Jan 14, 2011

Worship: An act of reverence

This short definition of the word worship is good for helping us gain some insight into the idea of worship. Examining the two words, act and reverence, we can see an important part of our relationship with our God.

When we look at the short definition, we see that the word act. To act is an active idea. When I was a boy learning grammar, my teacher told us that a verb is an action word. What do you think are the actions we’re to be doing when we worship our God?

I think we must guard against being sponges in the body of Christ. By that I mean we cannot show up and just expect to absorb what God has for us. We must not be receivers only, but we must be in active worship of God. We must be sure we are the “do-ers” and not just the receivers.

So, what are some of the actions we should be doing? Well, like always, let’s find our answers in His word. Examine I Chronicles 16:23-36. A fine list of reverential acts are outlined there.

Sing to the Lord
Proclaim good tidings
Tell of His glory and deeds
Praise Him greatly
Fear Him
Ascribe glory to Him
Bring an offering
Worship in holy array
Say, “the Lord reigns”
Give thanks
Bless the Lord

This is just a short list from King David. These are active ways to worship God. Of course there are more, but these give us some idea about what the active part of worship is. We must do these things as individuals and corporately.

Today, we no longer bring sacrifices and offerings of grain, libations or animals. Those acts were elements of a different part of God’s overall plan. With Christ we have a new covenant and we are to worship in a different way. In fact, Christ Himself tells us the way we are to worship.
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24)
One of the wonderful things about our relationship with God is that we can communicate with Him directly in spirit. We can talk directly to God without having a human intercessory. But, when we look at this passage from the Gospel of John, we see that we’re also to worship in truth. I think this is a key element of our worship of God.

I believe worshipping in truth means that we’re to be honest with ourselves and honest with God. He already knows our hearts, so we cannot lie to God. So, we can tell Him how we’re feeling and what’s honestly in our hearts.

But, there is a danger in today’s Church. Often, we say and do things in worship because we’ve always done them. We get into habits of worship — sometimes without knowing the meaning behind them. We perform things or say things because it’s expected of us or because we’ve always done so. But, often times these are not the true reflections of our hearts at the time.

God doesn’t want empty worship. He wants our true worship. He wants us to be honest in what we’re saying. The Psalms are an excellent example of worship. We don’t always see praises in the Psalms, do we? We see laments and we see complaints. But, we never see any of the psalmists dishonestly praising God with empty praises. Remember…
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
The other important word in our definition of worship is reverence. A short definition of reverence is “a feeling of deep respect, esteem, awe and love.”

I don’t think there’s any born again believer who doesn’t feel this way about God. But, let’s combine this definition of reverence with the word act. What does that look like? Again, let’s look in the Psalms for just one example. David writes…
I will tell of Thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee. You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. (Psalm 8)
In this psalm, we get a picture of how David feels about God and how he encourages all of us to worship God.

Let’s look a little closer at the definition of revere. There are some key words in there that are important to study.

Respect – how do we demonstrate deep respect for God? I think the ultimate way to show this level of respect is to be completely obedient to Him. Do not disobey Him.
Esteem – We show how much we esteem God in the way we prioritise what’s important in our lives. Where does God fit in? Truthfully, is He first or second or third? Is He in the background of our lives? Or is God on the throne of our lives? Is God the reason for what we do each day?
Awe – One way to show awe is to tell God who He is. Sometimes a good way to do this is to pray the Psalms. But, acknowledge to the best of your ability your awareness of who God is and what He’s done and will do.
Love – No greater love has a man than to give his life. Love Him with all your heart, mind, and soul. Submit the whole of your life to God. This means turning over control of all parts of your life to God.

Again, we must always remember that worship is active not passive. God blesses us as He desires. If He chooses to bless us through a sermon on Sunday, then we are blessed. But, that is not worship — that’s part of discipleship. In this way we are the recipient of God’s love. However, as God’s people we must be active in our worship of the Creator, the Lover of our souls, Whose name is above all names.

Remember our example of the sponge. A sponge absorbs water much like a believer can absorb from God, from His word and from His teachers. But a sponge doesn’t give the water back unless it’s squeezed. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want to squeeze us all the time for us to give service and worship to Him. So, let’s be sure we as believers revere our God actively in our own lives and when we gather together.

Jan 10, 2011

The wisdom of God versus the wisdom of man

When you hear the word wisdom, what comes into your mind? What are the characteristics of wisdom? What does the Bible says about wisdom?

One passage about wisdom is especially helpful in our understanding of the biblical view of wisdom: James 3:13-18.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (NASB)
Let’s examine the words used here to describe what wisdom really is.

Wisdom is made up of parts:

From above – True wisdom comes from God, meaning it is a gift from God, not something that we can simply work hard to obtain. The Bible tells us that we only need to ask God for wisdom who gives it abundantly. It is based on truth and it advocates truth. In the end, it points back to God and His plan for us.

Pure – True wisdom isn’t something that men came up with. It isn’t famous sayings, or platitudes. Wisdom is not the result of some motivation such as popularity or wealth. Wisdom is holy.

Peaceable – True wisdom is demonstrated by those who are at peace, meaning those brought together with God. The word we translate as “peace” is from a Greek word that can carry the meaning “brought together.” In this context, peaceable means those who are together with God, or more simply stated, those who have a good relationship with God.

Gentle – True wisdom is thinking and behavior that is “appropriate” and “mild.” It isn’t furious about opinions or strongly trying to persuade others. It isn’t rude even though it is right.

Reasonable – However, true wisdom is able to persuade just by its truth. Wisdom points out what is right and what is evil from God’s perspective, not from what man thinks is right.

Full of mercy – True wisdom is kind and helps those who need it and corrects what is spiritually wrong. It also forgives offenses when someone else does what is wrong, but points out the error in a loving and gentle way.

Good fruits – True wisdom isn’t just thinking and expressing Godly thoughts. Anyone can learn biblical principles and state them to others. However, wisdom is shown in the life of those who actually do the things God wants us to do.

Unwavering – What was wisdom a thousand years ago is still wisdom today. Since God is eternal and hasn’t ever changed; so too, wisdom, since coming from God, doesn’t change and hasn’t changed since before God spoke creation into existence. Man hasn’t leaned anything more or added anything to God’s creation or God’s plan that makes wisdom different today than it was in the garden.

Without hypocrisy – True wisdom has not disguises, it isn’t crafty or deceitful. It is sincere and open and is plain to the observer. Wisdom brings clarity and understanding, not confusion. Wisdom is sincere and open, it is steady and even. You won’t be confused by wisdom.

What do each of these look like and how do we apply this true wisdom in our lives? Worth contemplating and daily asking God for this wisdom.

Jan 4, 2011

The Roman church continues its anti-Zionist, supersessionist rhetoric

In October 2010, at a special Vatican meeting on the Middle East, Cyrille Bustros, a native of Lebanon and a bishop in Newton, Mass., claimed, “We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people.”

This was part of the Greek-Melkite bishop’s comments during a recent news conference where attendees presented the final document that emerged from a Vatican synod of Middle Eastern bishops.

I’m not sure what scriptures Mr. Bustros is studying, but I know the Bible teaches that God’s covenant with Israel cannot be broken and that the Apostle Paul clearly illustrates a future for the actual Israel of the Old Testament. To me, it’s apparent that Mr. Bustros has not embraced the idea the Apostle Paul teaches that we are no longer Jew nor Greek or that our alliance is no longer with our nation, but our alliance is with Christ – Mr. Bustros is clearly Lebanese first.

The notion of supersessionism isn’t new thinking. Both Justin Martyr and Augustine are reported to take this position in their writings. But, when studied as a whole, the Bible clearly teaches that God has a plan for Israel and that plan includes the land that was promised. In Luke 21:24, God teaches us that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This is an indication that Jerusalem will be restored. God also teaches us of the eternity of His promises in Romans 11:28-29, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Supersessionism is the view that the church is the new or true Israel that has replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God. If the Roman church has replaced Israel, then Mr. Bustros might be correct in his assessment that there is no exclusive right that Israel holds for the promised land. However, this simply isn’t the biblical case.

Because God does not break His covenants, those who say the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people then have to deny the traditional and orthodox interpretation of the Old Testament and deny there is a prophesied future restoration for national Israel. They also have to claim that the New Testament reinterprets the Old Testament rather than is a continuation of God’s revelation of His will (Ezk. 36-37; Deut. 30:1-6; Jer. 30, 31, 32; Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11).

Charles Spurgeon apparently felt that the future of Israel’s sure role in God’s plan was not considered enough by either theologians or the laity. He wrote, “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this.”

In case that was too vague for some, the famous Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr., wrote succinctly, “To argue that God replaced Israel with the church is to depart from an enormous body of biblical evidence.”

When the Roman church takes an institutional position in favor of replacement theology (which it has), it simply is an expression of its anti-Zionist viewpoint and is clearly not aligned with the Bible. Whether viewed from a secular or spiritual viewpoint, the self-determination, and subsequent self defense, by the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland is part of the expressed plan of God.

Admittedly, there could be confusion on the part of members of the Roman church. The Second Vatican Council took the position that there existed an eternal covenant between Israel and God and that covenant was linked with the land of Israel. Yet, the Roman church has since issued calls for Israel’s withdrawal of occupied lands, removal of border barriers between Israel and the West Bank and support for a sovereign Palestinian nation. It naively stated that Israel would live peacefully and in security if it would only withdraw from conquered land it won in war. How could the Roman church believe this in light of the codified objective of Islamic groups to eradicate the nation of Israel? This call to return to pre-war boundaries is not biblical and goes against God’s desires (Joel 3:1-2; Gen. 15:18-21; Ex. 23:31a).

In all practicality, this is either an official departure from the Second Vatican Council or the Roman church is taking both positions in the polemic. Regardless, this is in opposition to the biblical position.

In his “12 Reasons Why Supersessionism/Replacement Theology Is Not a Biblical Doctrine,” Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D., points out that “the New Testament does not call the church ‘Israel,’ and nowhere does the New Testament state the nation of Israel has been permanently rejected by God.” He also states in his conclusion, “Various texts such as Matt. 19:28; 23:37–39; Luke 13:35; 21:24; 22:30; and Romans 11 refute supersessionism in that they teach or reaffirm the Old Testament expectation of a restoration of Israel.”

This shouldn’t surprise me because the scriptures teach that all nations will stand against Israel, and all will be defeated. In this case, all includes the United States. Unfortunately, I see it happening far sooner than I would have expected due to the influence of global anti-Zionist institutions, such as the Roman church, the United Nations and a spineless European Union.

Jan 3, 2011

Four hallmarks of the body

The Scriptures teach us many things. We learn more about God and ourselves because we have God’s revelation of Himself and His plan through His word. Praise God. 

When I study the lives of those believers in the first few years of Christ’s church, I come to a better understanding of why there are problems in today’s churches. When studying Acts 2, we read about these people and they should be inspiring to us. I drew out from a recent study of Acts 2 four hallmarks of the body of Christ as found in the example of the early church. 

In Acts 2:42 we see these hallmarks. “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NASB)

Notwithstanding the Greek grammatical construction of this verse, I feel confident in asserting four things are revealed as important for any local assembly. These four are for the body of Christ to be continually devoted to:
  • God’s teachings
  • Fellowship
  • Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
  • Prayer
The first thing we have to observe isn’t about the four hallmarks themselves, it’s about the idea that we are to be “continually devoted” to the four. This means Christ’s body is to practice these four with regularity and with consistency.

God’s Teachings
Being devoted to the apostles teaching means committing ourselves to studying and applying God’s word in the Scriptures – not for specific circumstances, but as a way of life. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, our pulpits, lecterns, classrooms and assemblies must be focused on proclaiming God’s word, not homiletic stories or on the felt needs of the listeners. 
Too long our churches have turned fellowship into a social event where there is no sharing. The word we translate into fellowship actually means to share. We must share with each other as a body in order to experience the joy the Christian community can bring, experience the working of God in all our lives, in order to be strong together as a group. Finally, we must share in order to bear one another’s burdens. 

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
We have no basis as a community without Jesus Christ. He is our cornerstone upon which we have a relationship with God the Father. It is in Christ that we are viewed as righteous by the Father and are rescued from the punishment of our sin. Christ Himself asked us to remember Him by a simple act of celebrating His death, burial and resurrection and what those facts mean to us. As a community of believers, we must never forget God’s plan He executed through Jesus Christ for our atonement. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is one way to remember Christ’s atoning work. 

We learn from that great hymn that it is a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. But, more so than this, prayer is our direct connection with our creator. God still communicates with His people. And, thanks to Jesus’ intercession, we have direct communication to God. The body of Christ must be devoted to prayer individually and corporately because it is our direct link to God. Scriptures also teach us that God wants to hear from us. It is God’s desire that we pray to Him, therefore, it is paramount that we do so. It is also a powerful means to bond a body together, praying for each other and praising God for the results.
This is by no means an exhaustive description of the believing body. But, it gives a good filter through which to view any given local church – do they exhibit these four critical hallmarks.