Coming back to the heart of worship

Confession time: I pray selfish prayers. For God to bless me and my family, to provide for my needs, to thank Him for providing for my needs. It’s the most natural thing in the world, but not the most super-natural.


After 25 years, I’m still a rookie. How disappointing.


This week while listening to CCFM, I was reminded that it’s not about me. There’s a whole world full of people and needs, and the purpose of my Heavenly Father to pray about. What must He be thinking? There goes Sean again, thinking small, praying parochially. Well, if I may presume what He might be thinking, although I imagine sometimes He may be forgiving of me than I am myself.


But I’m just spit-balling.


Matt Redman has written a lot of profound songs through the years and one of my favourites is ‘heart of worship’ which reminds me:


I’m coming back to the heart of worship

Because it’s all about you, all about you


I’m sorry Lord for the things I’ve made it

Because it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.


It’s a place I come back to: the basic starting point of simply knowing that its about Him and not me as I naturally begin to orbit around my own planet where my needs are the strong gravitational pull. Redman’s song helps loosen my planet’s pull to venture further into the space of who He is and what He is doing.


A fortnight ago, Mark Dickson from George Whitefield College preached at DCC about the disciples’ inability to control things and Christ’s power over death. The picture I got was of disciples who oftentimes were thinking too small and didn’t understand Jesus. Peter’s famous reaction to Jesus comes to mind:


31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man* must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.*

33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Mark 8:31 – 33, NLT).


I would have made a typical disciple if I were there in the time of Christ. Having in mind the things of men instead of the things of God. Mea culpa.


It is difficult enough to think straight in normal circumstances. Thinking through painful circumstances is even more problematic. However He remembers that we are dust, which for me is a picture of our thoughts: on the level of dust, always returning to the lowest common sandy denominator.


Which, I suppose, is why going to church is important: it lifts our perspective to see things from His point of view. And in the shape this world and our lives are in, you can’t possibly get enough of that.

Fresh from sin, mercy is sweet

There is nothing faster in nature than the speed of light.


There is nothing faster in the Star Trek universe than warp speed.


There is nothing comparable to the speed of forgiveness after confession. Mercy is practical and tailor made for sinful situations, whether by omission or commission.


Contrast: It’s like the speed at which I go from hungry to enjoyment of food within a moment of my first bite. Fresh from the bitterness of sin, mercy is sweet.


“8          The Lord is compassionate and merciful,

slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9           He will not constantly accuse us,

nor remain angry forever.

10         He does not punish us for all our sins;

he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11         For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12         He has removed our sins as far from us

as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103, NLT)

Operation clean sweep versus the psalm

Wolfgang Petersen directed the 1995 motion picture ‘Outbreak’ with an action role which went to Dustin Hoffman of all people, an actor with all the height of a gnome and a nose which by his own admission is very big. A most unlikely looking hero.


Everyone knows that Hollywood likes to build the story in action movies to a crescendo, an ending that rocks. There is an outbreak of a viral hemorrhagic fever in Cedar Creek, California and to save the world and make sure the virus doesn’t spread, the military decides to initiate Operation Clean Sweep, a surgical word game for wiping out the town with a Daisy Cutter (Fuel Air Explosive). Enter stage left: Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr who interrupt the bombing run and save the town.


This past Tuesday, the question occurred to me: Why does the world keep on turning? Why does He persist with it all? The world and the people in it?


The news is a very demoralizing thing. Why doesn’t He initiate Operation Clean Sweep? How did we even get to Saturday morning? We’re infected, and the evil chip away at the resistance of the good (not literally good, but better).


But then, a psalm:


“1          Let all that I am praise the Lord;

with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.

2           Let all that I am praise the Lord;

may I never forget the good things he does for me.

3           He forgives all my sins

and heals all my diseases.

4           He redeems me from death

and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

5           He fills my life with good things.

My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” (103, NLT)


He relents and doesn’t destroy, he deals with our infection, keeps me alive for one more day and even when I die, its only my body and my soul’s with Him. He’s more gentle on me than I deserve, provides me with treats I don’t deserve as if I were a typical ornery four year old child.


Even when I feel 80 years old, young emotions stir and take me back and I remember when He first called me.


This past week, a total of five lions escaped from the Kruger National Park and of particular worry to the townspeople near Komatipoort, one is still missing.


When I heard this news report, I was glad I don’t live near the Kruger National Park, but also thought back to a time with a group of people sleeping overnight in a hut in Dete (Zimbabwe) where you don’t leave the hut for hell or high water until day break lest you encounter an elephant or hyena.


Us urban dwellers seldom encounter wildlife and probably don’t consider that there are creatures who are wild and don’t follow rules and conventions, only instinct.


I thought of the Bob Marley song about ‘Iron, lion, Zion’, and the Leon Schuster movie Dr Bones where he opines, “be strong like the lion, be humble like the duka”, the proverbial lions share, the ‘Lion King’ movie with the enduring soundtrack and the ‘Thundercats’, an anime series from the 1980’s which probably hasn’t aged well beyond 2000.


Of course, the account of Daniel in the lion’s den comes to mind where God rescues his servant from the mouths of the lions:


“21 Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.

24 Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den.” (Daniel 16, NLT)


Peter also reminds believers about their enemy who is like a lion:


“8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters* all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5, NLT)


You don’t mess with lions and you don’t wrestle with them unless you’re Samson. Sometimes God shuts the mouths of the lion (like for Daniel) and sometimes the servant who doesn’t obey (like the man of God from Judah, 1 Kings 13) receives an appointment with a lion who kills him but apparently leaves the donkey.


But our enemy is also like a prowling lion, rapacious, driven by an instinct to hunt Christians. This is why we should speak up for our brothers and sisters being persecuted all over the world.

An inconvenient truth

Now, I’m going back to the days before Google, when people actually had to look up things in a quaint artifact called an encyclopaedia – something that generations Y and Z won’t have first-hand experience of – and I remember an image of a poster promoting and anti-pollution message: a group of kids walking happily with some guy in an owl costume, an avatar called ‘Woodsy’ whose signature phrase was ‘give a hoot, don’t pollute’.


The message of taking care of the environment is a worthwhile one, but which many environmentalists take to a ridiculous degree, thinking man to be an enemy of nature by his mere presence in it. The messaging must have been relentless in the late 80’s and early 90’s because to this day, I won’t knowingly drop a wrapper on the ground.


It occurred to me that environmentalists have got a hold of part of the periphery but miss the main thing. What is the practical usefulness of clean rivers and oceans and a reduction on the carbon footprint if mankind remains a moral cesspool?


Its not just environmentalists, a few random tree huggers, but environmentalism has become like the Force from Star Wars…it surrounds us and moves through us…to quote Obi-Wan. From the EU to the Americas, the thinking about the environmental evils of mankind are pervasive. The moral evils of mankind however go unconsidered.


So much so that it is considered virtuous to turn off lights – not for the sake of saving on the bill, but for the environment – but standing for the traditional Christian family and standing against the moral slide in society is considered to the new secular blasphemy.


Just from an average week of living life without deliberately seeking out sin, it found me anyway because its inherent. I’ve become tired of polluting the moralsphere. I have polluted myself.


What is equally true is that whilst I can pollute myself I cannot clean myself on the inside:


13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 14, NLT)


Why should environmentalists consider questions of human morality? Isn’t the environment their focus? That’s why I said that they grab hold of the periphery while missing the great ocean of truth before them. The environment is a picture of us and do they really believe that human beings with no moral restraint can legislate compliance with carbon emissions?


To borrow an idea from Al Gore, the moral state of man is ‘an inconvenient truth’ that society is resistant to addressing. This illustrates the rationale behind Obama, Hollande et al being heroes and Franklin Graham being an irritant or a backwards kook.


When I look at it through the eyes of Scripture, environmental heroes like Obama, Hollande, Merkel and Clooney are the most in need of saving and Franklin Graham is the hero standing for truth.

A great high priest

During last week, the local Christian radio station CCFM aired a message by Andy Stanley of North Point ministries.


I’ve seen a few video messages by Andy Stanley and like many people in corporate life who go to work but don’t meet with big Kahunas all the time, Andy dresses smart-casual in what for him is something of a uniform: cotton long-sleeve shirt and smart shoes with jeans. I’ve also noticed that he often gets excited and his speech cadence gets faster with his excitement level.


It was a good message and I enjoyed hearing it, based on Hebrews:


14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


(Hebrews 4, NIV)


In point form, it basically goes as follows:


  • Our faith doesn’t rest on current reality
  • Our faith rests on Christ’s sacrifice two thousand years ago
  • So no matter what happens now, we can trust him in eternity
  • Christ is empathetic
  • He doesn’t take our issues seriously because they are necessarily serious but because they are our issues.


It brought to my mind questions:


Does it feel silly to approach God to ask about the mundane? To pray about our lunch? A zit that’s coming up on our forehead? An interview? A journey to Betty’s Bay?


It is only right and proper to approach God whilst being concerned with His kingdom and thinking big thoughts, however ‘He remembers that we are dust’ as the Psalmist wrote. I try not to bother Him with the trivial however I’m confident that He can handle the added distraction – if that’s what it is – of my concerns along with the issues confronting most of the people in the world, and the church, and the salvation of the lost.


We have a high priest who knows exactly what we as human beings – fallible human beings – are going through. His mercy is ALWAYS there.

Fail army, or The things we shouldn’t do

Because I sometimes simply don’t remember things, I cannot remember how I came to think of Romans 12 this week. I’m mindful that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and as a result there are things I shouldn’t indulge in, or over-do.


Along with things I shouldn’t do, I’m also reminded of things that I should, and of how I get the timing wrong. On Saturday 22 April just past, in excess of a million Christians gathered near Bloemfontein to listen to Angus Buchan and seek God’s face for South Africa.


We in this country need God’s hand of guidance, or else we are in the dwang. I could have set aside a few minutes quietly to pray and agree with my brethren, however the day took its own turn and I meandered with it…5 hours of overtime at work, a 2 hour trip directly from there to Betty’s Bay, visiting and gin and beer and sips of whiskey, dinner and dog walking, a 2 hour trip back to Cape Town and getting back just in time to watch my team play only to present the worst 2 hours of Super Rugby in the history of the competition, all while cultivating a headache brought on by one of the aforementioned beverages, I know not which.


Should have been praying, but didn’t and the weekend was a wash.


This is the verse that should have been the operating principle in my day: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12, NIV).


The pattern of the world is easy enough to notice:


  1. This is a don’t: don’t join ISIS:


  1. This one is a double no-no; don’t be a porn star and don’t swim with sharks:


  1. And finally, listen to warnings:


So that is why today, I cracked open Psalm 27 and am staying away from gin. My body and intellect ought to be a living sacrifice to Him.