Category Archives: Worship

Dealing with Despair

Humans are generally terrible at dealing with difficulties, adversity, sorrow, trials or illness. We tend to whine, mope and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way. But God understands and He has placed in Scripture a fail-safe way for us to transcend difficult circumstances, rise above the adversity and refocus on what is truly important. He doesn’t ask us to grit our teeth and go on. He doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up. He doesn’t even ask us to put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. In Psalm 13: 1-6, He gives us a template for dealing with difficult times.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Like David, we are an impatient people! We could endure almost anything if we knew how long it would last, but not knowing the future leads us into despair and our entire perspective on life goes dark.

We accuse God of forgetting us. He doesn’t, of course, but it feels to us like he does. We accuse God of turning His back to us. “He has abandoned me (and we add the melodramatic) – FOREVER!” “Where are You?” we cry. So we “take counsel” in our souls. In other words, we get inside our own heads, park there and go around and round and round which only leads to more depression and anxiety. We are convinced that we have been left on our own and we start to try to figure out our own solutions.

But David knows better, even though he feels alone and abandoned he reaches out to the God he knows is there and the turnaround begins.  David starts to realize that He needs God’s wisdom and perspective. He understands that “taking counsel with himself”, staying inside his own head, will never get him out of his doldrums. He understands that without God’s insight, without God showing up, he will likely just give up either emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Here is where David shows us how to win the victory over despair. “But” is a powerful word. It is a declaration that we will not be held captive by our situation; a declaration that we are choosing a different reality, that we will not be defined by our circumstances. David makes the declaration that he will ground his life, not on his own feelings or self-counsel, but on the foundational, unmovable truths of God’s character. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

This is God’s basic character – Love. I can trust that God will always be true to Himself in His dealings with me. I can expect that God will continue to act according to His Love towards me expressed in Christ Jesus. Trust is a choice, a deposit of faith into the treasury of God’s love. The present circumstances do not change who God is nor do they block the eternal flow of His love, mercy, goodness, compassion, patience toward me. I can bank on that.

And while trust is a function of the mind, rejoicing is an act of the heart. Rejoicing isn’t about being happy. It isn’t putting a good face on and going around saying “Praise the Lord.” Rejoicing is grounding our heart, our deep down core, firmly on God’s present and future deliverance. Not only can we be sure and rejoice in our eventual heavenly home, but we can know that God will not abandon us to the present troubles – He rescues us here and now.

When our focus is on God’s eternal Love and his saving work, we can’t help but express that outwardly through our mouths or body. Our whole being rises up and overflows in worship to Him. Some of might even sing out loud. We remember how He has dealt with us. We look at our lives and see His hand guiding our moments. We recognize that what we thought were seemingly insignificant moments or random happenings were actually His acting to bring us closer to Him.

And we are breathless, humbled and joyful.

This Psalm reflects the arc that our life takes as we live our lives through any troubles. We move from complaining and despair, to crying to God in prayer for help, to a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Father; a relationship not based on trusting our own strength or wisdom, not based on our own goodness or righteousness but a relationship wholly grounded on His love and grace. As we move through the difficulties of life, if we will remember to Trust, Rejoice and Sing, we will be able to say with absolute confidence: It is well with my soul.

The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

Critical Mass Prayer

In physics, critical mass refers to the minimum amount of material needed to start and maintain a nuclear reaction. In general, it also refers to the minimum amount of “something” – people, money, petitions – to gain momentum and achieve a desired effect. In other words, if I gather enough “somethings” then I can accomplish what I need.

This is perfectly illustrated in the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears A Who. Horton the elephant, with his big ears can hear the tiny Whos that live on a speck of dust, but no one else hears them and they think Horton is crazy. In order to make themselves be heard, the Whos start making as much noise and shouting as possible, but they are not heard until the tiniest baby Who lets out a small “Yap.” That Yap when added to all the other noise is just enough – critical mass – to break into Horton’s world and be heard. Horton was right! The Who world does exist!

It seems to me that Christians sometimes treat prayer in the same way. I need to generate a critical mass of people praying before God hears and responds to my prayer request. It is not enough for me to pray individually, but I need a bunch of people. It’s as if we don’t think God will take us seriously until we meet this elusive critical mass of prayer.

But clearly, this not Biblically correct. The Bible is full of stories of individual men and women who prayed by themselves and God answered them. We are even encouraged to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). So why do we think that we need to marshal more and more prayer support to get the answers we want or need? Why do we ask others to pray for us? Why do we send our prayer requests in to a prayer chain or intercessor group?

I don’t think the purpose of corporate prayer is about convincing God that we are really, really serious, or because we are too insignificant individually to be heard. I think the point of corporate prayer is to spread the fame of the Lord as far and as wide as possible. Let me explain. The more people are praying, the more people will see (or hear about) the answered prayer and the more praise God will get. His fame as a good and faithful Father will spread – as it should. Sure, WE benefit from an answer to prayer, but He receives the glory and worship He deserves. Look at how Psalm 145 puts it:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 145:1-7)

People will be talking to each other and to other generations about the works to God and He will be greatly praised.

So go ahead and enter your secret prayer room to pray to your Father in secret but when you are done get on the phone, text, social media and enlist an army of prayer supporters so that you can all speak of His wondrous works and awesome deeds. And generate a critical mass of praise!

I Don’t Want a Plastic Jesus – reprise

This a re-post from 2012 but I think it is still relevent

Its Christmas time again and you know what that means? It means it’s time to climb into our attics or rummage in the garage for our plastic Jesus to put in the nativity scene. I especially like the ones that you can put a light inside and make him glow. Now before you call me a Scrooge, let me just say that I can appreciate the spirit of the season and the meaning of the manger scenes, but there is a subtle danger in these plastic displays. Let me explain.

Think about what we are doing here. We have a plastic casting of a baby which we deem to represent Jesus. But this plastic Jesus is totally dependent on us to show up. He can only come out of his box when we want him to. We hose him off, plant him in a plastic crib and light him up. Then at the end of the season, we wrap him up in bubble wrap and put him away for another year. And my guess is that most people don’t think about him again for that year. This plastic Jesus makes no demands on our lives. He doesn’t challenge us. He doesn’t convict us. He doesn’t speak to those areas of our lives that need to change. At the same time, this plastic Jesus doesn’t forgive sin. He doesn’t offer rest. He doesn’t heal. He doesn’t bring joy, comfort or peace. Plastic Jesus just lays there surrounded by plastic people making no impact in our lives. He is tame… and quite frankly, useless.

I don’t want a plastic Jesus. The Jesus I know is independent of me. He acts as He wills, whenever He wants. He shows up in my life in the most unexpected places and times. And while that may be inconvenient at times, it is terribly rewarding when I pay attention. I do not control this Jesus. Hopefully, He has total control of my life. At least that is what I am striving for. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

The Jesus I know speaks into my life. He doesn’t leave me alone or to my own devices because He cares enough about me to want better for me. This Jesus does demand, convict and forgive. The Jesus I know is someone I can go to when the world has beaten me up and I am weary. The Jesus I know is someone I can talk to, cry to and worship. He is someone I can depend on when others have let me down. He is someone who can give me hope, joy, comfort, peace, rest, direction, wisdom, support. This Jesus is someone I can worship. I mean really look to beyond anything the world can offer. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

So, I’m not saying not to put up our Christmas lawn ornaments – or maybe I am, but either way please look beyond the hollow plastic baby and recognize the true and living Lord. This Christmas bow down in reverence.

What’s Your Name?

It has always been fascinating to me how we humans name everything around us! We name our children (then give them nicknames too), our pets, our cars, our houses, our streets, our buildings, our parks… We also name animals, rocks, trees, grasses, food, on and on. We name everything we lay our eyes on or build with our hands. And it’s no wonder, right after God told Adam to subdue the earth, He gave him the task of naming animals. I think our need to give everything in our lives names springs from our God-given mandate to subdue and have “dominion” over creation. In other words, naming things is our way of exercising control and owning the things named. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we were created to be. But we took it too far.

When Moses first encounters God at the burning bush, he hears God tell him that he will deliver his people from slavery, but Moses’ first question is, “What is your name? Who should I tell the people who sent me?” You see growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses knew gods with god-names like Osiris, Thoth, Horus or Ra. The gods had names that the Egyptians had given them and by naming their gods, humans were able to exercise some control over them. By naming our gods, we could define who they were, what they were like and what their limitations were. We made our gods to our standards and so could have dominion over them. But God’s answer to Moses in that encounter was not to give Moses a name, but simply to declare His existence. When God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” He wasn’t naming Himself, he was stating His presence. And throughout Scripture, He always reveals Himself in terms of His presence in our lives or relationship to us, never as just a name. (We kid ourselves if we think that Jehovah is His real name).

I think He has done this for a very simple and specific reason. He bypasses our naming convention because He will not let Himself be controlled or defined by us. He will never be under our dominion, so there is a never a “name” WE can give Him. We will always have to rely on His self-revelation to us. Even Jesus, when he appeared in the flesh, was not named by His human parents, but by the revelation of God the Father. He was given a name that revealed His purpose in His presence on Earth – to save His people.

What all this means is that we will never be able to put Him in our box of what a “proper” god should do and be. He will always be separate, sovereign and self-sufficient. We will only begin to understand Him as we understand His relationship to us. He can never be too familiar or casual because we will never truly know His name. We will only know that is still “I AM.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Worship for One

I am fortunate to live in a city that has a House of Prayer. It’s modeled after the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and is operated by a group of diverse churches throughout the area. And while it is not up to a 24/7 schedule there are many hours through the week that you can go and enjoy a wonderful sense of God’s presence and worship until you burst. That was my plan when I went one evening last week. I was looking forward to joining with other like-minded worshipers, but as I entered the church as was caught by surprise at what I saw. But first a bit of explanation. Each 2 hour block of the night is staffed by a worship leader (either alone with a band), a prayer leader and a watch leader.  That evening, as I walked into the prayer room there were only three people there – the worship leader, the prayer leader and the watch leader – no one else had shown up to attend! As I sat down in the back row and looked at this empty room, I was momentarily taken aback. How can no one else show up? “What is wrong with people?” I thought to myself. Yet an even more powerful realization took hold. This young man leading worship was fully engaged and enraptured in worship. You could immediately tell that it didn’t matter how many people were there, he was going to worship his God.

I tell you this story because I have been thinking about my last blog post (The Successful Christian Life) for the last few weeks. What I experienced in the House of Prayer was a dramatic, real life illustration of what I was writing about. You see my initial reaction to the empty prayer room was about my assumptions and expectations of what a “successful” ministry should look like. The prayer should be full, or at least fuller. This was a “failure.” But it wasn’t for the worship leader. He just wanted to revel in God’s presence and rejoice in His goodness. Whether anyone else joined him or not was not the measure of a good night. And once I understood this and dropped my silly expectations, I spent the next two hours in the most marvelous and intense worship I had experience in quite a while.

I learned (again) that night that I can’t “walk by sight.” The things we see, the things we think are important, aren’t. I saw with my eyes an empty room, but my spirit experienced God. The room was full. It was full of worship, it was full of His Spirit, it was full of His angels attending to the worship. If I could have seen behind the scenes, I’m sure I would have seen a crowded room. And yet how many other times have I seen with my eyes and declared it a “failure”? How many times have I missed the Father at work because it didn’t look right to me?

So I walked away that night determined to carry with me into my daily, ordinary life what I learned that night – that the successful Christian life isn’t about how many people join you or how many people you can impress, but whether just living for One is enough.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

Worship for One is more than enough.

The Power of the Resurrection

Even though the Easter celebration is over it is still important to reflect on the great implications of that singular event. We read in the Luke’s account of the events of that first resurrection Sunday, the following story.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43 ESV)

 In this story Jesus goes to great lengths to present himself as a real, flesh and blood person. He proves his existence. It important that the disciples know he is truly and physically alive. It is also important for us to recognize that Jesus is truly and physically alive. Jesus is not a myth or legend, a good idea or concept, a philosophy of living or worldview or lifestyle. He is a person, once dead and is now alive!

The Church has been great about preaching the death of Christ, but misses the point that without the resurrection, his death doesn’t accomplish anything.   Consider the following Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:13-19 – But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. …17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 It’s because he was raised that his death became effective in forgiving our sin. So Paul is saying that without the resurrection, we would not be saved.

 Acts 13:29-33 – [Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia] …And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…

 It because Jesus was raised from the dead that all the promises the Father made could be fulfilled. The promises were not fulfilled by his death.

 Romans 10:9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

 This is a favorite verse used in evangelism, but note that our salvation is not based on believing that Jesus died but in believing that he was raised from the dead.

 I think it’s important, vital even, that every Christian understand and appreciate the power of the resurrection. Because my Redeemer lives I can pray for healing; I can overcome the attacks of the enemy; I can face the difficulties of this live; I can say to the mountains of depression, of fear, of broken relationships, of poverty, of sickness – MOVE and they move! Because my Redeemer lives I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and I become a witness to all he has said and done in my life. But it all depends on knowing Him – the risen Jesus. Because he lives, I live!

 AGAIN, it is important to understand and know that Jesus is a real, live person. It is as we know him and interact with him as a real person that we experience the life changing power of the resurrection with all the promises and possibilities that come with it.