Worship&…Waiting

Have you ever sung a song that had a long rest in the middle of it?

Have you ever sung a song that changed time signatures?

Sometimes it works and sometimes you really have to practice it to make it work.  That is the worship song sung when we are waiting.  It’s a song of stops and starts.  It’s a song of death and sacrifice.

Doesn’t sound much like Christmas, does it?

The problem is that most of our worship songs are about our emotional response to God.  They are songs with a lot of emotional language.  They are songs that are “heavy on the Spirit (and it’s accompanying imagery of flames, wind, and doves), but usually thin on (if not bereft of) the topic of bleeding birds and beasts.”*  In other words, our songs don’t deal with bloody sacrifice.

I admit, it’s a hard concept for us in the modern world.  Most of us don’t even go deer hunting!  We buy our meat at the grocery store wrapped in clear plastic and with little blood.  We don’t think much about blood or sacrifice.

The other problem is that we forget two crucial facts:  the holiness of God and the sinfulness of fallen man.  We tend to forget how holy God is and we discount how sinful we are.  Let me tell you a Christmas story to illustrate it…

Once upon a time, there was a King.  This Good King David (not Wenceslas!) wanted to bring the Ark of God up to Jerusalem so God would be close to his people and could live in a house, not at tent.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  Anyway, despite what God had previously commanded, Good King David decided to put the Ark on a cart pulled by two oxen.  When one of the oxen stumbled, a man walking beside the cart, named Uzzah, reached out to keep the Ark from falling in the dirt.  When he touched the Ark, God struck him down and he died.

Ok, that wasn’t really a Christmas story.  But it illustrates what happens when sinful man comes in contact with the holy God.  Writer R.C. Sproul once said,

“Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt.  God said no.”

But all is not lost.  This IS about a Christmas song after all!  The good news is that God comes down into history and redeems.  He did that through the bloody sacrifices of Israel.  He did that through sending his son as a baby who would die a bloody death for the sins of the world.

It’s a song of sacrifice from Abraham that becomes a song of freedom from the chains of Egypt with a bridge that sounds like the song of the road through the desert.  The last verse is the a song from the Promised Land that God is with us.  It’s the song of Israel…it is a hopeful song of waiting through the stops and starts and changing time signatures.

The amazing thing is that this song was started by God.

It wasn’t started by us.

It doesn’t end with us.

It was started and ended by God.  So the song always comes back to the hope of a baby who is the Prince of Peace.

That sounds like a Christmas carol I could sing.

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“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

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…

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*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.

New Song: Your Name is Matchless

It had been months and months and still…we didn’t have date on the calendar.  The date we needed was the date to finalize my son’s adoption in court.  All the papers had been signed, but the finalization was like the seal.  That’s when his name would legally changed to “Ward”.  That is when we could apply for his birth certificate with his new name.  That is when we could get his social security number.

It was a big deal.

But now we have a date!  After months and months of waiting, we are going to stand in court on National Adoption Day, November 16th, and have a judge declare that this little boy is truly our son.  I don’t need a judge to tell me that, but we still need the judge to make it legal.

We are also learning a new song this weekend that teaches we are saved into God’s family in a similar way.  We aren’t born into it.  In fact, we were enemies of God.  We were lost and dead in our sin.  But God, sent his Son to change our lives forever.  We are now adopted sons and daughters of God.  So let’s jump in…scripture says it this way:

Jesus said…”the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…

(I remember my affliction and my wandering. -Lamentations 3:19)

…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. -Ephesians 2:1-2

And we sing it this way…

VERSE 1
We were sinners, we were orphans

We were looking for a home
We were lost and we were broken
Wandering alone
Looking down at our condition
You sent Your Son to change our fate
Though we were hopelessly imprisoned
He came to take our place

In the chorus, we sing glory to the one who ransomed us, saved us and set us free.  His name is “matchless” which means he has no equal!

Christ…has died as a ransom to set them free… -Ephesians 9:15

…to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, –Jude 1:25

CHORUS 1
Glory to the name of Jesus

Glory to the only name that saves
Ransomed the captives
Your name is matchless

After the first verse talks about our wandering in sin away from home and how Jesus saved us.  The second verse talks about how we are now adopted children of God.  I think of this when I look at my adopted kids.  I remember how much I love them.  I remember that I am a loved and adopted child of God.  And John says that is what we are!

“You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” -1 Corinthians 6:20a

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! -1 John 3:1

…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.   And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” -Romans 8:15b

VERSE 2
What a mystery to fathom

That we’re Your children set apart
For we were enemies, not pilgrims
Prodigals at heart
But Your Spirit now has caused us
To no longer doubt Your love
Abba, Father, You have bought us
Adopted through Your Son

The heart of the song comes in the 2nd chorus which continues the same theme as the first, but quotes from Isaiah.  I think it’s important to remember that Jesus quoted this same passage and said that he was its fulfillment.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners…

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes. -Isaiah 61:1, 3b

CHORUS 2
Glory to the name of Jesus

Glory to the only name that saves
Ransomed the captives
Your name is matchless
Glory to the name that freed us
Glory to the love that made a way
Beauty for ashes; Your name is matchless

Lastly, we look towards the end of our lives and the glory of heaven that awaits the adopted sons and daughters of God.

…Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. -Romans 8:17a

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:55-57

VERSE 3
Ponder all we have been given:

Heirs to God through Jesus’ name
A stingless death has been made certain
And glory now awaits
Your glory now awaits

Praising God While Cleaning Up Vomit

“I threw up in the bathroom and I almost made it.”

Those words strike fear and disgust into the heart of any parent.  And while my daughter tried to make it, she hit the toilet seat instead of the bowl.  That meant that Dad was on his hands and knees cleaning the chicken noodle soup off the wall that she had eaten an hour before.  It’s in those moments that it’s easy to pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”, but I’m trying to train myself to praise God in those moments.  God is always worthy of our praise whether we feel like praising Him or not.

So what can you praise God for when you are on your knees, cleaning up vomit?  Here is my short list…

  1.  Praise God for being God…he is holy, just, good and true.  He is always worthy of praise.
  2. Praise God that while I was covered in sin (spiritual vomit), he loved me and died for me.
  3. Praise God that he is making all things new and will one day destroy all sickness, disease and VOMIT!
  4. Praise God that he gives us a sense of how much he loves us.  I love my daughter so much that I get down on my knees instinctively to clean up her vomit.  God does so much more than that.
  5. God is looking for others who are lost in their own spiritual vomit.  He wants to clean them up too and call them “son” and “daughter”.  Praise him!
  6. Praise God that today, I only have to clean up vomit.  I don’t have put an NG tube down my child’s throat or give them shots in the leg or hold them while they go through seizure after seizure or give them CPR.  I’ve done that before.  Other parents will do that today.  All I have to do is clean up this bathroom.  Thank you, Lord!

You can see that even my praises come back to vomit, eh?  But the point is that God is always worthy of praise.  Sometimes in the middle of cleaning up a bathroom you have to work at it, but that doesn’t change the fact that He. Is. Worthy.