Most days, if you were to ask me where I was 14 years ago today and what I was doing right now, well, the best response you’d get would probably be some kind of sarcastic response as to the absurdity of your request. Who remembers what happened 14 years ago? If you asked me what happened on this day when I was fourteen, I’d have nothing, maybe I watched re-runs of Happy Days.
Most of the time, we don’t remember such things. Sure, if we see a picture or share a story, it might spark a memory. Facebook is taking care of that for us now though, we won’t need to remember much for too much longer. But, Facebook didn’t exist 14 years ago.
But, this was no ordinary day. This was the day that I married my one true love. And the details of that day stick in my memory. I don’t remember everything, but I remember a lot. I remember rushing to get everything set up. I remember not having all the right parts of my tux. I remember pictures. I remember when I saw you for the first time in the sanctuary. I remember the epic ceremony and how my dad’s scripture reading turned into a sermonette. And I remember some of what he said. I remember Pastor Mike telling our stories. I remember the slideshow and singing you the song I wrote for you. You say I cried, but I don’t remember that. 😉 And I remember saying I do. (You said it too, if I recall.)
There are lots of memories since then too. Far to many to recall here. I remember when I got my first full-time pastoral job and when we bought our first house and got our first dog and had our first baby. I remember going to the symphony in Longview, and how we learned (after we got there) that people don’t dress up for the symphony in Longview. And I remember all the old ladies and their little flashlights looking at the program a couple of hundred times per song and how it seemed like we were surrounded by a bunch of gray-haired fireflies. I remember our one year anniversary, and how we ate the top part of our wedding cake. Which had been frozen for a year. Well, I ate some of it. And, I think it was more than we got on our wedding day.
I remember when we sold our first house and bought our next one, and how a couple of days after we moved it, it got up to 101 degrees inside the house and we were spraying the kids with a spray bottle in the living room because we didn’t have the blinds up yet.
I remember a lot of good things mixed in with some bad things. Good days and bad days. Easy days and hard days. About 5,113 days (counting leap year days). And you only spent 1,095 of those days throwing up while you were pregnant with our four kids.
When they came, everything changed. Our priorities changed. We changed. The way I drove changed – for a while.
And now, we’ve had kids longer than we were together when we didn’t. And we have less time with some of them than we’ve already had with them. They’ve blessed us and stressed us. But, in so many ways, they are us.
What I’m saying in all of this is that every single day with you has been a special day. It may not seem that way. It’s not like I’m overtly romantic or prone to major romantic gestures. And, it’s not like every day is disneyland. Just a lot of normal days. Thousands of them. Of course, normal keeps on changing.
But, isn’t that kind of the point of marriage? Some people think every day is supposed to be like a scene out of the notebook, and there’s a place for that. But, the point is a lifetime of togetherness right? And what is life if not normal.
But, what is normal?
Dictionary.com defines normal as: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. Or serving to establish a standard.
Perhaps normal is the wrong word. Because, day to day life with you has been anything but regular. And, by modern definitions, being with someone for 14 years isn’t all that normal anymore.
But, then again, maybe normal is the right word if we’re using the right definition. “Serving to establish a standard.” Not that we’re super awesome or anything. But, if this was the normal, and more people experienced this kind of normal when it came to being married, then maybe more people would stay married for longer and it would be more normal.
I know there are many who have been married for much longer. Your parents. My parents will be celebrating 50 years in aa little over a week. We’re only 13,140 days or so away from that. But for us, it’s everything. And everyday we add to that is another day of everything. Which is what you are. Everything. To me anyway. And all the days we’ve been together, all the days we’ll be together and this day are all the reasons I wanted a life with you.
So far, it’s been amazing. Perfect? No. But, amazing nonetheless. And if that last 14 have been any indication, the next 14 are going to be even better.
And who knows, we might just be able to set establish a new standard of what this whole married life thing is all about. Happy Anniversary Mrs. Lindner. I love you.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
We have many misconceptions as to what the Gospel is about. Many of us, when we think about the gospel, the first thing that comes to mind is cheesy tracts that try to “share the gospel” through some contrived form. They had their place. They once worked, I don’t think they have much effect anymore. Because of this, we think of the Gospel as the “Four Spiritual Laws.” And images of bridges made of a cross, gaps, short-comings and the sort come to mind.
Sure, we are sinners. Oops. I’m not supposed to say that anymore. I’m supposed to say, we struggle with issues. Truth is, we are sinners.
But, the truth about truth is that, too often, we have only focused on the truth about our human condition and not enough on the truth of what the Gospel produces in us. I am not seeking to minimize the human condition. I acknowledge it. It’s apparent to us all. Apart from God, we can be pretty messed up.
But, what if we started – as believers and followers of Christ, as pastors and church leaders, as influencers – what if we started paying at least equal attention to the fruit this gospel produces in us? What if, instead of spending as much time harping on all the failures and shortcomings we have, we started talking more about what this new life in Christ is supposed to look like?
That’s what I’m trying to do as a pastor. I will not neglect the contribution we made to the crucifixion of Christ. However, I also firmly believe we shouldn’t neglect the new life that Christ died for us to have.
What is this new life? Well, it’s many things. Many joyous things. My hope, as I write of these things is to call you into the greener pastures of God’s goodness and faithfulness He desires for you. I don’t want to be the kind of pastor that is always driving from behind, trying to force everyone to go the direction I think they should go. I want to be the kind of pastor that calls out from those greener pastures, drawing people out of the brush and into God’s goodness.
So then, back to it, what is this new life. One of the first and foremost aspects to this new nature is freedom. Freedom from bondage to sin. Freedom from the life we were once controlled by. Freedom from the passions that used to drive us.
What does the Bible say about freedom?
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
As you can see, the world exists in bondage. The world is frustrated (no wonder it’s frustrating too!). The world was corrupted from God’s original design when we rebelled against Him. Since then, creation has been waiting for the day when it would be restored to what had originally been put in place. Creation is in bondage. We, as a part of creation are in bondage.
Bondage to what? Sin. Yes. We have to talk about sin to be able to talk about freedom. Sin is the way we rebel against God. Most sin can be categorized under one idea: Selfishness. We want or desire things for ourselves. Sometimes those things are inappropriate in/of themselves. Other times we do inappropriate things to get good things. But, it’s all self serving.
Jesus turned all that on it’s head when he game and lived the perfect, sinless life. What did that life look like? You, you, you. He, being God, could have made everything about him. But, he didn’t. He gave everything, for you and me.
Consequently, the life we receive is this life. We are not receiving God’s stamp of approval on all our selfish pursuits. We are receiving this gift of life that is all about giving. Why do we give? Because we have received so much. This kind of truly selfless life can only be lived by the power of that Holy God living in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When we try to give, give, give, but all on our own strength, we are giving of a limited source. It’s a well that will dry up. But, when we live a life of giving because we are powered by the Spirit of the living and giving God, that’s a well that will never run dry.
Our freedom is not that we may do as we wish. We’ve spent a life of doing that. And that kind of life was what leads to our need of a savior. Our freedom is being set free from that kind of life. It’s also being set free from the bondage in our thinking that comes with this life. We don’t realize it, but we are shackled to our individualistic pursuits. We are trying to get ahead, restrained by our inability to see beyond ourselves. That’s not the freedom we receive.
The freedom we receive is freedom from that. We are not free to do whatever we wish. We are not free to use our freedom for selfish gains. Our freedom is not an license to sin. God’s freedom in us revokes that license. And now God is at work rewiring our very nature so that those things of sin that once enticed us, become things that repulse us. God starts to teach us to identify the ways we are taking advantage of others and this world for our own benefit. Then, through his ongoing work of setting us apart for his purposes (called sanctification), he fills in the void left by sin with his truth.
Think of it this way. Sin is like a dandelion. When you go to pull up that dandelion, you have to be sure to get the whole thing out, otherwise it will grow right back. It’s roots go deep into the soil. It make take quite a bit of effort to remove it in its entirety. And once you do, there is a void, there a hole. If left to our own devices, we will fill that hole back in with other weeds. But, with God’s great work of freedom, he fills in the hole with his truth. The world is rooted out of us, and we become the recipients of grace upon grace.
This is freedom. God’s truth and grace is our freedom. This is what the Gospel does. The sin and death that we used to be handcuffed to, has been done away with. We are set free. And if the son has set you free, you are free indeed. Really, really free.
But, as Peter shares with us: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16). We aren’t to use our freedom to get away with murder. Our freedom leads us to be bound to God, willfully bonded to God’s purpose and plan for my life and for the life of the world around me. My life is no longer my own, I was bought with a price. I will spend my life bound to the God of freedom. I’m either bound to my selfish pursuits and the corruption of this world, or I’m bound to God. But, being bound to God frees me from the shackles of this corrupted system. Being bound to God eradicates the me-virus that is thriving on a dead host, resurrects the host, giving it the only true life that exists in all of creation – the life that comes from the Spirit of God breathing life into it.
That’s what the Gospel gives us. Well, that’s part of it – that’s the freedom part. There much more to it than that!
Have you ever re-gifted something? Have you ever received something that was a re-gift? It’s one thing when it ends up being something you like or even want. But, most of the time, it’s the stuff that nobody wants that ends up being re-gifted.
From my intense research, this is what I found to be the origin of the term ReGifting. I can’t verify this for sure, but here’s where the idea came from.
Okay, I don’t really know for sure if that’s where the term started. Maybe. I also don’t know where the phrase Time, Talent and Treasure originated. From my research, it appears to be something that came from way before me, appearing in print for the first time in 1852.
On Sunday, we talked about living a generous life. Not just when it comes to finances, though, that’s a part of it. We were more dealing with the idea of having generous hearts. Why? Because God is generous. He is abundantly generous. God is rich in mercy and abounding in love. He sent His one and only son to pay for the sins of the whole world. God created this world for us to enjoy and then put us in charge of it all. God is a radically generous God.
The New Testament Church was a radically generous community. The shared all their possessions. They shared their meals. No one had a need that wasn’t met. They even sold their land to care for the least among them. There was no upper class or lower class, only brothers and sisters. There was a church who actually fought for the chance to give an offering – when, by all accounts they should have been counted out because they were so poor, but they gave out of their poverty and even more than that.
Fast forward to today, and what does the church look like? Sure, there are many among us who are generous. But, they are generally the exception.
2 Cor. 9:6-7 says: “6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
What keeps us from being cheerful givers? What keeps us from finding joy in giving away what God has entrusted us? Well, I think it’s a false belief. We think it’s our money.
Psalm 24 tells us: “1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.”
Everything we have is already God’s, but we get misled and confused. We think that because we worked for it, it belongs to us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It belongs to God. You may work and receive a paycheck, but God put you in a place where you could make as much as you do. What about those around the world in third world countries who work much harder than we do and receive much less? What about those whose work never results in a paycheck? God is the grand designer of our lives, whatever we have is because He has given it to us.
And he wants us to be generous with it, giving it back to Him for building His kingdom…giving it to others in the community of faith to meet there needs and being generous in many other ways as God creates the opportunity for us to do so. God doesn’t need or want our money. With God, the point is never about money or whatever it is God is asking for. God is after our hearts. He wants complete ownership of our heart. For that to happen, there can’t be anything our lives that is more important to us than God. We think the church is just after “our” money, when the reality is God is working through the church to reach the deepest parts of your heart. The church isn’t after your money, God isn’t after your money. God wants all of you.
This is what God says:
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:9-12)
God doesn’t need “our” money, because it’s already His. Everything we have is His. And He wants us to regift it. But not in the same way we normally think of. Regifting is usually that thing nobody wants.
Unfortunately, that’s how most of us give to God. We give him the time, but only when there isn’t anything else better we could do with our time. I’ll go to church unless so and so asks me to do this or that. I’ll go to church as long as I get this done first. I’ll spend some time with my community of believers unless something more fun presents itself as an option. I’m okay to use the talents God has given me for the kingdom, but I ought to get paid too. I could help my neighbor with this skill God has given me, but my time is worth something, I can’t just work for free all the time. I’ll give God money after I get enough in savings. I’ll start tithing once I get a raise and have a little more cushion.
Basically, we take the very best of everything we have for ourselves and give the leftovers to God. For many of us, we don’t even do that.
I think this is something we need to address in the church. We’ve started the conversation at our church. It’s important. Why? Well, I think this is one of the primary reasons the church exploded onto the scene. This is why so many people wanted to be a part of this radical community – because they saw how they loved one another. Most of us in this era have never been a part of a community that loves each other in this way.
But, can you imagine if we started? If we just started sacrificing for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you know what would happen, those that are the recipients of our generosity will go and tell people about this awesome community that takes care of us. The unbelieving world around us would see us reflecting to one another the radical generosity we have received from our heavenly father. And that would draw them to their creator and savior.
I think it would be awesome.
Can you imagine having a relationship with someone, but never talking to them?
Or, imagine if you had a relationship with someone, but all you ever did was ask them to give you free stuff and do favors for you.
Unfortunately, that’s how many of us approach our entire relationship with our heavenly father. But, if Paul’s statement in Romans 8 is really true, and we are God’s children, and because of that Spirit we are able to have a relationship with him, why do you think we keep our relationship so elementary?
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. – Romans 8:14-17
While there may be many reasons that we have distance in our relationship with God, perhaps the one that is simpler to address is that we don’t know how to pray.
What is your motive in prayer? Are you seeking to use God as your big vending machine in the sky? Do you only pray when you’re around others, and you want to sound spiritual? Jesus knew that motives were a problem when it came to prayer, so before he taught how to pray, he addressed our motives first.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:5-8
When was the last time you prayed because you wanted to hear from your father? When was the last time you went somewhere by yourself, and prayed to him with no one looking – not doing it for attention, but for relationship?
Let’s look at how Jesus taught us to pray:
1. Our Father in Heaven
Jesus didn’t start with “My” he started with “our.” Why? Sure, it could be as simple as the fact he was talking to a group. But, could it also be because we is how God intended for us to be in relationship with Him. God didn’t design us for isolation, he designed us for community.
But, I think there’s more to it than that. I think it plays to the idea of motive and perspective. God is Our Father. Our. Father. We, us, together. We are not praying to God in isolation, we are communicating with our Father who is also your Father, who is also their Father.
2. Hallowed is your name.
Hallowed is kind of like saying holy in the past tense of something we have done and acknowledge. God’s name is holy. We worship our heavenly Father. We worship Him because He is holy. We thank God for his nature and Character that never changes.
Worship is saying laying down our motives and exchanging them for God’s gift of Faith. You cannot worship God if you bring all your expectations to Him. But, we already talked about that last week.
3. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We want to be a part of bringing God’s kingdom into the world around us. We want to see God move in our homes, neighborhoods and communities.
But it’s not just that. We want God’s will to be done on earth in the same way His will is done in heaven. In heaven, God’s will is just done. On Earth, we have sin, the curse, the fall and a whole bunch of humans who are living in rebellion against God. So, we want God to do His will in our lives in the way His will is done in Heaven. Kind of sounds like motives again, doesn’t it? We’re not begging, pleading and manipulating God to do our will. We are allowing Him to do His will in us, without any fight.
4. Give us today, our daily bread.
When you’re in close relationship with your heavenly Father, you begin to understand all that entails. When we rely on our own ability to provide for ourselves (which, doesn’t ever happen, because it’s all God’s anyway), we stress and worry about whether or not we’re going to have enough for today, let alone tomorrow. But, with God, we can see that He has at his disposal so much more than we imagined. In fact, it’s not just at His disposal it’s at His work.
What do you need? Talk to God about it, because He already knows.
5. Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.
We. Our. Our relationship with our heavenly father is intertwined with our relationship with one another. When we’re in a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we understand we have been forgiven very much. When we understand how we’ve been forgiven how could we not forgive one another?
Did God really mean that we will only be forgiven as much as we forgive others? That’s a tough question. But, we can learn from it. Could it be that our understanding of forgiveness is not exemplified by our ability to receive it as much as it is by our ability to give it?
Are there any offenses you are holding on to? Do they compare with the rebellion we committed against God – because the debt for that was paid in full. As we forgive others, we will know and understand and experience more and more of God’s grace in forgiving us.
6. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Satan would love nothing more than for you to think you’re going to start building this relationship with God, and then distract you with garbage about this or that and then get you to be disappointed in yourself for not being able to follow through.
Our faith is a gift. That means, we need God’s help to be able to truly follow God. We need God’s constant victory in our lives. That is who He is. God is the victor. He doesn’t know how to lose. Faith is this gift that God gives us. The more we know the one who gives the gift, the more we will understand the gift itself. The more we know the one who gives us the gift, the less we will be tempted to go off and do the things that create distance between us and God.
There are 6 parts of this prayer. Spend some time each of the next 6 days praying, thinking and learning to listen to God in each of these areas. Do it for one week and see if it doesn’t start to shape everything in your life. See if God doesn’t start giving you His eyes for His world and His people.
Go ahead, give it a try. I dare you!
What drives you? What are your motives? What is that thing, which, at the end of the day makes you push a little farther, work a little harder and drive a little longer?
Why are you doing anything that you do?
At the end of the day, for most of us, I think our motive is: self. I work hard so I can play hard. I work hard, so some day I can retire and do what I want to do. Yes, I’m working. But, the reason I’m working is for something else. I want this kind of a house, with this kind of a car, with this kind of a family, with this kind of a life.
Motive = me.
I’m that way. I often have selfish motives. So, I’m not judging you, I’m just speaking from what I know of me. Maybe you’re not selfish like I am. If so, good for you. You’re awesome. I’m pretty sure they make a T-shirt for that now.
This is probably no surprise. I mean, it’s not like any of us have to try to be selfish. We just are. I don’t have to try to make the world revolve around me, I just naturally do it. It’s not because I have some kind of psychological delusion. It’s because I’m human. Just like you.
So, what’s the problem? You might ask me. Well, as I said, self, when left un-checked, has a tendency to make everything about itself. Everything. We have a tendency to make work about us, to make family about us, to make relationships about us, to make money about us, to make church and God all about us.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We quote. And we get a hearty, “Amen!” from the batpicostals in the room. It is about me. Jesus died for me. That whole redemption story, is about God loving me.
Then, everything has to be approached from that vantage point. And if something dares question that, well, there’s going to be
hell heck to pay. When that crazy pastor dares suggest that God is all about His own glory, and that my salvation is for His glory and that my life is supposed to be for the praise of His glory, well. Be careful pastor. You’re treading on thin ice.
We can even endure such talk to a point. As long as it stays abstract and philosophical and intellectual, it’s fine. Okay, fine, God is all about God. He saved me for Him. I can intellectually affirm these statements. But, as soon as we take the next step from knowledge to heart and life change.
BOOM! Don’t you tell me how to worship God. That’s personal to me. I’ll worship him how I see fit. You can’t judge my heart, doesn’t the Bible also say not to judge? Who’s the hypocrite now?
We are okay with God, as long as God doesn’t expect us to give Him total ownership of our lives. We’re okay with God as long as he remains external to our situation, a figure we can ask for free stuff and blame for the bad stuff. But, when God expects me to live my life as a sacrifice for His purposes, well, it’s time to find another church.
And many do, and many have.
This reminds me of Jeremiah. At the beginning of his ministry, as he is learning what it means to be a prophet, he has some soft words to share with God’s people.
“I will pronounce my judgements on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshipping what their hands have made.” Jeremiah 1:16
“What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” Jeremiah 2:5
Jack Hayford said: “Worship changes the worshipper into the image of the one being worshipped.”
When we have self at the center of everything, we are really worshipping ourselves. Me, with a capital M. And when we do that, there’s really no point to anything. Worship is about ascribing worth and honor to something. It’s about submission and surrender. What good is it to ascribe worth to ourselves based on ourselves. What good is it to submit to and surrender to ourselves. We are already pretty good at doing that.
That’s not how God designed things. He designed us, created us to worship him. When we worship things other than him, we become worthless. Ouch. Glad I wasn’t the one that had to tell people that. I can just pass the buck back on to Jeremiah.
But what does this mean? Let’s get a little more substance to work from:
“But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men…those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” – Psalm 115:4,8
“At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass.” Psalm 106:19-20
So, when you worship something other than God, you are ‘exchanging your glory’ for the thing you are worshipping?
We still need a little more help:
1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Wait a second! It’s right there, Pastor. We are the ones that are crowned with glory and honor. To which I would, say. “You’re right…kind of.” Yes, we are crowned with glory and honor, but who crowns us?
“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.”
Do you see it? The only way we have glory is because God gives it to us. The only reason God can give it to us, is because He already has it. He is the one true God. His glory is in the heavens, far above and beyond anything we can experience in its entirety. But, he has given us glory and put everything under our feet?
Why? We have to go back to see where the psalmist got this idea of putting everything under our feet:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God made us in His image. That is, was and will always be the only reason we have any glory at all. We have glory because God gave it to us. We are the only thing in all of creation that has his image. We are the only created being that reflects God.
If we have glory because God gave it to us, is it any wonder he would be a little put off when we decide that we are the most important thing in the universe, that we would make this whole thing about us, and we would make our relationship with him all about what God can do for/give to us while at the same time refusing to give anything of ourselves back to him?
We’ve taken the glory that He has given to us, and exalted ourselves to His position – WITH HIS OWN GLORY!
The reality is, none of any of all of creation has any worth or value if it wasn’t given by God.
“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.” – Charles Spurgeon
When we realize that, we begin to understand why things have gotten to be such a mess in the world. We’ve prostituted God’s glory for our own purposes and agendas. We’ve used God’s glory to advance our selfish pursuits and desires. We’ve made it all about us, and we get mad at God or anyone who would dare suggest it should be any other way.
May I ask you a question: Do you really want it to be this way? Haven’t you ever seen Bruce Almighty? Do you really want to be God? Of course, even asking such questions is ridiculous because none of us can be God.
“Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” – Francis Chan
Wouldn’t you rather worship the God who created you, the God whose name is “I AM.” The one who is the beginning, the middle and the end. The creator of all things and sustainer of all things. The author of life, the one who numbers the hairs on our head, whose thoughts for us are more numerous than the sands on the seashore. The one who knows each and every one of us by name, formed us in our mother’s womb, created us for a purpose and created good works for us to do. Wouldn’t you rather worship the one whose name is provider and healer? Wouldn’t you rather worship a God who is too big to comprehend, who is immortal, all knowing and all powerful?
Obviously, none of us are any of that. And, (also obviously) none of us will ever be any of that.
What is worship? Paul makes it clear:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Worship is living sacrifice. Why does that ring a bell?
“24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:24-27
May I ask, what are you living your life for? Who are you living your life for? Have you spent your life in pursuit of your own dreams? Are you chasing the pleasures of this life and this world?
For those who are Christ-followers the call is clear. Worship isn’t about my own wants, desires or preferences. Worship is actually denying them. My true and proper worship is not touting and lauding me, it is sacrificing me. Worship is conformity with God’s will, which requires nonconformity with the world. Can you and I say this is our motive right now? If not, it’s time for me and all of us to repent and turn away from that desire to seek our own glory.
If you happen to be reading this and you’re not a Christ follower, may I make an invitation to you? Step into this idea and see for yourself if God really is who He says He is. Try it out. If I’m wrong, what have you lost? But, if I’m right, it could change everything, literally, forever.
Sunday can be a great day, can’t it? We gather together with other believers, we hear from God’s word, we humble ourselves before Him in worship. Often times, we will leave church on Sunday with a decision to do this or that differently. I don’t have something specific in mind. It’s just that God’s word has a way of illuminating the things that aren’t in harmony with his plan for our lives.
So, we leave, with the best of intentions.
But, then something happens between Sunday and Monday.
What is it?
I think it can be boiled down to a few underlying problems.
We are too busy. I’ve been there. Still am from time to time. We’re busy with good things, (mostly), but we’re busy. We’ve got things to do on Sunday afternoon and if we don’t get them done today, they won’t get done until next weekend. So, we spend the rest of the day doing those things.
Then Monday morning comes. And, we don’t want to go to work (because we haven’t yet realized what a gift it is that God has blessed us with this job, and surrounded us with opportunities to live for Him…) so we hit the snooze button 7 or 8 times. We run out the door, cut in and out of traffic and make it to work a few minutes late.
Monday is a hard day, we have to work late, we get home late, rush dinner, sit down – exhausted, fall asleep on the couch and drag ourselves to bed.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…You get the picture. Of course you do, you’re living it.
Before we know it, it’s Sunday again and whatever we intended to do last Sunday is long forgotten. All we remember is that we were going do to something and we didn’t. Now we wrestle with the guilt which keeps us from getting up and getting to church.
Can I add something to your “To Do” list? Spend some time right now thinking about your schedule for this week. What can you cut out so you can make time for the most important thing – spending time with God.
We can’t live this life on our own strength. We need the resurrection power fueling us. When was the last time you spent time with him outside of church? If it’s been a while, you might need to create some more margin in your life. Give God some room to help you turn your intention into action.
2. Old Patterns/New Habits.
This one is similar to my first point, but still different. It can take anywhere from 21-42 days to develop a new habit. It only takes a few days to undo a good habit. If you’ve ever tried to do an exercise regimen, and had some success, then gone on vacation, you know what I’m talking about. You come back from vacation and try to get back into the swing of things and realize that those 8 days undid most of what we had been doing up to that point.
But for some reason, there are old patterns in our lives that keep us from being able to create new, healthy habits. We’ve had unhealthy ways of thinking, self-talk, time-management, etc. that have been ingrained into our way of life for so long that we just can’t get out of them. It’s like what happens when you move. You leave work to go home, only to find out your driving to what used to be your home.
What old, unhealthy patterns do you need to cut out of your life so you can start working on creating a new habit of putting your faith into action.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:14-17
3. Relying on the church/pastor for faith.
We may make a decision to follow Christ, get baptized and declare to the world that we are following Christ. But, then we stop, right there. We get comfortable, content and complacent. Our only experience with the God who created us, called us and redeemed us is vicarious. We don’t ever encounter or experience God for ourselves, we only experience Him through our pastor or church.
We have the presence of the Holy Spirit living with us and in us. But, we still treat that “with us” presence as a priest who has to intercede on our behalf. We all have access to the holy of holies, but the only time we ever go there is when our pastor takes us.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22
What if we took advantage of this reality that has been gifted to us? What if we started spending time with God each day? What if we prayed and read his word? What if we worshipped him by living a life of sacrifice?
4. Lack of supporting community/accountability.
The last reason I have is that we think we can do this all on our own. We don’t need no stinking help. I can follow Jesus by myself, thank you. That’s the world we live in, at least in this country. Like a local ad says, “We are fierce, independent thinkers.”
“Now, wait a second. Didn’t you just say I needed to do this on my own?” Yes, yes I did. You/I/we have to follow Christ on our own, we can’t rely on anyone else for that personal aspect of our relationship. But, a relationship with God is not only personal, it’s communal.
God himself is communal. God’s existence is community. Three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit living together in an eternal relationship. Yes, we must pursue God on our own, but we must also pursue Him in community. We cannot live out all that is expected of us on our own, solopreneur power.
In fact, the verse immediately following that last verse is:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:23-25
Plus, there will come a time in the not too distant future when you will need a little help. You may be walking through a trial, you may find yourself being persecuted for your faith or having some of the trouble that was promised to us as believers.
Who can you invite into your life who will support you in your walk? Who can you support in their walk? How can you help live out the communal aspect of the God who saved you?
Intentions are good, but if they don’t lead to action what’s the point?
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that the road to a deeper experience with God will not be found in the land of good intentions.