Refusing the Old Standard

Some things are so familiar that they feel like a warm, cozy blanket on a long winter’s night, no matter what it is…

the house you grew up in

a favorite song or hymn

a person’s laugh

a favorite book or decoration

They are usually attached to a web of memories and people for us that lies below our consciousness. Things are comforting for a reason, not just because of their shape or size, but also because of their connections.

The connections build and strengthen over time in our brains as real pathways of memory. It’s a beautiful gift from God, the neurology woven into us to receive meaningful comfort, but it can also be a stronghold against our freedom. Just like anything else created by God for our joy, Satan can use it for his ridiculousness.

Paul calls out the stronghold of holding too tightly to that which comforts in Galatians 4:21-27:

 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Um…you say, “That doesn’t sound like a bit of comfort, Heidi.”

Let me explain –

Paul points out several things that the practicing Jews and the Jewish converts to Christianity would have found comforting –

Abraham

flesh

promises

Sinai

Jerusalem

Abraham was who the Jewish believers followed their whole lives; for generations he signified this great comfort of God’s faithfulness. It would be like us seeing a cross or a picture of Jesus, to some extent, all the comfort flooding in without us even trying to find it.

The flesh seems weird and like a very small thing to us, when the Spirit is so much greater, but remember that God’s promise of a Savior, and their chosen-ness as people, was physically present for them in circumcision. Again, it’s not completely unlike baptismal banners and bread and wine for us. We value and appreciate the physical things God offers as concrete comfort in our eternal relationship with Him.

Promises – whether connected with circumcision, the prophets, the stars in the sky, the people of Israel very much survived on promises, waiting and hoping in what was to come, but also in the promises that God was faithful, never to leave them, unchanging… all that stuff that gives us comfort and hope in the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament.

Sinai was more than the mountain of the Ten Commandments. It represented a place where God came to His people, met with Moses, and brought them out into freedom. Read Exodus 19:3:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

God came down “visibly” in this place and revealed His plan for the people. I don’t know many things more comforting than God revealing His plans, rather than leaving us to guess at them. Are churches comforting to you or maybe one church in particular? It’s because someone told you over and over that God is in that place, He meets you there.

Jerusalem continues, in a bigger, more eternal way, this concept of God permanently meeting with His people. It also signifies forgiveness and freedom from their sins, personally, and as a nation. The temple, the city, all connected to forgiveness and eternity, and God coming back for them. Those things matter and give us great comfort too, so we can understand the draw.

However, Paul needed the Galatians to understand that all of that was old. It was meant to point them to the New Thing that God was doing, that God had done in Jesus Christ. He uses an allegory about Sarah and Hagar to make a point-

all that old stuff is slavery if that’s what you follow.

It was meant to point you to true freedom – to the New, to our Savior.

Christ always holds the real comfort.

Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where do tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?

Paul tells the Galatians what they will find in the old standard – barrenness. The law and all the comfort that touches it is only a shadow; it cannot do the work of salvation, only Christ can.

Sometimes religion feels vacant and worthless because it’s about things and even people, rather than Salvation. God intended for the old to pass away and the new to come, while holding to solid Truth in His Word. It’s a difficult challenge, but it holds so much freedom over the barrenness of the old just for old’s sake.

Refuse the Old standard, the Old covenant – demand that every moment, every piece of comfort, every part of worship point you to the New covenant, the Beautiful Savior, doing a new thing in you each day.


Discussion questions:

Name two things that give you comfort – one that is traditionally comforting, and one that is maybe oddly shaped or not tangible at all? Why are these so comforting to you? (No judgement, we love comfort in many forms!)

What parts of the Old Covenant are hard for you to understand? In which of the five segments listed today can you relate to the Israelites, and understand where they find comfort there?

Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where does tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?

 

Worship speaks Life


Ever feel like you need a flashing neon sign from God? I think we all have at one time or another. Most of the time, God doesn’t really work like that, but today we get a treat. Today, we’re going to talk life. And we’ll keep it simple.

Please, open your Bibles to Isaiah 11 and read just one verse, Isaiah 11:12 –

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

If we needed that flashing neon sign from God, here it is. God raises a signal and holds it high for all people to see, crying out with arms outstretched –

“Come to me. Let me gather.”

We look for giant billboards and signs for what to do and where to go from God, but the signal is no mystery. The signal is very simply Christ Jesus saying “Come.”

God makes this clear throughout the Scriptures over and over again, but Isaiah 11 is like a giant beacon, shining light into the darkness of the unknown. Back up and read Isaiah 11:1-2 –

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Don’t these verses just make you want to worship Him? This is no mistake, my friend. Jesus is the signal, raised high for us to gather around, but how will the world know?

What if God uses our worship as the bull horn of salvation for the people? And the billboard of encouragement and discernment for one another?

What is worship? His Word going out, His promises proclaimed, and His people responding. The Word surely does the work, but what do people see when they look around them and see worship?

They see Life in Worship and worship as the way we live our life.

Sweet, sweet worship. What a gift! Worship may be at times just between you and God, but mostly, it was meant to be communal. It was meant to be you and God, and God’s people. It speaks to one another and it speaks to those on the outside looking in.

We don’t worship for a show. We aren’t performers or puppeteers putting on a nice pretty picture for the world around us, but when the people of God gather, Life flows. Forgiveness flows. Confession happens. Mercy is given. Truth is spoken. Love is bestowed. Grace rains down. Encouragement builds.

God gathers His people. Only by His grace do we get out of bed on Sunday morning or Thursday night or whenever else, to worship alongside family, friends, and strangers. Only by His grace do we remember to pick up the family devotion book off the table and share His Peace with one another. Only by His grace will we be brought together in the heavens to sing with all the saints and angels “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth! Heaven and earth is full of Your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest!”

Jesus is always concerned with reaching the nations around us, the people around us. He reaches out and sweeps in the people with His ever-loving arms every time He comes to us.

Listen to what will happen. The Signal that is Christ Jesus will come again and the worship that results will be like nothing the world has ever seen. Indeed, every nation will see and hear –

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:10)

Highly exalted, worthy of worship, every knee, every tongue.

Worship is Life and it speaks Life to a hurting world.

Worship with your life, friends. Worship for the Life He has given you and let Life flow to others by the act of your worship. And watch Him gather!

Lord, we worship You. We adore You. You alone are faithful, Lord. You alone are worthy. Let our worship be in honesty and in Truth. Let it be only for You. May you use each of us as your signals, as “little Christs” proclaiming Your Honor to all the earth. In Jesus we pray, Father, through Your everlasting Spirit. Amen!


Exploration:

What are your favorite parts of worship? Consider phrases or hymns, songs or proclamations, or elements that are not spoken, things you see, touch, or the people around you?

What is special at the place and in the people you worship with weekly? What makes your church and church family unique?

Bonus: Look at Isaiah 11:1-12 in full. What promises do you find? What will gathering look like in the end?

Jumping Off the Communion Rail: Worshipping with my little one

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Psalm 84:1-2
IMG_0889
 
 
Jumping off the Communion Rail
Or Finding Joy with Little Ones in Worship
 
My son Ezekiel, at the tender age of three was a bit of a challenge. A bit might be be short hand for “Lord have mercy on our house.” Zeke is one of the lights of my life. He is nothing less than a beautiful gift from God. And he brings a lot of pizazz and energy into our household. Please hear me as I say, I treasure him.
 
Zeke is diagnosed with high functioning autism spectrum. He has numerous sensory input concerns. In his early years he detested things touching his hands, sitting with his legs dangling, ingesting food in general, the sound of side conversations, and most of all- congregational singing.
 
Church was a struggle for him to say the least. That congregational singing got him every time. I recently read an article about quiet services for autistic children, with less singing and no instruments. This is the kind of thing that would have appealed to Zeke when he was small and may have made church a whole lot more bearable for us. This wasn’t our reality however, so when the organ started playing, Zeke would lay his entire body on the floor of the church aisle, or under a pew, or in the narthex to make it bearable. People at church were good about it, but I know it came off looking like a giant toddler fit, or lazy parenting, or at the very least, just plain weird.
 
I just wanted to worship. And more than that, I wanted Ezekiel to worship. I wanted so badly for him to find tiny sparks of joy in the service, in the Word, in His people surrounding us. Doesn’t every mother want that for her child? How was I going to convince him to follow this for His whole life, if each and every Sunday it was literal misery for his poor little soul. Granted, I was fully versed in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit does His work and this was not my responsibility, but a momma’s heart hurt for want of some sign, any sign that He was hearing Jesus in the midst of it all.
 
And then, it came.
 
One day, we walked up to take communion with my husband. I lined up the troops and we waited calmly for our turn. We reached the altar and kneeled as a family. We took the body and blood, the prayers over us, the blessings on their little heads. We stood up. My husband stepped back behind the rail, and I marched 10 feet out the side door.
 
There is one step down from the cancible before you get to the aisle to return to your seat. This Sunday, Zeke slowed down and stopped at the step. He turned back and looked at me, broke into a smile and jumped with all his might off that step, bursting in to the sweetest quiet little giggles the world has even known.
 
Zeke muscled through worship each Sunday, but when it came time for that step, each and every week, he jumped wholeheartedly off it. He giggled and walked on. I spoke words of praise to a Creator who gave my son a little worship joy through something as mundane as a step.
 
One day, Zeke bounded off the step and one of our elders in charge of communion asked me nicely, “Can you ask him to stop jumping off that step?”
 
He meant well, he really did. And I’m sure that each of you can see the problem. Loud preschooler, exuberantly jumping full force near the front of the church. I think to some it probably came off as deeply disrespectful, at the very least a little rude or inconsiderate. We’re a people of God, with all kind of ideas about what worship looks like and at some point we do need to be respectful of that.
 
But my answer in this instance was, “No.”
 
Later I explained, “This is what Zeke has. This is his worship joy. This is the moment he looks forward to every Sunday morning. I just can’t take that from him.”
 
A missionary friend of mine said it best, “Shouldn’t we all be jumping off the communion step anyway?” And she’s right. Body of Christ! Shed for me! Which part of worship wells up in you and gives you even the simplest joy? What’s your metaphoric step, that place where the Word meets your ears, the grace of the place fills your heart, and you know it’s safe to jump in with your whole self, unabashed.
 
Our sweet elder understood. It just took a simple conversation. I learn so much from our beautiful boy everyday.
 
Zeke’s five years old now. God has brought him so far. He no longer needs to lay on the floor to comfort himself in worship. Last week, he sang “Thank the Lord and Sing His praise” with the chorus of all those around him.
 

 

And he still jumps off that step and I will be the last one to stop him.