Identity-Changing Worship

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Worship is powerful.
Worship
Not the singing-in-church kind of worship, but the kind of worship that you live. The kind of worship in which you adore something so much you give your life over to it. The kind of worship that focuses your whole being toward the single aim of praise.
That kind of worship is powerful. It shapes who you are. It gives you your very identity.
Universe
God created this world, this universe, to be a temple. The building of Moses’ tabernacle and the building of Solomon’s temple mirror the 7 day progression of the creation story, and the Jews reading the Genesis account would have recognized it as such.
Temple
This temple, our universe, contained within it the Garden of Eden as the Holy of Holies. Within that holy space were creatures who were made in God’s image, made to be homo liturgicus or man made for worship.
James Tissot
Man was made to reflect God to the world and to reflect worship back to God. We were created to worship God and, in that worship, become like Him.
What we worship molds our identity. Or to put it another way, we are what we worship.
When we spend our lives focused on and chasing after power, money, sex, adoration from others, we become like those things. We become shallow, insatiable, discontent.
Yet when we, here in this glorious temple of creation, spill our very lives in worship to God, we become like Him. We become joyful, content, full of peace.
Which identity would you prefer?
Power of Worship
God knew how powerful worship was, He knew that what we loved would shape our identity, our very being. This is why He is so fierce in stamping out idolatry. This is why He is so firm on the subject of having no other gods before Him.
We are His children and He wants what is best for us. He wants us to reflect His image, not the image of something shallow and low. He created us for more than that.
You who want to become like Christ, turn your focus toward Him. Adore Him and love Him with all of your life, with everything that you do and say and think.
Worship is a powerful force. So be careful what you worship. Your very identity will reflect your choice.

Art credits: cathedral and nature photos by Kirk Sewell; artist’s rendition of Solomon’s temple; Solomon Dedicates the Temple by James Tissot

 

 

The Artistry of God

Revel with me in the artistry of God.
artistry
Be amazed at the depth of His creativity.
creativity
Look with wonder at variation beyond number.
variation
Ponder the beauty of difference.
difference
Of large
large
and small,
small
of smooth
smooth
and warty,
warty
of single color
single color
and multi-hued.
multi-hued
Praise the loveliness of His artistic diversity
diversity
in all of the people and pumpkins around you.

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
Samantha
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

I Cannot

I hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
clenched fist
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Coming Down
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fires
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Reconciliation
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

The Years the Locust Ate

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…
Beauty
A beautiful set of verses in Joel.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Drought
Yet I hate with all of my being that there were entire years that were eaten by locusts.  I hate that people had to endure that pain and despair before they could reach the end point of being satisfied and praising God.
The memories of those years don’t go away.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.  And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.  And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.  He had also seven sons and three daughters…And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations.  And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
Flourishing
Another beautiful set of verses in Job.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Devastated
Yet Job still endured the loss of all that he had.  He still watched all of his children die and, as any of you who have lost children know all too well, no number of new children can ever take away the pain of losing those who came before.
It is a heart filled with mixed emotions, this kind of hope.  It is joy and excitement over the beauty of what lies ahead and it is sorrow and grieving over what happened in the past.
Autumn Blazes
This is life.
Life and Death
It is beauty that is tinged with sorrow.  It is love that is colored by loss.  All who live deeply are affected.  None are exempt except for those who choose not to love.
God speaks beautiful words about our future with Him, words filled with promise, words filled with satisfaction and praise and joy. What do we do with this apparent contradiction?  How do we get from this common suffering to a perfect life filled with perfect joy?
One option is that it is all a big hoax.  None of this hope is true; it is all just a ruse to keep us from rebelling too hard against our lot in life.
Those who have known God long enough to catch a glimpse of His character, though, know that He is not given to such cruel jokes.
Jesus with Samaritan Woman
If you keep God in the picture, this God who is the very definition of love, than you are left with the answer that it is somehow all worth it. If God is who He says He is, if His words are trustworthy and true, then somehow the end is so brilliantly glorious that it will eclipse the darkness that came before.
Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  ~ C.S. Lewis
So what do we do with this hope that is so full of wildly contradicting emotions?  I don’t understand how this sort of ending is at all possible when the sorrow seems so great.  Yet like Abraham, we are asked to keep trusting in the face of apparent impossibility.  Trusting that what God said to Abraham is truth for all: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”
Light
On our best days we are able to trust that, in the end, we will be so seized by the sight of His face that we will fall to the ground at His feet in pure adoration. And all that came before will be as a vacuous mist that is chased away by the brilliant light and heat of the sun.

Art Credits: Sunlight Through Tulips photo by Kirk Sewell; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Siemiradzki; Sunlight Through Trees photo by Kirk Sewell

Jumping Musicals for God

My girls love to jump on their bed.

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I half-heartedly tried to keep them from jumping (because half-hearted discipline works so well in parenting) until their bed frame broke. Now their bed consists of just the bedsprings and mattress on the floor.

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At which point, I couldn’t think of a reason to keep them from jumping anymore, so I told them to jump their hearts out.
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Now, they don’t JUST jump, mind you. Oh, no. That would be much too tame for them.
They put on entire jumping musicals for my viewing entertainment. Usually this consists of my eldest jumping with gazelle-like leaps in circles around the perimeter of the bed, making up songs about God and Jesus and angels, while my middle follows right behind her, echoing whatever odd combination of words that had just come out of her sister’s mouth.
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Often, the girls are the angels (although sometimes they are Mary and Jofus…that’s “Joseph” for those who are unacquainted with toddler-speak) and they sing about Baby Jesus (around Whom they are apparently jumping). They make giant leaps into heaven and back, leap up and land in “worshipful poses”, and (my personal favorite) wave magic wands to transport us all into heaven to be with God.
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I was sitting on the recliner, watching them perform (which is usually all that is required of me, thankfully!), when I had a sudden image of God, looking down at them from heaven, being delighted in their creativity, delighted in their desire to be a part of His story, delighted in their wish to be in heaven with Him.
You know that feeling when your heart is so full it feels as though it will burst? That is what I felt (after I got past the potential sacrilege of it all) right then, watching my little ones jump for God’s pleasure. It made me wish that I could see God, see His enjoyment of them.
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In that moment, I was so very grateful that I, too, am allowed to be a part of God’s story. In that moment, I loved God because He loves my girls so very much. I loved Him because He loves me and delights in me just as I delight in my girls.
I loved because He first loved me.

Our Miracle

I witnessed a miracle on Easter Sunday.
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A miracle of a cold stony heart melting into a heart of flesh under the ministering of the Spirit.
My brother, once bowed low under the weight of tragedy and grief, now standing tall, glowing full of the peace and love of God.
A face once lined with bitterness and anger now dripping wet with holy water.
Eyes that once saw only darkness now open once again to the light of grace and joy.
Fists once shaken in defiance at the face of God now raised toward heaven in victory.
It has been a long journey. Three and a half years.
Ethan_001.jpg-
Nothing has changed.
Kristina is still gone from this earth. Ethan is still motherless. Mike is still a widower.
Everything has changed.
As we spoke, this strong, ever-seeking brother of mine said that he still had questions, doubts, things that he doesn’t like about how things happened.
So do I. Don’t we all?
And yet.
Underneath all of those questions and doubts, underneath his dislike of the pain and suffering, there is peace.
The peace of knowing that there are answers. The peace that someday he will be reconciled to those years of heartache. The peace of knowing for certain that God is good and God is love and God is working toward the best for all of us.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
The peace of knowing what God is about.
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I got to be there as he chose once again to give himself over to the love and care of God, his Father.
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I watched hard as he went down under the water
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I wept unashamedly as he rose again, his fists raised high in triumph, his face shining with water and tears.
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Those of you who have grieved with us over these past few years, will you also celebrate with us?
My brother has come Home.
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This is my revelation
Christ Jesus crucified
Salvation through repentance
At the cross on which He died
Now hear my absolution
Forgiveness for my sin
And I sink beneath the waters
That Christ was buried in
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
I live
I stand a new creation
Baptized in blood and fire
No fear of condemnation
By faith I’m justified
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
I live

Searching for My Next Act of Worship

Worship is central to who we are as disciples of Christ.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritualact of worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Our entire lives are to be acts of worship. In church and during the week, inside our homes and outside in God’s creation, serving the homeless and cleaning my toilet, I am to be offering myself to God in worship. No matter what the task.

I have written about worship here before. Worship is part of our job as priests. We are to echo the praise and adoration of all creation back to the Creator. People are the only part of creation who are able to love God back, who are able to give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.

Worship. 

My heart has been aching over this for several months now. 

A large part of who I am is a musician. Music has been a part of my identity as long as I can remember, and a huge part of that musical identity has, from as early as grade school, been to participate in leading my Family in worship to our Father.
Then I heard God ask me to give that up.

I wasn’t sure I had heard Him correctly. Isn’t this the worship He has always asked of me? To use the gift of music that He gave me to serve His people?

Though I balked, I truly did understand what God was asking of me. He was asking me to stop using my music in our church worship service in order to spend more time with my little ones.

He was asking me to give up using my music as my current act of worship.

This made my heart ache to its very core. How would I worship now? In what aspect could my life still be an act of worship?

Then I listened to a video of Sally Clarkson, from I Take Joy, talk about laying the foundation for your children, for your home. She spoke a truth that I should have understood, one that instantly shot peace through my core.

Raising my children is an act of worship. 

My whole life is to be an act of worship. If God is calling me to give up one particular way of worshiping Him, then what is to take its place? 

Being with my little ones.

I breathe and think through this a little more deeply.

God gave me these babies. He gaveme these babies and asked me to raise them into people who bear His image.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. ~ Psalms 127.3

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates… ~ Deuteronomy 11.18-20

Aha.

My children are a gift to me and my husband, primarily to me and my husband. Our most precious task right now is fixing God’s Words in their hearts, setting them on the doorframes and gates of our home.

Raising my little ones is my current act of worship.

Suddenly, my heart is filled with peace and joy. 

No more aching, only a sense of gratitude that God has given me such a beautiful way to worship Him. 

I am filled with a sense of the immensity and importance of this act of worship, filled with the urgency that nothing should stand in the way of this worship during this season of my life.

Suddenly, I am not filled with loss for the act of worship I am giving up (for the present) but am filled with contentment for the fullness of the years of worship ahead of me.

May I be intentional about building our home on His Words. May I be purposeful about fixing God’s Words in the hearts and minds of my little ones. May I throw all my being into building our home on Christ Himself. May I let no other good thing distract me from this beautiful worship, from this making our lives sacred.

This. This is my living sacrifice, my sacrifice of praise. In this breathtaking and wondrous season of my life, this is my spiritual act of worship.

Joy and Gratitude, Sorrow and Longing

Easter.


Spring.


New life.



On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”



Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history

Death is beaten, You have rescued me

Sing it out, Jesus is alive!

Endless joy, perfect peace, 

Earthly pain finally will cease

Celebrate Jesus is alive!

Oh, happy day, happy day…

My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing. 



On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without Kristina



As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Kristina with a physical ache. As I plan a baby shower, I can’t help but think of how Kristina would have been at her finest, crafting beautiful invitations by hand. 

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God. 



And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well. 



And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis

May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much? 



You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.



On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.


art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

What will you do when God says "no"?

What do you do when you don’t get your way?



My eldest screams with a red hot rage and sobs tears of hurt and disappointment.

As much as I would like to hold my head up high and speak with condescension about the ways of a child, I can’t. Instead, I will bow my head with shame and confess that, even if I don’t do it out loud or in front of people, I have much the same reaction in my deepest places.

I received another “no” from God this week.




It really hurt. Yet another of my well-laid plans was swept away with the dust of a hope.

I do gain deep peace and joy from knowing beyond a doubt that the only reason that God said “no” was because that wasn’t what was best.

And, just as I wrote recently, my heart still grieves.

There is a piece of me, that child that can’t seem to grow up, that wants to shout and rage and stamp its foot and demand a “yes” from God.



The desire, the temptation, is not wrong. As I often tell my eldest, the feeling is not wrong, but what you choose to do can be either wise or foolish.

So what did I choose to do?

This time (I wish that I could say “every time”) I chose what was wise.

With tears, I praised God.

I thanked Him for telling me “no” because I trust that it was best, that it was done out of love.

Then I went to church and worshiped.

You make all things work together for my good.
You stay the same through the ages,
Your love never changes.
There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.
And when the oceans rage,
I don’t have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me.
Your love never fails.


My whole life I place in Your hands.
God of mercy, humbled I bow down
In Your presence at Your throne.
I called, You answered
And You came to my rescue
And I want to be where You are.


You stood before my failure,
Carried the cross for my shame.
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders,
My soul now to stand.
So I’ll stand,
With arms high and heart abandoned,
In awe of the One who gave it all.


I turned my eyes back to Jesus and gained back my perspective. No matter to what God says “no”, it is so small compared to the huge thing to which He has already said “yes”: allowing us to become His children through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He has given us everything, and so…

I’ll stand
My soul, Lord, to You surrendered.
All I am is Yours.

art credit: 
songs are from Your Love Never Fails (Jesus Culture); Came To My Rescue (Hillsong United); The Stand (Hillsong United) 
sketching is The Three Crosses by Rembrandt