The Life Journey of Worship

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The Life Journey of Worship

Psalm 23

The Divine Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

my whole life long.

Worship done in spirit and in truth moves us.

David worshipped in the field for most of his life. If you follow the account of 1 Samuel you will see that, for the first half of his adult life, he was hunted by King Saul and forced to live in the wilderness and in foreign countries. He had less access to the temple than most of the people of Israel. Yet this did not prevent him from sharing his own worship in ways that would influence the people of God for over 3000 years.

Psalm 23 is an excellent example of this field worship. This is David’s story that can become our own story as well. YHWH is my shepherd, he writes. He knows this metaphor well from his own days as a shepherd. Because he knows what it takes to be good shepherd and because he knows God so well, he knows he will be provided for… he shall not be in want. The first step of any journey is preparing provision and David found all the provision he needed for his journey in God.

David then describes how God brings that provision. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. Note the directness of that verb. God does not set up a buffet of food options and let us choose. He takes us to the food and makes us stop to eat. The water God leads him, and us to, is not wild rushing water, but smaller springs that we will not drown in. It is there we are provided for and our souls are restored.

Having established the preparation and provision for the journey, David pulls out the map and notes the path we are taking. He leads me in paths of righteousness… Why? For His name’s sake. What does that mean? It means that where we are going and especially how we get there matters. What happens on our journey is going to affect more than just ourselves. We make this journey as a witness of Who God is, not just who we are or hope to become.

Where do these paths of righteousness lead us? Not always to the high mountaintop experiences and comfortable surroundings. These paths of righteousness will also lead us into the valley of the shadow of death itself. That’s right. The path of light and life leads through places of darkness and death. Normally, that would be enough to turn us all away, but then David reminds us (The LORD is my shepherd) so I will fear no evil. The same rod and staff that keep me on the path and in line, are used to protect me from any enemy that would come my way.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our good shepherd leads us straight through the valley of the shadow of death into the the heart of our enemy’s land, and there He proceeds to throw a party. He not only invites but surrounds us by our enemies, and there, in their presence, He anoints our head with oil showing the love He has for us. It is there, in the belly of the beast, not in the green pastures, that David proclaims, “My cup overflows!

If God can bring blessing in the darkest of places like that, as we faithfully follow Him along the path He leads us, what do we have to fear? How can we doubt that His goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life? Perhaps it is only in making this journey with God that we come to realize that to dwell in God’s house is not just to be in a place of peace, joy, and love, but to realize that place is wherever we can be with Him.

Does your worship take you along this journey?

Can you take your worship on the road, out into the field, and follow God to wherever your worship of Him will lead you?

The Art and Science of God – Synthesis

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The Art and Science of God

Synthesis

Jonah 2

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?’

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

I think the heart of the story of Jonah is the world-changing power when repentance meets forgiveness. In the church we call that power grace and we have been singing songs about it for centuries. Grace stands in that middle place where the almighty power of God touches our frailness and brings forth greatness that we cannot contain ourselves. If you think religion and spiritual life is just a checklist, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are missing out on most of it.

It’s a power of synthesis, when two spiritual entities collaborate to share existence, to work together, to act as one. In science, when this typically happens between a greater and lesser being, the greater entity swallows up the lesser into is own being and the individuality is lost, the way we cannot see the raindrops within the clouds. However, even in science we see those hard rules of nature respecting this creative power of God. Those same clouds, as the heat is removed from them, distribute those unidentifiable drops of water as billions of snowflakes, each unique in its own delicate beauty.

God knows those snowflakes and He knows us even more. We are not made without purpose. We all fit into creation in a unique way. God does not separate the value of the holy and profane, the special and the plain, the way we, in our prejudices do. He created it all, and while He often creates an abundance of more than is strictly necessary, He does not let His world go to waste.

Case and point: even Jonah’s deliberate act of disobedience is redeemed and transformed into a story that has inspired the world to follow God for thousands of years.

This is grace, where the science of how things should work together meets the art of working through the disconnections and conflicts – creating something even more beautiful because of the fragility of it all. In our efforts to see how our world was made to work, when we look closely enough, we see that the only way it works at all, is if God continues to hold us all together.

Matthew 12:38-421

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! “

If you closely enough at the struggles you face today, can you see God working to hold everything together even there?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

The Threat of Life

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The Threat of Life

John 12:1-111

Mary Anoints Jesus

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The Plot to Kill Lazarus

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

I’m not big on perfume or cologne. I went through that middle school phase where we all wore too much cologne all the time, but ever since then, I’ve not cared for it much. It makes me wonder, why Jesus just sat there and let Mary put a whole pound of perfume on him. Apparently, so did everyone else. Judas went so far as to complain about it. I find it unusual that he complained about the money that could have been saved, but no one complained about the smell.

I believe I recall Dr. Ben Witherington teaching that this perfume may have had the special purpose of anointing the bodies of the dead during the funeral preparations. This might be the kind of thing the women were taking to Jesus’ body on Easter morning. Why then, did Mary have it at the point? Was she one of the few who honestly believed that Jesus was heading to His death, and if so, why was she putting it on Him so early? Dr. Witherington suggested that this may have originally been bought for her brother Lazarus who did indeed die, and whose body had begun to stink 4 days into his burial. Judas was right in that it probably cost Mary and Martha quite a bit of money to purchase, which makes me think it was something they had saved up while Lazarus was sick, or that they had saved and sold as a final act of love for him. The gospel accounts do not tell us for sure, but if we take it to mean that this perfume was meant for Lazarus, who was then raised from the dead, Lazarus did not need it anymore and by bringing him back from death, Jesus had, in a strange way, earned that burial perfume for Himself.

The second passage here speaks to the growing concern about Jesus gaining popularity with the people – particularly because of the resurrection of Lazarus. Many had seen him dead and witnessed that resurrection, so it could not be easily denied. Both of these two accounts deal with the threat that new life brought to the people around Jesus.

What do I mean by threat of new life? We all have a script for life that says something like: you are born, stuff happens, then you die.

The most important thing you can do is stretch out the “stuff happens” part as long as you can… preferably with good things. But what if that script is wrong? What if Jesus showed that for some people, their script read: you are born, stuff happens, then you die, then you come back… and life goes on forever after that?

If you knew that you would be raised into a body that would not get sick and hurt ever again, but you would have to have your heart stopped for a few days to get it, would you do it? I think many people would. I think there would be a long line of people who would trade away self-preservation for the chance at a life without pain. New life.

If this were offered, the medical industry would go out of business. Economies would crash. People would quit caring about things like they do now. Some of us might just become self-absorbed slobs who quit caring about work, food, anything… why rush? We only have forever. But I think there might be others who would make it there purpose to make sure every person would have the chance to experience this as well. World peace and an end to suffering all over. The very existence of these kind of people could topple governments and would be a threat to anyone in power. It would be a messy blessing.

Death is really less of a threat than life eternal because we know we all face death anyway. Death is not a punishment, it is a normal part of our script. Life, however, is much more uncertain… and uncertain can be scary.

How do you hope to experience the new life found in Jesus?

What part of that new life do you hope to experience today?


  1. (Mt 26:6–13; Mk 14:3–9)

Alive

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Alive

John 11:1–44 (NRSV)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Step into the Light

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Step into the Light

John 9:1–41 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Pumpkin Shells

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blue baby bonnets bursting

best bubbled better thirsting

yet covered over trusting

neither for the sake of hurting

bonnie babe in bubble wrapped

for fear of tremorous shaking clapped

infant in fetal face bereft

of feeling save of sickness sapped

 

palid glass into which staring

pride of Peter’s fate sat faring

fairly worn unborn endearing

unto garments others wearing

out with rampant rabid fever

rushing forth and back receiver

never more than silver severed

tongues for a faint believer

 

glib and guided down the shoot

into compacted soul to boot

a world away and lost on foot

left right as lure to loot

and pillage set atop unstable

shoddy pillar bent unable

to sustain a needing rabble

slavering to come to table

 

“FEED US FEED US ‘TIS YOUR WORTH”

“GRIND YOUR BONES TO STRETCH OUR GIRTH”

“DRESS YOUR DREAMS TO SUIT OUR SERVING”
“STEAM YOUR HOPES TO TEASE OUR MIRTH”

“LITTLE GIRL WHAT IS THE MATTER?”

“SET YOUR HEART UPON OUR PLATTER”
“LET HIM EAT FOR YOU A BETTER”
“HOME TO KEEP YOU EVER AFTER”

 

so in silence do I wonder

sitting yonder distant thunder

shocks of storms I sit and ponder

feeling heartstrings plucked asunder

there within my pumpkin shells

covered over very well

and painted with a fiendish grin

but knowing nothing smiles within