Sacred Space

I’m reading the story of Joseph this week and it strikes me how his life was a continuous cycle of ups and downs, ups and downs, ups and downs.

One minute he’s the favored son, the next an exiled slave in a faraway land. He’s up with Potiphar, then down in jail, favored in prison, then forgotten. Sure, God works it all out in the end but it was quite a rocky road to get there.

Sound familiar?

Every week, those of us who serve in worship gatherings have the privilege of ministering to people in all sorts of circumstances. Some are on top of the world, others feel crushed underneath. Some feel loved and accepted, others feel worthless and ignored.  The truth is, all of us come through the doors with distractions and wounds, clutter in our minds and hurts in our hearts, and each week a thousand things will try to pull our attention down and away from the one thing that matters.

So, every week we share in one mission, what I believe is the purpose of the Worship Arts: “to create sacred space for people to encounter God“. No matter what songs we sing, words we speak or ways we serve, we aren’t the ones who can change lives. Our job is to push back as many distractions as we can and help people LOOK UP to encounter the One who CAN change lives, and DOES change lives every day.

We all serve in different ways and for different seasons. Whether you’re on every week or every once in a while, up front on stage or behind the scenes, thanks for being a part of the team.

YOU make a difference.

Looking up with you,
-Pastor Phillip

Behind the Curtain

Could it be that it is God Himself who brings about the “winter of our discontent”, the collapse of our joy in the work of our hands?

Is it possible that sometimes He must do this, so as to wrench us away from our myopic concentration on our own perceived ability to please Him?  Perhaps it is God, trying actively to change us, as if He were behind the curtain of our life-stage, working to throw off our lines and upset our performance.  Perhaps He must do this because He knows that as long as our happiness remains rooted in our own accomplishments, instead of in a single-focused acceptance of His acceptance of us as poor servants, we will never truly be free to find and know either our greatest joy, or our fullest service.

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Forgiveness

“…unless you forgive your brother from your heart…” – Matt. 18:35b

It’s easy to reflexively think of forgiveness as a sort of one-shot deal, where you say some magic words and everything is fixed and fine.

But what about those times when you say the words, but your heart keeps churning afterwards?  Does that mean you didn’t really forgive from the heart? Maybe it’s not as simple as that.

If forgiveness was just some set of magic words that fixed everything at once, then would that even be worth anything?  To me, “from the heart” implies there is a degree of work involved, and that I must choose to be forgiving of the other person, not just flip some emotional switch.  After all, different offenses cause different levels of hurt and carry different consequences, so wouldn’t it make sense that they would also require different levels of forgiveness?  I think so.

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Outside the Camp

Jesus ruined everything.

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.  Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.” (Hebrews 13:11-13)

In the mindset of the Jews, the blood sacrifice at the tabernacle (and later, the temple) was one of the key elements of their identity as God’s chosen people.  Here was something that was prescribed to them by God, as a way to not only assure forgiveness of their sins, but also to set themselves apart from the rest of the world.  Theirs was a system of exclusivity – salvation was for the Jews, and them alone.  The bodies of the sacrifices were taken “outside the camp” because they were unclean, unworthy, and unwanted.  In fact, it was God Himself that told them to do it that way, so that the dead bodies would not corrupt the purity of the sacrifice.  They didn’t fit into the clean, orderly religious system, so they were discarded.

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Jesus’ Joy

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross… Hebrews 12:2

Have you ever played Scrabble (or any other word-type game), and been trying to make some simple word, when all of a sudden you looked down and realized that you had the greatest word right in front of you the whole time, but just hadn’t seen it?  I LOVE that feeling!  Those are the moments when you pretty much bounce up and down in your chair and pound the table and yell “HAH!  Beat THAT!”… Ok well at least I do.

Anyway, sometimes I find that the same sort of excitement, the same sense of discovering a secret treasure you completely overlooked before, can be found in the reading of God’s word.  It’s like you all of a sudden had a black light turned on and saw for the first time some glowing thing that you’d never noticed before, and it’s incredible.

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Traitors and Tyrants

“Why do You idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” -Habakkuk 1:13b

Judas was a traitor, used of God to fulfill His purposes (John 17:12). What of him?

Consider the pagan conqueror Cyrus, “whose right hand I [the LORD] have grasped, to subdue nations [including Israel] before him…” (Isaiah 45:1). What of him?

Think also of the Pharoah of Exodus, of whom God said, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16, Romans 9:17) What of him?

What tyranny Pharoah set upon the children of Israel! What hardship came through Cyrus! What betrayal from the lips of Judas, yet all the while it was God, working in the midst of darkness to finally bring forth His light.

To truly have peace in the life of faith, we must be careful to not presume, not only upon God’s ends, but also His means.

Expectation

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” -Psalm 130:5-6 (ESV)

I walked in to the sanctuary of the large Korean Assemblies of God church and I could feel it in an instant. Thick in the air among the gathered people was a feeling of anticipation, of excitement, of knowing that GOD would show up that morning.

This was not my first time to visit Promise Church in Flushing, NY, and because I had been there before, I had not just a hope, not just a desire, but an expectation that something special would happen that morning. I started to think though, “I’ve been here before but many of these others haven’t. They’ve not heard the choir sing and the band play or seen the dancers dance, so what is this expectation I sense from them?”

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Worship in Waiting

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.” – Psalm 130:5

In 2001, my grandfather lost his words.

He had been visiting family out of town when he had a stroke, and fortunately they were able to get him proper medical care that saved his life and prevented much long-term damage.  What they weren’t able to prevent, however, was extensive injury to the language centers of his brain.  He had spent his life preaching, teaching and sharing gifted words with thousands, and now the words simply wouldn’t come.

Experts say that in cases like this, the mind is functioning just fine.  The person understands things perfectly, knows exactly what they want to say, but just like an arm that’s fallen asleep simply won’t respond to the brain’s attempts to move it, so it is that people with damaged language centers simply cannot cause their words to come out correctly.

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Chinese Drywall (pt.2)

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Timothy 4:16

Chinese drywall could be one of the best things that ever happened to us.

That’s probably not something you’d expect to hear from someone who’s being forced to pack his things and find a new home while the place he lives is ripped apart to remove a biohazard that’s likely been compromising his immune system for months, so let me explain.

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Chinese Drywall (pt.1)

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Timothy 4:16

I never thought it would happen to me.

Just the other day, I was thinking and thanking God that out of the dozens of houses in our neighborhood that have been gutted because of Chinese drywall, ours was safe.

“Bummer for them!” I thought, grateful that I wouldn’t have to pack my things, clear them out and wait for months while the place where I live is literally ripped apart to extract the toxic substance so many have been afflicted with.

Then I got the report from my roommate, the homeowner. “They found a few panels and we’ll know in three weeks how bad it is and what happens next.”

I never thought it would happen to me.

I have Chinese drywall.

Now begins the waiting in anticipation of the final report.  How bad is it?  How long until we have to leave so the remediation teams can do their work?  How long will it take, and above all else, how could things have looked so good on the outside but be so toxic on the inside?  Why didn’t we see it coming?

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