Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Teachers tell us that to lay the foundation for a good education, students need to master the three academic Rs—Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithamatic. As we prepare for Easter-themed worship this weekend, let’s focus on three spiritual Rs that help us understand God’s plan for all humanity—Redemption, Restoration and Reconciliation.
These three are “feel good” words, even when not used in a religious context. We like it when something is reconciled, restored and redeemed. Like when our checkbook reconciles with our bank statement. Or when a broken life is redeemed. How about when something that is broken is fixed and thus restored? I have a huge model of a sailing ship in my office. During the relocation of GCI’s home office from Pasadena to Glendora, it was broken. My good friend Scott Wertz restored it. Now you can’t tell where it was cracked. I love that it looks brand new.
In his parables, Jesus often used the “feel good” aspect of redemption, restoration and reconciliation to help us understand how God “feels good” about bringing humanity to salvation. There is the parable of the lost coin, and also the one about the lost sheep. Jesus wants us to know that God loves us. We are his highly-valued possessions, and he wants us back with him, where we belong.
It’s God’s nature to seek to live in friendly relationship with his creation. Jesus told us: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). How sad that the relationship is often portrayed as almost adversarial: IF you do everything God tells you, THEN he will, almost grudgingly, let you in. I’m sure many of us remember receiving the communion elements, worried half-sick that we might be eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. What a travesty of the truth!
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and all who followed them, with these words: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). Paul then added this thought in Ephesians 1:4: “He [God the Father] chose us in him [Jesus] before the creation of the world…” Let’s not read over this exquisite point—the Triune God wants us! We belonged to him before the world was created. To borrow an old phrase, we were a gleam in God’s eye before he spoke the cosmos into existence with all its matter, energy and attendant processes and multiplicity of life forms. We belonged to God from even before that beginning. God’s love has been outgoing throughout eternity and he is drawing people back to himself.
All that exists is the fruit of God’s free will and divine love. The universe is not necessary and not self-sufficient. The universe and everything in it are contingent and dependent. As created things, we can never be just ourselves alone. God maintains the core of our being or we cease to exist. But it is his will that we do exist—not just for a few decades, but forever.
Once this fact of God’s love and purposes for us and all creation has sunk in, there can be only one response—gratitude. And that gratitude is expressed in worship. Worship is so much more than singing a hymn, saying a prayer or giving an offering. To be sure, these are components of our worship, but there is much more to worship than those actions, which usually are done in a church service.
Worship that expresses gratitude to God is not the product of our religious experience, faith, repentance or decision. Instead, as noted by J. B. Torrance, it is “the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.” In worship, Jesus first offers himself to the Father on our behalf and in our place. Then, on the basis of that self-offering, Jesus shares with us his human-Godward act of worship—his praise, prayer, repentance and adoration. While this response to God in worship becomes our own as we participate in faith, it always is in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. The ultimate worshiper and our worship leader is Jesus.
Viewed from this trinitarian perspective, our worship of God is a 24/7 activity. United to Christ and filled with his Spirit, all our time is holy; all our activities are part of a life of worship—a response of gratitude to our triune God.
My wish for you all is that you have inspiring and meaningful times of worship during this Holy Week, culminating in the Easter celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. He is risen!
Your brother in Christ,