Category Archives: Worship

Spreading Christmas Junk

Spreading Christmas Cheer Junk

Several years ago I was listening to a Christian radio station.  The setting was Christmas time.  The morning DJs were talking to callers about giving gifts.  One man called in and told a story about how he and his young kids gave gifts to needy children.  He told the christmasgifttochildentire radio audience “We gathered up all the toys the kids no longer played with.  Wrapped them up, and took them to our church.  Then we waited to see which child would pick the toys we brought.  To see the excited expressions on their faces was wonderful.”

The DJs praised this man for doing something so commendable.  But, was what he did really admirable?  From the man’s story, one phrase kept ringing in my ears: “the toys the kids no longer played with.”  Now, I don’t know who this man was, or the disposition of his children.  Yet, this phrase just rang so discordant throughout his whole tale.  The toys the kids no longer played with.  Why did the kids no longer play with those toys?  Did they have too many toys that they had forgotten about them?  Did they have to reach into the bottom of the toy box to get them?  Were they so used to the novelty of getting new toys that the mystique of the old toys had worn off?  Were they broken, worn, missing pieces?  Were they no longer the cool toys?

My mind was drawn to the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  No kid wants to play with a “Charlie in the Box” or a train with square wheels on his Island of Misfit Toyscaboose.  Now this stop-motion movie from 1964 personifies the “misfit toys” so that they are imbued with more worth than actual toys have.  So we can’t transfer our emotions for those fictional toys to the real ones.  The toys this man and his kids gave to those poor children might have just been “misfit.”

The man told of how the faces of the disadvantaged kids faces would light up when they opened their gifts.  To their credit, those kids demonstrated real gratitude in receiving second-hand gifts.  But, what lesson had this father really demonstrated to his children by giving gifts that cost them nothing?

King David refused to give a gift to God that cost him nothing.  In 2 Samuel 24, Gad the prophet brought the word of the LORD (YAHWEH) to King David.  YAHWEH had commanded that David build an altar to him on the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite.  David went to Araunah to buy his land in order to make an altar.  Araunah offered to give David the land, the oxen, the threshing sledges, and yokes for the altar and the offering.  King David, however, would not accept the gift.  He said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price.  I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).

I am not saying that giving second-hand stuff is always inconsiderate.  The toys this man and his children gave may very well have been decent, well-preserved toys, but, giving these toys cost them nothing.

In Malachi 1:6, God accuses his people of offering “misfit” animals for the sacrifice.  This offering was nothing less than sacrilege.  In fact, God called it “evil.” (Malachi 1:8).  It is the height of profanity and sacrilege to offer God something that costs us nothing.

In what way do we give God an offering that costs us nothing?  I am reminded of something I observed in church.  My family and I were attending a church that made a big deal about giving God a “hand clap of praise.” (For a perspective on why a “hand clapHands Applauding of praise” may not actually be an appropriate way to give praise to God check out this blog post.)  Every Sunday between the ending of singing and the announcements, the pastor whose turn it was to give the announcements would say, on his way to the pulpit before he started, “Let’s give the Lord a hand clap of praise” and nearly everyone would oblige.  One Sunday after the “hand clap of praise” command was given, I observed another pastor clapping his hands while looking around at his seat, as if he was searching for something.  At that point his focus did not appear to be on God, but on what he was searching for.  Yet, he was still clapping, as if offering God a “hand clap of praise.”  It seemed to me to be more of an absentminded exercise.  Now, he was a good man, but this gesture of worship really cost him nothing.

The Preacher warns us to be careful when we enter the LORD’s house not to offer mindless worship.  “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter I-Surrender-Alla word before God…Therefore, let your words be few…When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools.  Pay what you vow.”  Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4.  Words mean things.  When we sing “I surrender all” do we really mean it?  How many times have we made that vow and broken it?  “Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?”  Ecclesiastes 5:6.  Better to be silent before the Almighty God than to utter mindless words we have no intention on fulfilling.

I know this post is not the warm, fuzzy, feel-good message people like to hear around Christmastime.  But, what I say rings with truth.  In our gift giving this year, let us not offer gifts to God and spread Christmas junk to others that costs us nothing.  After all, the gift that God gave the world that first Christmas morn cost him the death of His Son.



Authentic Worship Is Not A Therapy Session

Is worship all about our therapy, to feel good about our problems?  Is the Sunday morning service primarily for focusing on getting rid of our metaphorical burdens and chains?  We approach Sunday mornings as if it is all about “having an experience with God.”  And those experiences all too often (if not every week) turn into us dwelling on how God can free us from our discomfort and pain.  I know that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, but there’s gotta be something more to worship than always being about our situations.  I just don’t seem to think worship therapy is what discipleship is all about.  Am I wrong about that?  Honestly, I really would like to know.  It seems all this singing in church is all about us and not about God.

Beginning a sermon series in the Book of Daniel, our pastor referenced “cultural Christians” this Sunday.  Like a “Summer Soldier” or a “Sunshine Patriot” these “cultural Christians” only follow Jesus when it’s easy.  When there is pain in the Christian walk, they do not obey God.  Our pastor said that it is impossible to be a cultural Christian and experience the real victory or the authentic joy of the Lord.  Cultural Christians are about an outward profession of faith, but inwardly they have compromised with the world because they prefer to be at ease.  They are not fooling God.  They are only fooling themselves, and perhaps, their fellow church goers.

My pastor’s sermon got me thinking how church services are often unwittingly geared toward making cultural Christians comfortable in their compromise.  As mentioned above, the worship service focuses on “having an experience with God.”  The songs chosen, the lighting, the use of multi-media, the strategically placed encouraging words, are about how God meets our needs, and is all we need, and can heal our pain.  The music, the congregation, the environment produce an emotional high that lifts the spirits of these cultural Christians so that they feel they can go on with their lives for another week.  Then, after their lives of compromise during the week get them feeling down, and burdened, we’ll do it all again at the next Sunday’s worship service.

The cycle continues, week after week.  No one is experiencing authentic joy or real victory because there really is no true repentance, or true worship.  Inauthentic worship leads to inauthentic experiences.  But, because emotions are emphasized in a feminized church, the authenticity of experiences is judged by how they make us feel.  After focusing on ourselves in worship, instead of God, we gather around people at the altar, in group hugs, maybe with some crying, and we feel that God is in it all because of the way we feel. (And we think that those who question these worship therapy sessions are just judgmental, and quenching the Spirit, because they make us feel bad.)

Some object. “Shouldn’t we want to have experiences with God?”  Or they might say “Isn’t being freed from chains a good thing?”  Of course we should want to encounter God.  Of course being freed from burdens and chains is a good thing.  I know that God does change some people’s lives during Sunday morning services.  I am not challenging the good in experiencing God or in freedom from chains.  But, I submit that those things are merely by-products of authentic worship, and should not be the focus of our worship.  When the priests came to the Temple to worship, they brought a sacrifice.  Sacrifice is what our worship services tend to lack.  Instead of coming to the altar of the Lord with our sacrifices of praise and service to others, we merely offer our petitions for relief from our problems.  Real worship acknowledges God for who he is, not just for what he has done or can do for us.

Discipleship is measured by how we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, not by how easy the Christian life is for us.

Jesus: Redeemer and Judge

I find that a lot of my spiritual insights come as I’m running.  I lace up my sneakers, strap on my phone, plug in my earphones, and pump up the worship tunes.

I hate running.

Running has to have a point.  To avoid a disaster.  To get around the bases as fast as you can.  To move the ball up the field.  To escape a mob.

Trump JesusThat’s why I ran away from the Trump 2016!!! crowd.  The mob mentality.  I supported Ted Cruz, not because I liked Cruz so much.  It’s because he espoused principles that I hold.  Principles like limited government, states’ rights, fiscal responsibility, constitutional integrity, religious liberty.*

I won’t get into why into why I think the Trump phenomenon is a “mob mentality.”  The point of this post is about my reaction to the phenomenon.

Anyway, I hate running.  I’m not built like a long distance runner.  I’m built more like a full-back, “very dangerous over short distances.”  Sometimes I feel like Gimli in The Two Towers when I run any distance greater than the length of the basketball court.

My job requires I be fit.  So I run.  But when I run, I make it an act of worship, so there is a point to it.  I listen to songs that worship Jesus.  In fact, right now I’m listening to Chris Tomlin’s “All to Us.”

Worshiping God during my running has led to many spiritual insights for me.  There is something about worshiping God that helps me to think clearly.

This morning, while running, Chris Tomlin’s song “Jesus, My Redeemer,” played.  As the song came to the part

No other one so glorious
You outshine the sun
No other love like Jesus
You outshine the sun

I began to think about the Trump phenomenon and about how many people think Trump is the Savior of the republic, the One to “Make America Great Again.”

“But, they’re wrong,” I thought.  “He will be the destroyer of the republic.”

Then I began to think again.  “No, I’m wrong too.  If Trump does not have the power to be the savior, then he does not have the power to be the destroyer.”

That changed my perspective entirely.  Only Jesus can rescue our nation.  Only Jesus has the power to be the destroyer of our republic.  In no other name is there such power and authority.

Our focus this election season should not be in the abilities of men to save us.  Absolutely we should choose the best people to be our public servants, and we have chosen poorly this year.  We have chosen poorly because we have focused on men as our savior, and we have believed our malady is merely bad public policies.  But our problem is not bad policies.  Bad policies are only a symptom of our problem.  Our ailment is our sin.

The comfort of our lives has made us make peace with our sin.  Because the Church is comfortable with our own sin, the World hates us for pointing out theirs.  They are in full rebellion against God.  Creating same-sex “marriages,” allowing men in women’s bathrooms, laughing about selling dead-baby parts, praising the “courage” of men who want to dress up like women.  The nation is hell-bent on destruction, and it’s not going to be Trump’s fault.

It’s going to be ours, the Church’s fault.

But, the situation is never so bleak when we, the Church, finally agree with God about the nature of our own sinful condition.  Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become his righteousness in a world that is going to hell.  Jesus has reconciled us with the Father so that we can be ambassadors of reconciliation to a dying world. See II Corinthians 5:17-21.

Trump is not the savior, nor the destroyer of the republic.  Only Jesus has the authority and power to do that.  But, I believe Jesus has given us the ability to make his decision for him, whether to redeem our nation or destroy it.

Which will you choose?  Live lives of comfort and compromise?  Or of righteousness and reconciliation?

As for me and my house, we will choose righteousness and reconciliation over comfort and compromise.

*We can have a discussion what these mean and why I call these “principles.”  But, for this post I do not have the time to have that discussion.