To Clap or Not To Clap?

I grew up in a church where appearance was everything. The pipe organ was one of the largest in the state, but we didn’t dare clap when the organist finished his performance. It was God’s house, and clapping was not allowed! I didn’t understand, but I knew better than to cross that line. I couldn’t imagine what might happen if I made a slip at church. Punishment was severe enough at home, but an offense in the crimson coated sanctuary would surely be worse. It was God’s house, and He was to be feared. I shake my head and sigh when I think about the way God was presented to me as a child, but I smile and thank God that I know better now.

My granddaddy was a preacher who played the piano loudly and sang hymns of praise at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t anything like Dr. Robinson who looked down from his pulpit with an air of judgment that filled me with a sense of dread. Granddaddy was a jovial man with thick glasses and an impish smile. I loved him so much because he loved to play. We had contests and games and all sorts of delicious sweet treats when we went to his farm in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Daddy left the mountains after WWII and did his best to get away from the heritage I embrace. The church we attended was the biggest in town and nothing like the little church my father attended as a child. Hymns were sung loudly and with enthusiasm in that little mountain church. Worship was done with the whole body, and shouting was encouraged. Daddy wanted his daughters to have a different life, and I know that meant he wanted more for us than he had as a child. I just wish my first experience with worship had been more like the worship David describes in Psalm 47.

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

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

I suppose the argument over clapping or not clapping in church will never be solved. It’s like whether or not to use hot sauce on food, a personal choice which should be honored. I worship with a congregation where folks clap and lift their hands in praise. I love it because I just can’t not clap in church. I know that isn’t grammatically correct, but it expresses my heart. Like David, I have the desire to worship with my whole heart. I respect folks who sit with hands held respectfully on their laps, but I can’t contain my joy in God’s presence. I enjoy being free to clap and shout and sing out loud. I guess I inherited Granddaddy Flave’s worship style, and I’m glad!

I understand that applause must be for God, and that’s exactly Who it’s for when I clap and raise my hands while singing praises to Him. I love messengers and musicians whose words and songs bring me closer to God. I applaud when my heart is moved, and it is for the connection I feel to God and to them in that moment. My clapping, singing, dancing, swaying, and arm lifting come from my deep love for God. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a hugger. I can’t help it, especially when it comes to God. I plan to jump into His arms and squeal with delight when I finally get to see Him face to face. Until then, I plan to sing and clap like David. I love this image of a clapping Jesus because it’s much better than the way I imagined Him as a child 😉

Photo Credit: thefunstons
Photo Credit: thefunstons

Fear and Wisdom

Psalm 111 is a powerful reminder that the study of God’s Word is a delight. It not only brings me closer to God, but also fosters an attitude of gratitude and praise. New lessons are learned and old ones are affirmed. I can study alone, but, like eating, studying is much better when done with others.

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails.
He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.
All he does is just and good,
    and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
    to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
He has paid a full ransom for his people.
    He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
    What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
    All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

Praise him forever! (NLT)

Paul Gerhardt’s hymn ” I Come With Thanks Most Grateful” is a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 111. I love the English translation of last verse:

Fear of the Lord produces 

The first and only base for

Wisdom that educes

God’s praise, God’s shining face.

How quick and bright the soul

Who knows this way inspiring

And travels it untiring,

God’s praise its end and goal.

I haven’t spent time studying Psalm 111, but I found myself wanting to reach deeply into it yesterday. The connection between fear and wisdom intrigues me. I had an unhealthy fear of God for most of my life and even thought of Him as someone who would strike me down if I disobeyed Him. I realize how ridiculous that is now, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had the wrong kind of fear instilled in them at an early age.

Fear of the Lord is awe, respect, reverence, and wonder. That’s the opposite of the paralyzing terror I once associated with God. Awe makes me want to know more, to dig deeper, and to grow in wisdom. Terror makes me want to run for cover. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Terror is the beginning of ignorance. As a teacher, I appreciate this psalm. Instilling a desire to learn is the goal of all good teachers. Threatening students and instilling fear is what the worst do.

Psalm 111 begins and ends praising God. The same should be true of my study of His Word. The more I read and study the Bible, the more clearly I understand what Gerhardt is saying in his beautiful hymn. He’s right! God’s praise is the end and the goal of wisdom.

Paul Gerhardt
Paul Gerhardt

Praising The Razing:)

Razing is literally taking something to the ground, and that’s just what God’s done with my heart this Lent. He started on Ash Wednesday and has been demolishing in ways I still don’t understand. I do understand that I don’t have to understand, so I suppose that indicates a little growth. The messages this week have all been about community, and I’ve been humbled by the questions they have raised in my heart. God created us to be in community, and I’ve struggled with that my entire life. I’ve seen my inability to connect as God desires in the bareness left by His razing. He made it clear that I have to deal with that before He can go any further with the building He has in mind.

I do not plan to spend another moment figuring out why I haven’t made connections as I should have, and I do not plan to ponder the problems which may lie ahead. God made it clear to me today that it’s time to move forward, forget past hurts, and let go of future worries. God is God and will work out all the details. He isn’t asking me to do the building, only sweep away the fear-filled failures so I can see the bigger problem with my heart.

He used the image of tearing down a rotten wooden structure and then building a brand new one on the massive termite colony that caused the other to crumble. It will be fine for a little while, but it will eventually fall. It is a familiar pattern. God will take care of my heart problem, but He wants me to acknowledge it first and give Him the license to dig deeper. It was not fun to sweep away the failures because it meant facing them one by one and forgiving myself for each. I did, however, find great peace in handing over the excavation to His loving hands.

God took my heart down to the ground and me with it the past few weeks, and now He is insisting on digging even deeper. It is much easier to give Him the space to dig now that everything is gone, and there is sweet freedom to the emptiness before me. Like the show Extreme Makeover, demolition is necessary before a new structure can be built. Watching the demo may be fun, but looking at the vast emptiness is frightening. I am excited about what God will do with the space now that it’s empty, I have no doubts that it will be much better than what the folks on the show see when Ty says, “Move that bus!!”

Until then, I’m praising His razing and not worrying about the results. God has a much better imagination than I do, and He knows what’s best for me. I marvel at God’s timing but then I remember that He’s been waiting for me to give Him the space so He can do the remodeling He has in mind. It was my prayer on Ash Wednesday, and it is my prayer this Good Friday. I pray it will always be my prayer. I might just see a tent when God moves that bus:) Whatever I see, I plan to shout “Hallelujah!!” at the top of my heart!