What is Christian Worship?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” (Tozer 47) How we worship God during the week reflects how we worship God together at weekly gatherings. What is worship? Worship is more than something we do. It is more than something we attend. It is more than something we know the order of. Worship is a lifestyle. More importantly, worship is a response to the Living God who is here, who gave life, who continues to work and move in and through the believers.

If the people of God are to be living a life of worship, then the order of worship reflects how lives should be lived. In each worship setting, almost no matter what “style of worship” a person participates in, there is a four-fold movement to help the worshipper move closer to the throne of grace and experience the presence of the Living God. This movement appears in the book of Isaiah chapter 6. In a vision, Isaiah has found himself to be in the throne room of God. Here God is meeting with the heavenly beings, worshipping God, and talking about what should be done on earth. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV) Isaiah decides to be the one to respond and say, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8c NIV) After Isaiah responds, he receives the mission and the gifts to do what needs to be done. This shows the movement of worship (Gathering, Word, Table/Response, Sending Out), and describes our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Flow of Worship

Isaiah has been transported, in a vision, to the throne room of God. This is the first movement of worship called the Gathering. In this movement, people are finding themselves to be in the presence of God. This is where the people gather their hearts and spirits together to worship and begin to celebrate, as a community, all God has done, is doing, and will do. The Gathering is the time to center our hearts and our entire being on the reality of the presence of God. An example to help the worshippers understand the presence of God is among the worshipping community is to proclaim, “Welcome to God’s house where the Risen Christ is ready to receive our praises! I invite you to add your praise to those of your sister and brothers as we rejoice together in this day that God has made.” (Cherry 64) Many different components may be used in this movement. When the people wake up to the fact the presence of God is with them, and they are in the presence of God, the worship leader can offer a call to worship, song, opening prayers, prayers of confession and pardon and/or more. Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of the Holy One and says, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV) Isaiah understands where he is and whose presence he is in. He confesses and then one of the heavenly beings comes to cleanse Isaiah from his sin. Being in the presence of God changes lives. There is a need to be cleansed and receive forgiveness, so the people’s hearts are open and ready to fully worship and receive the blessings, peace, and most importantly, the presence of the Living God that is already among them. The point of the Gathering is to help the worshippers understand and appreciate the presence of the Holy Spirit inviting each person to participate in the worship of God Almighty that is already taking place in the heavens.

Since worship is a way of life, one way the worshippers could get ready for the community worship experience is to pray, sing, and read scripture. Psalms 120-134 are called songs of “ascent,” meaning these psalms help the reader, and person of prayer prepare their hearts, minds, the whole being for what is about to happen in the community worship event.

After Isaiah pays attention that he is in the throne room of the Lord, the presence of God, he begins to listen. Through all of the praises going up, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV), Isaiah hears God speak. This is the next movement the worshipping community goes through, hearing the Word of God read, spoken, proclaimed. During this movement, the worship leader, lay reader, pastor, read the scripture passage(s) for the day and the people are ready to hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained. Since it is the Word of God heard, it is usually a good idea to ask God to open the hearts and lives of the people so the Word can be fully understood and transferred and the Word of God can come in people’s lives and do the work of transformation. This is usually done through prayer, such as a prayer of illumination which calls upon the Holy Spirit to speak to the people through the Word and the sermon of the day.

When the Word of God is read and proclaimed, it is always a good idea to focus on the entirety of the message of the whole Bible, specifically the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This can be done through several scripture passage readings (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, Gospel readings) so the worshipper can keep the full message of scripture in their minds. One way to do this is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary readings which cover most of the Bible over three years. If the lectionary is not being used, it is important to still use more than one text or at least a more extended passage, so the full Word is heard in the context it was written.

God is always speaking. This is something the worshippers (all people) need to remember. So it is not just through the scripture reading(s) the worshippers hear from God; it is throughout the community worship event. When scripture is used throughout the service, the presence and Word of God is continually brought to the forefront of people’s minds and lives.

When God speaks, the only thing there is to do is respond. Isaiah’s response was “Here am I! Send me!” To respond to God means the people are ready and willing to do what God is asking. In the flow of worship, the response to God’s Word occurs in the sacraments (baptism and communion) or through song, prayer, or in the way the worshipping community decides. It is essential to give a response to the God who is present, active and speaking. The response “is an acknowledgment that we have truly listened to what God spoke to the community through the Scriptures and the sermon, and that as a result, we intend to offer back an appropriate affirmation.” (Cherry (99) Acts 2 demonstrates why the response is essential.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the 119 other disciples are gathered together. Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire, and the people hear a loud gushing wind. Peter stands up to address the crowd witnessing these signs. He boldly proclaims Jesus is still alive and gives a sermon that God uses to “cut to the heart” of each person there. The Word of God is strong, “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV), that the people had to respond. As a result, three thousand people decided to follow Jesus Christ and the world began to witness the saving, powerful work of God through Jesus Christ guided by the movement of the Holy Spirit. The world was starting to change. Responding to God means the people are acknowledging the desire to be part of God mission and work in the world. As a result, God fills the people with the Holy Spirit and equips them to do the work they are called to do.

The beginning of the community worship event takes the worshippers into the presence of God. The people are taken to God’s presence. This would be an upward movement, primarily because God’s people are always being worked on to be holier each day, with each experience of God. Then the worshippers have the chance to hear from God. This is God’s Word coming down to the people. When the people respond, the praises, voices, and cries of the people are brought back up to God. The response of the people is essential because the spirit of the people is lifted to God. This is the time when the people have the chance to get “on the same page” like God who is working, moving, and inviting the people to participate in the work being done.

Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of God. He has been cleansed. He has heard God speak. He has responded. Now, Isaiah is sent back to the people for the mission of God. In the flow of worship, this is called the Sending. What happens in the Sending is the people are sent back into the mission field. The mission field is not a place in another country. The mission field is home, work, the community, the store(s). Wherever the people go, God is working there and inviting the people to participate with the Spirit to work in the world. Robert Webber says “when God blesses us, God confers on us a power to fulfill our calling in righteousness and holiness in Jesus Christ. God’s blessing on us is a gift—an actual pouring out on us the Holy Spirit.” (Webber 184) This is what the Sending is, going back into the world, out of the safety of comfort with other believers, and living into the life and power of God wherever we are and whatever we do.

Liturgy – The Work of the People

Liturgy happens in all worship services. “’Liturgy’ comes from the Greek word leitourgia, translated as “work of the people.” It refers to the actions that worshippers undertake in order to do the work of worship.” (Cherry 39) Cherry goes on to say, “whatever worship acts we offer to God constitute our liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

In traditional worship services, the liturgy will be more formalized and corporate. This means there will be a specific way to pray, to recite, to sing, a particular order. More relaxed, contemporary worship services, still follow a liturgy; however, it may seem more relaxed, or not as obvious. Liturgy is more than what the people say in worship. It is something done in worship. The flow of worship is the liturgy. “Since all worshippers engage to some degree in the actions of worship, all worshippers engage in liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

Time

To help keep the focus on Jesus Christ all year long, the Christian calendar has been introduced and utilized. Time is something sacred. All time is God’s time. “In the tapestry of history, in which God is ever active even if often hidden, that central, brilliant blossom is Jesus Christ who enables us to see so many other evidences of God’s presence, and causes us to know that God is always with us, even when hidden from view.” (Stokey 24) It is through celebrating the Christian calendar, beginning with Advent and go through the year, we have the chance to celebrate the full life and presence of Jesus Christ with us always.

Sacraments in Worship

One of the most significant aspects of Christian worship, for many people, is the participation in the action and practice of the sacraments. The Protestant Churches recognize two sacraments—Baptism and Holy Communion.

Holy Communion, sometimes called Eucharist or breaking of the bread or Lord’s Supper, is best placed within the worship service after the hearing and proclamation of the Word. This is a time of responding to Jesus Christ through the participation of joining him in this meal. When a person participates in this sacrament, sacred moment, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the participant joins in and celebrates the victory of Jesus Christ. “In the heavens, there is a constant and eternal historical recitation of Christ’s great victory over the power of evil and death.” (Webber 129)

The time of Communion helps the participants remember, celebrate, be part of the community, and join in the meal of heaven. During this act of worship, the worshipper is responding to the real presence of Jesus Christ by coming forward to receive the grace, life, and forgiveness Christ offers. This is not something the people go into lightly, nor haphazardly. The people have been building to this time throughout the whole worship service. Now, through the consecration of the elements, the bread and wine (juice) are used to demonstrate the presence of Jesus Christ going into and living through the worshipping community. “The purpose of the table is to engage in acts of worship that enact and celebrate the story of how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, raised Christ from the dead, overcame the powers of evil, and offers to us the forgiveness, healing, love, and power for victorious living in community and in the world.” (Cherry 86)

Baptism is the second sacrament celebrated and practiced by Protestants. “Baptism, as it is known in the New Testament…is administered only once, at the point of initiation into the Christian community.” (Staples 120) This is an important thing to remember. A person is only baptized once because it is God doing the work, not the people. Baptized people do have opportunities, and should participate in, to remember their baptism by the symbol of water.

John Wesley, in his Treatise on Baptism, says, “The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is more fit for this symbolic use.” (Wesley) Staples writes, “[Water] helps to create life, but it can destroy life. It nourishes life, yet it can drown it. It can be healing, yet it can be destructive. The Biblical writers knew this.” (Staples 126) Water is also used because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

In 1982, the World Council of Churches published a work called “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” In this document, baptism is described as having five purposes: to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection (by going in the water and coming out), outwardly demonstrate an inward working of the Spirit’s cleansing power, it is a gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, and baptism is a sign of the Kingdom. Just as circumcision was an outward sign for the Jewish people of their status as God’s chosen people, baptism is an inward sign that a person is marked, sealed and set apart as God’s person to live life in a covenant community sharing, showing, and expanding the Kingdom of Heaven wherever the believer is located.

There are many ways a person is baptized—sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. It does not matter how much water is used. The critical thing to pay attention to is how the Holy Spirit of God is working in and through the individual to be a vessel used for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Both Holy Communion and Baptism use symbols to represent the real presence of God through Jesus Christ as experienced by the Holy Spirit. The complete Triune God is present in the sacraments, and the people experience the saving grace of God through these acts of worship which are then transferred to everyday life.

Conclusion

Worship is a way of life. As the people of God gather together in God’s presence each week, they remember the saving act of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian worship is centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and shapes the people of more into the likeness and image of Christ. When the people of God are transformed, by the Holy Spirit, the world will look more and more like the Kingdom of God here on earth. This happens when the people of God live out their worship each day. Alexander Schmemann sums this idea up beautifully:

“The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom—not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called ‘sacrament,’ but because first of all, she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the ‘world to come,’ to see and to ‘live’ it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of the world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty.” (Schmemann 113)

The Church is the people of God, worshipping, celebrating, and doing the work of Christ in this world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Bibliography

Cherry, Constance M. (2010). The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Schmemann, Alexander. (1963). For the Life of the World. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition

Staples, Rob L. (1991). Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Kansas City, KS: Beacon Hill Press.

Stookey, Laurence Hull. (1996). Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1984.

Webber, R. E. (1998). Planning blended worship: The creative mixture of old and new. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life. New York: Harper

Moving Toward Victory

Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week, we have been preparing our hearts for as we continue our journey to the cross which will take us through 

Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…today)

Maundy Thursday (Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal and arrest…Thursday)

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

Finally to the glorious victory of the resurrection of Easter Sunday!

We do not go into this week with our head held low. Neither do we go into this week trying to avoid the events that happened to God in flesh, Jesus Christ. We go into this week, reminded that the worst thing in life we face is never the last thing. Death is not a defeat. Because of Jesus Christ, we walk with joy. We walk with hope. We walk with a sense of victory.

We begin Holy Week with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the “suffering servant”, as well as the true Messiah…the Christ…the savior of the world. 

It’s the equivalent of when we say, “hold my drink.” Jesus is saying, “hold my chalice, I got this!”

Remember, Jesus will be saving the world, for us today he, has saved the world, in a much different way than the people of Israel hoped he would – in a militaristic fashion, overthrowing the Roman occupiers.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

First of all, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not the only “entry” that day.

As we think about the events on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we should think about what else is happening in the city of Jerusalem. There were thousands, if not millions, in the city for preparing for Passover. 

Not everyone in the city was laying their coats down and waving palm branches for Jesus. King Herod Antipas was entering into Jerusalem, in a grand gesture. (Note: This is why Pilate took Jesus to Herod so quickly and easily during Jesus’ “trials.”)

The other processional was that of Pontius Pilate. His procession through Jerusalem was meant to be a reminder to the people who was in control – it was a blatant show of force.

2 of the 3 rulers entering Jerusalem in parades that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty. They were perfectly willing to kill in order to hold power, and they used impressive shows of forces to demonstrate that fact. Jesus, on the other hand, had no soldiers. He led a ragtag band of followers who waived palm branches as he passed by on a donkey.[1]

With this, we turn our attention to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In March 2002, the former ruler of Afghanistan, the 87-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, returned to his homeland after 30 years of exile. Here’s how an article in the Chicago Tribune described his grand and glorious welcome:

On Thursday, thousands of invited guests lined up for hours at the airport and people gathered on the streets leading to a refurbished seven-bedroom villa to see the former ruler. Delegations arrived from across Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Governors and their advisers, members of women’s groups carrying posters of the king, most of the interim administration, royalists, warlords, men in turbans and others in suits all converged on the pockmarked runway where shells of bombed airplanes lay. Two red carpets were laid out. The newly trained honor guard was on hand, and young women and children in traditional embroidered dress greeted Zahir Shah with flowers and poems.

I hope you’re thinking of the contrast when Israel’s Messiah was born, when he came to his own people.[2]

READ MARK 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

Have we ever asked, “why Jesus sent his disciples to get the donkey AND THEN RETURN IT?

This incorporates a common folklore technique in which signs identify the desired person or object. These signs may include an encounter with strangers in the process. Romans soldiers routinely requisitioned animal and human labor from the people. Jesus’ promise to return the animal promptly distinguishes him from the ruling forces. [3]Jesus is continuing to set himself apart.

Riding a donkey is a richly symbolic act that goes back to King David. The donkey was a humble beast that symbolized David’s identity as the shepherd king. Davidic kings from that time forward rode on donkeys or mules to identify with David.[4]

HOPEFUL PROMISE

The prophet Zechariah gave a hopeful promise 500 years before Jesus was alive: 

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
[5]

Since everyone in the crowd may have known these words, Jesus was demonstrating, clearly, that he was the long-awaited promised King spoke about through the prophets. He was openly proclaiming he was the Messiah![6]

The crowd was cheering and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

(NOTE: Matthew depicts the crowd “waving” the palm branches on the streets on Jerusalem while Mark says they laid their palm branches down on a street outside Jerusalem as Jesus was about to enter the gates. We do not need to be concerned about this detail; but rather we should be concerned with the purpose of Jesus entering Jerusalem.) 

Palm Branches were a symbol of goodness, victory, and well-being.

The finest specimens of palms grew at Jericho and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan.

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple:

“On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalms 92.12 says that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again people from every nation raised palm branches to honor Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
(Revelation 7:9)[7]

SO WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

My guess is we have focused so much on Jesus riding into victory, that we may have missed another point as well. A point that is not mentioned specifically in this scripture; but one that we notice in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

God has won the war. Good ultimately triumphs over evil; but this does not mean we do not face challenging, frightening, unbearable things in our life. We sometimes know, or we anticipate, what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, years:

Cancer diagnoses, terminal illnesses, spouses leaving, relationships crumbling, jobs ending (either by our choice, or by management’s choice). Jesus has been in similar circumstances. He knew he was about to die. That is why he kept pressing toward Jerusalem. This is part of his mission.

We like to think about Jesus just going forward in strength, in courage, with his head held high. Jesus was fully God. The God-part probably did do this; but was also grieved because of why this had to happen.

Jesus was fully human. The human part of Jesus was probably nervous or anxious. Imagine him riding into Jerusalem, his stomach was in knots, his mind racing about the events that would take place soon.

Jesus knows what it is like to get a death sentence, get a diagnoses for a disease he did not want (sin), feel the pain of people rejecting him for his mission and who he was. Jesus knows our every weakness, knows what we go through.

Jesus shows us, we too can keep moving forward. Why?

Because God is there. God is with him, you, I, all of us[8]. God will provide the strength and power when we need[9]it and give a peace beyond understanding.[10]

Jesus is the ultimate example of the power of God, especially in life’s darkest hours. Look at how the Apostle Paul shows how Jesus handled his life, his mission:

Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very natureof a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Pay attention to the events of Holy Week. Be part of the services offered to help us trace the final week of Christ’s earthly life (tonight’s “Easter Experience”, Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service, Friday’s Good Friday service).

Remember the power of God that strengthened Jesus to endure the mocking, humiliation, torture, death sentence, and finally a humiliating death of crucifixion.

Through all of this, Jesus still had the joy of God, the joy of heaven, in his life. He did not allow the weight of the world to bring him down, he still prayed the Psalms on while on the cross. He did not focus on the negative and dwell on it, like we tend to do. He stayed the course of life, trusting God will do what he promised. The promise and presence of God was still experienced by Jesus, even on the cross.

Keep moving forward. Anything you and I experience, God can and does give us strength, peace, wisdom, himself. Move forward because, even though we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Victory has been won!

God may not get us out of the conflict, the situation we’re in; but he is in it with us. He will ALWAYS get the last word, as we will see next Sunday, Easter morning.

Keep moving toward the victory of Jesus Christ in the world. Everyday, wake up and tell the world, “hold my cup…watch what God will do in and through me today!”

Let’s pray…

Holy God, You have paved the way for us to live as your lights in the world. May everything we do point to you, to Your victory over sin and death, evils which seem to be more noticed than the good, than You in the world. Give us the strength to handle anything life throws at us, help us remember you have won and allow us to walk as joy-filled people shining your light and love to all we encounter, to all who live not knowing the True light of the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is in His name that we pray. AMEN


[1]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 139, 143

[2]Preaching Today web Site: Afghans Give Ex-King a Royal Homecoming

[3]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary – Mark. Page 658

[4]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 137-38

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

[6]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 138

[7]https://www.thoughtco.com/palm-branches-bible-story-summary-701202

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11

Confessions of a Pastor

Sometimes I Find Myself Being A People Pleaser

One of the things I hear, from many people, is, “I will do what I want, I don’t care what other people think.” This is something I have said at times also. The older I get, the more I realize I do care what people think.

I am a recovering people pleaser. Is that okay with you?

There are times I cannot stand it when people get mad at me. I feel like I have to fix the situation right away by apologizing and talking with the person. The feeling amplifies when it happens to be a group of people I inadvertently offended somehow.

I do not like it when people are mad at me.

I do not like it when I accidentally hurt people’s feelings. This is one of those times I begin to feel low. I feel like scum because I hurt the feelings of someone I care about.

The list can go on and on.

I also enjoy it when people like me. Not because I am recognized for good work; but because I am liked as a person. This brings happiness and a feeling I have people around I can spend time with and they would enjoy spending time with me.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else? How many of you feel this way?

I know I am not the only person who goes through these pursuits of people pleasing. This is not how I operate all the time either. But recognizing and proclaiming this reality is important, for me and for you.

Here’s the thing. If we are doing the work that God has called us to do, not everyone is going to like us. There are some people who will completely reject and despise us because we are doing work for the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Galatians 1:10 (ESV), the Apostle Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be servant of Christ.”

The questions I have to ask, and answer, each day is, “Who am I really working for? What are the reasons I do what I do?” You have to answer these also. The quality of our work will actually depend on how we answer these questions. Why?

If we are working to please man, there is a big chance we will cut corners and manipulate the work we do to make us look better so others will like us. This really is not our best work because it is really not focused on the work, but rather on what other people think of the work…of you and me.

Colossians 3:23 (ESV) says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

Doing the work for God means we are doing work for a much higher purpose than us, or our personal agendas. Doing work for God means we are going to do the right thing, all the time, in a loving way, so the Kingdom can be expanded.

When we are doing the work for God, and give all glory to God, then we are going to make sure all the “I’s” are dotted and all the “T’s” are crossed. In other words, we are going to make sure the work is the best quality work possible.

Yes, I do like it when people like me. It really makes my job a lot easier. But, the reality is, I do my best to focus on what is best for the Kingdom work in my life, church, community, and ultimately, the world.

My prayer each and every day is simply, “God, you be glorified. Jesus be known and shown. Holy Spirit guide me and strengthen me.”

Ascended & Reigns Forever

Jesus is…

God in flesh, free from temptation, healer and restorer, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, and he is Risen and lives forever!

This is what we have been thinking about for the last seven weeks. Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do incredible things in our midst and in our world. Are we paying attention?

Now we go to the event Jesus was preparing his followers for – his departure.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says something interesting to his disciples. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your own good that I am going away.”[1]Why would he say this? Think about it. If Jesus was still here in the physical body form, as we are, then he would only be able to be in one particular place at one particular time. We would have to go to him to hear him and so we could be in his presence. We might say we want Jesus in the physical flesh now, but then we would have to be the ones who go to him.

But, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we do not have to go to him because he is already with us. It really is better for us that he ascended into heaven, otherwise he would not have sent the promised Holy Spirit (see John 16:7).

So now, let’s take time to read the passage, from Luke 24:

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God

The ascension event is found in all four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts. All of them differ to some degree.

Matthew’s gospel concludes with Jesus telling the disciples he has all authority in heaven and on earth and then gives them, what we call, the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations…”

Mark’s (longer ending) gospel says something similar, but then adds, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God.”[2]

Luke’s gospel is above.

John’s gospel shows Jesus alluding to his ascension when he speaks with Mary Magdelene after he rose from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[3]

The book of Acts says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”[4]

I used to picture the ascension like most people, Jesus floating off in the clouds and disappearing into the sky as he was on his way to heaven – a far-off location. But, as I have paid closer attention to the scripture, I now realize this was written in a similar form as when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God. Moses “ascended” the mountain and went into the clouds. This means Moses walked up the mountain to where the clouds were, and he was not seen for 40 days.

This is what I now picture. Jesus goes up the mountain and the clouds come down upon him and he disappears. Why clouds? What do they mean?

Clouds throughout scripture represented the fullness, the glory of God. When Moses was in the clouds, he was in the full glory of God. Jesus, when the clouds surrounded him, entered into the realm of heaven to be where he could reign forever.

All of the written accounts of Jesus’ departure (his ascension) point to his authority over all. This event also shows us he is King now. Jesus will not be crowned King when he returns. He is King now. He has full authority over all humanity and creation. The New Testament writers believed this too.

Do you know what the most quoted Old Testament scripture is? It may surprise you to know it is actually in the book of Psalms. Can you guess it? This scripture is quoted 23 times in the New Testament. Ready to find out what it is?

It is Psalm 110:1. That may seem like a strange scripture. But, it shows the authority and Kingship of Jesus here and now. The New Testament authors wanted to show Jesus’s authority to the believers so they could have the assurance Jesus is not in a far away place, but ruling now.

Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NIV)

HUMANITY EXAULTED

Jesus sits down at the right hand of God. Why? The right side has always been referenced to as the strong side, the highest honor, the position of authority. Jesus sits down meaning his work has been done.

Hebrews 1:3 points again to the placement of Jesus’ position in heaven. “[H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(NIV)

What all of this is showing is that because Jesus has ascended into heaven, humanity now has a position and place in heaven! Why? Remember it was not the Spirit of Jesus that went into heaven. Jesus did not shed himself of his physical body to enter heaven. His body was made perfect before ascending. It was Jesus, in human bodily form, that entered into the realm of Heaven.

This means there is a human (Jesus) ruling in Heaven. Now, this is not diminishing Jesus in any way. Remember, in Heaven, humans are higher than the angels. Jesus is still fully God. He is also fully human. As Steve Seamands writes, “Because Jesus ascended, humanity has been exalted and brought into the life of God.”[5]

See, it is not the resurrection that gives us life everlasting with God in Heaven. It is the ascension. Because Jesus is there, humanity has the place in Heaven now.

The ascension is so much more important for our life with God than we realize. The importance of this event has slipped from our minds, but this doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus did.

Jesus’ ascension is so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are only six mandatory days to attend Mass. The Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Day) is one of them.[6]Is this event as important to you? I hope the importance of this event is more real now and we can come to celebrate Jesus’ ascension more prominently.

WHERE IS HEAVEN?

As I have said, I do not picture Jesus going off into the sky on his way to heaven. Too often, we tend to think of heaven as some far off place that we go to after we die. Remember Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth. He was not proclaiming a place far away from earth. Neither was he saying we “go to heaven.” Jesus was proclaiming heaven on earth.

Steve Seamands reminds us of how NT Wright teaches about the realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus seems to be proclaiming while on the physical earth. “As NT Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same special continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creations. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the one who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. ‘The Ascension, therefore, means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.”[7]

Heaven is not some place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality of the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come. Heaven, therefore, is already here. We just do not have the eyes to see it fully nor live into it because Jesus has not come back.

Heaven is here among us. We see glimpses of heaven each and every day. One day, the fullness and glory of heaven will take over the earth once again. Heaven and earth will become one, just as in the Garden of Eden. This earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed and redeemed. This is why we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our prayer. That earth will be just like heaven.

JESUS IS STILL HERE

Since heaven is here on earth, as another dimension of the reality we live in, Jesus is still here. And, we are with Jesus in heaven.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are in Christ. We are really with him in heaven at the same time we are here on earth. Heaven can be, and is, experienced here on earth because, as Paul says, we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. Because we are in Christ, we also get to be with him in heaven too! The reality of Jesus is here. We are also with him.

Seamands reminds us “Jesus is always with us in actual presence. Because we are with him in heaven and he’s with us on earth, that means we can live every moment in the holy of holies presence of God.”[8]

Remember in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle , nd the Temple? There was a room, separated by a thick curtain called the “Holy of Holies.” This was the space that only the High Priest could enter. This was the most sacred space on earth, the place where God resides.

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing there was nothing separating God from the people anymore. God has broke the barriers created by Sin and has allowed humanity to enter into his presence anytime we want. We get to live in the presence of God here and now and we do not have to go through a mediator.

We can live, knowing the reality of Jesus is with us always. Look at Psalm 16:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
[9]

STAY HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY FOCUSED

I’m sure you may have heard the phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, we really need to scratch that phrase so we do not use it again. We really do need to remain heavenly minded, because we, who are in Christ, are with Christ in heaven here and now. This is the reality we know will come to fruition at the right time.

We need to remember that we are called to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are and wherever we go in whatever we do. Our focus should always remain on Jesus Christ because it is his image we are being molded and transformed to.

Jesus is on the throne and this has an incredible impact for how we live our life. Because Jesus is on the throne, we can approach with confidence the Throne of Grace. (Hebrews 4:16)

We exalt Jesus as the rightful King of the world (really universe) because if we do not, something or someone else will be exalted in our own lives and we will miss out on living in and experiencing heaven on earth here and now.

Jesus gives himself for the mission he called us to and he does not leave us on our own. Nor, do we go into the mission field in our own strength and power. Jesus guides and gives us all power and everything else we need. He does this through the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we love God by loving people and we love people by loving God, we are doing what we were created for. This is what we are called to do.

So, who is Jesus? Jesus is….

God in flesh, free from the power of temptations, healing and restoring, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, risen and lives forever, ascended and reigns forever.

That’s who Jesus is. Now the question becomes, “What would Jesus say about you?”

Works Cited:

[1]John 16:7a NIV

[2]Mark 16:19 NIV

[3]John 20:17 NIV

[4]Acts 1:9 NIV

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”

[6]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[7]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[8]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[9]Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

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How about here?

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How about here?

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And finally, how about here?

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We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

Free From the Power of Temptations

Knowing who Jesus Christ is, this is the core of who we are becoming. A couple of weeks ago, we began a series on the life of Christ. We started with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Why would we start with that? How we answer that question determines how we view the life we have been given and how we’ll live our life.

Last week, we discussed Jesus is “God in flesh.” Remember, his birth and incarnation (becoming a real human being) are much more than a story we need to hear at Christmas. This is much more than the cute plays we watch. God coming down to earth is HUGE and changes everything. God, himself, is showing he is willing to do what it takes to bring people into a place of salvation, the place of being in his presence here and now AND in the life to come. God coming down to earth is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (for us Second Coming of Christ) where everything will be set straight, and earth, as well as humanity,  will return to the paradise state of Eden.

What we want to look at today are the temptations Jesus experienced.

First of all, let us remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said,“we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”[1]

This really should be all we would need to say, but the truth is (especially for our culture and mindsets today) we need to unpack the meaning of that verse. It is challenging for many people (believers and non-believers) to fully believe Jesus did not sin, let alone be tempted in “every” way we are. Yes, Jesus did live in a different culture and time period from us, but we should always remember human nature, desires, and temptations are still the same. How they manifest themselves may look different than what people experienced, even 100 years ago, but we all live through these same temptations even today.

To understand why Jesus was tempted, we have to first begin with his baptism. Luke does not say much about the baptism of Jesus, but what is said is very important to what happens later, and how Jesus lives his life and does his ministry. Here is what Luke says:

LUKE 3:21-22 NIV

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the important things we can often miss when we get into the story of Jesus’ baptism is the Trinity is at work and is noticeably visible. Jesus, the Son, goes into the water. As he comes up, the Holy Spirit comes in bodily form. Then we hear the voice of God the Father.

This is crucial to understanding what happens when we are baptized. It is not a saving act, but rather a relational act. Through baptism, we are acknowledging the work God has been doing within us, and we are publically declaring we now know we are part of the family of God. Baptism brings us into God’s family, and we are living in a new relationship. Just as the Trinity is the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world, when we are baptized we witness the relational work of the Trinity within our own lives.

We go to the waters, as Jesus (who is with us), as we are baptized, the Holy Spirit seals and anoints you to a position in the Kingdom of Heaven and makes you a prince or princess. Can you sense the Father’s voice speaking to you saying, “You are mine. With you I am pleased.”?

THROUGH BAPTISM WE ARE BROUGHT INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD

But this also means we are brought into the mission of God here on earth. Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism, the public declaration of his mission and purpose. The same is true for us.

Jesus understands all that we go through in this life. He was/is God in flesh, Emmanuel, God with us; but he is also fully human (Jesus was fully divine AND fully human at the same time). He has a deep understanding that he does not live or work without the relationship of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He does not do everything himself.

Do we feel like we need to do everything, at times? Yes. Especially when beginning a new business or mission venture. But the truth is, the mission and business we are in are not ours. It is Christ’s, and we are his people, his representatives in the world. Everything we do in the mission and business has the great possibility to bring people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is setting the example of what it means to be in a relationship with God, the Father. He is also setting the standard for not working on his own but in conjunction with what the Father is doing through the Holy Spirit. It is all about relationships. The relationship with God, his people, and his creation.

Jesus knows we have a need to be in a relationship with others. But he knows we have a deeper need to be understood, loved, and have a relationship with God, the Father, the Creator of the universe.

Here’s something we can miss. Just because we have entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not mean everything will be perfect in our lives. Remember Jesus came to our world, this world. Why do we insist on our own comfort and safety, all the time, when Jesus was homeless and was humiliated, mocked, beaten, even crucified? Jesus knows that for our relationship with God to be strong, we will be going through trials and temptations that test our resolve to follow God and his word.

After his baptism, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by Satan, the devil purposefully. Why is this important?

JESUS RELEASES US FROM THE POWER OF TEMPTATION AND SIN

Let’s read the temptations and hear what they might say to us today.

READ LUKE 4:1-12

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was temptedby the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Notice what happens here. Satan comes to Jesus after Jesus had fasted (not eaten anything) for 40 days. Why didn’t the temptations come right after the baptism?

WE ARE TEMPTED/TESTED WHEN WE ARE AT OUR WEAKEST MOMENTS

Have you ever been around anyone who needs to eat, but hasn’t eaten? Have you met or encountered people who get “hangry” (the emotion of anger when you are hungry)?

Of course, we all have! This is why the snickers commercials are so appealing because they show us what happens if we do not get fed physically. Truthfully, if I forget to eat, or do not eat enough, I will get the same way.

If we have not gotten the proper nourishment for an extended period of time (food, love, affection, attention), we find we become “hangry.” In those moments, we are likely to do things we would not normally do or say things we would not normally say. It is in these times when we will be tempted the most to take charge and forget (not live into) God’s presence and Word that is with us always. The promise of Jeremiah is true, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”[2] There comes a time when we know (with our mind) that we belong to God; but when the physical, emotional, mental, relational needs are not met, then a new ruler of our hearts tries to take the throne and rule our lives in place of God.

Imagine the scene. You have just come through an incredible experience. You just got the job. You have found your mate for life. You have just become a parent. You have just experienced God for the first time in your life and have just realized he has been pursuing you all your life. Everything is great. For a time.

The high from the excitement will wear off and the reality of this world, this life comes back into focus. We have not been seeing the world as the rest of the world sees themselves. Instead, we have had the rose-colored glasses on that God had given us. There comes a time when we stop putting the glasses on and experience a time of feeling down (after the high has worn off).

This is when you can begin to feel the grip of Satan, the accuser, the devil, grasp your shoulders and pull you in close. You can hear the words, “If you truly trust and believe in God, then __________.” (Basically “prove it” by doing ________.) This is what is happening. It happens to all people.

We may not see a slithering serpent (as in Genesis 3) trying to lead us astray. We may not be whisked off to a distant land, not able to eat anything, and physically see Satan. But I bet we all hear the sound of his voice whispering in our ears trying to lead us against what God is doing in our lives. We all battle which thoughts to go with. We all listen to our own voice over God’s.

Do not be fooled into thinking we can “master” the tempter, the temptations we face all the time. Temptations have more power than we understand. Unless our minds can meditate on God and his word, we will think we can handle this on our own. If anyone says, “I am not tempted anymore,” that person has either succumbed to the temptations and have become so numb they cannot see the power the temptations hold. Or that person is dead. Remember 1 John 1:8 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus knew he could not stand strong without God, the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He paid close attention to the words being twisted from scripture. He knew the only weapon to defeat the lies and temptations was to give truth through the scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at what he said:

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”(Luke 4:4)

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8)

“It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12)

The temptations do not stop when we know and proclaim what the scripture says. We’ll keep hearing whispers of ideas that sound good, at first. But this is why we continue to rely on the power of God working in and through our lives.

A scripture that often gets misinterpreted is 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV translation)

Notice, the verse does NOT say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Rather the verse says that God will provide a way to endure the temptation. It says, “When you are tempted…”

Jesus knows we will all be tempted to be led astray from the movement of God in our lives. He knows that without the word of God, we cannot do the mission God has entrusted to us. Jesus knows how important relationships are for people and he desires us to live in the healthy relationships that will give us life, not suck the life or energy out of us.

We can be tempted to think that Jesus did not truly face the same temptations we face today. After all, it was a different time period. But the reality is, he did face the same temptations we face. We are just presented different manifestations of the temptations based on our context today.

We are always tempted to rely on our own hands, our own ability, our own work ethic, etc. to make things happen to make our life easier. This is what Jesus faced in the first temptation of hearing he could make stones turn into bread.

We all can be put in places and situations where we are going to have the desire to test God’s love for us. After all, IF he loves us, then he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us, right? Jesus faced this as a temptation.

Side note: We can be freed from the grip the temptations have on us, but this doesn’t mean the consequences of following through the temptations will not still be present. If we’re not careful, we will live with the consequences of the sin for the rest of our lives. Broken relationships, loss of job, loss of self-worth, illnesses that could have been prevented. All because we decided to put things into our own hands, and “test” the chances of anything happening.

Jesus also knows we have the temptation to be famous, to rule over things and people. The real ruler of the world is Jesus, himself. Fame, power, greed, prestige, all come with a cost if we are not giving glory to the One who has given us life. When we place ourselves above God, then we think and believe we are God. For us, this is dangerous and leads us to a way of life that actually causes destruction instead of building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth because we can become complacent and indifferent to the suffering world around us by trying to keep things as they are instead of working with God toward transformation and redemption.

What do we do when we succumb and give in to the temptations? Understand,

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE FOR GRACE, REDEMPTION, AND TRANSFORMATION.

Hebrews 4:16 NIV says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us out in our time of need.”

We are never too far off from God that we cannot be restored and redeemed (made right). We will all give in to the temptations we face in this life, but we do not have to let them continue holding a tight grip on us. We can be truly free from the temptations we face, and God is the source of our freedom, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We see Jesus do this in Matthew 4 when he said, “Away from me, Satan!”[3]

Jesus knows EVERYTHING we go through in this life. He has walked it. He has lived it. So “when we do succumb to temptation, ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy’ from the one who knew temptation.”

Allow God to remove the guilt from your life so we can learn of his great power and forgiveness. Stand firm in who God says you are, his “beloved with whom he is well pleased.” Live into this truth and always remember Jesus is with you because he knows what you go through, and is giving you everything, every power, you need to live this life.

All of this is so we can be part of the incredible mission God has for his family in the world.

Hear these words from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, “For it is by faith you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4]

 

Works Cited:

[1]Hebrews 4:15 NIV

[2]Jeremiah 31:33

[3]Matthew 4:10 NIV

[4]Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV