THE BOX

Preface

The small community church was anything but a large church.  Yet it was a blessed church.  Never had a church been pastored by anyone who loved God and His flock more than this pastor.  He thought of himself as only the ‘assistant pastor’ saying that God Himself was the pastor.  He was there only to follow God’s leading.

The previous Sunday his message contained several references to the Hebrew Temple.  He mentioned numerous points of temple practices and customs, focusing on the altar.  

That night, the pastor dreamed of the temple.  And in his dream, God instructed him to select two individuals from his flock who were of strong spiritual character.

He was told that each was bring to church the next Sunday, a symbolic offering which they considered to be a gift fitting to be laid at the altar.  He was to give each of these individuals a box measuring around twelve inches by nine by six.  These boxes they were to be the focus of next week’s service and message, as those chosen ones described what their boxes contained, and why.

The following day, the pastor’s first order of business was to secure two suitable boxes.  He found them at a local craft store.  Then, for effect, he spray painted both boxes gold… to represent a treasure box of gifts fit for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Selecting the two who would be given these boxes was a no-brainer.  One went to Abe, and the other to Zed.  The pastor could trust both of them with his life… and with his pulpit.

On Tuesday, he delivered the boxes to Abe and Zed.  Both were rather shaken by the pastor’s proposal.  Neither felt comfortable taking on such a serious spiritual mission.  “Pray about it,” the pastor told them, “I already have.  God will reveal to you what should go into your box.”  And they did.

We’ve all know people in our lives who, as they say, march to the beat of a different drummer, and who watches are set to another time zone.  It’s as if God is that way too.  But honestly… He’s the One who owns the drum and the One who designed the watch… He does what He does when, why, and where He elects!  Behind the scenes, God constructed the following week’s service and message, in the tender hearts of Abe and Zed.

The Service

Abe’s Golden Box

The first part of the service was much as any other service, although rather abbreviated.  The pastor felt deep within his heart that this service would need more time than most of his flock were accustomed to.  He kept the ‘preliminaries’ to a minimum.  He knew in his heart that the boxes would preach the real sermon, the sermon that should be heard and experienced. 

He stood behind the pulpit and gave a brief story about God’s instructions to have two individuals receive boxes, what those boxes were to represent, what they where to contain, and why.  He then motioned for Abe to bring his box forward.

The pastor took a seat on the front row as Abe walked to the altar and laid his box down.  Abe then stepped up to the pulpit.  Abe looked across the congregation nervously.  It was as if he were once again in third grade, standing on stage in the school’s auditorium, awaiting to recite the Pledge Alliance to the Flag.  

Abe began.  “Ours is a small church in a small town, and I am just one of this congregation, one with you.  But I’ve never felt like a ‘just’ anything or anyone.  I know that I am blessed… blessed beyond measure… far above what I may believe that I need… or want.  I have a loving wife, healthy children, a good job, and a happy home.  Yes, I’m a blessed man.  I’m not ‘just’ blessed, I’m blessed with the best… and I say that humbly and gratefully.” 

His knees shook, and yet he was not afraid.  Abe lifted his head and eyes upward, as if to behold the face of God, and he stammered,  “I’m not a wealthy man, Lord.  I don’t possess much of this world’s goods.  But what I have are blessings far too numerous to count, and all of them from you.  I have so much to be thankful for.  Lord, I praise you for all these rich and wonderful blessing.  And so Lord, I thought, what gift is worthy of you… and Lord, only You are worthy of all my praise!”  

The pastor shouted, “Amen!”

“Lord, Abe continued, “I praise you for the million upon million of rich and wonderful blessing you’ve allowed me to enjoy.  I praise you for a billions things, countless people, places, events, and special moments you’ve allowed me to know and experience.  I praise you for my health, my happiness, for a good job, a wonderful church, a great neighborhood in which to live.  I praise you for happy, healthy, well-adjusted children too. I thank you and praise you for giving me wonderful parents… who reared me in such a blessed and happy home.  I have so many things and friends and family members that I can praise you for and be thankful for!  So Lord… I’ve taken all that praise, praises for a million and one things, for thousands and thousands of cherished experiences, and for hundreds of family members and friends… and I’ve placed all of my praise into this box before you!  They are Yours Lord… all of my praise belongs to You!”

God was pleased.  He was very pleased!  God Loves our praise.

Never had the pastor seen the congregation totally immersed in a message.  Everyone was on their feet, their hands in the air, lifting their praises toward heaven.  The organist took note and quickly began a lively bring-the-glory-down hymn of praise… as if it was needed!  Abe had now long since walked away from the pulpit, but the pastor remained, now on his feet, still on the front row.  He too was lost in praise and thanksgiving.  God Himself was in control of the service.

How long did this last?  Who knows.  No one was keeping track of time. Finally, the electric atmosphere of the place slowly settled, and the pastor walked back to the pulpit.  “Today would have been a grand day to have had this place filled with visitors!” he said.  “This is church the way church ought to be!  Now, everyone kindly take a seat, if you can.  We want to hear from Zeke.” 

Zeke’s Golden Box

Zeke reached beneath the pew and pick up his golden box, then slowly walked to the front.  He placed his box on the altar, next to Abe’s.  Then slowly, he walked to the pulpit, and began. “These boxes are, of course, symbolic,” Zeke pointed out.  And mine, like Abe’s, also appears to be empty.  And yet, in a very real sense, it is or rather was, quite empty.  You see, once I was nothing, and now… I’m a child of the King.  Let me explain.”

Zeke took a deep breath.  Both hands grasp the podium.  His face took on the look of deep sorrow and despair.  Then he began.  “My life was once a useless pile of trash, a heap of worthless rubble.  My life was a mess.  I was lost.  I was as lost as if I’d be dropped into the frozen arctic or deep into a sweltering jungle.  I had no hope, no plan, no dream, no life.  I once saw death itself as a welcomed relief and a blessing.  I was a worthless crumbled heap of trash at the bottom of a pit of my own digging.”

The congregation sat in stunned silence.  This didn’t sound like the Zeke they all knew and loved.  They hung onto his every word.  “And then, miracle of miracles… a light shined down into that dark, dank pit.  It was the radiant smile of the Jesus.  He extended His welcoming hand to me, beckoning me to come out of that pit.”

Abe paused and looked toward heaven.  Tears flowed down his cheeks.

Once again I crumbled.  But this time it was not collapsing into myself in regret and despair.  This time I crumpled in His presence in total surrender.  How could One so Holy stoop so low to find one so undeserving as me?  How?

Yet He had!  He’d looked into my heart and seen that I had given up.  He saw that I now recognized my sorry wretchedness and shame, and He reached down and He gave me what I knew not what to ask for… His forgiveness.  As we sing in my favorite hymn, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found.  Was blind, but now I see.’  He did that for me!

My Savior washed away those grimy stains of filth, rot, and sin, and make me whole.  Yes, He washed me, heart, mind, hands, and soul…and made me clean again, as fresh and clean as a newborn!  I was reborn afresh in Him!

He took me in His arms and into His heart, and He called me ‘His son.’  How could this be?  What had I done to deserve such favor?  Why me?My heart was filled to overflowing, and yet, at the same time, I felt so empty, so undeserving.  What did I have to give Him in return?  He must h  ave read my thoughts, for He placed both arms around me, and in the sweetest, kindest voice I’d ever hoped to hear, He softly whispered… All I want is you!

The congregation was silent.

“None of us are worthy of His love, no, not one.” He paused for a long moment.  “I was the most unworthy of the unworthy, and yet, He stooped to save me.  He accepted me as I was, and forgave me, and loved me, and began making me what I should be and could be!  And I praise Him for that.  You see, praise is something we give.  And by definition, we must have something in order to give something.  When He found me, I was nothing, and I had nothing.  I had no praise to give.  I had only dirt, and filth, and sin.  And He took that away!  

Today, I have His forgiveness, and I have His love.  Today, I have something to give.  I can give Him my praise.  But I will never, not to my dying day, forget the agony of that heavy burden of sin and shame which once weighed me down.  And I’ll never forget the unbelievable joy of having those heavy sin-stained chains lifted off my soul.  It was not praise that lifted those heavy chains, but my surrender, and my worship unto Him!  When I had no praise, I gave Him my total worship.  And now, I make it my goal to surrender, in bowed worship before Him daily.  I know from where I came.  And I know who brought me out.  And I know what lifted me out… it was surrendering myself to Him.  You see, I could not praise Him until I worshipped Him.  

The sad thing is, I think we sometimes think that praise alone is enough.  Do we even confuse worship and praise?  They’re not the same.  Yes, I have everlasting praise for what He’s done and for who He is!  But let’s face it, praise is cheap.  Praise is something we’re encouraged to spread around!  We praise our choir’s singing, our pastor’s preaching, and when I get home for dinner I’ll praise my wife’s home-made biscuits!  But I won’t be worshipping any of those people or those things.  Worship is reserved for the The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  If we worship anything or anyone else, that’s the vilest of sins!

Praise is a celebration.  Worship is surrender.  God delights in our praise.  He demands our worship.  Praise is a celebration of victory.  Praise is fun!  Praise is most often a group activity.

But worship costs us.  Worship comes with a price to be paid.  Worship is surrender. Worship is deeply personal, between you and God alone, heart to heart.  The price we pay to worship Him is… self!  

My box represents my worship.  My box is empty, because it represents the emptiness that I am without Him.  It represents that I once was in the box, but I’ve given my life, heart, mind, body and soul to Him!  What was once in my box is now in Him!  That’s why my box is empty.  Think about it.  Abe’s box is full… of something fantastically wonderful…  his praise.  God loves that.  But my box is empty, because I’ve emptied it through my worship unto God.  The truth is, we all need to bring two boxes to God’s altar.

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GOD SPEAKS

© 2020 Bill Murphy

     God has never spoken to me in an audible voice.  He’s never spoken to my heart in words  saying, “Bill I need to tell you something.”  But He does speak to me.  He speaks through other people and through events… ways that I’d be an idiot not to understand.

     I began to question my quest to tell anyone who’ll listen of my sincere belief that there’s a fundamental, scriptural difference between the terms WORSHIP and PRAISE.  People said that I should basically ‘give it up,’ that my quest was a ‘hopeless cause.’  It was disheartening.  Was I wrong?  Was I wrong to believe as I do?  Was I stupid for trying to explain?

     And then, five times with ten days, God spoke, through others.

     The first three occasions came during a single church service. The preacher said, “WE NEED TO ADJUST WHAT WE BELIEVE.”  Hey, that’s what I’ve been trying to say!  Then he made two other statements:  “SHARE THE TRUTH IN LOVE.”  And… JESUS DID NOT BACK DOWN FROM THE TRUTH.”  Wow.  I heard that, God.  Thank you!  I’m on it!

     That week I began my study once again.  In my original search of scripture, I came across an Old Testament reference to Worship found in the account of the giving of the Ten Commandments.  I re-read this, taking note that in the story, the ‘worship event’ of the golden calf was referred to as a feast.  Intrigued, I did a study on Hebrew feasts.  The very next week, the minister’s subject topic was, you guessed it, FEAST.  God, does this Old Testament event really hold a clue to what you showing me?  It sure looks like it. (That sermon message also tied in ‘having fun’ with feasts.)

     The following Tuesday night I attended my bi-monthly writer’s club meeting.  I really tried to find an excuse not to attend.  But I went.  I’m thankful I did, otherwise I’d have missed message five.  

     One of our members usually writes prose, but dabbles a bit in poetry.  That night she brought three short poems to share.  The third poem was titled HOLY MOSES.  It was a whimsical ditty about the disgruntled Hebrew Children in the wilderness.  Wow!  

     Yes Lord, I heard You. 

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HYMN SUNDAY

©2019 Bill Murphy


This past Sunday was ‘Hymn Sunday’ at our church. With the exception of the first ‘greeting’ song, all of the music was ‘ole time’ hymns straight from the pages of the hymnals I sang from growing up. Please turn to hymn 341. Remember? Needless to say, I for one, enjoyed it immensely.

The thing which most amazed me was that every one of the hymns sung that morning was solidly on the side of worship music, as opposed to praise music. Hint: A general rule of thumb is that if you can clap your hands to it… it’s praise.

I was born into the Methodist Church. At age nineteen I joined the Baptist Church. At age thirty three, I became a member of the Pentecostal Church. Now, still a regular church-goer, I consider myself non-denominational. This life-history gives me experience in a broad range of church beliefs and practices.

Let’s face it, you and I aren’t particularly fond of listening to the opinions of others. That said, I respect your stance on the subject of church music. Therefore – let’s call what I have to say, honest observations… observations based upon seventy-eight years of church experience.

I’ve already mentioned praise and worship, alluding to my belief that these are different areas of church music… ‘knee music’ and ‘hand and foot music.’ While in the Pentecostal Church, many times I heard the Baptist and Methodists referred to as ‘old dead churches.’ If you put that remark into secular perspective, it would be like saying that Methodists and Baptist services were funerals, and Pentecostal services were birthday parties. Today, the Pentecostals no longer have sole ownership of loud and lively praise music.


This got me to thinking.


Birthday parties and funerals are simply a part of life. Both are celebrations in their own unique way. Birthday parties are celebrations of another year of life lived. Traditionally, these are joyous, lively occasions. Cake, ice cream, fun.

Funerals are end-of-life celebrations… where we remember and laude the life well lived of the individual. Although grieving because of our personal loss, we can also rejoice with the departed that they are now in their glorious heavenly home! Yet still, especially in American practice, funerals are a usually solemn, low-key, low-volume affairs. I offer the words dignity and reverence to best describe it.

So… what made this past Sunday’s ‘Hymn Sunday’ music service so special for me? It took me back to yesteryear, to the quiet, solemn and reverent worship of God in services that I enjoyed as a youth.

None of the hymns sung yesterday compelled you to clap your hands or tap your feet. Instead, all of them brought tears to your eyes. They made you want to drop to your knees in respect, reverence, and surrender to our Lord God Almighty!

So… what’s the big difference between this music service, and a typical one of the previous week?

The difference was in the focus. Yesterday’s focus was on worship. It is usually on praise. This difference, made a huge difference, to me. As for me, it made me feel much more closer to Him… who we were honoring in song.

So, what is the difference between praise and worship? Perhaps you disagree that there is a difference! Is there a difference between giving and tithing? And does it really matter? And – is there anything ‘wrong’ with praising Him? Doesn’t scripture tell us to praise Him? YES it does!

In His teachings, Jesus compared us to ‘little children.’ His point is that we have to be led, guided, and directed toward that which is most beneficial to us. A responsible parent doesn’t ask a 4 year old what he wants for dinner… they serve the child the healthy, nourishing foods the child needs. Otherwise, the child would eat dessert for every meal. Praise is a group activity. Praise is contagious. Praise is joyous, uplifting, happy affair. Praise is enjoyable. Praise can be fun! Praise is like dessert! Remember the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, just hours before His crucifixion and death? The crowds went wild with… praise!

Remember also, the story of His birth? And the shepherds and wise men came to visit Him… and they bowed and worshipped Him? You envision this as a solemn occasion, right? It was.

The very word worship comes from the word bow. It speaks of reverence, of submission, of deep respect, of awe. There’s nothing in this which in any way alludes to leaping in joy and merriment. It is bowing in deep gratitude. Worship is the nutritious meal which is necessary for health… spiritual health!

Praise is the desert… which inspires a tap to our feet, put a grin on our face, joy in our heart, and lifts our spirits. Praise makes us happy! Praise makes us want to jump for joy and run the aisles!

I love my ice cream. I really do. But I don’t want ice cream for every meal. I certainly don’t need ice cream for every meal. Nor do I need (or want) only praise in every church service.

Praise has its place. Praise is a normal, natural, desirable, necessary, and commanded part of loving and serving Him. God loves and desires our praise.

But praise can never take the place of worship… for worship is much deeper, and far more personal than praise also can ever be. Just as praise can readily be a group activity, worship is far more personal… more one-on-one with you and God. Yes, one can worship within a group – but one does not worship as a group. True worship is just that personal!

Compared to the wall-shaking, chandelier swinging, eardrum busting services I have attended, those quiet and solemn times at Grace Methodist Church on Winter Street in Jackson, MS really would ‘appear’ like a funeral service to many. But to me at least, those times of quiet reverence, especially on Sunday Nights, were like being in the manger where the baby Jesus lay. I felt His holy presence. I was awed by His closeness to me – and my closeness to Him! I was humbled. I was wonder-struck to feel this nearness, this communion with Him. Bowing at that altar was like bowing at the very throne of God!

One very forgets those precious, life changing, heart directing moments. I miss them. I really do.

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