• QUOTE FOR TODAY

    "God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…Therefore let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose."
    -- John Piper

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  • James 2:14-17

    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

    In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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Focus on Worship: Sunday….In His Presence

On more than one occasion this week, I had people make some reference to the fact that it ‘was almost Friday.’

 

“At least tomorrow’s Friday”

“Is it Friday yet?” (Asked on Monday!!)

“The week’s half over…Friday’s comin’”

(…and this morning:  Finally, it’s Friday!)

I know there’s a ton of reasons why people long for it to be Friday (They get to be in the presence of their friends at the party or at the bar.  They cling to the shallow victory that work is done for a few days.  Friday somehow means that responsibility is over and they don’t have to answer to anyone, sleep, ), but with the prevalence of this question over the last few days, it dawned on me that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say:

 

“Sunday’s coming”

“I can’t wait for Sunday”

“Is it Sunday yet?”

(OK, there’s the Monster Truck Rally guy:  Sunday, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!!! But that doesn’t count).

 

The point is this:  The world wants it to be Friday for a slough of reasons, but do we, as Christ followers look forward to Sunday with the same enthusiasm?  Do we, as worship leaders look forward to Sunday as that time when we lead God’s people into his presence?  Are we praying that God will flood the meeting place with his presence?  Do we long to be in the presence of the Holy One?…..as always, I’m asking you these questions but I’m really asking myself these questions.

I think this topic was generally on my mind after listening to our worship set for this Sunday.

Every week, I put the songs for Sunday on my ipod, in order, and will listen to them during my devotional time, or my commute, or sometimes while I’m working.  This practice started as a way to simply learn the songs, but it has become about preparing for Sunday.  God continues to use this time to point out lyrics that I believe he wants to have an impact…words that we sing and need to sincerely and earnestly mean.

Check out these lyrics:

“Here I am….I’ve come to find you”  (You, you are God – Gateway Worship)

 “I’m reaching for you, I’m singing to you”  (Reaching for You – Lincoln Brewster)

 “You are my world, you are my God” (Hillsong)

And Finally:

 “Lord hear our song…your children worship…as we sing your praise would You make this a place for Your glory to dwell” (Jared Anderson)

 Sunday worship should be about meeting with God and asking him to make our sanctuary and place where his glory will dwell.

Is it Sunday yet?

Jumping In

Kristen at We Are That Family wrote this post titled Someone is Waiting for you to Jump In yesterday.  Would you take a minute, head over to her blog and read the post?  After that would you begin praying about where God might want you to jump?  Here’s a little excerpt to challenge you:

And the truth? Standing at cliff’s edge, we wanted to say no. We asked if there was another way. We researched and begged. We cried it is too big, we can’t, we are afraid, we don’t know how.  We don’t want to love mercy.

We didn’t throw caution to the wind. We didn’t just jump into the chasm of the unknown.

We jumped into the very hands of God.

Why? Why do the uncomfortable? Why go beyond the comfort zone and risk so much? Every one of us has a unique purpose for our lives and our blogs. It’s a risk finding that purpose. It leaves you exposed and open to criticism and fear and failure.

  Would you also pray about helping them with Mercy House?

Focus on Worship — Are we amazed?

I came across a song titled Amazed by Jared Anderson.  The lyrics really got me to thinking again on how we enter the presence of our HOLY God.  Take a look:
 
You dance over me,
While I am unaware.
You sing all around,
But I never hear the sound.
 
Lord I’m amazed by You.
Lord I’m amazed by You.
Lord I’m amazed by You.
How You love me.
 
How wide
How deep
How great
Is your love for me
 
My perspective these days is this:  One single sin separates us from God.  The simple fact of the matter is that when God sees the sin in our lives, he sees that his law has been broken.  The payment for breaking God’s law is death….eternal death.  Yet, when we trust in the blood of Christ poured out over our hearts and God sees our sin, instead of pouring out death on us, he is SATISFIED with the SACRIFICE of his perfect, sinless Son.  The payment for sin is poured out on him instead of us.  Read that again:  The payment for sin is poured out on JESUS INSTEAD OF US!!!!!  Somehow, this doesn’t overwhelm us like it should.  It doesn’t amaze us anymore.  Why it is that knowing that ALL OF GOD’S WRATH was poured out on JESUS CHRIST AND NOT YOU AND ME doesn’t knock our legs out from under us to where we have no choice but to fall on our face before him in worship?  Why doesn’t God’s love AMAZE us anymore?  Why Doesn’t Jesus’ sacrifice AMAZE us anymore?
 
Seriously, folks, do you think that Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in anticipation of the cross, or the flogging, or the nails?   Not a chance.  That torment was the direct result of anticipating ALL OF GOD’S WRATH being poured out on HIM!    This was the final sacrifice.  No ‘do overs’ with another lamb next month…no priests interceding again and again.  This was the final sacrifice.  Remember Jesus’  last words?  IT IS FINISHED.  (For some background go read Leviticus 16 and then read Hebrews 9)
 
GRACE, LOVE, and MERCY cannot just be something we pay lip-service to.  Very simply, we have been called (in part) to worship him.   For us, it is imperative that God’s grace, love, and mercy are hidden in our hearts and evident on our faces as we stand amazed before him. 

There is no Plan B

This might hurt a little, but you need to see it.

Radical–Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream-a review

I need to ask a question.  But, before you read any further, go get your Bible. 

Go ahead….I’ll wait.   

Seriously, go get it and come right back here. 

 OK, now that you have it, hold it in your hand and read this question out loud:

 Do I really believe this book? 

Just for good measure, look at the Bible in your hand and ask the question….out loud, so you hear it….Do I really believe this book? 

 Early in the first Radical sermon, we are asked if we ‘really believe what is contained in the Bible.’  As I read through the Radical book, I am constantly bothered by this question because if I claim to be a follower of Jesus, and the Bible is the word of God, then the reality is that there are certain implications for my life.  Dr. Platt refers to them as radical implications.  The thing is (and this is what hurts a little)….they are only radical by the world’s standards.  As far as God is concerned, they are simply the natural response to his love, grace and mercy. 

 While it is occasionally difficult to read the tough words he writes, Dr. Platt isn’t afraid to say it like it is, and back it up with scripture.  Before I go any further, I want to make sure you know that Platt whole-heartedly acknowledges that our salvation is by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.  But, where he starts to strike a nerve is with the assertion that God’s “gift of grace results in the gift of a new heart.”  If we have that new heart which is, in effect, God’s heart, shouldn’t there be an outward visible transformation in our actions as a result of that inward renewal?   And if there is no real outward transformation, Dr Platt suggests that…

            You and I desperately need to consider whether we have ever truly, authentically trusted in Christ for our salvation…

 Ouch….Like I said, there are some tough questions in this book.   Here’s another one (actually two):  “Is materialism a blind spot in American Christianity today?  More specifically, is materialism a blind spot in your Christianity today?”    Before you answer, go read the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  Really read through it and then come back and ask the question again.

 Radical—Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream is full of challenges like this.  Now, I want to be careful in placing too much importance on this or any other book because it might lead you to conclude that we don’t need the Bible.  Folks we need the Bible.  Ultimately, I believe that the only thing that can redeem the world is God, and the spread of his gospel.  No book can or should replace the gospel.  That said, I do believe this book has the power to move us to a point where we can recognize that the version of Christianity many of us are practicing may not be what God intended for us. 

I want to recommend this book to you; especially if something about your walk has been gnawing at you.  This might be just the thing to shine a light on a few ‘blind spots” in your Christian life.  Be careful though….once they are exposed, you are going to have to do something about them.  At that point God takes you and does something radical with your life. 

 In the coming weeks, I intend to spend some time writing about specific sections of the book and take a look at what I’m doing about applying it.  I hope you can get a copy and join me on this journey as it unfolds. 

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the Radical book.  Thought I would post a quick video ahead of my review later next week.

The Reality of the Cross

We’ve all seen the images of the cross.  You know the ones I’m talking about: If you think about it for a minute you can picture the silhouette of the cross against a blazing sunset.  Maybe you’ve seen the three crosses atop a distant mountain with an inspirational verse adorning the clouds.  We’ve all seen the miniature cross hanging from a rear view mirror or on a bumper sticker.  I for one am rather tired of it. I suppose these images can serve as a reminder for someone somehow, but am finding those images wholly ineffective as I consider what Christ did.

The cross is an instrument of torture.  Those two beams combined in that exact shape become a tool of punishment and ultimately an apparatus which is used to bring about death.  Crucifixion is an ugly, horrible, humiliating way to die, and I don’t believe it serves much purpose to keep showing these rosy pictures of an empty cross casting a shadow over a grassy plain somewhere.

C. Truman Davis wrote an essay describing the crucifixion in some detail.  You can read an adaptation here , but let me quote a small portion for you:

As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasps, “I thirst.”

This follows the mocking, the flogging, and the painful walk to Golgotha.  When He arrives at the place of the crucifixion, Jesus has to deal with the nails and then the eventual raising of the cross.

I’m just not sure how we justify some of the images that we see on a daily basis when we have any understanding of what the cross really represents.  Don’t get me wrong…we need to see the cross, but we need to see it for what it represents.  It’s really quite ugly.  It has my sin all over it. It has the sin of the world all over it. It has Christ’s blood all over it.  If you can’t look at it and see that, I’m not sure what good it is doing you.

Part of my discontentment with this whole thing comes from two passages.  In Matthew 14 and again in Luke 16, Jesus tells us that we have to take up our cross and follow him.  May I openly say that I have no desire to go through what Davis quoted above?  But Jesus said it so it must have some application for me.  Only recently have I gained some perspective.  This perspective comes from one verse in Matthew. Read verse 32 of chapter 27:

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.

My take here (and maybe I am wrong) is that Jesus didn’t have the strength to carry his own cross.  He started out with it over is shoulder, but was unable to go on.  His earlier references telling his followers that they had to carry their cross seemed to conflict with the fact that Simon carried Jesus’ cross for him.  Did Jesus contradict himself? I don’t think so.  I think he was pointing out that in our own strength we cannot carry our cross. 

The imagery amazes me. Well before his death on the cross, Jesus is telling his followers that they need to take up their cross and follow him. They didn’t know that he would be hanging from a cross in just a few weeks. Everyone knew about the cross. I am certain that they all witnessed a crucifixion, and knew of its horror. Yet with that knowledge and understanding Jesus points out that if they want to follow him, they have to carry their cross. And I have to carry mine….knowing full well that I can’t go more than a few steps without him taking it from me. I still have to bear it, but I need to do that in His strength and not my own. This surrender can only come when I have been drained of all my strength and self reliance and I give it up to him. Oh, there’s another reality. That’s the reality of the empty tomb. For my money if you want to remember what Jesus did for you, go find a small rock in your garden somewhere. Tie a string around it and hang it from your rear view mirror right next to the cross. Yes, He died for you, but three days later that stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty.