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On Worship

The idea of “worship” was never that clear to me.  Sometimes I didn’t feel I was worshipping God because I had no feelings when I was at church (then, of course, some well-meaning Christians would make me feel worse by hinting about how unspiritual I was).  Sometimes I would want to worship so badly that I would go along and act the part of the dynamic worshipper, hoping the feelings would follow.  I felt like a fake sometimes, and other times it was just okay.  Some people said worship was singing songs and reciting scriptures; other said no, worship was about what you did with your life.  Some people said it was a mindset of “ascribing great worth [as in worth-ship]” to Jesus.  And then there have been those very few times in my life when I was overcome by the love of God and really can’t describe the experience.

So I did a study of the words commonly translated “worship” in the Bible.  Here are four scriptures with the four most common words:

In the Old Testament (hishtawa) — to fall prostrate religiously or in the course of duty

Exodus 3:12  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” 

In the New Testament (proskyneo) — to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)

Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

In the New Testament (latreia) — service to God

Romans 12:1 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. 

In the New Testament (leitourgia) — service to the community

2Corinthians 9:12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 

What I derived was that worship is basically two things: REVERENCE & SERVICE.

The REVERENCE part leaves all sorts of room for strong feelings within the course of worship—sometimes you fall face down because you can’t stand up!  It also leaves room for very little feeling within the course of worship—sometimes you pay homage or kneel out of respect for the Lord.

The SERVICE part doesn’t require feelings at all—you serve God and others, period.  Sometimes you feel wonderful when you are serving Him and others, sometimes you don’t.

 

Let’s also look at a couple of the terms that David used when He wrote this song some three thousand years ago:

Psalm 34:3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. (NIV)

Psalm 34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. (KJV and RSV)

glorify (& magnify) is from the Hebrew, “gadal,”  v. to grow up; to make great; to magnify; to grow long; to honor, glorify

exalt is from the Hebrew, “rum,”  v. to raise up; to lift high

David was writing about God’s goodness.  This is the psalm that contains the famous line, “Taste and see that the LORD is good!”  We glorify and exalt God because He is so good to us (especially in light of what we deserve).  When we magnify something, we make it look larger, increasing it out of proportion.  If we talked about our own character and activity out of proportion, we would be guilty of stretching the truth; but when we magnify God, we can’t go wrong.  We simply cannot say too much about God’s goodness and love.  Even if we exaggerate how terrific the Lord has been to us, we don’t know the half of it.

He is doing wonderful things for us that we don’t even notice—we are like the toddler who has no idea the time, expense, and energy that her parents have put into her care and protection.  So, we can freely and joyfully join with David who calls us to lift God’s name up high.  In glorifying and exalting God, even the sky isn’t the limit.

By fantastic mercy and amazing grace,

Mike

Love at First Sight?

His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.                        (Song of Songs 5:16)

This statement comes during a fairly steamy section of the Bible (metaphorically speaking) where the lover and the beloved are singing about how beautiful the other is—with what appears to be a romantic dream sequence in between!  The interesting thing here is that she calls her groom both her “lover” and “friend.”

God seems to know a lot about both, contrary to popular opinion, and has made it evident in His word to us.  Here are two people caught up in the swelling tide of romance and looking forward to commencing their honeymoon unashamed.  Yet, God makes it clear that they are also friends.  Friends are people who speak up for each other (Job 16:21), help each other (Ecclesiastes 4:10), sacrifice for each other (Proverbs 27:6), have common goals (James 4:4) and so on.  Seems like God thinks it’s a good idea if people who hook up are friends as well.

We’ve got to be careful, however.  In too many movies and books there’s this thing called “love at first sight.”  This totally discounts friendship, since it is almost impossible to be someone’s friend without knowing how he/she thinks, speaks, or acts in various situations.  And in too many marriages, couples concentrate on the romance that isn’t there instead of the friendship that isn’t there.  It takes both—it says so in the Bible.

 

The Circus Clown

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a story about a circus that caught fire.  The flames from the circus fire spread to the fields surrounding the circus grounds and began to burn toward the village below.  The circus master, convinced that the village would be destroyed and the people killed unless they were warned, asked if there was anybody who could go to the village and warn the people.  The clown, dressed in full costume, jumped onto a bicycle and sped down the hill to the village below.

“Run for your lives! Run for your lives! A fire is coming and the village is going to burn!” he shouted as he rode up and down the streets of the village.

Curious villagers came out from their houses and shops and stood on the sidewalks.  They shouted back at the clown, laughing and applauding his performance.  The more desperately the clown shouted, the more the villagers cheered.

The village burned and the loss of life was great because no one took the clown seriously.  After all, he was just a clown.

Have you ever felt like that clown?  We Christians carry a similar warning, but often we are laughed at. God chose us clowns to be messengers of eternal urgency. If you have felt dismissed in this way, you are in good company.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words almost two thousand years ago:

      The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.  So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 

1Corinthians 1:18-25  (New Living Translation)

Perhaps one of our biggest struggles as Christians of the Western World is fear of looking ridiculous to our agnostic, atheist, and pagan friends as we talk about our faith in Jesus—yet that is the way God has ordained for them to find out about His great love for them. Every conversation, even every mention of His name is like a seed that goes down into their hearts. We don’t know how long the seeds will lie there, dormant, but they will spring up. That’s God’s work. Ours is to look foolish as we talk about the wonders (read: preach) of life in Christ.

May the Lord encourage us,

Terrified at Christmas

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”                     (Luke 2:8-15)

 

So you’ve probably heard the common application of this part of the Christmas story—that God announces to the lowly shepherds this amazing news so that we might know Christ came for anybody, regardless of social status.  I buy that wholeheartedly, but there is so much more to be tasted in these delicious verses of Scripture.

The shepherds were “terrified.”  No kidding.  Imagine that you’re at work, minding your own business in the stillness of the midnight shift and someone much more formidable than your boss stops by—a being whose power is unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.  At this point, you’re not worried about how you’ve been slacking on the job, you’re worried about how you’ve been slacking your entire life!  God’s own top brass has arrived and it looks like it’s time for an accounting. You are suddenly acutely aware of your own sin and unworthiness in the presence of a messenger from Heaven; but no, the angel says he has “good news of great joy.”

Upon hearing this, the relief has got to be incredible.  You find out that God’s long-awaited promise to set everything right is finally kept.  This is wonderful, you’re thinking to yourself.  And just about the time you’re getting comfortable with your lone midnight visitor, a whole army of angels appears, probably armed for battle. (Otherwise, why use the military term, “heavenly host”?)  Somewhere in the heavenlies there is a battle going on, and the angels are sounding the battle cry, “Glory to God!”  There may be peace on earth, at that moment, because the angels are clearing out any demonic interference.  We know that soon there will be threats on the baby Jesus’ life, that Mary & Joseph will have to flee with Him to Egypt, and that Satan will be trying to stop Jesus the rest of His life.

Angels are terrifying (almost every time they appear to somebody in the Bible, they tell that person not to be afraid) and it’s because they are God’s special forces in the war against ultimate evil.  Christmas was God’s D-Day on Planet Earth.  Of course the shepherds were afraid.  They were front-line observers as God began to take back enemy-occupied territory in the battle for human souls.

Merry Christmas,

 

 

 

NOT BEING EQUALS WITH GOD

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself.
And became obedient to death.
Even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father.
(PhilipPians 2.5-11)

The lesson here is simple yet difficult.  In following Jesus we are following One who did the opposite of our natural inclinations.  We are inclined to equate our own thoughts with God’s (instead of considering that beyond our grasp), we are inclined to make more of ourselves than we ought (instead of making ourselves nothing), we are inclined to be served (rather than to serve), we are inclined to appear to others greater than we actually are (not less), we are inclined to pride (not humility), we are inclined to disobedience rather than an obedience which causes even a part of us to die (i.e. our self–image, our comfort, our desires.)

We enjoy following Christ up to the point where He heads towards the cross.  After that, He’s on His own, it often appears (sadly).

But those who follow Him “on the way down,” will also follow Him, “on the way up.”

Keep the faith,

Mike

Just One Thought From the Bible’s Longest Chapter

It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 119.71

If your law had not been my delight
I would have perished in my affliction.

 Psalm 119.92

  •  The writer of this psalm is brutally honest and humble. His walk through suffering led him to discover what he did not know about God’s ways. There was immense value in the middle of his misery. His affliction turned his mind toward learning God’s word. Ironically then, in verse 92, it was the very things he learned that kept him from giving up when the pain seemed unbearable.

Affliction was not part of God’s original plan for the human race. (He had made us for an eternal Garden of Eden, but we’ve spoiled that by our own sin.) We’ll return to that blessed existence through Jesus, our Savior, in Heaven. In the meantime, God is about making the best come out of these bad situations.

There is a treasure in our trials—whether those trials be physical, mental, or emotional (and whether they were our fault or not). That treasure is a connection with God which sustains us through the afflictions this life always brings. God loves us so much that, in the middle of suffering, He has provided the medicine we didn’t even know we needed—His own thoughts and words—which bring incomparable joy.

Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.

My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.

Psalm 119:111-112 

 

Keep striving,

Artwork from the CD by Tom Quinlan

THE JOY OF INCONVENIENCE

“I have known some people…driven by their distress, to use theological terms to which they attached no doctrinal significance, merely because a drawer was jammed tight and they could not pull it out.”  – G.K. Chesterton

Have you ever noticed that frustrating, annoying, embarrassing or inconvenient events from your past are now looked upon with great humor?  (Insert your own memory of the events here.)  Why is that, since at the time they seemed anything but funny?  Or, have you noticed your own ability to look at a friend’s minor problems more positively than he or she can?  How is that possible?

I think the answer is PERSPECTIVE.  In both cases above, you are able to gain perspective by either time (in your own case) or distance (in the friend’s case).  You are viewing the situations from a different vantage point.

Is there any way to gain perspective on the frustrating, annoying, embarrassing, or inconvenient events that are happening to you right now?  Wouldn’t you love to see the poetry in your car breaking down, the whimsy in your basement flooding, the romance of waiting in a queue, or the humor in your trousers ripping?

The answer is in PRAYER.  When you are in the moment, it is the best way to gain perspective on a perturbing situation.  “How are you using this agitation for my good, Lord?”  “Where is the adventure in this, Lord?”  “How is this minor problem giving me a glimpse of grace?”

God sometimes allows us to be teased out of our earnestness.

Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Relax in Him,

–Mike

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Giving Up

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

(Jim Elliot’s journal entry for October 28, 1949—based upon the words of Jesus in Luke 9:24,  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

  • Give up your plans for God’s plans.
  • Give up your mortal life to gain immortal life in Christ.
  • Give up hoarding money to gain infinite spiritual wealth.
  • Give up your frustrations to gain God’s peace.
  • Give up your preferences for God’s truth.
  • Give up your unforgiveness to gain God’s forgiveness.
  • Give up your control of others to gain God’s control of you.

What we hold onto is so futile, so temporary, so poor in comparison to what God offers, one wonders why it is so difficult to give up.  The answer is simple—it’s everything we have!  Jim Elliot, the 28-year-old missionary to Ecuador who was murdered along with four other young missionaries by warriors from the Huaorani tribe, gave up his earthly life. What he gained will never be taken away. To say it in slightly different words, ”They are wise who give up what they cannot keep to gain what they cannot lose.”