Why Does God Want Our Praise?

It is clear from Scripture that God is worthy to be praised, but why does he want to be praised? Indeed, why does he demand to be praised (cf. Deut 6:13)? The first commandment allows no room for any other gods besides Yahweh (cf. Exod 20:3). Such a claim seems narrow and exclusive in an age of pluralism and tolerance. Here’s a God who says that alternatives and substitutes are off limits to his people.

lewis-book-reflections-on-the-psalmsThat raises the question of whether or not God is ego-heavy after all. Is he not humble? Is he needy in some way? Is he insecure? Why must he always get top billing? People who act like that are considered narcissistic.

C. S. Lewis pondered the question, and he was troubled for some time by its possible implications. Is God, he wondered, like “a vain old woman seeking compliments?” After soaking his head in the book of Psalms, Lewis came to an insightful conclusion. In Reflections on the Psalms he writes:

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . .

“The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Still, the question remains: Is the first commandment somehow a violation of meekness? Is there something arrogant about God wanting to be regarded as utterly supreme in the universe? No. God is utterly supreme in the universe! Moreover, he wants his people to live in sync with reality; anything less would be insanity.

Ancient gods that were the products of people’s imaginations—idols that needed to be worship-woman-field-sky-armsfed, dressed, bathed, and cared for by the priests in order to function—were not and are not ultimate; therefore, they are not worthy of worship. Serving such gods is a delusion, a waste of time, and ultimately disappointing. Only Yahweh is authentic, supreme, and able to “deliver the goods.”

Recognizing this theological truth is the beginning of wisdom and the first step toward living in accordance with reality. Deviate on this issue, and everything else will be askew—like missing the first buttonhole in a shirt; every other button is wrong, and the entire garment is misaligned. But to be properly aligned by recognizing the supremacy and exclusivity of Yahweh, and worshiping him alone, brings with it its own spiritual benefits, not the least of which is genuine life transformation. As Archbishop William Temple once said:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”

Such selfless adoration is indeed a great pleasure. Gone, for the moment, are all the cares of this world during true acts of worship. As Lewis said, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

In the end, God allows people to reject him, disbelieve him, and not worship him as God (at least for now). And that’s the very definition of humility—to have infinite power to compel submission while putting oneself in a position to be rejected.

Like Father, like Son.

Image Credits: Crosswalk.com; Lori Thomason (Pure Devotion)
General

Blessings All Mine, with Ten Thousand Beside

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)

In the movie, A Few Good Men, Demi Moore tells Tom Cruise, “I’m going to Cuba with you tomorrow.” Exasperated, he replies: “And the hits just keep on coming.”

We’re all good at cataloging the “hits” in our lives, but it’s better to highlight the blessings we receive whenever we can. We’ve had plenty recently, and we’d like to praise God for them.

valentino-family-2017-02

L to R: Tim, Drew, Micah, Bethany, and Sonya.

Tim

•  Installed today as a member of the Faith E.C. Church Staff (Pastor of Connectional Ministry).

•  Promoted recently to ranked faculty member at Evangelical Seminary (Instructor of Bible and Practical Theology).

•  Forging new connections in new places of ministry, and swimming again in the newly renovated Keystone Pool at Kutztown University.

Sonya

•  Installed today as a member of the Faith E.C. Church Staff (Ministry Director).

•  Recently received an expanded role at Evangelical Seminary (Prospective Student Liaison).

•  Completed the Master of Ministry degree program at Evangelical Seminary (with distinction).

Andrew

•  Continues to be a valuable part of the videography/editing team at WFMZ-69, covering important stories in the Reading-Berks region.

•  Recently finished a multi-month review of Battlestar Galactica with his behind-the-times parents.

•  He’s still “our beloved son in whom we are well pleased.”

Bethany

•  Continues to be a valuable part of the psychiatric support staff at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA.

•  Recently served as a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding.

•  As Euripides said, “To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.”

Micah

•  Hitting his stride as a new family counselor at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA.

•  Recently served as a groomsman at a friend’s wedding.

•  We like him so much we once said to Bethany while they were dating, “If you guys break up, can we keep Micah?” 🙂

Reality

Social media is notorious for letting people present an overly polished image of themselves, and we don’t want to be guilty of that. So here are a few of our challenges.

•  For Tim and Sonya, the plate is full again, and ministry is often a heavy burden to bear. The unseen landmines are everywhere, and we don’t want to step on them. Please pray that we would minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the joy of the Lord.

•  For Drew, the stories he covers at Channel 69 are usually negative, and after a while, they can take their toll. Please pray that he would have some spiritual and emotional relief from broadcasting the endless heartbreaks of a fallen world.

•  For Bethany and Micah, they’re 20-somethings finding their place in this world. Both are involved in therapeutic services to the public, so they also see much heartbreak in a day’s time. Please pray that they would have times of joy in the midst of the tough cases they process.

faith-ec-church-building-side-out

Faith Evangelical Congregational Church, Temple, PA

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)

General

25 of the Most Majestic Libraries in the World

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges

While they’re losing ground to the modern e-book and audio book industries, libraries once were the central hubs of human intellectual progress. There’s something about them that still attracts people today.

Whether it’s their magnificent architecture, the distinct smell of old books, or the charm of intimate spaces that no other type of building can command, scholars and dreamers alike still enjoy perusing their literary treasures in traditional libraries.

Because of their cultural importance, libraries often were built to be beautiful and built to last. The folks over at boredpanda.com have assembled an impressive gallery for your viewing pleasure. You can check it out here.

General

Who Asked for Your Two Cents?

Divine math is different from what we learned in school. That’s a comfort to those of us who sometimes find it hard to reconcile our checkbooks with our bank statement. But what if we totally drained our account one day and had nothing to reconcile? What’s our net worth then? The answer might surprise you.

Mark records the story of a poor widow who put “two very small copper coins” into the temple treasury (Mark 12:42). Surprisingly, Jesus tells his disciples that she “put in more than all the others.” At first blush it’s an odd statement because all the other people that day had surely given larger amounts than she did. So how was it possible for her tiny gift of “two cents” to be larger than theirs?

the-widow-mite-hands

Jesus said it was because they gave out of their wealth, but she put in all she had to live on. In God’s mind, the size of the sacrifice is more noteworthy than the size of the gift. In other words, the real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver. How much does it pinch our pocketbooks? How much does it interfere with our selfish pleasures?

Others at the temple that day gave what they could spare. This poor widow spared nothing. And Jesus took note. But where would her next meal come from? How could she buy flour for bread, or oil for the household lamps? What about new clothes to replace her tattered garments? What about the broken plow in the field?

The real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver.

By offering all she had to live on, the widow was entrusting herself to God’s care. She was offering herself completely to the One she had come to the temple to worship in the first place. Indeed, for her, devotion to God and his work took priority over everything else.

Still, was it wise for the widow to empty her account? What happens now? Would God provide for her? Would she be able to eke out a living? Would her fellow Israelites—charged in the Torah with being attentive to her needs as a widow—forget about her?

widow-bible-staff

Not to worry. God has a way of taking care of the generous. On one occasion in my younger days, I emptied out our checking account completely because a man told me he had a need. I was an easy touch and quite unaware that he was a professional extortionist. The man preyed on my commitment to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to the one who asks you” (Matt 5:42a).

So I did. I gave him everything I had.

At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, but it made me nervous. How was I going to pay our bills? How was I going to feed my family? We had two young children at the time, and I was still in seminary. We had obligations all over the place.

money-extortion-handsShortly after giving away all our money, a widow in our church (a widow!) came to me and said, “Tim, the Lord is impressing on my heart that I should pay off your student loan. I don’t know what the balance is, and I don’t really care. God has blessed me with resources at this stage in my life, and I just think he wants me to do this for you.”

Sonya and I were deeply moved. The woman didn’t know I had just emptied my checking account to help somebody else. She was just walking her own journey of faith and trying to follow Christ.

As Providence would have it, the Lord intersected our paths. Amazingly, the balance on my student loan was just about double the amount in my checking account the day I emptied it. Double! God saw fit to take care of our family in a big way the very week I gave away all our money. We rejoiced and celebrated God’s goodness to us.

Document with title student loan forgiveness.

It’s a great story, but honestly, it’s an old one. It’s been a while since I’ve taken such a radical step of faith with my money like that. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s not really my money, is it?

I need to get back to those days when I acted like everything I have belongs to the Lord, because it does—a time when I was willing to fling myself into God’s arms like a toddler jumping from the top step of the living room stairs, knowing for sure daddy will catch him.

It’s time to be openhanded again and watch what God will do. Problem is, we always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

We always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

In the end, God has always wanted my two cents. He wants yours, too. The amazing thing is, we never have to say a word to give it.

open-hand-give

General

Needing and Needling: The Painful Search for Christian Community

Authentic Christian community is hard to find. It’s even harder to create. The biggest challenge, perhaps, is to sustain it once you’ve found it. But the search for the body of Christ on earth is worth the effort.

Having made the rounds in all kinds of churches, fellowships, small groups, and denominations, I can assure you, it’s out there. Where and with whom might surprise you, but it’s there—a place where the “one anothers” of Scripture are practiced as a way of life. Even when it’s hard.

ischope001p1Arthur Schopenhauer’s well-known fable comes to mind—the one where two porcupines find themselves in a serious dilemma. On the one hand, the creatures need each other, so they huddle up to keep warm in the winter.

On the other hand, they needle each other while they’re together, so they have to separate to avoid the pain of getting poked by each other’s quills. The cycle never ends.

Here’s the perennial problem of human intimacy: Can the individuality we display permit the closeness that our interdependence demands?

Not without grace.

Only grace can prevent the endless cycle of needing and needling. But grace can be its own thorn, too. According to Jesus, divine grace especially pierces the self-righteous.

Can the individuality we display permit the closeness that our interdependence demands? Not without grace.

Just ask the older brother in Luke 15. Or the religious bureaucrat in Luke 18. Or Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7, whose spiritual debt was a whopping 450 denarii less than the sinful woman’s debt—but Jesus said he couldn’t pay the bill, either. So he forgave them both. (How humbling must it be to find yourself in bankruptcy court needing the protections of Chapter 11 when you thought you were so rich?)

Jesus’ grace toward the sinful woman was a thorn to Simon. But the forgiven woman now had more to offer her community. She had more love (cf. Luke 7:47), without which community cannot survive. It’s not the broken who destroy community. It’s the self-righteous and the high-minded. That’s why bars often feature a better community feel than churches.

It’s not the broken who destroy community. It’s the self-righteous and the high-minded.

Few people have done more reflective work on the subject of Christian community than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here are some gems from his book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.

Dietrich BonhoefferWherever you are in the needing-needling cycle, may these words help you find, create, and sustain authentic Christian community:

•  “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”

•  “God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.”

•  “Because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. . . . We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily.”

•  “Will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches us that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.”

•  “The Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

community-circle-color•  “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.”

•  “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

•  “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God.”

•  “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”

•  “Self-centered love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ.”

When it comes to Christian community, do we prefer the “needing” or the “needling”? Will we choose the cold of isolation or the blood of interaction?

Or might there be a third way—the way of Christ? The way of grace?

Image Credit: Barcroft Media
General

Bookends of Grace

It’s interesting to note that David’s name is mentioned in the New Testament, but Shimei’s is not.

Shimei? Who’s that?

Exactly.

Shimei was one of David’s severest critics and verbal tormentors (cf. 2 Sam 16). He delighted in publicly cursing the man whom God had called and anointed to lead his people. On one occasion he even pelted the king and his men with stones.

david-shimeiShimei was way out of line. Still, the critic had a point. David, of course, had failed miserably a few times, both in his leadership and in his moral life, so Shimei was partly right.

Dead right.

(Isn’t it scary that we can sometimes be right in a wrong way?)

Amazingly, David brushed him off and went to God for strength. It’s a good thing for Shimei that he did. When given the opportunity to kill the guy, David refused to execute him for his slander and abuse.

He even forgave the rascal and granted him amnesty. Who does that?

  • A man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
  • A man who had deeply repented of his own sin (Psalm 51).
  • A man who himself had received of God’s free grace (Psalm 32).
  • A man who had a rock-solid faith in God and a hope-filled destiny (Psalm 3).

Maybe that’s why the Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament (Matt 1:1; Rev 22:16). It’s a phenomenon seemingly rooted in more than just literary happenstance.

The Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament.

Outside the names for deity, David’s name opens and closes the New Testament. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega—the A and the Z—but David is the B and the Y.

Indeed, the literary game Matthew plays with the number 14 in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) corresponds to the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew (D=4 + V=6 + D=4). Matthew’s point is hard to miss: “I give you Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David.” Christ is the long-awaited fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.

But how is it possible for David to receive such an honor given the various ways in whichking-david-bust he had failed the Lord? We may not have any other answer to that question but that God is God.

In his infinite wisdom, God chose to bookend the story of Jesus with reminders of a flawed leader for whom Christ also died. The very layout of the New Testament shows us that Jesus is truly “the friend of sinners” (cf. Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Jesus, the perfect king, lovingly and literarily envelops his people.

That should give all of us hope.

Yes, David endured certain consequences for his sins (some inflicted by the likes of Shimei), but he never lost his kingship, he never lost his calling, he never lost his relationship with God, and he never lost his pen.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture. Keep that in mind next time you hear that your enemies are gloating over you because of your failures.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture.

Just keep doing what God told you to do because his judgments are vastly different from man’s judgments.

Shimei who?

General

C. S. Lewis: A Willingness to Be Enchanted

From Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 2005), xxi.

“Lewis’s mind was above all characterized by a willingness to be enchanted. . . . It was this openness to enchantment that held together the various strands of his life–his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and (in some ways above all) his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful story, whether written by an Italian poet of the sixteenth century, by Beatrix Potter, or by himself.

“What is ‘secretly present in what he said about anything’ is an openness to delight, to the sense that there’s more to the world than meets the jaundiced eye, to the possibility that anything could happen to someone who is ready to meet that anything. For someone with eyes to see and the courage to explore, even an old wardrobe full of musty coats could be the doorway into another world.”

narnia-wardrobe

Image Credits: National Portrait Gallery, London; Wiki Narnia.
General

New Beginnings: Back to the Original Call

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5a)

Before we were married, we knew the Lord had called us to serve alongside each other in vocational Christian ministry. That calling was not to work independently at opposite ends of a church building; it was to work side-by-side as a team, like Priscilla and Aquila.

We are grateful to God that not one but two local organizations have recognized and affirmed this calling. As of this fall, we will be on staff together at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA, and also Faith Evangelical Congregational Church in Temple, PA.

Evangelical Seminary

At Evangelical Seminary, we will be serving as the Directors of Community Relations, a role that involves the recruitment of students, the cultivation of donors, and the promotion of seminary events. We also get to represent the school at various conferences and trade fairs around the region.

Additionally, Tim will continue working for the seminary as an Affiliate Professor of Bible and Ministry, teaching a variety of applied theology courses to students from around the country. These courses are in addition to his online teaching duties for Huntington University’s graduate program.

Faith Church

At Faith Church, Tim will be serving as the Pastor of Connectional Ministry, a role that involves teaching, leadership development, and the assimilation of new and existing members. Sonya will be working on staff as the Ministry Director, a role that involves leadership development, the assimilation of new and existing members, and worship renewal.

Additionally, Sonya will continue teaching private piano, voice, and brass music lessons in her home studio, Grace Notes Music Academy. Because of her new ministry responsibilities, however, she will be taking a limited number of new students.

Ultimately, our desire is to glorify God and help expand his kingdom by spending these next ministry days serving the people who have been such a profound blessing to us in recent months. They have shown us the true heart of Christ, and we want to reflect that heart to others.

Your prayers for our effectiveness in these roles will be most appreciated.

Blessings,

Tim & Sonya

hand-soil-plant-acts520

General

‘The Man in the Arena’: Theodore Roosevelt’s Inspiration to Persevere

Theodore Roosevelt was a soldier, explorer, naturalist, and statesman who served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909. Born a sickly child with debilitating asthma, he eventually overcame his health challenges by embracing a rigorous lifestyle.

Following William McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, Roosevelt became president at age 42, the youngest person ever to hold the office. One of his more famous quotations was shared in a speech the year after he left office. It is commonly known at the “The Man in the Arena” quotation, from an address titled, “Citizenship in a Republic.”

Regardless of how many times you may have stumbled or failed, be inspired by Roosevelt’s words to persevere:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Citizenship in a Republic”
Speech at the Sorbonne Paris, France
April 23, 1910

 

General

Awash in Wonder: What Artistic Beauty Tries to Teach Us

Do they not have bones? Does gravity not apply? Are they not even human?

The Chinese State Circus performance of Swan Lake is beyond amazing. I have never seen such daunting ballet lifts on stage before.

Check out this 4-minute video clip and stand in awe. Then ask why it is you might be standing in awe.

I am awash in wonder every time I see this routine. But why?

The German poet Rilke once went to a museum and effused over an ancient statue of Apollo. He was so captivated by the sculpture that when he got home, he wrote in his diary, “I must change my life.”

He didn’t write, “Wow, that was a great aesthetic experience,” though it was. He didn’t write, “I was awestruck by the artistry of that piece,” though he was. No, he wrote, “I must change my life.”

Christian author Tim Keller argues that what Rilke was really saying—and what he went on to write in a poem containing the same expression—was this:

“Anything that really moves you, any great insight you ever get, any experience of beauty that really gets you at your core—it always makes you aware of the fact that you’re just a shadow of what you should be. You’re just a fraction of what you know you ought to be.”

While Rilke may have overstated his point a bit, most of us realize—when we’re completely honest with ourselves—that our lives would benefit by a series of significant changes. In the presence of great art, that realization is highlighted anew. We get a sense that we’re a long way away from what we could be as human beings.

At the same time, we’re not so far away that we can’t recognize flashes of beauty when we see them, or even consider what those flashes of beauty might be trying to teach us. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, put it like this:

“If you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster.”

Art’s task, says Kuyper, is to remind people where we came from and where we’re going. Our origin was the creative hand of God, and our destination is a complete and perfect restoration in him. In the meantime, all of us can enjoy the sheer beauty of a good performance, whatever our theological commitments may be.

With visions of those incredible Swan Lake dance moves in our minds, we can luxuriate in the grace of God that motivated King David to write:

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me” (Psalm 30:1).

Surely God’s “lifts” are at least as good as those of the Chinese State Circus.

General