Tag Archives: worship

Gifts Unaware

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” I Cor. 9:15

I recently gave somebody a gift.  It wasn’t a big deal.  The gift didn’t cost me anything.  More accurately, it didn’t require a purchase.  It did require a certain amount of effort, emotional effort.  There was planning involved along with timing.  Follow through was required and it was also a surprise. The recipient had no idea of the gift.

In fact, it’s still sort of a surprise because the recipient still doesn’t know that they’ve received the gift.  You see, it’s not actually tangible.  You can’t see it or touch it; it’s the type of gift that isn’t experienced in the traditional sense.

How can this “intangible something or other” that can’t be touched, seen, heard, smelled or tasted be a gift?  It was a joyful experience for me to give it.  I knew that it would bring joy to the recipient.  Even though they didn’t know that they had received a gift, the experience of receiving it brought evidence of a joyful heart to their face.

I guess in some sense they knew that they were receiving something, but they didn’t know the extent to which the gift went.  It required me to do some things I wouldn’t normally do to make the gift possible; it meant that I would have to set aside my agenda so that someone else could experience joy.  For weeks I needed to abandon my wishes so that I could grant the wishes of the recipient.

It was well worth it and continues to be worth it.  Even though the person didn’t know that they were receiving a gift, and still doesn’t know that the gift is still being given, they have received it joyfully.  They continue to receive it joyfully.

Here’s “Kicker #1”: I thought the gift was going to be for just one person.  But while giving the gift I learned that it wasn’t appropriate for me to give it to just one person, but that there were others that would enjoy the gift.  Each new recipient has responded the same way, with joy.  And with each new person that I give the gift to my own joy increases.  There are more that will receive the gift and I can’t wait to give it to them!

And “Kicker #2”: The gift requires continual giving.  If I stop giving the gift it will no longer be a gift.  But the more of the gift I give, the more it brings me joy.

“Kicker #3?” I don’t think that the recipients will ever know the depths to which the gift goes, that the gift is indescribable.  And the fact that they will never know the extent of the gift makes it more of a joy for me to give.

I suppose that it’s much the same with the “indescribable gift” the caused Paul to use and exclamation point.  He doesn’t use a “!” often, but there it is.  We’ll never know the depths to which God loves us.  We won’t know the extent of the gift we’ve received through Jesus.  We think we know, but we don’t know.  It’s indescribable.

Kicker #1: God’s gift isn’t just for one.  It’s for many…it’s for all.  He’s a God that can defy the laws of physics where His gift of eternal life is intended for all individually and individually for all.  Indescribable.

Kicker #2: God’s gift is eternal.  It is truly the gift that keeps giving.  Again, God defies the laws of physics.  His gift was given once for all (I Peter 3:18).  And once you receive it it is eternal.

Kicker #3: We’ll never know the depths of His gift of salvation.  And I think that’s OK with Him.  I think He enjoys it that way; I think it blesses Him when we receive it with innocence.

Notice I didn’t say “receive it with ignorance.”  Just as the recipients of my gift know that something was received, they don’t understand the extent to which it goes.  And I want it that way.  Those who have received the gift I gave are receiving it in love because I love them and they love me; not because of the value of the gift.  They’re not ignorant of receiving something, they’re simply blessed to receive it in joyful innocence because it’s about a relationship, not a “thing.”

It blesses God’s heart when we receive from Him because of who He is, not because of what He gives.  Receiving in innocence is rejoicing in the gift without knowing the extent of the gift.  I suppose that we know less than one tenth of one percent of what God’s gift of grace really means.  We may know that we’ve received something, but we’re joyfully unaware of the extent.  And that’s by His design.  He designed it so that we might have eternal life through Jesus.  Who can understand the extent of a gift of a love that reaches all the way to the end of the eternal?

It’s indescribable; it’s a gift unaware.  We might not understand it.  We might not have words for it, but we can respond with a joy like we do.  That’s authentic worship.  That’s why worship.

God Wants to Confide in You

“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, 
And He will make them know His covenant.” Psalm 25:14

Prayer isn’t talking to God, it’s talking with God. It’s communing with Him. It’s communication which is a two-way street. In fact, the old adage about two ears and one mouth is apt at this point. You know, we should listen twice as much as we speak.

I once had a friend who often used his prayer language and asked me about mine. Not to be flippant or trite I told him that my prayer language is English. Please understand, I have no issue with those who practice praying in a prayer language anymore than someone might have an issue with my prayer language being English. However, I do believe that we often fall into the trap of feeling the need to fill our time with God with noise.

In response to my witticism my friend asked what I do when I run out of things to pray or when I don’t know what else say to God. I said, “I be quiet and listen.” Whether we talk to God in our native language or a prayer language or some foreign language it would do us well to be quiet once in a while. Frankly, it’s called quiet time for a reason. We might call it prayer or worship or reflection or introspection; but we don’t need to, and shouldn’t, continuously fill it with the sound of our own voice. For heaven’s sake, and our own, we need to let God get a word in edgewise. For someone it may be pious rambling with thees and thous; for others it might be a concocted prayer language. For myself, I tend to use multiple syllabic oral communication in a conceited endeavor to mislead our Sovereign from the realization of my own ineptitude…oh, wait, there I go again.

What I’m trying to say is that we often hide from God behind our prayers, behind our words. Sure it looks holy and righteous on the outside, but the reality inside is it reveals an uncomfortableness with God. We have all experienced those awkward moments with a new acquaintance, a boss or future in-laws when we feel that silence is deadly. So, we ramble on and on in an attempt to conceal our self-consciousness. At it’s worst, it’s an attempt to establish dominance in the relationship.

One of the milestones my wife Jennifer and I celebrated in our early relationship was when we could be in each others’ presence without feeling the need to fill the silence. You are truly comfortable with someone when you can just be quiet together; when you leave space for the other to speak freely without the expectation of response, rebuttal or refusal. That’s the relationship God wants. He wants us to be so comfortable with Him that He can speak to us and we’ll just listen.

There is a bit of a dichotomy here, however. The word “fear”. This is one of the places where English fails. Fear in this sense has its place in awe. I’ll paraphrase, “the Lord confides in those who sit silently in awe of Him.” Remember, God isn’t a great big us. Our picture of fear and awe is that the object of that awesomeness lords it over us. That isn’t the purpose of God’s fear and awe at all. God wants us to revel in being invited into His presence. He want’s us to realize that we are safest and should be most comfortable in awe of Him.

It’s those that sit comfortably and quietly in fear and awe of Him that He confides in. Think of sitting with the ruler of some great county or a Fortune 500 CEO or famous Hollywood mogul. There are people scurrying around serving and bowing and trying to impress and win favor with the power in the room, but you just sit quietly. Reporters and scribes are constantly asking questions and trying to curry favor with their words. Then the person to whom they are all paying homage quietly leans over to you and says, “What do ya’ say we duck out to a quiet little place I know for a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you what I really think. I’ll tell you what’s really on my heart, what really brings me joy.”

Those who sit in quietness and wait on the Lord are those that He confides in. When you spend time with Him, spend some time just listening. He doesn’t have to share the desires of His heart with you; He wants to share them.

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.

 

Beware the Gold Ephod

“Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which is place in Ophrah, his town.  All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Judges 8:27

Ouch.  “Prostituted themselves…”  In today’s vernacular, they “whored” themselves.  Wow, intense.

I’m afraid the “worship wave” has crested.  Or maybe it’s just cresting.  Either way, it’s starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve started worshipping worship.

God delivered Gideon’s enemies to Gideon.  Just two chapters earlier God addressed a message to Gideon: Mighty Warrior.  In spite of Gideon’s self-steem issues, (“‘But Lord,’ Gideon asked, ‘how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'”) God chose Gideon.

And things went swimmingly for Gideon over the next two chapters.  In fact, during Gideon’s lifetime Israel enjoyed peace for forty years.  But in the middle of all the victories and good times there’s that verse about “whoring” and being a snare.

Gideon’s ephod was made with the spoils of victory at God’s hand.  I don’t find anything inherently wrong with that.  In fact, I find it admirable to use skill and talent to craft beauty from the spoils of our spiritual victories.  I’ll go a step further, it’s good stewardship and an act of holy worship to be craftsman in all that we do whether as musicians or artists or technicians or plumbers or lawyers or teachers or…

The level of craftsmanship in today’s worship music is equal to other music being produced today.  For decades we’ve been lamenting that Christian music is sub-standard.  Sure there’s plenty of “schlock” out there, but even our schlock is just as good as any other schlock…even better.  I think that we’ve got what we wanted.  The top of the heap in worship music can run with the top of the heap in any category.  Heck, some of “our” cats are running with some of the best players out there.  Our “small market” (the average church band for a 500+ member church) is at least “club band” quality.  And to quote Martha Stewart, “that’s a good thing.”

Now what?

Unfortunately, a trend has emerged.  A few years ago a major “secular” distributor bought the rights to many worship songs and marketed them in infomercials right alongside “Favorite Rock Ballads of the 70’s”, “Hair Band Anthems of the 80’s” and “Greatest Love Melodies of the Classical Masters.”  I’m all for exploiting distribution channels for the sake of the Gospel, but I seriously doubt that some Madison Avenue wonks were in it to “Rescue the Perishing.”

Lately, I’ve noticed that we’ve started to use social media as way to “idolize” our favorite worship artists.  In the early days twitter and facebook were a way for us to identify with them on a more personal level.  Now more often it’s used to enter a lottery to see which lucky fan will get to have lunch with the latest CCM star (retweet this to maybe win a chance for a private meeting with…) along with two hundred other lucky tweeters.

Please understand that I don’t blame the artist.  I’ve met some of them personally; I’ve worked with some of them, shared the stage with them; and others I’ve heard their testimonies and I believe that the majority of them are the “real deal”, excellent examples of God-first lives.  The good news is that I truly think the scandal ridden days of prominent Christians and “moral failures” is behind us…at least for now.  No, I don’t think that Christian musicians, touring worship leaders or our favorite authors and mega-pastors are any more responsible for being than Gideon’s gold ephod was responsible for being worship by Israel.

By the way, there is a distinction between emulating someone as a godly man or woman and putting them up on a pedestal.  Throughout the centuries God has blessed us with great examples whose godly lifestyle we can and should emulate, many of them alive today.

No we, the fans, are responsible for turning their images into “idols.”  We’re responsible because it’s not really the person that we’re worshipping, is it?  We concoct and image of them and then worship that image.  We discount their intrinsic value as persons and re-imagine them as an object of our expectations.  The object of our worship doesn’t set out to be worshipped; we start worshipping it.  We elevate that image to the place that God reserved for himself.  I use the term “object” not to depersonalize the artist, but because it’s not a person that we’re idolizing.  It’s an image, something lifeless.

God’s wrath when Israel worshipped graven images wasn’t directed at the idol, it was directed at the ones idolizing it.  God never got angry with any other god.  His issue was always with the ones worshipping it.

I’m confident that the vast majority of today’s Christian artists didn’t set out to be worshipped and idolized.  They just set out to pursue God’s calling on their lives with excellence, something that we’ve been clamoring to happen for decades.  It’s bears a resemblance to Israel begging for a king, doesn’t it?  I’m confident in saying that many of today’s “stars” don’t want me to worship them.  They just want to serve God with their considerable talent and inspire me to do the same.

So, when I can’t worship without a hymnal in my hands, then I worship a book; when I can’t worship without the words on the wall, then I worship a wall…and when I can’t worship until the latest CD from a particular worship band comes out, then I worship a gold ephod instead of the One who gave me the victory from which it came.

I’m Sorry, Mr. Sagan, You Have It Perfectly Wrong

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.  Yet the Lord set His affection on your forefathers, and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above  all the nations, as it is today.” Deut. 10:15

Caveat: this is sort of a repost, but it’s worth saying again.

In the closing moments of the movie “Contact”, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie, proposes the idea that…well, I’ll let you see it for yourself…

By the way: this really is a great movie, one of the faves in my library of DVDs

This idea, that if we’re the only ones in this great big universe, then it’s a waste of space was a common theme with Mr. Sagan. I have no idea if there are other “beings” out there. I do find it hard to believe that considering all of the billions of galaxies with millions of stars that each have planets orbiting them that there isn’t at least one other planet capable of supporting life as we know it. If you include all of the planets that might support life other than as we know it, well the odds are stacked against us being the only creatures in God’s creation.

However, in spite of all of this, I disagree with Mr. Sagan’s premise and I do believe that we are the only ones. My thinking is that if the universe really is as big as it appears with billion stars in billions of galaxies, then it’s not an awful waste of space. To the contrary, it’s an awesome display of extravagance that God would give us such an amazing “backyard” to explore!

Isn’t it just like the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the same God that treasures us so exorbitantly  as to save us from ourselves through Jesus; to lavish us with something completely beyond our imagination.  He’s a creative God who created us with a wonder of creation.  What better place for us to chase the imagination that He has given us.

No, Mr. Sagan, the vastness of space, and the lack of life in it, wouldn’t be proof that God doesn’t exist. It’s  On the contrary, it’s not only evidence that He does indeed exist, but that He loves us so much as to create such an amazing place just for us.  What a marvel it is, so let’s get out there and explore it!

That’s why worship!