Posts Tagged With: worship

God Is With Us Always: IV. Sacred Space, Sacred Time

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Solomon dedicates the temple. By James Tissot (1836-1902), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Our previous post reminded us that God is everywhere and that we can worship Him everywhere. Some people find locations that have strong spiritual significance in their lives, which become “thin spaces” where they encounter God in a powerful way.

Jacob’s thin space, where he had a dream in which God promised to be with him throughout his journey, eventually became a prominent place of worship for his descendants, Bethel (Hebrew for “the house of God”). We can indeed meet God anywhere, but sometimes God’s people are inspired to set a sacred space apart specifically to worship Him.

Centuries later, one of Jacob’s descendants, King Solomon, built a temple in Jerusalem. This became the place to worship God. The Scripture verse above is part of the prayer he said while dedicating the temple.

Solomon acknowledged that his building, no matter how grandiose it was, could not contain God. The Lord is bigger than the universe. If the universe cannot contain Him, neither can a building that was only about 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Artist’s rendering of ancient Jerusalem with the temple. Public domain, from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

So, why would God have commanded Solomon to build a temple? Why would He want us to gather in churches now? Should we have church buildings?

First of all, we need to worship together:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25).

The Christian life is best lived in community. When life gets difficult and the entire world seems to be turning against the believer, we need each other. We need to stimulate one another to love and good deeds; we need to be challenged; we need to be encouraged. We need reminders that our God is real. Without fellowship—without recognizing that my God is the same God my brothers and sisters in Christ worship—I can easily begin to worship a figment of my imagination, a god that I have created in my own image.

We need each other. We need sacred time and sacred space to worship together. Ideally, a church building will be a sacred space that God’s people have set apart to remind ourselves that He is always present. We can indeed worship God anywhere, but those who have met God in a church setting will be more likely to seek His presence outside church.

It will be a sacred space, set apart specifically for His worship. A sad feature of much modern worship is the way it can resemble a concert or a lecture. Many churches, in an attempt to seem “relevant” to the culture, replace the altar with a stage. The worship band is front and center. The pastor takes the microphone and takes center stage after the lead singer is finished. They are the stars. Other churches are set up to look like a lecture hall, well-suited for an introductory psychology course in college. One is a concert where the audience is entertained; the other is a lecture where the audience is instructed and informed. A person is the center of attention. There is no cross, no altar. The minister has claimed the central focus that should belong to God alone.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, a small church in Kickapoo, IL. A church does not have to be elaborate to be a sacred space to worship God. Photo by Arthur Greenberg, Environmental Protection Agency. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I would encourage all pastors and worship leaders to look at their worship space and ask, “Is God really the center of attention?” Let them pray like John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Let that sacred space be a reminder that we worship a God Whose glory far exceeds all that we can imagine, One Who is worthy of all our attention.

We need sacred time as well. Yes, we can and should worship God anytime—not only on Sunday morning. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to hold several “holy convocations.” Some were annual, including the first and last days of Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). However, every Sabbath was also a holy convocation. While the Sabbath was a day of rest, it was also a time for God’s people to gather together.

God’s children still need space and time. Corporate worship serves several important purposes for our daily lives:

First, it reminds us that God is holy. He is not to be taken lightly but deserves all of our devotion.

Second, it reminds us that all of our lives belong to Him. My worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the house of the Lord, begins my week. It also propels my life for the rest of the week. It sets the tone for my everyday life.

Third, it reminds us that everything else belongs to God as well. A church building is sacred because God’s people have set it apart for His worship. God’s children can set aside other parts of our world as holy ground.

Your living room, including its television, can be holy ground. Your computer can be holy ground. Your desk at work can be holy ground; even if you cannot pray or read your Bible there, you can do your work “as unto the Lord.”

Let our daily walk with Jesus be grounded in worship on holy ground with His people in such a way that our worship in church guides our lives throughout the week.

How has holy ground and holy time shaped your daily walk with Jesus? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always: III. Holy Ground

“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Genesis 28:12–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version).

Have you ever experienced God in such a powerful way that the location seemed to be holy ground? A popular worship song of the 1970s and 1980s rejoiced that “We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around.” Early in my relationship with Christ, I assumed such holy ground was always a house of worship. Since then, I have found other “holy ground” locations.

One particular location was a Catholic retreat center in the Hudson Valley, where my church held several retreats. Mount Saint Alphonsus had a magnificent chapel and incredible places of worship. However, the grounds around the building were where I would most meet God. I would often refer to these grounds as “the New York annex of heaven” because I always seemed to meet God there: particularly sitting by the river. There was nothing particularly unique about the location, but people came there expecting to meet God, so He did not disappoint them.

The retreat center at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Esopus, NY. Photo by the author.

The ancient Celts had a term, “thin spaces.” They believed there were places where the veil between the physical world and the spiritual realm was very thin and supernatural spiritual experiences could be expected there. For me, Mount Saint Alphonsus was a thin space. Was the place inherently holy? Maybe not; but the property had been set apart for the Lord’s service in 1907, people went there expecting to meet God, and He will honor an expectant, receptive heart wherever He finds it. For those of us who devoted a weekend to meet with God, that land became holy ground. (Sadly, the retreat center closed in 2012 due to very natural-world-type financial difficulties.)

The entire earth belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Any ground can be holy when we acknowledge Him there. Any space can be thin. Perhaps at least part of the reason why so many Christians feel God’s presence when they visit Israel is that they come expecting to meet Jesus in His earthly homeland. For those of us who may not get that opportunity, any place can be holy ground: a favorite campground; a quiet place along a shoreline; or any location where a significant moment in your life occurred. The spot on the boardwalk where my best friend and I accepted salvation through faith in Jesus may have been just a nice place to take a walk in the summer for most people, but to this day, I cannot go there without remembering that I met God in a powerful way there. For me, that part of the boardwalk becomes holy ground, no matter how other people approach it.

The Book of Genesis recounts several occasions where the patriarchs built altars to remember an encounter with God. One such case was the story of Jacob. He had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing he had intended to give to Jacob’s fraternal twin brother, Esau. Now, Esau was furious and intent on killing him. So, Jacob was fleeing from his family’s home to seek refuge with his mother’s family in Haran, about 400 miles away. Along the way, as we read in the scripture passage above, God met him in a vision while he slept.

An artist’s rendering of Jacob’s dream, from Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In that vision, God reminded Jacob that He would be with him always. Even though Jacob was now isolated from his parents—in fact, from everybody and everything he had ever known—he was not away from God. The God he worshiped was not restricted to Beersheba. He was not limited to the shrines or altars where Jacob’s ancestors had worshiped Him. God assured Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The covenant God had made with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham stood secure, no matter where Jacob went.

Because of this encounter, Jacob recognized the place as holy ground. He assumed that he had slept at the very gate of heaven. The location, a town called Luz, may have been just an ordinary place. Jacob was resting his head on an ordinary stone. However, he had an extraordinary encounter with God.

There is only one reasonable response when God appears to us and hallows the ground on which we stand. We must worship Him. Jacob set up his stone as an altar. The ordinary rock became a place to worship God. Centuries later, his descendants, the Israelites, continued to worship God there. Luz became known as “Bethel,” the house of God. Centuries later, it was one of the most popular places to worship God before the temple was built in Jerusalem.

Perhaps we cannot force God’s hand and tell Him where He can give us our life-changing revelations. But, we can make ourselves ready to receive His presence and blessings. We can set aside sacred time and sacred places in our everyday lives to meet with Him. He will meet us wherever we choose to meet Him. Pick a time every day; find a place to worship Him in prayer and Bible reading; and consecrate that time and place. Choose holy ground, and God will choose to meet with you.

Do you have a particular “holy ground” or “thin space” where you encounter the Lord regularly? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.




Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Trinity and the Christian Life

While writing my recent post about the Trinity, I was stepping away from my usual approach on this blog. While I have devoted a lot of attention to doctrines in recent months, I usually try to keep things practical, down to earth, relating it to the lives of ordinary Christians. I realize people who want to read a systematic theology treatise will usually not log onto a blog to do so. After all, a blog is not really the ideal place to discuss heavy theology. Numerous books have been written about the Trinity, and some of them handle it much better than a blog ever can.

A diagram illustrating the relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. By AnonMoos (public domain), via Wikipedia Commons.

Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked: Why should we care about the Trinity? Can we not just worship Jesus and think that is good enough?

Today, I will share a few thoughts about why we should care about the Trinity.

First, knowing that God is Triune drives our worship. As I wrote in the previous post, “God is unique. There is nothing in all of creation that is exactly like the Trinity. We will not understand it fully in this life. We will finally understand when we get to heaven and see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together.” We worship a God who is “wholly other,” distinct from us and from the universe He created. There is nothing and nobody like Him.

Second, the entire Trinity is involved in our relationship with Christ. From salvation to sanctification and beyond, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are acting in our lives:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:1-2, emphasis added; all Scripture verses are from the English Standard Version).

While we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the entire Trinity is involved in our salvation and spiritual growth. Each Person is involved in our lives from beginning to end. The connection between them is so strong that the Bible says one cannot have a relationship with Jesus without the other two, nor can one claim to have a relationship with God without Jesus:

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:22-24).

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9).

So, why should we care about the Trinity? Because “a personal relationship with Jesus” is in fact a family relationship with the Trinity. The Trinity is more than a doctrine to make one’s head spin. It is a statement about God Himself and how He works in our lives. We are saved by the entire Trinity. We worship a Triune God.

NB: For the most detailed ancient doctrinal statement about the Trinity, take some time to read the Athanasian Creed, a fourth-century statement of faith detailing the relationship between the Persons of the Godhead.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abiding in the Vine: IV. Bearing Fruit

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:5–8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A grape vine bearing fruit. Image via pxhere.com.

As mentioned several times previously, the branch’s purpose is to bear fruit. When the vinedresser is trimming and pruning the vine, he looks for fruit: perhaps some buds or blossoms, growing fruit, surrounded by lush leaves. If these are lacking, there is a problem with the branch.

Fruit’s purpose is to impart life. Fruit contains seeds which, when scattered, can grow to become new plants which will themselves produce fruit.

The Christian is called to bear fruit (John 15:2, 5, 8; Galatians 5:22-23), and that fruit should impart life. The mature Christian imparts the life of Christ within him to others. We may do this in several ways. These are the key ways in which we abide in Christ and exhibit His fruit to others.

The first is by partaking of His Word and sharing it with others. Read and study the Bible daily. Meditate on it. Reflect on it. Let Jesus’ words abide in you.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Believing in Jesus and loving Him go hand-in-hand. If we love Him and believe He is Who He says He is, we will want to do the things He commands us to do. We will want to know His will for our lives and the lives of those we care about.

As we know more of God’s will and word, we will want to share it with others. We will share it with those who do not know Him, offering the chance to receive salvation through Christ.

We should also share it with those who are already saved. While evangelism gets all the attention in many churches, there is a need for the gifts of encouragement and edification in the body of Christ. One of the bishops in my denomination has a reputation for greeting people by asking, “What is God saying to you these days?” Instead of “How are you?” (generating a generic “OK”) or “What’s up?” (generating the almost-as-meaningless “Not much, how about you?”), this greeting demands a thoughtful response. If you meet him in a church setting, be prepared to answer. God is always speaking. If you are reading His Word, you should be able to hear Him. You will have an answer for anyone who says “What is God saying?” You may even have an exciting insight you discovered by reading God’s Word that other believers need to hear.

The second way we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit is by participating in worship. Praise Him, not only in church, but throughout the day. Turn off your car stereo and sing some praise songs on the way to work. Real worship experiences God and acknowledges His presence wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

Finally, we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit by performing His work. Use your gifts and talents to minister to others. There is a real temptation in some churches to think we are not really ministering if we do not preach, teach, or sing. However, there are numerous ways to share the love of Jesus: Bringing food to a needy family; providing free childcare for a single mother; using your talents and hobbies to help others.

If we are seriously committed to abiding in the vine, we will do all three. We will read God’s Word, worship Him, and serve Him and His people with our gifts and talents. As we do these things, the fruit of the Spirit will grow in our lives, and that fruit will overflow into the lives of others. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to be shared with others and impart God’s life into the hearts of those around us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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