Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Time Will Tell

Time will tell. It always does.

Reality is rarely ever just what we expect.

Screwtape got it right.

The present is most real,

The closest to eternity,

Of time’s unchanging trinity,

Of past, present, or future.

Focusing on present truth

Is stable, firm, solid.

A cornerstone, an anchor,

A contact with reality

A life set firm on certainty.

In this sense, the present holds our taste of Life most real

To what is actually so, the here and now.

Here, we can know the most of who we are,

We know who God is,

We hold the greatest share of real that we can hold.

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The past is not as concrete, though it too, is mostly set,

As much as can be called to mind

Is firm, a certain, stable bet.

Yet, perceptions can be warped a bit,

Though thankfully, not too far.

It’s over and it’s settled.

We can mourn, forget, or bow a knee in thanks.

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Thoughts that stray into the “what-if’s” of the future,

This is where the deepest dangers lie.

It is, by definition–at least from human dispositions–

Uncertain, tricky, sand to walk in,

Full of destabilizing questions.

If questions brought us comfort,

If questions filled with peace,

If questions settled hearts

Into a trusting, calming ease,

If questions helped us trust more,

If questions built our faith,

If questions helped us serve our Lord,

And trust our steps to grace

That would be one thing.

But they don’t.

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The future has some certainties,

Some promises it holds,

From a God who cannot lie.

But our wavering commitment to trust in these

Is still a source of inner, churning strife.

We cannot measure them, test them

We must trust that they’ll be real.

This already, not yet,

A tension we must choose and choose to trust in.

No, this part of the future is not for the faint of heart.

And the rest of the future’s question marks,

Are risky for the heart.

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The past is set in “has beens,”  and tends to slow us down

When we wish we could go back to it, or bring it back to now.

The future holds her hopes, but holds more dangers still.

She’ll  stir up our anxieties and turn us from our way.

But in the present, truth itself is most alive and free.

If my heart is anchored here, my life has room to thrive.

God is who He says He is,

Has done what He has done.

He’ll still do what He hasn’t yet, but promises to do,

And we don’t need to do a thing, we leave that part to Him.

I am where I am,

And things are what they are.

I know what I must do to the degree I know right now.

I have everything I need.

I have more than I deserve.

I know just enough of what will come  to act, to move, to serve.

I’ve learned enough in getting here

To shape me into me,

And now I seize the day today

Because today is the only time that today will ever be.

 

 

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Author, Lamb and Lord: Thoughts of Thanksgiving

I sit here thinking on my life,

Recalling times of joy and strife,

And thanking God for what His will has done.

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If my life were words and lines,

Then there are lines I’d never write,

For fear that subplot might consume my soul.

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Would you write ‘death’ or ‘pain’ or ‘cancer,’

Scribble in a lack of answers,

Or author up some hardships for your life?

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Would you compose a dash of trials,

Just a pinch of heartache,

If you knew things would unfold just as you write them?

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None of us would want this pain.

And yet, by grace I’ve come to learn

Its value in the plot.

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God is Author of all things.

His pen has written what will be,

Long before things were.

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Each difficulty has its place.

It gives a thirst for peace and grace

Found only through His Son.

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You see,

Sometimes I fail to cling to Him

When life is bless’d and sweet.

Seldom has an average day

Forced me to His feet.

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And if it’s true that at His feet

Are stores of grace so bright,

A centeredness and selflessness,

A most abundant life,

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Then all the writings in this plot,

Each twisting of the pen,

Each counterpoint, each conflict,

Every trial, every pain,

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Each one driving me to kneel,

Before my Lord of Life,

Can these be but mercy,

Love, and grace come in disguise?

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And so, my heart is thankful

For the things I have and don’t.

I am more than full and filled up

By my Author, Lamb, and Lord.


A Shepherd’s Prayer

Dots of white are scattered ‘cross the hillside.

Flocks of souls are grazing as they roam.

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Left of here lie cliffs along the ocean.

Misty winds there keep the grass

A lush and tempting green.

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To our right, the burning Eastern Desert

Lies just in sight beyond the rolling hills.

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To our south, dark jungle-lands,

With swamps, and bogs and ponds.

And northward, see the lands climb up

To jagged rocky heights of mountains cold.

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The sheep have all been gathered here

By shepherds wise and old.

These men have known the dangers

West, and east, south and north.

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Though gathered here, each year

The flock is losing many sheep.

The older shepherds tire

And begin to look to me

And all my kin to take the torch.

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And as I survey out across

The scenery of these moors.

I quickly come to realize,

That I cannot do this task that lies before.

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In my brief, short time of training

As a shepherd/sheep for God,

I’ve seen, heard, and observed,

Some shifting patterns in the flock.

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My calling is to help them feed

On Grass of Truth from God,

Seems simple, and it is.

Simple, yes. But easy? Not.

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Every place I look

There are other tempting grasses,

Grasses I must first resist,

Then lead them on in trust to do the same.

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Some sheep strangely wander

To the Desert of the Right.

They find a curious comfort

In the heat and burning light.

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They go there for the leaders of that place

Are loud and strong.

They talk and shout about pure grass.

But little grass is grown.

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The burden there of growing

Tends to weigh and burden down.

The sheep end up assigned great work

Which sheep were not designed to do.

And never will get done.

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Many sheep are also lost

Along the Cliffs of Left.

The heights are risky, edgy,

And uncertain for the hoof.

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But sheep will brave them merely

For the tasty grass afoot.

Not knowing that the grass is lush

Because the shifting tides and winds and mists –

Which will trap them, get them lost, or worse

Push them to their deaths –

Are the reason for the green.

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Still other sheep,

While not sucumbing to the Left or Right,

Will sneak down from these foothills

To the Southern Jungle’s Night.

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Here, they play their chicken games

With predators and snakes,

Feeding on the thrills and spills,

The Jungle’s lethal stakes.

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It usually isn’t long before

A trap or snare is sprung,

Some poison is consumed,

Or a fatal blow is blown.

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Far too rare is ever seen,

An injured sheep along the path,

Making his repentant, long, return.

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And let us not forget the dangers

Lying to the north.

The Ivory Tower Mountains

Have the strangest of appeals.

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The sheep who leave the flock

To take these long and winding roads,

Often feel that they’ve outgrown

Their need of shepherds on their own.

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They hope to find a higher grass

That, when eaten, thus will grant

A new place of authority,

A higher “sheep-hood” than the rest.

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This strange allure of knowing more,

On scientific heights,

Often decimates the finder’s sense

Of belonging in the flock.

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It is not easy, as a shepherd,

Caring for your sheep,

Knowing all these dangers,

And the pressures that they bring.

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The anchor in the chaos

Is the grass beneath our feet.

While not quite as appealing

As some other dainty treats,

This grass here on the Hills of Grace

Is managed, not by temptors,

But by God, the Lord on High.

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The grass here, takes some work to find,

And tastes of bitter tones by times.

It lacks the pleasant, sugar coating

Many sheep now crave and hope to find.

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But, tasting as it does by times,

The grass here is the Truth of Life,

It’s loaded up with vitamins,

And healthy stuff inside.

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And comforting to me,

One called to watch over this flock,

To make sure that they feed and grow,

To keep them safe and strong,

Is that this grass is guaranteed,

A covenant confirms its seed

And it will never fail.

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There will never, ever be a need

To wander south, north, west or east,

In search of better, surer feed.

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So while I rightly bear the weight

Of shepherding a flock,

The weight is never solely mine,

For Christ still Shepherds me,

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Promised in this grass we eat,

Is health, and life, and joy and peace.

On grace and mercy now we feast,

With need of nothing else.

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So my prayer is simply this,

As sheep and shepherd both,

Follow Christ as I do,

Though, imperfectly at best;

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Trust in Him to meet our needs,

And stay here with the flock;

Feed and grow together,

On these rolling Hills of Grace.

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sheep-shepherd-edited


How to Remember?

How to remember?

A question that weighs me down,

For time is my enemy and my friend.

Schedules press and push.

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Pictures and words grow fuzzy, unclear,

Dates and specifics will fade,

Like water held in the hand.

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But focused attention will help to recall,

the warmth of those days years ago.

The sound of a laugh,

The gleam in an eye,

The joy of the Lord in her soul.

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The birth of her sons, which she held in her arms

for mere months before God took her home –

Home to her true Husband.

Home to her true family.

Home to her true home on high.

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Who can know the ways of the Lord?

Who has given Him counsel?

Looking back on the moving of His ways,

I can only, ever bow my heart in praise.

And learn to count my moments and my days.

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Growing and Yielding

By times, the journey seems to slow down

to an aching crawl.

Fog descends upon the path,

and I can’t tell how far –

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How far I’ve come,

or how far I’ve yet to go.

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My tendency in times like this

is to work without Your joy.

To push on, just to push on,

Duty holds me on the line.

But, Lord, I know by waiting

You intend a great design.

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Knowing what my growth in Christ

will make me in the end –

a righteous saint in sinless white

who lives to serve Your name,

free from sin,

free from fear,

and free from guilt and shame –

knowing this has two effects:

first, boldness in my fate.

But, secondly, impatience

t’ward my present, sinful state.

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I want it now.

And this desire that burns within my soul

is not all bad.

To be like You, my goal.

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This seed has been planted.

You have promised it will grow.

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corn-field

Many look across the fields

of Your redeemed – the church,

they mourn the lack of lush, green growth,

the dry and dusty earth,

the loss of blessings raining down,

which prayer is said to bring.

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But, farmers are not growers;

they cannot make seeds grow.

To farm is to plant, then wait.

But this is not to try and say

there’s little work to do.

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Greatest care is taken

to adjust what can be changed

to give each seed conditions

which will fuel the growth within.

corn-field-2

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But growth is not an action farmers

do for all their seeds.

Nor can the seed self-will itself

into a plant or tree.

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Growth has been intended,

Programed by Your hand on high.

It’s rate, it’s height, it’s pace and depth,

all come by Your design.

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You call each farmer to his work,

yet You control the fields.

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You call each Christian to his growth

yet You will bring the yield.

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The project and the outcome

Are Your work from start to end.

But You include me,

So that I can share, along with You,

the joy that comes from harvesting

what, on my own, I could never do.

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Grace alone can teach me how to work and wait in one,

Grace alone can promise me that harvests soon will come.

harvesting


God is Not Your Girlfriend (or Boyfriend)

We’ve likely all heard it (and many of us who teach and preach have done it). It usually goes something like this.

“Imagine if you had a girlfriend (or boyfriend if you’re a girl). What if – over the course of a few months – you never spoke to them, listened to them, or did anything to serve them and show you care about them. Is that girlfriend/boyfriend likely to feel loved? Is that relationship a healthy relationship? No! When we’re in a relationship with someone we want to spend time with them, communicate with them, serve them, and make sure they know how much we care. Isn’t that also true of our relationship with Christ?”

Mid section closeup image of a young couple holding hands, outdoors

These sorts of illustrations aren’t without value to some degree. I’ll grant them that. But I tend to think that they leave us with bad ideas in our thinking. Just like avocado on the taste buds. It’s the culinary trend of the year, or something. Yeah, it can be said to be healthy, apparently. But blech.

I think these sorts of illustrations are less and less helpful as time rolls on because we, as a church, are moving away from a high view of God. In our thinking, we don’t err on the side of Him being too transcendent – meaning we need strongly-relatable illustrations from real life in order to understand Him better. Rather, I think we err on the side of making Him too relatable, too much like the things we already know and understand. Instead, we need a good round of chewing on the bitter cud of His “otherness,” His transcendence, and His sovereignty.

This shift shows up most blatantly to me in how we see our relationship with God. We feel like we’re not allowed to be in a relationship with Him that we can’t fully understand. So we try to make that relationship smaller and simpler so we understand it. We avoid theologically heavy passages that make the Christian life seem complicated, or too deep. (Passages like Phil. 2:12-13 that say both to work hard at growing in your salvation, and that only God can work in you to want to do His will.) We don’t like complicated. We don’t have time or energy for complicated. So, we make Him, and “us” smaller and easier. But smaller and simpler isn’t always satisfying.

If we’re honest, we live with a constant awareness that something is not ‘right’ in our relationship with Christ. Don’t you feel it? To me, it feels unsatisfying, incomplete, or even lacking – even when I’ve been walking most closely with Him. In fact, sometimes this feeling is strongest when I’ve been walking most closely with Him. “Heresy!” Right? I used to think so. It’s the sort of thing you don’t share in a testimony time at bible camp as a christian teen.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling lately like there’s something lacking in my relationship with Christ. I don’t think it’s me because I’m working on it faithfully, and I know it’s not Him because He’s God. But there’s still something that doesn’t seem complete about it all. It’s hard to explain…”

So, walk through this with me; it’s what God has been teaching me. His design for our relational interaction with Him was supposed to take place through our observable senses, originally. We were created to enjoy Him through our eyes, our ears, and through personal interaction. When we sinned in Adam (our representative), all of that changed. Now, instead of being considered normal, personal interaction with God through the observable senses is a high privilege reserved for a few during their earthly lives. Sin has created a huge degree of separation – even for Christians! In other words, in this life, no matter how holy, no matter how godly, no matter how righteously you live in Christ, you will not experience what Adam and Eve had before their sin. We are taught that we have perfect fellowship with Christ once we’re saved. And we do. But we can’t forget the distinction between positional and practical. Legally, we enjoy perfect fellowship with God through Christ’s righteousness in our account. But practically, there will still be something lacking in this life. The type of interaction you crave to have with God will not be possible…yet.

The craving of this closeness doesn’t always feel pleasant. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Paul likened it to a runner who isn’t satisfied until he wins first place. I have had to learn two things: 1) dissatisfaction with my Christian life isn’t inherently wrong, and 2) how to discern between a healthy and an unhealthy discontentment in my walk with Christ.

Lest we slip into a state of frustration, be reminded that this relational closeness is coming and it’s guaranteed because Christ purchased a full restoration for us! It will be like it was! And not only that, our relationship with Him (and our daily righteousness in Him) is a process that He promises to gradually grow in us until the day we are given the full prize. So not only will we get to interact with Him in that fully-satisfying way in which we were designed to live, but our daily interactions with Him in this life will grow more and more like that final prize as time rolls on (see Phil. 1:6).

As Christians, Christ has all of us and we have all of Him. You can’t be any closer than to be “in.” And Paul teaches us numerous times that we are in Him and He is in us. But practically speaking, we have so much more to look forward to. Our positional standing in Christ is, as the hymn writer put it, “a foretaste of glory divine.” Paul expressed it this way:

“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better….I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live…” (Phil. 1:21-14 NLT).

Feel the tension of the dissatisfaction. It’s okay. In fact, it’s a sign of a growing, healthy understanding. It’s a lot better than bringing God down to the level of high school sweetheart.


Leaks, Feet, and iPhones: Are We Losing Something?

We’re slowly losing something.

 

I came to this realization while preaching to my youth group last night (it’s a risky thing to have such a weighty thought nagging on your mind while you’re trying to preach on a completely different subject). In fact, this post is the result of me sorting through it mentally this morning.

 

Last night, we were talking about being ready to meet Christ face to face. And I asked the teens to imagine Jesus coming into the room and taking over the lesson. My application was about readiness – were they ready to be presented to Christ, by Christ some day. But in my head, I got to thinking about how different the whole lesson might have been if Jesus had taught it instead of me. What would it be like if my group of teens could be taken back in time to sit on the hillside over the Sea of Galilee and we all sat in the grass while Christ sat on a large stone and taught us God’s will for our lives. What if we could have walked with him and lived with him for a few weeks and then come back to our lives today? How would it change us?

 

From the times of Jesus’ earthly ministry, through the first few decades of church planting under the apostles, people from various cultures had a sense of need for a master teacher and an intense desire to learn – yes, even teenagers! Knowledge was hard to come by, learning was expensive, and access to both was limited. So when a travelling teacher would come to town and begin teaching in public, people would stop what they were doing and crowd around him eager to learn. Whether the teacher was a false teacher or Christ Himself, people had a general thirst for learning. This cultural mindset – the high value of learning from a teacher – spans the centuries of old testament prophets in Israel all of the way up to the early 1900’s in the western church and most everywhere and every time in between, with some varying degrees of variation.

 

But then came the personal computer in the late 1970’s to early 80’s. The change wasn’t instant, but as the popularity and accessibility of computers spread, the internet of the 90’s was almost a foregone conclusion – of course all of these computers should be connected in some way to allow people to communicate with them and share information. Fast forward 20 more years and here we are, about to step into 2015 with our new iPhone 6’s or Samsung Galaxies in hand. We’ve gone from sitting at the feet of a master, to a quick question to Siri. And the pace of change is accelerating quickly.

 

It’s this easy access to information that is changing us, and most of us aren’t really aware that it’s happening.

 

Before you roll your eyes, let me quickly and clearly state that this post is NOT intended to bash the internet, access to information, or new technology. I’m not an old man shaking my finger at anything new. I love my iPhone, my Facebook newsfeed, and my Bible study apps. I’ve just been struck with how much things have changed how we learn, and I’m asking myself what parts of that are good and what parts are negative.

 

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So, weighing the pros and cons, sitting at the feet of a master teacher was only as promising as the master teacher. And any of us who’ve been called of God into vocational ministry know that we teachers are far from perfect folk. The primary weakness of the master-teacher model of learning was the limits of information, and especially an ability to cross-reference what was taught to make sure it was accurate. There was a strong thirst to learn that necessitated a high level of trust. And sometimes men took advantage of people’s trust. The era of the Catholic Church, and its bad habit of hoarding knowledge away from commoners comes to mind. (They resisted an English translation, and insisted on church authority as being equal to biblical authority. Many people gave their lives merely for their desire to have and read an English translation of the Bible).

 

The information age has brought us the ability to access the results of the learning of a dozen highly skilled Ph.d.-level Bible scholars in a matter of seconds to use as a cross-reference for what our pastor just said in his sermon. The degree of accountability this brings to the pulpit can be a good thing. Curious about a controversial Bible issue? Just scan Grace to You, John MacArthur’s blog of literally thousands of Bible sermons, articles, topical essays, videos, and more. Or take a scroll through John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries website, the Ligonier Ministries website, Al Mohler’s Daily Briefing blog, Mark Dever’s 9 Marks ministry site, The Gospel Coalition’s online blogs and resources, Sermon Audio’s hundreds of thousands of sermons from pastors and scholars around the globe, and more!

 

How could this kind of access to Bible knowledge be a bad thing?

 

That brings us back to the opening statement of this post. We’re slowly losing something.

 

Human nature tends to value what it can’t have more highly than what it has. Any nursery worker had this one figured out already.

 

We have begun the slow process of letting go of the value of the knowledge of God. Why? Because it’s so easy to come by. Learning and understanding the God of the Bible has become so easy that it has started to become boring. I feel this pull in my own life too. Scripture memory? Why? I have a smart phone in my pocket constantly with 5 or 6 different English versions of the Bible on it. If I need something, I can just look it up in 15 seconds. That’s my go-to excuse. But I forget that scripture is a living word that, if hidden in my heart, will have a steering, cleansing effect on my daily habits and mindsets. The Christian life is more than knowing lots of stuff. But we’ve made the pursuit of the information side of the equation so easy, that the corresponding pursuit of developing character seems to be suffering. At least it is in my own life. Maybe it’s just me. But methinks not.

 

Is it possible, that in gaining so much, we’ve lost something of critical value and we don’t even realize it?

 

We’ve talked about the disadvantages of a master-teacher learning style. But what were the advantages?

 

Students sat at their master’s feet. I’m not referring to the exalting of a master – unless it’s Christ. It has always been a bad thing when people have exalted a human teacher. I’m referring to the organic, life-touching-life relationship between master and student that often existed back then. As the students spent time with their master and the learning unfolded slowly, they got a chance to observe how the master lived out the very truths he was teaching. The knowledge and the application to daily life came together along with the development of the character necessary to use the knowledge skillfully. We’ve even lost this educational dynamic in our “mass-production” school systems. But that’s another topic altogether.

 

No one disputes the gradual effects social-media and digital friendships are having on how we relate to one another. I see consistent articles on this topic on various news sites. The effects of an altered concept of relationships is starting to show up in the workplace, marriages, etc. And again, there are good and bad aspects to the changes.

 

But how central and critical to our Christian lives is our learning?

 

And how much are we losing if we let go of the master-teacher style of relationship-based learning? Ironic that I would ask these questions and express these thoughts through a blog post, I know. Perhaps I will use these thoughts as the seeds for a teaching session with my teens. I don’t know yet. There is the risk of it coming across to them as a slam on their love of technology, and I don’t want that because I want them to benefit from the hundreds of terabytes of info available to them.

 

But, as a teacher and a learner who feels the increasingly stale atmosphere in the North American church and the pressure to “compete” with what is available online instantly, I needed this reminder that this method of life-touching-life teaching that Christ practiced will always have an organic value that Siri can’t compete with. Not to pick on “her,” but she’s programmed to handle it. Siri isn’t indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Neither is the iPhone 6, despite what Apple’s marketing department might like to think. But God-ordained teachers and disciplers are!

 

And so I need to remember that the value in my ministry is not the information alone – if that were the case, I’d be losing the race quickly. What I have to offer is what has been offered to me – Christ in me, the hope of glory, and Christ through me organically impacting the hearts and opinions of those I interact with. The most important aspect of my teaching ministry is what happens privately in my learning from Christ. I can’t spread a fire horizontally if my vertical relationship with Christ is ice cold.

 

It seems to me that it would be better if Christ did enter the room and take over the lesson. But in that thought, I was forgetting something. Christ is in me, and is living through me, and has called me to shepherd those young lives on the basis of that reality. So in a very real and organic sense, Christ was in the room. That’s a humbling thought considering my sinful, self-focused heart. But it’s also an encouraging thought to those of us called to impact others for Christ. Which, by the way, we are all called to do.


Worship: Think, Feel, or Sing?

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!

Worship the Lord with gladness.

Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

He made us, and we are his.

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:1-3)

Do a google image search for “worship.” Then do one for “traditional worship.” The results are interesting. The first turns up images with blatant emotion. The second…well… not so much.

We often think of the Psalms as the biblical core of expressions of worship. And that opinion is not without merit.

But on the flip side, we rarely think of the Pentateuch as a hotbed for passages regarding worship. Nor the prophets. Nor the epistles. But are these portions of scripture not intensely committed to the topic?

Read this:

“On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will WORSHIP there, and then WE will come right back.”” (Gen 22:4-5) [emphasis mine].

Is that the kind of “worship service” you’d like to participate in? If we’re honest, no. Not in Isaac’s place, or in Abraham’s place.

My theory is that we think this way because we associate worship with feelings disproportionately. Even the groups of people I’ve known who are very reserved in their feelings during corporate worship would still admit this about their approach to scripture. The emotion-saturated Psalms are more focused on the concept of worship than the narrative stories and law passages found in Genesis-Deuteronomy. Right? Wrong.

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So what am I getting at?

Take a quick definition of worship and hold on to it while you mentally survey your way through scripture from Creation to the Cross. This exercise confronts us with the overall biblical picture of what worship involves. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve been considering as a result of doing this:

Worship was perfect, direct, relational, conversational, intentional, delightful, and central before sin.

Obviously, sin changed everything.

Perfect worship like they had would now be the elusive goal, the light at the end of a long, long tunnel carried in the hands of a Serpent-Crusher Messiah.

Worship necessarily became inseparable from trust in, and obedience to, this overall plan for our rescue by a coming Redeemer. Worship and faith and obedience cannot be separated.

Worship became significantly intertwined with somber, gruesome, yet necessary teaching symbols designed to make the participant think long and hard about his sin and his need for a Saving Lamb. We think of Old Testament worship primarily as dancing, clapping, singing, cymbals, and sackbuts (those of you raised on, or using the KJV will get that one). But what about the entire sacrificial system? Was that somehow less associated with worship than the Jewish festivals and Psalms? No. Worship was bloody and somber by times. Why? To keep them thinking about the costs of sin and their need for a Messiah. Worship and thinking, even somber thinking, cannot be separated.

Worship, no matter how joyful and triumphant, was consistently rejected by God when the hearts of His people were not sincere in their repentance from sin. Our natural gear is self-exaltation and self-worship, which doesn’t jive well with exalting God’s exclusive worthiness for praise (pun intended). Because that is the natural mode of our hearts, it takes effort to approach God in humility and brokenness. Any trace of self-exaltation renders worship non-worship. Worship and a broken and contrite heart cannot be separated.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

Worship consistently bore two great realities as its driving fuel. Both of these realities, when meditated on (there’s the thinking aspect again), drive the worshipper to an emotional expression of praise (whether Moses and Miriam after the Red Sea crossing, or David after his sin with Bathsheba). The first reality seen throughout scripture is the sinful worshipper’s unworthiness to receive anything good from a just God. The second reality is God’s stubbornly loving intention to pour out that goodness anyways through the mediation of the Messiah, offering us mercy and pardon and hope! When dealing with truths of this significance – literally a matter of life or death for us – worship cannot be separated from emotion and feelings.

A note here: Joy-filled, emotional times of worship without an emphasis on thinking about truth, and especially without an effort to acknowledge our sinfulness or to repent, are not truly times of worship at all. To disappear into emotions and to leave your thoughts behind is to leave worship behind. You may leave the service feeling encouraged, lifted up, and ready to face your work week, but you haven’t truly worshipped.

On the other hand, is it possible for you to truly grasp these truths, their significance and their personal impact, and not be moved emotionally in some way?

Worship is not merely thinking about a truth(s).

Worship is not merely feeling something.

It is thinking about a truth’s impact on you and responding appropriately to God about how you feel about that impact.

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Have you ever heard it said that we should focus less on what we get from God (ie. what He does FOR us) and put more of our worship and prayer energy into praising Him for who He is?

I get that. I understand the goal. We truly do tend to come to God in prayer with a wishlist and spend the majority of our time asking for what we need rather than praising Him for His attributes. Our prayer life is naturally self-serving rather than God-exalting. And so, in a way, that problem needs to be addressed.

But I’m not fully comfortable with where that admonition could take us. And here’s why:

The reason God has revealed Himself to us (all of His attributes, names, and nature) is because He is intimately engaged in the outcome of our eternal destiny. He wants us to know Him. And knowing Him is – in every sense – the greatest benefit we could ever pursue. Everything He is relates to everything He is doing. Character and actions cannot be separated. He does what He does because He is who He is. And what He is doing has an automatic impact on us. In other words, it is impossible to praise Him for who He is without knowing that we will benefit as a result. But that’s okay. In fact, that’s exactly how it should be!

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Maybe it’s my conservative background, or maybe it’s my non-emotive German side, but when I see times of worship where the participants slip into heightened levels of feeling and seem to almost get lost in something like a trance, I must admit that I’m tempted to tap them on the shoulder, interrupt them, and ask, “Hey man, what’cha thinkin’ about?” Sometimes I think that I would “catch” them in wandering thoughts, or in no thoughts at all. If someone is overwhelmed by emotion in their worship and no one knows why – including them, something’s not right.

But, to be fair, I’ve seen emotional expressions of worship that were very clearly connected to a truth being discussed or sung about. The truth, and its importance, was the fuel behind the emotion, and it had a God-ordained, powerful impact on those involved. Sometimes that happens for an individual and no one else knows what’s going on in their heart except them and God. This happened a lot for me after I lost my first wife, Heather. My awareness of the value of certain aspects of the gospel was greatly heightened. And sometimes it’s corporate. But the truth-to-feelings link is present.

In some services, people are genuinely moved by the incredible truths being sung about. The music is well-written, well-played, and it supports the expression of the doctrines of the incredible gospel of Christ, and they want to express what they are thinking – with feelings – to their God and Savior. But they feel they can’t because of the expectations of those around them. Any overt expression of feelings comes with glances and silent assumptions of the expressive person’s motives.

Worship without thinking isn’t worship. It’s feelings.

But, worship without feelings (joy or sorrow, doesn’t matter) is most likely not personally engaged or invested in the truths being thought about, and therefore, isn’t truly worship either.

Chew on it. Personalize it. And maybe even make some changes. I’ve had to change some of my attitudes. But this is important. After all, worship is why we exist. Isn’t it?


Pleasure is a Picture

Pleasure is a Picture

~ Kevin Burrill

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Pleasure is a picture.

Every taste and every treat,

is intended to remind us,

of the joys of Jesus’ presence,

when with Him we finally meet.

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Pleasure is a present,

sent to teach us, as it thrills,

to be grateful, full of worship,

ever praising God the Giver,

for such grace through Calv’ry’s hill.

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But pleasure, too, can trap us,

turn our gaze from God on high.

We settle for the pictures in a web of silly lies.

A lesser prize

lures in our eyes

in place of Christ, the worthy Maker of our lives.

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We would do well to call to mind,

the only merit we have earned,

apart from God – the Just, the Kind,

is Hell, to be forever burned.

All else we hold comes to our hand

by grace, and mercy’s pardon planned.

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So, when reaching for a pleasure of this life, one great or small,

the taste of chocolate’s warmth,

or a man and wife embracing in each other’s arms in love,

reach, but stop and ponder through

your heart’s intended goals –

merely satisfying self,

or to enjoy the God-sent gift

as an act of loving worship

to the Giver of them all.

If it isn’t had as worship,

then it can’t be had at all!


Memories and Gratitude

In some ways, I can’t believe it’s been two whole years. And in other ways, it seems like so much longer because so much has changed since then. Today, as I think about my short time with Heather before she died, I can’t help but feel a swelling up of gratitude.

God gifts each person with skills, tools, strengths, and so on. And, while Heather had her weaknesses, it’s some of her strengths that I remember most.

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(Some family photos before Heather’s second surgery)

God gave her a heart that was intensely wired to enjoy time with people. In fact, the more people in the room, the more her emotional batteries would begin to charge up (like solar panels picking up the sun’s light). It wasn’t just being around them, she enjoyed deeply connecting with them relationally – listening to their hopes, hurts, dreams, and plans, and in turn, sharing her own with them. When a new opportunity for friendship presented itself, for Heather, the open connection was instant. While this trait was harder for me at first (I like some interaction, but it gradually drains me down and I need to recharge with alone time), I can see where God used the example of this strength in Heather to build in me a greater love for connecting with people.

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(Heather hugging our two sons, Judah and Levi, after her first surgery)

Another memory that makes me smile is the way Heather wore her heart on her sleeve. She was strong in the emotions category (which took some getting used to for me), but I’m thankful for how her feelings were tempered with a softheartedness. When she was smiling or laughing – which was most of the time – it seemed to literally brighten the room. When she was feeling deep sadness at the loss of her mother or during other trials we faced together, the room was dimmer, the air heavier and almost desaturated. When a friend or one of her siblings was hurting, her tears for them were quick and genuine. When she got frustrated with me, she was quick to return gently and ask for forgiveness. And when I needed forgiveness, she was eager to give it. In all these ways her heart was big, soft, naturally oriented towards others, and eager to give God glory.

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(Heather as Elaine, Josh as her father, and me as Mortimer in a stage production of Arsenic and Old Lace) 

Finally, I remember the hardest aspect of her final preparations for saying goodbye. The physical suffering was difficult for her in ways I’ll never know. And the concern for me, for her dad and new mom, for her sisters and her brother was difficult also. Surprisingly, fear of the coming unknown (meaning, what it’s like to step out of this life into the next) didn’t bother her as much. I remember asking her, “So, are you ready?” And she smiled and answered, “Yup.” The thing that troubled her most was having to leave this world to be with Christ, without knowing whether or not those closest to her, who hadn’t yet accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, would do so. And she realized that her time of influence in their lives toward that end, was coming to an end. The way she expressed it was, “It’s just so hard not knowing if I’ll get to see them again.”

Just one more potent example of how God had graced her heart with Christlike concern for others over herself.

And just one more reason I have to be thankful for the short time God allowed her to influence and strengthen me to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better pastor, and a better servant of Christ.

“Thank you Lord, on this special day, for your design of Heather’s life – from the beginning, over the ups and downs, and to the end.”

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(One last Christmas together as a family – a fitting way to celebrate God’s grace)