My favorite things in church

My favorite place in church is the altar area.

When I was pastoring, sometime in the middle of a weekday, I would slip in and kneel there and spend time with the Lord.

The question arises as to “Why? What makes that place special?” After all, even though we call it the “altar,” it isn’t, not in the Old Testament sense or even the New Testament sense. Calvary is the ultimate altar for believers. The only answer I can find is: “I don’t know. I just know I need it and love it.”

What I do not understand is believers who never come to the altar and pray. It seems that only the most spiritually sensitive do, and I sure want to be among that number.

I love, love, love those times in church when for reasons unknown the congregational singing comes together like never before and everyone is singing at the top of their voices, the hymns are circulating around the room, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to fill us, and our souls are lifted. It feels like we have touched the hem of the garment of our Lord, and makes us long for Heaven all that much more.

What I do not like is when the worship leader tries to manufacture this on his own. I’ve seen them do that, and the result is fake, hyped, unworthy.

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Two small articles that changed my life forever

The Commission magazine exists now only on-line but for many generations it arrived in the homes and churches of Southern Baptists all over the country. I’ve known and appreciated several of its editors and grieved when it went out of business. (It was the monthly publication of the SBC International Mission Board, headquartered in Richmond.)

Two things in that magazine changed my life forever. They were so tiny, I’m confident that the people who dropped them in had no idea how powerful they were and no inkling of how God would use them.

We need a cartoonist! 

The first was a tiny notice in the fall of 1976 announcing that a cartoonist was needed by the missionaries in Singapore. As a part of their urban strategy, they wanted to produce an evangelistic comic book and distribute to teens all over that island nation.

They needed someone to draw it.

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Lies the enemy whispers during worship

“We have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The devil’s first plan of attack is to get us to worship him.  He tried that with our Lord, as recorded in Luke 4:7. “All these things will be yours if you will worship me.”  He soon found the futility of that.  Not then and hardly at all since has anyone wanted to bow down and worship this foolish fallen angel.

But such a persistent enemy always has a backup plan. Plan B is to interfere with our worship of the living God.  Satan will do anything to throw a wrench into the works and shut down or hinder our daily submission to the Lord Jesus and all that involves (prayer, commitment, study of the Word, service, etc).

Not long ago, while sitting in church listening to a friend preach, I began a list of the lies Satan whispers to God’s people who gather to worship Him….

–“This isn’t working.  You’re wasting your time here.”

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People who sound like hell

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be saturated with  equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

Scriptures keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. In other words, worship.

–There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is as good as we could ask for.

–In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation,  he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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7 reasons Heaven requires new songs

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).

John was surely fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.

First, a quartet…

At first, John was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!”

Eat your heart out, Bill Gaither.  No quartet ever sounded so heavenly.

And then we read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).

Imagine that. An endless song.

Either seraphim must be amazing singers or the Lord’s patience is boundless to enjoy the same song over and over, forever.

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And one more thing: “Don’t forget to worship!”

IN TIMES OF GREAT STRESS–AND THE PRESENT  WORLDWIDE  PANDEMIC IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF STRESS–WORSHIP IS THE ONE ESSENTIAL.

This week, with the assistance of a few hundred Facebook friends, I made a poster “10 things not to do in times of worldwide crises.”  You can find the poster on my Facebook page, but here it what it said…

WHAT NOT TO DO IN A WORLDWIDE CRISIS–

  1. Do not believe everything you read on social media.
  2. Do not hoard.  Love thy neighbor.  Share with others.
  3. Do not watch the news 24/7.  That’s a sure-fire recipe for stress and anxiety.
  4. Do not fall for scams and gimmicks.  Con men come out of the woodwork during these times.
  5. Do not look for someone to blame–God, government, China.  Conspiracy theorists abound.
  6. Do not ignore guidelines meant to stop the spread and save lives.
  7. Do not interpret this as the judgment of God.  It might be, but you do not know.
  8. Do not interpret this as a sign of the end of the world.  It may be, but chances are it isn’t.
  9. Do not stop doing the things that keep you healthy, sane, happy, interested, productive.
  10. Don’t forget to worship.  Your soul needs this.

Originally, after the first nine, I was left with too many candidates for the tenth slot and left it blank for a time.  On Facebook I posted a photo of the incomplete poster and asked, “What’s number ten?”  A hundred answers came in. However, on the back deck with my morning coffee talking with the Lord, I felt Him giving me the tenth.  Don’t forget to worship.  Those four words came with such force and clarity, I knew this was from Him.  Not only that, but…

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Seven things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Sing unto the Lord a new song.”  (Psalm 96:1) 

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

Rehearsals are work.

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

I sang in the choir during my college years, and eventually noticed some patterns forming. In time, those impressions coalesced into life-lessons that have remained with me through the years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

But a funny thing happened.

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The “Depart from me, O Lord; I am a sinful man” syndrome

The goodness of the Lord leads to repentance.  (Romans 2:4)

I sit on my back deck in the early mornings with my coffee and I worship the Lord.  Some fifteen years before I bought it, the Lord had someone build this house for me.  It is so right, everything about it–including the wonderful lady who shares it with me.  She’s a gift from Him too.

I am so blessed that Heaven may take some getting used-to.

I sit out there taking in the birdsong, the sweet air moving gently across the pond, the ever-changing colors of the sunrise, and I think.  I think of the Lord who made this.  I see that clump of reeds at the edge of the pond and think, “If just that was found on Mars today, it would be front page news across the world tomorrow.”  And yet we rarely think of the richness of Earth and the legion of gifts that are ours as a result. God is so good.

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Loving Jesus here, having Him feel it there

If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).  He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me (John 14:21).  If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (John 14:23).  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (John 15:10).  You are my friends if you do whatever I command you (John 15:14).

Anyone see a trend in these verses? He wants us to love Him and tells us how: Obedience. 

With that in mind, the question before us is this: Is it possible to do something so loving, so affectionate, so Christ-honoring here on earth that Jesus will feel it in Heaven’s Throneroom?

Can I do something loving for Jesus here and have Him feel the love there?

Yes.  Absolutely.

We direct your attention to the woman of Luke 7:36ff.

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Worship: the ultimate DIY project

Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.  — Ecclesiastes 5:1

Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.  Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me.  –Psalm 50:14-15

If your primary worship takes place on Sunday morning at church, you are doing it all wrong and in all likelihood endlessly frustrated.

If the main worship you do takes place on Sunday morning at church, you’re putting too heavy a burden on your church’s worship leaders.  They cannot do for you in one hour what you should be doing for yourself seven days a week.

If the only worship you do takes place on Sunday morning at church, even at the best you are anemic and undernourished and will often find yourself faltering during the week.

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