Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Victoria Osteen: I Missed the Point

Disclaimer: This is an issue I recognized in myself, and I have noticed I ambit alone in doing. When I say we I don’t not lump everyone into this group. Simply those who realize they fall into it. What Victoria Osteen said was entirely wrong and contrary to who God is. In no way is this condoning what she said, and I pray she recognizes her wrong doing, confesses, and turns away from it. Due to concerns that were brought to my attention, the first three paragraphs of this post have been heavily edited. I apologize to anyone who felt I needlessly pointed my finger at them.

I realize I am behind the ball on this frenzy topic. Many have done a very good job and helping people to see why Victoria was profoundly wrong in what she said. I appreciate people speaking out against that because it really did need to be said. I almost jumped right in, but I began to wonder if I was missing a little bit of a bigger picture.

Victoria was wrong in what she said. Plain and simple. I didn’t really say much for a while for two reasons. Everyone and their dog was pointing out how horribly wrong she was. It just became echoes of the same message, and my clone echo would have felt like white noise to me. It has been filled with individuals preaching to the masses of a choir that they already belonged to. The second reason is because I was waiting to see if anyone else when beginning to wonder what I had after thinking things over a little more. If they had then I missed it. If anyone reads this has seen this point brought up in detail then I would love for you to share.

We missed the point though. The issue is that while Victoria was wrong, she stated bluntly what many actually believe (including myself more often than not) with their actions in regards to worship. I believe we have missed a golden opportunity to tackle a real issue that rampantly exists outside of Osteen’s church. This attitude has slipped into congregation everywhere.

No one needs to wander too far to find a church where what happens in worship is a hot debate. The music is to slow/fast, to quiet/noisy, to traditional/contemporary, etc. At the root of most of these debates you find the arguments of, this is not how we used to do it, this makes us uncomfortable, I can’t worship easily this way. With each argument we layer it in the simple context of stating either that this would glorify God, or this won’t glorify God, but the reason for it is based entirely on what makes us feel good. If I am comfortable in my worship then that is what is important in worship.

Do you see the problem? We always seek to worship in a way that makes us profoundly comfortable. It is not accident that one of the biggest debates in church is the form of worship an element that is supposed to be directed towards God, but we have managed to mutate into being at the core of how we personally feel.

This isn’t an argument for on style over the other of worship. This is not even an argument to force people to learn to get over their tradition and accept change. It is a cry out for people to actuality wake up and see what has happened. Victoria voiced a feeling that has been rampant in local churches all over for decades, but no one was willing to really say it. We always hid it under arguments of saying what we believe God would be most pleased with.

I can’t say it is wrong to want to worship God in a way that feels natural to you. There is nothing wrong with hymns, but there is plenty wrong with withholding God’s money from your wallet and God’s service form you when you feel uncomfortable that your church is not doing enough of them. There is nothing wrong with contemporary music, but there is plenty wrong with not paying closer attention to people who hunger for doctrine in their worship, and forcing an older generation to be silent for the sake of making your worship feel more comfortable all the time by being more energetic.

That is the real issue though. We focus on worship as something to make us feel inherently comfortable. Since when was anything in the Christian life supposed to feel comfortable 100% of the time. True worship is something very much uncomfortable. It is imperfect beings expressing their joy, gratitude, respect, and adoration for the incredible perfect being. Something so whole and complete that our minds fail to fathom His true essence. A being so perfect that made Isaiah cry out and all uncomfortableness and fear for being unclean next to creatures made so gloriously by Him. A being so bright and pure that it made Moses face shine and Israel fear viewing his presence because he had simply been in the presence of God. This is a being so powerful that men and women weep when overwhelmed by his presence in worship.

What is with this nonsense of worship being comfortable? Since when did expressing joy, delight, adoration, and wonder require us to be 100% comfortable? What does this mean? Does this mean we have to throw away how we currently worship? Not necessarily. What it does mean is we need to focus more on worshipping and delighting in a perfect being being, and less on what makes us comfortable.

I can’t tell you how this should change things for you because that would defeat the purpose. What I will say is maybe we should stop before yacking a little more about how wrong Victoria was in what she said and contemplate if the true essence of what she said has managed to creep into our lives. It’s easy to cast out a lie that is bluntly stated as a lie. It is much harder to face the lie that lies in the shadow of a fake truth.

Secondary Gods

We don’t understand the whole idolatry issue very well. It is a common issue. There is a reason why commandments against idolatry were so common in Scripture. It was clearly a weak point for Israel. They always seemed to have way to much fun worshipping other gods and indulge in worshipful acts towards them. Idolatry was rampant in their culture.

We think we are better today. We love Jesus. We go to church. We attend church events. Maybe we lead a Bible study. We put lots of energy into worshipping God. How then could we struggle with idolatry. Funny thing, Israel was the same way. No seriously, Israel kept worshipping God, they just enjoyed throwing other things into the mix.

Why did Joshua have his famous “choose now whom you will serve” speech? Israel was worshipping God, but they still had these other idols hanging around. Maybe they viewed them as a safety net. Maybe it was born at of superstition. Perhaps it was just rooted around familiarity. They worshipped God though. The worship of God does not negate the risk of idolatry. This statement may be earth shattering for some.

Israel kept having this issue though. Even some of the best kings who would clean up the kingdom would still leave remnants of idolatry. Some of the biggest revivals in Israel still never quite finished the job. Elijah had to call fire to come down from heaven in an effort to tell Israel that they had to stop worshipping other gods alongside the one true God.

We may be worshipping God, but that doesn’t mean we are not committing idolatry. What else are we worshipping with our time and energy? What else are we depending on to get us through in life? What else are we going to for comfort and support?

It’s not just that God wants your worship; He wants to be the only focus of your worship. Anything less is coming up short. That is hard for us to swallow. We don’t like talking about the jealousy of God because in human terms it is often such a negative characteristic to have. Human jealousy is born out of selfishness. It is often petty and it is always undeserving. God is worthy of all of our worship though. He is worthy of our attention.

What other gods do you have in your life to worship alongside God? We can’t use the involved Christian excuse. That does not make us immune. It does not free us form needing to do some soul searching into our own lives. What do you need to have change?

Idols in the church

There are plenty of things we can make idols in our lives. Pretty much anything can have the potential of being an idol. I often find that there are things within Christianity and the church itself that we can often run the risk of setting up as idols in our lives. I would like to talk about a few of those briefly. I think it is crucial to be reminded of the risks.

1. A specific local church. Being involved in a local church is crucial. Enjoying being a part of that church is important. It is healthy to like your church, but sometimes we can run the risk of thinking all other churches pale in comparison, and that all members of other churches just don’t get it as good as we do. When we need to move away from that church family we always set it up on a pedestal looking for a church that can top it, and be like it in every single way. God’s church is more than just your local church.

2. Church programs. How much is your church our ministry doing? Are you having at least 2/3 events a month? If not then you better get on that because an active event church is a church that is spiritually healthy. Sometimes we can get so involved in doing church that we leave God on the sidelines.

3. Your pastor. This is such a dangerous one. I love preaching and teaching. It is something I absolutely love doing, and hope to do it for years to come. If you take everything I say as gospel though then we have a problem. That should be the case no matter who your pastor is. Seek God for yourself. Don’t just trust your pastor’s sermons to get you through life no matter how good they are. You may not realize this is the case, but think of the false teachers in this world who have people who follow them blindly. They have made their pastor their God. It always leads to pain and sorrow.

4. Worship style. This is probably one of the biggest emotional charged arguments in local churches today. Everyone has their preference. My preference admittedly changes. I have gone through times where I prefer the really loud, emotionally charged, energy crazed worship. I have also gone through seasons where I really just prefer quiet, methodical, meditating worship. Through all of that I have come to understand this much, if you demand for others to follow your worship style then you have severely tarnished the purpose of worship. Worship is not about us. There is no right style for worship. Chances are none of our styles today look anything like it did in the early church. We need to care more about the words, and the intent of our heart than what kind of beat is going on. This means we can’t assume hymns are automatically boring just because they are quiet. It also means you can’t assume louder music is less godly just because it does not match your personal tastes. That being said, we all have preferences and I always encourage people to make sure they find ways to be in a setting regularly where they can worship in a way that feels natural and comfortable for them. It is sad that this is the point I spend the most time talking about on this list when it should be such a small issue, unfortunately this is one of the most common idols in the church today on all sides of the argument.

5. A minor theological/doctrinal view. Sometimes we try and cram more needs into the gospel message then are really there. We make theological issues the issue. It always saddens me when I see someone who cares more about converting a Christian to their view on a certain interpretation of Scripture than they do reaching the lost with the gospel. Not only does it sadden me, but it continues to remain one of the most embarrassing acts one can perform for God’s church. Taking an interpretation of God’s word and making it an idol in your life is a low point.

6. A Bible version. Now this one may feel a bit outdated, but it is still pretty strong depending where you are. Everyone has a personal preference on what Bible translation works best for them. Preference is ok. Preference is even a good thing. It gets sticky though when you assume all other translations are inferior. Now there are some translations that are more accurate than others in terms of straight from the original language. If someone were to ask me what version would be good for a hardcore study on a topic in Scripture then there are some version I would suggest over others, but in the end most translations can be good to use for studying God’s word. There may be a couple I would not recommend, but in general this really shouldn’t be an issue. If you assume there is only one English version of Scripture that is inspired by God then you have created an idol. Ironically we see this happen the most with the King James version of the Bible. Sadly it is also one of the hardest to use for hardcore study since the translators cared more about showing off the English language than being careful to preserve the exact meaning of words in the text. There are other translations today that are arguably more faithful to the original text than the King James version. Don’t divine authority as an excuse for tradition and preference.

7. The biggest idol is you. What can the church do for me in my time of need. What can I get out of Christianity that will make me happy. What programs does this church have that I think I would enjoy? How energetic is this preacher so that I don’t need to work too hard at paying attention to his sermons? We all need to find a church family that we can connect with. It is those connections that help us grow, but we must not be so focused on ourselves that we forget the purpose of God’s church. Often we just become selfish and look for what we can gain from a church family. If everyone looks to take but never put anything in, then pretty quickly there is nothing for anyone to receive.

Delight in worship

Have you ever felt like you are not in the mood to worship while singing some songs during church? Sometimes I can be in a worship service and am just not feeling worshipful. The mood feels off to me. Maybe I am not a huge fan of the song. Maybe I just find it to be a little boring today. Maybe I am sitting next to someone who is singing off key. Perhaps I am distracted by something else that was going on earlier in the week. Sometimes I am just frustrated at life and God.

I find I focus on myself a good deal when worshiping God. My worship time easily revolves around how best to work around my needs and emotions. I say the word, but my heart and mind are somewhere else. There is no feeling or passion. There is a lack of genuine worship taking place.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:8-9)

Do my words to God match up with my heart? Who am I focusing on when I worship? I can be so selfish in my time of worship. I worship when I feel close to God. I worship when I feel like He is there for me. I worship to make myself feel good. I want an emotional high. I want to feel connected to God. Rarely is it ever about giving Him honor and praise.

When was the last time you worshipped God, and just told Him how worthy He is? God is never unworthy of our praise. You can never give God more praise than He deserves. God does not just want us to say the right words. God is calling us out on the heart issue. He wants us to be worshipping with our hearts.

My worship needs to stop being focused on how good I feel. It needs to stop being about the type of music I personally like. It needs to stop being about me. We have taken over worship and made it about us. It is not just the big band that performs a show with lights and smoke. It is found in all kinds of churches. It is found in the small country church that just has the woman leading in some hymns. It is found in the church with the full band. It is found in the church that opts out of the “traditional” form of worship through music. No matter how your church worships you will struggle with this.

How do we make worship about God and not us? Recognize Him for who He is and what He has done. Worship Him for how He has blessed you. Admit to Him that anything good that comes from you is because of Him. Cast your burdens at His feet. Sacrifice your time with both body and mind.

I love the story of the woman who broke the expensive bottle of perfume and washed Jesus feet. His disciples rebuked her. They thought the more “Christian” thing to do would be to sell the perfume and given the money to the poor. They claimed it would have been a more worthy cause. Jesus tells them to stop. He says that she made the right choice because she saw the bigger picture. She understood what Jesus was about to do. She did not just proclaim to love him, but performed an action from her very heart to show her dedication.

Sometimes we can get caught up in being a “Christian” that we forget to worship. Sometimes I get so caught up doing ministry that I forget to worship God. I get caught up in teaching Scripture, reaching out to those in need, even sharing the gospel, but I forget to pause and worship God. Sometimes the most Christian thing we can do is stop and show God that we delight in who He is and what He has done.