25 December 2016

In the Fullness of Time

Today is the celebration of God breaking a 400 year silence some 2,000 years ago when the Son of God, born of a young virgin, took on human flesh and came into the world.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians that this event happened "when the fullness of time came." (Gal. 4:4).  In other words, when God chose to begin the completion of salvation history, He did it.

Christmas is a celebration of God's gift to all humanity in Christ.  John refers to Jesus as the Word made flesh.  It is the unprecedented moment in history that gave flesh, bone and blood to the divine, whose mission would be the cross.

As we celebrate and commemorate today, we should not lose sight of the significance of the celebration.  We celebrate because we love Him - both for who He is and what He has done.  We celebrate the undeserved, unmatched, and invaluable gift we have been given.  Galatians 4:1-7 helps us appreciate the birth of the one in whom we believe.

"But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!  Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God." 

In the verses before these, Paul had described a believer's condition before coming to faith in Jesus.  He described a person whose only sense of relationship to God was through the heaviness of the Law of God, which no person can keep.  Paul uses the analogy of a child to illustrate the position of a person under the Law rather than grace.  A child does not have true freedom and independence.  And in Paul's culture, that made a child little different than a slave.  However, a child would grow up, and the father would set a designated time for the grown-up child to receive freedom, responsibility and benefits.

Similarly, God the Father, when the time was right, sent the Son into the world to make provision for those who would become children of God.  A spiritual completion took place for those who would believe.

Paul mentions that Christ has brought freedom to those once held captive to the Law.  The Law of God simply pointed out our spiritual and moral inadequacy before a holy God.  Jesus, became the Lamb of God that was offered up on our behalf so our sins could be forgiven and we could be set free from the chains of a just and certain condemnation.

Paul goes on to assert that not only have believers been freed from sin, but also adopted into God's family.  Our position has moved from an outsider slave, to a free family member.  This picture of adoption is a beautiful reminder of the amazing grace and love of God.  And our proof of adoption is the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.  We were once estranged from God, but now we have an unbelievable intimacy with God. 

Lastly, Paul points out that if we have been redeemed from sin and brought into the family of God, then we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God.  Since this is true then we are also heirs.  This means that we have a future with God.  This means that we are going to receive a glorious inheritance that belongs to God, but one He chooses to give to us.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.  I was a slave to my own sin with no hope; Jesus has provided freedom and forgiveness.  I was estranged from God; Jesus has positioned me as a child of God.  I was lost with no future; Jesus has promised me that glory awaits because of the riches of the Father. 

All of this is wrapped up in the most precious gift ever given - a Savior who was born.  He is a gift only received by faith.  And that faith is expressed in a commitment to follow.  Do you believe?  Will you follow?  I do believe, and my intention is to continue to follow, even if that journey continues to be filled with challenges and struggles.  Although I will fail and doubt myself at times, I will never doubt the one who loves me with such a great love.  I stand in agreement with the early church who expressed their basic belief in a confession of faith known as The Old Roman Creed, which has come down to us from the mid 4th century.

I believe in God almighty
And in Christ Jesus, his only son, our Lord
Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary
Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
And the third day rose from the dead
Who ascended into heaven
And sits on the right hand of the Father
Whence he comes to judge the living and the dead
And in the Holy Spirit
The holy church
The remission of sins
The resurrection of the flesh
The life everlasting

Merry Christmas!

22 November 2016

Five Pastoral Convictions about Congregational Singing

I’m not a music guy.  I can still awkwardly bang out a few chords on the guitar, but for the most part I’m pretty terrible at music.  Furthermore, I’m not a music enthusiast; I’d rather be listening to news or talk radio than music in the car.  Some people seem to have music in their souls.  I’m just not one of those people.  But I do love singing with other believers in worship. 

As a pastor, I am the worship leader of the congregation God has entrusted to me.  It is my responsibility to think correctly about how music is employed for worship.  I will not be the one leading the music, but I must be the one applying a sound philosophy to guide those who are leading.  The following is what I have crystalized to this point as my personal philosophy concerning congregational singing.  I’ve arrived at these through reading, talking to people who know more than me, and through trial and error.

1.  Congregational singing should be content driven

The whole worship service should be driven by the Word of God.  Therefore, the lyrics of the music employed should declare truth about God that flow directly from the content of the Bible.  The words should communicate the greatness and goodness of God and the message of the Gospel.  Some songs do a much better job of this than others, both old and new.  It’s important to pick the ones that do it the best.  We should not choose songs that focus more on a personal, emotional experience rather than on God.  We always want our emotions to be sparked by a clear vision of God’s beauty and truth.  We should be wise about these choices and evaluate our selections through a sound theology of worship that starts with the content. 

2.  Congregational singing should be mostly familiar

The goal is to get the congregation joyfully singing.  If this is going to be accomplished well, then at least most of the people in the congregation need to be familiar with most the songs.  It is discouraging for people to stand and listen to several songs in a row that they don’t know.  That in itself becomes a distraction to worship and hinders them from participating.  Of course, congregations should be folding new songs into their repertoire, but it should be done slowly and methodically.  If music leaders introduce too many songs too often, then it won’t take long for the congregation to become spectators rather than participants.      

3.  Congregational singing should be doable for the average singer

One of the difficulties of much popular, contemporary music is that it is simply too difficult for the average singer.  The notes get too high or the timing too complex.  Singers like me, who have hardly any vocal range, will get discouraged.  Music leaders need to keep the average and below average singer in mind when choosing songs for congregational singing, since the goal is to get us singing. Save the difficult stuff for the choir and for specials to be done by people who are gifted.  All us bad singers can sit back and appreciate the talent and praise God through it. But if music leaders really want us average folks to sing along, then they need to offer stuff we can actually do.

4.  Congregational singing should be instructive

Music is a discipleship tool.  Picking congregational songs that have meaty biblical and theological content is important because it keeps God the focus of our singing. However, it also serves to instruct.  The music people grow up singing in church will stick with them forever.  If that is the case, then we should choose music that communicates the best things about God and sing them regularly.  I can’t recall a single sermon outline from my childhood pastor, and he was a good preacher.  But I can quote words from the 25-30 hymns that we sang over and over.  I learned about the Gospel through the songs. 

5.  Congregational singing should be done well    

No matter what size the church or how great or limited the resources, each congregation should try to do music as well as it possibly can.  A congregation of 25 should be as intentional about what it does with its congregational singing as one of 2,500.  The pastor and the music leader should collaborate on message and music, choosing songs that work to highlight key themes or ideas of the text to be preached.  If resources are limited, then keeping it simple will serve you better.  Plan for smooth transitions from one part of the service to the next and eliminate distractions as much as possible.  But this takes prayer, planning and being in agreement about your guiding philosophy. 

Sunday morning worship is prime time.  This is when most people will be gathered each week to encounter the Word of God.  This is when guests most likely will first be introduced to your fellowship.  The music is not the main thing, but it certainly will be a significant part of the whole that is offered up to God.  It deserves careful consideration. 

26 October 2016

Why SCOTUS is not the Most Important Thing

I have read opinion pieces, listened to commentary on the cable news networks, and had personal conversations about why Christians should vote for Donald Trump. And it is basically summed up as, "It's all about the Supreme Court stupid."  Okay, I embellished the "stupid" part, but that seems to capture the sentiment, even if the word isn't employed.
The evangelical case for Trump appears to have been reduced to this single issue for many voters of faith, probably because one is hard pressed to find positive reasons to vote for him. But I don't want to focus on that. What I want to suggest is that if you feel like you are compelled to hold your nose and vote for a candidate simply because you think the moral destiny of the country is in the hands of the next few Supreme Court appointments, then I would like you to consider a couple of reasons why that thinking might be misguided.
First, if true, biblical Christian moral reform is going to take place in our country, it is unlikely to happen through the Supreme Court. We know that the court is charged with interpretation and application of the law and the Constitution. When our local laws and lower courts fall into disagreement and contradictions, then the Supreme Court steps in and makes a ruling. I believe that by the time such divisive issues reach this point the culture has already shifted. 
It is disconcerting to see the court overrule state laws, mandating the legal killing of the unborn and legitimizing same-sex marriage across the land.  But these decisions only became realities because of the cultural momentum that carried the debate to that level.  These decisions do not mark the beginning of moral decline, they represent the inevitable result of such decline. 
Many, believe that if we just get conservative justices on the court, then these decisions could be reversed, or at very least prevent future poor decisions.  However, this is not the solution within our political system.  Reversal of such decisions might be a moral victory of such, but it would simply send the issue back into the states, where possibly not much would end up changing.  Some states may revert back to making abortion illegal and not recognizing same-sex marriage, but it probably wouldn't be a surprise to find that this wouldn't happen as easily or enthusiastically as we might imagine.   
To arrive at real corporate repentance, resulting, for example, in the protection the unborn and upholding of biblical marriage through the civil government, it will have to happen through the legislature.  Whereas SCOTUS makes rulings about the proper application of the law and the Constitution, the congress of our country has the ability to amend the Constitution and create the law that the court would then be compelled to uphold.  It is the senators and representatives that most directly represent the people, and they are the ones that, according to our Constitution, can amend the Constitution.  It takes an enormous amount of consensus and cooperation to amend the Constitution.  I don't think we would want it otherwise.  But it has happened (27 times to be exact, the first 10 all at the same time), and it could happen again if the will of the people and their representatives had enough conviction about the importance of any given issue.
To hang your vote solely on the hope of SCOTUS being the function of government that will execute real moral change is misplaced.  You and I might want to focus more on who we send to congress, and then lobby for them truly to represent us and do what is congruent with biblical principles.
Second, for real moral reform to occur an ideological shift must take place in the citizens that would then be represented and reflected in our government.  How could that happen?  It has to come from the impact of the churches in America.  It must emanate from the people of God submitting to the Word of God.  It can only come through the power of the Gospel genuinely transforming lives one by one until the ideas of biblical Christianity begin to get infused into our thinking and actions.  Real moral change in this country can only come to pass when churches are revived to greater and greater faithfulness and move away from compromise and worldliness.  When enough of this happens, then the conscience of a nation may begin to be affected.  When that begins to happen, then laws and policies may begin to change that reflect that new reality.   

We need to admit that our government and leaders reflect us.  Like the moon has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun, so those in government reflect the nature of the people as a whole who elect them. We tend to think that a real moral course correction in a country can come from the top down, but I believe that is wrong.  Such change must flow from the bottom up.  It starts with us and our immediate families.  It happens first in our local churches and home towns.  It builds through having the conviction to send the right kind of representatives to state capitols and Washington D.C. 
It has taken some time for the Christian underpinnings in our country to erode to where we are today.  It may take some time to see a spiritually renewed and awakened country.  But I believe it can happen.  But it starts right where you are, not in DC, and certainly not with SCOTUS.

21 October 2016

Being Christian and American

I think one reason many American evangelicals get in such a twist in regards to politics is because we fail to put into proper relationship our being Christian and being American.  We possess both identities simultaneously; however, we need to keep in view some key differences that will help at least keep our hearts calmer, our mouths milder, and our hope affixed to the right source.

The proper relationship between Christian and American rests in which identity I allow to encompass the other.  Christians have lived for the last two millennia in different places within different kinds of political realities.  They have lived in environments that have been hostile to their faith, some more friendly, and some shaped to some degree by it.  Regardless, Christians are always first and foremost followers of Jesus and citizens of heaven.  They are secondly, citizens of the places in which they physically reside.
For me, this means that I always view my citizenship as an American through the lens of my faith, and the lens of my faith is only in focus as far as it is true to the precepts and principles of the Bible.  Here are few truths that flow from this perspective. 
1. I am a Christian forever, and I am an American temporarily
My identity in Christ stretches back to the foundations of the earth and will extend beyond this life into eternity.  Before I was formed God knew me, and the life I live now in Christ is imperishable.  I became an American on January 12, 1967.  When I die I will no longer be an American.  That reality will forever be in the past.  My identity in Christ is now and forever. 
2. I am a Christian with an infallible guide, and I am an American with a flawed political system
My identity in Christ comes with a completely trustworthy guide in the Bible.  It is the God-breathed revelation that will endure forever to which I can go to know God, myself, and how to live in proper relationship with Him and others.  As an American we have guiding documents that men have produced. No matter what quality of sound reason, intelligence or enlightenment that went into them, they have been and always will be imperfect.  Our laws and policies always have been inequitable to some degree.  All the systems that come from man are limited and susceptible to corruption.  We work for justice, but understand that justice will falter and fail when leaders do not walk with God.    
3. I am a Christian whose conscience belongs to God, and I am an American who has a duty to country.

My eternal life in Christ necessitates that my conscience has a sole owner.  This ownership is absolute and final.  Therefore, my decisions, both small and great, are submitted to Christ’s lordship.  My fear is reserved for Him alone.  He must exercise complete dominion over my every thought and action.  As an American I have a God-given responsibility to my country and its leaders.  I am to submit to the authority God has granted them and to pay my taxes.  I am to pray that they will govern righteously.  It is the responsibility of leaders to reflect His righteousness in the manner in which they govern.  However, no matter what I think of the job they are doing, I am called by my only master to submit and honor my government, seeking to be the model, law-abiding citizen. 
4. I am a Christian with inalienable rights, and I am an American whose rights and freedoms can change.

I think this may be our most glaring blind spot.  Political freedoms for American Christians are typically perceived as a God-given right.  It’s one thing to know that the founders of the country may have thought this, but it is another thing to point to the Word of God and make the case.  I find this idea in the Declaration of Independence, but not in the Bible.  In actuality, my freedoms, privileges, and even my life can be taken away from me by governing authorities.  This has been true for many Christians.  If you could ask the black Christians living in our country throughout most of our history, they might indeed testify to this reality.  The earliest Christians living under Roman Emperors could confirm the same, as well as many others from history and in places in the world today. However, your freedom in Christ and your inheritance as a child of God is inalienable.  An earthly government might take away your physical freedom or even your life, but not what you possess in Christ.  This is all that is truly inalienable.  It is nice to live in a context with freedom and justice, but it’s not the ultimate treasure for the Christian.
We must be careful to be grateful for our American heritage and the freedoms that we enjoy.  It is certainly appropriate to work to defend those freedoms and protect them in a respectful manner honoring to God.  However, we must never turn the American ideal, American individualism, or personal freedom into an idol.  We must only worship God with our whole lives while we live as honorable citizens of our country.

06 October 2016

God is Bigger than Trump, Hillary or My Vote

We are only about a month away from one of the most strange and divisive presidential elections I can remember.  I’ve struggled with the choices we’ve been handed next month, and I’ve listened to people I respect give their thoughts about the situation. With Hillary on the far left and Trump on the far right (I think), the choice would seem to be clear.  But I’ve observed that the problem for some is a genuine struggle to give either their vote. 
I’m a Christian who has the wonderful privilege to vote.  Not every person on the planet has that privilege.  It just feels wrong to want not to vote - like I'm disrespecting that privilege.  But I think many find both candidates unsuitable for different reasons.  Fortunately, the Bible is my source for helping me to know what my duty is, not as an American, but as a citizen of heaven.  This is not downplaying the importance or privilege of the election, but it helps me keep all this in perspective.
In 1 Peter 2:11-17 I read what God, through Peter, told early Christians was important as they navigated their culture.  Because I believe in the relevancy of God’s Word, I think it’s just as applicable today and a particularly timely help for all believers.
Peter was encouraging Christians who lived in a hostile environment. Many did not understand them, slandered them, and mistreated them.  He basically reminded them that their identity was bigger than their earthly citizenship and their responsibility extended beyond earthly leaders. 
First he acknowledged that they were truly “aliens and strangers” to this world.  He urged them to a proper behavior, but he put their lives into a spiritual context first.  A Christian’s true home is heaven, the city of God.  Believers have been and will always be spiritual refugees always on the move to their real home.  So, for now if we feel that we are just out of step with our American culture, we might just want to remember the reason.  This is not our true home.
Second, Peter urged Christians to possess a blameless character.  He pleaded with believers to be diligent in abstaining from “fleshly lusts” and to keep their “behavior excellent.”  He told them to do this in spite of hostility toward them.  In doing so, he said that some will ultimately give God glory because of such excellent behavior.  Some people will become Christians, who were once hostile to Christianity, because God will use the undeniable good character of believers as a witness and opportunity for the Gospel.  This should remind us that our greatest impact for the greatest good is not at the ballot box, but in our walk with Christ and witness to others every day.  The power of the Gospel to transform lives and even culture will flow from the church house, not the White House.
Lastly, Peter instructs Christians in regards to their responsibilities to God and country.  A Christian’s duty to his country involves submission and honor.  God wills for believers to submit to governing authorities and to honor those in charge.  Ideally, government protects the innocent and punishes those who do evil.  And it’s nice when government gets this right. 
This submission is given freely as an act of trust in God.  We are to pray for leaders, honor, and obey as far as we possibly can without compromising obedience to God.  If government demands Christians to violate the conscience concerning God, then we must answer as Peter and others did in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Here, we pray for the wisdom to know when to submit to government and when to defy it in order to obey God. 
Peter makes clear that the Christian’s responsibility to God is to fear and obey Him.  We are to give our ultimate allegiance to God.  He has the priority.  He has ownership.  Christians are “bondslaves of God.”  Therefore, even though I have a duty to my country and the government that administers its affairs, my conscience and my ultimate allegiance is only God’s.  And I must diligently protect my conscience because God is bigger than country. 
So, how does this inform me as November 8th quickly approaches?  Here it is:  God is bigger than Hillary.  God is bigger than Trump.  His providence over the affairs of men is bigger.  His grip on my conscience is bigger.  His claim on my life is bigger. 
I believe we are greatly blessed in this country.  And, of course, we have problems too.  However, God is bigger than America.  Getting to vote is a privilege of citizenship and moral responsibility, but I don’t think it is a divine right.  I think for the Christian voter the key concern should be about conscience because this is where we are truly free in Christ.  Vote your conscience concerning these presidential candidates.  And as you lay your head down on November 8, with that clear conscience, keep it all in perspective.  Remember that God is so much bigger than your vote or whoever becomes president.  God is in the process of making a people of the nations for Himself for all eternity no matter what earthly emperor, king, dictator, prime minister or president rules for a brief time in a particular place.  Church, our mission is sharing the Good News and making disciples.  Come January 2017, no matter who is taking the oath of office and becoming our new president, this will still be our mission.  God will still be in control.  And our hope will still be in Him as it always has been and always will be.

02 September 2016

Pastor, Be True to God and Yourself

I believe a pastor often wrestles with his own identity because of the desire to be a successful pastor.  Invariably, pastors experience the pain of comparison and the pressure of producing quantifiable results (i.e., more attendance, more baptisms, bigger budget, etc.)  All of this can sometimes lead to momentary panic attacks riddled with self-doubt while chasing the latest fad.

Today, it seems that a pastor must be a social media guru, a master of marketing, an effective motivational speaker, and, of course, the latest version of cool.  It may feel that way because that’s what we tend to see when we view the pastors of the most recent popular mega churches.  Or, maybe you have some of their wannabees in your own town.  In the middle of all this, just relax and remind yourself of truth with which to anchor the ministry.

First, be yourself.  God did not decree that a certain personality was required for effective pastors.  It's extremely easy to confuse ministry success with personality.  You and I don't have to be a certain type in order to be a good pastor.  Don't conform to a stereotype, whatever that may be in your mind.  Be comfortable in your own skin.  Be authentic.  Be yourself.  Trying to be something you’re not is just too exhausting and not sustainable. 

Second, know what God wants you to fulfill as a pastor.  And as far as I can discern from the Bible, there are only two absolute and irrevocable responsibilities.  A pastor must provide accurate information to the congregation with the Bible and provide the proper inspiration with a godly lifestyle.

Every time a pastor stands before the congregation to open his mouth and give a sermon, whether to a packed house or faithful few, his job is to accurately preach the Word of God.  He must rightly understand it himself so he can effectively teach it and appropriately apply it.  God uses the truth in the Bible to transform people and grow them in Christ (Heb. 4:12).  The pastor is the one who equips believers for service (Eph. 4:11-12).  The pastor is the one charged with teaching what is right and warning about what is wrong (Titus 1:9).  This is a tremendous responsibility and the pastor's primary task (1 Tim.5:17-19).  Other necessary matters are not unimportant.  You'll have to organize, administrate, make visits, cast vision, and keep repeating what is important.  However, you can and should get others to help with many of those tasks.  But you must never allow secondary things to take away from your primary responsibility - to teach the people God's Word to the best of your ability.  Don’t slight your preparation time.  Make sure the congregation understands this.    

Second, I must never forget that my authority to preach God's Word rests on my living a life that is worthy of imitation (Heb. 13:7).  I may be an amazing communicator, effective organizer, and have an undeniable charisma, but if I am not being the man God says I must be, the ministry will come crashing down in time, crushing everyone who had trusted me.

Pastors must live in 1 Tim. 3:1-7.  I don’t believe this is an exhaustive list, but the idea of above reproach comes through loud and clear.  The pastor is to be the example to the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).  A solid preaching and teaching ministry must be upheld by an authentic man of God who pursues this high calling with earnestness.  He must bring himself into constant submission to God’s Word as he teaches it to others.  To be above reproach neither means to be beyond criticism nor to imply perfection.  However, it does mean that no one can legitimately point out a disqualifying character flaw.  All believers should strive for this, but pastors must be this.

We pastors must be happy with allowing the great God who called us to use us just the way he made us.  We must not insecurely think we must be a certain kind of personality to be effective.  We must remind ourselves to work hard at preparing and delivering thoroughly biblical sermons that expertly expound the text and apply it properly.  And we must set the moral example so that we can confidently say to our flock, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). 

The church belongs to Jesus.  He established it and is coming back one day for it.  In the meantime, He gave to His church pastors.  He has given to pastors a sacred authority to lead.  We should fulfill it with no fear of man or culture, but only with the fear of the Lord to whom we will give an account (Heb. 13:17).  And we should pursuit it with all confidence in the God who called us.  Be of good cheer fellow pastors!  And any time you’re feeling unsure, unequipped, or just out of touch, remind yourself of your job.  Preach the Word. Set the example. Be yourself.  The rest is just details.         

08 July 2016

Is America God-Forsaken?

I truly am not an alarmist, even if the title here seems to give evidence to the contrary.  I realize that bad stuff has happened throughout our country's history, so bad stuff happening now is technically nothing new.  I'm aware that I'm a middle-aged adult, who now sees my society differently than when I was a younger man.  Hopefully, I see it a little more comprehensively while recognizing its complexity.  But I see our nation's overall trajectory through the lens of Scripture more than ever.  And as I reflect on the nation's past and the present, my heart grieves for a society that seems determined to shake off God's guidance in exchange for its own destruction.  We can talk about race, tolerance, gun control, civil rights, freedom, individuality, politics, corruption, hate, the left, the right, religion or whatever else, but the heart of the matter is our relationship to God.

Collectively, the American heart is far from God.  We are proud.  We are rebellious.  We are spoiled.  We have progressively unfettered ourselves from God.  We no longer even acknowledge our dependence on Him.  We have substituted the supremacy of individualism for His authority.  We have killed our unborn in the name of choice and convenience.  We have removed our acknowledgement of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from our public spaces.  We have cowardly allowed minority voices to vilify the name of Jesus Christ.  We have allowed biblical sexuality and marriage to be perverted.  We have forsaken our children at home with easy divorce.  We have allowed greed and corruption to exploit the weak and enslave our children and grandchildren to debt.  We prostitute ourselves to idols of materialism.  We casually allow the poison of pornography to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually warp our children.  We choose to have no restraints, and we are idiots for it.  I'm sure I've left stuff out, but you get the point.

Proverbs 29:18 continues to resonate in my mind and heart.  America has increasingly unfettered itself from God and the people have become more and more unrestrained.  We are driven by lust, selfishness, and greed.  We have told God to take a hike.  And now we are discovering what it's like to walk without Him.  I'm confident that as long as we walk away from God on our own path, things will continue to get worse, not better.  The trail will get more difficult and dangerous, not easier.  And the destination will be death, not life. 

We can keep doing what we are doing, or we can really think about what it's going to take to turn this thing around.  We can keep pointing fingers, some blaming the liberals and some blaming the conservatives.  We can keep trying to find a common enemy to rally against, like ISIS.  We can keep stupidly asserting that if everyone will just be tolerant, then somehow peace will overwhelm us and people will start behaving better.  We can keep blaming the politicians.  We can keep blaming racists cops.  We can keep blaming the NRA.  We can keep blaming Wall Street.  We can keep blaming those religious people.  And while everyone is blaming someone else, we will continue to perish.
But what if we dared to submit to God?  What if we each owned the mess we are in?  What if we confessed we had created the mess?  What if our hearts were broken?  Not that we were just saddened by the latest news, but truly recognizing that we are reaping what we have sown.  What if we interpreted our perishing as God's prompt for us to turn back to Him?

Now listen carefully.  I'm not talking about "them." I'm talking about us.  I'm talking about believers.  I'm talking about the church.  Awakening cannot come to a nation of people, until real revival comes to the people of God.  And revival does not come to a church until believers confess they have not been keeping God's commands or living by His standards. Revival comes when believers repent and truly turn from wicked ways and pursue God with earnestness and sincerity.  Revival comes when the people of God place themselves under the authority of God's Word and commit to conform themselves to its precepts and principles, rather than to this world's notions.  Revival comes when we humbly acknowledge our dependence on God and reject our rebellious self-sufficiency.

The answer for America's ills will be found in the churches.  If the churches experience real revival, the nation can experience an awakening.  If the nation experiences an awakening, God will hear and heal the land.  However, if the churches continue to sleep, God will continue to remove His hand and leave us to our own depravity. 

It's time for the church to seek real revival and turn from its superficiality.  It's time for our hearts to be broken over our sin.  It's time to choose God's commands rather than our own opinions.  It's time to seek God with all our hearts, repent of our unbelief and rebelliousness, and renew our walk with Him.  Then, and only then, will we see mercy and justice built on the right foundation. 

You may think that this is simplistic.  Maybe you think this is silly.  But consider this.  No matter what kind of corruption, perversion, injustice or evil we most lately find ourselves absorbing, the source of the deeds are people's hearts.   And what we must first acknowledge is that the heart is desperately wicked and not to be trusted to itself without God's guidance.  And God's guidance is not my notion of what I think God must be like, which naturally just becomes a projection of myself.  God's guidance is His Word, the Bible.  And we either seek to know it and submit to it, or we ignore it and rebel against it. 

Church, it's time to acknowledge that something is dreadfully wrong.  It's time to admit that we have not been loyal to God.  It's time to smash our idols and repent.  It's time to renew our walk with Christ and be the light and salt He told us to be.  It's time to be unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our churches and in our lives.  It's time to love God first, so we can love each other.  It's time to draw a line and choose life with God over death without Him.  It's time to boldly declare God's truth, be humble, do justice, and show kindness.

It's time to get off social media, turn off the relentless cable news, and get together and seek God and pray.  It's time to get our hearts right.  Will God forsake America?  In my opinion it's already begun.  It's been happening, but we have been too proud and foolish to see it.  The evidence is all around us.  The question remains as to what we, the church, will do?          

08 May 2016

Our Greatest Choice at Home

Homes are messy, even under good circumstances.  Homes can be disastrous when anger rules or abuse pervades.  Homes can be desolate and empty when the proper nurture is simply absent.  Homes can be the difference maker when love of God and others is taught and genuinely demonstrated.

The family is the building block of human culture.  The leadership of moms and dads, for better or worse, has the most influence on the children born or adopted into that family. Children are born into all kinds of different situations which they did not choose themselves.  If the home was loving, protective and stable, we should be grateful.  If the home was a nightmare, we should believe that our past doesn't have to define the present or determine the future.

Many decisions go on daily in a home concerning work, school, recreational activities, schedules, money management, parenting, emergencies, extended family and so forth.  And all of these items have their proper place and part of our time.  However, there is one decision that is of the greatest importance.  It is decision each person makes between himself or herself and God.  It is the decision that Joshua put before the people of Israel in his farewell speech.

Joshua had reviewed Israel's shared history from Abraham to their present.  He then said in 24:14-15, "Therefore, fear the LORD and worship Him in sincerity and truth.  Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the LORD.  But if it doesn't please you to worship the LORD, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.  As for me and my family, we will worship the LORD" (HCSB).

The single decision we make to have the greatest positive impact in our homes is to fear and worship God alone.  To fear God means to live with the genuine conviction evidenced in action that God exists and is the righteous judge of the universe to whom I will give an account of my life.  To worship God is to consecrate my life to God, meaning that my life is set apart for God with the goal of finding my satisfaction in Him and bringing Him glory.  I think what Joshua said, gives us considerable insight into what this looks like for us today.

First, we can't allow the negatives of the home of our upbringing define our present or future home.  Joshua reminded the people of past times of unfaithfulness and hardship in the lives of their ancestors.  The human tendency is to be trapped in cycles of negativity and dysfunction.  Abused children raised by abusive parents tend to become abusive parents themselves.  Children raised by idolaters tend to become idolaters themselves.  It's human nature.  We learn most effectively from what is modeled for us.  But the choice can be made to not recycle the negatives of our own past in our current home.  However, the power for such transformation will not be found in ourselves, but through a saving relationship with God through Christ, in which the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in you.  In this, you will experience the power for real change.

Second, the guardians of the home must start smashing cultural idols.  Joshua told the people to get rid of the false gods.  Blending the culture around them with their devotion to God was a persistent problem for Israel.  But every time an Israelite allowed an idol into their homes, it compromised their worship of God and showed a lack of proper fear.  If parents wish firmly to ground their homes on the worship of God, then they must have the discernment, dedication, and determination to remove the idols of our modern culture.  Broadly speaking, an idol is anything that competes with our worship of God alone.  And our worship of God is compromised when we love something else more than God.  And we know that we have a greater love for something else when we allow it to take us away from our corporate worship, discipleship and service.  When we allow other things to squeeze out our time that should be dedicated to God personally and corporately, those things have become idols.  Leaders of Christian homes either decide to get rid of idols or hold on to them.  But it is a poor model for our children when we try to hold Jesus in one hand and cling to idols with the other.  Lay the idol down and smash it.  

Lastly, Joshua implies that to fear and worship God alone, he was willing to be that weird family that would be conspicuously out of step with all his neighbors.  Basically, Joshua says that each of them have to decide for themselves what they will do, but what they do won't impact what he will lead his family to do!  They can all decide to be half-hearted, compromising, two-faced followers of God, but not him.  He is all in.  And he will lead his home to be all in.  Truly possessing the fear of the Lord radically shapes our homes.  That fear works as a filter for our homes, especially in regards to raising children.  Truly worshipping God alone radically prioritizes our homes.  When we are consecrating ourselves and our homes to God, we learn better to say yes to what serves the Lord and spiritually grows us and no to what serves self and tends to chase idols.  It a world filled with idols, that will just look weird to most people.  We just have to be okay with that.                    

The climate of our homes will be a result of our choices.  But it's more than just striving for the absence of conflict, stability and a good loving feeling.  Those things are great, but there must be more.  There are eternal issues at stake in the choices we make.  This is why the decision to fear and worship God alone is the greatest of all choices.  Not only will this choice lead to the right climate in the home, but it addresses the most important issue facing you and your children - relationship with God now and for eternity.  And this fear of the Lord and consecrating yourself to Him is not a life of religious bondage.  It is not legalism and isolation of the family.  It is the only truly freeing experience.  In Christ we become free from condemnation for our sin.  We are free from the idolatrous rat race of culture.  We are free to find our satisfaction and joy in God.  We are free to love others better.  We are free to be in an intimate, loving relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit.  When we make this choice, it won't make all the messiness of our homes magically go away.  We'll still be messy people from time to time.  We'll still make some bad choices along the way.  But God will have His hand on our homes, continually conforming us to Christ for His own glory and our greatest happiness.     

15 March 2016

Real Faith for Real Life

Sometimes a word can be so commonplace and flexible that it can cause considerable confusion.  Because a word can be defined in our minds with such elasticity, it comes across our lips and into conversations with many shades of meaning and applications.  Many words are like this, especially if they are employed across cultures on topics of universal interest.  It seems that the word faith is as tricky as it gets.  I think most people have a notion of what faith is, but trying to be specific with the word is challenging.

Essentially and broadly, we use this word to express a confidence:  I have faith in God, I have faith in my wife, and I have faith in the stock market.  Same word, but surely it can't mean the same thing in each context.  So, how do we differentiate what we should mean when we refer to faith in God from other times when we use the word?  Of course, we do this with the Bible. 

It's only when we understand what faith is in regards to God that we can unleash its power to work in our lives as God intended.  So, let's keep it simple.  I'm looking primarily to Hebrews 11.  Let's define what faith is, why faith is important, and what faith does for you.

In short, faith is trust.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith for us: "Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen" (HCSB).  Faith itself is the reality (substance, assurance, confidence) of what we hope for in God.  Faith is the proof for what we can't see.  In other words, real faith is an inward knowing that gives a believer an unshakable certainty in God and His revelation.  Faith is not merely a feeling of assurance (although this is true), but it is the source of the confidence and trust believers have in God when they cannot see Him, and all they have to rest on is His word.  Faith is not merely feeling good about your odds (like the stock market).  Faith within you is the evidence itself that God exists and will do all He promises.

Real faith, according Hebrews, is an absolute trust in God.  If you read the entire chapter you see that the writer uses figures from the Old Testament as examples of real faith.  What do they all have in common?  They all trusted God at His word.  In agreement with James, the writer is stressing that their faith produced faith-driven behavior evidenced in their obedience to God. 

In Hebrews 11:6 we read, "Now, without faith it is impossible to please God..."  (HCSB)  This is the real rub.  It seems to me that a natural desire in most people is to please God, or at least think that they have the approval and favor of God.  I suppose the atheist considers that a waste of his time, but I'm not talking about those who suppress the truth of God.  Most people contemplate God.  They just do.  And within that contemplation seems to be the natural tendency to think of God as the one who rewards and punishes humanity with perfect fairness.  In my observation, it seems that most people will admit that they do wrong (sin) and if they believe in God (which most people do), they tend to think that God (being God) is obligated to judge rightly people's sinfulness.  I know there are many, many versions of this among people, but I think this has been and remains the essences of the main plot.  Of course, different religions have different answers for how this all works out with God.  But I find it pretty universal that people seem instinctively to desire to have God's favor.  Not only is it natural, it's also the right desire to have.

But we learn that we can't have God's favor apart from faith.  Faith is the critical factor.  Even though we try to size up our favor with God in terms of our actions - how good or how bad we think we have been - the Bible teaches us that it's about our faith, not our goodness.

So, being a person of faith is not about effort, or sincerity, or being good.  Faith is knowing something specific.  Faith is knowing particularly that God has provided salvation through His Son, Jesus.  Faith is knowing that Jesus is the truth - who He is, what He did, and what it means to me as revealed in Scripture.  This specifically and exclusively is faith.  Anything else falls short of Christian faith.  And to fall short is to have no faith. People may have a counterfeit that they're comfortable with because they have crafted it to their own liking, but it's not the saving, biblical faith that has been revealed. 

When we possess real faith in the good news about Jesus, we learn from Hebrews 11 that there are tremendous benefits for dealing with real life.  Faith is not a form of escapism from, what some claim, the futility and meaninglessness of life; faith is having proper perspective in living that will always be a mixture of what we perceive to be good and bad.  In other words, real faith helps me navigate real life with real joy and real hope.

Biblical faith enables me to look past my problems to God's promises.  I can do this when my faith anchors its hope in God's Word.  This is what Noah, Abraham and the others mentioned in Hebrews 11 did.  And they did not fully receive what God had promised, but they fully believed He would be true to His word.  Now, we have received more of the promises of God, namely the cross.  But we still wait on other promises still to come, namely the return of Jesus.  But just like Abraham, our faith is focused on what God has said He has and will do.  And God's promises are awesome!  They completely eclipse any hardship, disappointment, suffering or tragedy that I experience in this life.

But we must be clear on what God has promised and what He has not promised.  God has never promised you or me a trouble-free life, financial comfort, good health, or every person's favor.  Jesus and Paul actually prepared us for the reality of suffering and persecution.  The so-called prosperity gospel distorts God's Word into a message of promises about these material and physical aspects of our life.  It is a false gospel.  Don't be ignorant and be duped by such wolves.  Look past the grin and listen to the message.  It won't take you long to discern just how empty, foolish and unbiblical it is.

What God has promised to those who have genuine, biblical, saving faith is so much better than the false promises of the prosperity gospel peddlers.  To those being saved God has promised, forgiveness of sin, the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit, that He will work in all circumstances to bring about some good, that He hears your prayers, that nothing will separate you from His love in Christ, that you have eternal life, that He has prepared a place for you to be with Him forever, that Jesus is returning, and that if you die in this life you'll be resurrected. 

But we must listen attentively.  His Word also promises us that in this world we will have some trouble, that some people in this world will hate us because of Christ, and that there is a cost for following Jesus.  So, real faith doesn't deny or not deal with real problems or pain.  But real faith puts all that stuff into it's proper perspective and continues to trust God.  In the same way, faith enables me to look beyond the temporal to the eternal.  Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham set his vision on a city whose architect and builder is God.  The believer lives constantly with a view toward heaven, which is the ultimate reality. A follower of Jesus, who keeps his or her faith as the lens through which they see all life, will always feel a little out of place in this world.  And that's not a bad thing.  The reality of heaven and eternity that is confirmed in our hearts by faith is the greatest cure for the doses of discouragement and pain that this life sometimes serves up to us.        

So, why does it seem that so many people's faith crumbles in adversity.  You see some appear to give up faith, quit the church, forget about God, or even get angry and bitter with God.  I've seen it happen, and I'm guessing you have too.  The reason this happens is simple:  those who react to life's hard stuff this way never had the right object for their faith, therefore, not truly in possession of real faith.  Their counterfeit faith had no power of perseverance.  It was flawed and doomed from the outset.  All it took was the right circumstances to make it completely crumble.  I'm not talking about a bad day, which we all have.  I'm referring to a walking away, a 180 degree forsaking. 

In my experience, here are some common objects of misplaced faith even in our churches where we talk about Jesus alone all the time.  People sometimes equate personal faith with their religious tradition.  They consider themselves people of faith by default simply because they grew up in a tradition, probably going through certain religious observance because that was just what you do.  Faith is no more than mere sentimentality and connection to family and community history. 

Sometimes a positive self-assessment is confused with biblical, saving faith.  This is the error of thinking that my good out weighs my bad and I believe in God, which proves I'm a person of faith.  The problem of making yourself as the object of your faith is that God has revealed the fact that your aren't good enough, that your heart is sick with sin, and God is holy.  You can't just be good enough by your own standards, all your sin has to be forgiven.  The person who makes his own "goodness" the object of his faith lives in a denial of what the Bible says about the seriousness and devastation of his sin.

Lastly, I observe some people who's object of their faith is a God who doesn't judge.  God is the patient, benevolent, indulging grandpa.  In this distorted view God is loving and forgiving above all else.  This view tends to go hand in hand with putting your faith in yourself to be good enough. God will be able to tolerate and look the other way at your "smaller" sins.  This view of God is shallow, insufficient and completely misses the point of God's holiness.  God's holiness demands perfect justice for sin.  This is why Christ is necessary and my perception of a personal goodness that finds favor with God is delusional.

At the end of the day we can't be banking our hope for forgiveness of sin and eternal life on anything other that Jesus alone.  We can't simply believe in what Jesus did and add the above objects of faith along side of Him.  For us to have real faith that enables us to transcend the pain of this life and live in the here-and-now a God-glorifying life, we must have our trust only in the person and work of Jesus.  He is absolutely sufficient and their is nothing I can contribute other than my genuine trust.  Jesus alone is the fulfillment of God's promise for salvation.  Jesus alone made atonement for sin.  Jesus alone can be our righteousness.  Jesus alone is Lord. 

So, the last relevant question about faith is this:  How do I know for sure the object of my faith is Jesus alone?  The New Testament is clear on this.  A person of real faith bears spiritual fruit.  A professing Christian who does not bear spiritual fruit is a contradiction.  This metaphor is one Jesus used often.  Basically the truth is that true God-honoring behavior only comes from a legit source.  This is why I call it evidence.  Jesus made this clear in John 15 when he spoke of Himself as the vine and believers as branches that abide in the vine.  If this abiding (relationship) is genuine, then the branches will bear fruit and glorify God.  Not that they should bear fruit, but they will bear fruit.

But we have to ask, what this fruit bearing looks like in a true believer's life.  We have to be careful not to demand perfection, where perfection is not possible.  But we should expect a walking in the Spirit if indeed a person has been made alive by the Spirit (Gal 5).  Here is what I think constitutes a fair description of real faith in Jesus alone.  Your heart's desire is for God; therefore, He weighs foremost in all your decisions.  You thirst for knowing God; therefore, you consistently take in the Bible.  You want to please God; therefore, you strive to live in Him and die to this world.  You value His church; therefore, you participate and serve Him through it. 

Christian faith is a narrow notion.  It refers to a narrow path of trust in Jesus alone for forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  It refers to an understanding that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not be any self effort or attachment to religious tradition.  It refers to a life that can be measured in terms of obedience and faithfulness to God.  It refers to commitment that perseveres under trail and fixes the heart on the promise of eternity.  This is what real faith is.  So, when we do church and talk about faith, let's be clear, specific and complete in our message.  Not just any so-called faith will do.  Let us call people to real faith so that in the end if makes a real difference in life and forever.

17 January 2016

Refocusing Our Worship: Part 2

Worship begins with a bonafide believer who is living an authentic life consecrated to God.  This is the prerequisite for a God-centered (not me-centered) worship experience when I gather with others for corporate praise and proclamation.  Fundamentally, worship must begin with the heart and life I bring in the doors and offer to God, not what I get served up to me during the meeting by those who are leading it.  This is what has become terribly out of focus in our churches.  And it is easy to do because we are naturally drawn in selfish directions.  If we will begin with this personal foundation, then we can go on faithfully to build a gathering for the purpose of corporate worship.  Our target is to offer to God a gathering that is God-centered, authentic and seeker friendly.

John records the interaction Jesus had with a Samaritan woman.  There are many fascinating facets to this story, but in the heart of the narrative is recorded a conversation about worship.  Jesus had shockingly and rather forwardly brought up this woman's sordid past and current unholy living arrangements while revealing to her His identity as her savior.  She wasn't quite getting it yet when she was hit with the stinging truth of her unconsecrated life to God.  However, she was a quick thinker! She offered Jesus an invitation to debate a long-standing tension between Jews and Samaritans concerning worship. 

The division and rivalry between Samaritans and Jews had a long and deeply rooted history.  No need to go into all that history here, but just understand that they had a common heritage in Abraham, but for 1,000 years the two groups had different religious and cultural trajectories.  In regards to religious observance, both groups thought they were in the right concerning their views on worship.  Specifically, she brought up the long standing rivalry concerning the proper place to offer worship.  Jews adamantly asserted that the holy city of Jerusalem was the right place to worship God.  The Samaritans had for generations considered Mr. Gerizim the geographical center of worship.  This was the hot button issue between these groups about worship.

I've often wondered why she abruptly brings up this subject while Jesus is revealing the most profound truth she will ever hear from God.  I think there are two reasons.  First, she wants to divert attention away from her own life that falls short of what she knows God would want for her.  Second, this common, contentious debate about the proper place for worship would certainly accomplish it while demonstrating that she was a good religious person.  Jesus did not take the bait to debate, probably to her surprise.  However, He did use the opportunity to teach her and us the most important and profound truth about our worship gatherings.

What Jesus said is the guide for our understanding worship and how wisely to do it when we gather together on Sunday mornings or at other times.  Jesus must have shocked her when he told her that the location of worship was irrelevant.  In the past God had given specific instructions about a tabernacle or temple, but now the time had come (with Jesus Himself) that location was not going to be a constraining issue in regards to worship.  Remember, the tearing of the temple veil was just around the corner and its complete destruction a generation later!  Jesus said the Father is seeking worshippers, not to come to the certain place and follow certain rituals, but to render worship "in spirit and truth."  So, there's the big question.  What does that mean for us when we gather on Sunday?

In this context, the word spirit refers to the inner person of the worshipper.  It's that part intertwined with our physical existence that connects with God.  In Genesis we are told in the creation of Adam that God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul.  It's that part of us that is God-breathed.  So, when I worship in spirit, I am desirous to honor God with all that I am.  I want to express God's worthiness and glory.  I desire to make much of Him and little of me.  This is the essence of worshipping in spirit.  It's not about the outward trappings, it's about my inner self (the real me) before God.  Worshipping in spirit focuses on God Himself, whom Jesus reminds us "is spirit."  We are going to have the necessary outward details about place, custom, style, etc., but we remember our corporate worship is not about that stuff.

In this context, the word truth is connected to Jesus Himself.  He reveals some key truths to the woman.  He let's her know that the promised Messiah is from the Jews and that she is missing some truth with her traditional Samaritan views.  Overall, Jesus is directing her to the importance of the worshipper's correct understanding of God for worship.

If we have little concern for truth (in the music we sing, in our prayers, in our sermons, or in whatever we may do), then we will end up measuring the quality of worship by what we feel emotionally.  And herein lies a great danger.  Counterfeit worship occurs often when the emotions are stirred by something that appeals to sentimentality, traditionalism, or our senses rather than truth.  Having our affections stirred in worship is good as long as the object of those affections is God, His beauty and His truth.

I believe the most common place where our affection is misplaced is with music.  Music in itself is a powerful mover of emotion.  This is why a musical score to a movie can be what pushes you to tears, laughter or fear.  Music alone has the ability to set the tone and create the mood.  Music alone can make you want to jump around, feel bold or defiant, feel relaxed, sad, or nostalgic. You name an emotion and the right music can help you feel it!  We could say that lighting and other effects that many churches use in corporate worship have a similar effect on the senses and emotions.   

However, the same quality that makes music so easily misused in worship is the same reason it is such a gift for worship.  Music touches us at an emotional level.  It just does.  That in itself is not a bad thing.  When beautiful music combines with words of truth, then we are faithfully bringing together what God has created and put in us for the purpose of offering it back to God as a form of worship. 

But when the music itself becomes the object of our emotion, whether it be the strings of an orchestra, the grandeur of a pipe organ, the rhythm of percussion, or the screeching rift of the electric guitar, then we have lost sight of the importance of truth as the source of our emotion.  This is why meaty lyrics that communicate strong biblical and theological truth are imperative.  Lyrics that let me contemplate God's attributes and celebrate the Gospel is what we are after.  Lyrics that emphasize me too heavily end up using up time and emotion that should be focused on God and His truth.  Any musical trappings that bring attention to itself and away from the truth of the lyrics is moving our affections in the wrong direction and away from worship. 

Additionally, there is sometimes a confusion of the music itself with worship.  It is easy to fall into the trap that the music has to be the kind of music I like for me to be moved emotionally in worship. A person may be thinking that it's the message of the song that is moving him, but in reality it may simply be the beauty and passion of the music itself.  I think this is really at the heart of our so-called worship wars between traditionalists (old hymn singers) and the contemporaries (the worship bands).  It's really about our own preferred style.  We just want what we like.  When that is the focus, then it ultimately becomes about the music itself, not about proclaiming truth even if the lyrics are biblically sound.  This is a subtlety in the heart, but a really important one.          

So, the worshippers the Father seeks are those whose hearts are filled with love and passion for him and whose heads are filled with His truth.  And that truth is centered on the identity and work of Jesus, the Messiah.  The form and style always take a back seat to spirit and truth.  Actually, knowing what we know about our own tendencies, we must work hard to keep style completely overshadowed and covered up with spirit and truth.

When we put what Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2 about a consecrated life together with Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman recorded in John 4, we get a complete guide for our aim for that meeting of the church each week on Sunday that we call worship.  I offer the following as a guiding definition based on these key biblical texts.

A church experiences God-centered, authentic, seeker friendly corporate worship when believers, whose lives are yielded to God, offer expressions of God's worthiness with a sincere love for God that conforms to God's revealed truth that results in God receiving glory, believers experiencing God's truth, and unbelievers encountering the Gospel.

Worship is at the core of the personality and vitality of a church.  When we get it right, believers bring to God yielded lives, proclaiming truth together and focusing on doing it in a way that honors God while allowing the Gospel to be sufficient and constantly filtering out our own selfishness.  We were created to worship God.  Jesus said that the Father seeks worshippers.  Let's not just go to church, let's be worshippers. 

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