Monday, February 22, 2010

Foundation for Worship

I have spent many hours wondering and studying, trying to come to the essence of what worship means. I have heard many opinions, often expressed with the words, "Well, what it means to me is...". I have never felt that those statements held the truth, at least not the whole truth. I cannot say that I have arrived at an answer as yet, and I still contend with this question.

In many stories in the Bible, God's people are engaged in worship. We see many more examples of this in the Old Testament than in the New, and one story in particular stood out for me. The story of Ezra.

In the story told by Ezra, a group of exiled Israelites have been commissioned by King Cyrus of Persia to return from their captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God which had been destroyed some 50-60 years earlier. They began by building an altar and returning to the practice of making burnt offerings to God as He had prescribed to Moses. Then they set about gathering the materials for rebuilding the temple, and of course, as when building any house, they started with the foundation.

We pick up the story here, in Ezra chapter 3:10-13
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
I can only imagine this scene, but it seems to begin as one of high ceremony and great reverence. Eventually, the ceremony broke into a fanfare of shouting praise to God. What a glorious time that must have been. But the story doesn't end there.
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
In this scene, I can feel the anguish of the old men; all the regrets over past mistakes that had led to exile. They remembered the splendor of Solomon's Temple containing riches beyond measure and unparalleled beauty.

I can also sense the unbridled joy of the younger generation who only knew that what was once lost, now was found. Captivity was behind them, and a new life spread out before them.

These are the same emotions that exist when we are stirred by the Spirit to accept the gift of salvation. The same emotions which grip our hearts as we struggle toward repentance. The same emotions that well up when we contemplate the promise of joy everlasting.

How easy it is to regret our past, but Jesus wiped that all away on the Cross. The altar for our atonement was at the foot of the cross of Christ. God's offering on our behalf was His son Jesus; the living stone, who being cast aside, became the cornerstone of our faith...our foundation. The people of Israel toiled to rebuild the temple foundation, yet we have only to accept a gift to stand firmly upon ours. The good news of salvation is the foundation on which everything that follows rests. I think this is also the foundation for worship. No matter the past, the pain, the regret, no matter the mistakes or the shortcomings, no matter how well we understand the gift just now, it is upon that gift we stand to worship.

Perhaps Ezra paints a picture of the quintessential worship experience...those who would weep and those who would rejoice gather together before God, the weeping and the rejoicing both attended to by a loving Savior who's "steadfast love endures forever".
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2

Friday, February 05, 2010

Living the Good Lie

No, that wasn't a typo. Patrick Morley asks the question, "Do I serve the God I want, or the God who is?" 1 Wherein lies the truth? In Romans 1, Paul says:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
This verse is part of a long discourse by Paul regarding Law vs Liberty. He is explaining the actions of the natural man. In other words, without the saving grace of Jesus, this is the "normal" way we would live our lives and likely think nothing of it. It might even be a good life; one of service; one of doing good; even one of sacrifice for others.

Let's examine a hypothetical example of this good life:
  • I work hard to provide for myself and my family.
  • I give my employer a good day's work for a day's pay.
  • I don't steal from others.
  • I love my spouse and I would never betray him/her.
  • My kids have all their physical and emotional needs met.
  • I try to keep my language clean.
  • I help others when I can.
  • I give to charity.
All in all, sounds pretty nice. Sounds like a life of obedience to the Ten Commandments. Everyone gets their appropriate piece of me. I work really hard to please everyone. God is certainly happy with my performance and I am sure that He will take care of me in the end.

Only one problem; it's all a lie.

Paul spends the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans delineating a life under the law from a life of liberty in Jesus, but interestingly enough, it's in just the first few verses of chapter one that he provides straight talk about living the "good lie".
5Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
The obedience God seeks from us doesn't come from our own strength, but through faith in Him. We draw near to God because we are "called to belong to Jesus Christ". In other words, if I will answer the call of God on my life to belong to Jesus, then through that faith, my obedience will begin to be evident. Simply speaking, the obedience which God seeks emanates from my faith in Him.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Speaking Surrender

Our God is the God of Creation, larger than large, greater than great, the author of the universe and the author of our salvation. He is all that is good. He is the very definition of Good.
In Colossians 1, Paul says of Jesus, that "all things were created through him and for him" and "that in everything he might be preeminent". So Jesus is to be first in all things, and all of creation, including me, was created through Him and for Him. Jesus is literally the force that binds all of Creation together.
So my question is then, what can I offer to Jesus? What can I give to God?

Matthew 16:24-27
Then Jesus told his disciples,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

He gives this gift of salvation to us. In His death, we lost our life, and in His resurrectoin, we found our new life. "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation", and we know that all of Creation is through Him and for Him. So here Jesus says that I cannot buy my salvation, I cannot purchase eternity. I have not given anything for this gift.

I show the intentions of my heart not only with my actions, but also with my words. It is also clear that eventually, I will answer for not only my actions but also for my words. (Luke 6:43-45, Matthew 12:33-37) The truth of what is inside me will undoubtedly be evident by my words. How shall I speak of my relationship with God then?

Over and over in the Psalms, David spoke of gifts that he wished to receive from God, whether the gift be protection, sustenance, mercy, or victory. But whenever David spoke in response toward God, invariably it was a response of praise, and glory, and honor. David understood the words of Samuel to Saul, that "to obey is better than sacrifice, to listen than the fat of rams". David's physical response to God was the one thing God required; his obedience. His actions were not something he gave to God, his actions were simply obedience to God. And when we read the words David used in response to God, they are full of praise and glory and honor.

So our question was "What can I give to God?". This question came to my mind because we so often speak of giving to God, but it's hardly a gift when it's already His. What do you give someone who has everything? What do you give someone who created everything? What do you give someone who's very existence holds all of Creation together? If my words speak of giving to God, be it my time, my money, my will, my very life...what's the common denominator there? I refer to these things as "MINE", as if the God who created them all didn't already own them. "[O]ut of the the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks".

As I think about giving to God, my heart turns to trying to understand exactly what my relationship to Him should look like?

In Psalm 37:3-5, we are entrusted with three keys to a right relationship with God. Believe, Receive, and Follow.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfullness. (BELIEVE in Him wth all faith) 
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (RECEIVE all of the good that God is, beginning with the gift of salvation, and then by His grace the gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit) 
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. (FOLLOW Him, and he will lead, and note the sequence there).
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote this:
“I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favourite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence. “
God gives me EVERYTHING, all of it good, in spite of who I once was. He sacrificed all for me. He has good plans for me. My words should be words of praise and honor and glory, like David's words. My words should not be "I give to You" but rather "Lord I believe in You. I receive your grace and mercy. I will follow You. I abandon myself in Your hands." In short, "I surrender".
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. -- Psalm 19:14