Thursday, April 28, 2011

Worship Defined

I have been thinking a lot lately about the quality of my worship. When I begin to think about one aspect of something it usually leads to a process which causes me to think about all other aspects of the same thing. So, as I thought about the quality of my worship I had to go on to think about the concept of worship as a whole.
Worship can be directed at anything or anyone, and often is. We as humans were created to worship, and if we are not properly directed to the truly deserving object of worship we will fill that need by giving ourselves to something completely incapable of accepting it. Worship, in its truest form, is voluntary. It is a gift to be accepted, and cannot be coerced or it is not worship. In the same way worship based on addiction is not truly worship. Worship is given without thought of what we will get in return. These same qualities should mean that worship can only be offered to a sentient being, yet it is one of our greatest human failings that we offer it to simple objects of our desire with the thought that we will somehow be compensated.
So in the end our worship becomes more about us than it does about anything else. It becomes a means to satisfy our own need instead of the gift it was intended to be.
I am reminded of the first line of a book titled “The Purpose Driven Life”, by Rick Warren.
No matter if you like the book itself the first line is so applicable that you cannot help but wonder what else he’s going to say after that.
The very first sentence of chapter one states this:
“It’s not about you.”
And that is the essence of Worship properly directed.
My problem with my worship began when I unconsciously began to treat it as a form of entertainment.
I ostensibly come to share my love of the risen, living Lord, Jesus Christ, with others of the same belief.
The reality of my presence there became something entirely different, and wrong.
I came to realize that I was sitting there waiting for everything to penetrate the walls of my discontent. I offered nothing. I refused to accept any responsibility for my worship.
We are called in scripture to “present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1).
Worship is a sacrifice, and I am considered an acceptable sacrifice, therefore, all of my life is an acceptable sacrifice of worship.
He wants it all, the good and the bad. He wants our sin and our bitterness as well as our happiness. Christ says that He will take our burdens for a reason. He wishes us to be able to reach a point in our living worship; worship that occurs in every moment of our lives, in which we can reach that level of joy that occurs when we focus exclusively on Him.
The worship service is not meant to entertain. It is not even meant to educate.
The worship service is a place in which we can corporately offer sacrifice together.
The musicians offer their sacrifice with the music they play. That is what musicians have to offer Him as a result of the gifts He has blessed them with. That’s what our gifts are for.
The rest of the body joins in that sacrifice.
The pastor offers his or her sacrifice in the message they bring. The sermon is his sacrifice to God, and it is not my place to criticize it unless it is contrary to scripture. To sit there and say, “so and so really needs to hear this”, is merely a pretense to avoid applying our convictions to our own lives. Search for the meaning that applies to you instead, and live by example for other eyes to see. It is not my place to apply His word to someone else. I am not the Holy Spirit for anyone’s life.
If you do not think you are “getting enough” from the sermon remember that you have a responsibility in worship. You yourself are obligated to dig into the Word to establish and maintain the proper relationship with Christ. It is not up to anyone else to spoon feed you. It is for you to be discerning. In the book of Acts when the people of Berea heard the gospel for the first time they took time to study the scriptures before they accepted (Acts 17:11). They thought about what they were going to believe.
Others fulfill their sacrifice in other ways and with other gifts.
I was attending a worship service at my brother’s church several years ago. There was a young man there who was an usher. His name was Robert. He appeared to have cerebral palsy, or a similar condition, that affected his ability to walk normally. When he walked he looked as though he might fall over with each step, he was overjoyed to be there. Everyone he saw got a hug whether he knew them or not, including myself.
After the service began the time came to collect the offering, and the ushers came forward.
To my surprise one of them was Robert. He held an offering plate in his hand as he came forward. He still looked like he might fall over as he walked, but as I watched I realized his steps were as sure as mine ever were. He was not bitter over what I saw as a disability. In fact I never saw him without a smile on his face.
I never saw or talked to him again, but I have never forgotten him. His sacrifice was complete and undiluted. It was as though it was a natural extension of his life.
His worship was what he did, and my opinion of his ability meant nothing because he was there to offer his worship to God regardless of anyone else’s sense of “rightness”, or “perfection”. His act of worship was pure and whole and to this day it puts mine to shame.
I once read a book in which the writer used an exercise to help him concentrate more fully on God and His will for his life. He imagined that God Himself was in the air he was breathing. He imagined that the essence of God filled his lungs. I tried to imagine the same thing. To think of the possibility of allowing God to fill me so completely as to be completely dependent on Him to sustain me physically as well as spiritually.
It follows logically that if I “breathe God” then the words I speak with the essence of God should naturally be in praise of Him or, at the very least, express His will for me in some way. It occurs more often than not, unfortunately, that my words are my own, with little enough thought given to what God intends.
There is an element of choice in the worship we offer that centers around the words “can” and “will”.
To say “I can” implies that I have the ability to do something.
To say “I will” implies that I choose to apply that ability.
And somewhere between the two lies the word “should” that implies the knowledge of what would be appropriate in my own worship.
God gives us a choice in our worship. I have a choice in my own worship, but none in the manner that others worship, and therefore no qualifications to judge theirs. If someone sings too loud or off key it doesn’t matter. Neither the quality of my voice nor the style of music is the issue.
The only valid concern in worship is the quality of my sacrifice.
When a child cries in worship we grow irritated at how it “disturbs the flow” if the child goes on too long without the parent taking them out. But if our worship is “not about us”, and we truly seek to focus on Christ, we should be able to continue in our worship. Do any of us honestly believe that God is offended by the cry of a baby? Would He demand that we require a parent to leave a worship service, because a baby was crying in just the way he or she was created to do?
Did David worship God any less during his fight with Goliath? Or Noah as he built the ark amidst the jeering crowd? How much easier should it be then for us to focus on God during worship with only a child’s cry in the background?
Why do you think Christ asks for your burdens? He asks because they are a part of you, and as such are important to Him. Your cries of frustration and pain are important to Him. He wants to take them from us in order to allow us the opportunity to worship Him fully.
We were created to worship Him. When we worship we are doing what we were created for.
We need to worship as though we know it is the one thing we were made to do.You might think since we were made for it that it would be the easiest thing on earth, and you would be right; this is how it should be. That is how we were in our original created state as humans. Before the Fall our human nature was to be fully focused on God.
After the apple was eaten our focus shifted to ourselves, and this is the reason our worship is now considered a sacrifice. True worship requires me to make a conscious effort to turn my back on the mirror, and pursue my original nature and purpose. It requires me to focus on the specific person of God rather than leaving my attention hanging for the next pretty bauble to capture me.
Instead of thinking about what we are not getting in our worship experience, we should be asking what God is not getting. Only I know what I am holding back from Him.
What are your expectations in worship? Remember that it is not your expectations that matter here, but His. Even though I may be there involved in a group, the act of my worship is still dependent on my individual personal relationship with Christ. When I am sitting there in worship it should be as though Christ is sitting in a chair directly in front of me, the complete focus of all my senses. Even though I am there with others I am still alone in the sacrifice of worship. I still have the choice of what I give Him.

Our God is not a “beggar” King longing for the scraps and crumbs that we leave at the table of our worship. His existence does not depend on whether we believe in Him or not. He wants it all, and in the context of worship that is “not about me” what He receives should be all that is me. If He is truly all sufficient, as we believers so often profess, then He is worthy of our complete attention.
We live in a world that demands that we pursue our individual desires at any cost. The cost we pay is usually the death of relationships that fall by the wayside when our pursuit of happiness becomes too frantic, and we find ourselves alone amidst the crowd of others doing the same thing. Then we blame God for our problem never realizing that if we had truly understood that it was never about us, it wouldn’t have happened.
We must deal with the truth in worship if it is to be true worship. God wrote the Truth on our hearts so we would always have access to what He offers, but we do everything we can to deny that truth. We wish to live as we choose and in avoiding His truth we live a lie and we become the masters of our own deception.
When we come before Him in worship the lie is more visible than at any other time, and so we deflect our lack of true worship with criticism of someone else’s worship rather than recognize the deficiencies of our own.
Worship is a result of relationship, and the quality of one directly affects the quality of the other.
I once heard a quote that I think sums this all up very nicely. From a man named Peter Forsyth:
“The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom, but its master.”
My worship identifies my master to everyone else, and He remains my master whether I am in church or not.
My greatest need is to let down the walls and actively seek Him.
Because it was never meant that He should come to me.
The choice for relationship with Him, and therefore my worship of Him, has always been mine.
©Dan Bode 2008

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In His Image

In His Image.
What does it mean to be made in His image?
Are there scars upon my brow, or was it sculpted to don a crown of thorns? Was my side made to accept the spear? Were my hands created to receive the point of a nail? Or are there scars to show they were there?
My wounds were healed before I had them. My sins forgiven without a memory of their occurrence. And yet I bear a cross daily. I still suffer a small portion for my responsibility in my sin. Yet He endured to insure my survival, my freedom.
What is the image of God?
He is perfect. Am I? No.
Can I be? Only when He perfects me. Perfection is a process.
Isn’t it odd how the crown of thorns, when we picture it on His head, seems to fit so well, even having been pushed down upon His head? As though the thorns were grown to fit His brow alone? As though, because of His great love for us, His very flesh knew He took it willingly?
Did the nails pierce His hands and feet and separate the tissues as though they were meant to be there?
I see His pain, and I wonder at His endurance, and then I find His peace.
Like Thomas I doubt Him, and I doubt what I see and what I touch. Every part of my life is a process of eliminating my doubt. I am shown repeatedly that I am loved, that I am cared for, and because of this I discover that while His crucifixion is a daily occurrence in my life, so is Easter, and all I can ever hope to be is His image.
A mere reflection.
A shadow.
For only Christ is Truth and Love Incarnate.
The sad fact of the matter is that even though God has done so much, I still try to take it back. While God’s word on the issue is final, because it is indeed “finished”, I keep trying to do it over until “I get it right” once and for all. I don’t want to be the cause of His pain because I am convinced that His sacrifice leaves me in His debt, and I can’t stand that! I hate debt! I hate obligation! Why? Because it forces me to admit my incredible, all consuming need for a Savior.
“by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
So do not come to me for comfort in your pain for I stand useless in shock, in horror, in awe and in love at His sacrifice. I have no words that would be adequate to match His actions on our behalf. Only His open wounds can fulfill our need, and He is waiting for us to touch them. The greatest joy in Easter is that He is greater than all the pain of my sins to kill him. Every wound He took is one more I don’t have to bear.
And what that proves, in the end, is that there is not enough blood in my veins to cover the sins of the world.
©Dan Bode 2004

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One Last Breath

One last breath.
Everyone has one.
That final exhalation that marks the demise of our physical form.
The moment that often defines the historical impact of an individuals’ entire life.
How many deathbed quotes have you heard or read about? It seems as though every historically famous figure has been documented as having some profound last words that usually define their entire life. This leads me to think that I’ll have to come up with something really cool to say for myself, only because I’m secretly worried that the only comment I’ll have is something about a water stain on a ceiling tile or something.
The thing is; we cannot rewrite our personal history with one sentence. Our last words will not redefine our lives in the eyes of those who know us. We cannot undo all of our mistakes at the end. We leave what we leave.
There are no “do overs”.
And yet we have hope.
When we give ourselves to God we do not merely give what we are, but also what we were, and what we can be. Each of these is influenced by who or what we give them to.
Christ is the Lord of everything, including our past. The influence of our past has a much different impact on our present, and our future, when we allow it to be seen in the light of His forgiveness.
My last breath will know His love, regardless of the words carried upon it.
But that’s just me.
My last breath will have no eternal impact for anyone else.

The last breath of Christ was the final mortal exhalation of divine breath on this earth.
In that one agonized cry He gave the words, “It is finished.”
And while it may not have been loudly spoken, it was very clearly heard.
Those three words were the clarion call of Heaven, and the death knell of Satan!
His last words were the beginning of my life, and what made me complete.
The curtain was torn! The door was opened!
His last words were just the beginning for you and me.
“It is finished!” John 19:30
These words indicate the end of a process.
It means Christ knew when He had suffered enough.
He was saying that the process was now, in this very moment, complete! Somehow, by means completely beyond any human capability to understand, God had a divine equation by which He determined what amount of suffering would be enough to save us. Not only did He know, but it was all determined by Him. There was a point that He would not go beyond, because only He was the one to determine the process by which we would be redeemed. God determined the end point because Satan could not be allowed to have the last word in the process. Satan could not be allowed to be in any semblance of control.
Christ had a reason for living and dying when, where and how He did it. It is imperative for us to understand that He did it by His own choice. His only motivation was His love for us, not any threat of Satan nor any human claim of independence. Every single aspect of my salvation is provided by Christ because He chose to give it.
We have always underestimated the willingness of God to sacrifice for us, and just as surely underestimated our need to sacrifice for Him.
“Into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Luke 23:46
Satan could only look over his shoulder in shock and fear in his new found understanding that he had not taken Christ’s life after all. Christ gave it up willingly in His own time.
Satan never understood the rules. His failure was already determined.
Satan has always been completely aware that we are not worthy of God’s attention, but he was always just as unaware of the lengths God would go to make up for our lack. It was for exactly this reason that God determined the appropriate method to give us the qualities necessary to make us worthy. There was nothing we could do to earn it, and nothing Satan could do to keep it from us.

Nothing is ever free. Someone always pays a price.

And so Easter begins with Christ’s last breath,
which becomes my first breath of heaven…
©2011 Dan Bode

Friday, April 8, 2011


“I’ll be back in three days.”
That was the essential truth of Christ’s final night with His disciples, even though He’d told them before. They had all been with Him for the better part of three and a half years. They knew His personal habits, His quirks, His personal preferences in His day to day activities. He always spoke truth even when unpleasant, and this time was no different from any other in that respect. He was telling them that the “Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”(Mark 8:31)
So He told them the truth, but what if they had really believed Him when He first told them? How would their lives have been different?
I think it’s fairly obvious they didn’t believe His statement. If they had believed, Peter would have had no need to deny Him three times that night. Thomas would not have needed to touch His sundered flesh, or reach inside the gaping hole in His side. It was essential, I think, for them to see Christ still alive in spite of the wounds He still retained. He was not a healed risen Lord. He lived in spite of the wounds inflicted on Him outside of the constraints of human flesh. Organs were torn apart. They could not function. Yet He lived. God provided life even in the face of death as the only possible result of these wounds.
If they had truly believed Christ from the beginning they would never have needed to lock themselves away in fear of the authorities. If they had believed they would have had no fear of anything.
But the other half of the equation is simply this: Since they did not believe their ultimate subsequent faith was strengthened by the conceptions it had to overcome. They had to finally and completely understand that God was able and willing to overcome human limitations for their sake, because in the end they would need to do the same.
If they had really believed Him they would have understood His sacrifice. They had to see death conquered from the human side.
Assuming His victory would have rendered it meaningless.
Suddenly, what Christ had been telling them became reality. There was no sense of symbolism, or metaphor. There was no sense of ceremony, or fantasy.
One reality had been replaced by another that was completely outside of their experience.
They had always said they believed, but they knew what they had seen.
They saw the blood and pain. They saw the cross. They knew there was no coming back from what they, being human, knew to be final.
They knew what they saw with their own eyes, and they knew it was true. Up to that point they only believed in themselves and the knowledge they had accumulated during their lifetimes.
Their unbelief provides the contrast between what we have, and what we need.
That is the difference between stated belief and actual belief.
Between stated faith and actual faith.
Between fantasy and reality.
Between the life we want to live, and the life we actually live.
It is a decision to live up to a certain potential.
The decision to live as a potential hypocrite, or a potential martyr.
Each way of life has the potential to lead to either way of death whether you are called specifically to it or not.
We tend to think that the disciples had about three and a half years to figure it out, but it was really only three days.
They had three days to figure out if they were going to live by what He said was true, or continue to live life based on the failure of their own beliefs in fear of man. Because everything He had said and done was leading up to that period after His death.
There was one thing that the disciples got right about Jesus.
They understood that Jesus was going to do Something Big that they didn’t have to do anything about.
They weren’t doing anything and they were ok with that.
They didn’t mind that Jesus was going be the front man in a revolution (they thought). The last thing they wanted was to be on the receiving end of the first blow struck.
When they thought they knew what was coming they didn’t mind following what they believed in, because they still believed in themselves.
When Jesus was doing what they thought He was doing, they were happy.
It was when He left the path they thought they had been on that they weren’t so sure about their own actions anymore. I think they looked back on their actions over the previous three years and said to themselves,
“Maybe we’ve been stirring the wrong pot after all.”
The First Communion occurred before the Crucifixion.
When Christ broke the bread, He knew the pain of His broken body. (“This is my body, given for you…”)
When He poured the wine did He knew the blood He would shed. (“This is my blood…which is poured out for many..)
Since this came prior to the Crucifixion it is no wonder then that the disciples were so thoroughly confused.
They thought they were celebrating the Passover; a ceremony commemorating their survival. What was this talk of betrayal and death?
How could this pinnacle of the most significant week of their lives turn so quickly into what it did, particularly in light of His entrance to Jerusalem just the week before?
And then, against all expectation, He died.

But then He rose.
It was, again, the last thing they expected.
I can just imagine them thinking:
“He spends all this time speaking in parables and then goes literal on us?!”
Look at the contrast of their lives before and after their belief.
When Peter saw Him on the shore after He had risen he jumped in the water to swim to shore rather than wait for the boat. The minute he entered the water I think he yearned to break the surface just so his eyes could rest on Him again. When his feet touched the stones on the shore he felt nothing, for his need to see the Living Christ overwhelmed the need for any other comfort.
They preached openly in spite of the opposition of the authorities they originally hid from. They endured prison and torture. They joined the ranks of Hebrews “great cloud of witnesses” because they ultimately believed Him to the exclusion of all others, receiving the faith He offered.
Judas actively betrayed Him, and Peter actively denied Him, but both the betrayal and the denial had the same effect of cutting them off from God. These are important events, but I think the more important issue is that someone returned. I have to wonder which was the greater sorrow to Jesus; that Judas betrayed Him, or that Judas never gave Christ the chance to forgive him?
Faith is a gift of God; belief is a choice of man.
His gift is giving us Someone to believe in.
Faith in Christ means that we should believe everything He believes about us. He believes we are worth much, and because He made it so we must know that it is true. The logic is inescapable, yet we’d much rather see ourselves as worthless. It’s easier to accept our own failure when we don’t have to see how far we’ve fallen. It’s easier to be a victim than it is to take responsibility.
It’s easier in our own mental condition to say “Oops.”, and just move on than it is to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused someone else and ask forgiveness, in addition to asking Him to save us as well.

“Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!” He has overcome the greatest obstacle to my belief by conquering death, so the greater my faith has the potential to be.

In so many ways it all boils down to the difference between the words “say” and “do”.
Every day I make a determination about what I believe. I make a choice about what actions I will take in light of my Christian beliefs, and I make a choice to defy those beliefs as well.
This is the point of my sin.
The professions I make with what I say and what I do are often entirely different. Sometimes it may even be questionable even when my words and actions match simply because my motivations for those actions are known only to God and myself.
The struggle is completely internal, and usually unseen.
The disciples couldn’t keep any secrets from Christ. They weren’t getting away with anything when they sinned. Christ knew what they expected of Him, and He went so far as to tell them what they could expect of Him. They simply failed to understand it, or perhaps more accurately they chose to understand it in the way they wished it to be.
The disciples, just as we ourselves, learned to live by their own version of the truth.
And so it happens that the disciples and I have a great deal more in common than I would like to admit. I often wonder if the disciples were chosen solely as examples of the potential failures in our human condition that lead to the conflicts of faith that we all experience.
They made the choice to follow Him, and then despite having all their sins identified in His presence, they made the choice to stay as well.
When my natural tendency is to run from anyone who would identify my shame, why would they stay with Him?
Christ pursued the disciples. He approached them and said “Follow me.”
And if they are examples of human failings, they are also examples of saving Grace.
They are examples of the result of succumbing to the relentless pursuit of the Holy.
I am like them in my failings, but I am as much like them in the potential of what I can be, because the Source of strength involved, and its purpose, are the same.
Why do I stay?
I stay, because He stays.
He came back for me!
And for that reason alone I can say on Easter with full conviction…
I Believe!©2008 Dan Bode