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Archive for June, 2007

Worship In Holiness

1 Chronicles 16:23-29 

If someone were to come up to you this coming week and ask you what has God been doing in your life lately?  What would you say?  How would you answer them?  What would be on the tip of your tongue?  Just what would we tell that person who wants to know what God is doing in our lives?

This evening’s passage I think gives us a clue as to how to go about answering that question.  I don’t think the people who were present when this psalm was first sung had any doubt on how they would answer that question.

I don’t know about you, but this is one of those scenes in the Bible that sometimes I just I wish I was present for.  Reading it seems so dry and distant, it would be better to have experienced it and then be able to read about it to refresh my memory at a later point in time and reawaken all those emotions that must have been churning inside at the time.

To get a feel for this great psalm of praise and thanksgiving we have to understand what it was that God had done in the lives of His people to set them to singing like this.  To get that understanding, we have to go back and look at the context of this psalm and see the scene.

King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, wrote this praise song in response to the great work of God in the people of Israel.

He had been made king by God’s hand through the anointing of oil by the prophet Samuel.  God had called David to unite the land under his kingship and drive out the nations that didn’t belong there.  Hundreds of years earlier, the people had crossed the Jordan and lived in the land of Canaan, yet they had not finished doing what God said they needed to do.  They were supposed to get rid of all the peoples who did not worship God and God alone.  This led them to have many problems in surviving in the area.  Often it looked as if the nation of Israel would be swallowed up by the great nations around her.

But God never let it happen.  First, He raised judges up to lead the people in battle and to make wise decisions for them.  But the people didn’t like judges, they wanted a king.  So God gave them a king named Saul.

At first King Saul, experienced God’s great blessing in driving out the other nations from the Promised Land.  It was obvious God was with Saul.  There was nothing that he couldn’t do.  But then Saul became puffed up in his own eyes and actually thought of himself as being someone great to whom the nation must naturally follow.  He got the idea that he was indispensable to God’s plan God for Israel.

That led to Saul’s downfall and David being chosen as king.  Saul didn’t like that idea and tried to eliminate David, the way godfathers in the mob eliminate their problems.  Fortunately God’s hand rescued David every time Saul tried to kill him.

Now Saul is gone, having been killed in battle.  David has consolidated the twelve tribes of Israel under his rule and begun to successfully drive out the nations, from the Promised Land just as God had commanded so many, many years before.

When we know that history, we begin to understand why David sang this great psalm of thanksgiving.  David had learned through his many trials, whether it fighting off wild animals as young boy tending his sheep, or fighting off wild kings as an adult, that God wins battles.

That is why in his greatest battle, the one on one combat with Goliath that ugly giant, he announces that God will win the fight, though it is he who carries the slingshot.  He tells Goliath that though it is he, David, who slings the stones, it is God who will deliver Goliath to be killed.

That is why we can read the Psalms David writes and we discover that if there was nothing else that marked his life, he was completely dependent on God.  There was no one else to whom he could cry out for help.  There was no one who could deliver him from his enemies.  There was no one else who deserved the shouts of praise or the celebration of thanksgiving that David records.

A people who will be called by God and be holy to Him, must be completely dependent on Him.

Each one of us was created to be dependent on God.  All through human history, we see people who tried to express their dependence on God in some form of worship.  They may have worshipped the sun, a golden calf, a set of trees, the river that flowed through town, it doesn’t matter.  Every object of worship showed that knew Something greater than them existed and they were dependent on it.

We even see the same thing today when we look around our world.  No matter where we live we find people depend on someone or something that is greater than they are and they bow down to worship it.

God has wired us to worship Him.  But when we ignore Him or choose to not pay attention to Him, we cannot help but replace the hole that makes in our lives with something else.   Because He has made us to worship Him it is no surprise that He goes looking for a people who will worship Him.

He finds them in the ancient nation of Israel.  He establishes an eternal covenant with them, if they will only worship Him and follow no other God.  He gives them the Ten Commandments and says obey these and the covenant will never be broken.

But we all know the commandments are impossible to keep perfectly as God requires.  He makes it possible for everyone to experience a new and fresh start by coming to Him seeking forgiveness.  In ancient Israel, this required offering a sacrifice while the High Priest stood before God asking for mercy.

When God called His people to worship Him, He told them to make a small box out of hard wood and gold called the ark of the testimony or the Ark of the Covenant as we know it today.  That small box had a lid on it that was decorated with cherubim, angels, where God sat to dispense mercy according to His covenant with ancient Israel when they came to worship Him.

The Ten Commandments were kept in the Ark of the Covenant.  So when the High Priest stood before God, all the commandments that the people could not keep and the seat of mercy were right there where God forgave His people for not living up to the terms of the covenant.  It was only natural that this little box became central to the worship of God’s people.

It didn’t take too long before the people started making up their own ideas about how to worship God.  The reality of their commitment to God began to lose its luster.  They hadn’t seen God the way the people who wandered in the desert had seen Him.  The pillar of fire and column of smoke weren’t there any more, so the people began to do their own thing.

They became superstitious about worshipping God.  If I just do these things in just the right way God will bless me.  If the nation does these things at the just right time, God will bless the nation.  The worship that God desired from His people became a system of cold formality, where the same things happened every day, every week and sooner or later they meant nothing to the people.  They forgot the reality behind what they were doing.

At one point in 1 Samuel 4, the people find themselves in a fight with another nation and lose the battle.  They run for the ark and carry it off to the battle thinking that it will bring them good luck.  But the nation they fought against proved stronger and 30,000 men were killed as they fled.  And as they fled they dropped the ark, their good luck charm and it was captured and carried off by the victors as spoils of war.

The victors knew they had captured the testimony of God’s being for the Israelites.  They brought the ark of testimony into their own temple and sat it down next to their own god.  They weren’t just superstitious; they would blend anything and everything together to get that peaceful easy feeling of having been dependent on God.  They didn’t realize that God ruled over all the other gods and would not tolerate being made equal to some lesser thing.

Thus the next morning the people found their own god, an ugly creature named Dagon, face down in the temple in front of the ark.  They set the thing back up and sure enough the next day it was tipped over on its face again only this time its arms had broken off to show that it couldn’t defend itself against God who sat on the mercy seat. (1 Sam 4)

This was enough for the Philistine people.  They whipped up a cart and donkey and sent the ark out of town on a one way ride back to the Israelites.  But the Israelites could not have cared less.  By this time they had forgotten their God and their covenant with Him and were living lives as if He didn’t exist.  They neither made time to worship Him nor remembered Him for all He had done for them.

Thus, 1 Samuel 7:1-2 says nobody really wanted the Ark of the Covenant so it got stuck out back of somebody’s barn and was forgotten.  God didn’t matter any more.  He was inconsequential in the scheme of things as the people saw it.  They could live successfully without Him, thank you.  We don’t need to be bothered by that crazy God worship stuff.  Indeed the whole concept of God became replaced in their lives by what they could accomplish on their own.  They wanted to be like the nations around them so God let them become like the nations around them, complete with a king who would lead them to the brink of disaster.

That’s where this passage in 1 Chronicles 16 picks up.  David realizes that his battles have been won by the hand of God.  God has helped the nation of Israel and not forgotten them, as they have forgotten Him.  So he sends for the ark.

Some of David’s people find it still stuck behind the barn where it was dropped off and put it on a cart and begin carrying it to Jerusalem.  But God said this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen and His rules will be followed or there will be problems.  Worshipping God must be done His way or it doesn’t happen.

Sure enough, 1 Samuel 13 says a man named Uzzah reached out to steady the box and is killed instantly.  You don’t mess with God by treating Him casually.  Now David goes back finds the instructions on how to move the ark according to what God told His people a long time ago and gets it done right.  And the ark ultimately comes to Jerusalem, the capital of God’s people, Israel in 1 Samuel 15.

It sets off a celebration like they had never seen before.  David offers sacrifices to God before the ark.  He gets the high priests and tells them to consecrate themselves, make themselves holy, because the ark where God sits is coming to town.  David does not want to be unprepared to worship God the right way.

He finds the temple servants, the people who assist the priests and tells them to warm up their voices, because they are going to sing.  He tells others to get their instruments in tune, the ark is coming!  They run and put together a jazz band to come and worship God.  They’ve got horns, stringed instruments, and a percussion section.  All to “raise sounds of joy” according to chapter 15 verse 16.  (1 Sam 15:16, ESV)

And as they take off for Jerusalem and come into the city the whole people began to celebrate.  David couldn’t contain it any longer and began to dance before the whole crowd.  The celebration of God’s being with His people was on in full swing.

It was here that the singers sang this great psalm that we read a few moments ago.  Recounting all the things God had done in the past and praising Him for it.  Remembering all the promises He gave that He is still fulfilling in their lives and all the things they have seen Him accomplish through King David.  They see everything God has done and cannot help but give Him the glory and honor and praise that is due to Him.  Indeed they expect the whole of creation from sea to shining sea and everything in between to exult and sing for joy to the Lord of the universe.  I do not think they would have been surprised if the trees gained a voice and the rocks shouted God’s praise.

Isn’t that what worship is supposed to be all about?  Everyone who is dependent on God singing His praises and shouting for joy over all that He has done?

Today we no longer worship before the Ark of the Covenant.  It has been lost to history and that is a good thing.  We might be tempted to believe that God is only there on the lid on the ark.  But the Scriptures make it plain that God dwells in our lives if we have trusted in Jesus Christ.

The book of Hebrews chapters 9-10 tells us that every one of the sacrifices the Israelites were required to make were completed in the one time sacrifice of God’s own Son Jesus of Nazareth to be the complete payment for our breaking the commandments of God.  He took on Himself a payment that we could never fully make on our own.

  God declared us to be His children, and never again would the laws of God be written on stone and hidden in a box to be lost, but rather the commandments of God would be written on our hearts and He would come to live in us through the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

Where the people of King David’s day could only look to His rescue of them from slavery in Egypt we can look to the freedom from wickedness He has brought us who have placed our whole confidence in Him.  By rescuing us He makes a claim on our lives that cannot be so easily dismissed if we would be a holy people, worshipping Him in all of Holy splendor.

We cannot afford to become superstitious people like the ancient Israelites thinking that if we just do things in the right way we have access to God.  It is not the style of our worship that brings us into God’s presence—it is His grace.  We have done nothing to earn our way into His presence this morning or any other day.  He owes us nothing but welcomes us freely if we come on His terms.

We cannot afford to mix our worship of God with any other desire of our lives.  God will certainly knock that other thing over just as he knocked over that ugly idol named Dagon.  When we enter God’s presence here on Sunday morning or Sunday evening, we come only to meet Him, no one else.  He blesses us with the fellowship of others who have grace and hope in Him, but that is not why we come.  We cannot come just because it’s the right thing to do in our neighborhood.  We only come because we must meet with God.

And I would argue that it must be that way every other day of the week as well.  We must meet with God and truly concentrate our minds on Him and Him alone, or we will mix the worship of God with the things that surround us.  Worship of God must take place in our lives every day of our lives or we have effectively placed Him behind the barn to be brought out when we feel like we need Him again.

Not only must we concentrate on Him, but we must also celebrate Him and what He has done.  If all we have are memories and good thoughts about God then we have not quite gotten to the point of worshipping in holiness.  King David demonstrated that worship is emotional, not just intellectual.  We must be touched emotionally by what we say is important or it might not be all that important.  To worship in holiness means we must worship in wholeness as well.

King David didn’t care what others thought of Him worshipping God as He danced and sang his way into <
Jerusalem; all he thought about was how great God is.  Look at the passage we read and notice all the emotion-filled words.  Fear, trembling, joy, rejoicing, beauty, gladness, exulting, thanksgiving.  Can we really worship God without feeling something?

If we are not feeling something we must wonder if the information we have heard has really touched us.  It seems that the more important the information, the greater the emotional response to it.  Maybe not in every case, but all the same there are still emotions.  If we have to ask whether emotions are appropriate in church we deny the importance of the great information we have been told.

When our team wins a match, we know how to react; we know what we feel.  I didn’t have to ask myself what I what I was supposed to be feeling when my kids were born, I knew it automatically.  When I stood next to my dad and held his hand as he died, I didn’t check what the right thing to feel was, the bottom dropped out of my life in overwhelming sadness and grief.

Shouldn’t those be appropriate emotions to experience as we worship God alone in the beauty of His holiness?  Should we not feel grief over our sins and continued wickedness?  Should we not rejoice and shout and sing for His great mercy that rescued us from that wickedness?  Shouldn’t there be a sense of excitement that God is doing great things in our midst?

That is part of what it means to worship in holiness depending on God alone.  We must involve our minds by remembering all that He has done for us.  The great things He has accomplished in the past that tell us of the great God we follow.  We must involve our emotions as we respond to that greatness of what he has done.

God has designed to be completely dependent on Him and no one else and nothing else.  Only He will fill the gap in our lives of knowing that there is someone greater than us who can take of our needs.  He has called us to sing His praises and celebrate His goodness to us everywhere we go.

I’m convinced that’s part of how revival happens in a nation.  God’s people begin to sing His praise wherever they go and they draw others to God to join them in worshipping Him.  We must sing and invite others to sing with us, we must worship and invite others to worship with us every day of our lives and then one day we will be part of a celebration as great as the one that had King David dancing in the streets.

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M I A?

Sorry I’ve been missing in action and haven’t posted much.  My keyboard was broken (no kidding!) which made typing tough.  I’m one of those people who can’t along without the letters “a”, “h”, “n”, “j” and “s” not to mention the comma key.  Those broken letters made writing sermons about three times as long as normal.  Type letter, replace key, type letter, replace key, type several letters, replace key.  And you just don’t run down to WalMart or OfficeMax to get a new keyboard around here.  It takes weeks (and even then it was the wrong one that arrived).

This comes as we are increasingly concerned that we will be forced to leave our church and island in the next 90 days due to some new restrictions in the immigration and labor laws.  This has caused the usual vocational angst, fretting, anxiety and worry as my future suddenly looks very cloudy.  What free time I have had is increasingly drifting towards praying and seeking God’s direction for our future.

If you don’t see me often, I’m still here.  But your prayers would be appreciated.

And yes, I’m still intending to post the sermon series from 1 John. 

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Romans 12:1-2

For most of us this might be one of the most familiar passages in all of the Bible.  We have heard so it so often that we can hear it and finish it in our minds before the speaker finishes saying it.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, has been making some important points about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

He begins his letter with the bad news.  We who were made in the image of God have exchanged that image for something less than God’s best.  We have found ourselves too easily pleased with pleasures that do not last.  We have not sought the pleasure in God that lasts forever.

As a result God gives us our desires and we become utterly foolish in our thinking.  We exchange the joyful goodness God offered us for a swim in a cesspool of stuff that makes our lives worse, not better.  Our minds become filled with trash so that  we can’t help but act it out in our lives.

We tell ourselves this is not who I am.  My mind is not filled with trash.  But God says this is the way it is in our lives.  Paul writes in Romans 2 that all the wickedness of our lives was piling up behind a great dam that could not be contained forever.  Sooner or later the dam would break.

And it did.  Romans 3 tells us God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus Christ.  The dam didn’t hold forever but only until the right time that God determined.  Right in the midst of that cesspool we were swimming in, God called to us to get out of the muck.  He said, “I will come rescue you.  I will send Jesus to pull you out of the cesspool.”

We who were lost in inky darkness, were sent a light in the form of the person of Jesus of Nazareth who became the payment for the all the things we had done to offend God.  Every time we chose pleasure by doing something less than God’s best, we offended God and Christ paid the price for it.

When we continue reading through the book of Romans, we discover that we really had no choice in whether or not we offended God, we were born to do so.  Our human nature was such that we were born dead to the life God wanted us to have.  We couldn’t have done right if we wanted to.

But because of the payment that Christ made for us we can now experience a new life.  We have been literally taken from certain death to certain life by the power of God working through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross.  Just as death has no more power over Jesus Christ, so also it has no power over us who are following Him.

Once we were slaves to doing wrong; now we must consider ourselves as slaves to righteousness.  We are to offer ourselves as if we are enslaved by God to His righteousness.  We are able to do this because as chapter 8 so wonderfully points out we have been given a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

The Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to empower His disciples to holy living, has now become the very seal of our eternal life.  He guarantees that what God has promised will happen in our lives.  While we were once the home to complete unrighteousness, now we are the very Temple of God as His Holy Spirit comes to live and dwell in us.

Because He lives in us, we are God’s own children, adopted into His heavenly family with nothing that can possibly ever rip us away from the love of our heavenly Father.  Experiencing the Holy Spirit at work in our lives is a sure sign that we will be given the greatest inheritance of all from our heavenly Father, eternal life in His eternal kingdom in heaven.

If God would do all of this for us, sending His Son, Jesus, to die in our place, adopting us into His family and promising us the great inheritance he promised to His Son Jesus, if He would do all this “how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  (Rom 8:32, TNIV)  So that whatever happens in our life, it will be for our good and His glory?

That might be the most powerful promise in all of Scripture.  (more…)

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Remember the old cigarette brand  that had the the tag line at the end which said something like, “I’d rather fight than switch?”

The people in the ad would always be shown with a black eye because someone would offer them the wrong kind of cigarette and they would rather fight it out than switch.  It had a bit of humor when they would show some beautiful actress with a black eye and a bent or broken cigarette in her mouth saying the same thing.  But then the real humor was, who really picks a fight over the kind of cigarette they are offered?

The idea was that people were so devoted to a particular brand of tar and nicotine that they would  fight to get it rather than light up some supposedly inferior tobacco product.  The advertising campaign was selling the message that when you’re as “good” as we are, our customers would fight to have this product than have to choose a lesser brand.  It’s probably politically incorrect to even mention the word good and cigarettes in the same sentence these days.  It might be worse to mention smoking in a sermon.<

But when you think about it, the whole campaign flew in the face of our culture’s chief characteristic.  Instant gratification.  We don’t want to work or fight for anything any more.  Microwaves and fast food restaurants tell us that we don’t want to wait things out anymore.  We won’t fight for what we desire.

Unfortunately, instant gratification has also come home to roost in our lives as God’s children as well.  We may resist that idea at first, but stop and think for a moment; how many of us in the last week or month have heard someone say they wish Jesus would come back and put an end to the horrors we encounter on the news every day?  Or the U.S. political campaign ads on TV?

How many of us have had to say to some other follower of Christ, “Please be patient with me, because God isn’t done with me yet?”  And then immediately feeling guilty because we know we need to live up to a higher standard than the one we choose to live out every day?

If the truth be known down deep in our hearts many of us would be more willing to switch than fight.  If there’s going to be struggle, our first inclination is to run.  Fly away, vamos, get out of there.  We don’t want anything to do with fighting, even if it’s for a good cause.

We tell ourselves that life is too short be so stressed out.  Why fight?  Why go through all the hassle and fuss of fighting when we can find an easier path to take through life?  That’s a good question.  After all, wouldn’t life be easier if we all just stopped struggling and trying so hard?  Just go with the flow?

We need to fight becasue we know the Nike T-shirt is right, “No pain, no gain.”  If we are not willing to suffer hardship or fight for what we want, it might not be all that valuable to us.  The principle is the same no matter what we’re pursuing.

That same principle also applies to our lives as God’s people.  (more…)

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ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who have given us, your servants, grace, by the confession of a true Faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine Majesty to worship the Unity; we humbly pray that you will keep us firm in the confession of this Faith and always defend us from all adversities; who live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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