Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

Psalm 68:24-35 – A Mighty God Who Rides the Skies

O God, your march of triumph is seen by all,
    the procession of God, my king, into his sanctuary.
The singers are in front, the musicians are behind,
    in between are the young women beating the tambourines.
“Praise God in the meeting of his people;
    praise the Lord, all you descendants of Jacob!”
First comes Benjamin, the smallest tribe,
    then the leaders of Judah with their group,
    followed by the leaders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Show your power, O God,
    the power you have used on our behalf
    from your Temple in Jerusalem,
    where kings bring gifts to you.
Rebuke Egypt, that wild animal in the reeds;
    rebuke the nations, that herd of bulls with their calves,
    until they all bow down and offer you their silver.
Scatter those people who love to make war!
Ambassadors will come from Egypt;
    the Ethiopians will raise their hands in prayer to God.

Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,
    sing praise to the Lord,
    to him who rides in the sky,
    the ancient sky.
Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.
Proclaim God’s power;
    his majesty is over Israel,
    his might is in the skies.
How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—
    the God of Israel!
He gives strength and power to his people.

Praise God! (Good News Translation)

The biblical psalms are uniform in praising God for God’s inherent character and for how that character acts in the world.

Since God is an infinitely immense Being, our human language cannot begin to adequately contain or describe such divinity. Yet, words are what we have for trying to communicate the attributes of such an incredible and awesome God.

This is why the use of metaphors is significant. Whenever we can picture something we are familiar with, then imaginatively place God alongside it, it helps give us at least a rudimentary idea and feeling of who this God is, what this God is all about.

To gain a glimpse of God’s majesty and sovereignty over the universe, we are invited to see with our spiritual eyes, God riding the sky; to hear with our spiritual ears the thunderous shout which roars and reverberates throughout the cosmos.

We are also invited to respond to what we see and hear by using our power of words and speech to proclaim God’s power. And that power is well beyond our ability to describe. With all of the powerful forces in this world, they are but a mere puff of breath to the God who reigns supreme over all powers, both in heaven and on earth. God’s power is a thunderous beauty. God’s splendor and strength rise larger than thunderheads.

Having grown up in Midwest America, I’ve seen my share of large thunderheads (massive cumulus clouds which form just before a storm), thunderstorms replete with bright lightning and noise so awesome it shakes the farmhouse, and tornados with such force that they rip the roof off a barn as if it were a Lego building.

And God is bigger than that – stronger, louder, and brighter.

The appropriate response to such a God is to make music for the one who strides the ancient skies in a heavenly chariot yet stoops to listen and care about puny humans.

The reasonable response to such a God is to listen to the divine voice thundering in the world and submit to the sound which seems like it might split the heavens open.

To gain a mere glimpse of God’s strength and power will inevitably result in a response of giving up our all to the Lord of the universe, everything we have, and all that we are.

To know, even a tiny smidgeon, of such a God will bring our own loud shouts of proclaiming God’s goodness, grace, and generosity to anyone who will listen to us.

To glimpse what the psalmist sees will consume us with awe, as we intuitively connect with the glory which is constantly streaming from heaven.

God shares divine strength with people. God doesn’t have to do that. The Lord has no obligation to do so. Yet, it happens, despite our fickle praise and inconsistent devotion.

So, let’s give our highest praise to the God of the psalms. Let’s imbibe of God’s thunderous presence among us.

Then, we will likely be happier than a gopher in soft dirt; or a butcher’s dog; or a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

Eternal Trinity – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – the awesome God whom I serve: The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you. A massive thunderhead is but a small cloud next to you, the Godhead, the incredible Three-in-One.

Through you, almighty Lord, I shall come to know myself and my world. And that knowledge is a mighty love for humanity which spans longer and higher than the universe itself. May the love, unity, harmony, community, goodness, and power which is always present within yourself, mighty God, be present with me, your servant.

For just a molecule of You is enough to power me for eternity. Amen.

*Above photo by Moritz Bu00f6ing on Pexels.com

Psalm 115 – The Living God Is Both Far and Near

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens;
    he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
    so are all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.

The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
    he will bless the house of Israel;
    he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
    both small and great.

May the Lord give you increase,
    both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
    but the earth he has given to human beings.
The dead do not praise the Lord,
    nor do any that go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
(New Revised Standard Version)

Theology 101 Syllabus:

  • The earth belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity stewards the earth, not depletes it.
  • Glory belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity gives glory, not seeks glory.
  • God is mindful of us with blessing, not cursing.
  • Humanity is mindful of God with praise, not idolatry.
  • God is eternal, not finite, alive, and not dead.
  • Humanity is finite, not infinite. Dead people don’t steward the earth and give glory and praise to God. Mortal humans have a privilege and responsibility on this earth while they are still alive.

Any questions?

When it comes to knowing God, we learn as much or more about Divine attributes and actions in the psalms as anywhere else in Holy Scripture. This is one reason why the Lectionary has a psalm for every day – and why the same psalm is repeated three days in a row. It is the consistent, repeated, and continual reading and recitation of the psalms which provides us with the robust theology we need for practical daily living.

God speaks. Idols do not. We have the privilege of God’s Word. There are no words from idols. People become like the objects of their worship. Worshiping a mute inanimate object leads to being silent on the great problems and issues of our day. Idol worship has nothing substantive to offer. It’s worthless.

Conversely, the worship of God (a deity who has words for the immense needs of the world) brings a sense and application of humility, justice, and mercy to the very real and present situations surrounding us.

“The believer trusts in the name of the Lord to show steadfast love – to put love where love is not.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

Evil will not be perpetrated with impunity. That is, the person of violent speech and/or actions will not be able to victimize continually and without consequence. Their wicked words and deeds are held accountable by a God who cares about such things. An idol is unable to hear the cries of victims. And an idol is neither able to proclaim justice nor words of assurance. Idolatry has no ability to stop the ravaging of the earth and its people.

The Lord is both far and near – far enough and high enough to see the big picture and act accordingly – yet near enough to bring true comfort and solace. I was once speaking with a friend about this, discussing the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God. He listened and then said, “So, it sounds like God is a loving hard-ass!” Well, yes. Not quite the way I would frame it, but he certainly picked up on the spirit of what I was saying.

It is important to hold together and maintain both God’s intimacy and distance. Because they each work together to provide the worshiper with what is needed. The Lord both infinitely observes from afar as well as gets his hands dirty working on behalf of finite humanity. This is the view of God the psalms give us. A God who cares in the total sense of the word – caring with comforting words and confident action.

A vision of God in the psalms inevitably leads to prayer, trust, praise, and worship. The Lord might be invisible, yet the evidence of this immense deity is everywhere in the blessings we have, both big and small. Deep within our personhood is firm epistemic proof that we belong to God.

May the Lord who created heaven and earth give you divine blessing.

May all people everywhere praise the Lord now and forevermore! Amen.

Psalm 47 – Clap and Shout!

Sing, Clap, and Sound the Trumpets by Melani Pyke

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves.

God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm.
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.
(New Living Translation)

God is King. In the Christian tradition specifically, Jesus is King. Christ is the One who gives shape, form, and substance to the reign of God over the earth. This is what the Lord’s ascension to heaven communicates – that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, exercising a benevolent rule as the rightful Sovereign over all creation.

This redemptive reality of the Lord’s good reign is a cause for praise. And this is what today’s psalm is all about. We, as the subjects of God’s kingdom, are called to praise the Lord.

The psalm tells us exactly how to praise the Lord because of powerful and compassionate authority: clap your hands and shout! For worshipers who believe acknowledgment of God is most appropriate with silence and contemplation, even a cursory reading of the psalms will inform them differently. Although it seems to me most worship experiences need more familiarity with silence, I also passionately believe they could use a whole lot more enthusiasm with clapping and shouting.

Depending upon where you fit in the spectrum of Christianity’s tradition of worship, high church or low church, very liturgical, or not, it behooves all churches to incorporate the full range of human expression to God – including both silence and shout, hands clasped reverently in prayer as well as exuberantly clapping in praise.

“Let all the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether.”

Psalm 98:8, CEB

It is biblical to applaud God! And it’s healthy, too – both spiritually and physically. Whenever we fail to pause in our feelings of happiness and enjoy the moment, it is more than a missed opportunity. Unacknowledged and unexpressed joy trains us to depress our feelings, eventually leading to depression itself. Yet, whenever we stop to outwardly demonstrate gratitude through the exuberance of shouting and clapping, it benefits everyone – God, others, and self.

Physically clapping and shouting helps keep the heart and lungs healthy, even playing a curative role with pulmonary problems. It gives relief to joint pain, gout, headaches, insomnia, and digestion. Shouting and clapping even sharpens the intellect and increases the brain’s ability. And, of course, applause is a social phenomenon which binds folks together in community.

For the psalmist, applause to the Lord is the appropriate response to God’s power and victory in the world. Since divine presence is everywhere – and that presence is merciful, just, and kind – we ought to pause long enough to acknowledge and celebrate a loving God watching over us with tender care and concern.

No matter the circumstance, God is with us. That reality alone is enough cause for exuberance and celebration. Even though evil still resides in this old fallen world, God is King, and still sits on the throne. The pastor and hymnwriter, Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), had it right:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! 

It is not the attempt to gin-up human and personal confidence which enables us to face the foulness and degradation of this world. Rather, it’s the spiritual awareness of God’s presence and power which resides around us and within us. This is the basis of our confidence. It is the ground of our peace. It’s the reason for the believer’s joy, even amidst awful circumstances.

Our connection with one another as worshipers is the common acknowledgment of God’s rule and reign over all creation. And our link as followers of Jesus is the collective conviction that Christ is King, we are his subjects, and all things belong to God, including us.

Whenever we connect with this basic theology, spontaneous and joyous praise is the result. So, if we lack the joy of the Lord in our lives, the place to go is to use today’s psalm. Read it several times over, out loud. Shout the psalm! Clap while shouting the psalm! Sing the psalm aloud! Praise the risen and ascended Lord!

May it be so to the glory of God.

This Is My Father’s World, sung by Amy Grant.