Tag Archives: Love your neighbor

On Worship

How we connect with God is a very personal matter for all of us. It is also a topic that carries with it a great deal of emotional energy. There is so much wrapped up in this activity (yes, worship is a verb) that many people try to find that church and worship experience that provides the mysterious connection with God. Yes, it is a mystery when we are able to hear the Creator, God of the universe, Father Son and Holy Spirit, speak to us and know that He is telling us that He cares for us, wants to hear our heart’s cry and our praise.

The concept of worship is expressed in the Old Testament in the Hebrew language as the word shaha pronounced shaw-khaw’. This word is translated as “worship” 99 times in our English Bibles, 31 times as “bow,” and 18 times as “bow down.” The Webster Unabridged Dictionary provides this definition: “The act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; religious reverence and homage; adoration, or acts of reverence, paid to God, or a being viewed as God.” We get from these usages and definitions that worship is an act of humbling ourselves, bowing down to a being, in our case, God, to give him the honor and to revere Him as our Source. 1 Peter 5:6 advises, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

In today’s settings, we gather on Sunday mornings for gatherings labeled as “Worship Services.” Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians gather each week for worship. Many, if not most, have a firm grasp on the process and purpose of worship, but an increasing number of people can be found church hopping trying to find a worship style that suits them. There are multiple variables in this space, including but not limited to: relevant teaching, deep teaching, expository teaching, the hymns written since the reformation, contemporary songs with a faster beat, music of choruses with repetitive expressions of awe, communion every Sunday, communion periodically to keep it special, taking an offering as part of worship, letting my giving be done in secret either online or placed in boxes around the sanctuary before or after the services, and the list goes on. Still others look to the style of church leadership to be comfortable that the governance is focused on maintaining spiritual growth of the body.

Speaking as a worshiper, I am often convicted that I focus more on my own preferences rather than truly engaging in worship of a holy and righteous God. It would seem that at some point we must set aside the color of the carpet and the dress code of the pastor and focus on the One whom we are there to worship. I have to confess that I too fall victim to my own preferences in worship from time to time. Thankfully, my church provides some options from which to choose so that we are able to worship as a larger community with our preferred expressions, particularly in the area of music. The teaching is consistent and biblical, but the style of music, so influential in aiding our conversation with God and expressing our love and adoration, is varied in different services.

I have become convinced in my own mind that God is musically agnostic. What He loves and wants to hear is the expression of our hearts toward Him. We must focus on the object of our worship first and foremost, while making sure that we are hearing the truth of scripture being rightly divided. We must take the responsibility for validating what we are hearing by searching the scriptures to see whether the things we are hearing from the pulpit are correct.

Family, brothers and sisters, worshiping and bowing down involves humbling ourselves and honoring the One to whom honor is due. Worship is not a time to serve ourselves, let’s cast off the things that so easily beset us and put on the armor of light and give to God the glory, honor, and reverence that is due to Him alone.

“Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!” Psalm 95:6

Note to self: Come back to read this periodically for a reminder and attitude adjustment!

Life Priorities

In John 12:25, Jesus says this about our priorities, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is an important principle that tells us how we prioritize our lives in this life will determine how we will spend eternity.

Whoever loves his life will lose it – wow, that is a caution for us … in the book of Mark 8:38 in another setting, Jesus says, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So we can value our lives with our pride and put other relationships, careers, and toys before God now, but know that when it comes time for the final judgement, Jesus will be ashamed, or separate these folks out with the goats in the final judgment. We talked about this over the past few weeks in the context of Psalm 1. This is not new teaching that Jesus brings. This is the truth that God has had from the beginning of time. The first commandment says, we should value no god above the Lord our God. To the extent that we’re ashamed of or deny our relationship with God before men, Christ will deny knowing when we stand before the Father.

Yet, whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone of us serves him, we must follow him and where Christ (God) is there will Christ’s servants be also. Those of us who serve Christ, will be honored by the Father. More powerful and strong words. So why do we have a Bible study? So that we can learn what it is to follow him and serve him.

We need to think about giving up our pride and our personal preferences for what it takes to follow Christ. Now here’s the frequent objection to this line of thinking … this is a one-sided deal, this sounds like I am not allowed to have any fun or have any good or nice things. I don’t think this is what he’s saying. Go back to the beginning of chapter 12 where Mary got out a pound of very expensive ointment, expensive enough that at least one disciple said that she should have sold it for the poor. Jesus didn’t chastise her. Instead he complimented her. Why? Because everything she had belonged to God. She did not hesitate to spend extravagantly to show her love for Jesus. This all becomes a question of who owns our stuff. Are we willing to give what we have to help someone in need? What if God permitted a stock market crash comparable to 1929? How would we navigate those waters? How important are those things to us? In the normal course of life, we depend on those resources, but would our lives end should the banks go out of business? What if the housing market crashed? Many of us are fairly heavily invested in our homes. What happens to our hearts if those values turn to dust?

The questions Christ is asking here, is about our priorities, our values, our confidence, our faith. What is the foundation of our confidence in this life? Is Christ all we need? What about those students at Columbine who were asked whether they were believers, knowing that if they answered affirmative they were dead, and if not, they would live. These are not hypothetical questions. What if our friends began to drift away because of our faith? What if some in our neighborhood, began to distance themselves because of our participation in a Bible study? Friends, I think these are real questions. Now we need to make sure that we don’t become a stumbling block for others, but the time could very well come when some of our friends and neighbors are going to migrate to others who choose a different system of world values.

Much time is spent on the cost of discipleship. In discussions like these, we also need to spend time on the upside of following Jesus. Looking back at Psalm 1 it tells us that “blessed” is the man whose delight is in the word of God and one who meditates on God’s word day and night. I like what the Holman Christian Study Bible says: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers. Instead his delight is in the Lord’s instruction …” This man is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season. In other words, the flip side of losing our lives, should be gaining something. This Psalm tells us that someone who has given his life to Christ is like a strong tree in his community able to bear fruit in season, but also he is one who doesn’t fade at the end of the race (his season), it says his leaf does not wither, but in all that he does he prospers.

This is not some prosperity gospel as is put out by some, this is a man whose desires and joys or delights are in God’s word and the fruit of his strength is bringing wisdom and shade and strength to those around him. The purposes of this man will prosper or bear fruit. Comparing this man to those who choose another path, they are like the chaff that the wind blows away. They may be able to tell you how to make money or how to attain power. Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

In building our homes and our families would we rather not say with the Apostle Paul, “According to the grace of God given to men, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. (our successor generations are building out on the foundations that we have laid) Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it(the final judgment that may seem so far away, but take this to the bank, it is coming), because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

So then, many of us consider ourselves savvy investors … where would you rather invest your time and your energies? For me and many of my friends, our career working days are pretty much over, but there is lots of opportunity to do work that will count for eternity.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matt 6:33

Growing in Grace

I was reading Psalms 118 this morning and was touched by verse 14 which says, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It struck me that our faith walk is a journey. Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. The people of Israel journeyed from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham. The Apostle Paul counsels us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) In the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul prayed for the people to increase in the knowledge of God. The prophet Jeremiah shares a word from God that says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches; but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.”

As I reflect on this concept of spiritual growth, I am drawn into Psalms 119 where nearly every one of the 175 verses of that psalm refers to your precepts, your law, your rules, your statutes, your word, your testimonies, your promise and other descriptors of God’s word. Verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s word brings us light to find our way in an otherwise dark world. God’s word helps us discern our relationship with our government. This is particularly helpful in the times in which we live. God’s word helps us find our way with our families, our employers, our churches and a myriad of other relationships.

God’s word gives us hope for the future. Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth and it stands fast.” This is a great hope that we all can have. God’s faithfulness to his word and to who he is will endure to all generations! That means that until this world passes away, (Lk 21:33) God’s faithfulness will always be with us. And once that happens, God will provide a new heaven and a new earth that will be the dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 tells us, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Now if that doesn’t give us hope for our future, nothing will!

Spiritual growth helps us in our personal growth as well. In Peter’s second letter to the churches (3:18) he calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing in grace is something that we could all use. In the Lord’s Prayer cited in Matthew 6, he teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors …” Forgiveness is one way of extending grace. Christ goes on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So extending the grace we have received to others allows the grace we receive to grow even more. The harsh words and rhetoric of our political campaigns are divisive and cause sharp lines to be drawn between people rather than drawing people to unity. In America, we are divided as never before. I constantly have to ask myself what part I am playing in extending grace and creating unity.

Ephesians chapter 4 is a powerful passage that calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This bearing with one another in love is called grace. While we were still sinners, God chose to forgive us of our sins because of the blood of Christ. That is grace.

For us it appears in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As I read these words from Galatians 5, peace fills my heart. They feel like gracious living. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is given us by Christ at moment we stake our faith in him. What are we doing to grow in gracious living? We are all on a journey and God, who gave us the Spirit and began this work in us will continue working with us to bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He knows us and is patient with us, continuing to encourage us on our journey until the last day. He can calm the storms of the sea, he can also help us grow in grace.

Grace and Peace!

People Believed, then …

Acts chapter 2 tells us of the days following Pentecost, the days when 20151204_095731the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, were teaching all who were within hearing range. Those who believed were filled with joy and joined in the fellowship of believers sharing what each one had. Verse 47 reports that they were praising God and having favor with all the people. This favor paved the way to tremendous growth in the number of people who were being saved. Exciting days those were, believers were being added to the body of Christ every day!

Then the Jewish leaders saw that many were following “the way” because the apostles were teaching in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death. So they threw Peter and John in jail. Life begins to become complicated for the early Christians, not because of the Roman government, but because of the religious leaders. We have a saying these days that says, “We have found the enemy and they are us.” Isn’t that so often true? We feel constrained in following the word by our denominational preferences. Time passes and Paul, formerly Saul, begins to plant churches around the Western Asia world in places like Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth, Athens, etc. The church at this point is growing through Paul’s teaching, yes, but also through the teaching of those who have learned from Paul.

In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul instructs Timothy as follows: “… what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This is how the churches where Timothy was ministering were to be (a) strengthened and (b) growing. Much of my life has been committed to mentoring and helping other men navigate life from a biblical perspective. A few years back, my son-in-law, Russell, gave me the 4-link chain shown in the picture above. I keep it on my key ring as a reminder of my purpose as I travel from meeting to meeting. Regardless of the subject of any meeting, it helps me keep an eternal perspective on the relationships interacting in those settings. How does it work?

Paul said, “what you have heard from me …” are the first two links … Paul (the first link) passing truth and the message on to Timothy (the second link). Timothy, then was to entrust those truths to faithful men (the third link) who, in turn, would be able to teach others also (the fourth link). With each sharing of the truths of the Gospel, a new chain is started. We are called to share the truth of Jesus Christ, His love and His death and resurrection and the resulting future hope with others. Recently, I’ve been blessed to observe a couple of men prepare to share their faith with others, including their children! We are all trusting God to prepare the hearts of these “others” that God has laid on the hearts of these men. Yes, some of our words will fall on rocky soil, but some will fall on rich soil eager to hear the good news of the Gospel.

A dear friend excitedly talked of “paying it forward” with another couple we both know. While scripture doesn’t have that specific terminology, the concept of sharing the good news of Jesus that we have received in a “pay it forward” manner certainly is biblical. We who have been gobsmacked by God’s grace, can’t wait to share with others who need to hear the freedom that comes from life in Jesus Christ.

My challenge to you is to be the first link in the chain. Take the scriptural truths that you have received and share them with a friend or neighbor or even someone you know at church. Be in prayer asking God to guide you to that person who needs to hear His good news (gospel). We live in a world that is fearful and doesn’t know where to turn. They know they are looking for answers, and that there has to be a better way. Even though the media ridicules God and faith, when you build relationships with people to the point where you can hear their hearts, and they can hear yours, God will open doors. We’ll talk about this in another blog, but we’re not talking here about a Billy Graham style campaign on another person. We’re talking about building a very personal trusting relationship which gives each person the opportunity to hear heart level desires.

Praying for each one of you, because you have a story to tell, a story of redemption and hope that another person needs to hear.

Faith and World Events

Today is the 14th anniversary of the comandeering of four commercial aircraft. Three of them crashed into (1) World Trade North Tower, (2) The Pentagon, and (3) World Trade South Tower. The fourth hijacked over Pennsylvania, presumably to head for the White House. That hijacking was subverted by some very brave people and the plane crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania killing all aboard. Thousands of lives were lost that day as the World Trade Towers crumbled from the heat of the fires created by the planes flying into them. It was a horrific scene.

I remember that I had just concluded a meeting at Starbucks near our home and had returned home, clueless to what was going on. As I turned on the television in our family room, I was watching a reporter talk about the plane that had crashed into the North Tower. The North Tower was engulfed in flames in an area quite near the top. As he talked, I noticed a plane flying across the skyline and thought little of it until the South Tower exploded before our eyes on live TV. As the horrors of the scene continued to unfold, we learned that a commercial airliner had crashed into the Pentagon. The pieces then began to fall into place that our country was under attack. We later learned of the fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

We had no idea how these events would change our world. During the ceremonies of remembrance today, one person being interviewed commented that unlike Pearl Harbor which was attacked by Japan, there was no country or political entity that had created this event. What we were dealing with was a fanatical Islamic religious group that worked out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and some of the middle eastern countries. We found ourselves at war with an ideology rather than a country that could be punished or counter-attacked for such an attack. This was a new world and we knew little about how to combat an ideology. To this day we know little about maintaining a safe world, given the challenges of identifying the enemy. So where does this leave us?

Our God is a sovereign God. Nothing happens in this world that surprises Him. Could He have stopped the attacks? Yes, but throughout history, He has chosen to give man a free will. And guess what? Despite many who want to believe that man is inherently good, the Bible tells us that we are ALL sinners (Rom 3:23) and that through Adam (one man) sin entered into this world. From the time Eve believed the serpent and gave Adam some of the apple, sin has been a part of who we are. Even Adam’s son, Cain, killed his brother Abel. From those tragic beginnings, the Bible tells us that everyone has sinned and the devil has been allowed to “prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We are in a season where the devil who is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” is being allowed to roam this earth. As long as he is allowed to roam free, we will have a battle on our hands. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present  darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So there is a spiritual battle going on for which we need to be prepared. The rest of Ephesians 6 describes for us the “whole armor of God” that helps us withstand the spiritual forces that will attack our hearts, minds and souls. Romans 5:6 tells us that “While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” God has a plan and that plan is at work. He says that Jesus will not return until every nation has heard the gospel. While we are fast approaching that milestone, know this. God’s timing is perfect and He will come to claim those who believe in the name of Jesus.

I said above that God is a sovereign God which means that He is in control. The Bible tells us that He even puts the political powers in place. Romans 13:1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” An appropriate warning for our day, when Christians are so prone to protest and not comply with the law. It is important to remember during the days of Christ, the Roman government was as corrupt and debased as any in the history of man. In that light it is interesting that scripture does not record Christ railing against the government. He repeatedly chastised the church leaders, but never spoke about those in government. In fact, even after he had been anointed as the next king of Israel, when David had opportunity to kill Saul, he refused to kill the man who was out to kill him, because he was the Lord’s anointed. Another man’s wrong does not justify wrongdoing on our part.

How then should we live? In the U.S., our government has long approved and funded abortions, more recently it has approved the marriage of gay and lesbian couples. We see many in the Christian community at a point of rebellion against our government, to the point that our speech has become hateful and unloving toward sinners just like us. God calls us to love Him with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we focused more on loving our neighbors and less on hating the government that was put in place by God, perhaps we’d have a more attractive faith. Perhaps we’d be viewed not in the same light as the radicals Islamic terrorists. I’m not suggesting that we condone sin. Christ never did that, but still He loved the sinner. He told the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery to go and sin no more.

A man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave him the list of several of the commandments, to which the man replied, “All these I have done.” The next words are stunning … instead of berating and correcting him, the book of Mark records that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him …” and told him to go sell everything he owned and give the proceeds to the poor. I fear that in today’s Christian community we would be prone to show our skepticism and dismiss the person out of hand by saying something to the effect, “Yeah, right!” Our challenge is to be Christlike. Be a Berean by studying the scriptures so that you know how to respond.

In the context of today’s world, most people of middle eastern descent and especially followers of Islam are viewed with suspicion and often with disrespect. We’ve come through a Civil War which started this country on the path to respecting all races. We still have a ways to go. In light of the radical Muslims who attacked us on 9/11/01, we need to be careful not to paint all people of Islam with the same brush. Is it hard to tell who can be trusted and who cannot? Sometimes. But suppose we started from a position of trust until proven otherwise. Suppose that we followed Christ in loving even those who railed against us. Suppose we really were able to love our neighbors as much as we loved ourselves. Just suppose …

Christ told us to love those who hate us and to love our enemies. That is not a model I’m seeing widely practiced in the public arena today by “Christian” politicians or even those who are posting on the social media. We are throwing the Bible at these sinners and expecting them to live up to our standards without the help of the Holy Spirit! Let’s think about our rhetoric and vitriol before denouncing unbelievers and trying to hold them to biblical standards. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 tells us that it is not our job to judge those outside the church. That is God’s job! Our job is to love those outside, so that they will come into the church. The Holy Spirit then convicts men of sin.

Just suppose that we loved our enemies and those who hate us. Might there be fewer, then, who hate us? We’re doing a fantastic job of making new enemies with each self-righteous statement that we make.

Something to think about.