Running Toward Need

Today is ‘N’ in the A to Z blogging challenge.

I thought for a while about new songs, but it didn’t feel like the right topic. My concern isn’t just for those of us who are on worship teams or who have a passion for worship music. My point from the beginning of this is that worship is not merely the musical part of the Sunday service, but the way we live out our faith in the day-to-day mundane details of the world around us.

I was going to write something special about the Boston Marathon event, because in my mind the response of the many to the injured and suffering was a beautiful example of how God calls us to live as worshipers.

After the explosions, it has been oft remarked, you see people running not from but TO the need. They’re not concerned for their own safety, they’re running to help others. It’s been reported that many runners finished the race and continued on to the nearby hospital to give blood for those wounded. We saw first responders and average citizens rushing into the smoke to help strangers.

And I thought about what I write, about this focus on God’s presence and how precious that is to many of us. We seek to draw nearer to Him, to find Him in the midst of chaos in our lives, to get close in spite of knowing how it will change our lives.

But what do we know of this God we pursue?

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalms 34:18 NASB)

Brokenness and humility attract God’s attention.

The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:14,18 NIV)

Consider who God declared righteous: not the religious man who praised his own holiness, but the sinner who beat his chest and cried for mercy… not the religious leaders who sought flaws in Jesus’ teachings, but the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears.

Consider on whom God has fixed His attention, to whose treatment He has tied His judgment. He declares to the people of Israel and to the church that we must look to the fatherless, the destitute, the weak and needy.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)

If we are worshipers, we must not only be attracted to the presence of God. We must be driven toward need. What concerns God must concern us. What He loves must become what we love, and where His gaze goes, so ours should follow.

I’m proud to know brothers and sisters in Christ who pour out their lives to provide for the practical needs of the destitute in other nations. I’ve met people who serve in China, India, the Philippines, Cambodia, various countries in Africa, and so on. I’ve heard men and women speak about discovering the slave trade in the communities where they serve, and how they have been used to pull thousands of young women and small children away from that life. I’ve seen medical care offered free of charge, food provided with no strings attached, homes built or repaired as an expression of love and concern.

There are worshipers who not only see God but also see where His eyes are fixed, and they charge in, often at great personal expense, sometimes at great personal risk, in order to extend a hand to the broken, the needy, the orphan, the widow, the wounded.

The selfless runners and responders in Boston display humanity’s best intentions, and rightly move our hearts.

How much more should those who chase God also be reaching into the chaotic world around us? God calls His people to exemplify Him, to represent Him. And He is close to those in need.

May He find us running to their aid.

O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
To vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, So that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror. (Psalms 10:17, 18 NASB)

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The Unattainable Goal

During the A to Z, I’ve been writing here about important aspects of worshiping and pursuing God. Now we come to one of the most important – and least comfortable.

Holiness.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14 NKJV

The Message simplifies this thought to “work on getting along… with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse.”

The word here means purification, sanctification, that state of staying set apart not just from the world but also for God. We can’t merely be on the outskirts of society, weird Ned Flanders types who never participate in anything fun because “that’s of the devil.” Nor can we live two lives, one devoted to God and the other riddled with willful sin.

We’re to be whole people, holy people, healthy and helpful to the world around us.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 MSG

So what’s the difficulty with this?

First, there’s no room for compromise. There’s no leeway for blowing it. Christ calls us to an all-or-nothing relationship. For example, in Luke 9:23 we see Christ tell us that His disciples must take up their cross and follow Him. That means essentially dying to ourselves in order to live for Him (2 Cor 5:14-15). Paul tells us our act of worship is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. (Rom 12:1-2).

Holiness isn’t a half-hearted thing.

Second, we never fully measure up to the mark. We can never claim we have arrived at perfection. John writes that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Paul lays out our condition in Romans 7, how we often do what we know is wrong and fail to do what we know is right. And even our very best efforts are like filthy rags before God’s purity and holiness (Isaiah 64:6). “All have sinned and fall short” of God’s standard (Romans 3:23).

There is no finish line in life for this journey.

That can be a weighty realization. We must be holy if we hope to see God, yet we can never attain that goal.

So that brings us to another ‘H’ for today:

Hope.

Every morning brings hope that today we will be better than we were before.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! (Lam 3:22-23 MSG)

Paul writes of his worldly achievements and merits, then calls them all worthless compared to Christ. And then he makes this comment:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.
I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Php 3:12-14 MSG

This is why we can never wink at sin or shrug away our failures… and yet we can rejoice with confidence in God’s great love that transcends our shortcomings. When we’ve failed today, we confess it and start off tomorrow fresh, full of hope, eager to discover and display holiness.

So tonight you get two for the price of one: a reminder that we must be holy if we desire a glimpse of God, and the promise that there is hope every morning as we experience God’s love anew.

What do you think? What helps you strive for holiness? How does new hope each morning affect your thoughts about God?

What’s for Dinner?

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I wrote on my fitness blog about dieting and healthy eating.

There’s a clear spiritual parallel for anyone who’s seeking God.

A writer at our writing group spoke about her experience hearing God more clearly when she turned off all the other constant inputs around her. No TV, no radio, no cable, no Internet (ok, maybe a short fast from the Internet)…

And suddenly she was able to find God in the midst of her circumstances.

Consider how often you see people with heads down, phone in hand, checking a text or tweet or status update, liking a friend’s comment or post or blog.

I’m standing in Wal-Mart on crutches, writing this on my phone. I’m one of them, one of (i)Pod People.

We have the world at our fingertips. This wealth of information is great, but it has risks. Autocorrect saw me accidentally type “unformation” and tried to fix it, but there’s a ring of truth to that mistake.

The media we’re consuming does little to help form us into our best. Like eating junk food because it’s there, we often mentally take in whatever is around us, even though we know it’s devoid of nutritious spiritual content.

No one goes without food without either serious challenging circumstances or without a determined decision. Food is essential, and we make sure we get what we need. If we’re pursuing a weight loss or fitness goal, we pay much closer attention to what we’re consuming.

Those of us intent on chasing God, why would we pay our spiritual diet any less heed?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8, 9 MSG)