Worship; definition?

It was a mid-week church service, sometime in the early 1980’s.

Who was preaching? I don’t remember. Who was leading the singing? I have no memory of that. Who was playing the pipe organ, the piano, the drums and guitars? I can’t recall that either. Who was present? A few relatives, a few friends, myself and many others whose names I didn’t know. I was only a visitor, not knowing what to expect.

What was happening? That I will never forget.

The main floor and the balcony of the sanctuary was filled that evening. The preliminaries had taken place – greetings, announcements, offering, followed by hymns and praise songs accompanied by enthusiastic clapping. The congregation had taken their seats. But then…

A complete hush fell over the congregation. The silence was so deep you could have heard a pin drop. Literally. It was as if a thick cloud had descended, cutting off every nuance of noise. No foot shuffling could be heard, no throat clearing, no nervous coughing, no nothing. The quality of light subtly changed from that provided by the ordinary church chandeliers to a brilliance I’d never seen before. It was hard to keep your head up or your eyes open.

After only a few moments it was also hard to stay in your seat. Many didn’t. People began to slip off the front pews and platform chairs onto the floor, out of the side pews into the aisle. No-one spoke. Nobody even seemed concerned about it. Everyone was too affected by the manifest presence of God in the room to take notice of their companions.

About half-way back on the left side of the building, my own row was too packed with people for me to move but I couldn’t raise my hands from my lap. I just basked in the soft, cherishing, comforting presence of the Lord.

What was it like? The closest I could describe was like being wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting on my mother’s lap and hugged close.

How long did it last? I never looked at my watch so I don’t know. But gradually the cloud began to lift. The people on the floor were helped back to their seats. The pastor got to his knees, then climbed to his feet holding onto the pulpit, but he couldn’t speak. Maybe he wanted to try to explain what had happened but I don’t think anyone was listening anyway.

Because the entire congregation was worshiping, telling Jesus how much they loved him, how much they adored him, how much they appreciated him. Some stood to their feet with arms raised and tears flowing down their face. Nobody wanted to leave that night and many of us lingered for a time, too awestruck to drive home yet.

As we milled around, we discovered that several miracle healings had occurred throughout the sanctuary. Nobody had laid hands on the sick or offered to pray, but as the presence and power of the Lord engulfed them the sick and hurt were made whole. Pneumonia in an elderly violin-maker – lungs completely cleared. A cracked elbow in my school teacher sister-in-law – bone completely healed.

That was my first experience of worshiping God in spirit and in truth in a church service. I’ve had similar worship experiences since then, in church buildings, convention centers, and the privacy of my own home. God instigated, they are not for his benefit, but for ours.

So, how would I define worship? Falling in love with the most precious, most beautiful, most wonderful, most worthy person that ever existed or ever will exist, knowing that he loves you back, and telling him how you feel.

(Originally published in 2015, reposted in 2017, but worth sharing again, I thought.)

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Patience, perseverance and endurance

The following notes are excerpted from “How to Pray Less, Succeed More: Praying the Word of God,” a unit of Principles of Intercessory Prayer taught at Trinity EPC, 2016-18.

Do trials and temptations affect prayer? Short answer – Yes.

What is the purpose of temptations / trials? Think of it like strength training. Spiritual resistance training. Exercising our faith muscles, our trust muscles. Our prayer muscles.

The enemy uses trials and temptations to prevent us from living by faith, or from praying in faith. But God can and does use them to make us stronger, more effective.

Three particular areas of temptation can and do hinder a believer’s effectiveness to pray in faith: Patience, Perseverance, and Endurance.

Although the original Greek words have different meanings, they are sometimes used interchangeably in various translations. Lack or failure of patience, perseverance, and/or endurance can and do hinder effectiveness to pray in faith.

PATIENCE means remaining the same (keeping the same attitude), no matter what. Two main Greek words are translated patience: one means patience with people, the other means patience with circumstances.

  • Patience with people: G3114 makrothyméō, to be long-spirited, meaning to keep your temper; be longsuffering, have long patience, patiently endure mistreatment by other people (without losing your temper or striking back). There’s an interesting origin of this word — it literally means to have “long feathers” like eagles and other birds that fly or soar long distances. It is translated longsuffering in some verses, patient in others.

I Corinthians 13:4, “Charity suffereth long (has patience), and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” (KJV)

I Thessalonians 5:14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”

  • Patience with circumstances: G5281 hypomonḗ, cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy: patient continuance during unpleasant circumstances (an attribute of God himself, available to us from the indwelling Holy Spirit):

Luke 21:19, Jesus told the disciples, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (KJV) He was referring to persecutions they would face.

Romans 15:5, Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

James 1:4, “But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Perfect here means mature, completed, finished, nothing left undone or lacking.

Hebrews 10:36, “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”

Side notes…

What will of God is he talking about? Whatever God has given YOU to do, which includes his written word and his personal assignment for you. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, or a missionary, or a school teacher, or an electrician, or a computer technician – each believer has his own assignment, God’s will for you.

What is the promise referred to, in this verse? (10:23 and 35 also refer to a promise, as do other verses in Hebrews and other NT books.) Our eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:15, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (NIV)

In Hebrews, this promised eternal inheritance is referred to in several previous verses. The kingdom of heaven / God and all that entails. Eternity. Eternal life. Ruling and reigning with Jesus.

Hebrews 10:16-17 gives us the bedrock answer to this question: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

There are necessary steps to actually receiving the new covenant, our eternal inheritance, the promise: receiving Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit, thus being inhabited by God’s spirit. The “promise of the father” that Jesus spoke of in Luke and Acts refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Several other scriptures to meditate on: 2 Cor. 1:20 and 7:1 (promises, plural); Hebrews 8:6 (better promises); and Hebrews 12:28 (we are receiving the kingdom, present tense.)

PERSEVERANCE means continuing an action, no matter what: G4342, proskartérēsis, persistency:—perseverance. From verb proskartereō, meaning to continue steadfastly. In the New Testament, it always refers to prayer:

Romans 12:12, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant (persevering) in prayer;”

 Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;”

Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”

ENDURANCE means remaining in place, no matter what: G5278 hypoménō, remain, undergo, have fortitude, not recede or flee; absolutely and emphatically, under misfortunes and trials to hold fast to one’s faith in Christ. This word is sometimes translated longsuffering or patient.

1 Corinthians 13:7, (Love) “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

James 1:12, “Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”

Note: 2 Timothy 2:3, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”  In this verse, “endure hardship” is one Greek word, G2553 kakopathéō, to undergo hardship, endure afflictions, suffer trouble. It is a combination of two words, kakos meaning evil, and patheo, meaning passions.

REMINDER:  “But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:4)

Perfect — mature, completed, finished, nothing left undone or lacking, necessary to Praying Less, Succeeding More.

 

It’s not what you might think

January 25, 2019

“What is going on, Lord?” I asked him very early this morning. I had been praying about the situation in Washington (the shut-down, etc.). His response:

Things are being shaken.
The outer “chaff” is being separated; falling away so the inner core, the heart, can be revealed.

The camouflage, masks, false pretenses are being seen for what they are. They are coming off.
True character, motives and intentions are being revealed.

I am knitting together what should be together.
I am splitting apart what should be apart.
Loyalties are being shifted into proper alignment.

Some who have stood together, not because they wholly agreed but for their own personal agendas, will turn against each other.
Some who have stood apart, not because they wholly disagreed but because of misunderstanding, suspicion or fear, will join forces and strengthen each other.

This battle is not over.

2019

I’ve been reading opinions and prophecies from around the world about 2019, from both secular and spiritual sources. The majority are optimistic and encouraging, although some contain cautions as well, warning about continued opposition from certain areas.

Overall things will improve, they say, socially, politically, and spiritually, eventually. There may be a bit of conflict beforehand — but 2019 will be a good year, even a great year. It all depends on who you believe.

Those messages weren’t all alike, of course, but they were similar. That was thought-provoking to me, considering they came from all corners of the world, from varied spheres of interest. All those from spiritual leaders encourage continued prayer.

And so I prayed about it.

“What should we expect in 2019?” I asked the Lord. Here’s what I believe he told me:

“Confusion and uncertainty will affect many in the body of Christ. Am I believing right? they will ask themselves. Am I praying right? Did I vote right?”

“Why?” I asked him. The answer was just a short list with no further description or explanation:

  • Flashpoint
  • Critical mass
  • Paradigm shift

I had to give those things some thought, and do quite a bit of research to be sure I knew just what they were (see below). Then I thought some more.

Apparently those things will happen, or begin to happen, in 2019.  No doubt any one of them would cause and/or contribute to confusion and uncertainty around the globe, including across the church world. After a while I prayed again and asked, “How should we respond to those things?”

“Having done all to stand, STAND,”  he said, emphasis on STAND. 2019 is going to be an interesting year, I think.

————————————————-

Flashpoint: Chemically, the lowest temperature at which vapors of a volatile material will ignite, when given an ignition source. Gasoline and spark plugs in a car engine, for example.

In International Relations, a flashpoint is an area, or a dispute, that has a strong possibility of developing into a war. Political pundits today include the Middle East as a major flashpoint.

Critical mass: The smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction, such as in a nuclear power plant. (A supercritical mass would result in an explosion, such as the atomic bomb in WWII.)

This concept is used in other contexts, such as group dynamics, where it refers to the smallest percentage of people in a group needed to trigger a change. On occasion it takes quite a long time, not to mention lengthy persuasive arguments, to acquire the needed percentage. Amending the U.S. Constitution to allow all citizens to vote, for example.

Paradigm shift: Paradigm refers to a pattern, model, or overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process or set of data. A paradigm shift is a change caused when someone discovers data that disproves the pattern or concept.

One notable scientific paradigm was believing the Earth is the center of the universe, that the sun, moon and stars all revolve around the Earth. That changed with the discoveries of Copernicus and others (telescope) in the 17th Century.

“Justification is by grace alone” (Romans 1:17) was a major paradigm shift in the religious world instigated by Martin Luther and resulting in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century.

Why a baby?

christ_childWhy did the Creator of the universe choose to become a baby?

“… who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be a grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. ” (Phil. 2:6-7 NASB)

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. ” (Heb. 4:15)

Babies can’t sin, I’ve heard people say. Surely they aren’t tempted like adults are – after all, they don’t even reach the age of accountability until 12 or so!

Have they ever been around little kids? Toddler tantrums? Terrible twos? Self-willed children? Full of selfishness, greediness, me-me-me-itis? Did you ever tell a little child No, No, over, and over, and over?

As young as they are, and as trusting of mom and dad that they are, children are indeed tempted to disobey. Determined to get that thing, do that thing, apt to stomp their foot, yell and break into angry tears when told No for the umpteenth time.

While those early behaviors may not qualify to some folks as sinful, they still need correcting. Training. Discipline. Guiding. Teaching. Lovingly, lovingly, firmly and consistently.

Children can be led astray. They are susceptible to being misled, mistreated, deceived, cheated, and abused. Susceptible to being lied to, and also lying to others.

They need to know the savior, the rescuer, the teacher, the guide and constant companion from an early age.They need to be taught right from wrong and how to tell the difference. They need to learn the word of God, and know the Word of God.

Children need to know that Jesus went through childhood himself with all its scrapes and bumps, all its hazards, and he knows what that’s like. And so he came as a baby.

Jesus loves children. When the disciples wanted to shoo the kids away, Jesus rebuked the disciples, not the children.

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. ” (Matt. 18:3)  “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:14)

Was it because the children were so innocent? So charming, so sweet, so trusting, so loving – so innocent? Hmmm. Maybe. Maybe there’s more to it.

Children are curious. They are always attracted to something “new and shiny,” something different and fun. They are full of energy, running, climbing, investigating everything. Wanting to do it themselves. “Me do it! Me do it!” Wanting to have it for themselves, no matter who it may belong to.

So, why did Jesus come to earth as a baby, and not a full grown man? In order to be tempted in all points as we are, he had to.

(Originally published on 12-22-15.)

 

Faith is also a grace

Thoughts about grace…

God’s essence and character are love.

Love is expressed to the object of love.

Grace (gift, favor) is an expression of God’s love.

You can’t truly separate out just one aspect of God’s character from all the others.

Consider a red delicious apple – color, shape, aroma, texture, juiciness, flavor, peeling, seeds. It takes all those to make that particular type of apple.

When God extends his word, which contains his creative life, to me – an act of his grace – all his character is wrapped up in that word. (Does he believe his own word? Does he have faith in his own word?)

God’s own faith comes too.

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

 

Curious? Dissatisfied? Hungry? Desperate?

Who told Bartimaeus?

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:46-52 NIV)

Bartimaeus shouted. Not an accepted member of the community, he was a blind beggar, thus considered unclean, unworthy, and not permitted to enter the Temple. People in the crowd rebuked him, trying to shut him up, but he kept on shouting — and he wasn’t just yelling, he was declaring something, something important: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Questions:

  • How did he know about Jesus?
  • How did he know who Jesus actually was?
  • Why did he want to get Jesus’s attention?

Well, he was persistent. He got Jesus’s attention. He didn’t ask him for money, he asked for healing so he could earn his own money, and he got it. (Then he became a follower of Jesus. Neat.)

Who told Zacchaeus?

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

“Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man…”  Remember that children’s song? He was a rich man, a powerful man with a powerful position, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy him completely. He wanted to see this Jesus, to figure out who he was. Unfortunately, he was also an unpopular man, a Jewish man who worked for the Romans. Also unfortunately, he was a short man, and no-one would move out of the way and give him space to see. Undeterred, he did an undignified thing: he climbed up into a tree.

Questions:

  • How did he know it was Jesus coming his way?
  • How did he know Jesus was worth looking at?
  • Did he want something from Jesus?

He was persistent. Not dignified, but persistent. And so he did get to see Jesus, and Jesus also saw him! He didn’t ask Jesus for more power, a better position, or anything… instead he repented of the unjust way he’d been doing his job. He needed salvation, and he got it.

Who told the Syrophoenician Woman?

“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24-30)

Although this woman’s name isn’t mentioned, her nationality is: Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia (part of Lebanon or Syria today). She was not a Jew. Jesus had come into her territory, however, and pretty soon word got out that he was there. She sought him out, determined to find help for her demon-oppressed daughter.

Questions:

  • How did she know Jesus even existed?
  • How did she know he could help her daughter?
  • When he seemed to refuse, why didn’t she just apologize for bothering him and go home?

She was stubbornly persistent. Not on her behalf, but on behalf of her daughter who desperately needed deliverance. And she got it.

Who told the Woman in the Pharisee’s House?

“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

This woman’s name isn’t mentioned either, but her status in the community is: Sinner. The assumption is that she was probably a prostitute. From her boldness to enter Simon’s house while he had dinner guests, she was probably not just known to Simon, but familiar to him. Perhaps one of her clients? Who knows.

But she wasn’t just bold; she owned an alabaster box of perfume, an expensive item to be carrying around. Some scholars have proposed that it was her life savings, although Luke doesn’t make that clear.

In any case, she didn’t just walk in, she fell down at Jesus’s feet, cried over them, washing his feet with her tears. Then she dried them with her hair, finally anointing them with the perfume. Can you imagine what her hair looked like after that? Or what the room smelled like after that?

Strangely enough, Simon didn’t have her thrown out. He didn’t even rebuke her himself. No, he began to criticize Jesus in his mind, who of course knew exactly what he was thinking.

Questions:

  • How did the woman know who Jesus was?
  • Who told her that Jesus was in Simon’s house?
  • What gave her the courage to invite herself in?
  • What gave her the humility to attend to Jesus’s dirty feet in an act of loving worship, when no servant had bothered to wash them?

She was persistent, throughout this encounter. She was already forgiven, because she already loved the Lord — she wanted to give him the best she had, and she wanted to do it publicly, in the position of a servant. She had needed salvation, and she had got it.

As you can see, I have questions and some possible answers of my own, but to me the most important point is this:

Somebody had told each one of them about Jesus.  Who he was, where he was, what he could do for them.

Whether they were just curious, or dissatisfied and hungry for more in their life, or desperate for help, somebody had told them about Jesus. A  neighbor. A friend or a relative. Maybe even a stranger in the crowd – somebody told them about Jesus. After they heard, they sought Jesus out and they found him.

It’s not the job of the preacher, the teacher, the prophet or the evangelist, only. Telling is every believer’s job. Somebody told us, didn’t they?