Archive for December, 2008

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Hebrews 12:9

Any discussion about a life of submission in the 21st century has to take into account the growing popularity of Islam. The reason is simply this, the word Islam is derived from the Arabic word “salema”. The common meaning of the word is “submission”. Ultimately it is about submission to Allah who is the supreme deity in Islam. An oft-quoted phrase among Muslims is “insh’Allah”, which translates to “if God wills”. It is indicative of a mindset of submission to God in all things. If tragedy strikes, “insh’Allah”. If something wonderful happens, “insh’Allah”. If your plans are changed due to circumstances out of your control, “insh’Allah”. All of life is seen as being subject to the will of Allah.  

But, like any oft-repeated phrase, especially religious ones, insh’Allah can become a meaningless mantra. For Christians The Lord’s Prayer or even saying “God bless you” after a sneeze come to mind as common examples of phrases with powerful meaning that has been lost in the repetition. One only needs to hear a football team rush through the Lord’s Prayer after a victory, or a congregation say it in a mind-numbing monotone to know what I mean.

Yet in spite of the fact that there are times when such phrases are meaningless because of our human tendency to be shallow and glib, there is still power in such phrases. When they come from the heart, when they express our deepest longing or highest dreams, they become powerful symbols of reality. In some way they even serve to turn those dreams into reality. To pray with all your heart to the Lord that He “forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us” is to in some way bring reality to the prayer. You can’t pray that prayer from your heart and not be in some way changed by it into a more forgiving person. When the mouth speaks from the heart, the heart is in turn made more like the thing spoken.

So when a Muslim says, “If God wills” and does so from the heart, he is saying that he is completely and totally dependent on Allah for all things. It means that his own will as a human being is of no real consequence and the only path to peace in life is to submit to the will of Allah. It is an amazing statement when viewed alongside a western, post-enlightenment mindset, that holds individual freedom and self-determination to be among the most important of all human rights.

That Enlightenment mindset, that has so powerfully influenced Western Christianity, rejects any notion that we should submit ourselves to anyone or anything, even God. It is in part why I think so many are comfortable with a nebulous belief in some unknown supreme being who is out there somewhere. By holding to such a belief it is possible to still claim to believe in God but yet have no need to respond to or certainly not submit to Him. The Deists of the Enlightenment saw God as something of a great watch maker who made the world, wound it up, and then let it run on it’s own. That kind of philosophy has man at the pinnacle and the real power in the world, with no need to submit to God.

A Biblical worldview, certainly as it relates to submission to God, is far closer to the Muslim idea of insh’ Allah than it is to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The previously mentioned Lord’s Prayer is probably the clearest example of this truth. Jesus said that we are to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Jesus echoed this in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was faced with his impending death on the cross and asked if possible that there be some other way, some other cup to drink from. But in true submission to the Father be prayed, “Never the less, not my will, but Thy will be done”.

For some this sounds like a defeatist’s path. It is the path of one who has given up and has no hope. It sounds like the choice of the weak and faint of heart and a choice in which one has resigned oneself to pain and suffering for no reason. If however, we truly understand that our God loves us enough to send Jesus to the Cross and we understand that our God is in fact all wise and the sovereign King of all Creation, then whatever He decrees is in fact the best for us. Instead of us resigning ourselves to His will in an attitude of defeat or depression, we need to embrace His will and the freedom it gives us.

That freedom may just be lure of Islam that Christians must understand. It is something we can have in reality and not in the false way of Islam. There is an amazing comfort that comes when we embrace the fact that our God is sovereign and that our path is to submit to Him. It means that when things are going well we can rejoice and delight in knowing that our God is blessing us by His grace. When things are going badly from our perspective, then it means that we can rest in the comfort of knowing that even though we cannot see or fully understand, we have a God who loves us beyond measure. He is a God who does not abandon us but orders our steps for His purposes and glory. That is true freedom.

 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” Philippians 2:5-7

 

We usually think of the Cross as the sacrifice that Jesus made so that we could be free from the bondage of our sin and all that goes with it. But Christmas is really the place where we see the first sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We don’t find it so much in what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us about that birth, but rather in the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Philippians.  

Think of what Jesus had prior to coming into the world. Paul calls it, “equality with God”. Jesus was one with the Father with all the glory, splendor, power, holiness, and delight that goes with being God. He was on the receiving end of the worship of all creation. He was literally in heaven. But He did not consider for a moment hanging on to all of that. He willingly gave it up for us. He not only gave it up, but exchanged it to be born into the world as a frail, helpless, totally dependent baby, son of an unwed mother, in a backwater village ruled by a army of occupation. He set aside His omnipotence, and omnipresence. He laid aside His splendor and majesty. No longer was he wrapped in glorious, marvelous light, but rather in homespun clothe common to every baby in the land. No longer would He be on the receiving end of the serving of the angels but rather He would be the humble one, taking on the form of a servant for us. He went from living in the palace to serving in the barn. 

I don’t think we can even begin to grasp what a sacrifice He made for us 30 years before even going to the cross. But we can get a hint in a rather surprising story. It is in John 11:35 when we are told “Jesus wept”. He was standing at the entrance to the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had died a few days earlier. The people standing around think that Jesus weeps out of grief because his friend had died. I’m not so sure. For starters, Jesus more than anyone would have understood that Lazarus was in heaven and free of pain and sorrow. He would also have known for certain that he would see Lazarus again soon in heaven.

So why the weeping? The clue is found in Luke 16. Of all the parable that Jesus told, with dozens and dozens of characters in them, only one is ever given a name. Usually they are just referred to as, “a certain man”, or “a father”, or “a woman”, or “a Samaritan”. But in Luke 16  Jesus speak of a very poor man who suffered much in life. Jesus gives this poor man the name Lazarus. Lazarus was a sickly man who begged for his living each day and was ignored by “a certain rich man”. Both of them died, the rich man going to Hades and Lazarus going to paradise. I wonder if Jesus didn’t name the poor man in the parable, Lazarus as a way to honor his friend Lazarus who died in John 11. 

Why would Jesus honor his friend this way? It is the same reason that he weeps at his friends grave. Jesus knew more than anyone what he was asking Lazarus to give up by being raised from the dead. Jesus knew the splendor and joy that Lazarus was experiencing in heaven at that moment. He knew it because it was his entire experience before being born in that stable. I wonder if Jesus didn’t weep because of the sacrifice he was asking Lazarus to make. The thought of forcing someone to give up the overwhelming joy of being in the very presence of the Father caused Jesus to weep for his friend. He knew what he was asking because he first made that same sacrifice himself. He made it for you and for me. 

Blessings to you this Christmas. May the sacrifice Jesus made for you fill you with wonder and thanks and may it cause you to have His same mind, that you consider others more important than yourself and thus honor Him who is the Lord.

Merry Christmas

Dan

Okay, shameless self promotion time! Recently I was asked to write an article for Church Solutions Magazine about the use of the internet in Christian ministry. The article has been published as part of their online magazine and will appear in the print version in March. So here is the link to the online version. 

http://www.churchsolutionsmag.com/articles/using-online-church-for-outreach.html

When love is seen as nothing more than a fleeting emotion that we can’t control, that we fall in and out of, and that comes and goes in a completely arbitrary way, then it is impossible to obey the command of Jesus to love our enemies. So either something is seriously wrong with our understanding of love, or something is seriously wrong with Jesus. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? So exactly what was it that Jesus said?

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

Jesus gives us a command that directs how we are to treat people with whom we have major conflicts. He does this in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount in which he has already told us that when we are sued for one thing, we should willingly give up even more. He also said that when someone forces us to do go a mile in order to serve them that we should volunteer to go an extra mile. It is a series of statements about the need to sacrifice our own comfort, position and avoid emotional knee jerk reactions in order to demonstrate a Christ-like character. The command to love our enemies is one more example in that chain.

Although love certainly has an emotional facet to it, it is also a verb, an action that we are to carry out. When Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church by laying down His life for her” he doesn’t say to do that only when they have warm, fuzzy feelings for their wife. He is saying that we love someone by the way we treat them, no matter how we feel about them. One way of understanding what Jesus is saying when He tells us to love our enemies is that we are to “be loving” by showing them the kindness that we would want shown to us. Jesus is including even our enemies in the definition of who the neighbor is that we are to love. We are to love them as we love ourselves.

He goes on to tell us to pray for those who persecute us. Your first emotional reaction might be to pray that God strikes them down and vindicates you. But when Jesus tells us to pray for those enemies who persecute us, He is telling us to pray that God blesses them. He is telling us to pray that God pours His grace upon them and leads them to a relationship with Him. He is telling us to pray for them in a way that love demands.

In doing this Jesus says we will show that we are children of our heavenly Father. That is what this is all about. How we respond to our enemies should demonstrate who God is. Our own feelings of anger and revenge and hurt are inconsequential compared to the opportunity we have to show people who our Father is and bring Him glory. 

Several years ago I was faced with a person who said and did some things that unjustly caused incredible pain for me and my family. My desire was to strike back but somehow God’s grace kept me from doing that. When his own life started to spin out of control and fall apart I did all I could to show him grace and mercy whenever I ran into him in the community. After two years he got in touch with me to ask forgiveness. He was trying to get his life back in order and get right with God. He told me that the grace I showed him was crucial in causing him to admit his own sin and turn back to Jesus. It was the love of Christ that made the difference. I could have reacted out of my emotion of hurt and anger or I could have acted with the love of Christ. Letting the love of Christ come through saved me from a life of bitterness and him from a life of estrangement from God. 

What motivated me time and again in that situation was the realization that such grace was exactly how God treated me when I was His enemy. The Bible makes it clear that prior to coming to faith in Christ, I was God’s enemy. Yet Jesus prayed for me in John 17 and demonstrated ultimate love by going to the Cross. If that is what Jesus did for me when I was His enemy, how much more should I show His love to fellow human beings who are my enemies? To deny that love to them is to deny the Cross in my own life. To refuse to pray that God bless those who persecute me is to deny that I am a child of my Father, it is to deny God the glory due Him.

Recently I was witness to evidence of that amazing transformation from Communism to Democracy that has been experienced in Ukraine. As a former Soviet Republic the people of Ukraine spent seventy years under communist domination. Since the break up of the Soviet Union there has been a great deal of political turmoil in Ukraine as the people of the country struggle to learn democracy. In a microcosm I saw a group of Christian leaders putting what they have learned thus far into practice.

In a conference outside the capital city of Kiev a group of nearly thirty leaders of churches and various mission agencies had gathered to discuss the future of Christianity in their newly democratic country. Since the fall of Communism they had experienced what for them was unprecedented religious freedom. Countless groups from the west had flooded Ukraine in an effort to help strengthen the church. Some of those efforts were helpful and some clearly were not. Now these leaders, many of whom had known Jesus less than ten years, were taking responsibility for the future of their country and church.

They came up with a list of nearly two dozen issues that people around the table felt needed to be addressed if Christianity was to thrive in their country. It was then that I witnessed something that I am certain caused Stalin to turn over in his grave. They voted on every single suggestion in order to discover what priorities where most important. I sat in wonder as I realized that these people were only a few years removed from a time when such a vote would have been unthinkable and possibly dangerous. It was amazing and wonderful to see people taking ownership of the situation and respecting the ideas and opinions and votes of others around the table. Clearly a bridge had been crossed into the future. To have such freedom to determine ones future, to do it with out fear of reprisal, to live with a sense of dignity that your opinion and vote matter, is a blessed privilege.

But that also got me thinking. What are the dangers of Democracy? A wise person must recognize that even their greatest strengths can come with a blind spot that has the potential for ruin. Superman has superhuman strength because he is from another planet. But that also carries with it the seeds of his potential destruction. Kryptonite, which comes from his home planet, can drain his strength to the point of making him weaker than the weakest human. No matter how strong, good, powerful, talented, or gifted we are we must always be aware of the hidden dangers of that gift and the blind spot we have concerning it.

So what’s the hidden danger in democracy? For the Christian it is this; we don’t live in a democracy. We are citizens of a land that is an absolute monarchy. It is the Kingdom of God. It means that God is the ultimate sovereign ruler of that kingdom and all who live within it. It means that I don’t get a vote in what really matters. It means that I am the subject of the King and I owe Him my allegiance and obedience. That’s a hard thing for people who live and breathe the air of democracy from birth. Our freedom to do what we want, when we want, how we want and to change rulers we don’t like is so much a part of our cultural DNA that most people who live in western style democracies don’t even realize the danger they are in. The danger is that we marginalize God and act as if we are the masters of our lives and fate and not He who is our king.

We have been born and raised in a culture that thinks the highest possible value is to be placed on our freedom to decide for ourselves what we want. That includes deciding who is in charge. In fact democracy has built within it the notion that we have the right to reject any ruler and that the large group has wisdom far beyond that of the individual or small group of leaders. In the best of circumstances democracy protects people against the tyrant or complete incompetent who would bring ruin on a people or nation. But at its worst it means we reserve the right to vote God out of our lives. As a Christian you might not take a formal vote on it, but you certainly do it with regular decisions you make in which you fail to submit to your King.  I know I do and I am pretty sure you are just like me.

The thing that seems to be at the heart of it all goes back to the beginning when Adam and Eve rejected God and His law. They believed that by eating the forbidden fruit, they could become like God, that they would rise up to some new level of freedom. They would become His equals: democracy in action. They did not want to submit, even to God. Neither do we most times. We don’t want to submit to our spouses, our parents, our employers, our rulers, or even our Lord. Yet the Bible calls us to submit to all of those and it does so on numerous occasions.

We justify our failure to submit by affirming our own freedom to do, as we want and by painting submission as somehow being degrading and subhuman. I contend that it is failure to submit to God and one another that is in fact what makes us “sub-human”. We were created to be in a relationship with God that had us under His rule as our Lord and King. The first time we took a vote, we voted to remove Him from the throne of our lives. When that happened we became less than we were created to be. That is what I mean by becoming sub-human. We became slaves of our own “democratic choice”. The only way out of the dilemma in which we find ourselves is to submit completely and totally to Him as Lord.

Imagine being convinced that God wants you to make a difference in the lives of other people by giving up your wedding ring. My friend Ali Eastburn was faced with just that situation. Ali learned about the desperate need for clean water in western Africa. People were dying every day because of unclean water when a well could be drilled and save lives. She also learned that the cost of her diamond ring could possibly drill a well and save an entire village. Then she was confronted with the fact that many so called “blood diamonds” come from that region. Blood diamonds get their name because so many people die in the mining and trafficking of illegal diamonds. It only seemed right that her diamond should be redeemed to drill a well and save a village.

As she thought more about it, Ali was inspired to begin a ministry called “With This Ring”. The concept is brilliant in its simplicity. She sold her ring and partnered with a ministry that drills wells for villages in need. She then began talking to others about her idea and people began to give her their wedding rings to turn into cash for wells. I saw Ali speak to a group of people a few months ago and after she was done, women started walking up to her with tears in their eyes. They took of their rings and asked her to use them to save the lives of people in Africa.

A few weeks ago she returned from her second trip to Ghana in less than a year. She was there to insure that the next few wells were drilled but more importantly to tell people about Jesus. She got more than she bargained for. Hygiene is almost non-existent in the area were she was. She said it was the most unhealthy environment she has ever encountered. People suffer from serious cases of Guinea Worms which infect open sores, the local shaman practices “bleeding” of people as a way to “cure” them. She was faced with at least one case of leprosy and a young girl with a broken foot who the shaman kept bleeding in order to heal. Ali ended up providing basic medical care to clean the girls open wounds made by the shaman and within a few days was overwhelmed with parents bringing their children to her. As a result of her being there she was able to make a connection with a medical college that is now adding that village as a required place for students to do volunteer work.

In little over a year With This Ring has raised 100,000 dollars and drilled numerous wells and started several churches in northern Ghana. The goal is 160,000 and 30 wells. The ministry of church planting, medical care, hygiene training and loving people in Jesus name is making an impact. It is saving lives and bringing people to Him.

Oh and if you were wondering, Ali replaced the diamond ring she gave to drill a well, with a plain band bought at Target for less than $20. It works just as well and actually means more to her than the original diamond did.

One thing I love about what Ali has done is that a ministry like this is truly provocative. People will want to know why you sold your ring. They will want to know what motivated such a sacrifice of something that has not only monetary but also emotional value. It is that kind of provocative behavior that opens the door for conversations about Jesus. I think it is the kind of thing that makes Him smile. I wonder, what provocative thing is God whispering in your ear that will make a difference for Him.

Please check out Ali’s web site and see if God doesn’t touch your heart to get involved.

http://www.withthisring.org/

The cover story for the upcoming December 15th issue is titled, “Our Mutual Joy”. The subtitle contends that the Bible is actually supportive of gay marriage and that opponents of gay marriage don’t understand what the Bible teaches. While I will admit that many opponents of gay marriage don’t understand what the Bible teaches, after reading the article it is clear that supporters of gay marriage don’t either. I went to the article expecting it to wrestle honestly with the biblical texts that usually get debated when talking about homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.

Much of the article is a look at two things that really are not relevant to the title or the issue of gay marriage. One is examples from history when people used the Bible to justify things that were wrong, the south and slavery prior to the Civil War loom large here. The fact that people in the past used the Bible to falsely support a position, while a good warning to us to not do the same today, does not have any bearing on the substance of the issue. Just because a theologian in 1850 used the Bible to justify the owning of slaves and was wrong, does not mean that in 2008 a theologian is automatically wrong to use the Bible to condemn homosexual practice.

The second issue comes up when the article also correctly points out that examples of a solid marriage between one man and one woman are hardly common in the Bible and that in fact polygamy was common in the Old Testament.  But here is another common mistake made when people deal with the Bible. In an ironic twist, it is the same mistake that many supporters of slavery made in the past. They look at the narrative portions, the stories told in the Bible about everyday life and elevate them above the clear teaching passages that are supposed to guide us to the ideal behavior in life. It is the mistake of taking the “descriptive” and making it “prescriptive”. Another example of this in the article is when it pulls into the discussion the fact that Jesus was never married and neither was Paul. While I commend the willingness to go against the flow of current conspiracy theorists who are sure Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, Jesus or Paul being single has nothing to say about what a marriage is or should be.  And it is certainly not an argument, as is implied, that marriage is not to be held up as some virtuous institution.

The article does deal with some of the relevant texts from the Bible. But at times it does so in a way that lacks credibility. In referring to some of the clearest statements that define homosexual behavior as sin, those in Leviticus 18 and 20, the author dismisses these passages as “throw away lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world.” If you did not know what the rest of Leviticus 18 and 20 deal with you would think from that statement that they are full of things that have no relevance what so ever for modern people living in America in the 21st century. Nothing could be further from the truth. The rest of those chapters forbids things like having sex with your son or daughter. That is hardly a throw away line only relevant for ancient Jews. It also forbids having sex with some other person’s spouse or with your sister or brother, all things that still today even the most irreligious among us do not condone.  These verses have great bearing on the position Christians should hold. One can not deal with them simply by dismissing them.

There are other passages that are brought into the article that have a bearing on the subject. Unfortunately not in the way the author presents them. The goal of using these other texts seems to be to show that the biblical mandate to love our neighbor should somehow translate into acceptance of gay marriage. I quote, “In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins..” The author then goes on to reference Jesus speaking to the woman at the well. She is a woman who has had many husbands and even now is living with a man to whom she is not married. This is seen as evidence of “Christ’s all-encompassing love”.

Here is the heart of the problem, Christian and non-Christian alike fail to make a distinction between how we are to love others and at the same time hold to standards of behavior that people fail to live up to. Many Christians want to hold to a standard of behavior when it comes to sin, including homosexuality, but they fail to live up to the standard given by Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. Many others want to simply accept and love people just as they are and not expect any adherence to a life that tries to live with some measure of holiness. I have three sons. I love each of them deeply, but if one of them lies, or steals, or fails to show compassion to another person, I don’t ignore the behavior in some twisted demonstration of love. Instead as a sign of my love for them I go to them and with all the grace and mercy I can muster, I tell them what they should do and how they should change, repent, for Jesus.

The article rightly calls on us to show the love of Christ to everyone. The provocative Christian life is one that does just that. We are all in the same boat in that we are sinners in need of the grace and mercy and love of God. If you are a Christian you first experienced that grace, mercy, and love in another person whom God was working through. You must, absolutely must be willing to pass that on to others. Our churches should be filled with homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, liars and cheats. Actually they already are; it’s us. Maybe if we were a little more willing to admit our own sin we would be able to be more loving to other sinners and they would want to be around us. You see we will not change the world by being holier-than-thou and spouting slogans or protesting lifestyles. We will help change the world by fulfilling the command Jesus gave us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus had an open heart for the outcast, the sinner, the rejected of society. He loved them. But he also challenged them to live differently. There was another story of Jesus and a woman that completes the picture. It is the woman caught in adultery in John 8, just four chapters after the aforementioned woman at the well. In John 8, Jesus shows incredible love and mercy to the woman. So much so that her accusers leave in disgrace. But in His closing line to the woman, as He says, “neither do I condemn you” He finishes by saying, “Go and sin no more”.

Here is a link to the Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/172653/

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23 & 24

When Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she asked a question about worship that was much like those we ask today. We ask what worship style or liturgy is the right one, what music is the most godly, what kind of space is the most holy. She was asking where the right place to worship really was. The Samaritans said it was on a mountain in their territory. The Jews said only in the Temple in Jerusalem could people really worship God. Jesus makes it clear that her question about where the right place to worship might be is a meaningless question. It is not important at all. What is important according to Jesus, is that we worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

Much has been written on just what Jesus meant by Spirit and Truth and in the days ahead I’ll add a few hundred more words to that topic. But that is not what I deal with here. What amazes me in this passage is that Jesus said that the Father is looking for people to be His worshipers. What an amazing statement. Our heavenly Father is actually seeking people who will worship Him. At first glance from a human point of view that seems like a rather self-centered and even egotistical statement. It has even caused some to wonder if there is some psychological need that God has to be worshiped and that He is in fact a bit emotionally unhinged because of it.

It must be understood that God does not “need” us for anything. He is complete in and of Himself and we can add nothing to who He is. He is not lacking in anything. He has no emotional deficit that causes Him to need us to bow down to Him. God does not need our worship. But we need to worship God. That is the point. We were created to be in a relationship with God. It is a relationship in which we are to love and adore Him with all we are and all we have.

Ever since our fall into sin that relationship of love, adoration, and worship with God has been broken. We have not worshiped God with all we have and with all we are. And that is the problem. We need to worship. We were created to be worshiping beings. Our fulfillment can come only if we are in fact worshiping God to the fullest. But the impact of sin is that we don’t worship God in that way and instead attempt to find our fulfillment by worship something, anything, other than God. If there is any universal character trait found among human beings it is that we will worship something. It may be a totem pole, or a Hindu god, or material wealth, or fame, or sex, but we all worship something. By worship I mean that thing that we all long for and make choices in our lives to have or to serve. Satan has capitalized on our need to worship and uses that to lead us into destructive relationships with false gods.

In his incredible love for us, the Father sent the Son into the world in order to seek out for Himself people who would live fulfilled lives as true worshipers. Far from being an act that served to fulfill a need in His life, God sent the Son in order to fulfill a need in our lives. We need to worship. We will worship something, anything, even if it destroys us in the process. When Jesus came to save us it was not just to save us from sin, but to save us from destroying ourselves by worshiping a counterfeit god. It may be in part what is behind the first of the Ten Commandments that we will have no other God by the Lord Himself. It is a command for our own fulfillment and safety.

I find it at times to be an overwhelming thought that in spite of my predeliction to worship things that would ultimately destroy me, God in his mercy and love risked it all to draw me into a relationship of worship with Him. He gives me another chance to fulfill my created purpose and find ultimate joy and satisfaction. He came looking for me so that I could finally be a worshiper of Him. Not because He needs me to worship Him, but because I need me to worship Him.

For centuries Christianity in the western world has been infected by a disease. It was transmitted to us by some of the most important and influential thinkers in the history of Western Civilization. Chief among them would be the Greek Philosopher Plato. But quick on his heals would be Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle held a view of the world that essentially saw the spiritual world as good and the physical world as bad. The ideal is the spiritual. Everything that is physical is base and tainted and to be overcome.

The church took this philosophy and combined it with a false understanding of what the Bible, meant when it spoke of the flesh and the sinfulness of the flesh. Instead of understanding “the flesh” as meaning the sinful inclination that we all have as we live in the world, many people taught that anything having to do with the body and the physical world was bad. It didn’t help the situation any when the professional clergy allowed and even promoted a thinking and mindset that saw religious vocation as being spiritual and Godly and other vocations as being worldly even if necessary for this life.

Well it doesn’t take much of a leap to arrive at a place where Christians believed that those activities that are directly related to “church” functions are spiritual and other activities are worldly. Eventually pastors, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox were seen, as the people doing real spiritual work and Christians who functioned in the work-a-day world were not. In the process we lost the understanding that everyone has a calling from God, not just those “called to ministry”.

There was a time when what someone did as their occupation was known as “their calling”. If you were a blacksmith then that was your calling. If you were a mechanic, or mother, or a seamstress, or butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, that was your calling. We used a term that made this clear. We said that what you did in your job was your “vocation”. It comes from the same root as the word vocal. It was understood that God had in some way spoken and called you to that vocation. In addition, he wired you in some way so that you could be good at that calling.

This dualist world of a sacred arena and a secular arena was not what God created. God created a physical universe. In that physical universe he placed physical human beings. When He looked across all that He had created He did not say, “Well that’s not too bad. It is not as wonderful as the spiritual realm I have made, but it is not too bad”. Far from it, instead God looked out over all that His hands had made and he said that is good. In fact all during the creation process, at each step along the way, God pronounced each individual piece as good. When He finished with the whole thing He didn’t just say it was good. He looked at the physical world and said it was VERY GOOD!

Perhaps the most important demonstration God gives us that the physical world is not bad or evil or inherently sinful is to be found in Jesus Christ. God came into the world as the man Jesus. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was fully a man, facing all things as we do yet without falling to sin and at the same time fully God. He claimed equal authority with the Father, to forgive sins, to be worshipped, even to lay claim to ownership of the Temple. Theologians call the doctrine of the Son becoming man, The Incarnation. It gets defined as meaning “to be in the flesh”. The key root word is familiar to any lover of a good thick bowl of chili con carne. It is chili with meat. The incarnation is the biblical doctrine that God came and took on or became meat. It doesn’t get more material, physical, or fleshly than that. If there physical world as somehow inherently evil and the spiritual was the only good, then the incarnation would have never happened. Jesus would not have gone to the cross for our sin. And we would be destined to an eternal punishment.

But it was not just that Jesus became flesh that breaks down the sacred/secular divide. We also need to remember that Jesus only spent three years “doing ministry”. He spent eighteen years doing “secular” work. He fulfilled the calling of being a carpenter. What he did as a carpenter was good. He did it in obedience to the calling the Father had placed on his life. He did it as an act of worship. It is no different in your life. What you do serving in some identified area of “ministry” is important. But what you do in service to God in the marketplace, the school, the community group, or your home is also sacred. It is something that God has called you to for His glory, the praise of His name, and the expanding of His kingdom.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus
Colossians 2:17

One cold and snowy winter weekend a group of people from North Park church outside Pittsburgh went away for a retreat that focused on spiritual disciplines. The setting was a local convent that rented out space for such things. I don’t remember a whole lot about that weekend. I do remember it was cold. There are also vague images of lots of candles, John Michael Talbot music in the background, and a time of communion that was done very quietly and it was cold. Did I mention that it was cold? The cold was an important part of the weekend because it set the backdrop for something I learned in a most profound way. No matter what you do, it can and should be an act of worship to God. It should be done in the name of Jesus, for His glory, for His honor, to the praise of His name.

The nuns at this convent raised honeybees. One afternoon there was a nun out by the beehives. Her traditional black nuns habit made for a stark contrast to the snow and ice on the ground. As she was tending the beehives she noticed something on the snow at her feet. Bending over she made a cup with her hands and scooped up a seemingly frozen and dead honeybee. With great tenderness she actually spoke to the bee and then blew ever so gently on it with her warm breath. There she stood in the cold and snow, patiently, gently, breathing warmth and life into the bee. After a few minutes and many soft and gentle wisps of breath, the warmth that she blew on the bee revived it. It began to stir. As the tiny wings gave evidence of buzzing movement she eased it towards the opening from which it had fallen and ushered it back inside the familiar and protective surroundings of the hive.

Many people watching that scene would have observed a woman in funny clothes risking getting stung by a bee that would never have been missed out of a hive of tens of thousands. Others would have paid her no attention in the first place. Maybe it was the spiritual emphasis of the weekend, or maybe it was her demeanor as she worked. Most likely it was a bit of both, but those of us who observed her saw an act of worship. This was a woman who projected a sense that no matter what she did, saying prayers, singing songs, reading scripture, or breathing life back into a honeybee, all of life was an act of worship, lived for the glory of God.

Clearly the Bible calls us to worship God. But just what does that mean? For most Christians worship is something that happens for an hour on Sunday when we gather with other Christians in a building designed for worship and sing songs to and about Him.  The songs seem to be the important component. Worship leaders will even introduce the time of singing my saying things like, “Now let’s stand and worship together”. Even the language of the people attending shows what we mean by worship. We tell people that we are going to worship, not at all meaning that we are about to let everything we do and say be done in the name of the Lord, but meaning that we are going to the specific time and place of worship. I have even heard people ask, “Have you worshiped this week” meaning did you attend one of those specific events. The unintended implication being that unless you had, then you could not have really worshiped God yet this week.

Others may have expanded the definition and see worship as the singing of songs to God no matter where you are and what time of the week it is. They may even see a regular time of being alone with God as a time of worship. That time may also include reading God’s Word and praying. Certainly that is a step in the right direction. But it is not enough. We must see worship as more than an activity that is somehow confined to a particular place or time or set of behaviors. We must begin to see worship more from the standpoint of our identity and not simply our activity.

When Paul told the Colossians that they were to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus he gave us an impossible task. It is impossible if it can only be accomplished by intentionally determining at every moment of every activity, how we can do that in the Lord’s name. We would end up spending the entirety of our lives trying to figure out just how to do each and every activity in the name of Jesus and probably have no room for actually doing each thing.

The only way to do all that we do in the Lord’s name is to have an orientation of our lives towards His glory. It must be something that is so embedded within us that we are automatically oriented towards bringing glory to Jesus. It has a great deal to do with love. When I really love my wife it takes little to no effort to demonstrate that, even in the mundane things of life. So when I do the dishes or make dinner, or send her a card or flowers, those things come out of the overflow of a heart that is lived towards her. It happens because she is in my thoughts and my heart. The same is true with our worship of God. Our love for Him should be such that even in the mundane things of life we do them with Him in mind. We do them in such a way as to please and honor Him. Putting a bee back in the hive is done out of the overflow of a heart that loves God. Serving the poor, tutoring a student, fixing a broken drain pipe, going to the gym, eating Thanksgiving leftovers, all become acts of worship when we do them in Jesus name and for His glory. Maybe that is in some way at the heart of what Jesus meant when he said that by serving the least among us we really serve Him. Such things are acts of worship done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.