All Glitter is not Gold

If you are like me you regularly think about how you can live a better life. How you can be a better person, a better spouse, parent, and friend. I know I want to appear to be kinder and wiser, more disciplined, generous, and thoughtful. I want people to see me as a better man, leader, preacher, and writer.

But am I willing to do the hard work of actually becoming these things?

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

The easy way, in the long run, is the hard way. The hard way, though beset with effort, pain, and difficulty, leads to long-term ease of a life well lived in progressive maturity and spiritual growth. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said,

The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few

I wish there was another way! I wish there was a quick fix, or an easy solution! But you and I know that’s not the case, so we set our goals and make our determinations to be different, to make forward progress, and then we hit the proverbial wall and quit. But… don’t stop working and striving to mature or you’re going to wind up joining the masses that have settled for the cycle of mediocrity with the mask of progress.

You see… appearing to be something and actually being something are two different things. Looking good isn’t the same as being good!

Sometimes I wonder if I, and maybe “we,” approach our faith in Jesus the same way we approach the other areas of our life we say we want to improve, only to not put forth the effort to actually do so. We can be very successful at practicing our religion without actually deepening our relationship with God. We can go to church, sing on the worship team, help in children’s ministry, attend a class or even teach a class and simply be engaging in spiritual activities devoid of the depth of relationship.

The same goes for me as a preacher. I can hone the skill of public speaking, know how to engage people with smiles, listening eyes, and firm handshakes. I can craft my prayers to fit any and every situation. I can exegete a text, apply sound hermeneutics, and use smart-sounding words to convince others that I know what I’m talking about. I can do all these and more and still be far from God. Religious knowledge and activities do not necessarily produce a Christ-like life.

Now, I’m not against knowledge and activities. And I’m not suggesting you should not go to church or sing on the worship team or help in children’s ministry. But what I am suggesting is that you ask yourself the same question I am asking myself: Am I actually becoming more like Jesus or am I merely appearing to be more like Jesus? 

I guess there are worse things for us to appear to be, but faking it never works in the long run. I’ve heard it said before, “All glitter is not gold.” What one appears to be and who one truly is may be two different things.

One of my goals is to stop trying to appear to be someone I think would gain the approval of others, and simply be someone who aspires to follow and become more like, Jesus.

Will you join me in this?

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Developing the Foundation of Christian Character – SERMON

How do we hold onto Faith when Life is Hard?

Why would God allow the mass bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka which killed 253 people and wounded 500 others? Why would God not stop a gunman from killing one and injuring three more in a California synagogue? Why didn’t God stop the cyclones in Mozambique that have killed 38 people?

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Maybe you don’t, either. There are no easy answers, are there?

Vance Havner was widely recognized as one of America’s most traveled evangelists and popular Bible conference speakers. When he lost his wife to disease, he was disconsolate. Years later, he was able to write:

When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in fulfillment what we now believe in faith—that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry “My God, why?” Instead, “alas” will become “Alleluia,” all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.

Did you notice the reference to “years later”? Even for the die-hard believer and a well-seasoned evangelist overcoming pain, grief, loss, and sorrow didn’t happen overnight. Sometimes the pain may never be fully assuaged. Many live with chronic pain or depression that affects them every… single… day.

During the Korean War, Pastor Im was torn from his family and imprisoned for years, locked in a dark cell with only a small bowl of soup to eat every day. He kept his sanity by reciting Scripture, especially John 13:7,

What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Like that passage says we can only see a portion of what is going on. We cannot fully know or comprehend what is taking place on a spiritual level and how things weigh in eternity. We only see through a darkened mirror, but one day we will see face to face. We only know in part, but one day we will know fully, as we are fully known!

So, how do we hold onto faith when life is so hard?

William Cowper, an eighteenth-century English poet, struggled with depression his entire life. On one of his darkest days, he hired a carriage to drive him to the Ouse River, three miles away, where he intended to kill himself. A dense fog enveloped the area, and the driver, sensing that something was wrong with his passenger, purposely lost his way only to return back to Cowper’s home. Cowper realized his life had been spared, and that same evening in 1774, at age 43, he wrote these words:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread; And big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Believe, trust, and know that God is with you in the pain. He is with you in the struggle. He is with you in the hurt.

Isaiah 53:4 reassures us that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and in Hebrews we are reminded that He will never leave or forsake us… even in the pain.

A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

Just Don’t Stay Down

For those who are involved in my personal life you certainly know that I shoot competitively. This past weekend was my first competition back from my off-season and my first of many to be shot in 2019. This particular match was called “Hard Rock” and is the first of a trio of matches called “Hard as Hell.” My expectations were that it would be hard… but I truly couldn’t have expected what myself and my gear would be pitted against just in order to finish each individual stage.

There were moments in the middle of the snow and sleet trying to manipulate a firearm that was determined to not function correctly that frustration set in and it was all I could do to continue to fight through in an attempt to finish.

At one point while walking back to my vehicle after a slippery run through the woods shooting steel targets an Army Ranger who was there shooting asked me how I did. My response was something along the lines of, “I fell down 3 times on the course of fire. The run was decent, but I know I could’ve done better.” His response was short but sweet. He said, “Well… it would’ve been worse if you had stayed down!”

I am no stranger to the feeling of disappointment when you fail and fall. This past weekend is probably the poorest I have ever done at a shooting competition. But… if you allow yourself to learn from failure and you get back up and go right back at it your character will reflect your resound.

Failure doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Your slips and falls don’t have to determine the outcome.

In August of 1521 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon, and near the end of the letter he wrote these now famous words,

Pecca Fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christ

Our translation of this is,

Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!

Luther’s words have often been misunderstood as granting permission to sin or encouraging people to sin, but I’d like to suggest another view which perhaps can help all of us deal with our daily struggles with temptation, failure, disappointment, or despair.

Who hasn’t experienced the disappointment of trying to move forward only to fall back? Of trying to keep a promise only to forget? Of trying to overcome only to give in? Of trying to do what’s right, think what’s right, and follow what’s right only to fail? We all have! When we experience these disappointments, set backs and failures, we tend to slip into one of two patterns.

First, we enter into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a “cheap grace,” where we dismiss our sin in light of God’s grace without any inner transformation or true repentance. This is a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality of accepting and writing off our sins and failures as a natural and almost unavoidable outflow of our human nature. The Apostle Paul described this tolerance of sin in Romans 6:1-4 like this,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

This first pattern is one of flippancy toward sin where we dismiss it and continue to repeat the cycle of sin, brief regret, quick prayer, moving on, back to sin, brief regret, etc. The problem is the cycle goes unbroken, and we do not experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second pattern is where our sin and failure is followed by us being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and causing us to withdraw to a defeatist mentality. We either become a legalist where we hide behind a mask of “all-is-good spirituality” while struggling with guilt underneath, or like that Army Ranger pointed out we can alternately develop spiritual stage fright, where because of our fear of falling we hide behind our anxieties of the “what-ifs” and we fail to step out with bold obedience.

Both of these patterns consist of an attempt to overcome our sin patterns by some external means rather than the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the words of Martin Luther are helpful to us in whichever pattern we find ourselves. Following Jesus is a call for us to die to self and be reborn with the power of His indwelling Spirit like Jesus says in Mark 8:34,

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

In fact 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.

In other words, we cannot do it on our own! We cannot overcome our sins in our own strength and power. Therefore, we live our lives boldly in the transforming power of God’s grace. We don’t have to walk in fear of failure, but instead we walk in the love of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s words are not given as a license to sin but to stop living in the fear of falling, failing, and sinning!

I’ve never walked a tightrope strung across two high rises, but I imagine that the person doing so must focus on the destination rather than on what lies below. Like a tightrope walker if we live our lives thinking most about not falling, we most likely find ourselves in the disappointing posture of having fallen. It’s when we live our lives thinking most about the love of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves standing on His path of righteousness.

And when you do fall, because you will fall, get up, turn from sin and shame, live in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and refocus your life on Him. Failure can be eye-opening if you allow it to be! An old proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As long as you keep getting up, you’re not failing. Don’t be anxious about sinning, but rejoice in Christ!

You will fall… just don’t stay down!

O’ Comfort Where Art Thou?

In one of my favorite books Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

In our society and culture, it’s far more inviting to talk with people about the positive benefits of following Jesus rather than the negative consequences of rejecting Him. We much prefer the good news to the bad, the comfort over the discomfort, and mercy instead of judgment.

But… the Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

While completing my undergraduate degree at Campbellsville University I got to witness a group show up every semester to stand on the sidewalks on campus with signs and bullhorns “informing” the students there of the condemnation that was going to be heaped down upon them if they didn’t turn from their ways. Most of the statements they rallied around were very legalistic and their approach was all but gracious.

Standing on a street corner with a bullhorn shouting to people that they are going to Hell unless they turn to Christ tends not to bode well. It seems as if we, as the church, have no concept of the middle ground. We can’t share only the positives, but we can’t ignore the outcome of no decision made. Somewhere along the line, some Christians have missed the part about how our speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt.

Colossians 6 tell us this,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

We are to respond with gentleness and respect like we are told to do in 1 Peter 3:15,

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

My natural personality aligns better with the gentle approach, but the older, or more seasoned, I get the more I’m learning that gentleness doesn’t have to mean “soft.” I can gently and respectfully talk with someone about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I have to shy away from presenting truth. In fact, one of the most respectful things I could possibly do is talk with someone about the consequences of our sin and how we don’t want an eternity void of Christ.

One of the problems we face is that not everybody shares the same concept of truth. If someone is a secular humanist, who doesn’t believe in a universal Moral Law or a personal Power behind that Moral Law, he or she is not losing sleep over whether or not they have broken the law and put themself at odds with that personal Power. It’s hard to convince someone that they need saving when they don’t consider themself needing to be saved.

If you don’t believe you’re sick, you’re not going to listen to the doctor, and if you don’t believe the bad news, you’re not going to search for the Good News.

Herein lies the reason the Good News is called good. It is good, because it gives us a way out of the bad. The bad news is bad, because it takes us away from the good. When we realize that we have wrongly chosen the bad path, which and all of us have…

Romans 3:23 tells us,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

It’s then, and only then, that we begin to understand the hope of the Gospel and the good news of Jesus and what He has to offer! Jesus met the demands of the Moral Law, for He never strayed off the path that leads to goodness. He is God in the flesh who saves us from the consequences of our own path, which is eternal separation from God. In other words, we cannot be open to receiving the good news and the comfort that accompanies until we understand the bad news that we see in Romans 6:23,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Once we have a grasp on our despaired and broken state, that bad news that we all have sinned and the price of that sin is death, we will be open to receiving the good news that we see in 1 Peter 3:18,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

If you stop to think about it, the claims of Christianity are quite terrifying and comforting all at the same time. When we face the brutal fact that we are sinners and our position is wholly desperate, it is terrifying to think of the eternal consequences for our wrongdoing. But there is also great comfort in knowing we have a loving, personal God who has provided the way out through Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In John 14:6 Jesus says,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So… again in closing C. S. Lewis once wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

We are all sick and need the doctor. The bad news is our sickness is terminal… but if we listen to the Doctor we can find the Good News of an eternal cure. The Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

Indebted

Have you ever borrowed something from someone? Maybe cash when you came up short on a fast food run, maybe you borrow your neighbors tools for tasks around your home?

What kind of borrower are you? Are you appreciative and responsible with the trust you have been lent? Do you respect the lender and seek to repay the favor?

Most of us have borrowed something from someone… but even if you can’t think of anything you have ever been lent or given I can confidently call both you and I debtors.

Romans 8:12 affirms my statement! It says,

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.

You might be saying… “Wait… what do I owe and why do I owe it?” Both of which are normal questions. To that I would respond with a simple verse we all know. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to him: to obey him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken his commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to his justice, and we owe to him a vast amount which we are not able to pay.

That debt we cannot repay is a debt of grace to be paid back to God. When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to God and to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches, not silver and gold, but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy, for we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without opening up the table sharing it with those around us. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth.

Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.

Just like the son of a successful business man who has been given a large inheritance and a position at the fathers company makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. We as Christians should joyfully share what we have freely received. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.

To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the company spending all their money on themselves.

Matthew 18:32-35 says,

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive in the story above, so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.

Again Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul’s command rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us.

In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God, which has been poured in his heart.

So… you are indebted. How are you going to work on repaying that debt today? Who are you going to share the riches of God’s love with?

Jesus in the Preparation

My wife is currently in Medical school. For those who don’t know, it can take more than nine years of study to become a doctor. That’s 9 years after your undergraduate four-year degree is complete! She sure is braver than I am!

But… even after so many years of study, practice, learning, and shadowing other doctors they still don’t become experts on everything. They have particular areas of emphasis where they are experts, and other areas where they only know enough to scratch the surface and refer to the expert in that field of medicine. Yet, every single drawn out moment of preparation for that role in saving lives and curing diseases counts.

It’s the same with ministry. When we hear the call of God to go into ministry, we can often burst out of the gate wanting to get through the training process as fast as possible. Let’s get these training wheels off and get on with the race! But, good preparation is essential for lifelong impact in the call of God.

It’s easy to read the Gospel stories and think that Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene and started doing his thing. It is likely, however, that Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his late 20s early 30s.

What did he do for those thirty years? He prepared.

Going to the synagogue, studying the Torah, reading the scriptures, praying, working at his carpentry trade. During that time, he probably gathered stories about mustard seeds, lost sons, and wicked tenants. He probably watched and studied the way the Roman Empire exerted its power on the local Jewish communities, regulating their lives through taxes and military force.

Above all, he waited for the appointed time, the right time. Even though he was waiting, he didn’t stop preparing. He was preparing for the moment when his waiting would end.

Just as Jesus is in the waiting, so also Jesus is in the preparation.

What is your mission? How have you prepared? Is now the appointed time?

Don’t Forsake Corporate Worship

“Good night, Momma.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Grandpa.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

“Good night, John-Boy.”

For many, those words evoke memories of the 1970s CBS TV classic “The Waltons.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it was about a Great Depression and World War II­-era family with three generations living under one roof in rural Virginia. The series aired for 9 years, and its theme of a multi-generational family living situation was a look back at the way things were prior to WWII and ran contrary to the time in which the show ran.

In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and children living under one roof. Returning war veterans built suburbs and a new American family lifestyle emerged through the 1950s. The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21%, reaching a low of 12% by 1980.

Most of us know that unlike the distant past we now live in very singular societies. This is unlike biblical times as well when the significance of people groups, families, and generations was emphasized, valued, and held dear. Our worlds now largely value individualism above all else. As Christians, combating this self-first culture is largely what drives our God-given mandate to serve and love one another.

As a Worship Pastor of a local congregation I can’t help but wonder how much this individualistic worldview affects our approach to corporate worship. We know that the apostle Paul warns us to not give up gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But… I believe that Paul not only emphasizes our corporate gathering in his writings throughout the Word, but I think he also has some things to say about what we’re doing once we’ve gathered!

For example, Colossians 3:15-16 says,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says,

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a worship leader I’m aware of the need to lead people on a personal journey. I know that everyone comes from different places in life and that every individual’s response to and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an intimate and personal thing. But I’m also aware that there’s incredible power when believers gather together with one song, one voice, in unity to worship.

What Paul writes in these verses makes a pretty clear statement that speaks of this power of unity. We see that while the worship of our hearts is directed to God, the psalms, hymns, and songs are actually directed to each other! Make no mistake, they’re all about God, but the recipients of the songs in these particular examples are the fellow believers!

For years I’ve known the following passage in Isaiah to be an incredible picture of heavenly worship, the seraphim endlessly giving praise to God.

Isaiah 6:1-3 says,

…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

But read it again and see who the seraphim were calling to… each other! They were telling each other about the holiness and glory of God Almighty! What a powerful display of worship!

Time spent in worship individually and corporately are both incredibly powerful things and we can’t do without either. But they’re not the same.


Practically, I’d encourage you as a believer with a couple of key ideas when it comes to corporate worship gatherings.

1. Don’t quit showing up! We are members of one body and the whole isn’t the whole without its individual parts. Your contribution matters. Your faith matters. Your presence matters.

2. Sing like you mean it! Whether the worship team is singing your favorite song or not, your daily decision to sing audible truth of who God is encourages and teaches others. You may not be the best singer, but fortunately for you Paul doesn’t make any distinction about what you sound like. Make noise.

3. Seek to serve. Acts 20:35 says,

It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Suffice it to say, you’ll find more joy in being more aware of the needs of others in your worship than you are of the needs of yourself.

 


 

I pray that we all have moments regularly in corporate worship gatherings that leave us completely transformed as individuals, moments that we never forget. But I pray that our commitment to gathering and our faith to worship in every season isn’t limited to our own needs and expectations but that it’s grounded in a passionate desire to see Christ exalted and His bride, the Church, be everything that it’s called to be.