Thursday, March 12, 2015

Extravagant Worship

Few stories in the Word of God describe extravagant worship any more poignantly than that of the unnamed woman of Luke 7:36-50. Basically the story goes like this:

Along with others, Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Consistent with the custom of the day, spectators were permitted to stand against the outer wall and listen to the mealtime conversation. (Indeed, Pharisees love to be heard and always consider their conversations to be noteworthy.)

During the meal, an uninvited woman entered with an alabaster box of ointment and stood behind Jesus. Emotionally overcome by His grace and goodness, she wept and her tears spilled onto the very feet of the Lord Jesus Himself. With no towel to wipe her tears, she used the hairs of her head to wash the feet of the Lord. What humility! What abandon!

Nor did her lavish devotion end there. She began to kiss the very feet of the Lord and to apply the ointment upon them. All the while she said nothing. And nobody else said anything to her.

But they did think some things about her. 

Simon’s thoughts went something like this: “Jesus can’t be a true prophet! If he were, he would know what kind of woman this is—a woman notorious for sin and not worthy to be among such righteous company as we.”

In one short conversation Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of Simon’s thinking and commended the extravagance of the woman’s worship. Jesus basically said, “If two people each owe a sum of money (one owed about a year and half wages, and the other owed about 2 months wages), and neither has the wherewithal to pay, and both are forgiven of the debt; then which one of them will love more?”

You know the answer.

So did Simon. “The one that is forgiven more.”

The depth to which we realize our forgiveness correlates to the devotion by which we will lovingly and humbly serve.

Simon hadn’t bothered to demonstrate even the most basic acts of hospitality toward the Lord. Jesus had entered his home as a guest, but Simon had not bestowed upon Him the hospitable kiss of greeting, or provided the customary washing of feet, or anointed His head with the soothing and aromatic ointment a guest would typically receive.

But the woman… she performed all three, didn’t she? Consider these simple thoughts about extravagant worship:

Extravagant worship focuses on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship is not a climate we create, a methodology we employ, a program we implement, a song-set we schedule, or a service we plan. Worship is a fixed gaze upon the Lord and a humble realization of the marvelous grace such an opportunity represents.

That woman entered a religiously unwelcoming environment and endured the pharisaical gazes because she was completely absorbed in the presence of the Lord and apprehended by His grace. There was no greeter to welcome her, usher to seat her, or fellow congregation member to encourage her.

But there was Christ, and He was enough.

Extravagant worship flows from a grateful heart.

An overflowing heart produced leaky eyes. Her soul (mind, will, and emotions) magnified the Lord! With her mind she understood the magnitude of forgiveness through Christ. With her will she chose to receive that forgiveness by faith. With her emotions she gratefully wept and kissed and anointed and loved.

A truly grateful heart, focused on the wonderful person of Jesus Christ, will cause you to praise or shout or dance or leap or sing or cry. But it will not be static. It cannot be static.

Emotionless worship is foreign to the Bible.

Extravagant worship fears not the judgment of others.

Extravagant worship is impossible until my appreciation for forgiveness in Christ and my correspondent love for Christ supersede my fear of what others think about me.

Wiping feet with hair? Kissing feet? She didn’t care what anyone thought. She wasn’t trying to make a show or to market some nouveau worship style. She was loving her Savior uninhibited.

True worship knows no inhibition.

Extravagant worship finds expression in even the smallest acts of service.

This woman did not possess any special giftedness. She expressed worship in the simple customary ways by which anybody could have served the Lord. Great worship is much less about what I do than it is how I do it and, even more importantly, for Whom I do it.

Go ahead. Worship Him. 

It’s why you exist.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2 > 4

Unless you are completely mathematically challenged, the above equation ought to bother you. After all, even second graders know that the number 4 is greater than the number 2.  So let me readily admit that it’s merely a cute way for me to share a profoundly simple principle about giving thanks.

When it comes to thankfulness, we tend to err in two ways: First, and more obviously, we simply are not as thankful as we need to be. Call it what you want—entitlement, me first syndrome, downright selfishness, or whatever—but it just seems that our generation suffers from an ingratitude pandemic.

You might be the exception to the gratitude disease. In fact, many of the people I know and interact with are a wonderful example of what it means to be thankful.


But sometimes we are guilty of a more subtle error… the error of giving thanks for, without giving thanks to.  I think most of us are aware that the Bible emphasizes our responsibility to give thanks for all things, and that we are to give that thanks to God.  Do a quick search on your own. You’ll find that the Bible emphasizes thanks to God way more than it does thanks for stuff. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out.

“Giving thanks” sometimes means little more than, “I’m really glad for what I have.” Or, “I’m really happy for what’s going on in my life.” We give thanks for our health, family, jobs, and freedoms. The focus is all about for, sometimes without even a passing thought about to (as in, to whom the thanks belongs).

It’s as if we write beautifully crafted thank-you cards but forget to address them to God! Without the “Dear God,” the very purpose for giving thanks becomes thwarted. Do you see the point?

Giving thanks to God is much more valuable than giving thanks for what He does. To is greater than for.

2 > 4

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Bitterness Behaves

Bitterness destroys lives, families, and churches. Left unattended, she inevitably spreads. On her playing field, nobody wins. Recognize her early. Deal with her seriously. She is dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

Consider a few of her characteristics:

She Internalizes

Like a seed, she germinates underground, small and unseen. Quickly her roots grow, and by the time she sprouts to the public eye, she has established an extensive root system in the ground below.

Bitterness pushes the rewind button a million times. Over and over the hurtful scene is replayed in the mental cinema. In some ways, it’s almost as if the memory is granite and bitterness has etched her words there permanently.

So haunting is her story, it often greets a person in his waking moments and whispers to him as he falls asleep. And with annoying regularity she interrupts throughout the day. Every day.

Just behind the smiling face she lurks. Her poison soaks the minds of some of even the Kingdom’s busiest workers. She finds the innermost crevices of the heart and lodges there.
She Personalizes

Bitterness rarely focuses upon situations or circumstances. Nope. She is completely absorbed with people. One doesn’t have to spend too long with a bitter person before he knows exactly who the object of his bitterness is.

What he did.

What she said.

How they hurt me.

And it doesn’t matter if the person is well-liked and respected by others. The sole criterion for his spot at the crosshairs of bitterness is the perception of how he has treated me.  

She Criticizes

“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Bitterness inevitably seeps out of the mouth. No matter how carefully her host endeavors to chain her, she’ll find her way out.

Somehow every conversation provides fertile ground for one new critical weed to push through the surface. Often the listener internalizes the question, “Where did that come from?”

For the embittered person, each new conversation and every new relationship is an opportunity to colonize new minds with the same old story.

She Emphasizes

She emphasizes herself. Her hurt. Her narrative. Bitterness is the ultimate narcissist. She sees everything and everyone through her distorted lens.

Perhaps the most insidious outcome of bitterness is this self-absorption. The embittered one cannot see the needs of others and the ways by which he can encourage, help, pray, and serve.

She Rationalizes

Bitterness will not see herself as sinful. She simply reacts. And her reaction is justified because your action was not.

By contrast, forgiveness refuses to use the past as evidence against the offender. Bitterness however retries the case and renders a guilty verdict a thousand times.

For some, bitterness is their comfort food, their little stash of chocolate to make them feel better. And constantly she excuses her behavior with her own little conversation:

 “I deserve this. I know it’s not good for me, but I deserve it. It might not make things better, but it makes me feel better. That’s all that matters right now.”

Says the alcoholic.

Says the drug addict.

Says bitterness.

She Demoralizes

Bitter people die a slow death. Such is the nature of the poison. Hurt begets hurt. And the expressions of bitterness inevitably isolate them from would-be encouragers or prayer partners.

Bitterness pleads loudly for her survival. And while forgiveness, humility, and Spirit-dependence offer better, life-giving arguments, they are too often unheard amid the clamorous and self-justifying protests of bitterness.

Search your own heart. Ask for God’s help. Be brutally honest in the mirror. Act quickly. When it comes to bitterness, time is not your friend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why People "Tune Out"

Most people don’t blatantly walk out of church services. But a good number of them tune out. To be fair, sometimes such detachment is the fault of the listener himself. But all too often, we preachers have a lot to do with why increasing numbers in our congregations preoccupy themselves with their smart phones, catch up on their power naps, or painstakingly mark the minutes until the sermon terminates.

The remedy for an increasing “tune out” is not as simple as merely turning up the volume of the microphone or turning down the temperature of the thermostat. (Although I do prefer a meat locker climate for our services!) Let me offer four indispensable components of impactful messages:
Clarity (Bland speech causes “tune out”)

Solomon had a few things to say at the end of his life. Actually, a lot of things. Like two whole books full. One of his main goals in sharing his “end of life” wisdom was to seek out acceptable words. His desire was to find the right way to say the right things. He understood the power that words have. He taught us that carefully selected words can be like goads and fasteners to the listeners, both urging them forward in obedience and providing them foundational principles by which to live securely.

Think especially through the main points of your message. Learn how to craft your words in a pithy way. You’re not preaching to show off what you know or how well you can say it. You are preaching in order for the listeners to understand. So know something about them. Think your way into their lives. 

The end result of a message is not that the listener is impressed that you know something; it is that the listener be improved because now he knows something.

Humility (Proud speech causes “tune out”)

Nothing repels like pride. Ever the heroes of their own stories, some preachers view the pulpit as their throne and the people as their fawning subjects. And the funny thing is, in ministries like these, most people are already on to it. But the repercussions of kingdom banishment keep them quiet. The naked emperor continues to babble about his impressive wardrobe and nobody has the guts to tell him that he’s not wearing any clothes.

Humility expresses herself well by transparency. Tell them how you’ve struggled with the very subject on which you are preaching. Be honest about your own failures and fears. In most cases, people are already aware of them anyway.

Pride obscures truth in two ways: (1) The proud preacher often bends the truth in order to elevate himself in some way, and (2) the listener disregards the message because he is repulsed by the preacher’s arrogance. By contrast, when preachers speak humbly and transparently, people are free to see the message for what it is. And what is it? The transcendent truth of God to needy man. The preacher needs it. I need it. We all need it.

Fervency (Lifeless speech causes “tune out”)

Fervency is a bit nebulous to describe when it comes to preaching and teaching. What I mean is that fervency doesn’t necessarily mean volume or theatrics. It doesn’t always show up in tears or gestures. But it is obvious. When someone speaks with conviction, it’s undeniably noticeable. 

Actors speak from scripts. They master the lines and deliver them masterfully. At least the good ones do. They speak with skill. Memorized lines spill from their lips like the cascade of a beautiful waterfall. They learn their roles and manufacture the appropriate emotions by which to convey them. But the Word of God is so much more than a script or lines to be memorized. It is truth! And when that truth enflames the heart of the preacher, it is powerful truth indeed.

Do you believe what you’re preaching? Really? Then speak with a conviction that reflects it. Truth that has not first captured your heart will not easily connect with your listeners.
Credibility (Unsubstantiated speech causes “tune out”)

Why should I believe what you are telling me? Funny stories are entertaining, and tear-jerking stories can pull the emotional chain, but I’m going to need a little bit more than anecdotal evidence if you want me to believe what you are saying. And just because somebody famous said something quotable about it doesn’t mean that I’m going buy it either.

Is your message rooted in the truth of God’s Word? If so, where? Show me. Give me a text of Scripture to which I can affix my faith. “Take my word for it,” really doesn’t cut it. Even if you claim to have built the biggest something or lead the fastest growing whatever.

Foolish is the preacher who asks people to believe something, “Because I say so!” Faith is a precious commodity indeed. Encourage listeners to invest it in the security of God’s Word. There it lies safely. Only there.

And if you've read the article this far, thanks for not "tuning out"!