i need more than God

Category : God, Jesus, worship

A few months ago I heard the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend” on Scotterology.  It was used to describe a certain brand of Christian music that seems more like an angst-filled love song, than a song about God.  At first I didn’t like that term.  I scoffed at the whole idea.  “There isn’t really music like this.  He’s just exaggerating!”

But then I started to listen to some of the lyrics.  (You can see a bunch more at Pomomusings).

“Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I am falling in love with you
Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I have fallen in love with you
Matt Redman“Friend of Sinners”

“You are my desire, no one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take your place
To feel the warmth of your embrace
Kelly Carpenter - “Draw Me Close”

“In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness, you are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for you
‘Cause I want to know you more
I want to touch you, I want to see your face
I want to know you more
Andy Park“In the Secret”

I’m still not convinced.  To be honest I even like a lot of these songs.  But it’s had me thinking for the last few months.  Exactly where is the line?  And how do we know when we’ve crossed it?  Some songs get uncomfortably close.

That’s when Erwin McManus said something that surprised me.  He said that we need more than just God.

“Wha–?!” I thought.  “That’s a pretty bold statement.  He’d better have a good argument.”  And you know what?  He did.

After God created the universe, and then man, it was God who said things weren’t quite right.  It was God who said man needed more.  So he created Eve.  God created us to need more than just him.  He created us to need community and relationships.

Could it be that we’ve become so focused on God that we’re losing the other important aspects of our faith, like community?

While our salvation rests only on God.  There’s more to life than our death.  There’s certainly more to life than overly sappy Christian music.  Everything exists in community.  People.  Angels.  Demons.  Even God himself exists in three parts.  I want God to be at the center of my life.  But I don’t want God to be the only thing in my life.  And I don’t think that’s what he ever wanted either.

photo provided by flicker user scootie

worshiping the high places

Category : God, bible, faith, sin, taking action

……….

Like us, ancient Israel struggled with finding their way into a relationship with God.   Many Israelites desperately wanted to have God in their life.  After all, he was the one who freed them from slavery, fed them in the desert, and protected them from their enemies.  But they couldn’t escape the prevailing culture of their day.

(Some things don’t change very much, do they?)

They found themselves surrounded by foreign gods and religious practices.  Instead of rejecting that, they saw those traditions as another way to connect to God.  They started to think, “well if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.”

And so Israel began to worship at “high places.”

Now “high places” were religious shrines built (primarily) by other religions.  They were a place where people who didn’t believe in God worshiped.  But somewhere along the way Israel got involved with worshiping at the high places.  While there were exceptions (such as Manasseh who instituted child sacrifice) most Israeli’s were trying to do “the right thing” even if they didn’t know what that was.

That’s the irony.  Most Jews didn’t really understand why worshiping at the high places was such a problem.  They wanted to be closer to God.  After all, they were “good people”, what did it matter if they worshiped God at a temple or a high place?

Just like the Golden Calf incident, Israel didn’t mean to offend God.  They just didn’t want to wait.  They wanted a relationship with God, just not on his terms, but on theirs.   So they tried to encourage action by building a golden calf.  This same mentality led them to use the high places.

The sad fact is, in both cases, Israel missed the fundamental nature of who God is.  They wanted a relationship with God, but were willing to settle for much, much less.

How could God not be outraged?  To him, high places are an insult and blasphemy.  They were declarations that Israel didn’t trust him.  That they didn’t believe in him.  That they were sure they knew how to do it “better.”

Reading about their struggles, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “they should have known better!”  But do we live as if we know better?  Or do we build our own high places?  Do we build monuments that he finds offensive?

When we see a need do we act out of love?  Or do we act because we want to be seen as special?  Are our churches just another high place?  Built not to honor God, but to amuse our sense of pride, to entertain us, to make us feel cool and hip?  Or are our churches empty, stuck in tradition (with us unwilling to change), because we’ve convinced ourselves that God cares more about tradition than people?

Many of us are not going to like the answers to those questions.

We criticize Christians for failing to live a Christ-like life.  In many cases that criticism is justified.  But how many times are we like the Israelites – trying to do what we think is right, but missing the mark by a mile?  Maybe the reason we don’t look different from non-believers is not because we want to fit in, but because we don’t know what we’re supposed to look like?

In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden say, “In Jesus’ day, people could read, study, and discuss the Scriptures their entire lives and still miss its central message.”

Is it any different today?

We all have built alters on high places thinking we are honoring God.  Instead we offend him.  The bigger our high places get, the more distant God becomes.  And slowly, over time, we just can’t see past the alter.

But there is hope.  God always encouraged Israel to tear down their high places.  He still wanted to be in relationship with them.  He still wants to be in relationship with you.

You still have time to tear down your high places.

real people, real pain

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Category : bible, failure, faith, hope, trust

……….

Life is filled with problems.  Often unexpected ones.  And while I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, there is no doubt that we all will be blindsided by at least one major catastrophe in our lives.  And many little problems too.

I think this economic recession is an example.  I never dreamed that stores like Circuit City would fold.  And when I drive around town I am shocked by the number of empty office buildings.  Each one of those office buildings is a dream that’s been shattered.

These shattered dreams, though, allow me to find comfort in the Bible.

I know that sounds shocking.  But stay with me for a minute – the Bible is filled with stories of people being murdered, sold into slavery, invaded, and generally run out of town.  There are entire books of the Bible devoted to stories of suffering and pain.  You can’t read for very long without noticing it.

Have you ever wondered why the stories don’t hold back?  Have you ever wondered why there are stories of people railing against God in their anger and despair?  Stories of people questioning why God isn’t showing up as their dreams are being torn apart.

It’s because the Bible is filled with real people and real pain.

And so as my dreams are crushed, I can find comfort in the pages of the Bible because I know I’m not alone.  I know that what I’m experiencing other people have as well.  I know that they were able to trust God no matter how hard it got and I can too.  After all these years the Bible remains as relevant to us, as it did to the original audience.

This is why the Psalm 73 really hits home.  Asaph (the writer) has been where I am.  He sees that while he struggles people who go along ignoring God seem to be rewarded.  He’s noticed that even when you do the right thing, you sometimes end up worse for it.  But he also realized that if he trusted God, in the end, he would be all right.  As close as Asaph was to the brink, he held on:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”

(Psalm 73: 2-3)

If God was faithful to him, then I am reminded that God will be faithful to me.  And so I hold on no matter how close to the brink I get.

prayer thursday: obedience

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Category : God, faith, fear, prayer, prayer thursday

 

God wants us to be in a relationship with him, and it’s difficult to do that if you don’t spend any time talking to him.  That’s where prayer comes in.  It’s simply a conversation between you and God.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal.  In fact, usually the most important prayers come when we’re just speaking from our hearts, not worrying about finding the “right words.”

On prayer thursday everyone is invited to add their own prayer, or prayer requests in the comments section.  This week’s topic: obedience.

Obedience

God – Sometimes we hear you telling us to do something and we ignore you.  Sometimes we ignore you because we’re afraid.  Other times it’s because we “know better.”  But lets face it, we really don’t.  We just want to be the ones in charge.  We’re stubborn.

Help me to overcome my own selfishness, and stubbornness.  Help me to resist the temptation to do it “my way.”  But most of all, help me follow you, even when it feels too big or too overwhelming.  Help me be obedient when I think I can’t.

 <comments are open>

prayer thursday: dreams

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Category : God, faith, prayer, prayer thursday

     

I am convinced that God answers prayers.  I’m also convinced that praying is the quickest way to build a relationship with him.  No matter how much you read a biography about someone, or no matter how many times you’ve heard someone describe a stranger, you never really know someone until you talk to them. 

So I’m going to start a new regular feature on R3: prayer thursday. 

On every “prayer thursday”, there will be something to pray about.  Some days it will be for others, some days it will be for ourselves, and other times it will be for whatever you feel like.  I’m also opening up comments so anyone can post their prayer.

Dreams

God – it’s all too easy to live a life where we don’t follow our dreams.  We all have unique skills that you want to use to change the world.  Help us to live out those dreams and not settle for something less.  Something that doesn’t feel so daunting.  Let us reach for the dreams you’ve given us.

comments are open

style and tradition

Category : God, different, faith, worship

  

I admit, I’m a creature of habit.  I like to park in the same parking spot.  I’ve bought the same brand of toothpaste for years.  I even like to drive home from work the same way.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, I think most people have preferences.  I think most of us have a routine – even if that routine is to not have one!  

Maybe it’s the fact we have so many choices in life that leads us to  getting so bent out of shape when it comes to church.  We seem to spend so much time arguing the drawbacks (or benefits) of so-called “contemporary services” instead of focusing on what really matters – connecting people to God. 

But I have to wonder, are our personal preferences preventing us from following God? 

God isn’t against traditional services, and he’s not for contemporary worship.  What he cares about is that we get to know him a little bit better then we did when we started. 

when we make our own gods

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Category : God, bible, worship

       

Few things aggravate me more than wasting time.  I combine trips so I don’t have to drive the same street more than once.  I get furious when I’m stuck behind slow moving traffic.  I’m even a big fan of foods that are “instant.”   

But the irony is I fill my life with wasteful things.

So often I am content making decisions based on desire, fear, or convenience.  I all too often walk around assuming that the things I set up in my life as important actually are.  But as they say, not everything is created equal:

Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
       over it he prepares his meal,
       he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
       He also warms himself and says,
       “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”

From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
       he bows down to it and worships.
       He prays to it and says,
       “Save me; you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:16-17)

This is exactly how I am tempted to live my life.  I have been so eager to set up gods out of work, friends, influence, or perfection that it never even occurred to me that I was wasting my time.  But I was.  All of the things I think of as important are worthless if I miss the big picture – having God at the center of my life.

How can anything we create be a god?  Saying “this is god” doesn’t make it true.  Because if it did, what a small god it would be. 

intentionality: do i need to go to church?

Category : taking action, worship

   

In the last few days I’ve touched on the need to intentionally choose God.  I also discussed how we have to make that decision, even when the path isn’t safe or easy.  But there is still another aspect of being intentional: our individual needs.   These are the things I consider the “personal preferences” of faith.  In other words, we need to understand what we personally need in our relationship with God. 

Paul said, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 21-23) but he also said we should not cause others to fail (Romans 14:21).  We may have permission to do a lot of things, but doing so isn’t always the best option!  Recognizing what causes us to fail, and then avoiding it by changing our lives is important to our long-term relationship with God.  

I haven’t been to church in about 4 weeks.  To some that may not seem like much.  But to me it’s been a huge deal.  Part of how I’m wired is to need church.  Of course it’s not the building, the free coffee, or even the messages.  What I really need is the sense of community I get from the church.  Something important happens, which I don’t fully understand, when I go to church and see others excited about God.  

For me going to church needs to be a regular part of my Christian faith.  So what is it for you?  What do you need to do that keeps you centered on God?  What do you need to avoid so that you aren’t tempted?

Answer those questions and you’ll have a better idea of how you need to live your life to remain close to God.

worship: when it’s no longer fun

Category : Jesus, hope, sin, worship

   

“What has happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15)

There are days when we get into a rut, where we lose the excitement in our lives.  It happens with work, with friends, and even with fun.  In fact, it happens with everything.  It’s too easy to lose sight of why you started on something as you get hassled with new responsibilities and new requirements.  Have you ever started on a project, something you really wanted to do, only to lose interest?  For me it was writing a book.  For you maybe it’s building a classic car or learning a foreign language, or maybe even just finding more time to spend with people you care about.

When you began didn’t you feel a bit of excitement?  Wasn’t there a time where you couldn’t wait to get home so you could work on it?  But that doesn’t last, does it?  Things start out with so much potential, but before long you’ve become bogged down in details and lose sight of why you started it in the first place.

In a way that was happening to the Galatians.  They had started enthusiasm for knowing Jesus.  They were living completely sacrificial lives.  So much so Paul exclaims, “you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”  Now that’s commitment!  And yet, somewhere along the way they got bogged down in legalism and their joy was crushed.

Of course it’s not only the Galatians that have this problem.  We do too.  Or at least I know I do.  Some days I’m overwhelmed by what it means to be a Christian.  I begin to worry about sinning.  I worry about being generous.  I worry about being a good example of what Christ has done in my life.  I worry about my temper or my greed.  I worry that I’ll never be able to really live up to the expectations Jesus has of me. It becomes a burden instead of freedom.

When I’m feeling this way the first thing to go is the joy and the excitement I feel about worshiping God. I look at it as an obligation.  A formality.  A duty.  Just one more thing to “do.”

Of course this is entirely the wrong perspective.  Losing my joy at worship shouldn’t be a result of stress, it should be the sign of stress!  As soon as I begin to feel this way I need to stop and ask myself, “what’s the problem here?”  If I’m feeling burdened by my sins, I don’t need to, because Jesus has that covered.  If I’m feeling time-crunched, I don’t need to, because God tells us to rest even when we’re busy.  

We won’t always be joyful when we worship.  That’s part of what it means to live in a “fallen” world.  But if we lose our joy like the Galatians, we need to address that.  Paul clearly believes that joy is a natural part of knowing Jesus.  And I have to think he’s on to something there…

So the next time you don’t feel very excited to be worshiping God, stop and ask yourself why.  Are there serious problems in your life that you need to address?  Or are you just burdening yourself with useless legalism?

worship

Category : David, God, bible, different, worship

   

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.  (2 Samuel 6: 14-16)

 

When I try and figure out how God wants me to act, I often look at people whose lives are clearly touched by him.  What is it that sets them apart?  What is it that they do differently than the rest of us?  A lot of times I turn to the Bible to find examples of behavior I should try to emulate.  As you can tell by reading the last few posts, David is a great example of this.

So when I think about worshiping God, what does that look like?  I think David’s behavior in 2 Samuel gives us some clues.  Worship involves giving everything we have to God, and not holding back.  For David that meant wearing a linen ephod (think mostly naked!) and dancing “with all his might.”  David was so devoted to God that he didn’t care what he looked like.  He didn’t care what people thought of him.  All he cared about was showing God just how much he loved him.

Now sometimes when we worship this way, when we give everything we have, we find people resentful of this.  David’s own wife, Michal, despised David’s behavior.  She was upset he was acting in an undignified way, and stripping down in front of other people.

“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”  (2 Samuel 6: 20-21)

I think David makes an important distinction here.  Michal is upset because all she sees are the people around David.  To her worship is about impressing the people around us.  But David rejects this and says his worship is “before the LORD.” 

It is easy to become caught up in how others perceive us.  It’s easy to want to conform to how other people worship (or don’t worship).  But we always need to remember worship isn’t for others, it is a way for us to move closer to God.  And any obstacle in the way we worship will only create distance between ourselves and God.