Tuesday, April 29, 2003

When Heaven Weeps, When Heaven Responds*

A thousand people sit
Looking at the back of the head before them
The building ornate with sculptures
Stained glass all around
Watching as a man in a robe talks
Looking up or looking down
Solemn words in solemn tones
He pronounces a dignified and reverent “Amen”
The crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps

A hundred people kneel
Looking at the back of the head before them
The building austere
Windows covered, no one seeing in or out
Watching those around them
All kneel with their foreheads to the ground
On special rugs for this special act
Several times each day
Repeating special words they’ve been taught
By men who are “holy.”
After the final bow, the crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps

A community gathering is called
A special need has arisen
Varied people from varied walks of life
The building used for assorted occasions
A woman walks to the music stand
Unfolds a piece of paper at the proper time
Where her name is printed beside the word “invocation”
Asking the group to stand and bow their heads
(it’s the way these things are done here)
She puts words to voice
Far away, very old, very formal
Obvious by what she says
At the end the crowd joins in
Repeating words from the Bible starting with “Our Father”
After the final amen, the crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps

A family gathers around a browned bird
Pumpkin pies, cranberries and stuffing
The event of autumn
For family members far and near
Anxious to glutton themselves
But obligated to pause to “give thanks”
Grandfather voices words to One he barely knows
Hesitating not to speak with Him
Pressured by those around the table
Who also have not spoken to Him
Except in emergencies and wants
The stiff words are completed
All say amen and dig in
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps.

A young boy misses his dad
Called to defend his family and country
In a place far away
With a name he can’t pronounce
Tears running down his cheeks
Hidden in the darkness
The little one pleads out
“God, if You can see my daddy
From where you’re sitting
Please put your arms around him
Like he does when I’m scared
And make him invincible like Superman.”
From beside him shines a smile
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds

A small group of believers
Gather in a small house because they care
One reads from a well worn black book
As if reading a letter from an familiar hand
Another leads in a song sung in several keys
Very little talent, but very deep passion
As if sung in honor of a intimate friend
They pause, speak in turn to that One
In deep conversation that brings
Tears and laughter and peace
From within the circle shines a Smile
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds

A runaway truck
A minivan full of family
A country road on a rainy day
A squeal of tires
A cry from front seat and back
“God! help us!”
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds

An old man in tattered clothes
Beaten hat, beaten eyes
Softly enters a very old church
When no one is around to look down their nose
He lights a candle, lays coin in a cup, kneels at a rail
Whispers words that only One can hear
Words of desperation, of repentance, of sorrow
He rises to return to his cardboard house
His life changed only on the inside
Meeting eternity tomorrow alone but for the angels unseen
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds

A noisy office filled with people going
All directions for all reasons in all hurry
Telephones ringing, copiers copying,
Fax machines faxing, doors banging,
Conversations from every corner
Rats running the human race
At the desk in the back with the worn chair
Beside no windows and free of doors
A man puts his hand on the shoulder of another
Without bowing his head or closing his eyes
In the middle of the cacophony of the race for success
He asks for One beyond all the mess to reach out
Into the life of his friend and fails to say amen
From between the two One smiles
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds

Much of what the human race calls “prayers” are simply
Sounds uttered by human tongues without passion
Touching not the One prayer is intended for
Done for the benefit of humans
Out of duty, ritual, tradition and rote
The One is not touched
Power is not moved
Heaven weeps
And earthlings miss their destiny

The words of the sincere who speak out
With intensity, deep need, deep love
Touch the heart of the One who hears
Who loves and answers and
Cares and makes a difference
In lives and eternity
Not because they speak
But because they lean on Him in deep friendship
The One is touched
Power is moved
Heaven is rapturous
And earthlings experience their destiny

Will you?

* This poem was inspired by the poetry and life of Jim Harvey, a poet and a man of prayer.

"He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15 (NIV)

"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor 5:7 (NIV)

Monday, April 07, 2003

Worthship That is True

You blink and instead of standing in your driveway, you are on a dusty road. Instead of sweater and slacks, a robe. Instead of shoes, sandals. Instead of a briefcase, a palm branch. Hundreds of people are crowding the street you’re on. A cacophony of sound moves toward you from just beyond view. Children squeal, women sing, men shout. Not sure if the mob is mad or happy, you step into the doorway of a building.

The wave of sound moves closer. Conversations, exclamations, hurried calls to “come see” turn into shouts of praise and spontaneous singing. The source of commotion finally comes into view. Seated on a donkey is a man, thirty something, riding slowly through the streets of this primitive city. Men spontaneously design something of a makeshift carpet, laying their outer robes on the roadway before him. Women and children wave palm branches in some type of salute. Ah, the reason for the one in your hand. All join the chorus being repeated, known to everyone except for you, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!"

"Must be the king of the country," you whisper under your breath.

"Not yet," replies the man next to you. "But we hope he soon will not only be king of Israel, but the one who frees us from Roman oppression as well."

You watch as the focus of all the attention rides by. Doesn't look like a king. Seems awfully ordinary, much like the men in the crowd. You marvel at the whole affair. Never in your life have you experienced such emotion from an assembly. It is not only what you hear, but what you can feel. Seems the entire city is shouting, singing, waving branches.

Then He looks at you. Not a passing glance, as one stranger to another. A knowing look as if He has known you forever. And you Him. Drawing your heart toward His as time stands still. Ordinary on the outside, but extraordinary in that look. You now grasp the reason for the excitement, He is more than a man.

You feel the power in the crowd. Surely they will crown him king whether the city fathers like it or not. The air is magnetic, pulling you into the momentousness of it all. Even you, a stranger from another time and place, can see the rightness of the parade. You wave the branch and shout the praise.

Palm Sunday. Surely, of all the days that ever were, that was a day of true worship. A day when Jesus received the praise and honor that was long overdue him. When God was recognized as God. We even call it, "THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY." But was it true worship? Things are not always as they appear.

Fast-forward a few days. Same city, but the powerful intensity of the throngs has changed from “love” to “anger”. Instead of praise for His life the crowds shout for Jesus' death. The one they claimed as king, they refuse to allow to be released. The one they exalted, they mock as He is beaten. The one they believed would free them, they demand be bound and confined. The one they sang to, the murder on a cross. Had so much changed? Had Jesus done something that removed His deserving praise? That made Him deserve death?

The problem was not in the divinity of Jesus, but in the expectations of the people on that Palm Sunday. They were praising him, worshipping him, honoring him because they thought he would give them what they wanted. For hundreds of years the Roman Empire had cruelly occupied Israel and now the Israelites desperately wanted freedom. THAT'S what they expected Jesus to give them. He didn't. Though He could have easily done so, He blatantly refused. And, boy did it make the people mad. They turned their backs on Him. Their leaders killed Him. Their desires blinded them from truth… and what they needed most.

In missing Jesus, they missed what they longed for most. They exchanged God’s greatest offer to pursue an invention of their own imaginations.

Ever been there with God? We praise Him, honor Him, sing to Him, profess to give our undying loyalty to Him. Why? Because He deserves it? We’d like to believe that, but too many times it is not true. We do offer worship because we believe that God will give us what we want if we will “praise” Him. WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Same thing the crowds were thinking so many years ago. Human nature doesn’t change.

So it goes…"Oh, God, save me from this mess and I’ll serve you forever!” Or “heal me, correct my mistakes, let me pass this course, or (fill in the blank) and I'll give You first place for the rest of my life!" That's not worship, that's called, "Let's make a deal." Then when God doesn't do what we want because He knows it is not best, we bail out on Him just like the Israelites. Worship is not a way to get what we want from God.

True worship is giving “worthship”, honoring God because He is God. Period. No strings attached. It is making God #1 in our lives, everything we do and say. One form is singing, praying and studying the Bible with others on the weekend. But it is far from confined to that. Bugs me that there is a genre of music called “praise and worship.” Every kind of music by a Christian should honor God as God. Should be worship.

True worship is “worthship,” recognizing that because God is God we must give Him complete control of our lives. No deals, no if-thens, no requiring God to hold up His end of some contract we manufacture and He never signed. It is loyalty to God no matter what. Had the Israelites worshipped Jesus that way, they would have turned the city upside down with praise on Easter Sunday when God did the work He intended all along that was best for all. But NOOOO, they bailed when things didn’t turn out their way. And lost the greatest moment of all.

One of the best pictures of true praise comes from an unlikely source, Job. Not job, as in where you work. Job, you know, the guy famous for all his problems, like “the trials of Job.” Well, he ought to be famous for more than his troubles. We ought to recognize him for his worship. Listen to his words…

"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;" Job 13:15a (NIV)

THAT is true worthship. In the middle of the trash heap of life, when there was nothing else that could go wrong, Job still honors God as God. He expresses his total loyalty to God and then backs it up with his life. Whoa! Would we do that?

That is the question I’d like you to ponder as you approach your Palm Sunday this week. Worship well, sing praises, do church with your church. But as you do ponder…as people look at our lives, is there a fluorescent arrow pointing them to God? Do they see “worthship?”

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." Romans 14:19 (NIV)

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)