June 24, 2012.Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. Sunday night service. This message follows the death and funeral earlier in the week of our congregation’s dear friend Jeremy Erickson. Many in our church prayed hard for Jeremy’s recovery. We asked for a miraculous healing, but Jeremy left us for heaven even so. The death of a loved one raises many questions…
Does God exist? If so, can he hear our prayers? Is He simply so HUGE that He doesn’t bother with our little lives? And who is to blame for this loss? Didn’t we pray hard enough, or correct enough? Was it sin in Jeremy’s life that caused him to suffer and die? Or was that God’s plan? And if he can do anything, but he didn’t choose to heal Jeremy, how can he be good? Even more to the point… is his heart good towards me?
So many questions. This message wades into the deeper water, where our theology is tested in a sea of grieving. In the deep water, God comes to us.
Click on the tab below to stream the audio…
Jeremy Erickson. Entered heaven on June 10, 2012. Thank you, God, for his life and friendship. Jer, I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
This fall I began a long walk through a series of posts called “Pursue Joy.” You can read the introductory post (“God wants to wreck your life”) here. It’s what I believe about life and theology – in a nutshell. So far I’ve hit three out of five pillar ideas in past posts.
First this. God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
And then this. Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
And that leads to this. BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
Good times. You are now up to speed.
So God is GOD-focused rather than US focused. And we were created by God to be GOD-focused rather than US-focused. And whether you realize it or not at first blush, this is very very VERY good news for schleps like you and me. Schleps with a ME-focused nature. Wildly better news, in fact, that our little minds can absorb. Today I want to answer the question… “WHY?”
Point #4 in my “pursue joy” framework is this: This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
I talk about JOY a lot. One of the most common press-backs I get from brothers in Christ is what I call the “take up your cross” argument. Their concern is that I am so focused on the “good stuff” (i.e. the JOY stuff) that I am missing the forest for the tree. The cross, in particular. After all wasn’t Jesus a “suffering servant” (ala Isaiah), well acquainted with grief? If we are called to emmulate His life and ministry, isn’t our faith going to be forged in the furnace of suffering?
Yes, it is.
Jesus said we would suffer. We will grieve. We may live with little. We may be called to give up the little we have. We may give up home, comfort, security, and family for the sake of the Gospel. We may die.
But even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And to think that lack of comfort or earthly security or even loss of our loved ones equates to lack of JOY is to misunderstand JOY. Joy is bedrock. It is God-given. It grows in tandem with faith, as God proves His love again and again. The path to deep and lasting JOY is often THROUGH the valley of suffering and hardship and uncertainty and sacrifice.
So don’t confuse JOY with comfort or pleasure or even happiness. It is deeper. It is stronger. It is better. It is of greater value.
We should be eager to give up comfort, pleasure, security… if the path of obedience always leads us to deeper joy. And it does. It always does.
John Piper, whom I love, clarified this even more for me today. Watch this…
I’m wildly in love with my wife. She’s smart, she’s quick-witted, she’s beautiful, she loves Jesus, she’s a great mom, she is discerning, she’s wise, she really loves people, she’s beautiful, she cherishes relationships, she’s not satisfied with “fine” or good enough,” she loves our kids intentionally, she’s beautiful… I can literally do this all day.
Why? Why do lovers sing the praise of their beloved? Because we have to, right? We promised. It’s our marital duty to praise our spouse.
That’s about as romantic as wet blanket.
NEVER! I freely praise because she is worthy of it, and because my love needs to find expression. I shout the fact that I married a miraculous woman because I take JOY in her.
This is the third post in a series. Through a series of posts here, I want to unpack the biblical framework that undergirds my life and theology and ministry motivation. In the first one, I established the basic proposition that we have been created to PURSUE JOY. I also laid out five key ideas that I am expanding one by one in this forum. Then, in thesecond post, I discussed the first and foremost of these core ideas – namely, that God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. The Bible is clear that God’s highest priority is His glory, and that He alone is worthy of such adoration. God is God-centered. And that brings us to our second core idea, and the purpose of today’s post…
Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip,this truth is the most wildlylovingfoundationpossible for our relationship with Him.
How can this be? Even the Bible tells us that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that “love seeks not its own.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) And we know intuitively that self-centeredness is antithetical to love, which “seeks the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24). So how can God, who IS love, be so God-focused? And how does this fit with our childhood songs and Sunday School lessons that all seemed to shout “Jesus loves me, this I know?”
First of all, we must be honest. We must recognize the quiet rebellion alive in our questions. God alone is God. He is devastatingly magnificent, wholly righteous, sovereign in power, and incomparable in every field. God is God. We are not. Who are we to question the motivation of the God who holds the breadth of the universe between His fingers? As God reminded Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He then spends two chapters posing a series of rhetorical questions to Job (and to us) about where we stood as he created the firey stars and the farthest reaches of the universe and knit together the largest and smallest of creatures out of nothing with sheer willpower and His mighty Word.
And so we walk humbly before this power, and we question Him with trembling.
The truth is, we ask these questions of God about the tension of love and vanity because we have reduced Him in our mind’s eye to the size of you and me. When any other human being seeks his or her own adulation, it turns us off. We like strength, we will celebrate valor, we showcase generosity. But we don’t like it when we see someone blowing their own horn and calling for worship. Why? Because we are ALL flawed. Humanity is a messy jumble. No one is worthy of the kind adoration and devotion that our heart is wired to give. No one on the planet.
Have you put God in that box? If all the languages of the world were employed, and the sky was parchment, and everyone on earth wrote their praises to God without rest for eternity, we would not be able to adequately ascribe to God the depth of His worth and the excellencies of His great character, to say nothing of the praise of His grace and the awe-striking gift of redemption in Jesus Christ. God actually IS WORTHY of non-stop, ever-flowing, ever-increasing praise and honor. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and praise.
We cannot and must not find in God’s pursuit of His own praise even a shred of hypocricy or a vapor of the charge vanity. God calls for what He alone is worthy of. God is worthy to be praised.
So… alright then. If you were able to jump that hurdle, we may agree that God is worthy of highest honor. But how does this translate into such great news for US? How does God’s incessant pursuit of His own glory become “the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him?”
John Piper’s Desiring God helped me connect the dots here. He writes of the struggle within theologian and author C.S. Lewis to reconcile the loving nature of God with the overwhelming tide of calls to praise Him written into God’s Word… by God Himself. And then, for Lewis, came the lightbulb moment…
The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole more general difficulty with the praise of God depended on my obsurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do–even what we cannot help doing–with regard to everything else we value.
And then, as Piper points out, here comes the key sentences:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
YES! That’s it! I want to climb on the roof of our Seminary housing units and shout to the students walking by that my wife has captured my heart because expressing my joy in her brings my delight in her to consumation. Delight unexpressed is incomplete.
This is truly genius Design at work.
In God’s pursuit of glory comes His demand for our praise, and our created desire to worship… something. In Him alone is our thirst satisfied. In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe. In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it. GENIUS. We are satisfied in Him – He is glorified in us. He delights in our praise – we delight in Him. He receives glory – we find JOY.
Further, God proves the profound depths of His love for us in bringing us the most wildly extravagant gift possible. It is not only wildly extravagant, it is truly the pinnacle gift – the best and highest possible gift to His children.
God gives us Himself.
May all honor and glory be lavished on Him. May my life ring with it. Even in typing this now, my heart is full – I’m full of JOY in Him, and I revel in His goodness and His love. Less of me God, and more of you!
And thank you for Amy. She’s so much more than I deserve. It’s my joy to praise You for her and to praise You with her.
The primacy of God’s glory makes everything about Him… not about me. THAT is truly the best of news, because it is a proclamation of freedom. Profound freedom. We’ll dive into that next time in “pursue joy part four.” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Refine my thinking. God bless you, and may you find soul-shaking JOY in Him alone.
You know what drives me nuts? I mean just frothy lipped, make-it-stop, face twitching crazy?
Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, “You’re so Vain.”
Yes. I recognize it has been thirty years. What’s that you say? Let it go?
I can’t go for that. No how. No can do.
Lo, these thirty years later I am still plagued by an inner dialogue that will not let me rest. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the rest of the world seems to allow “You’re So Vain” to stand at #72 on the Billboard “best songs of all time” list. How can this be? Carly, why do you vex me so?
Does no one realize that her chorus foists a premise into pop culture that is nonsensical?? I want to tear my ears off. Go with me here…
“You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”
DOES THIS NOT BOTHER YOU GOOD PEOPLE? If the dude thinks the song is about him… which CLEARLY it IS… does that not make him factually correct?? Not so much vain as just… RIGHT? Are you with me here?!
You’re so vain… *insert deep soul-weary sigh here* I can’t handle it.
Why on earth am I bringing up Carly Simon you ask?
Because we need a reboot. The Church needs a do-over. (In the circles I run in we call this repentance.) We somehow have become enslaved by the idea that the point of all this Christianity business is to get us reconnected to God… to get us saved… to give our life meaning. And it is… but it’s not.
“You’re so vain… I bet you think this faith is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”
Don’t answer that. Yet. Because you may be picking up my vibe here. (It’s kinda hard to miss my vibe, let’s be honest.) You probably know that the “right answer” here is something like… “No. It’s not ALL about me. Or US, I mean. I’m supposed to say it’s not about us – it’s all about Him, right? God wants us to praise Him, too, right? He wants us to thank Him… because He died for us – to save us. He came to give us life to the full, right? Because God is love, and He loves us SO MUCH, right? Jesus loves me, this I know…”
So we should definitely say “thank you.” Because He has done so much for us. For us. For us.
You know what? I believe all of that is true, too. “Greater love has no one than this: that He lay down his life for his friends.” At night, when little Ezra is curled up in his blankets and I’m laying on His bunk in the dark I hear his little voice say… “Jesus?” I know what he wants. And then I sing with him just like my Mom and Dad sang with me… “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
Kids need to know that in their very core. JESUS LOVES US. This we KNOW. But there is even better news… News that becomes foundational in a spiritual life spent in the pursuit of JOY. We never get to the stanza that fleshes out the deepest love and highest pursuit of God. And it’s not us… We get stuck sometimes in a Carly Simon world somehow where the highest and deepest and most profound message to the lost and the curious is “Jesus loves you.” And He does… but maybe at some point we need to write a new stanza. Graduate from the tippy cup to theological meat. How about this…
“Jesus loves God more than me, so He died to set me free, dead in sin I could not praise, brought to life this hymn I’ll raise: God loves His great name! We’re made for His fame! We bow and He reigns! The Bible tells me soooo…”
Last week I began this exploration of a theological construct that affirms (even demands) that we revel in a shameless pursuit of JOY. Read part one here. Far from being a selfish pursuit, I’m building a scriptural case that the pursuit of JOY is ultimately the most selfless… the only truly selfless option. Moreover, God wired you do long for JOY, and He commands you to go hard after it.
As we began I listed a series of interconnected precepts, all of which I believe are soundly backed by the truth of God’s Word. After all, if I’m just making this stuff up, it will have no lasting impact. It will be a giant pep fest… a waste of time. But our faith is built upon ONE normative standard: the truth of the inerrant inspired Word of God. So these propositions build upon each other and resonate together because they are true to the Word. If you think my understanding needs shaping, I’ll heartily welcome correction along the way. But I promised to unpack these ideas one post at a time, so today we begin with number one… with the assertion of primary importance… with the assertion that at the HEART of the heart of God is His desire to be GLORIFIED. To know what faith is all about and answer the “why am I here?” questions of life, it makes sense to start with the One who IS, and who always has been, before we were, and will always be.
The rest of this post will simply be a list of verses that point to the primacy of GOD’S GLORY as the motivation for GOD’S STORY. His story of redemption is all about HIM. My next post will talk about what great news this is. But I need to make the case first. If you’re skeptical, that’s OK. Maybe you’re thinking “God is love, and love is selfless, and this sounds like a ginormous EGO TRIP and that doesn’t sound like the God I know…” I’m just asking you to pray, and then read this list. And then see what God is revealing about His first love. I think this is an accurate place to start:
(1) God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.
Scriptural Basis for the Supreme Value of God
“I am the LORD: that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: “I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God.”
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”
For this is what the LORD says — He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — He says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
Before there were people:
Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
God’s purpose for creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord…
God’s reason for creating people:
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,”
“I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”
God’s purpose in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'”
Where is He who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, who sent His glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths? …they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD. This is how you guided Your people to make for Yourself a glorious name.
When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.
The purpose of God’s mercy (in light of Israel’s repeated rebellion):
And whenever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they leave His land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the House of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.
Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of Your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against You.
I Samuel 12:22
For the sake of His great name the LORD will not reject His people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.
God’s purpose in Jesus’ birth:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”
Jesus’ primary reason for coming to earth:
“…Christ became a servant to the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…”
Jesus’ decision to go to the cross:
Jesus… Looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify You Son, that Your Son may glorify You.”
God’s reason for sending His son to the cross:
“God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished…”
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven:
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus will come again in power to consummate His mission on earth:
II Thessalonians 2:9-10
Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed…
The Church exists for God’s glory:
I Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
God’s glory is the point of missions:
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”
This is the God-ordained destiny of every nation:
All the nations You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your name.
We have a purpose for living:
(Jesus said) “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds and praise (glorify) your Father in heaven.”
In our praying:
(Jesus said) This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
The reason we are forgiven:
I John 2:12
I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.
At the end of time:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing : “To Him who sits on throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
In summary, Paul wrote:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
I Corinthians 10:31
“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
This becomes the heart of the Church:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.
The first precept under-girding this call to pursue JOY is this: God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.
Now we’re getting at the heart of it. The heart of ALL of it. This is what I believe to be true of God in the deepest corners of my heart. Scripture screams it out. My life rings with it. This is what I believe.
God wants us to passionately pursue JOY.
What? Wait… the church has always told me I need to take up my cross, count the cost, follow the rules, I surrender all… right? Loving God requires letting go of what I want so that I can do what God wants… right?
Right. God wants your life to ring with joy.
A relationship with Jesus is not about what we sacrifice for Him, or a new set of rules that rob us of freedom. JOY! Christian faith and life is about being set free to pursue the deepest joy imaginable. THAT IS GOSPEL. That is why I want to be a Pastor. It is my heartbeat.
I’m in a seminary class right now on Christian Ethics, which has been pointing us again and again to the sovereign authority of the God’s Word as our moral construct. Depending on your life story, that statement might either make you do a little internal cheer and fist-pump for Jesus, or it may totally make you squirm… like I’m going to get my rulebook all up in your business. Fist-pumpers and skeptics alike can take a breath, because I’m not going into “why my morals are better than yours” mode.
We have been discussing alternatives to Biblical morality… hedonism, for example. The pursuit of pleasure as the determiner of what is right and wrong. I think hedonism devoid of Christ is just empty staggering toward regret and isolation and death. Pleasure is a gift of God, sure… but it’s fleeting. The moral construct of the Bible is rooted in something far deeper. But again, this isn’t a post about right and wrong, per se. It’s about why we ARE in the first place. Why we exist, and the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth. This is the deep down stuff of life… not just the rulebook.
To my heathen friends (insert winky face here), you non-churchy ones out there, my guess is this post most likely won’t ruffle your feathers too badly. As long as I’m not too pushy on whole right and wrong thing, you’ll probably be able to ignore this one. You’d be missing out… but the choice is yours.
On the other hand, it’s my solidly entrenched churchy friends who may take me to task today. I think I’m going to say some things here in the next few days that buck against the way Christians think. So give me a minute here while I pull my bulls-eye t-shirt out of storage. You can load up. Putting it on now. And here we go…
(1) God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
(2) Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
(3) BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
(4) This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
(5) Far from making Christianity all about US, this truth reveals that the polar opposite is true… God receives greater glory as we find greater JOY in Him. The intrinsic purpose of God and the created purpose of man find their mutual fulfillment in our making much of God. Our joy is found in His glory!
My heart is beating fast for this. Do you see that this changes EVERYTHING? Maybe if you are skeptical about religion this just sound like a bunch of church-speak hoo-haw. I get that. Let me break it down for you…
It’s true… God wants to wreck your life. He’s up front about that. This is no bait and switch. If you’re not pursuing ever-deepening joy in Him alone, you’re missing out. God wants to wreck your life to give you a better one. He literally wants you to experience life-changing joy forever.
These are truths that are repeated again and again and again throughout the Bible, and the five points above work together to create a latticework of interdependant truths that help me understand the foundation of my faith and ministry passion. They are simply too profoundly significant for me to adequately cover in one blog post. Or in a hundred blog posts. Or in a hundred books.
But over the next several days, I’ll take a look at these truths point by point. This Christian life is a joyful adventure, not begrudging service in order to secure an eternity outside of hell.
God wants you to pursue JOY. I believe that as deeply as I believe anything in my life. Maybe you needed to hear that today. Maybe your whole life is about to change…
You live your life either convinced that you are worth loving or in pursuit of validation.
There are two options.
Now… think about the course of your life. Christian faith or not. Same for everyone. You are either at peace, or you are striving. We don’t believe the poets and the third grade teachers who tell us that self-esteem is a primary value… that we need to speak positivity into our own lives and “love ourselves” well. We know that an empty well cannot refill itself. We know, don’t we, that in order to feel valuable – worth loving – we must hear that message from an outside voice.
God formed man from the dust, and then God Himself breathed life into man. No other creatures were blessed like that. Created in His image. Reflecting God Himself. “Let us make man in our image,” God said to Himself. The triune God in relationship with Himself. We are wired to need relationship, because we are made in His image. We draw our identity from our relationship with Him, as he has created us and said, “It is VERY GOOD.”
Unless you don’t draw your identity from a Father who loves you. Unless you are swayed by the father of lies who delights in your pain and humiliation – the evil one who thrives on your insecurity. He whispers in your ear. Then you will try to stave off the impending feelings of worthlessness with chemicals, adrenaline, overachievement, or more often than not… relationships.
World champion tennis star Lindsay Davenport:
“There’s going to be a void in my life when (tennis is) gone. I’ve never been one to sit around. I tried it once and after three days, it was like, ‘This sucks, I’m so bored, I have no purpose.’ I do know, number one, that I want to start a family and have kids. So, as far as having another career, I think that would be tough to do right away.”
It’s a short walk from our complex network of self-affirmation through the valley of self-examination to the sprawling blank slate called self-doubt. Our identity is not meant to hover in stasis. It’s not a self-replenishing well like some Star Trek energy source that bends the laws of physics. Our identity is SPOKEN. Our identity is GIVEN. Our identity is only SECURE in Jesus Christ when our worth is PROCLAIMED by the only infinitely trustworthy source of information in the universe.
Do you think you aren’t worth loving?
Examine your relationship with your Mom and Dad. Are you wounded because they didn’t speak enough positivity into you to fill that need? Let them off the hook. It isn’t their job to fulfill you.
Do you hope that guy you want to marry will be enough? Let him off the hook. He won’t. Not because he doesn’t care enough, but because he isn’t created to fulfill you.
Are you frantically producing… trying to prove you are worthy of respect? Trying to prove it to your family, your coworkers, your church.
Trying to prove it to yourself?
That is an exhausting path. Like Sisyphus, you’ll realize one day when your strength is finally gone, you were never able to get that rock to the top of the hill. Let yourself off the hook. You can’t earn worth. You are given worth by your maker.
You ARE NOT worthless.
But the ache to be at peace is hardwired in you. It was knit into you by your Creator. That ache is not your enemy. It is a natural, God-given need. It is a thirst that can only be slaked by Living Water. If you want to get off the treadmill of people pleasing or the corrosive downward slide of trying to prove to the world you don’t care what they think, it’s time to hear Jesus’ voice again.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
If this hits you where you live, connect with me. We want you to know what peace – real peace – feels like. It would be an honor to introduce you to the One who loves you so much.
If anyone can be considered a Superchristian, it’s the apostle Peter, right? He was a man of action. He was a hero. And we need heroes, don’t we? But we are risking a lot when we expect our heroes to be more than men. We are risking a lot more when we set ourselves up as a Superchristian to be looked up to by… the regular Christians out there.
Even Peter was an embarrassment.
A man of action. A hero. An embarrassment. And then… REDEEMED. The world needs a hero. Are you that hero? I hope you know better…
Dinner is over. The most memorable dinner of their lives. Jesus has washed their feet. Sent Judas out into the night. Instituted the first Communion. And something BIG is happening. The disciples know it. Jesus’ prayer proves it. The hour has come.
Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church? And if so, how much is too much?
The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:
Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship. My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.
Whoa doggie. That right there is loaded. I agree with Robert Webber.And I don’t. Let me es’splain…
Culturally driven worship? What does that mean?
This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church. Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority. Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.
While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive. In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word. (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him. (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him. (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place. And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth. All to His glory.
I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message. I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel. I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…” But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of. He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”
Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.” And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”
Robert Webber is wise. There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.
To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber. It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings. Maybe less swearing…
If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends totheneglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.
Not with a fox… One example: Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field. Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch. And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them. Makes sense. But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad? How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner? Culture is about image. The Church is about love.
Not wearing sox… I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!” While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels. My point has little to do with fashion. It’s about reverence. Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove. But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling. We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word. Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church. Culture is about looking like we fit in. Church is about becoming set apart.
Not in a box… Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming. As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top. I’ll admit… I love it. In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond. This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”
The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow. Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value. We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment. When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.
So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?
Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t. Look at his quote again. In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches. In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him. There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.
Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender. It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD. It is the essence, not the form.
However, this is a babies and bathwater situation. I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services. To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction. To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.
Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it. Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it. Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.
So you’ve been way up there on the mountaintop with God, right? So close. Your life has changed and it’s going to be different from this point on. From this mountaintop experience forward. You promise.
Can you relate?
This week over 1,800 people have been gathered in Estes Park, CO, for the 2011 Association Free Lutheran FLY (Free Lutheran Youth) Conference to worship, hear the Word of God preached and taught, and to grow in their faith. Friday night FLY wraps up, and 1,800 souls will descend from a literal mountaintop experience with God.
Buckle up. You’re about to re-enter life with the low altitude dwellers again. Life among the normal people. With all the same stresses and disappointments and temptations that seemed to be at a safe distance when you were up there – so close to Him. And you may be worried that the glory is going to fade.
Moses had a mountain top experience with God, too. Exodus 34. He would go up on the mountaintop (Mt. Sinai… not Eagle Cliff) and talk to God face to face, like talking to a friend, and when he came back down from his time being so close to God, his face would literally GLOW. Totally freaked people out. But everyone knew He had been with God, and it changed him. Moses was LITERALLY letting his light shine. Hide it under a bushel no. He was gonna let it shine.
How about you? Up there on the mountain with God. Are you gonna let it shine? Is your newly bolstered faith going to freak people out? I hope so. God’s love for us is so undeserved and so mind-blowing when we understand God’s wrath and our position as an enemy of the Holy One… and in that hostile state, Jesus suffered the humiliation and pain of the cross until he was dead. God died. As a substitution and atonement for OUR sin. Why do we walk around among the low-altitude dwellers as if that truth is just another facet of our complex personality? Shouldn’t it be THE DEFINING TRUTH that animates everything else about us?
But you… sure, your face is all shiny now with the nearness of God, but you know that normal is just around the corner. Listen, even Moses could relate. Look at 2 Corinthians 3:13…
“Moses… would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.”
In other words, his shiny face would eventually begin to dim at lower altitude. The evidence of the nearness of God would fade, and Moses didn’t want people to see it. He didn’t want them to see His return to “normal.” He wanted the glory. He wanted the nearness. He wanted to shine.
And you’re up there with God, hearing Him talk to your heart, singing to Him with newfound abandon. And you don’t want the return to normal. You fear the descent. You want to shine.
LISTEN UP, YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN WITH GOD! You don’t have to fear the descent. Jesus came and established a new normal. You can shine with a peculiar supernatural confidence that doesn’t come from you at all, but from the King of heaven Himself. There is a new covenant in Christ. We are image-bearers, and now LIGHT-bearers for Jesus. Powered by the indwelling Spirit.
And this isn’t just for the FLY attenders. I remember years ago sitting across the table from a friend at Applebee’s, trying to talk him out of filing divorce papers. “I used to be so close to God,” he said. He talked with his hands. “Now I’m way back down here, and I used to be way up here. I just feel like it would take me so long to get back up there again.”
Can you relate?
Here’s the truth that we have such a hard time believing… There is no mountain to climb. Jesus died. It is finished. The verse in 2 Corinthians 3 that I shared about Moses is preceded by this one, verse 12…
“Since we have such a hope we are very bold, NOT LIKE MOSES, who would put a veil over his face…”
With Jesus, everything changed forever. Now we have confidence to enter the presence of God and to stand before Him SPOTLESS, because Jesus is our Redeemer, and now He is our Advocate. He paid our price. We don’t need to offer sacrifice like Moses did. He WAS the Sacrifice. He IS the Sacrifice.
Check out verses 16-18…
“But when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same likeness from one degree of glory to another…”
WHOA! No veil! No shame! From one degree of glory to another… you just keep getting shinier. Don’t fear the descent. You have access to God RIGHT NOW in Jesus Christ. The veil is torn. He is the Door. He is the Way. Life is in Him, and it accessible to you right now. No mountaintop required.
God bless you when you sense the very real nearness of God. And God bless you when you can’t. Because the truth is, the old normal has been blown away in Jesus. The new normal is shining like the sun.
Why do we worry that God might only fuel people on the mountain top? God isn’t only with you on the high places. Jesus promised us, after all, “And LO, I will be with you always…” (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself there.)
You’re good to go. Since you have such a hope, you are very bold. There is no mountain to climb. Don’t fear the descent. Let it shine.