After the hymn

One memory I have cherished during the past year was what happened right as the pandemic began to set in for everyone. It was at our church.

We had prayed for and planned to begin a Dinner Church worship gathering. I can’t tell you how excited I was about that. I’m pretty sure I tried to tell you in a devotional or two along the way.

One of the last activities our church did before we stopped meeting was Dinner Church. I recall sharing communion and a meal with everyone. We sang praise to God as a family of God.

I don’t recall what we sang. I only remember everyone standing, many with smiles on their faces as we did. Do you remember seeing the people you love smile, not wearing a mask?

You may have a similar memory in mind. Maybe it was a Sunday morning worship gathering that lifted your soul. God works in small group studies and prayer groups in the same way.

None of us leave those moments with the intention of deserting Jesus. It’s quite the opposite, isn’t it? The old hymn says, “I’d stay in the garden with him, though the night around me be falling.” We love these moments of worship and holy inspiration. But we’ll have to step away from the table to go into the world.

What happens then?

How far does our praise take us?

Peter and the other disciples were with Jesus right before he was arrested, praising God. According to Mark, Jesus waited until after their order of worship to drop the hammer on them. Some translations say when they had sung “the” hymn. Others say “a” hymn. That difference intrigues me. It was then, after their worship, Jesus told them he knew they would desert him. His sheep would scatter. 

Of course, I don’t mean that how you and I fail Jesus leads to his arrest and death. When we read of the disciples’ scattering, it is a telling of a particular group’s failure of discipleship. But we have our own failures, don’t we?

What I’m reflecting on today is how spiritually encouraged and filled the disciples might have felt. I know there were other feelings that final night Jesus spent with them. But they all still lifted their voices in praise.

And they all guaranteed Jesus they would never desert him.

Indeed, none of us leave a worship gathering eager to deny our Lord. What if I offered you this benediction before you left, “Go in peace. You’ll need it because you will deny Jesus.”

Moreover, we’re not always keen on acknowledging our discipleship failures. It’s easier to recognize Peter’s lofty sense of pride than our own.

I want you to examine your walk with God. Where have you, in your own way, denied Christ? failed to walk in his way? followed your own will rather than God’s?

There’s no sense denying our denials. There’s freedom in recognizing when and how we fail to be obedient followers of Jesus. When you’re forgiven, it makes that next worship song all the more meaningful.

Stay blessed…john

A few more feet

There’s a lot of great Christian imagery in Psalm 95.

Think about the joyous singing, shouting to the Rock of our salvation and kneeling before our Maker. It is a royal psalm, directing the praise of God’s people to the Lord’s kingship.

Why do we have such joy? Why are we always singing? Because the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

I recall a cartoon I saw one Easter season. There are two guards standing in front of the empty tomb. They’re discussing what might have happened. One guard says to the other something like, “I don’t know what happened, but I bet those Christians will have written a dozen songs before the day is over.”

We sing because God reigns.

But we do more than sing, don’t we?

Time and time again, the psalms portray an active worship of God. It is a participatory action that all God’s people join. Be it with music, singing or dancing, we move in our worship. Maybe that’s what moves us in worship.

Psalm 95 offers another form of worship. Our joyful praise leads to our bowed posture. Why are some Christians intimidated by bowing before God? We’re already under the Lord. 

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). What difference are a few more feet going to make?

In a way, those last few feet it takes to bow before God make all the difference in our hearts. As much as kneeling can be a posture of our hearts, when did we stop physically kneeling before God? I know knees have gotten older, but did we teach our younger people the act of kneeling before God? Why have we made it such a “Catholic thing”?

Most times I’ve heard Psalm 95 preached or used as a call to worship, the fun stops at about verse seven. The last four verses take a scathing turn. Whereas we began with joyful praise, we end with God’s anger. No one wants to talk about that.

Well, the psalmist did. And it was a part of his worship.

Let’s be grateful he did. Today, I hear God speaking to us about our posture of praise. When was the last time you were on your knees not just in prayer but in praise? Read the psalm again and you’ll notice there’s no mention of kneeling in order to petition God. That’s an appropriate form of prayer we can find in other places.

In Psalm 95, though, our kneeling is our acknowledging God’s greatness. And while you can pray faithfully sitting upright in your pew or driving in your car listening to praise music, imagine what happens in our soul when we praise God in kneeling adoration.

If we don’t, we run the risk of being like those who hardened their hearts before God. That’s no way to end our praise.

Stay blessed…john

At the table

I attended a worship gathering years ago in a church where the Holy Spirit got moving.

Well, at least that’s what the preacher said. Have you ever noticed some preachers like to blame the Spirit when their sermons seem to drag on a bit? That’s what happened that day.

I recall deciding I didn’t need to be a 45-minute-sermon preacher. At first, I thought I was chickening out. Then on a Tuesday, someone asked me about something I said on Sunday. I could’ve asked them why they weren’t taking better notes or paying attention. But I didn’t even remember what I said.

So, I cut my sermons in half. Which is actually hard to do. You can’t say everything you want to say about a passage when you slice it down like that. There’s little room for tangents because if you steer toward one, you’re going to lose your listener’s attention.

From time to time, I even preach 6-minute sermons. I kind of think the Holy Spirit moves better when I learn to keep quiet.

But the preacher that day in church blamed the Holy Spirit for stretching the sermon. And here’s what hit me. The preacher then said, “Sorry, church, we ran out of time for Communion. We’ll do that another week.”

Now, this was years ago. So, I’ve already confessed my initial thoughts to God and a few other people. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll just tell you that. I understand there are faith traditions that don’t practice communion as I do. They don’t share my understanding of it either. Our convictions about what it means are different.

But I would never blame my long-windedness on the Spirit, especially if it meant the church would miss out on Holy Communion. In fact, if we are set to have Communion, we are going to have it no matter what.

When I told one of my mentors about this experience, he asked me, “So what does that teach you about what Holy Communion means to you?” That’s just like a good mentor. He took my focus off the church I’ll probably never attend again and onto my understanding of the Lord’s table. I so wanted him to let me have a moment of Lord’s-table-superiority.

He didn’t. He taught me that more than anything I had different expressions of the sacraments. And here I was thinking I had better expressions.

That’s part of what the apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian church to understand. For them, the Lord’s table had become an exclusive party occasion. Their observation of the sacrament didn’t unite the body. It tore it apart. Rich Christians gathered with rich Christians to feast and drink wine. They left nothing for poor Christians. That was not the new covenant Christ proclaimed.

As Jesus reclined with his disciples at the table, he desired their unity. That’s what he prayed for. That’s what he wants for us, too. At the table, God unites us. Our differences of opinion and practice may be important to us. But they are not important enough to God to break our fellowship.

Stay blessed…john