Sunday, April 30, 2006

The misunderstood church

“ . . . I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15 NKJV)

Today, most people consider a “church” is a building, or an organization. In the New Testament, it was neither. The early Christians did not meet in any particular building but in one another’s homes. For them, “church” was the entire body of people who believed in Jesus Christ. They were not formally organized as a group — only given direction on how they ought to live as individuals and with one another.

In the New Testament, God’s “house” or temple referred to bodies of people in which He dwells. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit! Here, in this body of mine, God took up residence. Will I let Him be the landlord? Or will I try to rule? The Bible says I need to learn how to conduct myself. If I can do that, then proper behavior in the building I go to worship on Sunday morning is not an issue.

The problem with thinking God’s house is a building is that the building becomes central, not the people. Some spend a great deal of time and money making their building worthy of being “God’s house” instead of putting their attention on His true dwelling place and making that worthy.

The problem with thinking God’s church is an organization or a social club is that church is then evaluated by whether or not you feel comfortable, if you fit in. But in the Bible, church is a living organism, the body of Christ. If you believe in Him and He makes His home in you, you are a member of His church, no matter what building you attend. However, if you don’t know Christ, no matter which ones or how many buildings you enter, or how many organized denominations you attach yourself to, you are not part of His church.

Jesus said, “I will build my church . . . ” and I must depend on Him to guide and keep me as a member of His church, no matter how misunderstood, imitated or perverted “church” becomes. Today, if buildings burn down or the government decides to ban church, the true church will still exist because He is in charge. And because He lives in me, I will keep on learning how to conduct myself — not only in my body as an individual, but as a member of the group of believers who make up His Body. I’m incredibly blessed to be part of His church.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

My Dad always said, "Keep your nose clean."

“He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.” (1 Timothy 3:7 NIV)

Yesterday was frustrating. I wound up in one store three times, partly because of the incompetence of their staff, and in another twice, for the same reason. While their indifference and, in one case, an outright lie, annoyed me, I was more annoyed at my own impatience. The day started with joy and I let circumstances ruin it.

This verse says a leader (elder) in the church must be a pillar in the community. While people might not agree with his Christian beliefs, they will respect him for the way he lives. This part of the Bible does not go into specifics, however other passages talk about being honest, faithful, reliable, a person of integrity. I'm not an elder or church leader, but God stopped me at this verse for a reason.

I find it interesting how people respond to godly men. We knew a pastor who left the ministry and became involved in sales. He discovered, much to his dismay, that people talk differently to a salesman than they do a pastor. His former title evoked a certain amount of respect and a restraint on their tongues, but some sales people often have a different reputation and it took him a little while to live down that image.

On the other hand, many Christians who have no "religious" job or title find that even without telling co-workers about their beliefs, after a time of working together, they somehow pick it up. They might begin apologizing for bad language, remarking that "You must be a church-going person" and sometimes even asking for spiritual advice. Godliness is visible.

Paul's letter to Timothy, a young pastor, warned about the alternatives to maintaining a good reputation with those who do not go to church. He could fall into disgrace in their eyes, which is serious enough. How can the Lord work in the lives of those who have cause to disrespect Christian leaders? Remember the straying televangelists? People still use them as an excuse to avoid God.

The other issue is falling into the devil's snare. What is that about? My first thought is sin, but sin is more about what I do if he traps me. Rather, his snare involves lies, deception of some sort. He is good at making me think falsely about God, or about myself and how much I need God's help. He will lull me into complacency with "everything is okay" when it is not and God wants my action - or he will prod me into action when God is telling me to wait.

In another place, the Bible says our real enemy is not flesh and blood, but spiritual powers and the rulers of darkness. I'm not a church leader, but still need to be alert and filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on the truth and ready for battle against deception.

The world might look on Christians as a “well-meaning but misguided souls” but this verse says we are not to let that happen. Instead, I'm supposed to have a reputation for integrity and a consistent godly life before an unbelieving world. Yesterday was an opportunity to do that. I missed it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Forget the differences — be like Jesus!

“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:8-10 NKJV)

I’m fascinated by take on gender in the Bible; God always ask men and women to do that which seems the most difficult for them. Women are relationship-oriented and know the importance of loving others, so God tells the men to “love your wives.” Men, although they hate the thought of being hen-pecked or dominated in anyway by their wives, don’t have to be told to submit to them; it is the other way around.

These days, some would insist there are no gender differences, but how can anyone avoid that they exist? Men are generally more muscular from the waist up; women generally have stronger legs and wider hips. Men are generally linear thinkers; women think more like the way a computer finds information scattered all over a hard drive. I can think of dozens of examples.

In this passage, men need to watch that they do not compartmentalize their lives (women more readily see how everything relates to everything). God tells the men to keep every area of their lives clean and pure. They cannot cheat on their income tax or be lax at work and still expect to be powerful in prayer during a worship service. They cannot be angry at someone and push that aside while they worship God. They must not be hesitant to go to prayer because of doubt — and are reminded that sin in some area of their lives will produce that hesitancy.

On the other hand, women are more apt to preen for church. I get side-tracked by what I look like and what others look like. God tells me to watch that I don’t think appearances are the main thing, nor should I use the way I look to impress others. Instead, I am to be more concerned about modesty, humility and doing good. While God does not want me to ignore my appearance, my inner attitude is more important than what can be seen in the mirror.

The rest of this passage talks about the way women should learn — in silence and submission — which seems easier for men. I have a hard time being quiet during the learning process, and prefer discussion to lecture. I also have a hard time yielding to the thoughts and opinions of others. Of course some men also have this problem, and their need to submit is addressed elsewhere.

The point is, God knows what we are like and how our natural tendencies combined with sinful selfishness can get us into trouble. He asks both men and women to live differently, to curb what comes natural and live lives that require us to draw our ability to do so from the One who is supernatural. That is the greater challenge.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Power of praying

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV)

I can only imagine what the world would be like if everyone obeyed these verses. Prayer is amazingly powerful. This past month I’ve prayed for someone with a critical spirit — it seems to be gone; for restoration of a relationship — they are now at least talking; and for a friend’s success in an exam — she is getting a third chance to pass the elements that she missed. When I pray, God changes people; God changes things.

These verses say to pray for “all” not just some. If everyone had someone praying for them? Could the world be devoid of complaining? Fighting? Failure? Maybe, but that is not exactly what God promises. He says if we pray, our lives will be quiet, peaceful, characterized by godliness (that includes far more than being content) and reverence. In other words, prayer brings us into a deeper relationship with God and into a greater sense of His glory. Prayer produces godliness and worship.

It could also bring others to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus is the truth — God wants people to know Him, and the way that can happen is through the prayers of His people.

This humbles me. God has no reason to save anyone; we have all rebelled against Him and resisted His love for us. Why should He save people who don’t want Him? Including me? Why should He partner with me in bringing others to the truth? He wants me to pray for them. He wants me to live a godly, worshipful life. By the grace of God, my prayers and my life can influence others — how amazing!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What did God say about me?

“This charge I commit to you . . . according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.” (1 Timothy 1:18, NKJV)

Paul tells Timothy that people had prophesied concerning him, and because of those words, this young pastor could be victorious in the spiritual battles involved in ministry.

This verse reminds me of what we say about people and the impact it can have on them. I’m not meaning spiritual prophesies — where someone is filled by the Holy Spirit and given a message directly from God about someone else. Well-meaning people can do great damage claiming a direct line to God and offering His ‘advice’ to others. I’ve enough trouble running my own life and being obedient without that. My direct line to God is mostly that I would hear Him speak concerning my own life.

I’m thinking more of what some might call “self-fulfilling prophecies” where a person hears something and tends to make it happen because of what they heard. The words made a strong impression on them. One of my sons struggled with grade four math. His teacher told me, in front of our son, not to worry that he was unable to get it because “Soon everyone will be using calculators anyway.” At that point, our child mentally stopped learning mathematics. It was not until he was an adult, and wanted to pass a particular course to advance in his job, that he found out he was not so lame after all. He got the highest marks in the province — without a calculator.

Telling a child he is dumb, or even that she is the prettiest girl in the world, can affect the way they live their lives. My mother told the mother of one of my friends that I was “not as smart at the other children” meaning street-wise (I’d been ill and not at school for several years). My friend told me and I interpreted those words just as they sounded. I spent many years trying to prove her wrong to the point that even getting 100% on an exam wasn’t good enough. Once I realized what I was doing, the grace of God helped me drop the obsession but maintain the good habit of striving to always do the best I can (without trying to prove anything).

If a mere human “prophesy” made lightly or without thought has that much power, I get goose-bumps imagining what a God-given prophesy can do for a person. Actually, my first thought after reading this verse was, What has God said about me? But now that I think about it, most of the New Testament is just that. God says things that are true about His people — including me. These are given to us that we might fight the good fight, win the spiritual battles that challenge us, and be successful servants in His kingdom. How important then to take personally every word in the Word of God!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Thank God for good examples

“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (1 Timothy 1:16 NKJV)

This verse speaks to me in so many ways. First, Paul never considered God was merciful toward him for his own personal benefit. Rather, Jesus used his life to show others His unlimited patience. This longsuffering was seen not only in Jesus’ patience with Paul, but the patience He gave Paul in his interaction with others.

Imagine the weight of recognizing God wanting to use you to be a model for millions, even billions of people! Paul was persecuting Christians when God confronted him and changed his life. He used this man as an example to show the rest of us that anyone can be saved and brought to faith in Christ. He also made him an example of how the rest of us should live toward others who test our patience.

Second, even though Paul’s life exemplifies total commitment to the will of God, this verse picks out only that one virtue — patient longsuffering; it must be very important. I need to know that God does not reject those who are determined to go against His will. This is an encouragement as I pray for people and tell them about Jesus. I also need to know that God will be patient with me, and can touch my life and transform it. I need to know that His great patience is available so I can be longsuffering toward others.

Why that virtue? It could have been love, or faithfulness, any of His attributes. Paul seemed to have all of them, but longsuffering is the one He picked for special demonstration. Is it because this is the virtue that we need to see the most?

As a child of God who seems to mess up more than I obey, how would I react if I thought God was impatient with me? Could I keep on serving a God who was unwilling to wait quietly while I try again, would not listen to my umpteen apologizes, became disgusted as I stumble and fall, would not give me a hand to pick myself up, and had no hope that I would learn from my mistakes? I don’t think so.

He knows the frustrations of life (He lived here) and my need to be patient with others. I could excuse myself with, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for that” if I never read about Paul who endured ill treatment, persecution, beatings, unbelief, ridicule, and far more rejection than I will ever experience. And he did not merely put up with it; he endured with assurance and deep faith. He was always hopeful that God would help him through his trials, and work in the lives of those who went against him.

I don’t know how God can use me as an example for others. I feel so unworthy to think that as a possibility. Yet I know others watch me. Perhaps the greatest thing I can do is just keep my eyes on Jesus, follow Him the best I can, and let God do whatever He wants with the results.

In the meantime, like Paul, I need to be grateful for God’s mercy and longsuffering, whether directed to me, or through me. Without such patience, I could not keep going.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Redemption for regrets

“ . . . but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13).

In 20/20 hindsight, I look back on my life and at times shudder at the mistakes I’ve made, most of them to do with things like raising my kids, or relationship choices. I could comfort myself with “But I didn’t know any better. . . “ yet still beat myself up with condemnation that sounds more like “Ignorance is no excuse.” Regret is the worst six-letter word.

God is realistic about the mess we make of our lives. He calls it like it is and asks us to agree with Him. He says things like, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.”

The Apostle Paul realized this was true. He had been a zealous man, persecuting Christians and trying to earn his salvation by protecting what he thought was the right way to please God, but God opened his eyes. Paul realized he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violently arrogant man.” He confessed to God, agreeing he was a sinner, and he obtained mercy.

Some other Pharisees clearly understood Jesus’ teaching and rejected it, but Paul said that God was merciful because he did these things without faith and in ignorance. He honestly didn’t know any better. Does that make his ignorance and unbelief an excuse? A claim to innocence? Paul never denied what he had done. It seems more like he was saying he didn’t know God had another way for him to behave. He did what he did out of an honest conviction that he was right. When he saw otherwise, he willingly abandoned his old life and followed Christ.

Changing what I do now does not gloss over or wipe out consequences from past mistakes. My ignorant actions set in motion patterns that continue outside of my control. Some of them are grievous and slam at me words like “regret” and even “fool.” Yet I must look at what God says, not be crippled by echos.

Christ died for all my sins, both the wilful and those done in ignorance. He is merciful to everyone who comes to Him, whether our sins are from ignorance, defiance, or sheer stupidity. He grants loving forgiveness apart from any merit or lack of it. Mercy means grace toward those who don’t deserve it!

So, like Paul, I can “forget what is behind” and “press on toward the goal” of being more and more like Jesus. He wants me to live in the eternal now, enjoy the freedom of forgiveness and trust Him with the challenges of those echos. He says He can “work all things together for good” in my life — I can’t subtract stuff from the list of ‘all things’ just because they appear far too awful to be useful. While this does not excuse, or deny my guilt, the God who used the murder of His own Son to save sinners can use that same redemptive power to turn my regrets into instruments for His purposes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

“Suffer the little children to come unto me . . . “

“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith . . . we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully . . . .” (1 Timothy 1:5-8, NKJV)

When my children were little, we had household rules that were made for their good. We set bedtime, meal times, what they could do and not do so they were healthy and safe. But children are prone to challenge the rules, almost always on the basis that they think they know better than the parents who love them. For a parent, any statement that smacks of “I don’t love you” hurts deeply.

As they grew older, there were times when they did what they were told just to get me off their case, or to soften me so I would say yes to something else. They used the rules to manipulate those who made them!

I suppose the best response, next to a loving obedience, would be a child saying, “I don’t agree with the rule but because I love you, I will do it.” Our kids were reasonably obedient, but I can’t remember ever hearing that. They more fully understood the love behind the rules after they had children of their own.

When God gave the Mosaic Law, His intention was that His people, out of love for Him, would gladly follow it. The law was “for your good, that life will go well for you” but like children, they did not always see it that way. They resisted and rebelled, or they made the law their means of appeasing God.

Paul wrote to Timothy to remind him of the purpose of God’s laws. He says that a pure heart has no ulterior motives. It obeys God from love, not to placate or manipulate (as if God could be wound around anyone’s finger).

A good conscience has no reason to appease God because those who have it know they are in right standing with God — not because they obey all the rules but because He has forgiven them on the basis of what Christ has done (the only fully obedient Son, by the way)!

Sincere faith is trust without hypocrisy or pretense — I know my Father loves me so I trust Him and will do what He asks, without hidden reasons or any faked sense of duty.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” This makes following Christ as simple as being a little child who trusts his loving parents and gladly does whatever they ask. No wonder Jesus told us to be like little children!


Check out: Ten Simple Pleasures

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Faith just "knows"

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Explaining spiritual motivations and decisions to someone else can be difficult. A few years ago we were planning a move. We found out about a house in the new location that seemed a perfect fit for our needs. I prayed about it and had the assurance of the Holy Spirit that we would live in this house. At that point, some of my friends thought my “assurance” was “presumption” — simply because I really wanted this house.

A few days later the landlord called to tell us the house had already been rented. We could not have it. Those who do not understand the assurances of God were sympathetic, but in my heart, I still believed this was the house we would move into. Two weeks later, the landlord called again. The first deal fell through and the house was ours. Faith made me sure of what I hoped for, certain of what I could not see.

Right now we have a friend who is being led by the Lord on a life-changing course. Her actions seem risky, to some. If she follows God, she will move from her home, friends, all things that she knows, to another country and life. Some of her friends think she has lost her mind. Why would anyone do that? It makes no sense to them.

To those of us who know God, it makes sense. This woman has faith in God. She is sure of what she hopes for, not because it is her plan but a plan that God has put in her heart. She is certain of what she cannot see and knows it will come to pass. Even now, she (and we) can see God’s hand in helping her with this. He provides wisdom, assurance in minor setbacks, and takes care of small details that she had not considered.

This is the adventure of faith. It is like flying away on a vacation. You know what your destination looks like (as well as a travel brochure can describe it), and you know that you are going to arrive. Yet there is that tinge of danger (“What if I don’t?”) and the excitement of the planning and the flight.

Faith is definitely the ticket for big plans and difficult projects, but God also wants me to trust Him in everyday life. The funny part of that is when I do, I realize it is not the plans or the destination that make life an adventure — all of it is a ‘trip’ because of faith in God.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Not enough of the right book . . .

"I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (Psalm 119:16 NIV).

I woke up sad. Seeking God seems too difficult. I don’t want devotions, prayer, or to write this. Despite past answers, past blessings, and my need for His strength, seeking His face feels like hard labor today. And what if I don’t hear His voice? Can I wait for Him — when my to-do list is long, my desk already messy with demands?

Charnock says that spiritual worship means my soul seeks God with great longing. I’m to “pant after the living God.” He says any desire to worship as an end is carnal; to desire it as a means for communion with God is spiritual and the fruit of a spiritual life. But this morning I don’t have either desire.

Just stubborn persistence. I try a few moments of silence. The Holy Spirit suggests Psalm 32 and 33. Some words of blessing from God:

“Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. . . . From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth — he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength . . . but the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

Reading Charnock is okay. He points me to my need for God, rebukes me, opens my mind to thoughts previously unknown, and reminds me of truths that I knew but have forgotten, but reading his book is not the same as reading the Bible. The Word of God points me to God, lifts me to His throne, takes me into His presence, floods me with grace. The difference is obvious; Scripture give life — other books just talk about it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Worship doesn't always feel good

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Yesterday I prayed most of the day for two people. I felt my own inadequacy and even though I prayed in the name of Jesus, not my own merit, my lack of merit overwhelmed me. Why should God hear me, never mind answer? Besides, the request was for a non-believing person with concerns for someone in our family who planned to confront this relative. While it needed to happen, my prayer was that this woman would say the right thing to help, even though our relative is extremely angry at her and unlikely to listen. Would the advice be good? Given in the right spirit? Would it be received? In humility? My heart was heavy with concern.

The woman called later in the day to report that confrontation went well. Her words conveyed love not a “sermon” and her advice was received — with a promise of action. God did hear and answer, and my heart rejoices at His goodness.

This morning I read Charnock again. He says that spiritual worship includes an awareness of our own weakness, and the more we love God, the more we should grieve over our sin. He adds that we give Him so little and must realize that we have no more to give.

This is where I am, and after reading Charnock, I realize that I have been worshiping God. I thought worship would lift me up as I lifted up God, but worship is not all joy and exuberance. It can include grief and angst over sin, a deep emptiness that longs for righteousness, and that horrible cry of, “God, forgive me, a sinner.”

In a tape series on how to glorify God, John MacArthur points out an Old Testament passage where Joshua confronts Aachen, a man who disobeyed God after a battle with their enemies. Joshua says to him, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give Him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

God is glorified when we are honest about our sins. As David said in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”

God says we are sinful to the core. When we agree with Him, we are justifying His evaluation of us, exalting Him for being correct and just. While humiliation does not feel good, it does glorify God — making a deep sense of inadequacy part of what it means to worship Him.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Not from the head but the heart . . .

"God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth" (John 4:24).

Yesterday brought upsetting family news. We cannot change things. Helplessness is not much fun. I tried to worship God. My head told me that was a good way to remember that He is able when I am not. I went through the motions. It didn’t work.

This morning, Charnock reminds me again that worship comes from the spirit, not intellectual effort. While he didn’t use Watchman Nee’s terminology, he said the same thing: our will, intellect and emotions are rational (from the soul) and available to anyone. True worship is unique. It flows from a spirit made alive, and even though worship engages our soul and body, the things of the spirit must initiate it.

That means worship involves that intuitive knowing called faith, an active conscience that takes personal responsibility for sin and repentance, and that deep and real connection with God. He adds that the fruit of the Spirit is also part of worship: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I needed to hear this today. In life’s stress, I turn to God but am bound in my spirit. I fret instead of trust, push aside sinful doubts and fears instead of face them, and then am perplexed that my prayers, even my praises, seem to bounce off the ceiling.

Prayer and praise that flow out of an intellectual decision is not spiritual worship. It may be genuine as far as it goes, but true worship comes from the Spirit, from an overflow of being filled with the Spirit. It includes faith — how can I worship God if I am not trusting Him? If I do not believe that He is good? If I doubt that He wants the best for His people?

Charnock reminds me that in the Old Testament, worship is focused on the fear of God, but even that fear is linked to hope in His mercy. In the New Testament, hope is part of our faith. It is a know-so hope that is certain what God says is true. He will keep His promises.

Doubt and anxiety slash at my spirit and makes my efforts to worship a sham. Even though I trust God for eternal life, my doubts regarding daily matters weaken that inner vitality, that spiritual life that God gave me. Where is my hope?

As I go to prayer, I confess all that hinders me from being filled with His Spirit. I need His anointing to worship Him,
to have confidence in His goodness, to trust Him with everything.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What inspires my awe?

“Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:2)

I went to a hockey game last night. Our home team, at the bottom in the playoffs, played a team higher up. The game would not affect their playoff standing, but the arena was sold out — and lively. Fans cheered and booed, raised their arms, leaped to their feet, and made it known they wanted their team to win. I’m thinking, in most cases, a hockey team gets more vigorous worship than God.

Charnock says that spiritual worship is performed with an active understanding of God’s excellency and an active will to embrace Him. We are to do our best to praise Him — according to who He is. Our worship should match the object of our devotion. The more our hearts are dead to sin, the more they ought to be alive to God. We have been made ‘kings and priests’ to God, thus our hearts should rise to what God has done in them. We should behave in a royal manner and offer our very best spiritual sacrifices.

Yesterday’s devotional thoughts also made me evaluate my devotion to God. I read an article in a writing magazine without my mind drifting; not once did I need to reread a sentence. That was not true while I was reading the Bible. During prayer, my wandering mind had trouble sticking to conversation with God. Not so as I later planned a quilt layout.

I know that God is far more excellent than anything else that grabs my attention. He is worthy of honor and my full affection. Yet far too often giving Him the praise that is due Him, praise that measures up to His greatness, is too easily replaced with a meager offering that is more a reflection of my weaknesses.

In Psalm 80, the psalmist pleads to God to restore His people. He asks the Lord to let His hand be upon them and says, “Then we will not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name.”

Unite my heart? Revive my heart? Reveal more of Yourself? Show me what You are doing? Show me the wonder of who You are? Fill me with that wonder? Or is this just a matter of obedience?

I want to honor You, Lord — whatever it takes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Oh bless my scattered mind. . .

“ . . . unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11).

Charnock says spiritual worship is performed with a united heart. The heart is not only ‘now and then’ with God, but united as we worship Him. Spiritual worship is when the door of the heart is shut against all intruders, not left open for every thought that wants to come in.

This is a huge problem for my scattered mind. Focusing on one thing is never easy, even on a hobby, a television show or during prayer. I pray while I’m quilting, quilt while I watch television, walk while I pray. It seems my mind needs at least two things going that I might concentrate. This does not seem like a united heart. Even as I sit here, my thoughts are all over the place, today’s plans, yesterday’s events, the news, the weather, my messy desk. I’ve a grandson with attention-deficient disorder and often wonder if he got it from his grandmother, except he can focus, I cannot.

Israel’s King David asked God for it: “Teach me your way. O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11NIV). God made a promise to the prophet Ezekiel to “give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them” speaking of what He would do with his people when He brought them out of captivity (11:19).

In the New Testament, Paul told the Corinthians that marriage was okay, but those who are married have concerns that keep them from undivided devotion to the Lord. That verifies to me how much “this life” concerns distract me from whole-hearted worship. I need help!

So what can I do? I have responsibilities, everything from mundane things such as laundry and weeding the garden to challenges such as creating event brochures, designing and maintaining web sites, and preparing lesson materials for quilt classes. Does whole-hearted worship mean that I drop everything so I can think only about God all the time?

I don’t think so. God has given me these responsibilities and expects me to be faithful with them. Instead, His word says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” He wants every activity to be done for His glory, done as an act of worship.

Maybe this sometimes annoying ability to multitask is God-given. How else could I do one thing and at the same time offer it to Him as an act of worship? Laundry and dusting are not particularly awe-inspiring, but God is, and while I do these and other items on my to-do list today, I’m looking to Him to unite my heart so I can worship Him in it all and do it all for His glory.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This drama was a tragedy

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Going-through-the-motions worship cannot be sincere because it does not involve the whole person. Without the heart, it is not worship, but a stage play, a pretense.

Yesterday’s funeral was a tragedy and a pretense. It was conducted by a woman playing dress-up before a throng of numb souls needing truth to cope with reality. The family, perhaps 150 weeping people, filed in to the tune of “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” The actress offered them platitudes about life here on earth, then, with about 1000 others, we watched a 40-minute slide show meant to honor the life of this much loved youth. The background music sent mixed messages, everything from “Angels Among Us” to a ditty about graduating from beer to whiskey.

Near the end, the actress quoted Jesus, “If you know the truth, the truth shall set you free,” to introduce her notion of how the young man was a free spirit because he knew the truths of needing family, working hard, etc. Nothing was said about Jesus being The Truth, nor about the freedom of being released from the power and penalty of sin.

It took 30 minutes to clear the building. We held our daughter-in-law and her sorrow-filled mother and others we knew. I don’t know when I’ve ever felt such deep sadness for those who do not know the Lamb of God. From the grown-up little girl dressed up in priestly robes to the hundreds of confused teenagers, no one demonstrated any hope, any understanding that despite this tragedy, God loves them and Jesus is Lord of all. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, life that they so desperately need.

Deep in my heart I know God can bring good out of evil, joy out of grief, yet I was asking Him why He didn’t do something to override this travesty. Could He not put words in the mouth of the dress-up lady? He did not do that, but He did shine one small light into that dark arena. One family member, the only one who believes in Jesus, could not be there but she sent a CD of herself and a song: “Amazing Grace.”

Did anyone hear it? Did anyone understand that Jesus can change sorrow to hope? Or did the most of them leave thinking their only joy would be a hereafter with a big party and booze flowing from the rocks?

God, they have no idea what they are doing, nor what You can do for them.
Open their hearts that they might know Your amazing grace.

Later: I must add to this something God reminded me of during our Easter worship service. He took the worst thing that could ever happen, the murder of His Son, and turned it into the greatest event of all history — and our redemption! Now I'm looking to see how He can work redemptively through this tragic death and void-of-hope funeral.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Worship — even in grief

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Today God prompts us to attend the funeral of a young man we have never met. While I understand our presence is to support the living, what can we offer a family filled with grief? We want to share their pain, but how can we even understand such sorrow, never mind comfort them?

The Lord directs me to the Old Testament book of Job. This man lost his wealth and his children. When he hears the news, his grief is intense, but “Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.”

How can that happen? How can a man whose children were all taken from him in one freakish storm worship God?

Then Job’s friends came to comfort him. At first they sat in silence. Then, when they could no longer stand the pain, they tried to explain it. Their reasoning assumed that Job had sinned, therefore he brought this disaster on himself. How hurtful! They were wrong and God later told them so, but their ‘comfort’ only increased Job’s pain. Yet in his pain, he continued to worship God.

There is a lesson from the action of Job’s friends that echos my grandmother’s wisdom: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” but God is telling me more. He is saying, “Today, be more like Job.”

Job felt the pain, and worshiped God — at the same time. That is beyond me. How can I do that? Charnock says, “Spiritual worship is done by the influence and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The fire that kindles our affections must come from heaven.” Jesus Christ adds, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

So today He is asking me to go this funeral filled with His Spirit, depending on Him. Without Him, I am weak and unable to comfort anyone, but He is asking even more than that. Even though I’m horribly aware that today, in my natural self, worship will be impossible, still God asks me to worship Him.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Present your bodies a living sacrifice. . .

“For you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in our bodies and your spirits, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Last Sunday someone a few rows in front of us sang to God with her entire self. Her face was lifted toward heaven, her hands raised also. Her body moved in expression of worship. Her worship helped me worship — and she was about six years old.

I noticed her, but she obviously was not intending to draw attention to herself. She was not copying anyone either, because, for some reason, no one else lifted their hands during that hymn. This was between her and God, the body and spirit together worshiping Him.

Charnock insists bodily worship is due to God. Our bodies are His by creation and also by redemption. We cannot deny Him the service of our body, nor its sanctification. To serve Him with body and not spirit is hypocrisy; with spirit and not body is sacrilege; and with neither is atheism.

Corporate worship cannot be without some bodily expression either. Men called upon God even before governments were formed and God shaped for them a public worship, instituted synagogues so they could convene together. Charnock says “public worship keeps up memorials to God in hearts prone to forgetfulness.”

How true. Emotions are often more lovely, spirits more raised in public than private. Devotion is inflamed by the union of many hearts. We are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” implying our corporate worship is important, not just to God but to ourselves. Together our love for God naturally flows from our hearts.

Last night we attended a drama depicting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today we attend a service to remember just one part of the redemption story — His death. We will stop time — and think only of that dark day 2000 years ago when God the Son died on a cross at the hands of those who hated Him, in full view of those who loved Him. Had I been there, in which crowd would I be standing?

I will be in the crowd of worshipers today, but how will I express my heart? Worship is easier when reminded of the goodness of God, His faithfulness, love and power. Yet today will remind me of my sin, those dark deeds that were laid on Him, the sin that put Him to death. Can I respond like that child of last week? Will my body express the grief I feel for what I did to Him? Will my arms be lifted up? Or hang limp in shame? Can I focus on His sacrifice and sorrow, feel it with Him, be there dying with Him? Or will mentally push ahead three days to the rest of the story?

My body prefers the exuberant joy of "He is risen," but I know that
even though the outward expression is difficult and painful, worship includes deep contrition and somber humility.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

God never forgets. . .

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

God wants total worship, not going through the motions in body without any spiritual life, not an inner spiritual worship without outward expression through the body. Charnock says that “a morally discomposed body intimates a tainted heart.” That is, if our outward expression of worship is skewed, this indicates something is wrong in the heart.

Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands in the air but no one else is doing it. Sometimes I want to pray in a public place and don’t. Sometimes I want to tell someone about God and am afraid of their response. I am too self-conscious to lift my hands, or pray out loud, or fervently express my love for God. This says something about my inner focus. It is not where it should be.

Or am I bold to the point of being the center of attention? Do I take on a form of worship that puts everyone’s eyes on me during a worship service? Do I like heads turning toward me when I pray or talk about God? Again, outward actions, even in the name of worship, can reveal a self-centered heart.

God’s intended function for my spirit reveals more. My spirit is where I know conviction of sin, have the ability to connect and commune with God, have the capacity for biblical faith. What does it say about my spiritual condition if I never own up to my sins, seldom pray, and worry all the time? These are just as much acts of worship as praise and music. When I avoid morning devotions (afraid of what God will say to me?), put off talking to God (too time-consuming?) and am fretting about life, my heart is not right. Maybe there is unconfessed sin, an attitude of pride, an atheistic temperament that lives ordinary days as if there is no God and calling on Him only when I can’t do it alone.

Ignoring God is the opposite of worship. In these difficult days, He is calling me to worship Him through remembering that He is still in charge, still cares, still hears prayer. He always responds to faith, and even when I avoid or forget Him — He still forgives and remembers me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

God with skin on

“ . . . weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:14).

Yesterday was not a great day. My first mistake was setting my foot out the door before spending time in prayer. The issues on my heart needed to be discussed with the Lord, not taken to the grocery store.

Just before going, a woman from last Sunday morning’s Bible class emailed her annoyance at being asked to read then being corrected when I thought she had the wrong verse (it was the right one, in an unfamiliar paraphrase). Soon after, a total stranger in the grocery story rebuked me for being frustrated that I couldn’t find a particular item. On the way there and home, I hit every red light, as I did on the way to meet my daughter for lunch. While my prayer list was beside me, was God saying “stop and pray” rather than pray while you go? I see it now.

When I got home, another email, this time from our daughter-in-law. It was difficult enough that one of her cousins was killed in a car accident on Sunday morning, but she had just learned that another one died the same day in another accident, about 12 miles from the first. I was numb; she is in shock.

There are times when I deeply want a God with skin on, someone who can wrap comforting arms around me and tell me He is here, in control, and it is okay to cry. I called family members, emailed our church prayer chain, called a couple friends. There would be two funerals. I wanted someone to be God for me, but they are flesh and He is Spirit.

I thought of a line from Star Wars: “There is a disturbance in the force.” For the past couple of days, I’d felt it. God wanted me to talk to Him more than usual, but I was not sure why. Today I wonder if being quicker to pray would have better prepared me for the trials of Tuesday, big and small? No doubt, yet it’s never too late. I did think about who He is and offer worship and thanksgiving, and did experience His grace and strength. The petty complaint, the grocery store rebuke, and all those red lights were prods in my flesh. A simple apology, a simpler confession, and a choice to be patient takes care of these — lest I focus on such minor matters. They could make it easy to push away the deep grief of our daughter-in-law, a grief that hard hits my spirit.

There, inside of me where God lives, is great sorrow. I don’t even know these cousins, but I know the pain of sudden loss, the pain that God felt at the death of His Son, the sorrow Jesus expressed at the tomb of Lazarus. In this, I realize that praying sooner may have prevented or lessened the pokes at my flesh, but it would not have removed the sad news of yet another death. God wants me to weep with those who weep, feel their sorrow and know their devastation — be with them. Flesh will resist that, and yesterday He allowed my flesh to be wounded (I see that now), so it would not get in the way or fight off a spiritual response.

He orchestrated it all. He wanted me open, so I would feel full bore what Shari is feeling, so I can be God with skin on for her.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Be still and know that He is God

“Your are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all thing, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Right now life is difficult. Many problems present themselves and I want God to give me explanations and answers. If not that, at least please comfort me. He is not doing any of what I want. Instead He instructs me to worship Him.

To worship God, I must not only consider who He is and what He does and is doing, but I must worship in spirit and in truth. That is impossible when I am fearful, troubled, anxious and filled with doubts. I need to be confident, focused on who He is, not on my problems. That means I must be filled with the Holy Spirit. God will fill me — as I confess my sins and come to Him with a contrite and trusting heart. I know all that, yet still say, “God, what about these problems, these other people?”

The pressures of the past few days include counseling both sides of a broken relationship, trying to comfort our daughter-in-law who has lost a young relative in an automobile accident, encouraging a dear friend through a huge series of tests involving not only a career move, but a move from one continent to another, and trying to hold on to both ends of a group of people polarized by a major decision. I want God to give me wisdom, strength, the right words, but He is telling me to worship Him.

I can just sense the wisdom of His thinking, barely. He is bigger than any problem and totally able to make sense of all confusion. He can bring peace where there is strife and joy even in the middle of trials. He is worthy of my full attention.

After all, there is absolutely nothing I can do anyway. He is the Reconciler, the Comforter, the great Problem-solver. When I worship Him, I have to stop fretting — and stop playing God — and simply acknowledge and rest in the reality of who He is.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spiritual worship requires a living spirit!

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit . . .” John 4:24.

Charnock stresses that just as we must worship God, we must worship Him in spirit. Lack of worship denies His deity; lack of spiritual worship denies His spirituality. The spirit is God’s gift and it must “return to Him” in every form of service, just as it will eventually return to Him when we die. Charnock goes on in his argument to repeat several times that we must worship God with our highest faculties, not with the ‘brute’ in us.

While I agree with his bottom line, there is another point that Chinese Christian and author Watchman Nee would add. He describes the body, soul and spirit (as in Hebrews 4:12, etc.) as having three separate functions. The body functions are external and fairly obvious. He says, the soul is the seat of human intellect, emotion and volition. It is here that we think and learn, feel and make decisions. Most lives are powered and motivated by body needs and the faculties of the soul.

The spirit is different. It is the seat of intuition, conscience, and our ability to commune with God. The spirit has the capacity for biblical faith that ‘just knows’ something is true without seeing it (Hebrews 11:1). The spirit understands and senses right and wrong, good and evil. And only the spirit can connect with God.

The Bible clearly teaches that apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, our spirits are ‘dead’ to God and cannot function in this manner. Nee says we can go through the motions with our soul. That is, we can think about God and that we ought to worship. We can even learn ways to worship, feel emotion toward God, and choose to sing hymns or praise Him with our mouth, yet if the spirit is dead, so is our worship.

Nee also says that all our worship must originate in the spirit. The spirit should motivate the faculties of the soul to think, feel and decide appropriate modes of worship which then find their expression through our bodies.

While not everyone would agree with the way Nee’s ideas play out in other areas of spirituality, his thoughts on the differences between soul and spirit help me understand why there are so many modes of worship. Even spiritual worship is run through the grid of our souls, and the experiences and knowledge of even the most sincere souls are never going to fit into one mold.

Even at that, spiritual worship is an incredible privilege. People in all the religions of the world desire to please and honor God with all their heart, soul and mind, yet without a quickened spirit, the worship God desires cannot happen. God is Spirit and seeks those who will worship Him in spirit, a spirit that is alive and fully connected with Him through faith and a clear conscience. The privilege is in the fact that He grant forgiveness, faith, life and that spiritual connection with Him — to sinners like me, whose efforts, apart from Him, fall so far short.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Going through the motions

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Charnock says we have a knowledge of God by nature, and that same nature understands that God must be glorified as God — with the best of who we are, the purest and most spiritual powers we have. It is to our shame that some will pray or perform other acts of ‘worship’ as a parrot who learns by rote, not glorifying God in Spirit or with the will or with understanding.

Going through the motions. That is what we call this ‘rote’ that Charnock talks about. I know the song, so my mouth sings it, but my mind is making lunch or thinking about some mundane issue of life. I pray the words, but my heart is not in it or I listen to His Word, but my mind wanders to unimportant other things.

Today is Sunday. Soon I will be in a place of worship with other believers. There I have the opportunity to give my heart to God in corporate worship. What blesses me right now is knowing this is possible. I can worship Him, not only because I know God by nature, but because I have a relationship with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. All the tensions and the worries of the week, the pressures of life, and even the joys, fade into the shadows in the light of knowing this amazing God who loves me and accepts me as I am. Because He loves me, I want to rise above those times of faltering and feeble worship and give Him the whole-hearted honor He deserves. At the same time, I know I cannot do it unless He enables me. How foolish this prideful, independent refusal to be needy that will go through the motions rather than ask Him for help.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

What does spiritual worship look like?

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth. (John 4:24)

Spiritual worship. What is that? What does it look like? Is a solumn hymn more “spiritual” than a chorus with guitar and drums? If I wear a hat to church does that make me more spiritual than a woman without one?

Adam in innocence knew God was to be worshiped yet by nature did not know how to act in worship. This is true of all mankind. Everyone all over the world has a sense of God and that He ought to be worshiped, but the external how comes out as varied as there are people groups.

Charnock points out that what Adam could not see with his sound eyes in innocence, we cannot see with eyes dimmed by sin. Just as Adam had to be told by God what mode of worship is fitting, so do we. At the root of worship, it is first impossible to honor God as we ought unless we know Him as He is. We cannot know Him as He is without a divine revelation from Himself; only God can acquaint us with His own nature. Even at that, when God did reveal Himself, and did give His people the external mode of worship He desired, they warped it with their own inventions, making gods, or inventing ways of worshiping Him, such as with golden calves.

Today’s arguments about the externals of worship are hardly ever rooted in Scripture. In fact, every one that I can think of is based on tradition, cultural norms, or preference. One pastor dresses casual saying that he gets far too warm in a suit and tie and is distracted from the task at hand. Those who take issue with this are accustomed to “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes, and of course cannot find a Bible verse to support their preference. Some prefer “old hymns” to modern choruses, perhaps not realizing that some of those old hymns are based on the tunes of “bar room music” and were once the objects of strong objection. The Bible says “Make a loud noise . . .” but those with sensitive ears object to loud noises. It goes on and on.

I can see the validity of Charnock’s point. We don’t know by nature how to act in worship. We need to know who God is, how He thinks, what He wants from us. Even then, we cannot agree on how we should express our homage to Him.

The solution, I’m thinking, is not trying to find a common ground, or even moving to a church of like-minded people (if that exists), but to treat our modes of worship the same way we are supposed to respond to our differences in spiritual gifts — appreciate and enjoy the diversity. Just as our gifts combine to make a strong body, our modes of worship should unite us into a joyous orchestra, not split us down the middle.

Friday, April 7, 2006

False guilt has some value

“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’” (Isaiah 57:15 NKJV).

Because God is Spirit He is not impressed by beautiful temples, sacrifices, incense, even glorious music. Superficial lives and outward pretense do not please Him either. Rather, He is pleased by humility and a broken and contrite heart.

Today I feel those vague accusations that Satan often hurls at me — “You are GUILTY” — and while this is totally unlike the conviction of the Holy Spirit, it still makes me aware that I’m among those who fall short of the glory of God.

True conviction from God is always specific. He makes clear what I am doing wrong and what I need to confess. False guilt is different. It gives me a general sense of failure, of not quite measuring up. Yesterday someone hinted I had failed her. She was not specific, nor did she offer forgiveness. She wanted to say that she was taking responsibility for how she reacted rather than blaming me for whatever I did. Nevertheless, it produced in me first a great sorrow, then a deep sense of needing to own whatever I may have done.

I cannot fight even false accusations, never mind those veiled in vague terms that might be true. Instead, I bring them to the Lord. If a broken-heart pleases Him, then I am okay with that. It isn’t much fun though. Sometimes I say to Him, “if this is Your will, then I accept it. If not, take away this heaviness and replace it with Your joy.”

I don’t want the joy of having no cares, because I do care about damage from my sin. However, God can mercifully give me the joy of knowing that He forgives me. He also can grant that joy that knows even this is just another one of those “all things” that He can use for good in my life. The hard part is waiting for the good.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Get plugged in!

“The joy of the Lord is your strength . . . the fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy” (Nehemiah 8:10, Galatians 5:22)

In his book, The Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock says, “If God be a Spirit, He is active and communicative, not clogged with the sluggish matter that causes dullness and inactivity.”

He adds that even in human beings, our spirit conveys more to our body than the body can to itself. He says God, being the greater Spirit can pierce into the center of our spirits and do what He pleases. It is no more to Him to turn our spirits than to speak chaos into heaven and earth. God delights to bestow spiritual blessings for they are agreeable to His nature. He is able to repair and bless our spirits because He is the Father of spirits. Further, because He is pure Spirit, He never gets tired, never runs out of power. There is no place He cannot go, nothing He cannot do. Charnock then suggests that the more spiritual we are, the more active, tireless, powerful we shall be.

I know the “sluggish matter” that causes inactivity. It is bodily fatigue, aches and pains, distractions of the mind, guilt over sin, procrastination, doubt and fear, indecision, being too busy, or pure laziness. I get clogged by worry, immobilized by trials. External pressures shift me into low gear.

I also know the energy that comes from turning away from sin and being in right relationship with God. He fills me with His Spirit. We sometimes refer to His joy being our strength. When filled with the Holy Spirit and overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit (which includes joy), I am flying. Nothing slows me down.

But I’ve not really connected spirituality as the key to accomplishing much. I’ve heard that those who make goals and write them down accomplish 50-100 times as much in their lifetime as those who just keep their goals in their heads, but Charnock suggests that the person who is spiritual — focused on God and His will, and motivated in their spirits by His Spirit — is the one who has the ideas, the energy and ability to fearlessly focus and get things done.

I’m thinking he is correct. When I am charged up by God, I can knock things off my to-do list at an amazing rate, and even do more than the list because He often brings unplanned opportunities into my life. So I’m convinced; having His energy is just one more reason to get plugged in!

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Missing the target

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

In ancient times, an odd expression was used during archery practice. If the bowman’s arrows did not make it to the target, those in attendance cried “Sinner, sinner” to signify that they fell short.

This expression is true in not just target practice, but all of life. The human race is not as godlike as God intended. Not only do we fall short of being reflections of His image, often we fall short of true worship.

Consider those who say they worship God best out in the wilderness, appreciating the wonders of creation. If someone cannot worship without a beautiful nature setting — could it be that they are not worshiping God but the works of His hands?

Others insist on a certain type of music in worship. Could it be that they are not worshiping God but the sounds that please them?

Heathens make an image and call it God. Their worship extends to the image (which cannot be God) and does not quite make it to the target. We would not like to be called ‘heathens’ yet we can have incomplete ideas in our heads about worship, and even the nature and attributes of God. If He is a “God of love” only, or a God who always wants our lives comfortable, we might worship that idea instead of His true Being. If so, our worship falls short of the genuine target.

The problem with terminating worship before it reaches the target is that I will always be disappointed with the god I aim for. God is more than beautiful trees, mountains and flowers. He is more than pleasing music, more than any real or mental images. He is a God of love but also of wrath — otherwise there would be no justice. He is a God who cares about my physical comfort but even more about my personal holiness. He will sacrifice the first if it will produce the second.

It takes more than a lifetime to fully understand this God that I must worship. I need His revelation of Himself in nature, in Scripture, in His Son, even in His people. However, He insists that I make no graven images, no mental images. It degrades who He is, and I tend to terminate my focus at the image instead of worshiping the true and living God. God calls such a shortfall “idolatry” and falling short makes me a “sinner.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Does God really have eyes?

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

After several ‘proofs’ that God must be pure Spirit, Charnock asks, “How come God so often has members like our bodies ascribed to Him . . . ?”

God is said to have eyes and ears, arms and hands. Charnock says He is described this way in condescension to our weakness. Finite people cannot understand an infinite, invisible God. He wants to make Himself known to us, so He describes Himself in terms that we can understand. The more familiar those terms, the easier it is for us to grasp what He is trying to show us.

God calls Himself ‘Father’ and because I had a loving father, I better understand God’s care for me. The body parts: eyes, ears, arms, hands, cannot belong to a spiritual, invisible being, but by using these descriptions, God shows me that He sees what I do (and what others do to me), hears my prayers and my praises, holds me in loving safety, pulls me back when I am going the wrong direction, and touches my life to bless and encourage me.

I cannot see or understand God as a pure spiritual Being, so He reveals His love for me by stooping to my level, humbling Himself so I can know Him. The significance of His humility is easier to grasp if I consider what it would be like to desire a worm to know me. I don’t know if (or how) worms communicate, but do know that in their world, I’m huge and foreign, an incomprehensible entity. How would they know whether I meant well or wanted to destroy them? I’d have to describe myself in worm-terms so that the worms could understand me. I’d have to learn worm-talk and find out what descriptions make sense to worms. In fact, to be truly understood, I’d have to love worms and greatly humble myself. I even might have to become a worm and crawl among them.

In a world where people separate themselves into classes and some groups are perceived better than others, the idea of becoming ‘one of them’ is uncommon. Yet God became a man so that I might know Him. Surely I have no right to exalt myself above anyone else. Instead, to be like God, I must willing allow others to see me for what I am. Humility moves my protective pride out of the way — so that the God who lives in me
perhaps can give others a small glimpse of Himself.

Monday, April 3, 2006

If God were not a Spirit . . .

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

If God were not a Spirit, He could not be Creator. All multitude begins in unity. Above mixed creatures there is first absolute simplicity. Number cannot be conceived without first conceiving a unit. The works of art created by a rational creature begin with models in their mind, a mind that the created work does not have. The wisdom which created the world must be from a Spirit, because a corporate being could not create that which is above it, with spiritual qualities that they cannot fully understand themselves. (Paraphrase from The Existence & Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock)

Charnock goes into a logic that really stretches my brain. I sense he is right, but am trying to wrap my head around it. To put his ideas into my words, I’d have to say that I can create characters in a story with human qualities, but it would be a stretch to create someone from another culture or a fictional creature from a made-up world. God created all things, with all qualities, human and otherwise, but particularly human beings with spirits. Unless He is spirit, He would not be able to create spiritual beings.

Charnock goes beyond that to remind me that all of creation points to a Being more perfect and eminent than can be put into bodily form. Our problem is that we can imagine a wizard with a wand, or a man with a beard on a throne, or even a self-generating evolution (which takes some faith!) but we cannot imagine pure Spirit. There is nothing too see, but even more, pure spirit is beyond what we are — which proves Charnock’s point. Created beings are less than what created them, and what created them must fully know and understand their properties.

Is there a point to this? Does it matter to my daily life that God is Spirit? Of course. First, He created all things so can also influence all things. I can pray knowing God has the ability, as Spirit, to not only hear and answer my call, but be wherever He needs to be to do it. I can pray for friends in Asia, or Scotland, or Pakistan, and He is here with me but also there with them.

Second, I can have confidence that He knows more about me than I know myself. What better person to ask for guidance through the challenges of each day? As my Creator, He knows what I am personally able to tackle and what is best for me. Further, as a Spirit, He can convey to my spirit that which I need to know for each daily chore and challenge. His ability far surpasses even the most wise mentor — and the quickest telephone call or e-mail service. All I have to do is cry out. He, by His Spirit, whispers back and, if necessary, rearranges His creation to meet my need. How excellent is that!

Sunday, April 2, 2006

God is a Spirit

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth. John 4:24

Imagining spirit is about the same as imagining nobility or courage. We need to see those things in action so we can better understand them. Maybe that is why some, even Christians, try to think of God as in some sort of tangible way, that He is the air, or has a heavenly or human-like body but without corruption. While others think it unholy to think of God that way, the Gentiles were said to have changed “His glory into that of a corruptible man.”

Charnock says that since “He is the Father of spirits” He could never have a nature inferior to His children. If God made man according to his image, we must raise our thoughts of God according to, and above, the noblest part of that image. God is not like the air, for the air has a “thin” substance and if God were no more a spirit than that, He would not be the most perfect being. In other words, air can represent the invisibility of God and how He fills space, yet even though there is no place where God is not present, the air is not God.

But the omnipresence of God becomes clearer to my mind when I think of air. It surrounds me, sustains me, holds me, permeates my life. When I think about God in that sense, the presence of God becomes very clear. He does the same things, envelopes me in Himself like the most incredible hug. Yet the air is not God. He is greater than that.

Charnock is right; we cannot understand the greatness of God. We need metaphors that describe Him as a Father, or a strong tower, or a hiding place. Our words are not ever enough — which to me is a totally adequate reason why God revealed Himself in the form of a man. The Bible says that His Word was made flesh so we could see what He is like in the face of Jesus Christ, who is "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."

Great thoughts to set me up for worship today with His people.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Charnock wounds — again

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NKJV).

The Lord draws me back to difficult reading, this time the third discourse in The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock. He discusses the idea of God being spirit.

God is not corporeal, no mixture of matter, not a visible substance nor a bodily form. This is about the divine nature and the reason God desires spiritual worship. Charnock points out that He is Spirit and therefore cannot be satisfied with animal sacrifices, lovely temples, even the noise of music. They were once appointed, but now that Messiah has come, we worship in a way more suitable to the being of God.

He also says spiritual worship is a must, a necessity. While the gestures of the body are helps for our worship and declarations of our spiritual acts, God excludes all of that if that is all it is. He wants worship that comes out of the new life kindled in us by the Spirit of God.

In today’s church, much emphasis is on worship style as it relates to music. If Charnock is correct, and external observances have never been the issue with God, then the music is not an issue with God either. He is listening to my spirit. (For a person who cannot sing very well, this is a relief!) But what am I saying in my heart? “The music is too loud” or “This is the best music” instead of “God, with all that I am — I worship You.”

I’ve refused to get into any wrangling over worship music, but must admit if the praise team is so loud that I cannot hear the words, or one of them is sloppily dressed, or the person next to me is talking instead of singing, I am distracted. Worship is a heart thing, and as Charnock says, the externals are only aids and declarations of our spiritual intentions. Instead of looking at the other guy, what does it say about me when I allow their seeming failures to worship (at least in the same way I do) to interfere with my worship? Does not that make what I do just as shallow as what I think they are doing?

This is why I had to put Charnock aside for a month. His words cut to the heart.