Advent: Extravagant Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

They were asking around to find a king and found out no one else (even the current king!) seemed to know anything about it.

 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

Matthew 2:1-12 MSG

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants. Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

QUESTIONS:

  • Many scholars think that the wise men were from Persia-the same area Daniel and his friends were taken. It’s believed that Hebrew Scripture and knowledge were added to the amazing library kept there. So while the wise men most probably weren’t “believers” they were most definitely “seekers”. This story encourages my heart on many levels. Are you encouraged by God’s redemption of Daniel’s hardship and heartache? Why or why not?
  • It’s difficult for us to understand how expensive and dangerous the trip was for these men. Obviously their desire to find this newborn King was compelling. Do you think you would/could risk as much to worship Jesus?
  • Herod was a very wicked and ruthless man. He wasn’t interested in worshiping the Christ, he wanted to eliminate the competition (that’s why he had all the male children under 2 years of age murdered). Do you ever despair over injustice in the world? Do you ever wonder why it seems God intervenes sometimes and not other times (I do!)?
  • It’s folklore to say there were three wise men but we have no idea. There were three named gifts, though. Gold-traditional gift for a King; Frankincense-offered by priests in worship; and Myrhh-used as a healing poultice and also to embalm bodies. Consider how these gifts from pagan travelers emphasize the offices Jesus came to fulfill. Can you personalize His role of King, High Priest and Healer/Sacrificial Lamb?
  • I have to choose daily to offer up the sacrifice of praise. Some days it’s easier than others. How do you help your heart turn toward the Lord in spite of disappointment, pain and sorrow?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You gave everything so that true worship is possible. You have made a way where there was no way. The veil is torn. I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace without fear. Thank You.

Sometimes I don’t want to bring my offering to You. I’m hurt, confused, angry even. I want answers to questions and it seems the cost is too great.

Forgive me for holding back.

Help me be as fearless as the wise men who risked a dangerous and expensive journey to worship Jesus. Give me strength to bring all I am and all I have to lay at the feet of Christ.

Only You are worthy of worship. Only You are worthy of praise. May my words and my life always point others to You.

Amen

Thanks And Giving

The world can make a heart panic, scrambling to pile up extra lest “the worst” befalls us and suddenly there’s not enough.

That’s what happened back in the spring when, for some unknown reason, toilet paper became the currency of security.

But no matter how deep or full the pantry, stuff can’t keep us truly safe.

Ask me how I know.

Dominic ran ahead to Heaven April 12, 2014.

Only faith and trust in the ever-faithful, never-lying Almighty God guides our hearts Home.

So in this season of thanksgiving, when gratitude is in style, I want to choose a bold strategy to challenge the world’s wrong direction and misapplied “wisdom”.

It’s not enough to pray thanksgiving over my family, my home, my safety net stockpile.

I want my life to be full of thanks AND of giving.

Because when I give I’m boldly declaring that I trust the Lord to give more. I’m leaning into the True Source of provision and leading other hearts to do the same.

A heart of gratitude is beautiful.

It’s what God wants from His children. But that’s only the half of it. A grateful heart that freely gives to others what has been freely given to it is even more beautiful.

God’s economy is one of bounty. I am unconcerned that my Heavenly Father may run out of blessing.

Everything I have, He has placed in my hands.

I am most like Jesus when I open my fists and share the gifts God entrusts to me with others.

My true treasure can’t be counted in dollars and cents.

My real reserve is love poured out and love returned.

Why Lament Is Worship

We usually think of worship as songs of joy and happiness extolling the virtues of God and Christ.  

While that is most certainly a form of worship, it is absolutely not the only one.  

Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
― Cindee Snider Re

Worship is also the broken whimper of a scared and wounded child, crawling into the lap of her Abba Father.  

There is no less adoration in this ultimate act of confident trust than in the most eloquent declaration of theological truth in word or song.  

Lament is worship.  

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/02/03/refuse-to-hide-lament-as-worship/

How Scripture Gets Tangled: Missing Out On Deep Truth

I think we often interpret Old Testament Bible verses in terms of New Testament reality.

Sometimes that’s warranted because the verses foreshadow the fullness of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection.

But sometimes we miss out on the deeper meaning of what God was saying through His prophets.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” quoted as a general blessing/admonition/encouragement at the beginning of a worship service or just the start of an ordinary day.

I don’t think that’s technically a misappropriation of the sentiment, but I do think it falls far short of what the Psalmist was trying to convey.

The Temple stood on a hill above Jerusalem and those last steps for the pilgrims who traveled faithfully three times a year to celebrate the appointed festivals were hard. Many had walked miles and miles and were just plain tired.

Ruins of Steps Leading to Herod’s Temple

So they sang songs (Psalms) to encourage their hearts as they plodded forward.

If you have a Bible with notes you’ll see them marked as “Songs of Ascent” because that was exactly what they were.

In addition to the expense, time, effort and commitment it took to make it to the Temple, pilgrims were expected to offer a sacrifice. Some could bring their own and some had to purchase a lamb or ram or other sacrificial animal from those offered by vendors just outside the inner courts.

It could be easy to resent the cost of coming.

It would be absolutely understandable to get just a bit disgruntled making those last few steps to plunk down a sacrifice to a God they couldn’t see.

So the Psalmist says, “This is the DAY (the appointed feast, the reminder of covenant, the renewal of promise) the Lord (Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and you) has made (ordained, appointed, set aside). Let us rejoice (revel in the fact that He has chosen us of all people, that He is faithful, that we can come and worship) in it.”

God doesn’t need my lamb or goat or calf.

The feasts weren’t designed to jog His memory regarding my relationship with Him, they were designed to help ME remember that I am creature and He is Creator.

And I need that reminder most when things are hard, when I am tired and when I may have forgotten that worship is a privilege.

Some days are uphill all the way.

I’ve had a few of those lately.

And while this verse isn’t really about ordinary days, it helps my heart as much on those as it does on the special ones.

How I Sing The Hymns That Hurt My Heart

I grew up singing hymns.

I was introduced to praise choruses in my mid-twenties.

I love both.

I used to hear or sing along to them and feel them feed my spirit.

My family sang in choirs, served on worship teams and was rarely absent from church for over twenty years.  Music was part of everyday life with a special bonus on Sundays.  

dominic at gray haven

Now I find it hard to hear and even harder to sing some hymns I used to love. 

One of the most challenging is “It Is Well”-really, IS it well? 

Can I sing these words with conviction or am I lying my way through just to keep others from asking questions?  

I know the story behind the hymn-at least the part every worship leader or pastor likes to share.  Horatio Spafford wrote the words as he passed the very spot where his daughters drowned in an ocean crossing.  His life didn’t end on a high note.  It’s often introduced as an amazing testimony of victory over grief and death.  If I only cling harder to Jesus, I, too, can experience perfect peace in the midst of great trial and suffering.

it is well hymn music image

We sang that hymn in church a couple of weeks ago and I realized that it is a prayer as much as (or instead of) a declaration.

In many ways, after 5 years, it IS well with my soul.

I’ve reached a place where I can rest easy with unanswered questions and where I have finally received this blow with open arms. I’m not fighting the FACT of my son’s earlier than expected move to Heaven.

On those days, I can sing the chorus as an affirmation of truth.  

i thessalonians 3 peace

But I have days (and sometimes weeks) where life and memories and anniversaries and random stress unsettle me again. So then I sing it as a PRAYER like the psalmist who turns his heart to the only One Who can fill it again with grace, peace and hope. 

It may not be well right NOW, but it WILL be well.  

sings with song

I can trust that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

I can lean on the truth that in Christ every promise of God is “yes” and “amen”.

I know, deep in my bones, that all this heartache will ultimately be redeemed and that whatever I have lost in this life will be gloriously restored in Heaven. 

Blink of an eye heaven

Refuse to Hide: Lament As Worship

We usually think of worship as songs of joy and happiness extolling the virtues of God and Christ.  

While that is most certainly a form of worship, it is absolutely not the only one.  

Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
― Cindee Snider Re

Worship is also the broken whimper of a scared and wounded child, crawling into the lap of her Abba Father.  

There is no less adoration in this ultimate act of confident trust than in the most eloquent declaration of theological truth in word or song.  

Lament is worship.  

Christian lament is not simply complaint. Yes, it stares clear-eyed at awfulness and even wonders if God has gone…Yet at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.”
― Josh Larsen

Bringing my brokenness to God as an offering, trusting Him to receive it, to keep it and to begin to weave even this into the tapestry of my life is perhaps the ultimate act of worship.  

you keep track of all my tears

When I refuse to pretend, refuse to hide, refuse to run away and look for an answer somewhere else, I affirm that He is my God, and there is no other beside Him.  

A lament is an act of worship, a faith statement of trust, in the face of difficulty. It’s a wonderfully honest way to acknowledge our trouble to God as we also acknowledge our hope is in him.
― Linda Evans Shepherd

lamenting is a painful process

 

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
― Nicholas Wolterstorff

Sunflowers Sing Praise

I love, love, love sunflowers!

Always have.

I love their bright aspect that brings a smile to my face no matter what mood I’m in or what trial I’m facing.  Their happy, heavy heads declare that today is a day to shine!

sunflower single

Last week as I was walking, getting some *fresh* air in congested California I passed a house where some precious soul had planted a row of sunflowers and they were standing bravely, boldly behind the fence that declared, “This far and no further”.

sunflowers

Their heads were turned toward the eastern sky, soaking in the sun’s rays and reflecting back the light and life that sun brings to everything on earth.

There is no denying that sunflowers sing praise.

They sing praise to a new day when their heads rise to meet the sun.

They sing praise to provision when they follow the light as it moves across the sky.

sunflower supply all your needs

They sing praise to rest when their heads droop as the sun sinks low in the western horizon.

They are a living testimony to our Creator.

sunflower explain miracles plant a garden

I want to be like the sunflowers-compelled to turn my face to the Son.

I want to be a witness to the life He gives and sustains.

I want to reflect and represent Him boldly, bravely and big.

sunflowers god of hope

Is My Son My “Guardian Angel”?

It’s really hard to wrap my mind around what exactly Dominic is doing now that he’s not here with me.  Sometimes I try to create a narrative or a scene or a story line that gives me something to hold on to.

It’s not easy though.  

So I absolutely understand why some parents think of their missing child as their “guardian angel”.  But that just doesn’t correspond to what Scripture tells me about what happens after death.

I firmly believe that there is a heaven and that my son is there, in the presence of Jesus and the saints that have gone before.

We are confident, then, and would much prefer to leave our home in the body and come to our home with the Lord.

I  Corinthians 5:8 CJB

He’s not an angel nor has he been assigned to look out for me down here with some kind of supernatural power to intervene and make things happen-either good or bad.

He is worshiping with other believers at the feet of Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

lay their crowns

And honestly, that brings me more comfort than the thought that he is watching me suffer his absence down here.

Dominic loved me-still loves me, I believe-and if he were aware of the deep pain his absence causes it would be torture for him.

But in the presence of Christ there is only joy.

You teach me the way of life. In your presence is total celebration. Beautiful things are always in your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 CEB

So he cannot know my pain.

It would break his heart.

It is great consolation in this journey to realize that he is beyond ALL pain and sorrow.

I am deeply thankful for that.

better is one day in your courts

 

 

 

 

 

Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday: A Study in Contrasts

Twenty-four hours separate one of the most outlandish global parties and one of the most somber religious observances on the Christian calendar.

Many of the same folks show up for both.

Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, is the last hurrah for those who observe Lent-a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation before Resurrection Sunday.

It’s a giant party-food, fellowship and fun-a wonderful way to celebrate the blessings of this life.

Ash Wednesday, by contrast,  is an invitation to remember that “from dust you came and to dust you will return”.  None of us get out of here alive.

ashwednesday

Even where the Gospel is preached every Sunday there are those who forget this life is hard and often full of pain and suffering.

If your experience so far has looked more like Mardi Gras and less like ashes, well, then-be thankful.

But don’t be deceived.

“From dust you came and to dust you will return.”

For some of us it was a similar twenty-four hour turnaround that upset our world, tossed us headfirst into the waves of sorrow and burned that truth into our hearts, not just dabbed it on our foreheads.

Sometimes I feel excluded from fellowship with the saints because I can’t join in the celebratory spirit of a worship service.

When the hymns only focus on our “victory in Jesus”  my heart cries, “Yes-but perhaps I won’t see the victory this side of heaven.”

When the congregation claps and dances to feel-good songs that celebrate the sunshine but ignore the rain, my eyes swim with tears because I know the reality of a downpour of sorrow.

Because sometimes praise is a sacrifice.

offerings

Church needs to be a place where we can share the pain as well as the promise that Christ will redeem it.

Jesus Himself said,“in this world you will have trouble”.

So I can’t claim allegience to the Church of the Perpetually Cheerful.

I want to create space for the hurting and broken and limping and scared.

How about a new demonination that acknowledges the truth that life is hard.  Instead of the Overcoming Apostolic Praise-filled Ministers of Eternal Optimism I would name it the Trudging But Not Fainting Faithful.

By all means enjoy the “Fat Tuesdays” in life.

Drink them in, dance, celebrate!  But remember that it can change in a heartbeat.  And that it HAS changed for many of us.

There is hope.

All is not lost.

But in the meantime, it’s hard.

will-have-trouble-but-i-have-overcome

Repost: Worship as Warfare

After [Jehoshaphat] had advised the people, he appointed people to sing to the LORD and praise him for the beauty of his holiness. As they went in front of the troops, they sang, “Thank the LORD because his mercy endures forever!”

2 Chronicles 20:21 GWT

Image result for image music and worship

 

I love worship music.

My heart is transported from here to there in a single note.

 

In a moment, I am before the Throne, inside the Holy of Holies, crying out for more, more, more of Jesus.

Read the rest here:  Worship as Warfare