The Most Important Commandment!

-What Would You Ask God?

Several times, in my lifetime, I’ve found myself in a conversation with someone who made a statement that they intended to ask God about something when they saw Him someday! How about you? If you could ask God any question, what would it be? Well, in Mark’s Gospel, the writer says, that:  “One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all?” Of all the 613 commands found in the Torah (Jewish Old Testament) which was THE most important? Wow! That’s a big question! Which command’s at the top of the list? Don’t wanna miss that one!

-The Answer To The Big Question!

This is the most important,” Jesus answered: “Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” Mark 12:28-30.  This is really a timely post as it seems the church, in general, is confused about “worship.” But, Jesus really clears things up, doesn’t He? He’s really saying that we have to love God with ALL of our being—ALL of our “heart” & our “soul” & our “mind” & our “strength.”

-Everyone Claims To Love God!

So, it’s impossible to love God until we know Him! But, we live in a day when everyone claims to love God! That may be a generalization; but, I’m absolutely stunned by the number of times that totally lost, unregenerate people—who have NO IDEA “Who” God is—still tell me they LOVE Him! I can believe them when they say they “love” pizza, for example, because they’ve tasted it! They’ve handled it! I can believe them when they say they “love” hunting because it’s something they’ve done! They take their dog & a friend! So, they’ve experienced it! But, you cannot possibly love God until you KNOW God! Until you’ve met Him & know Him well enough to explain WHY you love Him! Study Jesus’ words! That’s precisely what He’s saying!

-Love God Personally!

Jesus says we must love God PERSONALLY! Notice, from His response to the Scribes question, how Jesus uses 6 “personal” pronouns; and, every one of them is “possessive”—“The Lord OUR God”; “Love the Lord YOUR God”… ”with all YOUR HEART”… ”with all YOUR SOUL”… “with all YOUR MIND”… “with all YOUR STRENGTH.” THE most important commandment, in all of Scripture, is to have a personal, possessive love for God, Jesus says. And, you cannot love someone you don’t know! My wife & I have been married 35 years! But, I confess to you that there were 20 years during which time I did not love her! Not one bit of love did I have for her; and, the reason was that I didn’t know her! I hadn’t met her yet! Once I did, I grew to love her as I came to know her! That’s no different with God! We have to know Him personally before we can claim to love Him! We come to know His character—and, we know Him through Jesus & the Word!

 

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This Is Your Spiritual Worship!

-How Do You Define Worship?

Ask how the Bible defines worship, and, you may be surprised how wide & inclusive is the answer that’s given! Many of us perceive worship to be limited to this narrow part of a church service we call singing! For others, you grew up in a tradition where “worship” consisted of elaborate prayers spoken in the King James language—with all the “THEE’s” and “THOU’s”—very ritualistic & done in a “sanctuary” with stained-glass windows, lighted candles, incense & old classical sacred music with a pastor wearing a long, flowing robe! Each of those things can possibly contribute to authentic worship, provided the focus is on God & not some kind of warm, fuzzy, religious feeling you get from all those “accessories.”

-Is Worship An Activity?

Genuine worship is not an ACTIVITY, it’s an ATTITUDE of the heart—originating in your inner being; or, the REAL YOU; and, it changes your life! I guess that pretty wide and inclusive, isn’t it? Real, genuine worship impacts your entire life because you’re occupied with God, your Creator! Worship is being occupied with God’s character, with who He is—His love, His grace, His mercy, His kindness, His benevolence, His justice, His righteousness! It’s too praise Him for being a Good Father & a Faithful Friend & an indwelling Spirit who transforms us into His likeness as we’re engaged in genuine worship & reflect on His Beauty!

-Worship Re-Forms Us!

In other words, worship will gradually re-form us into His likeness—we become more loving, gracious, merciful, kind, benevolent, just & righteous! We become better fathers and mothers! We become more faithful friends all because we’re focused & occupied with God in worship! Romans 12:1-2 is one passage of Scripture that has recently arrested my attention because of what it has to say about worship! After breaking down the Gospel, of Christ, in the first 11 chapters, the Apostle Paul concludes:  “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship…” I had never considered this a definition of worship! But, in fact, it is!

-Paul’s Worship Definition!

Paul is defining “worship” for us! Look at it again: ! He begins with a command: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” And, than he says, “…THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.” If you’ve even been curious about a good Biblical definition of “worship”; well, here it is! Why is that significant? Because we need to know HOW to worship God rightly; or, He will reject and dismiss our worship! I’m referring to the authority of God’s Word over every area of our lives!  The Scriptures are not only inspired, they’re authoritative! In other words, we don’t have the right to define “worship”—or, anything else for that matter—differently than God does in His Word. Paul is saying that genuine, spiritual worship impacts us & profoundly changes the way that we use our bodies—we sacrifice our bodies to please Him!

 

Worship God Rightly!

-Not All Worship Is Truly Worship!

It’s been my experience that many, who claim to be followers of Jesus, do not worship God rightly! I’ve found many who claim to be worshipers; but, their worship fails to resemble what God commands worship to look like in Scripture.  A great example, of Biblical worship, can be found in King David’s Holy Spirit inspired message, to Israel, about proper worship. Just open your Bibles, to 1 Chronicles 16; and, you’ll see what I mean.

-Worship God With Offerings!

Among other things, David commands the congregation to worship God with their “offerings”—“…ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (v.29). Don’t come to worship God empty-handed! Remember that we are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff, not OWNERS! God owns ALL of our stuff! We’ve been given the responsibility to manage a portion of “God’s ESTATE.” God is the owner of it all! And, worship has always included an offering!

-Worship God For His Creation!

David also led Israel to worship God for His creation—“…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’ Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth”(v.30-33).  ALL of creation—the HEAVENS, the EARTH, the SEA & everything in it; the FIELDS and all that is in it; the TREES of the forest—ALL worship Yahweh, David says! At Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees told Him to rebuke His disciples for giving Him honor as Messiah, Jesus told them that “…if they kept silent, the very ROCKS would cry out…”  We are called to worship God for the wonder of His creation AND for the wonder that all creation worships Him!

-Worship God Now!

And, then, David instructs Israel to worship God NOW because they’ll be worshiping God for all eternity—“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” (v.34). We don’t know a lot about heaven; but, worship will be part of it!

-Worship Beyond Imagination!

It’s a clear sign that a believer hasn’t spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word—seeking after God—when they express fear that an eternity in heaven may get boring!  After a BILLION years, we’ll still not know our God completely! But, I’m certain I will find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls & Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! As David finished his sermon, the text says that all the people said “Amen” and “Praise The Lord” (v.36).  And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people. The disciples also had great joy as God, the Messiah, dwelt with them during his 3 1/2 year ministry leading up to the cross. And, in heaven, Revelation reveals that “God will dwell among us”; and, forever we’ll worship Him!

 

How Must We Worship God?

-What Does Worship Look Like?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “worship”? What images does that word “worship” create for you? There are roughly 450 verses, in Scripture, that contain the word “worship” or “praise” in them. So, it’s a frequent Bible theme! Most often, it’s used as an appropriate outpouring response, of the human heart, toward Yahweh, who is worthy! At other times, it’s used negatively, by the writers of Scripture, because the worship & praise is directed at “idols” or “false gods” or “human kings”; or, some other created thing!

-Let’s Define Worship!

The dictionary definition for worship goes like this:  “worship is rendering honor and homage to God or to any object regarded as sacred; it is adoration, devotion & praise.” While true, that definition seems a little stale & sterile to me! It lacks the key element of a personal relationship! I much prefer this definition:  “worship is a redeemed heart, occupied with God, expressing itself in adoration & thanksgiving.” Much better! Or, what about this definition, by A.W. Tozer:  “True worship is to be so personally and hopelessly in love with God, that the idea of a transfer of affection never even remotely exists.” True worship is always about GOD! He is always the focus of true worship! He is the object of our worship! We are to “be occupied with Him.” We reverence, honor, and adore Him—NOT because of what He does for us; but, because of WHO He IS!

-True Worship Changes Us!

We worship the God who entered the world, He created, to save & redeem His people, who are lost in sin! And, here is the bottom line about worship—when our worship, of God, is true & genuine, our heart & our life will be CHANGED! True worship changes us! I would suggest that it begins in our head with knowledge of the “who”, “why’s” and “how’s” of worship! Then, our knowledge of worship makes it’s way to our heart; and, we know when it’s arrived, in our heart, because our hands quickly follow! It’s seen being lived out in the deeds & actions of a changed life! That’s what happens when genuine worship takes place! If we don’t worship God rightly, we become guilty of disobedience to His commands!

-God Commands Us To Worship!

God commands us to worship Him & no other! And, He’s instructed us what our worship ought to look like:  “I am the Lord your God…Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself…You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” Exodus 20:1-5; and, “Fear Yahweh your God, worship Him” Deut 6:13.  A clear picture, of the worship God accepts, is the story of Israel returning to a gathering of praise, around the Ark of God, under King David. In 1 Chronicles 16, David recites a Psalm, of worship & praise, directed at Yahweh! As the recently appointed king, of Israel, David made it a priority to lead Israel back to faithful worship of the LORD. This is what worship looks like—it doesn’t matter if it’s Israel in the O.T.; or, the church in the N.T. Read it again!

 

True Generosity Serves Others!

-It’s Not Just About Money!

We typically think of “generosity” in financial terms, don’t we? But, in God’s economy, generosity is shown in more than financial ways! In the book of Proverbs, the Spirit of God inspired King Solomon to include these words:  “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” Proverbs 11:25.  God intends for us to understand generosity as being about more than our finances! It’s not just about our money! According to this Proverb, God also measures generosity in the ways we serve others. He measures generosity by our willingness to minister & help others.

-Don’t Throw Money At It!

In the world, there’s a tendency to just throw money at a need. Rather than getting their hands dirty, the person who has the financial means would rather gift someone or an organization. Unfortunately, that same attitude can often be found in the church too! Many would rather “gift” it than get dirty through service or ministry to others! But, that’s NOT God’s economy! The Message paraphrases Proverbs 11:25 like this:  “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” God measures our generosity by our willingness to serve & by our willingness to enrich the lives of others by ministering to them. By offering something, Solomon says, as simple as a glass of water.

-It’s Being “Others Focused”!

It’s that same principle, that Jesus taught,  of being “others focused.” Unfortunately, it’s typical, in our American church culture, to look for a church that serves “me”! To look for a church that serves “my kids”! That’s the mindset of a “consumer,” isn’t it? And, it’s a way of thinking that is foreign to Scripture & to the church, in other parts of the world, where they look for a place with needs so they can serve! Faith’s way of serving is to look for needs and meet them! Faith’s way of serving actually prays that God’s Spirit will open eyes to those needs & open hearts to actually meet them! As with your finances, don’t “calculate’ how God might move others to serve you if you serve them! That’s serving out of GREED! And, just like God will not bless a greedy giver financially, He’ll not bless a greedy server either! He gave to us in love & we must give the same!

-Serve Recklessly!

The principle, in Scripture, is kind of like this—just serve & minister to the needs of others with reckless abandon! By faith, believe that God will keep His Word! Believe that, whether it’s by sacrificial giving or service, that God is going to reward you.  You might be rewarded in this life! Or, your reward might be received in heaven! At the same time, though we know the reward is coming, don’t give to get!  Just be generous, in faith, that God will take care of you! When we give, from a generous heart, it truly costs you nothing! You lose nothing in the exchange! You gain! You get richer the more you give! It’s counter cultural! Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life BECAUSE OF ME will FIND IT

God Loves Generosity!

-He Loves The Cheerful Giver!

In fact, to quote the words of the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Corinth, accurately, “…God loves a cheerful giver…” 2 Corinthians 9:7.  God is generous! He gives us everything we “need” the Scripture says; and, an awful lot of our “wants” also! He is a good God! And, His expectation is that we would become more and more generous as we are sanctified & made a new creation in the image of His generous Son, Jesus!

-There Are Expectations!

And, He has those expectations, of us, with good reason—He has given us His Holy Spirit to indwell us & change us! That means we can give “in the flesh”—giving sparingly or reluctantly! Or, we can give “in the Spirit”—to give willingly & generously & cheerfully as a work of the Spirit in our life! Generous giving is the supernatural work of God’s indwelling Spirit! That “in the flesh” attitude comes from a belief that God is a TAKER rather than a GIVER!

-A Giver Or A Taker?

If we believe that God is a TAKER, we’ll also give sparingly & reluctantly! We’ll see His requirements of a tithe & offering as taking away something that’s “MINE”; or, something “I’ve WORKED for.” But if, in our heart, we see God as a GIVER we’ll see all our financial blessings as coming from God; not, from ourselves! Our financial decisions ultimately reveal what we think about God! God is a GIVER! That is His nature! He gave life to Adam & Eve. He gave them a beautiful garden home! He gave them a choice! And, when they made the wrong choice & sinned against Him, He gave His Son—because, “God so loved the world that He GAVE His only Son…” So, He gave the world a 2nd chance at redemption through Jesus & the Cross!

-He Gives So We Can Give!

And, as followers of Jesus, He gives to us so we can be a blessing; and, give to others! This is an amazing truth from God’s Word! Whether you’re rich, by the world’s standards; or, poor like the widow who gave her mite, God has given us our stuff to make givers out of us. That’s exactly what Paul told the Church of Corinth: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance [or: make every grace abound to you], so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” 2 Corinthians 9:8. Get that? God gives us what we have so we can be generous!

-It’s All His Anyway!

He gives us enough, so, that if we manage it rightly, we’ll have what we need to be GIVERS! Now, the implication is that if we say we don’t have enough to give, that we’re mismanaging what He’s given us! Or, God’s Word is incorrect! Paul actually expands on this in v.10— “…the One (GOD) who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” In other words, God gives on BOTH sides of our giving! He gives us “seed” before we give; and, He multiplies it & provides a harvest for all the righteous deeds we can do in regard to giving! That’s God’s promise! He gives all of us what we need to BE GIVERS! Though, in His Sovereignty He may give more to some than to others; so, that they can give MORE! But, we’ve all been GIVEN to GIVE! That brings God glory!

 

Your Giving Reveals Your Heart!

-It’s An Exact Index!

Richard Halverson served as the Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1981-1994. Some considered this statement he made, about money, to be controversial: “Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character.  All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.” Money is an “exact index” to a man’s true character, he says! In other words, you can get a good feel for a person’s level of spiritual commitment by checking out their spending habits!

-Where Is Your Treasure?

Jesus said it like this, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will follow” Matthew 6:21. What your money goes after is a pretty clear indication of what your heart goes after! What your hands buy is a reflection of what your heart is doing with God! I saw this 1st hand because I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I was 13 when my parents came to faith in Christ; and, I saw how it impacted all their decisions about finances. So, the “quality” of your faith will reflect in all your financial decisions, as well as the level of your generosity. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”; and, He had a lot to say about money! Nearly half of his parables were about finances—He talked about money & possessions more than all His talks on heaven & hell combined! REALLY!

-Is Money Spiritual?

All of which means that it’s impossible to separate your financial life from your spiritual life. We can’t make money a taboo subject in the Church & the pulpit when 1 out of every 7 verses, in the New Testament, deals with money. Think about this: There are 500 Bible verses on prayer; LESS than 500 verses on faith; and, more than 2,350 verses on money! If the Church is to be faithful to the Word of God, we can’t NOT preach and teach about money! There is a fundamental connection between your spiritual life, and, the way you think about & handle money! Your financial decisions ultimately reveal what you think about God!

-We’re Managing God’s Stuff!

And, it’s vital to your walk with Christ—to your SANCTIFICATION & your spiritual growth—that you listen and obey what the Scriptures say about this. You’ve got to get this right, Church! Let the Holy Spirit, who indwells you as a believer, convict you with God’s Word if you’re not doing this right! And, REPENT! Make the right decision for God! As we conclude, let the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church of Corinth speak to your heart: “Remember this, the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver…You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.” 2 Corinthians 9:1-12