Not the Messiah They Were Looking For

As a young Christian, I wondered why Jesus came incognito, so to speak. Why didn’t He go on a hilltop or to the temple and proclaim Himself: “I am the Messiah you’ve been waiting for all these years!”

There may be a variety of reasons. But in my current I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time through the Bible, I happen to be in John after having read the other three gospels. I’ve enjoyed going over all of Christ’s life on earth during the month of December, not just the “Christmas” portions. I’m using the ESV Study Bible, and its notes often remark that Jesus did not declare Himself openly because most of the Jews at that time were expecting a military ruler who would throw off Roman oppression. Several times in the gospels Jesus had to get away from the crowds because they wanted to make Him king immediately. Some, Jesus said, followed Him because of the loaves of bread He miraculously reproduced in the feeding of the 5,000.

There is a sense in which Jesus does fulfill all those roles already. He is the King of Kings, and some day the whole world will be under His righteous rule. Someday the crooked will be made straight and rights will be wronged. But these roles will be fully manifested at His second coming.

And there is a sense in which we do depend on Jesus for our daily bread and all other needs. But, as He told the crowds then:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26-29, ESV).

Before He could declare Himself openly, He had to teach them the true nature of the Messiah. By many signs (miracles), by His claims (“I am the bread of Life,” “I am the light of the world,” etc.), by His declarations and teachings, bit by bit He showed them exactly who He was and what He was about. And some understood and accepted Him for who He was. They came to understand that His kingdom is a spiritual one.

But some left Him when he started to share “hard things.” Others realized He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah would be and do, they rejected Him and sought to destroy Him.

Don’t people still do that today? Instead of learning from God’s Word the true nature of the Savior, they’ve imagined their own version of what a Savior would be like. He wouldn’t let evil happen. He’d take care of the bad guys. He’d answer every prayer just the way they want Him to. And when He doesn’t perform according to expectations, well, then, who needs Him?

We all need Him. But we need Him as He truly is, not as we think He should be. Even those of us who are Christians, even those of us who have been for a long time, still have to continually “renew our minds” and adjust our thinking according to truth. We come to know Him as Savior and Lord, but then we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better and adjusting ourselves away from our preconceived notions and expectations and toward who He really is. And we’re not disappointed, because in the end He’s a much better Savior than we could ever have imagined.

Do you know Him today as He truly is? Get to know Him through His Word. If you’re new to the Bible, start reading the gospel of John. See what He does and what He says about Himself.

And if you’ve known Him for years, keep getting to know Him better. Keep learning more and more what a wonderful Savior He is.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)


There is no one right way to celebrate Christmas

Traditions help make holidays special. We look forward to the things we “always” do, the seasonal foods, events, activities, decorations.

But as busy as everyday life is, adding in all the holiday extras can increase pressure. Every year brings tips about managing Christmas. But this year I have seen a new emphasis, calling for a more minimalist approach to the holidays: less spending, less decorating, less going and doing.

Most of us truly appreciate finding ways to reduce pressure. We shouldn’t keep doing things just because that’s what we’ve always done. It might be best to discard traditions that have become burdensome rather than joyful or rotate some so that we’re not overwhelmed.

But some of the posts I have read on this topic cause me to fear a new judgmentalism, a looking down on those who don’t do less.

If a minimalist approach appeals to you, that’s fine. But the person who enjoys putting out all 32 pieces of a Christmas village because she loves the way they look and she remembers the people who gifted her with the pieces one by one through the years shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

What everyone does for Christmas depends on how many people are in the family, how much time, energy, and money is available, personal preferences, etc.

One person likes to put out just a handful of decorations. Another likes to display every Christmas item she has accumulated for 30 years or put trees of various sizes in every room.

One family’s Christmas dinner might look like any other meal, with the exception of pumpkin pie for dessert. Another likes to go all out with special dishes for the season.

One family prefers no gifts or a gift to a charity in their name. Another saves up for months or shops all year for gifts.

Some like to hit all the Christmas performances and events they can. Others prefer quiet nights at home by the fire with hot chocolate and Christmas movies. Most of us are somewhere in-between.

None of these is wrong one way or the other.

Most of us find that some traditions change through the years. We’ve added some and discarded others over time. We made Christmas cookies when my sons were young. Then one year we just didn’t get to it – but no one seemed to notice. We have so many sweets that time of year, we didn’t suffer for not having cookies. But with a young grandson now, it’s fun to revive that tradition. We used to do a birthday cake for Jesus mainly for the kids to remember Whose birthday it was. But in later years we stopped. One year we had an elementary Christmas piano recital on Monday night, a high school piano recital Tuesday, church on Wednesday night, an elementary school Christmas program Thursday night, and a high school Christmas program Friday night. That week was probably bookended by Christmas cantatas and children’s Christmas programs at church on Sundays. Talk about exhausting. Fun, but exhausting. Thankfully our church and school adjusted their calendars after that. But in those years of so much to attend, we didn’t go to many community events. Since our kids are grown, we have been able to venture out and try a few new things. Some have laid aside the tradition of Christmas cards and family newsletters, but I will determinedly keep sending them as long as I can because I enjoy both sending and receiving greetings

The point is, there is no one right way to celebrate Christmas. We have to be careful that we don’t impose the solutions we find for our family onto everyone else. It’s up to each family or individual to assess all the factors involved and decide what works best.

We can commemorate the birth of our Savior in many ways. Let’s not judge each other on how we do it. Let’s just each work on keeping the focus of Christmas where it ought to be: remembering that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday,Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

The Fatal Flaw

“If you look for the fatal flaw, you’ll find it.”

I remember a Sunday School teacher saying this in our adult class over thirty years ago, but I don’t remember the context or what we were studying at the time. His point, though, was that none of us is perfect and even the best of us has feet of clay. He was not promoting nitpicking and fault-finding; he was encouraging realism.

That saying has come back to mind many times in recent years with the advent of social media: some people use their online voice primarily for airing their for fault-finding. Sometimes one mistake is bandied about such that a person’s life or opportunity for further work or usefulness is destroyed.

Recently as I read an acquaintance’s impassioned but cryptic account of overcoming issues in her upbringing. I knew the family years ago, and the mother was a lovely woman, someone with several attributes I admired and wished I had. I’m not saying the daughter was right or wrong, but I wondered what could possibly be the problem. On the other hand, every individual family member has its flaws, resulting in the whole group being in real life something less than their perfect, smiling Instagram photos might suggest. I don’t think this is always a case of hypocrisy, though sometimes it is. Some families do hide dark secrets. But usually our collection of flaws is just real life.

As our faults bump against each other, it’s hard to know sometimes when and how to deal with them. Some sins are crimes and need to be reported as such. In cases of abuse, protection of the abused is the first order of business: then the abuser needs to face whatever punishment is due.

But with what we might call our less flagrant, more every-day flaws, we struggle with when to confront the other person, as Matthew 18 describes, and when to cover over each others faults in love (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). One former pastor suggested that when we have tried to overlook something another person keeps doing and it keeps bothering us, maybe that’s an indication that we need to have a talk about it.

It’s better to discuss issues with other people than to assume. And it’s better to address an issue than to seethe inwardly. Back in college the only microwaves in the dorm were in the snack room with the vending machines. We weren’t allowed any other kind of cooking in the rooms besides a “hot pot” for heating water for instant coffee. One particular roommate liked to use my hot pot for loose herbal teas. I didn’t mind that except that she’d forget to clean her tea out: so in the mornings when I made my coffee, I’d have to clean out her leftover tea with the leaves floating in it. I don’t know why I didn’t just speak to her about it. I could easily do so in the same situation now. But then I just (wrongly) fumed about it to myself.

It’s far better to confront the one person whose flaw is bothering us in some way than to gripe about it to everyone else. We need to consider how our words will hurt the other person and damage our relationship. Years ago Clearwater Christian College had a song on one of their CDs with a chorus that went like this:

You can tell the Lord all the things I’ve done
that didn’t seem right to you,
but don’t tell your neighbor ’cause
he can never give me the grace to see me through.
You can tell Him all about how weak I am
and pray that He’ll strengthen me–
you can talk about me any time you wanna
but please do it on your knees.

(Author unknown)

Sometimes dealing with a person’s flaw is the most merciful thing we can do. But we need to speak the truth in love.

We also have to consider whether we know the whole story and understand the other person’s context. A long time ago my husband was acting uncharacteristically short-tempered and irritable. Instead of asking what was wrong, I just got irritable back. When we finally did talk about it, he told me there were some issues going on at work, particularly with one man that seemed to have it out for him. He had been under tremendous pressure enduring all this and trying to figure out how to respond, but he didn’t share with me what was going on because he didn’t want me to be upset about it as well. In a “prodigal daughter” story I’m reading, the daughter saw her parents through a critical, rebellious lens that colored all their actions and motives. In later years when their relationship improved, she could see more clearly. She then understood them better and appreciated them and was able to discuss the one or two areas she did have problems with in a more constructive way

We need to remember that a person’s flaws are not the totality of his or her personality.

Some years ago one of my sons brought home a report card that was fine except for one low grade. He had evidently been bracing himself for my questioning of that grade, because, when I did, he exploded: “Why do you have to focus on the one grade that’s not good?” Well, because that’s the area where there is obviously a problem. So we need to see what the problem is: do you need help understanding, did you do the assignments, etc. His response did remind me, though, that I needed to praise the good marks and not just notice the one bad one.

When someone is wearing a white shirt with a black spot, the eye is naturally drawn to the black spot. Some of us just cannot rest when we notice something not “right”: we either have to do something about it, or we’re lost to all further conversation and interaction because we’re so distracted by the one thing wrong.

Yet we can’t handle people that way, or we’ll wreck all our relationships. We’re quick to defend ourselves with “Well, nobody’s perfect” when someone points out our flaws. Or we couch our traits in the best terms while casting the other person’s flaws in the worst. I’m persistent, but she’s stubborn. I have a take-charge personality: he’s bossy. We should instead be more generous with other people and more wary of our own elevated self-evaluation. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31).

We know not to expect perfection from other people, but we do. We react in anger, dismay, or disappointment when we come across their imperfections. We need to give them grace and make sure we understand where they’re coming from. We need to decide whether to deal with the issue in some way or overlook it, and we need to do either in love. We need to deal with others in hope for their best. We need to look at the whole person and not write them off because of one failing.  And we need to realize our own flaws as well.

But most of all we need to remember how our gracious God deals with us.Just this morning as I sat down to have my quiet time with the Lord, I was in a snippy, irritable mood. I’m not sure why: I had not even been awake long enough for anything to influence me that way. But I confessed that to the Lord and told Him I had not one iota of goodness of my own and I needed to be filled with His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22). Then I opened my Daily Light on the Daily Path, and the very first verse was a phrase from Isaiah 62:4: “The Lord delighteth in thee.” In the midst of my sins, faults, and failure, He loves me and delights in me. My heart melted.

Jesus died so that all our sins could be forgiven when we believe on Him. He has forgiven us so much more than anything we need to forgive others for. When we’re filled with His love, we can see others’ faults in perspective and love them in spite of them.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

The Potter’s Loving Care

We walked into church one morning to see the entire platform covered with plastic sheeting and a potter’s wheel in the middle of the stage. One of our missionary deputees was planning to go to a country closed to the gospel. He and his wife were gifted artists and planned to use their skills to work in the country, establish relationships, and and look for ways share the gospel. He was going to actually throw some clay on the wheel that morning and bring out some parallels to God as a potter.

We get that imagery of God as a potter from a few passages in Scripture. Isaiah 29:16Jeremiah 18:1-12, and Romans 9:20-21 assert God’s right to do as He will with the vessels He made and the ludicrousness of the vessel answering back or questioning the potter. In Isaiah 64, the people understand that they are under deserved judgment for their sin, but they issue a plaintive appeal in verse 8, reminding God “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

An experienced potter’s hand are skillful and sure. The potter, in his wisdom, know just how much pressure to exert where in order to make the shape he has in mind. He wants to make a vessel that’s useful but also pleasing. He has nothing but the best results in mind for the vessel. This particular potter, Mickey, wanted to make excellent and beautiful vases and vessels not only to open doors of ministry, but to reflect his own Creator. Many potters have a distinct style: one can see certain vessels and sculptures and know at a glance who made them. Our Creator wants the vessels He makes to reflect His own glory, not because He “needs” to be glorified, but because it’s by beholding His glory that we’re changed to be more like Him.

But the one picture that stood out the most to me at this demonstration, the one that had not occurred to me in any thoughts of potters, was what Mickey called the intimacy with with he shaped his vessel. He pointed out that the wheel and vessel were practically in his lap, he was bent over it, and both hands were shaping it. His attention was riveted and almost his whole body was involved, surrounding the vessel he was shaping in the closest proximity.

What a picture of our Father’s attention and care as He shapes us! He’s not “watching us from a distance,” as one song used to say. He’s up close, surrounding us, intimately involved in every detail of our shaping.

The pressure the potter exerted on the clay might not feel good, if the clay could feel. But that pressure is necessary to shape the clay into something besides a useless lump.

It’s comical to think of a piece of clay standing up to talk back to the potter, to ask him if he’s sure he knows what he’s doing, to make suggestions. And yet we’re prone to do just that.

How we need to just yield to His wise, skillful, and loving hands.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)



Love Costs

Looking up a reference from a book I was reading, I found myself in Isaiah 58. It’s one of a few chapters in Isaiah that I was somewhat familiar with, but I wanted to look at the referred-to verses in context.

The first twelve verses deal with fasting, a subject about which I know very little. I have low blood sugar problems, so any attempt at fasting ends for me before 10 a.m., if not before, with shaky hands, lightheaded brain, and other issues. But in this chapter Israel is wondering why God had not noticed or responded to their fasting. God pointed out their wrong motives and actions. The kind of fast God wanted them to observe looked more like this:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (verses 8-9, ESV).

To be perfectly honest, I’m still working on what verse 8 means. But verse 9 immediately made me think of my mother-in-law’s need of caregiving. I know that’s not specifically what this verse is speaking about, but there are corresponding elements: taking someone into your home, feeding them from your own bread, covering them, not hiding from their need. Verse 10 mentions “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted.”

True fasting, then, was not so much a ceremonial observance as a giving from one’s own stores to minister to another. Giving til it hurts, so to speak.

When a repentant David went to build an altar to the Lord and someone kindly offered to give him everything he needed to do so, David responded, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.

A widow was asked to give her last food to a prophet. The “Good Samaritan” went out of his way and spent his own time and money to minister to a stranger. Paul told the Corinthians he would “very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” Paul also speaks of trials, beating, shipwrecks, various dangers in the course of his ministry, not the least of which was “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Throughout the Bible we see that ministering to another costs something, culminating in the biggest sacrifice of all when God the Father gave His Son, who willingly laid down His life on the cross.

There are tidy, simple ways to give. A pledge here, a check there, a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Those aren’t wrong. They’re made possible by hard-earned cash, so they’re costly. Individuals and organizations depend on that kind of support.

But sometimes God wants us to get our hands dirty. Sometimes He wants us in the thick of it.

So then what? We give until, like a leaky balloon, we end up a crumpled, empty mess on the floor?

No. Isaiah 58 goes on to list, among other results:

Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Verses 10b-11, ESV)

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is not a “prosperity gospel” proof text: it follows admonitions about forgiving and not judging and condemning. The point is, you reap what you sow. But you can’t outgive God.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13, ESV). We think of this as dying for someone, and there is certainly no greater love than giving one’s life for another. But I wonder if there is a sense in which that’s also true of laying down one’s life day by day in the service of another. Jesus demonstrated both kinds of love: the daily pouring Himself out for others as well as laying down His life.

The purpose of this post is not about fasting or caregiving. It’s about the truth that loving others and ministering to them doesn’t always come about in the ways we’d most prefer. It’s often messy and costly.  But “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8, KJV). God continues to water our garden as we give out of it.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

Don’t Plug In: Abide


In our era, we’re used to plugging technology in to recharge. We have to bring power cords on trips and search for a place to plug in. We keep an eye on our phone so it doesn’t conk out on us at important moments. Our vocabulary has grown to include phrases like “recharging our batteries” when we need rest or refreshment or “plugging into” a power source. Some have even used the latter in connection with God and His power and provision.

In yesterday’s reading from Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she notes the differences between plugging in and abiding.

Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Joni comments:

We don’t get charged up in God in order to unplug and live on our own–until it’s time for the next charge. No. We never disconnect from Him. We are living branches connected to the living Christ. His life is our life.

Then, in probably the best definition for abiding that I think I have heard, Joni says:

Abiding is living in constant awareness of total dependence on Jesus. It involves a constant flow of life-giving sap from the Holy Spirit–not a spiritual charge that takes us up to 80 percent. Abiding in Christ is a 100 percent relationship.

It’s true that the Bible likens God’s Word to spiritual food, and our relationship with God, our love for Him, and our Christian character all grow as we spend time in the Bible. Our time in the Word of God helps cultivate that awareness of our dependence on Him. But we don’t, as Joni notes, “sit down for our quiet time and ask ourselves, How long do I have to be plugged into God today to get a good spiritual charge?

No, once we believe on Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we’re a vine connected to His branch. His life flows through us. He doesn’t charge us up and then us send us off to live independently til we need another charge. We don’t have to worry about becoming disconnected to Him. He’s always with us, constantly empowering us to live for Him.

I need your presence every passing hour.
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1847

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)


Don’t lose the individual in the community

The last few years have seen a marked increase in discussion of and emphasis on Christian community. Perhaps it has been spurred by the continual drop in church attendance or the tendency, in America at least, toward individualism.

God has ordained that we operate withing the realm of Christian community, meeting together regularly, sharpening each other, practicing all those Biblical “one anothers” on each other.

I’m thankful for Christian community. I love singing in church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I love group Bible studies and the way that discussion there stimulates my own thinking. I so appreciate being able to share prayer requests and burdens with others in the family of God. I don’t know how many times someone has shared a word of encouragement or conviction at just the right moment. I appreciate that God uses other people to sandpaper off my rough edges, though I don’t enjoy the process.

But I wonder if sometimes we lose the individual in the group. A few years ago a Christian leader wrote that “We will not know God, change deeply, nor win the world apart from community.” I disagreed. Though God uses community in each of those ways, the first two occur for me most often when alone with God. Recently I saw on Twitter a retweeted comment that we should change the pronouns in our hymnbooks and Christian songs from “I” and “me” to “our” and “we.” That particularly struck me because our church has been reading through the psalms together, and I had noticed over and over again that, though they were meant to be sung together, most of the psalms speak of individual experience. We don’t need to deemphasize our individual experience with God to reinforce the idea that we’re a group. Instead, we share with each other what God did for us individually, for the psalmist or songwriter or preacher or church member,  so that we encourage each other as we go back out into our individual lives that God will help us in the same way. An article I read which shared ways to incorporate Bible reading and study offered among its suggestions that of reading or studying with another person. Though studying the Bible with someone else is a great thing to do, it shouldn’t replace time alone in God’s Word.

We can’t imagine a family in which the father relates to the children just as a group and never one-to-one. Though we enjoy much time spent together as a family, we know that our father loves each of us, with all our foibles and quirks, individually. We know that we can talk to our father alone and ask for help or advice.

The same is true in our spiritual life. We shouldn’t worship or pray or read the Bible only with other people, as great as those experiences are.

God formed us individually. We’re born again individually. When we stand before God some day, we’ll give account only of ourselves. In-between those events, there will be times we have to stand alone. David encouraged himself in the Lord when everyone was against him. Joseph stood true and faithful to God when forsaken by his brothers, torn from his family, thrust into a new living experience foreign to everything he had grown up with and opposed to everything he believed. Notice in the psalms how many times the writer speaks of communing with God alone, remembering God’s kindness while lying awake at night. In Psalm 107, amidst the description of what God has done for the nation, the psalmist notes that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Soul – singular. We’re not lost in the crowd. God sees us, loves us, and meets our personal, individual needs.

God is our Father: we need to get to know Him personally. God has blessed us with the gift of community, but that doesn’t replace our personal relationship with Himself. We need to feed on His Word and speak to Him ourselves. There will be times we have to stand alone, times when no one else is near to support or advise or lean on. When that happens, we find that He is more than sufficient for every need.

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)


What is worship?

We often hear about “worship wars” concerning whether the singing at church should be contemporary or traditional, hymn or praise song, choir or worship team.

But what I wonder is: how did we come to associate worship just with the singing at church? And how did we come to decide that the worship at church was good or not depending on how we felt afterward? We can worship via singing, but is worship just singing? And, for that matter, is worship just done at church, when we attend a “worship service?” defines worship as:

  • reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
  • formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage
  • adoring reverence or regard

Years ago I heard a preacher define worship as “worth-ship,” thinking about and ascribing to God His worth. Someone else said something to the effect that God does not “need” our worship, but we need to give it to Him.

I decided to to a study of the word “worship” in the Bible. Let me hasten to say that such a study is just the beginning of a study of worship. There are passages where worship occurs, but that particular word is not used (many of the psalms, for example). There are synonyms to worship: I wondered, for instance, whether “praise” is an element of worship or a synonym. I didn’t take the time at this point to look up the Greek and Hebrew words for worship. I did look up many of these verses in context and found that often the whole chapter they were in was an expansion of what occurred in worship. I just searched through the ESV and not other translations. So, again, this is not a complete study or “the last word” in what worship means and involves. But it was an enlightening start.

I don’t think you’d want me to reproduce all eight pages of notes I accumulated here, but here is some of what I found.

Instruction regarding worship (not including OT ceremonial worship):

  • Don’t worship any other gods. Exodus 34:13-15, Deuteronomy. 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:13-17; 32:15-20; Psalm 97:7; Jeremiah 25:3-6; multitudes of other places
  • Worship only the one true God. Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:7-8; Revelation 14:7
  • Turn from sin. Jeremiah 25:3-6
  • “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” 1 Chronicles 16:29-30a; Psalm 29 and 96
  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
  • Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28:29

Who worshiped when (not including OT ceremonial worship):

  • Abraham’s servant when God answered his prayer for Isaac’s wife. Genesis 24:25-27
  • The children of Israel when they heard that God sent Moses to deliver them. Exodus 4:30-31
  • At the institution of the Passover: Exodus 12:26-28
  • When Moses went to speak to God: Exodus 33:9-11
  • Moses after seeing the Lord’s glory: Exodus 34:1-8
  • Jacob when blessing the sons of Joseph: Hebrews 11:21
  • Joshua on meeting the commander of the Lord’s army: Joshua 5:13-15
  • Gideon after hearing reassurance in the interpretation of a dream: Judges 7:14-16
  • Samuel’s father and family: 1 Samuel 1:3, 19
  • Samuel after being left with Eli: 1 Samuel 1:27-28
  • David after his child died: 2 Samuel 12:20
  • Dedication of temple: 2 Chronicles 7:1-3; Psalm 132:1-7
  • Jehoshaphat and Judah after God’s promise to fight for them: 2 Chronicles 20:18
  • When Hezekiah reestablished temple sacrifices, after first burnt offering: 2 Chronicles 29
  • First Passover after Israel returned to Jerusalem after exile: Ezra 6:19-22
  • When Ezra read the law: Nehemiah 8:5-7
  • Job after losing everything: Job 1:20
  • Wise men: Matthew 2
  • Disciples after Jesus walked on water and stilled the storm: Matthew 14:22-33
  • Man born blind: John 9
  • Women followers after resurrection: Matthew 28:1-10
  • Anna: Luke 2:36-38
  • Disciples after Jesus’ ascension: Luke 24:50-53
  • Disciples when Barnabas and Paul were set aside by the Holy Spirit for ministry: Acts 13:2
  • Lydia: Acts 16:14
  • Men of Athens: Acts 17: 22-34
  • Titius: Acts 18:7
  • Paul: Acts 24: 11, 14; 27:23
  • Israel: Acts 26:7; Romans 9:4
  • Visitor who is convicted: 1 Corinthians 14:24-25  
  • In the future: Egyptians: Isaiah 19:19-23; 27:13; Creatures in heaven: 24 elders (Rev. 4:10); elders (Rev. 5:14; 19:4); everyone (Rev. 5:14); angels, four living creatures (Revelation 7:9-12; 11:15-18; 19:4; Revelation 11:15-18); All nations: Rev. 15:4; In heaven: Revelation 22:3

Elements of worship:

  • Praise: too many references to list
  • Thanksgiving: ditto
  • Awe: ditto
  • Singing: 2 Chronicles 29:25-30; Psalm 96:1; Revelation 15:2-4 re God’s great deeds, His just and true ways, holiness, righteous acts
  • Cleansing, purifying: Ezra 6:19-22
  • Hearing the Word of God: Nehemiah 8:5-7; 9:1-8
  • Acknowledging who God is: Psalm 29:2, Psalm 96; Matthew 2 +; His holiness: Psalm 96:9; 99:5, 9 +, His exclusivity: Psalm 97:7 +;
  • Sacrifice, offerings, vows: Isaiah 19:21; Zephaniah 3:9-10
  • Amend ways, stop sin, disobedience, stubbornness: Jeremiah 7:1-3
  • Holiness: 1 Chronicles 16:29
  • Humility, truth: Zephaniah 3:9-13
  • Giving: Matthew 2
  • Fasting and prayer: Anna:  Luke 2:36-38; disciples: Acts 13:2
  • Joy, blessing God: Luke 24:50-53 +
  • Faith: John 9:38
  • In spirit and in truth: John 423-24; Philippians 3:3

The posture of worship

Interestingly, of the 15 times any posture is mentioned, 11 passages speak of bowing, often bowing the head, sometimes “bowed down with their faces to the ground.” The others speak of rising and standing (Exodus 33:9-11; 2 Chronicles 20:19), falling to the ground or on one’s face (Joshua 5:14; 2 Chronicles 20: 18), kneeling (Psalm 95:6).

False worship

God warns against false worship multiple times in the Bible, usually involving idols or false gods, but also the sun, moon stars, planets, angels, other people, creatures (Romans 1:25), Satan (Matthew 4:9-10; Luke 4:7-8), the dragon and beast in Revelation. Wrong worship was often accompanied by sin, stubbornness, not listening to or obeying God’s Word (2 Kings 17:6-23; Jeremiah 7; 13:9-11), asceticism (Colossians 2:18), “murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:19-21). Also, the Pharisees were said to worship God in vain by teaching for commandments the doctrines of men (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:7). A few times people worshiped deceptively (Absalom: 2 Samuel 15:7-12; Jehu 2 Kings 10; Herod: Matthew 2:8).

I know that outlines and lists are not considered the best blog writing, but it seemed to me in this case to be the most efficient way to present a lot of information.

But this little (and again I stress, incomplete) study did reveal a few things to me. Worship can include singing, but it is more than singing. It can occur with others or alone. It can occur in joyous or grievous circumstances. It won’t always result in our feeling warm and fuzzy or revved up: often it is accompanied by a deep humility, repentance, changing one’s ways. Though emotions are involved, worship that honors God must be based on truth, thus involving the mind. And the turning from sin often mentioned indicates we worship with our will as well. The characteristics most often involved in worship are acknowledging who God is, what He is like, what He has done, and thanking and praising Him.

This brings to mind the last line of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Love Divine, A Loves Excelling”: “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Erwin Lutzer’s quote reminds me of warnings about the Pharisees worshiping God in vain: “Worship that is not based on God’s Word is but an emotional encounter with oneself”

And this quote from Archbishop William Temple (about whom I know nothing beyond this quote) seems to sum it up nicely: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his place.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth;

    yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
1 Chronicles 16:27-32, ESV
(See verses 8-36 for a stupendous example of worship)

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

Why should we sing?

I don’t go looking for posts about congregational singing, but a couple of blogs I follow comment on or link to blog posts on the topic fairly often.

The prevailing consensus is that congregational singing is declining. I have not noticed that myself, but apparently others have.

Naturally, people want to find the problem and fix it. A number of possible reasons for this decline have been proposed.

Some say that the congregation doesn’t sing as well since the advent of worship teams. Some blame this on the atmosphere seeming more like a concert than a church service. Others point blame at the number of instruments on stage, the loudness of the music, the singing of new songs that no one knows, the difficulty of some of those songs for a congregation to sing. Some have blamed the professionalism or the commitment to excellence of the musicians, because that makes us “average Joes” feel like we don’t measure up. Sadly, many churches are eliminating performed music (what we use to call “special music”) for these reasons. The most recent article I saw said the problem started way back even before the worship team advent, when churches had choirs that “drowned out” the congregation.

My own experience is limited, of course. We’ve only visited one church where I truly felt like the stage and musicians were set up for a concert rather than congregational singing. This church had a choir and a worship team, multicolored lighting, a stage covered with instruments. I don’t think any of that would have been insurmountable, though. The one main problem was that the songleader or worship leader never told us as a congregation when to join in or invited us to sing along. As we looked around to see whether others were singing, we noticed that some were and some were not. So we didn’t know quite what to do.

Most of my church experiences have involved one songleader on stage with a choir behind him, sometimes with musicians on stage or nearby, sometimes not. The choir helps keep the pace and provide the melody for those who might not know a song. I have never been in a church where the choir “drowned out” the congregational singing.

I have been in two churches where the songleader was an actual professional in the sense of having a PhD not just in music, but in voice. In both of those churches, the singing was robust. No one seemed to be intimidated by the professionalism of the leader and others in the choir and church. Ordinary, untrained people sang special music as well as the trained ones. So I don’t think professionalism in and of itself is a factor, or at least it shouldn’t be.

There is one factor, however, that overrides any problems with congregational singing: the fact that the Bible tells us we’re supposed to sing.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2, ESV

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Ephesians 5:18b-19, ESV

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, ESV

We shouldn’t use these verses as clubs to beat people over the head with their responsibility, but we should encourage each other to obey God in this respect. Some have tried to encourage thinking about the songs we sing by almost preaching a small sermon between songs, sharing long Puritan readings, etc. There might be a time for that kind of thing, but usually I find that, rather than encouraging singing, it takes away from it. People get weary mentally and their minds wander (or even physically, if they’re made to stand through all of that).

I’ve long wanted to do a study of music in the Bible. I notice that in many of the psalms, singing is associated with thanksgiving. The passages above speak of singing as an outgrowth of being filled with the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Could it be that poor congregational singing is a symptom of a lack in these areas, rather than a problem in itself?

One of my soapbox issues is that our responsibility to do right before God should not depend on other people or circumstances. I can’t stand before God and blame other people for my sin. They are responsible for their influence, and they’ll have to answer for their failures and temptations. But God has promised each of His children that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is true not just for avoiding sin and resisting temptation, but also for doing right. I should do the right thing whether the circumstances are conducive or not, whether anyone else is doing so or not.

Sure, it’s good to study what helps and hinders good congregational singing. But we as a congregation need to realize that whether the song is too old or too new, too high or too low, too fast or too slow, too soft or too loud, whether there is one musician or many, whether others sing better or worse or not at all, we need to sing as unto the Lord. He is worthy of our praise. Let’s overlook the petty hindrances to our comfort level and think about His greatness and goodness and all He has done for us. It will be hard to hold back from singing then!

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 28:7, NKJV

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous.
Psalm 118:14-15a, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Because My Father Is My King

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Our church is going through the psalms together and discussing a few at a time on Sundays. In many psalms, the writer pours out his heart to God pleading for mercy, justice, protection, forgiveness, revival. Often the writer comes to God out of sorts, but after a few moments of meditating on who his God is, he is set to rights and sees things clearly.

Other psalms (like 95-100) set forth God’s majesty, holiness, and greatness and our response of awe and worship.

On those occasions in Scripture when someone meets a heavenly being of some kind, like an angel, that person often falls to the ground in worship that the angel has to correct. If just an angel causes that reaction, we can understand God answering Moses’ request to see Him by saying Moses would not be able to withstand seeing the full scope of His glory and splendor. John had been the closest disciple to Jesus during the Lord’s time on Earth. Yet when John saw Jesus in all His glory in Revelation 1:17, he didn’t shake his hand, slap him on the back, cry out, “So good to see you again!” He “fell at his feet as dead,” overwhelmed.

It’s good for us to meditate on and remind ourselves of just Who our God is in all of His aspects. We don’t often think of His majesty, splendor, and greatness unless we encounter those traits in Scripture. Sometimes a glorious sunset or huge waterfall or massive lightning storm will give us a glimpse of His powerfulness and immensity.

Yet sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the greatness of God that would immerse me in awe and bring me to my knees in worship with the closeness and intimacy of my Abba, Father, described in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. It’s not that the Old Testament presents God as massive and majestic and the New Testament portrays Him as close, personal, and loving: no, both aspects are presented all through the Bible.

So one day, this illustration came to mind of a child of a king.

A beloved child played on the floor with his father and sat in his lap to read a book.  His father rocked him to sleep and comforted him when he was hurt or afraid. The child knew his father was something called a king, but he didn’t quite understand what that was or what his father did at work every day.

But one day, an affair of state required his father to wear his full royal regalia and address the nation. As the child stood with his mother and siblings, the king’s entrance was announced, accompanied by a trumpet fanfare. When the king came in, the child hardly recognized the man as his father. He looked so different in his crown and royal robe, standing so erect, receiving the applause of the audience, speaking in such authoritative and measured tones, followed by his entourage. The child was awed, but a little afraid of the king. But as his father finished speaking and turned to go back to the family residence within the castle, he searched for his son, and smiled. And then the child recognized the love in his father’s eyes and knew that he was indeed, the same daddy who had comforted him and played with him so often before.

It’s an imperfect analogy, and it wouldn’t carry over in every single point. But the gist of it helps me to reconcile how the Lord whose full holiness will overwhelm me is the same Abba Father who comforts and cares for me now.

Because my Father is my King, I can rest in His power and authority. He’s in charge, and He is just. He is both kind and righteous. He employs all the sources of His kingdom to protect me and provide for me.

Because my King is my Father, I have the closest access to Him. I can rest in His love and know He cares about every detail of my life. I have a glorious inheritance.

He is worthy of my worship, my trust, and my love.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12, ESV

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. 1 John 3:1a, ESV

O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, Whose canopy space,
Whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

~ Robert Grant

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)