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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

Being a difference maker

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Have you ever been in a place where you desperately needed to hear a word of hope or encouragement from a friend, family member, or pastor but all you heard were crickets? Something tells me that most of you have been in such a situation. It’s not a good place to be in, is it?

I’ve been that person so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve paced the floor from midnight to dawn all while asking the Lord “why doesn’t anyone care enough to help me”? I have been so broken that I nearly convinced myself that there was no hope for me. Seriously, when your every waking thought centers around the hopelessness of your situation, you are in a dark, dark place.

I’ll never forget going to a “friend’s” house one day, desperate for friendship, a ray of hope, or just a kind word. Instead of being on the receiving end of any of the above, I spent the next two hours listening to his problems and encouraging him. I actually left there in worse shape then when I arrived, and I certainly didn’t think that was possible!

I imagine that some of you have been there as well, haven’t you?

There is a silver lining to this sad tale however. Through it all I have learned that when help is nowhere to be found, look again. You are never far from help if you look to Jesus. If you look for him, he WILL be found! Pace the floor all night long if you feel you need to, but please realize that it is not necessary.

I have learned that our God is faithful to sustain us no matter how dark or bleak our world may appear to be. As a matter of fact, scripture teaches us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”(Psalm 46:1). The enemy of our soul would love to plant the seeds of doubt in our hearts and minds that God cares about us, but the Word of God declares that He is our helper!

There is something else that has come out of all of this, a lesson I wish to pass on to all of you. I have determined that whatever people did not do for me in my time of need, I cannot allow that to prevent me from helping others. What was is gone forever, but tomorrow is a new day, offering hope through the power of the risen Savior.

All of us need to be the difference maker in someone’s life. That’s why we’re here after all. That’s why God saved us from our sins, to be Jesus to someone in desperate need.

Have a blessed day!

Ron

Where do we go from here?

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Many of my older readers are no doubt familiar with the name Paul Harvey. For those too young to remember his radio and TV newscasts, Paul Harvey was a very familiar voice in America from the early 1950’s to 2008.

He is most famous for his “The Rest of the Story” segments where he would talk about a particular subject, and later in the newscast would reminder his listeners that there was more to this story than meets the eye. Hence “The Rest of the Story”.

Throughout his long career he made many special broadcasts such as So God Made a Farmer, Freedom to Chains, and one of my personal favorites If I Were the Devil.

“If I Were the Devil,” was originally broadcast in 1964, but he updated it several times over the years. The version I am sharing with you today aired in 1996. Here, In Paul Harvey’s own words, is what he said he would do, if he “were the devil.”

“If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee. So, I would set about however necessary to take over the United States.

“I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’

“To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square. And the old, I would teach to pray after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington …’

“Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

“If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

“If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door. With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress. In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.

“If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?

“I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be. And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.

“In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.”

Now, I do not pretend to make Paul Harvey out to be a saint or a Prophet. I do know that he attended various churches in his lifetime, but beyond that who can say exactly what his relationship was with God?

What do know is that what Mr. Harvey wrote in 1964 has mostly come to fruition. How anyone could argue otherwise is beyond my limited capabilities to understand the human thought process.

Whether he was ‘inspired’ to write the things that he did, or whether he may have somehow seen into the future, no one can truthfully say. In my own opinion, it doesn’t matter how he knew, but what matters is that he was able to ascertain that the societal trends that were evolving in the 1960’s were planting the seeds for the destructive trends you and I are now left to contend with.

For all of our modern sociologists attempts to portray society as an ever evolving one, replete with technological advances the likes of which our forefathers could not have dreamed of, we are actually devolving. We are simply following the well-established pattern of the great cultures of history that long ago found themselves adrift on the ocean of Godlessness.

We are living in strange and difficult times, of that we can all agree. It almost seems as though the ‘powers that be’ are fully aware that they are in over their heads yet dare not admit it to the populace. To do so would be an open admission of their own fallibility.

As Christians, we are often guilty of living in the manner of our choosing, believing Grace and its accompanying freedom will cover the multitude of our sins. It’s as if we have either forgotten or have willingly discarded Paul’s admonition of Romans 6:1,2.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

We know, of course, that to continue in sin and disobedience is a recipe for the worst kind of disaster. This applies to individuals as well as nations.

To quote historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized. As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological.”

Indeed, it would seem that what was once considered shocking and unbelievable is now par for the course. Just as Mr. Harvey said in his “If I were the Devil” broadcast.

All of this reminds me of an event from the Old Testament book of Judges where God was once again contending with the Israelite’s on again, off again relationship with Him.

Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress. Judges 10:12-14

The million-dollar question is now ‘Where Do We Go from Here’?

Do we continue sliding even further from the one Source of hope and security, the one Source of help who can pull us from the mire?

Or do we come to our collective senses and acknowledge our back sliding, and turn our hearts once again to the God who stands ready to make straight our paths once again?

Not unlike Paul Harvey, the answers to these questions will be found in “The Rest of the Story”.

Be blessed,

Ron

There really is an answer

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As we approach this particular Christmas season, I am more thankful than ever that my hope is found in the Lord Jesus instead of man. Today, what should be the happiest, most thankful and appreciative time of the year, sadly has been polluted with an endless stream of negativity from across America.

Instead of messages of hope, encouragement, and gratitude, which the people are desperate to hear, what we are getting instead is commentary and dialogue filled with hate, vengeance, and vitriol of every imaginable type.

Seriously, is there any wonder that so many have given up hope, or are on the brink of throwing in the towel? What we are being inundated with is EXACTLY why the Apostle Paul said this:

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  Colossians 3:2

In other words, Paul is telling us to focus our attention on those things that are eternal, not on those things that will one day pass away. And yes, the day is fast approaching when whatever is not anchored in God will be destroyed.

When I hear the TV commentators’ rail on and on about this or that, I sometimes shake my head in disbelief. How incredibly foolish it is to allow yourself to become so angry, even to the point of violence, over something that has no eternal value!

According to the Bible, there is coming a day when governments will no longer exist. No Democrats, no Republicans, no Independents, nothing. When Jesus comes again, he alone will rule, and he will be a party of One.

If only there was a way for this world to take a step back, take a deep breath, and rejoice for the blessings we do have!

The entire world should be rejoicing today because we are about to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. A birth like none other before or after. A birth that ultimately paved the way to reconciliation between God and man.

If that doesn’t get you fired up for Jesus, I don’t know what will!

I have no reason to succumb to hate today. I have no reason to be overwhelmed by the ills of society. I am not living as one in despair of tomorrow. The things of this earth have zero impact on my eternal destiny!

Because of Jesus Christ I am a new creature in Him. The old man has passed into oblivion, and a new man has risen to take his place. This is the message that the world needs to hear!

Since man’s fall in the Garden, he has lived a life far short of what his Creator intended for him to live. Because of that original sin, the world today bears the burden of rejecting God.

Yet the Good news, no, the Great News is that there really is an answer to the sin that plagues society.

That answer appeared two thousand years ago in a little town called Bethlehem, just six miles south of Jerusalem. That is where God sent the antidote for sin.

May we once again fix our eyes on that brightest of all stars, because just as that star led the wise men to the baby Jesus, it also serves as the answer for all of man’s problems today. There is a reason that the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season” is so impactful.

It’s because He and He alone is the answer!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

Therefore the land will mourn

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It’s a dangerous thing for a nation to decide that God is no longer relevant. 

Whenever society enacts policies and laws that are void of any regard for God and his word, you can be sure that trouble will soon follow.

Any time that man becomes convinced of his superiority in matters of humanity and proceeds to embark on a path that takes him away from God, the remembrance of nations who long ago became extinct will remind him of the folly of such endeavors.

When mercy and truth are relegated to the furthest recesses of the mind and no place can be found for them in the halls of rulers, kings, or presidents, Satan is given free reign to pour out his wrath upon a society blinded by ignorance.

A people who have chosen not to retain the knowledge of God among them is by all accounts a people awash in sin and degradation, hopelessly entangled in their own filth, unable to know the cleansing freedom that can only be found in Christ.

1 Hear the word of the Lord,
You children of Israel,
For the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land:

“There is no truth or mercy
Or knowledge of God in the land.
By swearing and lying,
Killing and stealing and committing adultery,
They break all restraint,
With bloodshed upon bloodshed.
Therefore the land will mourn; …  Hosea 4

 

Our land is in a perpetual state of mourning, and as a result many have lost hope. Not just for today, but hope for a brighter future. Hope for a better tomorrow.

The most amazing thing about all of this is that God’s children do have hope. We, like faithful Abraham, are looking for a city ‘whose builder and maker is God‘ (Heb. 11:10).

Like the story found within the pages of the book of Hosea, we long for the day of reconciliation, when God gathers his elect from the four quarters of the earth.

We are living examples of a hope that is not of this world, but of a world to come where love rules and evil has been forever banished.

To many that sounds like a fairy tale, but to the Christian who is exhausted from years of unceasing spiritual warfare, it offers the promise of rest.  

I thank God that while I may be a resident of this earth, I am looking for the day when I become a citizen of heaven.

A place where mourning of any kind will never be heard again. Until then, may the Lord  somehow call us back to ‘the old paths, where the good way is…’   Jeremiah 6:16

Ron

Whatever you do, do it with purpose!

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Last night I spoke at our church from Daniel chapter one, which tells the story of Israel being carried away into Babylon and of Daniel being selected to stand before the king.

As heartbreaking as it is to read of God’s punishment for their rebellion, the captivity of Israel served a dual purpose.

As prophesied by Jeremiah, Israel was going to be punished for their continual rebellion against God by being carried away to Babylon as captive slaves for a period of 70 years. This was the fulfillment of that prophecy. [1]

While in Babylon, God used Daniel in miraculous ways to revel Himself to a people who otherwise would have never known about Him. Through his ability to interpret dreams and his unwavering faith in God’s deliverance, Daniel was able to turn the heart of the king of Babylon completely toward the Lord. [2]

None of this would have been possible however, had Daniel not maintained a positive attitude in spite of the overwhelming situation he found himself in.

Uprooted from everything he knew at a very young age, Daniel could have easily succumbed to bitterness and allowed his heart to become hardened towards his God.

Like so many of us, he could have asked God “WHY?” a thousand times, yet what he did instead was fall back on what he had already been taught, which was to keep God first in his life.

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.   Daniel 6:8

Daniel had purposed in his heart that despite his circumstances, he would not reject the Lord. In essence, he was drawing a line in the sand and letting everyone know that he would not be drawn into the sinful culture of his captors.

What does that say about this young man? Well, for one thing, it says that his faith in God wasn’t predicated by his feelings. If Daniel was going on feelings alone, I’m pretty sure he had much to be discouraged about had he chosen that path.

Being a hostage in the king’s court, separated from his family, the feelings of loneliness and abandonment could easily have overwhelmed him.

I have a standard answer to tell people who say that they haven’t sensed or felt God’s presence in their life for a season. That is that God has promised to ‘never leave us nor forsake us ‘. And that God’s promises trump our feelings. [3]

Every. Single. Time.

As I told the congregation last night, there are times when we find ourselves in situations that are not of our choosing. We did nothing to warrant the predicament we find ourselves in. Yet here we are, and we must choose how we will face adversity.

I have found myself in those situations and have been forced to endure hardship all because of the poor choices of someone else. While our own poor choices bring about consequences that must be dealt with, it’s quite another matter when you are forced to suffer because of someone else.

Can I get an AMEN?

Let’s face it, there can be no doubt that some things are just not meant to be understood by our limited ability to reason and comprehend. In those times, I believe God calls us to simply place one foot in front of another as we walk with Him. That is real FAITH my friends!

If we choose to be like Daniel, and purpose in our hearts that we will not defile ourselves with doubt and conformity to the world’s way of doing things, we can expect God to stand with us no matter how difficult the test.

God’s vision and hope for you far exceeds your present condition. Think about that, and rest assured that God has his hand upon you.

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] Jeremiah 25:11

[2] Daniel 2:48, Daniel 3: 28,29, Daniel 6: 26,27

[3] Hebrews 13:5

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