“There’s good news, and there’s bad news” seems to be one of the principles this world runs on. As if Newton’s 3rd law that every action has a equal and opposite reaction applies not just to the physical world, but the emotional world, and the spiritual world as well.
In that way, Good…
My friend Matt wrote some beautiful words about Easter. Check it.
Do you ever get frustrated with this world and the way it’s going? Do you ever look around at the people getting more stuff, bigger houses, nicer clothes, better vacations and then realize that you don’t really care about any of that stuff? Have you tried out enough of this busted old world to realize that it doesn’t actually have very much to offer your heart? I mean, let’s be honest - this world has a lot to offer your physical senses. There are comforts, pleasures and delicacies by the truckload, but is there really all that much that can satisfy the depths of who you are? Why is it that the people who have the most stuff, the greatest accomplishments and the brightest spotlights are usually incredibly lonely, depressed and even addicted? This world was never supposed to be our home and the sensory pleasures of this world were never supposed to be able to satisfy our hearts. You were made for a better world. You’re not supposed to be comfortable here. You’re supposed to feel like a foreigner. As believers in Jesus, we are supposed to be pilgrims on a journey to a different and better world - our true home. On Jesus’ last night before the cross, He told His friends that He was going away to prepare a place for them and that He would come back and bring them to that place He was preparing. That’s why you’re getting tired of this place. That’s why you’re longing for something more. God’s people have always had a healthy dissatisfaction with temporary pleasure. We are only passing through this world. If you find yourself homesick for a place you’ve never been, you know you’re one of His kids.
Incredible things have happened to you. Life-changing, reality-altering things have happened and you’ll never be the same again. The only problem is, you don’t always feel all that different, right? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. We all struggle with this from time to time. If you know Jesus, everything in your world has been flipped upside down and in some ways, things are better than you could have ever imagined, even in your wildest dreams. Except that you don’t always feel like your dreams have come true. Sometimes life is scary, confusing, difficult and even mind-numbingly ordinary. Sometimes life feels more like a nightmare than a dream and it’s easy to feel like you are somehow behind the curve if you don’t feel excited and brand new every minute of every day.
The truth is, we all struggle to recognize the incredible realities of our new life. Believers in Jesus have always had a hard time with this. In fact, there’s a place at the beginning of Colossians 3 where the Apostle Paul tells these folks some of the the amazing things that have happened to them and then encourages them to do whatever it takes to recognize it. The thing is, when you read what he says, it’s easy to wonder why he had to tell them in the first place. If those things have happened to them, shouldn’t they be the first to know? He says, “You’ve been raised with Christ. You died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, you will also appear with Him in glory.” Whoa. That’s huge stuff. That’s not like one of your friends getting a haircut and maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. If you died and were raised from the dead with Jesus, you’d know it, right?
And yet, Paul has to remind them and us that it has happened. He has to tell us to set our minds on the things above and to set our hearts on things above, not on earthly things because that’s where we belong now. The words he used for setting our minds and hearts above are words that mean to seek, search, try, think, observe, care about, feel, inquire and even demand. He’s telling us to go for it with all we have. In other words, “Your whole life has been changed, now do everything you can to keep yourself thinking about that changed life.” But, if our life has changed so much, why in the world does he have to say any of this?
This is just part of living in fallen bodies in a fallen world. We forget what’s most important and we ignore what’s right in front of us. Jesus has completely changed us and yet we still need Him desperately even to recognize these amazing changes. The real question is, how do we keep all this at the forefront of our mind? How do we search it out and demand to feel and experience this new life? I personally can only speak to my own experience, but for me, it has been all about two big things. One, I wake up every day needing Jesus as desperately as I did when I was helplessly lost. I need Him to help me feel it. I need His power. And two, I need people in my life who live out the new life. I need people who get what it’s all about and I need them around me all the time. I build my life around believers I respect and around my own weakness and need for Jesus. The biggest things ever have happened to me and I want to feel the truth of those outrageous events.
Why We Worship - Jesus Is Giving Us His Indestructible Life
We worship Jesus together in singing because He won. He defeated sin and death forever and brings us into His indestructible life.
Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate the hinge around which everything else in our Christian life turns. Jesus rose from the dead and is vindicated as being exactly who He always said He was. On the cross, He defeated sin, reversed the curse and extracted the poison of the Fall. As the sun rose on Easter Sunday, the empty tomb proved that the days are numbered for evil, pain, sadness, grief and wrong. When Jesus walked out of His grave, death itself died.
Now every single day is new because every single day the sun rises on a world where the fallen human race is being redeemed, reborn and recreated. Every day, we get to wake up knowing that the Living Christ is at work in our lives, making everything new by the power of His indestructible life. No matter what happens, we have the promise of Heaven, which means that even our own death will be like waking up from a much-needed nap into the eternal bliss of paradise with God. On this day, we celebrate the triumph of the Risen One and the everlasting joy that is ours because of it.
One of the hardest things about being human is the question of your own worth. How can you ever really know whether your life means enough? On top of the difficulty of that question is the fact that death cuts the answer off. When you die, everything’s just over. Death is so final. When you lose someone really close to you, it takes a long time for the fact to sink all the way down into your heart that they really are gone and their life on earth is over. You’ll hear a song they really loved or remember an old inside joke you shared with that person and think of them. You might even start to call them or send them a text message only to remember with a painful stab that you can’t make that call because they won’t pick up. It’s over. They’re gone. Their work is finished, their laugh is silenced and all their stories are told. Surely this is the way the disciples felt on the Saturday after Jesus died on the cross. Waking up Sunday morning would have had that same, dull, numb sadness of grief until the greatest news broke over their weary hearts like a tidal wave of impossible joy. He’s back! He’s not dead! Incredibly, amazingly, Jesus is alive. His story didn’t end and His work isn’t finished. In fact, one of the beautiful things about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is that He gives us that same indestructible life that beats in His ribs. We are His kids, and we will never really die. Your worth is sealed by the fact of His spilled blood for you and His everlasting life is pulsing in your veins. He’ll never be finished with you.
He didn’t have to do it. Whatever you read or listen to or think about on this Good Friday pertaining to the cross of our Lord, keep this in the forefront of your mind - He didn’t have to do it. As you enter into this day and your heart scrambles to deal with the emotions of remembering those awful hours of pain and darkness, make sure you remember this one outrageous fact - the cross was not a given. It was not inevitable. He could have said no and yet, He said yes.
I’m not saying there was any other way for us to be saved. The cross was our only hope. The Son of God paying for our wrong was the only way we could be forgiven. It was the only plan that could or would work, but it was not forced upon Him. It was not fate. It was not the cleverness of His enemies. It was not a trap. His hand was not forced. He could have stopped the motion of those dreadful wheels at any point and He didn’t, which means the cross was His choice.
He chose to go. He decided to endure the pain. He allowed Himself to be humiliated. He intended for this to happen. I guess you could say He wanted it. Yes, He did ask for this cup to pass from Him. He did ask the Father for another way, but when no other way could be found, He chose it, which means that however badly He did not want this, there was something in doing it that He wanted more. As F.B. Meyer said, “Whilst there was much that cried, “Back!” there was more that cried, “On!”
As you go through this Good Friday, remember Him and the cross He chose. Remember that He willingly endured everything for the joy set before Him. What could that joy be, if not His love for you? It was love. He didn’t have to do it, but He loved you and me. Every believer in Jesus can rightly say along with the Apostle Paul, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” - Galatians 2:20
A Worship Song For Folks Who Want To Celebrate The Love Of Our Savior
- In 1875, a preacher in London called S. Trevor Francis wrote one of my favorite hymns about the way Jesus feels about you and me. It’s called, “O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus” and it’s an all-out celebration of the heart our Lord has for us. Spin this and sing it out.
I bet you sometimes feel really far away from God. Not only that, but I bet you think the distance is God’s way of showing you how unhappy He is with your behavior. In other words, you assume God punishes your sin by withholding Himself from you. The reason I know you sometimes feel this way is that I do too. We all do. Everyone goes through seasons of feeling really far away from God and we all naturally think this is a direct result of our wrong. The thing is, despite the way you feel, if you know Jesus, your sin will never separate you from the love of God ever again. The truth is, we used to be separated from God because of our wrong. We were all born that way, excluded from His fellowship like the Israelites of old who worshiped God knowing that they could never really approach Him. There was a special room in the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell and a giant curtain hung in front of the entrance to that room, keeping them separate from God. Only one person could go behind the curtain and only one day out of the whole year. Even then, this High Priest had to have the blood of a spotless substitute on his head, hands and feet. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and then laid that life down to be your Spotless Substitute. His perfect blood was shed to take you behind the curtain. In fact, before He died, that curtain ripped from top to bottom. You are no longer separated from God’s presence. No matter what you have done, you can be with God right now.
“The truth is that sex requires intimacy, and friendship, and a heart to serve the person you love. The best sex isn’t being had between sexy young people who barely know each other, it’s being had by people who have been married and getting to know everything about each other for years and years.”—
Springtime is amazing. It’s surprising. No matter how old I get or how many times I see it, I always love to watch the blossoming of new growth on the trees when winter gives way to spring. For months, the cold hard ground and gray skies have been silhouetted by the lonely bones of barren branches. The trees have been like skeletons sticking out of the earth, yearning for life. And then one day you see it: tiny, fragile, yellowish-green buds of new leaves start appearing as if by magic. Some trees have unbelievable blossoms that paint the landscape with pastel colors and some just start churning out green as if to proclaim the emergence of health and life.
It almost seems like a dead thing has come back to life again, and yet we know that’s not what happened. That tree wasn’t dead during the winter. It was always alive through the bitter and biting winds. It was drinking in the rain and waiting on the sun.
Do you ever feel like a winter tree? Does it ever seem as if you are empty and fruitless, exposed and just barely hanging onto your stiff patch of ground, waiting for the sun to shine? I know I’ve felt like that. Sometimes my heart feels cold and lifeless. Sometimes God feels as though He’s a million miles away. And yet, spring is around the corner. You see, we are like those trees. God has you planted right where He wants you. Even the cold winter rain is going down into your roots and giving you what you need to bloom. If you feel like a skeleton on the landscape, hang in there. Your spring is coming. The sun is going to make the gray sky blue and you are going to spin new leaves out into the open air. Keep digging your roots down deep into the Scriptures. Keep going to the Lord in His word and asking Him to nourish you, fill you and grow you. Your season is coming. You’re going to blossom and thrive.
“Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water - which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” - Psalm 1
I want you to answer a question in your own head without thinking about it. Just give your gut reaction as soon as you read the question. Ready? Here we go: who is the person you love most in the world? Is it your best friend? Is it your spouse or your child or your Great Aunt Liz or your German Shepherd, Roscoe? Who in your life just sets your heart on fire? Who is that person you are most devoted to and most excited to be with? Who is that person you’re crazy about, in spite of all their faults? Who is that person you would defend at all costs? Okay. Now picture them. Can you see their face in your mind’s eye and hear their voice and their laugh? Focus on that face you love and think about the way you feel about them. I want you to try something. Take your affection and commitment for that person and multiply it a million times. Multiply it a billion times. Imagine that huge love you have radiates with the eternal, explosive power of a trillion burning suns, no matter what that person does or who they become, forever and ever. Now, I want you to imagine what it would be like to be loved like that. What if Jesus loves you with that kind of intensity and constancy? He says you’re the apple of His eye. He says you enthrall Him. He says you are His chosen, His beloved, His friend. He says He’ll never forget you and never forsake you. What if you believed those words with all of your heart? What if His thoughts about you were the most precious thing in the world to you?
Artist/Producer Zach Hughes has already made a name for himself with his unique blending of elements from bluegrass, British shoegazer rock, and new folk. In his new track, “Rescue Me,” Zach brings together a passionate cry for the love of Jesus with killer mandolin work and a rhythm section that refuses to let up.
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Zach Hughes is holding my mandolin hostage in Nashville (which is cool with me because he makes tracks like this with it)
We worship Jesus together with singing because He tells us to do thing we might not have done on our own, but winds up being the thing we most need.
Every single one of us comes from different backgrounds and we all have different interests and preferences. When it comes to the feel and flow of a worship service, we all probably want different things. Some folks probably feel close to the Lord when they are hiking and some feel close to Him when they’re in a coffee shop with their journal open and their headphones in. None of that is bad. In fact, it’s great to find out the thing that helps you draw near to the Lord and max that out, but something else is needed for true worship. Sometimes, the things God wants you to do in worship are not the things you would have chosen and yet, the most worshipful thing is simply to do them anyway.
Some people may not like all the music and some people may not like the way the room is set up or the way Communion is handled, but God wants us here. The Lord wants us to be here with each other, praising Him together in spite of the fact that not everything is done our way. Jesus wants you here in a room full of people you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to be your friends and He wants you figure out what it means to love each other through the long, tough slog of life lived together. We sing to Him together to remind us we’re on the same team - that we’re in the foxhole together. These are your neighbors, your friends, your brothers and sisters. It’s more than just your church. It’s your family, and yes, that means all the funky, difficult and beautiful things that come with that term. We’re here because we need each other and we belong to each other.
Are you at peace and filled with a deep seated joy today, or full of anxiety? When you look at your self and your own heart, are you content, or shuddering and nervous? Do you know, right now, with absolute certainty where you stand with Jesus, or are you tense and worried, unsure about the way He sees you? People come to Jesus in one of two ways and the way you see your relationship with Him is completely dependent upon how you come to Him. People either come to Jesus as an employee ready to collect what they’ve earned or they come to Him as a charity case, ready to receive what He freely gives. Only one approach actually works, and yet most of us try them both from time to time. In Matthew 20, Jesus told a story about a landowner who hired people to work in His vineyard. Offering a certain amount of money, He hired some folks at dawn, some at mid morning, some at lunch, some in early afternoon and He even hired a few right before quitting time. At the end of the work day, He paid everyone the same. The people hired at dawn complained because they thought they should get more. The landowner said, “You got exactly what I offered you. You got exactly what you agreed to. So what if I’m generous to these others? This is my money.” When you approach Jesus like an employee, you’ll always wonder if you worked hard enough and you’ll be discontent with what He gives, but when you realize He just loves you for no reason, you accept everything as charity, which frees you up to just be satisfied, joyful and loved.
How Do You Measure Your Worth And What Does Failure Mean?
What if you were at a baseball game and all the players starting bending down on the ground to count blades of grass? What if everyone in the stadium started cheering on this strange sight as if they were watching something intense and exciting? What if you asked the person beside you what was going on and they said, “Well, obviously, the players are counting blades of grass. The first one to count 1,000 blades of grass wins a point for their team.” First of all, I realize the situation I’m describing sounds stupid and really boring, but what if something like that actually happened? What if all of a sudden, everyone at a baseball game started keeping score in the wrong way? What if the way they were keeping score didn’t make any sense? What if their measurements didn’t have anything to do with the point of baseball?
That is actually a pretty good description of the world you live in. Almost everyone you know has completely missed the point of life and as a result, they’re all keeping score in the wrong way, measuring something that really doesn’t matter at all. Most folks are determining their worth based on how much money they have, how they dress, what kind of grades they get, the status of their job, their looks or any number of other temporary, terrestrial and fleeting things. There are a couple of huge problems with the way we keep score. One is that we are eternal beings and all of those earthly measurements we use to compare ourselves to each other are going away very soon. Ten thousand years from now, it won’t matter what college you went to or what your annual income was on earth.The other glaring problem with this system is that God the Son died for you. Your worth is nothing less than the precious blood of God. No measurement could add or subtract from your limitless value.
The thing is, we’re all so short-sighted. We only see what’s right in front of us, which means we keep score using all the wrong math. That’s why we get so devastated when we fail at something. We think failing at a job or school or a sport or a relationship means that we are no good. We think it proves we have less value than others, but that’s not what failure means at all. The truth is, we have infinite worth because of Jesus’ death and failure is just something He uses to remind us of how much we need Him. Failure leads us to Jesus.
In John 21, Peter and his friends went out to catch fish, but they utterly failed. They didn’t catch a thing all night long. In the morning, the resurrected Jesus stood on the shore and encouraged them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat and when they did this, the nets were filled to the brim. In fact, Jesus had already caught other fish and was cooking them up for the guys’ breakfast. Failure didn’t make these guys less important or less valuable. Rather, their failure exposed their need for and dependence on Jesus. He provided more than enough fish. After breakfast, Jesus and Peter had a conversation that wasn’t about fish at all. It wasn’t about Peter’s failure or his business in any way. It was a conversation about the real point of life. Jesus looked this man in the eyes and said, “Do you love me?” When you know your worth is fixed and you embrace failure because it drives you into the arms of Jesus, you can be freed up to answer the only question that really matters - do you love Jesus?
Do you ever have those moments where you come face-to-face with the awful truth of who you can be and realize that if Jesus didn’t love you, you’d be hosed? And look, I’m not talking about someone making you feel guilty about something from your past. I mean, you have some funky attitude or reaction and you look at it all on your own and admit to yourself without any doubt, “I’m kind of a huge jerk.” The weird thing is, no matter what we try to do, we can’t clean up the spill. We can’t rehabilitate the jerkiness away. There’s a darkness deeper than we like to face inside everyone of us. The weird thing is, even though we know this is the truth about ourselves, we forget it an awful lot. It’s very easy to think that the world is divided up into evil people and good people and we’re basically on the good side. Do you ever land with both feet in those moments where you know you’re not on the good side? The truth is, there’s a storm coming. It’s unavoidable and unstoppable and it’s going to change absolutely everything. The uncompromising justice of the Holy God of Heaven is going to sweep down over this world and His patience with wrong will be replaced with devastating power unleashed on every corner of darkness until everything is made right. It’s not just something crazy people write on cardboard signs - the end is actually coming one day. The wrath of God will spill out and we deserve to be leveled in that awful wake, but we won’t be. We have been spared. Jesus saved us because of His love for us.
A worship song for folks wanting to live in freedom
"If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." - John 8:36 This song was written for men and women behind bars to remind them that no matter what anyone says about their past, Jesus declares them forgiven and free forever.
Something You Shouldn't Be Afraid Of, But Probably Are
One of the biggest things standing in the way of your spiritual growth shouldn’t be in the way at all. There’s something simple and natural you’re probably not doing because you’re afraid to. The thing is, if you really did this thing, you’d find it’s nothing to be afraid of. If you decided to let go of your fear and really do this simple thing, I think you’d start to like it. You may even find that it’s a key to your continued growth in the Lord.
Jesus wants to be friends with you. He wants a real and deep relationship. Real relationships are not afraid to deal with hard conversations. Real friendships do not shy away from conflict. When you hang out with Jesus, do you talk with Him about your sin? Are you willing to admit your wrong and review your own brokenness with Jesus? If you don’t ever confess stuff to Jesus, it’s probably because you’re afraid to face that mountain of guilt and shame, right? Maybe your thinking, “I am totally forgiven in Jesus, so I don’t even want to think about my own sin, ever, because it just makes me feel terrible.”
1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In the original language, the word we’ve translated ‘confess’ literally means, “same words.” In other words, confession simply means to call your sin the same thing God calls it. Use the same words. Most of us are afraid of confessing our wrong to Jesus because we thing confession means to feel terrible and guilty, but it doesn’t mean that at all. Confession is about agreeing with God when it comes to our sin.
The real question is, what words does God use? What does He say about our sin? Well, He says it’s sin. He says it’s wrong. He says we’re broken and we need to change. And most of us stop right there, but God doesn’t. If you know Jesus, God also says you’re sin is paid for, in full. He says you are forgiven and made new. He says you are completely righteous and will never be condemned. Confession is awesome. A real friendship with Jesus means you’re not afraid to look at what needs to change. In fact, looking at it and knowing you’re forgiven is how you grow. When you’re honest with Jesus about your wrong, He can show you where you need to grow and give you wisdom for facing that temptation next time. Confession is safe. It’s healthy, restorative and sweet. Confession keeps you honest, real and growing in Jesus.
We worship Jesus together in song because these words bring Him closer and help us focus on the real thing.
For lots of us, the number one thing we fight in our walk with the Lord is distraction. We know Jesus. We love Jesus. We want to live for and serve Jesus, but life gets in the way. The issue is the fact that the things in our lives don’t want a piece of our life - they want the whole thing. Our normal lives, our jobs, our problems, our entertainments and our responsibilities are all clamoring for our undivided attention. In answer, we try to slice up our time, energy, heart and affections equally between them all to stay afloat. The trouble is that life doesn’t really work this way and the more we divide our resources, the less we have to give to God. Most of us want God to be front and center in our hearts, but we don’t know how to pull it off in the midst of the rest of our lives.
That’s why we come together to worship. This time is supposed to act like a magnifying glass - a lens designed to help you focus on the most important thing and see it with greater clarity. Psalm 34 says “magnify the Lord.” When I was a kid, I thought a magnifying glass made something bigger, but that’s not actually the point of magnification. You don’t actually change the size of the object or subject. It is what it is and remains that way. When you magnify something, you’re bringing it closer. You’re focusing it in such a way that you see it more clearly. We sing songs about the love and faithfulness of Jesus to bring Him closer - to focus on Him so that we can live the rest of our lives through our walk with Him.
I think when it comes to prayer, most of us are a bunch of chickens. My whole life, I’ve heard people pray in such a way where they dance around the thing they really want to say instead of just saying it. I’ve heard people pull punches with God and even apologize for bringing up what they’re asking of Him. Sometimes, when people do get around to asking for the thing they really want God to do for them, they’ll immediately frame it by saying, “but only if it’s Your will, Lord.” In other words, these folks will effectively withdraw their request as soon as they make it by deploying the ‘if-it’s-Your-will’ clause. I have to be real here and admit that I’ve prayed like this as well. We all have. We learned it from other believers. We want to treat God with the respect He deserves and we don’t want to sound like a bunch of demanding, ungrateful punks rattling the gates of Heaven, so we back off from asking for the thing we really want. The thing is, Jesus didn’t teach us to pray this way. Jesus told His guys to pray with honesty, intensity, determination and even a disregard for social propriety. He told a story about a guy going over to his neighbor’s house at midnight and begging for bread to feed some unexpected guests. It’s a rude request and the neighbor flatly refuses, but Jesus says the bread was given. Wow. That’s prayer. It’s stubborn and real, even if it is disrespectful. Real prayer says, “I’m not leaving your porch until you answer me.” Does that make you uncomfortable? Jesus said it’s the way to get what you want.
A brand new song for folks who know how much they need Jesus:
What if the Punch Brothers recorded a song that was a raw, simple, honest and desperate prayer? Nashville producer and artist Zach Hughes shows us what a cry of the heart can sound like when huge drums and blazing mandolin get in the game.
Are you ever suspicious about the way God sees you? Let’s face it, God knows everything about you, so He probably sees you in the worst possible light, right? It’s an easy thing to assume and feel. Most people see God as the Chief of the sin police; and since He’s omniscient, that would probably make Him the head of the CIA version of the sin police. The only problem is that when we look at our relationship through this lens of the troublemaker and the Enforcer, we sell everybody short. I’m not saying you don’t have sin in your life, because you do, but seeing God merely as a sin investigator and seeing yourself merely as a perpetrator makes God less than He is and makes you less than you are to Him, and I can prove it to you. I want you to think of someone in your town or school or church who gets into trouble a lot. Think of someone everyone talks about behind their back. The funny thing is, people are bold and loud about this person’s wrongs with anyone and everyone unless that person’s mother or father is around. If Mom or Dad is in earshot, they show more respect. The thing we always forget is that we are God’s kids. That’s the ultimate lens He sees us through. In Matthew 9, Jesus called a man, “son” and a woman “daughter.” That’s how Jesus sees you. A wise parent sees the sin in their child, but real love goes deeper than disappointment, embarrassment, anger or anything else. There’s a connection and a sympathy that outweighs the wrong. When Jesus sees you, He sees the child He loves.
“This short little life is not the end. You will go on after death. Jesus faced death and rose victorious over death so that you can live forever with Him in love and peace. If you know and love Him, your death will not be the end of all you had, but will only be the beginning of everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”—Daily Lent Podcast, Chapter 22
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We come together to sing to Jesus because we are pilgrims and these are our traveling songs.
Last week, my family took a long drive together. In the process of getting ready for the trip, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we would listen to in the car at different stages of our journey. I had different artists, albums and playlists in mind and ready to go as we hit the road because music is a really important part of travel. The right playlist at the right time on a long car trip can break the tedium, lift the spirits and bring a sense of togetherness. When we’re all singing a song together, we’re in it together. When we’re singing the same song, we’re not just around other people who happen to be moving along, like passengers on a bus who can get off at any time, but we’re headed somewhere and the journey becomes as important as the destination.
The Scriptures call us pilgrims. We don’t just believe certain things, we are actually going somewhere. We are following Someone. Our faith is a pathway we’re walking and we come together to worship Jesus because singing brings life, community and purpose to the journey. These are our traveling songs, our road trip playlist - the choruses we sing to lift our hearts and keep our eyes focused on where we’re going. These are the songs that bind us together as a family that’s headed home.
Do you ever find it funny that we spend so much time and energy trying to attain a self-sufficient life when we are so obviously frail and dependent? The really interesting thing is how much our spiritual culture emphasizes and aims for strength, competence and security when our faith doesn’t really promise those things. Indeed, our faith is supposed to be about our need for Jesus. He is the strong One. He is our security. And yet, we are uncomfortable in our own skin. We are ashamed of not being enough and we don’t like to see that need in others. Dependence makes us feel embarrassed on behalf of desperate people, despite the fact that at the core, we are all smoking wreckage in need of critical repair. One week before Jesus went to the cross, He was entering Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey, fulfilling an ancient prophecy as crowds sang Messianic Psalms to praise Him. At the same time, other folks were telling Jesus to silence these crowds because their praise was inappropriate. Matthew tells us the folks worshiping Jesus were the blind, the lame and the children. The folks opposing their worship were the rich, the powerful and the influential. Jesus loved their songs. He stood with and defended the cause of the helpless, the powerless and the voiceless. The thing is, it’s not that Jesus didn’t love those religious leaders opposing Him, they just didn’t think they needed Him. Jesus isn’t for everyone. Don’t get me wrong - everyone needs Jesus, but not everyone knows it. If you know you are totally needy - dependent, powerless and helpless without Him, Jesus belongs to you. He died for you and He lives for you.
“What am I without you, but a guide to my own ruination? And what kind of man is he who is only a man and nothing more? Let the strong and mighty go ahead and laugh; but let us who are poor and needy confess our need of You.”—Augustine, from The Confessions
Have you ever noticed how some of the most significant and profound moments of spiritual change happen in the smallest, quietest and most humble situations? This is kind of a weird thing, because lots of Christian-looking events and gatherings are big and flashy - church services and worship concerts in fancy arenas with thousands of people, laser light shows and chart-topping bands. In my experience, however, people’s lives change most in one-on-one conversations in coffee shops while no one else is looking. I’ve seen people really give their heart to the Lord in moments of failure, humiliation, tragedy and disease. Despite the glitzy image and talk of many Christian groups, the Kingdom of God is advancing in the midst of pain and friendship, sorrow and service. There is a place at the end of the book of Hebrews that talks about how the priests in the old sacrificial system would take the blood of the sacrificed animal into the temple, but the bodies would be burned outside the camp, in disgrace. This writer goes on to say that Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy by His blood. The way of Jesus is that of exclusion and disgrace. It’s the way of service to the weak and troubled. Jesus identifies with the poor, hated, hurting and lonely. The writer then goes on to say that for this reason we should go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore because this world is not our home. Let’s build the Kingdom alongside Jesus. Let’s embrace exclusion, humility, and want. Let’s give ourselves to serve the broken and ignored. This world is fancy and fine, but it is not our home.
A Song for folks who need to be reminded what God’s love is really like.
I wrote this song for my kids so that they know they are loved no matter what they do or don’t do - no matter who they do or don’t become. That’s the way God feels about you. He wants you to know that you are loved - not because you earned it, but simply because you are His very own.
We praise Jesus together because we’re celebrating the fact that it won’t always be this way.
Gladness has to have a reason. There has to be something to fuel praise. If we’re going to lift our hearts to Jesus, we need to have something to be excited about. The problem is that when you look at your life, it can sometimes be pretty difficult to be glad about it. Some of you are having a hard time right now. Some of you have been dealing with frustrating road blocks, disorienting losses and alarming difficulties. You didn’t see this week coming. You knew life would be hard, but not this hard. The question is, if you’ve had a really hard time, how do you honestly get yourself to a place of praise? How do you worship in spirit and in truth?
The answer is hope. No matter what kind of week you’ve had, there is good news. We don’t have a faith that paints an unrealistic picture of life. We don’t have a belief that everything is wonderful all the time. No, believing in Jesus allows you to look at difficulty and hardship in honesty and say, this is tough, but it won’t always be this way. When you know Jesus, you have a trump card in your hand. We have the hope of Heaven. We know that no matter what happens down here, it’s not the end of our story. Jesus promises that He is going to take us home to a place where our questions will be answered and our longings fulfilled. We may have a hard time down here, but it won’t be for long. Soon, we will be home and that hope gives us strength to face another day and a reason to praise Him in gladness today.
“There’s something happening. Behind the scenes of every apparent tragedy, failure, heartbreak and sin you see in your life, the Spirit of God is on the move - doing something unbelievable. He’s working your setbacks together into a beautiful story. He’s turning your pain into the launchpad for your triumphs. He’s recreating you, step by step - giving you a brand new start at every turn. You can’t see it, but even now, you’re changing.”—Lee Younger
One of the easiest traps to fall into is assuming that Jesus does things for you because He has to - as if He is fulfilling the requirements of a contract against His own will. The Bible says there are tons of things Jesus is doing for us all the time - praying for us, strengthening us, guiding us, holding us, working through us and even making all things work together for our best. There’s even one place where Jesus says that He’s preparing a place for us in Heaven. If I’m honest, I sometimes picture Jesus carrying out that list with a frown on His face - the way I do chores when I’d rather be curled up on the couch watching a movie. I assume He’s reluctant to work in my life but does it anyway, because if He doesn’t, who will? The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realize my assumption about Jesus’ attitude sells Him way short. This week, my wife and I are planning a big party for our kids themed around the Harry Potter books. We’re dressing up as our favorite characters and making food and drinks from the stories. Christy and I are having so much fun putting this party together for our kids because we love them and we love their joy. It doesn’t even feel like work. It’s just what love does. Do I really think Jesus is a less enthusiastic parent than I am? Do I honestly think He’s less joyful, less loving or less fun? No way! Jesus loves working in your life. He loves making a place for you and praying for you because you are His child and He absolutely loves your joy.
I want to bring up something that is both surprisingly uncommon and fairly uncomfortable for most Christians, but should be normal, regular and easy to do. It’s something we don’t like, and yet, it should be something that is not only easy, but freeing. Most of us are afraid of doing this thing, and yet it should be something that actually draws us closer to the Lord. Ready to find out what it is? Read on.
When was the last time you asked someone’s forgiveness? Now, I want you to think about that question seriously, and as you think about it, let me put some constraining filters on the question in order to refine the mental search results. I don’t want you to think merely of times you said you were sorry. Then you would probably be remembering all the times you told someone you were sorry it was raining, or you were sorry they had a headache. No, I mean specifically that you apologized about something you did to someone else. What’s more, I don’t want you to only think of times you apologized about a perceived miscommunication or hurt on that other person’s part. I am asking you to come up with an incident in which you wronged someone and had to come clean about it. Lastly, I want you to think about a time you apologized and asked forgiveness without qualifiers and in person. No text messages, no excuses, just admitted wrong and a plea for forgiveness.
Take your time.
Was it hard to think of a real apology? Some of us can’t remember the last time we did this. Some of us have parents or grandparents who have never admitted to being wrong even once in their lives. The funny thing is that the New Testament is filled to the brim with verses about forgiving people. Jesus tells Peter that in some relationships, you should be willing to forgive the same thing up to 500 times!
Most of us have never had to forgive because we were actually asked to do it by someone who hurt us. Normally, people hurt us and we have to muster the forgiveness. Some of us can’t even remember asking other people for forgiveness. I think we’re ashamed of being us. I think our real problem is with humility, frailty and our shame over the need to be forgiven by God basically all the time. To be honest, I think we should love asking forgiveness. We’re fallen. We’re broken. We’re messy. If someone is going to love me over the long haul, they’re going to have to forgive me a lot. The reality is, when I am okay being me and asking for forgiveness, I feel closer to Jesus, because my humility and need are the starting blocks of my relationship with Him. Don’t be ashamed to be you. Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong and ask for forgiveness.
When you’re trying to figure out what it means to walk with the Lord, it’s easy to think that you’re not really allowed to feel the things you feel. There are Bible verses about not complaining, not worrying and rejoicing always; but sometimes you feel sad. Sometimes you feel anxious and disappointed in what you’re facing. So, what does that mean? To be honest, I don’t know. I know those verses I mentioned are the goal. That’s where we want to end up when we’re in the middle of life’s troubles. I know that God has gotten me to the place of having a carefree, full heart that just trusts in Him, even when it’s hurting. I also know that I almost never start out there. When I find myself in a storm, I usually start out pretty confused, disoriented and upset. The thing I’m coming to believe more and more about the Lord is that He’s okay with that. He has a goal for my heart and He knows what it’s going to take to get me to grow into that goal, but I also know He wants me to be myself with Him, even when I haven’t reached the goal. I’m learning that in the place of prayer, I can be me, unfiltered. Isaiah 62 says when you’re really upset about something, you should pray and give yourself no rest. He goes on to say you should give the Lord no rest as well. If you need to bang on His door with your questions, hurt, complaint or frustration, do it. Do it until you get an answer. It’s what Job did. It’s what David did. It’s how Jesus taught us to pray.
A Song for folks who need to be reminded what God’s love is really like.
I wrote this song for my kids so that they know they are loved no matter what they do or don’t do - no matter who they do or don’t become. That’s the way God feels about you. He wants you to know that you are loved - not because you earned it, but simply because you are His very own.
Why We Worship - He Makes And Keeps Extreme Promises
We worship Jesus with our whole hearts because He has made outrageous promises to us and He is keeping them completely.
We humans love extreme words. We love grand gestures and unconditional promises. That is, we love to say them, but we’re not very good at living them out. We love to use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ but when we go on the record with those words, we wind up eating them at some later date. We love the idea of making a vow we will never break. We love the courage and the constancy required to pull that off. We love stories about the kinds of heroes who live out extremes, but when we’re honest, we have to face the fact that we are not those heroes.
One of the reasons we get together to worship Jesus is that He is the kind of guy who actually keeps His promises. Jesus seems to love grand gestures even more than we do, although with Him, it’s not just a gesture - it’s the real thing - a vow that is made and kept. Jesus promises us eternal life, unfailing love and unlimited patience. He swears He will never leave or forsake us and that He will always work everything together for our best. With Jesus, we are safe - safe to pour out our hearts and to give ourselves completely to Him because He has made extreme promises and He paid the highest cost to make sure He could keep His word.
So many of us have wasted a lot of time trying to please God by following all the rules. The thing is, following rules doesn’t have anything to do with pleasing God. Not only that, but trying to earn God’s approval by walking a perfectly straight line winds up making us worse. When we try to go by the rules, we end up blind, dense and insensitive. When we’re focussed on simply doing things the right way, we lose all traces of simple, basic, common sense. One time Jesus was at a dinner party with some Pharisees - the religious leadership of God’s people. In the midst of the guests was a man suffering from severe and painful swelling in his joints. Jesus had already gotten in trouble for healing people on the Sabbath day. They considered healing to be work and as a result, a violation of the command of that day to rest. Jesus looked at this hurting man and then asked the leaders if it was okay to heal even on the day of rest. They stayed silent. He then said that if they had a child or even an animal that was hurting on the Sabbath, they’d intervene and help out. What’s really interesting is the fact that this dinner party only takes up 14 verses in the whole book of Luke, but two of those verses were used to tell us the Pharisees were speechless. When we focus on the rules and doing everything the right way, we can’t see, think or feel properly. Trying to live right changes us, but it changes us for the worse. Jesus wants to set us free to simply let Him change us.
“When Jesus was on the cross, the entire world became dark in the middle of the day. All of the sin of the world was on Jesus’ shoulders as if He Himself had done it all. God the Father turned away. Jesus was disowned, cast out. He screamed out into the darkness, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?!” In those moments, He lost His Father. Our Lord felt the agony of not having God as His Dad so that we would never have to feel that way ever again. You have a Heavenly Father. You will never lose Him and He’ll never turn away from you.”—
Daily Lent Podcast, Chapter 6
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