Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Gift of Worship

God prepares the way for worship.

When we want what God wants, when we pray and ask for what God wants, when we seek after and pursue what God wants, He is sure to answer.

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.1 John 5:14-15

Hezekiah had a heart to worship the Lord. He had a desire to put God first and that meant making changes. So he did. He removed objects of false worship and restored objects of true worship. He removed access to false worship and restored access to true worship. He removed routines of false worship and restored routines of true worship.

To say we worship God without committing the objects, time, access and routines of our lives to Him is falsehood. We are not worshiping God if our priority is family. Sports. Entertainment. Work. Children. Ministry. Material goods. We may look nice on Sunday morning; shut down the arguments before exiting the vehicle, sing at the top of our lungs, greet people on our way in and out, but if God is not at the center of our every day lives, He is not at the center of our worship.

Where is God in each day? Is He the staple of your thoughts? The first thought when you awake? The last thought at the end of the day? Do you pause to thank Him for meals, gifts, people, suffering? Is praise the language you speak? Is prayer the breath of your heart?

He is worthy. No worship or praise of our Heavenly Father is wasted, lost, or regretted. It is what we were designed for--it is our eternal hope and joy. It is the cry of our lives. Worship is fulfillment of our calling; the only accomplishment of human achievement. It is only moments of betrayal and vanity that are lost forever.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
    Tremble before him, all the earth!
    The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
    let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
    let them sing for joy before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
    gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
    and glory in your praise.”
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting. 1 Chronicles 16:23-36

Thursday, May 23, 2019

No More Curious George

When our children were young, we spent a lot of time reading about Curious George. Curious George, the monkey kidnapped from Africa by the Man with the Yellow Hat, got into trouble over and over: calling the fire department, painting without permission, making boats out of newspapers instead of delivering them, etc.

At the end of each story, George found a way to make up for his mistakes. He was pitied, forgiven, and restored based on his cute-factor and efforts. It took awhile for me, as a parent, to see and recognize that same pattern in our children. Like Curious George, they thought they could make up for their sin by doing something extra. That's true for many of us.

How often, when we realize we've hurt someone or said something harmful, do we attempt to win them over with kindness or generosity? Or, if we felt the slight was deserved, we reach out to someone else, putting our best foot forward?When I see the wickedness and the evil in my heart, I work to convince myself I'm not that bad; I'm not all bad; it's going to be okay.

The truth of the matter is, I am that bad. It's not okay. We cannot pay for our sin. We can't make it up, cover it up, or fix it. It is what it is.

I don't like that very much. I'd like a different plan. But that's God's plan. I don't like that plan until... Until I'm on the other side of the equation and I've been heinously sinned against. Then I think that's a good plan. Justice is good. Justice is right. There should be punishment for wickedness and evil. Because when one person sins against another, the victim lives with ongoing consequences. The wrong(s) can't be undone. They don't go away. It is part of the sufferer's identity and everyday life. The consequences of sin are very, very real. The cost of sin is always carried by the sufferer, not the offender. God does not take sin lightly. He will always exact justice. Always.

Here is a picture of God's judgment from the book of Isaiah: a sinful, unrepentant nation is trampled in the mud, "like straw in the water of a manure pile." The passage goes on, "And he will spread out his hands in the middle of it as a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim, but the Lord will lay low his pride together with the trickery of his hands."(Isaiah 25:10-11) Living on a farm, I understand that graphic word picture. It's creative. Inescapable. Awe full.

God does not overlook, excuse or ignore sin. He always sees it. It is always a stench in His nostrils, an eternal offense against a holy, righteous God. Regardless of who is involved or affected, God's Person, character, and nature are affronted. He alone is Creator, Ruler, Judge. We, each one of us, is accountable for every word, every action. And we fall short.

There is no hope. No rescue. No easy fix. No relief.... But God.

Because God sent Jesus to pay the cost of our sin against Him--a price only God can afford--we have access to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision, a transaction. The offending individual admits his sin to the one he sinned against (God and ____), agreeing it is egregious, shocking, wrong. He then asks for forgiveness with the understanding that it is not an obligation but a gift. Because of Jesus, God will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because of Jesus, we can forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness, then, is "sending away," sin: the punishment is removed, peace is restored. The estranged are reconciled. God is glorified.

That's why the Curious George fix doesn't work. There is no admission of wrong, no Jesus, no reconciliation or forgiveness. Just George. And George is not enough... You, and I, are not enough. We need, must have, can only depend on and trust in, Jesus.

 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

God's Love Through Others

I received a text from a friend and was reminded that God often shows His love through others with:

A word fitly spoken.
A gift or thoughtful card.
Withheld judgment.
An act of kindness.
A gentle rebuke.
A morsel of truth.
A gift of time.
A hug.
Unselfish interest.
Follow-up questions.
A shared memory.
A wink.
A smile.
A raised eyebrow.

Freely we have received. Freely give... (Matthew10:8)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. 1 John 4:7-21

Monday, May 13, 2019

Making Connections

God combines situations, people, and His Word in unique ways in each of our lives--and part of the fun is, as a para-professional friend taught us, is "making connections." Each time small children would raise their hands eagerly, he would encourage them, "If you're making a connection right now, show me with your fingers (interlock fingers from each hand) and we'll talk about it later."

Here's my latest connection:
- The book of Ephesians was written to the corporate local church. It is lived out by individual as a group, but it's not about "me." It's about  how to glorify God with unity of purpose and direction as a local church body (living out the fullness of Christ here and now).

- Suffering is best done together. People in our world experience unspeakable acts of evil and wickedness. When one suffers, we all suffer. But to suffer alone does not 1) allow for healing, 2) bring closure, or 3) glorify God. Together we come alongside one another and bear each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2-5). Only Jesus was called to suffer alone. He then created a Body, the Church, to suffer together. He is in it with us.

- Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Jesus' ordinances) can only be done together. In order to be baptized, someone else has shared truth and instruction (Matthew 28:18-20). Discipleship cannot be accomplished alone. Baptism requires that someone else joins you in that body of water. And, it's done before an audience of witnesses. The Lord's Supper is a picture of shared suffering and celebration--all centered around our Lord, Jesus Christ. Baptist and the Lord's Supper require a local church.

If you are trying to obey the Word of God alone, you are not living in obedience to the heart of God. His Word is written to groups of people who live, worship, and fellowship as a unified entity (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, the introduction of the Pauline letters). That is a work of God's supernatural filling and equipping--all of us, with our own sin nature, desires, and experiences--submitting to one another as we submit to Christ.

If you are suffering alone, God instructs you to find others. Let them be Jesus to and with you; allow them to direct you to Jesus, His Word and character. God wants to bring grace and healing, but He uses Spirit-led individuals. That's how He works--through people.

If you have not embraced the beauty of unity in a local church, you are not walking in step with Jesus' final instructions to His people. One person alone does not reflect the image of God. God is a unified Person of individual Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He created Adam and Eve "in His image: male and female He created them.""There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Get on board, little children! There's room for many a more.