I LOVE live music. I love watching it, listening to it, and over the years when I’ve had the chance, I’ve even loved playing it. Nowadays I love watching our son Jared play live, when he’s played with bands over the years, when he plays in the worship team at church, whatever. There’s really nothing like watching a live performance of good music (even mediocre music, frankly). There’s a different feel and a palpable element you get to the music that you don’t get when listening to a studio cut. I guess the difference is similar to the difference between silent movies and “talkies” in the day, or black-and-white movies versus color, or an old-school 13-inch black and white television versus an 80-inch 1080p LCD television these days. It’s almost silly to compare, in my not-particularly-humble opinion.
I’ve also had the occasion to meet many of my musical and sports heroes over the years (but no, I never got to meet Stevie Ray to my huge chagrin). When the kids ask how I’ve been able to meet so many “famous” people over the years I just remind them how old I am and that statistically, the longer you live on the earth, the more likely you are to meet famous people. They just shake their head in disgust. Understandably. But even in those circumstances, there’s a different depth of experience when you meet people whose work you admire and who are well known for their talents. Sure, not all of those occasions have been as “magical” as I’d dreamed, but many were memories I’ll hold for the rest of my life. Surely, there’s nothing like in-person encounters.
This was my reflection the past couple weeks as I read through Psalms 130-141, and Proverbs 22-23. Well, not exactly to live music and famous people, but to a live and famous God. Bear with me while I dive deeper …
Psalms 135:13-18 reads …
Your name, O Lord, endures forever; your fame, O Lord, is known to every generation. For the Lord will give justice to his people and have compassion on his servants. The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.
There’s an old Bob Dylan song that says, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” While I don’t think old Robert Allen Zimmerman meant to provide fodder for a Christ-centered blog, I do think he struck on a nugget of wisdom in that tune. Ultimately, we all worship someone or something. It might be the universe, it might be ourselves (“gotta look out for number one”), it might be our intellect, it might be money, it might be “happiness,” it might be experiences, etc. One way or the other, as Dylan says, we’re “gonna have to serve somebody.”
What matters most about who we serve (e.g., what we worship) is the worthiness of the object. We are free to serve and idolize whatever and whoever we choose, but the question is whether or not that object is worthy of worship, what can it do for us, and what are the implications of worshipping it?
First off, God makes it very clear (Exodus 20:1-3) that He alone should be the object of our worship … hence the ramifications of our worshipping anything or anyone else are perilously serious. But like the difference between live music and studio music, or being a fan of a music artist or athlete and actually meeting or getting to know them, we have to realize there is a difference in worshipping something or someone and the affect of that worship.
The psalmist above notes this really important distinction. The first and most striking thing to me is how he points out God’s “fame.” Yes, fame. That it’s known to every generation. Have you ever thought about that? With only very, very few exceptions God’s presence is known and felt throughout our world and has been for as long as humans have existed. People have interpreted His identity differently or have objected to His presence or identity, but there’s a universal sense of God … His fingerprint upon every one of us. As some would say, a God-shaped hole within us. His fame is acknowledged. Whether we choose to accept Him or worship Him is a different deal.
If we instead worship other things or people … we have to ask ourselves why. What is it about substitutes or cheap imitations that draws us in? Is it the freedom to define worship as WE feel comfortable? Is it the ability to define our own rules and standards (which is really just worshipping ourselves)?
Whatever we worship other than God is cheap substitute. Powerless. Impotent. Incapable of lasting life change. Such cheap substitutes – regardless of what they are – have “mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see … ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe.” It’s like listening to a scratched-up version of a studio recording on a 13-inch black-and-white television. The sound AND the picture are wholly inadequate when compared to being in a live performance in the front row, center. In fact, the comparison of worshipping God (versus the cheap substitutes we create) would be better than just a live performance, front row, center. It would be like being the ONLY ONE who the band is playing for.
And that’s what our God is like. He’s famous beyond words, but He’s always live and in-person. He is never hidden from us, He is never far away. He is never in black-and-white, He’s never anything other than 1080p HD. His love is resounding, it’s full, and it’s crystal clear. It’s the realest of “real things.” He’s never fuzzy, staticky or out of focus. Anything or anyone else we may choose to worship or serve is a cheap substitute, like a movie pirated off the big screen in the theater. It’s not even close to the same.
But what’s most amazing is that our infinitely famous God, He’s the artist, the star, the object of our excitement and devotion, but it’s like He plays for a crowd of one. You. And me.
Soli Deo gloria!