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As we sit here, December has just dawned.  We are at that precipice of the year when people start looking to “something epic” on December 25th and 31st, yet spend a lot of time looking back at what has occurred during the last 11 months of the year.   For many, this year, has been an exhausting year that has seen illness, death, destruction, and chaos.  They are at the tipping point and just want to see this year ushered away.  Others have had a triumphant year and want to bask in the past accomplishments.  Still others are just floating on the bubble in between these two ends of the spectrum.  No matter where you are, let’s take a moment and tie some things together in a way that might be new for you.

On November 20th the Church calendar year ended with the celebration of Christ the King Sunday .  We then celebrated Thanksgiving, and then we hit the first Sunday and now Wednesday of Advent.  What occurs to me is how much all of these days are tied together as one!  The messages for each of these worship days are so close that one can’t help but see the unity.  Even our readings for many of these days overlap.

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1–5, NIV)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:8–14, NIV)

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:36–44, NIV)

What to do when you see a King?  Thanksgiving, Don’t miss the Boat, and Crosswords: Faith and Watch each have a singular focus, yet when viewed closer under a microscope, one sees with a wide angle lens the panoramic view.

Christ the King has defeated sin, death, and the devil and will return to take His subjects home.  That is more than enough reason for us to return sincere thanksgiving and praise.  It is also our reason and motivation to stay on guard, ready and willing to jump into service and not miss the boat.  As we stand on guard, even in the midst of battles, we are grounded firmly in the Faith, and Watch expectantly for our Sovereign Lord to move and act.  We go to the only source, Jesus and Scripture, that has lasting HOPE.

In history, God has always been moving and acting.  Nothing has ever taken Him by surprise.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, God already had the plan of Salvation in Action.  When the Israelites, His set-aside people, would ebb and flow with their love and devotion, betrayal, abandonment, and adultery, God’s plan was still in action.  Jesus was standing on the edge of eternity, ready to come to earth in humiliation, leaving behind His Godly power to become a mere man clothed in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  He left the Kingly glories of heaven and took on not only the physical humiliation but all the emotional ones too.  You see, God’s mercy and grace for us and all of man kind, required Jesus’s suffering and humiliation to fulfill God’s justice.  How do we not put aside everything and freely go to the Throne of God and  give thanks, praise, and worship to Him?  How do we not want to rush in and enter His courts with all our beings?

During this season of preparation/Advent, let us come in lowly state and see the full picture, hear the full History, and unwrap the Greatest Gift of All – Christ the King.  During this time ponder these questions:

What do you see when you look toward Christmas?  Who do you see in the Manger?  What befitting gifts do you bring for the King? What do you see when you look upon the weak and broken of this world?  What do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you see when you look upon the Crucified Christ?   What are you, in Faith, Watching for?

The Babe in the manger is also the Christ of the Cross.  The perfect Child given a lowly birth, wore a Crown of Thorns.  The infant wrapped in swaddling for comfort was the Savoir Stripped bare and nailed to the Cross.  The Risen, Victorious, Ascended Son of God is our Triumphant King who is coming back.   That is Hope for all seasons!

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Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1–5, NIV84)

As we are sitting upon the eve of our national holiday, Thanksgiving, it has crossed my mind how it seems many in our country, churches, and homes, only briefly stop to return thanks and praise unto God.  We might give it a blip on the radar but even many Christians are falling into the worldly trap of calling Thanksgiving – Turkey Day.

We live in a time and place when rarely do we hear and return appreciation or thanks to others that serve and work hard for us.  We just take it for granted and assume it will all be the same tomorrow with someone serving our desires from the time we get out of bed until the time we fall back into bed at night.   We live in an instant gratification world and it’s all okay as long as “I get my whopper.” Very rarely do people stop to think and return praise for the farmer who grew the cow, the slaughter house that processed the meat, the person who fried and assembled that whopper, or the employment that paid for it.

In days, not that long ago, church was the only place you would find people gathering on the night before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, to sing praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to the God who has given them EVERYTHING!  Today, our families, jobs, and travel plans are more pressing than the Lord and Giver of All.  People use the “long weekend” to go to casinos to pursue impossible wealth or to malls to acquire more.  This is surely not an attitude of gratitude.  People barely give it a thought how hard others are working on this National Day of Thanksgiving that was designed for us to all stop and be with the Lord.

This attitude, concept, and lifestyle is contrary to what God’s Word says.  All of God’s Word points to God as our Creator, Sustainer, and Benefactor.  The air we breathe is only because God has given us life and lungs to breathe the air He has created.  We only have the ability to move and work and play because He has given it to us.  Our intellect and our entire lives are gifts from God.  We have no food without the farmer, who God gave the skills to plant, tend, and harvest. We have nothing in this world that is not given by the Lord and when we stop and truly think on what is important and worthy to be praised, don’t forget about Salvation and Eternal Life.  We have a God that sacrificed His Only Son so that all of His children could live and return praise for all the great things He has done.

If somehow along the line you have fallen off the gratitude and thanks train, I encourage you to start today.  Start thinking outside the daily grind and pursuits and start thinking about how many people it takes for you to get through one day.  From the cashier at the store, to the gas station owner, to the garbage man, to the police and fire that are standing ready to care for you.  While your at it, start thinking about all those people that work so hard to pray over and care for your souls.  Think how much they give up so that you can walk into a lit space and be given the Words of Truth and Life.  Then after all that, how can you not think of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit who gives us everything on this earth as well as for eternity.

While we are talking about it, why not drop everything and come to worship the Lord tonight at 7:30 PM?

May Gratitude, Thanksgiving, Praise, Adoration, and Loving be not only on your Thanksgiving Menu but 24/7 for the rest of your lives and into eternity.

 

cross-saltWitnessing is one of the most scary words in the world of the Church and to many Christians.  Thousands and thousands of books are written about it and there are some good hints and, well, some not so good hints.  It’s an area of vast concepts and misunderstandings.  There are old methods and new methods, all to try and help a follower of Jesus to tell others about Jesus.  It is an area where most shudder a little and wrestle with it because they feel like “I don’t know enough about the Bible or  I don’t know how to do it right.”  Many times all the concerns and fears end up stopping us from doing something that really is very, very simple.  I think all the books and programs have just made it more complicated for people to do what comes about naturally in all of us every day.

See, we witness/share things every day.  We share bargain hints, we share music and movie play lists, we share constantly on social media, texting, and the like.  The main difference is what we are choosing to share, reveal, and witness about.  Maybe it’s a good time to ask, “What I am sharing? .Does it have any real, lasting value?”

See, witnessing is sharing something of eternal value with others.  We Christians know that something of eternal value is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.  There is no bigger free deal than the gift of salvation won, paid, and given to us than Jesus dying and rising again.  The Israelites were told to witness about the Lord and witnessing is the last marching order Jesus told His followers.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:10–13, NIV84)

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:16–20, NIV84)

If others know you are a Christian, you witness your faith every moment of every day.  Many only think that Pastors and their families live in the “fish bowl” but that is just a myth.  Christ Followers live in the fishbowl and others are just watching to see how you swim in the current of life.  All Christians live in that see-through observation glass and each day we either make a good witness to our faith in Jesus or we are a bad witness.  We either swim against the currents and tides of the world or we join in and look no different.  So the big questions of the day are “Do you like living in the fishbowl?”  “Are others looking and seeing Jesus in me?”  Those are questions all believers are faced with.  No exemptions.  The questions aren’t to make you feel bad but to maybe jump start you and encourage you on your journey of sharing Jesus.

To share Jesus we have to know Jesus.  The more we know of what Jesus  has done through history, and left for us in the Bible,  and what He has personally done for us, makes it easier and simpler to share Jesus with everyone in word and actions.  Let’s face, it our entire reason for being here is to point others to the Truth, the Way, and the Life, found only in Jesus Christ and to know Him more.  So studying Scripture and knowing how it applies to your personal life will help you become a stronger Christian as well as a better witness.

We cannot witness/share that which we ourselves have not known to be true or seen in our own lives.  We also know from God’s Word that faith comes by hearing, Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, NIV84)  If someone else had not taken the time to serve us the food of God’s Word and show us, we would not be in the faith of Jesus Christ.  Praise God for their faithfulness to serving and telling us about Jesus.

So not only will Bible Study strengthen your faith, but it will help you bear witness.  Going to regular worship is a huge way we witness, too.  Others know when you go and when you come.  Even if you don’t see them, they see you.  They know you put God first and set Him as the most important one on your calendar.  Worship also strengthens you to continue to witness.  It arms you with the Word and what God is challenging you to do.

Sharing Jesus also strengthens our faith when we share “our story”.  It doesn’t have to be fancy words because it is all about what Jesus has done in your life and how you have changed because of Him.  There is no better witness than one who once was lost but now is found.  There is no skeleton or sin in your closet too big to make you unworthy of sharing Jesus. Because you were once outside the reach of God because of sin but now can rest in His arms because Jesus rescued you and paid your debt, makes you the best witness.  Not sure about that statement?  Well here is a list of people God has used to bring about Kingdom Change and Save Others:

ABRAHAM was too old.
ISAAC was a day dreamer.
JACOB was a liar.
JOSEPH was abused.
MOSES had a stuttering problem.
GIDEON was afraid.
SAMSON had long hair and he was a womanizer!
RAHAB was a prostitute!
JEREMIAH and TIMOTHY were too young.
DAVID had an affair and he was a murderer.
ELIJAH was suicidal.
JONAH ran from God.
NAOMI was a widow.
PETER denied Christ.
MARTHA worried about everything.
MARY MAGDALENE was, well, you know …
The SAMARITAN WOMAN was divorced five times and currently living in sin.
ZACCHEUS was too small.
PAUL was too religious.
TIMOTHY had an ulcer
The Disciples fell asleep while praying… AND
LAZARUS WAS DEAD!

If God used these people, there is no reason you can’t be used to reach others with Jesus’ love and salvation story.  See, we are called sheep and Jesus is our Shepherd. Our Pastor is called an Under Shepherd because his job is much like Jesus’.  To listen to the Shepherd, to tend to the sheep, teach and encourage the sheep in God’s ways, to correct the sheep, and to equip the sheep so they go and make sheep.  Shepherds don’t give birth to sheep, only sheep do that.  That is why Jesus left us the commandment to “go make”.  He knew it takes sheep to bleat out Jesus so wolves would be transformed into sheep for Jesus.  Jesus and His message is always about changing the sinner into the saint.

Lord, enable us sheep to live our lives, each moment of each day, in prophetic praise, preaching Christ crucified in our lives to overflowing so that we share “our wolf transformation story” and be Jesus’ Light in this dark, dead world of sin.  Amen.

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Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Php 2:3-8 NIV)

WOW!  This passage sure blows a huge hole in the walls of the current philosophy of the day, “It’s All About Me”.  Not only now, but all times, because let’s face it, in our sinful humanness we want to be first.  We want to be served.  We want it all and we want it now.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  Actually, let’s boil that “we” down to “me”.  We all know how we want to be served and when we don’t get it the way we want it or like it, we can have a pretty nasty review.  I hear a lot of people saying that “customer service” is lacking in all areas of business, and as much as that may be true, how is Godly Service doing in the Body of Christ?  What obstacles do we face?

Selfishness and pride were in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve wanted to be just like God and wanted to have all things, even the forbidden one that God knew would hurt them, and us.  God gave man everything but one thing He withheld, And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16–17, NIV84)  Selfishness says, “I never have enough”, “I want more”,  “Give Me, Give Me, Give Me”, “I Want What I Can’t Have”….  We struggle with the sin of selfishness because we don’t love/put God first and we don’t love/put others second, and us last.  It hurts when we get honest and look at what motivates us and find that obedience to God is often far down on our want list.  The good news is, that Christ gives us the perfect role model of how to beat selfishness once and for all.

The opposite of selfishness is servanthood.  You get no greater example of servanthood than from Jesus!  He served all peoples, in all economic brackets, all health situations, and all walks and ways of life.  He knew that to do His Father’s business required being with others and meeting their needs.  There is no job too big or too small for any of us to step up and serve.  As Christians, service is just part of our Call of Duty.

Christ is our General and we should want to follow in His footsteps out of obedience and happily serve those around us and not think about “what’s in it for me.”  When we think that way, our service is not service.  We can all come up with reasons to not serve but they don’t hold water.  When we hold them up to our example, Jesus, we have the same 24 hrs, and well, we haven’t been asked to give our lives, so the excuses just don’t cut it.  We might even try the “I don’t have any gifts or talents” route but that doesn’t fly either because all Christians, in their baptism, have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gifts all believers.  So the real battle is fighting that old Adam and stop thinking about “little ol’ me.”  We need to start cleaning house and start fulfilling the Call of Duty into Service.

This service is to the Church and to our Fellow Man.  We need to show up ready for Active Duty.  We need to hear the Revelry Trumpet Call of Jesus and get busy so that the World sees and feels Jesus.  If those of us called, Christ Ones, don’t show up, with joyful hearts, to obediently serve, who’s going to show them the Real Jesus? The Jesus that took the time to leave heaven, to come and serve man, touch man and heal him, intervene and change hearts and point them to the Father, and to die so that in the face of a Holy and Righteous God, His Children could be forgiven and set free.  You see, we Christ Ones, are Jesus with skin on.  That’s why others will take the time to hear, when we show up and serve without motive.  Do the lost and lonely people in the shadow of our steeples know that anyone cares, let alone Jesus?

Being in the Lord’s Army, means we represent the Lord.  We can go AWOL but that doesn’t serve anyone but self.  We are called to look to the interest of others, and just like in the Military, others in the battalion/church, are watching our backs.  When we fully serve God and others, we will find that we are served by God and Others.

There is no losing here, only winning and this winning is helping to depopulate the casualties of the war of Sin and Hell and the Devil.  So what are you waiting for?  If you aren’t sure how or where to jump in and serve, it’s really easy, just ask the Pastor at your church.  He will have plenty of ways where you can start serving.  It might be something as simple as praying for those in the church who are sick or shut in.  It might be sending a card to those battling illness, it might be helping make a meal, it might be serving is the worship setting, who knows!  But, I promise you, there are hundreds of ways to serve in the local church, the universal Church, and those around you.  I can also guarantee you there will be God Tricks in it for you!

What is a God Trick?  Simply it is God blessing you for being obedient by serving others.  How does this work?  Well, have you ever seen someone come to faith because you have been walking with them and showing them the way?  If so, you know there is no greater joy or feeling than knowing the lost child is now Home with the Lord.  Have you every visited someone who was sick or in the hospital and left feeling like you were on cloud nine and they made you feel better?  If so, that is God giving back to you.  There are untold ways God will bless you in your acts of true, unselfish service.  You will be surprised when you find out who is in heaven because you put you last and them first and they saw and met Jesus through your acts of love and service.

Dear God, Our Serving Savior, and Giving Holy Spirit, give us eyes to see whom to serve, ears to hear the Lord’s calling in all we do, turn a deaf ear to our desires and the selfish cries of the world, and be make us eager to put our lives in perpetual motion of servanthood, being Jesus to all we meet in humble service and love.  In Our Suffering Servant, Jesus’ most holy name we pray.  Amen.

background-3Worship is a word that is often times misunderstood.  In the church setting it can be even more confusing.     Merriam Webster defines worship as :

  1. reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also :  an act of expressing such reverence
  2. form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

If we look at the worldly definition of “worship” we see it’s a reverence for the Divine, an expressing of that reverence, and practice.   Reverence is having deep respect.  In our culture this word is often bantered about but little practiced.  Practice, is synonymous with sports and exercise.  It’s also something you do with almost any type of activity such as art, music, dance, and the likes.  Practice is taking something you know and doing it and a becoming proficient at it.  Apply the lesson you have been taught.   So how’s your practice going in the Christian faith?  What does worship look like for the Christian? Are you worshiping “weakly” or “weekly”?

Worship is something we do in a public group/corporate setting and something we do individually.  As a Christian, it is another thing that should be part of our Christian DNA.  Worship is more than just getting together with a group of others whenever we feel like, in a familiar building or space, and singing a few songs, hearing someone say some words, and going back home until we hit repeat the following week or month or Easter or Christmas.  Worship is putting into practice what we have learned about the Triune God.

Unlike earthly teachers and coaches in sports and activities, we have Jesus Christ as our example for worship and how to practice and revere.  We learn from Jesus by being connected to the words He left for us in the Bible. Jesus and the Bible are our syllabus for this life as a Christian and we have much to learn about Worship.  So what did Jesus do in the area of worship?  Since to be a disciple means to follow the master, we should look to see what Jesus did when it came to going to church. Here are a few statements on whether or not Jesus went to church.

Matt 12:9 Going on from that place, [Jesus] went into their synagogue

Matt 13:54 Coming to his hometown, [Jesus] began teaching the people in their synagogue

Matt 21:14 The blind and the lame came to [Jesus] at the temple

Mark 1:21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue

Mark 3:1 Another time [Jesus] went into the synagogue

Luke 4:16 [Jesus] went to Nazareth . . . and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom

Jesus went to church. If we are to be Christians – Christ ones – followers of Jesus, we are to be in church.

God’s word also says: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23–25, NIV84)  Did you catch it?  Meeting/Worshiping together encourages the others that have come to meet God.  When we give up meeting weekly, we are cheating others of the full worship and joy that God has designed for us to help strengthen one another on in the faith.  These times are hard and we need God and one another to keep encouraged.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11–13, NIV84).

We have been given people on this earth to help us in our life of Worship and we should give thanks and praise for those God has called into the vocation of earthly leaders (Pastors and Ministers of Music) in our churches.  They have the tremendous joy and responsibility of weekly giving us God’s word in speech, study, and song.  They have been entrusted to give us the full word of God for all times and all places.  They are part of the lifeline of our Christian Discipleship and Life in the area of Worship.  They are our coaches in the journey of life. To be strong in practice, it takes more than just an occasional visit or nodding acquaintance with the playbook to be proficient.  If one practices poorly, there are weak results.  If one practices daily they see positive results.  Often times you get out of something proportionate to what you have put into it.  Worship is no different.  The more you put into preparing and practicing worship, the more you will be ready to hear God’s message.

How do I prepare for worship you might ask?  Spend some time in prayer and study before walking into cooperate worship.  Ask God to give you eyes to see Him and ears to hear from Him in all that is going on in words and music.  Just like you practice hard for an exam, job training, music recital, or sporting event where you will be an actively participant, put all your heart, mind, soul, and body into the effort.  Be dripping wet with the sweat of eager expectation that God will meet you in Worship, just as He has promised.   Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” (Psalm 22:3–5, NIV84)

We are blessed each week to have God minister to us in corporate Worship.  Yes, we have the only God that reaches down to His people.  The True Triune God, Father, Son- Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit, visit us when the Word is preached and sung.  But the greatest act of Divine Service comes at the table of Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.  God wants us to know that He is present with us now and forever and that our sins are forgiven.  He tells us that in receiving His very Body and Blood at the Lord’s table.  We are assured that our sins are forgiven, we are made new creatures, and God lives in us.  That is communion!

Worship is communion with God.  It’s relationship.  It’s something we are called upon to do with our family, the others who believe in the Triune God. It’s how we live out our faith in our daily lifestyles.  From the way we serve Him by serving others.  From the way we greet and treat others in Jesus’ name.  It’s in the way we give thanks and praise to the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  Worship is ceaseless and is our lifeblood to the Lord.  As we would no more than cut off blood supply to our brain and vital organs, let us not cut off the Lifeline of our faith and family by cutting off our corporate and individual worship. May we truly show and give reverence to God, while joining and encouraging others in the faith, and then carrying it out to others in our daily lives as we practice a life of Worship here and into eternity.  Let’s face it, heaven is all about being in the presence of the King in worship and praise for all eternity.  No better time to start practicing, than now.

2009-july-27-019-small-web-viewWe may know the mechanics, the right phrases, or even the method of conversation, but do we know how it works and its importance?  Do really understand the heart of conversation?  Do we grasp how much dialog exchange means to relationships?

There are some very interesting, historical lessons and principles we need to grasp before we truly understand the EPIC proportions of this week’s topic.  There is a ton of information out there on the topic of prayer but unless we unpack it from a few angles, we will miss putting that information into useful practice, which is the heart of knowledge.

In recorded history, we know that one could never walk up and just start talking to the Ministry Head, Pharaoh, or King or Queen, let alone the Deity of that country or group of people.  There were always gatekeepers and guards and unless you were summoned by an Official, one’s life could, and often times would, be demanded. If one was summoned to appear in their presence, it was never certain if this was an esteemed moment or one for retribution.  This was true even in Biblical times:

“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” (Esther 4:11, NIV84)

Prior to sin, Adam and Eve walked with God and had direct fellowship and conversation with God.  When sin severed the direct, physical presence, God did not abandoned His people, but left a door open for relationship.  One of those ways was prayer.  God did place the priests over the people and the only way for sin to be atoned for was through the sacrifices given to the priests and them entering into the Holy of holies.  The Holy of holies was where God resided in the Tabernacle and a sheet hid this from the view of the people. Only those priests called by God were allowed in. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.” (Leviticus 16:2–3, NIV84)

Sin made it impossible for God’s people to be in His presence and live and it required sacrifice to know forgiveness was offered.  The people could only know it once a year and what a heavy burden to only have assurance once in 365 days.  What we learn, when we look to Christ is that His perfect sacrifice, dying on the cross, ripped the curtain in the Holy of Holies from top to bottom and gave us direct access to the King of Creation.  Christ became the way for us to stand in the presence of God without worry of retribution.  The Throne Room of God was made available for the commoner to freely enter.  Christ won for us the privilege to walk in, unannounced, and just start talking to the King!  Who wouldn’t want to have open access to a head of state let alone the Creator of All Things?   That is what prayer is, friends!  It’s open communication and relationship with our God and Savior.  We are blessed to have this, especially when God calls upon us to seek Him and be with Him.

There are so many reasons to talk with our Lord.  One of the best reasons is to change us. When you are in the presence of people and talking with them, you learn more about them, if you are listening, and you develop a deeper, richer relationship. The same is true with God.  In our times of prayer and communication, we share with Him our hurts, cares, concerns, and sins that we need to turn away from.  It’s also a time to get honest and ask for the Lord’s will to be done.  That is putting ourselves in the proper position of who we are:  we are the humble subject, seeking the wisdom and direction of the King of kings and Lord of Lords, who knows best.   We go seeking for the right answers and not as one going to the slot machines dumping in our quarters/requests and expecting a massive return of blessings/more money.   We go knowing that prayer is about changing us from the inside out and not changing God. Because our God never changes.

Prayers is privilege and sometimes with privileges, one can begin to take it for granted. As much as we wouldn’t take for granted a call to go see and talk to the Heads of State or Royalty, we shouldn’t take for granted the great access that Christ won for us to go and daily  talk and learn at the feet of the King of All Creation.  Crawl up into His lap and tell Him all that is on your heart and mind.  Let Him comfort Your soul and then listen to Him, through His Word, and take His direction and will.  See, God always answers our prayers with what is best for us, even if that answer is no.

Not sure if you are getting answers from your times with Him? Start a prayer log and write down how He has answered and when you finally see the answer to your prayers.  Sometimes our eyes are clouded by our sinful desires and it takes times for us to see God in action.  By doing this, it will help you learn how to pray more in line with His will and reassure you that we have a God who listens and responds.

Not sure what to pray for?  Not sure how to start?  Want to start exercising this discipline again?  Great!  Here is a quick list of things to include in your daily conversations when you walk into the Throne Room of God:

Praise – tell Him how special He is in Your life. Focus on the wonderful things He has done and what great things are going on in your life.

Confess – dump the “perfect” life façade that you try to hold up and get honest.  Tell the Forgiver of our Souls where you are struggling, give Him your hurts and pains from where you have walked away from His ways and will.  Seek the Holy Spirit’s  help so you can truly turn away from those areas of sin and walk the other way.

Thank Him – give gratitude for all the things in your life, the good as well as the bad.  Walk down the road of history and thank Him for all you have and have had in your life.  Thank God for being Him and caring for all things, most importantly, your redemption through Jesus Christ. In giving thanks, you will see how dependent you are on Him for everything He has created, because all that we have comes from Him and it is nothing we deserve.

Lift Up Others – this is the time for you to put others first.  Take the needs of others to God and not only tell Him what they need but also ask Him how you can make a difference for them.  Especially pray for those who hurt you and seem to be your enemies.  It’s hard to hate them when you pray for them.  This is also the time for you to continue to ask God to change you and how you respond to your enemies.

Prayer is a faith exercise that will always bring about a strengthening of your faith.  May God give you the strength and stamina to tap into this wonderful source of power, strength, peace, and privilege.  Go have a meeting with your Lord, Savior, Comforter, and King of Creation!

 

 

word_14088cThe law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

As we start down the road of our in depth travels of discipleship, this week, we are going to look at the basic, foundational requirements of the Christian Life and how to keep the Christian strong for the journey.

Just like the human body needs DNA, and is made up of many cells, and is the basic building blocks of life, so is Bible Study to the one following Jesus Christ.  The Word is so foundational that this is the means by which one comes to faith. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, NIV84)

God’s Word is such a building block  to our living a Christian life that without out it, we are trying to live without food, oxygen, and water for the soul.  We can try to travel in this life journey without God’s Word  but we cannot live on the “junk food” of this world.  The world just wants to tell us what our “itching ears want to hear” and quite simply we starve faith and have no nutritional value.  It just can’t be done!

God’s Word is pure and unaltered and is Truth.  All things outside of God’s Word will never satisfy or fulfill.  So if the Holy Scripture is so vital, how much do we know?  Where do we go for more and how much is too much?

When we honestly look at our lives, none of us knows enough about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Not even the most learned scholars in a seminary know enough.  The only way to know more is to be in the Presence of the Lord.  The best way to be in His Presence, on a daily basis, is being in the Word.  That is one of the reasons God left us this divinely inspired writing, so that we can daily have a relationship.

If we want to know what God thinks on a subject, we go right to the source and look at His Word.  If we feel God is silent on a matter, maybe it’s because we are not in His Word.  God calls each of His children to be in fellowship with Him and that means spending time with Him in His Word.  Not looking for what others think of Him, or what someone Twitter’s, Instagrams, or Facebook Posts about.  Going to His Word and to Him should be second nature, just like our DNA and breathing.  To actually “study the Bible” is more than a quick once over or a paragraph of a devotional.  It’s sitting and digesting what God has actually had written down in the Bible.  It’s investing time and then acting upon what one has learned.  It’s not a quick  hear it, read once over, and done.  James addresses this philosophy:  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22–25, NIV84)

Part of helping you study is being together on Sunday Morning in Bible Study at church.  It’s a time to dig deeply in the Word and learn about the history and hidden nuances that come from of the Hebrew or Greek. It’s about being with your brothers and sisters in Christ and feeding upon the Bread of Life that is in the Scriptures.  It’s about being so hungry for God that you won’t stop until you get the sustenance that only He only provides.

Many things are able to help you get a deeper meaning of Scripture and one of them is the Concordance in the back of your Bible or if you have a Chain Reference Bible following the road map of Scripture and carefully spend time on each passage.  Get a good Commentary.  If you need help in picking out one, ask your Pastor.

Pray about the texts you are reading. The Holy Spirit is always there as a guide to help you understand more.  God didn’t make His love letter so hard that you can’t understand it.  If you still have questions, take them to Bible Study on Sunday and ask your Pastor.  Nothing makes a Pastor’s day like someone truly wanting to know more of what the Lord has to say to them.

By now you should have the answer to our last question, there is NEVER a time when you have too much of God and His Word.  May you feed on the Lord’s Word, always growing in the wisdom, of Him, and putting that wisdom in to action which is actually knowledge.