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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Did God Make You Smile You Today?

The other day I was waiting for Kathy at school when one of our students came by with his baby son. The proud daddy was showing off his son, and it was obvious that he had spent watching everything that the little one does and especially the things that make him smile. “Watch this, it always makes him smile,” and with a quick move of his hand the baby responded with radiant grin sure to please any parent or grand parent.

As he went on his way, my thoughts turned to our heavenly Father and how He watches and knows us. We are never out of His sight, never out of His care, and never out of the reach of His arms. He even knows what makes us smile. So many sunrises that take my breath away and sunsets that send a peaceful wave of beauty over me, and just maybe God is saying, “made you smile...” Hearing birds sing in the morning, hearing twigs crackle under feet, watching leaves turn colors and fall, feeling a gentle cool breeze in my face, smelling fresh air, and God made me smile again.

Unfortunately, too many times, maybe even most times, I just miss it. The Almighty waves His powerful hand in my direction [not just for me, I know, He does it for everyone], and the wonders are all around. I might even comment, “wow,” or “beautiful,” but stop short of telling the Creator of it all thanks for the beauty of it all. I have a loving Father that knows “my going out and my coming in,” and loves me regardless. I long to be more sensitive to the Father as He moves, to be able to see Him in the faces of those around me and hearing Him in the laughter of a child. There must be thousands of ways I just miss His goodness, though I may not miss its benefits, I just fail to thank Him and tell Him so. 

I think the best thing I can do right now, is just say, “Thank You, Father, for loving a sinful human race enough to die and bring us into a relationship with You, Thank You, Father, for giving us the opportunity to share that love with others, Thank You, Father, for family, for an opportunity to serve You. And Father, thank You for making me smile today!”

Friday, September 24, 2010

“Not a problem to be fixed, but a paradox to be managed...”

I heard this phrase this past week as I was listening to a speaker on marriage, and although the context was completely different, the application to worship is amazing. Much of what is discussed in worship is treated more as a “problem to be fixed,” but the reality of the situation is that some things will not be “fixed.”

Those who are over 60 will not suddenly become 19 year-olds and neither will those who are 20 wake up and be 75. Yet, these being different are still part of the Body of Christ. The image of the body is a powerful image: many members, different than each other, functioning differently, yet all surrendered under the authority on the Head, which is Christ. The parts of the body are not subject just to the likes and dislikes of any one of its members, that is, the body will not do only what the hand or foot likes to do. Yet, it does share those activities as directed and needed as the Head sees fit. The wisdom lies in learning how to “manage” rather than “fix.”

As long as we maintain a “fix it,” mentality we will keep looking for the magic bullet that solves all our problems. If there were a magic bullet, I believe it would have been discovered long before now. But if we can function as the Body of Christ, that is, different members working in unity under the Head, who is Christ, then I believe we will begin to learn to “manage” rather than “fix.” I believe we need to stop looking for the “magic bullet” and begin to load our tool belts with the skills and wisdom from God to approach the challenges with new light and new hope.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Power of Knowing God...

Isaiah 11:1-9 is a Messianic passage and is one of those passages in which Jesus is referenced as the “Branch” from Jesse’s line. The first five verses describe Messiah and his attributes and the last four the results of his rule, an image of perfect peace and harmony. Let’s review it here:

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;

4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,e
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

While this is clearly the prophet’s vision from God of a world controlled by God’s Anointed Messiah, there is one phrase that seems to jump out among the rest: “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” The reason this seems to call so much attention is the preposition “for,” which is give the reason or cause of the previous verses. What things, specifically? The lion living with the lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion, all hunters and their natural prey, and being led by a child. Lions and bears eating straw, no longer carnivores, but grass eaters and infants playing with once deadly vipers. Surely this is a world completely upside down, at least to those ears who would have first heard it, and even to us today. Such behavior is not characteristic of the nature of those predators. What made the difference? The difference lies in the earth being full of the knowledge of God.

I am not trying to take away from the beautiful messianic picture the prophet has given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When the Messiah comes it would be a time of righteousness, justice, and peace.

This is just a simple observation. When God is in control and those under His control know Him their very nature is transformed. Coming to know God in salvation completely transforms life. When we yield the control of our lives to God as Lord & Master and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are changed. This is not only a word of hope for a future time, and a description of the incarnate Christ as He came and what things might be when He reigns after the culmination of all things. This is also a basic truth to understand. When God is in control and those under His control know Him, their very nature is transformed.

The question must be raised how is this knowledge of God given? Obviously, through His Word, yes. But God also reveals Himself everyday as we trust Him for each day’s provision [give us this day our daily bread], as we see Him in control of heaven and earth [Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven]. Remember what the psalmist said in Psalm 50:8-15:
8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,

10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.

12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,

15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

As we recognize what God has done and give Him thanks and praise, He receives glory, as He delivers us from our troubles and we respond in praise and gratitude, we honor Him. We grow in our knowledge of the Holy One as we live through the difficulties of life.

How else can we grow in our knowledge of God? Our praise and gratitude, our exalting God for who He is and what He has done is the essence of worship. Within this prophecy of about Messiah, Isaiah might be saying as we worship, as we get to know God, understand His authority, control, power and majesty, as we are filled with the knowledge of God, our own nature and character will be changed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does the Church Have Laryngitis?

This isn’t as strange a question as it may seem at first. Let me give a brief background and ask the question again. I will readily admit that this was not copied from a book, and that personal speculation is involved, so I would ask that you stay with this just for a little while and feel free to respond or comment at the end.

In the years leading up to the Renaissance, which some scholars place the beginning around 1450, the Church was ripe with corruption. Indulgences, full or partial pardon for sin, were sold, many times to fund great building projects, ecclesiastical positions were sold, and immorality was rampant within the ranks of the priesthood, even after attempts to correct these problems. In short, except for the difference in clothing and the language used during the worship service, the average person in the pew saw very little difference between those outside the church and many of those in leadership within its walls. The Church had lost its moral authority; she had lost her voice. Textbooks will focus on the rise of mechanical technologies and free thinking as a source for the Renaissance, but few will focus on perhaps what might have been a deeper reason.

When those outside the church see no solution to their own dilemmas from those inside the church, then they must conclude that God couldn’t help His own “insiders,” so He probably can’t help them either. Since they failed to see a faith lived out that offered answers to life’s deepest issues of purpose and meaning, the focus turned inward. “Perhaps, God doesn’t exist, or perhaps this universe is a giant clock that God has wound and left to run.” Regardless, the end result was that man began to look to himself as his own solution, and humanism was born.

I wonder at times if we are not seeing something similar repeated in our day and age:
– The church in North America seems obsessed with becoming a super church, tearing down barns to build bigger ones, so much so that the interest on the debt on the loans is more than we give to missions. We seem more concerned with our comfort and convenience than the needs of a lost world.
– The church has adopted more of a corporate model of administration than a biblical one. I heard the pastor of one of these large churches being interviewed on “Larry King Live” some time back who said, “Larry, I’m the CEO of one of the largest churches in the US.” I will with hold the name, but the idea was obvious, he was CEO more than pastor.
– Some have given up shepherding the flock for herding them like cattle.
– Just as bad are those that promise that God wants to have them rich and prosperous and if they just have enough faith, God will make it happen. I heard of a believer in China, part of the underground church, who after hearing this kind of message from the United States went to his pastor to ask what sin he might have committed, since God wasn’t blessing him with riches.
– We have exchanged the biblical mandate to “go and make disciples of every nation” to “come and let us entertain you into the kingdom.”
– The divorce rate in the church is virtually the same for those outside of the church, about 50%.
– Over and over again we hear of church leadership caught up in financial coverups, and moral failures.

Is it any wonder that those without a relationship with Christ don’t look to the Church for answers when it seems like we have nothing to offer. These are by no means the issues of only large churches. Praise God for those who are stemming the tide; there are a few lights in this darkness, but on the whole it seems as if the Church has lost its voice; the Church has laryngitis. She lost her moral authority because she gave it up on an altar of self indulgence and convenience.

Even with that, the Church has not lost its responsibility to God’s call and command. Would there have been such growth in post-modern ideas of relativity, etc., if the Church had been what God had called us to be? No one can answer that question, and not much is gained by spending too much time on it. Is it too late to do anything about it? As long as there is breath, there is hope, because God is still God and still in charge. He is just as willing to fill and control us now as He has always been, but we must surrender to His Lordship. I am not down on the Church, she is the body of Christ. I love the Church and long to see her rise up as God desires. I am concerned that there are those who desire to take the place of the Head, who is Christ, alone. The Church was God’s idea, not man’s, but we must do it His way, not ours.

You might have asked, “I thought that this was a blog on worship? What happened?” You’re completely right, and here’s your answer. I think the first step toward turning things around is a time of repentance and worship.
– A time for seeing God as He Is and what He desires and ourselves as we are.
– A time for confessing, agreeing with God about how He sees us and what we have done, claiming His forgiveness and thanking Him for what He has done through Christ to make it possible that we might have a relationship with Himself.
– A time to stop and listen to the voice of God, not to tell Him our plans, but see what He is doing and to join Him in it.
A wise pastor once said that we are so busy that “we can’t see the difference between the dust of our own efforts and the cloud of the presence of God.” There may be some things we need to stop doing, there certainly are some things that He will want us to do. Let’s seek Him in worship and take the first step toward the repetition of a failure.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Developing a Vocabulary of Praise

What can we learn from David about praise and thanksgiving...

Let’s look at an interesting passage about worship in the life of David, a man after God’s on heart. Our focus here is simply the various commands and verbs the king uses as he celebrates the moving of the Ark of the Covenant. As you read, notice the various and specific commands he uses which have been put in bold italic print.

1 Chronicles 16 [ASV]
1And they brought in the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it: and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before God. 2And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Jehovah. 3And he dealt to every one of Israel, both man and woman, to every one a loaf of bread, and a portion of flesh, and a cake of raisins.
4And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of Jehovah, and to celebrate and to thank and praise Jehovah, the God of Israel: 5Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, Jeiel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehiel, and Mattithiah, and Eliab, and Benaiah, and Obed-edom, and Jeiel, with psalteries and with harps; and Asaph with cymbals, sounding aloud; 6and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests with trumpets continually, before the ark of the covenant of God. 7Then on that day did David first ordain to give thanks unto Jehovah, by the hand of Asaph and his brethren.
8 O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name;
Make known his doings among the peoples.
9 Sing unto him, sing praises unto him;
Talk ye of all his marvellous works.
10 Glory ye in his holy name;
Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah.
11 Seek ye Jehovah and his strength;
Seek his face evermore.
12 Remember his marvelous works that he hath done,
His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth,
13 O ye seed of Israel his servant,
Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
14 He is Jehovah our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
15 Remember his covenant for ever,
The word which he commanded to a thousand generations,
16 The covenant which he made with Abraham,
And his oath unto Isaac,
17 And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute,
To Israel for an everlasting covenant,
18 Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan,
The lot of your inheritance;
19 When ye were but a few men in number,
Yea, very few, and sojourners in it;
20 And they went about from nation to nation,
And from one kingdom to another people.
21 He suffered no man to do them wrong;
Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,
22 Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones,
And do my prophets no harm.
23 Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth;
Show forth his salvation from day to day.
24 Declare his glory among the nations,
His marvelous works among all the peoples.
25 For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised:
He also is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols:
But Jehovah made the heavens.
27 Honor and majesty are before him:
Strength and gladness are in his place.
28 Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples,
Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength;
29 Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name:
Bring an offering, and come before him:
Worship Jehovah in holy array.
30 Tremble before him, all the earth:
The world also is established that it cannot be moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth.
32 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
Let the field exult, and all that is therein;
33 Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah;
For he cometh to judge the earth.
34 O give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good;
For his loving kindness endureth for ever.
35 And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation,
And gather us together and deliver us from the nations,
To give thanks unto thy holy name,
And to triumph in thy praise.
36 Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel,
From everlasting even to everlasting.
And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah. 37So he left there, before the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, Asaph and his brethren, to minister before the ark continually, as every day’s work required; 38and Obed-edom with their brethren, threescore and eight; Obed-edom also the son of Jeduthun and Hosah to be doorkeepers; 39and Zadok the priest, and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of Jehovah in the high place that was at Gibeon, 40to offer burnt-offerings unto Jehovah upon the altar of burnt-offering continually morning and evening, even according to all that is written in the law of Jehovah, which he commanded unto Israel; 41and with them Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest that were chosen, who were mentioned by name, to give thanks to Jehovah, because his loving kindness endureth for ever; 42 and with them Heman and Jeduthun with trumpets and cymbals for those that should sound aloud, and with instruments for the songs of God; and the sons of Jeduthun to be at the gate. 43And all the people departed every man to his house: and David returned to bless his house.

Even a casual study reveals that in the sections above David is quoting from Psalm 105:1-15 and Psalm 96:1-13 and a few other Psalms. They were songs of praise, but at the same time songs that reminded of God’s promise to Abraham, His protection and provision and His special purpose for them as a people. Rather than study the Psalms themselves in their context, what is important here is how David, himself used them in the context of a worship service.

Since he was not in the priestly tribe or family of levites, he was not allowed to function in the daily rites of sacrificial worship. But as King, relocating the Ark of God, there arose a rare occasion to participate in worship leading. In that function, the special combination of psalms serve to instruct by recalling the great events of Israel’s past and reminding them of the greatness of the God that brought it all about. But not only did it serve to remind them, they also served a prophetic role to command them to respond to what God had done in their lives. This response was worship.

Look at the myriad of commands that David links with praising God for who He is and thanking God for what He has done: give thanks, call, make known, sing, talk, glory, rejoice, seek, remember, sing, show forth, declare, ascribe, bring, come, worship, and tremble. These commands cover public and private expressions of praise and gratitude, testimony and worship. It is our responsibility to make these a reality as we gather as the Body of Christ to worship Him. Although they were give to a group, the only way they can be carried out is if the individuals in that group take up their part in carrying them out. Congregational response is the unifying of individual response in obedience to what God commands.

Our congregations must learn to accept the personal responsibility that each individual has before God as each one enters to worship. That comes from study and from teaching, year after year, generation after generation. We cannot assume that because we have learned to worship that our loves ones will automatically follow in full understanding. Over and over again, the command from God to the children of Israel in the desert was “teach your children...” Teach them to give thanks, to sing, to glory in the Lord, to seek His face, to rejoice in the Lord, to remember all that He has done, to declare His greatness, ascribe Him glory, to come before Him, to worship and tremble in awe at His great majesty.

As we look at all of these, we must ask ourselves, “How many of these are true in my life? Do I give thanks? Am I making known His deeds? Do I sing to Him in worship for His glory? Do I talk of His greatness and salvation? Do I rejoice in who He is? Do I ascribe the glory due His Name?” We need to learn the vocabulary of worship, not to show off our knowledge of Scripture or to impress others, but to begin to learn how great and how awesome is the God we serve!