When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Supernatural Prayer!

-Lot’s Of Goofy Ideas About Prayer!

The world— and, even the church— has some pretty goofy ideas about prayer! For some, prayer is like magic! If your faith is strong enough, YOU can pray the sick back to health! YOU can pray the dead back to life! I’ve heard prayers— by some who claimed to be believers— that sounded more like witchcraft or New Age spirituality, where, prayer is like “The Force”; and, the battle against the dark side! And, if God is going to win, YOU have to support Him with your payers! In other words, the fate of the world; and, even of GOD, is in YOUR hands; or, in your prayers!

-Blasphemous Prayer!

Then, there is the blasphemous “Word of Faith” teaching on prayer; or, the “Prosperity Gospel” that makes God out to be little more than your personal “Jeannie In A Bottle.” You want health, wealth & prosperity? Just name it and claim it! God is helpless against the power of YOUR words if you claim it in Jesus’ name! He has to give it to you! That’s a perversion of what Jesus taught His disciples to pray! It’s a perversion of what prayer looks like in the New Testament.

-Why Is Real Prayer Supernatural?

Prayer, in the New Testament, was SUPERNATURAL! I mean, by that, that prayer was an absolute reliance & dependence on God. These perversions of prayer are humanistic in nature. The power is INSIDE us! Biblical prayer, instead, depends on the power of God that is OUTSIDE us! We’re admitting to our WEAKNESS; and, to our inability to affect change! We’re trusting in a SUPERNATURAL God to do what we cannot do! Biblical prayer is expressed helplessness & a dependence on God’s power! Let me put it another way:  whatever we don’t pray about, we’re basically telling God, “I got this,” right? Don’t need you for this one, God! Let me get personal! How many of you get up early enough Sunday mornings to pray that God would move powerfully in your Worship service? How many of you prayed specifically for a certain person that needs to be saved? Whatever ministry you might be part of in your church, do you pray regularly over it? For people that are part of it? I doubt that most of you really believe you can do God’s work without His SUPERNATURAL help! But, if you’re not praying over it regularly it kind of casts doubt!

-What Are Your Expectations?

We need the Holy Spirit’s conviction that if we’re not spending significant time appealing to God, in passionate prayer, that we shouldn’t expect him to do any supernatural work in our midst, in our lives,  or, in our church! By our failure to pray, we’re telling God, “I got this! Don’t need your help!” Listen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our self-centered know how! He doesn’t need us at all! But, it seems to be God’s M.O. to engage His people in deep, passionate, humble, helpless & desperate prayer BEFORE He does His great,  SUPERNATURAL work! He includes us; and, He uses our prayer to grow, in us, a deeper dependence on HIS power, rather, than our own! Will you repent of your false views of prayer; or, your prayerlessness? God help us!

 

God’s Glory Over Our Sanctification!

-It Begins At Our Salvation!

Eternal salvation begins for us the moment we are “justified”! Though we are born “…dead in trespasses & sins…” we are made alive through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, on the cross, on our behalf! And, because the sinless One paid the price for sin—that sinners should have paid—God is LEGALLY “just” to pass over our sin and grant us salvation. That’s why we say we are “justified.” Here’s a great way to remember what it means to be “justified”— “Just as If I’d never sinned!” Next, after God justifies us, He moves into our “house” & He begins to “clean house”; or, to “sanctify” us by the power of His indwelling Spirit.

-Sin Loses It’s Power!

Sin no longer has power over us! By God’s power, sin can be defeated! This is what it means to be “sanctified.” And, God is glorified in our “sanctification” also! He grows us spiritually! He matures us in our faith! Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote, in his letter, to the Church of Ephesus:  “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory” Ephesians 1:11-12. In Christ we’ve obtained an inheritance! It’s an inheritance that has been predestined to us; but, we don’t have it yet!

-Receiving Our Inheritance!

Now, someone has to die before an inheritance can be received, right? Usually, someone else dies & we receive an inheritance as a result! In regard to our eternal inheritance, in heaven, however, WE have to die to obtain it, don’t we? So, Paul seems to be referring to this time—RIGHT NOW—the time in between our salvation & the time we will inherit it! When Daniel was taken captive, by the Babylonians, they intended to break him from his faith in Yahweh, in part, by a diet that was offered in sacrifice to their Babylonian gods.  “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” Daniel 1:8. In other words, Daniel was “sanctified” or “set apart” for God as he faced this decision! And, God is glorified as we grow in our sanctification because He’s doing the work in us! We submit to His work! But our spiritual growth is His work!

-Work Out Your Salvation!

There’s an incredibly interesting scripture related, to this subject, in Philippians chapter 2. I’d encourage you to memorize it; or, at least remember where it’s found: “Work out your own salvation,” Paul tells the Church of Philippi, “with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12-13. There’s no mistaking that God commands us to “work out your own salvation.” That’s an imperative! We are commanded to grow, in our salvation; or, to be sanctified! But, God actually does the work! He “enables” us & gives us the “desire” to grow in our faith! The flesh cannot produce a sanctified life! It appears, that our brokenness and depravity is so thorough that we can’t even muster the “desire” to grow up spiritually! God gets the glory for our sanctification! All of it!

 

God’s Glory Over Our Justification!

-He Alone Gets Glory For Our Faith!

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Church of Ephesus, he made it clear, from the start, that God ALONE must receive the glory for anyone’s salvation! From the beginning of salvation, through our “justification”, until it’s completion at our “glorification”; and, everything in between during our “sanctification” in the present— ALL of it is God’s work for which He is to receive Glory! “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul began, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved” Ephesians 1:3-6.

-To The Praise Of His Glorious Grace!

That phrase, “…to the praise of His glorious grace…” is actually translated, “…to the praise of the GLORY of His grace…” in the NKJV. In other words, God is glorified through our “justification.” He is glorified AS He justifies us! It isn’t anything that we do! HE justifies us! HE saves us from the penalty of our sin! That’s what it means to be justified in God’s sight! Our sin legally condemns us to death! But, when Jesus became the substitutionary atonement on our behalf, God could LEGALLY remove the death penalty, we deserved, because Jesus died in our place! And, clearly, Paul intends for us to understand that our justification was God’s work alone!

-God Chose Us Before Creation!

No doubt drawing from Jesus’ words— “…You did not choose Me, but I chose you…”—Paul confirmed that, “…HE CHOSE us… BEFORE the foundation of the world…” v.4. Think of that! Let those words sink in! Feel the weight of that statement! BEFORE the world was created; BEFORE you were created, God had already CHOSEN you IF you’re a believer! “HE PREDESTINED us to be ADOPTED…” v.5. It’s because HE chose us & HE predestined us, to be saved BEFORE we were created, that all boasting or credit we might take, for our faith, is removed! One of the most significant aspects, of a marriage, is that from that day on a woman is called by a new name! Her name is changed because the groom loves her!

-Called By A New Name!

The groom loves her & invites her to take on a new identity as his wife! One of the most significant aspects of accepting Jesus, as Savior, is the fact that from that day on we’re called by a new name! Jesus loves us & invites us to take on a new identity! We’re no longer called  a “sinner”; but, a “saint”; His “bride”; His “church”! Throughout Scripture, there are many examples where God changed the names of His people— He changed Abram, meaning “high father”, to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude of many nations”; He changed Sarai, meaning “argumentative”, to Sarah, meaning “princess”; He changed Simon, meaning “he has heard”, to Peter, meaning “the rock.” There are many more if you’ll look into it! When God justifies us He gives us a new name to signify a changed life; and, He does it all for His Glory!

 

We’re Gifted For His Glory!

-But, How Do We Bring Him Glory?

I find that the subject of “God’s Glory” tends to provoke more questions than it does answers. How do WE bring glory to God?  And, WHY does God seek glory? Why is it OK for God to bring glory to Himself; but, it’s condemned, as pride, if we seek personal glory? The wrong answers to those questions could prove deadly! The life & death of a King, named Herod Agrippa, provides a shocking illustration for us. One day, as he was dressed in his royal robes & seated on his throne, he began to speak; and,  “The assembled people began to shout,  ‘It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!’ At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.” Herod Agrippa died, it says, “…because he DID NOT GIVE GOD the GLORY…” He did not REDIRECT the praise to GOD & it cost him his life!

-Why God Hates Pride!

God HATES pride because it’s man’s attempt to steal glory from HIM! Pride credits SELF for our accomplishments & DISCREDITS God who actually gave us everything we have, including our gifts & talents! Perhaps, like me, you were required to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in school; or, at least parts of it! One story included a vain rooster, named Chanticleer, who prided himself on all his accomplishments. He was most proud of the fact that his crowing caused the sun to rise each morning—every morning he crowed; and, every morning the sun rose making him quite proud! One morning, however, Chanticleer overslept; and, when he awoke, he was shocked to find that the sun was already up & it happened without any help from him!

-What Are You Crowing About?

When he realized that he could no longer take credit for the rising of the sun, he declared that, “IF by my CROWING I cannot bring in the dawn, then by my CROWING I can celebrate it’s coming.” Which begs the question—“What accomplishments, in your life, have you been CROWING about?” The moral to Chanticleer’s story is that his pride-filled “crowing” wasn’t accomplishing what he thought it was. He had deceived himself! But, there’s a 2nd moral to the story—when faced with the truth, he humbled himself & celebrated the sunrise though he had nothing to do with it!

-We Take Too Much Credit!

There’s much we can learn from Chanticleer’s story, isn’t there? We’re tempted to take way too much credit or glory for our own accomplishments, aren’t we? But, it’s God who created us! It’s God who’s given us our intellect, our talents, and, our gifts! It’s God who gives us life & the ability to make decisions! It’s God who regenerates us & raises us up from our spiritual death & gives us life in Christ. We can share in the process! But, we’d better not crow about it like we’ve done the work! God brings glory to Himself for our spiritual growth—or, sanctification—because He’s the One who does it! “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12. God does the work in us! He enables us! Give Him the Glory for it!

 

Worship Rejects All Competing Loves!

-It Impacts Your Life Like That!

According to the Apostle Paul’s urging,  to the Church of Rome,  when your worship is genuine it will impact your life, in such a dynamic way, that God will use it to produce perpetual change in you— “…I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual worship…” Romans 12:1.  As we worship God, He is redeeming our lives—as we intentionally present them to Him—to “remake” them into the image for which we were created before sin ruined it all! That’s why Paul wrote the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Corinthians 6:19,20.

-You’re Not Your Own!

Don’t you know, Paul asked, that if you’ve accepted Jesus, as your Savior, that you’re NOT your own! He BOUGHT you—that word carries the idea of “redemption.” He redeemed you! He reclaimed you! He’s in the process of restoring you by sanctification! So, we must intentionally present our bodies to Him as a “living sacrifice” to glorify God with our bodies! But, there’s a 2nd point, that Paul ties to our worship, in the next verse—“Do not be conformed to this age”; or, this “world” as some translations render it! (Romans 12:2) I like how the Philips Translation puts it—“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold…

-Only 2 World Views!

In other words, “worshiping” God involves an intentional rejection of the world’s demand to conform! There are really only 2 “world views” or philosophies. There is the philosophy of the world that is self-centered, self-pleasing, and self-indulgent! It’s promoted in advertising, books, movies, video games and most social media. It’s constantly pinching us & squeezing us into it’s mold—“If you don’t conform, you’re out of touch,” the world says!  The opposing “world view” submits to Creator God & His word! Paul continues, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Worship transforms & renews your mind!

-Intentional Transformation!

Genuine worship includes an “intentional transformation” of the mind to think like God thinks—those thoughts that are “…good, pleasing, and perfect…” and align with God’s will! What a contrast, Paul presents, between being conformed & pressed into the world’s mold; or, being transformed with a renewed mind—all within the “context” of worship! Worship is way bigger then singing songs to Jesus for 20 minutes on a Sunday morning.  This passage paints a picture, of worship, that’s all about God doing a work in us! As we humble ourselves, in brokenness, before Him; and, intentionally offer our bodies back to Him, He begins to change us in ways that make us more & more usable for His Kingdom’s purposes! He is re-making us to be what we were meant to be; and, His Spirit works with our spirit by transforming our minds!

 

Worship Is Giving Your All!

-It Changes Us!

When it’s genuine, worship CHANGES us! It seems, to me, that when Paul defines our “spiritual worship” as presenting “…your bodies as a living sacrifice…” that he interprets worship as a personal meeting, with God, that has such a redemptive & sanctifying impact, on us, that it CHANGES us (Romans 12:1-2).  That’s what genuine worship does to us! Worship is not an exchange where we check it off of our spiritual “TO DO” list so God becomes obligated to give us something in return!

-Worship Is A God Encounter!

Worship is nothing short of an encounter with the living, active, covenant-keeping God! It’s seeing how He humbled Himself & came to the planet—that He created—as a vulnerable baby; and, gave His ALL on the cross for us, so that, He might gain our redemption! Worship is being so moved, by His action, that, in brokenness & humility, we seek nothing more in return; but, in the likeness, of our Savior, we give our all back to Him—A LIVING SACRIFICE! We’re undone! All, of life, becomes worship!

-Before The Face Of God!

The Latin phrase, “coram deo”, means “before the face of God”; and, it’s used in the context of our worship because genuine worship is lived out everywhere & anywhere we find ourselves! Whether it’s our work, or leisure, or family time—there is nothing “secular” that is outside “the face of God” or outside His authority or realm! ALL of life is sacred! We cannot compartmentalize any sector, of our life, and claim it as ours; or, as something out of God’s reach! Paul tells the Church of Rome that spiritual worship is an intentional presentation of our bodies to God—”…present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” To what is Paul referring? The most obvious answer is the Old Testament sacrificial system, where, a lamb was slaughtered—in faith—believing that God would pass over the sin of the one sacrificing! But, I think Paul intends for us to go deeper in our meditation on this passage; and, see the Lamb of God who became the ultimate sacrifice for our sin! Jesus was the final answer—”…once for all…” God said! “It is finished,” Jesus said. There would be no more dead sacrifices!

-The Mercies Of God!

In these 2 verses, Paul says that it’s because of “…the mercies of God…” that we become “…holy & pleasing to God…” when we offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to Him!  Worship has everything to do with our redemption—to “redeem” something means to restore it; or, to reclaim it so it can once again be used as it was intended! When Jesus made atonement, for our sin, on the cross, He “redeemed” us—it means He “reclaimed” us, from the sin that had owned us from Adam’s fall; and, He began a “restoration” process, in us, to make us what He originally meant for us to be! And, He’ll complete that process, on the day of our glorification, when we see Him! Paul seems to infer that “worship” will become our “default setting” when we truly grasp the ALL that Jesus gave for us; and, we’ll want to do nothing less but give our all to Him!