Godless decisions…

I’ve just reached the point in biblical history when Abram (later to be known as Abraham) and his wife Sarai went to Egypt due to the famine in Canaan (Genesis 13).  Abram fears for his own life at the hands of the Egyptians due to Sarai’s beauty, but instead of asking for God’s help and protection, he devises a ruse that Sarai is his sister rather than his wife, persuading her to go along with it.  She does, and for a very short time Abram receives many gifts and blessings from the Pharaoh in honor of Sarai.

But suddenly God rains down terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household, and somewhere along the line God reveals to Pharaoh exactly why he and his family are suffering: the woman he’s been infatuated with is, in fact, married to the man who claimed to be her brother.  I wonder how God chose to reveal this to Pharaoh…  Furious at being deceived, Pharaoh summons Abram and lambasts him for not being truthful about his relationship with Sarai, casting him, Sarai, and all their people, livestock and possessions out of Egypt.

It seems that Pharaoh would have accepted Abram as Sarai’s husband had Abram trusted God’s protection over him.  It also seems that God wanted to be particular in how He got His message across to Abram that he should have trusted Him in the first place rather than taking things into his own hands.  What’s worse, though: seeking God and then not going by His instruction, or leaving Him out of the equation entirely?  I’m guessing both are equally foolish.  Why we ever think we know more than the One who knows everything is beyond me, yet I know I make such decisions pretty much daily.

Furthermore, others suffered because of Abram’s scheme.  Not just anyone, mind you, but the flippin’ king of an entire nation!  A king who, again, perhaps would gladly have accepted Abram and Sarai as they were into his community!  At the very least, Abram could have just asked for some degree of protection from God, and any attempts to cause him or Sarai harm would have failed.  I wonder what the situation would have looked like if Abram had sought God’s wisdom and protection.  I wonder how the future of Abram and his descendants could have been set on an entirely different course.  All because we try to cover our own hides rather than seek the One who knows best.  A simple lesson, but the most difficult to learn.

Starting anew…

Genesis 6, where God puts a limit on our life span, giants walk the earth (the offspring of angels and human women, apparently… sounds like something out of Lord Of The Rings…), and a fresh start of sorts.

I can’t imagine God’s pain in seeing how His creation went its own way and did such foolish things.  Verse 6 says His heart was broken for even creating us in the first place…  When He is all we need, when all of life can flourish solely with Him as its Provider for all things, why in the world do we choose our own way?  And why does it seem so easy to choose the wrong way and His way seems harder?  I think by now it’s become more difficult to follow Him because of everything else that is around us, seeking our attention, attempting to break us away from our first love.  There’s such minimalism in following Him, and we’ve made it so much more complicated.

Now to the story of Noah.  I love this story, probably because of the film Evan Almighty.  While director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk do tend to go for the comedy angle on everything they do, the messages of faith, trust, and hope within the film are strong.  Critics lambasted the film for what they called a “condescendingly simplistic spiritual message,” but honestly, much of the world has strayed so far from God that it needs the message given to them as simply as possible.  As the apostle Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “… I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, because you weren’t ready for it.  And you’re still not ready!”

God wipes everything out with the flood.  A total clean sweep.  Nothing and no one but the creatures and Noah & his family on the ark survive.  Underground springs erupt, and the heavens open up and empty themselves onto the face of the earth.  Frightening.  Then, God stops filling the earth with water.  The waters recede, and God decides He will accept us as we are, and later on in history He chooses other means to reveal Himself to us.  For that, I am grateful.

In the beginning, there were many questions…

I wonder how Adam & Eve figured out the whole “sexual-relations” thing… was that on their own?

Did God not accept Cain’s gift purely as a lesson?  What did it mean that God didn’t accept his gift?  Did He mean for Cain to go back and try again?  Did Cain neglect to bring the best he had from his crops?  Was he meant to be an example because of his poor response?

What was going through Abel’s mind as Cain attacked him?  Cain seemed to cry like a baby when God banished him, taking zero responsibility for his actions, even going so far as to blame God for his situation.  Even in the beginning, we were trying to cast the blame off ourselves!  First Adam blames Eve, then Eve blames the Serpent, then Cain blames God Himself.  What gall… but then, how often do I do that?…

What was the mark that God put on Cain when he banished him to warn others who might try to kill him?  And where did those others come from?  Where did Cain find his wife?  What’s her story?

It’s incredible how many of Cain’s descendants are responsible for being the very first to do certain things: Jabal, Cain’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, was the first to raise livestock and live in tents, and his brother Jubal was the first to play the harp and the flute.  Did they just figure it out, or were they taught somehow?  And did God return to Cain’s family even though He initially banished Cain from His presence for his murder of Abel?

Lamech, Jubal & Jabal’s father, was an interesting guy.  Genesis 4:23:

One day Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.
24 If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”

What in the world was he talking about???  Was he simply being boastful or proud?  I wonder if he was the first to get drunk on wine… bizarre.

Okay, people wonder about the beginning of time, how long the earth has been around.  At 130 years of age, Adam had another son named Seth with Eve.  He then lived another 800 years… that’s nearly a full millenia!  Looks like Noah was the 12th generation after Adam… fancy that.  I love how God works.  But I’m curious as to how many years after he did the flood was.  Doesn’t seem like that many… at least not if you view a century as not being that long a time.  But it still pulls into question how many years ago God actually created everything.  I recall finding a graph online that someone created to spell the whole thing out.  I’ll have to try to find that again.

And here’s another question… six days to create the earth, one to rest.  Six days as in twenty-four hours?  Or six days as in six thousand years?  2 Peter 3:8:

… A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

… and Psalm 90:4:

For You, a thousand years are as a passing day,
as brief as a few night hours.

Hmm.  So, is it possible that creation actually took six thousand years, give or take a few centuries?  I recall reading about an experiment the scientists running the Hubble Telescope did a number of years ago.  Essentially they were using Hubble to help determine exactly how old the universe really is.  The results staggered their minds: Hubble’s results showed the universe was formed only about 6,000 years ago.  It seems those results were only briefly published before they were dismissed and/or buried in favor of a “God-less” explanation, currently putting the age of the universe at between 12 and 13 billion years old.  However, something those scientists may not be accounting for is the fact that the speed of light has decreased in its speed quite significantly since the beginning of time.  Today, the current speed of light is ten or twenty thousand miles-per-hour slower than it was only 15-20 years ago.  So, to me it’s quite possible that the results they’re getting now are false positives due to the failure to accurately determine how long it has actually taken the light from distant celestial objects and bodies to reach us from afar.  Of course, there’s also the defense that the speed of light’s decrease in speed proves that the universe was formed through such a great cataclysmic event as the “Big Bang,” because why else would light be slowing down if it didn’t come into formation through the largest explosion in history?  To me, that’s precisely why it still falls under the jurisdiction of the unexplainable except by only one way.  It’s a difficult question, but I know God has it figured out already anyway.  Heck, He made everything.

I think that’s enough questions for now… my brain’s starting to freeze up.

Created for us…

I just started a “historical” read-through plan of the Bible at YouVersion.com. Essentially it goes through every book of the Bible in the order each book was written. I’m not exactly sure how different it will be from a chronological read-through (in the order which things occurred rather than when the book were written), so we’ll see how this goes. Either way, I’m excited.

First revelation: when God was creating the universe, He created it just for us. The Earth wasn’t the last thing He made… it seems like it was the first. He didn’t even make the sun first! He said, “Let there be light,” and there it was. Where was it coming from? Or perhaps, Who was it coming from? According to Genesis 1:14-18, it wasn’t until the fourth day that he actually made the sun and moon and stars. They were merely the “governors” of day and night He put in place to keep a regular rhythm to things. Heck, He made seed- & fruit-bearing plants before He made the sun. I wonder if that was because He was planning on being so close to the earth that the sun and moon weren’t really going to be needed to yield life from the plants in the soil. It makes me sort of sad thinking about how His original idea was to be all we would ever need, but we chose poorly…

Second revelation, accompanied with a question: when God created us He said, “Let us make human beings in our own image, to be like us.” I’ve read this before. I’ve always thought I understood what this means. I thought I comprehended how in Heaven our bodies would become perfected, the way God originally intended. But to be in the exact image of God Himself, of Jesus Christ in all His glory, to be like His heavenly host of angels… was He talking to Jesus when He said “us,” or was He talking to all of Heaven’s realm?…

A question: why did God make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why was it necessary? Did God Himself eat from it? Was it there purely to demonstrate Adam & Eve’s obedience to Him in not partaking of its fruit?… and why did Adam & Even have to eat it? I don’t know whether it was a flaw in our design, most likely intentional since nothing is a surprise to God, or the pure deceiving power of the Enemy. Perhaps both.

God’s judgement on Adam & Eve and the rest of humankind makes me very sad. We had it made! Life and company at our fingertips, within our hands, beneath our feet, and we abandoned it in favor of something greater. Now we must work hard, and our days are numbered. Death scares me. The idea of just not being alive is frightening, because it’s all I know. All because we wanted to be greater than we were.

But the Enemy wanted to be greater, too. Which is precisely why he was cast down, he and his legions of followers. I wonder how many countless millennia the war has been going on between God and the enemy.

It seems we may have been cured of our new mortality if we’d eaten of the Tree of Life. But with our knowledge of what is good and what is evil, we would have been exactly like God instead of just being made in His image, in honor of His glory. I wonder what that would have been like… It’s possible that would have stirred up an entirely new war alongside the battle waged between Heaven and the darkness.

And since nothing is a surprise to God… He did it all anyway. I know His ways are so much higher than mine, but I wonder what He was thinking as He made all these things knowing full well what was going to happen next, in just a few days, or years, depending on how time was calculated at its beginning. Obviously, He knows something I don’t….

Well, okay. More than just a few somethings. More like… like… a really big number that I’d never be able to comprehend.

And that’s okay. I just want to live a life that says to Him, “All I need is You. And while I’ll keep screwing up and making the wrong choice, choosing from the wrong tree, I’ll keep trying because You keep forgiving.”

And maybe I won’t be so afraid anymore.

God, You’re my God, You’re my God…

This is the opening line to the worship anthem “God You Are My God” by Delirious. And that song makes me delirious. I feel like I can fully embrace who God is when I sing the words.

God, You’re my God, You’re my God…

And I will seek You, yes, I will seek You!

I discovered only today where Martin Smith received his inspiration for this song of declaration: Psalm 63 (The Message)…

God–You’re my God! I can’t get enough of You!
I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts….

This is exactly where I’ve been. The recurring theme of the Desert of Passivity. Continued…

So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

God, You are my God. Even during those times when I am not seeking You.

Help me to seek You, so I may praise You as long as I live!

A spirit of fear…

Ever been to a baptist youth camp?  There’s a running joke within the church world about the last couple days of one of these week-long retreats: the Do-You-Know-That-You-Know-That-You-Know question:

“If on the way home from this retreat tomorrow, your van got into a car accident and you didn’t make it, do you know that you know that you know that you know that you know that you’re goin’ to heaven?”

A valid question.  Macabre, perhaps, but valid.  But it’s as if the youth leaders & counselors at these events have forgotten how permanent the bond between God and His children is.  John 10:29 (The Message): “The Father who put [my flock] under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief.  No one could ever get them away from Him.” Basically: once saved, always saved.

But what’s their motivation for these questions?  Did someone guide them through the “Sinner’s Prayer” and either forget or mix up a couple words?  Was their conversion based purely on the emotions they were feeling at the time due to the worship music?  Were they just trying to impress the cute boy or girl next to them and praying for them?  There’s an air of dread in their hearts and minds, and if this child ends up not going to heaven it’s all their fault.  So they backtrack, they prod and question with the relentless mantra: “Do you know that you know that you know???”

Fear.

Fear of the powerful hand of a mighty and jealous God.

Fear of the desperate and judging eyes of the parents of each of these kids for not doing enough.

Fear of the reality of hell.

I picked up Craig Groeschel’s most recent book The Christian Atheist during the Leadership Summit.  I’ve only gotten about twenty pages in and I’m already unsettled by how we as the church have so often misrepresented the Gospel, how we’ve completely missed the point of knowing Christ and what it means to follow Him.  The subtext of the book’s title sums it up perfectly: believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.

It’s like living next to a pond with the clearest, purest and most revitalizing drinking water on earth and never drinking from it.  You just set your little plastic lawn chair up right next to a big painted sign that reads “FREE WATER, TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE,” and you plop yourself down in your little chair, proud to stake your claim that this is where you call home in spite of never having tasted the water from the pond.

I’m thirsty.  I’ve been in this desert for long enough, and I’ve decided to keep looking for oasis after oasis until I finally hike between the mountains and cross the Jordan.  When I find that pond, I want to drink and drink and drink as if my life depended on it… because it does.  I want the courage to keep going back to it, constantly refreshing my body, my soul.  I don’t want to live as if I’ve already done enough, because I never could do enough to sustain my own life.

I want to live a life that not only says my God exists, but He is the very reason I exist.

Both Audience and Leader…

I’ve always felt that worship should be done without a stage, without a platform.  The purpose of worship through music isn’t to perform songs that are fun to sing together to the folks that showed up at church on any given Sunday, it’s to proclaim adoration and love and awe to the Creator of the universe through the medium of melodies and song of His creation.  I’d much rather the band and vocalists leading in worship weren’t elevated on a platform, instead being on the same exact physical plane as the crowd.  Worship gatherings I’ve been a part of where this is the practice have always seemed more conducive to directing the focus of our praise through singing and playing to God rather than just being shouted forward at the stage and the blaring speakers.

So here’s a thought.  We’re all on the same level.  Who’s leading everyone?  Me?  Well, I can play guitar and sing and coach and prod and guide and bring people along with me into the presence of God to a point, but I’m not worthy to usher an entire room of people into the throneroom of His Grace.  There is such a tremendous gap between us and our Father, and there was only one person on earth in all of history who could close that gap.  Christ alone was worthy to intercede for us, and when He ascended into glory He gave us the Holy Spirit, our mediator, who intercedes for us now.  The Spirit is the very presence of God around us, upon us, within us.  Who better to lead us to the throne of grace than the Spirit?

Going back to Matt Redman’s The Heart Of Worship Files, he talks about this very idea of the Holy Spirit being the “real worship leader.”  Philippians 3:3 says, The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it…. That last statement is the key.  Our worship without the Spirit is empty.  Our words and thoughts are meaningless without the means to communicate them to God.  So the Spirit inspires the words, providing to us the realizations we are meant to discover as we sing and as we pray.  It’s not about how well we feel we communicated a song from the stage, or if there was any vocal cheering that accompanied the claps at the end of the worship set.  It’s our being open to the Spirit leading us in what to say and how to say it, in what kind of posture we hold as we proclaim His goodness and claim His love and promises.

The Spirit’s leading doesn’t exonerate us from our responsibility to prepare ourselves in leading, however.  As lead worshippers, we still have to learn our songs accurately, taking the time to practice & hone our craft of playing an instrument or using our voices to ensure we don’t create distractions for the crowd, being conscious of what’s happening in the worship gathering and directing the flow.  But ultimately, we are partnering with the greatest worship leader in the universe when we invite the Spirit to guide us into His presence.  Takes some of the pressure off, doesn’t it?

Worship aerobics…

I returned this morning to a book I haven’t opened up and read in years: The Heart Of Worship Files by Matt Redman.  My previous foray through this compilation of insights and revelations Redman has realized over the years was, in a word, brief.  I’ve always been a quick reader, but as you can imagine, my retention level falls proportionally lower as the speed at which I read gets higher.  I was more interested in finishing this book than finishing a single thought from it.  This time, I opted for a different approach and took my sweet time going through the first four-and-a-half pages and was immediately marked with a revelation about what I just read.

In this first little blurb of a chapter, Redman explores the difference between the outward expressions worship leaders tend to search and prod for in their congregation: checking the ratio in the room of raised vs. unraised hands, the mental “Clap-O-Meter” worship leaders bust out at the end of a song to evaluate the crowd’s response, etc.  Being an extrovert and a musician, I’m much more prone to expressing myself outwardly than inwardly, so those types of responses tend to hold more value to me, and I often gauge my “performance” as a worship leader on those specific forms of feedback.  Did I really hit the intensity of that song and encourage people enough to shout aloud and clap their hands?  “C’mon, people, we cheer for our favorite sports teams louder than we cheer for our King, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!”  Good motivations, but I think I’m misguided in my execution of lead worshipping.

I recalled how stirred my spirit was just a few days ago during the Leadership Summit conference as we worshipped with the Willow Creek team via satellite.  I’ve found I tend to have a difficult time worshipping if I’m not a direct part of the team leading the worship.  Not sure if it’s deep-seated pride in the gifts & talents I’ve been blessed with in music, envy at not being on stage, distraction at the quality level of the worship being shared, or just my passion for being a part of the process.  Sadly, I also don’t believe the last of those four options is the most common one I hold in those moments.  But during the Summit, I experienced a different sort of response in my own heart, more of a revelation at what those words really mean.  And since I wasn’t concerned about making sure the band was in the right section of the song, or trying to keep my guitar in tune, or trying to evoke a response from a crowd of people, I was able to focus just on the words I was singing…

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
Holy, holy is He,
Sing a new song to Him who sits on
heaven’s mercy seat…

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
Who Was and Is and Is To Come!
With all creation I sing: Praise to the King of kings,
You are my everything, and I will adore You!

I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to music that I often find the music takes hold of me more firmly than the thoughts & words that are only framed by the music.  God created music, there’s nothing wrong with it and with enjoying it, but the notes and chords and swells and rhythms are merely the vessel through which the messages of Christ’s hope, and love, and salvation and glory are proclaimed.  Instead of focusing on an outward response, I experienced an inward revelation of the glory of Jesus and the rest of me responded accordingly, lifting my hands to the heavens in adoration of my Savior as opposed to lifting my hands because that’s what you’re supposed to do when singing in a church service.  I want to sing not because it’s my job at my church to lead people in song, I want to sing because my heart can’t contain my joy and wonder at the One who is the Holy of holies, the One who loves me more than I could ever deserve.

So I will sing.

Some initial post-Leadership Summit thoughts…

What a remarkable past couple of days this has been.  I kept my laptop open for every single session, trying to capture as many bullets and poignant thoughts as possible, attempting to soak in as much as my sponge could hold.  God certainly had some specific things to share with me, and the common threads that wove throughout every single session from each different leader or revolutionary in their field…  I love how God continues to surprise me with how incredibly aware and detailed He is.

But even now I’m struggling for the right words to describe what I just experienced.  I would probably do myself a better service by allowing myself to decompress for a few days, then go back through my notes and find the recurring themes and reflect on them.  Twelve sessions in two days… that’s a lot to absorb in such a short time.

I do know one thing I can say with the utmost confidence right now.  My God loves me more than I could ever imagine, and He is right within my grasp.  All I have to do is reach out and take hold of Him, and all the worries, misgivings, poor habits, frustrations, passivity, all of it will pale in comparison to the hope and future I have in Him.  I am so much more encouraged to keep pressing through this desert, because it’s in this desert that I will experience the most growth, because it’s in this place where the only resource I can turn to is my Savior, and He is the only resource I really need.

The movement of God…

We’re in the midst of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, and I feel a stirring in my heart greater than I’ve felt in a while.  There’s a common thread of adoration that’s weaving its way through this auditorium right now, and I feel the vibrations from its strings.  My soul is aching to rise again, to take hold of the promises Christ has been constantly putting in my path.

I’ve been seeking renewal, motivation, inspiration, the innocent faith of a child that I seemed to have misplaced.  I’ve yearned to start over and made what I thought were valiant attempts.  But I realize that I’ve kept my feet planted still while He’s been in constant orbit around me, prodding me, trying to get my attention.  I need to reverse the equation, and as equally as He has pursued me, I must now pursue Him. I must pick up my feet and fall into orbit around Him.

In my weakness You make me strong
When I am helpless You come along
and move me, You move me right along
When I am drowning You take me high
Into Your shelter, back into life
my Savior divine.