Saturday, October 10 2020
This is #31 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
A Portal into Heaven
Christian worship is a re-enactment of the Christ Story. It is the means by which one enters, lives and participates in God’s great cosmic drama of redemption, restoration and renewal of His Creation. A Christian worship service rightly understood is a celebration of life in union with God. Let me give you an analogy that will help you grasp what I am saying.
C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful children’s series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia. In the most famous chronicle The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe there exists two separate and distinct realms: World War II era Great Britain and The Land of Narnia. These two realms are accessible to each other through a large wooden wardrobe, hidden away in the spare room of an English Country Estate. The Pevensie children accidentally stumble upon the wardrobe during a game of hide and seek. Peter, Susan and Edmund see nothing more than an old wardrobe filled with fur coats; Lucy on the other hand discovers a portal into a new world. Lucy walks into Narnia.
Opening the door to a Christian worship service and peeking inside, the casual observer is much like Peter, Susan and Edmund; they see only some old “fur coats”. But to a Lucy, worship is the portal through which one enters the very throne room of the High King in Heaven and having entered becomes a living participant in His ongoing story.
Friday, October 09 2020
This is # 30 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
I tuned into the ABC television series Lost only one time; and frankly I was so lost I never tuned in again. This is what happens when you enter an ongoing story long after its inception. Who are these people? Why are they on this island? How did they get here? Having no answers and lots of questions I became very confused, I just couldn’t track with it. I could not enter the story. Perhaps if someone had been there to explain it to me I might have considered it more worthwhile. As it was I was lost, so I simply turned it off.
I think this same scenario plays itself out in a secular culture like ours, where on any given Sunday a non church going person just happens to wander into a Christian worship service. Who are these people? Why are they here? What do these rituals mean? What story are they trying to tell? Confused and finding no story interpreter they simply exit the pew and do not return.
Sad? Yes, but it is understandable. There is, however a more troublesome problem; what if the visitor had been brave enough to stay and bold enough to ask questions. Who are you? Why are you here? What story are you enacting by your actions? Would the people in the pews have been able to give the visitor compelling answers? By compelling answer I don’t mean an invitation to stay for the coffee hour or an invitation to a pot luck supper. I mean the kind of answers which would “compel” the visitor to say “this is the story I’ve been looking to be a part of all my life”. No, I seriously doubt they would have... Why? The people in the pews are just as lost; they don’t know their own story.
Thursday, October 08 2020
This is #29 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
The One True Human
The Author of a story is the creator of the story not a character in it. He may use his life for the raw material out of which he crafts his story but it is impossible for him to actually enter the story and become part of it…. unless of course He is God. The “Storyline” of the Bible is how God the Creator/Author literally entered His story to become its Savior/ Hero-King. Mind boggling yes, but why would we think He would be anything less?
The Old Testament is the revelation of God the Creator living in union and rebellion with His image bearing children. The first two chapters of Genesis recount how God created Heaven and Earth as one “good” creation to be overseen by kings and queens, reflectors of His glory, who would live in intimate union with their Creator. As the story unfolds the first king and queen grasp for something that is “not good,” shattering their union with God, with each other and amazingly the creation itself as Heaven and Earth are divorced from one another. God who hates divorce will have none of this and the rest of the Old Testament from Genesis chapter three to the end of the Book of Malachi is how the Creator God calls, loves, woos, and pursues a people who will live in union with Him, advance His Kingdom and reflect His glory. The called out people is named Israel and unfortunately like the first king and queen their heart goes astray as they grasp for what is “not good” and they too turn to other gods.
The New Testament is the revelation of God the Savior King who does not grasp like Adam or Israel but empties Himself, laying aside His divinity and becoming the outstretched “arm of the Lord”. This is the message men stumble over; only God could accomplish the great work of salvation, only His own arm could defeat the powers of darkness unleashed by sinful man’s rebellion and yet in order to do this He had to become a human being. He had to become the One True Human who would not grasp for what he wanted but would freely surrender to what God wanted. He had to become the One True Image Bearer who would live in loving union with God regardless of what evil men or foul spirits would do to Him. He had to become the One True Son who would love God more than His own life and would willingly offer Himself as a sacrifice. He had to become the One True Israelite in order to renew God’s Covenant with His people. And He had to become the One True Reflector of God’s Glory even when that glory was unveiled on a Roman cross. “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” asks the Prophet Isaiah. How God became the One True King of the world is a message that needs more than believing, it needs revealing.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has been reduced to a one time “miracle” that is the foundation for a religion called Christianity. It has been diminished to a doctrinal precept that is a required belief for all those who profess to be truly Christian. It has been denied by those who call themselves Christian and are not. It has been labeled a fabricated lie by the unbelieving masses that make a mockery of it. Why has it been so assailed from within and without Christendom? Because the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ by the Spirit is the revelation that He is God the Savior King, the living embodiment of God the Creator. This is the message, the “gospel” the entire Bible bears witness to and it demands a response.
“This Jesus God raised up again to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ---this Jesus whom you crucified.”
“Now when they heard this they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren what shall we do? “ Acts 2:32-37
That is the right question to be asked. You may receive the revelation and respond to it by believing in the One True God and enter the Life of the New Creation. You may reject the revelation whereby you remain tied to the Old Creation that abides in death for it killed the very Author of Life. You may not reduce the revelation to religion and recreate it in your image, for therein lies the primal sin of idolatry.
Jesus is both Lord and Christ; both God and King.
Brethren what shall we do?
By entering His Story.
Tuesday, October 06 2020
This is #28 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
Who Do You Worship?
It might be good to stop here and really consider the implications of what you have just read. Worship is a response to the revelation of the wholly other. Who is the wholly other? Have you had a revelation? How are you responding? Worship is inherent in our original design; we were created to worship. Who or what are you worshipping? We are imaging creatures that become what we worship. What are you becoming? When we lay it out like this it becomes startlingly clear that who we worship and whose image we reflect determines our destiny.
I have never met an atheist. I am sure there are a few, but it would be wrong to conclude the secular world is filled with people who do not believe in a god. Secularism is filled with ‘spirituality’ and has a pantheon of gods. Here lies the problem, the mass profusion leads to utter confusion; which one do you believe in? Risky business if your eternal destiny and who you become forever hangs on it.
The religious realm can be just as confusing. Religions divide into denominations and sects, who tend to conform their god into their own image. How then do we know who to worship really? How do we know who the one true God is? How do we know how to re-image Him? We know because He came and revealed Himself; He became Human and lived among us. This is the unfathomable truth that sets belief in Jesus Christ apart from all other faiths and belief systems. Christianity is not a religion; it is Life in union with God.
Monday, October 05 2020
This is # 27 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
This brings us to the first golden truth of worship: you become like what you worship.
G.K. Beale explains this well in his book We Become What We Worship. “What do you and I reflect? One presupposition of this book is that God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in Creation……what people revere they resemble either for ruin or restoration”
The Apostle Paul came to this very conclusion in his famous Epistle to the Romans. He urged the brethren…..”to present their bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans12:1-2). In other words he was telling the Roman Church do not be reflectors of the world for what you reflect you will literally become. If you are “conformed” to the idols of the world; to money, sex, power you will become these “things”. Instead present your bodies to God so that you might be transformed/re-imaged into His likeness.
We now come to the second golden truth about worship: worship of the one true God; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is what makes you truly human. We forget or do not understand that when we are born into this world we are born into the likeness of the first Adam. Sin is already at work in our body and soul distorting our image and making us less than truly human. We are diminished human beings.
There is a beautiful parable of this in the famous fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. A handsome prince is turned into a hideous beast reflecting the ugliness that is in his own heart. The spell cannot be broken until he learns to love and to find someone who will love him in return. In Disney’s Broadway Musical version the curse covers all the inhabitants of the prince’s castle, slowly transforming them into the objects they once used. After Belle arrives they get their hopes up that she may be the one they have been waiting for, the one whose love will save them from their dehumanized state and they sing a wistful tune entitled “Human Again”.
We'll be floating again, we'll be gliding again
Stepping, striding as fine as you please
Like the real human does, I'll be all that I was
On that glorious morn' when we're finally reborn
And we're all of us human again
This last stanza from the Alan Menken song could be sung of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ, for He has broken the curse, he has loved the “the beast” sacrificially to the utmost. It is a glorious morn, for the One True Human has risen and for all those that are “in Christ” who live in His domain, they are reborn and become what God intended….they are human again.
Before we leave this parable we must see one other facet of truth that it teaches us about worship. Not only did someone have to be found who would love the Beast but he had to learn to love in return; and so do we. Sin is not a behavior problem, it is a relationship problem. Adam’s sin and therefore ours is that he loved himself more than God. Adam’s disobedience was not about right and wrong; it was about love. He turned from loving God to loving self thereby breaking the relationship not the rules. The test was, and always is about love. It was for Adam, for Abraham, for Israel, for Peter, for Jesus Himself and it is for you and me.
Worship is how we learn to love God and in learning to love God we learn to love others. It is what shifts us from a posture of life curved in on self, to a posture of reflecting the glory of God. It is learning the love language of the royal priesthood in anticipation for life in the New Creation. Therefore if our worship is not a heart response of love to the revelation of the risen and glorified Christ, but is for any other reason no matter how noble, it originates from the self, which makes it vain, empty and idolatrous. We become what we worship either for ruin or restoration.
Saturday, October 03 2020
This is #26 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
Reflectors of God’s Glory
Does this last sentence surprise you? Diminished human beings…..really? The word diminish means to make less than; to lessen the authority or dignity of; to degrade or abase. Have you ever considered the condition of human beings as degraded or abased, less than what they were created to be? Perhaps. Have you ever thought this about yourself? Maybe. But have you ever tied this diminished condition to worship? I am afraid that connection is too often overlooked and clearly not understood.
We need to ask the question ‘Why do we worship God?’ and not simply settle for the pat answer; “He is God and we are not; He is the Creator we are the created. He does not need to explain anything for He is worthy of worship simply because He is God.” Of course all of that is true but does it really give us all we need? I think not. The “why” question is vitally important, for why we do something, anything, even something as mundane as taking out the trash has a source of energy, power or motivation behind it. In the “why” question we find not only the reason for why we should do something, but also the reason for why we actually do, do something. The “why” is a double edged sword. Therefore, when it comes to the question of why we worship God; if we do not know or have the correct reasons as to why we should worship God, we will never have the right reason for why we actually do, and this not having the right reason to worship is grievous to God and ruinous to human beings.
In speaking to the Pharisees and scribes Jesus said “You hypocrites, righty did Isaiah prophesy of you saying ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt.15: 7-9) God hates false worship; it is vain, empty and an abomination to Him. The why of worship matters deeply to God. So just as a loving father who does not have to explain his reasons to his children but does so in order to train and capture their hearts, God gives us reasons to worship Him and they all begin with original design and original glory.
The famous theologian N.T.Wright says that Creation is God’s “project”; it is not static but is going somewhere. What started in Eden was simply the initial colonizing of what God fully intended to do with the entire earth. The Prophet Habakkuk captures this beautifully when he writes “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (2:14). In order to extend his glory and fill the earth with it, God created man: male and female in His own image (Gen.1:26-27). Inherent in this original image bearing design is the unique ability and vocation given to mankind alone to be reflectors of God’s glory. This is what it means to be truly human.
God blessed Adam and Eve his first image bearers and commissioned them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth with more image bearing reflectors of His glory. This royal priestly vocation to which all human beings are designed and called to, is twofold: it means to stand at the interface between God and the Creation, to reflect and bring his wise loving rule to that creation, and then to offer up worship to God by voicing the praise and thanksgiving of Creation. In order to carry out this vocation Adam and Eve were provided everything they needed and more importantly everything they hungered for. Their source of life, of power, their “why” was God Himself.
We who live on this side of Genesis Three know that something happened to break this life in union with God, and resulted in the distortion of all His image bearing reflectors. We call this “The Fall” and so often see it as the breaking of a rule by Adam and Eve for they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God instructed them not to. Once we reduce “The Fall” to the concept of rule breaking we enter the realm of religion and “the doctrines and precepts of men”. Asking the hard “why” question tells us that something had shifted in their heart before they ate. Quite simply they ceased to be hungry for God alone; for life at His banquet table. The rule breaking was the result not the cause of dehumanized behavior. When they turned from God the source of all life to the serpent they began to re-image the creature, and their actions were only the outward manifestations of what had already happened in their heart. This brings us to the first golden truth of worship: you become like what you worship.
Friday, October 02 2020
This is #25 in Crossing the Threshold series.
A Response to a Revelation
So let’s begin with what worship is. “Worship means literally, acknowledging the worth of something or someone. It means recognizing and saying that something or someone is far superior to oneself.” A key phrase in this definition by N.T.Wright is far superior to oneself. Worship is a response to a revelation of a wholly other; to one far superior in power, being and reality.
Let me illustrate this definition for you by using a scene from The Two Towers, the second book in J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are in pursuit of their friends Merry and Pippin when they enter the ancient woodland known as Fangorn Forest. They come upon a shrouded figure who they presume to be the evil wizard Saruman and are about to attack him when suddenly….
“The old man was too quick for him. He sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a large rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staff, and Gimli’s axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn, stiff in his motionless hand, blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air, it vanished in a flash of flame…..”
All three are totally disarmed by a power, being, and reality far superior to their own.
“They all gazed at him. His hair was white like snow in the sunshine, and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under the deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun, power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.”
The revelation of the wholly other Gandalf now returned from the dead produces an instinctive response in the man, the dwarf, and the elf. They are simply undone and caught up in a state of wonder, joy and fear. They are caught up in worship.
Tolkien was a devout Christian, and there is no doubt that in writing this scene he had other moments of “Eucatastrophe”*, the in breaking of Joy, in his mind.
“And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” Matthew 17:1-2
“And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across the breast with a golden girdle.. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:12-18
You see one of the great tragedies of the Post Modern World is that we have no one greater than ourselves to worship. We have diminished God. He is not the Holy other, He is not even the wholly other. The secular realm has done more than diminish Him. They have dismissed Him as entirely irrelevant; the old man in the sky sort of thing. The religious folk have not dismissed him as much as they have reduced Him, brought Him down to a manageable size, and created Him in their own image. Simon Chan writes of this diminished god “he is nice, accommodating, friendly and always expected to meet my needs; solve my problems.” A diminished god evokes diminished worship; a caricature of the real thing. Diminished worship produces diminished human beings. Diminished human beings are the tragic lives we meet everyday.
Thursday, October 01 2020
This is #24 in the Crossing the Threshold series.
What is worship? Whom do we worship? Why do we worship? These are extremely important questions; the answers to which have eternal as well as temporal consequences. Human beings first and foremost were created to worship. Not only was it part of our original design; it was and is our primary vocation, calling, lifework. Therefore it is not a question of choice as if you can choose to worship or choose not to worship. If you are human it is inherent in you to worship. The only question is to what or to whom do you give your worship.
“Worship means literally, acknowledging the worth of something or someone. It means recognizing and saying that something or someone is worthy of praise. It means celebrating the worth of someone or something far superior to oneself”. A key phrase in this definition by N.T. Wright is “far superior to oneself”. Worship is a response to a revelation of the wholly other; to the one far superior in power, being and reality.
One of the great tragedies of the Postmodern World is that we have a diminished God. The secular realm has done more than diminish God they have dismissed him as entirely irrelevant. The sacred realm does not dismiss him as much as they reduce him, bring him down to a manageable size, and create him in their own image. Simon Chan writes about this diminished god “he is nice, accommodating, friendly, and always expected to meet my needs; solve my problems.” A diminished God results in diminished worship. Diminished worship results in diminished human beings. Diminished human beings are the tragic lives we meet everyday.
What is worship? Worship is a response; it does not begin with us nor do we initiate it. Worship is a response to the revelation of the wholly other. It is therefore our answer, our reaction, our acknowledgement to that revelation. We see this in two of the Bibles best known and clearest passages on expressions of worship: The prophet Isaiah had a revelation of the Lord sitting on his throne, lofty and exalted, and his response was to cry “Woe is me for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips”, the Apostle John on the island of Patmos received a revelation of the glorified Christ and responded by falling to his feet like a dead man. Ruined, dead, falling to their feet, these are the responses of one who worships, of one who acknowledges and recognizes the worth of one far superior.