Worship Whining

noises

In a recent worship service, I heard a song which I found grating and insipid and I began to complain about it in my heart.

I thought I was only blocking out the unwanted song………. but then, I knew that the Lord wanted to tell me something—“Listen! You are blocking me out! When you are grumbling you are detouring and avoiding something that I want to tell you to help you grow and change. So, stop complaining about the song and listen up!”

Later, after the service, reflecting, I was reminded of a famous Old Testament passage about grumbling.

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)

So here they are, in the wilderness, grumbling against Moses. “Boo-hoo! That was some rescue you gave us! We’re gonna die! We wanna go back to Egypt!”  We might want to laugh at these silly people. But of course, unfortunately, we have our own ways of grumbling. We each have our own way of going back to Egypt— we are tempted to fall back to how we used to live before we got serious about following our Lord. We end up just like the proverbial washed pig who returns to wallowing in the mud. (see 2 Peter 2:22)

The whining Israelites were growing far away from seeing that God was in sovereign control, was faithful to his irrevocable promises, longed for them to persevere, and would provide the power to do so. Whenever we see these Old Testament examples, they are all in the Bible not to give us historical information, but because God knows that the exact same thing can happen to us!

In my own ideal world, none of the things that make me whine would happen. And in the worship service, after starting to listen, a song did come up which was wonderful —powerful and based on the Scripture: Jesus coming again. What a change of focus! Then, the importance of what I whine about shrinks, and the importance of how Jesus looks at things increases. Jesus, who is coming again, is in control. That gives me a thankful heart; what a wonderful antidote for grumbling!

Not So Small After All

magnifying_glass

Today’s post was inspired at a recent meeting of our Writers group 1 where our leader supplied us a list of prompts of a single word or very short phrases to be a seed for an entire blog post.   I chose “magnifying glass”. After quickly writing a draft in our meeting, I have refined it at home, so that you can read my final post. 

Recently, I had to read a label on one of our major appliances. It was printed in a microscopic font and was totally unreadable. So, I needed to use a magnifying glass to read what it said.

Sometimes, God can seem as microscopic to me as the wording on that label.

A given day may seem boring and listless.
If so, I must be missing something.
Sometimes my God is too small.

Then I remembered a verse in the King James Bible:   

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 43:3) 

Does God need our magnification?
No, not at all. God is still great whether or not I acknowledge it.

But God surely does desire that I see him as great. So, when I magnify the Lord I am simply being enabled to see what is already there! When that happens, I begin to have an experience of God’s greatness. And a big part of that experience is to see how God’s greatness exists totally outside of anything he does for me.

For it is so easy for me to make the gospel be all about me—-thinking that God is only great to the extent that he does stuff for me and gives me nice blessings; it’s almost like I think God is supposed to cater to me like a wonderful supernatural butler!

Paradoxically, the more I experience how God is great outside of me, the more I understand what God does do for all of us. He really invites us to walk in union with his Son. As the Son shines in us, we get to participate in what God’s purposes are—we cooperate in making the Lord’s prayer come true: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   Join in! 

  1. http://njcwg.blogspot.com/

Unpayable Debt?

our debt

 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments…. are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

We’re talking about three kinds of debt today.

#1, the national debt surpassed $20 trillion for the first time in U.S. history in September. It’s a huge debt, it’s continually growing, and it’s not getting any smaller soon.

#2, is the debt I owe for my sin. Astoundingly, it would be easier to pay the US National Debt back than for me to pay back the debt of my sin. $20 trillion is small change compared to that.

#3, is the debt I have to love others. This is a continuing debt, that can’t ever be paid back. Indeed, don’t you hate it when someone reminds you of that by saying “you’re not doing enough”?  Boy, that’s some encouragement to want to do things for people. Not!

Thankfully, there is a great answer for both the second and third kinds of debt (I am not proposing a solution to #1 today!) For Christ paid debt #2 for me, in full, when he died on the cross for my sin. When I think of the infinite love that Christ showed when he did that, then I am delighted to show and pass on a measure of that love. When I do that, I am working at paying debt #3. It’s a pleasure and not a chore.

My wanting to show more love comes from the starting point of knowing I am already approved and loved and forgiven. What a wonderful opposite to feeling unloved and being overwhelmed by feelings of obligation, guilt, etc.

It is rejoicing in what Jesus has already accomplished that motivates me to persevere in love!

Delight in the Lord

Blessed is the one
     who does not walk in step with the wicked
 or stand in the way that sinners take
     or sit in the company of mockers,
  but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
     and who meditates on his law day and night.
  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
     which yields its fruit in season
 and whose leaf does not wither—
     whatever they do prospers.  (Psalm 1:1-3)

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord? Does it happen if we have to force ourselves to read what is in a daily Bible reading plan, taking it like a dose of medicine, staring at a bunch of words on the pages of our Bibles, until that day’s dose is complete?  If that’s all we view the Bible as being, then “getting into the Word” can seem like a dry duty, and even legalistic, with no personal contact with the Lord or heart or emotion in it.

Or—do we enter the presence of the very Lord who gave us the words of Scripture? Doesn’t delighting in his law mean that we delight in Him and being with him?

And how about meditating on the law?  Well, the definition of meditating implies that you are engaging in contemplation or reflection. So, we are taking some time; not jumping to the quick and obvious conclusion; we start to see something a little deeper and begin to understand how God and his ways connect to every single area of life; we start to pray for God’s Spirit to illuminate the scriptures for us.

Finally, what does yielding fruit in season mean? First, remember that we are planted in Christ, he is the vine and we are the branches. And doesn’t that sound a lot like what we read in the Epistles about the fruits of the Spirit? As we encounter the Lord in scripture, then love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control increase in us!

Recently I heard the ex-pastor of our church, an 86-year-old, give a talk on something brand new he saw from the book of Luke about the wonder of how the Lord draws us to himself. If you asked him how old you are when you stop seeing new things in scripture he would say “It’s definitely older than I am now.”   I am glad that his “leaf does not wither”.

May we all grow in delighting in the word of the Lord!

Wash Each Other’s Feet

jesus-washing-the-feet-calvin-carter

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands 
and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only
 to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean….  (John13:8-10a)

Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is a familiar New Testament story.  You may even have foot-washing ceremonies in your church. But today, let’s dig in and look at two symbols in John’s foot-washing story.

First, “had a bath” refers to what happens when we are baptized.  Baptism is a one-time event, and symbolizes how, once and for all, we believed that Jesus was crucified for our sins and resurrected, giving us eternal life and salvation.

But, does our believing mean we never ever sin again? No, we do sin in some manner every day.  And the foot-washing in today’s verses symbolizes repentance from our daily sins. Just as sandaled feet get dust on them every day and need to be washed, so we need a daily cleansing from sin.

Are we on our own in our daily fight against sin?   See what Jesus says in verses 14-15:

 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

These verses show how we should lovingly serve one another. But I think they also show how we can help one other in our fight against sin, instead of each of us wrestling with it on our own.  My own natural inclination is to try to work things out as an iron-butted loner. But I think the Lord is telling all of us to encourage one another as we grow to make progress in the battle against sin.

It’s important to conclude by noting that the fight against sin isn’t an end in itself —no, we press on to remove any obstacles that hinder us in our quest for growth. Our end goal is to help each other to “trust and obey” — to give out more of Jesus’ love in an increasingly mature walk with him.

 

Why Did I Yell on the Phone?

yell-3284491

A few years ago, I yelled at someone on the phone and really let them have it because they had totally mishandled a medical bill.

That was not the first time I yelled like that, but it was the last time I yelled.

Why the change? I learned that a couple of key questions lurked behind my yelling.

First:  how do I behave in a confrontation when no one knows I am a Christian?

In other words, I must admit that if it were someone from my church who messed up the bill I would never have yelled at them.

Second is an even deeper question I faced:

Is my Christianity only a performance? Or is it a deep heartfelt conviction that wells from the inside out, and drives how I react to situations—-even when the person I am confronting really is wrong and no one else is watching how I am handling it?

Basically, the kind of crummy attitudes behind my yelling needed correction and change. My natural inclination, though, is to not welcome correction.

Look at this verse in Proverbs :

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.  (19:20)

I need to give a note of caution in quoting this or any Bible verse.  Because if someone overheard me yelling and simply quoted this verse to me, nothing would have changed. This way of firing a verse at someone can backfire.  Oh, someone might use it to shame and guilt me into not yelling for a while, but that does not lead to genuine repentance and heart change.

It’s vitally important to consider the real source of wisdom behind the book of Proverbs. This true wisdom is personified in Jesus Christ.  And thanks be to God we have union with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Only by calling on God’s grace and being in union with Christ can we begin to override our unwillingness to accept correction.  And of course, it is a process. We don’t suddenly and instantly welcome correction in every area of our lives. But with the help of the Spirit and people we can trust, we do start to develop a teachable and correctable heart.

Building Our Dwelling

“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

framing

Pastor Mark Dever gave one overview sermon to his congregation in Washington, DC for each book of the Bible. His New Testament sermons are reprinted in The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. 1 Dever’s sermon on 1 Corinthians inspired me to write this post.

If only our Christian lives could be built up as easily as the house getting framed in the picture!

There must be some obstacle preventing that. Is it the fault of what other people do to us, those who do not appreciate us? That may be partly true, but today let’s look at what we might be responsible for.  What obstacles in us make it hard for us to grow in becoming a dwelling place for God?  Here are two scenarios:

  • We like to feel that we are anointed and talented and can be used by God. We can even legitimately enjoy it when someone recognizes that God is at work in us. But do we think we deserve such recognition? How do we feel when we don’t get it? Rejected, upset?
  • We feel that our pet ministry is especially important to the well-being of our church. And as we talk to others, we always let them know just how vitally important this ministry is. We imply that, if they really loved Jesus, they would be a part of that ministry too!

Neither of these scenarios helps us to build up other people. Yet they both are such easy traps to fall into. How can we avoid those traps?

It helps to learn to be secure in who we simply are in Christ. Each of us can say: I have been redeemed by Christ, I am a new creation, and I am loved by Christ, such that nothing I can do can earn me more love. Out of that security in our identity in Christ, springs true edifying Christian action. How very different from thinking I need to prove that I am worth something to Christ and his Church!

As I simply love Jesus, I become willing to quietly give myself in love for others, without concern that I’m right or get recognition or need to have someone join my team.

Ironically, if I don’t feel I deserve to be complimented, I end up receiving godly affirmation. And instead of shaming people into joining my ministry, my attitude of love is infectious and contagious and draws others to join in as they see that yes, the Lord is at work in this ministry.

I’ll never forget a memorial service for a certain man who did not have a prominent and public role in our church. He was someone who never sought the limelight or pushed himself forward. But – at the service, many testified at the quiet impact for Christ that he had on their lives.  He was a true blessing to others. Those testimonies together were like a chorus of angels singing his praise. Isn’t that what happens when we enjoy seeking the good of others?

 

  1. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=The+Message+of+the+New+Testament%3A+Promises+Kept