Annual Gingerbread Party fun!
My wife watches two things on TV this time of year: the Hallmark Channel (the McDonalds of TV programming where every Christmas movie shares the same script but with different faces) and the Food Network (filled with such yuletide violence as cupcake wars, cookie wars, and Beat Bobby Flay). Both of these shows feed our appetites. I wasn’t craving a bedazzled, white chocolate encrusted fried Twinkie, but now I gotta have one.
I don’t know how many of us have ever truly known real hunger. I suspect very few of us. There is a tremendous difference between our cravings and appetites vs. real hunger, the kind of hunger brought about by extreme poverty and unavailability of food. In America, we often confuse our unsatisfied appetites with hunger. I grew up American poor. I never had what others had to eat, but I had food and never knew real hunger, just an unsatisfied appetite.
In John 6, Jesus had spent some time with a large crowd who were hungry for both the words of life he had to offer and for the bread and fish he miraculously provided. Trying to find rest, Jesus went to the other side of the lake, only to be followed by the people in boats. And that’s where we pick up the story in John 6:25-40.
It seems that the people were craving more fish and bread. They were looking for Jesus to give them what they wanted, and what they wanted was bread, not Jesus. “What will you do for us?” they asked. In other words, “Will you give us what we are craving? Satisfy us!” I wonder how often we approach Jesus the same way? I will believe if he gives me what I want. We want him to feed our appetite and give us what we are craving.
It is an exhausting impossibility to give all the people what they want. Their satisfaction will only be temporary, and they will expect more. Give the people a bedazzled, white chocolate encrusted fried Twinkie, and they will want another.
Our appetites are insatiable and unhealthy. I wonder, did Jesus come to give us what we want?
We want the stuff that satisfies our temporary cravings, but Jesus brings the ‘stuff’ that gives life to the world. He is the Bread of Life, and when we eat what he is offering, our spirit will never know hunger again.
We are created in the image of God with an intended dependency and intimacy with the Father. In Him we were always meant to ‘live and move and have our being’. But we have gone our own way, putting ourselves at the center of this image, and it has left us with a vacancy and hunger in the pit of our spirit that we spend our lives trying to fill with all sorts of cravings. We’re consuming junk. It tastes good, but it will never be enough. We live our lives as consumers.
But Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” What are we hungry for? Jesus…or all his benefits?
We have to know the difference between our unsatisfied appetites and the true hunger of our spirit that aches for Jesus and his truth. When we come to Jesus, we come hungry, knowing that our life depends on it. And when we eat, we are forever fulfilled.
Come to Jesus, but come hungry for the Bread of Life.
Jesus was invited to a dinner party hosted by a wealthy and influential religious leader named Simon. As was customary at the time, whenever you had someone well-known or ‘important’ for a meal, you wanted to make sure as many people as possible knew about it and witnessed it. The dinner was often as much to honor the host as it was to honor the guest.
Jesus would have been seated next to the host as the guest of honor with other guests reclining around the table. Curious on-lookers were often allowed into the courtyard of the home to gaze on the scene. They weren’t actually invited to the table, just to the spectacle. It was all, of course, meant to boost the image of the host.
But there was a party-pooper in the crowd that night, and she stole Simon’s glory with an act so brazen it shocked everyone at the table.
Everyone but Jesus.
This woman — whose tarnished reputation was well-known — had the audacity to approach Jesus and kiss his feet repeatedly while washing them with her tears and drying them with her uncovered hair. What a spectacle! The on-lookers got quite a show that night! The pathetic became wasteful as she poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, drawing complaints from those who thought the perfume could have been used for other more profitable purposes.
The host, of course, was mortified that this woman would dare come close. She was supposed to keep her distance. Jesus had a classic response, and you can read about it here: Luke 7:36-50.
Jesus welcomes the weak, and I’m so glad he does.
We hate feeling weak and fragile, don’t we? But here’s something to consider: fragile things are valuable things. We treat fragile items with more care because their value is in their fragility. Life drains us. It leaves us weak, tired, wasted, and empty. But it’s in our weakness we see things for what they really are: we need Jesus. We don’t really have anything to bring to the table, so when we come to Jesus, we need to come empty.
When I read Matthew 11:25-30, I learn two things:
1] Jesus comes to the weak. He calls the weak ‘poor in spirit’, those who struggle with an internal poverty. The big shots of the world cannot understand the Gospel because they are too caught up in themselves and their success and are consequentially blind to their real need. God has chosen to reveal himself to those from humble circumstances, like children for example. He comes to us as a Father to his kids.
2] The weak can come to Jesus. He welcomes people like you and me. He welcomes the weary, those depleted by the world — the tired, the worn-out, the exhausted, the drained. He welcomes the burdened — the anxious, the overwhelmed, the poor, the oppressed, the afraid, those who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Back to the dinner table…
Simon didn’t get it. He was powerful and wealthy and only seemed interested in what he could gain from the meal. He wanted to make an impression. He wanted anything that would give him advantage over others. He wanted to use Jesus. And he wanted to get rid of this woman.
But we can’t come to Jesus unless we come empty.
When we feel empty and depleted, remember that we are following the One who emptied himself so that we could find rest for our souls.
You can come to the One who came close to us.
But come empty.
Come empty. Come hungry. Come curious. Come awe-struck. Come to the One who has come close to us.
It’s the guy with the bullhorn standing on the street corner, the literature-bearing Saturday morning door-knocker, and harpy Facebook writer that gets the attention. But I’m not convinced this is the witness Jesus had in mind for his church.
I could be wrong.
But this I know: we are meant to tell others about the hope we have in Jesus.
I think we complicate our witness when we think we have to be Biblical scholars or good public speakers in order to make a ‘convincing argument’. We clutter the message when we try to cram in too much information, too many $2 words, and too much noise. We contaminate the message with our own ideas and our judgment of what we think is wrong with people.
The Apostle Peter said it simply: “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have” [1 Peter 3:15]. I’m not sure who wrote it, but I recently read that it’s not about getting the word out; it’s about letting the word out. Simply put, we need to let what God has done in us out.
Here’s a simple formula in mind for a telling witness: Our story + His story = A telling witness.
Let’s start with our story. This is about where we’ve been, who we were, and what life was like when we lived life on our own terms. These are our stories, and we all have them. Some of our stories are hard to believe, and some seem boring by comparison — but all are important. We don’t tell these stories to brag about past or over-sensationalize our life story as though it were a script for a Hollywood blockbuster.
This is about a real person who has been met by a real God.
Our story isn’t the good news, but it is important. How can we know the light without having experienced the darkness? How can we know peace without the preceding chaos? How can we know resurrection without having walked in death?
God can — and does — use the sins, crises, and circumstances of our past for our good when redeemed. We trust when buying a puzzle that the factory put all the right pieces of the puzzle into the box when we buy it. So why can’t we trust that God can put all the pieces of our life together for a purpose? In Christ, we’re not bound by our past forever. He redeems.
And that brings us to the good news part of this simple formula…
His story. Despite a world in rebellion (and my total compliance with it), the Father has been relentless in his efforts to restore us to the life in Christ we were always meant to have. Through Jesus, the ‘old’ is buried and the ‘new’ is raised to life (now and forever, by the way).
This is who I was. This is who God is. And this is the story I’ve got to tell.
The greater part of the story isn’t how screwed up I am. That should be no surprise to anybody. The greater part of the story is that my story hasn’t dissuaded the Father’s determination to rescue and restore.
So go ahead.
Let the word out.
You’ve got a telling witness.
What were we created for? What is the mission that drives us as a church? We have to know it. Otherwise, we spend all our time chasing after ‘shiny’ distractions. Why does the church exist? To worship God, to build on the Word of God, and to be His witnesses.
Curly, in the move “City Slickers”  knew what his ‘one thing’ was, and most of the movie was about a middle-aged guy named Mitch who was trying to figure out his ‘one thing’. What is our one thing? What is that thing we were created for? We need to know the answer to this question, and we will read 2 Corinthians 5:11-20 to help us figure out what it is.
Paul, the man who wrote these verses, had a lot of adversaries, and many of them thought he had lost the plot. They regarded his way of life and his witness for Jesus as a form of insanity. After all, he had traded his life of prestige and position as a Pharisee for shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and heart-break.
But Paul doesn’t deny being a bit off his rocker. Instead, he embraces it. But what’s more insane? Embracing the insanity or spending all your precious time and energy trying to prove you are not insane?
Ever feel like the odd one out? It feels crazy to believe something contrary to everyone else. It feels crazy to follow Jesus in a culture full of people who could care less about it. We need to embrace the fact that choosing the way of Jesus — and His mission for our life — is going to be judged as crazy…or even dangerous.
The reason why Paul was able to embrace being the odd man out was because he was compelled by the love of Christ (5:14a). We do a lot of crazy stuff for love. And Paul said it is the kind of love that changes us. It resets old patterns, reshapes old mindsets, rebuilds broken lives, removes old history, and renews old hearts. It brings real change to our thinking, behaving, and understanding…
…and it changes our ONE THING.
In 5:18-20, Paul lets us know what our one thing must be. He has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. The Father is making his appeal through us to the world to be reconciled to God. This is our job. This is our purpose. This is our mission.
What is Jesus calling us to? To be his faithful witnesses.
We were created for God, so let’s love and serve Him. Our ONE THING is Jesus, so let’s trust and follow Him. Our motivation is His love for us, so let’s get on with what He is calling us to.
Thanks for all your donations for Operation Christmas Child and to our team who assembled 41 boxes to be shipped to children in poverty. Brenda led the campaign and did a great job promoting this outreach that is special to her heart.
I have a seven year old son who gets easily distracted going from point A to point B. We ask him to go from one room to another to get on his shoes and find him sitting next to his shoes playing with his Legos. Like him, we get easily distracted. We chase after things we weren’t meant to pursue. Some shiny, attractive thing gets our attention, and the next thing we know, we are off track.
The mission of the church is pretty simple and clear: Worship, Word, & Witness. But we make it about so many other shiny, distracting things.
Do you know the difference between ‘attractive’ and ‘appealing’? Attractive things hook us by their external qualities — how they look to us. Appealing things draw us by their inner qualities — real stuff of goodness and wholeness.
Cheesecake is attractive; a banana is appealing.
Skin-deep beauty is attractive; a gentle & quiet spirit is appealing.
Attractive things get the attention of our flesh; appealing things get the attention of our heart and spirit.
In the same way, there’s a big difference between an attractive witness and an appealing witness. Jesus, in John 17, was praying to the Father that his followers would have an appealing witness. [Check out verse 23]. What appeals? Our unity. You know what else appeals? Our love. [John 13:34-35].
What is so appealing about love and unity? Because there’s so much of the other around us. There’s no getting around it: our nation is deeply divided. There is an erosion of community, and our social connectedness is fraying. People are eating each other alive, and the rest of us are looking on like we’re watching a cock fight in a back alley. Is the church going to jump into the fray? Are we, too, going to grab our megaphones and add to the noise? If we do, I guarantee it won’t be long before we turn those megaphones on one another. If the church divides itself along the same lines as our culture, we are more like our culture and less like Jesus.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:12 that because of the increase of wickedness on the earth, the love of most would grow cold. Paul said people would become lovers of themselves. When we choose ourselves (and what we find attractive) over consideration for Jesus and his Church, our witness is compromised. Some of us may be a greater witness for our political party than we are Jesus.
How we stay together and love one another is our witness to the power of Christ at work among us! The light of Jesus genuinely working within us will lead us toward unity, not a false unity that causes people who really hate each other pretend to get along or a unity that comes by forcing compliance on one another. I’m talking about oneness with Jesus, just like Jesus is one with the Father.
The light of Jesus genuinely working within us will lead us to love — to love, not tolerate; to love, not make nice; but to love with a love that looks like Jesus.
We must choose this kind of witness. Our nation needs this kind of witness now more than ever.
Consider it, please.
We got filled up, hugged up, cheered up, and loved up on Sunday as we hosted the Matsiko World Orphan Choir who led us in worship and taught us about the ministry of International Children’s Network and their important work in India, Nepal, Peru, Liberia, and the Philippines. It was so good…
What is Jesus saying to His church?
He is a word-giver. He gives us His Word in the scriptures, He shows us His Word in Jesus, and He counsels us in His Word through the Holy Spirit. He is a word-giver, and He is a word-keeper.
Check out this brief history of how God has kept His word:
God gave His word to Abraham that all people on earth would be blessed through him. He promised Abraham that his offspring would become a nation blessed by God. He gave His word to Abraham, and He kept His word to Abraham.
God gave His word to Israel that Messiah would come to them. Through Abraham’s line, Jesus was born…not as a gift just for Israel, but for the whole earth. God gave His word to Israel, and He kept His word to Israel.
God gave His word to the followers of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would come. At Pentecost, the Church was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit continues with us today. God gave His word to His people, and He kept His word to His people.
God gave His word to the Church that His message (the Gospel) would be preached over the whole earth. And guess what? In our day this has happened! In Matthew 24, Jesus told His disciples what they could look for before He returns, and one of those promises (verse 14) is that His Gospel would be communicated over the whole earth. This has never happened before in world history, but it is happening now! God gave His word to the Church, and He has kept His word to the Church.
And do you know what He promised next? That He would come back again. And He always keeps His word!
On Sunday, our church of Americans, Koreans, Fijians, Chinese, Scots, and Nigerians were led in worship by Matsiko World Orphan Choir whose members are from Liberia, Nepal, India, and Peru. We worshipped together, all followers of Jesus Christ. We had a glimpse of heaven with many tongues and nations praising the One True God!
The nations have heard the what God has wanted to say to them.
He is a word-giver, and He is a word-keeper!
We are a community built on God’s Truth.
So how do we know God’s Truth? We don’t have to guess. He makes it clear.
We learn Truth and read it in the written Word of God. Truth is born in the character and heart of the Father.
We see Truth in Jesus, the Living Word of God. He shows us how to live God’s Truth in this life.
We are transformed by Truth as the Holy Spirit, the Inner Word, moves in to our house and counsels us.
This is how God speaks to us! Born in the character of the Father, modeled in the life of Jesus, and infused in us through the Holy Spirit.
How the Holy Spirit leads us to God’s Truth:
By INSPIRATION [2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21]. Yes, the scriptures were written by men, but it all was born in the heart of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and directed by him. The Word of God is inspired, and we are inspired by the Word of God.
By ILLUMINATION. Have you ever read scripture and had it reach out and grab you? That is the Holy Spirit in the moment speaking to you. We can’t understand God’s Truth without the Holy Spirit who shines the spotlight on Truth and makes it alive and fresh to us.
By INFUSION. The Holy Spirit implants God’s Word into our life to bring regeneration (renewal, restoration). He transforms how we live with his pervasive Presence. Rather than being the friend you occasionally meet for coffee, the Holy Spirit moves into your house — and changes us!
By INTERCESSION. When we don’t understand scripture, the Holy Spirit works on our behalf. If we get hung up, all we have to do is ask. I am relatively mechanically uninclined, so whenever I have car trouble, it’s sometimes a challenge for me to be able to communicate to the tech the problem I’m having. And when they start asking questions about engine size and component parts, the silence on my end of the phone confirms their suspicions that I don’t know what I’m talking about. The tech always manages to figure out the problem and communicate to the mechanic who fixes it. In the same way, the Holy Spirit steps in to ask what we don’t even know to ask for.
By INSTRUCTION. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and mentor [John 14:26]. A teacher helps us understand; a mentor helps us walk it out. The Holy Spirit does both!
By IMPELLING. The Holy Spirit takes us by the hand and ‘guides us into all Truth’ [John 16:13]. He moves us along, shepherding us, guiding us, and encouraging us as we walk out the Truth. This summer, I took my 7-year old son for a hike on the Natchez Loop Trail in Mt Rainier National Park. The 3-mile loop is hard work for little legs, but with a little food, a little water, a little rest, and a lot of encouragement, he made it. Every step of the way, I kept saying to him, “Wait until you see it!” And when we popped around the corner and he caught a glimpse of the mountain, it was all worthwhile. The Holy Spirit encourages and guides us until we reach our destination! Wait until you see it…
By IRRITATION. Yes, the Holy Spirit is that nagging Voice that convicts us of wrongdoing [John 16:7-11]. It is annoying and irritating, but this is a gift! The discipline of the LORD doesn’t come from anger; it comes from his Truth wrapped in his love.
The HS inspires, illuminates, infuses, intercedes, instructs, impels, and irritates. He cooperates with the Father and the Son to lead us into God’s Truth and Life.
Too often, we think of the Holy Spirit as a feeling we can pump up, whip up, or conjure up; a fetish we can use, abuse, or channel to get what we want; a force that is impersonal, coercible, or contradictory to God’s Word or Jesus.
But He is not.
He is the indwelling Presence of God who leads us into all Truth cooperatively with the Father and the Son.
When I was around 13 years old, my dad used to come by my house mid-winter at 6am to wake me up and take me ice fishing. Sitting on a frozen block of ice catching bluegill was not my idea of a good time, but it was time with him nonetheless. I remember the day he took me to his garage and gave me the materials and instructions to build my own ice fishing box. I did my best, but just reading the instructions doesn’t quite do it for me. To this day, Ikea furniture assembly instructions makes my brain melt.
What did make the difference is when he decided to help me. He was a builder, so it came naturally to him. I needed his ‘hands-on’ example to get the job done.
Jesus is the ‘hands-on’ Word of God. For us, he is not just our redeemer but our teacher and example. He doesn’t just tell us how to live life in God’s Kingdom; he shows us! The Father knew we needed a tangible Presence. We call him the Living Word, and God’s Word is alive to us in Jesus.
For us, Jesus is the key to knowing the Father. Jesus said so himself [John 14:9]. He reveals God fully, and he alone has shown us what we need to know about the Father. Our faith is most importantly a relationship with Jesus Christ, and that relationship is the key to understanding Scripture. He is our hands-on help. We must know Jesus to fully know Scripture.
We see Jesus in the stories of Genesis and Exodus. We see Jesus in the laments and worship of the Psalms. We see Jesus in the Old Testament prophets. We meet Jesus in the Gospels. And then we see the risen Christ in His Body, the Church, until his return! We are the Body of Christ until he returns, and we continue the work of Jesus.
Just as Jesus is our ‘hands-on’ help, we are each other’s ‘hands-on’ help.
Let’s take a backwards look at Ephesians 4 to see how this works:
1] Together, we are the Body of Christ [4:15-16]. Who is the Head? Jesus. Not me. Not you. The rest of us who are in Christ respond to the leadership of Jesus in the same way all the parts of the body do the bidding of the brain. I don’t breathe without my medulla oblongata telling me to do so.
The church is a body. I am not the Body of Christ; we are the Body of Christ, a living organism, not an organization. We’re not Legos being stacked together; we are a living, breathing Bride.
2] We must grow up [4:13-14]. My wife and I are not raising children; we are raising adults. Maturity is the goal. We look to Jesus and the written Word to produce maturity in us, but we also look to one another. We grow up and mature when we are shaped by Scripture, by Jesus, and by one another as we follow Jesus. We need the Body for this maturity to take place.
3] We must be God’s grace to each other [4:7]. None of us are given everything needed to continue the work of Jesus. If we are in Christ, we are each given a portion of it! Together, we are fully equipped! Each of us carry a part of God’s grace to give to one another. We call these ‘gifts’. Jesus has spread the love among us, and each of us carry a portion to serve one another with.
Withholding it causes pain and limits the Body of Christ. It’s awkward when part of the Body of Christ goes AWOL. It affects us when we don’t see people for months at a time. It affects us when we are not extending God’s grace to one another. Don’t withhold the grace you’ve been given!
We have everything we need to be the Body of Christ. He has given himself, and he has given himself a little bit in each of us. The Living Word is alive in us and among us!
We started our series on “Ekklesia: Living as Called Out Ones” by focusing on our worship as God’s people, but now we’re shifting focus to the importance of the Word to God’s people.
There are a lot of different views on how we should ‘interpret’ Scripture. Is it figurative? Literal? Allegorical? Metaphorical? Do we consider syntax, semantics, idioms and genres? Are we free to add to it or take away from it? Is it subordinate to our personal conscience or is it supposed to be the other way around?
But let’s simplify it: we either hold to a ‘high view’ of Scripture or a ‘low view’ of Scripture. The high view believes the Word is real and true; the low view believes it is something else. Our church (and church tradition) holds to a high view of Scripture. It means that we believe the Scriptures are our final authority. It is our go-to source for life and for our church.
We believe the Father has chosen to reveal Himself through His Word: The Written Word (scriptures), the Living Word (Jesus), and the Inner Word (the Holy Spirit). All three testify and work together to lead us to God’s Truth, and they never contradict one another.
A high view means we don’t dismiss it, erode it, forget it, avoid it, edit it, or ignore it. Instead, we gather around it, read it, teach it, preach it, value it, live it, meditate on it, and even love it [read Psalm 119].
Those who subscribe to the low view reject certain parts of the Scriptures they find troubling, undermining its legitimacy in many different ways. But why do we do this? The Father gives us some insight to this, but we have to search the Scriptures to find the answer.
[Read Isaiah 30:9-11; Psalm 50:16-17; John 12:48; Romans 2:8; Jeremiah 6:10]
Here’s the short summary: We want our ears tickled. We want to use the parts of Scripture that fit with our personal agenda. We want to be gods over our own lives. We want pleasure. We want to determine our own good and evil.
Isn’t it interesting that we do the same thing with the Word of God that the serpent did in Genesis 3? “Did God really say…?” We do the same thing now when we make Jesus and His Word subordinate to our own personal conscience. We’ve perfected the craft of diminishing the Word of God.
Jesus in John 12:48 gave us a pretty straight-forward warning about rejecting him or his words. To reject the Word of God is to reject Jesus! He tells us that his Word would never pass away [Luke 21:33]. It is not out of touch; it is eternal. It is not irrelevant; it is life-giving. It is not oppressive; it is freedom. It is not fable or fiction; it is Truth.
The Scriptures are authoritative. I know we don’t like authority, but… The thing is, God’s laws are good (and good for us). His Word is a gift! We don’t need to fumble around in darkness, because He has illuminated our path. And when we submit ourselves to its counsel and obey, it is an act of love (not my words but Jesus - John 14).
The Scriptures are trustworthy. The Father is a word-keeper, and the Scriptures are God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. We’ve worked hard the last few years to help our church see the reliability of God’s Word. We’re working to build on a strong foundation.
The Scriptures are powerful. The Scriptures bring stability in chaos and direction in life. It revives the soul, bringing joy and delight. As we embrace the Word (Jesus, Holy Spirit & Scriptures), our life is transformed by the Living God.
The Scriptures deserve priority in our lives. Interestingly, we’re told to ‘hide it’ in our hearts. This goes way beyond treating Scripture as trivia or a mere intellectual exercise. No. We love it. We embrace it. We welcome it. And we infuse it into our lives.
Prayer is not a ‘pastoral’ duty, but it is a priestly one. And we’re told in the New Testament that everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is a priest. Prayer is for all of us! The pastor is not your High Priest. Jesus is!
There’s been a lot of confusion about what prayer should look like. In our public gatherings for worship, we’ve made it the duty of the pastor or a handful of other wordsmiths to ‘pray out loud’. We’ve formalized it, ritualized it, platformed it, ‘King James’d’ it, and polished it. We use flowery words, puffed up words, academic words, and a lot of words. We’ve taken it from the people and given it to the ‘clergy’.
On Sunday, we read a lot of scripture together about prayer and came up with these easy guidelines for how we can all pray:
Pray in humility [Luke 18:9-14]. No bragging or boasting or arrogance or judgment.
Pray always [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18]. We don’t have ‘religion’ to make our life better. No! Our life is in Jesus, and He is our everything. Prayer isn’t something we add to our life, it is living life in communion always with Jesus.
Pray for peace [Philippians 4:6-7]. When we are afraid, anxious, tormented and oppressed, we call on Jesus.
Pray in faith [James 5:13-20]. Our prayer is a declaration of our faith in Jesus!
Pray simply [Matthew 6:5-15]. It is a lie that only people who are good with words should pray in church. Prayer is never for show.
Pray as a priority [Matthew 21:12-13]. We make God’s house into many things. If we’re not making room for prayer, we are missing the mark.
Pray to do battle [2 Corinthians 10:3-5]. Prayer is how we do battle against darkness. It tears down strongholds, cuts through persuasive opposition, penetrates walled-off minds, and breaks through the stubborn heart.
At Covington Community Church, we pray many different ways when we gather for worship and study. It’s always in Jesus’ name, but it’s never led by the same people. We share it, we do it together, and we do it often.
Prayer is for all of those who are in Christ.
What we wear tells a lot about us. I’m a Carhartt kind of guy. Recently, one of the kids in our church saw me at a soccer game and said, “I knew it was you because you always wear the same thing!” Yes! Simple and functional would describe what I want to wear.
But let’s talk about our sports teams [uh oh, he’s meddling now]. Every August, a memo goes out and people start showing up everywhere in Seahawks gear. It’s like you all are part of the same tribe. You wear the same uniform…only to be disappointed in another dismal season. But we want to be part of them. We identify with our team by putting on their colors. We become part of them, and they become part of us [the 12th Man comes to mind!]. We put on our jerseys and walk around town strutting our stuff, high-fiving total strangers like we’re best buds.
Sometimes we are so into it that when our teams lose, we feel as though we have lost. When our team wins, we feel like winners. People’s weeks can be made or broken over their team’s successes and losses on the field. We get so into it and — you won’t like this — it really doesn’t matter all that much.
The Auca Indians of Ecuador have a term for getting excited about things that don’t matter very much: False Fire.
What do those who trust in Christ get excited about? What fills us with joy? What are we putting on? Worship is what the Christian wears! Let me explain what I mean. Read Isaiah 6:4, paying close attention to verse 4. Did you see it? We ‘put on’ the garment of praise. In the same way we wake up in the morning and decide what to wear for the day, we have to decide to put on the ‘garment of praise’.
So why do we worship? Why is worship an important part of our life together in ekklesia?
1] We are created to worship. All of creation is made to worship, but mankind especially is. “All the earth bows down to You; they sing the praises of Your name” [Psalm 66:4]. It ALL glorifies God, but we are created in God’s image. Our life is especially meant to honor God. All of creation — by its very existence — glorifies God, but we who are created in God’s image must choose to do so. That’s what makes our worship so special to the Father and why He ‘inhabits the praises of His people’.
Worship is THE place we were meant to be. It is the most-right thing we can do!
2] Worship affirms our loyalty & allegiance. What we run after is really our ‘god’. Our loyalty to God is not shown by Christian t-shirts, Jesus tattoos, really big Bibles, or witty bumper stickers. Our loyalty and allegiance to Jesus is demonstrated through our worship and obedience. “Let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, proclaiming our allegiance to His name” [Hebrews 13:15].
Worship identifies us as His.
3] Worship lifts us. In Isaiah 6:4, we see the exchange of ‘heaviness’ of life for a ‘garment of praise’. When we worship, the heaviness of life gets lifted. Did you know that our biochemistry respond to worship and prayer? It’s true. It’s as though our bodies were designed to respond to God in worship.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, has studied for over 20 years the affects of prayer on the human brain. He noticed in one study of a group of women praying together that the part of their brain that is associated with the self began to shut down as they prayed. This is phenomenal! As we become connected with God, the ‘me’ sort of goes away! As He increases, we decrease [John 3:30]. When Jesus becomes greater in m world and I become lesser in my world, my joy increases!
Worship of the Living God is what we were meant to do! It affirms the true loyalty of our heart, and we are restored through it.
I want us to be a worshipping community
All true worship glorifies (honors) God. We worship together (ekklesia) once or twice each week, but Christian worship is not limited to a sacred place or a certain hour of the week. Christian worship honors God every day.
In John 4, Jesus meets up with a scandalous woman at a well outside of town. There he has a conversation about thirst and life, and soon the conversation turns to worship. The woman had the same assumption about worship that many of us do: it must take place in a certain sacred space.
But Jesus said that ‘sacred space’ is created whenever 2 or more gather together in His name, no matter where they gather. Have you ever experienced ekklesia in Fred Meyer or in a park or in a school? When you connect with other believers — whether you know them or not — there is a palpable presence of Jesus.
When I was in college, I took my best friend on a road trip to Shenandoah National Park. One evening as we sat in the rain around a fire, a skunk meandered into our camp. Since I wasn’t in the mood to fight with a skunk and lose, we left camp and ended up around the only other fire in the campground. There we met a Christian couple and enjoyed hours of the presence of Jesus among us. A skunk drove us to it…
That doesn’t happen if our faces are buried in our smart phone.
Back to the story of the woman… Jesus answered the woman’s assumption about worship with a ground-breaking statement: “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. A time is coming (and has now come) when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
So what kind of worshipper does the Father look for? I want to know the answer to that question because I want to be that kind of worshipper.
We worship in spirit. This is a lower-case ‘spirit’, so this is about our spirit, not the Holy Spirit. This is about our spiritual and intangible ‘innards’, the part that makes us alive (breath, ‘heart’, will, emotions, thoughts, personhood, etc). How does the life within us honor God? What do we think about through the day? Are our thoughts centered on Jesus or all the distractions that compete with our heart’s attention? What does our life honor? What or who has won my affections? How is my personhood responding in praise to God?
We worship in truth. Worship is our response of love towards our God who is understood through His Word. When His Truth gets infused into our living, our living gets transformed (Romans 12:1-2). God’s Truth isn’t our truth until we’re living it out. Where ‘spirit’ is in regards to our ‘innards’, truth is about our outward living. When the Father’s Truth gets infused into our being, it will change how we’re living. It will flesh itself out in our families, in our workplaces, in the marketplace. Worshipping in truth is a transformed life and a determination to follow Jesus. Truth is weird these days, so choosing to honor God with your life is a decidedly different path.
Sometimes we worship gathered (and the gathered church should be a priority for the follower of Jesus), but the believer lives with an awareness that all of our life in Christ — inside and out — gives praise to God. Our worship is not bound by buildings or time.
Let’s be the kind of worshippers the Father is looking for.
We have a diverse little church! I'm not just talking about ancestry and culture, but also the variety of Christian and non-Christian backgrounds we come from. We've got the liturgicals, the Catholics, the Pentecostals and a few methodical Methodists and predictable Presbyterians. Some of us are used to approaching worship quietly and reverently. Others wanna shout! Some want pulpits and pews and formal dress; others prefer something more simple and less formal. Some like the new songs; some like the old songs.
My point is that we all carry with us our personal preferences for how we'd like to 'experience' worship.
But if we're not careful, we will find ourselves trying to make worship in OUR IMAGE (the same way we try to re-make God in our own image or the church in our own image). We are all susceptible to our own narcissism trying to shape what belongs to God (like the church or worship).
It might surprise you to learn that the Scriptures give God's people quite a bit of liberty in how we choose to worship the living God. The New Testament, though, does give us some guidelines for our public worship (there's a distinction between public worship and personal worship, by the way). 1 Corinthians 14 gives us some important counsel for our public worship.
But we have to start with 1 Corinthians 13.
That's where Paul tells us it's not about your tongues, your eloquence or your generosity but your love! So if our personal preferences can cause us to break fellowship with the church, we may have made an idol of a worship style.
So what are some of those NT guidelines for public worship?
1] Our public worship must be edifying (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). Public worship is meant to build up the church, not just to build up myself. We come together so we all can be built up, and our preferential love for one another helps us keep this proper perspective. We don't insist on having things our own way, because we're also interested in what blesses others. You may not like the song choice or sermon topic, but it may bless the socks off someone else. We've got to make sure we don't turn our worship into an act of self-pleasure.
2] Our public worship must be intelligible (1 Corinthians 14:6-25). Years ago, I was mentoring a group of young people in Northern Ireland who were all new believers. After meeting with them for a few months, one of the guys said to me, "Mr. Ray, you use really big words." Come to find out, they couldn't understand half of what I was saying. My words were of no use to them if they couldn't understand what I was saying. I had to learn to speak their language. I needed to be understood.
Paul uses the gift of tongues and prophecy to illustrate this point. He uses a side-by-side comparison of these gifts in the context of public worship, and his conclusion is that our worship must be understood and intelligible. If a tongue is spoken, it must be interpreted. This is why in the assembly (ekklesia), Paul said he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than thousands in a tongue. In the public gathering of the church, the Gospel message must be understood. I apply that same perspective to the Bible translation I preach from or how I preach a message. If it's not understood, I've not done my job.
3] Our public worship must be orderly (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). Disorder and chaos is confusing, and we know God is not the author of confusion. If the message (and the messenger) can get confused, the message can be silenced. Ordered worship simply means that we must not throw confusion and chaos, interruption and inappropriate behavior into the mix of our worship. The Gospel needs no competition in the assembly.
Our public worship is an essential part of our life together in the gathered church. So let's keep our times together edifying, understood, and without chaos.
A few weeks ago, we talked a bit about how we make 'gods' in our own image based on the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus. We do the same thing with the church. We try to fashion it into our image, too.
'Ekklesia' is a Greek word meaning 'to call out of'. It is the earliest word for the church, a called-out assembly of the people of God. So what is the church (and what isn't it?)? Our new series "Ekklesia" takes a deeper look at the church, not the institution or building but the redeemed people who gather in the name of Jesus.
Acts 2:42-47 gives us one of the earliest glimpses into what the assembly was like. Here's a paraphrase: "They devoted themselves to personal preferences, ideology and interests, to once-a-month communion, and to great entertainment. Everyone was feeling good, impressed by the lights, sound system, and clever wit of the speaker. All the believers were strangers to each other and looked after themselves well. They built their own kingdoms and amassed all the best toys. They came to church to sit among strangers for an hour whenever they could squeeze it into their busy schedules. They didn't know where each other lived but occasionally went to Applebee's with someone, quietly giving thanks for the food they didn't have to prepare. And they enjoyed their personal comfort and minimal commitment in the presence of all the people."
OK. Maybe I made that up.
Read the real Acts 2:42-47 and you'll see pretty much the opposite of what I've written above.
We are the called-out community of Christ. If we're chasing the same things society around us is chasing, we're probably neither called out nor Christ's. The New Testament church was devoted, centered on apostolic teaching, and committed to each other; they ate together often, praying with each other in one heart and mind; and they were in awe of what God was doing among them.
I've often thought the reason why we don't live like this is because we don't HAVE to live like this. We don't need each other, and we've created a church model that reflects that. We will need that kind of church again. We need it now.
So what is a NT church and what is it not?
It's not a concert, an entertainment center, or an activity center. We don't exist to compete with culture, providing a Jesus-themed alternative to the busy world.
It's not a building. Somewhere along the line, we stopped calling the called-out people 'church' and started calling our buildings by that name.
It's not the leadership. Yes, we can build on apostolic teaching, but let's not make the leadership the foundation for the church.
It's not a business, a marketplace, a social club, a political party, a museum, a denominational outpost, or your house.
We belong to Jesus. And as his, we get our identity as called-out people. So what is a church?
It is a house of prayer [Matthew 21:12-13]. Jesus got pretty upset with what the LORD's house had become. It is a place we hear from God; it is a place we speak to God and seek God.
It is the Body of Christ [Ephesians 4:11-13]. We embody Jesus to one another. Paul calls us the 'fullness of Christ'. In other words, each of us have a Spirit-given role, and none of us alone are the fullness of Christ. We need the Body for that.
It is family [Matthew 12:48-50]. There are dozens of scriptures that refer to the church as a family, and Jesus started it. Everyone belongs to Jesus who belongs to Jesus. I may be your third cousin twice removed who is cross-eyed from being kicked in the head by a mule, but I am still yours in Christ. We're family, but we're not perfect. You are my brothers and sisters.
We are ekklesia. Jesus has called us to worship, to live out the Word, and to be his witnesses. Worship, Word & Witness -- living as called-out ones -- will be the focus of our new series.
I love my church. When I say that, I'm talking about you.
The LORD is faithful! On Sunday, we celebrated the baptism of Trina during worship!