Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Worship Like a Dog

My dog loves me unconditionally.

How do I know that? No matter what mood I'm in, she comes to me for affection. No matter whether I'm good to her, or mad at her, or even indifferent to her, she wants to be near me. Even when I express anger towards her, rather than running away from me she presses in to me for affection.

In his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus says, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kinds of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4: 23-24).

Worship is the central activity of the child of God. Not only are we called upon to worship now in this life, but notice that this is the preoccupation of the 24 elders in the book of Revelation. Every time something happens, they fall on their faces in worship before the Lamb.

The primary word in the New Testament that is translated "worship" is proskuneo. By the time of the writing of the New Testament, it had the primary idea of a supplicant approaching their superior and making obeisance. That is, kneeling and then prostrating with forehead touching the ground. Think of devout Muslims on their prayer rugs bowing in reverence.

But the roots of the word convey something more intimate. The word means literally "draw near to kiss." So, the vassal would kneel, take the hand of the superior and kiss it. Imagine the supplicant kissing the Pope's ring.

But if we go even farther back than this, the word is derived from kuon which literally means to kiss the hand like when a dog licks the hand of his master. You see my dog worships me.

From this I derive three ideas:

First, true worship involves our whole being including our bodies. It is not enough to think worshipful thoughts in our heads, we must express it through our bodies. We in the West, often forget that faith is not just lived out in our beliefs divorced from our actions. "Faith without works (deeds, actions) is dead (lifeless, frozen)" (James 2: 26). So, if the song you are singing says, "I lift up my hands...", why not lift up your hands? If you sing, "I bow before you...", why not bow before Him? If you sing, "I kneel down...", why not kneel down?

Second, God loves it when we worship Him. He is actively seeking for those who will give themselves to spiritual and truthful worship. We can expect to experience God's loving Presence in our midst when we give ourselves to real worship.

Third, worship is an expression of our unconditional love for God. Just like a dog licking her master's hand--we are called to eagerly love God through worship. Not because we always "feel loving" towards God (see my last blog entry titled, "Love God") but because He is our Master and we are His people and that is what the relationship is all about.

Worship in many ways is simply bringing all things into proper alignment. He's the Creator and I'm the creature--and worship reflects that reality. He's God and I'm not--and worship reflects that reality. He's the source of all grace and I'm the recipient of all heavenly blessings--and worship reflects that reality.

So, why not learn to worship like a dog?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Love God

In the second episode of the last (seventh) season of the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard is rescued after crash-landing on a planet by a beautiful woman who presents herself to be the 7-year survivor of a cargo ship crash. There seems to be a real possibility for romance, except that Picard starts to get suspicious. So, when he does not seem to be taking the bait, she screams at him, "Love me! Oh, why won't you love me?!"

It turns out that she is actually the transformed male ambassador, Voval, who is trying to experience the human concept of "love" firsthand. What he doesn't understand is that love does not happen "on command."

When Jesus was asked in Matthew 22: 36, "What is the greatest commandment in the Law?", without hesitation he says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (vs. 35). Of course he is quoting from the "Shema" of Deuteronomy 6.

When I read that, it is hard not to hear an insistent God saying: "LOVE ME!" Can we choose to love someone as an act of our will--especially when it is accompanied by the commandment to do so?

The answer is an emphatic "YES!"

God is not commanding us to "fall in love" with Him. Falling in love is a very modern preoccupation, beginning with the "strum und drang" movement of the nineteenth century. Romanticism places passions, intuition and feelings above rationalism. Romanticism led to pervasive Nationalism in the West that, in turn, led to the rise of Fascism and other totalitarian "isms". The effects of Romanticism are still widely felt today in a pervasive relativism. "If it feels good, do it."

But that is not really a biblical concept. The Bible posits that the truth is an objective reality rooted in God. Thus Jesus says that He Himself is the Truth. He is the Word of God, spoken in a way that cannot be mistaken. Therefore, our faith rests upon something that is eternally true. It does not rest upon  the shifting sands of emotion.

To love God in the way that the Bible teaches is more of an action of the whole being than merely the fleeting surge of dopamines that accompany the feeling of love or infatuation.

To love God as the Bible commands is to reverence and serve Him as the true Lord and Savior. Loving God is primarily an act of our will, based upon our submission to His Lordship. All of this flows from the truth that "He's God--and I'm not" (a John Wimber-ism).

Since our emotions are a part of our own internal reality, we should feel loving towards God as we choose to love Him. But, just as in our other relationships, our feelings may shift. Even when we are not feeling "in love", yet we choose "to love".

My wife and I have owned German Shepherds throughout our marriage. One of them, I'll call "Shep", was a lovable galoot. But if he heard a loud noise like thunder, he would panic and do things like jump the fence. I would feel intensely angry with him because I was afraid of losing him like I lost his mother who disappeared from our yard a few years earlier. But just because I felt angry did not mean I did not love him. In fact, we tend to feel more intensely for those who are closest to us.

We may feel apathetic towards God. We may feel guilty. We may even feel angry. It does not necessarily mean we do not love God.

Whether or not we feel loving towards God at the moment, God is calling us to love Him with all of our heart, soul and mind. If we do, we will also probably feel loving towards God more and more frequently.