Archives For sin

The Reflex of Worship

November 6, 2014 — 1 Comment

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Have you ever sensed God in a room?


I think I have.

Sounds strange, I know. But if you’ve participated in enough corporate worship or prayer, you may know what I mean. And hopefully you’ll sympathize with how difficult it is to explain.

The first word that comes to mind is lightness. There’s a certain levity that pervades the room, this sense that you could almost climb into the air.

At the same time (and here’s where things get odd) there’s a heaviness. Not a bad heaviness, like gloom. It’s a good heaviness. The air feels heavy—thick with God, if you’ll forgive the expression. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word for glory, kābôd, comes from a root signifying “weight.”

I know such a description will sound hopelessly subjective to an outsider. I wouldn’t submit it for proof of God’s existence to my skeptic friends. Yet if you’ve experienced it, there’s no denying God’s presence. It’s palpable, vivid. As clear as the nose on your face.

God is always present, I believe. But he doesn’t always manifest his presence in quite the same way. The remarkable thing about those services in which I have sensed his presence, it wasn’t because the music was particularly good or the prayers especially profound. It was because there was a collective sense of God’s power and glory, of his holiness.

I recall standing in a room with three hundred people singing “How Great Is Our God” and feeling like we were blending into heaven. Only an intense appreciation for God’s holiness produces such moments.

We go to great lengths to create atmospheres conducive to meaningful worship. Each year we publish hundreds of new books on worship, hold conferences, and spend millions of dollars on instruments and décor we hope will lead people into the presence of God. None of this is wrong. Atmosphere is important. But I believe that no matter how much we invest, from stained glass to strobe lights, without an appreciation of God’s holiness, our worship is fated to be superficial and, at best, momentarily moving.

“Ultimately transcendence is what makes a worship service meaningful,” writes author Bill Giovannetti.

He’s absolutely right.

When God shows up, worship doesn’t have to be manufactured or drummed up. It happens instinctively.

Worship is the natural reflex of mortals to the presence of a holy God.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Most people quote the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18. As much as I love the poetic cadences of the King James, this is one instance where the famous translation misses the mark. The context and content of the verse make it clear this isn’t just any “vision” the people need. A better translation would read: “Without a vision of God, the people perish.”

It’s God himself who makes worship meaningful. It’s a vision of his holiness that drives us to our knees. God’s holiness is the heart of our worship.

Theologian Rudolf Otto described the experience of the holy as the mysterium tremendum. That is the phrase that became popular, but his original description was longer. He called it the mysterium tremendum et fascinates—the overwhelming mystery that fascinates or attracts.

These Latin words capture a paradoxical truth about God’s holiness. It overwhelms, but it also draws. It terrifies and captivates. It bows our heads even as it lifts our hearts.

This is an excerpt from YAWNING AT TIGERS: YOU CAN’T TAME GOD, SO STOP TRYING. Click here to read more!

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Rethinking Sin

June 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

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It’s easy to imagine holiness as a stoic staving off of temptation, a perpetual washing of the hands to keep from being defiled from the world. But holiness is so much more than that. It’s full engagement with humanity. It means getting dirty up to your armpits. Holiness is about what you’re willing to risk to love others and to see God glorified.

I’m also realizing that holiness isn’t merely about refraining from certain activities; it’s about redirecting and redeeming our desires for holy pursuits.

The nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers spoke of the “expulsive power of a new affection.” For him, conquering sin wasn’t just a matter of steely resolve; it was best accomplished by replacing sinful affections with holy ones. “A moralist will be unsuccessful in trying to displace his love of the world by reviewing the ills of the world,” he preached. “Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the gospel.”

This principle gives us insight into why people indulge in destructive behaviors in the first place.

Take, for instance, a middle-aged man who cheats on his wife. Why does he do it? It’s not simply because of raging hormones. He had more testosterone in his twenties. It’s rarely because he’s dissatisfied with his spouse’s appearance. In fact one study found that only 12 percent of cheating men said their mistresses were more physically attractive than their wives.

So why would he cheat?

Often it’s because he’s thirsty for transcendence, for adventure. He wants an experience that will lift him, if only temporarily, above the boredom of his mundane, workaday existence.

Of course sexual desire plays a role, as does selfishness and lack of self-control. There’s no excusing his actions. But at the heart of the act is a legitimate desire that has been twisted into sinful expression. As someone once said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is really looking for God.”

Misguided attempts to grasp for transcendence affect many areas of our lives. Connie Jakab, a Christian writer and activist, lamented the ways women have been reduced to their appearances through messages sent through shows like Desperate Housewives. Playing off the word desperate, she challenged other women to reimagine their role:

You weren’t created to be desperate, you were created to be dangerous. You have life-changing impact living inside of you. That’s what is going to make you beautiful and vibrant, not another Botox treatment. Dangerous will look good on you. Go try that on for size.

It isn’t just sexual sin or self-image problems that are fueled by an undercurrent of misdirected desire. We warn against drug and alcohol abuse, and rightfully so. But it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. I believe the primary reason it’s wrong to get drunk or high is because of what such experiences replace. They are synthetic forms of transcendence, cheap replacements for encounters with the living God. When the Bible warns against drunkenness, it includes a corresponding command: “Do not get drunk on wine. . . . Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).

Why is drunkenness wrong? Because there’s a better experience awaiting us—being filled with the Spirit!

Our desire for transcendence isn’t the problem; satisfying it in destructive ways is. Sin is the result of desires that have been sublimated and sent sideways.

Sin hurts people and ruins relationships. But perhaps the greatest tragedy is what sin keeps us from—the grand adventure of a life lived with and for God.

* This post was excerpted from Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying
photo credit: Christos Tsoumplekas (Back again!) via photopin cc

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