Saturday, July 19, 2014

God’s Invitation to Enjoy Him

This is on my husband's daily devotional blog for July 19th. After witnessing the inauguration of our beautiful Temple in Brazil this morning, I thought this would be a perfect time to repost it here.

Shout out praises to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with joy!
  Enter his presence with joyful singing! 
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  
He made us and we belong to him;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
  Give him thanks!
Praise his name!
For the Lord is good.
  His loyal love endures,
and he is faithful through all generations.  
(Psalm 100 ESV)

What comes to mind when you hear the words “praise and worship the Lord?” In churches around the country you can find a wide variety of worshippers enjoying lively performances and catchy tunes.  Among them are:  sincere believers who want nothing more than to praise their Lord and seek a deep relationship with Him, somewhat sincere believers who love to sing praises but aren’t interested in any correction from God, half-hearted church-goers who really like the cool band and hope to get to know the good looking date opportunities on the other side of the room, and absolute hypocrites who want to impress everyone with their superior spirituality for mere personal gain.

So in light of that, delete any preconceived ideas you may have of what praise is supposed to be.  True praise can only come from a true worshipper, and only you and God can know the motives and desires of your own heart.

C.S. Lewis, who became a Christian after years of atheism, dove deeply into studying the Psalms.  He wanted to know what God expected of him when he prayed.  He had no problem with prayers of thanks, or of confessing sins.  He regularly interceded for others and made requests of God.  But the type of prayer that was the hardest for him was praise.  He found that the Bible was constantly encouraging us to praise God.  Many times a day, every day, and without fail.  It was a command.

Does that mean God is egotistical?  Not in the least.  Lewis discovered that God is showing us one direct way to participate in all the beauty and wonder and amazement of His presence and His goodness. When we praise Him we learn to enjoy Him.  When we focus on all He is and has done, we stop looking at the small finite things of our limited lives, and begin to expand our minds to see His infinite power and love and mercy towards us.

Praising Him can heal us of our fears and worries, because we are looking to Him and not at ourselves.  Psalm 34 says, “delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Delighting, enjoying, celebrating and magnifying Him with our mouths, with shouts, with a joyful noise, is a powerful spiritual experience.  Praise demands that we become humble and recognize Him as far superior to us. We are sheep in His pasture, and grateful for it!  Without humility, true joy is impossible. Without praise on our lips, a bond with God is also impossible.

Praise is a natural part of our everyday lives.  We enjoy spreading the news of a great movie, a great bargain, a good restaurant, a funny story.  We tell whoever will listen all about the things our children have done.  Facebook and Twitter sing the praises of our friendships and families with each picture and comment we post.  Praising each other draws us closer to those we care about, and we don’t think twice about it.

So what does it say when we struggle to mouth a few words of praise to the God we claim to believe in?  When we’re embarrassed to sing to Him or raise our voices to heaven?  It shows that the most natural things that we do for the very flawed people we love, we can barely bring ourselves to do for the One who loved us so dearly that He gave His life for us.  If we really knew and loved Him, praise would naturally flow.  If we want to learn to love Him, we need to begin to praise, even when we don’t yet feel we can do it well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

All who believed were together...

An explosion had taken place in first-century Israel, that was about to set fire to the rest of the world.  A group of believers had decided without a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was God, the Son of God, their long awaited Messiah.  He had done what none of them expected.  Instead of establishing a physical kingdom on earth and driving out the Romans, He established a spiritual kingdom that had far more power than any puny earthly empire.  Jesus as God and as man, had died, destroyed the kingdom of hell, and had risen victorious to lead everyone who followed Him to a life of victory over evil, and eternal life.

So this bunch of people that were gathering together in the book of Acts, were so convinced that this Jesus that some had met personally and others had just heard of, was worth living for and dying for. Many of them were murdered because of that conviction.  They all had lives of their own, families, farms and businesses, but Acts 2 says that they gathered together with such eagerness to learn more, to pray, to be together in one accord.  They sold properties and possessions because they had found what Jesus had referred to as the treasure in a field.  The treasure of this new life was so powerful that it was worth giving everything for.

The Early Church was a bunch of rag-tag believers who God turned into a fearless force to tear down the strongholds of Satan wherever they lived and died.  They came from different backgrounds and cultures but their common Enemy kept them united.  Though they were sinful and had plenty of problems (as the New Testament shows pretty plainly) they preferred to die for their Lord than to deny Him and escape persecution.

Do we have that zeal today?  Do we have that commitment to "have each others' backs" like the first Christians did?  If we don't, it's because we don't know that we are all bound together by a common Enemy who is out to torture and kill.  We don't see our authority or power in this world the way Satan sees it.  He knows what damage we could inflict on him, and so he soothes us with comforting feelings that we don't need to be so extreme, so fanatical in our faith.  We are warriors with nuclear capabilities, spiritually speaking, but are lulled into a stupor by the comforts and distractions of our busy lives.

C.S. Lewis says it so perfectly in his book, "The Screwtape Letters," where an elder demon is instructing his young nephew on how to destroy the life of a newly converted Christian. (Side note: the "Enemy" is God, and "Our Father Below," Satan.) Written in England in the 1940's, it speaks directly to us right now.

"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neightbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces on the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous." 

Let's stop wasting time picking at each other's differences and irritations, allowing ourselves to become spiritually weak and flabby.  Let's see ourselves as members of God's true Church, rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners, because when we truly believe, that is exactly what we are.