I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
in the company of His people.
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
God lifts me high above those with thoughts
of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.
Sometimes what looks true isn’t always the Truth. Like the recent snappy pop-up window that promised to speed up the performance of my computer, it looked authentic. After all, my Mac was getting a bit slow, so why not go for the quick fix?
So I did it. Without investigating further, I signed up for the easy service that promised to protect me and my computer. I opened the door wide and invited it in—only I didn’t just get a new program, I got all the adware and malware and a whole host of other “wares” that quickly took over my operating system.
It wasn’t a virus. Just a bad idea. Pretty soon, there was a number to call on my screen that promised to help, but that call connected me to a very insistent foreign man who wanted to scare me by saying that all my information was about…
“Postmodern people have been rejecting Christianity for years, thinking that it was indistinguishable from moralism.”
– Timothy Keller
It made grammatical sense to me. I added an “er” to the word bug when referring to my even littler brother, because he was bugging me.
Mom washed my mouth out with soap for my efforts to extend my understanding of linguistic principles. I didn’t know it was a bad word. That event made such an impact on me that I remember it all these years later. I resolved as a three year old that when I was a grownup I would explain the rules to my kids before dishing out consequences for violating them. Unfair! It was a justice issue for me then. It still is.
My husband and I were discussing the question of how to teach the principle of grace to young children in a Christian education setting. We both taught Sunday School for years and became frustrated with pre-packaged lesson plans that required every Bible story to have a moral. Nearly every one of them was a moral about behaviour — shoulds and should-nots. A lot of them were stories from the Old Testament that did not take New Covenant grace into consideration. Be like the good guys. Don’t be like the bad guys, because God is watching. (How do we explain that everyone, except Jesus, was both good and bad without glossing over the embarrassing details the Bible does not gloss over?)
What we truly believe becomes evident when we distill it down to concepts we try to teach to little ones. But how do we teach the concepts of grace and forgiveness to children (or others) who don’t yet know the difference between right and wrong?
Grace is not a laissez faire message that sin has no consequences. Skipping that truth is really unfair. Sin is not okay. Never has been. Never will be. I do think there is a difference between sin (defying God’s principles) and un-wise actions though. Sometimes even though you have been working at a job for 32 years, and know it inside out and backwards, a boss will require you to do something that you know is stupid. It will cost you great inconvenience later to clean up the mess, but the boss is in authority, so you do it. It’s not a sin; it’s just un-wise on the boss’s part. If the boss asks you to eliminate a competitor in the back alley, however, there is no question. That is sin. You refuse to submit, no matter the cost.
Sometimes we choose unwise actions of our own volition. When we come to our senses it involves changing our minds and policies, and probably offering some apologies, but it’s not the same as deliberately choosing to disobey Jesus’ command to love your neighbour, for example.
The Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Children need to be taught what he said: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Luke 12: 30-31 ESV).
Four times in his final charge to his disciples Jesus said loving him and being his friend meant keeping his commandments. Then this: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John15:12).
Sometimes love means being quiet and leading by example. Sometimes love means letting children learn the discipline of natural consequences. Sometimes love means tackling a kid who is big for his age before he hurts himself or somebody else. How this plays out in your life depends on the wisdom God gives you when you ask Him.
By the time a child can think for himself he knows he has missed the mark. Holy Spirit speaks to them too. Even as a child I knew that labeling my brother according to his on-going temptation to bug me was not loving him — even if I didn’t use the right word.
When I was depressed and in the midst of burn-out from trying to earn God’s approval a counselor asked me, “What does grace feel like?” I gave him the Bible school definition. He said, “No. I asked what grace feels like.”
I had no idea. I was a product of moralism. After a search in which I asked many other people this question – including some joyless Christians I did not admire – I came to an understanding. Grace to me now is climbing up on the lap of the Creator of the universe, (someone who has the power to annihilate me in a flash), resting my head on his chest and knowing I am perfectly safe because he loves me. Grace lets me know I am forgiven and enables me to change because he whispers encouraging words and tells me who I really am in his eyes. He loves me because he loves me because he loves me. The Creator sent his son, who lived as a man, who both accepted and spoke the truth to those caught in sin, chose to die at the hands of those he came to save, and conquered death just to prove it.
How do we teach children (and others) about grace? By demonstrating it. By speaking the truth about the way God sees them -as lovable. By loving them the way we are loved, including setting wise boundaries, teaching them to base their choices on love (and not mere tolerance) and becoming who they are meant to be. We teach by extending a grace that costs everything the way Jesus extended grace to us.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – Jesus Christ
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.
His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of the One who called us by His glory and virtue. Through these things, we have received God’s great and valuable promises, so we might escape the corruption of worldly desires and share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3,4 The Voice)
I knew a dear lady who became profoundly disappointed with God. She made a bargain with him, that if she threw herself into church work to the edge of her physical energy he would give her the desires of her heart — a husband and children. He didn’t keep up his end. When menopause hit and she realized she would never have a child and would probably remain single she was devastated. Her hope was the hope that disappoints.
I’ve realized lately that many of us test God with our presumptions. We tend to present him with bargains of our own design and don’t hang around long enough to find out if he agrees. It hit me last night that praise and worship services can fall into this category as well. I went to a large gathering of believers at a conference not long ago. I was really looking forward to it because I had heard stories about how “God showed up” last year. I had hoped that if I joined in singing loud rock-style praise songs for 55 minutes, if I knelt or waved a flag or swayed or shouted, whatever, I would feel experience a sense of God showing up — because it happened to those guys over there.
I felt nothing and was profoundly disappointed because I had thrown my whole heart into it. Other people seemed to be experiencing some sort of ecstatic moment while I felt nothing.
The truth is, I was presenting God with a bargain presuming that he would agree to it. “If I move out of my comfort zone and really get into this music even though it is a style and volume I personally find irritating, if I stretch out of my introverted personality and do things I fear would draw uncomfortable attention, if I sacrifice my time and money to be here, You will give me the desires of my heart, right, Lord? Because this is the way praise and worship is done, right? Because if You are pleased with my efforts You will take away the feelings that come with burying my dad yesterday and fill me with happy happy joy joy and allow me to experience Your Presence, right? ”
Can I confess I was actually angry when I left? I spent days wondering what is wrong with me that I was more aware of an out-of-tune guitar string than the majesty of God. Then I remembered an experience I had in Israel.
I was standing in the shell of an abandoned building in Gibeah — that place that was known as “The School of the Prophets” in the time of Samuel. I was excited when I found out this would be included on the itinerary, because the story in the Bible was that the presence of God was so strong there that even King Saul prophesied. I was secretly hoping for some special experience — at least some goose bumps.
The same thing at Bethel… and Shiloh… and Jerusalem. I told the Lord I was disappointed I didn’t have a sense of his presence there. That’s when I felt him say, “Because I’m not there. I’m in you now.”
In the past God has made his presence known in a burning bush, in a wind, in a voice like thunder, and in other ways. I believe that he has delighted the hearts of many people who have gotten together to offer him full-out singing and playing, but he doesn’t visit them by “showing up” like he did for a few in the Old Covenant. He inhabits them now. We are his temple. Worship is not something we do to earn a feeling. Using singing-style worship to manipulate our emotions so we can escape the unpleasant ones is making ourselves the object of worship. If I feel good this must be God, right? No. I was treating a praise and worship service like a drug.
I was wrong.
It made me re-think the point of actions we turn into rituals. It’s like giving a loved one the same birthday gift every year because we remember how happy their reaction made us feel the first time we gave it to them. We sensed God`s pleasure and his presence in us when our hearts turned to him and we expressed it through contemporary music. Now every meeting starts with obligatory rituals of a praise band and repeated choruses — because that worked before. For those whose hearts are in the right place it still does, but it’s not the method that connects them; it’s the heart.
Yesterday I read Psalm 109. It is not a feel-good psalm. In fact it’s rather embarrassing the way David spills out his feelings. I wish that one had been edited out. But in spite of his intense anger, grief, and disappointment, the psalmist offers the sacrifice of his right to want revenge and offers it to God.
Perhaps that is what would have made a finer gift of praise that day at the conference — my tears, my grief for what would never be on this earth ( a fully restored relationship with my dad), my honest feelings — the pure distilled worship of lament that says, Nevertheless I will give You first place in my heart because I choose to trust You. Christ is in me, and right in the middle of my disappointments You continue to show me the hope of glory.
Worship is acknowledging that God is God and he is good. And that does not require a sound system.