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Realignment

17 Oct

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When we go out, my husband drives the Honda van that I drive most of the time. Last night he took his hands off the steering wheel and held them up, so I would notice– not his “look ma, no hands” bravado– but that the wheel shook back and forth. He explained that the van only needed the wheels balanced since the car didn’t pull to the left or right. When that happens, it’s time for a realignment because the wheels aren’t straight and all going in the same direction. I didn’t know I was in for a mechanics lesson. I thought we were just going out to dinner!

In Psalm 50 God calls out the wicked for their deeds: undisciplined living, greed, thievery, adultery, and slander. Then he lets us in on his response in verse 21:

These things you have done, and I have been silent;
.    you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

The wicked assume that God is like them. In other words, they think he would approve of their rationalization of their sin, that he shares their perspective.

“God doesn’t really mean I should follow his Word right now. He sees that I am being mistreated. He knows the perpetrators are evil and not deserving of my love!”

“The people who have been oppressed deserve to loot and grab what isn’t theirs. Good for them! Surely God is OK with righting wrongs.”

“I’m not sharing anything that anyone doesn’t already know about so-and-so. They are bringing disgrace on the name of Jesus. We need to be praying they will find their way back to him!”

And so it goes– justification for stepping outside of God’s best for the Church and for each one of us. In other words, casting his words behind us. (Verse 17)

The actions mentioned in this psalm are worthy of God’s rebuke. But this is small compared to the underlying grievous offense: seeing God– the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe; the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent One; the source of all mercy and all justice– as one like us.

God is completely other.

We can catch glimpses of how amazingly gloriously holy he is, but we are using a limited human intellect. We are made in his image, and so we can know something of who he is, but logically there is no way for the created to understand the Creator. To reduce God to operating with human motivations is to strip him of everything worthy of worship.

Or to say it another way: as long as we think God is like us, our worship of him will be far less than he deserves.

Why would we sing the praises of a hero when we can adore the living God?

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Does my worship feel “off”? Is it bumpy, pulled to the sidelines, or less-than-inspiring? A realignment is most likely necessary.

Psalm 50 gives practical ways to adjust my mind and heart:

Verses 14-15:
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and perform your vows to the Most High,
     and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Verse 23:
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!”

  • offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God– tell him what you are thankful for, list the blessings he has showered on me
  • perform your vows to him and order your way rightly– live the way he has called me to live, let my actions line up with his Word
  • call on him in trouble– let my first response to difficulties be to cry out to him, not take it out on others around me

The result? To be able to glorify God and see his salvation; to be so captivated by his god-ness that worship is my automatic response.

He is holy!

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Default Fault

10 Oct

IMG_4518Colors everywhere! One of my greatest joys is looking at color– on autumn trees, in aisles of material at a fabric store, over rows of souvenirs in a market. Even in my craft room raw materials are arranged by color.

When I’m in a hurry I toss items for sorting later– a length of ribbon, buttons from a friend, and other finds– on my desk. When I have time to create, I gravitate upstairs to my room. And I put everything in its place.

Sometimes this takes up all the time I had for creating art. Last time that happened I laughed out loud at myself and the irony! While I enjoy a neat space for working, the goal is to use the supplies to create art.

———-

After Jesus had* healed Bartimaeus of his blindness, entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” from his followers, and cleansed the temple of unprincipled merchants, the religious leaders of Israel ask Jesus:

“By what authority are you doing these things?”

Continue reading

Collective Worship as a Means of Grace

3 Oct
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A couple of years ago I made a discovery that has changed the way I read the Bible. This foundational perspective shift radically altered my interpretation and application of Scripture. The beauty of this idea is that it’s so simple that it requires no special knowledge or training.

Do I have your attention? Here it is:

Continue reading

Tradition!

5 Sep

 

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I’m going to make an assumption: that everyone reading this blog would like to grow spiritually, be more like Jesus, connect with God on a deeper level, and/or become unstuck regarding his/her relationship with God.

 

The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Continue reading

Glimpse of Jesus’ Heart

22 Aug

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All around Jesus the cries of his followers proclaimed:

Hosanna!”

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

The praises rang out so loudly the Pharisees feared reprisals from the Roman governor for disturbing the peace. They told Jesus to quiet his followers, and Jesus replied, I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.

Much can be learned about worship in this exchange in Luke 19, but the juxtaposition with the next passage is what grabs my heart as I read this morning:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

The crowd exalted Jesus at the top of their lungs– loud raucous praises filled the road from the Mount of Olives into the city. As they rounded a bend, Jesus saw Jerusalem and wept. Silent tears did not slip down his cheeks, the Greek word for wept means to convulse into sobs– the kind that would erupt from a father at the sudden death of his son.

Can you see it?

The crowd, wild with delight that their King has come at last, praises the Son of Man while his body shakes with unspeakable sorrow.

Did anyone notice? Did the crowd stop cheering? One by one, did they drop their arms and palm branches turning to one another in confusion? Did anyone ask Jesus what broke his heart? When he was finally able to speak and describe his pain, did anyone respond? If someone did, no record of it exists.

What we do know is that, as people praised the One who could save* them, they glimpsed his heart for those who don’t know him.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Often my worship of God with other believers is concerned with our relationship with Jesus – how much he loves us, that he has forgiven us of all our sins, when we’ll see him in heaven, etc. These are wonderful reasons to praise him and glorious realities to contemplate as we worship.

I’m not sure, however, that I have ever tried to glimpse his heart and see what breaks it during worship. Tomorrow will be the first time.

Will you join me?

———-

*Hosanna means: God saves

Outsiders on the Inside

16 Aug

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Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:1-2

 

The Christians Peter wrote to were outsiders, scattered all over the Roman Empire, not clustered together in Jerusalem. Outsiders, especially in the First Century lived at the bottom of society. If they had a job it was most likely feeding pigs or washing feet. Some were probably beaten, others had their possessions confiscated, and most likely anyone trying to climb socially avoided them altogether.

These undesirables focused not outwardly, but on their relationship with God. While they saw the haves and the standard of living they enjoyed from the outside, they saw life from the inside of the Kingdom! These believers knew the sanctifying work of the Spirit and the regenerating power of Jesus’ blood.

And they possessed grace and peace – possessions of which those around them knew very little.

The mathematical word multiplied means an abundant increase in something that exists already. Elementary math students know that zero cannot be a multiplier. In other words, zero can’t be reproduced into two or three (or any other number of) piles. It literally doesn’t compute. In order for grace and peace to be multiplied to the Christians Peter addressed, by definition they must already possess them to some degree. In this introduction of his first letter, Peter prays that God will multiply, bestow a many-fold increase in, the amount they already have.

Peter knew what it was to be harassed– and he knew how much greater the grace and peace of God were compared to the life’s difficulties. He reminds his readers that the grace and peace of Jesus do not simply negate the hard stuff of life, they exponentially surpass it.

Abundance is a God-sized concept. He lavishes blessings like grace and peace on us until they fill and overflow our finite containers, spilling over onto those around us.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Put all the hard stuff of you life in one place in your head. Or make an actual list. Include the unfair, as well as things you deserve, that hurt and make life difficult.

Now, in your heart gather up what you have in Christ, all of which you (and I) don’t deserve: grace, peace, forgiveness, redemption, joy, eternal life, inheritance with Christ, a new heart…

Now compare lists.

The troubles we have in this world don’t come close to what we have in Christ. I’m ready to worship God now; I don’t have to wait for Sunday!

This I Know

3 Aug

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For the last few hours (and I do mean hours) I have been caulking the crack between the new countertops and the freshly painted wall.

 

“Use this special colored caulk,” they said.

“Simple application. Just squeeze to apply,” they said.

“Easy clean-up with water,” they said.

My “squeezing to apply” shoulder has a cramp, my hands are water-logged, and my patience is out in the garage with the plain white caulk. The line between countertop and wall is blurry and wiggly, and the new paint has lots of little bits of primer peeking through where I had to do some “easy clean-up with water”.

Trying new things intrigues me. I decided that this new caulk would be fun! White can be boring, after all. If I had stuck with what I know, however, I would be in bed now. I understand how to apply the white stuff with a caulking gun, and all mistakes are easy to hide under paint. One of my greatest joys in home renovation (I know this sounds a little crazy) is seeing a nice straight line – where wall paint meets ceiling, between wall and trim – any place two surfaces join. The result is clean, neat, and refreshing after living with a sloppy job from previous home owners. I am now that homeowner.

At least for my efforts I am ready for Sunday. While applying, cleaning, and reapplying dark brown caulk, I’ve had lots of time to think about the white caulk just steps away in the garage and how all this relates to leading others in worshiping God tomorrow morning.

What I heard God say through my frustration, is to think about what I know– what I know about Him. I don’t have to get all fancy and look for trendy ideas or interpretations. Returning to basics is not boring, it’s refreshing and comfortable. To get ready for tomorrow, to refocus from my kitchen fiasco, all I need is to remember what I know about God.

He is good. All the time.

He sent His Son to this world in an act of love to us before we loved Him.

He provides everything I need and all I have.

He knew me before my parents were born.

He is the beginning from eternity.

He is truth and cannot lie.

He is the King over all.

He is my Savior, my God, my Lord, my Father, and my friend.

He loves me… this I know.

Now I am ready for Sunday.

 

Two Sides

19 Jul

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I like to clean. Or, rather, I like a clean house when I’m done cleaning. Everyday I touch most of the doorknobs in our home several times (more than ever right now since we have a puppy and leave doors closed to keep her out of certain rooms). I don’t look at them or give them a second thought. My brain is engaged in more important task of remembering what I came into the room for in the first place.

But when I clean I do notice doorknobs. They don’t discriminate. Everyone turns them, whether their hands are clean or dirty. When I clean, I see the dirt, and I remember that touching them spreads germs. The rest of the week, I don’t notice the dirty build-up, but when I take the time to look, there’s no denying that a good cleaning is needed.

Several passages in the Bible hit me the same way. Or maybe they don’t hit me. Common passage that we all have memorized disappear in the text, hiding in plain sight.

This week I read through Revelation 2 and 3 – the Letters to the Churches. You probably have Rev 3:20 is addressed memorized: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Those of us who attended Sunday School as children remember a teacher holding a picture of Jesus standing at a door and knocking, while she told us how to ask Jesus into our hearts.

But that’s not what this verse means.

Looking at the context, we see that Jesus said this passage to a church, not an individual. Because the letter is written to a church, the implication is that individuals in the Laodicean church had received Christ. So why is Jesus knocking on the church door? If not for salvation, for what?

Because of their unrepentant hearts. The church had become proud, not needing anything. Not even Jesus. He was standing outside their church, knocking to be let back in. They didn’t realize they were poor, blind, and naked. The emperor had no idea he had no clothes. But Jesus did.

The church has the power, the ability– and the prideful audacity– to leave Jesus out in the cold, to adopt an SOP: of self-reliance, doing ministry out of its own human resources without the wealth offered by Jesus.

And so Jesus knocks, giving us the choice: do we invite Him into our church, opening the door with humble repentance, and enjoy sweet fellowship around the table?

Or do we leave Jesus outside?

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

What if I substitute “worship team” for “church” in the above? Is Jesus inside or outside the door of our worship team? Do we lead out of our own resources? Or is our leadership humble, repentant, and reliant on Him?

The wonderful promise we have in Jesus is that although His resources are costly, He gives them freely:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.”  Isaiah 55:1-2

 

 

Free

5 Jul

Yesterday 238 years ago, 56 men signed a document that changed everything. The world became a very different place because of their sacrificial act.

Today I am wondering what they were thinking 238 years ago the day after they scratched their signatures on parchment. Did each one spend extra time with wives and children, worried for their safety and lives? Did any take a walk through his estate, knowing it would soon be seized or destroyed?  Did they meet together, grim yet resolved? Did they rejoice that a new direction had begun? Did the gravity of what they had done weigh heavier than the oppression they had experienced as subjects of the British Crown?

Their freedom had been eroded by a despot, but all of the 56 did very well for themselves under King George’s tyranny. Their pledge to the new Republic, one another, and their descendants was total, all-in, sold-out, and no-turning back. The last sentence of their Declaration states: [F]or the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. It is followed by the signatures of 56 men who had much to lose, and little to gain personally.

Watch the ever-eloquent Paul Harvey tell “The Rest of the Story”.

Can you imagine any of our current politicians acting this way?

Can you imagine followers of Jesus doing the same?

What if we signed away the rights to our future– to our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor? Is liberty more important than security? Before we can answer that, another question must be answered: What is liberty?

As Nelson Mandela was freed from South African prison after 28 years of incarceration, he had a moment to think about the turning point for his life. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

In Galatians 5 Paul describes ultimate liberty – freedom in Christ. Freedom from the law. Freedom from the tyranny of our own self-centeredness.

The Galatians were relying on circumcision to be the saving act for followers of Jesus. Paul, in his harshest letter to believers, wishes they would emasculate themselves (verse 12)! Paul was extreme and caustic because of what is at stake – their salvation and freedom in Christ! Nothing saves except the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. No human act will ever translate us from darkness to the Kingdom of Light. Trusting in anything other than what Jesus did for us is the highest form of slavery because it tricks us into a false hope, keeping us from true freedom. This is the worst form of oppression.

Toward the end of the chapter (5:22-23) Paul shares what true freedom looks like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Imagine a world in which this is all that exists. Imagining that world is to have a vision of true freedom.  “Against such things there is no law,” there is only total freedom. This was the vision of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. This was Nelson Mandela’s vision.*

Living under the fruit of the Spirit is not about restriction. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew they faced a tough journey filled with hardship and struggle, yet they were freer after signing than they had been the moment before. Nelson Mandela could have lashed out against the injustice he and many others suffered under despotic tyranny, but he chose the way of freedom. In both cases the world changed forever for the better. What would have transpired if these men and their families had given in to self-preservation and hate?

What can transpire if followers of Jesus turn away from self and pursue true freedom?

How will we be different? How will the church change? How will our cities, towns, and countries be different?

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

And how will our Sunday morning worship be different?

———-

*I am not saying that the signers of the Declaration or Nelson Mandela were or were not hoping to establish a religious state, but that the ideals of the Gospel, specifically freedom and peace for all people, was their goal and motivation as they turned away from self-gratification.

Excellence is not perfectionism

7 Jun

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The intro was my responsibility. I strummed away and added the sweet guitar lick at the end of the phrase. The vocalists came in with sweet worship ascending to God from within our midst.

The keys came in, and everything came to an immediate dissonant end. I turned deep red, moved my capo to the correct fret, and we started again. I wanted to get away, to hide, to explain to everyone what had happened. Instead, I intentionally turned away from myself and worshiped God in my humiliation. After the service, many people commented that they had truly worshiped God.

I am amazed that when there are mistakes and glitches during a service, more people share how meaningfully they connected with God.

Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. Psalm 33:3

The word skillfully means “with excellence and great skill”. Excellence is one of our worship ministry’s top values.

Here’s why – if we are worshiping the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, the Father who sent His only Son to die for our sins and who adopted us, our Sustainer and Provider (and the list goes on); if this is Who we worship, how can we give Him anything less than our very best?

Excellence is doing the very best we can with what we have for God’s glory.

Excellence is doing the very best we can with what we have for God’s glory. Excellence takes many forms, is intentional, and includes sacrifice and includes–

  • Making personal practice a priority instead of “winging it”
  • Valuing mid-week rehearsal, being on time and staying engaged as it gets late
  • Not being satisfied with the status quo, constantly looking for a way to improve
  • Reading the equipment manual and learning new technical solutions to issues
  • Getting up really early every Sunday for a tech tun-through so that each element and its tech needs is tested and ready to go

Excellence is doing the very best we can with what we have for God’s glory. If we trust God as provider, then we have to believe that he has given us everything we need to lead others in worship. We can worship him without a bass player. We can sing his praises with outdated sound equipment. He will be praised even with prerecorded music – as long as our focus is him and his glory. Envying another church’s stage design doesn’t bring God glory, neither does whining and complaining. He does not hold us accountable for what he has not given us.

Excellence is doing the best we can with what we have for God’s glory. The means, then, are perhaps more important than the end when it comes to worshiping God, because people are involved– and people matter to God. Delivering a perfect production with relational casualties in its wake doesn’t glorify God. Lost tempers, biting comments, drama and gossip behind the scenes are all sinful because they devalue people and do not honor God. Fretting over what could (or should) have been doesn’t honor him either. Soli deo gloria! 

Excellence is different from perfectionism.

Perfectionism strives for a flawless performance and is dissatisfied with anything less. My ego and reputation are wrapped up in delivering an impeccable performance. The goal is a flawless end product. There is an inherent “at any cost” mentality so that mistakes and what is missing loom larger than all else. Nothing about this brings glory to God, so why would we call it worship? And why would God accept this kind of “sacrifice”?

Excellence is doing the very best we can with what we have for God’s glory!

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Much of my week is devoted to getting ready for Sunday – communication with team members, assembling the Order of Worship, setting the stage (literally!), thinking through service element transitions, and encouraging everyone involved to remember all this is simply a vehicle taking us toward God’s heart. When something doesn’t go as planned, worship is not ruined, in fact, maybe there is a greater opportunity to worship Him… in spite of ourselves.

Because He is worthy.

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