Church · Heart

Hatch or Go Bad: What It Means to Give Everything To Jesus

One of my very favorite websites is Babylon Bee.

I don’t know who is behind it, but they write the absolute funniest satire pieces about Evangelical Christianity in America.

A while back, I came across this post about adoption. I thought it was funny, but there was also enough truth in it to make me angry. 

Then, a few weeks later, I was in a service recently where they gave an altar call for salvation, and they quoted the verse that is often used in that context, Romans 10:9.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“All you have to do is believe,” the speaker said.

And I got angry all over again. 

The more I started thinking about why these two things upset me, the more I saw the same issue manifesting itself over and over again. It popped up in things I was reading, and in conversations I was having. And even as it was stirring in my heart, Jason was led to preach about it at the church we’ve been attending.

I couldn’t run away from this problem.

Church, I’m angry. And I’m heartbroken. Why? Because we have really not surrendered to the lordship of Jesus.

You see, that verse the speaker quoted? She left part of its instructions out during her altar call. Romans 10:9 says that we have to both believe what the gospel says about Jesus and declare him as Lord over our lives. If we only believe in God, we are no better than demons, according the James. But there is teaching out there, lots of it, that subtly or overtly contradicts the idea that Jesus has absolute authority over our lives.

That Babylon Bee article has a ring of truth to it, because we are content, as a church, to let other people do hard things for Jesus and think that we don’t have to.

Some friends of ours who are missionaries in the Czech Republic were at our church last summer, and shared the story of how God called them out of their very normal lives and asked them to give up all of it and go to Europe to reach the lost. They told how when God called, they had no choice but to respond in obedience. But after the service, one of the ladies in the congregation told them she couldn’t believe they said yes to missions; that  she would never be able to do the same if God asked her.

This is why I’m concerned.

We live in a world where even the church is surprised by obedience to God. Let me be very clear: if you truly follow Jesus, the issue of obedience should already be settled in your heart. Yet for many who call themselves Christians, it is not.

It terrifies me that there is a whole generation of people who think they claim the name of Christ while telling Him all the things they will categorically not do.

And the things we refuse to do for Christ can take on many different faces: fasting, going to Africa, homeschooling, adopting a child, walking away from that unhealthy relationship, giving generously or sacrificially in the offering at church, serving in the nursery, praying for someone in public… I could just keep going and going.

Some of these things are probably no big deal to you. Others may hit closer to home. But I have heard people, Christian people, say that they could not, would not, do each of these things, even though in many cases, that was exactly the thing that God was asking them to do.

The reason we think it’s okay to say “no thanks” to God because we have not understood the magnitude of what it means to call Jesus our Lord.

“Jesus is Lord” is not just a cute thing we say. Lord is much more than just a church word that is a synonym for God. Think back to what you learned in school about the feudal system. Lord referred to the master or owner of a certain parcel of property. The lord had subjects, and whatever the lord said was the law.

This is hard to understand because we have nothing like a lordship relationship today in America. God is not our employer. We cannot negotiate for better benefits, or angle for a promotion. We cannot move on to a different job when the demands are too high.

The only appropriate response to a lord is to obey everything he tells you to do.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The relationship Jesus has invited us into is one where we die, and he is resurrected in us. Everything about our old life – our hopes, dreams, desires, wealth, ambition, habits, hobbies, diet, family, friends, possessions, home, physical safety, even our lives themselves—are surrendered to him. We leave nothing off the table. He is allowed to add, remove, and change as he sees fit.

C. S. Lewis describes it this way:

 “What we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be good. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way–centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly, And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do….He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (Mere Christianity, pp. 198-199)

Lewis penned these words more than sixty years ago, church, but not much has changed.

And nothing much will, unless we get on our faces before the Lord and repent our love affair with the world and with our own comfort, and ask him to come and crucify our flesh. We must commit anew to following him with our entire lives–whatever that means for us, whatever we have to lay on the altar. If we want to call Jesus our Lord, it’s all-or-nothing.

This is what is missing from our lives.

This is what is missing from our churches.

And this is what is missing from our witness.

When we do not understand that Christ has asked us to surrender everything, we cannot effectively ask others to do the same. We have no authority to assure them that surrendering all to Jesus is worth it. If we have not also given everything to follow Jesus, how can we ask someone else to walk away from that lifestyle that they’ve claimed as their identity? To go through with that pregnancy? To abandon their false gods, and in the process, lose their families and their familiar culture?

When we are not completely surrendered to Christ, we fall into error in our gospel witness. We either sit in hypocritical judgment of people who are enslaved to sin, pointing fingers and acting like it is easy to surrender everything because we haven’t actually surrendered anything. Or, we try to soften the demands of the gospel, saying they can love Jesus and keep their sin, which is dangerous, because as Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “We are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.”

If we want to be a bold and effective witness to the world around us, we need to be able to look our unbelieving friends in the eye and truthfully say to them, “You are going to have to give up everything to find life in Jesus. You will have to give up everything, just like I have. But it will be worth it.”

So what will it be church? Will we surrender everything to Jesus and embrace the call to make him Lord? Will we be hatched? Or will we go bad?

 

 

Church

A Final Letter to Our Church

To the saints of God in Ozark, chosen and dearly loved:

Our hearts are full today, our last Sunday with you. Before, we thought we have might have a lifetime to share our hearts with you. But now, as we prepare for one last chance to speak to you, it doesn’t seem like enough. We have so much left to tell you.

It is no secret that we think of you as our third child. We have spoken at great length about the labor it took to bring you into existence and the way you required more from us than we even knew was in our power to give. But we have also made known the rewards we found in serving you, our deep love for you, and the pride that swelled in our hearts in moments when we glimpsed just how far you had come.

How do we say goodbye to you now?

Our building on 20th Street has never been, in and of itself, our church. So even though we may shed some tears when we close the doors for the final time today, it’s not the building that we grieve. It is your precious souls, the group of us together, and knowing that we may never all be gathered together in the same way this side of heaven that makes us weep.

Come this afternoon, the Lord may begin to scatter us all in different directions, to new fellowships, new ministries, or new callings. But for now, while we remain together, may we remind you of a few things that are dear to our hearts?

Remember that true worship of God always takes our eyes off of ourselves and our own circumstances, and focuses instead on His greatness and majesty. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple act. When God came to Job in the whirlwind, He never answered Job’s questions, He just reminded Job of how big He was (Job 38-41). We would do well to remind ourselves often of those same things.

Remember that the best and truest way to discern God’s voice is to immerse yourself in His word. Any other great endeavor requires extensive dedication, training, and discipline. How much more so the immense task of following Jesus? It is not legalism to work hard at learning the stories of the Bible, their context, and even memorizing their very words. The Holy Spirit can only remind us of the things we have already learned, and we are privileged to hold the very words of God in our hands, so endeavor always to learn them as well as you can.

Remember that aside from the Holy Spirit, the best help you have in following Jesus is those who are walking with Him alongside you. Growing together will not happen on accident, and there is power in praying with and for each other.

Remember that following Jesus is not something you only do on Sunday mornings. This world is not our home, but rather we travel through it as ambassadors of Christ everywhere we go.

Remember that Jesus told us we would be hated for following Him. Persecution was a catalyst for the spread of the gospel in the book of Acts, and still spurs on true followers of Christ around the world today.

Remember that nothing is impossible with God. We don’t always understand His ways, but He is never powerless to help us.

Remember you are the shepherd of your children’s hearts. While your pastor and church should come alongside you as you commit raising your babies in the fear of the Lord, those little ones’ first and most influential spiritual leader is you.

Remember that the gospel is a message of reconciliation. This means we should seek to be reconciled to God, but also to one another. Never leave a church in anger or with unresolved conflict. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

And above all else, remember the greatest promise of the Bible is this: God with us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). No matter where we go, His presence goes, too.

It has truly been a joy and honor to know and serve each of you.

With all our love in Christ,

Pastor Jason and Amy

Church

On Closing our Church

Oh, my friends – where do I even begin?

We announced a week ago that we are closing our church, and so many of you have reached out to us to find out how we are doing, and I haven’t quite had the right words to answer that question.

The truth is, we are grieving. Deeply. Every week we discover a new painful part of this process, and the whole thing has just been plain hard. We’ve cried a lot and there is no easy band-aid to put on this pain.

But….. But, but, but…

God.

My God is in the business of redeeming what is broken.

If you’d asked me a year ago what that means, I would have told you something that sounded really nice, probably using a mosaic as an analogy, how things can be more beautiful because of their brokenness.

But now that I’m having to live that out, I’m finding out God’s redemption is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Closing our church is both more broken and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. I ugly cry almost every day, and God’s grace is there, big in my big pain. God’s grace is there in friends who weep with us, holding us tighter than I would have ever imagined they would do. God’s grace is there in the prayers that poured forth in our living room night after night, sparking revival in our hearts. God’s grace is abounding to us.

Friends, I didn’t know it could be like this.

I knew in my head, theologically, that God is present in the midst of suffering. But the truth is, I think I secretly believed that God’s leading meant a win. That because he asked us to do it, our church couldn’t help but grow bigger and better all the time.

And if I’m being really honest, I think I secretly believed that the people who had planted other churches that closed had missed God’s leading or disobeyed him along the way somewhere. That it couldn’t be God’s plan to lead someone into hardship.

And yet, here we are.

So just what are God’s plans for us?

Most of us who have grown up in church know Jeremiah 29:11, about God’s good plans for us. But what does that even mean?

If you back up a chapter, you will see that Jeremiah was prophesying to the nation of Judah during what was basically foreign occupation by the Babylonian Empire. More and more of the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon, until Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king, Zedekiah, rebelled, and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in retaliation (see 2 Chronicles 36).

The people of Judah had no context to process this large-scale punishment for their collective disobedience to God. They were sorry. They wanted to go home. Why wasn’t God hearing their prayers?

Because of this, some prophets were saying that God would deliver them from the oppression of the Babylonians in two short years (see Jeremiah 28:2-3).

But they were wrong. So God prompted Jeremiah to write this letter to the exiles:

“’Build houses and settle down…. Marry and have sons and daughters…. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city into which I have carried you into exile…. Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. This is what the LORD says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:5-11, emphasis added

Most of the time, I think I am more like the false prophets in this story than I am like Jeremiah. I want there to be a quick fix just around the corner. An “all better.” A why behind my pain. And instead, God says to his precious chosen people, “buckle up. The answer to your prayers is going to be a long time coming. But I know what I’m doing.”

After all, why would God have to reassure us that his plans were not for harm, unless it felt very much as if they were?

And though we don’t like to talk about it much in the church, that is how walking with Jesus often is.

We have taken verses like Jeremiah 29:11 out of context, and fooled ourselves into believing the gospel says “Come and prosper.” We want to believe that God is always leading us to places where we will be richer, happier, healthier, and more successful than we were before.

But what the gospel of Jesus Christ really says is, “Come and die.” We don’t want to the Lord to lead us into places of brokenness and betrayal and heartache, but that is so often the road he asks us to walk.

To know Jesus is to know suffering.

I don’t want that to be true, but I just can’t get away from verses like this:

“You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” Matthew 24:9

And this:

“In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 And these:

“[Peter and John] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” Acts 5:41

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope….” Romans 5:3-4

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….” 2 Corinthians 4:17

 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trail when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

The truth is, God does have good plans for us. But we have to let Him define what that good is. And we have to know that the fullness of the good He has for us will not be achieved in this life.

Someday, we will be with Jesus, and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. That is our future. And even now, in the midst of all we suffer in this life, He is ALWAYS with us. That is our hope.

Jason and I are taking comfort in the far-off future we have in Jesus, no matter what the immediate future holds. We truly have no idea what is next for us. We have not had any job offers or interviews, but we have peace that God will go with us into all of our tomorrows. We are spending more time on our knees than ever before, and if only for that we are grateful for this season and how it drives us to seek more of God.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us and taking time to encourage us along the way. We are humbled by your love!

Blessings,

Amy

PS. I am indebted to many anointed writers and musical artists whose work God has used to speak to me over the last few months. If you are in a season of brokenness (or want to know how to encourage someone who is), I recommend The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippets, When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story, and Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. If you’re looking for music, what we have on repeat around here are The Glorious Unfolding by Stephen Curtis Chapman, As Sure as the Sun by Ellie Holcomb, Majestic by Kari Jobe, and How Can It Be by Lauren Daigle.

Church · Heart

Christian Songs Lyrics Explained: Fire Fall Down

One of the things we sing a lot, at least in evangelical circles, is for fire to fall down, or for God to send his fire. In fact, we sang this Matt Redman song, “Here for You,” in our own church just a couple weeks ago, boldly voicing our desire: “God, let your fire fall down.”

If you look at this very literally, it seems like a crazy a thing to ask. I’m not sure any of us want God to send an actual fire into our church in the middle of one of our services (although that would be kind of cool.)

God did actually send literal fire down a number of times in the Bible. The time that comes most immediately to mind, at least for me, is Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth on Mt. Carmel. Israel had embraced idol worship, and Elijah had prophesied a drought over the land as God’s judgment for their worship of the idol Baal (whom they believed provided them with rain, crops, and fertility). After three years, the land was dry and barren, and Elijah made king Ahab and his false prophets an offer: Let’s build sacrifices to our respective gods on the top of this mountain, but not light them. Whichever god answers our prayers with fire is the true God.

They accepted, so Israel gathered at Mt. Carmel to watch the showdown between this one man of God and the 850 prophets who served the nation’s idols.The false prophets went first and called out to Baal for hours. They wept and wailed, and even cut themselves in an attempt to get his attention, but to no avail.

Then Elijah took his turn. He repaired the altar of God, arranged the meat on it and then drenched the sacrifice with water. Now it was going to take a honest-to-goodness miracle for this thing to catch on fire. Elijah stepped forward, and prayed a simple prayer that demonstrated his absolute faith that God was able to do this:

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you,Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!'” (1 Kings 18:36-39, emphasis added).

Elijah asked, and God answered with fire. Not just any fire, either, a supernatural fire that burned up all the things we use to contain fire: water, soil, stones. It is this image that is often in my mind when I sing about fire falling down. But this is far from the only time that God sends fire in Scripture. God rained fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites in the desert. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. And tongues of burning fire appeared over the heads of the believers in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

These are all instances of a literal fire coming down from the sky. And as I said before, I’m not sure that’s what we are asking for when we sing these songs. So what are we talking about? We should be careful to consider what the Scripture says about God and His fire.

So often, in the church, I think we equate fire with zeal, as in “being on fire for God,” and some nebulous feeling of being excited about God. But the fire of God is much bigger than that.

Want to hazard a guess at which book of the Bible mentions fire the most? It’s Leviticus, which is not a book we often enjoy reading or studying, but it can teach us a lot about what it really means to ask for God’s fire.

In the book of Leviticus, God’s fire meant a few different things, and they are a pattern for what fire means throughout the rest of the Bible.

Judgment

In Leviticus, the people of Israel frequently turn away from God by grumbling, complaining, losing faith, acting irreverently, and turning to idols. In these instances, God often judged people for their disobedience, and on more than one occasion, the Bible says that fire came out from the Lord and consumed people (Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 11:1-3). Through Christ, we are no longer stand accused of our sins, but for those who reject Him, the judgment that awaits them is often described with images of fire and burning (as in Mark 9:43).

Sacrifice

By far, the majority of references to fire in the book of Leviticus had to do with sacrifice. Leviticus is all about instructions for the priests in their duties, one of which was continually offering ritual sacrifices on the altar before the Lord. The fire on these altars was supposed to remain burning at all times. Those who loved God continued to make burnt offerings to God throughout the rest of the Old Testament, and as I mentioned before, there were several occasions when God sent fire from heaven to show his pleasure for a sacrifice his people offered to him (Leviticus 9:24, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Chronicles 7:1).

Sacrifice looks a little different for New Testament believers. Jesus died once for the sins of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t bring anything to offer to God; on the contrary, because God has done so much for us, we owe him everything. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer you bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Purity

Another primary way that fire was used in the book of Leviticus was for ceremonial purity. Because God is holy, and cannot abide where sin is, His people needed to be set-apart and clean. A large portion of the book of Leviticus talks about what makes a person unclean, and how the Israelites were to purify themselves. Things that had touched disease, bodily fluids, mold, or had been in foreign possession had to be purified also, and anything that could withstand fire was usually purified that way (as in Numbers 31:23).

In the New Testament, believers aren’t purified outwardly through ritual, but inwardly through obedience and submission to Christ. New Testament writers often remind us to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances, because they often purify our faith and draw us nearer to God. Peter calls these “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV) and Paul teaches, “We also rejoice in our sufferings; because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

God’s Presence

To me, the most significant thing that fire represents in the Bible was the very presence of God. In Leviticus, when they were setting up the tabernacle, God signified that He was with his people by appearing in their midst as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when God poured out His own spirit on New Testament believers that what they saw “seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3).

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Asking for God’s fire is a big thing, but for those of us who are serious about forsaking ourselves and following after Jesus, I think it’s a wonderful and appropriate thing for us to ask from God. We just need to be mindful that when we sing and pray “fire, fall down” we are not asking for a warm glow of affection for God. We are asking for his blazing, consuming, awesome presence. We are asking for God to come as rightful judge. We are asking for Him to look with pleasure on the meager offerings we bring before Him. And we are asking for God to draw near to us in His fullness and to burn up everything in our lives that is displeasing to him so that we can know Him more and walk in closer step with Him.

Church · Heart

What We’re Talking About When We Sing Christian Songs

Worship

When I was in college, I was part of an on-campus Christian organization. As we grew we did a lot of things, but the way we got started was through a weekly evening of worship at one of the fraternity houses, of all places. (Actually, it was the one with the worst reputation. Isn’t is just like God to reach into a place of darkness and shine brilliant light?)

Eventually, we had this idea to bring in Christian artists and host a concert for them, giving them all of the proceeds, if they would agree to come and lead our worship night, where anyone could attend free of charge.

Thinking back on this as an adult, I am astounded we got anyone to come. I can’t imagine those concerts were very lucrative for these artists. We were a small school and our biggest auditorium didn’t hold much of an audience to speak of, especially not if these artists were used to playing in big arena.

But they must have seen our hearts or something, because some people came anyway, and led worship for us like we had asked.

One of those nights, Todd Agnew came. I had heard his songs on the radio and was excited to hear him play for us, both at the concert and at our worship night, which was first. I had a really full schedule that semester, and hadn’t been around when some of my friends picked him up at the airport and got him settled at our school’s bed-and-breakfast-type inn. We had decided to have the worship night at the old cathedral on campus, because we were expecting a larger crowd than we typically had on an average Monday at the fraternity house.

I had come from work and got there just as it was starting. I expected to see Todd Agnew up on stage, but the only stage lights that had been turned on were the ones behind him, outlining only a vague silhouette of a man on a guitar.

“Tonight isn’t about me,” he said. “It’s about the Lord.”

And he proceeded to teach us about worship. He pointed to Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, where Jesus tells her that the kind of worshipers the Lord seeks are those who worship in spirit and in truth. Todd challenged us: how often do we sing words we don’t understand or words we don’t mean? If God wants people worshiping Him in truth, are we doing that?

Those questions have stuck with me all these years, and I return to them often, evaluating the way I sing when I sing to the Lord and the lyrics of the songs I’m singing to Him. My favorite songs contain rich imagery and language taken directly from the Bible. But I also love songs that force me to stop and ask, “Do I really mean that?” Is God’s grace alone really enough for me? Would I really follow Him anywhere? Do I even know what I’m asking when I ask to see God’s face?

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been asking those same questions, particularly as it applies to the Hillsong United song, “Oceans.” The lyrics to the bridge of this song say, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters/Wherever you would call me/Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander/And my faith will be made stronger/In the presence of my Savior.”

That is a big thing to ask. And a lot of other people in Christian circles have been pointing this out, and asking us, do we mean it? (I would contend, that if we are call Jesus Lord, we should be praying these things. There is no way to follow Him halfway, but that’s another post for another day.) I am glad that “Oceans” has sparked those questions for people

But “Oceans” isn’t the only song we should be applying those questions towards. We should be asking questions of every song we profess to sing to God. We should be asking:

  • What does it mean?
  • Is it biblical?
  • Do I mean it?

I can’t answer that last question for you, but I can help with the first two. Studying worship lyrics has always fascinated me. As a teenager, I loved reading a passage of scripture and realizing it was the inspiration for a song I liked. And as I’ve gotten older, I have intentionally sought out the history and meanings behind songs that are a part of our tradition, from the most contemporary worship songs to the oldest hymns.

I want to start sharing some of that information here. It’s so easy to get caught up in lyrics that sound good, or that are set to a nice melody. I’m guilty of that as much as the next person. So I thought we could spend a little time together examining the things we say in Christian songs, and what it really means to say to those words to our Lord, so stay tuned.

But in the meantime, would you do this with me? Next time you go to church and sing worship songs, would you read the lyrics before you start singing–I mean really read them? Start asking yourself the questions above. What do these words mean? Do these words line up with the truth in the Bible, to the best of your knowledge? And most importantly, do you mean them?

Church

Coming Back from our Summer Sabbatical

It’s been quiet here for a while, and that has been on purpose.

This summer has been unreal and different than any I’ve had yet.

Jason and I have been blessed by our church leadership with a four-week Sabbatical during the month of July. This followed on the heels of the most busy and intense month, work-wise, I have had since Caleb was born. I spent June helping with what is essentially a day camp for Assemblies of God missionary kids. Because I was working, my kids got to participate. While I snuggled babies, my boys visited the zoo, the park, the pool, the Discovery Center, and learned so, so much about what it means to be a missionary family, even though we aren’t one. It was crazy busy, but so much fun, and such a wonderful growing experience for my kids.

My last day with the MK program was a Saturday. We had church Sunday, and spent the final couple days of June getting our ducks in a row for a month-long absence from church. And then, all of a sudden, we were off. For a whole month. What would we do with ourselves? We weren’t entirely sure.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture right now is Hebrews 4, where God speaks (through whoever wrote this small, wonderful book) about Sabbath-rest. I wrote about this passage a while back, when we were in Hebrews in our church-wide Bible reading plan, and the words of Hebrews have stuck with me all this long time. I find myself mulling over them still. The chapter begins, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” 

Bible scholars are not entirely sure about what rest this is talking about – whether that is the eternal rest of heaven or rest from striving to earn our own salvation through works here on earth. There’s a chance (and this is what I believe) that it’s referring to both. Of course it’s easier to see how we have to trust in God to get into heaven, something we can neither see nor touch, nor really even fully comprehend.  It’s much harder, I’m finding, to live out what it means to rest in God in the here and now. I know in my head that only Jesus saves, but so often I live like for someone to come to know Christ in one of our services it takes the Holy Spirit and me getting all the power point slides up at the right moment.

Taking four weeks away from our church has forced us to come to grips with the fact that what God does in our church is up to Him and not to us, and relies on His efforts, not ours. We still believe He wants to do saving and sanctifying work in Ozark. And we still believe that by His grace, He wants us to play a small part in that. But I think from here on out, we will do more resting and waiting for Him to move instead of forging ahead on our own; letting in more silence and stillness as we allow Him time to do what He will, instead of filling silence with noise and the stillness with activity because it makes us feel awkward to slow and rest.

However awkward it is at times, we need stillness and rest. God reminds us of this all the time with commandments about the Sabbath. And if that weren’t enough, He bound our spirits up in physical bodies that have limitations, including, and very importantly, our need to stop and rest every single day. Sleep is so important that we cannot survive more than a week or two without it. Sleep deprivation is even used as a torture technique in some places.

So we rest.

We wait on God, we do what He tells us, and then we rest.

An entire month of resting has been weird and wonderful for our family. What this looked like for us, practically speaking, was:

  • Going places and doing fun things as a family, like blueberry picking, trips to the theatre, visiting the zoo, and going hiking. We really wanted to treasure these last days before Caleb becomes a big, school boy.
  • Reading a bunch (I’ll post soon about the great books I’ve enjoyed this summer).
  • Surprisingly, cleaning the kitchen really well every single day. It’s a chore I usually avoid, and leaning into it, and seeing the finished results was so much more restful and encouraging than I ever would have imagined.
  • Journaling more than I have since I was a teenager–I think I filled half a journal this month alone.
  • Having friends over to eat and play games. We do this a lot anyway, but realizing we want to do it even on “vacation” makes me want to incorporate it into our schedule more, even if it takes a little extra planning to do so.
  • And talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. We talked with friends. We talked with each other. We talked with people who give us wise counsel. And of course, we spent a lot of time talking with God. Talking through questions, hurts, fears, problems, hopes and dreams has been difficult at times, but cathartic for us, and I’m glad we’ve had time and space to do it.

What it didn’t look like was checking our email. Jason stayed off Facebook for the most part, too, and I probably should have followed his lead on that. Whatever else Facebook is, it isn’t very restful, and it doesn’t help me place my hope in God and wait on Him. I’m going to try to figure out what it looks like for me moving forward, and how to use it wisely. But I don’t have any answers yet.

It’s been a good month, but it’s only been a month. I’m a work in progress. And thanks be to God, even though it’s slow going, He hasn’t given up on me, and He has promised not to ever do so. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope you get some time, in these last few weeks of summer, to pause for a moment or a few hours or a few days and rest in the Lord. He holds the whole earth together. He can hold us together, even when we lay down our work for a little while.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:9-16

Church · Heart

Why Entitlement Has No Place in the Church

Sometimes, I think we get this crazy idea in our heads that church is somehow something we deserve.

We grew up under America’s stars and stripes, and Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words insisting that we all should be granted the right to life, liberty, and (here he changes the words of Locke) the “pursuit of happiness.” Which of course, we have now twisted to mean that anytime there is something that would make us happy, then it is our right to have that thing.

That sense of entitlement has permeated the church.

There are things in the church that would make us happy. So we think they are our rights. That we are somehow owed them, just by the nature of who we are, or most definitely based on the virtue that we too are Christians.

So we go to church and we expect to be comfortable. To be entertained. To be handed a free cup of coffee. And for qualified people to entertain and educate our kids for a couple of hours for free.

It’s ludicrous when you really think about everything we expect when we go to church. Where else would we bring those same expectations?

But this is not our worse offense. No, the worst thing we do is when we bring this sense of entitlement into the presence of God.

It’s not okay for us to expect other people to cater to our needs, but it’s understandable because people are our equals. When we come into the presence of God, all that sense of equality should completely disappear.

Yet oftentimes, it does not. We come into to church, and we sing songs that tell God how great we are. We tell him how massive our love for him is, as if we are doing God some gigantic favor by taking a couple of hours out of our week to come into the church building and grace him with our presence.

We have it completely backwards.

We are in 1 Samuel in our Bible reading plan, and recently read the story of when the ark was captured from the nation of Israel by the Philistines. In those times, the ark was a tangible symbol to the Israelites of the presence of God in their midst. It was housed in the innermost part of the tabernacle when the Israelites were in the desert, and later in the innermost room of the temple. It was gold-plated all over, and contained some of the most important objects in Israel’s history as a nation: the tablets with the 10 commandments, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of manna.

Above the ark were two golden angels, whose wings were spread out over it. This is what comprised God’s throne on earth. He told Moses, “There above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22).

The ark meant God was with the nation of Israel. And it was captured by the Philistines.

I love this story because of what happens next. Not knowing where else to put such a sacred and obviously important object, the Philistines stick the ark in their temple. Inside the temple was a statue of their pagan god, Dagon, and when the Philistines come back the next morning, they find their god laying prostrate before the throne of the one true God. Assuming it’s a fluke, they reinstate their god into his place. But the next morning, they find him on the floor as before, and this time his head and hands have broken off.

What a stunning image of the supremacy of our God!

After the statue breaks, the Philistines in Ashdod, where the temple was, suffer a plague of tumors. They realize the ark of God is not something to be trifled with, so they send it to another town. The same thing happens there. So they send it on to another town. Wherever the ark goes in their kingdom, destruction follows.

Finally, they decide that they cannot keep the ark, and they put it on a cart with some offerings to appease God. They hitch up a couple of cows and hope that the ark, by the hand of God, finds its way home.

It does.

The people of Israel cannot contain their joy. And then right before the Bible moves on to the next chapter in Israel’s history, it makes this interesting note: “But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?’” (1 Samuel 6:19-20)

I was thinking about this story during worship at church a couple weeks ago, as I sang about the greatness of God and the great things that he has done. When it comes down to it, God is terrible in his mighty, awesome power.

In this story, everywhere God’s presence went, death and destruction abounded, even in Israel. This happened because God is holy, and glorious, and all-consuming, and we are only sinful humans. And but for Jesus, our approaching the throne of God would result in the same death and destruction that it meant for the Philistines, and those who arrogantly looked into the ark.

But for Jesus.

Church, our sweet Jesus has made a way for us where there was no way – a way right into the presence of our majestic God. When we think of the great things that God has done for us, what even comes close to comparing to this?

And when we approach God with anything other than humility and awe at his grace and his love, are we not acting like those seventy men who were struck down in Beth Shemesh? We have no rights when we stand before God. And yet, he bends his ear to listen to our complaining, and our requests, tolerating our short-sightedness as we build our own kingdoms instead of His.

We must never lose sight of the awesome reality of who God is. Every Sunday, when we come into church, when we dare to ask God to show up in our midst, God has every right to strike us dead where we stand for our audacity in expecting to experience his presence.

Instead, he allows us to clothe ourselves in the blood of Jesus, and experience his nearness to us.

As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart.” (Hebrews 10:19-21)

We can draw near to God. What a privilege! Let’s come to church with that on our minds.