Encouragement for the Hour

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing… And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14

Courage might be the greatest need of the hour.

More than sympathy and compassion, we need courage. Compassion is wonderful for a moment but it always needs to be married to something else — an action. For instance if a friend has compassion and that’s it…well, you will eventually need them to do something for you. Compassion is most stark when it is lacking and when it is alone. When someone acts and has no compassion, the action feels harsh and unloving. But if it is alone, compassion feels useless and tepid.

So more than more compassion, we need more courage.

But what is courage? Maybe we can think of courage this way, “the willingness to take the next step in light of overwhelming obstacles.”

Courage is the recently widowed woman who is willing to open her house up to a hurting friend even though she has no emotional margin. Courage is the faithful mom who has one more conversation with her addicted child even through every other conversation has fallen on deaf ears. Courage is Winston Church bombing Germany even though Britain was greatly outmanned and underfunded. But courage is also sometimes just getting up out of bed amidst debilitating depression.

But if we assume that courage will arise from within ourselves, we will find that well dry.

Courage is something that comes from another. The English language reflects this. To “encourage” in the English language means to “give someone courage.” Likewise, to “discourage” means that we take courage away from someone.

In Biblical Greek, the word that often gets translated as “encourage” (parakaleō) has a wide range of meanings. At times it means “exhort” and at times it means “comfort.” At first glance, those seem to be widely different experiences. “Exhort” in most ears carries a negative connotation — it is an unpleasant experience. While comfort is pleasant. We exhort someone who has done something wrong, and we comfort those who have been wronged.

But parakaleō literally means to “speak (or call) alongside someone” (para is the prefix for “alongside”). In this sense, parakaleō is when someone speaks in a way that calls you to something greater in light of God’s promises. Now you can begin to see the wide range of translations: comfort, console, encourage, exhort, and appeal.

In Psalm 85, David uses a Hebrew equivalent when he says:

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86:17

Similarly, in Psalm 94:

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. – Psalm 94:19

The “comfort” of the Lord is not like the comfort of sitting in your recliner after a long day’s work. It is the “comfort” of a deliver who has come alongside you and helped you. That is why God’s “consolations cheer my soul.” The Lord coming along side a helpless person like myself is en-couraging. Knowing that the Lord in his gracious power is both able and willing to help a poor sinner gives me courage to go after the next thing he asks me to do.

This is similar to what “encourage” means in the New Testament. If you want to “encourage” someone remind them of the great promises of God, his tremendous grace, Jesus overwhelming power to deliver us from sin and its consequences, etc. In other words, summon them out of their affliction and weakness to rely on the grace of God. This is what Paul means in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 when he says, “encourage the fainthearted.”

This is why Paul send his fellow pastor Tychicus to the Colossians church,

I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts. – Colossians 4:8 (he says a similar thing to the Ephesian church about Tychicus (Ephesians 6:8)

So with the Lord Jesus, compassion and resurrection power become a courage giving combination. The courage comes from his throne of grace, but it comes through his word. And it comes to weary wanders that we might return to him, rely on his promises, and go after the next step of faithfulness.

Stand besides someone who is unable to take the next step, and call out God’s promises to them. Give them courage. They are likely fainthearted because the circumstances are greater than their ability or strength. But to call in God’s Word — to encourage — remind them that they belong to Jesus who is interceding on behalf of his people. Call them to a life of faithfulness in light of the power of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them with the gospel and toward the end of gospel faithfulness.

I Want Normal Worship Back

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. – Psalm 27:4

In a previous post I wrote about the centrality of worship in God’s plan of redemption. A Christian who does not gather for worship is like a fish out of water. There is no possibility of thriving without the context in which it was designed to live.

I realize that we are in weird times and deciding whether to come to worship is incredibly complex. I also realize that in weird times, we tend toward extremes. So I wanted to address something that I have heard some people say. By “some people,” if you think I mean you…I might. But I have heard it from other pastors around our area and around the nation. You aren’t alone in the sentiment.

The thinking goes something like this, “I don’t want to come back until worship is normal.

I get this. I’m not a big fan of what COVID has forced us into. But I wanted to speak a little into this discussion too. Here are some thoughts. These are not meant to be the definitive end all of the issues. They are just meant to offer some biblical truths to consider.

Why come to worship when it’s like this?

First. Because God commands you to gather for worship.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

The word that the writer of Hebrews uses for “gathering together” has “synagogue” as its root. The official gathering of God’s people on the Sabbath at the time. He is not simply saying, “Don’t stop getting together.” He is saying, “Don’t forsake the official gathering of God’s people.”

Certainly “because God commands us to be in corporate worship” is an adequate reason. But, let me give us some more.

Second. Remember the great discomfort your Lord endured so that you make little of the discomfort of the current worship situation. If we start with where we once were, the current situation will feel much worse. But if we start with the terror of the cross that Jesus endured to bring us into the presence of God…well, a mask and social distancing and a gym gets a different perspective. The little discomfort required for worship pales in comparison to the great discomfort our Savior endured to present us holy before the Father with great joy.

Third. There is a greater reality that should be defining our experience. In Hebrews 12, the writer contrasts the experience of ancient Israel with the experience of the church.

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18–24, ESV)

Do you catch the incredible reality of what he is saying? When the people of God gather in Christ for corporate worship, we are no longer worshiping on earth. Rather, in a mysterious way are transported into the throne room of God.

So, would you rather be in your living room in your pajamas without a mask? Or would you rather be in the throne room of the King of creation?

Also, that sort of unmasks the frustration of masks. Certainly it is better to wear a mask and be in God’s glorious presence than it is to be at home.

Fourth. Worship isn’t primarily about what you get, but what you give. I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but worship is giving God his worth.

Thus, the subtle shift that can happen in our hearts is that what we are experiencing in worship becomes more important than who we are experiencing. “As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (Carson, 31)

Fifth. A hungry man doesn’t complain about how the bread is sliced, and if he does, its not about the bread. Imagine giving a homeless refugee a nicely prepared meal. You have done everything in your power with all of your resources to prepare something remarkable for him. It isn’t perfect, but he is hungry and you have given him something good. And then he complains about the way that you sliced his bread, “It isn’t thick enough, and is a little uneven.”

There may be things we don’t like about worship (trust me, as a pastor there are always aspects of worship that don’t suit my preferences). But I’m starving for God’s grace. Throughout the week, I feel my weakness and sin. The temptations of the Evil One overwhelm me. I need worship. And so do you. God is present in worship in ways he is not present at other times (see point 2 above).

When hungry men complain about the way you have sliced the bread, its no longer about either his hunger or your slicing technique. It is about his heart.

Sixth. Have you considered how others may benefit from your presence. Or, what others are losing when you stay home? Perhaps we have put our desires before others needs.

In his section on unity in Colossians 3, Paul writes about one of the ways that we help the word dwell richly with each other:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16

We need to hear each other sing. Worship is formative too. When we sing, God works to the hearts of the people next to us. We need to hear you and see you.

Lastly. If you need to stay home for health reasons – don’t think twice about it. Stay home. If you can’t come because wearing a mask interferes with your health – stay home. If it is too complex to have your children in worship, perhaps staying home is better (though, the crying and fidgeting children aren’t a distraction – they are a glory!).

In fact, there are a number of really good reasons that you may have to be absent from corporate worship. I just want to make sure that you are also considering these things as you make your decisions.

These decisions are so complex, that there is a lot of latitude for each other right now.

How To Properly Handle Your Opinions

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Romans 14:1, ESV)

Our time is a heated point in history. There are strong opinions about many things. This isn’t the first time this has happened in history. And it won’t be the last time.

But the people of the crucified Savior should not be people who weaponize truth against each other.

In the grand discussion about our opinions, we have neglected the larger concern about how to handle our opinions properly.

Powerful things need instructions. A lot of my people like to carry concealed weapons. Because of its power, they have to take a course on how to properly handle such a powerful thing in the face of adversity. When a heated situation arises, you want to be prepared so that you know how to handle the power entrusted to you.

We need a class on how to handle our opinions. We don’t want to discharge our opinions and destroy our brother and sisters.

The question Paul is begging in Romans 14 is, “what are you going to do with your opinions?” Unfortunately, we have often answered this question too late in the game. It is a maxim that technology usually moves faster than ethics. In other words, we first acquire a thing, and only after it’s been misused do we ask, “What is the best way to use this thing?”

Opinions, like all things a Christian possesses, should be used for the glory of Jesus and others’ good. Paul’s word for “opinions” in vs. 1 carries the idea of “reasoned ideas.” These are things we may have thought a lot about. Things we are probably passionate about. This is how ideas work. When we reason things out, we become passionate about them.

So during the Corona virus, we might rephrase Paul’s statement in Romans 14 this way.

“One person believes he is free to not wear a mask, while the weak person believes he is free to wear a mask. Let not the one who does not wear a mask despise the one who does, and let not the one who wears a mask pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:2–3, ESV)

We can change this up too. I’m not sure which one is weak, but it doesn’t matter for this argument’s sake. What matters is the principle, “If you think you are right, don’t weaponize your correctness against someone else.”

And the issues at stake are not inconsequential in Romans 14. There was disagreement over whether one should eat certain meats. The Jews who had put their faith in Christ were likely convinced that eating certain meats is still outlawed by God. While Gentiles, who had come to faith were convinced that eating meat was fine. These are two groups who are trying to follow God’s Word and have arrived at different opinions.

What Paul does is important — he demotes their opinions. He doesn’t call them unimportant. He does correct them in vs 14 (hint: its OK to eat meat). But it’s a throw off comment because it’s not the most important principle in play right now.

He employs a greater principle — hold your well reasoned opinions, but don’t hold them as more important than either the gospel or the brother/sister who is in front of you.

“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15, ESV)

And then he puts things in perspective.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, ESV)

So we can change this in our situation. If your brother is set on edge because you don’t have on a mask, you will not be walking in love. You are using your rights — the right to not wear a mask — to severely wound the one for whom Christ died.

Now, this mindset is only possible if you move yourself from the seat of moral judgment, and recognize that it is Jesus’ responsibility to judge his servants. He has not ceded that to you, so don’t take up his right. You are not the master of your brothers and sisters.

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”” (Romans 14:8–11, ESV)

We must remember that “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12, ESV)

This will help us to realize that everything cannot be equally important. We should not break fellowship over every aspect of politics (or even most political opinions). There is room in the church for people to have different opinions on economic policy, dealing with racial inequality, wearing masks, etc. Let’s quit elevating all of our opinions to the same level, and leave some room for people to disagree with your well-reasoned opinions.

It is possible to be right about something, but find yourself displeasing Jesus because of how you utilize that truth.

Truth that comes from the crucified Savior must be used in a cruciform way.

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:1–7, ESV)

Entering Into the Race Fray: Seeing

A lot of us are wondering how to process the racial tension that is boiling around us. The Scriptures are always are guide through complex issues, there is nothing new under the sun.

Where should we start? Let’s start with just seeing. It strikes me how often the gospel writers note that Jesus “saw” someone (Luke 7:13, 10:12). It’s a throw-off line. But it is the mark of the Man of Compassion that he notices faces in the crowd. He notices actual people in their problems.

So, when it comes to the complexities of race, just being willing to see is good place to start. Having the courage to explore the issues — to open your eyes to things we might not normally see. Let’s just call this the humility to open our eyes and shut our mouths.

A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer, “Love God and love neighbor.” He was a lawyer, so he looked for the loop hole to get him out of trouble, “Who is my neighbor?”

But you can’t outwit the Lord of Creation, so Jesus tells him a parable. A man gets beaten by oppressors and robbed. Two religious leaders see him and pass by.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33, ESV, emphasis added)

It’s an intriguing introduction of a character. The Samaritan was a despised minority. An outcast. But, that position gave him an advantage toward compassion. He saw the oppressed man differently.

I am not expert on the complexity of race in our culture. I am a child of the suburbs and the 80’s — those are two strikes against racial awareness. I was blind. Not “unwilling to see” blind, just oblivious to a lot of issues.

Then seven years ago, we adopted a bi-racial child. I began to wonder what life would look like for her. We had a few other adopted non-white children in our congregation too. That started me down a journey with Taylor Branch’s three volume history of the Civil Rights movement. Being a child of the suburbs and the 80’s, I knew almost none of this history.

Why? Because we don’t talk about hard history in the suburbs. As a child of the 80’s we liked to believe we were just steps away from utopia. Finally, mainstream history is usually written by the victors, not the victims.

A few years ago, a couple of gracious pastors invited me into Stand Together Fellowship. A group of white and African-American leaders in town – pastors, law enforcement, community leaders, and politicians. We have done a few things to bring about change, but the most important thing that we have done is create a context for conversation.

I began to hear stories and perspectives that I had not heard before. I began to “see” things I had not seen before.

So, I’ve been on this journey for seven years now, and I’ve seen more than I have before. But to be honest, the more I see the less I see clearly.

So, if you want to begin the journey of seeing, let me suggest two books. These are books from people who see much more clearly than I do, and they can help us see too.

Dream With Me by John Perkins. Perkins was a Christian, black leader in Mississippi. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should be. He was a leading voice in racial reconciliation before racial reconciliation was a thing.

Heal Us Emmanuel, edited by Doug Serven. This is a series of essays by a number of PCA leaders.

Finally, find some minority friends and listen to them. Just listen so you can see. Ask them for their voice and give them permission to tell you what they want to tell you, not what they think you need to hear. Perhaps say, “If you could tell me anything about your experience of race and I promise not to respond, what would you say? I just want to listen. Help me see.”

Additionally: Watch Just Mercy, it is currently free to stream on most streaming services.

Some Thoughts After Restarting Worship

Yesterday was sweet and bitter. It was a tremendous blessing to have people back in the room again. I wanted to share some thoughts I had after yesterday.

Congregational singing is faith giving. One of our core principles is that the one voice of the congregation is the focus of our music. It’s our way of saying, the music team isn’t the focus. Their job is to assist the people of God in singing praises to their Savior and God.

But there is an extra benefit from this that is baked into the design by the Lord — our faith is strengthened when we sing together. When the music team stopped playing yesterday during the main service, and we just heard each other’s voices, I wept with joy.

But, there is a loss here too. There are many voices that we aren’t hearing because of their vulnerability to the Corona Virus. I miss looking out and seeing their hands raised in praise, or tears on their faces from the comfort the gospel brings.

We need to be together. It was tremendous to get to see faces again. The word for the church that the writers of the New Testament use mean “called out ones.” It’s a word that is loaded with theological meaning to a first-century Jew. The “called out ones” were the ones who were gathered around Mount Sinai after being called out of Egypt. The church is the official gathering of God’s called-out ones.

In God’s design of redemption, we are meant to be in an embodied community of other called out people. We need each other.

All of the pundits are saying that this is the time when the church will pivot to a fully online presence. Thankfully, Silicon Valley doesn’t write the script for what a flourishing person is. We are embodied souls — and we need to be in embodied communities.

But not everyone was there yesterday. Shepherd’s love their sheep. They love seeing their sheep. They love talking to their sheep. And they miss their sheep when they are not there.

So there was still a sense of loss yesterday. The plague of the Corona Virus has taken away our ability to all be together.

Worse — it has taken away the ability of our most vulnerable people to meet with us. These are the very people who we need the most in our midst. These are also the people that need to be back in worship, but shouldn’t be there. That is an odd tension.

Nimble is necessary. I said this yesterday during corporate prayer — 200-year-old churches aren’t known for being nimble. But we have been forced to adjust…adjust…adjust. I think one of the things that the Holy Spirit is doing is forcing us to demote our preferences and make decisions based on God’s mission in the world rather than on what so-and-so might prefer.

I welcome this change. But it is an exhausting change. We will probably run our current set-up for 4 weeks before we make any more major changes. There will be some slight modifications along the way, but no major changes for at least a month (unless the circumstances force us to change again).

The Lord’s Supper is received by faith. I was debriefing yesterday with one of our elders, and we both said that the Lord’s Supper felt sterile. Then we laughed because it is sterile! That’s the intention. We are trying to protect from the Corona Virus.

As we talked about how to fix it, he wisely said, “If we are receiving Christ by faith through these signs, then it really doesn’t matter. All of the benefits are still the same.” I thank God for wise elders like this!

Our felt experience is not as important as the objective reality. We are still receiving Jesus and the benefits of his work on our behalf when we peel back the bread and wine (that is a line I never thought I’d write).

Our faces are important. I long for the day when we can all be back together in the sanctuary without masks. Besides just being annoying and uncomfortable, it is difficult to have conversations with a masked person. You can’t see their mouths smile, grimace, turn downward in sorrow, etc. It’s just not the same because a level of intimacy is removed. I miss seeing everyone’s whole faces.

But even masked faces were an encouragement for me. I know that some of our people believe the masks are an unnecessary overreaction. But they still had their masks on out of love for others. When we do what we think is unnecessary out of deferential love and deferential obedience, we are taking up our cross and following Jesus. A cruciform community of called-out people is truly counter-cultural.

Our Liturgy Shapes Our Desires

We are not primarily thinking beings, we are primarily desiring people. In a previous post, we said that we become what we worship either for ruin or restoration (Psalm 135:15-18).

If we become what we worship, then how do our hearts get reshaped to worship the Lord Jesus? How do we reshape our desires?

In his provocative book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith suggests that our habits shape our desires.

Parents have lived this out, though they might not have noticed it. When you change the diapers of your children, or go through the daily routine of making meals, your affections for your children grow. Our bodies follow our hearts, that is true. Jesus says that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But it is also true that our bodily habits begin to shape our affections. Our desires are shaped by our liturgies.

What we mean by liturgy is “pattern.” I have a morning liturgy — check email (I’ll admit, it’s not the best way to start the day), drink coffee, and then read my bible. That is my morning pattern.

We have liturgies around seasons — Christmas has its liturgies, summer is for vacations, back to school shopping is a liturgy, etc. These are established patterns of living.

And if you reflect just a little, you will find that these liturgies shape your affections … your desires. There is always a little excitement and hope that comes with the liturgy of putting out your Christmas decorations. It’s strange, isn’t it, that the emotion of hope would arise from the act of pulling boxes of Christmas decorations out of the attic?

Every worship service has a liturgy. No matter what church you go to, there is an established pattern. It may be as simple as a welcome, three songs, sermon, and then a closing song. But it’s the same liturgy every week.

Our liturgy (pattern) has a few more elements than that — it is a little more robust. But we are following an ancient pattern of covenant renewal — we are rehearsing the gospel each week.

And our rehearsal of redemption — the pattern of renewal — is a conversation between God and us.

  1. God calls us into his presence.
  2. We respond with confession and repentance.
  3. He responds to our sin with an assurance of pardon in Christ.
  4. We hear God speak to us through his Word.
  5. We fellowship with Christ at his table.
  6. He sends us out with his blessing.

Interspersed throughout all of this is song (we will examine singing in a separate post).

We become what we worship either for ruin or redemption. God is descending to be with his people, and he is shaping us with his Word.

We Become What We Worship

We all worship. In our previous post, we said that we are most fully human when we are engaged in worship. Worship is “to give something its worth” — or to put our trust, hopes, and security onto something because it is worthy of those things.

Worship is like breathing. We do it without thinking about it, and we are doing it all the time. Worship is part of the autonomic system of our souls.

That’s who we are and it’s what we do. From the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we put our heads to the pillow, we are worshiping.

The reason for this is because we are made in the image of God. This is an amazing description of the status of every human being. “Images” is royal language. In the ancient near east, kings would create images of themselves and place them all over their kingdom — little statues that reminded the people whose kingdom they belonged to.

But God didn’t create inanimate rocks to bear his image, he created living people. And what made us alive is that he breathed into us the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).

We were made to live by the life of the Creator and under his rule. There is a built-in dependency. Our dependency on the life of another is not a design flaw, it is a feature.

As a result, we become what we worship.

Greg Beale in his excellent book puts it this way, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.”

The Psalmist says it this way in Psalm 115:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:4–8, ESV, emphasis added)

“Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them”. If our object of worship is deaf, dumb, and blind, then all they can do is ruin us.

Because who or what you are breathing in will either ruin or restore you. An addict breathes in his addiction of choice – pornography, drugs, or even buying things. We do this to feed the deep needs of our souls.

We don’t usually think about worship. We have developed an automatic reaction that functions like this: I feel a need —> I turn to my object of worship.

The progress looks like this: I am bored (which is happening a lot during the pandemic), so I’ll go to my favorite shopping website. I feel insecure —> maybe a drink will make me bolder in social settings. I’m scared, so I’ll expect my spouse to solve my problems. I just landed a big deal at work, so I’ll reward myself with an evening of fantasies.

These are all acts of worship. We are giving ourselves to something for hope, deliverance, and security.

If you don’t believe me, try this: notice what you turn to when you have a need, and then try to keep from it. You will feel as if you are losing life.

And the point that the Psalmist is making is that we become what we worship — and the object of our worship will either further ruin us, or it will lovingly redeem us.

Now, notice what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

If our idols enslave us because they are deaf, dumb, and blind. Then, Jesus redeems us — he straightens out our bent heart — because he is full of glory in and of himself. He doesn’t receive his glory from another, he doesn’t receive his power from another. He is the Living One who is alive for ever more. And therefore, can transform us as we simply look at him in our neediness.

D.A. Carson digs into this dynamic in a 20-year-old book that still seems rather appropriate for today.

“What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him…there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God whims. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God…What we must strive for is growing knowledge of God and delight in him – not delight in worship per se, but delight in God.” (DA Carson, Worship By the Book, pg. 30-32).

In a future post, we are going to drill down into what tools God has given us to straighten out our bent hearts.

Christians and Conspiracy Theories

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” (Proverbs 18:8, ESV)

I have been thinking about why Christians are so drawn to conspiracy theories. I find myself running into brothers and sisters in Christ who 1) are committed to Jesus, 2) love and know his word, 3) are generally sound, and 4) who believe completely unverified conspiracies.

Every single time I am surprised by the last one. I am usually surprised that this person would believe it.

But, let’s be honest. There is something appealing about being on the inside. Jesus doesn’t usually call the elite and powerful (1 Corinthians 1:26). He calls the outsiders, the simple, and the weak.

People on the outside want to be on the inside.

C.S. Lewis described it as the “inner ring”:

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire to be part of the inner ring is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it—this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and…Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care… (C.S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring,” The Weight of Glory).

This is one of the reasons that gossip is so “delicious.” Gossip makes us feel powerful because it makes us feel like we have access to information that others don’t have.

Conspiracy theories make us feel like we have inside information. This world runs on information and ideas, and for most of us, we are on the outside looking in.

Conspiracies are “delicious” like gossip because they make us feel powerful by giving us the illusion that we are on the inside of the true inner ring.

God’s people need to be aware of this temptation so that we are slow to believe the conspiracies. And, even slower to post them on our social media feeds.

The gospel tells us that we are on the inside already — we are sons of God because we belong to the Son of God. Everything that is true about Jesus is now true about us, in part, but not yet in full. You don’t get more “inner ring” than that!

Worship? Why?

Someone suggested that we write on worship. Right now, that is like watching cooking shows while participating in a fast.

But, hopefully we will increase our already hungry appetite to return to corporate worship soon.

We are most fully human when engaged in worship. In fact, as we will eventually see, worship is a natural to us as breathing. We all do it … all the time. It’s part of the autonomic system of the human heart.

Worship is the end of redemption. When God called Moses to be the deliverer of his enslaved people, he gave him a sign. But it was a strange sign. It was a sign that he would have to wait on. “Trust me,” God says, “in the future, you will return to Mount Sinai, and my people will be worshiping me. Then you will know that I have sent you, and I am the redeemer.” (Exodus 3:12)

Worship as the end of redemption is the ultimate act at the end of history. “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:3, ESV)

What is “worship?” When we say “worship,” we usually mean “that thing we do on Sunday mornings.” Or, maybe, “that thing we do when we are emotionally moved when listening to a song on the radio” (actually, this is close to the meaning of the word).

Worship is to give something or someone their proper worth (that is actually the etymology of the word “worship” is from the Old English). But etymology doesn’t always give us proper understanding. Sometimes we use words differently from how they were originally used.

So, let’s turn to the New Testament. The word that we usually translate as “worship” is “proskyneō.” In John 4, Jesus says that God should be worshiped (“proskyneō”) in Spirit and in truth.

But the word “proskyneō” is also used in other ways. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about a man having to pay an unbearable debt. The man gives the master his proper devotion by imploring (“proskyneō”) him. Likewise, in Matthew 20, the mother of James and John honors Jesus while asking him for a favor. She kneels before him (“proskyneō”) to give him his honor. In both of these instances, they give the person their worthy by kneeling before that person.

So, worship is to give someone their worth. And therefore, worship is not primarily about what you get from it, but whom you give it to.

Or, to say it another way, we do not come to worship primarily to “get” from worship, but to “give” to God.

“There is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God … The way you forget about yourself is by focusing of God — not by singing about doing it, but by doing it.” (Carson, Worship by the Book, pg. 30-31)

There is a subjective experience of worship, but the subjective experience must become secondary to the object of our worship.

Thus, the subtle shift that can happen in our hearts is that what we are experiencing in worship becomes more important than who we are experiencing. “As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (Carson, 31)

This principle of worship is essentially important: God alone deserves the glory. But let’s be honest, that takes a massive shift of our hearts. We are naturally bent to put ourselves at the center of the story and our needs as the central focus of that story.

We need to be unbent. Or rather, made straight.

What (or rather, whom) we worship will either bend us more, or will straighten us so that we are more fully human.

In our next post, we will focus on how to refocus worship. But, here’s the teaser: we become what we worship either for redemption or for ruin.

Outrage Is Not a Virtue

Outrage is not a virtue, but it is too often in my own heart. Outrage that others don’t agree with my positions, outrage that others don’t value what I value, and outrage that people aren’t doing what I think they should do. You may not always see it, but it is often there under the surface of my heart.

But, outrage is not a virtue. Rather, it is a more subtle form of the deeds of the flesh, particularly these “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.” (Galatians 5:20)

Outrage is usually found growing in the fertile ground of self-righteousness. It is an attempt to build my identity and worth on what I believe, what my “gut just knows”, how much I’ve read, my expertise, etc. — this list goes on, and on.

But, love and outrage are seldom found together. And, if you have to give up one or the other, give up outrage. Because, whatever is causing you to rage is not nearly as important as the person you are outraged against.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV)

This has become so vivid to me as I have studied the prophets over the years. God’s anger against Israel for forsaking his ways is really slow. It takes him hundreds of year before he sends them into exile, and then he only sends them away for 70 years (which he seems to cut short).

Now, Israel had completely forsaken the covenant. They were worshiping the gods of the nations. They were trusting in the nations for safety rather than the Lord. They had given themselves over to sexual immorality.

But, the Lord loved his people. Surely, the apostle Paul had this love in mind when he wrote these familiar words in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, ESV)

It is hard to reconcile outrage with patient and kind, and “does not insist on its own way,” or “is not irritable or resentful.”

God, in his love for his people, joyfully overlooks a lot of our sins. And, God in his anger is slow to wrath.

This is why the Spirit of Love produces these fruits in his people’s lives — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)

There is no law against these things because these things are who God is. And, God is making us more like himself.

Let’s take outrage off like a bad outfit that we once thought was so cool, but now we look in the mirror of God’s patient love and see that it’s like a leisure suit from the seventies.

So, let me give us some practical steps to putting off outrage.

  1. Hold your ideas, your gut reactions, and your opinions as loosely as possible. That is not to say, “Don’t have opinions about what God has said,” but practice epistemic humlity. If you are around someone who is highly trained in their field, you will find that they are quick to tell you how much they don’t know. That is epistemic humiliy. There is a direct relation to how much you know and how much you realize that you don’t know. In other words, the less you actually know, they more sure you become.
  2. If social media is a fueling source of your outrage, get off of it. I am no longer on Twitter for this reason. I think this is cutting out your eye if it causes you to sin. This is true for news media too. And, if you don’t think these things are effecting your outrage, get off of them for a few days and see what happens to your emotions.
  3. Slow your roll. Don’t form your reaction based on your intuition or initial reaction. Do this because “love is patient” — so just slow down. Slow down and ask if you have all the information. Then ask, “Do I know what to do with all of this information?”
  4. Demote what matters. It’s not that things don’t matter. If God addresses it in his word, then it matters. Many things are deductions from his word, and those matter too. But, not everything matters equally. That is, we should save our strongest opinions for what the Bible is most clear about. In other words, we should demote things — we shouldn’t feel as strongly about everything!
  5. Instead of choosing to believe the worst possible motive, we need to assume the best possible motive. We do not have windows into each others motives. If we are honest, we don’t always understand our own motives. Since “love hopes all things” we should chose to believe the best about others, and the worst about our own motives. That is a grand gospel reversal!