Pic of the Week: Golden Altar

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Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel came and stood at the altar, and he held a gold bowl for burning incense. He was given a large amount of incense, in order to offer it on behalf of the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne.The smoke of the incense offered for the prayers of the saints rose up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelations 8:2-4

The Mystery​ is the Essence of Worship

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When I was a theology student, one quote which stuck with me was “pastors are stewards of the mystery”.  As a pastor, it, at times, is frustrating that I can’t explain all the ways of God. Take a step back and reflect on that concept for a moment. If we could explain all that God does and grasps His every moment, would He still really be God? As the Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck writes, “Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics”. In worship, we see those mysteries on full display on a weekly basis. We come to God’s house and should expect to be awed.

Embracing the Mystery

16Then I set my mind to know wisdom and to observe the business that happens on earth, even going without sleep day and night 17I observed all the work of God—that no one can grasp what happens under the sun. Those who strive to know can’t grasp it. Even the wise who are set on knowing are unable to grasp it.”– Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 (CEB)

A. W. Tozer shares this great insight. “When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that most ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God. I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration….”

Tozer nails it. We accept that there are things about God and His ways we will never comprehend. The reality of this truth keeps us humble. At the moment we think we have figured God out, He surprises us. He remains a mystery.

Isaiah reminds us of this eternal truth.

8My plans aren’t your plans,

nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

9Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways,

and my plans than your plans.” -Isaiah 55:8-9

As Charles Spurgeon says, “I worship a God I never expect to comprehend. If I could grasp him in the hollow of mine hand, I could not call him my God; and if I could understand his dealings so that I could read them as a child reads his spelling book, I could not worship him…”

The Elements of Mystery in Worship

The Power of the Word of God 

17Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

18The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

“The world and words of Christ passed down in Sacred Scripture are never more alive than when prayed and proclaimed in the mystery of the Mass.” – Fr. Patrick J Winslow

What a joy to be invited by the Father to come and be fed with the life-giving words of Christ. In worship, we share this event with fellow believers and honored guests, as the Holy Spirit pours the power of God’s word into our hearts.

The Gifts of Grace in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28).

These divine gifts of the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism are offered by God’s grace for the forgiveness of sins. We can’t fully comprehend how this side of paradise. Many have tried to explain how, when simple bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, but instead of focusing on understanding it we simply receive these mysterious blessings by faith. The water joined with the word and the bread and wine, becoming the body and blood of Christ have embedded in them a promise and power to save, guaranteed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Mystery in worship and faith is good because it allows us to have that sense of awe at the wonders and the working of our Almighty and power God. Embrace the mystery, be in awe of the wonders of His love and mercy, rejoice in the forgiveness offered.

TED Talk: How to Design A Library That Makes Kids Want to Read

When Michael Bierut was tapped to design a logo for public school libraries, he had no idea that he was embarking on a years-long passion project. In this often hilarious talk, he recalls his obsessive quest to bring energy, learning, art and graphics into these magical spaces where school librarians can inspire new generations of readers and thinkers.

 

What is True Freedom?

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Some years ago in Los Angeles, a man was walking down the street with a sign on his shoulders. The front of it said, “I’M A SLAVE FOR CHRIST.” The back of it read, “WHOSE SLAVE ARE YOU?”

That is a good question because all of us are slaves to one or the other of two masters—sin or righteousness. We have no other choices. By the very nature of our humanity, we are made to serve and to be controlled by forces beyond our power. [1]So, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?[2]How Short Our Memories can be?

The Jews claim Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the Book of Judges. The ten Northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two Southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

The Jews who sadly believed they had to prove their faith by their faithfulness were trapped by the chains of the law. The law was enslaving them and robbing them of the freedom won for them in Christ’s death and resurrection. You can hear their misguided understanding in the cry, “We are Abraham’s children!” It is the same claim they made when John the Baptist confronted then in the wilderness. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”Matthew 3:8–9. Jesus met their claims head on and made a clear distinction between worldly children of Abraham (v. 37) and Abraham’s spiritual children (v. 39).

In verse 37, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.”[3]The spiritual children Jesus describes in this manner, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did,” John 8:39

Jesus used the illustration of slave and a son to explain true freedom. The one who is a slave to sin is akin to the servant who may live in the house, but he is not a part of the family. Servants have no guarantee, no secure future. It is possible as the Jews heard this example their minds would recall the comparison between Isaac and Ishmael. You find that account in Genesis 21. A literal translation of the Greek text is helpful here. “Whosoever keeps on practicing (Present Participle) sin is the servant of sin.” These religious leaders were living in bondage to sin!

What Makes Us Truly Free?  

I wonder if Jesus showed up today what would He be addressing in our churches? Where do we get our sense of identity from? Would we say we are followers of the teaching of the good Dr. Martin Luther, therefore we were never slaves to anyone or any false teaching? Would we hold to the liturgy as our safeguard? Or are we slaves to the leader of our congregation, or the connections we have made in our churches? None of these things are bad but if we think participation in these things or membership in the right church body will save us we have taken our focus off what truly saves, what truly set us free. Jesus points the children of Abraham away from works and back to faith. It is faith and faith alone that saves.

Faith in Christ makes us a child of God. Being connected to the Word of God and knowing the truth of Scripture is our safeguard against thinking we can save ourselves by our good deeds. Faith makes a slave of the king.

How can slaves of sin be set free? 

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” John 8: 36-37

We can only be set free by faith in the One who has given His life to redeem us, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If that Son sets us free then sin, Satan, and our sinful self-has no claim on us. Jesus has broken the chains of bondage and we are truly free indeed!

[1]Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively(Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 8:31–38). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 8:37). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Picture of the Week: Trust

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The events of the last week in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life Synagogue can be faith-shaking. Amid the storms Lord, you remind me you are there. I find such comfort in the words of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea when its waters roar and rage when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.”

There are moments in life when nothing seems to be going my way. When enemies encamp against me, Satan attacks at the most opportune times, and uncertainty about the future runs my anxiety to record levels. But the Psalmists points my heart back to you.  He reminds me the One I put my trust in will never fail.

“God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. “Psalm 46.

Through all of life’s challenges God, you are my Rock. You remind me that You are still seated on the throne and even when people or situations intend to do me harm you still have me in the palm of your Almighty hand. And what a mighty hand it is. In the Awesome name of my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Urban Ministry: Is Like a Crockpot Meal

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In order to do ministry in the city, you have to view it as a crockpot meal.  It takes time, lots of time. It needs to simmer. People of the city are used to people dropping in for a season and leaving.  You have to be willing to stay and tabernacle for a while, in most cases a lifetime.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

How would our attitude toward urban ministry change if we got a letter like the exiles received in Jeremiah 29? Here is the letter God sent to His people.

 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”  Jeremiah 29:10–14.

In Jeremiah 29 there is a conflict brewing between Jeremiah and the religious leaders. Jeremiah had written a letter to the exiles in Babylonia, encouraging them to abandon any false hopes that this exile will be short-lived (verses 1–9).  In fact, this punishment would last seventy years before the Lord would restore His people.

Urban ministry is about having a settled-in mindset.

If Christians go into urban ministry thinking that they are in it for a season and not in this for the long haul they will struggle to be effective.  As we have discussed in the previous post, the challenges facing the urban centers of our world are not easily solved.  The problems are complex.  Those challenges have formed over decades of failure and abandonment, so to think you can solve them quickly is a bit naïve.  It is also insensitive and destructive to people’s hope to start something, lift expectations, give them a glimpse of glory and then pull the rug out from under them before any lasting change is in place.  For them, they would rather you not try than to promise something you can’t deliver.  Hope is fragile in the city.  Many ministry servants have made promises, many dreams have been dashed in the past.  What the residents cannot stomach is another fly-by-night promise maker.

What is needed in urban ministry is a commitment to stick it out.  A determination that through hell or high water this leader is planning to ride this through to the bitter end.  You are committed to working through the frustrations, have the ability to overcome disappointment, settle for small wins and huge defeats.  That you have the spiritual capacity to point hurting people to the only true source of strength, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ.  The work days will be long and the pathway ahead filled with potholes.  And in the end, you may never get praise or a pat on the back for your efforts.  On the contrary, people will most likely be suspicious of you and question your methods and your motives.  Welcome to urban ministry.  Are you ready to sign up?  There is not a long waiting list of volunteers, the burbs are much more in demand.

Calling all courageous leaders with integrity!

In order to be a leader, a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose. – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bits & Pieces, September 15, 1994, p. 4.

To borrow and alter a quote from my favorite leadership guru, Rev. John Maxwell, urban ministry rises and falls on leadership.  The better the leader the greater the needs you will be tested to solve.  As your competency level grows the demand will rise up to meet that growth.

As we bring this discussion to a close here are some qualities an urban leader needs to meet the opportunities before the ministry.

Spiritual Gift Awareness

Because the leader will be tempted to try and be all things to all people, it is imperative that the leader is able to discern his/her gifts for ministry.  This is deeply rooted in the belief that each of us is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

This helps define the areas where the individual might be best suited to lead in the church and focus on achieving the plan God has laid out for the ministry.

Passion

Spiritual gifts paired with the passion for ministry help provide the fuel leaders need to develop into high-impact leaders. Spiritual gifts without God-directed passion are simply gifts. When gifts are united with passion, people move toward their dreams of becoming impactful leaders.

Commitment

 Once the gifting and passion for ministry are in place now comes the hard part, seeing the vision through. Tying this into the opening the leaders need to be willing and determined to commit to following the vision through to completion. This does not discount the possibilities that other commitments such as family, professional, or personal can prevent someone from staying until the mission is complete.  What I am saying is that often we leave right before God’s blessings come from all the hard work that was laid before. Unless God clearly is moving on to a new challenge, give it your best.  Your work in the Lord is not done in vain.

Other posts on Urban Ministry:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/13/how-we-deal-with-poverty-impacts-our-witness/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/06/urban-ministry-is-compassion-enough/

What Are The Characteristics of Leadership?

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One of the more compelling speakers at the Global leadership conference was Carla Harris.
Over the next several posts I will share what she calls, Carla’s Pearls of Leadership. And it’s all in the letters of the word L.E.A.D.E.R.

Leaders need to leverage other relationships to be successful. – Carla Harris

You could read that quote and mistaken it for a selfish, “me first” approach to leadership, where you use people on your climb to the top.

L = Leverage
I view this from the shepherd’s heart. Our relationships are the key to life and ministry. If you view this from a biblical perspective it is centered on humility. The writer of Proverbs summarizes this well.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

As a servant leader, you may not always have the best idea, nor the expertise but someone on your ministry team has access to the information. Using leverage means you seek help from those who have the God-given ability and knowledge to bless the greater kingdom goals. Your job as a leader is to create, encourage and release other leaders. “It’s not about the execution but about empowering other people. The more you give away, the more you create a powerful leverage.” Carla Harris

E = Efficiency
Even in the face of obscurity, you must still define what success looks like. – Carla Harris

“If you want to be a powerful, impactful and influential leader, you must be clear about what success looks like.” As a church, we struggle to define success. Talking that way seems unfaithful to the mission of God, yet God defines success. Churches get stuck when the goal is unclear.

Here are examples of God defining success.

And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’- 1 Samuel 15:18

And a more positive mission. God’s will for Christ Jesus.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53: 10-12

In ministry and life don’t be afraid to take chances. Chances are you will fail and when you do, celebrate the mistakes. A mistake can be as valuable as a success.

Is A Lack of Joy A Spiritual Warning Flag?

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There is a sense in some circles that being joyful is not a part of the Christian life. The tension is between reverence of God and the joyful expression that others may see as drawing attention to oneself.  I understand the delicate balance, but I also recognize that if what we do for the Lord does not give us joy and fulfillment how long can we survive the rigors of Christian service.

Is there a place for joy in Christian service?

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, SP Publications, 1990, p. 171.

Take this journey with me.  We will take this quote in sections because there is a wealth of wisdom contain it this paragraph.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…”

Joy is not something we can internally produce just like grace is not a natural concept to accept because both are birthed outside of our natural sinful human condition.  Joy is almost infused in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to carry out a great mission.  To announce the reign of Jesus Christ to the world “…as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Matthew 10:7

We are a people called for a divine purpose, to get the message out to those far from God. The heart of our message has the power to turn cold, unrepentant hearts, alive and ablaze with zeal for God.  The good news is God has sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. Jesus confronts the world lost in sin, while also comforting that same world with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.  Fellow travelers, you have the privilege to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  How can this not enliven your heart and give you a reason for celebration?  You have been set apart for a holy purpose and sent on a vital life-saving mission.

The alternative to embracing Joy.

“Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin or doctrinal error is that we lose our joy in Christ. When your heart stops singing, that is a warning to watch your life and doctrine closely.”- Jim Johnstone

“…the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Our other choice in life is to go around miserable and to complain about what a horrible lot life has afflicted upon us.  The danger of doing ministry without allowing your joy to shine brightly is the witness it gives to a believing and unbelieving world.  Who wants to journey with people who appear not to enjoy the ride?  The love we have for God should overflow to people around us in our preaching, teaching, and service. That overflow is a joy.

The psalmist describes it this way, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalm 43:4. It is possible to lead with a quiet, reverent sense of awe at the wonders of God while also having a heart filled with exceeding joy over the love and grace of our Lord and Savior.  Ministry is not about us, it is always about Jesus.  Since ministry is about Jesus, understand the awesomeness of God while rejoicing in the joy of our salvation.

Repentance: Draws God Back to Us

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In this four-week series on the church, we have covered three things that the church in Jerusalem did that was doing harm to the Bride of Christ. For a quick review.

Argumentative Spirit (James 4: 1–2a)

There was quarrelsomeness spirit dividing the church. People would church for the wrong reason. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Prayerlessness (James 4: 2b–3)

“You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

James’ people allowed prayer to become another thing that caused divisions and fights among the body of Christ. They were wanting the wrong things as they came to church. They were wanting their own desires gratified. God refused to grant their requests.

Worldliness (vv. 4–6)

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 

James points out that the church in Jerusalem was committing spiritual adultery. They claim to be joined with Christ, but we’re cheating on the groom with this love affair with the world.

It is never a good preaching or teaching practice to leave your people in despair. Once you lay out what is wrong, where their error when sin is crouching at the door, you must then lead people on a pathway to restoration. James creates such a path. In verses 7-11, he charts the course.

 

The Pathway Back (vv. 7-11)

7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 8 Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

What is the first step in this journey? The most difficult step, stop submitting to the devil and submit to God! Sounds simple. But that is the most difficult step. Sin is comfortable. Obedience isn’t, but James says we have power over Satan, if we will resist the devil, he will flee. Don’t just skip that section. We have the devil on the run. Not because of who we are but because of what Jesus has done.

Once we acknowledge we are not trapped by our sin, but more than overcomers, if we turn our attention to God, he will draw near to us.

What is preventing the repentance we need is a purification. Purification comes by drawing near to God through a process of cleaning up both our behavior (‘hands’) and our inner lives (‘hearts’). In Mark chapter seven Jesus teaches His disciples about what defiles us, the heart. If we are honest with ourselves many Christians find themselves with dirty hands and defiled hearts. We falsely assume we have struck a balance between being a Christ-follower and success in the world. Somehow, we have learned where others have failed to live in the world and think we can be completely unaffected by the world. Our hands are dirty. We are doing worldly things, things that are out of line with God’s will for our lives. We hang out in places in which should not be caught dead in, doing things we should not be caught doing. We say things they ought not to say and dismiss it as no big deal. Every one of these small acts of defiance makes our hands just a little bit dirtier.

The hands reflect what is in the heart. A. W. Pink observed that the hands and tongues are the shops, and the heart is the warehouse. To call people to cleanse their hands without also calling for them to purify their hearts is pointless.

Thus, we have James’ call to purify the heart. A call to cleanse the hands and mind is accomplished by washing away unbiblical thinking. Here is the tough part, this means we must stop making choices that are based on worldly values and to make our choices and decisions based on the Word of God. That is only done through faith.  Christ creates the pathway through faith in His death and resurrection. Faith is the renewing of the mind,  the new life in Christ is how we are clothed in righteousness.

Paul would point us to this verse for reflection and I will leave you with this to ponder. “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth.”(Col. 3:1-2).

God’s heart is to seek the lost (Ephesians 2:1-5). And bring back those who stray. 

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else. 4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!

Repentance is prompted by the Holy Spirit point us to our need for a Savior and turning or returning us to God. He even works repentance in spiritually dead people in conversion.

 

Picture of the week: Connected

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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. John 15

Worship Connects Us to the Almighty and the Body

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“Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me.” -John 15:4

“The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side of the tree opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection: if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk. In some storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us; while in others He allows us to be exposed so that we will be pressed more closely to Him.”—B. M. Launderville

John describes the need for us to remain connected to Christ the vine. Why is that connection so necessary?

Five Reasons You Need Christian Connection

  1. Mutual Edification of the Believers

“A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine.”

I have heard many Christians say, “I don’t need the church.” That statement always bothered me and here is why. A branch is not a self-contained entity. It cannot exist outside of the community, apart from the Vine. And neither can the Christian disciple. Just as a branch cut off from the vine is separated from its supply of nourishment so it cannot produce fruit. That also applies to the Christian. They do not connect to God and community, it cuts them off from spiritual nourishment. Bearing fruit in the life of the disciple entirely depends on a direct connection to Jesus. Attachment to Jesus or abiding in him is, therefore, the focal point, the foundation of Christian discipleship and spiritual growth.

  1. Encouragement

Life is tough and we need people beside us to keep us focused on the grace and mercy of God. I love this quote.

Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. – William Arthur Ward.

In a Christian community committed to carrying out God’s ministry of reconciliation, you have a culture where believers support one another through life’s struggles. It becomes a culture to invite an unconnected world to share in the forgiveness of Jesus and encouragement of the collective.

  1. Mercy Opportunities

When you are part of a Christian community you will quickly learn of the hurts and needs of those in your midst. These awareness opportunities, to do what Jesus suggest when you see hurts, and people in needs, “Go and show them mercy.” As you attend worship services and other servant activities with your congregation, you’ll be offered many opportunities to be mercy givers don’t ignore that call on your life or the opportunity to impact the lives of those around you.

  1. Rediscovering that Sense of Awe

The business of life sometimes robs us of that sense of awe at the wonders of God. As you attend church, regularly it allows us to slow the pace of life and sit quietly and be amazed.  In worship, we receive constant reminders of God’s love, power, and mercy.

  1. Forgiveness and Absolution

Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.” – John Stott in The Contemporary Christian.

If you have drifted from Christian fellowship in your life, reach out and find a community. I pray that this worship series will help remind all of us of the power and benefits of keeping the Sabbath holy.

A Worldly Church: Breaks the Heart of God

Holding the earth

Worldliness (James vv. 4–6)

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 5 Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? 6 But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud but favors the humble.

James points out that the church in Jerusalem was committing spiritual adultery.  They claim to be joined with Christ but were cheating on the groom with this love affair with the world.

Paul describes this intimate relationship in Romans 7:4, “4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also died with respect to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you could be united with someone else. You are united with the one who was raised from the dead so that we can bear fruit for God.”

He also shows this flirtation with the world in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, “2 I’m deeply concerned about you with the same concern that God has. As your father, I promised you in marriage to one husband. I promised to present you as an innocent virgin to Christ himself. 3 But I’m afraid that your minds might be seduced in the same way as the snake deceived Eve with his devious tricks. You might be unable to focus completely on a genuine and innocent commitment to Christ.”

The church is being lured away from Christ by the temptations of the world. Warren Wiersbe makes this observation. James identifies four dangerous steps that take the believer into a wrong relationship with the world:

(1)    friendship with the world, James 4:4.

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.

Jesus points out in the gospels that you can serve two masters, but you will love one and hate the other. Christians can’t live in two worlds. We can’t be friendly with the world and still be married to Christ.  The world is counter to the life we are called to as a new creation.

(2)    being soiled by the world, James 1:27.

27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.

It is easy to see this, the longer we travel this journey on earth the more difficult it is to keep the world at a healthy distance.  It is so enticing, so easy to justify how our actions in the world don’t do our faith damage, but little by little we are being contaminated.  “The world’s smiles are more dangerous than its frowns.” Source Unknown.

(3) love with the world, 1 John 2:15–17.

15 Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. 16 Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

(4) conformity to the world, Rom. 12:1–2.

The result is that the compromising believer is judged by the world.  Believers who are friends of the world are at odds with God. Their actions grieve the Spirit, who jealously yearns for their love.

“If I had a brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I …daily consorted with the assassin who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart; surely I too must be an accomplice in the crime. Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?” – C.H. Spurgeon.

Spurgeon affirms that they were giving to someone else the love and devotion that belonged to Christ and Christ alone. The world is an enticing lover.  If we are honest with ourselves this enemy is driving another wedge in our unity, it is destroying the harmony of our worship, and creating divided loyalties. Our people are more in love with their world than they are with God!

James’s uses the term ‘world’ for life that is lived as if this present world were all that there is. When we live this one precious life without regard to God, we are treading on a dangerous path.  A worldly life is one that centers on the values, the desires, and aspirations of a temporary existence. Paul reminds us that we are but mere nomads here. “18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross. 19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.”Philippians 3

 

Next Week: The pathway back to God.

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