Thursday, January 9, 2014

Giving God Our Best - Part 1

During World War II the expression "good enough for government work" meant something could hold up to the most rigorous standards.  Over the years that saying has been used in a more ironic sense, meaning something is minimally acceptable but far from the best quality.  I have to admit that I use that expression fairly often, always with the latter meaning in mind.  What's sad is how "good enough for church" can often be taken in the same way.  It ought to mean excellence for our great God, but instead can mean we're okay with mediocrity or worse.  In the book of Malachi we see God's own priests settling for less and get to hear what God has to say about that.
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'...When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?" 
Malachi 1:6-8 (ESV)

It's interesting that God doesn't reject these offerings solely based on His ceremonial laws.  Instead He asks these priests to consider their own cultural standards. What they offered to Him would have been dishonoring to human authorities, let alone the God of the universe!  Now let's be clear, this wasn't a case where the priests only had blemished animals to offer.  Simply put, they were withholding their best from Him. 

"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations."
Malachi 1:14 (NIV)

So if they had the ability to offer God something better, why were they holding out on Him? Perhaps they were greedy and simply wanted to keep the best for themselves? That may have been part of their motivation, but God's diagnosis of their hearts reveals an even more tragic cause for their shoddy service to Him. 
"You profane me when you say, 'Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,' and when you say, 'I'm bored—this doesn't do anything for me.' You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air... And when you do offer something to me, it's a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless."
Malachi 1:11-13 (The Message)

These priests did not recognize what an honor it was to be in their role of serving God and His people.  It seems there was a deficiency in their love and view of God which made worship and service seem like a chore or a burden, rather than a privilege.  That being said, we shouldn't get too comfortable pointing out their sins.  It's all too easy for us to fall into a similar pattern of irreverence and offensive offerings.  Next week, in Part 2, we'll try to make some practical applications from this study and explore what it looks like to give God our best and guard against the "good enough for church" mindset.          

Monday, November 12, 2012

IDOP for the Persecuted Church

This post is a follow up to the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church that took place across the globe yesterday.  The number one request persecuted Christians have is that we would pray for them, and there are ways we can do that on a regular basis (not just once a year or even once a month).  There are also other ways that we can support them in their need and also partner with them in their ministries.  Below you will find several links that will connect you with these opportunities.  Please take a look at these opportunities and consider getting more involved in caring for our persecuted brothers and sisters.

Voice of the Martyrs - Check out the section of the site that says "Get Involved" for a number of ways you can partner with the persecuted church.  Also sign up for their free monthly newsletter or weekly prayer updates email.

Open Doors - Another great ministry that keeps us informed and provides opportunities to get involved.

Prisoner Alert - This is where you can write to people imprisoned for their faith as well as advocate for them to government officials (this has had a huge impact in the past and resulted in people being freed).

Text a BibleWe take having access to bibles for granted, but many believers around the world in restricted nations do not even possess a single bible.  Help bring God's word to those who long for it.

Support Families of Martyrs - Often when a pastor or evangelist is imprisoned or killed for their activities, their families are left with little means of financial support.  This fund is used to help sustain these believers until they an find alternative means of support.

VOM Medical -Often when Christians suffer severe persecution they are in need of urgent health care and quality surgery.  I have read many amazing testimonies about the amazing things this ministry has done. 

Follow the Persecuted Church Blog 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Engage Worship "Praise the Lord"

Engage Worship is a group in the UK with a heart for really engaging people in worship (hence their name) with some really creative ideas.  Some of these leaders are also part of Resound Worship which is more focused on songwriting.  I have to admit that sometimes I find ideas on Engage worship to be a little out there, or at least not something that I would try with our congregation at Christ's Church.  But I recently discovered one of their latest songs/engaging ideas and I think it's great.  Perhaps this will inspire you to get creative in engaging people to "Praise the Lord."  Let me know what you think, I'd sure love to try this at some point.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Refuse

We sang this song as special music at Christ's Church this morning to connect with the guest speaker's message.  I think this video is really cool and challenging for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people we encounter on a daily basis.  Of course we can't go back in time and redo those moments where we neglected to minister to someone, but we sure can change our perspective and actions moving forward.  Enjoy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Will Follow - Lead Me to the Cross

I was recently listening to a podcast entitled "The Power of the Resurrection." In it Rabbi Jason Sobel (a messianic rabbi based in California) highlights the fact that the resurrection and what it means for us is all about being changed, from death to life.  But that change came at a great price, it cost the very life of the Son of God.  Now of course we all want to see that kind of resurrection power in our lives and in the world around us.  The problem Rabbi Jason identifies is that "we all want change, but we're not willing to pay the cost for change."  Now we might be open to change that isn't too costly, something that only costs the spare change of our lives, but not the bigger kind of change that will cost us our time, plans, comfort, money, reputation...  And yet when we looked at Luke 9 in Part 1, we saw that one can't be a disciple unless they are willing to surrender their entire lives to the Lord on a daily basis.  And thus, as Rabbi Jason observes,  Jesus has "lots of fans, but few true followers."  

What's the difference between a fan and a follower?  Consider this excerpt from J.C. Ryle's "The Cost."

"Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:33 

What does it cost to be a Christian?

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week--and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work--it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity and will take us to Heaven when we die--we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to Heaven!"

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are . . .
  enemies to be overcome,
  battles to be fought,
  sacrifices to be made,
  an Egypt to be forsaken,
  a wilderness to be passed through,
  a cross to be carried,
  a race to be run.
Conversion is not putting a man in a soft armchair, and taking him pleasantly to Heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of "counting the cost."

True Christianity will cost a man . . .
  his self-righteousness,
  his sins,
  his love of ease, and
  the favor of the world.

A religion which costs nothing--is worth nothing! 
A cheap, easy Christianity, without a cross--will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.
This week's song is "Lead Me to the Cross," written by Brooke Fraser.  It was first released on the Hillsong United album All of the Above.  One of my favorite lines in this song says, "Rid me of myself, I belong to you."  Oh Lord, may we truly live each day as if our lives were not our own.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Will Follow - "The Lord went ahead of them..."

I Will Follow
by Chris Tomlin, Jason Ingram 
and Reuben Morgan

"By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." 
-Exodus 13:20-22

It must have been amazing to be the people of Israel during the Exodus, to be led by God in such visible and powerful ways.  Surely I'm not alone in thinking that it would be nice if God would lead us in such a perceptible way today.  But then again, Jesus did say "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).  And let's not forget that despite all the wonders performed, many of those pillar-led people still doubted God's provision (Numbers 11), made idols (Exodus 32), and refused to go where He had commanded them to go (Deut. 1:26-46).  The truth is that God can lead us just as intimately and unmistakably as He led the Hebrews thousands of years ago.  Just look at passages like Mark 13:11Acts 10, and Acts 16:6-10.  As exciting and life-changing as this should be for all who believeI can't help but notice that many of us don't seem to be moving when God moves.

You're the one I seek,
knowing I will find,
All I need in you alone. 

Through prayer, scripture, the counsel of godly people, or perhaps even a supernatural sign the Holy Spirit can reveal the will of the Father to us.  But if we don't actively seek God, how can we expect to hear His voice or sense where He's leading?  One of the biggest obstacles to perceiving God's leading is the lack of priority we put on spending time seeking the Father either in private or with other believers.  Getting to that place where we can hear from God clearly and begin to step out in faith takes intention, consistency and patience on our part.  He can transmit to us all day long, but if our spiritual antennas aren't up, we'll never get the message.  Of course, sometimes I wonder if the reason we don't put a lot of effort into seeking the Lord is because we're afraid of what He might say.  

  All your ways are good,
all your ways are sure,
I will trust in you alone,

But even if we do end up getting the message that God wants us to hear, we've got just as much potential as Israel did to resist Him.  If we don't totally believe that God's intent for us is good and that His way is the only way in the grand scheme of things, then our fears, doubts and idols will hold us back at some point along the journey.  We'll begin to doubt what God actually said, just like Adam and Eve did.  Or we'll be afraid because of the risk involved or because it means changing our plans (that was Jonah's problem).  At the end of the day, it's about trust.  Do we trust that He'll provide if we start giving more of our time and resources away for kingdom purposes.  Do we trust that He'll give us the words to speak if we're brave enough to talk to our co-worker about Jesus?

Lord we pray that you would help us to prioritize seeking you so that we might actually hear from you, and Father we ask that you would increase our faith so that when we do hear from you, our lives will actually begin to look like the picture this song paints, going where you go, staying when you stay, loving whom you love, serving however you call us to serve, so that in dying to ourselves we might truly live in You. Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Will Follow - "Whoever wants to be my disciple..."

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” 
Luke 9:23-24

Over the last several months I've really come to appreciate how candid Jesus was about the cost of following him.  In a world full of false advertising, side effects and the hidden details in the fine print,  Jesus' transparency is very refreshing.  But if we're honest, we'd still prefer a more comfortable option that required less self-denial.  After all, we're used to hearing messages that appeal to our self-centeredness and our desire for entertainment, instant gratification and the like.

"Where there's life, there's Bud" (Budweiser)
"Life's Short, Play More" (XBox 360)
"Have it your way" (Burger King)
"Just do it" (Nike)
"Because I'm worth it" (L'Oreal)

Quite the contrast with "In this world you will have trouble," "Deny yourself," "Count the cost," "Follow me."  Regardless of how many potential followers were scared off or how many people were offended, Jesus never retracted any of his statements or tried to reinvent himself in order to be more appealing to the masses.  Yet as the church in our culture we often give in to the temptation to try to make Jesus more marketable, more politically-correct, less offensive, more entertaining, less demanding of our own participation and action... And whenever we fall into that, we fail to be or make the kind of disciples Jesus explicitly told us he is looking for.  

The sad truth, as Dallas Willard says, is that "It is now generally acknowledged...that one can be a professing Christian and a church member in good standing without being a disciple" (The Divine Conspiracy).  I don't want to fit that description, do you?  Jesus didn't say "whoever wants to be my disciple needs to pray the sinner's prayer and try to make it to church every week.  Piece of cake."  He said his disciples are those that make a choice each day to surrender their lives to the will of God, no matter the cost.  My hope with this "I Will Follow" series is to share a song and devotional thought each week that will keep us meditating daily on surrender, devotion and obedience.  By the grace of God we won't just sing these songs or think deeply about their implications, we'll actually live them out in real life.  Hope to see you next week in Part 2.  Be blessed.