Be Thou My Vision

My favorite hymn is “Be Thou My Vision”. It’s actually a prayer. I pray this hymn often, but usually, I don’t sing the traditional  fourth verse:

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all

It’s not that I don’t like that verse. I do like it. It’s poetic, powerful and worth singing. But we have a lot of final verses of hymns that sing about eternity – how everything’s going to be great when we finally “get to heaven” or when Jesus comes again. That’s a good thought. I get it.

But I don’t want to be lulled into a false sense that I just need to wait around for the Second Coming or for  God to “call me home” to heaven (a euphemism for dying in case you missed it). I need to sing (and pray) something that reminds me that I have a role to play in God’s Kingdom Come on earth right here right now. That’s why my wife Brooke and I wrote an alternative verse four:

Be my compassion, My love for the poor;
Break my distraction, So I can’t ignore;
The least of your children, The ones you adore;
For by them, Jesus, I worship you Lord.

It’s a Matthew 25:31-46 – The story of the sheep and the goats – reference. Please read the passage. Maybe you’ll see why I think this is a necessary reminder for us all, before we get too focused on eternity.

I made a video for my version of this beautiful old hymn. It may not be your favorite rendition of the song, but it’s the only one I know that features this least-known verse. Watch my lyric video for “Be Thou My Vision” here. I hope it’s meaningful to you.

I Am Selfish

I’m going to be bold and say that I think I know what the problem with the world today is. To tell you, I’ll have to make a confession – and it’s not a confession I make lightly:

I believe the problem with the world today is that I AM SELFISH.

Yes, I am selfish. I mean it. I don’t want to be. I’m not proud of it. But I am and my selfishness is what’s wrong with the world.  To me, this is not a statement of self-loathing and condemnation with delusions of grandeur, but of reality, vital self-realization and freedom.

Have you heard the news lately? Considering the catalog of troubles within our home country and around the globe, it’s easy to find ourselves observing all the problems and to come out the other side with a sense of fatalistic resignation. Bad things happen. We’re not surprised when they do. Just by how bad they are. The recent terror attacks in Paris and in California, ISIS, accusations of police racism and corruption, the Syrian war and more. Then there are the world problems that don’t make the news so often – perhaps because they are so constant and seemingly unending. Poor children dying of preventable diseases, injustice being done, hunger, the suffering of the innocent, the powerful lording over the poor and defenseless. There is strife and conflict in families and between people groups everywhere – to some level, for every one of us.

We all have a sense, I believe, that there is something inherently and seriously wrong with the world. Something’s terribly broken and we don’t seem to be able to cure ourselves, even with all our so-called progress and advancement. We look left and right for answers and point fingers. We’d all like things to be better, but noone seems able to fix our aching, wounded world. So we hide ourselves away in a tiny cocoon of self protection, weakly hoping for the best and look for someone or something to blame.

But the problem is not outside the cocoon. It’s within.

“We have real difficulty here because everyone thinks of changing the world, but where, oh where, are those who think of changing themselves?”
Richard Foster (Quaker theologian & author)

Can you imagine a world where I was no-longer selfish, but instead, I was selfless? Rather than primarily looking after me and those who are nearest and dearest to me first (which I am so naturally and strenuously prone to do) what if I extended myself in selfless acts of service towards my fellow human beings?  If I am honest, my highest priorities are almost always to make sure that my family and I are safe, housed, well fed, comfortable, transportable, fashionable, popular, contactable, well entertained and more. But what if your well-being was my highest priority? Without expecting payment or requiring good deeds in return? Or even a “Thank you”? And (toughest yet) with no judgement or regard for your level selfishness or selflessness?

Can you dream with me of a world where, not just me, but all seven billion of the “me’s” on the planet were no longer selfish, but selfless? If we all recognized that the problem with the world is that “I am selfish”, so we magically, wonderfully, started caring for each other more than our own interests? As unrealistic as that seems, it sure sounds wonderful to me. It sounds like heaven on earth.

By the way, this idea is not new nor is it original. Some of the greatest thinkers and communicators throughout history and from every culture and corner of the globe have said similar things. I am just borrowing from them:

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”
Albert Einstein

“The value of a life is always determined
by how much of it was given away.”
Andy Stanley (Pastor)

“All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”
Shantideva (8th Century Indian philosopher & poet)

“The most worthwhile thing is to try to put happiness into the lives of others.”
Sir Baben Powell (Founder of the Scout movement, 1857–1941)

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.”
Laozi (Ancient Chinese Philosopher)

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself.
But the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”
Marcus Garvey (19th Century orator & national hero of Jamaica)

“All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. …
He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying.”
Swami Vivekananda (19th Century Hindu Apologist)

“The more altruism we develop in a day, the more peaceful we find ourselves. Similarly, the more self-centered we remain, the more frustrations and trouble we encounter.”
Dalai Lama

“Is there any real purpose in being alive if all we are going to do is get up every day and live only for ourselves?
Live your life to help others. Give and live selflessly.”
Joyce Meyer

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism
or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, it’s been said and said well by many. But no-one said it better than Jesus the Christ.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways,
take up your cross, and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life
will preserve it.”
Luke 17:33

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

But Jesus didn’t just say it. He did it. No-one  else throughout the history of humanity has demonstrated selflessness so emphatically, so perfectly, so totally, so radically than Jesus who, while He Himself was without sin, took on the sin of the whole world and allowed His own created beings to slander Him, abuse Him, brutalize Him, nail Him to a cross and kill Him. His was and is the greatest selfless act – given so that we all might live life to the full.

“and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  2 Corinthians 5:15

Jesus gives the example of how to solve the problem with the world, by giving away His life for the sake of all of us. But He gives more than an example. Jesus provides the way. He did not stay in a tomb. He showed that He is God and rose from the dead.

I can’t live this selfless life by following Jesus as merely an example set by a admirable character from history. It’s impossible for me, no matter how hard I try. It’s against my human nature. But it is possible for Jesus as I abide with Him. If I surrender myself to Him – allow myself to resonate with Jesus as the Christ, as God and my risen Savior – I find that He is the way. He is the solution to the problem of the world today. He is the solution to the problem of me.

I am finding that these words from a relatively unknown High School English teacher in Massachusetts are true:

“The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”
David McCullough, Jr.

Watch my short vlog that’s along the same theme as this blogpost HERE.

I Need More Than The Bible

If I said that the Bible is not enough, that I need more than just the words written on the pages of the Bible, some sincere believers may think I’m a heretic, right? To many, if I said that, I would be denying the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, which is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith!

I don’t mean to be heretical, or even controversial. Just honest. I’m saying it. It’s the title of this BlogPost. But please, hear me out.

This is a thought that I have expressed from time to time and even sung in a song. Many people seem to resonate with what I have attempted to express. But not everyone. Initially, I was surprised by the kick back this thought has generated from some Christians. I’ve had more than a few tough conversations, emails and Facebook posts. It might be the reason why some Church groups don’t invite me back.

Please understand that, when I say “The Bible” I mean the book – the product of a book factory, the ink on paper bound in leather, or perhaps the text in my iPhone ESV app. I believe that these words, in their original form, were written by people who were directly inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write exactly those words. I believe The Bible is a carefully, prayerfully considered collection of sacred, holy scriptures that undoubtedly (in my mind at least) reveal truth about God. But I need more than the text – the words on the page – I need God Himself. I need the author.

It troubles me that, within much of the Christian Church, the terms “The Bible” and “the word of God” are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. To most Christians, these are synonyms.

So when we read a verse from the Bible in isolation like …

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

… we think that this is a verse about the Bible. But read the rest of Hebrews Chapter 4! This is not a chapter about scripture. Not about The Bible. Consider the whole book of Hebrews! Inspired by The Holy Spirit, the writer is describing more than the words on the page – more than scripture. He’s referring to Jesus Himself – our High Priest – as “the word of God.”

In its description of the Word of God, Hebrews is perfectly in line with what we read in the book of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3 (ESV)

Jesus Himself makes a clear distinction between scripture (our scripture being The Bible) and the word of God. He speaks these harsh words to the religious leaders of that time – the ones who read, studied and knew scripture better than anyone else!

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word [of God] abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. John 5:37-38 (ESV)

And Jesus continues.

You study the Scriptures because you think that by doing so you have eternal life; but it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39-40

It seems that it is entirely possible to know the Bible, yet remain entirely disconnected and unchanged by the Word of God. If that’s possible, then they are not the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I find these scriptures (and many others besides, like Genesis 15:1, Luke 5:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Samuel 3: 1) that speak about the bigger meaning of the word of God extremely compelling.  I’d go as far to say that God reveals truth to me, and all of us, through these and all of The Bible.

But I also find it compelling when the same God speaks to me through other writers (like Chambers, Bonhoeffer and Lewis), through sermons, songs or a set of circumstances, through conversations and relationships. Truth about God is evident to me through His creation – in nature. I believe that I have been given The Holy Spirit who comforts, guides me and speak to me. Call me weird, but I believe I hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit … and it’s sometimes not so still, nor small!

Hey, I’m not the sort of person who walks around telling people that “God told me this” and “God told me that,” especially about specific, detailed things. I realize that I could mishear God’s voice. But if the basis of my faith is the Bible – rather than the author of The Bible – it’s also easy (and dangerous) for me to mishear, misquote, mistranslate or take out of context God’s words as they are recorded in scripture. God Himself is the source of truth. To me, the Bible is not the source of truth. It’s a conduit. The essential component is God’s Holy Spirit revealing truth to us – whether it be through scripture, or in any other way He chooses.

It might be more convenient for us today to limit God’s communication and revelation of Himself to a text that we can hold in our hands, study and feel like we know better than other people – just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time on earth in bodily form. But as we do so, we may be limiting how we are prepared to hear God speaking to us. As we do so, we are fashioning a god that fits our own requirements.

It seems clear that God wants us to know that He is bigger than the words on the page of The Bible. God’s Word – Jesus the Christ – cannot be contained in the product of a printing press. He is so far above and beyond any human effort to limit Him and bind him into a size, shape and intellectual comprehension that we believe we can handle. God is God. He will communicate however He wants to.

Watch a video for the song “Jesus Loves Me (I Need More)” here.

Porn is NOT a Problem in The Church?

You might find this staggering (or you might not) but research indicates that 20% of all Christian women and 50% of all Christian men in the US admit that they are addicted to pornography. Not just struggling…addicted!  And four out of ten pastors admit that they view pornography at least once a week. (Source: Freedombeginshere.org) And of all those that did not admit, I can’t help but wonder how many lied.

It would seem that pornography is a huge problem in the Christian Church. After all, we can hear it preached that porn destroys lives, families, communities, churches. And porn – with all its deceit and hypocrisy – is a contradiction to core teachings and principles of the Christian faith.

But I would argue that pornography is NOT a problem. It’s a symptom of the real problem. And if we identify porn as the problem, it will distract us from the real problem. Allow me to explain:

I spent many years of my life torn between two versions of myself – two separate “me’s” that were violently opposed to one another and disturbingly contradictory. In one version of me, I was a follower of Jesus, sincere in my faith and, by all appearances, living a Christian life.  And for several of those years, I was involved in what Christians call “full-time music ministry” with something of a public profile. Many nights I was on a stage singing and speaking about God. But when I was alone and thought there was no chance of being caught, often the other me would take over. The other version of me wanted pornography.

It’s a tough way to live. Maybe you can relate?

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Roman 7:15

I won’t go into all the sordid details of my addiction, but it involved a lot of lying to myself and those closest to me. There was a lot of guilt, shame, confusion and feeling absolutely defeated and ineffective as a follower of Jesus. I did everything I could think of to solve the problem of my porn addiction. I spoke to pastors, close male friends, counsellors, installed software onto my computer, had accountability partners, read books, went to Christian classes and joined self-help groups. Each presented a way, a technique, a system, a pattern of behaviors to help me tackle the problem of my porn addiction. I gave my best effort to apply these things.

And I prayed. I prayed that God would take away this temptation, this addiction. I cried out for God to heal me of my porn problem.

Nothing worked. Even though I was often and (sometimes for long periods of time – weeks, months, even years) able to to stay away from porn by my own self-disciplined defense and determination, the addiction was always there. Like a little, whispering demon sitting on my shoulder. My problem, my “enemy” of porn was always there, waiting for the next moment when I was weak, hurting and alone.

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Romans 7:21

But there was a breakthrough. I am pleased to be able to report that God has healed me of my addiction to pornography. I cannot take credit for it. I did not do it. This healing was not as a result of my own efforts. He did it.

“What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Romans 7:24

The breakthrough wasn’t a new technique or system or piece of advice. God Himself broke through. He broke through and performed surgery on my heart. He let me see that my use of porn was not the problem. It was a symptom of the real problem. A much deeper and bigger problem. The problem all along was me.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Prior to my healing, I’d always thought that it was right that I felt guilty about my porn habit. What I was doing was wrong and so I should be ashamed, right? I even used this condemnation as fuel – an inspiration if you will – to “get myself sorted out”. This all added to my false image of God – that He was disgusted with me because of my behavior. That I needed to be clean so that he would accept me.

Wrong! When God – His grace and His unconditional love – broke through to me, He showed that He doesn’t need, nor want me to sort myself out before I come to Him. He just wants me to come to Him as I am. He knows my pain. He knows my brokenness that would lead me to medicate with something fake like porn. He knows, yet does not condemn me. If I would only surrender to Him with all my junk – even the porn – freedom is available. His love, while convicting, is never condemning. He is the inspiration to change.

As far as I can understand, living without porn is NOT about trying harder, or building up my defenses, or being more disciplined, or maintaining a squeaky clean reputation, or being accountable to others, or working more diligently at my own personal holiness. All those things might be helpful or become involved along the journey of healing, but it’s more about giving up. Surrendering more completely to God’s Lordship over me – which includes my desires. It’s about repentance – not just for my sinful behavior, but from my sinful nature apart from God. It’s about a one hundred and eighty degree turn from where I was – everything I thought I knew.

It’s not about earning God’a approval.

It’s about being honest with myself. It’s about stopping listening to the lies that tell me that porn is the problem rather than merely being a symptom. I am the problem and Jesus is the answer.

So, I’d like to say very clearly that – no – porn is not a problem in The Church. Porn is a symptom of a much deeper problem. The problem is me – my sin-nature, my willfulness, my pride, my desire to fix myself apart from Christ. We don’t need healing from porn. We need to be saved from ourselves. I am the problem and Jesus – only Jesus – is the answer.

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Roman 7:25

 

 

Watch my short vlog that’s along the same theme as this blogpost HERE.

 

Horizontal or Vertical Validation

A VLOG with a BLOG

I call what I do for my job “word & song”. I’m a speaker and a musician. From time to time I’m given opportunities to be in front of groups of people – as the focus of attention – to tell stories, paint word pictures, interpret bits of The Bible and sing songs. When I speak and sing, the subject matter is never far from Jesus as the Christ. Every song and message I present is my best effort, at that time, to encourage people to swim more deeply into the mystery of relationship with God and to respond to Him more fully.

I love my job. I love seeing the audience connect with what I offer. It’s wonderful to see people in the crowd respond with a smile, a nod, applause or laughter (at the right times), a look of intense listening and thought, and sometimes, some people might even shed a tear. Seeing those things contributes to my sense that I’m doing something good – important even – something bigger than myself. Something that has significance in the building of God’s Kingdom.

I like it when people want to tell me how they’ve been impacted by my message. When people begin a child sponsorship after I’ve made a Compassion invitation. When they buy my merchandise. I think it’s good when I’m paid well to speak or sing. The more the better! I even like flying to gigs, partly because I get this weird sense of importance from it. Unconsciously, I might be saying to myself, “Yes, ‘they’ need me to travel across the country to be at their event because no-one closer can do exactly what do.” I make a special effort to collect favorable testimonials from pastors and event organizers after my visits. Maybe too much effort.

Here’s the problem: The more horizontal validation I collect from people, the easier it is for me to ignore my desperate need for God’s vertical validation. It’s terribly easy – far easier than I consciously realize – for me to fall in love with what I do for God (and the affirmation of people) and not notice my heart growing cold and unmoved toward God Himself.

C.S. Lewis, famous author and theologian, warns me about this in his book The Great Divorce:

“Every poet and musician and artist, but for grace,
is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells,
to the love of the telling till, down in deep hell,
they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”

Ouch!!!

If you think that’s a tough quote to read, yet you realize (like I do) that you need to hear it, try restating it in the first person “I” using your own vocabulary. I tried that and I instantly felt the influence of the statement go even deeper.

Here’s my best effort:

“I, Grant Norsworthy, the musician and speaker, apart from the Grace of God, can so easily be deceived. I can comfortably fall in love with my singing, playing and speaking about God – become only interested in what I do for God – as I fall out of love with God Himself. And I am the least qualified to know that it’s happening. This is a sure path to hell.”

Now the statement is not about “every poet, musician and artist” but it’s about me. Please let me encourage you to make this statement about you. Re-write it in your own words and in the first person. Seriously. Do it! (Yes, a blogpost with a task!) The effort will be well worth it, I assure you. You might start like this:

“I, [write your name], …

the [write the thing(s) that you do for God that are noticed by other people], …

but for grace, [and continue] ….”

And if you would be so brave as to write your own C.S.Lewis personal paraphrase, share it with those who are closest to you in your ministry work. And please put it in the comments section under this blogpost.

I mentioned in a recent vlog that this is my least favorite C.S. Lewis quote. It’s my least favorite, but I need to know this more than I need a good response from an audience. To be honest, I really don’t want to know the danger that C.S.Lewis is describing. It’d be far easier to live in ignorant bliss – allowing people’s good feedback to give me a sense of worth – but I need to allow people’s responses to be what they are and, instead, be moving consistently into deeper intimacy and oneness with God – the only place where I can find my true worth.

As a musician and speaker, I’m aware that C.S.Lewis is delivering a serious warning to me and to all of us who sometimes find ourselves in the limelight – allowing ourselves to be placed on something of a pedestal (of any size) as we sing or speak about God. Am I willing to take this warning to heart? It’s tough to do! Sure, we must be aware of people’s reaction to what we do. We must be able to receive horizontal encouragement and even a rebuke when it is necessary. But the horizontal must not be allowed to rule me – to define who I am and guide what I do. I must allow the vertical – God – to define who I am and guide what I do.

Can I do that? No, I can’t. It’s impossible.

“…but for grace…”

Thank you C.S, Lewis for those three words!

Apart from the amazing grace of God, it’s impossible for me to be defined by Him alone and not my audience. My only hope is God’s grace! The only thing that can save me is a loving, gracious God who best demonstrates His love and grace by The Cross of Jesus. The Cross shows my true worth. My audience does not.

[Please note that I don’t use the word ‘vertical’ in reference to God’s love and grace to suggest that he is somehow hovering above us only. In a sense God is distant – some vertical distance away, if you will – but I believe He is also with us and in us through His Holy Spirit. And His vertical grace and love can reach us through the horizontal path of other people and circumstances too!]

I must submit to my gracious and almighty God. I must allow His Holy Spirit to remind me that every message I speak, every song I sing must first minister to me. For the sake and well-being of my own eternal soul. I ought not think that my audience needs to hear this message or this song more than I need to hear it.

I need to remember that singing and speaking for God is an awesome responsibility that can easily trip me up “but for grace.”

Oneness with the perfect will of God MUST ALWAYS be the focus of what we are doing – connecting ourselves to God, connecting other people to God and to each other. We need to remember that singing and speaking about God is NOT the destination. GOD HIMSELF is the destination in whatever we do. HE needs to be the purpose.

I need to be reminded of this every time I step up to a microphone or strap on a guitar.

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides,
so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 4:11

Watch my short vlog that summarizes this blogpost HERE.

Cheap Worship and Costly Worship VLOG & BLOG

Does it cost you anything to worship God? Is it expensive? Or is worship inexpensive? Or, rather than thinking there is any cost to worship at all, do you look at worship as a wonderful gift for you to enjoy with no significant cost? I explored these questions in this week’s vlog. Watch the video and, if it sparks your interest, please read this blogpost to go even deeper.

For most Christians, their worship is clearly defined in very specific terms: doing certain activities, in a particular place at a specific time each week. As we hear and imitate the way the word ‘worship’ is used in today’s Christian culture, it’s almost impossible NOT to think of my worship as being when I am gathered with other believers singing songs to and about God inside a church building on a Sunday morning. That’s the ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ of my worship of God, right? That would suggest that the rest of my week – well, pretty much – is mine to do with what I think is best.

What does that worship cost? A couple of hours of the 168 I have available to me each week? The effort required to be on time (or close enough to it) for the start of the service? The energy to sing along with the songs if I feel like it? Perhaps I could also see listening to the sermon and dropping a few bucks in the offering plate as other ways that I worship God. But if I consider everything I have (and all that I am) this ‘worship’ doesn’t really cost me much.

Let’s be honest. Most of us wouldn’t be there at all unless we were getting something from the ‘worship service’. Would I attend unless at least a few people I like were there too? If I found all the other people annoying and impossible to be around, wouldn’t I never go back? Would I show up each week if I never liked the preaching? If the music was not to my taste or up to my standards?

Most pastors are only too aware that they need to produce a “worship service” that “rings bells” if their congregation is to grow or at least be maintained. The emphases of the “worship service” are influenced (or even governed) by the need to give the congregation a positive “worship experience”. If they are fed the “worship experience” that they want – the rationale goes – they’ll come back next week and maybe bring their friends!

But my worship of God is not how I receive. From the beginning of creation, through the Old and New Covenants to this very day, worship has always been, and must always be about giving to God. The worship of God is to make a sacrifice in response to God’s glory. True worship is a one-way street from the created to The Creator!

God has already given Himself to us. My worship of God is in response to all that He is. This worshiper’s response should not – must not – be limited to just an hour or two on a Sunday morning while I am engaged in very specific activities of my own choosing. He gave Himself on The Cross to us. What is my response of worship to this overwhelming, gracious gift?

My deep concern is that we have turned even worship into another commodity that we, the people, decide if we like or not. We can hear Christians say thing like: “I love worship – especially Chris Tomlin” or, “Thank you pastor, worship was wonderful this morning” or, “I do not like the worship at XYZ church so I am going to find another church where I like the worship more.” We have made a form of worship of our own design – that suits us and our busy, consumerist lifestyles – when we ought only to worship God on His terms.

What are God’s terms for worship? We find the answer in The Bible.

During the Old Covenant (described in the Old Testament in The Bible) the worship of God usually took the form of a blood sacrifice of livestock – sheep, rams, cattle, oxen or other animals. Worship would cost me my very best and favorite farm assets!  In fact, the second book of Samuel contains a fascinating story. We can read that King David travelled to a place to worship God by building an altar and making a livestock sacrifice, but he had not brought his own animals. He is met my a man named Araunah who offers to give King David all that he needs – a very generous gift – so that David could worship. And we read David’s response:

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24a

King David knew that true worship – worship that is acceptable to God – must cost him personally. No one else could pay on his behalf.

Now that we live in New Covenant times (described in the New Testament in The Bible) things are not so impractical, bloody and messy for us. In the New Covenant Jesus the Christ gave Himself on The Cross as the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice was made in my place. He bore the weight of my sin and the sin of all humanity. His sacrifice took away the need for any more blood being spilled as worship. Thankfully (on many levels) we don’t have to arrange for a family pet to die, or to buy a nice cow from a local farmer to worship God anymore.

[NOTE: To read Jesus speaking about the change in worship from Old to New Covenant, read John 4:1-45, especially verses 20 to 24.]

Yet sacrifice is still required of me. Jesus did not die on The Cross and rise from the dead so that I do not have to offer any sacrifice, or to allow me to offer only the sacrifice of my choosing. To think so is a cheapened form of worship. But what does this New Covenent, costly, sacrificial worship look like?

One of my heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was part of the resistance movement in Germany during WWII and was executed only two weeks before the end of the war for resisting the Nazi regime and for being implicated in the June 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s worship of God included the loss of his physical life.

In 1936, he opened his book The Cost of Discipleship with these words:

“Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.”

I believe this statement is just as relevant for us today as it was in 1936. But I have changed one word to help us understand this statement a little better for our culture today:

Cheap WORSHIP is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly WORSHIP.

Worship is our response to God’s grace. If we cheapen what it means to worship God, it shows that we undervalue the grace of God. This cheapening of God’s grace, shown by the cheapening of worship, is the most dangerous, deadly thing to the life and future of The Church. This is a big deal!

While I am reasonably confident that my worship of God won’t cost me my physical life any time soon as it did for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I must see that true worship – the worship that God requires of the worshiper – still costs. And that cost is me. Just like Bonhoeffer, and just like Jesus, I must lose my “life”. The only appropriate gift to give God is myself – all of myself – in every moment of every day, no matter where I am and with everything that I do. As the old song says, “I [must] surrender all!”

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God —
this is your true and proper worship.
” Romans 12:1

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” Matthew 16:24-25

It’s so easy for me to look at The Cross of Jesus and accept it as just a free gift. It IS a free gift but, paradoxically, this free gift costs everything. The Cross is a picture of what God has graciously done for me, but The Cross is also what is required of me.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Meeting as a community of believers is an important thing to do. Singing songs as one of the ways we worship God is potentially powerful and wonderful, but my life SURRENDERED IN WORSHIP – that is what is required.

And I believe that the most important, outward characteristic of the worshiper will be costly, self-sacrificial expressions of Christ’s love – especially towards the poor.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 – the judgment day story of the sheep and the goats.

And James 1:27 which states:

“Pure and faultless worship in the sight of God our Father is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world
.”

[SIDE NOTE: Most English Bible translations use the word “religion” in James 1:27, but I use the word “worship”. Why? Today, the word “religion” holds a great deal of negative connotation, even for people of the Christian faith. The word has changed in its meaning and usage over time. While it may have been true in the not-too-distant-past, Christians today tend not to think of themselves as “religious” but generally would see themselves as worshipers of God. So, in the hope of bringing greater clarity and a more relevant meaning, I use the word “worship” in place of the word “religion”. Today, I believe “worship” is a far better translation of the original text’s Greek word “thrēskeia”. Strongs Bible Concordance definition of the Greek “thrēskeia” supports this more helpful way of understanding James 1:27.]

Watch my short vlog that summarizes this blogpost HERE.

Which ‘me’ is the real me? VLOG

Have you ever asked yourself “Who am I? Who am I – really?

Is it really ‘me’ when I’m hanging out at home with my family? Is it ‘me’ when I’m on stage at church? Or is it the real ‘me’ when I’m on my own with my laptop behind closed doors when no-one is looking?”

Our hope would be that we are the same person wherever we are, whatever we are doing, right? But are we?

Unfortunately, especially in Christian circles, we have created a situation where it seems more important to APPEAR to have good character than to actually HAVE good character. We have accepted and seem to be okay with the fact that we are different people in public than behind closed doors.

But we cannot deny that God calls us to holiness. 1 Peter 1:14 – 15, says:

“Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”

But it seems to be easier said than done. How then can we be holy? How can we be a person of character who is the same authentic person in every situation?

In this short video, I am sharing some simple insights and steps that have helped me in the pursuit of holiness. Watch my 4 min 17 sec vlog here.

“My real character is who I am when I’m behind closed doors.”

“There must NOT be a difference between who I really am and who I try to appear to be.”

“If there is a chasm between who I am behind closed doors and the way I act when I am outside, it’s gotta change…”