Monday, May 19, 2014

Musings on Worship

The river of God is teeming with life and all who touch it can be revived.  (song lyrics by Andy Park)

I love this song because of its imagery.  Living in river city, I drive over the Colorado most every day, never tiring of its mystery.

I like to think of worship like a great flowing river, sometimes broad and deep, other times swift and jubilant.  Yet, worship has its boundaries, just as rivers have their banks.  Those walls are spirit and truth.  God seeks those who will worship Him in this way. (John 4:23)

One reason I love teaching children the Bible is how the study blesses my own heart.  I take it seriously, considering the lesson as much for me as for them.  My challenge yesterday, was to somehow convey to the students that worship was not just singing a song.  Rather, it involved their whole heart, mind, soul, and strength directed toward their Creator.  (Rom. 12:1-2)

That's when a river came to mind.

The bank of truth is the Word of God.  The more we know of the character of God and His attributes, the deeper our worship.  The words we sing and the life we live as we offer ourselves to Him each day, must coincide with His Word.  Without obedience we may as well send worship downstream.

The opposite bank is spirit, our inward being, where the Spirit of God dwells.  Only by His fullness can we know true worship.  We cannot fake worship, for it comes only from the heart and bubbles out in various expressions, sometimes joyous emotion, other times quiet awe, and at times, even tearful anguish.

Yet, no matter the expression, pure worship remains within the banks of spirit and truth.  One without the other creates imbalance. 

However, the most wondrous part of all, and unique to rivers and streams, is the waterfall.

When I reach the very edge of my own sufficiency, my heart plunges downward, and I cry out, "Jesus, I need you!"  In that place, life falls apart unexpected and broken.

Yet, in that moment, worship gushes out in a spray of glory.

And the river continues on, this continuous worship.  Those who linger, will come back thirsting for more, always more of His Spirit full in our lives.

The river of God fills our mouths with laughter and we rejoice for the river is here (song lyrics by Andy Park)

And all cry glory, for He is worthy!

However, no amount of teaching will cause children to learn of worship like watching adults participate in meaningful worship.  This is one of many reasons I love my church fellowship, because though for some parts of the morning we are divided into separate age groups, yet, for the worship time, families are kept together.  Furthermore, we have a worship pastor who truly shepherds the people of God, keeping our focus on the Lord and not show or entertainment, a rare blessing.  I am truly grateful.


Friday, May 16, 2014

The Serpent's Trail

An old road, now converted to trail, winds up the Colorado National Monument.  For one and three quarter miles, it rises 770 feet with nearly 20 switchbacks, the most popular trail in the area.  It makes for a perfect workout in swift time.

Yesterday, I determined to make the trek up this hill, but by the time I got there it was high noon, the sun beating down without mercy.  However, I was determined to conquer, no excuses.

The true mark of the dessert lies exposed on this trail, bearing little shade.  It offers only burning rocks and sharp precipices.  And as I marched upward, I thought on Hebrews 3 and 4, where the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt, never entered the rest God had promised.  The reason?  Unbelief.

Sometimes this life seems such a battle, an uphill climb in the heat of the day.  I long for rest.  Not in the sense of leisure or sleep, but rather in relief from the struggle, release from my sin nature.  Yet, God has promised that those who believe have entered His rest.  It is ours.  Why then, is it so hard to dwell in that realm?

The trail, appropriately named after the serpent, winds back and forth.  So in the heat of the battle we fight and wrestle not only the sin nature within, but also our enemy without, the devil.  On every turn he seeks to trip, discourage, and distract.

Jesus also climbed a grueling hill entwined with the serpent, setting the pace.  And if He learned obedience from what He suffered, shouldn't I?  And if He embraced the cross, counting it all joy, shouldn't I do the same?  

Until our final breath, we fight this fight.  The moment I think I've arrived or that I can coast, is the moment of danger.   Yet, in the midst of the struggle, I can know joy because of rest in God's presence, like these pockets of flowers along the way. 

He makes the desert bloom and this time of year it is truly beautiful.  However, I'm not sure those flowers would hold quite as much meaning if placed in a lush forest.  But here, they speak volumes as they cling tenacious to the rock, searching for a hint of soil, a picture of hope.

When I reached the top of the hill, I sat for a moment to enjoy the view.  Below me were ravens soaring on updrafts against the massive cliffs.  Some of them came so near I thought they might run into me.  Such grace and power in those wings!  I was reminded that I don't have to wait until I reach heaven to know God's rest.  I can soar now if I will walk in obedience. 

There is a time to pause and enjoy the view, but sometimes we forget what is required to get there:  the sweat, salt, and grime, the forcing of the muscles to move when they shout otherwise, and the plowing forward even in the worst of conditions.

And so it is a paradox.  I fight that I might enter His rest.  Like the raven that cannot get off the ground without exerting strength in its wings, so we do not soar without obedience. 

"Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."  Heb. 4:1-2

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Deeper Look

As I spoke at our Women's Brunch last weekend, I knew something had to go.  It was too long.  And so I finally succumbed to cutting an entire section with the intent of sharing it here instead.  Not because it is less important, but because of its weight. 

The topic was "Capturing the Wonders of God through Photography", and yet, I wanted to delve much deeper than our cameras to rich spiritual realities.  One aspect of taking a good picture is training the eye to see.  With that thought I was drawn to a work of art painted by one of our former high school students, Rachael Alvir.  They are two canvases, yet one unit.

The message of these paintings is so powerful that I never cease to be moved by them.  They were originally painted for our "Experience the Passion" exhibit of Good Friday and are of the two thieves crucified along with Jesus, one on either side. (Luke 23:32-33)  They represent what we will do with Jesus; either accept or reject.

What stands out is the eyes.

One, the artist shows with open eye, looking at Jesus, seeing his own need of a Savior.  Jesus responds with, "Today, you will be with me in paradise."  (Luke 23:43)

(by Rachael Alvir)

But the other criminal, righteous in his own eyes, continues to mock, rejecting Jesus, and so chooses hell.  (Luke 23:39)   The artist depicts this man not only with his eye shut, but sewn closed, not with paint, but actual threads cross stitched through the canvas.  It's as if he is afraid of seeing.  He doesn't trust himself, because if he saw, he might believe.

(by Rachael Alvir)

And isn't that like us?  We keep our lives jam packed with activity, or with our own interests and responsibilities, with noise, ignoring the still small voice that calls us to look to Jesus.  We are afraid of seeing because we might have to deal with issues . . . some change of heart we'd rather not face.

However, the thief who believed, was not immediately removed from his suffering.  The sight he saw was messy.  Likewise, our trials do not magically go away, but as we look on our suffering Savior we gain a perspective that sets them in their place, bringing comfort and hope. 

Under the blood of Jesus we are given what we do not deserve . . . grace and forgiveness.  

(by Rachael Alvir)

And under that same blood we are not given what we do deserve . . .eternal separation from God.

(by Rachael Alvir)

These pictures are disturbing, and so I show them only in sections, keeping them small.  But like Charles Swindoll says in his book titled,The Greatest Life of all, Jesus, "Sometimes the most horrific images can become the catalyst for our most significant life changes . . . only if we resist the urge to look away."

This is why, when Jesus asks the blind man, "What do you want me to do for you?"  I pray this prayer right along with him, crying out,  "Lord, I want to see!"  (Mark 10:51)

My youngest brother, who lost his wife after only six months of marriage, demonstrates this truth to me more than any other.  He dared to open his eye and place his gaze on His Savior.  He still suffers . . . deeply.  But he has gained perspective beyond the grave, into life eternal.