“I make all things new.”  Here is the narrative in its fullness. The world and its history belongs to God, and he has been, is now, and will be making all things new. 

-Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

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Worship&…Wilderness

Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service.  It was for a man named Troy.  Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else. He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be.  “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”

Troy has an in-operable cancer in his esophagus and doesn’t know how much time he has.  And what time he does have left, he wants to live for Christ.

Yes.  Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

Worship isn’t just what we do on the weekend when we sing and listen to a sermon.  Remember when I wrote that our whole lives should be worship to the Lord?  Here is the reality of worship in the wilderness:   our lives DO reveal our worship, but many times it’s the worship of idols.  As the singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan, wrote,

“It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”

We serve our work…grasping for status and money.

We serve the idea of “love”…with someone who “completes me”.

We serve our kids…hoping they prove our parenthood.

And while those things are good gifts from God, they make terrible idols.  They promise the world and give you nothing in return.

So this Advent season, I’m following the example of Troy.  I want to serve God now.  I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.

So I am listening for another song.  It’s the song of God that he sings over his children.  It’s a song I long to sing…a song I’m waiting to sing…

…but that’s for next week.

God chooses to restore humanity not by a decree of reconciliation, not by a sentimental forgiveness, not by a soft love, but by entering into union with humanity. In Jesus, God comes in human skin to reverse the human condition and reconcile humanity to the Father. . .

-Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

Worship&Creation

Who was the world’s first human worship leader?

Take a moment to think it through.

If you said, “David”, you need to go back a bit further to just after the beginning of time.

If you said, “Adam and Eve”, you got it right!  Adam and Eve were not only the first people created, but also the first worship leaders of all creation.  God made this place called Eden and then a king and queen in place to rule over it.

“But how were Adam and Eve worship leaders?” you ask.

I’m glad you asked.  Because God’s word tells us, but it might not be the way you think.  First, Eden wasn’t just a garden.  It was a special place where God and man could live together.  Genesis tells us that God “walked” in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Secondly, Adam was not just the king, he was also a priest.  But it wasn’t leading worship services or sing-a-longs.  There was no need for any of that.  All of life was acceptable to God because sin hadn’t entered the world.  AND, everything that Adam and Eve did was an act of worship.  It was all a loving response to what God had made.  Author Mike Cosper writes that

“it was as if they drew all of creation’s praise into a single and unified ‘hallelujah’ and ‘amen’.”

And this is how it was meant to be.  Worship is supposed to be all of our lives.  This idea that we come together for one hour once a week to worship in a way that is separate from the rest of our lives isn’t apart of the worship in Eden.  The idea that we need to sing certain songs or take part in certain rituals is also not apart of the worship in Eden.  Cosper continues, “if someone were to ask Adam, ‘When do you worship?’ he might reply, ‘When do we not!'”

For us during the Advent season, may we have more of this attitude.  May our worship be like the worship in Eden.  We aren’t perfect, but it’s a worthy goal to have all of our lives be an act of worship to God even when we are worshiping in the wilderness.

But more on that, next week…

____________________________

*Multiple quotes from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper here.  Thanks, Mike!

Worship&…Trinity

I have a picture of my parents sitting on a swing at their apartment in Chicago.  It was taken before I was born when they were young, newly weds.  I love this black and white photo.  In fact, I am fascinated by my parent’s life BEFORE I was born.  I think many of us are fascinated by what comes before.  That is why we have prequels to movies, right?

Did you know that there was worship before Creation?

Let’s break it down first.  What is worship?  Well, the word actually comes from the Old English meaning to “ascribe worth” to something or someone.  So, let’s think about it.  Before creation the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were in a loving community.  They ascribed perfect love, worth and glory to each other.  And that will happen for all eternity.  The three persons of the Trinity always keep the worth and wonder of one another in view.  It is out of this loving relationship that creation sprang forth and it added to the glory and worth of God.

This might seem strange to you because we live in a “selfie-culture” where everyone seems to be trying glorify themselves and their lives for all of their “followers”.  Music artists proclaim that they are the best and athletes that they are “#1”.  Is God just trying to make himself look good?

Think about it in terms of a couple who is newly in love.  They can’t STOP talking about each other!  They want to be together all the time!  It comes up in conversation whether you want to talk about it or not!  They can’t stop giving glory to each other because they see what an amazing thing this new love is.

God is doing just that.  The Father says, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased!”  The Son says, “Father, I want those you have given me to…see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak in red letter in your Bible, but is always pointing to the worth and glory of the Jesus and the Father.

So actually, God giving worth to himself is nothing like our “selfie-culture”.  God’s view is never exaggerated.  God is always perfect in His justice, goodness and truth.  God is just helping us see Himself as he really is.  And that is a true gift.  When we give worship and glory to God, we are declaring, “Look, isn’t God wonderful!” (because He really IS!)  This is the true worship from before the creation of the world.

Worship&…

I’m starting a new series called “Worship&…”  I’m starting this series to show how the whole bible is a story about worship.  It’s true!  Like a lot of stories, its starts with a beginning where everything is good, but then the wheels fall off and there is a crisis.

The rest of the story is how the characters of the story are rescued in the most surprising way and how they live faithfully ever after.

I want to tell this story because I’m not sure if we get it.  I’m not sure we get worship.  When we say that word, we might think of a church service with announcements, prayer, preaching, giving offerings, baptisms, Holy Communion and, of course, music.  The problem is that we see those things as a list of things we do.  We might not know why we do them, but we know we should!  And that, my friends, is the definition of “religion”.  Religion is a list of things we do to be right with God.  As soon as we start down that road, it’s easy to wonder if what we are doing is enough?  Are we still ok with God?  Do we need to work harder?

The problem is that it’s easy to make worship about ourselves.  But the wonderful thing is that we aren’t the hero of the story.  God is the hero.  He is the center of the story and of all worship.  He is the creator of worship and the one who places worship in our hearts.  Yes.  The story of worship is really the story of God.  Author, Mike Cosper, writes,

“The gospel story is the worship story.  Worship was God’s idea as he initiated creation.”*

So next week, we are going to start before the beginning.  We are going back before Eden to the time before time.

We are going back to God himself…

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*Quote from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper.

**If you are looking for further reading, I would recommend “Rhythms of Grace” by Cosper, “The Drama and Scripture” by Bartholomew & Goheen and “Engaging with God” by David Peterson.

Jesus is Our Worship Leader

Last night I was driving home after a night of beautiful chaos…musicians, vocalists and techs coming together to work on a new song, “Your Name is Matchless.”  The lights of the passing cars reflected on the windshield as the line, “ransomed the captives / your name is matchless / beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”, circled in my brain.

It’s in those moments, that we again experience the gospel.  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That is the “wonderful exchange” where Christ takes the ashes of our sinful, enslaved hearts and makes them beautiful.  That is the moment where he takes our unworthy prayers and wrinkled worship and offers them up to the Father as our high priest.  And we know that it is all an acceptable offering because of “Jesus’ sake”.  One author has said it this way,

Whatever else our worship is, it is our…amen to the worship of Christ…Christian worship is…our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.*

This might be a new idea for some of us.  We don’t think about it, but some of the songs we sing and some of the language we use makes it seem as if we are worshiping a God who is with us when we sing the right songs or play the right synth pad.   The truth is this:  we worship a God of grace who intercedes for us.  Hebrews says it this way,

…because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever.  Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.  He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. (7:24-26)

Did you notice that the word “forever” is used more than once?  This isn’t something that was done only once.  Jesus only had to die once, but he continues to offer up our prayers and worship to make them pleasing through his sacrifice now and forever.

He is our worship leader.

He is our high priest.

As I pulled into my street and saw the the streetlights sending shadows up into the trees, I again heard the words of the song.  “…beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”

*Quote from James B. Torance, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”

Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?

 

My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

 

But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

Faith and Date Candy

On Tuesday, I was making date candy.

To be exact, I was helping my daughter make date candy, but that’s besides the point.  On Tuesday, I tasted date candy and it was an amazing experience…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight overstatement, but I am hoping that there was some small life change.  But before I tell you what I mean, let’s back up.

This year, our family has decided to homeschool.  I’m not sure if we will do it long term.  There are lots of good educational options, but for this year, we are hoping that it will help us gel as a family with two adults, an 11-year old girl and an 8-month old baby boy.  So on Tuesday, my day off, my daughter and I were learning about Ancient Egypt and one of the projects was to make a date candy that the Egyptians might have eaten.  She did most of the work chopping the dates and nuts, mixing in the water and spices and rolling them into balls.  I crushed the cardamom spices and did an amazing job, if I do say so myself.

While she was doing most of the work, I got to thinking about places in the Bible that talk about dates.  I found one in 1 Chronicles 16:1-3.  David brings the Ark up to Jerusalem and we read…

They brought the Ark of God and placed it inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.  When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord.  Then he gave to every man and woman in all Israel a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins.

When the date candy was done, we read these verses and talked about how the Israelites ate dates too.  In fact, this date candy might be similar to what David gave to the people on this exciting day when God’s ark was brought back to Jerusalem.  And then we bit into the date candy…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Or at least it hope it will change my life…and my daughter’s too.  What I realized again, is that faith is more “caught than taught”.  I can talk about God’s word and faith until I’m blue in the face.  We can talk about pursuing God and prayer until we are red in the face, BUT none of that will make any difference in anyone’s life if we don’t also live it.  We need to be people who pray.  We need to be people who live faith.  We need to be people who make faith just as real as eating a sweet, gooey date candy.

Wowsers.  It just might change your life.