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Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it - it's hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8).  It's something I pray about every Sunday, "As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus."

But there's another danger.  We can react the other way and disdain anything 'external'.  We say to the world: "I reject 'works', I'm all about the inward life."  And so we're constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism).  And we start to think of faith as a thing - the one really meritorious work!

The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity.  Internal - good.  External - bad.  We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.

But that's not how it is.  There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).

Take communion.

Please.

No but seriously, take it.   Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.

We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters.  We have been left a meal.  To chew.  And to gulp down.  There are motions to go through.  And they are the same motions we performed last week.  And the week before that.

But here's the thing - these motions are means of God's grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external.  Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself.  And it comes apart from your internal state.  But nonetheless it is for you - sinner that you are.

So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal.  Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all.  And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders... oh well.  Don't ask him to start again.  Go through the motions I say.  Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions.  That's why the motions were given.  Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.

So allow the Word to come to you from beyond.  Allow Him to love you first. Don't disdain 'going through the motions.'  For many on a Sunday -  those grieving or sick or gripped by depression - they need to be carried along by these motions.  And for all of us - if we're going to be people of grace, we need these externals.

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Worship is all of life right?  Romans 12:1 right?

Well ok.  But try telling your spouse, "We don't need to set aside special time for each other, marriage is all of life.'

No, no, no.  Church is date-night.  (My Sunday night sermon).

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Worship is all of life right?  Romans 12:1 right?

Well ok.  But try telling your spouse, "We don't need to set aside special time for each other, marriage is all of life.'

No, no, no.  Church is date-night.  (My Sunday night sermon).

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Mesmerising.  Like a car crash.

You'll have probably seen enough after about 4 minutes.

From here, via The Old Adam.

Even in the psychadelic imaginings of HR Puffenstuff, never did they conceive of something as bizzare as this.

I can't even think of the correct interrogative to attach to those puppets.

Who?

What?

Why?

How?

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Following on from my last post - Psalms are about Christ.   They tell of the interaction between the LORD, the King through Whom He rules, the righteous who hide in Him and the wicked who rebel. 

These interactions are pictured from many angles.  But one key perspective is for the King Himself to speak.  This most often happens in the Psalms 'Of David'.

Of course all the kings reigned under the knowledge that they were simply throne-warmers for the King to Whom universal tribute was due. (Gen 49:10)  But David was the most idealized of these kings.  The Messiah is often spoken of simply as David.  (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23f; 37:25).  And David himself is aware of his idealized role.  Just before his death he said: "The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue." (2 Sam 23:2)  He didn't speak better than he knew, but he certainly spoke better than he lived. In the Psalms the king most often spoke as The King.  The anointed one spoke most often as The Anointed One. 

Peter confirms this for us in Acts 2.  Even when David spoke in the first person he was speaking the words of Christ (see Acts 2:25).  Quoting Psalm 16, Peter makes it clear that David was not describing his own experience. (Paul underlines this in Acts 13:36-37).  Rather, David "was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ" (Acts 2:30-31).

Does this mean that such Psalms have no application to David?  No of course they do - but such application runs from Christ to David rather than David to Christ.  This is the nature of the whole of David's life -  from shepherd boy to rejected ruler, to reigning king to his death, he is a shadow of the Coming King.

This is my understanding anyway.  Whether you take the Psalms from David to Christ or Christ to David, I hope we can all agree that the emotions and experiences of 'The King' are ultimately taken up and owned by Christ.

All of this is just a precursor to what I really want to discuss...  What do we do with the Psalmist's intense desire for the LORD?

On one level that's simple - copy it.  Be challenged by it.  Be inspired by it.  Seek it for yourself.

Well, yes, ok.  But here's the question - what do I do when I don't earnestly desire the LORD?  Because maybe once or twice in your life your white hot devotion to God has dipped below the zeal of the Psalmist.  What do you do then?

Here's the first level of my response:  When I don't desire God, first I need to see that Christ does.  And He does so for me.

What do I mean? 

Well take a favourite Psalm of mine: Psalm 63

Here the Psalmist says:

 1 O God, you are my God,
       earnestly I seek you;
       my soul thirsts for you,
       my body longs for you,
       in a dry and weary land
       where there is no water.

 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
       and beheld your power and your glory.

 3 Because your love is better than life,
       my lips will glorify you.

 4 I will praise you as long as I live,
       and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Now be honest, doesn't some part of you go "Really?  Have I really beheld His power and glory?  Really?  Have I in the past and will I in the future praise Him so wholeheartedly?  Really?  As long as I live?  Am I perjuring myself here??"

But friend, read on to the final verse...

 11 But the king will rejoice in God

These are the words of the king - the king on whose lips are the words of The King.  And He has beheld the power and glory of the LORD in the ultimate sanctuary.  He is the ultimate, white-hot Worshipper of God.  These words are not a guide to human worship so much as a window onto divine worship. 

So what should be our response?

Sit back and be awed by The King's desire for the LORD.  You don't yet feel such intense passion.  Well alright.  In the deepest sense you never can match His devotion.  But let the King's worship be enough for you.  Don't despise his devotion like Michal (2 Sam 6:16).  Simply allow your King to offer what you cannot summon up yourself.  Know that He offers in your place a worship you could never initiate.  And if the Praise-Worthy does not elicit your praise, let the Praise-Giver show the way.  In ourselves we could never work up the right response.  In Christ we see what reckless and joyful abandon to God looks like. 

He is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more you watch Him dance, the more your foot starts to tap, then you start clapping.  Pretty soon you'll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get you on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does - not really.  It's the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

Read Psalm 63 again.  And add your own Amen.  For now that is enough.  If these words were simply the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern ruler, your Amen would mean nothing.  If these were just passionate words from an inspired and inspiring devotee they could only judge your apathy.  But they're not.  This is the worship of The King.  Your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He comes before the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you'll join the dance.

 

For more on Christ offering worship on our behalf, here's a half hour talk I gave recently.

.

 

Following on from my last post - Psalms are about Christ.   They tell of the interaction between the LORD, the King through Whom He rules, the righteous who hide in Him and the wicked who rebel. 

These interactions are pictured from many angles.  But one key perspective is for the King Himself to speak.  This most often happens in the Psalms 'Of David'.

Of course all the kings reigned under the knowledge that they were simply throne-warmers for the King to Whom universal tribute was due. (Gen 49:10)  But David was the most idealized of these kings.  The Messiah is often spoken of simply as David.  (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23f; 37:25).  And David himself is aware of his idealized role.  Just before his death he said: "The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue." (2 Sam 23:2)  He didn't speak better than he knew, but he certainly spoke better than he lived. In the Psalms the king most often spoke as The King.  The anointed one spoke most often as The Anointed One. 

Peter confirms this for us in Acts 2.  Even when David spoke in the first person he was speaking the words of Christ (see Acts 2:25).  Quoting Psalm 16, Peter makes it clear that David was not describing his own experience. (Paul underlines this in Acts 13:36-37).  Rather, David "was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ" (Acts 2:30-31).

Does this mean that such Psalms have no application to David?  No of course they do - but such application runs from Christ to David rather than David to Christ.  This is the nature of the whole of David's life -  from shepherd boy to rejected ruler, to reigning king to his death, he is a shadow of the Coming King.

This is my understanding anyway.  Whether you take the Psalms from David to Christ or Christ to David, I hope we can all agree that the emotions and experiences of 'The King' are ultimately taken up and owned by Christ.

All of this is just a precursor to what I really want to discuss...  What do we do with the Psalmist's intense desire for the LORD?

On one level that's simple - copy it.  Be challenged by it.  Be inspired by it.  Seek it for yourself.

Well, yes, ok.  But here's the question - what do I do when I don't earnestly desire the LORD?  Because maybe once or twice in your life your white hot devotion to God has dipped below the zeal of the Psalmist.  What do you do then?

Here's the first level of my response:  When I don't desire God, first I need to see that Christ does.  And He does so for me.

What do I mean? 

Well take a favourite Psalm of mine: Psalm 63

Here the Psalmist says:

 1 O God, you are my God,
       earnestly I seek you;
       my soul thirsts for you,
       my body longs for you,
       in a dry and weary land
       where there is no water.

 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
       and beheld your power and your glory.

 3 Because your love is better than life,
       my lips will glorify you.

 4 I will praise you as long as I live,
       and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Now be honest, doesn't some part of you go "Really?  Have I really beheld His power and glory?  Really?  Have I in the past and will I in the future praise Him so wholeheartedly?  Really?  As long as I live?  Am I perjuring myself here??"

But friend, read on to the final verse...

 11 But the king will rejoice in God

These are the words of the king - the king on whose lips are the words of The King.  And He has beheld the power and glory of the LORD in the ultimate sanctuary.  He is the ultimate, white-hot Worshipper of God.  These words are not a guide to human worship so much as a window onto divine worship. 

So what should be our response?

Sit back and be awed by The King's desire for the LORD.  You don't yet feel such intense passion.  Well alright.  In the deepest sense you never can match His devotion.  But let the King's worship be enough for you.  Don't despise his devotion like Michal (2 Sam 6:16).  Simply allow your King to offer what you cannot summon up yourself.  Know that He offers in your place a worship you could never initiate.  And if the Praise-Worthy does not elicit your praise, let the Praise-Giver show the way.  In ourselves we could never work up the right response.  In Christ we see what reckless and joyful abandon to God looks like. 

He is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more you watch Him dance, the more your foot starts to tap, then you start clapping.  Pretty soon you'll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get you on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does - not really.  It's the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

Read Psalm 63 again.  And add your own Amen.  For now that is enough.  If these words were simply the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern ruler, your Amen would mean nothing.  If these were just passionate words from an inspired and inspiring devotee they could only judge your apathy.  But they're not.  This is the worship of The King.  Your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He comes before the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you'll join the dance.

 

For more on Christ offering worship on our behalf, here's a half hour talk I gave recently.

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Perhaps most ironic of all is the worship leader's opening prayer - a desire to honour the Lord.

Suggestions please for the absolute worst aspect of these ten minutes.  There'll be some competition I tell ya.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsHH_HYSkH8]

 

"Jack Black's" hair-do

The sock spinning

"Everybody!  You're not spinning anything!"

The song!

"Hands in the air like you just don't care"

"The Holy Ghost Hoedown"

Starting a love train

"Mess us up! Mess us up! Mess us up!"

The 2Unlimited synth solo at 8:10

"Give Him Glory"

"We love the Lordy"

If anyone's speechless, just leave the comments form blank.

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5

The means of grace (things like preaching and sacraments) are meant to be just that.  Means by which the grace of God reaches down to us.  I've been reflecting recently that often we try to absolutize the means of grace so that they become not means but ends in themselves, and not grace (i.e. His initiative) but works (i.e. ours!).

And then we divide over whatever our chosen 'means of grace' might be.

So the danger for the catholic is to see the eucharist not as a means of God's encounter with man but rather the moment in which they make God manifest (ex opere operato - by doing it, it is done). When the ritual is performed well/reverently/at all, Christ's presence is enjoyed. Christ is not present through the sacrament but rather the performance of the mass is Christ's presence. The mass becomes the point.

The danger for the charismatic is to view the singing of spiritual songs in the midst of the congregation not as a means of grace but as the time when ‘God's in the house'. When the band are playing well, God shows up - ex opere operato. In that case God is not present in and through ‘worship' but ‘worship' is equated with the divine presence.  Worship becomes the point.

The danger for the evangelical is to see preaching not as a means of grace but as the action we perform whereby we guarantee a divine speech act.  The Proclamation Trust states ‘When the bible is taught, God himself speaks.'  Now I want to draw the strongest possible link between preaching and God's speaking (see long paper here) but let's get the order right.  He graciously speaks through our preaching, we cannot bring Him down through our correct exposition.   The danger is that simple exposition of a biblical passage or theme is itself the encounter with God - ex opere operato.  Preaching becomes the point.

Yet surely, Christ is the point. And the Lord's supper and worship and preaching are ways that Jesus can and does make Himself known to us, among us and in us.  Yet He will not be brought down by our performance of these acts. They are His means (note means) of grace (note: grace!). He always remains free in His self-giving - in the bread and wine, in our corporate life, in His word.

That's why it's often great to hear a catholic preaching well, or an evangelical leading ‘worship' or a charismatic presiding at the Lord's table.  For then, they are less tempted to see the simple operation of this act as the point but as a means of making Christ known - He is the point.

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I was reflecting today that in the last fortnight I've received four pearls of wisdom from four Anglican bishops.  That's right, I said Anglican bishops.

The first pearl came from retired Bishop John Taylor who spoke at our ordination retreat.  He told the story of a pastoral visit to a very ill woman in hospital.  It represents brilliantly what I think pastoral practice (and good evangelism) boils down to.  Here's how I remember his re-telling:

I told her God's grace was for her - even for her.

She said "No, it couldn't be, you don't know what I've done."

I told her "Christ said 'The healthy don't need a doctor, the sick do.  I've not come to call the righteous but sinner.' It really is for you."

She said "No."

I said "Yes!"... 

...Eventually she received Christ.

 

Brilliant!  The word from beyond comes, contradicts and finally comforts.  It perfectly encapsulates my understanding of ministry.

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The next pearl comes from my Bishop of Chichester in his charge to us priests prior to ordination.   He spoke about public worship:

It is fundamental for biblical faith that God is the subject and not the object of the liturgy.  In [OT] Temple worship, it is God who reveals himself, his presence, his name, his will.  The cultus was not a kind of magical conjuring up of a compliant deity but the place at which by thankful remembrance of what God has done in the past God himself has the opening to disclose himself again, here and now, to renew faith and secure its transmission to the next generation... it is something which lies in God's own hands...

...Let me finish by trying to draw together a few scattered strands of this charge.  First, I would like you to remember always that true worship is not something we do, but a moment in which God discloses himself to us.  Second, I would like you to remember that both praise of God and thanksgiving for his actual gifts are central to authentic worship and third, I would like you to remember that worship has an important role in reconvincing people of his concrete, actual, historical acts of mercy so that they can become effective witnesses to those who do not believe.  And finally, I would like you to remember that if our worship is genuine, it can be a powerful witness to both those who believe and those who do not yet believe, that God is real and has been among his people.

We do not pull God down (through our faithful preaching, our good music or our sacramental practice).  These things, in God's good pleasure, are a means of His grace.  The direction of the arrow is DOWN.

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Next pearl was from my area Bishop, Wallace Benn who preached at my ordination.  His passage was John 21:1-19.  He spoke of the importance of feeding the sheep (v15-17) and of the sure expectation of suffering in ministry (v18-19).  But first and foremost he drummed into us the vital importance of 'maintaining your love relationship with the Lord' (v15-17).

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Finally, Douglas Milmine - former Bishop of Paraguay - was at my ordination.  He's been ordained since 1947, been a bishop for 35 years and absolutely brim full of the joy of the Lord.  Just minutes before the ordination service he said to us in the vestry: 

I've only one regret in my ministry - that I didn't save more souls.  That's the only reason we're here - saving souls.

 

Go bishops!

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