Tag Archives: Barna

Investments, The Apple of God’s Eye & Other Love Affairs

“Keep me the apple of Your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17: 8

I often talk about our relationship with God as a love affair, not a business proposition.  But scripture speaks of the relationship as a love affair more often than not, as well.

In contrast, for at least the last two hundred years, in western culture, the prevailing method of sharing the Gospel has been through the allegory of a business proposition; we give up something (pay) to receive something else (a product); i.e. I give up my sinful life to receive eternal life through Christ.  We often view eternal life as a return on the investment of a life lived for Christ.  This isn’t an intrinsically invalid viewpoint.  Scripture supports it…to a point.  The analogy breaks down, as all analogies break down, at the point that to give up my sinful life is more accurately translated as “die to self” and no dead man ever capitalized on an investment (read: you don’t take it with or you’ve never seen a U-haul following a hearse).

This view isn’t intentional, it’s just the natural outcome of a strong work ethic.  I don’t think we set out to reduce the good news in the Gospel in such a way.  It’s just a good thing sometimes carried to the extreme.  We respect an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.  That’s good.  Particularly in the United States, we take pride in earning our own way.  That’s also good.  And this approach to evangelism has been effective, even good…to a point.

We also value stoicism, particularly men.  “Big boys don’t cry.”  We exalt the one who has made it on their own and celebrate those that have picked themselves up by their bootstraps.  This is also good…to a point.

Again related to investing, I have a modest account with an online discount brokerage firm.  I’m relatively successful as long as I don’t become emotionally involved with any particular stock that I might be holding.  Trouble comes when I become emotionally attached to a particular stock and hold on to it after it should have been disposed of for a profit or to avoid further loss.

Emotional detachment is a basic tenet of business, it’s something we value.  Even prostitutes, and their clients, know that allowing emotion to enter into the transaction is potentially a career ending mistake.  Specifically, too much eye contact can lead to an emotional connection that is dangerous for business.  After all, prostitution isn’t about love.  I suggest it’s not necessarily about lust, either.  It’s about business, money paid for a product, albeit an intangible product, fleeting pleasure.

Unfortunately, we’ve largely become a “Christian” nation (if there is such a thing) that keeps God at a distance.  As a society we’re not comfortable being emotionally involved with God.  This has been demonstrated repeatedly through objective measurement in studies by George Barna.  I believe that we also have overwhelming anecdotal evidence.  A favorite past time of us pastors and worship leaders is lamenting that lack of engagement by congregations in worship or outreach to our communities in the love of Jesus.

Returning to the comparison with prostitution, scripture is replete with contrasts between God’s love for Israel and His chosen people responding as prostitutes.  Ezekiel 16 and the entire story of Hosea are particularly graphic in this regard.  Again, what is prostitution but a business transaction.

I’m thankful that God’s overarching story in scripture is that of a love affair.  God doesn’t need us, He wants us.  Business is need, love is want.  The overarching story of scripture is the desire, the want, of The Groom for His Bride.  Jesus doesn’t need His bride, He wants His bride.  He doesn’t discard us like a particular stock that is no longer needed to make a profit or has outlived its usefulness and is now a liability.  He wants us in spite of ourselves or our usefulness.

And in Psalm 17:8 we, as the bride, find the appropriate response to The Groom, “Keep me as the apple of Your eye…”

Do you know that reflection you can see in someone’s eye when their eyes sparkle?  The reflection seems deep within their eye while at the same time dancing in light on the surface.  When someone’s spirit is cheered their eyes moisten with tears of joy, a smile raises their cheeks, their chest fills with a contented sigh and the reflection brightens.  That’s the apple of their eye.

To keep someone “as the apple of their eye” means to be so close, in that moment of joy, that you can see your own image in that reflection.  Being that close takes emotional transparency, it takes invading some “personal space.”  Try to do it without giggling.  Try to get that close to someone without feeling uncomfortable.

My wife Jennifer and I have always treasured that we feel so comfortable, so at peace, so content with being close enough to see ourselves in each other’s eyes.  Well, actually, as I get older being that close renders my reflection in her eyes a bit blurry, but I know that it’s still me in there.

And notice that the psalmist puts the action where it belongs.  “Keep me…”  The psalmist pleads with God to keep him.  God wants to draw us near to Himself and He wants us to let Him draw us near.  His eyes sparkle when we let Him draw us near.

So, let Him draw you near as a lover draws His beloved near.  That’s an uncomfortable phrase, isn’t it.  It was a little uncomfortable to write, I confess.  See, we can be uncomfortable with thinking of God as a lover, but it’s His idea.  It’s OK.

Be the apple of His eye.  Rest in the shadow of His wings.

That’s why worship.


Draw Near to Him (It’s not what you think)

“…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10: 22

How many times do we avoid spending time with certain people because they would be a bad influence on us?  How often do we stay away from that place because of the reputation that it might give us?  What motivates us to shun those individuals that don’t measure up to our pious standard?

“…let us draw near…”  Near to whom?  I assume it means Jesus.  “…in full assurance of faith.”  I guess it means without fear of losing our place as Christians.  Isn’t that what “eternal security” is?  Yet, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who avoid drawing near to “that kind of person” for fear of “backsliding” are also those who espouse theological “eternal security.”  I admit that I do.

Seems oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  Not when you truly look at where Jesus spent a vast portion of His time.  Let’s take a look at the cast of characters Jesus would hang out with: a thieving tax collector; a half-breed fornicating woman; a lazy, pan-handling cripple; an adulterous woman.  You get the idea.

Sure, sure at other times He was in a house of worship, but quite often He wasn’t received with hugs and kisses.  In fact, that’s very often where He met with the fiercest resistance.  Usually when we read of Jesus grasping a moment of respite He is by himself with His Father or with His closest comrades discussing the Kingdom.

When Paul says to draw near we need to know where Jesus is so that we can get close.  And I suppose that He’ll be where we aren’t expecting Him to be; He’ll be with the sick, the lame, the adulterer, the homeless, the sinner, the addict…go ahead, draw near to Him.

And do it with the “assurance of faith.”  If He’s there and we draw near to Him and His promise is true then we have nothing to fear for our faith.  When we love “the least of these” in His name, we’re well inoculated.  We only run into trouble when we have ulterior motives like trying to prove our superiority (but that’s another blog post).

Many of us lament that we don’t encounter God as much as we would like.  A recent report from the Barna Group states that “eight out of every ten Christians surveyed did not feel that they had entered into the presence of God or experienced a connection with God during a worship service over the past year.”1

Maybe it’s because we’re not really drawing near to Him; we don’t know where to find Him.  Many times we look for Him in other people that look like us when He’s with people that aren’t like us at all.  He’s completely “other” from us, so maybe we need to draw near to Him by seeking people who are “other” from us.  Yes, I know that their activities, their habits, their lifestyle aren’t Holy.  The things they do aren’t good for them or for us, but He just might be there with them.  Don’t worry, He’s not condoning what they’re doing and we won’t either.  But if we’re going to love them the way that He loves them it’s going to take some proximity to Him and to them (I hate the word them.  Weren’t we them once, too?  Heck, apart from Jesus redeeming grace we are still them.  That would make us them, so maybe they’re not other from us, after all.)

Isn’t this what Insurgent Love is all about?  Going behind enemy lines to rescue the oppressed, the captives and the prisoners…to love them where they are, but love them too much to leave them there?  Church is base camp, not the battle field (OK, not including the worship wars; but that’s another blog post, too.)

Looking for Jesus?  He’s probably with the “others” behind enemy lines.

1 (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/166-barna-reviews-top-religious-trends-of-2005)

Jumping the Worship Shark – Part Deux

…continued from yesterday.

Throughout scripture the terms used to describe worship seem to transcend time, space, posture, attitude, etc. The concept or worship remains elusive throughout the OldTestament. At times it took the form of scheduled observances, i.e. “The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations – My appointed times are these: For six days work may be done; but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation” Leviticus 23:2&3. These are “worship” as noun.

There are also feasts such as The Passover or The Feast of Unleavened Bread. These are the action verb of worship. Sometimes the priests offered sacrifice on behalf of Israel as passive spectators and at other times God’s chosen people were active participants, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses…” Exodus 12:1

In Joshua’s “farewell speech” we see worship as lifestyle, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” It is in “lifestyle worship” that the Israelites seem to be the most schizophrenic. I won’t list them here, but there are myriad examples of God’s Chosen putting on and taking off their t-shirts with pithy phrases. Let it be sufficient to say that the Israelites were just like everyone else in lifestyle…only more so. When they were religious they were more religious than anyone else, but when they were secular they were more secular everyone else.

In Psalm 2:11, “Worship the Lord with reverence,” we see worship begin to reveal itself in a new light. The word for worship (Abad) in this verse implies to be worked or slaved to a state of exhaustion. Whatever owns or enslaves our resources, attention, thoughts, heart reveals what we worship. And, it will wear us down till there’s nothing left. Reverence (Yir’ah) can be associated with awe that consumes one’s attention, sometimes to the point of terror. The question for us to answer is, “what do we want wearing us down and consuming our attention?”

As an aside, being in the presence of God always leads to one of two inevitabilities: either worship or judgment (death). That should produce some awe that will consume your attention to the point of terror. There is no middle-ground here. “The fear (same word translated at “reverence” in Psalm 2:11) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.” But, being in awe or reverence of God is also the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge that He is loving and just and gentle…well, there just aren’t enough adjectives.

Anyway, it’s in Psalms, most of which were written by the greatest worshipper on Earth, that we begin to see what worship is. But, it’s in the New Testament, in the New Covenant, that worship reveals itself fully. It’s in the salvation of Christ that reverence for God moves from being consumed with terror to being overwhelmed by the tsunami of His love. It’s when we are brought back to life in His resurrection, after realizing our death that we are God’s glory.

There is another distinction in worship between the Old and New Testament. In all of the feasts and festivals (some of which I listed earlier) of the Old Covenant the worshippers (people) came to the temple. Under the New Covenant the temples come together in worship (“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in You?”, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own.” I Corinthians 3:16 & 6:19 respectively). There’s that implication of worshipping or bringing glory to whatever owns you.

To my thinking, this means that the idea of meeting together on a particular day at a particular time to renew our minds, refresh our spirits, recharge our batteries and rejuice our emotions to simply survive another week is inefficient at best and completely ineffectual at worst. It’s what consumes us during the week that defines worship. Simply coming to church in the hope of plugging into some spiritual outlet for a few hours just isn’t going to cut it. We need to recognize that we are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in us. We have the power source, the everlasting battery, in us. But, if we’ve been getting our “juice” from other sources (the other things in life that we allow to own us) it actually inhibits our ability to draw on this infinite power.

The inverse to weekly corporate worship as a source of energy is true. Ultimately, if Christians have been in a state of worship throughout the week, loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, then when the “Temples” all gather together an overwhelming, awe inspiring corporate expression of that state of worship can’t be contained. When two or more, who have been in a private state of worship, are gathered in the name of the Originator of that worship, then the Origin and Originator of that worship is there. Worship begets worship. I’m not going to pretend to understand it. All I am able to do is testify to the magnificent mystery of it all.

This individual, private, upper-room, continual attitude of prayer, this little light of mine type of worship always results in a kind of spiritual critical mass when combined with like individuals. The outward manifestation of individual worship starts an uncontrollable chain reaction that culminates in a mushroom cloud of corporate worship that can no more be contained and harnessed as could a nuclear explosion.

Why don’t more churches experience this type of critical mass? Why do one third of those who regularly attend church feel that they experience the presence of God less than half of the occasions that they attend church (according to Barna research http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/35-worship-tops-the-list-of-important-church-based-experiences)?

It’s because the meaning of “worship” has been a casualty of the worship wars. It’s because we, as Christians, have been deceived and lied to about what why we were created.

We are created, we have our being, our very existence is for one over-riding purpose: to bring glory to God. John Piper, in his book “Let the Nations Be Glad” does an excellent job of laying out biblical texts that reveal God’s zeal of His own glory. Here are just a few…

“God created us for His glory: ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.’ Isaiah 43:6-7”

“God forgives our sins for His own sake: ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’ Isaiah 43:25”

“Jesus receives us into His fellowship for the glory of God: ‘Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ Romans 15:7”

“God instructs us to do everything for His glory: ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ I Corinthians 10:31; cf. 6:20

“Everything that happens will redound to God’s glory: “From Him and through Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

So, here we are again. Back at the question, “what is worship?”

Worship is a being verb.

Consider it…don’t miss the nuance. God created the universe for His glory; chose Israel for His glory; God led Israel out of Egypt for His glory; God sent Jesus for His glory; Jesus performed miracles for His glory; Jesus suffered, died and lived again for His glory; Jesus gives us life through His resurrection for His glory; Jesus will come again for His glory; in Him we have our being for His glory.

There it is: “for in Him we live and move and have our being”…for His glory.

We are worship. We bring glory.

The question for us Christians is, “to whom or what do we bring glory?” Just because something, or someone, is created for a purpose doesn’t always mean that the purpose is fulfilled. Are we worship that brings glory to God or to something else? Are we worship that attracts those around us to God or distracts them to something else? Or worse, are we attractive worship or repulsive worship?

When we are cut off in traffic, what type of worship are we? When the cashier at McDonald’s gets our order wrong, what type of worship are we? When we see a homeless person who could use a sandwich and coffee, what kind of worship are we? When a young girl is struggling with the option of abortion, what kind of worship are we? When the teenage boy down the street, who we allow to annoy us with his sub-woofers, continues to make poor life decisions, what type of worship are we? When the elderly lady across the street, who we think complains too much, could use her lawn cut, what type of worship are we?

In short, are we worship that attracts people to the Savior or repulses them?

For that driver, forgive because you were forgiven. For that cashier, offer an encouraging word for the difficult day they may be having. For that homeless person, make an extra sandwich when you’re making your own lunch for the day. For that young girl, offer to help raise that precious, unborn child in the way that she should go so that when she is grown she will not depart from it. For that teenage boy, remember what it was like for you at that age make yourself available to walk the difficult road of adolescence with him. For that lady, what’s one more yard on your to-do list, anyway?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Be worship…and then stand awestruck when you see what corporate worship can be when two or more have been gathered in His name throughout the entire week.

And, just as being worship results in corporate worship, corporate worship encourages being worship…but I’ll let you write that story on your own.

That’s why worship!