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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

worshipToday, the worship set began with a message of freedom, that God provides an environment in which we can be free of bondage that has held us in the grips of sinful behavior. The first song promises true life in Christ as we praise and worship God.

The second song was about surrendering control to God, the one true comforter, who transforms our lives, if we allow His will to reign. Cry out to God who hears our and sees our pain. God is sovereign and an anchor in every possible storm.

The third song echoed the theme of the sermon by focusing on hope, breaking free, joy, a surrendered heart, and all breaking forth in an expression of pure confidence in Christ, “on top of the world.” As long as we identify with Christ and live that reality, the Spirit will be expansive within us.

The last song of the set, called us to trust, no matter what the challenges may be, even the greatest of ocean waves cannot or will not overwhelm us. God is greater and stronger than any storm. We must keep our eyes on our Sovereign God even in the deepest waters, for God’s love is unfailing. We are asked to surrender and trust. Fear not. If God calls, then we can “walk on water.” Stay in God’s Presence.

The message had these main points: Our Christ-based Calling can be eroded by losing our confidence in Christ. To maintain our confidence, we must maintain a clear conscience, a caring community, and a commitment to consistency.

So, that’s our service touched (related briefly here) on the attributes of God. But what about me and my life? Am I an example or a testimony to these things? In some ways, I believe I do exhibit confidence that God is in my life. I am comfortable in my faith and I am not ashamed of speaking of my faith openly. I work toward being loving and kind, seeking to look for the best in a person, breathing out the worst.

But I am still holding back. I am still trying to balance what I want to do with what others teach I could be doing to fulfill my God-Purpose. I suppose, I am not really “all in.” That’s a confession of sorts. I know what my gifts are but I also know those gifts are useful in a variety of settings, not just the church.

trinityIn my prayer life, which has been resurrected after a very dry period, I do surrender daily to God and I cry out for God’s Kingdom to indwell me daily, for God’s Will to prevail, for a spirit of forgiveness to wash over me for a rather longish list of people. I cannot “balance” or choose anymore. I believe my journey is ultimately in God’s hands, no matter where I walk or stand or pause. Whether I move quickly or slowly, God is ther.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord. [St. Patrick]

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helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

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Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

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I don’t have any trouble singing in church. In fact, in general I love choral singing as well. I’m not the best singer by far, but in a group setting, I feel bolstered by the voices around me and feel I can sing with the best of them. I am always a little sad when people around me don’t sing at all. My daughter rarely sings in church but she will sing along with the radio all the time. She says it’s the music she doesn’t particularly like, not her style and all that. But my real question is to God: why are we told to sing or even commanded? What is it about singing that is different from speaking?

Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre!
    Sing praises to him with the ten-stringed harp!
Sing to him a new song!
    Play your best with joyful shouts! [Psalm 33:2-3; CEB]

Some results from a cursory Internet search include:

  • Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, and augments regular speech by the use of both tonality and rhythm. Singing expresses emotion and united communities.
  • Back in 1588, William Byrd wrote that singing is delightful to Nature and preserves our health.
  • In a book entitled Music and the the Brain, there is evidence that singing is therapeutic.
  • There are even studies out there that claim people who sing live longer.
  • People who stutter often lose their stutter completely while singing the words (Anyone remember the film, The King’s Speech?)
  • A song can also help people to learn something or remember concepts.
  • Singing is a part of cultural identity.
  • Singing helps people understand who they are.
  • Singing helps people experience worship.
  • But it is also a way to bring people together for a cause, for a right, a touchpoint.

There are songs in the church that have the same power but it’s rarely embraced with the furor of social change, which is too bad. If our passion for God could be as rich as our passion for justice, lives would be changed.

And so I say: sing. Sing unto God. Sing together. Sing alone. Sing.

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I amSo many times I have read about the great “I AM,” the God of all Gods, the one God who cannot really be named or explained. When Moses asked who should I tell the Israelites in Egypt sent me to them, and he was told:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord [I AM], the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ [Exodus 3:14-15]

But in the notes, this I AM phrase has alternative meaning: I will be what I will be. And decidedly, in English at least, this brings up a whole new array of possibilities.

I am still working on a full engagement with the present. This idea crosses over into a variety of disciplines both Eastern and Western. It is accepting the now, being full in the now, and living it without remorse for what is past or fear of the future.

But now I am challenged to consider as well this more open-ended God who is and will be. Not that I didn’t know that of course, but I find it intriguing to ponder God, perhaps as a point within me for the now and then stretching outward my center self in an ever growing, ever widening funnel of “God Self.” God is now but also God is potential, forever.

God is telling Moses, “No worries: here now and here tomorrow.” All of time is God’s now.

How can we not be grateful for the invitation to be in relationship with this God of today and forever? There are not enough songs to sing, poems to recite, or words to say that can capture the wonder of God in me and in the universe, a personal God and a cosmic One. This is the reason we glorify God. This is the reason we praise. This is the reason we surrender.

Who sends you?

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When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,

My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;

In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.  [Psalm 27:2-5, NAS]

enemy proverbI am to walk in confidence and pray so since the promise is plainly spoken, my enemies will fall before and I will dwell safely. But there is no promise of the timetable. And I must remember this. I may be safe in the stronghold, but the outer keeps and lands around my stronghold may suffer pain or loss or injury. There is no promise of a pain-free life, just a promise that no enemy will prevail.

Who are these enemies anyway?

Are there, literally, people out there who want to specifically do “me” harm? Are there people who would intentionally hurt me? I don’t think so, not really. Of course, if I put myself in dangerous places, if I travel in war-torn areas or walk the streets of brutalized neighborhoods, I might indeed become a representative of everything someone hates: while, middle-class, Christian female. For some, that might be enough. I cannot say or expect that I, as an individual, would be excused from misfortune or injury in that situation.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure my biggest enemy is within, that “old self” who continues to look for footing and place where none should be. It is that untamed part of me that kicks against surrender to the Christ Spirit. That part of me continues to behave like a stubborn step child, unwilling to adapt to change, and unwilling to live under spiritual authority.

The prayer, then, makes sense: to remain in the “house” of the Lord (that inner stronghold). For me, this passage has more depth than simply going to church on Sunday mornings. The words ring truer when I consider the house of God within me, that shelter of the most high, where the Spirit meets me willingly and lovingly. This is the place for I have free access to the God of the Universe, where I can see and feel the light ad beauty of God.

The more familiar I become in this place, the more clearly I can experience true peace, and that clamoring enemy and the traps of the worldly concerns have less and less power. Here is the core of worship.

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 servingThe devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”  [Luke 4:5-8]

This is a disturbing passage; not because Jesus resists the enemy but the devil’s claim that the earth belongs to him. In essence, until the great coming of the Christ, there was little opposition to the presence of evil. The prophets would warn and encourage the following of God’s laws as a bulwark against the arrows of Satan and his demonic forces. But, this was a losing proposition. The longer evil ruled, the more difficult the light was to find and follow.

And so, God sends the Son to become the ultimate sacrifice for everyone. Grace instead of the law is offered to the people. The presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the new way to fight the good fight against evil.

But still evil is not defeated. The Hitlers (Germany), Mugabes (Zimbabwe), Gadhafis (Libya), Husseins (Iraq), Castros (Cuba), Jong-ils (North Korea), and Stalins (Russia) poured out much bloodshed; the terrorists continue to frighten and murder; people die of hunger [25,000 a day] and disease such as AIDS [1 every 20 seconds] all over the world. Where is hope for victory? Where is the new Ruler of this Earth? How much longer will the earth groan [Romans 8:22]?

I can choose to keep my head in the sand and pretend that my extravagant living makes no difference in the world (one of the techniques expounded in C. S. Lewis’s wonderful book, The Screwtape Letters, or I can stop. I can open the door of my heart to the pain around me and touch it with the truth of the Spirit in me. Do I believe that God within, Christ died and risen, changes every day life or not?

Joshua asked, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . ” [Joshua 24:15] but really, this is the question I am asked every day.

Perhaps I can’t transform the whole world, but I can metamorphose my use of time and impact my circle of friends, colleagues, and family by being a vessel for Spirit. I can pray with intent and not just lists of names. I can show up. I can be present. I can be open. I can choose life.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
[Deuteronomy 30:19-20]

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