Tag Archives: worship

Review: You Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith

You Are What You Love, by James K A SmithYou Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press, 2016)

This book is a call to “worship well. Because you are what you love. And you worship what you love. And you might not love what you think. Which raises an important question. Let’s dare to ask it.” [page xii]

With fresh, engaging language, the author explores the habits in our culture, in our lives, in our churches – especially churches which practice some form of liturgy. He points to the dichotomy between the way we intend to live, honouring to God and growing nearer to Him, and the way we often live instead, with habits and attitudes we don’t even know we’re carrying.

He asserts that we’re not just “thinking things” – we’re influenced by our desires and our loves. From that perspective, it’s vital that Christians identify what we most deeply value so that we can set our hearts on God. Calibrating our hearts to focus on God, James Smith says, takes practice. Habit is part of this practice.

For those in liturgical churches, a significant part of that practice is found in the creeds and prayers that have been unconsciously absorbed and now shape the believers’ worldviews. No matter what a believer’s background, the book encourages us to identify and evaluate the rituals in our lives and in our households, with a view to eliminating some and creating others that will lead to healthier and more worshipful spiritual lives.

I don’t come from a liturgical background, and I know that formality can often become rote and ignored, but this book helped me see more of the value of internalizing the tenets of Christianity through the creeds and prayers – and of course through Scripture memorization, which we can all work at on our own.

At a first read, I was disappointed, because the book called to a felt need in my life, to worship deeper and more truly, and I felt it raised the issue but didn’t give a solution. Discussion with friends helped me see that the solution is present all the way through the book instead of in a concluding summary like I had expected. Thus, it takes more work to find and apply, but that’s life. An author handing out a pat and easy, formulaic take-away would not be truly helping readers.

The take-away is this: a challenge to become aware of the influences on our hearts, and to take corrective action as necessary to develop new habits of the heart and spirit. In beginning to do this, I’m seeing small but healthy changes in my life, and I believe that new habits are forming.

If you’ve read You Are What You Love, take a look at the discussion questions, which include brief videos from the author as well as printed questions. I had already marked this as a book to re-read and allow to steep in my understanding, and this will definitely be an asset.

Award-winning author James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Michigan. For more about the author and his work, visit jameskasmith.com. You Are What You Love received the 2017 Grace Irwin Award, Canada’s largest literary prize for a book written by a Christian author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

New Worship Song from Matt Maher

I used to share a song every Wednesday, to go with my weekly devotionals. Worship music (and Bible reading!) are still a big part of life for me. Here’s the new song from Matt Maher, in case you haven’t heard it yet: “Your Love Defends Me.” I love how it reinforces the truth that God is the source of our security. (Download and streaming links are at mattmahermusic.com)

 

Fear and Worship

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
Mark 4:39-41, NLT*

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record Jesus calming the storm, and they each follow the account with what happened when the boat reached its destination. Jesus freed a demon-possessed man (Matthew says two men) and sent the demons into a herd of pigs which then dashed into the lake and drowned.

In the boat, the disciples had been afraid of drowning in the storm, but then they were terrified by the power Jesus displayed. Following Jesus, they’d seen Him heal people, but somehow this authority over the elements was even more awe-inspiring to them.

On land, the townspeople also responded with fear, but of a different kind. They pleaded with Jesus to leave them.

Peter once begged Jesus to leave him, because he knew his sinful nature and feared to be in the presence of one so great (see Luke 5:8). Instead, Jesus called him as a disciple. Here, the people asked Him to go and He went. It’s not about the “please leave,” it’s about the heart-reason behind it.

Peter and the other disciples were afraid with a holy fear of God. They worshipped, but feared their unworthiness. These town-folk were afraid of a power that shook things up and threatened their way of life. They didn’t recognize it as from God, and they just wanted it gone.

God who speaks to sickness, storms, and sinners, please open our eyes to recognize Your holy power. Plant in us a holy fear of You, an awe and wonder that leads us to worship You. Let us never fear You in the way that would make us hide from You. Instead, draw us ever nearer like moths to Your flame. Thank You for Your grace that saves us and takes away our fear of judgment, and that welcomes us into Your presence.

A good worship song to focus us on God’s power is Travis Ryan’s “You Hold it All.”

*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.

Eagerly Waiting

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:7, NLT*

Waiting for Jesus’ return. The only way this waiting could be passive would be if we’d already finished everything He left us to do – so we’ll be working until He comes. Working, and waiting expectantly.

Eager waiting feeds our hope, and reminds us not to invest too permanently in this life. No matter how good (or bad) today is, there are better days coming. This attitude of eager waiting encourages us in hard times, and gives perspective when our faith leads to trouble in the here and now.

It calls us to keep active in sharing the gospel and in encouraging one another. There will be a day when it’ll be too late.

Gracious God and King, thank You for giving us the spiritual gifts we need to serve in the ways You have prepared for us. Please help us serve in an attitude of willing worship, and to eagerly wait for Jesus’ return. Thank You that Your timing is perfect and that You always keep Your promises.

May our lives give praise to “One Name Alone” (song by Matt Redman).

*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.

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.

God First

They sweep past like the wind
and are gone.
But they are deeply guilty,
for their own strength is their god.
Habakkuk 1:11, NLT*

This prophecy describes the Babylonians, whom God says He will “raise up” (verse 6) to conquer everything in sight.

He calls them “a cruel and violent people” (verse 6) yet it seems their worse offense isn’t wicked behaviour – it’s the attitude of their hearts. It’s what they worship.

Today’s verse reminds us that, as important as our conduct is, of greater importance is the orientation of our hearts. Even outward righteousness wouldn’t be acceptable to Him if it came from a wrongly-focused heart.

God requires our obedience, but even deeper, He requires our worship. Not because His ego needs it, but because we were designed to worship Him. We are only complete when our spirits are lined up with His. When He is our Source, our focus. Our God.

Holy and all-powerful God, You alone are worthy of worship. If we fixate on anything else, we’re missing the fullness of life that You have for us – and we’re offending You by exalting something of lesser value above You. Forgive us for how easily we get distracted. Capture our hearts with Your goodness, and draw us to worship You alone. Only You are worthy, and only in You we find life.

Let this song from Lauren Daigle remind us to keep God “First”.

*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.

It’s All About Him

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
Romans 11:36, NLT*

If our lives were fiction, we’d each think we were the main character.

Some of us are passive, some active, but we’re each affected by the circumstances and individuals around us. Our minds process, evaluate, react, and scheme, as we try to make the best lives we can for ourselves and for those in our care.

That doesn’t mean we’re selfish, although sometimes we are. Each of us is the point of view character in our own story, and it’s easy to slide from there into thinking that it’s all about us.

Paul reminds us of the truth. It’s all about God.

We – and the rest of creation – matter. What He made is “good” and “very good.” (Genesis 1)

But He didn’t make us for us. We were made for relationship with Him, designed to only be complete in Him.

He intends us for His glory.

What does that mean?

Just like “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1, NIV**),  our lives, lived in loving submission to God and in reliance on His power, demonstrate that there is a Good Shepherd. There is hope, forgiveness, healing. There is an ultimate authority who defines good and bad, who can rescue and rebuke… and who would rather restore than condemn.

God our Creator and Sustainer, You alone are worthy of all honour and glory. Forgive us for those times when our perspective revolves around ourselves. Help us remember we’re to live for Your glory. Shine through us to bring glory to Your name.

Let Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship,” remind us of our focus today.

*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.

**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.

Little Idols

In the book of the prophets it is written,
‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?’
Acts 7:42b, NLT*

You’d think faith would have been easier for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. They ate the manna: daily evidence of God’s care. Their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out. They were led by God’s pillar of fire and cloud. They carried with them the Tabernacle where their Moses, talked to God directly.

Yet Acts 7:43 says they carried their pagan gods and idols with them. They were following God’s leading, but worshipping whatever they chose.

So although God brought them into the Promised Land, it was temporary. Exile was in their future, because they wouldn’t change and devote themselves completely to Him despite all the wonders they saw Him do for them.

What patience to still work with them – with us today – and what love to keep drawing those hearts among the crowd who would truly respond to Him.

These verses call us to search ourselves now, even as believers in Jesus Christ. What are we holding onto that’s dividing our loyalty and diluting our worship? I don’t know anyone who carries around a pocket idol statue and offers sacrifices to it, but what does God see in our hearts that’s crowding on His space?

God sees these things, and they offend Him. But Scripture tells us He longs to draw us nearer, not push us away. He will point out the trouble, if we’ll only ask.

God our Creator and our Saviour, You alone are worthy of our worship and devotion. Open our eyes to those things we’ve allowed to have too much importance in our lives. Forgive us, cleanse and restore us to full fellowship with You, and grow us in the life everlasting.

Matt Redman’s song, “One Name Alone,” makes a good prayer for us.

*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.

Showing God’s Glory

 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honour the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.”
Daniel 4:37, NLT*

What I like about the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and return to power (see Daniel 4) is that it not only shows God’s power, it shows His mercy on someone He knew would eventually be able to come to Him in worship.

King Herod had a similar moment of self-exaltation, but he received only judgement and death (see Acts 12:20-23). God saw in Nebuchadnezzar the potential to repent and be restored.

The taking down of the world’s most powerful man at the time, and then his restoration, demonstrated God’s power to grant authority and to take it away. Nebuchadnezzar told the world, once he was restored.

I’m sure many didn’t believe, but those with open ears heard. And he knew the truth.

The Bible shows that God works in our lives for our own good but also for His glory, that those watching can see His character and come to Him as well. He really doesn’t want anyone to go into eternity without Him.

May we who know Him keep close, so He doesn’t need to do anything dramatic to bring us back. May we keep our spirits lined up with His, and be open to recognize – and to share – what He does in and around us, for the glory of His name and for the sake of those who need to hear.

God Most High, You are worthy of all praise, for Your power, Your mercy, and for all that You are. Help us to remember Your character and to live in confidence in Your care. Help us trust You even when all we see in the world is trouble and disaster. You are supreme, and Your kingdom will come.

This week’s song is a classic from the band Petra: “Show Your Power.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Temples

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT*

Think about the care that went into building the Israelites’ temples in the Old Testament. God has put that same care into us (see Psalm 139:14).

The temple building was

  • a place to meet with God
  • a place to bring sacrifices and find forgiveness
  • a sign to others of God’s glory
  • a sign of the nation’s unity and identity

Our bodies as temples:

  • let’s intentionally practice His presence – be with Him
  • we’ve been cleansed and forgiven, based on one completed sacrifice; we keep receiving cleansing and forgiveness as needed
  • our lives become signs to others of God’s glory and goodness
  • corporately as well as individually, we need to find our identity in the Lord, and to show unity (not uniformity!)

Since we represent God in the world, let’s keep our “temple” clean, guarding against decay and defilement.

Majestic and holy God, it’s beyond our understanding that You would choose to show Yourself through us despite our weakness. Even more amazing is that You’d choose to dwell in us. Fill and change us, and lead us in Your ways.

Today’s “temple song” is “Holy Spirit,” by Francesca Battistelli.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.