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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

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Our son was telling me about the church he and his wife attended at the time.

“You should hear this mother and daughter play their violins together.  The girl is only ten or eleven, but she’s good. I think the mom is teaching her.”

Several months later, I happened to be visiting when the mother and daughter were scheduled to play.  My heart was filled with delicious anticipation that Sunday morning as they approached the piano with their violins.

Soon soft, mellow notes of melody and harmony resonated through the broad, high-ceilinged sanctuary.  My son had not been exaggerating. They were both gifted violinists.

 

 

I had to hold back the tears.

Yes, the sweet music touched my spirit. However, my response arose from more than that.

The music was greatly enhanced by the mystical bond between mother and daughter.

One evidence of that bond was the subtle means by which the two remained in sync. The mother would nod her head or sway slightly as she directed the music.

However, the girl didn’t actually watch. Just every now and then she would make eye contact over her violin–and smile at her mother with angelic innocence, tenderness, and purity.

Her eyes seemed to say, “I love doing this with you.”  Mother smiled her love and pleasure in return.

In fact, the very atmosphere seemed to be permeated with love during those moments. But the affection of parent and child was only a part.

The Spirit of God and his love flowed in wondrous waves through the music and that mother and daughter. God’s love—the width, length, height, and depth that Paul spoke of– filled every nook of that sanctuary.

 

 

Surely I was not the only one who felt wrapped in God’s warm embrace during those moments.

And to be loved by God is no small matter.

He is the Master of the universe and the King of glory. Angels sing his praises continually. And yet he delights in us, who reverence him and put our hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11).

 

 

Isn’t that knowledge alone enough to astound the intellect and overwhelm the heart with joy?

The only possible response is worship, from a heart overflowing with gratitude. An overflow that often becomes tears, as praise intertwines with the invisible but palpable touch of God.

And I can almost hear him say, “I love doing this with you.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

When has the overflow of love for God and gratitude to him brought you to tears?  Please share your story in the Comment section below!

 

(Revised and reblogged from August 11, 2014.  Photo credits:  www.visualphotos.com, http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com.)

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(A personal psalm in honor of our Lord Jesus)

 

 

We praise you, Author and Perfecter of our Faith.

BY your death on the cross we are saved from eternal separation from you and all that is good.  Your sacrifice made possible our adoption as children of the God of the universe. Your forgiveness covers every failure, and as your character permeates our own, your grace transforms us into works of art.

 

 

We praise you, Righteous One.

IN you there is no condemnation hanging over us like a black cloud. No longer must each of us wear the label sinner; we become saints when clothed in your righteousness.   Who dares point the finger and cry “Guilty?” Because of you, Lord Jesus, God has already forgiven us and granted right standing with himself.

 

 

We praise you, Emmanuel (God with us).

WITH you we may live a new life of confidence that Someone stronger and wiser is in charge, Someone available day or night for whatever we need, Someone perfectly capable to take on our troubles, Someone dedicated to increasing our joy, and Someone to infuse our lives with purpose and fulfillment.

 

 

We praise you, Ruler of Creation.

TO you all things are brought into existence. Everything in creation is for your glory—from the innumerable stars spilling across the sky to the diverse creatures inhabiting every corner of our planet.   As for humanity, we too are diverse—each endowed with unique gifts and talents to live for the praise of your glory.

 

 

We praise you, Great Shepherd.

FROM you we receive grace, mercy, and peace. Because of your grace, you listen to the broken heart, the guilt-ridden soul, the desperate plea. Lovingly you reply, “Come, and I will give you rest.” Out of your mercy you keep no record of wrongs. Your peace accompanies us through every storm of life.

 

 

We praise you, Lord of All.

THROUGH you we can do all things. Your perfect strength equips us for all life’s challenges, as we avail ourselves through continual, affirmative prayer. How reassuring to know “your power flows most freely into those who acknowledge their need for you” (Unknown).

 

 

We praise you, Christ Jesus our Hope.

LIKE you we will be raised from death to eternal life. That’s not just wishful thinking; it’s reliable truth. A whole body of proof corroborates the scripture record of your resurrection.* And because you came back to life, we can know beyond a shadow of doubt that eternity in heaven is guaranteed to us who put our trust in you.

 

 

Such astounding truths—too glorious for full comprehension.

But may I never cease to try.

_________________________

 

*The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Zondervan, updated 2016) offers proof after proof of the resurrection from scholars in the fields of science, history, and philosophy.  The book became the basis for a movie by the same title in 2017.

 

Scriptures used for this post:

Author and Protector–Hebrews 12:2; Acts 4:12; Romans 8:14-15; 1 John 1:9; Ephesians 2:10.

Righteous One–1 John 2:1; Romans 8:1 MSG; Hebrews 10:14-18; Romans 8:33-34.

Emmanuel–Matthew 1:23; Romans 6:4; Daniel 2:20; Psalm 46:1; Matthew 19:26; John 15:11; Philippians 2:13.

Ruler of Creation–Colossians 1:15; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 1:12.

Great Shepherd–Hebrews 13:2; 2 John 3; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 13:5; John 4:27.

Lord of All–Acts 10:36; Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians:9.

Christ Jesus Our Hope–1 Peter 1:3; John 5:24; 1 John 5:12.

 

Art & photo credits: Ephesians 2:10–www.dailyverses.net; John 14:27–dailyverses.net; 2 Corinthians 12:9–www.heartlight.org.   

 

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Not long ago, the church where our son Jeremy is pastor completed a major renovation of their sanctuary. As you can imagine, not every change was celebrated by every person. We all know: you can’t please all the people all the time—even at church.

 

 

One recent Sunday a long-time member named Mike* was asked to pray during the Sunday worship service. Only he didn’t pray; he addressed the congregation instead.

“Most of you know I didn’t approve the remodeling of our church,” he began. “I liked it just the way it was. In fact, the beauty of the sanctuary was one of the reasons my family and I made this church our home in the first place.”

Jeremy’s heart sank.  How much damage would this reproach cause among a congregation that was rejuvenating and growing?

Mike paused and took a deep breath. Every eye was focused on him; not one program rustled.

“BUT!” he said in a louder voice. “This isn’t about me; this is about God. This is not my building; it’s God’s. And I can’t speak for you, but I’m going to worship in this church no matter the changes in structure or decor.”

Mike paused again, and then announced, “Now let us pray.”

Mike gets it: Worship is not about us.  It’s about God.

 

 

In our consumer culture, however, we’ve unconsciously fallen into viewing worship with a consumer attitude:

  • “I need a church where I feel comfortable.”
  • “I need worship to lift my spirit, especially after a hard week.”
  • “I need sermons that will give me guidance and strength, especially with all the issues I face right now.”

And when these expectations aren’t met, we feel cheated somehow.

But the word worship has nothing to do with our needs. It means worth-ship.

Worship is something we do to express our awe, love and respect for God—not something we receive.

 

 

When I make worship about me—my preferences and my desires, I’m putting myself in the place of God.

Ouch.

So how might I focus my attention to truly worship God and not drift into Me-Mode? Several possibilities offer a place to begin.

  1. Empty myself of me.

With Jesus as my role model, I can pray to empty myself of my own desires (Philippians 2:7):

Father in heaven, during worship today may: 1) my eyes be fixed on you with undistracted focus (Psalm 141:8), 2) my meditation be pure and pleasing in your sight (Psalm 19:14), and 3) my heart be humble, tender, and responsive to your Spirit (James 4:10).

 

 

  1. Determine to be an enthusiastic participant.

We’re not meant to be an audience as we sit or stand in church. We’re meant to be performers of praise and instruments being tuned for obedience. Our audience is God—an audience of One**.

 

  1. Seek after God, not an emotional experience.

Sure, there are times when worship lifts me into spiritual euphoria. But it would be a mistake to expect such moments every week.

However! I can enter worship with the expectation of blessing my Heavenly Father with gratitude, praise, and adoration. And I can expect to experience joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

In addition to joy in worship, God also promises other benefits including his goodness (Psalm 31:19), rest and refuge (Psalm 91:1-2), strength (Psalm 138:2-3), and peace (Isaiah 26:3).

Isn’t that just like our Heavenly Father? We seek to bless him with our worship, and he blesses us many times over with what we really need.

___________________________

 

*Name changed.

** Big Daddy Weave composed a meaningful song by that title (2002). You can access it here.

 

Art & photo credits: Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Just twelve days to Christmas 2017. Are you too immersed in preparation? In all honesty, I’m scrambling a bit in order to accomplish the remaining items on the must-do list: finish the Christmas cards, wrap the gifts, clean the house before the first guests arrive on Saturday, etc.

And for me, with the scrambling comes that uncomfortable feeling I’ll never get everything done.

It’s so silly, I tell myself. In the final analysis will our friends and family care if their cards arrive after Christmas? Is it necessary the packages be just so? Will our guests mind if every surface of the house isn’t gleaming?

Of course not. But my OCD tendencies still want to press me toward those expectations.

So what can I do to calm my spirit? I’m thinking the answer is worship.  I can express to God my gratitude, praise, and adoration–even while writing cards, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house.

 

 

Scripture assures me that, as I worship in God’s presence, I will experience:

 

  1. Peace.

 

 

  1. Joy.

You, [O God], will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Psalm 16:11b

  1. Rest.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

 

 

What a glorious gift worship is! Isn’t it just like our loving Father to bless us as we seek to bless him?

And so, while writing the Christmas cards, I am praising God for friends and extended family spread all over the country, and praying for them, too.

 

 

Heavenly Father, I praise you for (insert name).

Thank you for their influence in our lives,

Their support and affection.

Thank you for treasured memories of time spent together.

We may have lived apart for many years,

Yet the bonds of love hold firm because of you.

Bless them, I pray, with joy in each day,

Provision and protection too.

 

While wrapping the family’s gifts I can offer praise on behalf of the recipients.

 

 

Your goodness, O Lord, has impacted our family again and again.

Every member has his/her stories to tell of

Your wonders, interventions, and miracles.

I praise you for each loved one—

His/her gifts and personality traits,

The delight You give us in each other.

I praise you we are able to gather once more

In celebration of you, our indescribable gift.

.

While cleaning, I can focus on gratitude. What am I thankful for in each room?

 

 

I praise you, Father for our cozy home,

for the perfectly sized dining set you provided

And the hutch we found rather miraculously.

I praise you for the large windows

Across the back of the house,

giving us a grand view of the backyard trees.

And I praise you that with gratitude

Even housekeeping can be turned into joyful worship.

 

Throughout the day, whatever the task, I can meditate on the wonder of what Jesus our Savior has accomplished.

And marvel again that it all began with his humble birth in a stable-cave:

 

(Gerard von Honthorst, 1622)

 

“O Sovereign God!

You have humbled yourself in order to exalt us.

You became poor so that we might become rich.

You came to us so that we can come to you.

You took upon yourself our humanity

In order to raise us up into eternal life.

All this comes through your grace,

Free and unmerited;

All this through your beloved Son,

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth

 

Come! Let us adore him—even as we work!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.commons.org; http://www.flickr.com; publicdomainpictures.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org.)

 

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“The Church thrills and thrives,

multiplies and advances

on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing

that we simply call song.”

–Jack W. Hayford*

 

 

And at no time of year is that more true than during Advent. Christmas carols seem to waft on a unique Holy Spirit breeze of blessing all their own.

Part of the blessing is in the familiarity, the memories they evoke of Christmases past. Many of us are predisposed to sentimentality, especially at this time of year. Just listen to how often we wistfully say, “Oh, that reminds of…”

 

 

But are familiarity and nostalgia the only reasons we love our Christmas songs? No, it’s the lyrics themselves that contribute to the breeze of blessing—lyrics that remind us:

 

  • God’s gifts far surpass what is under the Christmas tree.

 

“God imparts to human hearts

the blessings of his heaven” (1).

 

  • Jesus brings wisdom and contentment to our lives.

 

“This child, now weak in infancy,

our confidence and joy shall be” (2).

 

 

  • He is our Emmanuel, God with us.

 

“Love has come—He will never leave us…

Love is Jesus within and among us” (3).

 

  • He has made it possible for us to spend eternity with him in heaven.

 

“Jesus Christ was born for this!

He hath opened heaven’s door

And man is blessed forevermore” (4).

 

 

  • The day is coming when we will be privileged to sing with the angels, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6)!

 

“When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing” (5).

 

 

Now that will be a song wafting on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing.

Can you imagine the scene? Thousands of us in row after row singing our praise to God and celebrating the Prince of peace, our King.

Perhaps we’ll sing harmonies never even dreamt of on earth. And in a perfect heaven with perfectly miraculous acoustics, not only will we be able to hear the voices of those nearby, but the composite whole of the largest, grandest choir ever to sing.

Will there be those who stand in silence and choose not to participate? Impossible. How about folks who barely open their mouths and just whisper-sing? No, I can’t see that happening either.

Surely we’ll all sing with euphoric enthusiasm, hearts bursting with joy that:

  • Every blessing of heaven is now ours (1)—blessings we can’t even imagine now because we’re so limited in our knowledge and understanding.
  • Our confidence in Jesus has been rewarded beyond imagination (2).
  • Our loving, Savior is finally with us in Person as well as in Spirit (3).
  • Eternal bliss will be ours forevermore (4).
  • We’re able to join the angels in glorious song for the Prince of Peace our King (5).

But there’s no reason to wait until we’ve joined the angel choir.

We can sing as if performing for our King now.

Because we are.

Sing a song of Christmas, my friend, on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing!

__________________________________________________

  1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” verse 3, line 2.
  2. “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” verse 1, lines 3 and 4.
  3. “Love Has Come,” verse 3, lines 1 and 2.
  4. “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” verse 2, lines 2-4.
  5. “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” verse 3, lines 3 and 4.

*from the Foreword of The Celebration Hymnal, Integrity Music, 1997.

 

Which Christmas carol wafts a breeze of Holy Spirit blessing through your spirit?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.army.mil.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.Art4TheGlryOfGod; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Conventional wisdom teaches that success comes to those who work hard to achieve their goals.  And to a point that’s true.

But.  Success can quickly crumble when tragedy strikes.

Ask Job; he’ll tell you.  He was an extremely wealthy man and the greatest among all the people of the East.

He enjoyed a large, loving family.  His children liked each other so much they partied together.

Job was blameless and upright—totally undeserving of what happened to him (Job 1:1-4).

Stripped of everything.  All his wealth.  All his wonderful children.

 

 

Some of the recent hurricane victims know the magnitude of such horror. Home and all contents, gone.  Family members, gone.  I can’t even imagine their emotional pain and heartache.

And what was Job’s reaction to his tragedy?

If you had asked me that question a couple of years ago, I would have answered:  Job was incredibly accepting; he didn’t even blame God (1:22).

But there’s more:

“He fell to the ground in worship” (v. 20b).

 

 

WHAT?!

How can a person possibly worship at a time like that, when his whole world has collapsed around him?

All Job had left was his foundation—a foundation of faith in God.

And worship was his expression of that faith, declaring God’s worth to him—in spite of horrific calamity.  For Job, God was enough.

From Job we learn that true worship is not reliant upon circumstances.  In fact, a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15) is surely very precious in God’s view.

 

 

Second, true worship is not reliant upon emotions.  We don’t have to be filled with joy in order to worship.  We can worship God with our tears, expressing our trust in spite of the pain.

Job couldn’t rely on answers that would give meaning for his suffering.  God gave him none.  What Job did rely upon was God’s character:

  • “His wisdom is profound, his power is vast” (9:4a).
  • “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (9:10).
  • “If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!  And if it is a matter of justice who will summon him?”  (9:19).
  • “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit” (10:12).

 

 

  • “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his (12:13).
  • “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest” (21:22)?

In the end, knowing God was more important to Job than knowing answers.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, I shake my head in wonder as people of faith such as Job neither blame you nor give up on you in the face of calamity.  Instead, they rely upon you all the more tenaciously.  They worship, affirming that you are still their sovereign, loving God; they testify of your strength and peace. 

Thank you for being a God who comes alongside us with your wisdom and grace, especially when we’re hurting.  Thank you for powerful examples to follow such as Job.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com.)

 

Revised and reblogged from June 17, 2013.

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If you’re looking for spectacular views of fall foliage this year, do not come to southwest Ohio where we live. It would appear the wetter-than-normal weather of 2017 has contributed to early, lackluster color and quickly dropping leaves.

By contrast, last year offered an autumn extravaganza:

 

(Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum,

Cincinnati, Ohio)

 

Just what causes the rich jewel tones of color in the fall?  I recently relearned the answer from one of my granddaughter’s picture books (!).

In early fall, due to fewer hours of sunlight, cooling temperatures, and less rain (usually), the leaves no longer receive sufficient light and water. They start to separate from the tree, the chlorophyll fades, and the green color begins to disappear.

Now the yellows and oranges, present in the leaves all along, become visible. Some leaves make new pigments from the extra sugar stored inside. These leaves turn red, rust, pink, and purple.

 

 

The variety of hues represents some of the most vibrant shades on the color wheel.

And each hue, you may recall, has been assigned a meaning.

Red symbolizes power and strength;

Yellow, energy and intellect.

Orange represents joy and happiness;

Green, stability and safety.

Purple signifies royalty and power;

Pink, love and friendship (1).

M-m-m. Every one of those attributes describes our God.

As we ooh and aah over the wonder of autumn (even if only in small patches!), what if we allow each color to inspire worship?

For example, the brilliant red of the sugar maples can be a reminder he is tireless, never even needing a nap (Psalm 121:4).

 

 

He can accomplish anything–like create human beings and a complex, life-sustaining planet for them–because he is the one and only Lord, strong and mighty (Psalm 147:5).

Creation also demonstrates his superior intellectual abilities (Romans 11:33-36) since mysteries still abound in the universe–even after centuries of human inquiry. Gaze at the luminous golden ginkgo trees and affirm: our God knows all and never makes an unwise decision.

 

 

A fiery orange serviceberry tree is sure to make you smile with delight. Turn that smile toward your Heavenly Father, the source of all joy (Romans 14:17).

 

 

Evergreens provide a continual reminder of our ever-present refuge in him (Psalm 46:1) and his enduring faithfulness to us (Psalm 100:5).

 

 

Sweet gum trees don robes of purple in autumn. This color of royalty since ancient times can remind us of our Ancient of Days, the King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7).

 

 

Last, the pink leaves of the burning bush can signify the loving friendship he offers (John 15:15), “practical and down-to-earth, yet saturated with heavenly glory” (2).

 

 

Whether or not we live in an area where these splendorous colors are on display, we can remember: God’s glory surrounds us just as autumn blaze can envelope a region.

 

After all, the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3, emphasis added).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Lord God, that every facet of your character is on display in your creation, giving us opportunity to “see” you. Even the changing leaves of fall call attention to your magnificent attributes. But even more wonderful—you manifest these qualities in our circumstances and in our hearts. Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, and always working wonders?  We praise you, O Lord, now and forever!

Romans 1:20; Exodus 15:11; Psalm 145:1  

 

Notes:

  1. colorwheelpro.com
  2. Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Thomas Nelson, 2004, p. 260.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.flickr.com.

 

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