In All Things Charity

I am amazed when I consider how some Christians handle conflict.

Some people seem content to throw the figurative grenade into the room, then pick up the pieces and see what’s left. No really, that’s pretty much a quote I was given as one person’s method of conflict resolution.

There are those who feel compelled to fire their Scripture-shotgun into the face of any opposition, no matter how tame. “I know what God says on this matter. I asked Him.” Or perhaps “I have a degree in Christian Ministry, so I don’t need your input on Christianity, kthxbai.”

Not exact quotes but close enough.

I attend a church whose stated vision is to “Saturate our city and our world with the heart of God.” My wife and I have been playing for the music ministry for about a year and a half now. When they announced a new members class, we realized “Oh hey, we should probably become members if we’re going to be up front leading worship.”

During the class, we covered the 16 tenets of faith held by the Assemblies of God (the denomination or association that this church belongs to). The pastor teaching the class made it clear that there’s a bit of room for disagreement, room for skepticism and other opinions. In making his point, he quoted an old phrase:

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

There are certainly some core beliefs that we as Christians have to agree upon. “I’m a Christian, but the Bible is rubbish.” Well, good luck with that. “I’m a Christian, but I’m not sure about this Jesus is the Son of God business… he was a nice teacher but he didn’t rise from the dead or anything…” Yeah, good job, welcome to heresy, your religion is pointless according to a relatively unknown Christian named Paul who wrote half the New Testament. We have to have unity in some essentials or else there’s no point in us gathering together.

Non-essentials, to me, are those things that aren’t going to seriously change my behavior. All the debate about speaking in tongues, or what sort of music is “right” for church, or whether there’s going to be a Rapture or will it be Post-Trib or Pre-Trib or so on… does any of that change how I pursue God in my personal life? Not that much. Even “Once saved Always saved” versus “We can lose salvation” is a silly debate to me, because our focus should never be looking backwards to see how close we can get to walking away from Christ without actually losing salvation. Our focus should be on following after Him. Looking backward to whether there’s a line, or at what point we cross that line–that’s a mistake. So in those non-essentials, when I disagree with a fellow believer, I get over it and do my best to get along with them in spite of our differences. There’s some liberty, some room for differing views.

Because in all things, we are called to practice charity. You are more important to me than your particular theological persuasion. When we discuss theology, my goal is not to crush your misguided view and show you how much more correct I am. My goal is to see another perspective on God, and refine my understanding to better match Truth. And I hope you get the same result out of the dialogue.

I don’t have a degree in Christian ministry. But I do have some guidance from that little known leader in the early church:

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition… (2 Tim 2:24-25 NASB)

Scripture shotguns and Gospel grenades just don’t make a lot of sense to me. “In all things, charity.”

Not casualties.

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Bringing the Heat

“I’d rather have someone sold out in passionate pursuit of God who can barely hold a tune, than some concert-level professional with no spiritual intimacy.”

I’ve been writing about building the fire of worship in ministry, starting with the needed structure of technical excellence as fuel. 2nd Samuel 6 has been my source text for this topic.

The next leg of that fire triangle is the heat, or in the case of worship, the heart.

The previous post looks at 2nd Sam 6:1-10 to see what happens when we don’t have the right structure in place in worship. But structure and musicianship is not all there is to quality worship ministry, just like arranging wood in a fire pit doesn’t actually give us a fire.

Starting in 2 Sam 6:11-23, King David makes a second attempt to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, and this time, he starts it right. The appropriate people are carrying the Ark by the poles built into its frame. No ox cart is involved. On top of that, sacrifices are offered every few steps, and the King himself steps up to lead the worship and praise.

Here we see David’s heart in a right position before God and the people. Most of my thoughts here come from what Pastor Herbie Thompson shared with the Bellevue Christian Center worship collective for June – credit where credit is due.

Herbie pointed out that David leads by example in three ways which reveal his heart for God. First off, David worships with liberty.

Technical excellence calls for us to take worship seriously, but heart excellence calls us to be liberated and willing to set aside what seems proper. We must sometimes abandon dignity for authenticity in our worship. As worshipers in the view of others – whether on stage or in every day life – our expression of what’s on our heart provides an example and permission for others to follow.

What does that look like practically?

– Many traditional churches teach dancing is bad or at least dangerous. But when I read accounts of worshipers dancing before The Lord, I realize that it’s ok to permit my body’s movements to demonstrate the emotion in my heart that words cannot fully express. It’s not about my skill in dancing, it’s the fact that my heart moves me to dance before Him even as He dances over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

– I didn’t know I could get angry with God until I read the Psalms and saw worshipers expressing anger and frustration to God. Now I can be more honest in the hard times.

– We sing songs that speak of bowing down or kneeling, of raising hands in surrender, or of jumping for joy. It may not look ‘professional’ but my heartfelt physical response matching the words I’m singing – that tells others that they can do the same in church or in their everyday life.

– We often have times in between songs where we encourage the congregation to express their heart to God using their own words. If we never show what that looks like, if we never risk stumbling over spontaneous praise for fear of how it might appear or affect our reputation for technical excellence, then we’re not giving permission for the people to express their hearts freely.

Our structure has to be in place, but we can’t be bound to what’s written in a schedule or what’s printed on a page. We have to be willing to operate in liberty, so that those we’re leading can learn how to worship liberally.

The heat we bring to worship is also expressed by using all our might. David didn’t hold back in his dance and celebration. He didn’t encumber himself with the robes of the king or the heavy crown – he put on a functional priestly garment and got footloose. His physical and nonverbal actions communicated exactly what his mouth was saying.

How often do I bring that level of heart into my worship, in private or in public? Do my gestures and movements and expressions communicate the same as the words I sing? Am I singing about joy with a strained look on my face, or playing piano gritting my teeth as I try to get every note right? Am I singing a song of humility and brokenness with a wide grin on my face?

And am I giving it my all, or am I holding something back? Our expressions of worship may be the only tool someone has to figure out what worshiping God means. Do they see me bring half-hearted effort as if I have somewhere I’d rather be? Or do they see me give everything I’ve got, shouting praise till my voice is raw, because He’s worthy?

Pouring all of ourselves into worship teaches others how to do the same.

Finally, David worships with his title. He gets up as the King and he shows the people how important worshiping God is. “If the King is doing all that, then God must be important. If the King is dancing, and offering all these sacrifices… if the King took off his robes and crown and set aside his dignity to worship God, then so should I.”

David made it all about God. David took what seemed like the most important thing about him and turned it into worship of Him. Like the elders in Revelation 4 throwing down their crowns before the Throne of God, David shows the people that it isn’t about the King of Israel, it’s about the God of Heaven and Earth.

David correctly shows that the title is not as important as the testimony. His actions will be respected by those who saw him set aside his dignity for the sake of worship.

With titles and dignity, we can go one of two ways. We can turn them into another aspect of how we worship God, or we can use them as an excuse to take away from our worship of God. Michal goes that route in vv. 16-23. She goes off on David about how “the King” has distinguished himself – her primary concern was for his title, not for his heart toward God. She becomes a spectator instead of a participant, judging instead of joining.

It challenges me because it’s so easy to watch and critique instead of engaging in worship. “I wouldn’t do it that way. I would have played this song instead, it fits better.” When I find myself in that position, I need to watch out!

So, in all of this, I reflect on three questions:

What holds me back from liberty in front of other people? (Is it fear of their reaction, is it concern for my reputation? Is it shame or perceived unworthiness?)

What do I hold back in worship that keeps me from giving all my might?

What are the titles I hold that I deem most important, and how do I turn those around into amplified expressions of worship? (i.e. father, husband, manager, coach, writer)

Technical excellence and heart excellence are what we bring – the fuel and the heat. Next I’ll look at the last leg of the triangle essential for maintaining fire: the oxygen of the Spirit.

Strong Language

Continuing the A to Z blog challenge, we come to ‘T’ for which I have chosen theology.

As worshipers seeking God, we must have an understanding of Who He is and what He says. We need words for how He interacts with us and the qualities He displays. Theology provides us with that language, and gives us a much-needed standard (as near to a standard as one can get with matters of faith) which keeps us going straight.

We are to be people of truth – another strong contender for the T blog – since Jesus declared that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth.

Theology is the active study of that truth, the search and observation of God’s interactions with humanity, the organization and classification of thoughts and concepts about God. It’s the ‘science’ of religion, supplying clear vocabulary, enabling in-depth discussion and further study.

Research by people like George Barna and David Kinneman show a Western Christianity that is dreadful in its lack of theological foundation. There are far too many of our brothers and sisters running around proclaiming maturity after years in church pews, but with little to no grasp of core biblical truths. People would claim to follow Christ and yet hold to teachings that directly contradict Scripture.

It’s like kindergarteners playing house, trying to imitate the grown-ups around them.

I’m talking about myself in so many ways here. If I think I’m above all that, and I have such better understanding, all I’m doing is making myself the spiritual emo kid standing off to the side watching everyone else with contempt while remaining completely uninvolved in anything productive or beneficial to the kingdom. So I’m no better, nor am I claiming to be.

Disciplined efforts to learn more about God – not just through personal experience but through systematic study of the established truths of Scripture – this is part of what I believe it means to worship in truth.

We don’t just rely on haphazard encounters with God. We also benefit from intentionally engaging God’s Word with the perspective of teachers in the Body and the works of spiritual giants in the past. That way, we’re not learning every so often as we go about playing church, we’re building our understanding in the same way that 2nd grade material builds on 1st, and 3rd grade lessons require a grasp of the 2nd grade teachings.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about their need for basic teachings, and indicates that a discipline of practice will help believers mature properly:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

In the same way, Paul talks about taking full advantage of the gifts provided to the church:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:14, 15 NASB)

Strong theology gives us powerful words that fuel our worship. As we realize more and more who God is and what He has done for us, we find more reasons to draw nearer, more cause to praise Him, more passion to help us chase after Him.

And when we find Him, overwhelmed by the reality of His love, we worship in response to the truth.

Safe Prisons

Today, for ‘S’, I thought about the title of this blog: Wanton Disregard for Safety. That doesn’t sound sensible, so I thought it good to elaborate.

There’s an oft-quoted line attributed to Ben Franklin, that “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.”

Certain voices in America are now suggesting that perhaps the Constitution has to change, because we live in a different time than that of our forefathers. Perhaps some of the protections on certain freedoms need to be limited further, because, what else can we do in the face of unexpected and indiscriminate terror attacks on the public? The logic justifies ubiquitous security cameras and intrusive door-to-door searches like that conducted in Boston. It explains the IRS mindset that private e-mails are free sources of information, and calls to mind the recent CISPA measure that passed the House, enabling companies to share private information. Of course, the desire for security informs the gun control debate, as our society tries to balance freedom and the Second Amendment with safety, security, and good common sense about the use and proliferation of weapons.

Franklin’s quote came up with regularity after the passage of the Patriot Act under President Bush. Those who opposed his administration’s efforts in the War on Terror used the quote to question invasive TSA searches, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, and military tribunals.
The desire for security is innate and powerful. If not for myself, I wonder how I can better protect my wife, my children, the property I care about, and the free society I love. When something challenges that safety, it’s hard to resist withdrawing behind locked doors, shutting out the dangers of the world, and finding a place of limited peace.

There’s a spiritual parallel. I believe the opposite of Franklin’s statement is true for the Christian. Those who trade security for liberty find both.

Many of us have built fortresses to withstand the chaos of life: financial stability, an upwardly mobile career, the all-important protective bubble around our children, the certainty of knowing what will happen next, the not too cold not too hot Goldilocks religion so common in Western Christianity.

When troubles challenge us and we hide in those man-made places of refuge, we give up the freedom to move, to fully live, to experience the provision of God in the midst of the trial. To guard that security, we become bound to and consumed by the effort of maintaining whatever we’re trusting in. We choose safe prisons and solitary confinement over the presence and protection of the Good Shepherd.

When we abandon those high safe walls and step out into the world, we are indeed at risk. But that’s where He is, and He’s beckoning for us to come and follow. It’s hard to follow from a fortress that doesn’t move.

There’s a tale in King David’s time of Eleazar, one of David’s mighty men. At one battle, the people of Israel flee, and only Eleazar remains to stand against the enemy, fighting until his hand can’t even let go of his sword.

and after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there to battle and the men of Israel had withdrawn. He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword, and the Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to strip the slain. (2 Samuel 23:9, 10 NASB)

The second account of the story gives crucial information: Eleazar wasn’t alone. His king stood with him against the enemy.

After him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighty men. He was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines were gathered together there to battle, and there was a plot of ground full of barley; and the people fled before the Philistines. They took their stand in the midst of the plot and defended it, and struck down the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great victory. (1 Chronicles 11:12-14 NASB)

In the midst of the confusion, in the harsh realities we face outside our carefully crafted fortresses, we can find security greater than any we can create for ourselves. We encounter “the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension” (Php 4:7). We realize that true liberty is found in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 3:17).
That’s why Pastor Saeed can go to a place like Iran and face cruelty and opposition. He knows a freedom that outshines any man-made refuge, one that can’t be stopped by chains or a jail cell. That’s why brave men and women throughout the last two thousand years have been able to forsake all and pour out their lives in service of others, strangers they’ve never known. Some risk all to reach into oppressive regimes in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Some spend all they can to minister to those the world calls worthless, to break the chains of modern-day slavery. Some forsake friendships and family ties in order to pursue the life-changing liberty we casually enjoy.

We have a choice. We can throw a heavy bar across the doors of our lives, closing ourselves off from every danger, shutting the world out and ourselves in – safely imprisoned. Or we can throw wide the doors and charge into the world around us, aware of the dangers but more aware of the opportunities and liberties found in the footsteps of the Savior.

May we be found on the spiritual field of battle, arms sagging, taking our stand back-to-back with our King.

Lifestyle Choices

Today’s A to Z challenge letter is ‘L.’ Judging by the title, one might guess my subject is lifestyles.

Lifestyles have appeared a lot in the media recently. I’ve even been told that the term ‘lifestyle’ is inappropriate and rude in certain cases, since some people attest that their actions and desires are by nature and not by choice. I’m not getting into that here… but I am thinking of a particular decision we make and how it affects our lives. And yes, our lifestyles.

The privilege of chasing after God comes with a teensy-weensy price tag attached. I don’t mean to counter anyone’s understanding of grace or faith, and I definitely reject any claim of salvation by works, as though we earn God’s love by being good.

But if we pursue God, there’s an exchange that must take place.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NASB

The mission of the church is to make disciples. As we’re going, as we’re teaching, as we’re baptizing, we are commanded to make disciples. Not converts. That distinction is easy to miss. It’s a lifestyle choice we must make, or reject.

We belong to Him. He’s our King. He’s in control. We’re His subordinates; He’s our commanding officer. We can’t say “yes” to our Savior without the following “Sir” to our Lord.

Think of the storm chaser analogy. Someone doesn’t become a storm chaser and sit at home. They travel; they fly to where the storms are likely to hit, and then they drive out to where the activity is taking place. They go after the goal, and we must do likewise.

Over the years in the military and in the general public, I’ve heard people suggest that “there is a place for religion, and it’s ok as long as it’s not taking over everything else in your life.” In other words, religion is Sunday stuff (or Friday stuff, or Saturday, or whatever day is the appropriate day of the week for a particular faith), and would you kindly keep it in that box for the rest of the week, thanks. Jesus is great for you in the morning or evening at home, but if you could refrain from expressing your faith around anyone else, we’d appreciate it.

Not going to happen.

Why are religious people so difficult about this?

Well it’s not just a little box of “religion” that we’re being asked to put away. It’s our passion and purpose, our love and our hopes and our joy. It’s the fundamental driving force behind our interpersonal skillset. For the believer, our faith is the foundation of our values that motivate our actions, the beliefs that inform our decision-making. It’s not our hobby, it’s not our favorite sport or team. It’s becomes a part of who we are, a spiritual skeletal framework to which everything else is attached.

Paul tells us to be living sacrifices on the altar, chasing after God with all our heart, being transformed in the process. We are to be fully invested – not merely interested.

Three Words

Repetition is sometimes the bane of the worship musician. You probably know the stereotype, the service where the leader and the team are lost in space singing the same chorus over and over.

Let's sing that one more time... I mean four more times... and one more...

Let’s sing that one more time… I mean four more times… and one more…

“I could sing of Your love forever… I could sing of Your love forever…”

No, really, I guess we’re going to sing of Your love forever, because here we go again singing of Your love forever, and now I’m not sure I can sing of Your love forever, we keep singing this line forever…

There are moments of powerful worship where we sense the presence of God and get lost there. And then, maybe one line is enough to capture our attention and express our heart. Maybe a few words are enough. Maybe no words at all.

I was thinking about this as I considered what to choose for ‘G’ in this A to Z challenge. It’s perhaps the shortest worship song ever, centered on God’s goodness.

There’s a key phrase in the Bible for the worship of God. In 2nd Chronicles 6 and 7, King Solomon and the people of God have completed the work of building the Temple, and they hold a massive service to dedicate it to God. They’ve offered sacrifices, and then Solomon prays, inviting God’s presence. Fire comes down, consuming the offerings. The glory of the Lord fills the Temple; His presence falls with such heaviness that the priests can’t even minister or enter. Everyone falls face-down and begins to sing.

“You are good, and Your love endures forever.”

Tobe khehsed o-lawm in transliterated Hebrew.

Three words. That’s it. “Goodness, kindness, forever.” Over and over.

There’s a verse I’ve often heard used to condemn or criticize the repetition that sometimes occurs in praise and worship.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matt 6:7 NKJV.

They point to the prophets of Baal, dancing around, repeating cries for their god to act, going so far as to cut themselves to beg his favor. “How are we any different,” they ask, “if we sing the same words over and over, as though our many words will get God to act?”

But we don’t see people in Scripture praising to make something happen. They praised because God is good and His love endures. And God moved in their midst.

Paul and Silas don’t sing to break the prison walls and loose their chains. They sing because God is good in spite of circumstances.

The psalmists didn’t sing in the midst of their trials and tribulations in order to work some kind of Christian magic. They sang because they trusted in God’s kindness which knows no end.

Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt 26:30). The early church had psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). There were often worshipers on the fields of battle leading God’s people – sometimes at His direction, sometimes simply because He is good and His love endures. King Jehoshaphat was promised protection from two enemies that worked together against his kingdom. In light of the promise, he appointed people to worship God, singing four words – “Praise God, kindness forever.” God caused the two armies to turn against each other, and His people did not have to lift a hand. They just lifted their voices.

Praise and worship is part of the spiritual life. But it isn’t about conjuring up emotions or supernatural experiences. It is not about formulas or manipulation. There are no magic words to repeat, no rituals that earn us the presence of God or His power on display.

Worship is about One thing – God. It is in response to one thing – His goodness toward us. It’s a relationship, not an equation.

In relationship, sometimes saying just three words can be enough.

Storm-proof

There’s nothing quite like being at the center of a cyclone. 100 knot winds have an effect on things!

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

I spent a total of 14 years living on Okinawa while serving in the Air Force. Being a tropical island on the Pacific Rim, Okinawa can get hit by several typhoons each year. As much as we pay attention to hurricanes in the news in the West, you’d think this would be a big deal.

But Okinawa is used to getting smashed by the weather, and so all the housing on base and off base is built to withstand powerful storms. For the most part, strong typhoons mostly result in some time off from work, sitting inside, listening to the wind and watching the trees bend and sway in the storm. Damage can occur of course, but it’s usually minimal, especially compared to the post-hurricane devastation we often see on the news in the States.

As I started prepping for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, “C” seemed full of options and possibilities.

There’s Christ of course. That’s the Sunday School answer, absolutely correct but all too obvious. There’s conviction but that’s very close to beliefs, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought of the center and how we must make sure we keep Christ as the focus of our individual and corporate worship. Then I considered the change that must take place when we experience an authentic conversion and a genuine relationship with God.

The overall analogy of this blog came to mind. When we pursue God, we open ourselves up to the powerful, the mysterious, the far-beyond-our-imagination, the One who is holy — separated and transcendent above us, wholly other than us. Over and over in Scripture, we see that encountering God leaves permanent changes in the lives of men and women of faith. Isaiah spoke of himself as doomed by the sight of God. Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his days after wrestling with the Angel at Bethel. Job’s entire life falls apart around him, and then when he has nothing left but his faith, his understanding of God crumbles as deeper revelation overwhelms him. Nebuchadnezzar is reduced to an animal’s lifestyle for years. The disciples are drawn away from everything they know by a repeated two-word invitation to “follow Me.” With only one exception, they meet violence, persecution, and execution. Paul’s world gets rocked and his eyes go blind at the sight of the Savior.

Chasing after God often means experiencing sweeping changes in our lives.

But there’s another sort of danger here. We have another choice. Instead of allowing God free reign, we can become callous.

When those tropical cyclones batter Okinawa, after you’ve lived there a bit, it feels very routine. “Ho hum, here comes another storm. No big deal, our house is made of concrete. Our windows are sturdy, our doors are well sealed, and our stuff outside is all tied down. Bring it on, I can use a day off from work.”

Similarly, we can become too familiar with God, too presumptuous. “Here we go, another set of worship songs. No biggie, we got this.”

We take the security of our relationship with God and His great intimacy with us, and we mistake it for an equality, as though God is a safe little thing we keep in our back pocket until we want to show Him off to our friends.

How else do we see Judas walk with the Son of God for three years and yet grow disillusioned? How else do we see Ananias and Sapphira decide to put on a show of holiness to win the respect of their peers at the expense of their integrity before God? How do we explain the failure of the priest Eli, who turned a blind eye to the corruption his sons brought into the priesthood? Consider Uzzah reaching up to steady the Ark as if it were a common thing – and consider the willingness of the people of God to simply toss the Ark on a cart in the first place.

Take Laodicea, the church who Jesus condemns in Revelation 3.

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (NASB)

Jesus calls out not only their failure, but their mistaken assumptions about their security and relationship with Him.

He challenges us as well. Oddly enough, a verse we often preach as an invitation to sinners is actually spoken to the Church.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (v.20)

The presence of God comes to us all sooner or later. We who routinely chase after Him must be careful. God’s presence must change us, or we will grow calloused. Jesus Christ must remain the convicting and challenging center of our worship, or He will call us out for our unsanctioned comfort and mistaken confidence.

Are we changing? Or are we concrete?

Beliefs: Worship Vocabulary

I’m currently enrolled in a Chinese Mandarin language refresher course. About six hours a day, five coworkers and I sit in a classroom, practicing reading, writing, speaking, and hearing Chinese. We get homework and additional material to review, much of which is vocabulary lists of unfamiliar words.

The vocab review is absolutely essential to success.

I can know how all the grammar works, how all the sentences get put together, and so on. I can speak perfectly, with no accent and accurate tones. I could write beautiful Chinese characters that look like calligraphy you might buy at a store. But If I don’t know the words, I won’t understand much, and nothing I do will make sense.

Give it a shot. What does this mean to you?

耶稣基督爱你。

If you don’t know the vocab or haven’t learned the language, you won’t get the message, let alone be able to communicate it yourself.

For the worshiper, that’s where beliefs come in. Our doctrine and our beliefs are the skeletons, the framework that holds up what we do and why we do it. If I accurately understand something of who God is and what God has done, then that is fuel for my worship of God. If I know what Scripture teaches about who I am in relation to God, then that makes His grace amazing.

Songs can’t communicate to us something we don’t already grasp. We won’t appreciate the value if we don’t have the vocab. David Crowder can sing “He is our portion and we are His prize” (John Macmillan, How He Loves).

But if I’ve never seen that in Scripture and never digested the thought that – for whatever reason – God has set a very high value on you and me–

Then that will just be a nice turn of phrase in the song, something to get us to the next rhyme.

But if I look at Matthew 13:44 and see a Savior who sold everything to take hold of a treasure… If I consider 1st Peter 2:9-11 that claims we are a special possession cherished by God… And I see how that passage points back to the Old Testament and God’s covenant with Israel… And then I recall verses like Isaiah 43:3-4 where God promises He would sell the whole world to get His people back… Oh, how sweet Philippians 2:5-11 becomes, where I read about all that Christ gave up, all that He laid aside for the sake of God’s plan of redemption.

When I am familiar with the depths of love revealed in Scripture, and the costs God endured to lay hold of the treasure on His heart – namely you and me – well, that gives me some vocabulary words to use to express my gratitude!

Then when my church sings “Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness” and “Humbly You came to the earth You created, all for love’s sake, became poor…” (Tim Hughes, here I Am to Worship)

Now I get it. Now I can take that song and make it mine, pour my heart and my emotions and all my love and thanks into it, and truly respond in worship to what God has done, not just sing in the musical portion of the service to try and sound good.

Picking “Bible” for the A to Z challenge would have been too easy, but it’s still accurate. The Bible informs our beliefs, instructs us in doctrine. Why? So that we are prepared for evey good work God has called us to accomplish. 2 Tim 3:16-17

Time and again, surveys show a woeful lack of understanding of basic Christian doctrine in the West, especially in this “Christian nation” called the United States. As worshipers, as those seeking to encounter God’s powerful presence, it behooves us to get well-acquainted with some key words and concepts about God and our relationship to Him.

How strong is your vocabulary? I know I’ve got some reviewing to do.

50 Reasons

Special Kindle offer - 99 cents.

Special Kindle offer – 99 cents.

As it is Good Friday, I thought it would be ideal to share a special offer available on Amazon:

50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper.

It’s 99 cents for your Kindle (or Kindle app on your applicable device).

Clearly Jesus was not concerned about safety, security, and comfort.

Jesus came on a suicide mission.

He gave His all, and He calls us to do no less.

Now with 20/20 hindsight and the wisdom of the saints of old, we know that the Cross was all part of God’s plan. “The LORD was pleased to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10 NASB). And Jesus Himself – we know that He “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame” (Hebrews 12:2 NASB).

In the midst of suffering and pain, Christ called out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And it calls to mind how the Shepherd will leave the 99 safe sheep in order to go find the one that is lost.

The Father abandoned the One in order to bring the 99 back to Himself.

The cross of Christ – all God’s plan, all God’s glory, worthy of all our praise.

Tonight, my wife and kids will join me in taking Communion as a family, remembering the death of Christ, looking forward to a celebration of His Resurrection on Sunday, and rejoicing every day in the power of His victory shout: It is finished.

How are you commemorating this day?