Spirit

Straining to Hear His Voice

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From time to time, I will receive questions about the faith and this was one such question.
“Why doesn’t God speak to me the way that he did to others in Bible times?”
Thanks for your question! I hear you asking whether God still speaks today in the way that he spoke during the times of the Bible’s writing.
The short answer to your question is that God still speaks to anyone who would listen. God was the first voice that spoke in the universe, the first voice who said, “Let there be light.” And he has been speaking ever since. And he will continue to speak!
Note that our times are very different times than the time period in which the Bible was written and that much time passed even during the writing of the Bible. Hebrews 1 gives us a great rundown of the ways that God has spoken to us throughout history (prophets, writings, Jesus!). Here are some of those ways and others that we see in Scripture.
Throughout history, God has been speaking in several different ways:
(1) He speaks through creation – See Romans 1
(2) He speaks through His written word, the Bible – See 2 Timothy 3
(3) He speaks through His Spirit – See John 14
(4) He speaks through His Son, Jesus Christ – See Hebrews 1
(5) He speaks through others around us – See James 3
(6) He speaks through songs, music, teachings, books, etc. – See 2 Chronicles 20
(7) He speaks through angels – See Hebrews 13
(8) He speaks through visions, dreams, and prophecies – See Acts 2
Jesus, in John 10 says that His sheep hear his voice. In other words, if you are a follower of Christ, you hear his voice and learn how to hear his voice more clearly. This does not necessarily mean that you will hear him talking in the burning bush or that you will see an angel. I can tell you clearly that I do not believe that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God or that I have ever seen an angel. But, I have heard God talking throughout my life in various ways.
Have you ever seen a rainbow so beautiful that you knew there had to be a God who had created the world? Have you ever read a Scripture verse and had it speak directly and clearly to you? Have you ever had a song or piece of music move you in a way that drew you closer to the Lord? Have you ever had somebody give you encouragement and teach you something about the ways of life or the the ways of God? These are all ways in which God can and still does speak today.
And certainly, there are ways that are more “mysterious” than this. 
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:16 teaches that we “have the mind of Christ.” In other words, we can learn to think like he thinks.
(2) Luke 12:12 says that the Holy Spirit will “teach us what to say.”
(3) In John 10, Jesus says that his sheep will “hear my voice.”
(4) Romans 8:26-27 says that the Spirit will help us know what to pray.
(5) Acts 2:17 talks about the dreams, visions, and prophecies that can come from the Lord.
There are people all over the world that share stories about God’s voice, God’s leading, God’s showing up in this life still. Liz and I once had a complete stranger approach us in a sandwich shop in a different city than where we lived to ask us if we had been praying about exactly what we were praying about the night before. God is able to speak in both small and large profound manners.
So how do we hear God’s voice?
(1) The first thing is that we seek to know Him as Lord and Savior. We ask forgiveness for sins, ask for His forgiveness and salvation based on the work of Jesus on the Cross and his resurrection life, and we ask the Spirit to come into our lives. We want to be filled by the Spirit, which quickens us until life.
(2) We start putting ourselves in positions and places where we know He speaks. We know He speaks through His word and so we spend time reading the Bible. We pray and communicate with Him while doing so. We listen while we pray to see if the Spirit is guiding us in some way.
(3) We spend time with people that know His voice and hear from God. We are more likely to hear from God when we spend time with others that are doing the same thing. Ask close Christians around you about how they hear from God. Find out if there is anything that you should be listening for or hearing from their perspective/experience. Listening to testimonies from others about God’s voice is very helpful in learning to hear Him more.
(4) Ask the Spirit to talk. Tell Him that you want to see more of Him in your life and experience Him in ways that will be beneficial for your growth.
(5) We stay connected to the vine (see John 15). If we stay connected to God and his people, we have a better chance of hearing from the Lord and bearing fruit in our lives. Spend time with God, go to Church, read the Scripture, pray. Practice these kinds of spiritual disciplines and see where/how God speaks. This practice and journey is ongoing. So, don’t be discouraged if there is no “lightning moment” on the first try.
I Kings 19 tells an awesome story about how God spoke not in the ways that we may have expected, but in the still small voice. Sometimes, God speaks in the subtle small ways and we simply aren’t listening. Let’s take the opportunity to hear him in any way that He speaks and put ourselves in positions to hear Him wherever he does so. We may just be surprised with the ways that he clearly shows up and speaks even today!

Zechariah: Losing Your Voice and Getting It Back

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In this age (and most of the others that came before this one), most of us are inclined to speak before we listen. In fact, we are often inclined to speak before we think!

The story of Zechariah in Luke 1 is a timely word for those of us that are incline this way, as Zechariah loses his voice and gets it back again with renewed humility and power!

Here are five things we learn from the story of Zechariah about having a powerful voice in this day and age!

(1) Being of God but missing the Good News. (Luke 1:5-18)

You can be of God and even considered righteous, but still miss the Good News of God. Zechariah was a religious leader, was considered righteous by the Lord, but still questioned the messenger when Gabriel told him of what God was doing. This, sadly, can often be the case for those of us who believe we are tracking with the Lord. We can be so sure of ourselves or what we have already learned that we are not open to the revelation of what God is doing in our lives currently. We miss the Good News of how the Gospel is currently applied to our circumstances, our surroundings, or even our own lives. Sometimes, the people who need the Gospel the most are those who have already heard the Good News. We can learn from Zechariah that even if we are already of God, we can miss how the Good News will affect our current situation, the world around us, and our own lives!

(2) Losing your voice. (Luke 1:19-20)

If our voice has become useless to the Lord, we shouldn’t be surprised if God takes away our voice. Such was the case with Zechariah! He stopped using his voice to proclaim the Word of the Lord and instead used it to question God’s Word. When we have lost our prophetic voice (for any host of reasons), God may see fit to take our voice away completely. This may especially be the case for those who claim to “speak for God.” We must be careful not to use their voice inappropriately or we may find that we have our voice taken away!

(3) Speaking more powerfully when you are silent (Luke 1:21-25; 57-63)

We may also find that we can speak more powerfully without words. Zechariah’s mere silence was enough for those around him to see that he had been given a word from God. Further, Zechariah was able to show an incredible sign of solidarity with his wife Elizabeth when she wanted to name her son, “John.” Without words, Zechariah communicated God’s word to those around him and was able to draw closer to God and his wife in the process. When we see a need for God’s word to enter in to a situation around us, there may be times when our first reaction should not be to speak, but rather to listen and act.

(4) Praising God when the barriers are removed (Luke 1:64-66)

God will often remove the barrier that exists when he knows that we will be ready to praise him for it! As soon as Zechariah was ready to believe the word of God and praise God for it, God removed the barrier to this praise, which was the block on Zechariah’s voice. It is helpful to ask what barriers exist to God being praised in our lives or the circumstances around us. Perhaps God would like to identify these barriers and remove them so that His praise can go forward!

(5) Getting your voice back (Luke 1:67-79)

The most prophetic utterance that Zechariah had came after this process, after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and when he had an audience ready to listen. At that point, Zechariah gave a powerful testimony of the Lord’s authority, his ability to remove barriers, and his heart to save the world! The key to this new voice was Zechariah’s willingness to be moved by the Spirit, believe the Word of the Lord, and proclaim the salvation of the Lord to anyone who would listen.

The story of Zechariah is a good one for our time. In climate where some many voices are clamoring to be heard, let us hear the voice of the Lord, believe it to be true, and proclaim it with our own voice. May we faithfully apply the Good News to our lives in every situation, lest God take our voice away as well!

7 Awesome Mary Traits (That All Christians Can Celebrate)

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(The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve by Sister Grace Remington)

When it comes to Mary, it often seems that Protestants have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Due to a fear of idolizing Mary (which most Catholics and Orthodox DO NOT do) and in an effort to keep churchgoers locked in on the birth of Jesus (which is important during a season of waiting on Him), many Protestants just gloss over the very important traits found in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

With that in mind, here are 7 Awesome Mary Traits (That All Christians Can Celebrate):

Trait 1 – She stands toe to toe with one who stands in the presence of God. (Luke 1:26-29)

Mary was awesome. Most cower in fear when an angel shows up (see Zechariah’s reaction to a similar visit from Gabriel). According to Luke, Mary was simply…perplexed. She moved straight past the shock factor of a visit from Gabriel and straight to trying to understand his message. While most men cower in the presence of an angel, Mary stood toe to toe with Gabriel.

Trait 2 – She has the Lord with her (in her) and receives His favor. (Luke 1:30-33)

Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord is with her. While Mary had not yet become pregnant with Jesus, the angel tells Mary that God is already with her. She receives favor from the Lord. This favor is unmerited and comes before Mary had done anything. God with us (Emmanuel) will soon literally be with her, as she becomes with child. But, before all of this, Mary is willing to receive and in Mary, God finds a willing vessel. This is an excellent example for the Christian. When God comes near, invite him in, and receive His favor.

Trait 3 – She doesn’t ask IF God’s Will will be done, but how. (Luke 1:34-37)

Most of us are caught still asking the question whether or not God is able to accomplish his will. Mary is not concerned whether or not God’s will is able to be done, but how it will be done. Again, contrast this with the way that Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. Mary believes already that God’s Will will be accomplished and asks not IF it will be accomplished, but how.

Trait 4 – She hears the word of the Lord and becomes obedient to it. (Luke 1:38)

Mary understands that it is not enough for the Christian to simply hear the word of the Lord. Instead, the Christian must hear the word, believe the word, and be willing to do the word (see James 1:22). The mark of the Christian is that the Christian becomes obedient to the word of God. Like Mary, we are to have Christ formed in us as we become obedient to the Word.

Trait 5 – She does not hesitate to share the word of the Lord and the work of the Spirit. (Luke 1:39-45)

If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths (see Romans 10:9), we will be saved. Mary wasted no time in sharing the word of the Lord and the work of the Spirit with those around her. Like Mary, we ought to boldly share the work of the Lord in our lives and be willing to give our hearts and our lips to the Lord.

Trait 6 – She proclaims God’s justice BEFORE it becomes a reality. (Luke 1:46-55)

The Magnificat (Mary’s Song) is a butt-kicking proclamation for oppression and injustice. In it, Mary proclaims that God has scattered the proud, brought down rulers, and sent away the rich empty-handed. At the same time, she proclaims that God has raised up the humble, filled the hungry with good things, and done great things for the bondslave. And, the original language uses a type of future tense as a declaration that God has already accomplished these things BEFORE they have come a reality in the world. Wow. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection would literally upset the fallen order of things and restore salvation to humankind. Yes, in Christ’s birth, Mary consoles Eve. And like Mary, the Christian should console the world with God’s justice even in a world where it is severely lacking.

Trait 7 – She rests in God’s promised Word, knowing that it is God who accomplishes his purposes. (Luke 1:56)

The text in Luke 1:56 shows that Mary stayed for three months after this and THEN returned home. Most of us can’t wait three months for anything. Most of us would hear this word and frantically begin working towards the promises that God had just revealed. Rather, Mary rested in the promised Word that the Lord had given her, stayed three months with Elizabeth, and then returned home. After all, Isaiah 9 had prophesied in Isaiah 9 that “the zeal of the Lord” would accomplish all this. None of this is passive for Mary, but all of it rests in the promises of the Lord.

May each of us, today and this Advent season, follow Mary’s example of hearing the Word of the Lord, giving birth to Christ in our own lives, and proclaiming the work of His Spirit to a world in need of his justice!

Never “Just” a Prayer

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It was never “just” a prayer.

I received this question from an attender and wanted to address the important question what it actually means to give your life to Jesus.

I think the heart of your concern rests in the following questions that you asked:

Why did the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior go to hell? If all you have to do is say that Jesus is Lord and repent for your sin once, then why do we need to strive to be more like Jesus? It seems like you should but don’t have to. Why does the Bible tell us to always be aware, to not drift away? Why would it say it if once we say the sinner prayer, we are saved for good?

Let me respond as best I can here by email, understanding that conversation in person will usually be more helpful and thorough. As you have heard me say before, I do not believe that people can lose their salvation.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says

“you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

If you believe in Christ and become a follower of Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit, who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” In other words, the Holy Spirit in you is a sign to you that you have saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved.

In John 10:28, Jesus indicates that none that He has been given can be snatched from his hand.

Romans 8:33-39 says

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This means that we don’t have to be fearful of losing our salvation or of someone taking it from us. If we are chosen by God and have chosen to follow Him, we do not need to live in fear of being taken away from His promise. In this way, I do not believe that anyone who accepts Christ as Savior is sent to hell.

What I would do is say that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. You asked, “If all we have to do” is say a prayer once and repent, then why do we need to become more like Jesus. I believe the Bible teaches our growth and includes warnings about falling away because the Christian life was never just about one prayer. The prayer is an outpouring of the heart of the believer towards God, it is not a one time transactional contract. We have instead a covenant with God that lasts a lifetime. God didn’t intend for the Christian life to be a one time magic set of words that got us out of hell and into heaven. The Christian life is indeed about a relationship with God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (says Paul in Philippians 2). This does not mean that we can earn our salvation or save ourselves, it is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). What it does mean is that it is much more than a one time prior. Giving our life to Jesus means just that; that we give our lives to Jesus. Not just our words. Not just our prayers. We become more than believers in Christ. We become followers of Christ that walk in relationship to and with him.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal to be able to accomplish the work of God in our lives and apply to us the work of Christ on the cross. It is a relationship. Think of the relationships in your life. None of them are just a one time meeting or a one time set of words. They are on going. Gordon Fee says it this way

“For Paul, life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.” – Gordon Fee

Fee is saying that while we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit at conversion, the relationship is one that grows, is renewed, and expands. That is what we look for in our relationship with God, and if we indeed have the Holy Spirit in us, we do not need to worry about salvation being taken from us. In the end, the prize that we get is God himself!!

Denominations have many different takes on these issues and I think it is helpful to learn from the denominations and the truth that they present. There is no one denomination that has the corner market on who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. And so, we learn and discern what the denominations have to say. Much of that is a lifelong process as well. We discern what the traditions say, compare them with the Scripture, discuss them with others, and ask the Spirit to guide us into all truth, as Jesus said he would. I agree with your assessment by the way, that Orthodox churches seem to have a lot of traditions and protestant churches seem to have none. It may be helpful for both sides (and there are many more) to center upon Jesus and submit their rules (or lack thereof) to His Spirit as we work out our salvation together.

I’ll conclude with a story about a man who once came up to the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and said, I would give my whole life to play the violin the way that you do. Perlman grinned and said, “I did give my whole life.” What showed that Perlman was a violinist: saying the words that he was a violinist or spending a lifetime playing? (See James’ talk about faith and deeds!) It’s a fantastic reminder to see that we have an opportunity as followers of Christ to give our whole lives (selves) to him, not just a one time prayer. And the good news is that our being save doesn’t rest on us, but on the Savior who will not lose one that the Father has given (John 6:39). You can’t earn your salvation, but you can give him your life. And that is a lot more than a prayer!

 

On Power and Authority

Friends, I received another question that I wanted to respond to on here. On power and authority.

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Jesus said he has all power and authority in Earth and Heaven, yet I’ve also heard Satan the “The Prince of this world” or is in control of Earth.  When Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days fasting, Satan told him he would give Jesus the Earth if Jesus would kneel to Satan, reinforcing that Satan has control over Earth.  I’ve also read that we humans were given Earth to have domain over.  It seems confusing.  If Earth’s domain is our gift from God, why can’t we cast out Satan.  If Jesus has all power over Earth, what is stopping him from booting the devil out now?  I’m not sure if there is an answer or not but would love to hear your thoughts.

God, as Creator of the universe has authority over all of the universe. We learn that all things were made through Jesus in John 1:3. As such, He is Lord over Creation. God (meaning the Father, Son, and Spirit: one God, three Persons) has supreme authority over all Creation and all creatures. By nature, Creation worships (obeys) the Creature. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God.” But, creation does not worship/obey (the words are often connected) by God controlling or dictating. He is not a tyrant. There is choice involved and Satan chose against the Lord. In doing so, Satan removed himself from participating in the authority of God and instead simply became under his authority. When Adam and Eve sinned against God (and chose against his authority), the human race also removed themselves from participating in the authority of God and simply became under His authority. God did not lose authority over Creation, over Satan, or over humanity. But, Satan, a third of the demons, and humanity chose to operate outside the authority of God. God, being a good and loving God, gave the option for this choice.

I hope you are seeing the picture here: you can operate in the authority of God (as part of His authority) or you can operate outside (against) His authority. Either way, He does not lose His authority, but He allows for choice to operate in His authority or not. So, Satan is cast out of heaven and allowed to roam the Earth. Again, God does this lovingly, knowing that He will give humans the same choice. Ultimately, this is to display not only His power and His authority, but also his love.

When Jesus comes, we are told in Philippians 2 and John 17 that he had the glory as God prior to being born as human. He was fully God already, which means that He fully had authority as God. But, He didn’t consider it something to be grasped. Or, in other words, He didn’t see being God as something to be used for His own benefit, but for ours. And so, He placed Himself under the authority of the Father and submitted to His authority throughout His life. He said, I only do what I see the Father doing. He said, not my will but yours be done. He was the perfect example of acting in the authority of God. And so, it makes perfect sense that He says, I have been given all authority on heaven and earth. Yes, Satan has been given the option to operate outside (against) the authority of God on this earth. As such, any authority that Satan has comes from what God has allowed in His lovingkindness to give people choice. When Satan temped Jesus, the actual temptation was for Jesus to operate outside (against) the authority of God and join Satan. This is why Jesus responds that you should only worship (obey – remember the words are connected) the Lord your God. Jesus chose to continue to participate in the authority of God, rather than operate outside the authority. Now, we have the same choice. God gave the Adam and Eve authority over the earth, but it is only rooted in participation with God’s authority. As soon as we act outside (against) that authority, we are no longer participating with God. In reality, we are now participating with Satan. This is why Jesus says you are with me or you are against me.

If we choose to operate in God’s authority, following in the footsteps of Jesus, we participate with him. We reign with Christ (see 2 Timothy 2:12)! That is why Jesus says that all authority has been given to Him (in Matthew 28) and why the disciples were told they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them (Acts 1:8). It is by the power of the Spirit that we are able to operate in the authority of God continually. So, Jesus saves from the effect of sin but also from the power of sin. We are not under the power (authority) of sin, but rather under the power (authority) of God. 1 Peter 5, John 16, and Hebrews 10 note that this situation on the Earth and its battle regarding authority will only go on for “a little while.” This is because God has not lost any of His authority in the process. He is instead “patience toward you not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

On Salvation and Overcoming Sin

Hi friends! I received this question today and wanted to spend some time to give an answer. On Salvation and Overcoming Sin.

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The question that has been bothering me for a while is whether or not people can loose their salvation? If not, then who does 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (and other verses like that) refer to? What does it mean that Jesus gives us the power to overcome sin (since I know that we all keep sinning)?

(1) Some hold that you can lose your salvation if you are not faithful.
(2) Some hold that you cannot lose your salvation, but that you can choose to no longer follow Christ.
(3) Some hold that once you are saved you are always saved.
I am in the third camp, personally. I believe that once you have been saved, God will not allow you to be unsaved! See John 6:39 – “I shall not lose one that the Father has given me, but shall raise them up at the last day.” Also, John 10:28 – “I give them eternal life…No one can snatch them out of my hand.” The emphasis is that Jesus does the saving, that salvation is a gift, and that giving the gift, he will not take the gift back. That is my view based on what I see in the Bible.
The most important verse in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is verse 11, which says: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Paul is describing what life WAS like without Jesus. Fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, etc. These are some of the sins and lifestyles that carry with them consequences of separation from God, death, and eternity in Hell. (There are many more, lest we think that these are the only ones). Romans 6:23, the “wages of sin is death.” Apart from Jesus, these things keep you from inheriting the Kingdom of God. But, Paul says, such WERE some of you. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God. In other words, Jesus has done the saving and has kept you from the penalty of the sin. In the next post, I’ll respond more about the power of sin. Because, God saves us also from the power of sin. When we talk about going on sinning and overcoming sin, we need to be saved from the power of sin. And so, we turn to the Spirit. Stay tuned.

Everybody Worships…Something.

“In the end the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God himself. To see Him and know Him and be in His presence is the soul’s final feast. Beyond this there is no quest.” – John Piper

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Over the past seven weeks, I have been teaching a class called “Worship in Spirit and Truth” at Greenwood community Church in Greenwood Village Colorado. Today’s blog post is born out of the thought, discussions, and teachings from that class. Primary to the class is the idea everybody worships where they know it or not. This is a biblical idea at its core but can also be seen from a philosophical, psychological, or sociological perspective.

Think for a moment about some of the definitions you may have heard for the word “worship.” You may have heard it defined as singing songs with the church context. You may have heard it defined is offering sacrifices to a god or gods. But, a simple, accurate, and biblical definition of worship is the offering of oneself to a person, persons, thing, or cause. Romans 12:1 says that our spiritual act of worship is to offer our very selves to Lord.

In other words, everyone gives their lives, their very selves to something. Whether is a person a thing or a cause everyone offers themselves to something. You could worship yourself for that matter. What do you give your life to? It could be a job. It could be a relationship. It could be money. It could be God. And so worship is something that every person on this earth engages in whether it is known or not.

All creation just by its very existence worships the creator. Psalm 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God. Day day after day they pour forth their speech. This is something that creation does just by its very existence. This is why Jesus said in Luke 14:40, if those are silent even the rocks will cry out. In this way there is a worship of the Creator that happens just by the very existence of creation.

In his book, The Worship Pastor, Zack Hicks talk about three circles of worship. The first is the one we’ve just described. Worship on a macro level. All of creation worships the creator. The second, smaller circle, is what happens when an individual offers themselves to Lord in worship. This is surrendering to the Spirit of God. This is following the voice of the Shepherd. This is aligning ones will to the will of the Father. And this is something that happens only by the freeing of the Spirit of truth.

A smaller circle within that circle is what we call corporate worship. This is what happens when God’s people gathered together corporate proclamation of God’s covenant. This is what happens on Sunday morning in churches all across the world. This is what happens in homes in small groups offer up praises and prayers to the Savior. It’s the meeting of God with his people, his children, his body. And what we do in singing songs of worship is just one small part of that small circle. It is only a portion of the great umbrella of worship, wherein everybody worships something whether they know it or not.

So what do you worship? What do you give your life to? How does that affect what you are doing this very moment? For this moment, and the moment after it, and a thousand moments, add up to a lifetime of worship. And I say, it’s worth knowing who we worship.

Glowing Faces

“Only when we perceive the face of the One in whose image we were made do we come to know who we are and the One for whom we were made. And because of who He is, to behold Him and remain unchanged is impossible.” – Bill Johnson

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This past weekend, my family and I attended Greenwood Community Church’s Family Camp at Camp Timberline in Estes Park, Colorado. I’ll take several things away from the weekend, but one of the most fun takeaways will be remembering my daughters’ glowing faces. Savannah’s face was glowing because this was her first real experience in the great outdoors, she was amazed at how big the world was, and there were so many people that she had never seen before then. Charlotte’s face was glowing because she had more adventure in this weekend than any other weekend, including the camp’s zip-line, climbing wall, gut-check plank, silencer swing, and blob in the lake.

Liz and I had glowing faces due to the consistent reflection of God’s glory in this place. We saw it in the vast beauty of the mountains. We see it as God’s people sang praises to his name. We saw it in the passages of Scripture that were our guide for the weekend and we saw it in the way the Spirit led us as a body together.

It was beautiful to see God’s glory reflected on the faces of my family and the other attendees of the family camp this weekend. It made me think about the way that God can be mirrored in this life and the way that we can contribute to that reflection.

Jewish rabbis have a word for what we experience in glowing faces and that word was shekinah. Though the word is not found in the Bible, there is, in fact, a clear pattern of God’s glory being reflected on his creation.

Take for example, Moses’ face in Exodus 34:29. The verse says, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” In other words, there was a visual effect that God’s presence had on Moses’ physicality. Have you ever been around someone so radiant that it was clear God’s presence resided with him or her and that God’s beauty and majesty was being reflected. It occurred to me that if we take seriously the invitation to come near to the Lord (James 4:8), it is possible that our actual physical appearance could be altered.

Now, clearly when the Bible talks about God’s children being transformed into his likeness, the emphasis is not on a physical appearance. When Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes form the Lord, who is the Spirit,” it is clear that he is talking about spiritual transformation. Truly, the more we see God’s glory, the more He transforms us into His likeness through the power of the Spirit. But, why would we be surprised if spiritual transformation and renewal had a physical effect? Doesn’t the Bible contain story after story of ways that the spiritual realm impacts the physical world?

In the days following the camp, we began to realize that our faces were not glowing quite as much as they had been. Further, when confronted with the daily routine, difficulties that arose, and the need to return work (and first days of schoolwork for Charlotte), our faces began to take on other, darker forms. But, we pause today to recall the glory we see on the mountain and recognize that the Spirit of God did not stay there. Instead, he brings his people through an ever-increasing glory (or, as some say, from glory to glory) so that we might better reflect his beauty and majesty. May you enjoy good health today, even as your soul is getting well (3 John 2)!

A Sacrifice of Praise

“Part of the sacrifice of praise is singing music that is not necessarily our heart language.” – David Clifton

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This week, I attended “Spirit and Sacrament” at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. The seminar was put together by Andy Piercy (Director of Worship Development for the Anglican Mission), with a great deal of help from John Witvliet (Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) and Glenn Packiam (Lead Pastor of New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs, CO). Each of these men had a significant amount of insight and tools to contribute.

One of the gems of the week came from David Clifton (Director of Music and Arts at Apostles in Knoxville, TN), who said the phrase above: “Part of the sacrifice of praise is singing music that is not necessarily our heart language.”

This statement was so clear, so succinct, and carried with it such an incredible message that it has stuck with me for the days since hearing it. This is an idea that others have communicated before, especially in worship contexts that are trying to figure out how to engage multiple generations and cultures in a unified corporate worship. But, this was the first time I have heard this connected to the idea of it being a sacrifice of praise.

What Clifton references here, is the idea found in Hebrews 13:15, which says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (NASB). And, it only follows that as we seek to continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, we must throw off anything that can hinder this fruit. Now, if you have been around worship circles for any amount of time, you understand that the hinderances to this kind of sacrifice are numerous. What Clifton gets so right in this statement is the connection between the heart language of the worshiper with the sacrifice of praise that is to be made. This is especially true in corporate worship, where one must be willing to give up his or her own self in order to offer corporate praise to the Lord. That sounds like a sacrifice to me! Each worshiper must be willing to give up his or her own preference of heart language in order to join in the heart language of the full body as God is glorified.

In this way, “Worship leaders become language coaches for the church,” said John Witvliet. The worship leader learns how to invite the full body to engage in a sacrifice of praise, whether it is specific to their individual heart language or not.

And so, we make a joyful noise unto the Lord, unifying our hearts and our language to the glory of God the Father!