Your Greatest Worship Experience Won’t Come At Church

I don’t have much against flashy, high-tech neon-drenched worship services courtesy of starched hair and skinny jeans.

That’s because I don’t know the hearts of the hair and jeans. When the great test of worship comes at 3am – when they get the dreaded phone call, or when they simply wake up with the old terror pressing in upon them – for all I know, they pass with flying colors. They trust God. They worship at their bedside.

Why assume that they don’t?

See, your greatest worship experiences probably won’t come at church.

I attend a church that doesn’t have one of “those” worship experiences every week. We try to stay simple, competent, and authentic. Fortunately, it’s also a church that teaches us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”, which has helped me check my critical spirit towards other churches and how they operate. We celebrate when other churches succeed.

After all, what access do I have to the hospital rooms in which the rubber of those believers’ faith meets the road?

What access do I have to their last late-night session with their thinning checkbook?

What access do I have when twenty years of isolation finally breaches the dam of their hearts and leaves them curled up against a silent wall, even after all their valiant demeanor on Sunday?

Your greatest worship experience won’t come at church. It comes unscheduled, unrehearsed, unforeseen, on days other than Sunday, when your character and trust are tested by life’s nastiest assaults. It comes when you’re on the ragged edge of snapping at your coworkers, or when the bottle’s comfort just feels irresistible, or the arms of someone you know you shouldn’t be seeing. The true and only question is simply this: will you choose him? Over despair? Over idols? Over distance?

That’s worship.

Raising your hands on Sunday means nothing if you sin with them the other six days. Tithing means little from a resistant giver. A degree from a Bible college is pointless if it’s not put into practice. This sounds harsh, but I can draw no other conclusion from Jesus’ words.

Worship at its deepest form happens not on the stage, but in the closet.

That’s comforting on a number of levels. It means your life and spiritual performance don’t have to be the internal equivalent of a dozen multicolored spotlights and smoke machines for you to come before him. It means that humble churches without such assets can still run to him. It means that the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) is ours regardless of the rest of our wardrobe.

Worship with your life.

And if it’s been a while since you did so, worship with repentance right now, in your closet. It can be done. Jesus awaits with open arms.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, feel free to share on social media. Thanks a bunch!

When God Moves Us Fraidy-Cats

23746683041_6dd4b048d1_zThis weekend, I helped someone move, and there was a cat involved.

Some cats handle moving better than others, staring wide-eyed with fascination out the window as a world beyond their understanding flits by.

This was not such a cat. She has to be the most timid beast I’ve ever met. For weeks, she has been crouched behind whatever will give her cover while her owner clanked dishes into boxes and thumped belongings around – the usual chaos of moving. At one point, once almost everything was packed up, she hid behind a book on the floor. A book. The front cover was upturned, and she hid her face behind it, rump protruding from behind.

And once she was safely in the car and there was nowhere left to hide, she simply turned her face to the corner and kept it there for the entire ten-hour ride.

I was tempted to make fun of her.

But then I saw myself in her.

The cat had no way to comprehend what was happening. It was beyond her. Cars, houses, moves, jobs, thunder, sunshine…she lacked the faculties to understand a tenth of it. All she knew was that she was being moved into an unfamiliar environment, without knowing how long, sound and fury all around her.

Yet the humans in charge knew it signified nothing. We knew it was an unremarkable move between states. We knew it would all be over soon, that she’d be okay, and that she would eventually grow into her new surroundings.

We are this cat.

When God moves us, it scares the willies out of us, honestly. We haven’t the capacity to see or understand a tenth of what’s going on. The spiritual clanks and crashes behind what we see and hear, the purposes of God in it all – it’s on the same level to us as elevators and internal combustion are to the average cat.

And so we turn our faces to the corner, and a little part of our hearts (maybe not so little) resenting God. We want our old place, our comfortable toys and occasional plate of tuna water.

But God sees a greater reality. Wonderful things are happening, or at least necessary. He knows our destination, knows his purpose, knows all the plans he’s carefully laid out. He is not callously throwing us to a new owner, or casting us onto the street.

He has packed everything we need and sent it ahead of us; he has arranged for its unpacking when we arrive.

When we drive through thunderstorms on the route, they will not destroy us; when the sun rises and sets on our journeys, he remains our light.

And most of all, he himself will be there.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

And though we hide from him in fear and frustration, he keeps pursuing us, like I did with this cat. He seeks us in our hiding places, turning over unpacked bags and blankets until he finds our trembling form, and reassures us.

Will we wander out again? Will we peek out from the maze of dollies and askew furniture, walk back up to our Owner, and take a drink from his water again?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch.

Resting Killface and the Hard Glory of Yet Another Task

desertResting killface is a condition in which the mouth’s corners do not naturally turn upward, even when you’re eight tics happier than you look. The result is a face like mine, perpetually frozen somewhere between “quietly petrified”, “incurably grave”, and “Deep South serial killer”.

Your parents during your childhood: “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” you’d reply over your book.

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“You look annoyed.”

“I’m not. Now I’m annoyed because you keep asking.”

Years ago, I arrived at a party to announce I’d nabbed a new teaching position, only for a friend to go, “so why do you look like someone just shot your dog?”

If any of this is familiar, you might have resting killface. We’re good, we swear! We only look like we’ll strangle the next person who approaches us.

But eventually I had to face how my killface was impacting my social life. When I stood around in neutral, my downer look would repel folks. When I made a joke, my lack of smile would conflict with my tone, leaving others unsure of my intentions. It was subtle, but influential.

Following on this revelation’s heels was the fact that the onus was on me to change.

oasis-67549_1280.jpgThat was frustrating. I’ve never been socially gifted; friendmaking has been slow. To hear that I had a hand in getting where I was, and had more work to do, felt honestly like insult added to injury.

But the world wouldn’t change for me. Social dynamics were social dynamics. No matter how many Disney movies sang “be yourself”, no matter how many memes of people snapping their fingers in a “Z” motion and celebrating rejection of all advice, the score was the same. I needed to accept either this new “growth opportunity”…or the status quo.

Have you waged a years-long campaign only to be confronted with yet another battle?

Your student with special needs uncovers another learning disability.

Your illness breaks remission.

The new boss appears and turns out worse than your last three.

God exposes another soul weakness that needs work before he ends your singleness (I do believe he does this with some, my last post notwithstanding).

Another retreat fails to fix your marriage.

Your church keeps on bickering and back-biting, and now its foremost tither announces he’s moving.

Ugh.

I think of Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. He has just raced thousands of miles across country, first in a desperate flight from slavery, then carrying word of a coming invasion of the free and noble Archenland. He’s evaded city police, endured days of desert heat, and been chased by lions. Gasping, ready to collapse, he finally reaches Archenland’s citizens with news of the impending attack – only to learn that he’s the only one who can reach the king in time. He must keep going.

…”he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.”

I don’t know where C.S. Lewis got this sage stuff (well, yes I do), but it’s the kind that alters a young man’s trajectory.

Perhaps it is not cruelty but honor and reward, wearying though our journey be. Perhaps we should throw ourselves in without hesitation, as Shasta did the first river he found after his desert crossing. Or into the next leg of his journey.

For Shasta’s mission succeeded. In fact, not only did Archenland receive his warning in time to fortify its defenses until Narnian reinforcements could arrive, but Shasta discovered who he really was: the long-lost son of the very king he’d warned, heir to the very kingdom he helped save.

Be refreshed by God today. It is only through these travails that we will discover Whose sons and daughters we’ve been all along.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

mountain-background-hd-14

 

How the Doctrine-Averse Can Know God Really Loves Them

lostOccasionally, you might spot a Facebook page promising a Toyota 4Runner to some random user who shares the page.

Naturally, those pages are fake. They’re newly created, lacking Facebook’s verification symbol. Reminds me of that watershed of generosity, the Nigerian prince, who somehow dug up your email address and settled upon you(!) to receive his inheritance.

Baloney radar, start beeping. It claims to be good news…but how do you know?

I’m staggered by our willingness to accept any agreeable thought that crosses our minds. If it feels good, offers resolution, or minimizes emotional resistance, it stays.

Me? I’m leery about even the most encouraging thought, like a hiker balancing on a shifty rock in midstream, unless I know it comes from God. Unless an idea has his royal stamp, I’m holding onto it loosely at best.

You’re probably bracing for a dry, theological rant about how what feels good is not necessarily truth.

Well, yes, but that “necessarily” matters. Sometimes, a thought tickles our ears for good reason. Some theological truths can make us feel amazing. Though he is too big to wrap his existence around our emotional states, God still cares immensely about them. Otherwise, vast swaths of Scripture would not have been bothered with.

So…how do we know?

I mean, you and I have crossed dark places because of lies we couldn’t spot. We believed we were inadequate, that we had to be someone else to be loved. We believed that we had to control others, step on them (or over them), to get due credit. Though they look like a dark alley now, those thoughts looked agreeable at the time because they seemed to offer a way out. It’s a testament to our minds’ deceptivity.

How do we know what will really make us happy?

Take the news that God’s grace is a free gift, independent of our merit. It’s the best news we could hear. Yet our baloney radar fights it tooth and nail – we insist on a system where it must be earned. That’s why we fear losing God’s love after we sin. Our incredulity at such abuseable love surfaces at the worst possible time.

How do we know it’s true?

Doctrine.

We know because God’s Word holds it true.

Massive allergy-trigger-word, I know. Doctrine isn’t popular. Too many feel that it’s used to stifle joy and freedom rather than give life.

Yet doctrine also conveys amazing, true-beyond-all hope. There is a steadying quality in elevating Scripture above all. It eliminates the middleman of our own minds. Though some doctrine is difficult, with the bad comes incredible good.

It’s true that cults invoke this logic, gaslighting our intellect to cow people into subservience. But those cults don’t rely on (or don’t correctly interpret) archaeologically reliable documents that claim God’s inspiration. I mean, Scriptures is our only source of Jesus (one reason he lived in obscurity – to prevent the existence of fifteen “historical Jesuses” waiting for their own A&E specials). If we love him, why would we reject the rest of his words?

This is why this blog elevates Scripture above all. I trust what’s outside of me. It’s not about chasing our own happiness, for only Jesus knows where happiness lies. It lies in him alone!

 

Thanks for tuning in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Does God Need ME to Correct This Person?

Scripture Religion 3d Faith Glasses Bible Book

We’ve all been there. We look at someone else’s life, we see an issue that might need speaking to, and we experience an urge to be the one to bring it up – “for their own good”, of course.

I’ve learned to stifle these urges, for the most part.

One of the most encouraging possible relational truths is that whatever correction is needed in a person’s life, God is already on top of it. He hasn’t missed it; he doesn’t need to be notified. In fact, he saw it millennia before it came up.

Sometimes God doesn’t even use a human speaker. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve kept my mouth shut about someone else’s rough edges and, months or years later, heard the person speak of working on that very matter themselves, without any involvement from me. God laid it their heart all on his own.

And that’s when I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Or, what I’m seeing is the result of deeply rooted habits or wounds that would change the conversation entirely if I knew them.

If the person doesn’t seem to be changing, there are a few possible explanations:

1) God is waiting for a moment when they’re ready to hear correction;

2) God is grooming the right speaker with the right words;

3) The person isn’t listening to God;

4) Change is slow. (Or has change been fast with you? I’m afraid it hasn’t been with me.)

Whatever the case, I find I’m rarely the person God uses – or nearly not as often as I’d volunteer myself.

Some of that’s just simple math. If we assume every person has twenty mature, Scripturally literate people in their lives that they trust to speak difficult truth, just how many times should I expect to be the one out of twenty?

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m often just ooking to eliminate an inconvenience on myself (the ripple effects of their behavior) rather than honestly seeking to help.

So I don’t say much anymore. Instead, I trust God to have eyes to spot what’s important. Like a pair of colored glasses, he sees things I don’t. And what I do see, he sees differently.

Besides, don’t I have enough sanctification to work on in my own life?

Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips. (Prov. 17:28)

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Take Care Objecting to the Bride of Christ

applesThere was a second-grade teacher with a reputation for strictness. First-graders heard horror stories and dreaded the day they became hers.

What it meant, of course, was that she was doing her job and running an orderly class. Her students excelled and moved on with the tools they needed. The third-grade teachers adored her.

Someone else did, too, because eventually she got engaged. She was very happy.

Good thing, because that year she’d gotten one of those second-graders. You know the type. Disruptive, rude, fiendishly intelligent, yet never quiiite stepping over the line. How do eight-year-olds learn to play such games? It was a constant battle of wits keeping this student on-task.

Months later, her bag of tricks was exhausted. The student was insufferable. The parents never answered her calls. Counselors were of no help; reluctantly involving the principal did nothing. The boy thrived on the attention.

One day, he downed a soda before school and arrived twice as hyper as usual. The teacher was struggling financially, falling behind on lessons, and had barely slept. She was at her wits’ end.

As the boy distracted a friend, this teacher turned from her smartboard, drew herself up and, for the first time in her career, bellowed with months of pent-up frustration a phrase she would forever regret.

Continue reading

The Error of “That Was Then, God…”

partingLast Thursday life dealt me an unexpected jolt (I did have a hand in it). By the time you read this Monday morning, life could look much different for me. And for four days, I’ve borne a familiar stomach knot of anxiety over it.

What if the worst happens?

Something you should know about me: I’m very literal. I engage in military-grade overthinking. That can prompt me to use good theology in bad ways.

God has come through over the years, sometimes in pretty spectacular albeit last-minute ways. But do I trust him to provide for me again? What if this time is different?

I’m fairly committed to the idea that God disciplines us for our good, and that his rod can take any form he sees fit. We can’t place parameters or expectations around his discipline, nor hold it against him if it’s harsher than we desire. That’s just solid theology. (And observable reality.)

But I can twist that, too. The creative lobe of my mind can manufacture all kinds of ugly scenarios God might emplace, then recruit the “solid theology” lobe to counter any “oh, come on, he’s not going to do THAT” reflex. After all, we can’t place limits on how hard God swings his rod, right?

The end result is that I end up imagining the worst-case scenario in most situations and guilt myself into expecting it.

But then I remember the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is one long remembrance of humanity’s forgetfulness. The ancient document records God coming through for his people again and again, and each time the sun seems to rise on an Israel that’s forgotten what he did. A new need arises and Israelites fear that things will be different this time.

The ten plagues free the people from Egypt; they cry out once cornered against the Red Sea.

The water parts and Israel is delivered; the next morning, they wish they had more water.

God slakes their thirst; later, it’s food they are short of.

Bread arrives; they disobey God’s commands and hoard it, though it’s promised to return the next day.

The seventh day approaches; now they’re commanded to hoard, on God’s promise that the bread will keep this time. Instead, they go out looking for more.

And lest you think the Israelites are stumped by new problems, in the very next chapter they’re out of water again, and react in the same way.

And I?

Well, I cannot rule out the possibility that God will allow what I most fear today.

But will that destroy me?

Will I forget his goodness past?

The God of the Scriptures didn’t rescue his people on Friday so that they would expect something different on Monday. He rescued them to establish his character and trustworthiness.

Either God delivers me or disciplines me. Either way, I’m not destroyed.

Perhaps I will put an end to this overthinking and simply let God decide what he’s going to do.