A Worship Problem

You may have heard me say it a lot – worship is not only just singing.  In fact, singing is a very small percent of worship – we worship with our entire being and person.  We are all created to be worshipers, therefore we all worship something – so what is it?

God created the world and created us to enjoy him and his creation that points back to him and his greatness.  In Romans 1 he says that this is obvious – just walk outside or sit by the ocean or the Grand Canyon, or the mountains and it smacks you in the face – there is a Creator.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)

Knowledge that there is a God and that he is eternally powerful and divine (not human) is “plain to” us in Creation.  The Apostle Paul then uses stronger language and says that we are “without excuse!”  We can’t say to God that “Oh, gee, I didn’t know you existed.”  He made everything in such obvious complex beauty and structure it is obvious that he exists.

And so if it so obvious that he exists, it also should be a given that he is to be worshiped.  C.J. Mahaney once said something to the effect that there are two categories- the created things and the Creator.   By nature and design the created things worship the Creator.

We are part of the created things and therefore need to worship the one who created us, but this isn’t just singing songs – it’s devoting our whole lives in worship to God.  He has provided a way for us to worship him fully in Jesus Christ. For as created things, we sin and that sin separates us from a 100% sinLESS God.   This is a cosmic dilemma for we cannot fix this separation ourselves.  God in his grace has provided a mediator for us in Jesus. Thru faith in Jesus and perseverance of a life dedicated to God we are restored and the separation repaired – this is the gospel. God’s Gospel.  His design and creation to reconcile us to himself.

Paul also uses strong language that we are to “obey” this  – calling it the obedience of faith in v5.   The bad part is that if we do not obey, we’ll still be worshipers – however we’ll worship the created things, instead of the Creator (v25) – and when worship is directed at the wrong things – it all goes wrong.  The list of sins that stem from this worship problem is astounding, and we see it everywhere today. Check out v26-32 for a commentary on much of what we see today.

No one will deny that this world is jacked up, that’s obvious too.  But, God is working his plan to fix what sin has broken and restore his creation back to him.  Let’s remember that creation itself screams out that God exists and the sin we see is an indication of a fundamental worship problem – and let’s all rightfully worship our Creator thru faith in Jesus.

Self-Alignment

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

(Ephesians 4:16–24 ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we are called to think differently – if you’ve ever noticed the way non-believers live their lives – sometimes we are shocked when they sin so openly – why?  In a sense they don’t know any better because their minds are darkened and their hearts are hardened.

We see a contrast in how believers in Jesus are to be thinking and living – three important things – (1) put off sin (2) renew the way we think and (3) Put on new self

The old self belongs to the old way of thinking, the hard heart, the non-believing heart and we are called to put it off.  We are called to think in line with how we are as new creatures in Christ.  Align our thoughts with the spiritual reality of who we are. – this is work that we are called to do – Jesus has done the perfect work on the cross, but now we are called to do the spiritual work of living up to the reality of who we are in Chirst.   That leads us to number 3 – we are created in the likeness of God, but in Chirst we are righteous and holy – we “put on” (as in outward actions) our new self – we wear it out – the last part of our passage tells us what that looks like:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

(Ephesians 4:24–32 ESV)

Let our lives be outwardly characterized by speaking truth and not lies, not letting anger and other emotions rule our actions, doing honest work, being a responsible contributor to others’ needs.  Watching our words – are they corrupting? (tearing down?) or building up (and giving grace to everyone, by standards included).  Are we bitter? or are we kind, tenderhearted, forgiving?

All of this is because of what God has done or us in Jesus – we did nothing to attract him – we only offer our sin, and in the grace and love of God in Jesus he restores us, reconciles us, forgives us.  How much should that dictate the way we live our lives?  Not walking in the old self, but continuously renewing our minds to align ourselves to our new spiritual selves in Jesus.

 

Fearing God Amidst Fearing Life

Psalm 86 is a very powerful Psalm – you can tell that David is writing this as someone in the midst of a trial as v1 shows a man desperately seeking God as he is “poor and needy,”  v2 asks for God to “preserve his life,” and “save your servant.”

David is crying out to God in a desperate time in his life – in the Hebrew “Lord” in v3 (and 6 other places” is “Adonai” which is “Sovereign.”  Here we see a very important thing about David’s perspective – he is in a desperate situation,but he knows who God is and he is calling up on the Sovereign nature of God.  God is in control of all things, and is working his plan for his glory.

It’s interesting to note what David does not pray for – that God would get him out of this situation, or simply ‘make the pain go away.’  Verses 11-13 a great summary of what he is praying for:

Teach me your way, O Lord,

that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

He wants to know God’s ways more, he wants to live them, he want his whole being to be one to honor, respect, revere God.  As one commentator puts it:

[David] does not mean ‘teach me how to get out of this trouble’ but ‘teach me, while the trouble still rages, to live your way’. Undivided heart, ‘unite/unify my heart’, deliver me from being double–minded, two–faced with God; give me ‘a single, steady aim, unmoved by threatening or reward, to you and your great name’.

As comfy Americans, this goes against everything we know in our blood.  God is there to make our lives more comfortable and take the pain away. When we are facing pain, we just call out to God and ask him to make it stop.  Yet, that is not what we see here from David – God is sovereign above all, and yes, even the pain he is working in for his purposes and our growth.  This Psalm should change the way we pray, moving the focus from us to God himself – that we may turn over all of our selves to him and seek to know him more. As v12-13 says:

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

God has rescued us from our sin and the penalty of it in Jesus.  May our focus on Him create thankfulness in our hearts and outward lives lead for his glory.

 

How to Love God

The book of Deuteronomy is largely a restatement of the law that was given to God’s people, but now as they are ready to enter the promised land after their 40 years in the desert, they are hearing it again before their mission continues to drive out the inhabitants of the land.

Thus…when something gets said twice or summarized, it’s usually pretty important.  In 6:4-7 we see a very famous summary:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

We see a few things here:

  • There is one God, and you are one in God.   Written in a world of many “gods” this is a powerful statement – there is only one true God.  Also the word “you” in v5 is singular – the people of God are united in the one God.  
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  This phrase carries the meaning of “the whole person.”  Israel was being called to love the one true God with their whole lives, let no part of your heart, soul, or mind be not serving God in loving worship.  One God – your many lives lived as one all with everything you have for God’s purposes and glory.
  • Teach with your life.  As parents we are to pass on our 100% love for God to our kids – both in teaching with actual words of God in the Bible – but also in everyday life – when we’re sitting at home, walking (or driving now as the case may be), when resting…all the time.  All of our time with our family – redeemed for one purpose – loving God. Fathers, we are called to lead the way here – Eph 6:4

Lest we think that these are only commands given to ancient Israel and no longer apply to us today…(1) He is still the same God.  The God of the OT is not a different God from the NT.  Why would we not continue to love him with everything we have?  (2) Jesus famously sums this as the greatest commandment in Matt 22:36-38.

If we have repented of our sins, put our full faith and trust in Jesus for restoration and healing, and are persevering in our walk today – we are united in Jesus.  We are part of the new covenant that the old covenant laid the foundation for – Jesus fulfilled it for us!  How much more now shall we love God with all of our being?  We live and work not for God’s acceptance and love, but because we are loved and accepted by God in Christ!

 

 

Acts 2 and God’s Unstoppable Plan

Sometimes we hear people say that they want to get back to a sort of “Acts 2” philosophy of church ministry, and that isn’t always a bad thing.  We see a powerful, growing church in Acts 2 – devotion to God’s word, building each other up in the faith, spending life together (both in the church and at homes), and an intentional prayer life – not to mention a very strong others-orientation – some even selling their material things in order to make sure that other  members had their needs met..  Those are all good things.

But what struck me this morning, perhaps it’s because of Good Friday being 2 days away are two things:

  • The amazing foreknowledge of God.  Peter in his sermon to the crowd states that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (2:23) The cross was not a reaction, it was not a “Plan B” – as Pastor Matt Chandler says in his book Explicit Gospel “The cross of Jesus Christ was not some surprise, not some plan B for God, but rather the plan known within the Godhead since the beginning. God’s response to the belittlement of his name, from the beginning of time, has been the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross.”   As we celebrate this weekend, let’s also celebrate the amazing, intentional, unstoppable redemptive plan of God to bring a sinful human race back to himself.
  • David saw the resurrection of the Christ.  2:31 says something amazing about David, and I think it’s another passage that answers the questions “How did God see David – the adulterer, murder, etc – as  ‘man after his own heart?”  – “David foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.”  David was looking ahead to the Messiah and understood that he would come and be sacrificed for the sins of the world and would rise again.  This is where he placed his faith. Yes, he had massive personal sin issues – but if the cross of the Christ is powerful enough to cover them – isn’t it then powerful enough to cover our sins?  Then what is stopping us from running to God instead of running away from God when we sin?  Look at the amazing knowledge of our God – he knows it all anyway.

Foreknowledge and other attributes that show God’s massiveness should bring us comfort that there is nothing that God doesn’t know and control in line with his beautiful merciful plan of redemption.  David knew this truth and even applied it to the Christ, according to Peter in our text today.  This brings peace and fullness of joy.

For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,

for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

my flesh also will dwell in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25-28, ESV)

Jesus Prays for You

John 17 is a very rich passage – it’s Jesus’ prayer before he is arrested, falsely tried, beaten and crucified. In it we see several things that are emphasized.

  • Glorifying God – Jesus glorified God on Earth.  How?  By fulfilling the Father’s plan perfectly and faithfully. Likewise, we glorify God by doing his will – avoiding sin and pursuing righteousness, making disciples, and many other God glorifying things. (v1-5)
  • Word of God – Jesus says that he ‘gave them the words you gave me’ (v8).  We are blessed that we have these words.  Think of how many people gave their lives in order for us to have English Bibles, how long people before us didn’t have access to them, and how many people still don’t have access to God’s words in their own language. Treasure God’s word – study it, meditate on it, soak in it.  Jesus’ mission was partially to give us the words of God.  They are pure truth, and bring spiritual growth (AKA “sanctification” v17)
  • Prayer – Jesus is praying for the Father’s strength to finish the mission…he knows exactly what is before him – the cross.  If Jesus prayed for strength to stay the course – how much more should we?
  • Jesus prays for you – well, if you are a believer that is.  v20-21:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21, ESV)

Jesus prays for those who will believe in him thru the work of the disciples who will faithfully carry his words forward in the future.  Followers of Jesus are still carrying on that mission – bringing God’s word – holding fast to this ‘word of life.’ (Phil 2:!6) The word brings spiritual life!  Jesus, the God-in-flesh, came from the Father on a mission to redeem a sinful fallen human race, to give the precious words of life, that those who believe may have life in his name. As we draw near to Good Friday and Easter, how sweet these words are.

Disciples Bear Fruit

In John 15 is the well known section where Jesus illustrates that he is the true vine (as opposed to Israel, Jesus is perfectly faithful)  and we are the branches, we are to abide. Our word “abide” is to remain, to stay with. In other words, don’t leave Jesus for sin – stay with him, trust him that his words (commandments) are truly better for us than sin.

What I was struck by this morning was how many times we see the words “bear fruit.”  I would say clearly the focus of this passage is the instruction to bear fruit for the glory of God.  Yet, quite often we hear other things emphasized more strongly in this passage – things that are about us.  How many times have you heard emphasis on v7 “…ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you”?  (As if God is a genie to grant all our wishes) Or v11 “…that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  (as if feeling happy is our main goal in life) Joy is good, but we can’t disconnect it from the source of joy and the main focus of the passage.

If we call ourselves his disciples we are to faithfully stay near to him, not depart his side for sin, act in obedience to his word and bear fruit for his glory – in this is our abundant joy as we then are fulfilling the purpose for which he made us!

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  (John 15:7-11 ESV)

What does it mean practically to bear fruit?  Scripture is chock full of describing the fruits – but a good quick reference is  the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Jesus says that his disciples bear much fruit…are our lives full of much of these things?  If not, pray that they will be and get after them!

Path to Peace

In John 14:15-31 Jesus describes a sequence of interdependent events –

  1. If you claim to love Jesus you will know and obey his word (14:15, 21)
  2. If you love Jesus, you are loved by the Father (v21)
  3. If you are loved by the Father, Jesus loves you and reveals himself to you (v21)
  4. If Jesus reveals himself to you, he and the Father will make their home with you (v23)

This all starts with knowing and obeying the word of God, this is the whole Bible – not just the words that Jesus said.  There have been those that have gone astray in thinking that passages like these give them license to only obey what Jesus actually said when he was here on Earth (AKA a “red letter Christian”) – whereas in truth, all of the Bible is the word of God, it is all one story – God and his gracious redemption of a sinful human race in Jesus.  Therefore, Jesus himself says that all of Scripture is about him. (Luke 24:27)

This brings it down again to knowing and understanding Scripture.  It astounds me to realize that so much false teaching in the Catholic Church, other mainline denominations, and of course the cults all start with an improper interpretation of God’s word and it snowballs from there.  Fortunately, we are not left to fend for ourselves in understanding Scripture and it doesn’t require a seminary degree – enter the 3rd person of the three-in-one-God:  the Holy Spirit.

In our same passage, Jesus explains —

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
(John 14:25-26 ESV)

The Holy Spirit is our Helper to teach us and cause us to remember God’s word.  This is a spiritual exercise – so pray thru your reading of God’s word daily – that the Holy Spirit would cause you to know, believe, and understand God’s word, and give you the courage to obey out of love for God.  Remembering that you are then loved by the Father and Jesus reveals himself to you and not only that – makes his home within you.

All of this – brings us inner peace as we fulfill the purpose God created us for – to know and enjoy him forever and bring him the glory he rightly deserves with our lives —

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27 ESV)

Getting to the Real Issue

In working my way through John, we see the theme of belief coming up over and over again. This is the reason for the writing of the book (see John 20:31). However people coming to understand and believe that Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah and God in flesh wasn’t a good thing for everyone. The Pharisees had a big problem with it. Why? See John 11:47-48

“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

This is the real issue – this is why the Pharisees are coming up against Jesus so strongly. If too much of a stir was caused, and too many people came to believe in who Jesus was they would lose the temple, their semi-autonomous status with Rome, and perhaps closest to their hearts – their status and prestige of being the religious rulers of Israel. Obviously this totally misses the point that Jesus came so that their people might be reconciled to God – they didn’t care about that!

The parallels to our lives are clear – God requires that we surrender everything in our lives to his control, that our lives would now be joyfully used for his glory and not our own self-serving purposes. I can clearly recall resisting God many years ago when he was drawing me towards him, as there were things in my life that I was fearful I would lose by coming to Jesus and I didn’t want to give them up. This is common as I counsel with people who are stuck in sin and life isn’t going well, yet they will not surrender all of their lives to him they want to hold onto parts of it. That’s not how it works.

Jesus says this later in John 12:25-26 “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world (in other words, loves Jesus more than his earthly life) will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

To follow Jesus as his disciple means that everything in your life is his, what are you afraid of losing? Turns out, when you lose your life, you actually find it’s true meaning and purpose.

Psalm 68:8/Ephesians 4:1-16

Psalm 68 among other things, speaks of the victory and presence of the LORD, verse 18 may ring familiar if you know Ephesians: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…”

Paul quotes this verse in Eph 4:8, as he is writing about Christians walking in a manner worthy of our calling – the unity of the body in humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance with each other, and love.  Some things to note:

  • The deity of Christ: Paul ascribes this now to Christ in his resurrection (“…he ascended on high”), authority (“led a host of captives”), incarnation (“…he descended), and his position now in Heaven with the Father (…”he ascended”)
  • God is the giver, in Christ:  v7 says that grace was given to each, according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Grace that enables us to live lives of unity in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance with each other, and love.   His grace is also evident in the way he gives us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers
  • Maturity is the goal:  we live in unity as a sign of our maturity. Maturity of what?  v13 – knowledge of the gospel – all of God’s word – his one story of the redeeming of a fallen human race in Christ Jesus. Maturity also keeps us centered, rooted, and established – so that we won’t follow any passing ideas.  I was reminded of a great saying yesterday in a lecture “He who stands for nothing, will fall for anything.”
  • Speaking the truth in love...must be grounded in Christ, for the maturity of the body, and for the growth of the body.  It’s not just a license to say whatever is on your mind to someone.  Besides, we are to do that with all humility, gentleness, patience, in forbearance with each other and in love.

In all this God is glorified – as we look back to Psalm 68, the very next verse sums it up well – “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.”