Please Remember the Animal Crackers!

I have feint memories of what my mom did to bring me to church prepared.  This took much thought and work before leaving the house.  I was young, fidgety, and had issues with attention.  I never really saw the work that went into her preparations, but I enjoyed the fruits of her labor (which sometimes was real fruit).   At various points of the church service different things would make their way out of the bag.  Raisins, grapes, the universal staple… animal crackers.  Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes markers, but the activity book always had places to draw.  She always knew what to bring and had just enough to get me through the service… so that everyone else could get through the service.

Now that I’m 40, I guess its time to make my own preparations for church.  I’ve noticed that we all prepare for church differently.  I’m going to point out 3 styles I’ve witnessed (I’m sure you have seen others).

The first group shows up to church empty handed.  No Bible, no bag, no books.  They pull out their phones, but they don’t have Bible apps or study guides on their phones!  You might wonder if they would have come at all if some reason hadn’t dragged them or forced them in some way.  Worship starts and they seem somewhat attentive.  They may even join in at some point, but with a massive asterisk if they do…  It’s not their job to worship.  They showed up, and they expect the church to do its job and either worship for them, or create worship in such a way that it involuntarily jump starts their soul into worship without their consent.  These are the parents that expect school to raise their children.  Trainers must teach their pets and almost everything in life is someone elses fault.  They will come to church, but whether they worship or not is the church’s responsibility.

The second group fully intends to experience God, but they don’t always manage to catch Him while He is there.  They will sing, pray, listen.  But they have to get warmed up.  The right songs at the right beat, with the best prayer might just work.  Its usually a slow build, but they will get there most of the time.  The big difference between the first group and this one is that this group really wants that experience, it just doesn’t always happen.  This group will say things like, “I just didn’t feel it that time”.  Or, “ohhhh, I got that warm fuzzy worship feeling this time!”.  If they don’t experience this good feeling enough, they may start to look for another church home or complain about the song choice, praise team, preacher, etc.  Similar to the first group, they may blame others when church feels ‘boring’.

The third group will approach worship like my mom did with me (only perhaps, the more grown up version).  They will wake up in the morning with worship in mind.  They will pray.  They will pack.  “What should I bring to worship?”, this group will ask.  Bible (or hip phone app), pen and paper for the sermon outline, breath mints for hugs and close prayers with their brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Seriously?  Why not?  Its this type of thinking that allows for the final ingredient.  God?  Check.  Here He is.  And then they leave home en route to the church building.  This group knows that the house of God is not the church building.   They start the day off in preparation of worshiping God and they bring Him with them.  How much sense would it make to have a party honoring someone and you don’t invite the person being honored?

This group shows up and has a servant’s heart from the first handshake with the door greeter.  They aren’t just ready to start worship, they already have been.  And so they interact with family rather than church going acquaintances.  They see visitors as potential in-laws (the good kind) rather than strangers fighting for the back pew.  And when all are seated and the first word spoken… you are already there:  engaged with God, your Father, ready to praise Him for what He has done… and maybe even work out some issues between the two of you.

Worship isn’t something that happens to us, its something we do.  It’s an act.  Its a verb.  It’s a sacrifice of time, emotion, honesty, confession, repentance, acceptance, and so much more.  It starts the moment you wake up in the morning and greet your God and, quite honestly, it should finish when you say ‘good night’.  If you show up to church and the last time you spoke to God was the last time you were at church… you don’t have the relationship that God wants to have with you.

I had some animal crackers very recently.  You never grow out of them.  They taste plain at first (no chocolate, no toppings, no fillings, just… animal shapes and carbs).  But they are a necessity.  They filled a void in my stomach and kept my mind where it belonged.  Today, Jesus fills a void in my soul and keeps me close to God.  I couldn’t imagine trying to go to church without taking Him with me.  Without first talking with Him in the morning.  Reading His words, and possibly even singing along the way.  He is the reason I go to church, how could I leave Him behind or expect someone else to bring Him?

Worship is intentional, purposeful, specific, and directed straight to God.  It’s personal between the two of you.  It’s not passive, and it’s rarely done with dry eyes.  Even more so, it also involves a community of believers… and if they aren’t seeing genuine Christians delivering worship to a beloved Savior, then I start to understand why they don’t want to be a part of the church.

Resist – WordPress Daily Prompt

via Daily Prompt: Resist

This phrase conjures up for me chants of the masses.  I think back to high school where rebellion to be different was so popular, everyone looked the same.  Be different!… just like everyone else.

Resistance certainly has its place in all cultures, but I fear that a great many have lost the ability to know when its useful.

There have been news reports of children calling 911 on parents for taking their Xbox away (1).   Where did they learn that behavior?  Probably from the parents who called 911 on the fast food restaurant who didn’t get their order right (2).

What it boils down to, in my mind, what is worth resisting?  As a Christian, I’m allowed to have my own political beliefs, agendas, and deep rooted opinions.  But the follow-up question is inevitably, what is worth resisting?  In other words, what do I want to be known for?

Do I want to be the guy who got fired because I couldn’t stand bad coffee in the break room any longer?  I could be like Seinfeld and refuse to tolerate women who eat one pea at a time.  Over every little injustice that creeps into my life, I could stomp my foot and strike up the Twisted Sister song, “We’re Not Gonna Take it!”  For myself, I want to be known for my Christianity.  So instead of taking up the flag of tax reform, I don the banner of Christ.  I still vote for the tax reform I want, but its not the most important issue in my life.  Its not what I want to be known for when I’m gone.

Can I stand up for myself?  Yes!  When?  That is what I find so critical today.  When should we choose to ignore versus fighting back for a fundamental right?  And these questions seem to swirl around the issue.  But they all paint the same picture.  Can you function in a world where you don’t always get your way?  Is resistance always making its way into your vocabulary?  Do you have to think for a moment to consider all the different things you fought against?

Perhaps we should all ponder what matters in life?  What defines us?  Who do you want to be?  What gets in the way of your dreams?  What stops you from being a complete version of you?  Maybe those things are worth opposing.  Instead of letting world news be your buffet of resistible offerings, choose for yourself that you will define the true you, and then only focus on what matters most when taking a stand.

Far too many have confused ‘getting my way’ with ‘taking a stand for the good cause’.  Some of us need to grow up.  More of us need to know up.  We need to learn about ourselves and finally decide who that person in the mirror needs to be.  Don’t let the world define you.  Knee jerk opposition is just that.  Define yourself, and then you can make your own memorable and lasting impression on the world.  Don’t be the girl who makes her life’s work protesting the removal of the McRib. (3)

 

  1.  Child calls 911 after parents take away Xbox
  2. 911 call over drive thru order
  3. Facebook page of McRib protest

Resist

3 Lyrics that help define worship

O come O come Emmanuel.

This song begs a simple question.  What do you mean when you sing these words?  For some, they are asking God to hurry the end times.  To allow Jesus to return to earth as prophesied.  Others believe that our God is supernatural and that He can intervene today.  They believe that prayer works and when you ask God to do something, He is able and actually WILL do things.  A third group will sing the words and not give them much thought.  To them its a pretty song, or perhaps they think they are singing on behalf of someone that lived during the days of Jesus.

When I sing these words, my soul leaps.  It’s as though I was lying dormant, choosing one boring, meaningless task after the next.  And then I chose this one… to call on my Savior.  And the response within me is, “YES!.  Finally!  This is exciting.  You have called on the power of the living God.  Oh, how I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next.  Do you realize He can do ANYTHING!”

I have to confess that there are times where I have “worshiped” and never thought to ask Jesus to be a part of it.  I just did what i wanted my way.  Or I just followed others in their plans.  These words are a request.  We are asking the Lord to be a part of what we are doing.  We can worship a God who is far off in heaven.  Or, we can invite Him to join us and worship a present God in the moment.

This may make some people uncomfortable.  They worship a God that they believed healed sick and rose from the dead, but don’t believe He can do the same today.  They find Him bound by scriptures and willfully helpless to answer our call.  They pray prayers asking God to heal the sick but don’t actually believe He has the power to do so.  They believe they were baptized by the Holy Spirit, but don’t believe that He lives within them.  And while I don’t want to tell anyone that they are wrong in how they worship…. I can’t help but ask the questions… mostly, why?

Why sing to a God that won’t answer?  Why pray to a God who doesn’t listen?  Why worship a God that lies dormant?  Why quote scripture that promises answers to prayer when faith and belief in that promise are lacking?

When my friend said, “come here”.  It wasn’t a philosophical quandary.  It was a request.  When we ask Jesus to come visit with us… why doesn’t it mean exactly what we sing?  Can’t it?

Our eternal goal is to be with God.  If you believe in the Bible, you know we are partly connected to Him already.  Made in His image (gen 1:27).  Filled with the Holy Spirit (acts 2:38).  And, sanctified to be with Him.  Asking Him to join us in worship… I would claim that is where worship starts.  The birthday party begins with the lights off and all of the guests hidden.  The actual celebration happens when the guest of honor walks through the door and we all yell “Surprise!”.  What an odd party to have if the person wasn’t even there yet.  Why should worship be different?  And do note that it is a celebration.  Come, o Come, Lord.  We want to honor you.  We want to worship you.  We have so much to be glad for.  Honor us with your presence so we can say thank you.

 

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

I love this part because its straight forward and yet its not often we consider the flow of worship.  From our soul directly to God.  This speaks to me as I have a history of including middle men in the process that were never intended to be there.  My prayers are tailored to those present.  My singing is hushed for fear those around might hear how God forgot to bless me with any semblance of vocal talent.  My contribution is folded and concealed.

Its not about the habits, some may actually have merit.  Its about the awareness.  Its about the presence of our hearts and minds.  Are we thinking about the pitch, the tempo, the crying baby, the order of worship… Soul to God cuts out all of this and gets right down to business.  This verse reminds us that we need spiritual binders.  This is what horses wear so that things that happen around them, in their peripheral vision, don’t distract them from their responsibilities.  It physically blocks line of sight so they stay focused on what is directly in front of them.

God Should be directly in front of us.  And we should be singing TO Him.  Not about Him, we have already welcomed Him, invited Him to our worship.  If we sincerely meant that, wouldn’t it be horrible to invite God to a time and place where we are concerned about what others think?  Where we hold back our emotions and give God a half hearted, location awareness offering.  Don’t read into this disorderly worship.  God can be praised by the masses in orderly worship.  It’s our hearts that give us away when our minds are in other places during this time.

Soul to God.  I’m a visual person, so to me it looks like this:  Soul —> God.  We don’t have to ignore our fellow Christians during worship.  We don’t have to exclude them.  Worship was designed, I believe, to build up both God and Church.  We don’t worship because we want to be built up, but it happens during the process when we worship to build up God.  Our praise for Him tends to have a healing effect.  (but this is a whole other issue).   The power of this line of text is simple.  Your worship is your offering to God.  How much do you want to give?  Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira?  They kept a portion for themselves.  Just as they were expected to give all they had financially, we are expected to give all that we have in worship.  Some of us have become very good at tithing 10% effort, or 10% volume, or 10% listening.

Engaged directly with God you can give a true offering of self.

 

Fall on your knees.   (O Holy Night)

 

Have you ever tried to fall on purpose?  Most of us spend a great deal of effort to stay… up.  Falling, in most cases, would be painful, embarrassing, and possibly costly.  If I were to kneel right now, I would first look for a pillow.  At my age, kneeling gets painful after a short time.  I would also slowly lower myself to the ground, grabbing surrounding structures for support.  You would definitely hear a grunt or two as I made my way down.  Why?  because the last thing I want to do is fall.  And of course, I would need help to get back up.

Kneeling, is an action.  Its a choice.  And its also a process.  Even the young and healthy will knee methodically.  Falling is a response.  The body no longer has control any more.  If it did, the default reaction is to try and remain up.  The mind checks out and the soul takes over.  The overwhelming emotion in the correct placement between God and man has a cause/effect relationship.  It is not logical.  It is not fair.  The sacrifices made are not fathomable.  But when we place ourselves as we belong at the feet of Jesus and the story of His life and sacrifice hits deep within our soul our body reacts accordingly.  We fall.  Its overwhelming.  Its unbelievable.  Its insurmountable.  And when we finally align our hearts with God’s good and perfect will we know our true place.

We are the saved.  We are the free.  We are loved.  And we can’t physically stand when the reality of such power harnessing so much love hits us.  To fall on your knees is to say, “I give up… everything!”.  There is one thing I need, and it is a desperate need.  I need Jesus in my life.  Everything else is useless.

Falling to your knees is crying’s bigger brother.  Most of us don’t choose when we cry.  There are a few good actors that can flip that switch, but for the rest of us, its an emotion that comes when prompted by our surroundings.  A sad movie, a heartfelt song, a devastating situation.  Tears come without our permission based on how we perceive the situation at hand.  The phrase, “uncontrollable laughter”, or “uncontrollable crying” has merit.  We don’t control those things.  They are responses, not thought out actions.  Falling to your knees is a response.  In the frame work of worship, its the bodies way of saying, the heart, mind, and soul are where they belong right now.

Disclaimer:  If you don’t fall to your knees… don’t read anything into that.  But imagine the spiritual and emotional state of someone who does.  Stand before the real throne of God, and not an empty one.  Imagine your reaction to Him.  Accept His sacrifice.  Accept His love.

Invite God, praise Him directly and genuinely, and then respond to His presence in your life.  This is worship to me.