Worship and Obedience

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Worship and Obedience

Psalm 95

A Call to Worship and Obedience

O come, let us sing to the Lord;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture,

and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation

and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,

and they do not regard my ways.”

Therefore in my anger I swore,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

I imagine that Psalm 95 was a standard song of Israel. Perhaps it was one of those you sang every year at the Feast of Booths when the Israelites remembered their 40 years in the wilderness and God’s provision during those times. Maybe they sang it once a year the way Christian’s sing O Come All Ye Faithful during Advent. Or perhaps it was even more standard… Something they sang every week like the Doxology

It is not just a song about their history. This psalm is theology set to music. Here, God is portrayed as the frustrated shepherd of a rebellious flock. There is a warning, that rebellion is rewarded with permanent exile – that those who seek their own comfort apart from God’s will face an eternity removed from the comfort He is providing. Like the movie Groundhog’s Day, starring Bill Murray they will wander through a perpetual Monday, never making it to the weekend, until they actually do the work that is required of them each day. To the psalmist, the weekend off is not a divine right, it is a divine reward for a responsible work week.

I think you probably understand the concept of being obedient to God for the reward of entering into the rest He provides. What then is worship? Isn’t that just more work we are asked to do on our day off? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical of good to ask us to have a Sabbath day of rest and then spend it working for Him? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Why is worship work? Family dinners spent together require work. They are becoming a rarer phenomenon today, but even several hundred years ago it took a lot of harvesting, cleaning, prepping, and cooking to put together one meal for a small family of four or five people. Everyone had a job as part of it. Yet they did not see the meal itself as work, but as time for rest, nourishment, and celebration – even though they knew someone would have to do the dishes soon after.

They saw dinner as a celebration of the work they had done with God… and that is what I think worship is for us as well. It is res, nourishment, celebration, thanksgiving, … and work as well. It is a different kind of work though. On it we reflect on how faithful God has been to us and where we have been faithful to God. It is our family get- together.

Where do you worship?

What are you doing today that you can celebrate during your next time of worship?

 

Looking for a Sign

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Looking for a Sign

John 2:13–22: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

(Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–48)

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 2:13–22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The majesty of Jesus must have rivaled his baptism and transfiguration the day he walked into Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple. It is hard for me to imagine how the well-established religious practice could be so easily overturned without a significant and maybe even violent response. Something very different happens though. Instead of fighting back, the people simply ask for a sign, the way a person asks the police for a warrant if they want to enter a home.

It is almost as if they were expecting someone to get around to this sometime or another. They were less concerned about the action and more concerned with Who was carrying out that action. Why is that, I wonder?

I think maybe they felt like the Temple was like a great grandmother’s prize china dishes which had been pawned away to someone else who did not know the sentimental value of them. Perhaps they were being used for common meals: tv dinners and delivery pizza. You know that these dishes need to be specially cleaned, but you don’t trust just anyone to do it. You might be afraid that, in a clumsy attempt to make things better, they might actually be marred worse, or perhaps even broke.

The answer Jesus gives is: go ahead and break them all, and in three days, I will remake them again. Part of what makes his answer ridiculous is not just that it takes more than 3 days to build something like the Temple in Jerusalem. It is that the stones themselves have memories attached to them. There are things about the structure itself and the experiences that took place there that could never be replaced. Sentimental value cannot simply be remade.

Or can it?

What if some of the things we hold most dear are some of the things that need to be cleaned up the most? What if the kind of cleansing we need is not soap and water, but a grinding stone and a forge? Would we trust Jesus enough to hand our most precious things in life knowing He held a hammer in one hand and a blowtorch in the other?

More importantly, do we believe that, after all that, He could put us back together again, better than we are today? Perhaps you and I would ask for a sign also.

Beauty

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“Your eyes will see the king in his beauty;

they will behold a land that stretches far away.

Your mind will muse on the terror:

“Where is the one who counted?

Where is the one who weighed the tribute?

Where is the one who counted the towers?”

No longer will you see the insolent people,

the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,

stammering in a language that you cannot understand.

Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!

Your eyes will see Jerusalem,

a quiet habitation, an immovable tent,

whose stakes will never be pulled up,

and none of whose ropes will be broken.

But there the Lord in majesty will be for us

a place of broad rivers and streams,

where no galley with oars can go,

nor stately ship can pass.

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,

the Lord is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33.17-22 (NRSV)

Closely related to Christ’s gentleness is His beauty. Although, it is not popular in many cultures to call a man (or a boy) beautiful, God has, in Jesus Christ, everything that we would consider beauty.

Beauty may be subjective, or “in the eye of the beholder”, but it cannot be beautiful if it does not capture our attention. True beauty is that which draws us out of ourselves. The greatest kinds of beauty draw us out of ourselves and transform us into something beautiful ourselves.

This is Who God is. He is that greatest, true beauty. He speaks, and the whole world listens. The winds and the waves obey and lift Him up. The angels of heaven celebrate His birth alongside poor shepherds and pagan leaders. Those who followed, not even knowing what they would expect to find had their lives transformed right before them. Simeon and Anna in the temple waited their whole lives just to meet the newborn messiah. Jesus does not disappoint when we come to Him, just as He is, and just as we are.

But beauty draws the possibility of envy and jealousy as well. When we see the light we see ourselves more clearly and sometimes we don’t like what we see. We resist being drawn out of ourselves and retreat into the darkness to plan ways of wounding the beauty before us. It is sinful nature that invites us to fear what we cannot understand and hate what we cannot have.

Yet, despite our best (or worst) efforts, the beauty of God is not broken. The ugliness of the cross on which our Savior hung only made the majesty of the manger more real. The attempts to put out the light, surrounding it with darkness only made it shine brighter.

So to, the light of Christ, the true gift of Christmas, shines brightest in you and I when we face the darkness around us instead of flee from it. Do you want to be beautiful? Let Christ shine through you. Nothing else in this world can compare. You cannot dress, cover, color, or work your way to greater beauty than by simply letting the light of Christ shine in you. The Creator of beauty Himself made you just for that purpose.

  • Where do you see the beauty of God?
  • What do you see in your life that is not beautiful?
  • How can you bring the beauty of God to those places that need His light and love?

Bring your peace into our violence

Bid our hungry souls be filled

Word now breaking heaven’s silence

Welcome to our world

Friday December 23, 2016

Rote

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“The Lord said:

Because these people draw near with their mouths

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

so I will again do

amazing things with this people,

shocking and amazing.

The wisdom of their wise shall perish,

and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,

whose deeds are in the dark,

and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”

You turn things upside down!

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?

Shall the thing made say of its maker,

“He did not make me”;

or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

Hope for the Future

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while

become a fruitful field,

and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a scroll,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more,

and the scoffer shall cease to be;

all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—

those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,

who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,

and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,

no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,

and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Isaiah 29.13-24 (NRSV)

What do you think about memorizing scripture? I struggle with it.

I learned scripture first in Sunday school, where we were taught it by rote – that is, a repeated exercise or ritual meant to help you internalize something. Some of the first scriptures I learned through song (a kind of rote). I remember learning Proverbs 3:5-6 as a song that blessed my life many years later and helped lead me to God.

In between that first lesson and the moment I decided to surrender my life to God, there was a lot of unfaithful living and outright running from God. There is very little unique about this part of my story… most of us have been there/done that. However, what I have noticed is that it was during these very rebellious years that I could probably recite the most scripture from memory. I knew the bible – I just did not follow it with my life at all.

20 years later, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it was back then and I stumble over the words more. It’s not near as impressive. Yet my understanding of those scriptures has grown deep and wide. I may not be able to recall the specific words, but I often tell you who wrote them, who they were first written to, why, and how they apply to us today. Even more than that “preacher knowledge” I can give personal testimony about how they apply to my life today as a personal witness.

My wonderful teachers, taught me to memorize the scriptures, but only half the job was done. I’ll claim it was because of my own stubbornness. What I needed, more than rote memorization was a relationship with God. Perhaps my teachers thought I was too young to have a relationship with God, so they gave me rote instead. Maybe they just did not know how to explain it. Or maybe I was not listening.

It was during the year of Christ’s birth, we are told, that those who had memorized the scripture missed the Messiah. They knew where to find Him… indeed they knew enough to send the Gentile Magi to meet Him, but they would not follow the scriptures themselves. For them, knowing the bible was enough. They did not think they needed to know God.

Regardless of what happened in my own life, God makes it clear that our connection with him needs to be deeper than something we just memorize and recite. There needs to be a spiritual understanding underneath and through it all. As Isaiah wrote: we need to do more than memorize the commandments. We need to trust and obey our commander.

  • What spiritual lessons did you learn by memorization?
  • How have they blessed your life over the years?
  • How has God brought deeper meaning to them ?

Surely goodness, surely mercy

right beside me all my days

and I will dwell in Your house forever

and bless Your Holy Name

Thursday December 22, 2016

Dust

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“Then Job answered the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things,

and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;

I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.”” Job 42.1-6 (NRSV)

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Ash Wednesday Blessing

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

God outdoes us at every turn. He humbles me in the power and care of His creation. The freedom He allows us while providing for our every need is a paradox that I cannot fathom. He redefines the word ‘god’ every day, expanding it into new territories.

Compared to this, who am I? Who are we? Just flickering motes of dust, tossed about to and fro by every little gust of wind. Some of our greatest adversaries: Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hunger, and poverty… these might be barely noticeable blips on the radar screen of the one who created the entire universe, who determines the deaths of stars, let alone the health and comforts of humanity. I cannot relate.

Then God does one more incredible thing. He becomes dust Himself. Eternity fits itself into a box of 33 years. The God of the universe, who could have been born as a blazing star that consumed everyone in Bethlehem with His glory and holiness, was instead born as a tiny helpless baby. How can this be? Even I, a man of dust cannot humble myself to the level of an infant!

But that is exactly what God asks of each of us. Following His lead, we are called to be “born again”. To rid ourselves of our fanciful notions of greatness and stoop to a terrifying level of helplessness – trusting God to hold us, as He trusted Mary to hold Him.

Can you remember you are dust today… dust that only enjoys this life by the grace of God? Can you return to the humility of that dust as we wait expectantly for our God to return, to lift us up, and to lead us home?

  • What brings joy to your life today?
  • What reminds you of your humble place in life?
  • How can you follow God’s example and humble yourself in order to trust in God’s grace more this week?

Who are we…

That you would be mindful of us?

What do you see…

That’s worth looking our way?

Wednesday December 21, 2016

Leaning

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“On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in all the earth.

Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: O my people, who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians when they beat you with a rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. The Lord of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.” Isaiah 10.20-27 (NRSV)

When the wind blows and the snow falls, what do you lean on? Who do you find yourself turning to? Psychologists have long noted that in traumatic situations, our first instinct is usually to go to our deepest point of security. Children run to their mothers, parents run to their children, we all run to our cars, and as soon as we put some distance between ourselves and the danger, we grab our security vice of choice: cigarettes, alchohol, chocolate, and Facebook. Some of us who are more talented can do all of the above.

We blame a lot in our nation on consumerism – as if it were some kind of foreign entity that has infiltrated our lives and taken control from the inside out. It is easier to act as though we have no choice when it comes to dealing with our consumeristic culture. But Isaiah points out all through his prophecies that consumerism is just another idol that we pull out, dust off, and put on the mantle of our hearts each and every day. We find ourselves wavering between claims that “I can quit anytime we want to…” and “I have no control over my life.”

I love the way Isaiah describes this problem. He calls it leaning. We all find ourselves needing to lean on something or someone every day, even if just for a moment. There is something incredibly human, maybe even just part of walking on two legs, that creates a need to lean. Isaiah, warns us to be careful of what we lean on though. Some things in life look sturdy but will collapse under our weight and end up piercing us with broken pieces if we put our weight upon them. Other things may be much sturdier than they look. What we see consistently with God is that He calls us to lean on Him, even when we cannot see Him at all!

Leaning on God is like leaning into a strong wind sometimes. We cannot see it, but we can feel it and see the effects of it. Yet we have no control over it and live in constant concern that it may stop and leave us toppling over. This, invisible, uncontrollable, Spirit of God is the very thing that we need to put all our weight into… and this is what the Bible describes as living by faith.

It is ridiculous and incredible to live like this. It is as ridiculous an incredible as believing that the God who created the universe was born as a baby from a virgin woman in a manger outside the small town of Bethlehem, and that we would know his name and celebrate his birth on the other side of the world 2000 years later… This ridiculous, unbelievable story is powerful enough to make Wall Street take the day off, inspire songs in hundreds of languages, and cause us all to stop and focus on loving God and loving one another at least one day out of the year. That is the God, Isaiah invites us to lean on!

  • Who do you lean on when you find yourself in trouble?
  • What do you go to or do when you are looking for comfort?
  • How can you, as an act of faith, lean on God a little more today?

in excelsis deo

Saturday December 17, 2016

Sour

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Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry! Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)

This is not your typical love song.

A vineyard is a special kind of gift. It is a creation of a home. Vineyards would provide some Ford provision for the family and a source of income. Digging a vineyard was like proposing a new family business.

Vineyards are not for the fainthearted. One business expert writes,

“Patience is a virtue — especially in the wine game. It takes at least two years for a vineyard to produce fruit and four years for the delivery of the first bottle of wine. If selling your wine is your dream or you are hoping to expand, you may want to buy grapes from elsewhere until your new properties yield fruit.”

So, perhaps like a good love song, there is challenge and no promise of quick and easy results. It takes patience and perseverance. It takes faithfulness.

But for all God’s faithfulness, his kingdom only produced sour fruit. Not only does this reflect on the land and vineyard, it ultimately reflects back on the one who created this vineyard in the first place. Any wine made to provide for the family would be rejected and the family reputation destroyed. With the reputation gone the only way for the family to survive would be to abandon the vineyard and start over.

If we are God’s vineyard, why does he keep giving us second, third, twentieth chances? Why does He not remove His blessing from us and just start over? Because of His love. God does not give up on us because His love is greater than all of our faults. He knows that sour grapes do not become sweet with harshness but only through kindness. This Advent season, in the midst of the cynicism around us, can you recognize God’s faithfulness.

  • Where has God shown you patient love?
  • How can you show God faithful love in return?
  • Who else in your life do you need to show patient, faithful love?

Amazing love, how can it be

That You my King would die for me

Amazing love, I know it’s true

It’s my joy to honor You

In all I do I honor You

Sunday December 4, 2016