worshiping God

…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

Worship of God is a theme in Revelation (see here, for example). It got me to thinking. I wonder just how much we truly worship God.

Worship is ascribing worthship to something. In scripture and Christian tradition, only God is worthy of worship. Although sometimes that language has been used for lesser objects. In the Great Tradition, veneration is giving special honor, even reverence to objects not worthy of worship. I am among those who would not be comfortable joining other Christians in doing that. But we naturally do that to some extent to those we highly esteem. This is set in certain Christian traditions for “saints.” Of course God alone is worthy of full, complete worship. And really, that can come natural too, as we seek to give our full attention to God: who God is, and what God has done.

When we are talking about God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship the Father in and through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But we can worship all three Persons of the Trinity, since God is one, and the Father, with Jesus and the Spirit are, or we might say is God.

To worship God might come naturally so to speak, as we focus on God. Of course it is what we call supernatural, beyond nature, since we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. We can only begin to gather in our minds and hearts just who God is by the Spirit. Then we worship God in our hearts through song and ascriptions such as we find in Revelation, the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture.

Worship includes offering ourselves to the One who is deserving of everything. By creation and redemption, as well as simply who God is, God is worthy. We join in this eternal singing and song, and giving of our lives, in and through Jesus.

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realizing we don’t know God, the passageway to coming to know God

I recently wrote a piece questioning whether or not we tend to have a diminished view of Christ and God. I can speak for myself in thinking I certainly do. Of course if any of us thinks they have a handle on knowing God, then we’re sorely mistaken.

It’s becoming helpful, and even life-giving to me to realize that I really don’t get it when it comes to knowing God. Of course we know God through knowing Jesus. When Jesus’s disciple Philip asked him to show them the Father, Jesus told Philip that whoever has seen him, has seen the Father.

I’m not saying that I haven’t known God at all through the years as a Christian. I take it by faith that I have. But our conception of God is often clouded, since we are so prone to making God somehow in our own image, or what we ourselves conceive God to be. Of course Jesus is both the image of humanity, and the image of God. Do we understand what it means to be fully human? Jesus is. Or to be God? Jesus is fully that. So yes, Jesus is human like us through and through, unlike us- unbroken in his humanity. And unlike us, Jesus is God, as God the Son with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So in Jesus’s essential being, he is different than us, and will ever remain so.

And when it comes right down to it, we don’t really understand humanity all that well, much less Deity. People in the world are often at a loss to understand what humans really are. We know from scripture that relationships are essential in what it means to be human, as well as responsibility in significant works. But we still struggle over our own meaning. And we’ll never fathom the endless mystery of God. We share in something of God, being made in God’s image. But God remains God, while we remain human, albeit glorified in and through Jesus forever.

A key for me is to realize I just don’t have the knowledge of God in any way, shape, or form. I can’t figure God out by reading scripture, not even by looking at Jesus. That is something that remains mystery to us. The Spirit alone reveals God to us, even something of the deep things of God. But part of that is simply to realize that there’s no end to that; we won’t reach its end in the next life, much less in this one. And not that scripture and seeing Jesus in scripture is not important in this revelation from the Spirit, because it most certainly is.

The big takeaway for me that has emerged lately is that I simply don’t really know God, not well enough. Through that it’s beginning to dawn on me, something of the awareness of God. In and through Jesus.

 

patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

all for Jesus and the gospel

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Mark 8

There is nothing more key or central to our lives, we who are in Jesus, than our devotion to Jesus and the gospel. That is central in loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including even loving our enemies, as Jesus taught.

It’s all too easy to lose this focus, and get all wrapped up in necessary things. And we’re trying to love God and our neighbor in the process, but often more or less muddled up, hardly free enough to do so. What we need is a single eye, as in a heart set on faithfulness to Jesus and the good news of God in him. That is when the Spirit will take hold of us, and help us to truly live. It is a life brimming over and full of love, God’s love. But of course, it’s not easy. As Jesus points out here, it’s the way of the cross. And that’s not set aside after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Paul makes that clear, and others as well, both in their writings, and from the witness of their lives. While it isn’t easy, it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit.

When I’m in the dark, the Spirit can lead me into this light. A decent question to ask, which yes, has its limitations, but it is good for prayerful consideration: What would Jesus do? Jesus by the Spirit lives in us now. Our whole lives at home and everywhere else are meant to point others to him. And while we live, Christ also is our life, and the one who lives through us, even us with all our mistakes and problems along the way. But as we seek to live in him, he makes himself known not only to us, but to others. And it’s the love of Christ which not only compels us, but changes us through and through, so that we can become more and more like him, hopefully over time.

It’s never about us, but about Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. That is where we find our real, true life. And the light and love which goes with it. In and through Jesus.

the one thing needed to be a fresh witness

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Colossians 3:16

I am actually thinking here primarily of teaching or preaching, but this applies in any aspect of witnessing, and I’m referring to the verbal aspect of it, just as Paul did in this passage. Why is it that in some circles and churches the word is fresh and new and powerful every week. We can well say, “Let the word be the word, and it will be powerful because that’s what it is.” It surely can fall on deaf ears due to hardened or unprepared hearts. But that’s another subject.

There is nothing more important than seeking to be interactive with God’s word, which today we might well say is the word or message of Christ, both in terms of fulfillment, as well as from and through Christ by the Spirit.

In the struggle of life, in all that makes up our existence, it’s important that we seek to live as those who are not only accountable to God, but also in a living relationship with Christ by the Spirit. So that our lives are an expression of Christ, both from us and from him (see this post).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The important point here is that we’re sharing what’s a part of us. It’s not contrived, or something we have to put on, or act out. Not that there isn’t a struggle at times. But we share what God gives us to share with others, and receive the same from others, as well.

Yes, this is from Christ by the Spirit. But it’s necessarily tied to the word as well, which comes from the triune God. It’s the word, but one might truly say it’s Christ expression of it, certainly a Christo-centric, Christ-centered reading and telling of it, even as Jesus opened the scriptures to his disciples to help them see that he is the fulfillment of what is written. It’s a faithfulness to the word, to scripture, which is only possible now, in and through him. Fresh, and as new and life-giving as ever, in and through Jesus.

 

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

neither underestimate nor misunderstand the grace of God (nor think we can comprehend it)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

We find again and again in scripture that God’s grace is key in our lives, in the lives of others. There are differences in teaching on this, as one might and should expect. There is what theologians call “common grace,” in which God pours down his blessings on all, in sunshine and rain, and provisions for life and more. This is not the grace described in this passage which brings salvation, according to scripture.

This is a big subject, but this post will touch mainly on one aspect of it, while addressing one common misunderstanding. God’s grace is alive and well in the world, and there is the light which enlightens every person (John 1). But the goodness and kindness of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2). There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. It’s not just that somehow in an inexplicable, mysterious way that in the end all are saved through Christ. The NIV avoids this misunderstanding in the translation above, even if less literal. God’s grace is at work in all kinds of ways, but the special grace of salvation is always linked to repentance which means a turning from sin to God, and to faith, which means a trust in God and in God’s word, the message of the good news in Jesus.

Theologians also refer to “prevenient grace” which means the grace by which people receive the good news of the gospel for themselves by simple faith and trust in Jesus. Through Jesus’s death for our sins, and resurrection. We trust in what God has done for us through Jesus’s death, and receive forgiveness of our sins and new, eternal life.

So the grace which saves, to which the passage above refers, is not a cheap grace by which people get in with no change of life. Not at all. But at the same time grace is at work in spite of us, not because of us. That’s not to say that our efforts toward understanding and entering into this grace are a waste of time. Grace termed as prevenient by theologians might well include some of this striving, making every effort to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). But also we have to remember that we still sin and have indwelling sin (1 John 1). And that is all the more true of those who have yet to cross over from death into life. They are sinners, period. Maybe Christians are both sinners and saints (Luther), depending on what you mean by that. God’s grace at work in people’s lives is in spite of so many things. God in his grace accepts us completely exactly where we’re at, but in God’s good grace, he certainly doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means we’re satisfied with nothing less than God’s salvation, which doesn’t mean only the forgiveness of sins, but also new life, a new way of living. By the Spirit in the love of God. Which means a changed life, a transformation both complete at conversion, and incomplete until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6), meaning there is a process involved.

This grace gives us hope, and helps us to get out of God’s way, simply presenting the gospel, and trying to be responsive to God’s word. But this grace teaches us, teaches others. God’s full, unmerited, undeserved favor in helping us in ways beyond us, but in ways that indeed reach us in and through Jesus.