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Posts Tagged ‘Worshippers’

One of the surprising recurring themes in the Bible regards how often God’s people miss the point of God’s purposes while those far from God grasp it.  For instance, for all their study of Old Testament scriptures and religious disciplines, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day completely missed the arrival of the Messiah and his Kingdom.  Meanwhile, those they considered “sinners” – tax collectors, drunkards, prostitutes, the demon possessed, the leprous, Samaritans, Canaanites, and Romans – welcomed the Messiah.

When Jesus went to a well-to-do religious man’s house for dinner, the man did not receive Jesus with the usual custom and courtesy expected at the time and in that culture – he did not have Jesus’ feet washed.  It was like saying to Jesus, “Come again when you can’t stay so long.”  The only point for inviting Jesus was to test him to see if he really qualified to be a teacher or rabbi.  This was despite the fact that Jesus openly taught and performed miracles for everyone to witness.

A sinner surprised the man and his dinner guests by showing up and washing Jesus’ feet.  Never mind that she inserted herself where she was not invited.  She was qualified on no spiritual terms to be in this host’s home, let alone touching a man who is supposed to be righteous and a teacher.  She does not qualify because she works in the sex industry; she is a prostitute – a modern day equivalent of a street walker, pole dancer and stripper.

The self-righteous host is put off not only by this sinful woman’s intrusion (What would the neighbor’s say!?) but also by the fact that Jesus appears to be unfazed.  He doubts Jesus’ credentials on the spot.  If Jesus was really a prophet or true teacher of the Law, he would know “what kind of woman” was touching him and defiling him.  This supposed saint, for all his prayers, religious education, and spiritual devotion missed a personal visit from the One that he and all of Israel had been longing for since time unmemorable – the long-awaited Messiah.  However, the sinner did not.

The sinful woman wept over her sin as she sat at Jesus’ feet and used her tears and her hair to wash Jesus’ feet; the same beautiful hair that she had used time and again to allure her clients into her web of manipulation and sin.  The same hair men lusted to touch and that invited them to so much more.

Her hair, the object of her worldly beauty and pride, became a dirty towel stained and streaked from the filthy feet and smelly toes of the promised Messiah.  The heaving and sobbing woman was an unwelcome spectacle and distraction to the dinner host and his guests as much as the unwanted Messiah.  Her pitiful condition grew as her hair matted in dirty clumps and her face streaked with tears and makeup.  To such well-off and proper folks, the woman and Jesus made a despicable scene that only repulsed them further.

It is then, I imagine, at the height of social discomfort, that Jesus used the occasion to point out how often sinners surpass “saints.”  He looked to the prideful host and religious leader and said, “You never welcomed me.  This woman [whom you consider full of sin and unworthy] has not stopped welcoming me. The one forgiven little, loves little.  But the one forgiven of so much, loves greatly.”

Flowering Plant, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, Summer 2009

Flowering Plant, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jonah is another case in point.  The prophet is called of God to be used by God to go preach the message of judgment, forgiveness, and salvation.  The only problem?  It is to people he considers enemies and “heathen.”  God wanted him to go to the Assyrians’ capitol, Nineveh.  They had brutalized the nation of Israel.  Jonah did not just see them as beyond God’s love but also undeserving of God’s love.

Instead of obeying God’s command, Jonah decides to run from God and his mission.  In the middle of a storm, the heathen sailors are scared out of their wits.  They discern amongst themselves that it must be some kind of divine retribution and began to pray to their gods.  It was of no avail.  The storm continued to rage.  Meanwhile, Jonah slept uncaring and unaware of the danger they were all in.

When the sailors finally awaken Jonah to the imminent threat, Jonah understands what may be going on.  He coughs up the real reason for his story and tells the sailors that, for them to be saved from divine judgment, they must throw him overboard.  Unwillingly, the sailors obey the word of Jonah and are saved!  Barely able to contain themselves, they give God praise for their salvation.  Interestingly, their obedience and resulting worship of God surpassed Jonah’s – an Israelite and prophet of God.  It seems that they are more open to God and his message than God’s own messenger.

However, the irony does not stop there.  Tired of the stench and torture of riding in the belly of a great fish, Jonah repents and asks for God’s help – after three days.  (He is either a very stubborn man or a slow learner in God’s school of discipline.)  After being delivered upon a Mediterranean beach somewhere, Jonah obediently, but still reluctantly, goes to Nineveh.  He preaches God’s message of soon coming judgment, repentance, and forgiveness.  The people hear the message and turn to God and repent.

One would think that this would be Jonah’s opportunity to rejoice.  An enemy of Israel had accepted the God of Israel and received salvation.  However, just the opposite is true.  Instead of praising and worshipping God for such a miracle, Jonah goes to a nearby hilltop overlooking Nineveh to pout.  Jonah is mad at God.

When God sends a large plant to give Jonah shade, Jonah is glad for it.  When the shade plant dies, Jonah gets angry with God again.  He is more angry over the demise of a plant than the possible demise of lost souls.  He has more compassion for a plant he neither planted nor cared for than he has for a people that God placed upon the earth.

The one who pleaded for God’s mercy in the belly of a great fish and received it becomes angry at this same God who showed mercy to another people.  He could not stand the thought of God extending the same salvation he received to people he deemed to be unworthy of mercy and salvation.  God was treating those outside his covenant with Abraham the same as those within the covenant of Abraham.  And there is the rub for both Jonah and Jesus’ religious host.  The One who included them in a covenant of blessing and salvation also wants to include those who appear hostile or even unredeemable.  God’s inclusion and invitation is greater than theirs.

I must admit my own tendency to be like Jonah or that rich religious host.  Smugly, I assume and presume that God’s grace and blessings are for me.  After all, I like to “claim them” as my own and walk in them.  I have been taught that throughout my Christian journey.  However, I forget that God’s work of grace and salvation is for all people – inside and outside the covenant.  God’s desire is to show the world that he is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending [judgment]” (Jonah 4:2).

Unwittingly, my assumption and presumption lend itself to a blind arrogance on my part.  I think that I have the inside track and have my “spiritual act” together, when in reality I may be farther away from God than the nearest sinner who is broken hearted over his or her sin.  Too often, I have pridefully approached God’s throne of grace and mercy and, when asked to confess my sin, have replied, “Let me think…ah…nope…got nothing.”  And then rejoice that my life is not the mess of “those sinners” around me.

I might as well be in Jonah’s place, asleep in the bow of a boat in the middle of a storm of judgment.  I can really be that spiritually unplugged and numb.  Broken and weeping sinners in repentance surpass me in spiritual awareness.  A visitation from the One I am looking for goes right past me and I miss the opportunity.  Worse yet, the One I say I live for and proudly proclaim to spiritually lost people visits them and I doubt their salvation and whether they really “got saved.”  I remain wary of whether God is really working to change their lives.  I suspect their claims to being blessed by the Lord.

Thankfully, God has not given up on working in people like me.  He is still interested in transforming doubtful, depressive, peevish, prideful, irritable, and obstinate Jonahs and religious people.  It may be time to take some lessons from newly redeemed sinners around me on humility and thankfulness.  Perhaps I can learn again the “joy of salvation” from “a gracious and compassionate God.”  At any rate, this “saint” has some catching up to do with the “sinners” around me.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This is a re-post of thoughts about worship that I had posted to my Facebook page this last summer (06-07-09).  I was going through old files on my computer and came across this again.  It  struck me as still so very appropriate for my life.  Before deleting it off my files, I thought I would post it here.

Unexpected things may over take you when gathered in worship of  the resurrected Messiah Jesus.  It does not happen often but, when the unexpected happens in the midst what is regularly expected and routine, a person cannot help but feeling that God revealed something special.  That is something of what happened to me this past Sunday.

Now, I have had opportunity to lead church services – more than I can number.  In fact, for the past several years, it has been a rare thing for me to be just a part of the congregation.  Lately, however, my worship experience has been as a non-leader, giving me an appreciation of the “other side of the pulpit”.  I sing amidst the congregation now.  I admit that I’m enjoying the freedom from always having the “leaders hat” on.

There, however, is a draw back from not having to lead week in and week out.  Duty supersedes attitude and feelings for the leader who models worship of God to the congregation.  As such, a positive reinforcement of worship because of leadership position is placed upon the worship leader.  In other words, I’ve come to realize that the position of leading and “performing” worship for others is good.

The tricky part is the expectation of pastors and worship leaders to think that the average person in the congregation will have the same sense of duty.  We spuriously expect everyone to have the same commitment and service towards worshipping God – week in and week out.  In fact, without the restraint of a leadership role, I’ve noticed that my attitude and service of worship can be lacking from one week to the next.

This past Sunday was a particularly “down” day in my worship performance.  The worship team at my church was doing a wonderful job.  Extremely talented, their love for God shines through their voices, instruments, and raised hands.  So, the fault was not with the choice of songs, bad instrumentation, or distracting performance.  I take the blame – 100%.  I was just in a spiritual funk.  Then the Lord gently shook me in two ways.

First was the young man next to me.  He is a developmentally disabled young adult.  He is a definition of kinetic energy with his constant jerks and twitches.  During the greeting time, he turned to me and loudly said, “Hi!  Good to see ya’!”  And, before I could return a kind, “Good morning!”, he was already turned around and greeting other people with the same brevity.  I smiled.  It was probably more of a condescending grin that offered some pity for the poor young man who lacked acceptable social graces.

We were returned to our places with music and invited to stand for singing worship to our Lord and Savior.  The typical high-energy first song rang out.  Somehow, it just didn’t capture my attention or heart.  I sang the song.  But the words tumbled out of my mouth hollow and lifeless.  Something was missing.  Nevertheless, I continued standing and following along with the rest of the congregation.  It is what we do after all.

Rarely in a contemporary worship service is a song sung just once through.  Our worship team played the bridge and we started a second time into the song.  It was at that moment that my pew neighbor broke out with enthusiasm in song.  Mind you, he cannot carry a tune; at least that I heard.  Yet, at the top of his lungs and with both hands shot into the air he sang worship to God.  He was giving it his all, to say the least.

Our worship team continued on with their next songs.  My friend, accept for regular moments of distraction and uncontrolled movement, lifted his hands into the air with others.  He sang with all his heart.  I’m sure that more finely tuned musical ears around me thought the sound was painful.  For me, it was convicting.

A developmentally challenged young man, for whom a moment before I pompously felt pity, schooled me in worship.  He wasn’t leading, but he was following.  And he did it with all his heart, all his strength, and all his mind.  I could not muster as much.

It was then that the Lord shook me the first time and said, “That young man loves me – a LOT.  How much do you love me?  What will you bring me to show your love?  What sacrifice do you have to give in worship?”  I was humbled.  I began to follow the example of my young personal worship trainer sent from the Lord next to me.  In that moment, I understood that in the Kingdom of God, he was the whole one.  I was the spiritually developmentally disabled one.  I stirred my own heart in worship to God.

Towards the end of our worship time, I felt renewed.  I sensed the presence of the Lord and his great love.  Our pastor came to the front to lead us into Communion – the Lord’s Supper.  He gave instructions and the invitation to receive the bread and juice.

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In our church, the congregants come forward to receive communion.  The communion servers work in teams; often as husbands and wives, but not always.  The first communion server breaks off a piece of bread and hands it to the worshipper saying, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Then, the second server holds out the cup for the worshipper to dip the bread into the juice saying, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.”  The worshipper then eats the juice soaked piece of bread and returns to his or her seat.

It is not unusual to see emotions shared during communion.  So many people receiving it once again experience the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love of God.  It can be overpowering.  It often moves more than one person to tears.

However, on this occasion, I could not but help noticing one of the servers.  She could not stop weeping as she broke off tiny pieces of bread and said, “This is Christ’s body broken for you”.  “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Over and over again.  Worshipper after worshipper.  The tears flowed as she broke the bread.  She understood the significance of the simple act she was going through – person after person.

It was then that the Lord shook me the second time and pointed out, “That daughter of mine understands the cost of this supper.  Because of that, she loves me – a LOT!  Do you love me that much?  How will you show me that you love me?  How thankful are you for what I have done for you?”  Once again, humbled by the example before me and the Lord’s gentle prodding, I was reminded that what I bring to worship the Lord is as important when I’m following the leader as when I’m leading the followers.

Both worship and communion were served fresh and made new to me this past Sunday.  I am thankful the Lord shook me awake so I didn’t miss any of it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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