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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Worshiping...forever?

Hunting for a church is a drag.

Anita and I had just moved to Tampa, Florida, years ago, and were looking for the church we felt God wanted us to become a part of. We'd visited three churches that were okay. But we really weren't excited about any of them. Since we were tired of visiting, we tentatively settled on one.

Then one day we drove by a church we hadn't seen before. We decided to give it a try as we sensed that it had great potential to be our next church home.

Our first Sunday was very good. Joe met us at the car and walked us straight to the preschool area where we dropped off our daughter. He took us everywhere we needed to go until we were settled. Joe was terrific!

The service was warm, the people encouraging, and the music inspiring and Christ-centered. We were greatly encouraged by what we experienced that Sunday and settled that day on that church as our new church home.

There was a point in the service where I felt God's presence like I haven't felt often. I was singing a song and it's like it hit me: this is the church family God wants for my little girl; for my family. My eyes welled up with tears as I felt extremely close to God. Like He'd personally led me (us) to this place. That realization of what God did for us that day moved me to worship Him with great joy.

What's interesting about that day is that when what God did for me registered in my pea-brain, I was moved to worship. I mean, really worship. No, I didn't fall on the floor or even raise my hands. I sang the same songs that I had likely sung before. But my heart was full of joy and awe of who God is and with gratitude for what He'd done for us. Time seemed to stand still and I soaked in the moment.

In light of this joyful worship experience, why does the thought of worshiping God in heaven for eternity bother me? Let's look at our heavenly worship examples, angels, for a clue.

The seraphim (literally "flaming ones") kneel before God's throne crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:3)

The apostle John sees an army of angels, "numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'" (Revelation 5:11-12)

As a seminary graduate, long-time youth pastor, and now rookie pastor, I know that I'm supposed to worship God and really find joy in it. I realize that it's all over the Bible and that it's "the right answer" to love God by worshiping him with other Christians.

But sometimes I don't feel that way.

In fact, a lot of times I don't. And then to think about heaven I find myself not too excited because I think (wrongly) that heaven is just going to be one eternal church service. That would be a major bummer.

So here I am thinking about these angels. They are singing praises to God and are filled with joy. "You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly," (Hebrews 12:22) Wow. So why do they enJOY worship so much?

I'm just thinking out loud here but I wonder if it's kind of like my experience in Tampa. We'd been in several good churches there and had "worshiped" in each of them. But when I went to the last one, I worshiped deeply.

What was the difference? I think it was because I was more aware of God's presence in my life and His personal love for me and my family. As a result, I WANTED to sing praises to Him. My goodness, when was the last time I had cried in church during a worship song?!

So, as I think about praising God in heaven the thought occurs to me--will I enjoy praising Him more there? I think so because in heaven I will be much more aware of who He is, what He has done for me and how truly great He is. In other words, the distractions and lack of perspective that kills my worship so often here on earth will dissolve as I find myself in the presence of God Himself there in heaven.

So what? Well, now I understand that when I don't feel like worshiping God, it's not because God isn't worthy of my worship. It's because my perspective is blurred or obstructed making it difficult for me to appropriately praise Him.

Now what? I know that in my reading and studying of God's word, I need to be on the look out for all it says about who God is and what He's done. That's studying His character and attributes. An excellent book to help on this is Knowing God by J.I. Packard.

Sometimes I'll read through a Psalm and in my prayer journal write down all the attributes of God that I see in the passage. I learned this by using Louie Giglio's Thirsty Journal.

It also means that as a father I need to continually alert my girls to these attributes of God wherever I see them. When someone exercises mercy, I remind them that God is merciful. When justice is properly carried out in court, I remind them that God is just. When they receive an unexpected gift, they are reminded that God is the great giver and is gracious to all. When God blesses our family, it's a reminder that as He is a Blessor, so we are to be a blessing to others. And so on.

Reality check: If you don't know the God of the Bible, you won't feel like worshiping Him. So dig in and get to know Him. Then when you have a chance to worship Him with other Christians, reflect on who He is and what He's done and let your gratitude become joy as you praise Him together in Christ.

If you need help with knowing Him, click here.

"God help me join the angels in true worship more regularly. Help me rejoice continually in who You are! Help all of us truly connect and worship You as You designed us to do. I pray this in the name of God's Son and ultimate gift to humanity, Jesus Christ, amen."

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

faith is . . .

I've never been comfortable with the idea of blind faith. That's why this article was so helpful to me. It helped me understand this verse a lot better too.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," Hebrews 11:1, NIV


10/5/06
What is Faith?
Michael Ramsden

"Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove."

Sadly, many people, including some Christians, live with this definition of faith. For some it feels liberating. It means being able to believe in anything you want to. No explanation is required; indeed, no explanation can be given--it is just a matter of faith. For others, such a definition is sickening. Embracing faith means you stop thinking. As faith increases, reason and meaning eventually disappear. No explanations can be given, and none can be expected. Thus, living in faith is living in the dark.

For both groups, the problem is the same. By starting with the wrong definition of faith, they have asked the wrong question, are dealing with the wrong problem, and so have ended up with the wrong answer. Faith is not wishful thinking. It is not about believing in things that do not exist. It neither makes all things believable, nor meaning impossible.

So what is the right definition of faith? "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," writes the author of Hebrews. A few verses later faith is similarly defined as knowing that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Perhaps the best word we can use to translate the Greek word pistis (usually translated faith) is the word "trust" or "trustworthy." Suppose you tell a friend that you have faith in her. What does that mean? It means two things. First, you are sure the person you are talking to actually exists. And second, you are convinced she is trustworthy; you can believe what she says and trust in her character.

It is in this way that the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust in his promises. You cannot trust someone who isn't there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking. Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who has made Himself known to us:

"I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,

so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
men may know there is none besides me" (Isaiah 45:5-6).

Ever since the Church began, the refrain has always been the same. It has never appealed for people to leap into the dark; no such invitation is found anywhere in Scripture. Instead, we are called to step into the light. The Christian gospel is not a message that revels in ignorance. It is the revelation of God in the person Christ, so that we might know there is none besides Him. The Christian is called to see things as they really are, and not as he would simply like them to be. We trust in a God who has revealed Himself. We believe because He is real.

The Christian Gospel invites you delve into reality. It commands you to be honest in your commitment to know that which is true. Is Jesus real? Who did he claim to be? Is he really alive today? Faith comes in response to knowing the answers to these questions, even as Christ is calling you near. But don't stop after the initial introductions! Just as you are able to put more trust in someone as you grow to know him, so faith increases as you grow in your relationship with Christ. There is a God who is real and true, and He is calling you unto Himself. The great joy of the Christian faith is found in the person who invites us to trust and believe.


Michael Ramsden is European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in the United Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

free | Labs

Today was a great start to our Catalyst roadtrip. Marvin (aka Gene Gene the driving machine), Brian & I road to Atlanta today to check-in and check out the venue for tomorrow's Catalyst conference. They were having their presessions called Catalyst Labs. I couldn't justify paying for these plus another night in a hotel. But we were able to obtain FREE tickets for the afternoon and evening sessions. Too cool!

My afternoon session was with Mark Buchanan, author of the most excellent book The Holy Wild. He talked about the idea of resting in God to discover the rest of God. Pretty cool. I have a lot to learn on this. I was going to say I have a lot to do but that was kind of the point-it's ok not to do all the time.

My evening session was quite interesting. Chris Seay and Rick McKinley, pastors of Ecclesia (Houston) and Imago Dei (Portland) respectively challenged the CEO mindset of pastoring churches. They talked about leading "Missional churches" to do "Incarnational" ministry. The challenge of course is how do you do that. The convicting and challenging answer to me is: Lead by example.

Here it is in God's words:

John 1 (NLT)

1In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn't make. 4Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. 5The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
6God sent John the Baptist 7to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. 9The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.

10But although the world was made through him, the world didn't recognize him when he came. 11Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. 12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan--this rebirth comes from God.

14So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[a] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.

15John pointed him out to the people. He shouted to the crowds, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, `Someone is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.' "

16We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us--one gracious blessing after another.[b] 17For the law was given through Moses; God's unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God,[c] is near to the Father's heart; he has told us about him.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

no | explanation


"Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life." Quote on grave marker of William Border. (See link for mini bio)

Born in 1887 William Borden was set for life. He was heir to the Borden Diary empire and a millionaire before he went off to Yale University. But that would not satisfy this follower of Christ...

Long story short, after graduating and enjoying an international trip, he decided he would follow God's calling to become a missionary to muslims in China. On his way out he stopped to study Arabic in Egypt. He was there 4 months before he died of spinal meningitis--at the age of 25.

His grave is there in an overgrown missionary graveyard.

Not far away is another grave of sorts. At the Egyptian National Museum is the King Tut exhibit. King Tut believed in an afterlife as well--one in which he could take his great wealth along with him. Tragically, he was wrong as can be seen in this exhibit. Literally tons of gold pulled from his tombs are still here.

While William Borden left nothing behind, he sent quite a bit ahead. All his service and sacrifice built up a reward that was waiting for him as he went to be with the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. King Tut would find that not only could he not take anything with him, he didn't send anything ahead either. In fact, to die apart from Christ is die without hope.

William Borden got it. He lived the selfless life where he invested in eternity instead of his own comforts and desires. He is an inpsiring example to me.

So who are you living for? Are you investing in the here and now, or eternity?

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." -Jesus, Matthew 6:19-21

Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn