Worship as Refrigerator Art
You may have heard that popular artist Thomas Kinkade died last week. You may love him or hate him but there's no denying his art appealed to many folks who have an emotional connection to his paintings. There was a sense of warmth, nostalgia and memory about them. Although I can tell an impressionist from cubist I'm no art critic, but there is one form of art I've always been excited about - refrigerator art. Unless you are a grandparent or a parent, refrigerator art is not on your must see list. There's no refrigerator art gallery. Sotheby's doesn't hold auctions when famous refrigerator artists die. But I love it just the same. Refrigerator art is the lexicon of secret communication between small children and their parents. Drawings of scribbles... faces with spikey hair... tanks with ginormous gun barrels... children with three fingered hands and giant thumbs... House's with smoke stacks and green smoke... all of them part of the secret world - the inner world of a child. When such offerings are proffered the parent feels as special - perhaps more special - than the child. He or she is being "let in" to the child's inner life with a simple joyful connection. "Look Daddy! Look at what I did! Look at what I can draw!"
As a parent I valued such art and displayed it proudly. My children are nearly grown now so their offerings don't go on the refrigerator any more - although they are no less precious to me. Yet when I visit another parent's home and observe a small child's artwork on the fridge, I know with a wink and a nod that the father and mother of that house feels the same way. Perhaps this is self-evident, but the value of the artwork is not due to its quality. It's the giving, the sharing and the giver that makes it special. It's not what they have to offer that matters but the act of offering coupled with how precious they are to the recipient. It's the "letting me in" nature of the gift that matters. That's why these treasures are powerful. It's why they are sometimes saved long after they have faded and frayed and their authors have gone on to have families of their own. A mom or a dad remembers the joy and the pleasure of a small child's gift to a parent.
So it is with our lives and our worship. Jesus wants us to come to him as little children - unpretentious, unabashed, offering what we are and what we have. But we can easily get it twisted. We sometimes think that it is the gift that he values and not the giving and the giver.
It's Not Our Gifts
Sometimes we think he values us for our gifts. We suspect that the more gifted (in our view) the more blessed or valued by God. We think that God picks among the best and brightest to use like some sort of college registrar doling out scholarships. If that was the case Peter and rest of his fishing buddies would still be slinging herring. Let me put it another way. Your gifts and talent have nothing to do with how God values you OR how he can use you. That's right I said it. Your impact on the kingdom isn't tied to how you can make friends or cook or collaborate or cajole or make money or produce or mediate or encourage or enjoin or exhort or write or lead.... or sing. The Bible is full of folks who were deeply ordinary. Gideon was a scared farmer called to be a soldier. David was a lowly shepherd called to be a king. Mary was a simple village girl called to carry God incarnate in her womb. Moses was a stutterer called to public speaking. Paul was a short, pedantic tent-maker with a penchant for run-on sentences. It was not their gifts that allowed them to be used by God. Indeed sometimes God called them to do things that were quite beyond their abilities.
It's Not Our Rule-Keeping
It wasn't holiness either. Gideon, Moses, Saul, David - all of them had serious flaws. When I say flaws I don't mean slip-ups or lapses or "pardon me I happened to be going 10 miles over the speed limit" problems. These folks had major issues - issues that would keep them from running for office in our time. Let me say something clearly here and without any wit or guile. In our world we sort of fail to see the ugliness - especially with church folks. We struggle with hate, drunkenness, sexual immorality, murder, envy, gluttony, theft.... all the "baddies" of the sin list. But we have a way of sort of glossing over those things. We still have an "entry level" for what we think God can use and it precludes certain ugliness we don't like to view. Yet other than Jesus, none of the folks in the Bible were able to keep God's law even reasonably intact. They periodically shattered it like a wine glass at a Megadeath concert.
You don't believe it? David took Bathsheba (who likely had no option to say no), killed her husband and made her his wife (David - sexual abuser, adulterer, coveter, thief and murderer... and apple of God's eye?). Gideon kept putting fleeces out because he really didn't want to obey God. Samson could not resist his sexual appetites. Moses seemed incapable of looking anyone in the eye after the burning bush and he kept staring off into space and using his best slow radio voice. Well... ok that was Charlton Heston, but you get the idea.
Actually, Moses is a great example because the bible says a great deal about him. For example, Numbers 12 says in an aside that "Moses was a very humble man - more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." Which is very enlightening when you consider that Moses was the one who recorded the book of Numbers. Do you think he argued with God about that verse? "Lord, I can't put that in there! Everyone knows I'm the one writing this thing." My theory was that he slipped it in there to see if God would notice and God let it slide because it was kind of a hoot. The book of the law was read publically remember. I wonder if Moses himself read it aloud while the children of Israel cracked up around him. But the irony is probably lost on most folks today because Moses is mostly just a caricature in our minds. Now before you call Pastor Les take note, I believe the word of God is inspired, including this verse about Moses humility. It's still funny though.
In any case my point is that folks with serious flaws were still used mightily by God. What does it mean for us? for one thing I think it means we need to drop any pretense that our lives were kind of "off color" and God cleared them up - as if we had a bad case of acne. Speaking for myself I did not come from a little dust-up on the playground. Before Christ it was a life or death battlefield struggle with the monster of self, sin and death - and I was losing badly. Satan used me like a rented mule. When Jesus found me I was broken, bloodied, scarred - dead in sin. Sin had done to me spiritually what that whip and those thorns did to Him physically. I had no chance. I couldn't defeat sin on my own. I needed Jesus to complete me. That's the story of me - a bruised and bloody shell of a man fallen and broken... and rescued by the only one with the power to save. And the longer I live the more I recognize that story in folks around me - even in folks who seem to have it all together. We are all broken - all of us need rescue.
Understanding in Worship
God doesn't value us for our performance or perfection. He's not keeping score the same way we are. He values us for our DNA. I think we sort of suspect that God sees us through Jesus but he knows it's really a sort of optical illusion". If Jesus were to spring aside there we'd be visible in all our ugly glory. But that's not it. We are his children through Christ's blood and his value of us is not just colored... not just tainted or jaded by Jesus.... it infuses his view of us. Jesus isn't a "lens" that God is looking through. He is life to us - our spiritual life's blood. God looks through us and sees his Son beginning to End. In the same way that a simple drawing of a dog or a dinosaur took on sudden meaning to me when done by my 5 year old daughter, our gifts and our giving of ourselves become meaningful to Him - because we are His, not because we are good or talented. Ephesians 2 says it so beautifully:
We are God's masterpiece! He has "good things for us to do" that He's planned from the beginning. That's why our gifts matter to him. That's why he longs for our worship. That's why we can stand and sing and wave our arms and jump up and down and shout his praise - in spite of our broken and bloody past. It's because we are His. When I'm tempted to judge how God chooses to use me... when I turn inward and begin to judge myself, my usefulness, my role in his eco-system... I try to remember that it's because I'm is that he receives and loves my gifts.