2013 – Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Something new: prayer!
Genesis 4: That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God.
Things are really messed up. The human race is fallen. The Garden is gone. The first murder has taken place. It’s all falling apart. This “free will” thing isn’t working out very well. Eve has another son and names him Seth. Seth has a son and names him Enosh. Then a wonderful thing happens: people start praying and worshiping. I wonder how that came about. Is Seth so thankful for the gift of a son that he decides to start worshiping God? Is it Enosh who has a hunger for God and introduces praying and worshiping? I don’t know the answer but I do see here a change for the better; one that brought hope to a hopeless situation. So what does it take in my life? Does it take tragedy…or some great blessing? Does it take someone else finding the way and showing it to me? What does it take to turn me from a life being lived for self to one being lived in fellowship with God?
Take away: Prayer and worship is an “important discovery” for every person to make.
2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX
Sin, murder, and grace
Genesis 4: Sin is lying in wait for you…you’ve got to master it.
The first children are born to the human race, two boys. These boys become men and these men are worshipers of God. One is a dirt farmer and the other raises livestock. These two worshipers of God bring sacrifices to the Lord. To Cain’s dismay God likes his brother’s offering better than his own. I’ve heard a few sermons on the reason why. In fact, I’ve attempted to deal with the topic myself. Some people think it’s the lack of blood in Cain’s offering. Others pounce on the “firstborn” aspect of Abel’s offering and the writer of the book of Hebrews focuses in on the faith aspect of it. Deciding why one offering is more acceptable than the other is a hard call. After all, Cain brought from what he had, just as Abel did. Of course, we know that this passage isn’t here to elevate one type of offering over the other. This account is about sin, murder, and grace. When Cain’s angry with God about his brother’s offering the Lord warns him that he’s skating on thin ice. Being disappointed with God, apparently, isn’t sin in itself; but such an attitude attracts sin. The Lord speaks to Cain like a father talking to his son, warning him that it’s a dangerous road he’s traveling. This situation has potential for Cain to be humbled. If he responds to the Lord by asking for an explanation concerning why his offering is inferior to Abel’s we won’t have the mystery concerning it. Instead, Cain proves God right by doing the wrong thing. At this point, the score is Sin: one, Cain: nothing.
Take away: Some things that aren’t quite sin, can, if I’m not careful, open that door.
Lamb, Lion, King
Revelation 5: Look – the Lion from Tribe Judah, the Root of David’s Tree, has conquered.
The One who sits on the Throne has a small, sealed scroll full of mysteries to be revealed. However, not just anyone is qualified to open it. In fact, no one can be found and it appears to John as though his “revelation” isn’t going to happen. Then, he sees a Lamb that appears both weak and strong at the same time; bearing marks of death but with traits of unequaled wisdom and strength. John hears one of the Elders call this Lamb “the Lion from Tribe Judah.” We know about Judah. That’s the royal family tree of Israel. King David was of that family; so is Jesus. The One John sees looks like a slain Lamb that’s very much alive and powerful. This Lamb is also a Lion – a conqueror. He takes the scroll but at that moment no one’s thinking of the scroll. All heaven bursts forth in praise for the Lamb-Lion. It’s a thrilling moment as “thousand after thousand after thousand” of heavenly beings break forth in a song of praise. That group gets the first verse, then for the next one, all creation joins in. What a scene! There’s more to read, more to be revealed, and more to consider. For the moment though, as happens in this scene of worship I think I’ll just stop and join them in worshiping this Lamb-Lion-King.
Take Away: Worship of Jesus is at the heart of all Creation.
A different kind of “street service”
Hebrews 13: God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship…that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.
We’re not sure who is the writer of Hebrews, but this chapter (and not just the Timothy, Italy, and prison references) feels a whole lot like Paul’s writings. As he closes the letter, as Paul does, the writer tosses in a lot of one line instructions. As a reader, what I get out of a chapter like this depends a lot on what’s happening in my life right now. Tomorrow I might read it again and have a different “one-liner” jump out at me. Anyway, the instruction to take our faith out of the church and into the streets stands out to me. Christians are to be generous people who not only respond to needs when we’re confronted with them, but who actively go out and seek those in need that we might minister to them in Christ’s name. I tend to think of “worship” as what takes place on Sunday mornings inside the church building. In this passage I’m reminded that God really likes it when I make my “sacrifices” (an Old Testament style of worship) outside the church building and into my everyday life; at home, at work, and out in the general public. In-church worship is important, a vital part of living in Christ. Out-of-church worship is just as important as I take Jesus in practical ways to those “out there.”
Take Away: Worship inside the church and service outside the church are both vital parts of Christianity.
Hebrews 10: Not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on.
All the heavy lifting to provide my salvation has already been done by Jesus. It’s his obedience to the cross that’s opened a new, living way to God. It’s his blood that’s been shed, providing the final, ultimate sacrifice. Now, the way to God is opened and I have sure, absolute promises upon which to take my stand. So, that’s what I do. I respond in belief and then do all I can to nurture that hope I’ve been so graciously given. One of the ways I do that, according to the writer of Hebrews, is to worship with fellow believers. In spite of the fact that some folks don’t think it is necessary or worth the time, I’m to see it as a valuable component of the life of faith. As part of a worshiping community my connection to Jesus is strengthened, my understanding of the things of God is deepened, and opportunities for serving the Lord are provided. Some may think they know better or that they have bigger fish to fry. I see it as one of several ways in which I more firmly grasp my hold on the things of God. After all, Jesus has already done the heavy lifting here. My being faithful to his Church and all the other disciplines of the Christian life is nothing in comparison to his bleeding and dying on the cross.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Worship service or a wrestling match?
1Corinthians 14: When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared….
Attending a church service at Corinth must be quite an experience. Some people are involved in a civil lawsuit against each other. There’s blatant immorality and the church has divided between the “it’s no big deal” crowd and the “it’s sin” crowd. Communion has been turned into a potluck and there’s competition, not over who makes the best apple pie, but who gets to eat the most. Now, we see that people are fighting over gets to be “featured” in the worship services. One person starts praying, maybe in a prayer language, only to be shouted down by someone else who tries to pray better. One person has a “message from God” but is shouldered out of the way by someone being more spiritual about their “message from God.” The whole thing, in Paul’s eyes, is infantile. The Apostle tries to walk a tightrope about it all. On one hand, he likes the idea that they’re excited about having the Holy Spirit work in and through them. On the other hand, this disorganized, competition-filled approach to worship has to go. Paul lays down some rules intended to calm things down. When he’s finished, their Spirit-language praying is, for practical purposes, removed from their worship services. He also rules out this business of talking over the top of one another with their competing “words from the Lord.” He tells them to get organized and to come prepared rather than making up their worship service as it goes along. Singers, teachers, and preachers are supposed to come ready to do their part. Basically, he calls them to intentional, prepared, humble, courteous, organized worship. If a person can’t handle that, they probably shouldn’t be up front in the first place.
Take Away: We want Spirit-filled worship but an indication of that isn’t people competing to be the most spiritual.
The Unknown God
Acts 17: He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him.
Paul is speaking at the Areopagus in Athens. He’s disturbed by all the shrines to all the deities worshiped there. He’s even seen one shrine dedicated to the “unknown god.” The folks there don’t want to overlook some god and unintentionally get on the bad side of him! When Paul gets a chance to be heard, he uses that shrine as his launching point. He’s there to tell them about the God they’ve missed. His argument is right out of the Old Testament. The prophets of old often called their people to worship the God not made with human hands. Paul tells them that the God he serves is good and gracious, blessing their lives even though they haven’t acknowledged him. This God reaches out to them, inviting them to live in a relationship with him. However, there comes a time when the “unknown” becomes the “known.” It’s one thing to enjoy the blessings of God in ignorance. It’s something altogether different to know of this good God and to intentionally ignore him. In fact, God intends to divide people along that very line. He’s so serious about it that he’s already appointed a Judge over the people of the earth. To make it perfectly clear to the whole world that this is his chosen Judge, God has raised him from the dead. Many of Paul’s listeners, worshipers of a variety of gods, can’t swallow this “resurrection business.” They can’t imagine their gods having that kind of power. They walk away believing that they’ve just heard an impossible myth. Others, though, are drawn to this good God and his resurrected, appointed Judge. They want to know more. I know where I stand on this issue. Where do you stand?
Take Away: This “Unknown God” can, and wants to be known by all.
This angel got the job all the angels wanted
Matthew 28: He rolled back the stone and then sat on it.
This angel is pretty cool. He’s supernatural, coming down out of heaven. He’s majestic with shafts of light blazing out of him. He’s powerful, rolling away the stone. Then, what does he do? He has a seat on the stone he speaks calmly and reassuringly and matter-of-factly to the women. It’s almost as though they don’t know whether to bow down to him or invite him out for breakfast. Then the resurrected Jesus makes his appearance. It’s the same way. Here’s the victor over death, freshly raised from the grave; yet he greats them with a cheery “good morning” as though they are just old friends who happen to meet at the mall. The women, though, know just what to do in this case. They bow before him. Jesus, still in an apparent light hearted mood tells them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the disciples that “plan A” is still in order and they’re to meet him at the designated spot in Galilee. This first Easter morning is awesome — holy. It’s also happy, joyous, and just a little light hearted. It’s an interesting balance and the Church should do all it can to capture this wonderful mixture as it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus.
Take Away: It’s the resurrection that makes Christianity the happy, hope-filled religion that it is.
Intentionally or not, the disciples did the right thing
Matthew 17: His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face.
To some extent I don’t think the Church has ever fully grasped the Person of Jesus. It took hundreds of years for the doctrine of the Trinity to be established and it’s been “official” now for over 1600 years. Still, if you talk to some people they’re still back in the early years of Christian theology and not convinced at all that the Trinity doctrine has it right. When we think about the Person of Jesus there’s always a tug a war between “he’s God” and “he’s man.” In the pages of the Gospels we watch Jesus, the man. He grows weary and sleeps, he gets thirsty, and he bleeds. We also watch Jesus, the Lord. He forgives sins and tells his disciples that he and the Father are one. In this passage, as Jesus takes three disciples up on the mountain, the humanity of Jesus is overwhelmed by this divinity. The disciples see it as light that pours out of him. This isn’t the Jesus they ate supper with last light. This isn’t the Jesus who slept through the storm. This is God. Peter, James, and John don’t know what to say or do as they experience this Jesus. Still, maybe by instinct, they do the right thing: they fall flat on their faces in reverence and awe. Know what? This radiant-light-pouring-out-of-his-face Jesus is just as much Jesus as the hungry, sleepy, dying-on-the-cross Jesus. Falling down in worship before him is an excellent response.
Take Away: We may struggle with the person of Jesus, but worshiping him is always the right response.
How to get a better preacher for your church
Malachi 1: You say “I’m bored – this doesn’t do anything for me.”
The people of Malachi’s day have lost the edge off of their religion. Worship services are a burden rather than a blessing. For them, righteous living is more about “have to” than “want to.” What should be the most satisfying part of life has become just another burden for them to bear. Malachi tells them why it’s like this: they’ve settled for a cheap religion. When they bring an animal to the Lord they don’t pick the finest they have. Instead, they pick one that’s probably going to die anyway. Even when they brag that they’re going to make some significant offering, at the last minute they just can’t bring themselves to do it and settle for a mere token offering instead. The result, according to Malachi, is a dull, boring religion. The less they put into their relationship with God the less they get out of it. Here’s the real kicker: God isn’t satisfied with their religion either. He says, “If this is how it’s going to be just lock the Temple doors.” Apparently, the Lord isn’t into playing church. I don’t think this concept gives us preachers a license to preach dull, sloppy, poorly prepared sermons or for singers and others to sleep walk through church. However, from years of experience I can affirm that the people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them. Why not give it a try? Get up early enough to pray for the services and for yourself, arrive ahead of time, focus on the Lord, and give 100% to worship. Who knows? You might have a better preacher at your church than you think you do!
Take Away: The people who get the most out of worship services are the ones who put the most into them.