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When the object of our worship is US

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Assuming you attend church regularly, have you ever given much thought about what motivates you to do so? I know I have, and here lately I have been giving this a lot of thought.

Through the years I’ve heard a lot of different answers to that question. Some of them make perfect sense (to me), while others leave me scratching my head. Here is a sampling of what I’m talking about.

  • “It’s the right thing to do”…spoken by a man whose coarse language left me wondering if he really knew the Lord.
  • “It’s what ‘good people’ do”…I guess this means if you don’t go to church you are a ‘bad person’?
  • “To worship God”…hopefully this is one we can all agree with.
  • “I’ve always went to church”…so church has become a habit?
  • “I like the singing”…I can’t tell you how many people have said this one. I guess the opposite of this is if you don’t like the singing you stay home?
  • “I like the pastor”…similar to the preceding one.
  • “My wife’s family helped to start this church”…ah yes, the ‘my family’s roots run deep in this church’ statement. Tread carefully here!
  • “I’m being forced to attend by my parents”…otherwise known as ‘I’ve got a drug problem. My parents drug me to church all of the time’.

Like I said, a wide variety of answers from a wide variety of people. I’m sure the case can be made for what does it matter why I go to church, just as long as I go. I get it!

I wonder though, how many of us would admit that one of the primary reasons we attend church is for what we get out of it? In other words, we attend because we are made the primary beneficiary, or recipient, rather than God. Maybe I should explain this a bit more.

We go because we are made to feel happy. We go because we are made to feel important. We go because we are made to feel loved. We go because we are made to feel needed. And do you know what? All of those are wonderful things!

But here’s the thing, NONE of those things should be our primary motivator in attending church. All of those wonderful things are the outcomes, or the results of our worship and adoration of the King! The come only because we have first worshiped Him!

You see, isn’t a church service supposed to be about God’s children assembling together to worship Him in Spirit and Truth? According to Jesus it is, which means then that God is to be the sole object of our worship. [1]

As a matter of fact, you cannot find a single instance in the New Testament where we are taught that when we assemble together we are to do so with the expectancy that we will be made to feel a certain way or that we will receive anything.

Yet isn’t that the prevailing thought of many today? “Come to our church and you will receive a blessing”. “Sow your best seed and God will multiply it back to you”. “Give, give, give, and you will get, get, get”! In other words, it’s all about YOU!

Here is the inherent danger in adopting such a mindset. We risk prostituting the meaning of worship in the Church because we have replaced the object of our worship with ourselves.

Preaching styles, personality traits of the pastor, types of music and singing, formal or casual dress, coffee bars, pews or theatre seating, all of these reflect on our desire to please SELF.

They have absolutely nothing to do with the kind of worship that Jesus referred to in John 4:23. In that particular verse, Jesus makes it clear that the Father is seeking a specific type of worship because he said “for the Father is seeking such to worship him. (emphasis mine)

This emphasis on self worship also shows up in other ways in the church. For example, I had a lady come up to me and proceed to tell me that the message I had recently delivered on everlasting hope didn’t sit well with her. She said that she did not agree with my definition of hope. Since my ‘definition’ of hope was read verbatim from the Bible, her comments peaked my curiosity.

With that in mind, and knowing that this person tends to ‘disappear’ for long stretches of time (I am being very kind here), I simply asked her how her definition of hope was working out for her. She immediately went on the defensive and said that she knew the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior and that’s all she needed to know. How that statement proved that my definition of hope was wrong, well, I’ll just leave that to her to work out.

My point being is that if our flesh doesn’t like or agree with scripture, we simply disregard it. What matters is not whether my life is lived in accordance with God’s word, but that I believe what I want to believe. I reign over my life, not God. In assuming such an attitude, I make myself the object of my worship. I exist for no other purpose than to make myself happy.

Beloved, we would do well to remember that the Lord is a jealous God. [2] Worship belongs to Him and Him alone. Creature comforts and the felt needs of you and I are not a part of true worship. They may draw a crowd on Sunday morning, but they have nothing to do with true worship.

That is reserved for God alone.

Have a blessed Lord’s day,

Ron

 

[1] John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

[2] Exodus 20:5, 34:14, Deut. 4:24, Joshua 24:19,

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When God is your only option

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This past Sunday morning in my home church, I delivered a message about the undefiled and incorruptible inheritance that awaits us. I made several points about how short this life really is, and how that if our only hope was in what we can amass in this life, then our hope was not only misplaced, but also futile.

I tried very hard to drive home the point that in this life, while there will be seasons of hurt and disappointment that will severely test our faith, such testing is much more precious than gold which is purified in the fire. [1]

At the close of the message, as is the custom in our church, I invited anyone in need of special prayer to come forward. Our church makes this time of prayer a priority, and every week there are usually several people that come forward.

On this particular Sunday, a young lady who had only recently started attending our church came forward. Having met and spoken with her on her first visit, I was aware of some serious physical challenges she had been facing, so it was no great surprise to see her ask for prayer.

I listened as she shared with me that the disease that was supposed to be in remission had now spread to another part of her body. If that wasn’t horrific enough, she told me how fearful she was of what might become of her small children should the unthinkable happen to her.

As I prayed for her, she collapsed into my chest, sobbing uncontrollably and unashamedly. In short, she was broken. Broken in spirit and broken in body. And who wouldn’t be?

I have no doubt that some of you understand this level of desperation. You too have had to face death head on, with no guarantee of the outcome. Can life get any more real than this?

As I continued praying with her, she held on to me, unable or unwilling to let go. All I could think about was how this is what real ministry is supposed to be: bearing one another’s burdens in our most desperate moments.

That’s why we’re here, to express the love of Christ to all who need it. You and I are the hands and feet of the Master, and I believe with all that’s within me that no one is too hurt, too sick, too lost, or too desperate that God cannot get to them. He can reach anyone in any situation. He is our helper in the time of trouble. [2]

It may seem like God is this young lady’s only option at this point, but really…

Sometimes I wonder…is that so bad?

Please join with me in praying for Mary, and if you would, please share this with someone else that believes in the power of prayer.

Ron

 

[1] 1st Peter 1:3-9

[2[ Psalm 46:1

It’s ok to love from a distance!

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Do you struggle with making steady progress in your walk with the Lord because of certain people in your life that keep pulling you away from Him?

Do you ever feel like ‘taking two steps forward and one step backward’ sums up your life?

Do the failures, hurts, and disappointments from your past continually haunt you to the point of nearly paralyzing you, thus rendering you unable to effectively live for Christ?

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If any of this sounds like I’m reading your mind, it’s because almost all of us are in these same predicaments. Let’s face it, the struggle is real, and we are locked in a very real battle with a very real enemy.

I have lived long enough to understand that all of us struggle at times, but not all of us struggle for the same reasons. In addition, we may also find ourselves struggling with situations not of our own choosing, and therefore out of our control.

With that in mind, I want to focus on a particular area of struggle that we can control, which is who we allow into our lives.

This can be a difficult subject to deal with for a Christian, first of all because God is love, and as his children we are taught to love people. The idea of keeping anyone at arms length is not easy for some because they equate that with a lack of love.

It was Jesus after all who said that “no greater love has a man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends”.  From this verse we find the heart of God, and it is only natural for us to desire to emulate that very same love.  [1]

So, again, we who are followers of Jesus Christ must love people because that is the commandment of our Savior.

No doubt you have heard it said that Christians are to “love the sinner but hate the sin”, or some variant of that. That means that we are to look past the sin in a person’s life and see their need for a Savior.

Personally, I believe this to be sound advice. We must be careful however to understand that while we should love without regard to lifestyle choices, habits, etc, we must be very careful as to how much influence we allow these same people to exert over us.

And yes, that includes those who profess Christ but live as though they know nothing about Him. This is made perfectly clear to us in Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he said we were to turn away from such people.   [2]

It is (hopefully) obvious to us as Christians that we cannot permit the enemy to gain a foothold in our homes and in the lives of our family members. We must remain vigilant against the methodology of the adversary, because he routinely transforms himself into something that we would be attracted to.   [3]

In other words, our enemy isn’t likely to appear on your doorstep wearing a red cape, horns, and carrying a pitchfork. He will however appear in such a manner as to put you at ease long enough to deceive you!

This is where loving from a distance comes into play. Instead of opening our hearts to things that might harm us, we should proceed with caution. And yes, it is perfectly alright to say NO to someone!

As a matter of fact, scripture teaches us to keep the world at an arms length from us. Paul actually used a stronger word when he said we should come out from among them and separate ourselves.

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 2nd Corinthians 6:16,17

If we are to live victoriously in Christ, it will be because through Christ we have conquered our past failures and disappointments. Through Him we will have buried the demons that used to haunt us.

“You can’t defeat the demons you keep playing with” is a popular internet meme quoted frequently all over the web today by many preachers and Christian entertainers.

It is a very powerful truth as well.

To continue “playing with” them is to invite certain destruction into our lives because having fellowship with darkness is diametrically opposite of what scripture teaches us in Ephesians 5:11.  [4]

As children of the King, we are to love all people simply because everyone, saint and sinner alike, has been created in the image of God. Never forget that while we were yet sinners ,Christ died for us.

Wisdom, however, dictates that loving from a distance until you really get to know a person is not only prudent, it may just save you much heartache.

Have a blessed day everyone,

Ron

[1] John 15:13

[2] 2nd Timothy 3:5

[3] 2nd Corinthians 11:14

[4] Ephesians 5:11

 

 

For the lost

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What really matters to you from a Kingdom perspective?

Probing a bit further, what do your spiritual priorities look like?

I have been thinking about all of this for several months now because I have been feeling very restless in my soul. It’s almost like I am being pulled in another direction, a direction far from my comfort zone. A Holy discontent with the religious status quo. Knowing that change is forthcoming, yet not having a clue as to what/when/how. Maybe you can relate?

I know that this feeling has to do with my desire to be more personally involved in ministering to others. Organized, institutionalized church where the format never changes may work for others, but it leaves me scratching my head wondering about how impersonal it all is. It leaves me wondering if God did desire to show up some Sunday, would He need to ask to be put on our program?

I have come to realize that I have reached a crossroads in my life where I can no longer be content to just show up and throw money at a situation or problem, or toss an envelope in an offering plate. No, I want to see the faces of the people who need that money. I want to see their faces because I know that tangible things are just a part of what they really need. These unknown faces need to see the love of Jesus demonstrated.

It is this demonstration of love that people crave.

At times it seems to me that the Church is losing its passion for those on the ‘outside’, content to coddle and entertain those on the ‘inside’. It makes me wonder if we have become ‘too good’, at least in our own minds, to be bothered by those less fortunate than ourselves when we take measures to shield ourselves from lost, hurting, and desperate people.

Is this not our mission? Is this not why Jesus came, to seek and to save that which was lost? [1]

Years ago a church I attended decided that a good way to minister to the community was by having a food bank that gave away food to the needy. To be honest, more than a few of us questioned that need, wondering if these needy people actually existed in our small town. Imagine our great surprise that as the word got out, people began showing up at all hours of the day!

It was heartbreaking to see these families who had very little to eat, especially little children. And to think that prior to our starting the food bank we didn’t even know these needy people existed! Hearing their stories would always touch me deeply, and I suppose this is where I learned to love the downtrodden.

Now, places exist that are funded by churches and community service groups so the needy have a place to go to away from the church. This serves two purposes: 1, hurting people have a centralized place to go to receive help, and 2, the church doesn’t have to get its hands dirty.

An institutionalized clearing house for the hurting if you will, where the opportunity for personal contact from the church is lost.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe that this is what Jesus meant when he taught that we were to have mercy and compassion for the lost and needy among us. We give money to far away places, content that we did something for someone whose face we will never see. We have bought into the world’s philosophy that if you throw enough money at the problem, eventually it will fix itself. [2]

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m driving around and see so many people who are obviously struggling, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more that can be done to help them. Please understand me, I am not advocating for more government handouts or more welfare type programs. Those are temporary, stop gap measures(at best).

Of course, there are a great many well funded programs already in existence to help those in need. The question I am asking though is are they the right kinds of programs?

No, what I’m referring to are more and better opportunities. Better paying jobs for instance would enable a person to afford better housing, higher quality food, and an overall better quality of life. Sometimes just an equal opportunity is all that is needed to lift someone up and out of poverty because I firmly believe that all most people want is a chance, and equal chance to succeed.

This nation is rich beyond anything most of the world can imagine. We have an obligation to “the least of these” to do more for them than giving them monthly handouts. [3]

Our churches should be on the front lines, fighting to see that these people are given the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. Our churches should open their doors and their checkbooks because after all, it is the church that is in the mercy business, not the government. With the tremendous resources our churches have at their disposal, we could make significant inroads into improving the plight of the poor and needy if they would once again pick up the mantle.

An “institutionalized clearing house for the hurting” is not the answer. Demonstrating the love of Jesus with a personal touch followed up with practical, tangible “put your money where your mouth is” blessings would have a tremendous impact for those in need.

I close this post with a song about compassion for the lost. I heard this song a few days ago, and instantly recognized it as one I used to listen to regularly a long time ago. I pray it will touch your heart.

 

Ron

[1]Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

[2]For the record, I am 100% in favor of missions giving as long as their is a regular accounting given of those funds

[3] Matthew 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

 

 

It’s never over until He says it’s over!

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Like most of you, my life has had its share of defining moments.

Whether it was accepting Jesus as my Savior, finishing school, getting married, buying a house, losing my dad when I was only 12, memorable vacations, landing a good job and having a successful career, all of these and more are defining moments in my life.

There is yet another defining moment, one that took place exactly nineteen years ago today, that I want to mention in this blog.

Very early on a Monday morning 19 years ago, my wife and I drove to the hospital where I was scheduled to have open heart surgery.

A few months prior to this, on my daughter’s second birthday, I had suffered a massive heart attack while mowing the lawn. Subsequent procedures, rehab, and medications failed to keep my arteries open, and we were faced with the dim reality that surgery was the only option left.

A lot of things go through your mind when you are facing something of this magnitude. For one thing, while open heart surgery has become a normal procedure these days, there is nothing normal about it when it’s you that is going to be operated on.

Emotions, if left unchecked, will get the best of you and leave you in a constant state of panic and fear. Of course, all of this is very normal, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are not being honest with you.

As best as I can remember, there were about three weeks between the time I was told I had to have surgery and the day I actually went to the hospital for the procedure.

During those three weeks you have to undergo a battery of tests and procedures, none of which do anything to allay the fears that creep into the mind. Actually, by the time they finish all of these tests, you just want to have the surgery and get it over with.

People that know that I had open heart surgery generally will ask one of two questions.

1. How were you able to overcome the fear of such a serious surgery?

2. If you are a Christian that believes God still heals today, why didn’t God heal you so you didn’t have to have the surgery?

The answer to the first question is that God gave me a peace that passes all understanding about the situation. It’s hard to explain to non-believers, but driving to the hospital that morning I had no fear.

How is that possible? It was because I knew that no matter what happened, I was completely in God’s hands. If I did not come through the surgery, I was going to be in His presence for all of eternity.

If I did come through, I knew that God wasn’t done with me yet. So how could I lose? How could I not be at peace knowing that I was safe and secure in the Father’s arms?

Now, to be sure, my wife was very fearful of me not coming through the surgery. After all, we had only been married three years and we had a two year old baby. What wife and mother wouldn’t be scared?

That does not mean that she didn’t have any faith. Quite the contrary! My wife has more faith than any person I know, and literally trusts God for everything.

The way that I answer the second question is because God chose not to miraculously heal me. Could He have? Of course he could have! He is God after all. But He chose not to. And whether you believe this or not, I was OK with his decision.

Would I have rather He instantly healed me? You better believe I would have preferred that to the surgery. I may be crazy, but I’m not that crazy!

In case you haven’t noticed, Christians die every day from one type of disease or another. Can anyone quote the chapter and verse from the Bible that says Christians will live long, illness free lives, and die peacefully in their sleep at a ripe old age?

Didn’t think so!

The fact is that God is Sovereign. He is in control. He orders our footsteps, not us. It is God who exalts and also brings low. In short, our lives are not our own, but His to do with as he pleases.

That is a bitter pill for many to swallow, and I have learned that submission to God’s will is a lifelong process. You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly say “from this day forward I will submit every part of my life to the Lord”.

It just doesn’t work that way. Getting to the place where we trust God with our very lives comes from the daily experience of learning to trust the Lord that He alone knows what is best for our lives.

Coming through open heart surgery changes a person in several ways. There are the physical benefits of course, but there is also a change that takes place in the inner heart because now you know an attribute of God that may have been hidden from you before.

You now know God as Faithful in a way that goes far beyond words. And because you know Him as Faithful, you know that there is nothing that He cannot do for you.

These past nineteen years have been years of great joy, moments of severe testing, times of rejoicing, and yes even occasions of despair. Through them all however, God has been faithful to stand by us. I cannot think of a single time that I have felt as if God did not have my life in His hands.

Maybe you are facing the trial of a lifetime. Maybe fear has gripped your heart and panic rules the day. Maybe events from your past haunt you with the torment that you will never be free of them. Maybe the defining moments of your life have left you battered, broken, and helpless.

If this is you, I’ve got good news for you. It’s not over until He says it’s over! You are still standing. You may have been knocked down but you are not counted out.

There is still life to live, victories to cherish, mountains to conquer, and enemies to defeat all because God has you in the palm of His hands.

Nineteen years ago today there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding my life. Would I live or die? If I lived, what kind of life would I be able to have? Would I ever be the same again?

Praise God I am alive and well today to say that God is Faithful to sustain us and keep us. It is true, I cannot do some things as well as I used to. Part of that is heart related and part of it is the normal aging process all of us deal with.

I choose to focus however on what I can do, not what I cannot do. God has chosen to keep me around and as long as I am here, I will give Him praise and thanks for the wonderful life I have been blessed to live.

It’s not over until he says it’s over. My life, as well as your, is not and will not be defined by illness or weakness. God brought me through then and He will bring me through tomorrow!

Be blessed everyone,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

America: which will it be?

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7 “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it,

8 “if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.

9 “And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it,

10 “if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. Jeremiah 18:7-10 NKJV

Yes, we do have a choice in the matter. The decisions we make as to whether or not we will follow God or man directly impact whether or not God chooses to bless or bring disaster.

One thing is for certain, disaster is looming, and there is only one way to avoid it.

We as a nation would be wise to reconsider our ways lest God relent of the good he has decreed for us.

Ron

More than conquerors

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When you think of the word ‘Conqueror’, what do you envision?

  • Overcomer?
  • Warrior?
  • Winner?

While the dictionary definition looks like this, when I think of the word ‘Conqueror’, I think of a battle that has been fought and won.

Battles are fought every day of our lives. Some are won and some are lost. Let’s face it, we do not always feel like a Conqueror, do we? That is just the unfortunate reality of living in a fallen world

From a spiritual perspective, things can appear to be not much different in that we are in a constant state of battle, winning some and coming up short in others.

There is one huge difference however, and that is that when we look at things from an eternal point of view, we win.

Simply stated, we win.

The Apostle Paul knew a few things about conquering. In his amazing letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul talks about things that were a very real threat to those believers.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   Romans 8:35

Those early Christians suffered horribly under Roman authority, especially Nero. Persecution, death, starvation, and torture were things every Christian back then had to come to grips with. On the surface, from a fleshly point of view, one might expect that any of these things could, if possible, separate the believer from his Lord.

Paul, however, answered his own question by declaring that he knew of nothing that could separate a child of God from their Heavenly Father. Nothing!

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

This matters to us today because the intensity of the battle is increasing at a rapid pace. Christians are facing severe trials of their faith today, many of whom are being put to death daily. Consider that every month, on average:

  • 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons
  • 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked
  • 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned

Here in the U.S. Christians are facing a different kind of orchestrated attack. Instead of blatant persecution and killings, we Christians in America are being worn down gradually. Our resistance to sin is being eroded, gradually worn down by the forces of evil and spiritual wickedness that sit in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Make no mistake beloved, the enemy is very, very real. His methods in America, while vastly different (up till now), are no less effective in their efforts to quench the Spirit of God, and to destroy the testimony of Jesus in this nation.

Our hope lies in the truth of God’s word that declares that we are more than conquerors, and that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God. It is imperative that we grasp this and burn it into our hearts.

May I remind you that this world is not our home. This is merely a dress rehearsal for the life which is to come. As hard as it is not to become attached to our favorite things or causes, simply stated we are just passing through. There’s something far more grand than this earth that will be our eternal home one day.

Much like the Patriarch Abraham who looked for a city whose builder and maker was God(Hebrews 11:10), we have a promise of a home far beyond anything our eyes can imagine. A city reserved for those who are ‘More than Conquerors’.

I don’t know exactly what’s coming next. I cannot state for certain what Christians in America will be called upon to endure for His glory. Paul mentioned “things present or things to come”, so we know that something is coming, yet whatever it is, it cannot pull you from the arms of Jesus.

What I can state with 100% certainty is that God will give us the grace to conquer it all through Him.

That you would take comfort in these words is my prayer,

Ron

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