Who Do We Worship?

First, What Is Worship?

Technically, it is an expression of our lowliness compared to our object of worship. It demonstrates recognition of another’s superiority or sovereignty over us. Praise is an expression of worship that recounts the qualities and works of the one we worship. I didn’t capitalize “one” in that sentence because we too often worship our temporal gods of material goods, people, or positions of power.

Today’s worship is usually programmed to elicit worshipful feelings, even if the content is non-Scriptural. Too often we feel we’ve failed to worship if we somehow fail to reach that tearful ecstasy. Despite all its wonderful aspects, Pentecostalism has elevated emotional response to where it can become the main priority of worship, with a neopentecostal worship style becoming the norm for Evangelical churches.

Now look! Did I say emotional worship is wrong? Not at all, as long as it isn’t our main priority. If our tears are in response to our love for God, or our conviction of sin, and not merely emotional contagion, God is well served by our tears.

God, or Jesus?

That’s a trick question. Jesus is the human expression of God, the eternal Word, so worshiping God is worshiping Jesus the Christ, the unique Son of God. In the same way, worshiping Jesus is worshiping God.

CAUTION! We can easily analyze the heart out of worship, and getting hung up on technicalities is the heart of legalism. Speaking of hearts, God knows and understands our deepest motivations. If love for God motivates our worship, it glorifies Him even if we fail to understand all the Scriptural particulars.

We mustn’t worry about how we worship God, whether we focus on the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to concern ourselves with obeying God according to the light He has cast upon His Word.

Amazing Grace

No one will ever get living for God exactly right. That’s why He gave us 1 John 1:8-10.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

If you can’t praise God for that, you don’t know Him as you could.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Some churches end congregational prayers with, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” While that’s more-or-less Scriptural, I wonder whose Lord He really is. Can I make that prayer more specific by saying, “Through Jesus Christ my Lord?”

What does His lordship mean to me? What does it mean to you? For Jesus to be our Lord, we must obey Him, not only when it’s convenient, or easy, or when we agree with His commands. Jesus said in John 14:15  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That’s simple cause-and-effect, like a stone tossed into the air and falling back to earth. It will happen with no exceptions.

He also said in John 15:9-12  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10)  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (11)  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (12)  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So, Jesus’ lordship is all about love: His love for you and me, and our love for Him—evidenced by our love for one another, regardless what they’ve done to us. If there’s any question about what that special kind of love looks like, we need to revisit St. Paul’s definition of godly love:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  (5)  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  (6)  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (7)  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I could turn each statement of that passage into a personal question, but I think that is something each of us must do as a devotional exercise, and not just once, then forgetting about it. We must question each action, especially those involving others, according to God’s standard, and never be satisfied with the results until we see perfect conformity. Of course, that means we’ll never be satisfied, which is just and right, considering who is our Mentor.

Please don’t be daunted in your pursuit of God’s perfect love. As St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. And in Galatians 6:9,  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

By those Scriptural standards, is Jesus Christ my Lord? Is He your Lord? If you’re not sure, go to God in prayer right now to sincerely confess your failures, ask His forgiveness, and commit yourself to Christ’s lordship. Your life will become His, and His life will become yours, forever.

Cogs, Big or Small

Bro. Big Cog

Which is better, a big cog in a small wheel, or a small cog in a big wheel? When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a dad who brought surplus military hardware home from his Navy civil service job. One device was a precision instrument of some kind, and its large gears had the smallest cogs I’d ever seen. Each cog didn’t have to be all that strong because there were a lot of them, and they ran so smoothly that there was hardly any vibration or backlash.

Now imagine that same machine with big gear teeth; its movement would be anything but smooth and its precision would be laughable. Which type of “gears” would make a machine, church, or any organization, function better?

I currently fellowship with a large church that has a well-developed staff and volunteer force. The pastor wisely and efficiently delegates many responsibilities to Spirit-filled, capable people who carry them out with all diligence. It is a joy to behold.

Somehow my church manages to cull out most of those who would be big cogs, or the self-important members that seek power over others who are trying to serve God with their gifts and talents. Everyone is just another brother or sister, with no big I’s or little You’s. Yes, there is a Scriptural hierarchy based on years of selfless service and spiritual maturity, but they are seen as in no way superior to the most lowly members of the body. I present this positive example of a correctly functioning congregation in the hope that anyone who reads this will compare their fellowship with this ideal.

Do I agree with everything those in authority decide to do? Of course not. Anyone who expects their church to conform to their expectations is—excuse the expression—a fool, who would become a big cog, refusing to mesh with the body of believers. That is the sin of vain pride, which is the foundation for all presumption and abuses of authority, and is the sin that got Lucifer ejected from the heavenly assembly.

I sincerely hope that you do not see yourself as “better” than anyone, whether big, or small, cogs. God doesn’t expect us to be humble; He demands it (2 Samuel 22:28; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5).

My Old Shoes

Yesterday I bought new shoes at Famous Footwear. Of course, as I had worn my old shoes into the store and removed them to try on some fresh footwear, my impression of all the samples was jaded by my old shoes’ relative comfort. Despite the new shoes’ foreign feeling, however, I knew they would supply the improved support that I badly needed.

Thing is, my feet are my body’s structural foundation, and even though the old, loose shoes felt more comfortable than new shoes ever could, they didn’t contribute to the stable posture needed to prevent aches and pains throughout.

Today’s Sermon

You may wonder how buying new shoes could apply to Pastor Ona’s sermon this morning, so I’ll tell you. He preached about our core values as Spirit-filled Christians, which includes walking as Jesus walked, and sharing His love for God’s word and His creation. Pastor Bob spoke of going to church to get blessed by worshiping God in Spirit and Truth, then reverting to our customary entertainments and worldly patterns of life as soon as we walk out of the church building.

It seems we’re creatures of habit, or at least those of us who are or were fallen human beings are that way. As such, the old ways feel more comfortable than the new behaviors that our faith dictates. Apostle Paul said it best:

Romans 7:14-24  For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.  (15)  For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  (16)  But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  (17)  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  (18)  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  (19)  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  (20)  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  (21)  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  (22)  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,  (23)  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  (24)  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Sound familiar?

Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard it all before, but if it does not align rather closely with your testimony; if you don’t struggle with the comfortable habits of your “old man,” you are either a saint waiting to be canonized by the Catholic Church, or you’re lying to yourself and to God. Apostle John said:

1 John 1:8,10  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(10)  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

But neatly inserted between those two rather dismal statements is the hope of verse 9:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Does that mean we can get away with presuming upon God’s grace by willfully transgressing His standards and principles? Here’s what Apostle Paul said about that:

Romans 6:1-2  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  (2)  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Honestly, this piece could go on to become an encyclopedia of Scriptural admonitions for Christlike living, but to alleviate your eye strain I’ll just refer back to my shoe-shopping experience; resist the temptation to continue enjoying those old-shoe-habits simply because they are comfortable. If your activities don’t lead you to godliness, they won’t lead you to heaven.

THE PORN PROBLEM IN GOD’S CHURCH

I don’t know how old I was when I first became aware of pornography, but it impacted my life powerfully, taking over my mind and displacing wholesome priorities. But praise God, He gave me enough insight to keep me from pursuing the worst, most demeaning types of porn. Even so, my early exposure to that evil established a lifelong pattern that has interfered with God’s work in my life.

Most people might think that being born anew in God’s Spirit would end my fascination with porn, but it simply introduced a life-and-death battle where no such conflict existed before. Over the years I rationalized my appetite for erotic imagery by calling it a compulsion, but a particular Scripture passage dashed that deception:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:13-14)

So much for that cherished rationalization. For me, the key truth here is idolatry, or placing something between myself and my God. In fact, I did exactly that with my “compulsion,” placing it outside of God’s reach, believing that He was unable to deliver me from that sin. Could that be anything but the most subtle of blasphemies?

Erotica is indeed common to man—and woman for that matter—and in the natural context of marriage between a man and a woman it is a beautiful thing. But porn is mass marketed erotica, and one of the enemy’s perversions of natural and good innate drives.


Fatal Attraction

What’s wrong with having a little fun? After all, no one really gets hurt, do they?

Oh my, where do I start? From personal experience I know that immersing myself in erotica both pulls the plug on my spiritual life support and interferes with my emotions and my creative and critical thought processes. Recognizing the spiritual aspect is no great stretch, but I suspect most people fail to realize how it messes with ones mind.

Think in the physical terms of a healthy lifestyle; most of us realize that our bodies work best when we take regular exercise and eat a well-balanced diet of minimally processed foods. The body receives both the exercise and the diet well because God created us for just that sort of natural maintenance.

We also have other needs, such as physical and emotional intimacy, and they are best satisfied when we meet them according to our Creator’s pattern. Shortcutting the satisfaction of those needs produces only frustration and heartache, and makes us ripe for the enemy’s picking.


The Lie

Every convincing lie is built around a kernel of truth, and the pursuit of sexual gratification through pornography is a powerful example of such truth-based falsehoods. God indeed created us with a powerful sexual drive that is fulfilled in a healthy marriage. Many husbands, however, tell themselves that porn’s erotic stimulation will help to spice up their marriages, often with their wives’ approval. Somehow they fail to recognize the probability that such perverse sexual gratification will displace their normal, healthy sexual relations. But men aren’t the only culpable parties to porn; many women consume “spicy,” romance novels that show a perverted view of romantic relationships, and that habit is every bit as damaging as graphic porn. Both encourage false ideals and expectations to which real people can’t possibly conform.

Such is the way of perversions. Whether they be sexual, food related, or the pursuit of prosperity, possessions, security, or the power-trip of dominance over others, they’re all based on some God-given drive gone horribly wrong.


My Erstwhile Prayer

For years I’ve prayed for God to deliver me from my compulsion to use porn for sexual release, issuing anguished cries of desperation and shame. Through my stubborn refusal to apprehend God’s victory, I managed to covertly blame God for not taking it away from me. My muddled mind interpreted God’s “failure” to deliver me from the need for such perverted sexual release as His implied permission to continue.

We regularly hear a particular Bible promise that should put all these desperate pleas to rest:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Why are we so unbelieving that we regularly gloss over such beautiful promises? Somehow they are good in principle, but our issues are just too big for God’s power. BALDERDASH! Isn’t it remarkable how the flesh can pervert even such a beautiful, God-given resource as prayer?


The Pornographic Church

We church folks can easily understand the unchurched world’s dependence on sexual and all other forms of perversion. Yet, we fail to grasp how easily the world system erodes the church’s holiness. Pollsters tell us that church-goers are mere percentage points less likely to frequent pornography web sites than the unchurched, and among those, ministers are just as likely to develop the habit of viewing porn. In fact, some of the most vocal in their condemnation of sexual sin are themselves deeply stained by such virtual voyeurism.

My personal experience demonstrates the futility of trying to maintain an intimate relationship with God while chronically involved with pornography. We church folks find Christianese verbiage easy enough to spout, but though we practice a form of godliness, we deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Remember; shame kills intimacy, whether with God or with one’s spouse.


The Remnant

Despite all the successful attacks on the church’s moral purity, God has maintained a remnant of chaste brothers and sisters in Christ. Are all the rest hell-bound for eternity? But for God’s amazing grace they would be. Does that mean we can freely gratify our fleshly drives without consequence? As Apostle Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) We must remember that making excuses for our sin is actually self-justification, which in a real way rejects Christ’s justification, and we all know what that means.

To avoid our enemy’s condemnation, we must remember a key Scripture passage:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:1-3)

The operative phrase is, “for those who are in Christ Jesus,” so anyone trying to fudge a free pass for sin is flat out of luck.
Glance back to Romans 6:1&2 for a moment; the phrases, “continue in sin” and “live in it,” mean there’s a huge difference between living in sin and inadvertently sinning. We all experience moments of weakness when we yield to temptation, but a true Christ-follower gains no satisfaction from such behavior. That’s why Jesus gave us 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Despite having been made dead to sin, we are certainly not immune to temptation. In fact, we suffer greatly from grieving God’s Holy Spirit within us, and the only remedy is brokenhearted confession and heartfelt repentance.

If your relationship with Father God lacks intimacy, there’s a strong probability that you have allowed something to block your access to Him. Even if that something is addiction to pornography, Jesus has already won your victory over it.

Dump your depravity! Shuck your shame! Claim God’s precious promises for yourself and join His holy remnant as an ultimate conqueror.

My Fickle Friend

No, Olive Oyl isn’t my fickle friend. She was Popeye’s fickle friend, ever impressed with the muscular Bluto.

Is a fickle friend really a friend? We’ve all known people who seem friendly, clapping us on the back and cheering us on to accomplish the hard things, but how many of those “friends” stick “closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) through both the fat times and the lean times? Through both elation and depression? Through both gain and loss?

I have such a fair-weather friend. He lives between my ears. He pumps me up with pride when I do well, but points the bony finger of condemnation when I blow it. The Bible calls him “the old man,” “carnality,” “the flesh,” or simply, “sin.”

Even the eminent St. Paul had trouble with his inner, fickle friend. In his presentation on the place of the law in believers’ lives, he wrote:

Romans 7:14-25 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. (15) For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. (16) But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. (17) So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. (19) For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. (20) But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (21) I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. (22) For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, (23) but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (24) Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

When I first read that, I was amazed how the apostle faced the same issues that I faced. Verse twenty-five confused me, though; how could he thank God when he couldn’t find victory over his, “body of sin and death?” But finally I turned the page to chapter eight:

Romans 8:1-4 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There was the victory I had sought! I learned that it doesn’t matter what my fickle mind tells me, but God is faithful in all things and I can trust Him absolutely.

So my fickle friend still tries to steer me toward sin and self-condemnation, but I cling desperately to God’s precious promises, knowing that His love will give me the victory.

Through the Perp’s Eyes

While watching a murder mystery on Netflix (yes, I watched a secular TV program), I thought of how predictable such police dramas really are. The detective’s investigation presents certain telling facts to him, or her, as in the case of Miss. Marple, that the audience only knows about because of a change in the music track’s tone. At the climactic expose, the brilliant detective gathers everyone involved in the mystery and dramatically reveals everyone’s motives for committing the crime and all his clues until he points his finger at the perpetrator, who usually makes a silly attempt at escaping.

I wondered what sort of drama would unfold if the whole story were spun through the perp’s eyes. We would witness his disadvantaged childhood and his falling in with the wrong crowd, or the heinous act that drove him to murder. We would watch him plan the perfect murder, and applaud him for trying not to hurt any bystanders. We’d follow the insensitive detective’s investigation draw ever nearer to the poor, misunderstood murderer, hoping against hope that he would somehow escape. And if the program were executed well enough, we might even draw a tear or two when our hero is captured and sentenced to death.

As the prophet Nathan told King David, “Thou art the man!” The world doesn’t call us criminals because we sin, but we’re exactly that in God’s eyes. He sees the murder in our hearts when we hate another, or the inner adultery when we lust after that attractive someone, or our secret idolatry when we envy what doesn’t belong to us. Yet, even though we may be aware of those sins, we excuse them because, “I had good reason for that,” or, “I didn’t do anything really wrong.”

Apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1) First comes conviction of sin, understanding that you are not perfect and are, in fact, a depraved sinner. Second comes heart-felt confession, which includes repentance. Then comes forgiveness and renewed innocence, leading to a changed life.

Quit looking at your life, “through the perp’s eyes,” and see yourself through the Judge’s eyes. It’ll pay eternal benefits.

Nevertheless

Jesus used that long word (or the Aramaic word translated as such) in His prayer while sweating blood in Gethsemane. He knew exactly what would happen in just a few hours. And He hated it.

So, why did He hate what was about to happen? Why did His sweat become “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground“? (Luke 22:44) The man Jesus saw His Father God turning away from Him, forsaking Him because He bore the world’s sin-guilt. “Nevertheless,” Jesus knew it was not a betrayal of His love, but that God—the Almighty God in whose palm rests the entire universe—had no choice but to turn away.

“Nevertheless,” the man Jesus resolved to endure all that sinful man could do to Him. Betrayed by those He existed to save, abandoned by His friends, mocked, tortured and crucified by the reprobate Roman garrison, yet perfectly innocent, He became the true Lamb of God.

You’ve no doubt heard this story hundreds or thousands of times. “Nevertheless,” we must all keep fresh in our minds the single most powerful proof of God’s unconditional love for His wayward creation, and realizing that, resolve to love our families, our brethren, and yes, our enemies as He loves us, who were His enemies. We must love—the action, not the feeling—in every deed, in every word, in every thought, because we want to be like Him.

Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

Deathbed Repentance

R.C. Sproul dealt with that question here, but of course I have to add my own spin to his sage words. Deathbed, or foxhole, conversion is a sticky wicket. God knows our inmost motives, the thoughts and intents of our hearts, and if a last minute conversion is genuine in His sight, He is the Judge.

That said, I would venture that the vast majority of such “conversions” amount to trying to cop a plea with the Big Guy upstairs. They want to gorge themselves on the world’s cake and still have it for eternity. That’s called presumption, and the all-knowing God won’t buy into your little con game.

The bottom line is really quite simple; if you know you’re a sinner, and that Jesus is the way to the Father, don’t wait to do what you know you have to do. 2 Timothy 3 has something to say about that:

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

That’s called loving the world more than God, and refusing to give it up.

Only God knows which breath will be your last, and because of our human need to practice denial, it always comes by surprise. So don’t be a fool. It’ll bite you in the end.