Public Worship: Worship as Mission 2

The edict went out via courier with great haste. The riders carried the new law to all corners of the empire. Soon everyone would be clued into the king’s grand new aim for worship.

See the king of this vast land set up a 90-foot image of gold on the plain of Shiner. The edict now decreed that all inhabitants of the empire would bow down to this idol when the music began to play. The king even offered strong incentives to insure all the people would participate in his new ritual.

The incentive was that the people got to keep their life if they worshipped in the way the king now prescribed. That is if they didn’t, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

We know this famous story from Daniel 3 as the one in which three young Hebrew leaders in scripted into the service of a pagan, conquering king of Babylon stood up to the king. Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego refused to bow down to any god other than the almighty God, the one with a capitol G.

It is not just in this story that people worship in broad view, in the public eye. No matter whether we are talking about traditional religions at a tribal level, or modern day faiths, I do not see the people of the world being as private as we have become. I think of walking through the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, aka the temple of the emerald Buddha, only to watch person after person show honor and worship to the image of the Buddha. They aren’t being showy with their faith, well, most of them aren’t. But they aren’t worrying about others as they come forward to burn incense, offer coins in the donation box, or place food in front of their spirit house.

Should worship be a private matter?

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Anatomy of a Calling

Callings from God leave us with so many questions. Namely starting with how do I know what my calling is?

Well, I want to start with a generalization to calling. We are all called to Jesus in discipleship. Part of discipleship means we are to serve: serve the church, God, and our neighbors. Yet, the Bible gives narrative examples of calling which lays out more of a particular purpose of life for God. Hmmm, do these examples mean that all of us should have a calling to a specific place, people, or task? Maybe not, or maybe. But God does call us all to himself, and at times he calls us to a season of something as he did with Paul seen below. He does call some if not all to a particular thing. Let’s unpack some of the callings through scripture before unpacking my own story.

Here are some of my favorite narratives. We see the narrative of Samuel hearing a voice calling him. He mistakes that voice for the priest in another room of the temple. After the third time, finally Samuel learned to hear the voice of God and step into his calling to lead God’s people.

In another setting, Moses met God by a burning bush. Perhaps, one might say, he was really missing the subtle calling impressed on his heart. David’s calling came through a prophet. A prophet who wasn’t sure who he was going to enlist as the next king of Israel, yet finally, the youngest boy, huffing and puffing as he ran in from the sheep pen, becomes the new leader for the nation of God.

Then we have the calling of Paul with this strange vision in Acts 16. Paul sees the Macedonian man calling him to his region to preach the gospel. This calling gives the understanding of temporal and specific callings. I am not sure if we all have a specific calling such as this or not…but I expect that God has special designs for all of our life.

The Baby Jesus

I was talking to my daughter, as we like to do at the dinner table. Mind you she is only 9-months, so the conversations are pretty one-sided at this time. But sometimes she looks at me and makes sounds her baby language. Today’s conversation centered around the Christmas story. As a new dad celebrating Christmas with his daughter for the first time, I wondered what she thought about the Baby Jesus.

She is so close to walking on her own now, and determined to figure out how to get moving and on her own. She has places to go and especially people to see. I asked her when she thought Jesus took his first steps. We wondered together if Mary had a book like Ellie’s mommy has to keep track of all of Jesus’ firsts.

When did Jesus get his first tooth?

When did Jesus begin to sit up?

When did Jesus start crawling?

What was Jesus first word?

We took the conversation a bit further too as Ellie does a compromised version of Elimination Communication (or click here). We look for her cues and then take her to go poopy. I asked my daughter if she thought Jesus gave the perfect cues to Mary to let her know when he needed to go.

We were blown away just thinking about how the Son of God, the almighty who was here at the beginning of the universe playing a role in creation also sat on the floor and played like our daughter does. The king of the universe allowed himself to go through all the same processes as any other baby. Talking with my daughter about Christmas helped me get a new perspective of Jesus’ humanity.

How does thinking of Jesus as a baby change how you picture him?

Just that One Thing

Let me muse a bit in this post on my recent devotions.

I have been spending some time in the Kings and looking at the life of the people who led Israel and Judah. I love the section from Samuel to Chronicles as I love history and story. These books are rife with incredible stories of intrigue, drama, romance, betrayal and action. If these books were turned into films by Peter Jackson, we would see epic battle scenes like in Lord of the Rings.

First a bit of overview. After the people of God demanded a king, God gave them Saul, ripped the kingdom away from him and gave it to David whose lineage led to Jesus. David’s grandson, Rehoboam incited a revolt by putting heavy burdens on the people and ruling with none of the tact and wisdom his father Solomon had. From that point forward, the kingdom split with Jeroboam ruling the 10 tribes to the north, Judah serving the descendants of David. In the North, Jeroboam set up idols to keep his people from traveling south to worship at the temple and thereby falling back in love with the idea of a united kingdom. Jeroboam led the people away from worshipping God and into sin. Every king who followed him led the northern tribes into sin with Ahab and Jezebel reaching a peak of wickedness.

However in the South, some kings followed God while others worshipped idols and led the people into sinfulness. I am struck by the epilogues given to each of the kings as the author gives a brief window into their character at the end of their life. There he shows how long they lived and how they led their people.

The righteous kings are said to have served the Lord, but… I am struck by the ‘but’. They were great kings except for this one thing. This reminds me of my Italian friend Lenny from Seattle. He was one of the rad parents of some kids in a youth group where I interned during my college years. He always said to me, “Andy, I love you. I really love you, except for that one thing.” Shocked, I replied, what one thing? To that he just said, you know, that one thing. He really played it up too, making me think I should know what one thing he meant as if everyone knew what character flaw he was talking about. After several go arounds like this, I realized Lenny was just giving me the what for and throwing me off of my game. As far as I know now, there was never that one thing. Or was there?

Back to the kings, character models for us as godly or ungodly leaders. Many of them were great, like Jehoshaphat and Asa, but they all had that ‘but’ in their eulogy. Even Asa, one of the great righteous kings, never removed the high places. These high places that tripped up Solomon as an area of weakness in his life from the very beginning led to him following the gods of his numerous wives and concubines. I have been reading biography after biography of these mighty kings and all their exploits, even how they turned the hearts of the people back to God, yet there is always a ‘but’. There is always that ‘one thing’.

As I read these stories, I am struck by the ‘one thing’ that hangs around in my life. There is always that one thing in our life that we are slow or negligent to give over to God. There is just one thing we cannot shake as we try to live fully sold out to God. Should I be encouraged that I am not alone, or discouraged that even great heroes of the faith couldn’t get it 100% right? I am not sure, but I know I want to work on getting all parts of my life handed over to God for him to work on.

Now, as I am writing about eulogies and life stories, what would you like your one sentence eulogy to say?

Here is mine…

He served God with a reckless abandon and lived life passionately as a loving husband and father all the years of his life.

God Rushes in with Mercy

The more I pay attention to the story of God in the Old Testament, I see God constantly rushing in with mercy at the slightest evidence of a turn in our heart.

Let me explain from the story of Saul and David. First some context.

Remember, Saul, a guy’s guy. He’s the guy you would see at the sports bar recanting stories of heroism. The guy with all the other guys circled around him wanting to be a part of the cool crowd. A guy a head taller than the rest of Israel, strong, tough and God’s choice to be the first king of Israel.

Yet Saul lost everything. His life became a tragic tale of missed opportunities and wasted potential.

And that is where David comes in. A poor shepherd boy elevated to the highest seat in the nation. As David began his ascent upward (killing Goliath and leading troops on raids against the Philistines), Saul (sliding down from his former glory) became jealous and looked for ways to put away the challenger to his throne. Saul’s fury kindled hot when he heard the top songs of the day include lyrics of how David killed his 10 thousands compared to Saul only getting credit for his thousands.

David, the wily young general, knew he best get out of town and avoid the assassination attempts from the king. He went and hid out with Samuel in Naioth of Ramah.

When Saul’s spies tweeted to Saul where David was laying low, he sent messengers to bring David back to his courtyard. Here is where the mercy bit on God’s side starts to become evident. As the messengers approached Samuel and came upon the company of prophets, the spirit of God fell on them causing them to prophecy. They stayed in a state of spiritual engagement so long that Saul sent a second delegation of henchmen to grab the boy with kingly aspirations and drag him back to face Saul. These messengers too experienced the Spirit of God fall on them causing them to prophecy. Both groups remained with Samuel and the company of prophets in the presence of God so long that Saul, fed up with this unending drama, took matters into his own hand.

Now, Saul fuming mad, with smoke coming out of his ears, marches out to confront David. I could only imagine the twitter feed from the royal twitter account during this whole political debacle. Saul, deadest to eliminate his competition for the throne, came upon the prophets, and he too was struck by the presence of God. Adding in a bit of my own thoughts to fill in the blanks. As he came into the presence of God with Samuel and Samuel’s disciples, he was reminded of what it was like when he walked with God. At that point, the Spirit of God fell on him as well. I am not sure what to do with the part of Saul stripping off his clothes and staying there naked with the other prophets.

My take home from this story and what has stuck with me since I read it in devotions the other day is how God constantly shows up with mercy even with the most unlikely of characters. Saul did nothing to deserve God’s presence, but God, the Holy One, was there waiting, looking for an opportunity, and offering mercy freely.

If you are reading this and think you have done something too bad to ever be with God again, let me say no you haven’t. No matter where you stand with God right now, you are only millimeters away from God’s grace coming around you and holding you close. More than that, God is at your side tapping you on the shoulder daring to get your attention and draw you back into relationship with him. We see in the life of Saul how God stood by him as he worked tenaciously to stamp out the life of his enemy, David.  God kept him from having his life totally come undone, waiting, hoping, pushing to see Saul turn around.

All we need to do is remember that God wants to be with us way more than we ever give him credit for. God’s mercy, when I reflect on it, is a wonderful and precious commodity that he freely gives out.