Was a Worship Band with the Magi?

I went to a worship night at my church last night and worship broke out. Now before you say, “Duh, what else would you do at a worship night?”, consider the definition of worship. As John Eldredge teaches, believing worship is singing is a damaging assumption. Yes, we worship through song. But the Bible teaches worship is so much more than lifting up praise songs and hymns to our God. Our pastor knows that and he included scripture readings and words of counsel to turn our hearts toward treasuring all who God is and all that he offers.

Worship is what I give my heart to.  I worship who or what l believe gives me life. (That’s the whole problem with worshiping idols – anyone or anything other than God.  Idols aren’t life giving.  Well, that and the 2nd Commandment!). Last night I saw a few members of my church give their heart’s worship to God by loving a guest at our worship service.

At one point in the service while my pastor was talking about the life God offers us, this guest cried out (cried in the literal sense) from the back of the room, “But what if you have an addiction?” My pastor, Mike, was not annoyed. He did not fall into the false assumption that the worship service was being interrupted. He continued worship by inviting this gentleman to repeat his question, because Mike couldn’t hear him. The man chose not to repeat the question but wept as Mike continued to talk about the life Jesus offers all of us.

A woman who was sitting at the back of the room chose to worship by walking over to our guest, standing behind him and putting her hands on his shoulders. Another member of my church chose to worship by kneeling in front of this weeping man and hugging him. The man held on for dear life. The hugging turned into a long time of holding. And because I know the good hearts of so many in that room last night, others chose to worship by silently praying that this man would find his healing, security, significance and life by coming into a worship-filled relationship with our God.

I love an example John Eldredge gives of worshipping in the Bible: the Magi who came to worship the newborn king Jesus. Do we imagine them breaking out in song? In Romans 12:1 worship is described in this way, “I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” It doesn’t say offer your songs (although that is worship also); it says to offer your bodies.

Worship broke out at my church last night. Followers of Christ offered their comfort, their hands, their arms, their shoulders, and prayers for a child of God in an act of worship to their God. I imagine God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit smiling. I also imagine them weeping.


Fear, Terror, Love, Hope and a Girl in Purple

I can’t get her face, her eyes filled with shock and terror, out of my mind. I keep hearing her cry, “papa, papa, papa”. The little Yazidis girl dressed in purple, rescued off a mountain where her village fled to and where many (estimated 20,000) are now starving, is representative of countless lives traumatized or ended. Her people group, the Yazidis, is being massacred by ISIS. And Christians are literally being wiped off the map. Iraqi Christian children are being be-headed, their mother’s raped and their father’s hung. One Christian bishop witnessed a child being cut in half. People are being buried alive. Women are being stoned to death or taken into slavery.

I also have ringing in my ears, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful”.

Say what?!?!?!

The evil in this world is beyond fearful! It’s terrifying! Oh yes, there’s also Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul”. But these people are out to brutally kill the bodies of every human that does not convert to their Islamic State way of thinking. It’s estimated these militants/terrorists number 30,000 to 50,000 in Syria and Iraq alone. Fear not?

How, Jesus, how?

1 John 5:16-21, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.   If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

I get it. Love. But those terrorists are consumed by hate and they are training generations to hate. I also can’t get the face of the 9-year-old boy being questioned by his militant father “Do you want to grow up to be a jihadist? Are you sure?” Or, what about the photo of a 7-year-old boy in Syria posing with a severed head in his hands? Evil nurturing evil.

Hitler, Lenin, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Hamas…hate-filled history just keeps repeating itself.

So how is love the answer to fear? 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” This verse tells me God did not give me a spirit of fear.  I have the God given spirit to love, with power, those who are oppressed by hate. What does that look like for me?

  • Stop being surprised and paralyzed by the horror of this past week. We are in world at war and I’m not talking about ugly ISIS and brave Kurds. God told us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” If it seems like the gates of hell have been opened it’s because they have been. Pray. Immerse myself in God’s Word. And take my head out of the sand so the marching armies of hatred don’t take over my borders.
  • Start doing what God has asked of me. Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I need to boldly move for actions of mercy and justice. How? Give today to an organization that is caring for the displaced=mercy. Write for as long as it takes and pound the doors of my political representatives to strike the hammer of justice on ISIS=act justly.  Keep my trust in God.

Through all of this I still grieve. It would be inhuman not to do so.  And I have hope. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…we know that the whole creation has been groaning …inwardly as we wait…(for) the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…”

Spirit, please intercede.

August 13th update:  Papa’s alive!  The girl in purple has heard from her father.  He made it to the mountain!

The Discipline of Watching a Sunset

We had a rare weekend in southern California complete with cloud cover, intense humidity and rain. I thought I had perhaps moved to another state without realizing it. Rain makes me giddy in this drought-ridden landscape. A little before 8 in the evening I was reading in my backyard because it was far more comfortable than inside my house. I looked up from my Kindle to stretch my neck and take in the glorious clouds. Stratocumulus clouds are almost as rare here as rain.

As I admired the evening sky the sun decided to go out in style. It reflected on each and every cloud. I caught my breath and I’m not really sure how long it took for me to start breathing again. It was glorious. I decided to take advantage of the hammock I had given my husband for Father’s Day. Lying halfway under our fruitless pear tree, which is extravagant in full leaf, I smiled at the sky.

And then something jarring happened. I found myself having to convince myself to stay put. It was as if I needed a lecture on the discipline of watching a sunset. In the past I have sat on the sands of a beach and peacefully watched the sun go down below the horizon; and I have sat on a mountaintop and admired its glowing descent. But somehow it was different in my backyard. Perhaps it is the proximity to my everyday life.

In that moment I decided I want my everyday life to have wonder in it. Watching a particularly spectacular sunset is a gift overflowing with wonder. It is a reminder that the world is beautiful. How desperately I need that reminder. How desperately I need beauty to be given its due recognition in my everyday life.

I relaxed and sunk my body into the hammock and watched the entire show. The back of my house faces eastward. As the clouds turned back into black, gray and white I turned my face to the north to see the clouds that hung onto the last rays of sun. I rolled out of the hammock to grab my phone that was sitting on the patio table in the hope of getting a few photos.

I lifted the camera to take the photos and what I saw in the screen was far less vibrant than what I saw through my eyes. I knew the photos would be a sorry representation of the half hour I had just enjoyed. But I was okay with that. It made the experience a greater treasure. I had been given an invitation to a private viewing and I’m so grateful to the Creator who invited me. I’m so glad I didn’t leave the showing early.