The Beauty of Holiness

If you regularly worship in a church, think for a moment about what happens when you settle yourself into your seat, whether it is in a physical worship center or in another location as you worship online. I have a friend who spent the better part of the pandemic taking her coffee every Sunday morning at sunrise to a nearby sand dune where she read a full week of At Water’s Edge devotionals as her worship liturgy. Truly, if we learned one thing during the pandemic it is that worship can happen anywhere or anytime that you open yourself in an attitude of praise and attention to God’s abiding presence. So the question really becomes, how do you prepare for worship?

When my girls were very young, I had to report early on Sundays to a church that offered multiple service times, and thus I was mostly spared what mothers and fathers do to get a house full of kids ready to go to church. Many Sundays I would look out at my girls with their father in the pew and know instantly who had gotten the final word on the day’s outfits and hairstyles. My husband never did quite master a French braid, but his pigtail braids were unbeatable. Indeed, getting ready for church with young children is sometimes a Herculean undertaking. We see you, young parents.

Worship preparation for pastors is a much different thing. Our brains are on fire with all of the details that make Sunday morning look seamless to the worshipper. Going over our sermons and prayers, checking in with other worship leaders, noting the temperature of the room, dealing with complaints, giving last minute instructions to ushers and musicians, ensuring that the offering plates/candles/mics are in place, checking on the nursery….speaking for myself, the mental focus that this requires is EXHAUSTING. I am often asleep by 2:00 on Sunday afternoon.

How do you get ready to worship? What happens in your mind, your heart, and your soul? Are you dialed in to the presence of a holy God, or are you mentally going through your list of things to do as soon as worship is over?

Psalm 29 (New King James Version)

 Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

One of the things I pray for myself and my parishioners during the opening prayer is that the Holy Spirit would come and take away all of the distractions and to-do lists that we brought into the sanctuary with us. Some days it is truly a challenge to keep the worldly things from crowding out the divine.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The psalmist reminds us of the power of God’s voice. But the truth is, we are also powerful in our ability to completely shut God’s voice out….even in the midst of worship. Worries, troubles, annoyances, distractions, crying babies, the smell of too much perfume, seeing someone in the pew who has offended you….there are many things that can pull you out of worship while your body is still sitting there.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”

We would do well to spend a moment before worship focusing on clearing our minds so that we can join together and say, “Glory!” in an attitude of humility and submission to the Holy Spirit. If we ask, God will give us his strength to do this.

10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.

So before you enter your “church” next time, spend a moment in preparation to deeply, wholly, and completely worship God. All those distractions will still be there at the end of the hour, but you will be more fortified to handle things after having devoted yourself to worshipping God.

God invites us into the beauty of his holiness…don’t miss it.

The Beauty of Holiness by Bev Mineo

Here Am I

What do you think God wants from you? Loyalty? Obedience? Worship? Adoration? Action?

The early Israelites struggled with this question. That struggle continued into New Testament times as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and others tried to form sects structured around their notion of what God wanted from them. They were hung up on things like fasting, class distinctions, sabbath regulations, piety, and a plethora of laws. Jesus brought absolute clarity to the question, but well before his arrival on the scene the prophet Isaiah beautifully articulated what God wants from his people.

The people had chosen to fast from inconsequential things. (You know, like when you give up donuts for Lent but you don’t really like donuts.) God had something entirely different in mind:

Isaiah 58 (New International Version)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?

For example, the modern church puts a lot of effort, resources, energy, and activity toward worship. But notice that worship doesn’t make the top of the list. Worship is always a life-giving necessity, but breaking the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free seem to rank higher, according to Isaiah.

Maybe worship comes next on the list…

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Nope, not yet. Sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter are listed. Clothing the naked is important, too. It seems that God is more interested in social justice issues than whether the altar candles should have wax, wicks, or oil…which is actually a dilemma that altar guilds have lost sleep over.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

We would do well to listen to Isaiah. Serving the needs around us is akin to light breaking through upon the people of God when they engage in acts of righteousness. People who serve God in this manner find wholeness and healing, and God himself comes alongside to assist.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

When we are following God’s call, there is never a time that he is not with us. Not. Ever. So if your only interaction with God is once a week for an hour on Sundays, think that through again. God is more interested in your treatment of his people throughout the week than your attention for an hour.

In other words, you are not called to just hear the word. You are called to go out and BE the word.

So go be the word today.

Be the Word by Karen Warlitner

Great Assembly

OK, here’s the truth. I am tired of everybody’s online worship. I am tired of watching myself on TV on Sunday mornings in my jammies, with a cup of coffee in my hand. We are all tired of trying to think of new and creative ways to tell the story of Jesus while making eye contact with the cold, hard lens of a camera.

I guess I’m just tired of the isolation of attending church in my living room. I bet you are, too. I need my people.

I believe we were created for corporate worship. I believe heaven rejoices when God’s people gather in a place and raise their combined voices as one melody of adoration. I believe kids should be noisy and fidgety, older people should snooze, and young people should text each other during church…like we normally do every Sunday!

(Look, I’m like Santa sitting up there in the front….I see you when you’re sleeping, I know when you’re awake…)

I also believe we should listen with open hearts and minds, and in my church, that is what we do every Sunday together. I miss my congregation’s attentiveness to the Word as it is spoken, proclaimed, sung, and experienced. You see, I also see people leaning in when the Word is offered.

So today’s Psalm sent a ping straight to my heart with the very first verse:

Psalm 22 (New King James Version)

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

But then we get to a verse that reminds us that we worship as all the families of the nations. In that context, we couldn’t possibly be together in one place, and thus we are reminded that God’s kingdom is so much larger than the sanctuary that we are all missing:

27 All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

So what do you suppose our children are learning from this? Parents, what you are doing right now is teaching your children, who are the “posterity and the next generation,” about what YOU really feel about worship. Are you finding it less and less convenient to set Sunday morning aside for family worship? Is the beach, a sunny walk, picking strawberries, a bike ride to the woods, etc. more enticing to you as this pandemic wears on? Be careful with your priorities. The children are watching.

30 A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

If you are a regular church goer, please hang in there. Your pastor did not receive training as a televangelist in seminary. We are doing the best we can. God still requires that we keep the Sabbath holy, even in a pandemic.

The good news is, the great assembly will return! So in the meantime, let us continue to set Sunday mornings aside for “corporate” worship. God is still here, and he is worthy of our praise.

New Normal