Joy in His Presence

“I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—’You jump around like a rock star when you play.’”

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Check out this awesome video from the boys of For King and Country –Little Drummer Boy. 

I love the energy of these guys- the sheer joy and passion with which they perform The Little Drummer Boy is a delight to watch. It makes me kind of jealous though— I want to be able to move like that again. When I see something like that it makes me look forward to the resurrection when I’ll have a new body, regenerated without all the aches and pains of decades of hard work and play hindering me anymore. I want to dance with joy for my king.

Back when I was a little younger (and still had all my fingers) I used to lead worship quite often and I always loved it, playing my guitar and singing for the Lord. And I always had a blast doing it, especially if I got to play with other talented musicians and when the people I was leading were into it—I always made sure they were. The energy of a room really feeds the soul of a musician—and vice versa.

I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—“You jump around like a rock star when you play.” He thought it was unbecoming a worship leader—that it was prideful on my part. I was like, ‘If you can stand still and play with all your heart for Jesus then your heart is not really playing for Jesus.’ My Jesus brings joy to my heart and when I am giving him the gift of worship, using my gifts and talents for him, that is pure joy. That is a direct gift to him.

I didn’t say that to that pastor, I was busy trying to be submissive. I considered and prayed about what he said, and decided not to change a thing. I was playing for Jesus, not a pastor. I just didn’t play at that church anymore.

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I learned how to lead worship by teaching kids how to worship and if you can engage kids in real worship, then you are a worship leader. And if you bore a child during worship, they are not going to even start to pretend that they care about anything you are doing. Adults will pretend, they will at least stand up and move their lips, kids will poke their neighbor and create their own noise that has nothing to do with what stoic song you may be banging out.

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Worship is about coming into the presence of the Lord, a privilege given us by Jesus and one we should not take for granted nor dread. People who dread or fear coming into his presence or who do not believe they are worthy are not going to know how to worship, nor find any joy in it—‘There will be no dancing, no jumping, no drums, no joy. Just play the organ and pass the plate, let’s get this over with, I’ve got football to watch.’

Well Mr. Holierthanthou Worship is not for us, it’s for Jesus, it’s a gift for him. Yet in it, we are always blessed. How can we not be blessed by coming into the presence of the Lord? Which is what we are talking about today; approaching the throne of grace.

Gifts for Jesus

Giving the Lord the gift of our presence, of our time and talents, doing our best for him. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I always enjoyed teaching it to kids in my children’s ministry years and included it in several kids Christmas programs.  I loved leading the kids in the little drummer boy because it’s a fun song to play on the guitar and I love the message. It just speaks of the approachability of our God. That even this little child with nothing to offer a King—a Son of God, God in the flesh—can come before him and offer what he has and be accepted and welcome.

Now, yes, I know there was no little drummer boy visit recorded in the gospels. But, everything we know about Jesus Christ and his coming tells us that we do indeed have a Lord who is approachable and that all of us, no matter our station in life, can come to our Lord and be welcomed. All were welcomed at the manger and we are all still welcome into his presence today, as long as we are coming with a humble heart and open hands, to give and receive truth.

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At Christmas we celebrate an event that changed everything. It changed the way we approach God and if that isn’t life changing, world changing, then nothing is. If people only spent as much time pondering that as they do worrying about climate change, the world would be a very different place. And, frankly, there is a lot more evidence for the former then the latter.

Warming

Jesus coming allowed us to warm up to God the Father in a way people only dreamed of before and we are the continuing evidence of that. Sinners one and all, living in the grace and love of our Savior.

Jesus’ coming as a man, initially as an infant the very same way we all come into this world, made God approachable. Of course we all might have different circumstances surrounding our births, we might be born in a hospital room, at home, or like my youngest granddaughter, Raelyn, in a car doing 90 down the interstate in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital; certainly not the way they had planned it.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of the most high God, who surely could have planned and ensured his birth in any way he deemed fit, chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances. Certainly a big departure from the grandeur of the temple where people had been going to be near their God. He was now coming to be near his children as a child born to those who were little more then children themselves; Mary and Joseph.

That big scary God that we meet in the old Testament that seemed always having to be straightening people out, whom people feared coming anywhere near—let alone see him—lest they die, was born a tiny helpless baby to a teenage mother in a stable with only lowly shepherds as witnesses.

Think about that- if you were God and were coming to earth in the flesh so that you could make yourself known, would you make such a low profile entrance?  Probably not, but our God was not coming to impress, scare or smite the slacker, quite the contrary- he had come to be with those who thought themselves unworthy. He became one of us so that he could die as one of us, for each of us, so that we would never again fear to come into his presence.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16

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Glory

“Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand.” 

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 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another, Is 42
:8

Glory, a fleeting thing that much of the world seeks. It can be called fame, popularity, stardom, and it seems a strange phenomenon, that so many seek it—live for it and will do anything to attain it. I think that’s why social media has taken off—if gives everyone a potential platform to become somebody—internet fame—and the glory we suppose it will bring.

Any Warhol famously said back in the 60’s, I believe, shortly after he got famous for painting very large pictures of canned food— “Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.” I think even he realized how ridiculous it was that people would make such a big deal out him for painting Campbell soup cans and Ketchup bottles. I think about that often when there are people who are suddenly all over the news or TV and radio and then they’re gone, never to be heard from again. Their fame might last years, or a day or two—15 minutes.

Glory is fleeting, and dangerous. But that’s a topic for another day. I want to focus on the Lord’s glory, the source of true glory and the only one worthy of that glory. I wonder how often the lust for glory interferes with the work of the Lord in the church? How many times God wanted to reveal his glory, but could not or would not because the one seeking to release it was doing it for their own advancement? Or he was not given any room to reveal his glory because of all the noise being generated by the artificial glory being conjured up by the techno wizardry of the modern church?

It’s something I know I have to always be on guard about in my own heart. God will not be eclipsed. As soon as we get in the way of God’s glory, he just moves somewhere else. We try to keep it simple here in our church. For one thing we can’t afford a lot of gadgetry, but it’s more than just not overwhelming the senses with sights and sounds, it’s keeping Jesus the main thing—”Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That has always got to be the core of our message because aside from that it’s just entertainment and manipulation.

In the words of Hank Williams JR. “Can you make folks cry, when you play and sing, can you moan the blues, have you paid your dues, can you bend them guitar strings? . . .Cause let me tell ya boy, If you’re big star bound let me warn  you it’s a long hard ride.” 

Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand, but only God can change hearts and set the captives free. Church is not theater, church is a place to gather with the saints, to be fed, to be encouraged, strengthened and challenged, and most importantly, a place to worship the God of creation, to hear his voice, to feel his touch and to see, hear and feel his glory revealed in us, those he has called.

Otherwise it’s just us, and we will get on each other’s nerves and let each other down— guaranteed. But it’s not just us, is it? So let’s keep praying for the glory of the Lord to be revealed more and more in our churches, and in our lives—expect it.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Mat 18:20

Expect Jesus to show up

We’ve read the stories of revivals past where God healed and delivered and actually saw the Shakina glory fall and encompass a crowd. We have witnessed sporadic healings ourselves even here, yet we often assume it’s just hit and miss and it must have been the prayers of someone else, maybe the person next to me… but still, we don’t expect a miracle.

I think maybe we expect Jesus to show up, but we don’t count on it. We still put the pressure on ourselves to pray right, to preach right, to worship right—intensely enough, spontaneously enough, to have our hands in the right place or whatever. We think we need to somehow conjure up the Lord’s presence.

We don’t conjure anything; witches and mediums do that. And we don’t manipulate emotions; actors, singers and poets do that. We simply need to invite the Lord and expect him to show up. Not just to watch, but to participate and even help. It’s not the words, the motions or the music, those are more to get us to focus on recognizing the Lord’s presence. The Lord shows up when he sees that our hearts desire him to do so. And that we expect it, not because of who we are, but because that’s who he is.

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” . . . John 2:1—3

Notice it doesn’t even say here that Jesus went to the wedding or that he was at a wedding. Just that there was one and that Jesus was invited. That’s all John needed to say, the fact that Jesus was there was just assumed then—he was invited so of course he was there. It was expected.

And, by the way, he just happened to turn the water to wine, saving a family severe humiliation—since he was there anyway.

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World Changers?

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We all want to change the world, at least we start out that way. Every new generation is bent on making an impact; you go to high schools and colleges and ask the kids what they want to do and they all, in one iteration or another, will tell you they want to make a difference, to change the world. As we get older the enthusiasm wanes as we realize that just surviving takes so much energy and the world is such a large place that we give up hope of changing anything—except maybe our own circumstances, and even that can be futile.

We go from making the world a better place to ‘make my world a better place.’ ‘I just want to pay the bills, have a nice place to live and be happy.’ Ironically if we do get a nice place to live and can pay the bills we find ourselves wanting a nicer place to live and end up with bigger bills to stress about. In the end it all presents itself to us as, just what Simon Peter would come to call, an empty way of life, futile and aimless.

Simon Peter had gotten to that place, feeling empty, living an aimless, futile life. But then his boat was rocked and his world changed forever by the true world changer.

Then He (Jesus) got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Luke 3

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A heart changed is a world changed.

Jesus got into Peter’s boat so that he could use it as a platform to preach to a multitude of people, a crowd so large and enthusiastic that Jesus actually got into the boat in part to escape being overrun by them. Yet what does he do? He turns to Peter and tells him to push out into the water, “We’re going fishing, just you and me buddy.”

Jesus did come to change the world, yet, with what looks to us as the world clamoring for his attention, a perfect opportunity to reach more and more, double, triple the size of his growing congregation, to keep the momentum going and reach the multitudes, he leaves them standing on the shore, and focuses on one—one somewhat reluctant man.  A man most wouldn’t have given a second thought let alone worth the time to mentor. But Jesus would  spend the next three years doing just that.

Why would he do this? Because Jesus knows that a heart changed is a world changed. 

The world is not made up of throngs, it is made up of individuals. Each and every one of which has hopes, dreams and aspirations; pains, trials and challenges; fears and regrets. And each and every person, each and every heart, has a place inside that no one knows but them, no one can truly experience, truly understand, a deep place where we live day in and day out.

It is our world, an entire world within us that we may not truly understand ourselves, we may not even like. But there is one other who does understand, who truly sees and hears what goes on in that world and wants to be a part of it. That is Jesus. Whether we let him in or not, whether we allow him full partnership in our world or not, he knows it still, he experiences our world with us and he wants to change it and to share it with us— with our permission and complete trust.

That world within us is just as large to Jesus as it is to us, it is just as important, perhaps more important to him as it is to us. Jesus knows that if he can change that world,  take away the pain, take away the fear, take away the hopelessness and frustration, he has done something huge, something wonderful, he has changed a world—he has ransomed you from a world of death into a world of life.

And that is the entire reason he came and died, to change your world. And if enough worlds are truly changed, enough hearts set free to be who he created them to be, then the world will be changed as well and become what he created it to be. A beautiful home for his most precious creation, mankind. Finally free from the curse, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God and now living in that reality.

A heart changed is indeed, a world changed.

Who is in charge in your world? You will never change anything worth changing until you can answer that question with one word— Jesus.

 

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18—19 NIV

All else is only emptiness, a chasing after the wind.

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Whose Glory?

 

Church is not entertainment…Abstract burning cross

Those of us who live out of town sometimes take for granted just the ability to see the stars. There are many places in the world where you cannot see even a single star for the lights of the city, there are people who have never seen the milky way, the Big dipper, Orion’s belt or even the planets of our own solar system—have never seen a falling star or even a satellite streaking across the sky.

I’ve been camping even with people from Billings who marveled at seeing the Milky Way for the first time and I think: “How sad that you grew up not knowing what you were missing right above your head.” I know I never stop being amazed at the glory of the heavens as we are blessed to live far from any bright lights up on our hill in the middle of nowhere. Often we’ll come home late from somewhere, or when I’m leaving for work in the early morning and just look up on a clear night and say: “Wow.”

There is just nothing on this earth that compares to the grandeur of the lights the Lord has put in the heavens, especially knowing just how unimaginably far away and spread out all those lights are—and we are seeing but a tiny fraction of them.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

Back on the Heyu-cow Ranch I used to go out in the evenings just before I went to bed during calving season to make the rounds to see if anything was calving. I would do a head count as the cows would all be bedded down in or near the barn for the night and if there were any missing I would know that they had gone off somewhere to calve so I would go look for them to make sure they didn’t need help.

I always loved being out there in the night because it just seemed like I could see every star in the heavens and after my eyes adjusted to the dark. Even without a moon I was always amazed at how much even just the stars would light things up. There was even a couple of years there when we had a couple of comets in the sky that were visible for weeks on end it. One year it was Hale Bopp and I don’t remember the name of the other one but they were both pretty awesome— this huge star with a big illuminated blur behind it that was the tail.

It must have been the late 90’s I guess. But anyway, I would head out into the pasture to find the cow with my flashlight and the moon and stars for a guide. I remember always wishing I could turn off the big security light we had near the house because, as nice as it was to have light right near the house, it just messed me up everywhere else.

I always had to be careful not to look back towards the house when I was out searching in the dark because even from a few hundred yards away, once my eyes had become good and adjusted to the dark, if I looked at that bright pinpoint of light in the distance it would hinder my ability to see anything between me and that light.

All I could see was that light of the lights from the house and nothing more than a few feet beyond. I really like not having one of those obnoxious security lights where we live now because I can walk right out the door and look up and see the stars,  I don’t have to walk out away from that fake light.

When I had the power company install that light back at the ranch I thought: “Yeah, it will be nice to have a nice bright light out here.” And it is nice to be able to walk out and see the car or look out and see what might be prowling around too near the house, but what it really did was prevent us from being able to see the big picture. Ironically— the bigger the light the less you can see.

That’s why the big cites can’t see a single star in the heavens, they just have bright light after bright light on top of bright light: “Isn’t this grand, we have the whole city lit up and we can see everything!” No, you can’t. All you can see is what you have created, and what you have created is pretty paltry and pathetic compared to the glory of the heavens and the beauty of nature that has yet to be spoiled by anything that needs an artificial light to illuminate it with your garish light.

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Maybe you’ve figured out where I’m going here. We build our churches and we build‘em big and beautiful. We do research and hire experts to figure out the best lighting to set the right mood in the various parts of the church, the best way to illuminate the worship team, the preacher. We spend thousands of dollars on spot lights, lasers, and things that go flash and change colors and create an environment that makes you say Wow! —as we appear out of the smoke like we just descended from heaven itself.

Many churches do not want any windows in the sanctuary because heaven forbid we should have any light coming in that we cannot control. And what do we get? An artificial glory, a pale representation of what is available if the Lord would just be welcome to reveal his glory.

Our paltry little lights leave us ignorant of the real glory of the heavens and even diminish our view. Our best attempts to glorify God are paltry and pathetic in comparison to what the Spirit of God can do himself if we just get out of the way.

…will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 2 Cor 2:8

The ministry of man is nothing compared to the ministry of the Spirit, the temple of this earth is but a representation of the true temple in heaven just as we are nothing but representatives of God. Sincere though we may be, empowered and anointed though we may be, it is still just a shadow of the real thing—no matter how hard we try to conjure up glory and inspire glory, we are looking through a glass darkly.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.      1 Cor 13:12

I don’t fault the pastor or worship leaders for this, it’s the culture, and it is easy to get caught up in the technology of putting on the best show you can. But that’s the problem, it’s become a show, because that is what people expect, and pastors have come to believe that that is what keeps people coming back. It’s not just church leaders who need to rethink what it means to see the glory, so does the rest of the church.

Next time you are in church ask yourself: Why am I here?— Church is not entertainment, church is Jesus’ time to minister to us, so that we can be Jesus to the rest of the world—get out of his way and let him.

 

You can be happy

Attitude

-Happiness is something we all strive for, something we all long for, yet for all the attention being happy has garnered as a pursuit of mankind as it has been for eons, it has remained frustratingly illusive and even indefinable and unattainable to most no matter their station in life. It can’t be bought, stolen or forced—you can’t take it away from someone and they cannot give it to you.

Happiness can be very subjective and as fickle as the wind. This is because happiness is a state of mind, it is something we choose.

Going through Yellowstone park a couple weeks ago I was reminded of the words I learned as a child in the 60’s; Words of a great 20th century poet and singer of songs:

You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.

You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd. 

You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd. 

But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.

All you gotta do is set your mind to it, knuckle down buckle down, do it, do it, do it!

These words of wisdom are from the same man who also wrote the profound words: “I wish I had your good luck charm and you had a do-whaka-do-whaka-do-whaka-do, whaka-do.”Roger Miller

You can be happy, if you’ve a mind to. Obviously this is kind of a silly song but it is certainly sound principle. We choose our own attitudes and our attitude affects everything we do and everyone around us. Attitude is the greatest determiner of happiness there is. Our attitudes touch our very spirit and determine our reception to the blessings of God.

24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Numbers 14

A Spirit of worship

Years ago— I will never forget this because it really rang true and gave me hope when one of my children, was giving me my first grey hairs, as she was struggling to find her way in the world—a good friend at our church, Jennifer, told Donna and I as we were talking about the challenges of raising teenagers, something which we helped each other do—she said: You know what? “I wouldn’t worry too much about Cally, Cally will be all right, she will always overcome, because she has a spirit of worship. I can see it in her”

This encouraged us greatly because we knew it was true. I had never thought about it this way—as a spirit—but it made sense. Our spirit is who we truly are deep inside, who we will always be, the part of us created in the image of God, and if that spirit has a love for worship then it is a spirit of worship.

Worship not an end in itself but it is merely a symptom, if you will, of just loving to be in the presence of a loving God, so a person with a spirit of worship is a person who has discovered that the vehicle to bring you into that presence, the place where you can be blessed, be safe, be strengthened—is by closing your eyes, shutting out the world and singing a song of praise to the God of the universe with the knowledge that he hears you and is pleased with you for coming to him.

A spirit, a heart, an attitude- one in the same? I believe so. A spirit of worship is one that acknowledges the Lord, one that recognizes the goodness, the possibilities, the truth of God’s goodness, his power, love and hand in our presence. That is a happy person who can overcome, who can see in the light of eternity and will be blessed.

Jesus said, the Father seeks those who will worship him in spirit and in truth.

If you listen and obey, make the right professions at the right time, see the world through the eyes of the promises of God, learn to have a spirit of worship—then you will overcome the giants in the land and enter into your blessing—just as Caleb did. That is a spirit that is free, that is truly happy.

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8

Freedom from fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear of condemnation and inadequacy, all things Jesus took away on the cross, those are all ours if we trust his word, look to him for our deliverance from whatever troubles us, even if all we can do is worship him in the middle of the storm— we will have a soul at peace, a spirit that is free, and that is happiness.

It’s not always easy— trust me I know,—but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.