I Need to Worship

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“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear.

I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation.

I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.

I need to worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”

-John Ortberg

I used to think God must either be some sort of egomaniac, or the opposite, an insecure assurance addict, that He wanted praise all the time. I learned at an early age (and to my embarrassment now) that the best way to get something from my dad was to butter him up first. It’s the go-to weapon of choice for many people when they feel powerless. I hoped the same technique would work on God.

It wasn’t until I let go of the false definition of God that I somehow picked up in my early years that I began to realize how wrong I had been. God’s self-image is just fine, thank you. He doesn’t need anyone to create one for him.

Worship is about taking my eyes off myself and focusing on who he is. In the process of gazing on his beauty and concentrating on his attributes, I can begin to see myself in his eyes. It creates perspective.

Turning all our attention on who he wants to show himself as in this season of our lives can be like having a defining-the-relationship talk with the Almighty. God is God, holy other, far above any created thing. He knows us intimately and loves us deeply.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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What Do You Look For In a Church?

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Not long ago someone who was moving to a new city asked  a group of us what we looked for in a church.

Some people said they valued good preaching, or good worship music, or a good children’s program. Some wanted a place that offered the old time religion and salvation message that was good enough for Grandma. Some wanted something deeper or fresher or more relevant. Some wanted standards. Some wanted to be open to everyone and everything. Some wanted a place where they could take an active part and others wanted a service that ended on time with easy access to the exit and the parking lot.

When they asked me I said I don’t know anymore.

I’ve been in rooms with brilliant teachers teaching brilliant thoughts to eager learners.

I’ve been in open fields with people willing to lay down their lives for the nations,

in kitchens where folks fed the poor,

in safe houses with two or three friends who understood my brokeness patiently worked toward my emotional healing,

in giant cathedrals with choirs and organ music that carried the echoes of a thousand years of faithfulness,

on patios around the barbecue where people talk about the love of Christ and things that matter,

in backrooms where street people loved each other with the deepest sincerity,

in quiet sanctuaries where the sacraments repeated the promises I needed to hear,

in rented spaces with music and dance so enthusiastic I could feel the beat in my chest,

in accepting ethnic communities where I was the only white person,

in gyms where children laughed and played and recited memory verses,

in creaky old pews where multi-generational families prayed together and stayed together

in halls and airport hangars where the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong people were thrown out of their chairs or fell on the floor with laughter or were healed of incurable diseases on the spot,

and in wood paneled sanctuaries where the elderly found comfort in hymns about heaven.

I have known the safety of basement classrooms with friends who desire to hear the Lord and are willing to graciously speak truth into my life.

I’ve known the church of the internet where spirit to spirit connection rides the air waves.

I’ve known the reverent and the raucous, the richly furnished and the barely maintained, the well-staffed and the unstaffed, the steadfast and the risk-taking.

It’s hard to choose which one I will reject if I cling solely to one and forsake the others.
I love them all.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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Absalom: When Rebellion Thwarts Reformation

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Twice this week I heard this question: What makes you angry?

Both times the men posing the question suggested paying attention to the circumstances that raise a flood of righteous indignation.

“It could be a clue to your calling.”

I didn’t have to think long. What makes me angry? When the cries of the victims of injustice, when the wounds of the abused, when the silent tears of those imprisoned in mental anguish or in circumstances they cannot control are ignored or downplayed by people who have the capacity to help. When people who brag about leading a loving community misuse their power by exploiting their charges I am livid.

Recently I read a rant by a popular writer who can obviously relate to my anger. He blasted away at hypocrisy and corruption and cover up within the institutional church.

“Wow, Lord! This is good. I totally agree. This guy is absolutely right.”

God’s still small voice response shook me.

“So was Absalom.”

“Absalom? The son who rebelled against his father the king?” I asked.

“Beware the man who calls out to victims of injustice to follow him saying, ‘If I were in charge…’”

I re-read the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13 to 18.

David harp statue IMG_9841Absalom was right about injustice and corruption being covered up within the kingdom. He had first-hand knowledge of this. The prophet Nathan exposed King David’s crime of taking what was not his – Bathsheba, the daughter of one of his valiant friends and the wife of Uriah, who was out fighting for him. It couldn’t have been easy for a faithful servant to tell the king that his decision to cover up his sin by committing a greater one, arranging Uriah’s murder, would have serious consequences in his family for a very long time.

Later David’s eldest son, Amnon, also abused his power when he took what was not his. He raped his half-sister, Tamar, Absalom’s full sister. David was very angry, but he did nothing that gave the appearance of justice being done on behalf of his daughter.

Some say David couldn’t act because Amnon and his cousin/adviser made sure there were no witnesses, and in those days, and often in these, a mere woman’s testimony was not enough. Some suggest David did not take action because he was still in the throes of depression over his own sin. Some pose that Amnon, as first-born, was in a position of privilege, and even though God continually broke the expectations of society by choosing a younger son for a task, David was still intimidated by primogeniture culture (the eldest son inherits everything) – and because Amnon was still his boy.

Maybe David hoped that if he ignored it someday the whole thing would just go away.

It didn’t go away. It became worse. Absalom took things into his own hands. He arranged for Amnon’s murder. Then he fled.

David mourned for two sons.

The story of David and Absalom’s uncomfortable estrangement and later reconciliation is told in 2 Samuel 14. By this time Absalom was a full-fledged manipulator. He used appearance, charm, popularity, intimidation – whatever it took to move himself toward a position of power. He sat at the gate and listened to people’s complaints of unjust treatment, something the king had apparently been failing to do. garbage streets Jerusalem IMG_1241Injustice was piling up like garbage in the dark corners of Jerusalem. The failure of authorities to listen to the common people and deal with injustice is fuel for rebellion. How many times is this lesson repeated in history?

 

Absalom began to build an army of malcontents.

But wait? Didn’t David do the same after he fled from Saul? He did, but there was a difference. Although he wailed loud and long about unjust treatment, David never took justice into his own hands. He would not touch God’s anointed. He honoured the office, even when King Saul was reduced to a dangerously unbalanced giant wounded ego. David knew he was more popular. He could have made a bid for the hearts of the people to back him up in military take-over. But he waited for God to hand him the scepter. He honoured the king who was trying to kill him.

Absalom couldn’t wait. Absalom dishonoured the king who disappointed him. Absalom led a rebellion. Absalom publicly shamed the women in David’s household. Absalom died. He fell victim to his own symbol of beauty and by the hand of the man who once took up his cause.

 

I can relate to the popular writer who is dismayed by the lack of love or fairness and the willingness to hide corruption in churches. I haven’t been in a place where I felt unsafe in years but I know from the past what it is like to see women and children’s stories of abuse dismissed or “re-framed.”

I have seen a pastor badger a woman on staff of a Christian organization to confess her part in seducing the elder who raped her violently, even though she had been beaten. She lost her job. There were no serious consequences for the man.

I have hidden victims of incest in my home who were coerced to change their stories because they were told it would be their fault if the family broke up and the step-father was subject to ridicule or prosecution.

I have seen men falsely accused by bitter ex-wives who knew how to garner sympathy but neglected the children kept away from their daddies.

I have seen men on the verge of bankruptcy because another member of the congregation cheated them out of weeks of wages – and nothing happened to the thief.

I have seen teenagers thrown out of the house when they told a someone they were gay or that they had an abortion.

I have seen people become slaves to cult leaders with bad, bad, bad theology who prey on spiritual vulnerability and need for acceptance.

I know what it is to cry myself and not be heard, and I know what it is to be loved, healed and restored by people who cared.

But I’ve also known the horror of feeling I had to betray a friend’s confidence because she chose to protect her husband’s reputation over her child’s sexual safety. I know the utter agony and extreme pain of hearing someone I cared deeply about screaming that I had ruined her life as the police took him away. All these years later I cry just thinking about it.

As a teacher, foster mother, and friend I have heard stories that make me want to cover my ears and scream, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!! Shut up! Just shut up! Shut up because now I am obliged to do something about it and I know how this goes!” But I listen and I act. I understand how the prophet Nathan must have felt.

I know it is worse to leave the garbage festering where the next generations play than to deal with unpleasantness. Hidden corruption in the church is threatening our ability to live and breathe and unite in trust and love for each other. God is exposing it for a reason – love.

I can relate to the popular writer’s rants, and I can relate to the pastors and staff who don’t want to know because taking proper measures might cause years of building to crumble. In the end, as painful as it is, we must stand up to protect vulnerable lambs in the flock while still seeking rehabilitation and restitution for offenders.

I also know the sickly sweet voice of the enemy entreating, “Are you angry? I can help you with that.”

And I  hear a warning from Abba, my heavenly Father, “There is a higher way. Do not take justice into your own hands. Do not join up with an army of angry, invalidated unheard victims as a force for reform. Unless you are part of the process of honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration you are not working for the kingdom. You are working for yourself. And that never ends well.”

 

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