Saturday, May 30, 2015

Repentance as Worship

Repentance is one of those big biblical words sometimes lost in the worship of God.  Yet, without repentance we would not be Christians and we would not be able to live fruitful lives following Jesus.  To repent of something simply means to change our minds and stop doing one thing, and start doing another.  In Holy Scripture, repentance means to stop sinning and start worshiping God.  Since true worship is a conversation with God in which we hear his revelation to us and we respond to him, repentance is a vital part of the Christian worship experience.  The nitty-gritty of repentance is to change our minds about trusting in things and people other than God, and start placing our complete faith in Christ alone.  The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in the temple, a self-revealing of the One true God that caused him to be completely unraveled with repentance (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of a holy God.  Humans cannot see God in his glory without seeing their sinful selves.  Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession.  Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God (and will not see God unless recognition of personal sin is realized).

            Isaiah could not cleanse himself from his sin; he needed God to purge and purify him from his uncleanness.  In the same way, we need God to cleanse us.  The New Testament says that “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).

            In the Bible, when people saw God they were completely undone and saw their own sin and depravity for what it is.  When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).  When the Apostle John had a vision of Jesus Christ in all his glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead (Revelation 1:12-17).  When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown (Ezekiel 1:25-28).  Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, saw a vision of God in all his glory and fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and human sinfulness (Daniel 8:15-18).

            There is so much sinfulness in the world and so much indifference in Christ’s Church today because people are not seeing God in his glory and his holiness.  If they did, they would be completely beside themselves and see sin’s foulness and degradation and repent from all the ways in which they have been apathetic and complacent in living their lives.  The world and the church need a fresh view of a holy God that only comes from meeting with God.

            We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God so that we can turn from all the obstacles that prevents us from experiencing Father, Son, and Spirit.  What hinders us from seeing God’s glory and hearing God’s voice is legion:  inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation that would cause a mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations and daydreams that prevents availability to the words and ways of Jesus; lack of sleep and good health habits that dulls the spiritual senses and prevents awareness of God; lack of spiritual practices and disciplines that would put us in a position to experience a vision of God.

            To put it bluntly:  we must repent of all the ways we do not pay attention to God.  God is calling but we do not hear him.  God is revealing himself but we do not see him. 

Ø  What, then, are we doing in our personal lives to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God?
Ø  In what ways are we corporately fostering a sense of the holy God? 
Ø  How does repentance fit into to our personal and corporate worship? 
Ø  Have we identified the things that grieve the heart of God so that we can repent of those things? 
Ø  What one action step will you take in response to this blog post?

            We serve a blessed holy triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit.  God has gone far out of his way to reach us so that we can participate in the dance of the Trinity.  May we all see a vision of God is his glory this Sunday and allow that scene to slay us so that we will have renewed fellowship with God in Christ through the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Real Worship Changes Us

            I am old enough to remember when there were no seat belt laws.  Back in the day, wearing a car seat belt was optional.  When mandatory belt laws came along, some folks did not like their freedom interrupted.  They felt “restrained” in more ways than one.  I had a few friends who felt like this, that is, until they were in car accidents that nearly did them in.  The experience of near death changed them in profound ways, not the least of which that they embraced wearing a seat belt every time behind the wheel of a car.

            The prophet Isaiah had the kind of experience that absolutely changed him to the core of his being.  He had a vision of God.  I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs each with six wings:  With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4).

            Real worship changes us so that we are never the same again.  The essence of worship is the recognition and celebration of the triune God.  Worship is a relational rhythm between God and humans where God reveals himself and people respond.  Worship is an experience of seeing and hearing God in his self-revelation.

            Worshiping the triune God is to occur every day.  It is a lifestyle and not the result of one cleverly planned hour on Sunday.  The Jews of Isaiah’s day had drifted into going through the ritual motions of worship without having their hearts in it.  They had come to see worship more as a kind of rabbit’s foot in which, as long as they had regular temple attendance, they could do whatever they wanted with their lives outside the temple.  As a result, the people as a whole really never saw or heard God in their worship.  Indeed, it was not genuine worship at all.  Authentic worship of God does not have to do with the environment, the fellowship, or the music; true worship of the triune God comes down to a heart desire to see and hear God. 

If worship does not happen in the sanctuary in the way we think it should happen, it is because worship fails to occur in the daily routine of living.  Real worship is a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Real worship experiences God’s revelation and changes our view of him. 

            Isaiah saw a vision of God in his throne room.  It was a grand, majestic, and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting.  The train of God’s robe filled the temple.  This is Isaiah’s way of saying that the vision was really big.  If the train of his robe fills up the temple, then God himself is immense.  It is vital that we see the bigness of our God.  Gaining a vision of the hugeness of God is what causes our human problems to be seen as small. 

            Isaiah’s vision also included seeing seraphs.  Seraphs are angels with a job description to glorify God with ceaseless praise.  Their physical description symbolizes their function:  covering their face represents humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies it as holy ground; and flying signifies their work to do God’s will.  So, then, we have the seraphs having two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work.  If this is any kind of indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of adjusting to do in order to accommodate the worship of God.

            The sound of worship that came from the seraphs was to proclaim God’s holiness.  Isaiah’s view of God changed as a result.  As he saw God’s glory, he saw God as much bigger than he had before.  Oftentimes European visitors who come to the United States really have no frame of reference to how spacious and large the geography of our country is.  They seem to have a notion that they can make day trips from the Mid-West to places like San Francisco, Houston, or New York City because where they live is much more geographically compact.  But once they get here they experience the land in all its glory and they gain an appreciation for the bigness of America. 

            Experiencing God in worship will and ought to transform our lives so that we are never the same again.  The church’s worship ministry must have as its ultimate purpose a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Spirit.  A proper liturgical movement will encourage seeing God in his immensity and foster a divine conversation with the people.  The measurement of knowing whether this takes place is whether people are renewed in the very depths of their souls.  After all, no one can see a vision of God and walk away unchanged.  Maybe we ought to have mandatory seat belt laws for church pews.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Overcoming the World

Everyone who is truly born of God overcomes the world because such a person believes in Jesus as the Son of God and seeks to obey him in all things.  Faith, love, and obedience are tightly woven together to such an extent that to pull one of them out is to unravel the whole bunch.  These three characteristics of the true Christian are vital and necessary to living the Christian life.  They all must be present in order for the church to overcome the world (1 John 5:1-5).

            God saves us from sin and grants us forgiveness; the action is on his part.  We simply are recipients of his good grace toward us.  Our actions are a result of God’s action to us.  In other words, to put it simply:  to be a person born from God means that the Christian will engage in the activities of faith, love, and obedience.  Just as a newborn baby first breathes, then learns to eat, sleeps, grows-up, learns to walk, and over time develops into an adult just like his/her mother and father, so the Christian who is born again from God exhibits faith, learns to love, and grows up developing the skills of obeying Jesus and following him, learning to walk in his ways, becoming just like him.

            In the same way that a child must learn and grow in order to have the skills to face the world in all its bigness, trials, and temptations, so the Christian must also develop the commensurate abilities necessary in order to take on the world and overcome it.  The indispensable skills that Christians need are faith, love, and obedience.  Without them we will not be able to deal with the world; but with them we experience a practical victory over the world.

            The term “world” in the book of 1 John is used in the sense of the patterns, systems, and operations of the world in contrast to how God operates.  The world engages in revenge and payback when wronged, whereas the Christian learns to believe that God will be the Judge, loves the person who has offended him through prayer for his enemy, and obeys God by engaging in good works that seeks the welfare of the other.  The world uses other people as either objects of their pleasure or to get ahead in life, whereas the Christian believes God will take care of her needs, will seek to love the other person instead of use them, and would rather obey God by cutting off her right hand off than engage in selfish behavior.  The world thinks nothing of lying, cheating, and stealing if they can get away with it, whereas the Christian believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, loves being a person of integrity, and obeys God even when it hurts.

            The way to overcome the world with a practical victory is to be about the business of faith, love, and obedience.  Where do we feel “the pull” in life from?  Do we feel it from the world, or from God and his Word?  Yes, it is true that our society is becoming more and more secular and worldly.  We must learn to navigate the worldly elements of our society that upset us through faith, love, and obedience to God.  We must also learn how to deal with the worldly elements of our society in which we feel a pull and a tug to go along with it and want to give in to it.  This requires a community of Christians that engages the world through faith, love, and obedience in order to overcome.

            Our task and our call as Christians cannot be reduced to just survive the world.  If anyone could have had that kind of mentality, it was Helen Keller.  Deaf, mute, and blind, she could have settled into just getting by and waiting for heaven.  But she accepted her situation, coped with it, and even transcended her limitations.  She did more than survive – she thrived.  Helen Keller once said, “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome.  The mountaintop would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”

Overcoming the world is a high calling from God.  It means using faith to put aside fear and take the kind of risk God wants churches to take.  It means using love means to forsake hate, even when it hurts.  It means using obedience to cast off selfishness and choosing to do what is best for another person’s welfare.  Being characterized by these three Christian virtues will have the effect of overcoming the world.  It is not a burdensome or heavy way to live.  It is not an isolated individual thing, but a communal way.  It is the way of Jesus – a way every believer and every church must follow.