Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

The Baker of an Ordinary Cake (a parable)

There once was an amazing baker, who had one of the most incredible minds and tongues for creating something not only visually spectacular, but that also wowed the senses all at once upon eating. She could create cakes that looked like they’d been brought straight out of a magazine. Professional masterpieces, where layer after layer after layer was simply a blank canvas upon which she would unleash her creative energies. People came from all over not only to see her cakes, but to pay great amounts of money in order to experience just a bite themselves.

There’s a story that one time she created a cake in the shape of a sleeping alligator that was so lifelike, animal control was called. She let the story unfold, gaining media attention and growing in tension until finally, she snuck through the boundaries of onlookers, and sliced a piece of chocolate filled strawberry cake from the midsection of the alligator. As the people around gasped, they laughed and applauded as cake was served to everyone who had gathered.

The news of her talent and abilities spread far and wide. One day she saw a challenge before her. Her cakes were all incredibly beautiful, and captivating to the eye. When people took a bite of one of her cakes, it was only after they’d seen the beauty of the full cake, or heard long stories and explanations of her cake-making abilities. But what did people really think of her cake recipes? She might not ever find out, because so much emphasis was always given to helping people understand and notice the beauty and talent inherent to everything she ever baked.

She decided to try an experiment. She made a cake that looked exactly like – an ordinary cakecake. Nothing incredibly fancy. Nothing that screamed “WOW”. Nothing that forced everyone around it to notice. Just, ordinary. Next, she snuck her cake right into the middle of a busy restaurant where food was being served left and right. An ordinary cake showing up in the middle of a buffet table was no big deal. She watched, and waited, as the first slice was taken by a small boy. She’d used the finest ingredients, and put a great deal of care and inspiration into her recipe. But on the surface, and looking at his plate – the boy saw a piece of ordinary cake just like any other. He hurried back to his table and sat down.

She knew others were beginning to take slices as well, but this boy captured her attention. She wanted to see what his response would be, and waited quietly, patiently, pretending not to notice from a table at the side of the room. As she sat, sipping her coffee, the boy took his first bite. She noticed his face brighten. The combination of perfectly crafted icing, and moist delicate cake was like a bomb of deliciousness on his tongue, and he couldn’t keep himself from beaming as he devoured the rest of the piece from his plate.

She smiled, satisfied and excited at his response. She began to look around to see how others who had taken a slice might be responding. Person after person, she noticed the expressions of delight and reverie as some devoured just as the boy had – while others set their forks down after every morsel, chewing slowly and closing their eyes as the flavors settled over their tongues. She heard someone ask for the manager, so they could contact the chef. Apparently, someone wanted to have this exact cake made for their wedding. The baker continued to watch from the side, as the chef proudly emerged from the kitchen, only to look with disappointment at the few pieces leftover from the cake.

He confessed – this was not his cake, and he had no idea where it had come from.
Finally the baker stepped forward, and confessed – she had made this ordinary-looking cake. Everyone was so excited to meet her, as soon as they realized here was this incredibly famous and gifted person, right in the midst of their simple ordinary restaurant! No WONDER this cake tasted so amazing, and compelled people to respond!

Hands were shaken, pictures were taken, and the story spread like wildfire. Everyone heard the story of this incredibly simple, ordinary cake from the outside, that held an incredible amount of talent, love for baking, and flavor inside. In fact, it became so popular – people began requesting the same exact cake at their local bakeries. It was such an easy cake mold to use, and such an unassuming design, it was very easy for other cake shops to replicate it. They even improved on it modestly. Images were shared all over Pinterest, and all the other social medias. The hashtag “#OrdinaryCake” was trending for months as the world caught “cake fever”.

The problem was, with everyone focusing on what the cake looked like, hardly anyone was coming to her to make the cake anymore. She had kitchen cupboards FILLED with ingredients, and only once in a while did anyone call and ask her to make one of her cakes. The world was busy sharing images, celebrating moments, and eating ordinary cake, filled with ordinary ingredients, and ordinary inspiration…

May we examine our cakes, to see what all the excitement is about…and may we call the baker today.

(Inspired in part by 2 Corinthians 4)

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He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

Pentecost (a poem)

Dry.

Coughing as I breathe in, chest wheezing, this dusty cloud kicks up when I walk.

When I talk, words fall to the ground without sound.

Cracks invading the pavement, waiting for someone tall to step wrong and fall. Someone saw rain in the distance, just one instance, but that was years ago.

For now, nothing grows. And so, nothing sows. The last leaves turned to ash.  Our of resource, out of cash.  It happened so fast, before we realized we were empty.  The wind blows over another dried up, used to be, has been but isn’t now.

For a split second, seems to bow on purpose, then falls.

Smashing into a million pieces in these parched halls.  The air so dry it’s impossible to sweat – impossible to shed a tear, for fear of losing the last drops of moisture we assume are somewhere deep inside.  We’ve tried to hide.  We’ve lied to hide.  Cause when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Or so we’ve heard.  Not another word.  After all, we’ll get by.  We just need to try.  Try harder.  To really mean it this time.

Sunlight breaks, the cushion shakes and reveals the dust we’ve been breathing.  Our lungs as thirsty as our throats, debris forming coats.  A trembling unsettles our dust.  Frightened, but we must, respond.

The room is shaking, the ground quaking, the clouds fill the sky and darken brightly.

Not a drip.   Not a trickle or a stream. But all in one moment it happens.

Dams break, waves overtake, water makes and snakes its’ way, soaking the day, washing away any traces of ash and dust.  Respond we must, gasping for air and at the same time sinking without a care.

The pipes have burst, rushing like floods from somewhere unseen.  More like a geyser, like the spring from which all springs are sprung – filling our lungs and drowning out all remnants of thirst.

To a land that was cursed – healing and life, New Life. A Spirit poured out, and all creation shouts “Great is the Lamb that was slain!”  “Great is His Name!” The Spirit that came, as God promised it would.

See His blood on the wood…

We receive and are never the same.

Isaiah 44:3

Temptations of Jesus, Pt. 3

Looking back at the story of Jesus being tempted, we see Satan grasping for straws with one final attempt at throwing Jesus off track. He takes Jesus to “very high mountain”, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Then he offers to give Jesus all these things if he will “fall down and worship me”. This is crazy. You know how crazy this is, right? It’s incredibly hard to understand, and yet at the same time reveals something important about this ‘being’ known as “the deceiver”. He’s apparently so good at painting his deceptions, he has deceived even himself here. God, who has created all things and to whom all things are subject – especially any earthly powers or splendor. God himself comes in human form, as the Son. He’s already been declared such at His baptism, just in case any of us wonders if he really knew. And yet here is Satan, promising to give something to Christ that was not quite His to give in the first place. His desire to deceive Jesus runs so deep, he has deceived even himself to think that in this moment, Jesus might look at him and say, “Well actually that sounds quite nice. I’d love to have all of that, and worshiping you is a fairly small price to pay.”

So how does Satan justify even making such an offer? I don’t know.

Perhaps it has something to do with knowing how powerful a draw that offer might be. He knows the hearts of humans. He knows we love to be in power, we love to receive praise. We love to be in control. His offer to Jesus sounds a lot like a promise of power, praise, and control over these Kingdoms. These are all healthy things to appreciate, in the context of serving God. But the tempter was trying to see if, even for a moment, He could catch Jesus in a moment of weakness. If he would turn toward Satan as the source of power and control, turning away third-temptation-of-christfrom God for these things. Doing so, would have given far more than just a foothold.

Such temptation works its’ way into our lives as well. We’re tempted on a daily basis to think there are other sources of power, and other sources of control. The world screams at us to be anxious about this or that happening in other parts of the world, or even events happening in our own country, state, or community. Tempting us to think that we need to serve the powers that be over listening to the voice of God that desires to free us to live in peace. Jesus has become Lord of all, not by bowing to Satan, but by sacrificing Himself out of love, allowing these “powers” to do their worst…yet being revealed as powerless against God.

Jesus responds to Satan one more time, but 3 times is enough. He commands Satan to go away from him. It’s easy to wonder why He didn’t use this response the first time, but maybe it was so that we would have these specific interactions to wrestle with, and connect with our lives. It must be because each of these 3 interactions has something different to offer us, and reveal about God. Again, just another reason I found myself unable to escape a sort of “3 point message” on this one.

So Jesus responds again with words from Deuteronomy, words that every follower of God would be familiar with, and a phrase that appears multiple times throughout the Old Testament, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” Above any powers of this world, above any glory this world has to offer, we are called to worship and serve God.

The words come as a challenge to us as well, as we begin our season of preparing for Easter. What are we serving? What are we “working toward”? What do we hope to gain each day as we leave the house, and what do we dream about as we head to sleep each night? Are they the things of God, or are they offerings of the world?

The honest answer is this: None of us can stand above the rest and claim to not have desired the things of this world. Scripture tells us that none of us is without sin. That the only person who met with these temptations and remained faithful is Christ. And even He didn’t do so for His own sake, but for ours. That through his obedience and standing before God…we might have access to the throne. That through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are actually enabled to celebrate Easter! Not as the arrival of our judge, but as the arrival of New Life even NOW!

Will you receive the reminder, to repent and turn toward God? Can we confess together, we’ve not responded as Jesus did in these moments. That we’ve given in, accepted the lies and offerings of power, control, and fulfillment. If not with significant things, then in small ways. Tiny footholds where we’ve bought into the ways of this world, instead of living as citizens of the Kingdom. This morning, Jesus stands as the one we’re to follow, and proclaims to Satan, “GO AWAY!” Can we join together in proclaiming that today? Declaring God as the only Lord we have, and the only One we will serve….no matter what?

If so, look out….transformation is going to happen…come back for the final “Temptations of Jesus, Pt. 4″…

giving God our scrapple.

We were on vacation, and Sarah had found the restaurant using one of them hip-trendy restaurant-finder Apps.  It was ranked #1 in the area, so we knew anything on the menu was going to knock it out of the park.  As we looked over the choices, we realized the reason it was so highly ranked was probably because they served just about everything you could imagine.  Among the choices, there were several options I’d never heard of.  Always the adventurous type, I decided to take a chance:

Me: Hmm, so what is this “Scrapple”?

Waitress: Well, you know how hotdogs are made out of the leftovers of meat?  Scrapple is made out of the scraps scrappleleftover after hotdogs are made.  Absolutely nothing goes to waste.  Then they add some cornmeal, and season it up.  I grew up eating it.

Me: Sounds great.  I’ll take some.

My stomach an hour later:  (shaking it’s fist at me)  Whhhyyyyyyy!!!!!????

You know what would’ve been great for breakfast that morning?  Ham.  Yeah, ham definitely would’ve been awesome.  I think God knew that as a people, we’d become more and more okay with serving our “lastfruits” not only as an item for breakfast, but as our worship and sacrifice to Him.  We have the commitments we’ve made with each day, whether work or home or play, and somewhere in between all the important stuff, if we really love him, we’ll carve out a few minutes for a devotional or Bible reading.

We’ll stay out/up late Saturday night doing whatever we want, make plans for Sunday afternoon, and feel great about shoving the family in the van – everyone too tired to know exactly what’s going on.  Blurry eyed, we’ll make it through service, check “Sabbath” off our list, and make it to lunch/etc. just in time.

Or the one I’m most guilty of, we’ll arrange our finances.  Make commitments for a lifestyle that fits the American Dream in our context, and with whatever’s left we’ll try to get close to 10%….or something…to give as our offering to God.

I say all of this not as a pastor trying to bring guilt on other church-goers, but as a fellow scrapple-server, realizing I want to give God ham. (I realize the irony in serving God what was traditionally an “unclean animal”…oh well.)  I want to give God the first moments of my day, when my brain is firing well.  I want to give God my focus and energy as if communion with the body of Christ at the banquet table of His Word is the most important aspect of my Sabbath.  I want to give to God sacrificially, making choices to deny myself bits of “The American Dream”, so that I can experience the blessings of being completely yielded to Him.

But instead so many times I offer him my scrapple.  I give to him whatever I’ve got left after I’ve cut out the bits and pieces I really needed for other things.  I’m so incredibly thankful for His grace, and the smile on His face.  As he takes the plate from me, and looks down at what I offer.  He loves what I’ve given.  He eats my scrapple.  He gently reminds me of the pattern He set, offering the very best to us.  He hasn’t left the table…but waits with a loving smile, expectantly….(Proverbs 3:9)

Katy and the Content Creators

Recently I heard an interview on NPR with an artist whose words drew me in.  I’d missed them announcing who it was, so I tried to figure it out as I listened.  She joked innocently about how over-protective her childhood was, saying they even had to call the deviled eggs “Angel Eggs”.  She appreciated much of that upbringing though, even as the interviewer asked if she now created the kind of music she wasn’t allowed to listen to growing up.  I assumed that simply meant “pop-music”.  She sounded very creative, and even scorned the over-sexualization of most pop-artists these days.  She said she also had the “sex card”, but didn’t feel like it needed to be played.  As the interview closed, they said her name….Katy Perry.  Hmm, I thought to myself.  I’d heard her name before, but never really paid attention to what music she’s made.  Maybe I’ll check her out.

So the next day as I’m checking out youth ministry trends/updates, I get a link to a review of Katy Perry’s most recent album, “Prism”.  The review was not very kind, pointing out how over-sexed and under-faithful this album was.  prismHighlighting the carnal aspects, and the vague notions of Eastern spirituality she flaunts…there didn’t seem to be much redeemable content on the album.

I found myself wanting to pray that the artist I heard on NPR might someday come full circle, seeing the emptiness of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle, and create great art that had depth and wisdom.  As I check out the lyrics myself, I do have a bit more hope than the above review.  The song “ROAR” expresses frustrations with experiences of being “bound/held back/controlled” by someone else.  The song “Unconditionally” reveals a tender heart that wants to love and be loved in ways God has expressed His love for us.  Unfortunately through most of her songs, she tries to dull the pain through sex and party-life….but it’s obviously not fixing things.  The realities of a divorce come through loud in “Love Me“, and “By the Grace of God“.  She’s been hurt and broken by life, and is processing her pain loud, publicly, and through music.  In time, hopefully she’ll stop using pleasure as a band-aid and shed the songs that make her album hazardous.  Just Googling her name leads to plenty more interviews/appearances in pop culture that prove she’s not someone our young women can look up to just yet.

Now imagine that same “pop-star” problem, multiplied by the amount of people we have today creating content for the internet.

This problem used to be reserved for the influences of pop-culture.  A young star comes out, and creates music/content that praises sexuality and indulging “self” in pleasure.  We try to filter it, waiting to see if that artist ever “grows up”.

But today, the content creators are not just pop-stars.  They’re everyone.  Sharing on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Tumblr, Blogs, and more as new programs come out regularly.  Content is being created and shared at a rate no one can keep up with.  There is no filter big enough to keep out all the garbage flooding our feeds, except perhaps a power outage.  In the midst of it all, our youngest “content creators” are attaching huge personal value to the general public’s response to what they’re creating and sharing.  Expressing what they feel to be their deepest identities, frustrations, and being impacted to the point of suicide….it’s almost like every young person now faces the same issues that used to be reserved for child-stars in Hollywood.

We can pray, someday, that many of them come “full circle” to create content that is God-honoring, and contains wisdom and depth that contributes something beautiful.

Or we can do more.  We can help our children/young people to have their identity solidly grounded in Christ.  We can call our children to think critically about the “content” they’re creating/sharing, and pull the plug when necessary.  We can model for our young people what it looks like when someone uses their technology for a purpose larger than “self”.  We can have conversations about popular content, and help our young people to ask questions about why something might be “trending”, and if it’s worth it.

Because it’s not just artists like Katy Perry that are influencing and shaping the world of content any longer.  It’s everyone with an internet connection.  We cannot simply educate/guide our children to be good & faithful consumers….we must raise them to be faith-centered content-creators as well…

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