Monday, December 12, 2011

The Incarnation

Lets imagine for a moment that we have never heard of Christmas.  We've never seen Linus explain the Christmas story to Charlie Brown. We've never opened a gift or talked to Santa. For the moment, pretend that December 25 is just another day on the calendar.

Now that you have, for the moment, let go of everything you think about Christmas consider these passages of scripture.

Isaiah 7:14 - "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

God Himself will show mankind a sign that he is present. A Virgin will give birth to a son and he will be called "God with Us."

In case you have become jaded and lost your grip on the fantastic, this claim is absolutely amazing. The Prophet Isaiah is saying that God himself is going to break the laws of nature, step out of Heaven and come to us as a child by birth. Do not lose sight of how amazing and far-fetched this claim is. It has never, NEVER happened in the history of mankind before this and will NEVER happen again. This is why God points us to it in such a direct way. What better proof could there be that God, the creator of the natural and supernatural was involved than for the impossible to happen one time.

Now consider these verses in Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (ESV)

Here, a 1st century writer noticed that something amazing was taking place in his day and connected the dots to a prophesy made centuries earlier. (Again, pretend you haven't heard all of this.) He writes about one man's peculiar birth and makes the claim that he was indeed born from a virgin mother and even feels the need to explain that the man who was to be her husband found the story of a miraculous "spiritual" pregnancy was just too fantastic to believe until God himself spoke to him in a dream. 

Now, you read these two accounts and decide to do some research and you find that yes, there was a man named Jesus who lived in the first century and that yes, his birth did in fact match not only the Isaiah prophesy, but many, many more. You start to realize that something amazing, mind-blowing, and wonderful had occurred. God had come to visit earth exactly the way he said he would. 

 Matthew and Luke give you the historical versions in their respective Gospel accounts. But John gives us the supernatural account. Read what he says in John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Verses 1-5)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Verses 9-14)

As you read these verses you realize that God visited His creation for a purpose. He brought something with Him: The Right to become Children of God. His visit wasn't just to show he could do it, but that he came for those who are trapped in darkness. Some received Him. Some rejected Him. 

For those who received Him, this would be the greatest story ever told. It would be the centerpoint of all of History. It would define entire groups of people and separate Humanity into two groups: those who receive Him and those who reject Him. 

For those who reject Him, the story may be too fantastic. How could a virgin give birth to a child? Why would God come to earth? How could people not recognize him? 

Christmas, the birth of Jesus, becomes the starting point for what will be an eternal separation of people. Some will believe and become Children of God. Some will reject Him and miss the greatest gift ever given. 

This, my friends, would be all the information you needed to celebrate the greatest and most wonderful gift that has ever been given to mankind: God Himself.

And it is still all that you need to celebrate Christmas. Let us join together in singing one of the great Christmas hymns:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

God came to Earth, born of a virgin to give the gift of life to all who believe in Him. Merry Christmas indeed! For this is Above Reality.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Share the Journey - Church Growth

Because we have been called to share the Christian life together as an expression of the grace and love that God has poured into a our lives through His Son Jesus, the Church becomes central the life of the Believer.

The Church is the community of faith that is formed by the gathering of those who have a common faith in the Risen Savior. We who believe are bound by a common confession, a common faith, a common baptism, and a common Spirit.

It is through this community of faith that we are called to exercise the gifts and talents that God has given us. Together, we work to further God's Kingdom in this world and it is together that what is produced is greater than the sum of its parts. The Church is referred to in scripture as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. Both reveal an intimacy between the Savior and the Redeemed, and a special bond between the Redeemed themselves. Each individual brings something unique to the Body that enables the Body to function properly under the guidance and Lordship of the Head, Jesus Christ.

So, yes, the Church is special and nothing will ever change that. In the Old Testament God's presence was known through His temple and the Holy of Holies. Today, God's presence is most realized in His Church. This is an important fact when we think about how many churches gather in worship, praise and service regularly.

But, if the Church is what scripture says it is, why are there so many problems?

1. People are involved. We must remember that we ALL needed and continue to need grace from God. Therefore, we need to give grace to one another. None of us is perfect and never will be. The church is the glorious body of Christ that is redeemed by the power of the cross. Redeemed from Sin. This side of Heaven, the Church will never reach perfection.

2. More importantly, I believe that many of today's problems exist because we have misunderstood how God has ordained church growth. Ephesians 4:15-16 is helpful. It says:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

According to this, Paul says that the Church is to grow. So while we may never be perfect, we will continually grow. We will grow in Spiritual maturity and depth and in obedience and service to look like the one who started it all, Jesus Christ. It is about Him. And when this happens, the Church functions as a body "when each part is working properly" it "makes the body grow so that it builds ITSELF up in love." 

Church growth is not about sitting and waiting for God to mysteriously make more people show up because he espoused a particular theme, musical style, or preaching style. Part of my responsibility as an individual believer is to give my talents to help make the church "BUILD ITSELF UP IN LOVE." 

You get that? God has already given the Church everything it needs to grow. It simply needs to obey. When the Church glorifies the name of Jesus, obeys Him and serves, it will build itself up. This is where you come in. Your purpose as a Christian will be found in helping expand the Kingdom of God through the Body of Christ. If you can't serve the church as it serves the purposes of the Kingdom, then you are detached from the head. 

A healthy church doesn't wait for God to make it grow, it makes itself grow. It grows because each person is obeying God individually which will ALWAYS bring them to serve alongside other Christians. Their efforts work together and the church becomes an unstoppable force in the world. Jesus promised it. 

He said "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it." 

So, do you want purpose in your life? Are you an active member of a local body of believers? Is your church following the Great Commission? Is it following the Great Commission for real? Not just hoping God will send someone to "get saved" but that your church does what it can to take the Light into the darkness? If you are not serving God through a church or your church is not obeying God's command to make disciples, then you have lost your purpose. 

Follow God's plan for your life and His Church and you will rise Above Reality.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Share the Journey

One of the greatest misconceptions plaguing the church today is the belief that faith is a private matter. Just me and God. My faith is personal and real. I have a quiet time. I pray. I worship. I try to avoid sin. I try to be nice to other people and if I feel so led, I might even talk to someone about Jesus. But, overall, my faith is mostly about me and God. 

Sound familiar? 

The modern day church has developed what could be called a two-legged spirituality. God and me. So long as your faith works for you that's great but keep it to yourself. Society itself supports spirituality as long as it is kept private and personal. 

This has allowed people to become consumers rather than servants and has reduced spirituality to a form of therapeutic moralism that is more about being a good person and personal happiness than it is about serving the Kingdom of God. This is seen throughout the church in the way people hop from church to church because the music is better, the pastor didn't visit me, or the services are more entertaining. In the long list of endless complaints, I have yet to hear a person utter the words "I just felt like I couldn't sacrifice enough for the Kingdom of God in this place so I went to a new church."

To correct this problem we do not need better programs, stricter rules, or any of the other million things that are called "cultural relevance" in the church. We need to understand Christianity for what it is. 

To follow Christ is to die to self, take up a cross, and follow Jesus in service and in love. 

This death that Jesus talks about leads us away from personal desires and towards the will of God. What is the will of God for your life? The two greatest commandments as quoted by Jesus sum it up.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." 


"Love Your Neighbor as yourself." 

There it is. Love of God is expressed through love of neighbor. David Augsburger puts it this way:

"To say yes to the Grace of God is to say yes to neighbor and enemy." Jesus said "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." You see, God's grace is not only about reconciling you to God, but also to your fellow humans. All of them.

So, when we approach the spiritual life as something private, we are violating the very core of what God is wanting to do and change in your life because His love calls us to community. 

The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to Philemon. He said in verses 4-7:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (ESV)

See how many times Paul links love of God with love of others. But, he also links maturity and growth to "the sharing of your faith." This is more than evangelism, but evangelism is definitely a part. The word for sharing that Paul uses is the word "koinonia" which means fellowship. The sharing of his life of faith. As Philemon shares his life of faith it will lead him to have a "full knowledge of every good thing that is us for the sake of Christ." 

Thus, we cannot grow and experience Christ, His Spirit, or His blessings if we make faith a private affair. We are called to love and serve others. It IS the expression of our faith. What happens personally by faith MUST be expressed outwardly in love, service and fellowship. 

We are called to share the journey  of the Christian life in every way we can. In so doing, we become servants of God instead of consumers looking for God to meet my needs and make me happy. It is about spreading God's Kingdom and loving and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So what about you? Are you actively sharing the journey to which God has called you or is faith a private matter between you and God? This truth is why we must be attached to a local church, united to the body of believers. Anyone who says he can worship and serve God without being a part of the church is not serving the God of the Bible but an idol, a creation of one's own mind. Why? Because God has called all of us to love and serve others and we can't do that on our own, thus making our "worship" ineffective and selfish.

It is time for our spirituality to go from two legged to three legged. Instead of God and me, it needs to become God, me, and my neighbor. Spirituality that does not include all three is not a true spirituality. Share the Journey of the Christian life and rise Above Reality.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Find Your Purpose: Obedience

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. " Philippians 2:12-13

When the Apostle Paul wrote his encouraging letter to the Philippians, he commended them for their steadfast obedience to God in his presence AND in his absence. They were consistent. They weren't perfect and still needed to grow in their faith which is why he told them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. But their obedience was commendable because it was consistent. It wasn't for show, but was a genuine obedience from the heart.

It is amazing, isn't it? How prone people (and apparently animals!) are to forgetting who they are in the absence of accountability? Like the cat in the video above proves, we like to put on a show as being one thing until we are caught and then we resume regularly scheduled programming. The cat in the video is clearly barking like a dog until it is caught and then resumes his place as a cat. The video really is amazing because it shows how prone to deception we really are and brings into light how remarkable the faith of the Philippians was when they could obey the God even in the absence of their leader.

Proverbs 10:9 puts it plainly: 
"Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out." 

God is watching. Even when nobody else is watching, God is watching.

I don't say this to frighten somebody or to think God is just waiting for someone to mess up so He can punish Him. That isn't how God works. When I say God is watching, I am saying that your life, your faith, and your thoughts are completely open to God. Nothing is hidden. So even if we think we are fooling others by our actions, we are not fooling God. In fact, when we disobey God, we look as ridiculous as that cat barking like a dog. We were not created to live in rebellion to God. When we do rebel, we assume an existence that is completely foreign to our design and intended purpose.

So we come to our intended design and purpose which is obedience to our creator. 1 John 2:3-5 says it this way:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (ESV)

There are two things that need to be noted in this passage. 

1. Obedience is the result of knowing Jesus. When we are born again through faith in Jesus Christ, God changes us from the inside out and obedience is the proof that the change has happened. It does not say perfection, but it does say a practice of obedience will become a part of your life. 

2. When you are obeying God's will for your life, His love will become complete in your life. You will know love. You will experience it, you will give it and you will live by it. LOVE. Not legalistic, mean spirited fundamentalist rule keeping. 


It isn't about keeping the rules, it is about living in harmony with God through his son Jesus. It is about fulfilling your purpose for living and operating within your created design. You were created to experience and express God's love in this world. You were created for life and God's commandments are life. Rebellion against God is death. 

Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 both say this:
      There is a way that seems right to a man, 
      but its end is the way to death.

There is a way that seems right, until we are caught. There is a way that seems natural until we find out that our master is looking at us and then we remember who we are. There is a freedom that looks like slavery and a slavery that looks like freedom. The sinful heart will look at God and see bondage when in reality God is offering freedom. You purpose is to live in obedience to the God that created you. His will for you is life and love, but it has to be found in him through Jesus Christ. Obey God and you will most certainly rise Above Reality. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Find Your Purpose: The Church

One of the most pivotal, most vital truths a believer in Christ must learn is that he/she is a part of the body of Christ, the Church. When I say the Church, I don't mean that building on the corner or the place you go on Sunday to hear about God.

The Church is something much more important and powerful than a building. The Church is made up of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and who, through faith, have been saved.

The Church is as exclusive and privileged a group as you will ever see or experience because, biblically speaking, the church is ONLY made up of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. The Church is the Church because everyone who is saved has a common faith, a common salvation and The Holy Spirit dwelling within them and the only way to become a member is to die to yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.

The Church is exclusive. It is alive and you, if you are a believer and follower of Christ, are a member. If you want to grow in Christ and truly find your purpose in life, it will involve the church. So whatever hangups you may have regarding "organized religion" you need to understand that they are just that, your own hangups.

God is pro-Church and so must be his followers.

Is the church perfect? No, because it isn't God. It is God's people. A people who needed and still need Jesus Christ to forgive them of sins and teach them how to live in love, righteousness, and holiness. So while it is trendy right now to bash the Church and spell out all the ways it is wrong and hypocritical it is how God has chosen to work. Like it or not, you are not going to create or find anything more powerful on earth than God's people serving Him in fellowship with each other.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

"The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It"

Powerful words. Jesus said that Hell itself, the full power of the enemy will not be able to hold back the church from doing what it is designed to do, namely, worship, fellowship, and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is here to spread God's Kingdom and that is exactly what it has done for 2000 years. That is a track record of success that isn't going to stop anytime soon.

Notice also that Jesus said "my church." I think part of the reason people have hangups with "organized religion" is that they and many, many others come at the church as consumers, like somehow the church exists for them and their purposes. When we look at the church as consumers we will say things like "I want a church that meets my needs" or "I just need a church that is more contemporary or traditional, or rural, or country, or more music, or less music, or louder music, or red carpet, more young adults, or more youth, or a better senior adult program..." The list could go on forever. The problem surfaces when we realize that the church is not there for those purposes.

It isn't here for us, it is here to serve God's purposes in the world and YOU, as a believer, are a part of the labor crew that does God's work on earth. When we realize this one truth, our lives change. We start hearing from God, we start experiencing his Spirit in the Fellowship of Believers and we see the Church as the beautiful Bride of Christ. Instead of complaining about what the church isn't doing well we start doing our part to make it better.

We also realize just how powerful the church truly is. In Ephesians 3:10 the Apostle Paul says that is through the church that "the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." You see, God has chosen the church as his chief instrument on Earth.  And YOU, as a believer, are a part of that instrument. God can and sometimes does work through individuals apart from the Church as a whole, but that is rare. Most of God's work is done through the Church.

So the choice is now yours. If you are a believer, you are a part of the Body of Christ. Are you helping or hurting the Body? There is no way around it and it is a truth that you must accept and embrace. You are a part of God's church on earth. What you do with it is up to you. If you want to be used of God, it will be in conjunction with the church. You want to hear from God? It will often come as a combination of the Scriptures and the Church.

We are called to community, but not just any community. The Community. The Church. The one and only Body of Christ. You have a function within that Body that is indispensable. In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 says this: "For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."  (ESV)

Are you functioning as a member of the one body? Or are you expecting the body to function for you? Once we understand God's plan for the church and how truly awesome it is that God says his church "grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:18-22) we will fundamentally alter the way we look at the body of believers. Instead of God's presence being attached to a building as it was in the Old Testament Temple, today, the Temple is the Church and his presence is found among his people COLLECTIVELY. You will only find your purpose when you seek God in the midst of His People and Serve within His Church. Meditate upon this, embrace it and you will most certainly rise Above Reality.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Find Your Purpose: Taking Risks

I found this video of an incredible downhill bike race in Chile and it made me think. First, watch the video...

Intense isn't it?

There are few things that stick out about that ride. First, it is fast in places that people don't normally go fast. Second, there were several truly dangerous places throughout that course. Third, the rider never hesitates.

What is it that allowed the rider to navigate that course so successfully? I believe it comes down to three words: Fear, Skill, and Comfort. These are three words that will either paralyze or empower every Christian in his or her walk because I truly believe that the Christian life is just like that downhill race, for those who are willing to brave it.

First, lets talk about fear. Most people will look at this video and immediately think "No way would I even try that! That guy is crazy!" Crazy? Maybe, if you define life by playing it safe, keeping your pulse under 100 and never risking anything. But here is the catch.

God has not called us to play it safe. In fact, he has called us to be radicals in this world. Christians are to be the game changers. But too many never come close to experiencing the true blessing of being used by God because they are afraid. They are paralyzed by fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of what "might" happen. Fear of failure. Just the thought of doing something extreme sends many Christians into lockdown. Yet, some of the most common words in all of scripture are "Fear Not." Jesus told us that "perfect love casts out fear" and that we need only fear God and not man. Many will look at something like that bike ride and say "there is a difference in fear and wisdom." Maybe, but I think that all greatness once started out as a crazy idea that sent shivers down somebody's spine.

Someone will say "okay, I'm not afraid, but I don't know how to do something like that and if I tried, I would kill myself."

This is a true and wise statement that brings us to our second word: Skill.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33. That's quite an accomplishment. But you know what? He didn't get there by accident. Before his 33rd birthday he had already accomplished more than most people will accomplish in an entire lifetime. It wasn't an accident that he was the man chosen to write one of the most important political documents our world has ever seen. Here is a list of what he accomplished before writing the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33.

At 5, began studying under his cousin's tutor. At 9, studied Latin, Greek and French. At 14, studied classical literature and additional languages. At 16, entered the College of William and Mary.  At 19, studied Law for 5 years starting under George Wythe. At 23, started his own law practice. At 25, was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. At 31, wrote the widely circulated "Summary View of the Rights of British America" and retired from his law practice. At 32, was a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

Thomas Jefferson wasn't afraid of a challenge, but he also knew he needed to develop the skill necessary to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. In the video above, that wasn't that bike rider's first time to attempt something like that. He started small and built his skill set until he could accomplish something remarkable. 

Are you willing to risk learning how to do something amazing? Are you willing to learn the scripture well enough to live it? Are you willing to develop your skill in communicating, teaching, building, leading, organizing, or whatever it is you do? God is not going to put you on a bike and say good luck. He wants His people to stand out, but to stand out in a good way. 

There are two ways to stand out in this world: Excellence or Incompetence. Only one happens by accident. And if we are going to be intentional about developing the necessary skill to take real risks for God, then we are going to have to be willing to redefine our comfort zones. 

Comfort, our third word. Its a funny thing because it can be redefined far more easily than most people think. We often talk about getting outside our comfort zones in Christianity. What we are really talking about is getting outside of what is familiar and easy. Here is a secret for you to remember: nobody ever really gets outside his or her comfort zone. We just expand our comfort zone as our skill increases. We can and MUST become comfortable taking certain risks. 

The rider in the video was comfortable taking the risks associated with that course because he knew his skill set. What he was doing was trying to push his skill limit even further. The next time you feel uncomfortable taking a risk for God, you need to ask yourself why? Is it lack of skill or just lack of familiarity? Do you need further development or are you just getting a feel for the course? Either way, if you are uncomfortable stepping up for God, then you haven't yet truly given God his due in your life. 

You can't meet the Creator of the Universe, be filled with His Spirit, and not feel some boldness well up inside you. 

Here is one more little secret: the more skill you have and the broader your comfort zone, the more fun and enjoyment you will get out of what you are doing for God. That bike rider in the video enjoyed his ride. You hear him laugh part way through the video. His heart was racing, his skill set was challenged, but I promise you he ENJOYED EVERY MINUTE OF THAT RIDE. He even enjoyed when he was able to avoid the dog that almost ruined the whole thing. 

So, what insane downhill race is God calling you to train for? What fears need to be set aside? What training needs to happen and what comfort zones need to be redefined? It is only when we see life as one big downhill race that God has called us to dominate that we can rise Above Reality and Find our Purpose. We must take risks for God!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Find Your Purpose: Sacrifice

Sacrifice. Big word, big meaning, even bigger neglect. It can be defined as: Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.

In everyday language it means giving until it hurts. This can mean giving of your time, your emotions, your energy, your resources, your friendship, or your abilities for something you believe. 

The greatest act of sacrifice ever seen was on the cross almost 2000 years ago when Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed himself to set right what man had broken. 

He even said "Father, forgive them..." Here was the eternal Son of God, bleeding, suffering, and dying for a creation that had rejected him and yet he could say the words, "Father, forgive them." Why? Because Jesus was sacrificing himself for us. As a sacrifice, his life was spent for those who hated him. Jesus knew he was getting no benefit from this sacrifice. It was entirely for our benefit. 

You see, that is what sacrifice is. It is enduring pain and struggle for the benefit of another. It is voluntarily giving to the point of pain so someone else can experience the benefit. Jesus died on the cross so we could have a relationship with God. He already had a perfect relationship with the Father. He didn't need anything for himself. It was humanity that needed a Savior. So, Jesus offered himself, perfect in every way, as a sacrifice for our failings. 

And so we also become a people of sacrifice. We learn to give of ourselves. We learn to sacrifice. We learn to give until it hurts. Sacrifice for others, even those who hate us, should become a way of life for those who believe in Jesus Christ. We give in service, love, finances, talents, support, and even encouragement. We learn to see what others need and give of ourselves to help them. 

Even when they hate us. 

That is what makes it a sacrifice. We have to endure something we do not deserve for the sake of someone who does not deserve what we are giving. 

And we do it with Love. 

We do not do it to earn points with them, with God, or even to feed selfish pride. We sacrifice because we see the right thing to do and we are children of God who understand that it took the greatest sacrifice in the history of creation to make us children of God. 

So we sacrifice. 

Unfortunately too many of us have bought into American consumerism and we expect some kind of immediate return on our "righteous" deeds. We see ourselves as God's employees complete with a heavenly 401k retirement plan, benefits, and collective bargaining rights. We have confused God's call to die and sacrifice with a self-serving gospel of health and wealth. 

And the idea of true sacrifice is completely lost. We only serve in our church as long as it is convenient and doesn't interfere with my time on the golf course. We choose a church based on what they can provide me instead of seeing where my gifts and talents could be used to help others. We get it backwards. 

When we get it backwards, we lose touch with everything that God intended and our lives become no different than the great throng of people who live only to please themselves. This is why Jesus said some of the most frightening words in all of Scripture in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ 

Many who never learned the true meaning of sacrifice and obedience will try to cash in their heavenly 401k retirement plan only to find out that their investment tanked because they invested in themselves and not in the God who sent His Son as a Sacrifice. Think today about your concept of sacrifice and obedience to God and rise Above Reality. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Find Your Purpose: Worship

There is a common refrain that finds itself repeated throughout much of the history of the church. It is that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Enjoy Him.

Experience, relate to, be fulfilled and enjoy Him.

In a word: WORSHIP

We are created to worship our maker. God is the source of all life, existence, joy and meaning. When I say that we are to enjoy Him forever, I mean we are to enjoy Him as He is, for who He is, and What He is.

Enjoy God because He is God.

Meaning, you can't enjoy Him if you are too busy trying to make him jump through your hoops. You can't enjoy Him if you are too busy trying to make Him serve You. You can't enjoy Him if you think of Him as just another person.

Enjoy the fact that God is not you. Be thankful that God is not you. He is not like you, He does not think like you. His existence is beyond you, above you, over you, and bigger than you. Those difficulties you have, He doesn't.

You should rejoice in this.

Enjoy God! Worship Him. Why? Because it is what you were created to do. It is in your very being. Your meaning and purpose in life will be completely wrapped up in serving and worshiping God. If you don't worship Him, you can't enjoy Him.

The Psalmists knew all too well that God wasn't like them and they loved it.

EVERY BIT OF IT! They marveled at His majesty, sang songs about His Wisdom, trembled at His Power, and invited the nations to come find out what they already knew: God is awesome.

Psalm 95 puts it this way:
 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; 
      let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
            2      Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
      let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
            3      For the LORD is a great God, 
      and a great King above all gods. 
            4      In his hand are the depths of the earth; 
      the heights of the mountains are his also. 
            5      The sea is his, for he made it, 
      and his hands formed the dry land. 

            6      Oh come, let us worship and bow down; 
      let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 
            7      For he is our God, 
      and we are the people of his pasture, 
      and the sheep of his hand. 
                  Today, if you hear his voice, 
            8      do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, 
      as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 
            9      when your fathers put me to the test 
      and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 
            10      For forty years I loathed that generation 
      and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, 
      and they have not known my ways.” 
            11      Therefore I swore in my wrath, 
      “They shall not enter my rest.” 

You see that? Invitation to join in, a warning about ignoring Him, and an absolute sense of awe at His being. 

Worship is not an choice for those who have Discovered God. It becomes their purpose in life. Service and Worship, Worship and service, praise and practice, practice and praise all become intertwined in this wonderfully poetic dance that is life. We worship because of God's greatness. Our worship leads us to service and our service erupts in praise. 

Psalm 97 puts it this way:
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; 
      let the many coastlands be glad! 
            2      Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; 
      righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 
            3      Fire goes before him 
      and burns up his adversaries all around. 
            4      His lightnings light up the world; 
      the earth sees and trembles. 
            5      The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, 
      before the Lord of all the earth. 

            6      The heavens proclaim his righteousness, 
      and all the peoples see his glory. 
            7      All worshipers of images are put to shame, 
      who make their boast in worthless idols; 
      worship him, all you gods! 

            8      Zion hears and is glad, 
      and the daughters of Judah rejoice, 
      because of your judgments, O LORD. 
            9      For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; 
      you are exalted far above all gods. 

            10      O you who love the LORD, hate evil! 
      He preserves the lives of his saints; 
      he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 
            11      Light is sown for the righteous, 
      and joy for the upright in heart. 
            12      Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, 
      and give thanks to his holy name! 

This awe inspiring, terror building, righteous judge is on His throne and everyone, those near and far need to rejoice simply because it is true. The Psalmist is not worried about living his best life now. He isn't worried about himself at all. He is overcome with the greatness of God. It is great beyond compare, terrifying and yet assuring. 

Enjoy God! 

Look beyond your circumstances. Look beyond yourself and see God for Who and What He is. Worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Worship Him in life, in song, in service and in fellowship and you will rise Above Reality.