Growing, Flexible, Passionate, Faithful, Anointed

(Editor’s note: This series is best read in order beginning with “Growing.”) 

So the outside of the circle is complete. The well-rounded Spirit/Truth worshiper, the “true” worshiper Jesus spoke about in John 4:23 will be a person who is growing, flexible, passionate, and faithful. These are all characteristics I have observed both in worshipers I have known and those mentioned in scripture. All four are vital to being “all we can be” for God. All four form a circle around the part that can only come from God Himself.

The fifth characteristic that is found at the core of every true worshiper is that he or she is anointed. There have been volumes written about what the anointing is, understanding the anointing, how the anointing feels, how to receive it, what it looks like and even developing a stronger anointing. In the church, the debate rages more in the area of music than any other. I’ve known people who were so spiritually smug they could dismiss singers as having “no anointing” simply because they didn’t like their style of music.

One pastor I worked with had an especially bizarre view on anointed music. Only half-jokingly, he would refer to a built-in “discern-o-meter” that could measure anointing. Of course only certain styles (songs written before 1976) ever passed anointed muster. He thought the perfect worship song should be written along the musical style of “Keep the Ball Rolling” an obscure oldie from the 1960’s recorded by Jay and the Technicians (I’m pretty sure Jay didn’t know what an anointed melody he had there.)

One of the most shocking “revelations” I ever had came from a nationally known, singer/evangelist as we sat at lunch after a Sunday morning service. He put the “no anointing” badge on the entire genre of Black Gospel music! (“Lots of emotion but little anointing.”) God obviously didn’t get this guy’s memo.

I once received a call from a booking agent for another well-known singer/trumpet player/evangelist. He was trying to book a concert at our church and the only thing I can figure is that he must have had a super-advanced discernometer. Here’s how the conversation went:

(Excited voice) “Ed, can I call you Ed? Ed, we’ve been having some TREMENDOUS meetings! “Bill” (I’ll spare using singer’s real name in the hope that “Bill” didn’t know his rep was using this approach) has had at least a 30% increase in his anointing from last year!!!”

My first thought was, “He did not just say what I thought he just said.” I said, “I’m sorry, did you just say that he had had a 30% increase of anointing?” “Yep, that’s right – at least that much. Ed, it’s been unbelievable!” The thrill of the hunt was almost more than he could stand. He was headed in for the kill. “So would you like to have Bill there on the ninth or would the sixteenth work better for ya? Sunday morning or Sunday night? Ed, would you like for him to preach or just sing and play or just sing or just play or just preach and play? He’d prefer to take his own offering but if you want the pastor to that would be fine – whatever, we’re here for you…Ed?”

He had me at thirty per-cent. But not in the way that he thought he had me. I didn’t have the heart to say it but my sarcastic thought was, “thirty per-cent?” That’s the best you can do? We don’t have any guest ministers at this church who are not experiencing at LEAST a sixty per-cent anointing increase so you’ll have to do better.” But I didn’t. I was polite and told him I thought we would have to pass on his invitation.

That was the first and only time that I heard that the anointing could actually be put into percentages. And that a person could actually increase his or her points somehow. Of course, if it can increase, then there’s always the possibility of a decrease. Not sure how the booking agent would have spun it if he discerned a twenty per-cent drop in Bill’s ministry.

I given some absurd (yet true) examples to say that there has been a great deal of thinking and teaching about what it is to be anointed and what can and cannot be anointed that is simply not based in scripture. As the King James translators would put it, “What saith the scriptures?” Two things are abundantly clear: People can be anointed and God does the anointing. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us” (2 Corinthians 1:21).

What does the anointing do? Well, let’s see… some people say it gives them goose bumps and feels like buckets of honey are breaking over their heads. Some people think it makes them fall down and lay there for several minutes or hours at a time. “It makes me laugh and it makes me cry, sets this sinful soul on fire.” It causes some preachers to totally change the tone, timbre and volume of their voice and end every phase with “and-a.”

When I was a kid I once saw a preacher get so excited while preaching “under the anointing” that he jumped from the platform, hurdling over the sizeable altar in front of the pulpit without missing a beat in his high-volume sermon. After the sermon he limped out of the church and was on crutches for the next six weeks.

Is that what the anointing does? I would rather take a scriptural approach. John 2:27 says that the anointing that we have received from God abides within (as opposed from say, falling from above). And I love the definition of the word abides used there. It means “to remain, to sojourn, to tarry, not to depart, to continue to be present” As God’s nature is, He gave us something that we do not have to get up every morning and wonder if it had leaked out during the night. We can depend on His anointing to be there for us all the time every time we do what we do.

And although we will “feel it” from time to time it is abundantly clear in scripture that the anointing is given for doing: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

So is this anointing for “doing good” just for doing things like praying for people or preaching or singing or witnessing? It does not appear so. The late Ray Charles had a philosophy about writing songs. Instead of trying to figure out too much about the song before writing it, he would just sit down at the piano and as he succinctly described the process “let it do what it do.”

That phrase in Acts 10:38, “doing good” actually means, “bestowing benefits.” I believe there are mechanics that are anointed to bestow benefits on people who need an honest, skilled person to repair their car. God anoints doctors, lawyers, carpenters, pilots, soldiers and salesmen every bit as much as missionaries, preachers and yes, even as much as worship leaders. (I know that last one might be tough to wrap your mind around but it’s accurate.)

True worshipers can be found in every walk of life, bringing glory to God. They are “going about doing good,” using the irrevocable gifts and callings God has given them and healing those under the power of the devil because God is with them. As they worship God in Spirit and Truth, they are continually growing, remarkably flexible, obviously passionate, ever faithful all the while letting that abiding anointing “do what it do.”

Keep it alithinos.

 

 

 

 

 

Growing, Flexible, Passionate, Faithful, Anointed

(Editor’s note: This series is best read in order beginning with “Growing.”)

Imagine with me, if you will, a circle. This circle is made up of four sections that all connect protecting the center that for now is hollow. This circle represents a true or Spirit/Truth worshiper. The four connecting sections symbolize the characteristics that I have found to be common in all Sprit/Truth worshipers. We’ve taken a look at three of the qualities that make for a true worshiper – continually growing, flexible, and passionate — and now we complete the circle with “faithful.” (The hollow part will be examined and filled in the next edition of stEDfastly speakinG.)

It is difficult to rank the other three in order of importance, but the characteristic of faithfulness stands paramount in the life of a worshiper. Faithfulness will be found in every one of the “Such,” Jesus referred to in His dialogue with the woman at the well (John 4:23).

In Psalms 36:5 David seemingly ran out of words to describe the magnitude of God’s fidelity in finally concluding that His faithfulness “reaches to the clouds.” Actually, the statement is not the “can’t think of the right word” bit of hyperbole that it appears to be at first blush. David was making an important point when he sought to measure this divine attribute on such a grand and timeless scale.

In his commentary on this verse, Seventeenth Century writer Matthew Henry observes, “God’s faithfulness reaches so high that it does not change with the weather, as men’s does, for it reaches to the skies (so it should be read, as some think), above the clouds, and all the changes of the lower region.”

What an interesting analogy. David had seen his share of disloyalty and unfaithfulness from friends, family, those under his authority and of course from the sorely tormented and conflicted king Saul whom he had faithfully served. David himself had been the perpetrator of a betrayal that had rendered a lifetime harvest of devastation so it is not surprising that he would view God’s faithfulness with such awe.

Another interesting aspect of the faithfulness issue is that although God Himself had experienced man’s unfaithfulness time and time again since that first episode in Eden’s Garden, still He seeks faithful worshipers. How many times have you thought “If I were God I would have…” when reading examples of man’s faithlessness? But that’s exactly David’s point isn’t it? God’s faithfulness outdistances man’s best efforts by a sky’s length. Reciting what is believed to have been a popular song or poem among Christians at the time, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy: If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself (II Tim. 2:13). Someone said, “God cannot lie, die or deny Himself.”

It is obvious that faithfulness, or the lack thereof, touches every relationship we will ever have in life. In several decades of ministry I have seen undying faithfulness and devastating faithlessness, at every level of leadership.

The position of worship leader in a church is somewhat like that of the Centurion who Jesus encountered in Matthew Chapter 8. In his belief that if Jesus would simply “say the word” and his servant would be healed, this soldier demonstrated an amazing insight into the true meaning of real authority. First of all, he had faith that Jesus was who He said He was: the very Son of God. Secondly, he understood that although there was no comparison in the levels of authorization. Like him, Jesus commanded authority yet was under the authority of a higher power. I have overseen hundreds of singers and musicians and worked under numerous pastors in several different churches spread across 6 States and 4 decades of ministry. Along the way, I have accumulated a heartful of faithful friends and endeavored to be of like kind.

Of course with every stop to smell the roses of faithfulness there has been the occasional thorn of faithlessness. Although they have been relatively few, some have been extremely painful. Some have even left a mark! And since we’re being so candid here, I’m relatively sure I have been stuck in someone’s side a time or two myself.

I learned a most valuable, unforgettable lesson in faithfulness early in my college career while part of a music group. Thinking I was indispensable because of my ability to tinkle the ivories, I would blow off rehearsals or make the group wait until I arrived fashionably late. Though extremely frustrating to the rest of the group, they couldn’t shoot me, because after all, I was the piano player.

So our music director did the next best thing. With a brilliant idea that was way ahead of its time, she recorded the piano parts herself and replaced me with a reel-to-reel tape recorder! (Instrumental sound tracks would not be sold commercially until several years later) She proved there was more than one way to skin a cool cat and showed me the seriousness of commitment to God and those with whom I minister. In a word she schooled me. Point made, precept learned and I became a better leader for it.

I have learned some surprising things about God from people in worship ministry (he says with tongue firmly in cheek). One is how quickly God can change His will. I have had people tell me that God had undeniably spoken to them being a part of the particular ministry I was leading. A week later God had apparently changed the coordinates on their GPS system and led them in a totally different direction.

Over the course of 7 years, one young man came to me on three different occasions with the good news that God, in His infinite wisdom and favor, had seen fit to direct this kid to bless us with his incredible talents. The first time he stayed semi-faithful (if that is possible) for a couple of years. A few months later, he came back and stuck for a couple of weeks. A few years later, after a tearful apology about how leaving had been one of the worst mistakes of his life, he never even made it back for the next rehearsal!

Thankfully, worshipers like him are the exception not the rule. The majority of people I have led in ministry, whether in the pew or on the platform, do not make a big deal out of their ministry, they just keep showing up to worship. They are faithful to God, faithful to each other and faithful to worship in spirit and truth. True worshipers. And there is an intrinsic reward for those whom He finds faithful. Proverbs 28:20 fairly shouts, “The faithful man will abound with blessing!” God is seeking such.

 

Keep it alithinos.

Growing, Flexible, Passionate, Faithful, Anointed

(Editor’s note: This series is best read in order beginning with “Growing.”)

Let’s continue exploring the characteristics of people I refer to as “Spirit/Truth worshipers.” In St. John, Chapter 4 Jesus said that true worshipers would worship in spirit and truth. Although He did not mention any specific marks of the true worshiper, I believe that people who worship God in spirit and truth do possess certain common qualities. In previous articles I have identified continual growth and flexibility as two of these singularities and today I’ll take a look at a third: Spirit/Truth worshipers are passionate.

I thought about putting an exclamation point at the end of that last sentence. But that might imply that in order to be a true worshiper it’s a given that you are inherently loud and frenetic and that simply is not true. Here is another nugget that might be a world-rocker for some: One doesn’t even have to be of a certain denominational persuasion, group or “movement,” or sing a certain style of music to be a passionate worshiper. Can we put that myth to rest once and for all? Notions that intimate that a person has to be in the right church or on a worship team, have the right kind of voice, achieve a certain level of volume, have just the right feeling or some other spiritual gene has hindered many in the Body of Christ from entering in to true worship.

This fact was pointed up to me again via a recent email I received from a lady who served with me in a music ministry several years ago. She was thanking me for writing the first in this series of Spirit & Truth Worshipers articles. Let me preface her remarks by saying that, in my opinion she was and is a true worshiper. Although the characteristics of a worshiper have nothing to do with quality of voice, she does happen to have one of the purest, clearest, and powerful yet sweetest I have ever heard. And she sings with unmistakable passion. But due to the fact that she believed her voice was better suited for operatic style music, she felt she was not — in her words — a “worthy worshiper.”

She writes: “… I have always not felt good enough as a worshiper and always based it on achieving or being chosen to be on a worship team that I so much wanted and thought that if I had or been able to worship with my voice on the worship team then and only then would I be considered a worthy worshiper…”

Although being chosen for the worship team may not be our personal litmus test, I think all of us have had similar “inferior worshiper” thoughts. Her comments beg this question: “What gives our worship worth in God’s economy?” All the scriptural indicators seem to agree that the Father values worship without regard to form, style or even the greatest of sacrifices. Micah 6:7-9 makes that pretty clear:

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy ,and to walk humbly with your God?

In that succinct, poetic passage the prophet hoses it all down and… surprise! True worship is a lot less complicated than man has made it: “To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” When a person is doing those three things, God, sees a heart of worship. And I submit that an intangible called passion resides in every true worshiper’s heart.

In the Mark 12:30 Message Bible paraphrase, Jesus tells us to love God with all our passion and prayer and intellect and energy. Passion is a multi-faceted word with many definitions but the best one I have found is: “boundless enthusiasm.”

You may have noticed that Micah didn’t mention singing or playing music as one of the things we must bring before the Lord. Worshiping the Lord with music is not a requirement – something we have to do – it’s something we get to do. When I think about the Lord and all He’s done for me, music happens! (I throw in the exclamation mark because I write this with boundless enthusiasm and admitted loud freneticism!) It is a natural byproduct of delight.

And delight in its purest form is found in children. Have you ever noticed that most children will naturally sing? They do not have to be taught. In fact, they have to learn not to be boundlessly enthusiastic. This sad lesson can come from the vicissitudes of life but most often it is learned from adults who have lost their passion for life or some aspect thereof.

Perhaps to get a feel for what passion is, we should take a look at what it is not. Ecclesiastes 12 is a commentary on a passionless life. The first verse sets the tone: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Solomon goes on to mention a time in life when “the daughters of music are brought low.” The Message Bible paraphrases it, “the hum of the household fades away.” To paraphrase a paraphrase: “If Mama (or in this case the king) ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Bottom line is that the lack of music is a conditioned response to a depressed head of household. Solomon concludes this depressing, chapter with a final thought that everything is just vanity or a vapor. Many centuries after Solomon, another wealthy, depressed man put it this way: “Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.”

But all hope and passion are not lost in this diatribe: Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth. That admonition has brought me hope and comfort from the first time I read it as a child at youth camp. Difficult days have come – no denying that. But as long as I have remembered – called to mind – my Creator, I have not had cause to say, “I have no pleasure” in the years that God has given me. And that, my friend, incites boundless enthusiasm in me to continue to bring my “sacrifice of praise” to God.

The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 33:10-12

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. Hebrews 13:15

Spirit/Truth worshipers are always growing, extremely flexible and though they may express themselves in a myriad of forms and styles, they worship with unmasked, unbridled, boundlessly enthusiastic passion.

Keep it alithinos.

Growing, Flexible, Passionate, Faithful, Anointed

(Editor’s note: This series is best read in order beginning with “Growing.”)

In the previous article, I began a study of some of the characteristics of people I believe Jesus would list among the “true worshipers” He refers to in the verse above. He doesn’t specify the criteria as to what sets authentic worshipers apart from false or non-worshipers other than to say the true would worship in spirit and truth.

Through the years there has been much speculation and debate as to exactly how a person worships in spirit and truth. In my own experience as a worship leader for many years I have heard and read a large number of definitions of the correct way to worship. While the woman at the well was looking for the definitive sound bite, Jesus was a bit nebulous about committing Himself to a certain worship style or place as being the most conducive.

Alithinos Authenticity

Although His ambiguity was purposeful, His answer is nonetheless quite revealing in His choice of the word “true” as in true worshipers. The definition of the Greek word alithinos — translated “true” in the verse — reveals a definite distinction among worshipers. According to the Strong’s Concordance, alithinos means “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine.” Paul uses the word in I Thessalonians 1:9 to refer to the “true God.” This emphasis on the genuine is what the framers of the Nicene Creed had in mind when they referred to Jesus Christ as being “Very God of Very God.”

Spirit/Truth worshipers are the real deal. They will not all sing the same songs and even if the song is the same, it can have a hundred different tempos and rhythms. They will not all be part of the same church, denomination, or culture and they will not all meet at the same location or be in a certain environment. They will not all dress the same. I’ve seen true worshipers dressed in everything from habits to holey jeans. But this one thing they will have in common. True worshipers will all worship the same God and they will be the genuine articles. And the people I have observed through the years who are the most “real” in their worship all exhibit this second characteristic: Spirit/Truth worshipers are flexible.

True worshipers are able to go with the flow – even if the flow is not going where they thought it was going to go or if the flow is faster, louder or quite different from the flow they have been used to.

The Apostle Paul gave us a great example of flexibility. In I Corinthians 9:22 he says, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” The Message Bible puts it a little differently: “I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.”

Lone Star Lesson

One of the greatest examples in worship-flexibility I ever observed was given to me by a 70-year-old woman in the summer of 1975. Between college semesters that year I had the opportunity to work on a ranch and visit some great towns like Detroit and Little Chicago. Sometimes, although they were a little further away, I even ventured as far as Paris or Bogota. No, I didn’t have a private jet – all those burgs were within a 20-mile radius of the North Texas ranch where I hung my hat.

Each Sunday of that memorable summer I attended a great little fellowship with a classic Texas name: Lone Star Church. Lone Star was at least 50 years old and was a model of flexibility in several respects. For starters, two congregations met in the old building at the same time each Sunday and had been doing so for decades. One week the United Methodist pastor would drive over from Bogota (pronounced ba-GO-ta) and preach. The next Sunday the Congregational Methodist pastor would conduct the services. Although there were some definite differences in the services – the United pastor might say something that raised a Congregational’s eyebrow every once in a while and the Congregational preacher could get a little loud on occasion — everyone got along pretty well and few of the folks knew or cared who was part of which congregation.

The flexibility was even carried a step further every other Sunday. Due to the United Methodist’s pastor’s circuit schedule, (he also preached in  Bogota on those Sundays) the preaching had to come first and then the Sunday School classes. On the Congregational Methodist Sundays, the service order was reversed.

Lone Star faced perhaps its greatest flexibility test on the first Sunday night of August in 1975. And I happened to be there to see it all. That was the night Stephen came to minister. For years and years, the first Sunday night of every month was designated as “First Sunday Singing” at Lone Star – a time when anyone could request someone else to come up front and either lead a song out of the songbook or sing a “special.” It was always a lot of fun yet some real worship happened.

Some of the students from Lone Star were attending Paris Junior College and had met Stephen at the Baptist Student Union. Stephen was a personable young man with a quick smile. Stephen had an obvious love for God and life could sing and play just about anything on the piano. He apparently never met a stranger and so it was a natural progression that the Lone Star kids would invite him out to First Sunday Singing. There was just one little issue with Stephen that was readily apparent when he appeared in the doorway.

In the storied history of this unique church known across three counties for its down home cowboy hospitality, there had been all types of people who had visited Lone Star but until the August 1975 First Sunday Singing, there had never been a black person inside its doors.

To their credit, most of the people took this ground-breaking event – at least outwardly — in stride. They greeted him politely – an index finger to the brim of an imaginary cowboy hat from the ranchers — and invited him to sit down. Of course many had to sneak a second glance more out of curiosity than suspicion. After all when does a black guy come to an all white, country church… in Northeast Texas… in the 1970’s? This was a new experience for all of us – Stephen included! But on the other hand, the air was charged with a feeling that something special, something right and good was happening. The service began and a couple of people led the congregation in a few of their favorite songs found in the “Singing Convention” songsbooks that had been passed out to them. Everything seemed to be going well until one of the college kids spoke up and said, “I’d like to hear Stephen do a song!”

“Cool it Girls”

There were four older widows who had sat on the same pew up close to the front every Sunday for more years than Stephen had been alive. The significance of Stephen’s presence was not lost on any of them. They were, to put it mildly, aware. Since their first initial glance to the back when Stephen had stepped into the doorway a few minutes earlier, three of the four had quickly turned back around and kept their glares straight ahead since his arrival.

However, with this new development, action had to be called for – and quick! As Stephen made his way to the piano, their stage whispers began. With each step, the tension in the room escalated in direct proportion to the volume of the widow’s whispers. By the time he got to the front, it was evident that this was going to be – in the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield — a “tough room” or at least a tough row of widows.

Just about the time it seemed as if Stephen was having major second thoughts and would turn and bolt for the back door, a voice of reason, a voice of non-intimidated flexibility yea, a voice crying in the wilderness as it were, was heard above the silent din. Amazingly, it was the fourth widow, Sister Willie Watkins who spoke three words that totally changed the atmosphere and prepared the way of the Lord to minister through Stephen. In a voice that could be heard for several rows around her, a voice as clear and firm as John the Baptist’s she said simply, emphatically and in perfect widowspeak, “Cool it girls!” Those words could not have had a more profound impact had the prophet himself stood up and shouted, “PREPARE YE THE WAY OF THE LORD!”

The mouths of the lionesses were shut and a sense of relief swept the church house as the tension broke like an “E” string wound a half a turn too tight. Stephen sat down at the piano, smiled and sang and led the congregation in worship. When he finished, he got one of the loudest chorus of “Amen’s” that the Lone Star rafters had reverberated in many a year. There were even some residual “Hallelujah’s” and “Whew’s” as the people mused on what they had just experienced. Since most people didn’t applaud in church back then, this show of appreciation was roughly the equivalent of a five-minute standing ovation.

As revolutionary as this event had been, this impromptu God-ordained flexibility test was not entirely over. Another reason Sunday Night Sing was a highlight of the month – especially in the summer – was the all-important fellowship time out under the trees behind the church (which happened to be just a few feet from the church cemetery but that’s a story for another time.) Part of the reason for the anticipation was the opportunity to have a true Texas delicacy: fresh homemade ice cream.

The flexibility test was not a question as to whether the ice cream was going to be everything everyone was expecting – Lone Star Church has the best in the world – the test was whether or not Stephen would be invited to stay for the refreshments. Again, the good folks of Lone Star showed their true colors. I think I even saw a couple of the widows go over with Mrs. Willie and tell Stephen how much they enjoyed his ministry.

I’ve been to many worship seminars in my life and have led hundreds of services in all types of places and with all types of people but everything I ever needed to know about flexibility in worship, I learned that night from the widow Willie Watkins, a true worshiper.

Keep it alithinos.

-Ed Gillies

Growing, Flexible, Passionate, Faithful, Anointed

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” ­– Jesus speaking to the woman at the well in John 4:23-24

Questions about worshiping God have been swirling for thousands of years. What is the proper mode of worship? Where is the best place to worship? When is the best time to worship? Who is qualified to worship? Interestingly, even this woman who had a multitude of issues that needed to be resolved in her personal life, decided instead to discuss worship theology with Jesus once she incisively perceived He was a prophet (with everything Jesus had just told her about her life, it didn’t take much discernment to come to that conclusion.) But this odd turn in the conversation points up to the fact that a strong desire to worship God is entwined in the spiritual DNA of every person.

Examples Abound

So what constitutes a true spirit and truth worshiper? Most Christians feel woefully inadequate when considering the viability of their worship in comparison to the standard Jesus sets in the John 4 passage. Yet examples of those who understand the concept and model the characteristics of Spirit and truth worship can be found not only in scripture but in people with whom we live and work everyday. The good news is, as with every other pronouncement Jesus made as to the way we should live, these facets are doable. I believe there are five identifiers of people who worship God in a way that honors Jesus (and probably bring a smile to the Father’s face in the process!) Spirit/Truth worshipers are growing, flexible, passionate, faithful, and anointed.

The first characteristic of a Spirit/Truth worshiper is that they are always growing. They are lifelong learners. II Tim. 2:15 is the scripture that comes to mind: “Be diligent to present yourselves unto God, a workman that has no reason to be ashamed.” Obviously studying scripture will help one grow. But that’s not the only way a worshiper can perform due diligence. I am amazed when I consider all the people and events that God has used to teach me lessons of life and theology. I have found that something can be learned from every person that comes into one’s life. I have received spiritual life lessons from people in all walks of life – from cowboys to colonels, shoe shiners to social climbers and a hundred others in between.

Another aspect of this education I’ve noticed is that the most spiritually astute people I have known spent more time asking questions than they did dispensing knowledge. And so it was with this woman who met Jesus at the well. Her first response to His request for water was a question. And the more questions she asked, it seemed, the more she wanted to know. It was perhaps because of her probing questions that Jesus chose her to be the very first person recorded in scripture to which He verbally revealed His divinity – that He had could give her living water. When He spoke the words, “I who speak to you am He,” in John 4:26 she believed Him and was instantly transformed into a Spirit/truth worshiper.

One cannot help but grow by asking questions. A Chinese proverb says, “One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” Francis Bacon adds, “A prudent question is one half of wisdom.” If seeking answers to questions is important in everyday life, it plays an even greater role in one’s spiritual development. Asking questions and growing in faith are inextricably linked. And the stronger a person’s faith, the deeper his or her worship becomes.

More knowledge about the miracle of Creation produces more praise for being wonderfully and fearfully made. The more revelation about the sacrifice Jesus made when He gave His life for the sin of the world, the more valuable the free gift of salvation. Jesus Himself asked many questions – not because He didn’t know the answer — He was the answer – but to prompt questions that helped His disciples grow. And when it came to questions the one thing Jesus never did was to shy away from one.

Enviornment Vital

Spiritual growth is severely stunted if not totally stopped in an environment that avoids, discounts, or discourages questions and exacts penalties on questioners. The only people who would not answer Jesus’ questions were the scribes and Pharisees. Their spiritual growth had so long ceased that He referred to them as “white-washed tombs.”

There have been times in my life when I was ostracized because I asked questions that people did not want to answer. Although receiving the “left foot of fellowship” was extremely painful at the time, I realized later that God used the experiences to extricate me from a spiritually abusive system. He used the non-answers as a sort of spiritual growth hormone.

The Spirit/Truth worshiper who is planted in a healthy environment – where questions are invited — will naturally grow. Psalm 92:12 gives a great description of this: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree; He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. This rare use of simile in scripture prompts the question, “how does a Lebanese cedar grow?” The short answer is: big and strong and for a very long time.

A Lebanese cedar is a large stately, extremely durable evergreen with wide-sweeping, sometimes upright branches and a delightful fragrance. What insight the psalmist had when he compared the righteous person to this unique tree. Bypassing the easy joke about large girthed Christians, any Christ follower worth his salt must definitely be “extremely durable.” And the wide sweeping, upright branches provide a great visual of a Spirit/truth worshiper in action. The tree’s aroma is also analogous to those who name the Name of Christ. In II Corinthians 2:15 Paul says we are to God the “fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

The cedar, with its legendary strength, can handle just about anything including drought and harsh weather conditions. There is only one thing the Lebanese Cedar cannot tolerate: atmospheric pollution. Spirit/Truth worshipers grow best in an atmosphere – a body of believers — where there is not a ton of “drama” happening that is taking the focus away from the purpose of the assembly. And another most interesting factoid about cedars is that — with all their strength and resilience — they cannot grow in the shade. Worshipers too will stagnate in a place where the light is blocked by shady dealings — false teaching, church politics, envy, strife and as James 3:16 says, every evil work.

The cedar grows very slowly – it requires at least 40 years before it produces it’s first fertile seeds – but it’s lifespan stretches across centuries rather than decades. This should be an encouragement to every believer who has had thoughts that maybe he or she was not doing enough, not progressing fast enough, not “producing” like others around them.

I have a friend who grew up in Lebanon. He told me that some of the cedars he had seen there were thousands of years old. One of the very oldest trees is so impressive that it has become a tourist attraction. Its heavy branches extend so far out from its massive trunk and are so densely needled that an enterprising businessman actually operates a restaurant under its canopy. I can’t think of a good analogy to worshipers about the restaurant thing – it’s just an interesting little tidbit — except to say that cedars of Lebanon are solid and like them, true worshipers are in this for the long haul. Just because the growth is slow and perhaps barely perceptible does not mean that it is not happening.

Spirit/Truth worshipers “flourish (“blossom, shine, sparkle” – Strong’s Concordance definition) like the palm tree” but continually grow — sure, slow, and steady — like a cedar in Lebanon. Who says we can’t have it all!

~ Ed Gillies

I recently celebrated my tenth anniversary of serious running. It’s an activity I never thought I would do — especially given the fact that I was 49 years old when I decided take up the sport. There were several factors involved with my decision to run. The first one was that in less than a year, Rhonda and I would celebrate 25 years of marriage and I had a goal of weighing the same on my 25th anniversary as I did on my wedding day.

The second reason was that in less than a year, I would turn 50, which at the time I considered to be officially middle aged and I wanted to be in good shape to begin the second half. Actually, now that I’m a few years on the other side of that mark, I keep pushing back that official age that when my middle age will begin – I’ll keep you posted.

The Challenge

 The third reason for change had come a few months before in the form of a challenge during the grand opening of a new facility at the church where I was serving. In his introduction of the keynote speaker for the event, the pastor explained that new facility’s goal was to make our town the “healthiest city in the world” by placing a strong emphasis on naturopathic healing, nutrition, and fitness. As he had been doing for the past several weeks, he touted the young man he was introducing as a nationally known expert in all three of these areas. Overtures had been made to him about joining the team and reports were that he was very interested in doing just that.

The whole church was buzzing with excitement to hear what profound keys to great health this young, energetic health expert had to share – that is until he actually imparted his profundity. In the grand opening service of the new healing center, the trim and energetic doctor issued a gentle but firm challenge to the congregation. He said that if we were going to honestly represent healthful values to the community and we wanted to attract them to the new center then we, as the flagship congregation, tasked with leading an entire city to good health, first needed to get in shape ourselves.

He didn’t propose anything too drastic, just a few healthy, positive changes. All very friendly happy talk.  As he turned his speech/sermon to the home stretch, he employed the “in closing” technique that preachers are wont to use. (This of course does not mean the speaker is actually ending his or her talk; in evangelical circles it is usually a signal to a musician to provide some soft background music so said speaker can say what he or she has really been wanting to say the whole time.)  Then, with a swaggering display of courage he declared that from his vantage point, the best place for us to start was a congregational loss of el bees. As in lbs. As in the one utterance that no apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher should ever make from a pulpit: yes, he actually used the dreaded three letter “F” word. The room grew so quiet you could have heard a biscuit drop. No one dared chance it, but a cursory look around the auditorium would have revealed that we were well on our way to making the term “full gospel church” a double entendre!

I happened to be standing on the platform at the keyboard when he issued the challenge and I did not have to look very far to see the magnitude of the problem. (I know, I should have had my head bowed and eyes closed like everyone else but I was the aforementioned designated musician.) I saw what he saw: almost every person in the large auditorium needed to lose weight. What’s more, I was part of a leadership staff that was large in more ways than numerical. And I was one of the big contributors to the rotundity. I realized I could not do anything about anyone else’s size but I knew he was speaking truth and I decided to make some changes. So I started running. But alterations like the ones he was suggesting found harsh resistance at the highest levels of leadership.

I found it interesting that this one who had been promoted from the pulpit for weeks before the event as being an expert in everything the healing center was supposedly going to be about, was now, in the weeks after issuing the challenge, being castigated from the same pulpit for making an astute observation. His remonstrance, while being a life changing and possibly life saving word of wisdom for me, was a mortal wound for the messenger’s long-term employment possibilities. It was a classic case of the one who identifies the problem becomes the problem. He did come on board for a few months after the grand opening but unbeknownst to him; his days were numbered from the day he arrived.

You Run?

It’s probably no surprise that I didn’t tell anyone about my new activity for the first six months after taking it up. One does not want to be too closely associated with a “problem person” but there was another reason for my reticence. You see, I had known many people who would start some new exercise regimen and then herald their effort like they had just set a new world record for whatever activity they had chosen. Then, when I saw them after a couple of weeks and asked about it, there would come that awkward moment that was uncomfortable for both of us as they mumbled something about making a change to a less strenuous regimen or that time issues had interfered or worse, they would say “the Lord had led” them to do something different.

In my mind I just figured I really couldn’t consider myself to be a runner until I had been consistent with it for a good length of time. Besides, when I started I didn’t look much like much a runner and didn’t want to hear comments like, “You run?  No kidding?” as they gave me a sideways glance. Of course those were self-imposed stipulations and observations. There really aren’t any set-in-stone rules about who can call themselves “runners” or what the typical runner looks like, much the same way as a Christian doesn’t have to have a certain validating “look.”

Another reason I don’t say much about running is that I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. You know, I’m a humble guy. In fact, one time they gave me a button for being humble and I wore it! Seriously, I know that runners can go on and on ad nauseum about their accomplishments and I’m reminded about what a former pastor once told me.  He was talking about early risers but the truth of it works for runners as well. He said that people who get up early are like roosters — they rise at the crack of dawn and crow about it for the rest of the morning.

  First Lesson

So, without saying how much I run or how fast I go or the injuries I’ve sustained as a result thereof or the weight I’ve lost, or the marathons I’ve won, (O.K., the answer to that last one is: zero), I will say that I have learned some things in my running adventures that have helped me in my life’s adventures. And if you’re up for it I’d like to share some of them with you. You probably won’t read anything terribly profound – I’m just shooting for a little encouraging fuel to help keep you in the race.

The first thing I learned from running – and I figured this out pretty early on – is this:

The only way to get to where I want to go is to keep going.

What? Did you expect Tolstoy? I know it’s not very profound but that simple maxim kept me from quitting or cutting short many a run, especially in those early days. I have a friend named Curt Goad who is fond of saying that Mike Tyson didn’t lose his boxing crown because he got knocked down; he lost it when he didn’t get back up. The only way to achieve anything in life is to keep pursuing. The Apostle Paul, who, by the way, talked a lot about running said, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”—Philippians 3:14.

As I was journaling one morning and thinking about lessons learned from running, I remembered a Eugene Peterson footnote about faith I had read in the Message Bible. I adapted it to a running analogy. Peterson said, and I paraphrase: “[Running] has to do with the euphoria of discovering new sights and accomplishment of goals. [Running] has to do with doggedly putting one flat foot in front of the other sometimes wondering what the point of it all is.”

Sometimes, you just have to keep on keeping on because the only way to get to where you want to go is to keep going. The good news is that the good paces far outweigh and exceed in number the tough ones. And the joy of finishing the course is indescribably delicious!

After running a few races, I’ve found that runners come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. But they all have one identifying trait: they run. They won’t all finish the race at the same time and sadly, some will drop out. Sometimes they may have to walk or even stop for a breather, but runners — by and large — run.

I’m not trying to get you involved in running here today, although it has helped me and I can recommend it. I am encouraging you to stay, or if need be,  get back on the path God has set out for you. Even if you might not be at full-stride, it’s not too late, you’re not too old, the road is not too long and it doesn’t matter lies behind. It’s what ahead that counts. Oh, and for those of you who were expecting Tolstoy, here you go: “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no thinks of changing himself.” Thanks Leo.

See you on down the road.

-Ed Gillies

The Frankenstein Deal

Posted: May 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book called Frankenstein . I thought I knew the story line backwards and forwards having seen the famous horror flick a couple of times.  In addition, I’ve probably seen  the more intellectual, definitive work, Young Frankenstein more than a dozen times.

As it turns out,  the story presented in the original movie or (more shockingly to me) Mel Brooks’ effort bears little resemblance to the tome that Mary Shelley penned in 1819. (I know that is not a newsflash to many of you since my extensive marketing research tells me that a heavy percentage of my readers are well educated and read.)

In my reading of this classic I came across an incredible quote from the monster. (That’s another revelation: Shelley’s monster actually has an intellect and can speak — although I have not gotten far enough into the book to find out if he can do a soft shoe and sing “Puiinin on da reeez!”)

The quote to which I refer has captivated my thinking for at least the last 43 minutes. And after 43 minutes of heavy pondering, I’m thinking that many of us can relate to the Frankenstein monster much more than we would want to admit.

The encounter that prompts Monster’s statement occurs when the two principles finally meet back up after the big guy has gone on a rampage that includes a revenge killing of his creator’s younger brother. In two short sentences Monster makes a statement that is at once a self-absolution, complaint, demand and finally, a deal:

“I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

When I read that my first thought was, “How many times have I said that to other people — or worse yet to my Creator?” Oh not in so many words but the intimation is eerily similar to some of my “prayers.” The monster is doing several things with his complaint/demand/deal.

First of all he is blaming someone else for his bad behavior: I was trying to be a good and giving person but because of what you did I went bad. In fact misery made me a fiend!” Notice Monster takes absolutely no responsibility for his actions — just as Adam blamed his fall on the woman that his Creator had given him.” (A rookie husband mistake that is only made once I can guarantee you!)

The misery Monster refers to can be a fill-in-the-blank for you and me.   Whether the misery is real or imagined, we still have a choice as to how we respond.

“Make me happy!” How many times has that one been thought or verbalized to someone or even some inanimate object like a car or a house? The raw truth is: no other person or thing is responsible for my happiness – not even God.  On the other side of the coin, just because someone else is perennially unhappy does not mean that I have to follow suite — even if they seem to find some twisted pleasure in the shared misery.

Finally, Monster tries to make a deal with his creator: “I tell you what,” Father Frankenstein, “I was a pretty good guy before all this stuff hit the fan that made me go rogue. Now all you have to do is make me happy and I’ll be back on the reservation.”  Oh wow. Guilty on the second count. From my experience, those deals never end well because of this simple fact: Even if every one of our requests to God or others were somehow miraculously granted, what are the chances that we would live up to our end of the agreement?

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. — Deuteronomy 30:19

Works for me. And by the way, Frankenstein is a great read even if there is no Frau Blucher offering Ovaltine or any mention of yummy sounds.