SUNDAY MORNINGS

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. [John 4:23-24 (NIV)]

waer lilyIn this day and age, we refuse to be bored. We watch one of three TVs while on the health club treadmill, listen to our iPods when out walking, and check our phones at red lights because, technically, we’re not texting while driving—we’re simply texting while stopping. We could blame technology, but our penchant for boredom has been a problem since the beginning of time. A golden calf and some “pagan revelry” was the Israelites’ antidote for boredom while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Then, when they got bored with manna, they demanded meat. David had at least eight wives but boredom caused his eyes to wander over to Uriah’s house where Bathsheba was bathing. Mankind just seems to be hardwired to tire of the “same old, same old” and, sometimes, that propensity for boredom enters into our worship.

“I laugh so much during church, it’s seems almost sinful; it’s just so much fun to come!” said a friend about her church. A neighbor said of his pastor, “You’ve got to hear him preach; he’s just a fabulous speaker!” I know many who attend a nearby church because the services tend to revolve around the musical talents of a well-known and dramatic pianist/organist. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these and our worship should be pleasurable, we must be cautious. The center of attention is neither the musicians nor the man at the pulpit; it is the man who hung on the cross for our sins! Jesus was an impressive man while He walked the earth but impressing people was not His goal. If it was, He would have performed far more miracles; instead, He often told people not to tell anyone. His purpose wasn’t showy miracles but the lasting message of salvation.

Is church where we go to be entertained or is it a place we go to be strengthened by His word and grow to be more like Christ? Is it where we go to be distracted from the cares of the world or where we go to worship the Lord and to revel in His glory? While bells and whistles are pleasant, we should remember that the purpose of church is worship not theater. Rather than fluff and stuff, we should be seeking a foundation in God’s word, the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we’re bored during church, the antidote isn’t more pageantry or spectacle, funnier sermons, or better music; it is a more mindful worship on our part.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

The purpose of this Christian society called the “Church” is, first: to glorify God by our worship. We do not go to church just to hear a sermon. We go to church to worship God. [Billy Graham]

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)]

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COUNTING THE COST

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [Luke 14:27-28 (RSV)]

Station of Cross 3 - loretto - santa fe NMHaving often watched the condemned walk to their tortuous deaths while carrying the crosspieces of their crucifixes, Jesus’ followers knew exactly what it meant to carry a cross. When Jesus told them to count the cost of being His disciple, he wasn’t offering a ticket to Easy Street; He was offering one to eternal life. The cost, however, was high: the giving up of self and all that might come to mean—loss of status, relationships, family, possessions and even life.

Some of us, looking at the cost, would prefer a watered down gospel. We want to be Christians without Jesus having any effect on our lives. We’re happy to bear his name and celebrate both His birth and resurrection, but we’re not anxious for His yoke. Wanting to guarantee our final destination, we want salvation without the sacrifice. Unwilling to surrender to God’s will, we figure a few good deeds can make up for our lack of faith and obedience. We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

While free, God’s grace is not cheap; it cost God His only son. Jesus was the gift of God’s grace by which all of mankind could be saved. Accepting His name means far more than taking a spot in a church pew. We can’t just listen to a preacher, we must practice what Jesus preached! God’s grace expects us to follow Jesus wherever He leads us and to do whatever He asks. God’s grace expects us to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, reach the unreachable, and do what often seems impossible. God’s grace demands that we grow smaller while He grows greater; it is taking up our cross and losing our lives in complete commitment to Him.

Costly grace…is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

Jesus knew the price He’d pay when He threw the money changers out of the temple, healed on the Sabbath, and confronted the Pharisees; nevertheless, He did His Father’s will. Over 2,000 years later, He still calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. These last few weeks, I have watched as a young man did just that. He stood up for what is right and, while he’s not being hung on a cross, he is suffering both professionally and financially. After prayerfully counting the cost and consequences, he followed where God led him because he was not about to settle for cheap grace. Let’s never settle for cheap grace either. Our lives won’t necessarily be easier when we take on Jesus’ yoke but they definitely will be better!

And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 10:38-39 (RSV)]

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. [Titus 2:11-12 (RSV)]

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AUDACIOUS PRAYERS

And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 (RSV)]

Steamboat Ski - COIt was a dreary winter day when the entire congregation exited the church into a weed-filled field. Like the Israelites, we were armed with horns, only ours were those silly blowout noisemakers seen at children’s birthday parties. Silently, we marched until we’d circled the muddy patch of ground seven times. Anyone observing us from the highway surely thought us foolish as we raised those noisemakers to our lips, blew hard and then cheered. Unlike the Israelites who marched around Jericho so God would knock down walls, we marched around that field to show our faith that God would erect walls for us!

That was a little more than five years ago in the Colorado mountain town where we spent our winters. Armed only with big prayers and bold faith, that church built a 15,000 square-foot Family Life Center. At its dedication last September, the congregation was again given noisemakers; when the service ended, the horns sounded as they celebrated God’s love, grace, and amazing provision.

Erecting that building wasn’t an easy task—blueprints were drawn and redrawn, delay after delay occurred, the red tape seemed never ending, and everything was more complicated and often more expensive than expected. The church never lost faith in the project nor did they cut back on serving God’s people. They faithfully continued their discipleship, benevolence, education, community outreach and missions work while raising additional funds for their expansion. This ski and ranch town is not a wealthy one and many are employed only seasonally. Nevertheless, they generously stepped out in faith, shared their resources, made sacrifices, and trusted God to provide. The pastor is fond of reminding his flock that God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor God. The Family Life Center is a testament to that statement—when the people dared to dream and pray big, instead of walls falling, they were raised!

Picture the audacity of the bleeding woman who was so sure Jesus could heal her that she pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of His robe. Imagine the audacity of Joshua asking God to stop the sun and moon from moving until the Israelites had defeated their enemies. When Elijah prayed for both drought and rain, he made some audacious predictions to Ahab. Like the bleeding woman and Joshua, he would have looked a fool if God had not answered those prayers. God came through for them all because their big bold prayers honored an even bigger God.

We insult our amazing Father with trivial prayers; they’re like asking famed chef Gordon Ramsey to make only a peanut butter sandwich. Inconsequential prayers imply we’re not sure He really can do anything that great. Courageous faith means bold audacious prayers and stepping out for God’s kingdom. Because they prayed, believed, and acted on their belief, that mountain church saw our awesome God provide in miraculous ways. He can do far more than we can imagine or ask and we must never doubt His power. Perhaps God will say, “No!” but, if we never ask, He can’t say, “Yes!” God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor Him!

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it [a demon] out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” [Matthew 17:19-20 (RSV)]

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ARE WE READY?

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)]

christmas ornamentYesterday was the first Sunday in Advent – the church season leading up to Christmas. Advent, coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is a time of preparation. Back in the 4th century in Spain and Gaul (Western Europe), Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians on Epiphany (January 6). On that day, they celebrated not just the gifts of the Magi, but also Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and His first miracle at Cana. The forty days leading up to Epiphany were to be spent in penance, prayer and fasting. By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus — but to His promised second coming rather than His first. By the Middle Ages, however, Advent was tied to the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. Today, Advent is a time we both commemorate Christ’s first coming and anticipate His second. It’s a time of preparation both for Christmas, when Jesus came as a servant and a sacrifice, and for His return, when He will come as a conquering King.

Indeed, most of us use the four weeks of Advent as a time of preparation. But for what are we preparing? Rather than readying our hearts for Christ, we’re making lists and checking them twice, scouring flyers for the best sales, decorating our homes and yards, planning parties, cooking our favorite recipes, trimming the tree, wrapping packages, addressing Christmas cards, and shipping boxes, all of which have little or nothing to do with that first Christmas when God came into our chaotic world in the village of Bethlehem. Moreover, none of those activities have anything to do with anticipating His return.

We have four weeks to focus on Christ’s coming. During this time, let’s remember how the Jews longed for the promised Messiah and, recognizing mankind’s need for a savior, let’s focus on Jesus’s incarnation and answer to that prayer. May we also look forward to Christ’s second coming—a time when peace and justice will prevail and there will be neither sorrow nor tears. We must never allow our holiday preparations to keep us from preparing our hearts for the promises that Christ brings to our lives.

The question isn’t “Are we ready for Christmas?” The question is, “Are we ready for Christ?”

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. [Isaiah 11:6 (NLT)]

An old abbot was fond of saying, “The devil is always the most active on the highest feast days.” … The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us all. [Edward Hays (A Pilgrim’s Almanac)]

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HALLOWED BE THY NAME

So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the people of Israel; I am the Lord who sanctify you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord. [Leviticus 22:31-33 (RSV)]

water lilyFor several years, a well-known and highly regarded actor/comedian’s name was synonymous with fatherhood and family values. After becoming the subject of sexual abuse allegations, spanning more than fifty years, by more than fifty women, his name went from respected to scorned. Several universities rescinded the honorary degrees awarded him, removed him from their boards and fund-raising campaigns, and eradicated his name from buildings and scholarships. His statue was removed from a Disney theme park, reruns of his shows were cancelled, there was a petition to revoke his Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he was dumped by his agent. No one wanted their good names tarnished by any association with such disgraceful behavior.

Names and reputations are important and none of us want our names to be besmirched by someone else’s words or actions. Apparently, God felt the same way when He gave us that often ignored commandment about not taking His name in vain. Some Bibles translate “in vain” as misusing, using thoughtlessly or irreverently, or making empty promises in God’s name. Whatever Bible we use, the meaning is clear; we must honor God’s name and never use it in a disrespectful, false or blasphemous way.

When Jesus taught us to pray, after addressing our Father in heaven, He said the words, “Hallowed be thy name.” Although some Bibles translate that sentence as, “May your name be kept holy,” the King James’ words are the ones most of us use in the Lord’s Prayer. I used to think those words were a call to worship and pretty much dismissed them as part of the preface to the actual prayer. I hadn’t realized that they are the first petition (or request) the prayer makes. In those four prayerful words, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are appealing to God to help us keep His commandment about not dishonoring His name! That sentence, however, means far more than just not cursing or committing perjury after promising to tell the truth.

If we call ourselves Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—whenever we act or speak shamefully we are not keeping God’s name holy. If we distort God’s word with our witness or actions, His name is not hallowed. It’s not just blasphemy, irreverence or profanity; hypocrisy, deception, treachery, insincerity, falseness, and immorality of any kind profane His name! We don’t have to be celebrities and have our transgressions blasted across the tabloids; we disgrace His name whenever we speak or act in any way that dishonors Him.

If we never get beyond those four little words, “Hallowed be thy name,” we’ve said enough. In that one sentence, we ask God to make our words and actions reflect His holiness. We express our desire to live godly lives and ask Him to enable us to live in a way that makes His name holy. Heavenly Father, hallowed be thy name!

We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. [2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (RSV)]

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! [Psalm 103:1 (RSV)]

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OUR FATHER

Mute swan - cygnetsPray like this: Our Father in heaven…” [Matthew 6:9a (NLT)]

Throughout Scripture, God is called by several ancient names that reflect His character: El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Olam (The Everlasting God), El Elyon (The Most High God), and El Roi, (The God Who Sees). He is Yahweh-Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), Yahweh-Rapha (The Lord Who Heals), and Yahweh-Roh (Our Shepherd). We also find references to God as both a Rock and a King. Yet, with all these ways to address God, when Jesus taught us how to pray, He chose to address God with the words “Our Father.”

As I pondered calling on our Father in prayer, I recalled an episode that occurred more than twenty-five years ago when two of our children attended college together. They went camping with a group of friends and enjoyed beers around the campfire. In the wee hours of the morning, the group was awakened by a police officer who breathalyzed them all. Unfortunately, the results indicated they’d been drinking and, since all were all under 21, each received a ticket for “illegal possession of alcohol by consumption” (a Class C misdemeanor). My children’s friends were amazed when they immediately called their dad, admitted their mistake, and asked his advice. My daughter’s response to her friends’ shock at their quick call was simple: “If I can’t call my father, who can I call?”

Our children called their father not because he paid their tuition and provided for them or even because he has a law degree. Even knowing he would expect them to face the consequences of their foolishness, they called on their father because he loves them! He’s their daddy and they are his children and they knew that, in spite of his disappointment in them, he would lovingly forgive and wisely counsel them.

“Our Father,” said Jesus. We can address God as Creator, Most High, Shepherd, Rock, Healer or any of a dozen other impersonal ways but it’s like calling on someone great and powerful; we know of Him but we don’t know Him. Prayer isn’t like scheduling an appointment to present a petition before a foreign king; it is an intimate conversation with someone we love who also loves us. It’s like my children coming to their daddy, confessing their error, and asking for his guidance. We appeal to God in love, not in fear of His anger or even awe of His power. God adopted us when we accepted Christ—we are His children, His heirs, and we can come boldly before Him with our prayers. That our unchanging, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, infinite God desires a relationship with us and wants us to address Him as “Our Father” is a privilege and an honor—let us never take it lightly.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:14-16 (NLT)]

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. [Romans 1:7b (NLT)]

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