by Terrance & Lisa McCoy
Does it strike anyone odd that Jesus made wine for His first miracle? Perhaps the strangest part of the first miracle was that Jesus used bathing jars to hold the wine. Honestly, isn’t that a little gross? As crazy as this first miracle seemed, the strangest part to me was when he had them fill the huge jars full of water. He had his disciples fill the stone jars to the brim. Why didn’t Jesus just go over to the jars and pray a little prayer and make wine? He could have. There is a purpose for the water.
In Bible times, stone jars were used for purification rituals. Stone was believed to hold purity. These jars were often made of limestone, which was easy to carve. The water poured inside would thus be pure, “living water,” held in this cistern of sorts, for later use. The jars were useful, moldable, pure...but just attractive jars without the water being inside them. The water was the tool to be used. The water was the key element in the purification ceremonies. The water was the stuff of Heaven, being held in specially chosen earthen vessels. The water was the game changer.
We are the jars - chosen, moldable, ready to be used for the Kingdom, waiting for the Water that will flow and heal. But if we come before God without being filled, without lifting our hearts and empty vessels for a fresh filling of His Spirit, power, and direction, we are just attractive stone. We may clean up nicely and say, “Amen!” at the appropriate time, but we are hollow, cavernous, and cold inside without the stuff of Heaven sloshing out and into the world. The stone is nothing without the water.
If I may be honest, we live in a world of carbon copying. Everywhere you look and in all things, we are looking for the next cool look. We are waiting on the next mega church to write another hit song so we can share it in our church. We wear our hats certain ways, bend our brims in certain ways, roll up our pants legs, cut our hair, wear our jewelry and plan our church services in certain ways in hopes to have success. I’m guilty more than anyone else. It leaves me asking myself, “What am I depending on to radically love and change the world around me”. When I try to perform or create things to change the world without listening to God, I am making my own “boxed wine?”. Am I squeezing my own grapes and trying to manufacture my own power? Am I bypassing the living water and hoping the stellar stone will do the trick? A wine connoisseur can identify a fine wine a mile away. They can distinguish its aroma, its intensity, balance, and complexity of notes and flavors. Our hearts are the same way. When you have had choice wine, boxed wine is way less appealing.
Jesus was making a huge point. In John 4:14 He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. He was building up to an eternal and epic moment with her. “With this living water, you will never thirst again.” I have tasted this water. I’m so glad I did. I, too, fill it to the brim and it bubbles over. If I fill my life with my talent, performance, hard work and grit, I offer the world box wine, devoid of Heaven’s flavor and intensity. If I fill my life with His Holy Spirit, the miracle happens. He allows choice wine to spill out of my dirty stone jar. This, and this alone, is what our world needs. People need much more of Him and much less of me. They need my worship flowing from my emptiness and His filling. They need all of us to go from water to wine, pungent and resplendent for His glory.
Kick the boxed wine, my friends. Let’s go for the Chardonnay!
by Chantel Waltz
We can carry around a lot of things that can hinder our worship. Self-condemnation, sorrow, fear… I feel like we hear a lot about these things. Today I want to talk about something that isn't really talked about a lot. I want to talk about anger.
Last Sunday morning, I walked into the church sanctuary as the lights began to dim. The band came out as I found my place in my row. I'd had a hard week, but I was glad to be in the house of God. I wanted to lay it all down and worship the Lord. Our first song was 'This is Amazing Grace' by Phil Wickham, and I had just really started to enter in to worship. My heart began to engage with the lyrics, which recount many of the wonderful promises of God, as I sang to Him. Things were going great, until we got to a particular promise in one line of the song that says "Who makes the orphan a son and daughter." And I froze. I started to feel a heaviness in my chest. And then the tears started.
You see, we have been pursuing an international adoption from Africa for four, very long years. 2 years ago, we actually had a referral to a little girl in Tanzania. We had her picture up on our fridge, and our family was really excited to bring her home, and in my heart she was my daughter. But because of some political issues we lost our referral, and we lost her. It was very painful, but we still felt called to adopt. Soon after that we started the process all over again, this time in the African country of Guinea. We have been waiting on a referral for a 12 month old little girl, who has been chosen for our family, but recently found out that there are some serious complications with THIS adoption as we found out our adoption agency will be closing permanently.
I've spent a lot of time talking to God about our adoption process, declaring victory and begging God to intervene. We really felt like God told us to pursue this, and believe He promised us a little girl from Africa. But this has been such a long, difficult journey.
Sometimes I do great, I'm filled with expectation and strength to keep waiting and trusting God. But there have also been seasons when all I can do is cope, and I just force myself to not think about it. Then there are the times when all just feels really hopeless. It hurts. It doesn't seem fair, for us OR these orphaned children.
Here's some of the awful thoughts that I wrestle with in those darker moments. “If God REALLY does give mom's and dad's to orphans, then what about the little girl we almost brought home from Tanzania? She's still stuck in an orphanage. What about the baby girl in Guinea? Are You going to take her away too? What about my feelings, my husband's feelings and my 3 bio kids? Why am I being punished when I'm trying to do something GOOD? And spending a lot of time, energy and money to do so?”
The most painful part is that I KNOW God could change all this right now. He is sovereign. He could have stopped it. At any point He could have made it right for all of us. But He didn't. And right then, in that darkened church sanctuary, I realized that I was really angry at God.
Nothing shuts down a relationship like anger. For all the married folks, have you ever tried showing affection to your spouse while you were angry at them? Have you ever tried honestly blessing them, or harder still, giving your whole heart to them in intimacy? You can't do it! Not for real! You can fake it. You can go through the motions, but truly, anger is a nemesis of heart intimacy. The worst of it is, anger is that it doesn't just "go away." You can push it back, try not to thing about it, but in that moment when you try to make a heart connection with someone, it comes right back up. To move forward in relationship, any relationship, the anger has to be recognized and called out for what it is. It has to be dealt with.
We all know anger is bad, but anger at God seems particularly bad somehow, doesn't it? I mean, He's God, right? He knows everything, who are we to question His judgment? Just ask Job, who got an earful of holy lecture when He dared to question God's judgments. This is Christianity 101! But the truth is, God knows the anger is there anyway, and He wants all of us, the good bad and ugly.
The worst thing we can do in our relationship with Him is to try to hide ourselves from Him. It stops our trust, stops our ability to be intimate with Him. He asks us to not hold anything back. To give Him our whole hearts, however sinful, and to let Him create in us a clean heart.
In that moment at church, I knew I couldn't keep singing to God as if nothing was wrong. It would have been fake. I knew I needed to deal with my anger at the Lord. And, as embarrassing as it was for me (cause, shouldn't I know better by now?), I confessed anger at God to Him as sin. But I also recognized that He wasn't angry or disappointed at me for being angry at Him. God, Himself is SLOW to anger. He knows our hearts, He understands our pain AND our imperfect love. I gave Him my emotion of anger. Then I told my own soul, my own emotions, to line up with the truth of my good and loving God. I told my spirit to rise up within me. I cried as I affirmed that my family, myself and both of these little baby girls, are perfectly taken care of by my Father. I affirmed that His ways are not my ways, and I relinquished the right to understand.
I started to feel lighter, like a guard around my heart was falling off. Worship was still going, and now the song was 'Do it Again.' by Elevation Band. "I've seen you move the mountains, and I believe I'll see you do it again, You made a way when there was no way, and I believe I'll see you do it again”. I looked up at that projection screen and literally forced myself to begin to sing out these words, through tears I felt His peace come over me. I started shouting the words, and the Lord began to remind me of all the times He came through for me. The many, many times and situations that He has helped me, provided for me, saved me, fulfilled His promises, miraculously healed me. And I began to praise Him for those times and for the times to come. I allowed my faith to rise up again over our adoption.
Hey, maybe you have some really tough stuff going on in your life right now, and you're reading this and realizing that you are angry at God. That it's keeping you from being truly intimate with Him. There's good news for you! He's just waiting for you to come to him, with all your stuff, and pour out your heart to Him. He longs to reassure you of His love, like He did for me last Sunday, so come to Him. Be real about what's going on, He understands! Submit your whole self, even your emotion of anger, to Him. Call your faith to rise up, even if it's just a mustard seed. Remind yourself of how He has come through in the past, how He's proven His goodness over and over again, and then worship Him for who He is, what He's done, and what He's going to do!
by Tracy Manno
“Worship!” Reading or hearing someone say the word worship can invoke a number of responses in each of us. Depending on our upbringings and life experiences we each have our own personal take on what worship means, how we define it, and varying emotions and imagery it conjures. From thoughts of performing ceremonial religious acts and memories of fragrant incense, to rousing our feet to stomp and hands to lift high in praise with cymbals, horns and guitars, there is no shortage of opinion on the subject.
The point of our “Rediscovering Worship” blog series, and really the point of His Way Worship at heart is to set a tone where we can start to set aside our finite ideas on “how” God wants to be worshipped, and explore the endless ocean that is ours in worshipping the Lord Jesus.
Let’s start by just ripping the band aid off and saying worship, in its primary form, is not a musical concept at all. Think of music as a vehicle for our worship to travel in. We get in a car, airplane or boat that provides us transportation to someplace we otherwise couldn’t have gone. Music is a place that we can enter into so we can tangibly express deep longings to the Father from within our souls. The lyrics we sing connect the truths of who God is with our own living spirit. The music we play allow us to physically interact with that connection by playing instruments, tapping feet, lifting hands, singing voices. We “enter into worship”, individually or together, through the medium of music.
Music is such a powerful and universal vehicle for us to worship in I believe, in part, because we are created in the likeness of Christ. We create music using the very likeness of Himself, and we naturally connect with this likeness at the untouchable place it was created… deep within our souls.
Worship is where our spirit and soul collaborate and agree together that Christ is above all and in all. When sin came into the human DNA our eternal connection with God’s spirit was severed. We needed a savior to revive, restore, and bring new spirit life back to us. Through the process of salvation God gives us His own Spirit, and once again our soul can connect eternally with God, and in our worship we agree with Christ, that He is Lord of our lives.
Romans 12:1 tells us that this is our spiritual act of worship… the sacrifice of our lives to Jesus for His purposes.
This is why worship at its core is not about music. It’s a heart condition. Worship happens as a lifestyle, in the mundane, messy, broken, painful, joyful journey of our daily lives. We find our worship in the surrender of every moment as we agree with His Spirit that He is worthy of it all. In this way our very lives become the ultimate vehicle for our expression of true worship. We allow God to play us as His instrument, freely giving Him every moment, every circumstance to the obedience of serving our beautiful Creator.
Let the symphony play on Lord Jesus!
I have been in fulltime work of the Gospel for nearly 15 years, and no matter how hard I try, inevitably I find myself fighting against the knowledge I have of God’s love for me. My “default” thinking wants to see God with a list of my good and bad deeds, rewarding or denying His goodness towards me based on that list. This is wrong thinking and I am regularly amazed with how easily I get caught up in it over and over again.
I “know” He loves me, and I “know” that it’s unconditional… but I often don’t truly live in that place in my heart and mind. God’s love is not just to be heard about, but experienced.
No greater example of this problem is seen than with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. To the contrary to what many Christians teach and believe, after they sinned God banished them from the garden, not out of punishment but out of a deeply emotional and loving response from God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. God’s motive for banishing them from the garden is recorded that we might forever understand where His heart was during this deeply traumatic experience.
Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
God was not angry with them, and He definitely wasn’t pouring out judgment and punishment on them. He loved them, and all that they represented as first created of an entire human race meant to live in intimate relationship with Him. No, the Triune God had to let them go so that they would not remain in a fallen state, forever separated from God for all of eternity. And as He sent them out, He also set into motion His plan to bring them back! And as we know from His own words… “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son”… this was no little plan. This plan came at great personal cost to himself… because of His Great Love!
Unfortunately it doesn’t take much in our weakened sinful state to withdraw back to a place of shame and guilt, even so much as to doubt, and ultimately reject the concept that God loves us with a very personal and intimate love. The voice of the enemy points us to the angel standing guard at the entrance to Eden, blocking our re-entry, keeping us out, reminding us of our guilt. But the truth of God points us forward to a place of healing and restored relationship.
God created us from His love. God sustains us through His love. God redeems us because of His love. There is no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1) He is nearer to you now than ever before. He has given you His spirit to dwell within you, to be connected with you, to reveal more of Himself to you.
His love is fierce. His love is intense. The strength of His love surpasses our own failures. And yet while none of us are good enough to earn his love, we are loved by Him nonetheless. No, you don’t need to please Him in order to gain His love. He loves you already, by His own choice.
Father, help me today not to allow the enemy, Satan, to steal the peace and healing to my soul that comes with the knowledge of your love for me. Your word tells me that even when you discipline me it is out of your great love for me. I repent of a religious mindset that says I must earn your love and earn your favor. In Christ Jesus your love and faithfulness have been made known to me. May I live this day in the fullness of that knowledge!
Rich Mullins is one of my all-time favorite song writers. During one of his concerts he said that “The Church is God’s plan A for the world, and there is no plan B.” What he meant was it is the Church that is empowered to be His witnesses to the world, to preach the good news of the gospel, and continue the works of Jesus on earth until He comes back. That is the plan of God for reaching the lost on this earth for salvation.
For as long as I have been in fulltime ministry I have closely held the belief that since we are the Body of Christ on earth we are to be the practical and functional hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. Meaning we are to be available to help people in their need, to be with them to bring comfort when they suffer, to share in life with them the way Jesus did. I still hold this to be true today, however my understanding of this has become richer and fuller in its meaning for my life.
We know from scripture that it is God who draws people to himself; not me, not you, not your pastor or anyone in church leadership, but God himself. But God does this through us. When people are drawn to God by His kindness (Romans 2:4) it is done through the Christian’s that those people are interacting with.
We are His hands and feet, but it is not enough to simply be in the right place at the right time, or to share a word with someone, or to preach the gospel or spend time with people. No, God teaches us that if I do all these things but lack love… His love … I have done nothing eternally consequential.
We can share the gospel but have no compassion in our hearts for the lost. We can give a cold drink of water to the thirsty, but have no empathy for their spiritual condition. We can offer a word of prophecy and encouragement, yet have no concern for their current needs.
I believe this is why Jesus told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait until the promised Holy Spirit was given to them (Acts 1:4). He said that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses. And what was and is this power? It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and the same power that took Jesus to the cross. He is the Spirit of truth and love, and it is only the Spirit of truth and love that reveals the heart of God to us. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)
God draws people through His kindness through the hearts of believers who have given themselves, their lives, their hearts, to know and release the loving kindness of God to others. We are His body, and that includes His heart. We are to overflow His heart to those around us, just as Christ poured out His life as an offering.
Romans 12 says that this is our spiritual act of “worship” … each day offering our bodies as living sacrifices so we can be not only His hands and feet to others, but His heart as well.
And whether God empowers you to share the gospel, or a word of encouragement, pray for healing or provide help to those that can’t help themselves… each of those good works is to come from the loving and kind heart of the Father. The works are “good” because of the heart from which the worker does them. And if done without love, they are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Scripture encourages each of us to do regular self examination of our hearts and test to see if we are truly living the faith we proclaim to have. Are we loving God with all our hearts, in all of our decisions, in all of our dealings? Are we loving our neighbors, those around us, with the same love that took Jesus to the cross? If we find that we are far from loving others in that way, then let us pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of this, and let us ask Him to reveal His heart to us, that we may reveal it to those around us.
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Worship is not simply an act of singing. Worship permeates all we say, do and think. We worship in Spirit and Truth. Each day is an empty canvas to paint a picture through our words, deeds and thoughts. Scripture tells us to paint that picture in the Spirit and in Truth. As we paint, we have opportunity to worship by creating a picture that expresses the truth of who God is.
This blog is a place where I will be sharing my take on real-life issues, and where they find their connection with authentic worship.
You may have heard that God’s love is an anchor that reaches to the heavens. When we understand that we are anchored to something stronger than the elements surrounding us, we can rest in the strength of the anchor.
God’s love anchors us in the storms of fear, doubt and confusion. It anchors us from the continuing voices of self condemnation, failure and defeat. We are tethered to a force strong enough to overcome even the loudest shouts that rage against us.
To know Him is to know His love for you. To experience Him as a Father is to experience His unwavering commitment to your good. His love and commitment to you is so great that He has purposed to make all circumstances in your life ultimately be worked out for good (Romans 8:28).
The anchor of God’s love provides a place of certainty, that although your soul may be in turmoil to the current situation, you can cling to the certainty of His good thoughts and good purposes in that situation toward you. He is not ridiculing you. He is not waiting on you to do it perfectly. He is not waving a condemning finger before you. He is not withholding anything good from you. No… you are on the road to your purpose. And on that road He is faithful to you. His love is not trite nor changing, as is our own. His love endures. His love comes from the very heart of who He is.
“Lord may my spirit be tethered to the realness of your love for me this day. May the turbulent circumstances that trouble my soul this day be stilled as I hold to the knowledge of your steadfast love for me. Teach me, lead me, and guide me by your still voice. Remind me again who I am in Christ, that I am loved, I am Yours, I am precious in your eyes. Give me faith to worship you by standing on this truth today. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:17-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Psalm 36:5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.