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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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“Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind (Psalm 66:5)!”

I watched a movie the other night which I had been wanting to see for a long time. I am a fan of alternate history novels, and this flick portrayed how a seemingly chance delay could change a woman’s life.

In the movie “Sliding Doors”, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Helen, a woman who gets fired from her job and heads home on the subway.  In one scenario, she makes the train. In the second, she misses the train because a small child gets in her way as she runs down the steps.

In the first storyline, the child’s mother moves the child out of the way, giving Helen enough time to enter the train car.  This slight interruption in the second situation changes everything.

The Helen who makes the train ends up getting home early and discovering her boyfriend in bed with another woman. She breaks up with him, and begins a romance with a man she met on the train.

The Helen who misses the train does not discover her boyfriend’s infidelity, and continues on in the relationship. As this Helen’s story develops, she suspects something, but isn’t sure.

The Helen who caught her boyfriend is encouraged to begin a new entrepreneurial career by James, her new love. She becomes successful.

In the other parallel universe, Helen works two jobs to support her cheating boyfriend Gerry. Supposedly the man is writing a novel, but is really having dalliances with his ex-girlfriend.

SPOILER ALERT

In both stories, Helen becomes pregnant by the loves in her life. Also in both scenarios, Helen is hit by a car and loses the baby.

It is the ending of the two stories that confused me. James is shown holding Helen as she lays in a hospital bed, promising to make her happy.

Gerry is in Helen’s room in the other situation, telling her he will do anything for her. Since she has learned about the infidelity, Helen tells him to turn around and walk out the door.

When this Helen is discharged, she walks into the hospital elevator and meets James for the first time. This event occured with the other Helen at the beginning of the movie.

The thing I didn’t notice because it happens so fast is that the Helen who made the train and fell in love with James dies. He is making promises when, as the scene switches away to the other Helen, the monitor she hooks up to flatlines.

I went two days thinking Helen would live happily ever after with James in both scenarios. It caused me to think seriously about how God, in His providence, can take such things like hindrances to catching a train and still work things out according to His plan in the end. It boggles my mind as I think about it.

Even though I was wrong about how the movie really ended, I am not dissuaded by that. The possibility makes such stories as King Saul in the Scriptures much more imaginable.

Saul was the king of Israel, but he blew it. Unlike David, his successor, Saul’s heart wasn’t in the right place.

When he had finally had enough, God told Saul that he was taking the kingdom away from him. Knowing what I do now, that King David was the ancestor of Jesus Christ, and not Saul, this makes sense.

What jiggles the brain is God’s message to Saul when he rebuked him through Samuel. After the sin that led to Saul’s downfall, Samuel told Saul:

  “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” I Samuel 13:13,14

I understand that David still could have been the ancestor of Jesus through God’s machinations and Saul remain king. For example, David could have had a child through the daughter of Saul to whom he was married and this child could have been of the line leading to Jesus.

In any case, had Saul remained faithful, the Bible could have had a whole different storyline. However, the main goal of God’s plan, salvation through Jesus, could have still taken place.

The “what if” possibilities in life are fascinating to me. This is why I like alternate histories I suppose.

What if, for example, a time traveler had introduced the modern machine gun into the American Civil War on the southern side?  This is the plot of a novel of one of my favorite authors in this genre. 

Ironically, it is in the news today that Gywneth Paltrow had a true-to-life “Sliding Doors” experience that saved a woman’s life inadvertantly during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

A woman was late for work at the World Trade Center and jaywalking when Paltrow came down the street in her car. The woman and the actress just stopped and waited a long time before either one of them moved on.

Recently, Paltrow got  a letter from the woman telling her that she had saved her life.  The actress told the Huffington Post:

Ten years later I got a letter from her saying that she had been late for work and we had that thing and she went down to the Christopher Street station to catch her train to go down to the World Trade Center where she worked on the 77th floor of the South Tower and the train was just pulling out,” Paltrow continued. “So had we not had that interaction she feels like her life would’ve taken a much different course.”

One pastor at my church this summer gave a message in which he stated that it is impossible to thwart the will of God. As I ponder things like the real and fictional experiences of Gwyneth Paltrow, and then examine God’s moves in the Scriptures, I am more and more in agreement with this minister.

It’s beyond the confines of my brain to fully understand the providences of the Lord. My mind just gets dizzy thinking of things stories like the one in “Sliding Doors” and the Bible.

However, my mind and my spirit both agree that God is just amazing, and worthy of my worship and dedication in life.

Another of my former pastors and  a good friend wrote today online:

“I love God’s Providence. It’s always crazy and surprising. There’s no need to question it — it is! He’s great!”

Ditto.

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Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them (Proverbs 13:24).”

“I do something for my people and my country. You are young and active. What have you done for your people and your country.”

This is the statement and question Dr. Hawa Abdi made to  two 18-year-old religiously-based militants who had just told her that she was an old woman and needed to sit down. These fighters had invaded her camp for displaced people in Somalia and wreaked havoc. Her story is in a current episode of Newsweek magazine.

After she had refused to hand over her camp and medical facilities to the militants on the basis that, in their religion, she was a woman and not allowed to have authority , 750 of them showed up at her facility.  They beat the guards and leaders of the camp.

In addition, they flung mortar shells into her hospital. Terrified mothers, including a new one, and their children fled into the forests.  Dr. Abdi knew they wouldn’t survive.

She and some of her nurses were taken away from the camp and put in an empty room. When they were taken back, the camp was silent. The place had been devastated.

Mayhem had been wreaked in Dr.  Abdi’s own office.  Personal papers, photos and property had been destroyed.

The militants had ripped open her furniture. They were looking for hidden money.

Somalia has been at war for over 20 years. It’s men have made the country a sore place on the globe. People are starving and dying.

Of course, as Dr. Abdi describes, the main sufferers are innocent women and children. They have no means to defend themselves from the oppression and brutality forced upon them.

When men behave badly, the Somalias of the world are the result. It is conflict, chaos, despair and agony.

The last time I remember hearing anyone utter a statement like the one Dr. Abdi made to her young captors, I was the one who made it. I was not in a war-torn region, but at a sporting event.

I had taken my young son to his first professional football game. Although our favorite team, the one at home, was pitiful and was playing a very good opponent, and the weather was atrocious, we were happy to be there.

However, the atmosphere began to be spoiled by a large number of visiting young male fans. They were drunk and unruly. They uttered loud epithets against the team we were rooting for.

I was beginning to get disappointed for my son. Knowing that these drunks were rooting for a team for whom winning was a new experience, I lashed out. I looked at one of the winos and said,”When was the last time YOUR team won anything?”

Sometimes you have to ask some hard questions to wake people up. This is what I was trying to do in some respects. Of course, in a much more dire venue, this was what Dr. Abdi was doing.

The Bible tells a story  similar to the one related by Newsweek concerning Dr. Abdi. Its villains were also supposedly religious young men.

In fact, the men in the story were the sons of the high priest of the whole nation of Israel, a man named Eli.  The Bible writes that these young men were “scoundrels” (I Samuel 2:12).

These bad boys profaned the meat sacrifices of their religion instead of using them in accordance with God’s instructions. According  to Matthew Henry, they stepped in before the sacrifice was performed and took the best cuts for themselves.

These sons of the high priest did more than this. Adding tothe stereotype of ministers’ boys being bad apples who fall far from the tree, they slept with the women who worked at the temple (I Samuel 2:22).

My guess is that these illicit couplings were not ones welcomed in most cases by the women involved. They most likely feared for their jobs, or even their lives.

These young men had their own Dr. Abdi figure, i.e. their father Eli.  To Eli’s credit, he rebuked them strongly for their behavior.

However, Eli differed from Dr. Abdi in one respect. While he only talked a good game, Dr. Abdi put teeth to her reproach.

One day the militants came to her and told her to reopen her facility. They had told the media her camp was open and didn’t want to look bad.

However, Dr. Abdi would only do so on one condition. She would reopen her camp if she received a written apology.

She told Newsweek why she did this:

I knew if I accepted their request to open my facilities today, they’d have the power to return tomorrow, to tell me to close them. I had to show them the consequences of their actions, for their own survival; they are the husbands and sons of the women I treat, the brothers of the other wounded men in the hospital.

It took a week, but the second-in-command of the militants came with a letter of apology. Dr. Abdi reopened her camp.

She then told the militants:

“I am a Somali.  I am a mother. I am a doctor, and I deserve to be respected. I care for so many people around you–this was a tragedy you could have prevented.”

Eli could have prevented his sons’ wrong creation of mayhem among the Israelites, also.  He was far more powerful than Dr. Abdi. He could have done something to discipline them for their unholy behavior.

Instead, Eli  just blabbed. The boys ignored him and went on their merry way.

However, God saw what was happening and did more than just talk. He stepped in and told Eli what was coming.

Since he had not chosen to leave a legacy of godliness to his children, God told Eli none of his descendants would  live long lives. Furthermore, in the short term, Eli’s wicked sons would soon die on the same day. Ouch!

Preaching at the boys wasn’t good enough for God. In His scheme of things, being a good father and priest in his home and nation meant that Eli needed to take action against the evil in his sphere of  control.

Instead, Eli had aided and abetted it by doing nothing. To God, he was as guilty as his two sons. Double ouch!

During the raid and occupation of her camp, Dr. Abdi told the militants,”You are men. You need to give something to these people in need.” Instead, these unholy men were wrecking and pillaging the one place of refuge these people had.

We have a choice as men today. We can contribute to the well-being of our families and societies, or we can be part of the ongoing chaos and upheaval we see currently in the news.

The challenge to holiness in this unrighteous world is not for men only. Women have a choice also. They can be like Dr. Abdi and confront the excesses of men, who sometimes can be beastly, and choose to be holy themselves and contribute to their worlds.

The news today brought the story of a young woman who decided to join the looters during a riot in her city last week.  She has up until now had a solid reputation in her country as a sports ambassador and has been feted in the past.

Her mom saw her rampaging on the news and didn’t waste any time.  She called the police on her daughter. Good for her!

There was something wrong with Eli’s heart. There was something definitely wrong with his sons’ hearts.

What God wants is from his sons and daughters is hearts of gold. Brian Doerksen wrote about this prayer, which applies to all of us:

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will

Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin
Deep within

As worship leaders, Eli and sons should have been at what Matt Redman calls the “heart of worship”. When his church had lost its way in worshipping God, the leaders got rid of the music, and parishioners began to express heart-felt responses to God.

Afterward, he penned these lyrics:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus

Our young people today need to know it’s not all about them.  As a father of two adult young people, and two teenagers, I know it’s my job to teach them.

If I don’t, and if you don’t, then we may end up with a couple of children of Eli, without hearts: young people who are confused, misguided and headed for destruction.

Gold is a precious commodity. It’s currently and its highest price ever and extremely valuable.  What is more valuable is the hearts of our kids.

You and I need to step up and develop hearts of gold in ourselves and in our children.  In a raucous period of history, it’s our only recourse for recovery.

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