Worship

Don’t Leave the Tent!

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Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent.  When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses.  And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door.  Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. – Exodus 33:7-11

This is one of my favorite passages in scripture.  Most people aren’t even aware that it is there.  However, I think it is a very powerful story of worship and of the presence of God.

Every time I read this snippet of the story of Moses and the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, I am struck by several things.

The first is in verse 7.  It says that “everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting….”.  So the tent of meeting was placed outside of the camp, but it was available for anyone who wanted to go and seek God.  Anyone who wanted to be in His presence was invited to go out to the tent of meeting, at any time that they desired.  However, this short passage doesn’t mention anyone going to the tent except for Moses and Joshua.

The second is that, whenever Moses would go to the tent, the people would get up and stand in the doorways of their own tents and watch for a sign that God’s presence was visiting Moses.  And when they would see the pillar of cloud they would stand and worship from their own tent doors… they would worship from afar…

The people who had been rescued from the enslavement of the Egyptians, though invited, didn’t enter the tent of meeting to be in God’s presence. They stood at a distance and watched for their leader to enter God’s presence and then they worshipped without drawing near.  Never experiencing His presence for themselves.  Never investing themselves in taking the journey to where God’s presence was housed. Selah.  (Pause and think on that)

And then there’s Moses.  The passage says that God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend.  When Moses would go out to spend time in God’s presence, then God talked with him.  Personally.  Intimately.  Comfortably.  As if speaking to a close friend.

Finally, the passage names Joshua.  Scripture says that Joshua was a young man, and that he never left the tent of meeting.  He, in spite of his youth, made the decision to remain where God’s presence resided.  He did not leave.  He literally chose to LIVE where God was.  He determined that he wanted, more than anything else at that time, to spend his days – and his nights – communing with God.

Such a powerful “little” story.

In the Old Testament, the presence of God was housed in one location.  The Israelites chose to remain a distance from this place and worship God without drawing near to His face and presence.  They stayed, “safely”, removed from where the powerful evidence of God would appear.  Joshua, on the other hand, chose to remain incessantly where God was. Night and day He sought after God.

Of the two, who do we more resemble in these advanced times?  The ones who have been freed from the enslavement of the enemy, yet we worship the One Who paid for our freedom and liberty from afar?  Or the one who longed to be nowhere else but face-to-face with God?

God’s presence is no longer housed in a specific tent outside the city.  It is no longer inaccessible to those who refuse to leave the safety of their own comfort zone.  Wherever we are, God, Himself, is there….  Scripture, in Psalm 139: 7-10 says “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

And Jeremiah 23:24 says “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.”

There is nowhere that we can go where God’s presence does not reside.  His presence is in even the most secret of places.  And it is our choice whether to abide… remain… LIVE in His presence, or to stand back and watch others spend time with Him, as one spends time with a close friend, and miss out on knowing Him intimately.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13

Don’t leave the tent.

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Pardon my cynicism, but can we please stop talking and do something?

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“Love God, love people”.

Seems to be the catchphrase of churches today.  Looks great on a billboard or t-shirt.  Sounds like a great mantra.  Excellent quote for a bumper sticker.  Blogs and books are written about it quite a lot these days.  I see/hear/read that phrase everywhere of late.  It’s an inspiring, healthy, scripture-based phrase.  Can’t argue with that. Right?

Oh, but I can.

Last week, my daughter and I were out in our community and we pulled up to a red light.  In front of us was a church with a large yard banner that read… you guessed it… “Loving God. Loving People.” I sighed and said “It’d be nice if churches did more than just post that quote everywhere”, which prompted a conversation with my daughter about the importance of doing versus simply saying something so powerful.

Church-folk, we need to have the same conversation.  Can we talk?

Can we!  Churches, and church-folk, can talk a good talk.  We can talk for hours on end…all about church.

We talk about inviting people to church.  What the church is doing this week. What the church has challenged us to do.  How much we give to the church. How the church is doing this or that this week and you must come.  How well the church is doing because we had this many or that many on any given day.  We church-folk can talk about “our” church.

And we can talk about our church leaders.

How much we don’t agree with this leader.  Or how that leader is “not in their place of giftedness” (which, in non-church vernacular means that they should quit – or be removed from their position – and do something else because we think that they suck at what they’re doing).  We talk about this one that’s controlling.  This one’s “falling away”, or “in sin”, “not hooked up anymore”, or “struggling with something”, because they’re not doing as many things inside the four walls of the church (building) as they used to.  OR we talk about our poor, pitiful, pastor and his wife.  They’re so misunderstood and unsupported.  Life is so difficult for them.  They don’t have good “armor-bearers” and there is too much demand placed on them.  They’ve got such a hard calling to minister/serve the people in the church, it’s a wonder that they stay. (Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve served in church leadership for over 20-some years and it’s no ball of fun at times, can be very difficult, and is – most definitely – not for the faint of heart. However, the pity parties don’t accomplish anything except division.)

We can also talk about each other.  Like. Dogs.

She doesn’t live up to our standards for her life.  He isn’t doing what we think he should be doing (because, you know we know better than he/she does regarding what God has spoken to them or intended for them). How dare they leave our church?  “They’re not following God they’re following a man.”  “They left us abandoned”.  “Their heart isn’t right” because they left, so let’s talk about them to everyone we know that they know and see if we can’t damage their heart even more by our gossip and hurtful words.

We can talk.

We can also talk about those who don’t attend any church. Those who believe differently from us.  Those who don’t WANT anything to do with church – or Christ – for whatever reason.  “Those people”… “Them”… “Non-believers”… “Seekers”… “Sinners” (which, last time I checked defined every single one of us who breathes.  But I digress.)… “Un-churched”.  We talk about how they need to come to our church.  How they need to “get connected” with our groups.  How “they” are going to hell.  How God hates “them” and what they do.  How “they” are wrong and we’re right.  How “they” don’t act/speak/live in a way that meets our approval because we “talk the talk and walk the walk”, meanwhile “they” do not even know what the heck we are talking about.

We talk and we talk and we talk.  All while our little church logos, bumper stickers, and banners wave in the wind crying “We love God and we love people!”

It looks real nice on that church sign.  And we wear it proudly on our pre-washed bright colored t-shirt.  But here’s a “solid” for you: Words. Mean. Nothing. Without. Actions.

Scripture says: “You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

And in James 2:14-26 we’re admonished not to just wish a “God bless you” on people in faith, but to do something to meet their practical needs.

And there’s the ever popular 1 Corinthians 13.  “The love chapter”.  Part of which – verses 4-8 – people quote in marriage ceremonies, public speeches, and more.  However, the first 3 verses aren’t very well known.  They’re a little more challenging.  A little more of a “truth slap” to those of us who claim to follow Christ.  Here’s a paraphrase from a recent sermon I heard about these 3 verses:

It doesn’t matter how “in tune with the Spirit” I believe that I am, if I do not love others – graciously and without expecting something in return – then I am nothing but a lot of loud noise, according to God. (- 1 Cor 13:1 para) Spiritual gifts, “experiences”, knowledge is not ultimately the point. Without love it means nothing. (- 1 Cor 13:2 para) Even if I do the most extravagant thing that I can, to show how spiritual I am, but do it for any other reason but love, it doesn’t matter. (- 1 Cor 13:3 para)

So, churches and church-folk, how about we stop talking and do something about loving God and loving people?

How about instead of expecting people to come to our fabulous, exciting, well-done, sometimes spirit-filled, church service (all of which I, personally, love attending myself, btw), we GO into all the world and share the gospel by loving others practically and meeting their needs?

How about instead of using the money that people have given – because pastors have taught them “do not mock God, but bring 10% of everything you make to church first” (another post, another day) – to pad a “rainy day” bank account like a hoarder who doesn’t want to let the smallest thing go… how about we use some of that money to do things for the community that we are planted in and the people – both in our church and without – who have real needs?  Wouldn’t that demonstrate Christ a little better than money in the bank?

Or what if, instead of starting our own “helping” organizations – that compete with the ones already proven and serving in the community – so that we can proudly boast about how we have a “Christian” soup kitchen, food pantry, clothing bank, homeless shelter, serving organization to exalt our name… what if we pooled our resources, time, and energy to come alongside those already established places and “make a name for ourselves” as the church that truly gets involved by working with our community organizations by providing love, support, and volunteer hours?

What if, instead of having to advertise that we “love God and love people” with printed chotchkes, stickers, and signs, it was simply known that that group of people who attend that church really love God and care about people, all because it was demonstrated instead of talked about?

The bottom line… Christ didn’t just talk about serving others, loving others, dying for others.  He DID SOMETHING.  His hands and feet were always extended to give, serve, love, help, touch, do, and provide the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us.

Talk is cheap. Doing something that demonstrates Christ to others is what matters.  Otherwise, we’re just making noise… unpleasant, undesirable, unheeded noise with our ever-moving lips.

Again, pardon my cynicism, but can we please stop talking and actually DO something?

We All Are Peter

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Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?

This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7

Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter.  In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.

However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise.  They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.

Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.

I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called.  Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt.  He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth.  He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by.  Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.

Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.

And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.

Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long –  Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?).  He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.

Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal.  He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others.  Imagine… “Peter?”

Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning?  Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ?  After all, how could he?

How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ?  How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection?  So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.

“Peter”  “Yes, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time.  Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?

“Lord, You know all things.  You know that I love You”

And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.

“Lord, You know all things”…..

Indeed He does.

Christ knows all things.  He knows that we are human.  He knows that we make mistakes.  He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words.  He knows.

And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name.  He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things.  You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.

 

Such marvelous Grace.

 

GraceLand

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I’ve sat this evening and pondered on the God-given, mercy-motivated, heart-full-of-love induced, grace that has been offered to me… and to you. And I have wondered…

Where could I be? Where SHOULD I be? Where would I be without it?

I could still be neck deep in the mistake-laden quicksand that has been my past. Struggling and striving to pull myself out of the muck and mire, yet also wanting to let the depths swallow me as I give up the fight with the darkness.

I should be lying stripped and marred in the dust by the side of life’s fractured and fragmented highway. Ashamed to lift my head because of the bruises and violent handprints from the times that I’ve been beaten up by the enemy.

I would be still wounded, insecure, looking for an enemy, while plodding through the day-to-day. I would be barely able to stand from the weight of rejection and fear of the self-perceived ugliness in the mirror.

If I dwelt upon my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s, I could – realistically – reasonably – relinquish hope for a joyful, purposeful, impacting existance. There would be no shame or blame in pitching a tent and deciding to resign and retire from life… if my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s were all that there was in my earth-encumbered journey.
But for the grace of God.

The God of grace observed every mistake I would make, before I existed. He had prior knowledge of what a damaged, baggage carrying, woman I would become. He was fully aware of how hard and fast I would run away from Him because I was furious at the injustice of life, unreliability of human love, and the injurious nature of ministry. And yet He saw me as precious and worthy of Him.
His heart-borne, blood-spilled, love-filled, grace opens its gates and allows me to walk through – with my head held high in spite of where I’ve been – and rest in the meadows of His forgiveness and peace. He will repair the brokenness in my bones, and the winds of His breath will restore life to my soul. If I am willing, the rivers of His Spirit will soothe my wounds and then stir me to action with the gifts and talents that HE created within me – to lead others into this place of safety. This dwelling in peace.

This… GraceLand where He is King.

Such and amazing place of grace.

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2

Worship. I’m Not Feelin’ It.

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It’s Sunday morning.  The traditional day set aside to worship God in community with other Christ-followers.

I’m not feelin’ it.

I didn’t sleep well.  My alarm didn’t go off so now I’m rushing.  I’m having wardrobe malfunctions. The kids are grumpy because I’m rushing them. The spouse is NOT happy at having to get up early on “one of only two mornings I get to sleep late every week” – esPECially since he/she stayed up late… very late. We fight on the way to church.  This should make for a wonderful experience this morning.

Open my heart to worship? I’m not feelin’ it.  Sing?  Yeah. I’m still mad, so I’m not feelin’ that either.  Raise my hands in surrender? SO not feelin’ THAT.

Okay. So you’ve had a bad morning.  A bad weekend.  A bad week.  And your feelings are hurt and all muddled up, messy, and hard like playdough that’s been pounded into a container by a 3-year old and left with the lid off.

What are you going to do about it?

Better question – what do any of those cranky, stanky, I-need-a-hanky feelings have to do with expressing worship to a great and holy God?

Our feelings, crusty and ugly as they may get, do not – can not – will not – ever change God.  In spite of whether we’re “feelin’ it” or not – God is Who He is.  

He is forever worthy of each one gathered deciding to shake-off-your-feelings, throw-back-your-head, lift-high-your-hands, and recognize that He is the Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful, Ever Gracious, Ever Listening, Loving-You-With-Fierce-Abandon Father and Lord over everything that exists… and then worship without restraint.

Feelin’ it yet?

Leading Worship – It’s SO Not About You

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For those who are called by God to lead His people into His presence, they are called among the ranks with the Levites of old.  The Levites were a proud and respected tribe of the Israelites who took their responsibilities seriously.  They carried their calling, as priests and leaders into God’s presence, with honor.  They served God in this way with dignity.  They recognized the privilege of being entrusted by God to show others Him, without themselves getting in the way.  Being identified with the Levites, today’s worship leaders should do the same.  However, being born of flesh – with a sin-nature – we often need to be reminded that worship is not about us.

Fact is, worship leading is not about our talent, our ability, or how well we can perform.  Leading worship is not about our level of performance at all.  At least it shouldn’t be.  There is a vast difference in musical performance and leading worship through music.  It’s not about talent, but it IS about giftedness.

We’ve all seen many a singer and/or musician who had incredible talent yet were not gifted by God to lead others in true worship.  Their talent is what carried them to the stage, yet without His gifting and Spirit, the music never carries any farther.  They sing well.  Play well.  Look great.  Sound great.  Yet things feel cold, unconnected, and the same as if attending a great concert at the local arena.  It can be a great performance that widens the eyes and inspires the listeners to clap their hands and tap their feet, but never reaches the hearts and souls of the hearers.  Without the heart of worship then the “sing with me” part of any given church service can be a great performance, but it is about the musician, and not about the God who designed music to be a tool for worshiping Him.

On the flip side – we’ve all also seen singers/musicians who come  to lead others into worship and are unemotional, apathetic, and sloppy.  This is as ineffective and man-focused as attention-seeking performers.  Those who truly have a heart of worship, who bear the responsibility of leading others into worship, should recognize it as a privilege and carry themselves as such.

Muscians who sit – or stand – behind their microphones and/or instruments each week, mandated to lead others into the presence of God should carry themselves with dignity.  Honor.  Excellence. The appearance of apathy, disheveled attire (or hair and make-up), rolling eyes, stifled yawns, and distracted texting (or side conversations) during scripture readings or prayer draws attention to the lack of respect these “leaders” have for the honored position of guiding others into the presence of an Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Loving God of the Universe. Those who enter the stage late, unmotivated and unrehearsed, would serve Him better by staying at home… or better – sitting in the congregation and recovering their passion and pride for Him and His presence.

Leading others in worship should be considered an awe-filled privilege – to be counted among the ranks of the Levites.  If it is not, perhaps it is time to take some time and rediscover your passion and calling.  Else you cannot lead others into that place of reverential wonder.  If it is more about your being in the spotlight than about you diminishing and Him being magnified, perhaps it is time to step out of the limelight and get back to the heart of worship.

Leading worship is so not about you.  It is ONLY about Him.

Send the Fire Is A Dangerous Thing to Pray

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In my years within ministry – and without – I have heard quite a few worship songs with the lyrics containing references to God’s fire or something similar.  Typically they are composed as a cry for God to send down his “fire” or his spirit, seemingly to cleanse us, so that we may better serve Christ – or to “ignite” our hearts so that we may carry His power in greater measure and witness with greater boldness and fervor.  When I hear these songs I often wonder if the lyricist – or the singer – is aware of what they are truly asking for.

Now before you write me off as a bitter cynic about to bash some very meaningful worship music, “hear” me out.  I think you’ll enjoy the read…

There are references to fire throughout the scriptures.  However, lyrically – in Christian music – references to fire are most often coupled with a request for God to “burn away the dross” as is mentioned in Malachi 3.  Many sing this lyric without even a full understanding of what dross actually is.

Websters defines dross as scum, waste or foreign matter, impurity, and/or something that is inferior.

In times of scripture a refiner would stoke a fire until it would be heated to over 1700 degrees F, which is the melting point for gold.  Precious metals would be placed in the fire and, as the gold would begin to liquefy, the impurities and waste would rise to the top and be skimmed away.  The refiner would stir the molten gold to bring more dross to the surface to be removed, until no contaminant or corruption remained.

Let me reiterate.  1700 degree flames.  Fire that is hot enough to completely liquidize one of the hardest substances on earth and expose all of the flaws for expunging.  That heat doesn’t sound comfortable, or even pleasant.  And most often that type of “fire” in our lives comes in the form of trouble, heartache, or soul-penetrating events.

Are you ready for that?  For your life to be heated by tests and trials, struggles and challenges so that your hardened heart begins to melt – bringing your flaws of anger, mistrust, unforgiveness, and/or doubt to the surface and forcing you to rely solely on the refiner?  Or perhaps your refining experience will involve finally grasping that overwhelming understanding of the Father’s white hot love for you and you will be overcome with agonizing gut-wrenching sobs, broken-hearted because of your own sin that you have attempted to hide in your encrusted heart.

Both sound painful.  Hard.  Excruciating even.  Neither one are encounters that stir a desire for a no-holds-barred, bare-feet leap into blistering flames of fire.  Yet that is what we ask for when we sing “Send the fire”.

I’m not asking that we do away with songs petitioning God for the refiner’s fire.  I’m not arguing that lyrically they are incorrect, or that the songs have no value.  On the contrary I believe they are most often penned from the hand of a lyricist who has endured extreme soul-anguish and, heart-broken, wants nothing more than to be purified and holy before God.

What I AM asking is if we, as worshipers – and as singers of songs – honestly consider the words that are passing our lips?  And are we seriously, for real, desiring the sin-revealing, agonizing, refining flames to ravage and expose our heart when we sing?  If we can authentically and heartily respond with a “yes” of conviction, then I say let’s throw our heads back, open our arms wide and cry aloud to our All-Consuming God: “Lord, Send the fire!”