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Come and Worship… Do not be afraid! November 24, 2013

Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion, Real Life.
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Love > Fear

Perfect Love casts out fear

Yesterday I spent the bulk of the day with members of my small group helping one of our members clean out his mother’s home. She was kindof a hoarder, had given up housekeeping, and her son and his wife had to get her place ready for sale. On the way back with our small group leaders, we were talking about how hard it is to sacrifice for others, to be loving instead of selfish, not to judge people, and a number of other ways in which we fall short of God’s standard of perfection.

God is indeed perfect. God’s law also is perfect. I’m really … well … not perfect. To the discerning heart, it’s very obvious that every day is a struggle with sin and fear and pride. Yet God has called us to be perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Nobody can live up to the standard Jesus set, and God has made it clear that He will judge us by our deeds in this life.

This is not good news. As I said, there’s just no way for anyone (myself included) to live up to that expectation.

But my point in the car yesterday, which I thought I’d share here, is that we’re too hard on ourselves. Perhaps that sounds like a contradiction, but let me try to explain…

Everything I just said is true. God is perfect, and calls us to be perfect. And there’s absolutely no way to stand under the weight of that demand. Only Jesus did. Where I fail every day to measure up to God’s law, Jesus is a Great High Priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15b) This is the really great news… that while I was yet a sinner (stubborn, selfish, rebellious … an intentional lawbreaker), Jesus died for me. (Romans 5:8) He lived a perfect, sinless life, but died a criminal’s death on a cross and was separated from God for me. He bore the weight of your sin and mine (and anyone who would receive him), so that when I’m judged by God the Father, He sees Jesus’ righteousness, His perfection … not whatever pitiful excuse for righteousness I might be tempted to attempt to cobble together on my own. So, I’m given life instead of death, because Jesus chose to die in my place. He took the nails for me. Paul (perhaps the most influential founder of the early church) put it this way, in Colossians… “you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

John, a close friend and apostle of Jesus, wrote, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If this isn’t you, if you don’t have a relationship with God because of Christ’s death for you, or if the truth is that you’re not even sure you know what I’m talking about here, then you need Jesus. Period. If you have everything else, but miss that, then in truth you have nothing. And if you gave up everything just to walk with Jesus in the garden in the cool of the day and really know Him, then no matter what you left behind God will restore a hundred-fold (Mark 10:28-30). But if that’s you, then you were not the person I primarily had in mind in writing this blog; rather, I’m writing to those who love and follow Christ … about how to walk in the reality of a relationship with a Father who deeply loves you.

And perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). So, back to being to hard on ourselves…

I think it’s easy to think of God as waiting in heaven for me to make a mistake so He can smite me. Finger on the trigger … anger bubbling just below the surface … just waiting to pounce when He catches us breaking one of His many and utterly overwhelming rules. But that’s not how God really is! That is simply NOT God’s heart toward us. And most of us would agree with that in conversation, but how many of us live like it is?! Maybe it’s how we were raised? Something common in my generation? Maybe it’s our culture, and a by-product of our American self-reliant, get’er’done attitude? Not sure. But it’s there. I encounter it in conversation all the time. Sometimes veiled, sometimes not, but real.

But God loves us. He is our Father. I think we (this includes me) do a lot of damage to our relationship with God and our witness before others because of the way we perceive God – who He is to us. Maybe I’ll do a series on the various ways I have heard people – believers – describe God. They would never use these words, of course, but it’s not about words, it’s about the heart. What we believe is inside, and flows to the outside. It doesn’t originate in our words, it is manifested by them. We need a better walking-around theology about who God really is. 

It’s nearly Christmas, and I’ve been listening to “My Soul Magnifies the Lord” by Chris Tomlin a lot lately. And so I’ve been thinking alot about approaching God, about how He views us, about how we should view Him, and about what grace and worship should really be for the one who loves the Lord and is covered by the blood of Christ. Check out these words…

Good news of great joy for every woman, every man.
This will be a sign to you: a baby born in Bethlehem.

Come and worship. Do not be afraid.

A company of angels, “Glory in the highest!
And on the earth peace among those of whom His favor rests.”

Come and worship. Do not be afraid.

Unto you a child is born. Unto us a Son is given.
Let every heart prepare His throne, and every nation under Heaven.

Come and worship. Do not be afraid.

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord. My soul magnifies the Lord.
He has done great things for me, great things for me.

Of His government there will be no end
He’ll establish it with His righteousness
And He shall reign on David’s throne
And His name shall be from this day on
Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for us

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for me
Great things for me

He has done great things!

I’ll attempt the series, but the long and the short of it is that God has made a way for you. You are called to be His child – to approach the throne of grace with confidence, not with fear (Hebrews 4:16). Sons and daughters should not be afraid of their fathers. Even earthly fathers know how to give good things to their kids. How much more does our perfect Father in heaven?! (Matthew 7:9-11)

And lastly, a final note about fearing God…

I’m sure some are reading this and saying to themselves (rightly so) that the Bible is clear that we should “fear God”. This is true, and many in our day try to view God as too familiar, too “squishy”, somehow easy on sin. But that is not true. God hates sin so much that he was willing to sacrifice His Son to deal with it. And I cannot even imagine the wrath God will pour out on the one who tramples underfoot the blood of Christ with the “that was nothing, I’ll take care of it” attitude that is I think common in our culture today. Luke spoke the truth when he wrote that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:28-31).

But it’s important to keep these concepts separate. The blood of Christ changes them. The cross is the pivot point of all of history. Without it, we fear God … because alone before Him, we are ruined … destined for the lake of fire as the wages rightly due our wicked and rebellious hearts. But Christ died for us … even for me. And covered by His blood, I am not afraid. I am, only and entirely because of Jesus, what I was meant to be: justified before God. Bought and paid for. Pure. Spotless. Simultaneously a son and a bride. Beloved. Going home.

So, come and worship. Do not be afraid!

Come and worship; do not be afraid!

Come and worship; do not be afraid!

… and in my eyes and with my song … August 23, 2010

Posted by Jeff Block in Music, Philosophy and Religion.
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Be Magnified

Be Magnified

In 1996, I attended the Urbana Missionary Conference in Urbana, IL. I had graduated from college 6 months earlier, filled with zeal for Christ, a knowledge and love of God’s Word, and an amazing community of Christian friends among whom I had been a leader. The highlight of my Christian training was a month-long leadership “camp” at Cedar Campus in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I spent the month of July immediately following graduation. This month of training was called “SLT” (for “School of Leadership Training“).  

In the 6 months following SLT, however, things went seriously downhill for me spiritually. The truth is that I didn’t cope particularly well with having moved to Chicago (where I knew only a few people) and lost my Christian community, my church, my ministry, my support structure … and the familiarity of my life in college. I knew how school worked, and although I was successful at my job, I didn’t know how make the single adult life (in relative isolation) work.  

And there was my problem … trying to make my life work. Almost immediately, I forgot how to leave life in God’s hands. Looking back on it, I wonder if I ever really knew.  

At Urbana, there was fantastic teaching and worship, and my spiritual life felt revitalized for a while. One of the songs we sang that week was called “Be Magnified”. At the time, I liked it, but it wasn’t deeply significant to me. Other songs that week eclipsed this simple song … meeting me closer to where I was at that particular time in my life. As I left Urbana, I bought the worship CD and listened to it many times, but in the 14 years since then, these songs have become less prevalent on my various “favorite” playlists.  

I’ve recently felt more strongly than ever an acute sense of my selfishness and disconnection from God. Naturally, God didn’t go anywhere. My sinful choices and spiritual laziness have separated me from God overtime, and caused me pain and sorrow. And that’s when God resurfaced this old song for me in the car on the way to work the other day…  

I have made You too small in my eyes
Oh Lord, forgive me
And I have believed in a lie
That You are unable to help me.
But now, Oh Lord, I see my wrong
Heal my heart and show Yourself strong
And in my eyes and with my song
Oh Lord, be magnified  

I have leaned on a wisdom of men
Oh Lord, forgive me
And I have responded to them
Instead of Your light and Your mercy
But now, Oh Lord, I see my wrong
Heal my heart and show yourself strong
And in my eyes and with my song
Oh Lord be magnified  

Be magnified, Oh Lord
You are highly exalted
And there is nothing You can’t do
Oh Lord, my eyes are on You
Be magnified,
Oh Lord, be magnified  

It’s true. For almost my entire Christian life, I have made God too small in my eyes. Satan’s lie has and always will be, “Did God really say…” (See Genesis 3:1)  God help me, I have acted as if God’s strength was not sufficient … as if He was unable to help me. And I’m the king of leaning not on God’s promises but on the wisdom and judgment and opinions of men (… women … others … you know what I mean). It’s crazy how easily fear has gripped me in my life and driven me toward decisions that have hurt others as well as myself. But the Bible says clearly that God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) … to turn from our sinful choices and embrace God’s best for us. God loves me, and at that, unconditionally. But the Bible is clear that my love for God cannot be demonstrated in feelings or platitudes or sentimental songs, but rather through obedience. John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That’s pretty straightforward, I think.  

So, I love this song. It acknowledges the truth of my heart … that I have fixed my eyes on myself and others, not on Christ. (See Colossians 3:1-17 … which I’ve been memorizing)  This song is worship that pleads with God to forgive this sin, to heal my heart, and to be strong on my behalf. One of God’s most awe-inspiring, worship-worthy qualities is that His strength is made perfect (and obvious) in my weakness. “[Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9)  

Wow.  

I’ve spent my whole life being scared of my weaknesses, and even more afraid of what others would think of me if they connected with them like I do (in my own heart). I was sure that I would find rejection if I shared who I really was, but I didn’t … not from people who love me, not from the church, and certainly not from God. Instead, God’s power has been evident to me. Obvious. And I find myself tempted to boast in my weaknesses, because I marvel at the power of God displayed in them. I’m learning … slowly.

The details of my current situation are still pretty complicated. I don’t quite feel ready to blog them to the world. Perhaps someday. But for now, suffice it to say that I am watching God, before my very eyes, produce fruit out of my weakness and sin that I labored unsuccessfully for over a decade to produce out of the best my strength had to offer. My strength was like that of a poorly built house in a hurricane. Nothing to it. But in contrast, Jesus was again proven right when he said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)  

The part I’m waiting for is for God to heal my heart. He promises to collect my tears (Psalm 56:8) and wipe them from my eyes (Rev 21:4) and a whole host of other sadness-removing, heart-mending, soul-restoring activities. But right now, I don’t feel that. I know others don’t either who have felt the sting of sin, even my sin. So, I guess I’m waiting for God to act. I’m not patient though, you know. I’m not good. I’m not wise. And I’m certainly not strong. Only God is. And I wish I had more faith. But in the meantime, I have just enough faith to stand here and wait. And hopefully enough to amp up my daily time with God, which is so sorely lacking. Sigh.

Oh, and one more thing…  

I love the way the author of this song (I have no idea who originally wrote it) asks God to glorify Himself in his life. When I sing this song, I’m saying to God, “heal me … be amazingly powerful … and in my eyes and with my song … be magnified.” That means I want God to be bigger, stronger, more pure, more able. God is already these things. He is unsearchable … indescribable … incomparable. But I have not treated Him that way. This song isn’t so much a statement about God as it is about me. In my eyes, God, be bigger and stronger. Let me see you the way you really are.  

And in my song. Maybe the author meant that to refer to the music of the song. I don’t know. But I think about it as my life. That’s my song. My choices. Everyday. Who I am. The totality of my life. That’s the song I will have sung when I have breathed my last. And if I want that life to be meaningful … to count the way Jesus meant it to count when He referred to Kingdom living as “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10) … then God has to be very big and very strong and very good in the midst of it. It’s His reality invading mine that makes my life meaningful and secure and right. Nothing else will.  

So, in my eyes and with my song, be magnified. Oh Lord, be magnified!

George, Lesbians, and the Gospel November 6, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Location: Somewhere over the Atlantic … but Further East

On my way to Israel, I have a lot to be thankful for. God has given me, in every sense, far more than I deserve or need or even more than I knew to ask for. God has been very good to me. Shame on me for how often I feel deprived of whatever trivial thing I believed I had to have to be happy.

Well, among many other far more significant things, God blessed me today with a bulkhead row seat (thank you, Father!), so I have plenty of leg room. He also placed skinny folks on either side of me, so I didn’t have any issues being in a middle seat. Both are British women about my age returning home to the UK (we’re going to Tel Aviv through London Heathrow) after a business trip to the US. One, named George, has evidently been traveling to the US every two weeks on business for the last year. Ouch!

George opened the door early to spiritual conversation (my favorite subject), and what started as a few minutes of chit-chat quickly turned into a three-hour discussion about who God is, who Jesus is, what the Bible says about all manner of things, what my opinions are on a number of hot topics of the day, human nature, sin, the gospel, and of course British music (okay maybe not all spiritual conversation). The big hot topic of the day for her was homosexuality. George’s focus for much of the conversation was on how hard it is for her lesbian friend to not act on her homosexual tenancies. She described at some length her friend’s religious upbringing and how being gay creates severe guilt in her life. According to George, she can’t be happy because when she does what feels “right” to her, she is miserable because she’s deprived of her sexual expression. But when she does what feels “good” to her, she feels this overwhelming guilt.

I tried to help her understand that all rebellion against God is sin. Homosexuality, from the perspective of God’s holiness, is not some special kind of sin. I explained that the personal difficulty of making right choices doesn’t absolve us of our responsibilities in the decision-making … or of God’s right and readiness to stand in judgment of our decisions. She made the point a dozen times that her friend “has a heart of gold”, but just struggles with this one thing. How can God judge her for that? I tried to help her understand that A) it’s never just one thing – for anyone – that nobody has a “heart of gold”, and B) that God’s love for her, for me, for her friend, is not tied to our actions. No amount of sin is great enough to separate us from God if we throw ourselves on the mercy of the cross. But if we don’t come to God in humility and repentance through Jesus, then no number of righteous acts will make us worthy to approach God and even the smallest sin will separate us from Him … being a practicing lesbian included. I tried to contextualize the message by referring to a broad spectrum (humanly speaking) of sins: greed, selfishness, homosexuality, murder, and a few others. All are sin. All separate us from God. All create in us the desperate need for Jesus.

I also used alcoholism, drug addiction, and to a lesser degree my former tenancies to grossly over-eat, as examples of habits that control us, trap us, and make it hard (sometimes very very very hard) to choose the right instead of the wrong. No matter how much I might feel like “I was born this way” or “I can’t help myself” or “I need a fix to be happy” or “it’s too hard to change” … none of that changes the reality that we’ll be held responsible for our decisions before God. And that’s true whether we’re talking about greed, selfishness, adultry, homosexuality, murder, or whatever other hard thing we face. Life is hard. But that’s not God’s fault, it’s ours. We – with a built-in sin nature – choose the wrong hundreds of times a day, surround ourselves with distractions and bad influences, and then demand that God should make our lives easier. God is not responsible for my bad choices, or George’s, or George’s friend’s. But the God who made me and gave me the right to choose (so I could choose Him, by the way), has every right to hold me accountable for my choices when I do choose.

So, this trip is off to a great start. I’m thrilled to death to have had the chance to share the gospel with George. And I’m pumped to be hanging over the Atlantic, Bible in hand, on my way to explore and see in person the land God gave to His people. But more than that, I’m pumped because God does not live in temples built by man, but in the temple of my heart. I hope there are more George’s before this trip is over.

Next stop (in 3 hours), Heathrow. But for now, maybe a few minutes sleep.

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