Saturday, July 30, 2005

Worship that costs us nothing

I saw that book, "Why men hate going to church" advertised in Koorong again this week. I find the title rather annoying. After all I'm sure that not all men hate going to church and I expect there are quite a few women who hate going to church too. Another thing that is annoying is that most church leaderships that I have been involved with are dominated by men so if they think there is a problem why haven't they fixed it? Probably it is an American book, perhaps things are different there.

It makes me think about sequels, "Why introverts hate going to church"; "Why artistic/creative people hate going to church" etc. etc. Perhaps the problem is to do with our expectations of a church service.

We buy comfortable chairs for our churches, install heating for winter, air conditioning for summer, buy good instruments and data projectors all to make our worship experience more comfortable and while there is nothing wrong with heaters and fans, I wonder if it effects our expectations. We expect our worship experience to be easy and comfortable.

The first time David brought the ark back to Jerusalem he put it on a cart. When disaster struck he realized he had done the wrong thing and the next time he made the Levites (priests) carry it using poles on their shoulders in the way that God had outlined. So why did David use a cart the first time? The ark was overlaid with gold it was very heavy and secondly it was being moved a long way. A cart was an easy and comfortable solution, but God was not pleased. Sometimes worship is hard work and God does not want us to take short cuts. At the end of 2 Samuel David wants to buy Araunah's threshing floor to build an altar to the Lord. Araunah offers it to David for free along with whatever else he needs for the offering but David says, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." I wonder how often our worship costs us nothing.

Does this mean we should all go and join the Amish people, getting rid of electricity and all our creature comforts? No, but I do think we need to change our expectations about worship. Most of us are not in positions where we can influence the content and direction of our church services. Some days when we are sitting in a church service and our minds start to wander, let them wander to the image of the Levites carrying the ark to Jerusalem. Some days worship is not going to be easy and we are the royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9).

One of the other things we need to consider is, if I were to win my neighbour/friend/relative to the Lord would my church be a good place for them to connect with other Christians, be instructed in the Word of God and be given opportunity to express their worship to God? I don't think a church has to be anywhere near perfect to do these basic things. The church I went to when I first became a Christian had church services that left a lot to be desired but there were Christians there who taught me about God.

Next time we go to a church service perhaps we need to go with the attitude I'm going to worship God whatever the inconvenience, whatever the monotony, whatever the cost.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

On-line study, Psalm 121

v.2 tells me that my help comes from the Lord but before I can receive that help I need to acknowledge that I need it and in v.1 "I lift up my eyes" we find that acknowledgement. To lift up one's eyes is a deliberate signal that I am looking for something beyond my limited resources.

v.4 "will neither slumber nor sleep" is the assurance that although God may feel absence (or asleep) He is not. Nothing takes God by surprise not even a hole in the ozone layer. I remember reading this verse - v.6 "the sun will not harm you by day" shortly after concerns were raised about the hole in the ozone layer. How comforting to know that God doesn't ever says, "Oh, I never thought of that". God is in control. He is Sovereign. He has everything in hand.

Love to hear your thoughts. During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 49. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A thought provoking evening

Today I went shopping in Bendigo, bought some new clothes and a new book that I can't wait to read. It is called, "Things Unseen : living in the light of forever" by Mark Buchanan. I have read several others of his and really enjoyed them.

Then tonight I went to a Bible study group which I recently started attending. We are looking at 1 John and tonight we looked at chapter 2. John mentions three groups of people: children probably 0-12 years, young men (and women) probably 13-30 years and fathers (and mothers) over 30. The discussion centred around the need in our churches for each group to be acknowledged (rather than ignored); how each of these groups have something unique to offer and how they should support and encourage each other. We talked a bit about older people mentoring younger people. As we were leaving the leader told us not to let it just be a good idea but to take action in line with what God was saying. It was a thought provoking evening.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Clearing The Cobwebs

Today I have been re-reading "Clearing the Cobwebs : Understanding Christian Experience" by Kel Willis. In the book Kel talks about when we first become a Christian our focus is on what God has done for us. But sometimes, after we have been a Christian a while, our focus slowly drift away from what God has done and we begin to focus on what we are doing for God. We need to return to our original focus. Kel points out that God's grace is not only available to save us but also available so we can live the Christian life. We need to focus, not on what we do, but on what God does. He also has a bit to say about the church:

"The average non-Christian has not consciously rejected Christianity. He just doesn't think about it because he isn't confronted by the compelling reality of the risen Christ visibly expressed in the lives of His people. The majority of non-Christians find the Christianity they observe to be uncompelling and uninteresting. They see nothing that would cause them to consider it as a viable alternative to their life-styles. The sad fact is that the Church seems antiquated and meaningless to many of them. Yet the believers in the New Testament turned the world upside down. They could not be ignored. Their lives and the message they brought permeated their communities. Obviously God intended the Church to be a dynamic and relevant community with eternal significance. The fact that Jesus Christ is alive and at work today in people's lives should be evident in those of us who say we know Him."

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

On-line study, Psalm 48

This psalm mentions "city of our God" quite a lot which reminds me that because of Jesus, God lives in me. Revelation 21:3 says "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God."

"He has shown himself to be her fortress" (v.3). God is my fortress, my safe place. V.8 tells me that "God makes her secure forever". My relationship with God is permanent. The prodigal son never stops being a son even in the pig pen. On his return he said I am no longer worthy to be called your son, but the Father would hear nothing of it and demanded the robe, the ring and the sandals be put on the son. Reuben Morgan wrote a song which says: "I'm so secure, You're here with me, You stay the same, Your love remains here in my heart … You'll never let me go." Much in the world is unstable but I know that my relationship as a child of God is secure.

V.5 tells me that the enemy is terrified of me when I know that my security is in God. It reminds me of several occasions in the Old Testament when God confused the enemy and they fled without the Israelites even having to fight. James tells me to submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from me.

V.9 "we meditate on your unfailing love". To meditate on God's love, causes me to think about the sacrifice He made for me, the good things He gives me – His peace, His righteousness etc., His words of encouragement in His Word, the time He wants to spend with me, the sense of His presence when I worship Him. As I think about God's love, my love for God grows in response. As John says, we love because He first loved us.

Love to hear your thoughts on Psalm 48. During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 121. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Having enough time

I have been looking for a job in a library for the last couple of months without success. Interesting that for the first time in over twenty years I don't have a job, I'm not studying and I don't have any children living at home. This should mean that I have got time to do all those things I use to say that I didn't have time to do. So why is it that some of those things are still not getting done? Obviously I just don't want to do them which surprises me because there are even some books I still haven't read.

I have had to eliminate some phrases from my language like, "I haven't got time" and "I'm too busy" which has made me realize how quickly and without thinking I often use these phrases. I have had to get more truthful about why I don't want to do something.

It is an interesting learning curve. Unexpectedly I find having enough time is quite a challenge. Why is it that the tasks I do have to do, expand to fill the time available? So if the only thing I have to do today is clean the house then it takes all day to clean the house. Motivation is also an issue, if I can't be late for anything does it matter if I stay in bed an extra half-hour? Laziness kicks in and the less I do, the less I want to do.

Changing circumstances have caused me to rethink some my habits and priorities. Perhaps this is why God disturbs our comfortable routines every once in a while.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

On a lighter note

Someone said to me that my blog was too serious. I thought they might have a point so I thought I'd share a favourite story of mine by Kathleen Yao that I read in the Reader's Digest some time ago.

"It was my first year at university and the lure of the beach was much stronger than that of studying. Too busy sunbathing, I didn't even buy the book we were studying at the time – The Stranger, by Camus – and decided I could get away with it by making an analysis based on what the other students said.

Everyone was commenting on the protagonist's behaviour after his mother's death, so when the professor asked me what I thought. I said I would get back to him, as I had only read up to the mother's death.

He told me to see him after class, I realised why when a fellow student showed me the book. The first line read: 'Mother died today.'"

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

On-line study - Psalm 86

The first thing that came to mind was in v.3 "for I call to You all day long", then again in v.5 "who call to You" and v.7 "I will call to You" the psalmist regularly calls upon the Lord during the day. It is quite a challenge really when I think that I can sometimes go nearly all day without thinking about the Lord. But here the Lord is never far from the Psalmist thoughts. And when we call on Him we find He is forgiving, good and abounding in love (v.5).

The second thing that occurred to me was v.8 "there is none like You". In what way is there none like our God? I thought about other spiritual leaders who have said wise things but the verse goes on to say "no deeds can compare with yours". So even if others are good with words only our God does marvellous deeds (also v.10). I know in my life God has done healing, restorative things that only He could do. We don't worship a God who is just wise but One who has the ability and the interest to intervene in the affairs of the world and the affairs of our lives.

From saying that God is great and does marvellous deeds, the Psalmist asks for an "undivided heart" to "fear Your name" (being in awe of God) and commits himself to praising God "with all his heart". Our hearts can become divided when we get distracted and worried about many things like Martha (Luke 10:41). But when we think about God, the amazing things He does, His awesomeness then we will want to praise Him with all our hearts.

Love to hear your thought on Psalm 86. During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 48. Hope you do too. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Free gifts are hard to take

Since doing the quiz, I've been thinking about grace and I wrote this for the front page of my church newsletter:

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:7

When Jesus went to wash Peter's feet he initially said, "you shall never wash my feet" and then in the very next verse he says "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well". Peter has gone from one extreme to the other. The tendency to go from one extreme to the other is not unique to Peter.

On the one hand we want God to take over our lives completely and just do everything for us. On the other hand we put pressure on ourselves by thinking that a Christian should be busy doing good things. Of course, the answer lies somewhere in the middle but where?

God wants to instruct us, guide us and be with us. He is Lord but he doesn't swallow us up in a take over bid. He shines through our temperament and personality, like treasure in jars of clay. Neither do we have to weary ourselves trying to please Him. If we are His children, He is already pleased with us.

The middle ground is to live by grace. God's grace is not only available to save us but also available so we can live the Christian life. Yet grace is sometimes difficult to accept. Free gifts are not as easy to receive as one might think. Flannery O'Connor said, "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful". Painful because grace changes our perception of ourselves. We are not as self-sufficient as we thought. Nevertheless we need to avail ourselves of grace on a daily basis and it is ours for the asking. Simply ask.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Life You've Always Wanted

After reading a few book memes, I borrowed a copy of "The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg. I really enjoyed it even though it was a bit "bloke-y" at times. I appreciated his honesty, loved his sense of humour and gained much from his insights.

From the blurb: The heart of Christianity is about transformation—about a God who isn't just concerned with our "spiritual lives," but who wants to impact every aspect of living. It's realizing that God meets us not in a monastery but on Main Street, and that all of everyday life has the potential to be lived as if Jesus himself were the one living it.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

That quiz

I eventually found the quiz! I don't mind being called an evangelical and the rest is fairly even which is good because I think most Christian denominations have something to offer. And I do think God's grace is totally amazing.

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

75%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

54%

Emergent/Postmodern

54%

Neo orthodox

46%

Classical Liberal

43%

Reformed Evangelical

36%

Fundamentalist

36%

Roman Catholic

18%

Modern Liberal

11%

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Is an on-line Bible study group possible?

During a previous post – allowing God to speak – the issue of the value of Bible study guides was raised. It seems to me that study guides are only as good as the leader who uses it. I have been in groups where the leader has turned the study guide into a comprehension exercise and alternatively been in groups where the leader has used the guide very effectively. Bit like a hammer, in the hand of a good craftsman even a bad hammer will be effective.

Nevertheless the beauty of having a Bible study without a study guide is it simpler, cheaper and gives God time and space to speak to people rather than just the leader. Also it doesn't need people to be in the same room at the same time. So yes, it can even be done on-line on a blog site.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Book Meme

I was tagged to do this book meme thingy. I'm also not a fan of things you do and pass on, but since it is about books how could I resist.

Total books owned, ever: Too many to count, several hundreds.

Last book I bought: Come Thirsty by Max Lucado said some good things.

Last book I read: The Introvert Advantage : How to thrive in an extrovert world by Marti Olsen Laney. Fascinating book, which I'm reading for the second time.

Five books that mean a lot to me: Your God Is Too Safe and The Holy Wild both by Mark Buchanan. I really like Mark Buchanan's writing. He brings fresh perspective to familar ideas. The Holiness of God by Sproul which blew me away. I had seriously underestimated God's holiness. The Introvert Advantage as mentioned above, helped me understand myself better. And I do need to include the Bible.

I think I'm suppose to tag someone else and since the only people I know with a blog who haven't already complete it are Trav & Av. I'll tag them if they feel they would like to.

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