Is Cultural Relativism Infecting Your Church’s Worship?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Worship is first and foremost for God’s benefit, not ours. If a singular focus on the glory of God doesn’t characterize our practice of praise, then we have missed the whole point of worship. True worship is all about God and very little about us, although in giving him praise, we ourselves enter into the indescribable richness of the purpose for which we were created: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 16:4

David appointed the following Levites to lead the people in worship before the Ark of the Lord—to invoke his blessings, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.

As David brings the Ark of the Covenant to the tent of meeting that he had erected for it in Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16, we glean much needed insight into the essential activities that are to make up the worship experience of God’s people. While the settings of worship change over time and culture, the purpose and content should never change. Worship leaders and worshipers would do well to absorb this chapter, given the cultural relativism that has infected much of the philosophy, planning and practice of corporate praise in the modern context.

You will recall the story: the ark had been captured by the Philistines under King Saul, but then returned to Israel not too long afterwards because it had created a health crisis among the people of that heathen nation. (1 Samuel 4-6) It was kept in the house of Abinadab for some time until the new king, David, decided to bring it to the central place of worship. But along the way, the transportation of this sacred furniture was mishandled, and the anger of the Lord broke out against the priest Uzzah, and he died on the spot. (2 Samuel 6) For that reason, the ark was left under the care of Obed-Edom for several months. While there, the Lord poured out blessings so profusely upon that household that David now realized it would be best to get the ark into the capital city—right away, but this time, the right way:

David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household. Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. (2 Samuel 6:9-12)

It was during this time of great celebration that David instituted much of the practices that have come to characterize the worship of God’s people, even to this day. And what did those practices entail? Of course, there was instrumental music and corporate singing along with choreographed movements and prescribed sacrifices, but it was really the content of those activities that came to characterize God-pleasing worship: the invocation of divine blessing, expressions of gratitude and outburst of praise. (1 Chronicles 16:4) The content of worship was a singular focus on the glory of God:

Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor. (1 Chronicles 16:29)

I have a nagging sense that in far too many modern worship settings, the focus has shifted from offering praise for the primary purpose of pleasing God. Rather than ensuring the invocation of God’s blessing upon the people, rather than leading the people into expressions of thanks to God, rather than giving the people a pathway to verbalize their praise to God, worship leaders give too much focus, in my humble opinion, on the mechanics of worship. They fuss over the staging—the sound, the lighting and the background media, along with the style—it’s contemporariness and popularity, to create just the right mood to please the people rather than please the Lord.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love modern worship music. I think a lot of planning ought to go into a worship experience. I think staging can set a great mood and create a great experience for worshippers. But at the end of the day, if the experience doesn’t lead the worshiper to receive God’s blessing and call her to offer heartfelt gratitude to God and inspire him to offer focused praise extolling the splendor of God, it has fallen short of God-glorifying worship. It has missed the boat, and in fact, if that becomes a pattern, it is in danger of becoming idolatrous worship: worship done to please the worshiper more than to pleases the Lord.

Worship is first and foremost for God’s benefit, not ours. If a singular focus on the glory of God doesn’t characterize our practice of praise, then we have missed the whole point of worship. True worship is all about God and very little about us, although in giving him praise, we ourselves enter into the indescribable richness of the purpose for which we were created: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Now most of us are not worship leaders in the formal sense, but each of us has been called to lead ourselves into daily moments of worships wherein we invoke God’s blessings, offer thanks to God and express our praise to him. So even if formal worship in the contemporary church context drifts from God-focused worship, you don’t have to.

Just remember, you are a worship leader before the Audience of One.

Going Deeper With God: Take a few minutes before you do anything else to invoke God’s blessing, offer gratitude to God, and pour forth your praise to God. You are on the stage before the Audience of One, so praise your heart out!

Thankfully, God’s Love Never Runs Out!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

I’ll bet you could write your own psalm of gratitude. In fact, that might be a good assignment for you on this Thanksgiving Day. Write an “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good” psalm, and then, like the psalmist suggested, go tell the world of how grateful you are. Or, better yet, just start with the people at the holiday meal today. Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends. It will do you, and them, a world of good.

Going Deep // Focus: Psalm 107:1-2

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say this!

If you are sharing a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones today, there is a chance that something will run out: the gravy, the stuffing, or the pumpkin pie. Thankfully, there is something that will never run out that will be present at your celebration: God’s love for you!

I like the way The Message version renders the psalmist’s call to gratitude: “Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world!”

It is true—and it is more than just christianese: God is good—all the time! That is the testimony of my life—and I have a feeling it is true of your life as well. Certainly, I ought to be proclaiming God’s goodness to anyone who will listen, and even to those who won’t, much more than I do. Add to that the fact that I am, on my best day, not so good, and on my worst day, frankly, pretty bad, only adds to the brilliance of God’s overwhelming goodness.

The New King James translation of the psalmist’s words are even more meaningful to me: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Mercy—I can really relate to that. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: I’ll take either enduring love or enduring mercy—I can’t live without either one. Love and mercy are simply different facets of the same diamond we understand as the goodness of God.

But God’s mercy really speaks to me, and I’ll bet if you thought about, it, you would say the same. Someone said that mercy is not getting what you deserve. The truth is, you and I depend upon God’s mercy every single moment just to draw in the next breath, since the holy and righteous God has had every reason and right to annihilate us from the planet because of our sinfulness. Jeremiah said it well in Lamentations 3:22-23,

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The entirety of Psalm 107 is simply giving one example after another of how God in his faithful love and enduring mercy has freed his people from what they deserve. And at the end of each example, the psalmist expresses the call to gratitude:

Oh, thank God, he is so good! His love never runs out!

I’ll bet you could write your own Psalm 107. In fact, that might be a good assignment for you on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, we should go tell the world. Now that’s a pretty tall order, so how about starting with the people with whom you will enjoy the holiday meal today? Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends.

I am not sure how they will feel about it, but you will certainly feel pretty good. That’s what heartfelt gratitude to God for his faithful love and enduring mercy does.

Going Deeper With God: Write your own Psalm 107—a psalm of gratitude—on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, go tell the world of how thankful you are. Or, you could start with the people at the holiday meal today. Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends. It will do you a world of good.

Go Ahead And Sing!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Go vertical with your gaze once in a while, and you’ll see that God is still in control. Do that as the regular practice of your life, and you will find that you have much to sing about. Now this is not a proverbial whistling past the graveyard, it is an act that not only expresses faith, that not only builds faith, but it is an act that actually releases even more faith into your life. So you should sing—a lot!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 22:1-23

Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day when the Lord had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. And he said: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior…”

David sang a lot! We don’t know how good of a singer he was, but who cares. He didn’t. Besides, he was king, so who was going to tell him he didn’t have a good voice. And while we don’t know if he could carry a tune, we do know that he could really write those tunes. Many of them are still topping the charts thousands of years after the fact; they are sang by millions of people around the world every Sunday when congregations sing the psalms.

David sang a lot! And why not? God had bailed him out of bad times early and often, and he was grateful. Whether it was deliverance from a lion or bear, or from a king named Saul or a giant named Goliath, or from his own personal sin, his gratitude for God’s lovingkindness often spilled over the containment walls of his being. And he sang.

I think you should too. It is good for you. It releases more faith when you lift up your voice in praise. It elevates your mood, minimizes your problems, and sends shockwaves into the unseen realm where your Enemy resides, causing him to quake in his boots. And I would argue that like David, you should make up your own songs. They may never be sung by others, or even known, but they are powerful because they come from your heart, and from your fresh experience with the lovingkindness of God. They remind you of who God is and who you are; of what he has done and what he will do. That is precisely why you should sing—a lot!

Furthermore, singing songs of praise is not meant just as a response to God for his goodness in the good times. Singing is an act of faith in the challenging times that recognizes a higher reality than the one you see in your horizontal view-finder: That God is King—he always was, and always shall be. Given that, you should sing—a lot!

Go vertical with your gaze once in a while, and you will see that God is still in control. Do that as the regular practice of your life, and you will find that you have much to sing about. Now this kid of singing is not a proverbial whistling past the graveyard, it is an act that not only expresses faith, it is an act that actually releases even more faith into your life. Singing is calling into your present reality the greater, more real, infinitely powerful reality of eternity. Singing praises invites the presence of God and invokes the power of God in your life. So you should sing—a lot!

So if you want to squeeze every ounce of joy out of the good times and have more faith for the troubling times in life, sing! Go ahead, I am not joking, and belt out a tune.

Going Deeper With God: What has God done in your life lately? What do you have to praise him for? What about him causes you to be grateful? Write it down in the form of a song. You may never publish it, but you should certainly sing it, at least in the privacy of your prayer closet. Make up your own tune, and don’t worry if you are on key or not. God is your audience of one, and he will love it!

A Tale of Three Worshipers

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whenever we exchange recognition of God’s holiness, surrender to his will and the sheer delight of his presence for a more controlled, convenient and cool experience of worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that truly pleases him. Surrender and wonder are the heart of authentic worship, so offer that to your magnificent God the next time you’re in a worship experience—then offer it again the next time, and the time after that, too.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 6:5-8, 14-16

David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah… [Sometime later, when the Ark was finally brought to Jerusalem] David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.

If you were to outline this unusual text, it neatly falls into a three-act play on passionate worship based on the three main characters of the story.

  • Act One, Uzzah Died. 2 Samuel 6:6 says, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”
  • Act Two, David Danced. 2 Samuel 6:14: “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
  • Act Three, Michal Despised. 2 Samuel 6:16, “When Michal saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”

For sake of time and space, let’s focus on the least known of these characters, Uzzah. As you read this story, if you are like me, the question you have is, why did God kill this seemingly well-intentioned man for his momentary mistake?  Here is what we need to consider:

It is always fatal to take charge of God. Uzzah was a priest, consecrated to oversee the care of the Ark, which he’d done for thirty years. You could say, he had hung out with the holy for three decades. That meant he was very much aware of the law of God and the Levitical regulations about moving the Ark.

So Uzzah’s reflexive act wasn’t a mistake of the moment, it was a lifelong obsession with managing the Ark. During those thirty years, it is highly likely he began to cut corners in his worship and to be selective in his obedience to God. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, he learned to control the presence of God. So to him, the cart was a more efficient way to worship. Eugene Peterson, who wrote a brilliant book on David called, Leap Over A Wall, says of this incident,

A well-designed ox-cart is undeniably more efficient for moving the Ark about than plodding Levites. But it’s also impersonal—the replacement of consecrated persons by an efficient machine… Uzzah is the patron saint of those who uncritically embrace technology without regard to the nature of God.

Do you think we tend to do that in our day, that we tend to manage God into more convenient and cool forms of worship? Do we ever approach worship in terms of what’s preferable to us or trendy to our culture rather than what is pleasing to God? Whenever we move from obedience to God and recognition of his holiness to a more controlled, convenient and cool worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that pleases him. As Peterson writes,

Uzzah should forever be posted around the church as a warning sign: Danger! Beware of the God

There is certainly a danger in our day of getting too casual and too convenient in our worship and forgetting that God is still holy. We need to remember: God will not be controlled. When we fall into a pattern of control, deliberately or not, sooner or later, like Uzzah, we will become spiritually dead in our worship. Now since we were created to worship God, this is a grave danger.

Thomas Carlyle rightly stated, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Let Uzzah be a perpetual watchman who cries out from the walls of our church, “Don’t ever lose your wonder of God!”

Going Deeper With God: Next time you are in a worship service, make it about God, not you. Then try that again the next time, and the time after that, too.

Praise Your Way Through Pain

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Like Hannah, you and I must learn to worship until worship becomes our first and best response to not only the delightful, but to the devastating things in life.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 1:10-11

Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut. As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine” She replied, “Oh no, sir! I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

Nobody really understands the pain of desiring children but not being able to have any like the barren. Hannah was a childless woman in a culture where children meant everything—a woman’s worth and desirability to her husband, her bragging rights at family gatherings, the admiration of the other women at the market, her husband’s ammunition for one-upping the other guys hanging out at the city gates, as well as a whole host of other cultural notches on the belt that came with having kids. And there was one other benefit to having children that had an even more significant meaning to married couples in Israel: eternal life. You see, through posterity, the family DNA, the family name, the family’s unending future would be carried forth in perpetuity.

So in light of all that, Hannah’s grief over having no children is more than most of us could ever begin to understand—unless, of course, you have suffered the disappointment of barrenness yourself. Even her husband, Elkanah, didn’t get it:

Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons? (I Samuel 1:8, NLT)

Either he was a complete dolt and didn’t get it, or he was a complete dolt who also happened to be an insensitive brute. But Elkannah wasn’t alone in this matter: Even Hannah’s pastor didn’t fare too well in the Mr. Sensitive category. He accused her of being drunk as she silently poured out her heart to the Lord:

Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, Eli thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!” (I Samuel 1:13-14, NLT)

Hannah was alone in her grief, and even worse, she had no hopes that things would be any different in the future, destined to a life of barrenness. So what is a misunderstood, hopeless, devastated, childless woman to do? Well, here’s what Hannah did: she worshiped.

You will notice in the story that Hannah went before the Lord year after year—she didn’t give up. She poured out her heart, time and time again—trusting that God would one day hear her. She faithfully presented herself in sacrificial worship before the Lord not only with her husband, but also with his other wife and her mean-spirited rival, Penniah (I Samuel 1:7)—she pressed into God. As difficult as her situation was, Hannah worshiped the One who had her life, including all its details, big and small, in his good hands. And finally, in timing understood only by God, he granted her request and she bore Samuel, who grew up to be the greatest of Israel’s prophets.

Hannah worshiped! That’s what you and I must learn to do, too, until worship becomes our first and best response to not only the delightful, but to the devastating things in life. If you are a childless woman whose pain and disappointment is understood only by God—worship him. He is your only hope and the One who knows his plans for your life—plans that are always good, even when you don’t particularly like them. And if you are suffering other kinds of barrenness—in your relationships, your finances, your career, your ministry, or even your walk with the One you are worshiping—offer him your worship. He knows your way, and he knows his plans for you. Jeremiah 29:10-14, one of the great promises for those who are in the midst of pain, promises,

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

As tough as it may be to offer your worship to the Lord when things aren’t going your way, it’s the best and only thing that will set your heart right. Brennan Manning writes in his great little book, Ruthless Trust,

To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in darkness.

Hannah worshiped the Lord. May that be true of you, too!

Going Deeper With God: Today, whether you are in a delightful place, or wrestling with disappointment—even if you are in a pace of devastation—offer God your heart in worship. The saints of old would tell you that is the very best therapy.

Songology

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The music of the faith is meant to teach us theology—songology, we might call it. Not so much systematically, but for sure, artistically, emotionally, and viscerally. Church music should be evaluated by this and this alone: what does it teach us about God and our relationship to him. If it doesn’t teach doctrine, inspire trust and lead us to obedience, then no matter how lovely the lyrics or moving the melody, perhaps the best thing we could do with it is to toss it in the “we’re done with it” bin.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 32:4,9

Moses recited this entire song publicly to the assembly of Israel: I will proclaim the name of the Lord; how glorious is our God! He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! …For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession.

I love church songs—hymns, simple choruses of the faith and modern worship music. But I’m a little bit weird; I don’t just love the music, it’s the lyrics that move me—or not. When a song skill teaches good theology, I’m a fan! Let’s call it songology. I think that is what the music of the faith is meant to do: teach us theology—not so much systematically, but artistically, emotionally and viscerally. If it doesn’t, no matter how lovely the lyrics and moving the melody, I am okay with tossing it into the “we’re done with it” bin. Don’t worry; it won’t be lonely. There is a great multitude of other church songs there.

Moses wrote a song for the Israelites toward the very end of his days as their leader. He was about to “go the way of all the earth.” That is code for, “I’m about to die.” He was passing the baton of leadership to Joshua, and in his final words to Israel—which went on for several chapters—he was rehearsing their history with God over the past forty years. His last will and testament was at times charming, profound, moving and tender, but then it would take a turn into deadly seriousness: Moses was not pulling his punches with their characteristic whiny and rebellious nature. He was also letting loose on what he feared most: that they would wander from God and end up in full on spiritual rebellion in the future, probably sooner than later, knowing them. Fearing that, he warned them in no uncertain terms of what the consequences would be for their unfaithfulness to God.

To put the exclamation mark on his words, he wrote this song that comprises Deuteronomy 32. The song is not just a happy little ditty from their happy old granddaddy. No, much of the song is a foreboding alert—again, he is putting into writing that which will stand as a prophetic testimony against them when they have sunk into rebellion and are experiencing the nasty consequences.

You can listen to the song for yourself. Make sure you read the entire score because while it is often harsh, it reminds us of some very important theology—the doctrine of God that should be heard again in our generation and passed on to the next. But for time’s sake, let me just mention a few bits and pieces of this songology that stuck out to me:

  • The Doctrine of God: He is our strength, just and fair, perfect in all his ways and utterly righteous. This is especially critical to grasp as you read of the punishment he will unleash on the persistently rebellious. If you read only the imprecatory portions of God’s warning, you will think of him only as an angry Deity. He is not at all. And he would be none of the things God should be if he didn’t do what he warned he would do.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! (Deuteronomy 32:4)

  • The Reality of Sin: Sin is not simply a mistake, nor is it merely satisfying our preferences. Sin is not God’s children exercising their freedom; it is full on rebellion against the just and righteous Creator. In fact, to persistently live in rebellion against God should call into question the legitimacy of their spiritual heritage.

But they have acted corruptly toward him; when they act so perversely, are they really his children? They are a deceitful and twisted generation. (Deuteronomy 32:5)

  • The Rule of God: Perhaps forgetting that God is our Father, our Maker, and the One who established us on the planet is the fundamental reason we sin against God. If we kept in mind that our lives are not our own, we would never ask, “what do I want?” but “what does my Owner desire from me?” God has supreme right and authority of rulership over us.

Isn’t he your Father who created you? Has he not made you and established you? … He established the boundaries of the peoples according to the number in his heavenly court. For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession. (Deuteronomy 32:6, 8-9)

  • The Sovereignty of God: God’s self-existence, his supreme authority, his authorship of salvation, his Fatherhood over all mankind are not just lofty doctrine that only the theologians grasp and appreciate; this is practical and meaningful theology for our everyday lives. Theology serves as a continual reminder that we must never allow the goodness of life to lull us into independence from the very One who gives us our life, supplies our every breath, and deserves our moment-by-moment loyalty.

But Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation. …You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth. (Deuteronomy 32:15,18)

  • The Praiseworthiness of God: the obvious implication of all this theology is that our response of worship, now and as the ceaseless activity of our lives, is only right and fitting. The sovereign, life-giving, just, fair and righteous God alone is worthy to be praised.

I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand! …Rejoice with him, you heavens, and let all of God’s angels worship him. Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles, and let all the angels be strengthened in him. (Deuteronomy 32:15,18)

Yep, there’s good songology in Moses’ hymn. And while we don’t know if the music that accompanied it was moving, if the band was hot, if he had backup singers and dancers (which I kind of doubt) or if it hit the Billboard Top Ten Chart, we do know that the words of the song were literally inspired by the Holy Spirit for our benefit. In fact, Moses himself said as post-commentary on the song,

These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River. (Deuteronomy 32:47)

If that is literally true—which it is, by the way—then we had better start singing.

Going Deeper With God: Take a few minutes today and pour over this song. Then pull out your own bits and pieces of the theology contained in it. Write it down, and add your own commentary. It will be a meaningful exercise in worship.

It’s Time To Reject Any Other Definition Of Love But This

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The Bible makes it plain that the chief expression of love is obedience to God’s commands. Let me say it again: love is obedience. What does love look like? It looks like obeying God. Jesus, who wrote the book on authentic love—both in written form and on the pages of his life, said “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.” (John 14:15, MSG)

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 11:22

Be careful to obey all these commands I am giving you. Show love to the Lord your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him.

Are you, like me, sick and tired of the world’s definition of love and hate? When I say “the world,” I am referring to anything and anyone that stands in opposition to God as he has revealed himself and his ways in his Word. That would include our godless culture in general along with specific people both great and small within our culture who, intentional or not, promote a godless philosophy of life. And, I hate to admit, “the world” at times even includes you and me because of the worldly passions within our own sinful flesh.

The world has corrupted the true and authentic definition of love, as well as hate, beyond recognition. Hate has become anything that rubs against the fur of what the world embraces. For instance, if you now call sin what it is, sin, you are marginalized and mocked as an intolerant, dangerous, bigoted hater. You are hate personified! But let’s set aside hate and simply talk about love. The world has really messed that one up, too!

The world’s definition of love is a sloppy, squishy, anything goes kind of feeling of affection. It is ever-changing, here today and gone tomorrow, this one minute, that the next, a sensation that rises and falls with one’s current emotional state. Love is whatever satisfies me and gives me pleasure. It is a patently selfish worldview that “loves” to the degree that love is requited. It is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately state of mind. And it is flat out wrong, counterproductive and even dangerous.

Ask a thousand different people for their concept of love and you will most likely get a thousand different depictions, but unless God’s Word informs those depictions of love, they will be wrong 100% of the time. The Bible makes it plain that the chief expression of love is obedience to God’s commands. Let me say it again: love is obedience. What does love look like? It looks like obeying God. Jesus, who wrote the book on authentic love—both in written form and on the pages of his life, said “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.” (John 14:15, MSG)

In an age where love is a very squishy concept, God still clearly demands that those who claim to follow him demonstrate their love not just in language, but in action. It is love that is not just a noun, it is a verb. A noun needs a verb as well as an object to tell the full story, and so does love. What love is cannot be told without showing what love does. And what love does is incomplete without the person to whom it is done.  The Apostle Paul taught that in 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter, when he wrote, “love is…” Then he defines what “love is” by demonstrating what love does: It acts. It works. It affects. It produces an outcome.

Jesus clearly states that the outcome of love for God is obedience: The one who loves him will obey his commandments. If they accept his demands, they will prove it by obedience to those requirements, thus authenticating their love for him. They will do what he says. Jesus can’t be any clearer than that: love for God has conditions—it obeys.

Now to be sure, authentic, Biblically defined love doesn’t obey to be love; it obeys because it is love. That is very clear when you look to the source of love, the Being who defines what love is by demonstrating what love does. God is love. His love is an unconditional, sacrificial, proactive love that seeks out unworthy objects to love. It is a holy and righteous love; it is a tough love; it is an unchanging love. It is this love that is the essence of God’s being; it is energy of what God does. It is the outcome of where God has been and is. God is love—not just love the noun, but love the verb. Love does!

Your love for God, and mine, if it is to be true, is not just love the noun, but love the verb; and verb is spelled o-b-e-y! Your love for God does for God. It obeys. It does what he says. Not to earn more of his love, but to express love in response to what you can never earn. That is the condition of true love: it loves through unrelenting and unconditional obedience.

If anyone defines love other than in that way, reject it. It might be well intentioned, but it is totally misguided. Rather, embrace obedience to God—that is love!

Going Deeper With God: God desires your wholehearted love today. And the best way you can express that is by obeying him. So where is he calling you to obey?