ve already done it. Whenever our worship of Him becomes routine or stale, it’s likely that we’ve contained “God” (meaning: our concept of God) in a box.

The second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4) was to not to create an idol or an image of anything in heaven (including God). There are multiple reasons for this commandment, but I think one of the main reasons was to keep us from worshiping something less than Him. Making an image of Him or His context is like putting “God in a box.” Something in a box or fashioned in a man-made image can be measured, calculated, manipulated and controlled. And it is in our sinful human nature to do that to God.

Good thing for us, God is so much bigger than anything any box we try put Him in! (And He’s really good at shattering these boxes.) But it’s important to know how we tend to put God in a box. I see two main boxes God gets shoved into:

  1. Theology – theology is a big word that basically means “what we think about God.” So don’t let the word scare you: everyone who thinks about God has a theology. Usually, our theology is based on what we interpret from the Bible. However, there are a lot of other factors (more than we care to admit) that influence our theology, such as: our cultural values, our political ideals, socio-economic biases, personality, etc. Sometimes our theology puts God in a box: like “God doesn’t do this or that,” or “God always does something in a certain way,” or that God is limited or “bound” by certain things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love theology. And, to a certain extent, we need theology. It helps us organize our thoughts and understandings about God. BUT, it’s important to know that all theology is limited. It is a “box” that puts labels and qualities on God. It is not God and I’ve seen God blow away my theology many a time. However, way too many Christians hold onto their theology too tightly, and their rigidity blinds them to the fact that God is “beyond comprehension.” More importantly, rigid theology keeps people from seeing the amazing greatness of God, and therefore, from true worship.

  1. Expectations – we have many expectations of how God responds to us. For example, if we become unemployed, we pray for God to provide for our needs. Now God may use many different ways to meet our needs, but we all have expectations on how this will happen. We may expect God to give us a job that pays more, that has better hours, that is located a mile from our house, that will be rewarding and fun, and that will pop up in less than a week’s time. Our expectations are usually nice, linear paths, with no bumps or hassles. But God might have a different idea of what your journey to provision will be. Like our theology, if we hold onto our expectations too tightly we may miss the opportunities God gives that will – not only meet our needs – but transform our character and the world around us.

Seeing the “height” of God’s ways comes only when we have a light hold on our theology and expectations. As the LORD says in Isaiah 55:9:

As high as the heavens are higher the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

Thank God that He is so much bigger than the boxes we put him in! Sometimes we need to let Him blow our mind and give us a larger vision of who He really is.

It was the vision of the “height” of God’s surpassing greatness that caused the Apostle Paul to pen these words:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

How big is your God? The bigger your God, the greater your Whole Life Worship.


From the same author:

One of the blockages to worship of God is being unaware of who God really is and what He has really done. When we can actually view the mercies of God through the eyes of our heart and soul, the response to worship Him flows freely and powerfully – leading to amazing transformation of our surrendered lives (Romans 12:2).

Check out God’s 3-D Mercies.

February 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Today’s guest writer is my wife. This is a series of readings she put together in the church where she was leading last week, along with lines from the songs they sang corresponding to each aspect of congregational worship.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours.  We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:
Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105
I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
 ***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***
Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:
I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us? 
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
 ***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***
Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:
God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam 
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
 ***
Our God is an awesome God!
***
 Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:
 
You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3
 
Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.

-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***

 

February 4, 2018

Sunday Worship

Psalm 24.NIV.3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

Psalm 24.The Voice.3 Who can possibly ascend the mountain of the Eternal?
    Who can stand before Him in sacred spaces?
Only those whose hands have been washed and hearts made pure,
    men and women who are not given to lies or deception.

It is not he who sings so well or so many Psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly; nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of, but it is he alone, who is pure within and without.” – Martin Luther

Jim Grant is a graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an MDiv in Biblical languages and a DMin in Church Revitalization from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His doctoral dissertation was about “implementing principles of intercessory prayer as a means of revitalizing a Plateaued Church.” We discovered his blog, Preach Between the Lines yesterday and thought this would be a great fit for our Sunday Worship series. In 2018 he is working his way through the poetic/wisdom books. Click the title below to read at source.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

Psalm 24 – … The author asks us some questions – Who may ascend to the hill of the LORD? – in other words who can come to the LORD’s Temple? – thinking of Jerusalem and Temple Mount. The Jews had a very rigid practice of ceremonially “washing” in large vats to cleanse themselves before worship. Coming to the Temple – more importantly before the LORD’s sanctuary, people did not nonchalantly rush into the presence of the LORD. “Who may stand in His holy place?” The second question makes us evaluate if we are worthy to stand in his presence. Thinking of God on His throne; who is worthy and righteous, holy or without guile to stand before the Holiness of God Almighty [El Shaddai]?

Of course the rhetorical questions have the same answer: No one. I believe that we have made worship all about us, rather than about God and His majestic power and love. I hear too much about people wanting to “feel” the Spirit. If a person knows the Lord Jesus Christ – they should already KNOW the Spirit and not need to “feel” the Spirit. Feelings lie all the time to us; they cannot be trusted to verify a godly experience. If we are to “approach the House of the LORD; if we are to come into His presence,” we must be cleansed and pure.

I am not sure how many believers think about what they are doing when they “go to church.” Usually there has been a lot of activity and emotions in trying to get the family ready on time. We come sliding into the pew and are no more ready to worship than the man on the moon. Then the music guy is trying to pump us up to “sing louder.” Truthfully I’m not ready to sing many times until after the song service is over. As a pastor I love hearing the wonderful worship songs and the genuine praise of people toward God – I’m just not sure it is accomplished by strobe lights and fog machines!

We must have clean hands – I never was allowed to “come to the dinner table” with dirty hands. I hand to “get ready to eat.” Washing my face and hands was my responsibility. Of course I got inspected and if I was not clean I had to do it over. The Holy Spirit is our guide to us, letting us know whether we are really cleansed for worship [dining with the Father]. I have noticed that my hand naturally get dirty when I walk around in this world. I don’t have to handle dirty or mud to get dirty. When I do have “dirt” [sin] that i must deal with, well it takes more than running water over my hands!

The second requirement to WORSHIP the LORD is to have a “pure heart.” I take this to mean that I am right with God and mankind. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God knows our motives and attitude – If I regard iniquity in my HEART, He [God] will not hear me. Verse 4 gets more specific – one who has not lifted his soul to falsehood – in other words not a hypocrite, not a liar! I have witnessed people who intentionally lied about who they are, pretending to be something they are not. We can be liars by the way we behave, our actions will tell whether we are pure or not. There is work to be done before coming before the Holy God of our salvation. If we do the work of “getting ready” the dinner/presence of the LORD will be most enjoyable!

If we are honest with ourselves, and come clean with the Lord our God, there is great mercy and forgiveness in His love. The Pharisees made Temple worship about them; pretending to be religious and holy – Jesus knew better. His response was Woes pronounced on them, and a warning to us not to be taken in by their hypocrisy. Let’s get ready for TRUE WORSHIP of the KING OF KINGS!


Who may ascend to the hill/mountain of the Lord?

Four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible.

  1. The one who abstains from evil doing: He that hath clean hands.
  2. The one who abstains from evil thought: and a pure heart.
  3. The one who does the duty which he is sent into the world to do: That has not lifted up his mind unto vanity (or, as it is in the Vulgate, Who hath no received his soul in vain.) And,
  4. The one who remembers the vows by which he is bound to God: nor sworn to deceive. And in the fullest sense, there was but One in whom all these things were fulfilled; so that in reply to the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” He might well answer, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” John 3:13 . “Therefore it is well written,” says St. Bernard, “that such an High Priest became us, because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the celestial mountain, he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” Lorinus and Bernard, quoted by J. M. Neale (paraphrased; sourced)

Worship song: King of Glory by Chris Tomlin

 

January 28, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Honor your father and your mother… (Deut. 6:10, Exodus 20:6)

For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down (I John 5:3 NET)

Last week we discussed the idea of worship as “worth-ship” as we give honor to Christ. But is there any other honor that it is legitmate to give?

In the Protestant version* of The Ten Commandments, we speak of dividing the commands into two ‘tablets.’ The first four deal with our direct relationship with God, the next six deal with our relationship with our fellow humans.

Here’s a short version of the ten from the website Life, Hope and Truth:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

We honor God when we keep all ten, but the first also asks us to honor him exclusively, the third not to trivialize his name, the fourth to honor his day.

But what if we place the fifth one in the first tablet, and think in terms of honoring God when we honor our earthly parents? Or is there a concern here, that honoring our parents somehow takes away from the worth-ship due God; the honor due Christ?

A well known U.S. author who I follow on Twitter buried his father yesterday. To watch the love and care and honor he gave his dad in that final season of his dad’s life was a great example. In doing so he honored God, but don’t miss this: In doing so he did not take away one iota of the honor due to God.

However, make no mistake, it’s possible to do that.

But it’s also possible for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. The Pharisees created an interesting situation.

Mark 7:11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

At The Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson writes (click to read the full text from Mark and a fuller explanation)

Some of the Jews, however, had concocted a scheme to avoid parental responsibility. They would designate certain of their financial resources as “corban.” The Greek word korban is related to the term korbanas, signifying the “temple treasury.” In Jewish practice, therefore, the word “corban” had been coined as a sort of “vow” term. According to the prevailing tradition, one could designate his financial resources as “corban,” which, practically speaking, was a way of “tagging” them, suggesting, “this belongs to God,” and thus was not to be used for personal interests.

There is a passage in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, that illustrates the fact that funds from the temple treasury were “corban,” hence could not be used for secular purposes, e.g., city improvements, as in the building of an aqueduct for water supply (Wars 2.9.4).

Thus, in the manner just described, the covetous, ungrateful Jews callously neglected parental responsibility by an appeal to this perverted human tradition. In so doing, they flouted the law of God.

So this again suggests a balance.

I had a friend who, when his mom was in her last days, worked a full day at the business he owned, and then drove for over two hours nightly to be with her. His dedication amazed me. When I asked him how he did it, he told me, “I’m honoring Dad by doting on Mom.’

That sums this up for me well. I would argue that fifth command fits well on either tablet. We honor God by honoring our parents. It doesn’t subtract anything from the debt of love we owe Christ provided we hold both loves in tension.


*Catholic Bibles are the same on the texts, but the version in the Catechism is different. We discussed that in this 2015 article.

January 21, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Worth-ship

Many of you know that our word worship means worthship. We worship those things/people we ascribe worth to and in doing so we are saying these things/people are important to us. Here’s what some Christian people said about this word online recently:

Christian author Jentezen Franklin:

Give God your best

“I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”     2 Samuel 24:24 NLT

Instead of trusting God for victory over his enemies, David decided of his own volition to count the number of troops in his army to see how strong he was. God considered it “a slap in the face,” and a plague hit Israel that wiped out seventy thousand people. In order to stop the plague, David was told: “Build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (v.18 NLT). When Araunah realized what was happening, he offered his threshing floor and oxen to David free of charge.

But David said: “‘No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.’ So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed the burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer…and the plague on Israel was stopped” (vv. 24-25 NLT).

The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: When it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything” (Pr 3:9 NLT). So whether you’re worshiping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.

Covenant Life Church of God, Leesburg, Florida:

Worship is a response for who He is

We recognize His worth-ship, His value and we openly worship Him.  If He never did another thing for us, He is still worthy of our worship.  His whole being is so wonderful and beautiful we can’t help but respond to Him.  That is worship, the acknowledgement of who He is, without any reference to ourselves.  He is still magnificent without anything personal involved, simply by existing.

Psalm 29:1,2

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
    honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

Psalm 95:6,7

Come, let us worship and bow down.
    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
    for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care.

From the website Truth or Tradition:

Romans 12:1 (REV):

“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.”

…When it comes to being living sacrifices for God, sometimes we fall short of the mark, for many reasons. One is that we simply do not think about it, because our relationship with God has become “me” oriented. Often I pray when “I” need something, go to a church because “I” feel the need for community (and go when “I” am comfortable going), give when “I” have some extra money, and volunteer when “I” have some extra time, if ever. But is that really putting God first in our lives? Jesus said, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness….” (Matt. 6:33).

Another reason that perhaps we do not worship God as we should is that it often takes so much time, and we are already busy. Let’s face it—prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith all take time. Also, sometimes there does not seem to be much return for the effort spent on things we do for God. There are times we pray for our country, yet things seem to go from bad to worse; we read the Bible, but not are not inspired by it; or we go to church, but do not seem to benefit that much from the experience. Ironically, our word “worship” derives from “worth-ship” (Oxford Etymological Dictionary), and sometimes we wonder if “worship” is “worth it.” But it always is

God loves us, and He is not about giving Christians “busy work” to make Himself feel important. There is great value in worship, even if often that value remains unseen in the fallen physical world. But Christians must make the effort to see the value in worshiping God, because the wrong attitude or the wrong action can make worship seem not “worth it” at all. The priests of Israel certainly got to the point where they did not see the value in worshiping God. They eventually despised God’s name and work (Mal. 1:6). They said of God’s work, “Behold, what a weariness it is!” and they snorted at it (Mal. 1:13). Instead of being diligent and thankful to offer sacrifices to God that honored Him, God noted of the priests that, “you have brought sacrifices that were taken by robbery, and the lame and the sick” (Mal. 1:13). No wonder that after the time of Malachi there were very few notable Jewish prophets until John the Baptist.

 

 

January 14, 2018

Sunday Worship

At the outset of this series, we said we wanted to focus on the broader meaning of the word worship and not limit it to music in the church. However, I found this article yesterday while spending much time in the archives of the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While it appears on the surface to apply only to those who lead us at weekend services, I believe there are some broader principles we can extract from this as we serve and honor God in various ways. The author is Dr. Scott Connell, Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”
  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!

January 7, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Matthew 2:9b After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11a And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

Today’s thoughts for Epiphany Sunday were published earlier today by a writer who is new to us, David M. Wilmot, a Vicar in the Church of England in Troutbeck. Click the title below to read the full article, of which this is the second half.

To Recover Confidence: Right worship, Right praise is the most missional thing you can do

…I so often wonder, where on earth did we get the notion that worship is about `meeting needs`? No, worship is about God. Worship is its own reward. Right Worship, right praise is our calling… without one eye on what other people might think. No, if worship is for our benefit at all the only `need` it addresses is our need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And this happens in two ways….

Firstly, worship remind us of both who we are and whose we are. What I mean is that the very act of gathering in obedience to the Sabbath command is that we put down a marker as to where our true and ultimate loyalties lie. You see, I don`t think we have begun to appreciate how radical and thoroughly subversive a thing it is to worship. It is… or at least should be… regarded as absolute dynamite. Ask some of our many persecuted brothers and sisters what happens when day by day week by week you persist in reminding the world; anyone within earshot of its true king.

Because that`s what we learn of Jesus in that Epiphany Reading today isn’t it? (Matthew 2.1-12) The coming of the Christ; the world`s true King threw everyone (especially those who considered themselves to be someone) into an absolute panic. Why? Because his very presence exposes our real problem: idolatry. The attempt to live as if God is not God. In the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Kingdom of self… and the Kingdoms of the world are `on notice`. Because, the question is never `whether` we worship but `what or whom`. And to a world that seems obsessed with matters of identity and persists in attempting find their sense of who they are in things less than God, worship gets things the right way around.

And this is the second thing: You see worship `forms` us in our true identity, as sons and daughters of this King. We must not domesticate or turn passages such as the one we heard a moment ago, into little children’s stories. Remember, those visitors from the East `paid him homage ` but that act of worship changed them. They didn’t go `back to Herod`, to the recognized authority; because we`re told “they left for their own country by another road”. (Matthew 2.12) My point is that this is what we must learn to expect from our gathering here: Formation in Discipleship.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. (Matthew 6.21) In our worship, just like the wise men, we hand over our treasures… our loves… the things which most drive, motivate and enthuse us. And here`s the thing… We offer them for trans-formation. We expect to leave here by another road… with our loves trans-formed. So, I`m calling us to a renewed confidence today and I`m suggesting that confidence will come as we re-engage with what it means to worship; as we kneel before the king of kings. It really does begin and end with God; the one Revelation calls the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

And if I were to offer one practical step I would suggest that you immerse yourself in the Book of Psalms. Not just because it`s the book which taught our Lord to pray… but because it has nurtured the Church in a true Vision of God from the very beginning. I was taught a long time ago that if you’re going to learn to pray, you need to read at least one Psalm every day. And what`s true for us individually is especially true of us as a Church. Place the Psalms at the heart of your worship….

You could do worse than begin with Psalm 115. Not least because the writer takes a well-aimed and comedic shot at the shallowness and stupidity of the world’s idolatry. He pokes fun at the nations by saying:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
   they make no sound in their throats.

But then he ends by saying:

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115 4-8)

Again, the writer`s point is that it is never a matter of `whether` we worship… but WHAT we worship. And in the end, we will always come to resemble the desire of our hearts…We become like the thing…the god we worship.

Dear friends, in times of change and uncertainty you will find the confidence to be faithful as you centre your lives in worship; the worship of the true and living God revealed in Jesus the Christ. Right worship, Right praise is the most Christ-like and therefore the most missional thing you can do. Our prayer is that in worship you should be transformed into the likeness of Christ… that you will bear his image to those with whom you live and work. It all begins here. You become what you worship…

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

December 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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When we started this series, I emphasized that it was to be about more than just music, because both personal and corporate worship is more than just what we sing. As I thought about this week’s column, I realized that one person who epitomizes this wider view of worship is Rory Norland, whose website is Heart of the Artist.

In On Earth as it is in Heaven (Zondervan) he writes the following; this is an excerpt from an excerpt, click the link below to read everything.

Do What Matters Most: Make Worship a Priority

Top Priority

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). David’s devotion to worship oozes from this verse. More than anything, David wanted to bask in the beauty of God’s presence. He was enamored with God’s glory. The “one thing” David longing is for is intimacy with God and a chance to worship his heavenly Father. As you probably picked up … that first principle we discover about David’s worship involves priorities. David made worship his top priority.

Because worship was such a high priority for David, he bristled whenever God wasn’t given the honor he deserved. What stirred David to take on Goliath was not the threat he posed to Israel but the giant’s blatant disrespect for Jehovah, Israel’s God. David asked angrily, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). God’s glory and reputation were at stake, and David felt compelled to take action. Upon confronting the Terminator from Gath, David shouted, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46). You can always discern your priorities, for better or worse, by what angers you or stirs you, what frustrates you and what excites you. Honoring God was the utmost priority for David.

As king, David’s reign over Israel was marked significantly by the prominent attention he gave to worship. He brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and endeavored to build a temple because he wanted to restore worship as the centerpiece of Jewish life. David was also the first to incorporate music as a regular fixture in Israel’s worship. He appointed singers and instrumentalists (1 Chronicles 15:16 – 24; 16:4 – 7; 25:1 – 8; 2 Chronicles 8:14), formed bands and choirs (2 Chronicles 29:25 – 26), pioneered antiphonal singing where one group sings and another echoes in response (Nehemiah 12:24), and even introduced new instruments into the worship service (1 Chronicles 23:5). On occasion, David even led his people in worship (1 Chronicles 16:8 – 36; 29:10 – 22). Israel never had a king as devoted to worshiping God as David was.

Why Make Worship a Priority?

David made worship a priority because he understood that we are created, commanded, called, compelled, and destined to worship. Because God was his ultimate priority, worship was his primary activity.

Created to Worship

In Isaiah, God refers to his people as those who are “called by my name, whom I created for my glory” and those “I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:7, 21). First Peter 2:9 confirms that you and I were created to worship God: “But you are a chosen [ people], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (emphasis added). If you love to worship, if it feels right to you, it’s because you’re doing what you were created to do.


Other excerpts from the book:

“Why does the Bible keep nagging us to give thanks? It’s because we quickly forget all that God has done for us; we take him for granted. According to Romans 1:21, when we fail to honor God and give him thanks, our hearts become darkened. Indeed, if left unchecked, ingratitude leads to negativity, bitterness, cynicism, and despair.”

“We too need to scour the Bible to learn how God wants to be worshiped. For it doesn’t matter how you and I want to praise God. It’s not ultimately important whether worship makes us feel good or if the music is to our liking. True worship must always be offered on God’s terms, not ours. So we need to learn how God wants to be worshiped.”

[Source]

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