You May Be Worshiping Wrong

There was a great sadness in the woman before me as we discussed the dysfunction of her marriage.

“Does he ever bring you gifts?” I asked.

She nodded, staring out the window. “He brings me gifts all the time, but nothing I desire. He brings what he wants to give, what he wants to be seen giving, things he wants a woman to have. Each one, as valuable or costly as it may be, simply reminds me that he doesn’t even see me. Our relationship is completely about him. He gives what he wants to give, nothing more or less, and revels in his own satisfaction.”

It appeared the man’s emotional maturity halted in toddlerhood. Many a mother or father has received a well-intended gift for Mother’s or Father’s Day from a child that reflected the child’s own interests with little thought to the recipient. Continue Reading →

Warrior Friendly Worship

knight-930817_640I’m looking for a warrior friendly worship service. Does anyone else feel that need?

Many churches have seeker friendly services, motivated by a love for those who have yet to know Jesus. It’s good to reduce barriers and make it welcoming for those God is calling to His Son. Church should be a place where we encourage questions and the lost can come as they are, as we all have, to discover Christ’s truth, forgiveness, mercy, and grace that leads to repentance and salvation. Amen?

But, when the people of God meet to worship, it’s a more than a place for seekers. Much more. Church is a gathering of warriors, of poets and priests, of God-explorers, of seed-sowers and harvesters, of kingdom pioneers staking outposts of glory, of the royal family seeking face-time with their father-king. Did you think you were just going to church? Oh no, loved ones, that’s a pale title for a rich and powerful convocation. Continue Reading →

The Danger of Lesser Gods

Little gods.
It’s been with us since the garden,
the desire to deify ourselves,
to create little kingdoms over which we rule,
to control people, circumstances, and even
the greater God.
And you have to admit, we’re pretty cool.
Humans have amazing capabilities
and tremendous achievements across the board.
Sometimes, I want to worship us, too.
We’ve all felt the draw, haven’t we?
In the presence of a great leader, artist, musician, healer, or beauty,
our hard-wired bent toward worship makes the static, ratchet alarm
of a Geiger counter detecting the source of a possible target of our devotion
and without the warning of God’s word, we might just bow down
to our own reflection.
I see that syndrome at work in an ad, airing in Rhode Island,
designed to promote the Cardiovascular institute at RI Hospital:
Their tag line: “Our experience prepares us for yours – it may be miraculous but it’s anything but a miracle.”
In other words, don’t thank God for the outcome, be sure to thank us, the humans wielding the scalpels.
Does that scare anyone else?
I get it. In my lesser moments, I want to be worshiped, too. I’m a glory stealer.
That’s often, admittedly, why I stand so close to God
– for the hope, perchance, that some of the admiration aimed at Him might fall on me.
But, as amazing as we are in our moments of greatness –
The heights of our arias,
The pinnacles of our careers,
The tops of our game,
The firsts in our fields,
it’s easy enough to draw back the curtain and expose the Oz of our existence
simply by turning on the evening news.
Countries invading weaker nations.
Meth-head parents leaving their children to wander alone, hungry and cold, in the woods.
Murder-suicide among the rich.
Sex-trafficking among the poor.
And us, the little gods, lacking for answers within ourselves.
No match for the problems we create,
Never mind for systemic woes or catastrophes of nature.
We are so small.
And yet, He has designed us for a greatness of our own
when we remain in proper relationship to Him.
Can you see the beauty of the design?
Isn’t it more inspiring to trust in Him
than to trust every aspect of our fate to men with the scalpels
or power ties
or gold medal Oscars
or guns?
Psalm 8
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2     Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The order matters, loved ones.
The object of our worship makes a difference.
Don’t offer your complete devotion to humanity – we can’t even save ourselves.

Thoughts from Inside a Holy Beggar’s Tent

This past Sunday,

in passing,

my pastor

mentioned how
when the older Israelites,
the ones who had been alive to see Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed,
when they saw the rebuilt temple,
they wept
because what stood before them

couldn’t compare to the former glory they had known.

I thought of that during a worship service

that doesn’t always meet my “felt” needs.

I thought how,
after fifty-two years of worship services,
there have been times that I’ve been moved beyond words
and times I was bored into unconsciousness by worship.
I’ve worshiped alone on a rooftop in Japan surrounded by fireworks on every side
and worshiped surrounded by thousands
in a conference hall full of missionaries and college students
on New Year’s Eve.
I’ve worshiped in sanctuaries with stained glass and vaulted ceilings
and on rough hewn planks in
a wooded chapel without walls.
I’ve felt God’s heart beat and sensed His presence in a service
spoken entirely in a language I didn’t understand
in the midst of total strangers
and I’ve felt stiff, unmoved, and alone
in a perfectly orchestrated, carefully planned, meticulously executed
service designed to be relevant, personal, and holy.
In my younger days, I thought worship had something to do with
location,
companions,
liturgies,
structure,
absence of structure,
music,
lyrics,
sharing,
personal testimonies,
casual clothing,
preachers in jeans,
guitars and drums,
nature,
authenticity,
raised hands,
or altar calls.
Now, I think,
that’s like thinking
sex
is about
candles,
music,
perfume,
and lingerie.
Worship is what occurs
when I give attention to God
and respond to who He is.
That should be able to occur
no matter the setting,
the music,
the company,
or any of the other popular accessories to worship.
Sometimes, remembering times when I’ve been

deeply moved by other services,

I weep inside

like the old men who knew the former glory of the temple.
In America,
worship has become such a
patchwork thing
as we stitch together
traditions and
preferences
cultural bents,
the newest teaching,
feedback from Barna polls, seekers, and
exiting teens
music and mission and ministry of the word
and graphics and relevance and holiness and the personal touch
like homeless beggars
fashioning a tent from remnants and rags
it can be distressing
and then I thought,
how Christ laid aside His deity
and joined us in worship here on earth.
What former glory had He known?
More than any of us have ever dreamt!
What music had He heard?
and light
and power
and worship of the highest order

but He knelt here beside us dressed in our own dust

and He did it without
weeping or moaning,
in fact,
He was known to laugh in our midst.
I can’t imagine Him complaining
that anything interfered with His worship
He gave attention to His Father
and responded to Him in Spirit and in truth.
Then, I thought about how I used to love to sing
the worship song, Knowing You, Jesus
 
and how, in one line, I told Jesus I wanted to “know Him in His suffering”
and I saw my restlessness with earthly worship
in a new light
how Jesus must have longed for the release of heavenly worship
worship unburdened by
the sinful pettiness we humans carry to it
like the well-traveled coins we toss into the collection plate.
how He must have longed for home
how He must have wept at the comparison
how He must have ached for us to open ourselves up to His Father as He did.
And, I knew that Jesus could endure our faulted stabs at worship
because He looked ahead to the time to come
when we will kneel before His throne in perfect unity
in beautiful, perfect, holy, unfettered worship
because He will have brought us home.
And with that thought,
I could forgive myself
and those around me
for the silly things we add and subtract and use to divide His church over worship
because He died to purchase that forgiveness
for us
And I saw Him,
His sacrificial love,
and my heart was drawn to Him
and I worshiped Him in spirit and in truth
despite the heat, the distractions, and the imperfections around me and within.
And I renewed my desire
to worship Him
in every moment
and praise Him for this beggar’s tent
because it is sewn together
with the scarlet thread of His
blood poured out for us
so we could get this close
to perfection
on this side of glory.
John 4:23  “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

Confessions of a Glory Thief

We were name-dropping,
the lot of us,
sitting around a hotel lobby
swapping stories about how we’d rubbed elbows
or shared elevators
with the rich and famous.
(I once sat beside Hulk Hogan on a cross-country flight.)
Why is there such pleasure for us in this diversion?
I think because as the famous name drops,
we bask, for a moment, in the outer ring of celebrity glory,
standing in the splatter-pattern of awe aimed at
these worthy individuals
we catch a splash of adoration and hope it makes us more
than we were on our own.
It’s silly
but it’s such a phenomenon
that the rich and famous rarely travel
without an entourage of glory thieves.
People are hard-wired to worship something – someone –
and that worship is easily diverted to lesser gods
American Idols
athletes and actresses,
tycoons and politicians in power suits.
Theoretically, this adoration is limitless but
it most often feels like a finite commodity
and so we panic there won’t be enough to go around
and we grasp at the brass ring hanging from others’ merry-go-rounds.
I confess that I, too, have been a glory thief
but I have aimed high,
inhaling the incense of adoration
intended for Jesus.
It’s true.
I wish I could say I’ve always drawn close to God for the amazing truth of God
but more often, I’ve drawn close to Him
in the hopes that some of His excess glory would fall on me.
This was never more of a struggle than when I played guitar and sang with
a rocking worship team.
We were hot.
I’d never made better music before and haven’t made better music since.
It was worship music
and our goal was to lead others to worship Jesus
but sometimes the worship lines got a little murky,
the awe and energy rising like an incense fog
clouding the initial goal
and there were times, I know, I worshiped the sound we made
not the One who made us.
And I sucked up the admiration of the congregants
like an African violet seeks the sun –
no, that’s way too delicate –
my spirit developed an appetite for this adoration
like that giant plant in Little Shop of Horrors – Feed Me, Seymour, Feed Me.
And it wasn’t long before I was cozying up to God
just to build my own congregation
from the overflow of His.
At some point, I repented,
and now I’m selective about my “up front” ministry opportunities
knowing how easily tempted I am
to steal God’s glory.
I face it with writing.
I face it with acts of service.
I face it in relationships.
I combat it through regular solitude,
anonymity in service when possible,
and transparency with others.
I thought this battle was my own private secret,
a solitary battle,
until I read Soul’s Gate by Jim Rubart
and encountered a scene at the concert of a Christian singer
that beautifully illustrates
the danger
the temptation,
the demonic assistance given
when we have an opportunity to be scene stealers in
the passion play.
The image from that novel has become part of my arsenal in
the warfare against my own temptable flesh.
It was striking in it’s truth
and repugnant enough to be a useful deterrent to sin.
I confess I have been a glory thief.
It’s no small thing to receive the praise and worship
that only rightly belongs to God.
So I’ve repented and will repent again
when the tendrils of temptation spring from the
seeds of my desire to be the object of worship
rather than the worshiper.
And I look forward to the day
when I am fully free
of this nature that seeks to steal from God
rather than reflect back to God all that is due Him.
It’s a battle I fight now
with the freedom afforded me through my relationship with Jesus Christ.
He knows what I’m made of
He knows the snares that seek to trip me up
even in my pursuit of Him.
But He is greater even than my appetite for personal glory.
How about you?
Ever struggle with this temptation?
Have you also tried to rob from God?
What weapons are in your arsenal?
Am I alone on this one?

 

The Message of the Empty Chairs on Sunday


So, Sunday morning comes around and you want to focus on worshipping God but there’s a problem. Empty chairs.

We cannot ignore the empty chairs in our midst. And we shouldn’t. Through this silent multitude, God speaks to us.

Through those who are not present, the ever present One delivers a message of challenge and hope. What does God say through empty chairs?

First He says to us “Do not be afraid.”

God knows what we are made of and He understands the fear that emptiness creates.

It is in our design to want to correct emptiness for it was into the emptiness of time that the Creator spoke into being all that we know and we are created in His image. Yet, that is the very reason we shouldn’t fear when faced with emptiness but have every reason to hope.

Like our Creator, we are empowered by His spirit to fill emptiness with light and life. Faced with emptiness, we should see not an end, but a beginning.

The empty chair beside you does not have to be the end of what you have known. Instead, let it be a beginning of a new adventure in faith. The beginning of a relationship with the one only God knows will soon be seated there.

Pray for courage. Pray, also, for the missing one who has yet to join us.

Next, God says “Stand firm.”

Emptiness brings with it the temptation to doubt, to yield, to surrender to that which is not of God.

Empty stomachs tempt us to steal. Empty gas tanks tempt us to doubt that God will provide. Empty lives tempt us to believe there is no God and so, we reason, we may as well live without thought for future judgment.

Likewise, empty chairs tempt us to consider vacating our own place at the gathering. Empty chairs tempt us to compromise the message of truth to see the chairs full again. Empty chairs tempt us to believe God has forgotten us, does not see us, will not reward us for our efforts on His behalf.

These empty chairs ask us if we truly believe what we say we believe.

We are not the first in the faith to face empty chairs.

The disciples faced chairs emptied through missions, betrayal, and martyrdom. Throughout history, believers have faced chairs emptied by disagreement, death, persecution, separation, imprisonment or shipwrecked faith. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who urge us not to abandon our own place at the worship table and not to lose heart because of these empty chairs.

Pray for the strength to remain firm in the faith of Christ even when you are taunted by emptiness.

The final message our God would say to us through these empty chairs is this: “Continue the work. We are not home yet.”

Have we been content to sit by as others miss the call of Christ? Have we done all that we are called to do to see that others know they are invited to and welcome at this gathering? Have we, through our own negligence, hypocrisy, self-involvement, fear or blindess chased away the inhabitants of the chairs? Is the empty chair beside us a personal invitation from Christ to participate in the furthering of His kingdom, to repent of our own sin, to go deeper with Christ?

God does not fear emptiness.

He boldly enters an empty heart and fills it with Himself. He lovingly enters an empty world and fills it with His light. He powerfully enters an empty church and fills it with the Fire of his Holy Spirit.

God spoke to the world through an empty tomb. What is He saying to you today through empty chairs?

Did He or Didn’t He? He did.


I once heard a sermon from a minister who was trying to please everyone (never a good idea). This minister was preaching about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and said “There is some controversy over whether or not Jesus ACTUALLY rose from the dead but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that we have ‘resurrection hope’ in our lives, that’s the real message of Easter.” What? Yeah, I don’t think so. Some helium filled “resurrection hope” balloon is not going to get this soul’s basket too far off the field. I need a real resurrection or I’m not playing.

I was born in the sixties and came up through the expose seventies and eighties. I’ve seen Kool-Aid cults, impeached presidents and Batman without the suit. I don’t follow blindly.

My karate instructor must actually be able to kick butt (He can!). My writing mentor must know how to write (Her Scottish Crown series is amazing). If I marry a guy he’d best be up for “until death do us part” (he is), and if I worship a guy, He’d better be able to walk on water.

So if Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, it all falls apart. He’s not a good teacher or a wise guide if he said He would rise again and then remained in the ground like every other prophet before him. That makes him deluded or deceitful and, no thank you, I won’t walk the straight and narrow for a crazy man or a liar.

There are many books written by worldly, once skeptical men that explore the facts and the arguments for believing the Bible and its account of Jesus’ life. One that is very readable is “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel who began as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Buy it. Read it.

But there are two simple defenses for the resurrection that fortify me every time.

First of all, in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, (that’s the whole list of men who begat other men), he makes mention of four women besides Mary, the mother of Jesus: Rahab (a prostitute), Tamar (who pretended to be a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into impregnating her), Ruth (a Moabitess – a non-Jew – a Gentile) and Bathsheba (who committed adultery with King David who subsequently had her Hittite husband, Uriah killed). Now anyone will tell you, that if you’re making a case that your guy is King of the Jews, you avoid mentioning that his family tree includes hookers, adulterers and Gentiles. It’s certainly not the lead story in your gospel. So Matthew’s genealogy is fairly strong evidence that the disciples didn’t just decide to invent a religion. Before turning apostle, Matthew was a tax collector – that’s a Jew who was in collusion with the Romans. This is guy who understood politics and spin. He’d never start a fake defense of his guy with such scandalous material unless it was the truth.

The disciples themselves are evidence that Jesus’ rose from the dead. Do you remember these guys in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested? First of all, they couldn’t stay awake with Him and support Him on a night when He was in agony. Second of all, when the law arrived, these guys were out of there – one even ran off without his clothes he was in such a hurry. They had seen Jesus heal people, raise them from the dead, walk on water and turn Dasani into Chianti. And yet, when the soldiers marched in, the disciples scurried out like rats on a sinking ship. End Act I

Fast forward to life after the resurrection. These same men are out preaching in the streets, taking blows and beatings rather than heeding the warnings to cease and desist and announcing Jesus Christ to Roman Guards and Jewish authorities without fear, without falter, without flinching in the face of certain death. Most of the twelve eventually were martyred themselves rather than renounce Christ (it is believed that John died a natural death in his old age). This is compelling evidence to me that Jesus actually walked out of that tomb alive. Men don’t change.

As comparison, the conspirators in the Watergate scandal fell apart with their stories in little over two weeks of pressure and they didn’t fear for their lives, just their livelihoods, jail time and finances. They turned on each other in a heartbeat and the whole thing unraveled like Grandma’s ball of yarn.

For men to change from ship rats to martyrs there had to be a catalyst – and there was. Jesus was dead on Friday and alive on Sunday. Alone in a tomb, wrapped in grave cloths, under heavy Roman guard, after having been beaten, crucified and speared in the side – he did not “revive” and force a massive piece of granite out of the way and overwhelm men with swords. No one hid his body and decided to start a false religion that would cost them their lives.

Jesus rose from the dead. Every human must deal with this historical fact. Jesus rose from the dead. You must deal with this fact. Jesus rose from the dead. I must deal with this fact. Jesus rose from the dead. This is our only resurrection hope – Jesus rose from the dead.

Don’t worship a guy just because he tells a good story and can do amazing tricks with fish and chips. But if He gets up out of His grave, OK, that’s the power of God.