Let There Be Light (In You!)

Did you know that even in the darkness, there is light?

Scientists now know that light exists even in what we call darkness, through neuronic photons. Darkness is infused with invisible light.

We shouldn’t be surprised. In Genesis 1, in an often overlooked element of the creation story, we read:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:1-4)

Before the sun and moon were created (the “greater” and “lesser” lights in the sky, which happens on the “fourth day,”), there was light in the universe.

God infused the universe with light — in everything, everywhere, and everyone, even if we can’t see it. And the Apostle John adds this truth:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

So God is in everything, everywhere and everyone, if we have eyes to see. 

Additionally, scripture says that we have been made to walk in the light.

If God is light, and if Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), then those who follow Jesus will seek to “walk in the light as he is the light” (1 John 1:7) day by day.

Unfortunately, our lives aren’t often filled with light. We tend to walk in light and darkness. Some even feel surrounded by darkness and unable to claim the truth of John’s prologue (“the light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)).

I believe that living in the light requires intentionality. But intentionality in just about everything is not easy.

Why is that, and how can we live with intentionality in the light?

First, living intentionally is hard because life intrudes. Life has a way of filling up. Like a vacuum, our understanding of life, or the way that most humans live, abhors empty space and time wasted. 

So life fills up with tasks to fulfill, problems to solve, and distractions. Something breaks; something calls for our immediate attention; something shiny attracts us. We build systems of our lives around busyness — actually avoiding intentionally, which requires sticking to values and goals and making sacrifices. Changing a system is painful. 

The key here is to develop a set of goals and then craft a schedule to achieve those goals and then stick with it. From now until next summer, I have chosen a “word of the year” that defines what I believe God is calling me to be and do. I’ve developed some goals to live into that intention. But I know it isn’t going to be easy to stay with it. 

As you seek to live with intentionality, you may stumble — you may even fail — and you’ll certainly be pulled off course from time to time. But if you keep pursuing an intentional life, one that seeks God’s best purpose for you and one that values living in the light and resisting the darkness, you’ll begin to build a system that helps you be your best, truest self. 

One goal I have as the summer continues is to practice contemplative prayer. It’s a form of prayer that lets go of ideas and even words, simply to be in God’s presence. I set a goal of 20 minutes a day to complement my regular scripture and devotional reading with this type of prayer.

Inevitably, life has intruded. I’ve gotten distracted and missed my goal sometimes. But what I have seen is that 5 minutes of contemplation is better than none at all. And maybe in the coming months, I’ll be able to sustain 20 minutes of contemplation a day, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Second, living intentionally is hard because my will is weak. The Bible calls this “the flesh.” Generally it relates to all of the impulses we have to experience pleasure, comfort, and safety. 

But “flesh” is more than the desires we pursue related to our bodies. “Flesh” is my will, trying to do things in my own strength. 

For too long, bad theology has focused on the idea of “flesh” to make people think that their bodies are dirty. The problem is that this is the only body we have to move through this life, work out our purpose, and experience the divine! Jesus “took on flesh” to demonstrate that we can live holy, light-filled lives in the very flesh God has given us.

But let’s acknowledge that there is a spiritual battle within us. Without intentionality, we generally drift toward the darkness, toward laziness, toward negativity.

The biggest help in battling the flesh is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said that of the things of God, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63)

Then he says something even more miraculous: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life!” His words are filled with the Holy Spirit. If we will learn them, chew on them, and allow them to guide our lives, light will come.

To be filled, first you must empty yourself every day of ego, ambitions, and desires for the false fulfillment of popularity and possessions. Then you’re ready to ask for the Holy Spirit (already planted in you) to come in more power and peace. Jesus said that God will give to those who ask. (See Luke 11:13)

Finally, living intentionally is hard because discouragement comes. When we fail, it’s hard to begin again. We live one day with greater intention, but then the next day falls apart. We try to get back on track the next day, but maybe that day, too, doesn’t go to plan. And we start to think “What’s the point?” The pull of the darkness is too strong. 

Incremental change doesn’t pay off like the small wins of doing what we usually do. So we tend to fall back into familiar ruts. 

They’re called ruts for a reason. They are the well-worn grooves of our lives, ones that dictate how we move through each day, how we respond during conflict, and how we avoid challenges and risks. We carve out ruts to increase predictability and decrease stress. 

If we stay in ruts too long, however, we’ll develop low-level discouragement, malaise, and cynicism. 

The life of the Spirit is dynamic, filled with movement and surprises. God’s light often leads us down unfamiliar paths so that we’ll learn to live in and depend on the light.

One tool to quickly overcome discouragement is authentic confession. No matter how discouraged you become, you can say, “God, this is where I am. I feel lost and unable to help myself.” Maybe you confess your shame at having failed, or how broken you feel. That’s a turn toward the light.

Remember, John says that the light always overcomes the darkness. In God, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5); but the darkness is full of light!

Here’s the thing: when you seek to intentionally walk in the light, at first it’s hard, but then it becomes easy. It becomes the new way of living. It taps into the light already infused in everything within and around you.

The command “let there be light” is spoken over you today.

Let there be light within, around, and through you! 

Expect a Harvest

By Pastor Brent McDougal

Jen’s garden is starting to come in with summer vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers. The rabbits ate all the strawberries, but we can’t complain much. After several years of not having a garden, Jen didn’t miss a beat. Everything is growing strong in that mysterious and beautiful little ecosystem where most of the work goes on unseen.

As John Denver sang, “Only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” 

In addition to enjoying the produce, my part was to help plant the seeds. 

We pulled up roots and rocks and then spread some fresh soil. Then came the careful spacing around the garden of many types of seeds. We dug the little holes and placed the seeds like tiny treasures, then replaced the dirt and watered the ground and sat back and just looked at it all and hoped for the best.

Not long ago I read a verse about hope from Romans 5. There’s a kind of hope, Paul says, that doesn’t disappoint us. Even if we can’t always see what is happening, or wonder how we’ll make it through, God gives us a hope that does not let us down.

“….hope does not make ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

Shed abroad suggests a farmer who generously plants seeds. The Holy Spirit is generous, and the seeds are seeds of love. This is how you know that the Holy Spirit is filling up your life: when God’s love comes in like a bumper crop for you and for the benefit of others. 

Our hope is confirmed not by some pie-in-the-sky future, but in the reality of love within our hearts, today. 

Other translations state that God’s love has been poured out into our hearts. So here’s the question that we need to ask: how many Christians have had the experience not just of God’s love and of conversion, but of God’s love being poured out generously into their hearts?

Could it be said of your heart that the love of God has been “shed abroad” — lavishly — comprehensively — within you?

I’m asking this question for myself as well because so often I don’t have peace. I don’t take advantage of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whose first gift — the first fruit — is love. When I suffer, I complain too much and start thinking that God doesn’t love me. So I wonder how much God’s love has really infected all of my heart. 

And because that’s true, there isn’t much unleashing of the power of love from my life into the world.

The little garden in our backyard is full of power. The power of the sun; the latent power of a seedling; the power of warmth in soil; the power of creation.

The church is like a garden that has been planted with the most powerful force on the planet. We’re full of power, full of peace with God and access to our Heavenly Father. But it’s like we’re afraid to give ourselves to this kind of power that can change the world.

If you haven’t experienced the overwhelming, reckless, never-ending, never-let-you-go love of God, that’s my prayer for you today. 

Or maybe it’s just been a while since you experienced the richness of God’s love. Here’s what can help: 

Take a walk. 

Be still.

Pause to breathe. 

Meditate on a scripture, treating it like a little seed in your heart.

Ask for the Holy Spirit.

Eat a homegrown tomato.

Count your blessings.

Have a good cry.

Sit on the porch.

Plant a seed. 

Just do your part. You can’t make it grow. Remember that you have a place and a purpose in this earthly garden, just like the seed. You, too, were made to grow into something good.

You Are the Salt of the Earth

By Pastor Brent McDougal

One of the greatest Christians of last century was a man named Martin Niemoller. He lived during Hitler’s Germany when Hitler tried to radically alter the gospel by telling Christian pastors they could no longer preach a Jewish Christ. 

You can no longer preach the Sermon on the Mount, he said, with Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. 

You can’t preach a weak Christ suffering and dying on the cross. 

Instead, you must preach an Aryan Christ with a whip in his hands, driving out the money changers from the Temple. That is the kind of God who changes the world, not a sacrificing God of peace who pours love into our hearts to change the world.

So in 1938, Niemoller stood in his pulpit and preached and sermon called “God is my Fuhrer.” He began by reading the names of 83 fellow pastors and other Christians who had been arrested by Hitler and were now in concentration camps. The church prayed for these leaders for five minutes of intercessory prayer, and then Niemoller preached:

“We must resist — we cannot let all of us be thrown into the pot with the world — for you are the salt of the earth. You must remain and not lose your savour. Do not yield, do not bend, for salt must retain its savour. We must resist the ungodly force of Naziism.”

And he concluded:

“The gospel must remain the gospel — the church must remain the church — evangelical Christians must remain evangelical Christians. We cannot, for heaven’s sake, allow a Germain gospel for Christ’s gospel. We cannot, for God’s sake, allow a Germain church for Christ’s church. We cannot, for Christ’s sake, allow a German Christianity for evangelical Christianity. We must be salt! We must retain our savor to save the world!”

Days later, storm troopers seized him in the middle of the night and threw him in prison. For seven long years they tried to break him, but every time he said with fire in his spirit, “I will not yield! I will not yield!”

Then came the day in 1945 when the Allies marched in and took over the prison where he was and set him free. He came marching out a free man to preach the gospel around the world.

While Hitler and the 3rd Reich faded into history, Hitler himself taking his own life in a bunker, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the salt of the earth kept going to change the world. 

Jesus declared, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salt again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

We can’t concede our role of being salt in the world. 

Salt preserves; salt flavors; salt even heals.

But we forfeit our crucial role when we get overwhelmed by the busyness of American life, fretting here and there, never satisfied to be still and show the world a different way of living.

We lose our saltiness when we embrace an identity as consumers, not souls. If we’re nothing more than the consumers of goods and services, pampering ourselves and serving our own pleasures as life’s main purpose, we’re good for nothing and no one. 

We can also lose our saltiness when we put false hope in political solutions, drawing hard lines between ourselves and our neighbors. When we forget that the state is there to help facilitate real life — families having enough, friends gathering at the local pub, safety in our neighborhoods — we have lost sight of Jesus’ sacrificial way of remaking the world. 

Have you lost your saltiness? 

There’s an interesting footnote to Niemoller’s story. He didn’t speak out for the first four years of Hitler’s tyranny. He deeply regretted not having the courage sooner to be the salt of the earth, with his position of influence. 

“First they came for the socialists,” he would later write, “and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.”

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist." 

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.”

“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

However God has called you to be salt — with a voice of advocacy, through acts of kindness, through time given to those who are lonely, to serve alongside the mentally ill — don’t miss your opportunity to be one who preserves, flavors, and heals the world.

You are the salt of the earth. Today, now, here. 

Holy Week Devotion

3 Ways to Live with Passion

                We in the church call this week Holy Week, but through most of Christian tradition, the days and events leading up to Jesus’s death were called the passion. It begins with his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and ends with him on the cross. Jesus’ passion was on full display as he turned over the tables in the Temple, sparred with religious leaders, stooped to wash his disciples’ feet and ultimately voluntarily gave up His life. He did this out of a great love for God and for those who needed to be restored in relationship to God. 

                He wasn’t wishy-washy and didn’t dither when it came to what He came to accomplish. He was passionate.  

                1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 

                So we can look at Jesus’ life and word and we can say, “This is love.” That’s what passionate, whole-hearted love looks like. 

                The passion of Jesus is a mirror for your life.  

                How much are you living with passion for what you believe and what you know God wants to accomplish in your life? 

                It’s OK to admit that your heart has grown cold. It’s OK to say that you’re struggling with doubts, or that you haven’t been living whole-heartedly. The grind of life can feel overwhelming, and disappointments almost always surprise us. It’s OK to say that you struggle to pray. 

                Jesus meets us where we are. That’s the message of the passion week. He passionately pursued us, determined to give everything so that His love would be expressed and that people would be reconciled to their Heavenly Father.  

                If you can admit you haven’t been living with passion — the way that you were created to be — then that can be the first step toward finding your way back to God. 

                From there, here are three ways to live with passion. 

                First, be vulnerable. Vulnerability is essential to whole-hearted living. Those who aren’t vulnerable may not experience huge losses (they don’t take risks to open themselves up to failure), but they also won’t experience the great joy of having connected deeply or succeeded in some great endeavor. Love can’t flourish in a heart that isn’t vulnerable. 

                So say what you need to say. Make the call. Have courage to speak the truth. Share something nobody knows. 

                Second, be sacrificial. To save your life you have to lose it. If you lose it, you’ll find it. Let yourself come to the place where you’re like a seed planted in the ground, seemingly inconsequential and dead, but ready to spring to life.  

                Give something away. Open your home. Call someone who is lonely or hurting and set up a time to get together. Or maybe let yourself be taken away by some huge sacrifice — something like picking up yourself or your family to move to fulfill a mission, or accepting the call to go to seminary, or changing your dead-end career for something that makes an impact for others. 

                Third, be grateful. Christ was always giving thanks, even on the night before He was killed. Be grateful for what you have. It may not be all that you want, but it’s more than you deserve.  

                Give thanks for the cross. Give thanks for the empty tomb. Give thanks for the love so big that the grave couldn’t hold it. 

                Here are a few guided practices to help you live whole-heartedly: 

                1. Spend 15 minutes mediating on the cross. Maybe pull up a picture of Jesus on the cross and think on what’s happening, how He felt, how He suffered. Imagine what He went through. Prayerfully ask God for new insights on Christ’s passion. 

                2. Read through John 20 and reflect on the resurrection. What do you see? What are the emotions and actions? What puzzles you? How do you imagine that first morning? 

                3. Get up early enough on Easter morning for prayer before you go to worship. Let the presence of Christ fill you and prepare you.

Pastor Brent McDougal Announces Intention to Run for Dallas ISD School Board

Dear Cliff Temple Family,

I wanted to announce to you — before it became public — that I am running for the Board of Trustees for Dallas ISD. It’s a great opportunity to serve in the community and help children realize their full potential through our public schools. 

Our family lives in District 7 and that’s where our church is as well. District 7 involves schools such as Adamson High School, Sunset High School, Bowie Elementary, Hector Garcia Middle School, Hogg Elementary, and Rosemont (now elementary and middle school).

Our church already has been connected to these schools by supporting reading initiatives, food needs, and support for various extracurricular activities. So there’s a strong resonance between our mission and what happens through public education.

Trustees aren’t charged with fixing school issues, but they can advocate and bring resources to bear to help children, families, teachers and faculty. Trustees also help to craft policy and budgets for our schools. It’s not a paid position, only volunteer, and the trustees meet twice a month for an extended meeting.

I have spoken with the Personnel Committee, as I did not want to make this decision in isolation, and they expressed their support.

I have weighed the time commitment it would take if I was elected, and believe that it is very manageable.

It is among the more time-consuming volunteer positions, but I assure you that Cliff Temple is my primary calling and I won’t neglect that calling in any way.

On the contrary, this position offers a chance to extend relational capital and help Cliff Temple continue to be a strong rock in our community, as it has been for 120 years. 

The election is in early May. I appreciate your prayers and support. If you have any questions, I hope that you’ll email me at brent@clifftemple.org.

Blessings and love to you.

Pastor Brent McDougal

Saying Yes and Saying No

As a child I watched the Mardi Gras parades in Mobile, Alabama, from a balcony overlooking the street. I loved the energy and the confetti and the calling for beads and candy. It was a chaotic mess in a normally orderly city. 

But I also remember being fascinated by how quickly the streets were cleaned. When the last float passed, immediately following were massive street-sweeping machines. Men and women cleared debris with a fury to match what had just happened.

That’s how Lent works after Mardi Gras. Following revelry and feasting, there’s a 40-day period of reflection and fasting leading to Easter Sunday. It’s a kind of Spring cleaning. The word "Lent" means “lengthen,” referring to the Spring bringing longer days.

This year Lent begins on March 6. Many people will give up something during this season — meat, sweets, a negative attitude. The idea is to deny yourself something in order to pray more and reflect on how Jesus suffered and sacrificed. Some say they find their lives “lengthened” by such a practice, expanding, becoming more full.

“Deny yourself” is surely one of the most countercultural teachings of Jesus. That sounds like dead, controlling religion to most ears. Why should I deny myself good things, even for a season?

Lent reminds us that saying “no” to certain things allows you to say “yes” to better things. 

The storyteller Fred Craddock once visited a former student. After dinner, the parents excused themselves to put the kids to bed, leaving Fred with the family pet—a large, sleek greyhound. Earlier in the evening the father said, “That’s a full-blooded greyhound. He raced professionally in Florida. Then he retired. Great dog with the kids.” 

Now Fred was alone with the dog. The dog turned to him and said, “You probably heard I came here from Miami.”

“You retired from racing, right?” Fred said.

“No, I didn’t retire. Is that what they told you?”

“Well, did you get injured?”

“No,” said the dog.

“Did you stop winning?” 

“No,” said the dog. “I raced for ten years. Ten years of running around that track day after day, seven days a week, with other dogs chasing that rabbit. One day I got close and got a good look at that rabbit. You know what? It was a fake! I spent my whole life chasing a fake rabbit! I didn’t retire. I quit!”

It’s not easy to quit chasing fake rabbits. Some things are shiny but worthless. Other things are both enjoyable and worthy of our time and energy. It’s not easy to make room for something better.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When the person discovered the treasure, he sold everything to buy the field so that he could possess something greater.

So let go of something to remember what you truly possess. Give up something to take hold of something better. Deny yourself for a season. Why not give it a try?

Until All Are Free

We got up early on Friday morning with plenty of time to get to the DFW airport for the 7am flight down to El Paso. 

Although many people believe my part of Dallas (Oak Cliff) is unsafe, I didn’t sense any danger — I almost never do. The comfortable car quickly warmed, and I felt a sense of excitement for the journey ahead as we picked up my friend, Chris.

Got your passport? Check.

After the quick flight, the full team of nineteen men was assembled for our weekend mission: cross the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, build three simple, cinder-block homes in two days with the help of local maestros (masons), then cross back to return home to Dallas by Sunday evening.

We did what we expected to do.

What I didn’t expect was learning a really, really important life lesson along the way.

As we dedicated each home, words were shared about how we hoped these would be safe places for the families. One grandmother spoke up about how she had been living in an unsafe, drafty plywood and tin shack, and how she had prayed for a better home. Then she shared about other hardships in her life, specifically a foot condition. She wasn’t asking for pity or money, but was simply stating the facts. She considered the new house to be a huge blessing in the middle of a really hard life.

Our group of volunteers spontaneously began to take up a collection, and within 90 seconds, $400 was in hand to give to her. 

The average worker at a Juarez factory makes $1.60 a day. That’s twice what it was in December, when the minimum wage was doubled by the new Mexican President. 

We placed a year’s salary in her hands. 

The gift really didn’t make a dent in the lifestyles of the men who gave it, but it surely made a difference to the grandmother.

As we walked away, I said to my friend David, “That was amazing. I can’t believe the generosity of our team.”

David said, “Yes, but money isn’t the greatest asset we hold. It’s our passports. Freedom is the greatest gift.”

Up to that moment, I had totally taken for granted that I could come and go as I pleased in Dallas with relatively little fear, even coming down to Mexico to serve, knowing that I could always go back. I have options. 

But those that we served in Juarez have very few options to better their lives.

It’s been called the most dangerous place in the world, with nearly 200 murders a month in 2018. There’s economic desperation and little money for medical care.

And yet, I couldn’t help but see that most people seemed happy, at least on the outside. There were lots of laughing children and joking on the job site with the locals. Kindness was everywhere. Only when we paused to dedicate the homes did we start to hear about the real struggles. 

Perhaps the new house and money can allow the grandmother to experience a little more freedom — freedom from fear of robbers, freedom from anxiety about health. 

In his last speech called “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — ‘We want to be free.’”

To live with freedom in your heart, in your community, and in your country — to be able to provide for your family — to dwell in peace and safety — to be free to love and receive love — such is the desire of every soul.  And that has always, always been the vision of the prophets and the ultimate goal of Christ’s mission, a new heaven and a new earth, grounded in true freedom.

The truth is that I take my freedom for granted. Perhaps you do as well.

How will I use the freedom I have been given?

Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

So I’m trying to open my eyes on this side of the border.

Where are people not free? Where do shackles still weigh down the steps of the oppressed? How can I help to bring freedom to others?

I can choose. I can live with an open hand and a grateful heart. I can listen to the aggrieved and follow their lead. I can lend my voice to those who have no voice. 

I believe we can all be free.

3 Reasons Why Showing Up for Worship Matters

There’s something I noticed about the story of the Wise Men this year that I had overlooked. It’s so simple and obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before now. But before I tell you what it is, let me share an observation about our current culture and how people worship.

Many people are wondering if we really need to show up for corporate worship. After all, aren’t there lots of ways to connect online? Can’t we just watch a worship service live-streamed, or catch a sermon from another pastor? 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-technology. It’s amazing how much information we now have at our fingertips, and communication that once was only imagined in science fiction is now reality.

But there is also a dark side. We can be distracted so easily. For Christians who are trying to walk in purity and holiness, we face the challenge of images and clicks to websites that seem OK, but become a trap. 

There’s also the temptation to get all of our spiritual content through online sermons and studies, and avoid relationships that can be, well, messy.

And let’s be honest. Sometimes we just feel lazy. We don’t want to get up, get ready, and show up to experience something with others. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay in bed, take a long bike ride, or whatever else seems easier.

Do we really have to show up collectively for worship? Or is it just as good to be at home and have a personal experience? That’s the cultural dilemma.

So here’s what I noticed about the Wise Men this year. 

They showed up.

They took the journey, bowed down, brought their gifts and followed the Spirit. They could have worshipped and prayed from a distance, and that’s ok, too. But that’s not what the Wise Men did.

They teach us that worshipping in the flesh, together, matters. 

Why does it matter?

I want to give you three reasons why I believe it’s important to show up, as much as you are able, and worship with all of your body, mind, soul and strength.

The first reason is that it was the pattern of Jesus and the early disciples.

Luke 4:16 (NIV) tells us: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” 

So Jesus received worship, but as the Son of God, He also modeled the life of worshiping God. It’s what we are made for. 

When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost creating the church, Acts tells us that, ”Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47, NIV)

We are designed to worship. When the Wise Men discerned that a divine king had been born, their first instinct was “Let’s go find him.”

If we want to be like Jesus — if we believe that His life is the best life and the life that leads to the most joy and peace — then we would do well to mimic His pattern. He got up early in the morning and spent time in personal worship, but His faith was never only a private matter. 

The mystery of the incarnation is that God became human and dwelt among us in the flesh. He showed us the power of showing up. He could have demonstrated his love in so many different ways; after all, he’s the inventor of every form of communication that we have yet to discover. But the way that He demonstrated His love for us is that He took on flesh. 

You can worship alone, but there’s something substantially different about worshipping with the Body of Christ. 

The second reason that worshipping in-the-flesh together matters is that worshiping forms faith in ways that can’t happen alone.

God is an ocean. On my own, I have one tiny perspective on God — just a drop in the ocean. But if I truly desire to know more of God, I must be together with other Christians in worship. 

The Christians that I admire the most and those who are growing closer to Christ have all concluded that regular worship with other believers is important.

But I’ve never seen people who practice a kind of private, a-la-carte religious experience really grow over time in the way of Jesus. And I have never seen those persons engage deeply with the mission of Jesus in the world.

Lastly, worshipping in-the-flesh matters because there are gifts God wants to give to you that you can’t get apart from corporate worship. You miss the experience of God’s gathered people when you don’t show up. 

You miss the encouragement. You miss the strength. And others miss what you bring to the fellowship, because we are all one body, with one Lord and one faith.

So in 2019, set the pattern for worship. Make corporate worship a priority. 

Gordon Dahl once observed, “Our problem is that we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” 

As you set goals for 2019, make it a goal to worship as much as possible with the Body of Christ. Put your family on notice: worshipping with the family of faith will be our priority in the New Year, even if it requires us to sacrifice. 

Don’t just play at worship this year.

Show up.