Careless Worship!

-God Confronts Carless Worship!

In recent posts, we’ve identified spiritual drift as a relational stumbling block between God and His people, Israel. They were guilty of slowly moving away from authentic worship as they became skeptical of God’s love and faithfulness toward them! Their spiritual drift became evident as their worship became more and more casual! And, what God’s word reveals, in the book of Malachi, is that He will confront us when we become careless about our worship.

-Spiritual Drift Is Subtle!

From the opening chapter, Israel’s priests had become guilty of despising God’s name by the way they handled the sacrifices in the temple (v.8).  They whined that going to the temple to worship had become a nuisance (v.13-14). It had gotten “in the way” of the rest of their lives! Sound at all familiar? Be careful church! It’s a subtle drift! We can try and justify our decisions not to be in a Small Group; or, not to have our kids in Sunday School; or, not to go to Sunday School ourselves as adults; or, become careless about being the worship service at the start; or, our unwillingness to minister & serve others! But, God tells Israel that it’s because they failed to see & feel the greatness of God that they’d become careless, casual; and, calloused in their worship.

-A Heart In Love With The Creation!

Careless worship is the by-product of a heart more in love with the creation than the Creator! If you fail to see God’s greatness, then all the stuff money buys becomes more impressive to you. A flashlight is pretty cool until you see the sun! You’ll ooh & aah over July 4th fireworks until you experience thunder & lightning! Once you’ve tasted the Creator, the creation is no longer that thrilling! If you’re bored with God, it’s because you haven’t felt the greatness and the weight of Who He is! You need more time with Him in His word; not, less! Your kids need more time in family worship; more time in Sunday School and AWANA; not, less! You need more time with God’s people in a Small Group; more exposure to what God’s doing in other people’s lives; or, the world will tantalize you; and, you’ll find yourself in a slow spiritual drift away from God.

-The Need To Stand In Awe Of God!

Through Malachi, God shows us that He will confront God’s people when they become indifferent to truth (2:1-9). God calls out the priests, of Malachi’s day, for failing to speak the truth; and, He calls out the people for failing to keep the priests accountable to God’s word. God points to Levi, Israel’s first priest, as the example to follow. Levi stood in awe of God; and, the people sought to be instructed by him from God’s word. God testified that Levi “…revered Me and stood in awe of My Name… he walked with Me.” There’s an indifference, across our nation, toward God’s word! And, incredibly, the church is equally guilty!

-Indifference Toward God’s Word!

Even those who profess to follow Jesus have become indifferent to reading from their Bibles, claiming not to have time to read it regularly! But, the same individuals spend hours on HULU, Facebook & Netflix. Many of us have become numb to the spiritual drift of our souls as we entertain ourselves to death! The American church has become complicit in the spiritual apathy of our nation!  Rather than vibrant lives of faith that are impacted dynamically by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, many in the church have fallen into “moralistic deism” instead of the Gospel. If you’re good enough; if you keep the checklist of moral behavior then God will love you & bless you! That’s moralism; but, it’s not dynamic salvation in Christ! It’s no wonder that we live in a day of spiritual “deconstruction”; whereby, many are walking away from the Church. We desperately need genuine revival among God’s people in the church! God help us!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

What Jesus Calls Great!

-Wouldn’t You Like To Know?

Have you ever given thought to what it would have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples & just walk through life with Him? To literally walk through life with Jesus! Because that was the most common method of transportation in that day! And, to hear Him speak God’s wisdom into every situation they encountered! Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, tells us about a time when Jesus & His disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; and, Jesus gets real serious with them & begins to tell them that the Chief Priest & the religious leaders would condemn Him to death! That He would be mocked & spit on & flogged & killed! And, it was weird— like they didn’t even hear what He was saying— but, 2 of the disciples, James & John who were brothers, approach Jesus immediately after He dropped that “bomb” on them & ask if they could sit on each side of His throne in Glory!

-Great To Jesus Is Service!

That really ticked off the other 10 disciples! Mark records it like this:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re GREAT in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Jesus’ Leadership Model!

What Jesus calls “GREAT” and what the world says is “GREAT” are generally 2 entirely different things. Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). Those who lead, in this world, dominate or lord it over anyone in a “subordinate” role, Jesus says. Having a “position” of power is of great significance! But, that’s not the case in Jesus’ Kingdom! If we follow Jesus’ leadership model, we have to reject the world’s style of leadership. Instead, Jesus calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  “…it must not be like the world’s leadership style…” among believers, He says!

-Do You Want A Title?

In the ministry of the church, Jesus says it’s not about having a “title.” Do you want a title? If you’re an “ELDER” you SERVE! If you’re a “DEACON” you SERVE! If you’re a Sunday School Teacher, a Small Group Leader, an AWANA or NURSERY WORKER you SERVE! If you’re a WORSHIP TEAM MEMBER— it’s NOT A SHOW! Jesus doesn’t care about your title! He cares about your SERVICE! You want to be GREAT? You want a TITLE? Take the title of “SERVANT”, Jesus says! And, then, Jesus calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  Some versions render the word “servant.” But, that’s not right! The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, the only correct way to translate it is  “slave.” Jesus meant for us to take on the humility of a slave when it comes to our ministry & service to others!

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!