Many call it the age of the great “worship wars.” To each generation God has always given a “new song,” but the rapid pace of a world shrunk by the blinding speed of digital communication seems to have accelerated the ability to pass on those new songs, to the dismay of those who have not finished enjoying the older songs.
I recently overheard a friend of mine make a comment to a seasoned saint grousing a bit about the newer songs (not part of the Graceway family, by the way).
Well, you know what Jesus said about music, don’t you? said my friend with a smile.
There was a pregnant pause as the other person struggled a bit to come up with the appropriate scripture reference. This individual finally gave up, but was sure there was some pearl of wisdom coming.
No, I can’t remember the verse. What was it that Jesus said about music?
Nothing, was the cherrful reply of my friend from over his shoulder as he moved on.
So, putting aside the non-esential element of worship, what I’m thinking about this morning is the content of worship. Surely there are many elements of authentic, biblical worship that are worthy to be mentioned. One in particular is often forgotten, and that is what I want to point out.
One thing is to praise God for having delivered us from a great trial. Quite another thing is to praise God for the trial itself. You might want to stop for just a second, go back and read those last two sentences again. Don’t miss this. This is an important part of worship – praising God for trials, whether we have been delivered yet or not.
Here’s the passage I was reading today. I was reading this in Spanish and I’ll put it here in the ESV. Check it out in your KJV, NKJV or whatever. I think you’ll quickly get the idea of what the psalmist is saying. He is calling on the peoples (families, ethnic groups, nations) to hear his praise of God for the trials of life. Yes, of course, these trials eventually gave way too abundance, but the psalmist is thanking God for the process of the trials.
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (Psalms 66:8-12)
It’s not hard to understand the jubilence of victory. If we really want to be a powerful witness, try praising God for the trial while you are in the middle of it. Allow those around you to see trust in God BEFORE the outcome.
I needed this today. I hope you did.
One of the greatest personal tragedies in the Bible is recorded in Numbers 20. A great man of God stumbles needlessly and his life is never again the same. He would never know what might have been.
You can imagine the frustration, can’t you? For years Moses has been babysitter to an entire nation of wandering whiners, complainers, gripers and self-centered, immature crybabies. No matter what Moses says, it’s wrong. No matter what he does, it’s not enough. Add to the mix the fact that Moses doesn’t get this gig until he’s past 80 years of age! Are you feeling it?
For years everyone has been sweltering in the blazing heat. It’s dry, there’s no air conditioning, movies, television or Internet. It is so miserable that no one can even send out tweets about how miserable they are! This must be as horrible as being locked in a cell with someone dead-set on recruiting you for their multi-level sales organization.
Anyway, you get the idea that Moses has his gut filled to overflowing. Once before the people have griped about being thirsty, and God has Moses smite a rock with his shepherd’s rod. The result is water gushing out of the rock until all thirst is satisfied. You probably know from 1 Corinthians 10 that the rock pictures Christ smitten for our sin and providing for us rivers of living water.
Now, they’re at it again. It’s hot, dry and they’re thirsty! Moses’ patience is red-lining, and God instructs him to speak to the rock to provide its water. Instead, Moses strikes the rock, not once, but twice. The symbolism is often taught – Christ died for our sin once, not repeatedly. God says speak, and Moses takes two good swings with his trusty shepherd’s rod.
All the beautiful symbolism aside, I want to focus on Moses the man. Moses simply loses it. His frustration and anger boil over into a rage, blinding him to God’s instruction. He has been down this path before. Geeze! Will these people never learn? Will they never get grip? Can’t you hear the exasperation in his voice?
OK, you rebels, do we have to get water from the rock again! Don’t you remember what happened last time? If once was good, then this time I’m going give this old rock two good whacks so that enough water flows to drown out your crappiness.
Moses, the guy known for his meekness, has just officially blow a gasket. Understandable? Natural? Normal? I suppose so, but it’s also irreversible with on do-overs. God will tell Moses that he will never enter the promised land. Someone else with do the honors of leading Israel into the land.
Can you even imagine? All of Moses’ life has pointed to this moment of crossing the Jordan River in victory. This was to have been the true defining moment of his life, the moment when one might say that it’s been worth it all – all the suffering and sacrifice. But he will never know what that might have been like. This is like working 38 years for a company only to be called in and fired right before retirement.
Could God be so petty as to fire Moses after one really bad day?
There is no denying his greatness. He was courageous, brilliant, sacrificial, the law-giver and one of God’s greatest servants. But, to be honest, this is not his first flaw.
As a leader, boss and supervisor of people, I am painfully aware that we all have flaws. Sometimes good people do really stupid things. However, there are certain actions that bring immediate and irreversible dismissal. Let there be a substantiated case of unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment and that employee is out of a job. Period. No arguments, no excuses, no reasoning, no matter how stellar of an employee that person may have been – it’s over. No second chance. There is a line crossed from which there is no return.
Moses crossed that line. More than simply disobeying, misunderstanding, not hearing correctly or not following instructions in smiting instead of speaking, Moses violates something far more basic. His anger and rage results in him not trusting God. Yeah, that’s it. He fails to trust God.
God put it this way. He said that Moses did not believe him to sanctify him in the eyes of the children of Israel. To sanctify in this sense means to set God apart in the eyes of Israel. Instead, Moses makes it all about himself and Aaron – Must WE fetch you water from the rock? When we take credit for what only God can do, it’s time to clean out our desk and do the “perp walk” to the parking lot.
One really bad day, one really horrible, stupid mistake and life will never be what it could have been – all because Moses would not rein in his frustration and anger. We all get angry and frustrated; we don’t have to allow our anger and frustration to control and define us. Rein it in! Let the grace and truth of God define your life, not your anger and frustration. I pray I never have a day as bad as this!
Jesus just said that among those born of women there’s not been a greater prophet than John. Staggering!
I said, “John is not just a guy with a vision; he is a man with a calling on his life. He understands his place in God’s story. He doesn’t just think up something good to do for God and ask God to bless his efforts – he realizes that he is right in the storyline of the greatest story still being told.” Well, it was something like that I said. I didn’t go back and read the transcript or listen to the recording. Didn’t need to – it’s still burning in my heart.
This is what I call kingdom living. This is not each of us wandering around thinking up good stuff to do for God. I’m so tired of that. We keep bumping into each other. It’s very confusing, not too fruitful and often somewhat frustrating. God doesn’t want to give us a helping hand; he wants to totally control our life.
Reading in Numbers 6 yesterday, I was still thinking about John and his greatness. Numbers 6 is where the Nazirite vow is described. Men (or women!) would make a vow to God and then abide by three specifications for the duration of the vow. They would not cut their hair – symbolizing our strength dedicated to God. They would not violate their ritual purity by coming into contact with a dead body, even if a close family member died. Finally, they would abstain from wine during the time of their vow – despite it’s key place in Hebrew society.
John, along with Samuel and Sampson, is one of three biblical figures to be given to the Nazirite vow from birth. Each of these individuals had their own issues, but were also greatly used of God. Like anyone else, they had the free will to have rejected the burden of this vow, but they chose instead to see their lives as being under God’s calling. They found purpose and significance in God’s mission as something far beyond the scope of their own personal life.
We do not live under the law in this day of the New Covenant. There are, however, lessons to learned. These men voluntarily made choices of discipline and obedience that connected their life to a greater purpose. Sorry! Didn’t mean to cuss! Those two words – discipline and obedience – are as close to cussing as a preacher can get in today’s anemic American landscape of evangelical Christianity.
Think about how those three principles involved in the Nazirite vow might look in the everyday reality of the 21st century.
- Are we willing to give our strength to God? It seems we are keen to give our best strength to our hobbies, exercise routines, our music, our professions, or anything else that fuels our fire. Strength for God? Maybe to drag our carcases out of bed to go to church a time or two each month. Yeah, that’s it! That’s gotta be kingdom living!
- Are we willing to keep from being contaminated by the death that surrounds us? We are to be IN the world, but not OF the world. Do we allow the attitudes and worldviews of the spiritually dead to influence us, or does God’s calling on our lives ooze out of our pores and compel others to take notice?
- Are we willing to keep from being controlled by anything except God? That’s the picture of the wine. This is not a passage to preach abstinence from wine, but rather to promote the need to not come under the control of ANY substance, attitude, person or emotion that would vie for control of our life. Today the possibilities are many – drugs – prescription or illicit, alcohol or energy drinks, coffee (Yikes!), relationships or even – well … food. Again, this is not to say I can’t drink coffee, eat food or enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, but to positively say, as did Paul, that I will not come under the control of any – except God.
What was John’s greatness? I dunno. But I’m thinking that it has something to do with this enormous, consuming sense of calling upon his life. We would call it today a missional life. This is not worrying about what we can and cannot do. This is about what we ARE – a life consumed and dripping with missional purpose. What does that look like? Jesus summed it up nicely to a lawyer trying to trip him up. He put the entire body of scripture into two big rules: Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s a mission worth living and dying for! Let’s go reproduce ourselves in others!
Who is under the influence of God’s calling upon YOUR life?
It’s just crazy! Two bombs explode during the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding scores. Letters laced with poison go out to a US Senator and the President. Not long ago little grade school children are gunned down in their classrooms. Are we just going to put cameras everywhere, give everyone a gun and start shooting it out? Then whoever survives the shootout gets blown to bits by a bomb? This is nuts!
I can’t live with this craziness! I know! I’m checking out of here. I’ll move to … let’s see … Syria? Well … no. Iraq? Hmmm. How about Honduras? Northern Mexico? The Sudan? India?
Get the picture? Is there a safe place left in this world?
Well, as a matter of fact, there’s this very cool passage I was looking at this morning in the Psalms. Let me just put it out here for you to see.
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. (Psalms 27:4-5)
Please understand that the psalmist is not saying he wants to be “in church” all the days of his life. The house of the Lord in the Old Testament context is the Temple, symbolizing God’s presence. He wants to live in God’s presence his entire life that he might soak in, absorb, contemplate, enjoy and bask in God’s beauty. Not only that, he understands that this is the safest place there can be. When trouble comes, God will hide him and give him solid footing in a shaky world. He very intentionally makes the choice to be in God’s presence.
Looking at this passage this morning, I much prefer this worldview than to go through life in constant fear. I will keep my eyes open and be wise. I will exercise all reasonable caution. Even then, I recognize that I cannot go through life encased in bubble wrap, nor do I want to do so. Is life lived in fear in an underground bunker really worth it? No! I will live life in the presence of God, and he will be my security. He is the Sovereign Ruler, and he alone knows when my days are fulfilled, whether being ripped apart by shrapnel on the streets of Boston or choking to death on tomorrow morning’s Corn Flakes.
I will not live my life in fear. I will not become captive to the machinations of evil people. I will not allow others to enslave me as a prisoner of worry and fear. I will ENJOY the presence of God, I will choose to see his grace and goodness in creation and in other humans. I will choose to love my enemies even when I hold them accountable to the full force of the law.
Where is God when tragedies occur like this recent one in Boston? In the face of unspeakable human evil and cowardice, God is there. He never left. You can see him in the faces of those who knowingly ran back toward the explosions to assist those who were down. You see him in the hands that put pressure on horrendous wounds while waiting for transport to hospitals. You can can see him in the smallest acts of human mercy and compassion. He is even working through the “comfort dogs” that come in to provide cuddles and smiles to traumatized people. You can see him in the expressions of those who weep at the sight of horror and suffering. He is empowering the first responders as they expertly move through patterns of years of training. He is guiding the investigation of law enforcement agencies moving quickly to bring his justice to bear on those who take out their hate on the innocent. And, he does this without ever even needing anyone to believe in him. He is God.
That’s right. God is there. He is not only in the Bible-thumping, scripture-spitting evangelists, he is the God of all creation. He works through all those he chooses to use – even those who refuse to believe in him or obey him. He is still God. He doesn’t need our votes, our faith, our approval or our recognition. He is there whether you see him or not and whether you care or not. He is still God; he is still good.
The safest place of all is in his presence.
I know, I was just here three weeks ago – Lima, Peru. This is not a short hop. Flying to Lima from KC is like flying to Europe. Why in the world would I come back? Last time I was here was to speak to a 40th anniversary celebration of a large group of churches. Each night 3,000 filled the auditorium. For those of us who preach, speaking to 3,000 people is a rush.
This time I am speaking to a group of 40-45, but I am every bit as jazzed as I was last time. And, I’m just one of several teachers. Every one of our students is a key pastor or leader. They have come here from 12 countries of the Spanish-speaking world. The reason that we are here is to launch the Perspectives course in South America. The goal is that many of them will go back to their countries and reproduce the course there.
Some of you have taken Perspectives at Graceway or at another church in the Kansas City area. This course has been developed and tweaked over the past several decades since the first Perspectives Reader was published in 1981. It is not hype to say that this course has been life-transforming for thousands upon thousands of people. This is a four month course that normally meets for 4 hours once a week, often offering college credit for those who so desire. Here, we are doing this four month course in about 10 days. Insane! Ideally, each lesson has a different professor, expert in his or her field. To keep costs down in this intensive version, several of us are teaching two lessons. For those who are students, this means ten-hour days, not counting the required outside reading. The idea is to begin the outside reading a couple of months before the class. The Perspectives Reader is a compilation of excerpts from more than 170 books and articles by leading scholars and practitioners.
Perspectives is, in essence, a study of who God is, his nature, his passion and the story of his great global plan as narrated in the Bible. The design is to change our paradigms of how we view ourselves of part of history, why God has blessed us, and how we can live so as to glorify God in everything. It traces the history of the world Christian movement with the objective of showing us that we are part os something far bigger than any of us alone. In short, it’s a great study that I highly recommend. It does require some effort, and it is clearly not for everyone. But, it has a pretty astounding track record of challenging the way people view life, God and our significance.
Perspectives has been translated into Portuguese, Korean and a few other languages and others are under development. A few years ago, I met a spectacular young woman from Costa Rica who had taken Perspectives in a church in Ohio and it shook her to her foundations. Her life has been forever changed. She asked me why Perspectives had not been translated into Spanish. There are more Christians in the world that speak Spanish than any other language, including English.
It’s not in Spanish?
I was shocked. I guess I had just assumed that it was in Spanish. It wasn’t.
It’s a story too long to tell, but we decided that we would just knock on doors until something happened. I happened to know a few key people in the organization and we started knocking. Over the coming months we saw God at work in assembling a team to bring Perspectives to life in Spanish – Perspectivas.
Graceway, because of your generosity and support, Perspectives now exists in Spanish. Most of you could not possibly comprehend just how important and potentially explosive this is. Suffice it to say that I am grateful to you and to God for making this a reality.
A lady who is a mission mobilizer from Buenos Aires is here for Perspectives. I had met her when she was at Graceway just a couple of years ago for a conference of Latin American mobilizers. Weeping, she told us the story yesterday of how many years ago she visited the US Center for World Missions in Pasadena, California and toured the William Carey Library. She was there when Ralph Winter was still alive and going strong and was able to meet and hang out with him. She was amazed at the amount and quality of resources and how they compared to a relatively small amount available to the Spanish-speaking world. She remembers picking up the massive Perspectives Reader and praying that something like that would be available to Spanish-speakers one day. That day is here, Graceway, and God used you as an important link in the chain of people and events to make that prayer a reality.
By the way, none of this would have been possible if not for the faith, persistence and leadership of that young Costa Rican, Montserrat Antillón. If you’d like to read about the first course ever offered in Latin America, even before the Spanish translation was completed, check it out here. Last year I was back for another edition, this time with the rough draft of the reader in Spanish. Read about it here.
I’ll teach again in the morning, then head home tomorrow night. Again, thank you, Graceway!