Tag Archives: church

Worship is for God

Say to all your people and your priests, “During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?”
Zechariah 7:5b-6, NLT*

True worship is a heart-and-spirit response to the Living God.

Sadly, we can lose focus and make our Christian gatherings about us instead. Congregations can take sides over music styles, service format, formality of prayers, etc.

It becomes all about us – what pleases us, what we deem the best way to express ourselves. It becomes our activity – the routine we follow for personal satisfaction.

But God wants first place in our hearts. When the structure or control of the event means more than He whom we gather to honour, we have a problem.

When we fight amongst ourselves over it, we have a problem.

When we’re there for what we get instead of Who we worship, we have a problem.

We need to worship God privately and corporately. Different people will bring different styles and ways of expression. Our focus must always be on God, not on personal gratification or on how well we’ve “done the job.”

It’s the pure hearts He’s looking for, not the people who are trying to make it all about themselves.

God who is King over all, help me not seek to worship for the experience, although may I experience You. Gathering with other believers, help me not to insist on my preferences in song and structure at the expense of others who know a different way. Join our hearts to desire and to bless You, and unite us in worship that is pleasing to Your heart.

This week’s song is “Lord, I Give You My Heart (This is My Desire),”  from Hillsong.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Highly Valued

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.
Acts 20:28, NLT*

Let’s face it, church is a collection of sinners saved by Jesus’ blood, plus those still fumbling toward saving faith. Some are easy to love, but most of us have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or other sources of irritation.

We’re in the process of spiritual growth, and what God sees in us is not always visible to those looking through human eyes. But He’s building us into the Body of Christ, and into His Temple.

He sees value in us. Enough that Jesus died to redeem us.

He commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done first, and He offers the Holy Spirit within us to produce that love for one another. We just need to choose to obey, even when it’s hard.

Is there someone in your church who’s impossible to love? Pray for him or her. Regularly. If you ask God to grow His love in you – and persistently choose to cooperate with Him – He’ll surprise you.

Most times it’s not that extreme, but may we remember to ask what He sees, instead of focusing on what we see. May we remember the high value He sets on us – as individuals and as His flock.

God our Shepherd and our Saviour, we dare not dismiss any soul You love. Please help us see what You see, and grow Your love in our hearts for each member of Your Body. Show us what You see in us, as well, and help us surrender fully to Your cleansing and growth.

Matt Maher’s song, “Instrument,” made a powerful difference in my life during a very difficult time in my own church life.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Church: For Worship

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Psalm 122:1, NLT*

Last Saturday night, thinking about church in the morning, I quoted this verse with a kind of self-mocking regret. It’s not how I’ve felt about attending in a long time. I go, but there’s no gladness to it.

A few minutes later, I climbed into bed and turned to where I’d left off in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. You can guess which verse was top of the page. Zing!

I stopped to think about what it meant. The house of the LORD. Not a place where a group of mismatched people gather.

It’s about God – not about them, us or me. About honouring and worshipping the One who created and redeemed us. The One who still has a purpose for us, if we’ll get out of our own way and follow Him.

I know “church” isn’t a building. It’s the body of believers who are the “house” of the Lord. And I know His Spirit dwells in each of us and we don’t need to be with others to worship (although Hebrews 10:25 says not to give up meeting together).

But I’m challenged to make attending  church more than habit or duty. More than a grim choice, acting in trust that God will do something. I’m reminded to see it as going to meet with God and worship Him.

That’s a radical attitude refresher. It means not only getting enough rest on Saturday night, but preparing my heart for Sunday. Praying for the leaders, for the service, for God to prompt folks to attend. Fixing my eyes and heart on God, not on congregational issues. It even affects the care I take with my appearance.

How did Sunday morning go this week? My heart was different. I served more willingly, remembering who I was really serving. I heard God in the message. While I can’t say I felt worship, I did worship. And I didn’t come home depressed, because I’d been looking upward instead of horizontally.

Holy God, You call us to worship alone and corporately, not because You need affirmation but because it builds our faith. It reminds us of who You are and of Your love for us. Thank You for not letting us settle into negative ruts. Continue to prune, shape and guide us into followers worthy of Your Name. Make us useful and joyful for Your Kingdom.

Let Matt Redman’s song, “Here for You,” remind us why we gather to worship.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Because You Belong to the Lord

Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.
Philippians 4:2, NLT*

Because you belong to the Lord.

We forget this perspective, forget that belonging to the Lord is supposed to make a difference in our behaviours and our motivations. Not so we can earn more love (or more salvation) – we can’t —  but because we love this God who loved us first.

We want to please Him. And we want the people around us to see the difference He makes in our lives. In cases like this, to see that we value loving Him more than we cherish our very real hurts and disagreements.

Euodia and Syntyche have had a serious falling out. They’ve worked as a team before, likely been close, so this is more painful than if they’d never been friends. Or perhaps they never really got along but were able to overcome it until now.

The friction is hurting the local body of believers. It’s also giving ammunition to the scoffers who think all this love-and-unity stuff is too good to be true.

And it does the same today. In every group of believers, there will be differences of opinion. Even conflicts. And our enemy loves to get us focused on anything that can divide us. The good news is, God wants to use these opportunities as ways to demonstrate His kingdom living. If we’ll rely on Him.

Because you belong to the Lord.

It’s not about us. It’s about God – the news of what He’s done for us and His power to save us from ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of indulging in hurt feelings and splits. Even if Euodia and Syntyche can’t work together anymore, like Paul and Barnabas, they need to reconcile in the common ground of Christ.

If we can make reconciliation more important than restitution or revenge, the world will recognize something – Someone – holy at work.

Our God, You ask us to do what’s impossible, but all things are possible with You if we’ll choose to believe. Conflict is part of living. Please help us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Give us willingness and power to forgive, and remind us that forgiving doesn’t mean the “other side” is right. Help us to love those who have hurt us, and to pray for their good. Intervene in disputes among Your children. Help each to understand the other, and to see where confession, change and courage are needed. We ask this for the sake of Your Kingdom and Your reputation in this world.

Let Steven Curtis Chapman‘s “For the Sake of the Call” remind us of our greater purpose.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Remembering God’s Promises. Again.

The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
Psalm 138:8, NLT*

Don’t we forget this, sometimes?

Bad news piles up. Globally. Locally. Personally. Even if we’re physically untouched, the sheer weight of what goes on around us can be soul-crushing.

And let’s face it, even when life is really good, there are elements that we don’t like. That could be better.

If we’re not careful, fear, discouragement, discontent and others can pull our focus away from our Lord’s sufficiency. We know the truth of God’s promises, but we forget. (Click to tweet this.)

I find that embarrassing. Every time.

These days, we have “stuff” going on at church. I don’t understand it, I don’t like it, and I do not want to go around this tree again. Been there, done that a long time ago.

Yet where is God speaking to me? In church. First, He told me to be quiet. Hmm. Then He challenged me to accept His timing when I think it’s too slow.

He reminded me that adversity is part of life. It’s often the part that makes for the best growth. And it’ll happen whether I want it to or not.

My attitude needs to reflect hope and trust. Not an unrealistic hope that He will make everything pretty, but assurance that God is good, He is in control, and He will work all things out for good for those who trust Him.

For me, it’s meant repenting of an attitude of discontent. Reminding myself that it’s not about what I want. Recommitting myself to live in a way that honours and trusts in God.

God our Maker and Sustainer, somehow You will work all the messes of life into something beautiful. Forgive our grumbling and our discontent—and our fear—when we don’t like what we see. You don’t like it either, but You can work with it. Help us trust You. Help us work with You to be part of Your solution instead of being part of the negativity.

I love this song from Robin Mark: “All is Well.” Take a few minutes to let it bless you.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Working Together

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.
Romans 12: 4-6a, NLT*

In late 2011 I had a short-term job as part of a small team. Sometimes we were two, sometimes three. We had the common goal of distributing Christmas help to needy families.

There were a lot of details, loose ends, and sometimes a flood of volunteers needing direction. My supervisor could stop, look at the big picture, and direct traffic. Time and again, she turned a chaotic group of people into focused workers, each with his/her own task contributing to the whole.

I’d have been hiding in the corner, whimpering.

But I could handle the paperwork details. And she balanced my details and kept me from focusing on one tree and missing the forest.

We worked together in unity, each appreciating what the other did. There was no competition or self-pity that we weren’t the best at everything. Nor was there resentment of the other for not having the same abilities.

In our families, our workplaces, our churches… we have different gifts and we need each other. The problem is, some gifts can come wrapped in argumentative, competitive or just plain difficult packages. And sometimes we get difficult, feel unappreciated… “Why am I always the one who has to do this? Couldn’t someone else take a turn?”

God who formed us and who is patiently shaping us into who You designed us to be, thank You for our differences. Forgive us our impatience with one another. Forgive us our resentment of one another’s shortcomings, real or perceived. Help us see how we fit together, especially as families and as the church. Help us submit to You and to one another, help us to love one another and to give grace to cover the difficult spots. Help us value unity more than getting our own way. Make us one, as You are one.

I couldn’t find a video of Geoff Moore’s “The Body of Christ” (from his Saying Grace album) so here’s something a little different that the Lord provided for me. Please don’t look for accurate theology; take what’s true and applicable and remember that the power behind our oneness is Jesus Christ. This is from Disney’s Lion King 2: “We Are One.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Built into God’s Home

God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
Ephesians 2:20-22, MSG*

I love the way The Message puts this: God building a home, fitting each brick and stone, each of us built into it.

The individual bricks and stones may be a variety of sizes, shapes, colours and textures, but each one has a place and we need to cooperate with God as He fits us into our spot. As the builder, God applies the mortar to join us together, but first He cleans us. You wouldn’t stick a dirty brick into a wall, either for aesthetics or for optimal adherence.

I’m challenged by how much dirt floats around a construction site and what that might look like in our congregations and other Christian groups. Irritation builds up, we start noticing that others aren’t doing things our way. We focus on weaknesses instead of strengths.

Creator God who loves and saves us, thank You for building each of your children into a holy temple where You can dwell. You’ve cleaned us and you’re building us, but help us remember our ongoing need to keep clean. Forgive us for the gunk that accumulates so quickly, and help us keep working at it. Thinner layers are easier to scrub off and don’t dim our shine as badly.

Brian Doerksen’s song, “Welcome to the Place of Level Ground,” reminds us we’re all equally dependent on God’s grace.

*THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For the Sake of the House of the Lord

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity.
Psalm 122:6-9, NIV*

This psalm always reminds me to pray for Jerusalem—for Israel—for God’s chosen people to recognize their Messiah, and for peace in their land.

Today I noticed it’s one of the songs of ascents the people would sing as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the prescribed feasts. They were coming to worship, and this lets me see their prayer of blessing from a different perspective: it’s not patriotism, they’re blessing the Holy City because of the Temple at its heart.

What about my own church? I pray for individuals when I know of a need, and sometimes I pray for the congregation as a whole, for vision or attitude. I pray for our church leaders and events.

But I’m challenged to pray after the pattern of Psalm 122 for my congregation today, for those who love my segment of the Body of Christ. For unity, for peace, “for the sake of the house of the LORD our God.”

Lord of Heaven and Earth, thank You for making a way for all people to come to You in worship. You’re building us into a living temple, and we need to have that same care for the Body of Christ that the Israelites had for the physical Temple. Help us intercede for one another. Grant us peace, security, prosperity…as You define them, and for Your glory.

Here’s a good prayer for each of our congregations and for the whole church: “Bind Us Together.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Intentional Worship

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.
Ephesians 5:19a-20, NIV*

I’m learning that when our congregation is singing a song I dislike (there are a few) I need to remember the song isn’t for me. It’s for God, and He presumably likes it—if it’s sung from worshipping hearts. If I choose to focus on what I don’t like about it, that’s not worship. If I give it my best for His sake, it is.

Sunday morning we were singing songs I appreciate, but I wasn’t feeling as well as usual and just wasn’t connecting. God, being good, helped me see that pushing through to intentionally sing and praise was perhaps a better offering than on a regular Sunday when the praise comes easier.

It’s a declaration that God’s worship-worthiness is constant and doesn’t depend on my fluctuating feelings. I think prayer is the same way. Whatever state we’re in when we come aside to pray, let us take good courage, be firm in our faith, and commit the needs and praises to our God Who is able and who cares for us. It’s about Him, after all.

Father, thank You for Your patient teaching and nurture that draw us closer to Your heart. Teach us to worship in spirit and in truth, with thanksgiving, for Your glory.

Blessed Be Your Name,” by Matt Redman, is a contemporary classic declaration of worship and prayer in the good and in the bad. It’s sung here by Tree63.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Come as You Are

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV*

You know how, some weeks, you’re ready for Sunday worship. There’s a reverent hush in your spirit before you even walk into church, a holy waiting that warms you towards your congregation and makes it easy to hear God speak through song, Scripture, sermon.

Then there are other weeks when you show up because it’s the right thing to do, you smile and hug and do what you expect of yourself, but there’s no sign of life on the inside.

Well, maybe you don’t know. For me, these are the two extremes, and the first is less common than the last. Usually I’m somewhere in the middle.

Sunday past was one of those “show up and smile” days. If I go to church sad, I feel like a fake in my “happy” guise. But I know I’ve come to the best place to find help. Going empty feels even phonier, but it shouldn’t. Where better to fill up?

As the service started, I looked around at the congregation—people of whom I’m genuinely fond—and didn’t feel any more connected with them than with God. I was sort of apologizing to Him, sorry to be that way and thinking, “All I could do was come as I am.”

His response was so quiet I didn’t recognize Him at first—the sudden idea that we’re welcome to “come as you are” in obedient trust.

So He said it again in the opening song: “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” has that “just as you are” tone too.

Father, You draw us to worship, and in You we find life and light. Help us to do our part daily to prepare our souls, and help us trust You to daily do Your part to prepare them too. I praise You for the mystery of relationship with You, how we can’t come to You unless the Holy Spirit draws us, but yet we still need to make the choice to come.

Here’s Brian Doerksen’s “Come, Now is the Time to Worship,” sung by Hillsong.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.