Truth Matters: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 2

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

When it comes to worship, biblical truth and doctrine are foundational. This is where we must always begin. Worship apart from truth puts us in the place of basing our worship and our relationship with God on our own wisdom, experience, emotions, or traditions.

In John 4, Jesus is carrying on a conversation with a Samaritan woman. When the conversation became too probing or personal for the woman, she changed the subject to a dispute about the proper place for worship. Jesus addresses her attempted diversion by informing her that her approach to worship is flawed. In John 4:22, Jesus says to the woman, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know.”

There is much that goes into this statement and to understand it, you have to understand the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews. I will not go into all the details, but, in brief, the Samaritans were descendants from the Jewish people who were left behind when the nation of Israel was taken into exile. Over the years, those who remained were intermarried with people outside the nation of Israel. They set up their own places of worship and rejected most of the Old Testament, except for their own version of the first five books. Therefore, Jesus is stating that her knowledge of God and real worship was lacking. She was focused on the wrong thing. And she was focused on the “where” of worship and had completely lost sight of the “Who” of worship.

Sound, biblical knowledge of the gospel and Who God is, is absolutely essential in worship. And where does this knowledge come from? It comes from the Word of God. Yes, God does reveal Himself to us through His creation – He displays His majestic power and glory in all that we see, down to the microscopic level. Because of this, anyone who does not believe is without excuse (Romans 1:18-32).

Nevertheless, the Word of God is indispensable. It is within the pages of Scripture that we see the character and attributes of God marvelously revealed through His mighty works and law. We see the prophecy of the coming Christ. In these pages, we have the gospel, which proclaims the greatness of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, Who took upon Himself the sin of the world, that we could be redeemed and brought into the glorious kingdom of God. This truth is the rock upon which we stand. It is the anchor that holds us in the storm. It is what fuels biblical worship and living. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

As an integral part of our spiritual worship, we are commanded to renew our minds. We do this through the transforming power of the Word of God. If we want to be true worshipers of God, we must be grounded in God-centered, Christ-centered truth. There is no exception. God’s Word in me establishes the foundation for worship. It puts my focus on the God of truth. Otherwise, I am left to imagine or create a god that may have little or no basis in reality – a god in my own image. And that is idolatry. If my worship, experience, or life contradicts the truth of God, I need to change. Otherwise, I will not be drawing near to God. I will be led away in error or self-deception. I will be worshiping some other god or, maybe, just worshiping myself and my own desires.

God reveals Himself to us. He desires for us to know Him better. As we seek and draw near to Him, He will help us grow in our knowledge of Him, through Christ. And we will discover, over and over, the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Together for His glory…

God is Testing Us: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 1

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

As I have mentioned before, I am not an expert on the subject of worship. I am not sure there is anyone who really is. I am like a man who stands on the shore and studies the ocean. At best, I have waded in up to my ankles. The vast expanse of Who God is and what it means to truly worship Him goes far beyond my ankle-deep knowledge and experience.

What I teach and share is based on what I have learned from Scripture, the works of many godly individuals, and my years of seeking to apply these principles in my life and the life of the church. Yet, it is limited by my knowledge and comprehension and flawed by my own sinfulness. That is why it is always critical to test what you hear from me or anyone else by what God reveals to us in His Word.

A few years ago, I started listening to an Bible on my phone while I drive to work or exercise. I have found this to be a profitable addition to my study of the Word. There are some drawbacks. First, if I am tired, I am not always completely coherent. Second, the recitation moves pretty fast. Third, my mind wanders. So, I can miss things. But it is meant to be a supplement to my study of Scripture, not a replacement. However, because I can listen to large sections at a time, it does provide me with a broad overview of how God works both in the life of His people and in the world.

I am currently in the Old Testament.  As I listen, I am reminded of several things. God is serious about His holiness, His law, and obedience. The human race, including the people of God, is incredibly stubborn and rebellious and sinful. Even when we outwardly practice rituals or “religion,” our hearts are often far from God. God is a righteous judge and He is always right when He judges. He is extremely patient in His dealings with us. Every one of us deserves the judgment and wrath of God. God is a merciful and forgiving God. We are without excuse if we do not receive His gift of salvation.

In Deuteronomy 13:1-6, it speaks of prophets or dreamers of dreams who give signs and wonders which come true. These prophets, in turn, then instructed the people to serve other gods. In other words, these prophets are either deceivers or once-servants who have been led astray and are now false prophets or teachers. So, God says that even though the prophet’s signs or prophesies came true, the people are not to listen to them. This seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me. But then, verse 3 really grabbed my attention. It says that God is using these prophets to test whether the people really love the Lord with all of their heart and soul.

Through the years, I have seen many teachers, churches, or ministries that are proclaiming a new “truth” or “experience” related to worship or Christian living. Writing books, speaking on TV, or traveling around the country to offer or seek out some new work of God. At times, I have been such a seeker. Unfortunately, in reality, I doubt that most of these have much to do with worship or God. Some people who pursue these are just experience worshipers – they want the latest and greatest worship or God “experience.” Some are just desperate to find something beyond the drudgery of the ritual or dead orthodoxy they have experienced in “religion.”

I have also seen and heard many who lay heavy burdens of guilt and obligation on others in the name of God. These are the self-righteous who legalistically impose such obligations on others which, in the end, they neither have the intention or ability to comply with themselves. I have found myself to be prone to being an inflictor of such man-made obligations and rules. Many of the rituals engaged in weekly by church attendees could very well fall under this umbrella of efforts to earn God’s favor by our obedience or performance.

In the end, for all of us, these things, and how we approach God in worship each day, test the true state of our hearts. As the passage in Deuteronomy tells us, God uses these to determine whether we really love Him.

In the passage in John 4, Jesus says that the kinds of worshipers that the Father is seeking are those that worship Him in spirit and truth.  If this is the case, then it is very important that we try to understand what that means. Worship is an inward, spiritual experience and expression of the heart, ignited by and carried along by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit of God, there is no true worship of God. At the same time, worship is a response to truth about God and is shaped by truth about God. Worship should be an expression of the entire life of the believer and a pursuit after the living God, not a mere performance of religious rituals or obligations.

Worshiping in spirit and truth. As we go through the next couple of weeks, we will dig a little deeper into each of these and to see how they relate to one another. I hope and pray that it will be a fruitful venture for all of us. I pray that when God tests us, it will reveal hearts that love Him. By His grace and strength, may it be so.

Together for His glory…

The Self-Centered God: God-Centered Worship, Part 4

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36) In the past couple of weeks, I have addressed what it means that all things are from God and through God. Today, I will attempt to unpack what it means that all things are to Him.

In my years of being in worship ministry, I have heard numerous descriptions and analogies of what takes place in the worship of God: giving to God; offering ourselves to God; reflecting His glory; we are fulfilling the command to worship; we are performing for the audience of One; bringing glory to God. And there are many more. These ideas can be helpful as we think through how we should worship God.

When we think of something being “to” someone, we often think of giving or offering something to them, whether it is a gift or something that we owe to them. However, when we try to apply this to God, we need to be cautious because there are aspects related to bringing or giving that may apply to us as humans, but cannot apply to God. The earlier verses in Romans 11:33-35 make it clear that we cannot give counsel or gifts to God that either increase His knowledge or possessions. All wisdom and knowledge are His. The earth and the universe are His. He lacks nothing. So, our worship does not add anything to God. Anything we bring to God is already His.

So, what is the purpose of our worship? Scripture is full of commands to worship the Lord, bring offerings, and even offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). There has to be a reason that we worship, other than just requiring us to do this act out of obedience. And there is.

God’s purpose for worship, and all of life, is His glory. Everything, including our lives, exists for the purpose of bringing glory to God. All things are to Him. When creates, it is for His glory. When He reveals Himself to us, it is for His glory. When He provides for us, it is for His glory. When He saves, it is for His glory. When He judges, it is for His glory. When he raises up or brings down individuals, groups, or nations, it is for His glory. When Christ came, suffered, and bore the penalty for all sin, it was for His glory. When Christ rose, it was for His glory. When Christ returns, it will be for His glory. All things exist to bring glory to the Almighty God. And He will not give or share His glory with anyone or anything (Isaiah 48:9-11).

All things are to Him. All things are for Him. All things were created and intended by God to bring glory to God. For many of us, this is hard to swallow. This seems highly self-centered. That is because it is. For us, it would be sin. For God, it is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is the most loving thing He can do for His creation.

Where is the highest joy found? Our highest joy is found in God through Christ. Any other person, possession, or aspiration will fall short of bringing the joy that can be found in Christ. Therefore, the greatest thing that God can do for us is to glorify Himself and the work He has done. As we see the indescribable wonders of Who He is and heights and depths to which He has gone to purchase our salvation, what greater joy could be found in anything else in life?

God is jealous for His glory. He is also jealous for His people. He knows that anything less than His glory is robbing us of our greatest joy. Therefore, as we come to God in worship and as we conduct our times of worship together, we should give serious consideration to where we place our focus. Worship is for the purpose of glorifying God. When the focus shifts from God and His works to the abilities, performances, or preferences of the leaders or those in attendance, we are seeking to share or steal God’s glory, whether that is our specific intent or not. We should always be mindful of why we are doing something – are we seeking to glorify God or are we just serving and glorifying ourselves?

When my focus becomes being noticed or recognized for anything that I am doing in the worship service or the ministry of the church, I am stealing God’s glory. When I am pressing hard on some issue, I need to seriously ask myself whether this glorifies God or am I just trying to get my own way. Pride and selfishness can be deadly in relationships. It has destroyed many families and churches. God abhors it when it comes to His glory, His church, and His people. As I look back over the years, distant and recent, I wonder how many times I have glorified myself instead of my glorious Savior. As we live our lives and work together in the church, it is important to keep the glory of God before us at all times.

Thankfully, God is gracious. He is forgiving. His mercies are new every morning. He holds His glory up as a wonderful aspiration. As followers of Christ, we have the awesome privilege of declaring the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We testify to what God has done in our lives through Christ. We get to make God look great! That is what it means to glorify someone. It does not mean that we make Him look bigger than He is. It does not mean that we have anything to add to Who He is or what He has done. We just get to reflect His wonderful work in our lives, as He transforms us into the image of Christ.

We glorify God when we find our greatest joy and treasure in Him. It is why we were created. God knows there is nothing else in life that can bring us this kind of satisfaction. That is why He glorifies Himself. Everything else is a cheap substitute and robs us of the peace and joy of God. It can be ours throughout life’s journeys, joys, and trials. Though we will stumble and fall, He will pick us up and sustain us. As we draw near and glorify Him, He will feed and serve us, providing for our every need. He will teach and strengthen us, giving us a deeper understanding of Who is. And we, in turn, will glorify Him. And so it continues, as God continues to show us that He is our all in all, and that there can be no greater joy than knowing Him in Christ.

Together for His glory…

Only Through Jesus: God-Centered Worship, Part 3

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

All things are through Him. This truth encompasses so many aspects of life that it would be impossible to address them sufficiently in this format. For our purpose here, though, this would seem to mean that worship would also only be possible as enabled through God. This may seem odd to us, since most of us have always viewed worship as something we offer to God – it is from us to God. We give our praises and offerings to the Lord. We do this in response to Who God is and what God has done for us. Scripture commands us to worship God. Therefore, as a follower of Christ, worship is to be a part of our obedience and our relationship with God.

So, how is it that our worship is through God? As I have discussed in previous posts, anything we have or give to God already belongs to God. Our very lives are created and sustained by the power of His Word and through His love and care. There is nothing that we are and there is nothing we possess that is not from God. It all belongs to Him. He can give it or take it away at any time. In this sense, everything exists and is only possible through Him. That would include our worship.

However, I would like to focus on something that is essential to worship, but which we either forget or do not fully comprehend. How often have we heard or used phrases like the following?

  • ‘We really entered into God’s presence today.”
  • “That song really brought me into God’s presence.”
  • “The Spirit was really present this morning.”
  • “I did not sense the presence of the Lord today.”
  • “We invite the Spirit (or Christ) to join us today.”

I understand, for the most part, the meaning behind these statements. Yet, if you look at these statements, and others like them, you will notice a common theme – us. All of them flow from a foundation that there is something that we do, something that someone else does, an event, the atmosphere, a performance, or some other activity which brings us into the presence of God or brings God into our midst.

The teaching of the Word is essential. Music and singing are wonderful. Prayers are meaningful. Testimonies reveal the work of God in our lives. Communion is a great time of reflection and remembrance. I could go on, listing many other things we do in worship, but none of these things bring us into the presence of God. There is only one thing, or I should say, one person, who brings us into God’s presence.

The Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, was the place in the Temple which was only entered once a year and, then, only by the high priest in Israel. When he entered, he came with blood for the purpose of atonement for his sin and the sin of the nation. The Holy of Holies was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was the place of the special manifestation of God’s presence in Israel. No one was to come into this place except the high priest. The penalty for violation was death. The Old Testament is full of God’s commands regarding this aspect of Israel’s worship. Anything I could provide here would be an oversimplification. Needless to say, entrance into God’s presence was rare and restricted. God is holy. We are not. The unholy cannot appear before the holy God.

In the book of Hebrews, God’s unbelievable gift is detailed for us by what was accomplished through the work of Christ. Chapters 9 and 10 describe the work of Christ in paying the penalty for our sin and what resulted from His actions. Reading this should blow our minds, if we truly understand the gravity of what was done on our behalf. When Jesus died, it says he entered the holy places. Not in the earthly temple, which is only a copy, but in the heavenly temple. He came with blood, but not the blood of animals. He came with His own blood. He did not come to continue the old covenant, but to fulfill it and become the mediator of a new covenant. He entered the heavenly temple, in the presence of God Himself, to appear on our behalf. He presented the sacrifice of Himself, once and for all, never to be repeated, to put away sin, forever. Hebrews 9:11-28

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:19-23

Jesus, alone, brings us into the presence of God. No other human being, place, performance, or event brings us into the presence of God. Only Jesus brings us there, through His own blood, sacrificed for our sin. If we have received Christ, we have direct access to the throne room, the heavenly temple. We don’t invite God into our presence. How can the God Who is present everywhere be invited anywhere? We have been granted access through Christ, alone.

In reality, this takes the pressure off of us. Cleansed by the blood of Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness. In worship, we just need to draw near to God. And we can do so with confidence and assurance because we are not paving the way with our righteousness or performance. The debt is paid and the way has been paved through Christ. So, the singing was bad this week – draw near! I did not like the sermon – draw near! The sound system is feeding back, again – draw near! I don’t like this song – draw near! I yelled at my wife or kids before the service – draw near! I am so fearful in my circumstances – draw near! I am struggling to believe God – draw near! I fell into sin, again – draw near! Draw near!

God is inviting us to draw near and He says we can do this with confidence. Coming into the presence of God has nothing to do with our righteousness, our performance, our surroundings, or our circumstance. It has everything to do with Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. As believers, we are in God’s presence, seated in heavenly places, through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:4-7). The next time you pray, come to a worship service, or just live your everyday life, just remember that you don’t have to invite, obtain, or find the presence of God. If you are a follower of Christ, you are in His presence. Jesus has provided our access into the very throne room of God. The Father is calling. Let us draw near and worship Him.

Together for His glory…

Giving Us Himself: God-Centered Worship, Part 2

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)  Continuing with where we left off last week, we are exploring what it means to have God-centered worship. Let’s jump in.

All things are from God. The apostle Paul states this clearly in the passage above. This is a simple statement that many followers of Christ would agree with, for, of course, God is our creator. He has created and given us all things. He provides for our needs, etc. However, when it comes to worship and acknowledging the work of God, I think it goes far beyond what most of us have in mind. Or maybe I should say, the way we practically live this out.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

God is our sustainer. God is the constant maintainer of all existence in the universe. He is at all times aware of everything – whether large or microscopic, audible or inaudible, visible or invisible. He is at all times holding all things together and making them exist (Colossians 1:17). If God removes his hand or “blinks”, we stop breathing. The universe dissolves or unravels. Nothing can exist or continue to exist apart from God’s will.

God is sovereign over all. There is nothing that slips through His fingers and happens behind His back or catches Him off guard. He rules the universe with perfect wisdom and knowledge. There is nothing that He does not know. No person or thing exists apart from His will. He uses everything to accomplish His will in the universe and in the lives of every person. Masterfully, He weaves the tapestry of our lives, using all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He takes the tragedy and devastation caused by sin and somehow creates beauty and restoration in the lives of those He created and sustains. And He bore the entire penalty for that sin and devastation through Jesus Christ. Our very lives and salvation are a gift of His love and grace.

God is a giver. He is the Giver. When we worship, there is nothing we bring that was not first given to us. There is nothing that we bring that we even own, whether it is money, talent, or praise. We are simply returning to God what is His in the first place. All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. When we give our lives to Him and receive His gift of salvation, we come because we have been drawn by God (John 6:44). We cannot earn our salvation through any work or effort of our own – it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even the works that we do for Christ and the kingdom are prepared in advance by God (Ephesians 2:10). When we love God or others, it is because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). When we serve, we are offering back the talents and spiritual gifts He has given to us.

Therefore, much like the analogy I used last week, when we offer anything to God, we are actually giving back to Him what He already owns. As Paul said in Acts 17:24-25, God needs nothing. We cannot give Him anything that would increase what He owns. We cannot say anything to Him or do anything for Him that increases His worth or value. We worship a God that is self-sufficient and lacking nothing. So, why do we worship? What can we possibly say or do that is of any worth or value to God?

Oh, my friends, in our self-sufficient and self-focused world, we have lost the simplicity and wonder of what God has for us. We have allowed what we offer to God in worship to become an end in itself, when God has something so much greater for us. What God wants to give us in worship is Himself. It was never about what we bring to Him. As God has revealed Himself throughout the ages, this life was never intended to produce a group of adherents to a pile of rules and regulations. It was intended to produce wonder and delight. It was for the purpose of finding delight in the only One Who can satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls.

Our offerings to Him were intended to be a response to the wonder of Who God is and what He has done in Jesus Christ. Obedience was meant to magnify the holiness of God and protect us from the ravages of our own sinful nature so that we could enjoy the wonder of fellowship with God. As we come to Him and offer ourselves, He pours out even more of Himself for us to see. When we sink our roots into His Word, we gain greater insight into what has been done for us in Christ. As we trust Him in our victories and battles and sorrows of life, God meets us. He gives and gives and gives. He works in us to transform us into the image of His Son. God is waiting to give us the greatest gift – Himself. May we come to Him and drink deeply.

Together for His glory…

It Begins and Ends with Him: God-Centered Worship, Part 1

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

When our kids were younger, we would occasionally help them buy Christmas gifts for each other. We would also help them by gifts for my wife and me. Other years, there were a lot of homemade gifts. The kids did not work and so they, of course, did not have money of their own to buy gifts or the materials to make gifts. My wife would go with them to buy gifts for me and each other. I would take them to buy gifts for her. The kids enjoyed this, I think. They were able to pick out something special for each other or for us, even though they really had no resources of their own to do so.

As we progress on this journey together, I will be discussing several foundational principles which I feel are essential to worship that is biblical. These ideas do not originate with me. For one, I would hope that principles for biblical worship would be, well, biblical – grounded in Scripture. That would seem to make sense. In addition, I have had the privilege of listening to and reading the works of godly people through the years. As they search the Scriptures and seek God’s wisdom, these wise individuals have helped me grow in my understanding of worship. Or, as the case may be, grow in my understanding of how much I don’t really know. Either way, I don’t claim that these will be my original concepts or ideas on worship. I just hope to faithfully share what God has taught me.

One of the foundational principles for biblical worship is that it is to be God-centered. This may seem obvious. In theory, yes, this may be true. However, I think if we evaluated our lives of worship, we would often find that it is more self-centered than God-centered. If we consider all of the attention and money focused on preferences related to styles of worship, worship marketing, and catering worship services to appeal to certain demographics or target audiences, it would seem that God and the gospel can get lost in there somewhere. I am not saying that styles or target audiences are unimportant issues, but they are not foundational. They come further down the line in importance and should flow from a solid foundation of worship built on biblical principles.

In the story I shared at the beginning, I provided an analogy of a God-centered approach. My children were given the opportunity to buy a Christmas gift for me. However, they were using my money to buy me a gift. They received from me in order to give back to me. It was through the resources I had provided for them that they were able to offer something to me. So, in the end, they were giving something to me that was already mine. It had never really been theirs in the first place. Yet, in the process, they were able to experience the joy of sharing and giving because of the resources I had provided to them.

Romans 11:36 is a great snapshot of this God-centered worship. From Him: He is our great provider. He is the creator of all things. All power and wisdom come from Him. All that we have belongs to God. He gives to us according to our needs. Through Him: He is the sovereign God. He is our refuge and sustainer. Christ is author and finisher of our faith. He is our mediator before the Father. He enables us to serve and worship Him. To Him: He alone is deserving of glory and praise. He is the recipient our praise and we reflect His glory back to Him through our worship.

In other words, our life of worship begins with God, is enabled by God, and is for God. He provides all that we need in order to know and worship Him. He makes our worship possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As believers, we come into His presence clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He quenches our spiritual hunger and thirst. He enables us to find in Him the greatest joy available in the universe – knowing Christ. As we go through the next few weeks, I will expand on these to try and help us get a better picture of what this means in our lives and worship. For now, let us remember that if our focus in worship is on what we can produce, that is all we will get. If our focus is on God and what He offers to us, we will receive from Him a greater and lasting joy.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” 1 Peter 1:8

Together for His glory…

We Were Made for This

The alarm goes off. My arm quickly moves to snooze it before it wakes up my wife. I sigh (or groan). Why does morning come so early? My mind turns to what is next (if I stay awake). Depending on which day it is, my schedule is different. Some days, I head downtown to my job in the city. Some days, I go into church for the day.

So, as I eventually turn off the alarm, my mind starts to run through what the day will hold. Depending on the day of the week, there are different levels of anticipation or lack thereof. So, I swing my stiff and crackling body out of bed and start moving toward the first task. I usually wake up pretty groggy, not overwhelmed with eagerness and expectation. As my day progresses, I find that I can frequently navigate the day without a much sense intentionality or purpose. That is not to say that I don’t strive to do my tasks well or set a good example. However, I can just go methodically through the day, checking things off my list and dealing with things as they come. My focus can easily become getting through the day and not on the purpose for the day that I have been given. Can you relate at all?

Did you know that you and I were made with a purpose? We are not just random results of chance or human reproduction. We were created with purpose and each day we are given comes with a purpose. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this purpose in the response to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This answer is based on continuous references throughout Scripture. I have included just a few here. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11). “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11).

We have been created for the glory of God and in His presence is fullness of joy – not just a little joy, but fullness, richness, and completeness of joy. This means that each day I open my eyes, I have a purpose – to glorify God and to enjoy God. Whatever else is on my list for the day is secondary to this. Whatever else is on my agenda should flow through and out of this purpose. I have heard the statement before that someone “was so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” Personally, I think this statement is neither Biblical nor true. For when we become heavenly minded, with our heart and mind set on God and His work in our lives, it is only then that all of the rest of our lives can truly come into proper focus (Colossians 3:1-4). Our lives and daily tasks become a life of worship (Romans 12:1-2) and in the midst of this, we find joy in God.

This does not mean that life does not come with challenges, hardships, and sorrows. However, in the midst of these, we can continue to live a life of worship as we seek to bring glory to God and receive joy from Him. This is truly a gift and only possible by the hand of God, through life in Jesus Christ. As we focus our gaze on the wonder of Christ and yield to His work in our lives by the Holy Spirit, God will transform us day by day, As we sink our roots deep into Christ and the Word of God, our desires will become more like His and we will not be satisfied so often with cheap imitations offered by the world. We will hunger more for things that are eternal.

As it is, I find that I am often satisfied with less than what God has offered to me. C.S. Lewis put it this way. “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory, 1942). This will be a constant struggle, but the battle is worth it. Let’s not be so easily pleased. Let’s hold fast to our hope in Christ and continue to spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). May we pursue lives of worship, finding satisfaction in our God as we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. It was for this that we were created.

Together for His glory…

Do I Love You More Than Before?

I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. We have both changed over the years. Our relationship has changed. Our roles have adjusted and shifted during our years together. We are several years older. It is just not the same as it used to be.

We met when we were in 7th grade. I was interested in her from the first time I saw her, but we attended different school districts, so I did not see her that often. In high school, she started attending our church. We knew each other on a surface level until we reached our junior year of high school, which is when we started dating. Our relationship was very serious from the beginning. By the spring of our junior year, we had already discussed marriage. By our senior year, we had started discussing timelines. My father, seeing where this was all going, said he wanted us to wait to get married until we had finished two years of college, which we agree to do. We set the wedding date for the weekend following finals of our sophomore year!

Our dating and engaged years had been filled with time spent together, going on dates, spending time with family, church and youth group events, and many phone conversations. The first two years of college were spent in different parts of the state, so there had been many letters, cards, and phone calls (and phone bills – before cell phones). About every four or five weeks, I would make the drive across the state. We would spend every second possible with each other. As the wedding drew near, I started coming back every other week. I could not stay away. Then, we were married, and things began to change.

Life happened. Our first son was born. I graduated college. I attended seminary. Our second son was born. I worked in ministry. I left seminary. Our third son was born. We returned home to St. Louis. We lived with parents. I worked various jobs. We moved out on our own. Then, we lived with parents again. We moved out again. After nine moves in thirteen years, we finally lived in the same home for over fifteen years, until we moved back in with my dad. I worked the same job for 25 years, while working in ministry also. My wife home-schooled all of our children. Two of our sons went to college, graduated, and got jobs. Our first grandson was born. Two of our sons were married. And so life continued.

As I said, things in our relationship were changing during these years. You may think I mean that they changed for the worse, but that is not the case. Oh, we had, and have, periods of struggle and distance in our life and relationship together. However, as the years have passed, our relationship has grown deeper – richer. There are times of backtracking, but we have eventually been guided and worked through those things and move forward. So, today, I can honestly say that I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. I love her far more.

We have weathered trials, uncertainty, failings, and sorrows together. We have celebrated victories, joys, and many special moments together. I have seen her giftedness, compassion, and giving spirit displayed on a level that I could only hope to duplicate. She has endured with me when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. She knows me better than any other human being on this planet, and she loves me anyway. I can be a royal pain to live with. I have a personality that can be annoying and flat out depressing. I have a tone (so I have been told) that can come across as very critical, especially with those I am the most comfortable with. Cheryl sees more of this than anyone. Yet, she still loves me and puts up with me. And Cheryl, my love, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose you, every time.

Our love for each other is great, but it is limited and imperfect. There is a love far greater – a perfect love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).  In Philippians 3:1-11, the apostle Paul speaks of the exceeding greatness of knowing Christ and that there is nothing else in life that can even compare with it. Jesus Christ bore the punishment and shame that belonged to us. He took upon Himself the judgment of the Father for my sin and your sin – the sin of every human being that has lived, is living, and will ever live. He also bore the pain of our sorrows and suffering – every evil that is the result of sin (Isaiah 53:4-6). The weight of it all was placed on Him on the cross. Just the sorrow and weight of anticipation of the cross was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:36). Any sin we have sinned and any pain or sorrow we have suffered – Christ bore them all. He endured it all for the glory of the Father and to provide our redemption. He died to save us and set us free.

So, the question I ask myself is how well do I know Jesus today? Do I love Him more than when I first started on my journey with Him? Have I taken advantage of the time I have been given to grow in knowledge of Who He is and what He has done in my life? Can I say, with the apostle Paul, that I consider everything else a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ? That is pretty tough stuff. That is a pretty high standard and regardless of how I answer this question right now, it also provides motivation for me to continue the journey. Because what Paul is saying is that I will find no greater joy and satisfaction in life than through knowing and following Christ. It is to my advantage, as a follower of Christ, to pursue Him. And the more I know of Christ, the more I will love Him and want to become more like Him. Christ, working and dwelling in me, will transform me.

I love my wife more now because of the journey we have traveled together and because she knows me even better than at the start, and yet still loves me. That makes her more precious to me. Jesus Christ knows everything about me and, in love, drew me to Himself so that I would reach out my hand to Him. He saved me and is renewing me daily into His image. He never grows in knowledge of me. He knew me completely before I was born, and loved me still. I, however, can grow in knowledge of Him through His Word and His work in my life. And as I grow in knowledge of God’s glory and holiness, I better understand how far from that I am. I become more aware of how amazing and unbelievable the love of Christ is. I understand more clearly how hopeless I would be without Him. I am grateful for His mercy to me, a sinner. I know that I have so much more to learn, but I want to know Him better because as each page of discovery opens before my eyes, it is better than the one before. If we open our eyes, God will never cease to amaze us – every day and for all eternity.

Do I love Him more than I once did? I would like to think so. Only God really knows. I long to know and love Him more because I know that is where true joy and satisfaction is found. Let us spur one another on to a greater knowledge and love of our great Savior.

Together for His glory…

What Do I Treasure?

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)

Our youngest son, Caleb, was born with Down Syndrome. His birth changed the course of our lives, literally. As parents, we have learned many things through the lives of all of our sons.  We love each of them deeply and we do not love one more than any of the others. However, there is uniqueness to Caleb’s life that God has often used to demonstrate certain truths to me.

I have often wondered what life would be like in this world if everyone was as satisfied with life as Caleb. For much of his life, we lived in smaller homes, without a lot of possessions. We don’t travel or go out to eat a lot. Yet, the majority of his life, you would think Caleb is the richest man in the world. This is not to say that he never wants something that he doesn’t have, isn’t ever disagreeable, doesn’t get upset when his schedule gets changed, or is sometimes as stubborn as a mule! These things do happen. However, most of the time, he is more satisfied with less than any person I have ever known.

Most of us would not consider grocery days a big deal. Years ago, when we had just one car, I would pick up the groceries on my way home. As I was bringing groceries into the kitchen, he would help unpack them and put them away. “Cereal!” “Cookies!” “Broccoli!” “Milk!” You would have thought it was Christmas morning from his response to every item pulled from the bags – simple enjoyment in simple things.

Caleb has his TV and ESPN. He loves to watch his sports. He will frequently listen to his music, while drumming the air with sticks or playing my old guitar, while also watching sports, muted on his TV. However, he is also content to sit and draw or paint or copy the lyrics to worship songs he loves. He has endless copies of lyrics and original designs of our “dream house” and his “man-room.”

He and my wife used to clean a church building together, where he would vacuum for several hours. He never seemed bored and he looked forward to it as one of his days of the week. He delights in his birthday. As soon as one is over, he starts talking about what he wants to do on the next one. He loves to help serve communion at church and also helps as a greeter. Someday, he says, he wants to be on the worship team. As Caleb likes to say, “This is the life.” So we did not go on a vacation this year. Instead, we sat together as a family, had popcorn and watched a movie on DVD at home. Isn’t life great? Caleb sure thinks so.

However, I find that I am frequently not so content with the life God has given to me. What does it take to satisfy my heart? Does it take reaching a certain level of income? Do I need to drive a certain kind of car? Does it require a bigger home? Does it require me to go on one or two vacations each year? Maybe material things are not what take hold of my heart. Maybe my satisfaction comes from making sure everyone knows that I am right. Does it come from receiving the approval of others? Or does it come from going to a church where they do everything just the way I like it, whether it is programs, preaching style, or music? There are so many things in life that can take hold of us and steer the course of our lives. In of themselves, there may be nothing evil about these things and many more that I did not mention. They can all be a wonderful gift from God. However, as shown in Scripture, the gifts of God can frequently become idols in our lives.

Jesus was clear. No one can serve two masters. No one. If obtaining anything else than Christ becomes the driving force in my life, then, according to Jesus, I am not serving Him. I am serving whatever that other thing is. I am worshiping it because I have valued it more than Christ. In reality, I am worshiping myself because I have placed my wants and desires above the desires of God for my life. I have placed myself on the throne. How easily and quickly this can happen in our lives. I find it to be a constant battle in my life. Instead of beholding the wonder of Christ and all that we have in Him, I become engulfed in my own self pursuits and desires. Instead of worshiping Christ and being transformed into His image, I allow myself to be satisfied by cheap substitutes, which never satisfy for long and have little or no eternal value.

Our lives are so cluttered with many things. We place so much importance on finding those things which will bring us happiness. Yet, there is a simple peace and joy that comes from being satisfied in Christ. When our gaze is fixed on Christ, everything else comes into proper focus. For then, we truly worship and our lives and priorities flow out of that worship and satisfaction. Our son, Caleb, values the simple things in life and he delights in them. Many of the trappings of life do not faze him, mostly because he does not understand them. He has the mind of a child in a man’s body. However, didn’t Jesus say to come to Him like a child? There is joy in simplicity. Simple trust. Simple life. Simple joys. Simply treasuring Christ, our Savior, and trusting Him for each moment of each day. This life is a gift. If we are in Christ, we have true life, for it is not just for our brief days on earth, but for eternity in glory with Christ. This is the life.

Together for His glory…