Posts Tagged God

Messes and miracles

IMG_2513This past weekend, I led worship with my brothers and sisters at the New City South worship site to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. It was a good time. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about God’s faithfulness in the midst of some pretty severe trials. It is a miracle that this congregation survived but I suppose the same can be said of any Spirit-filled congregation. The power of God is not the most evident reason for the existence of any congregation. If it isn’t, then we’re nothing more than a social organization.

This upcoming weekend, I get to leave my life in St Louis for a resort in West Palm Beach, Florida in order to lead worship at a fundraiser weekend for Serge. Unfortunately, I can’t bring my wife with me. However, my dad will be there and I’m looking forward to quality time with him as we play music together and get one last taste of warm weather before ol’ Jack Frost gets to work nipping at noses in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, we’re wrestling once again with volunteer participation in the music ministry. The Choir has averaged less than 10 people at rehearsals for the past few weeks. For some reason, available sopranos are hard to find in the praise team and choir. I’ve lost a couple of musician/leader this fall to other churches and some musicians have been even absent from worship services in general. What causes the eb and flow of available servants? It might just be the natural effects of overbooked schedules, cold and flu season, midterm school work and post-season sports, the list goes on and on… It’s a wonder we get anything done in the church. At this time in the choir season, we ask for renewed commitments, we evaluate logistical barriers to participation, we pray and worry, and worry and pray. And when there’s nothing else left to do, we take a deep breath and plunge into the holidays, holding our breath till January when we’ll exhale just long enough to get ready for the conferences and concerts that come up in the 1st quarter.

It’s a miracle that we ever survive this mess. That’s the thing about God’s power, it takes a mess and makes it a miracle.

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The Apple Machine Skit

[On the stage there’s a box with someone inside that you can’t see who has a bag of apples and a bell. Christian is standing by the box]

Christian [with piety]: O Lord, thank you for this apple machine that you have graciously provided for me. I am not worthy of your good gifts but you have seen fit to bless me with it.

[After the prayer, he turns on the machine – the bell rings and an apple pops out of a small hole in the top of the box.]

Christian: Thank you Lord for my apple! You have blessed me SO MUCH!

Neighbor [entering]: Hello friend, I hate to bother you, but I have not had anything to eat all day and I have no money to buy food and no job to earn money. I’m so hungry that I can’t even look for work. Do you have any food to share with me?

Christian: Well, my friend, by God’s grace, I have been blessed with this apple, but in God’s sovereign providence, there’s only enough for me to eat. However, I have learned that prayer works, so why don’t I pray for you to have something to eat. [Closing his eyes] Dear Lord, please provide food for my neighbor.”

[Then the bell rings again and another apple pops out.]

Neighbor: Wow! That is one amazing machine. Now that you have two apples, do you think that you could share one with me?

Christian: [looking at the apple] Hmm, actually, I will need this apple for tomorrow. You see, friend, I can’t give away all my apples and not be ready for tomorrow. Why, if I didn’t have this apple for tomorrow then I might have to go around begging for food, too. That’s just good common sense and faithful stewardship, right?

Neighbor: I guess that makes sense, but I’m so hungry, what can I do?

Christian: Well, maybe you should try praying, that’s what worked for me.

Neighbor: [Closing his eyes] Dear Lord, please give me food for today so that I will have the strength to live and serve and work.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: [With joy] Praise the Lord, my prayer was answered! Now can you share an apple with me?

Christian: [with a patronizing tone] I’m sorry friend, but I need this apple to sell at the market so that I can use that money to make this apple machine a little more productive. See, that’s just good business sense. In fact, when my apple machine starts really producing, then I can have enough apples to share with the whole world! If I give you this apple instead of investing it into improving my apple machine, then I’m really just contributing to world hunger, right?

Neighbor: I guess that makes sense, but honestly I’m so hungry right now that my brain is a little foggy.

[The bell rings again and another apple pops out. With 3 apples, Christian is having trouble holding them all]

Christian [annoyed]: You keep bringing up your hunger and my apples. It’s really starting to become a little offensive to me. I mean, if you understood grace, you would know that I am free from the legal requirements of the law. God loves ME and your constant complaining about how I’m not sharing my food is really just legalism, you see? It’s just adding this burden of the law onto my shoulders.  Don’t you think you’re being a little Pharisaical?

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: [starts to cry] I just don’t know what to do. I prayed to God for food and I know that he is good and he hears my prayer. I don’t know how much longer I can survive like this.

Christian: [sympathetically] Wow, you really are hungry. And you did pray, but it seems like God didn’t hear you.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Or maybe God did hear, but he just doesn’t care

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: Don’t say that. I know that God is good. I know that every day, I am able to find food somehow. I have never seen God fail.

Christian: I’m impressed with your faith. I wish I had faith like that. Lately, it’s hard to believe that God actually cares about the suffering in the world or… that he even exists.

[The bell rings 3 times and 3 more apples pop out of the machine]

Neighbor: Look at that! Of course God exists! How do you think that you got all those apples?

Christian: Well, friend, I have a more enlightened view of things then you do. I once shared your super-spiritual view of reality but you’ll soon learn that that way of thinking is just prosperity gospel. Name-it-and-claim-it! Clearly, there are physical laws in the universe that we can learn about, and use to our advantage to create wonderful things…things like…well, this apple machine for example.

Neighbor [looking more distressed]:  You mean this apple machine is something that you created by yourself?

Christian: [with pride] That’s right, good ol’ fashioned ingenuity, that’s the key to your hunger problem. Friend, the potential for you to have this many apples in your hands is within your grasp, too. You just have to believe in yourself and reach for the stars! That’s what I did, and look at me now. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if you didn’t get yourself into this whole apple-less predicament on your own because of your lack or self worth.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor [grasping their gut, grimacing]: Please, I don’t mean to sound rude, but don’t you and I worship the same God and can’t you have a little compassion? Do you really need so many apples? I’m so hungry.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Ah-ha! Now the truth comes out! You’re just jealous of my success. You are some kind of whiny, socialist who doesn’t know the meaning of hard work! I’m not going to enable your laziness or subsidize your selfish, materialistic, loser persona. Get a job and quit playing the victim.

Neighbor: Victim?

Christian: Yeah, you heard me. Beat it!

[Neighbor slinks off stage grasping their gut]

Christian: [closes his eyes] Lord, thank you for blessings. I am so glad that have shown your favor to me.  In fact, this whole “hunger” conversation has really made me appreciate what you have given to me. In fact, I think I’m going to tweet about this right now.

[Pulls out phone]

Christian: [dictating as they text] Feeling (hashtag)blessed. Anything is possible if you have (hastag)faith. God is good! LOL. (hastag)love (hashtag)grace (hastag)Jesusismycopilot

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Seriously? Is there any way to turn this thing off? I’m kind of in the middle of something.

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Though my fathe…

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. – Psalm 27:10

A few days ago, I posted a pic of my parents and my wife’s parents joining us for lunch. We are so thankful that we have been blessed with parents who fear the Lord and who also happen to all be friends from college. 

This verse contains a promise that even if our parents reject us or fail us, we have a loving Father who will receive us. This promise is for me, but it is also a challenge to the church that biological family ties are not as strong as the connection that we, who have been received by the Lord, have together. The orphan, whether they literally have lost both parents or if they are orphaned by the failures of their bio-family, is now given a place in the family of God.  

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New Song: “Awesome” Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago

“My God is awesome.”

That’s the hook for this new song that our church is going to learn this weekend. Of course, “Awesome” is a word that gets over-used in our American lexicon.

“That movie was awesome!”
“This pizza is awesome!”

As if the misuse of “awesome” wasn’t bad enough, sometimes we add an adverb to modify it further:

“Your hair looks totally awesome!”

Obviously, we are not awe-struck by the pizza, and the hair-do does not strike awe to all who behold it. A quick search of the use of “awesome” in the bible brings up 33 references in the ESV. Most of them are describing God’s awesome deeds done on behalf of his people. He is awesome because He has demonstrated His power in wondrous acts of  deliverance and justice. So, the “awe” inspiring traits of God are not like the wonder of something like the Grand Canyon. It’s more like the way we use the word to describe a relentless military campaign of  “shock and awe”.

More totally awesome songs:

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Psalm 6: How long, LORD, how long?

Psalm 6

What the psalmist suffers:
Faint
Agony
Anguish
Worn out
Groaning
Weeping
Weak
Sorrow
Fail
Foes

What the psalmist demands of the LORD:
Be merciful
Heal
Turn
Deliver
Save

What the psalmist appeals to:
Your unfailing love
No one remembers/praises you who is dead

How the LORD responds:
Heard my weeping
Heard my cry for mercy
Accepted my prayer

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Never Stop Making

Check This Out!

It’s a TED talk by one of the guys that founded the graphic t-shirt website, “Threadless”. I was impressed that he actually said that making things brings us closer to God.  Preach it, T-Shirt Guy!

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The Songs of God

When I was in college, I was subbing for a friend in a large jazz ensemble. I was one of about 25 instruments playing together. Guitar in an ensemble that size is expected to play “Freddie Green” style – quarter note, down strokes, chords made of 1,3,7.  It’s basically like playing the cow bell. On this particular night, Wynton Marsalis  was in Knoxville playing a show, and he happened to show up with his band to our gig for some drinks. Eventually, someone convinced him to sit in with us and play a blues. So, I can say that I “jammed” with Wynton. I was not much more involved in the process than the guy mixing drinks at the bar, but still, it was a surreal moment.

God sings. God is sitting in with us. God is in the choir and the band. He sings with the same voice that spoke the universe into existence with a word. When the ransomed bride of Christ gathers together to worship, we sing and make music together. Our songs resound in harmony with the resounding song of God over us, with us and through us.

The Father sings a song of joy and mercy over us. 

Zephaniah 3:17 – The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

 Jesus leads his holy family in songs of adoration to the Father. 

Hebrews 2: 11-12 –  Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

The Holy Spirit fills us our hearts to overflowing with robust songs of thanksgiving. 

Ephesians 5:18-20 –  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

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Can a fish comprehend the ocean?

This morning we had our usual staff prayer. Aaron Henning, the executive director of Harambee youth training, was leading us from Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was a man with a problem. He was burned out. He was angry at God. He was tired of watching the wicked prosper and the righteous oppressed. He brought his complaint to the Lord and waited for a response. Here’s a part of Habakkuk’s complaint:

You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?

This sounds very current to our lives today. We can all see how wicked people exploit and oppress. They use the power structures that exist in the world like a dragnet to suck the resources from a community or a country. Then they celebrate their success and worship their tools of oppression. Do you get angry at God for appearing to be absent from this mess? Do you look at your own heart and wonder why God is not more present when you fall into despair at the state of things? God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint with a bold vision for how he is moving in the earth.

 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
Has not the LORD Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD 
as the waters cover the sea.

In our meeting, my coworker, Heidi Vincent, pointed out something that I also noticed, but I’ll give her credit. God’s response might have been deliberately designed to play off of Habakkuk’s “fish in the sea” metaphor. As if God was saying, “If people are fish in the sea, then I will make my glory envelop them as the water in which fish live and breathe.” The wicked might be the fishermen, but the Lord is the ocean. They can worship their nets, but the Lord controls the sea. They live and move by his mercy until their appointed time of judgement. In Exodus, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh in order to bring him to a point of confrontation and ultimate judgement at the Red Sea.

There’s a lot of outrage these days about injustice. I come from a generation of Habakkuk’s who are filled with disappointment and frustration with the American Dream and with the American version of Karma. Where’s my American dream when I worked hard to get through school only to be unemployed and in debt? How is it possible that an innocent man is murdered and his killer walks free? The vision that the book of Habakkuk has for this generation is that of hope that is deeper than any promise of the world’s idols. Can we open our eyes to see his glory? The knowledge of the glory of the Lord surrounds us like water surrounds fish and yet we are blind to it. We say that God can’t exist or can’t be known because we can’t comprehend something so glorious and omnipotent. Why are you so downcast, O my soul? He has revealed this all encompassing glory to us in the teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

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He raises the poor from the dust

Who is like the LORD our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,

who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.

He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 113:5-9

I’m praising the Lord today for his character. He is not like anyone or any ‘god’ ever conceived. He is not absent and  impotent like so many deadbeat dads. He’s not deaf to the cries of the poor or the barren. He is a Father who is ever-present and who works to maintain justice. I’m thankful for how He has chosen and blessed me to be a servant in His kingdom. He has saved me from my idolatry in order to do good works by faith in Christ, works that have been prepared for me to accomplish in advance. I’m thankful for how He’s given children to my friends who were barren. I am thankful for how He’s rescuing the needy from the ash heap to set them up with princes.

Praise the LORD.
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.

Let the name of the LORD be praised,
both now and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the LORD is to be praised.

The LORD is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.

Psalm 113:1-4

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Do you feel God’s presence?

Right now, as I am writing, I don’t really feel God’s presence. By that I mean that I don’t emotionally, empirically, or intuitively feel that the divine Creator is close to me at this moment. Sometimes, I feel that he is surrounding me like the air. Sometimes, I feel like he is listening or watching, but far off. Sometimes, I feel like a practical atheist because the spiritual world is nothing but my imagination. Thankfully, I can look to the Word of God to tell whether God is present or not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

If you ever feel like it’s up to you to worship God enough that He will draw near, then remember this promise. If you ever feel like God’s presence is only for the super-Christians, then remember this promise. If you are ever tempted to believe that God’s presence is dependent on the quality of your song, sermon, or worship experience, then remember this promise.

It’s grace that gives me the freedom to admit that I feel pretty far from God right now. I don’t have to pretend that I am like the high priest of God who has a special password to God’s presence. By God’s grace, He opens our eyes sometimes to see how close he is all the time. Open my eyes, Lord, this evening.

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