Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lifting God Up in Spirit and Truth Worship

The last few opportunities that I’ve had to speak with you, we’ve talked about where God is leading us as a local community of believers. We talked about God’s grand vision for creation and how that vision entailed creating a place where he could interact with his creation on a personal level. Where he could actually walk, talk and teach his creation, as a father would teach his children. That’s what we see in the first two chapters of the Bible and the last two chapters as well.
But we also talked about how, unlike us who tend to abandon our visions when they get too difficult, God fights for his vision and desires to restore his creation back to that vision. This is the Bible in a nutshell: God fights for his vision and this is accumulated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 
Last week, we talked about how God is leading us, as a local community of believers, to participate in his fight for his grand vision. God is calling us to participate and this participation is, in a sense, a mini-vision for what God wants from the Alliance Church here in Quartzsite. This first part of God’s mini-vision for us is love, which we talked about last time, and how God desires his people to push forward with love. We talked about how Jesus vetted a gentile woman to see how much she understood God. We talked about how, that woman, even when pushed back by Jesus, continued to pursue him because she understood the reality that God loved her.
We talked about how we need to push into God’s love and pursue it, because God desires to lavish that love on us. This is the first part of the mini-vision that God has for us, that we would be people of love, because God is love.
Today, I want us to go to the next part of God’s vision for us as a local community of believers. To understand this next part, we’re going to look at a statement from Jesus and then compare and contrast the two opposite sides of what Jesus is calling us to.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to John 4, where we’ll first look at a statement from Jesus in verses 23 and 24
As you open your Bibles, here’s what’s going on in the passage. Jesus is at a well around lunch time; here he meets a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water out. Through their conversation we find out that this woman has been rejected by her community because of her different marriages that she’s had and her current living arrangement. We also learn about the bad blood that is between the Jews who are full bloods and Samaritans who are their half-blood brothers.
In Jesus’ conversation with the woman, we see his deep insight into her life and we see that she comes to a realization of who he is. During their conversation, a question about worship comes up and where the best place to worship is, Jerusalem or a sacred mountain. Jesus’ response shows there is more important things about worship than its location. And it’s here where we read Jesus’ statement in verses 23 and 24 of John 4.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

What’s this mean? What is Jesus talking about, God’s worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth? What is he saying? This statement of worship by Jesus is extremely profound, because it teaches us that worship is about the Spirit of God and the truth that we are willing to embrace. Okay, but what does that mean?
To understand this better, we’re going to look at what it means to worship in Spirit and in truth, but also what it means to not.
First, we’ll look at what it means to worship in Spirit and truth. Please turn with me to Psalm 103, where we’ll see a worshiper of God who is worshiping in both the Spirit and in the truth that Jesus is calling for.
The worshiper here is David, the King of Israel and an ancestor of Jesus. David understands what it means to worship God in Spirit and in truth, and in fact Psalms 103 and 104 are linked in the fact that they call not only humans into this worship, but both angels and creation itself to join with him in worshiping God in this way.
Let’s start reading in verse 1 of Psalm 103, “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, 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.”

David has realized, long before Jesus made his statement, that if we are to worship God, then it must be done in Spirit and in truth. So what’s that mean? If we look back into the Psalm, we first see the Spirit.
To worship God in the Spirit, means to be led by God in worship. What does that mean? David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” In our worship, are we desiring that all of our being is worshiping? Not just our voices, but our emotions? Not just our emotions, but our knowledge? Not just our knowledge, but our abilities? Not just our abilities, but our limbs? Not just our limbs, but taking all of it and making all of it worship God?
Because it’s when we take our voices, combine it with our emotions, our knowledge, our abilities and our limbs, that we begin to worship God in the Spirit. That means worship moves away from strictly being a thing that we do when we sing and enters into a new realm, the realm of everyday life. That’s why Jesus tells the woman at the well, that there will be a time when true worshipers of God will not worship in the temple nor on a mountain side, but in Spirit. Spirit lead worship, then is worship that the Spirit of God leads us into, moment-by-moment in our everyday living.
But that’s not the only thing that’s happening here, the next part of the psalm is the truth that Jesus was talking about. David says that we shouldn’t forget six things. That God gives us his benefits, he forgives our sin, he heals our diseases, he redeems our life, he crowns us with love and compassion, and he satisfies our desires.
Here’s the truth part that David is getting at: God is our all, we don’t give ourselves his benefits, we don’t forgive our sin, we don’t heal our diseases, we don’t we redeem our lives, we don’t crown ourselves, and we can’t satisfy our desires.
The truth that David is stating here, and the truth that Jesus was communicating to the Samaritan women is that, we need to realize our relationship with God and that it is he that is our all, we bring nothing to the table. When we incorporate truth into our worship, then worship moves away from ourselves and focuses solely on the object of our worship which is the God of the Universe.
When we worship in truth, then the person next to us who sounds horrible doesn’t matter, because to God their worship is beautiful. When we worship in truth, then the music we are singing, as long as it’s theologically correct, doesn’t matter because its music that God had given to someone and we get to participate in it.
When both Spirit and truth are combined in worship, we begin to worship with our whole being. We begin to worship in the understanding that we bring nothing to God, but rather need him in everything. The Spirit leads us in the worship, while we understand that we have nothing to give except our thankfulness.
This is the type of worship that needs to begin to happen in our community worship on Sundays, but then needs to continue as we leave the community and move into our daily lives. As we interact with people, as we play in the desert, as we worship in our shops and sewing rooms, worship can happen if it’s in Spirit and truth.
But what’s the opposite? It seems like we tend to usually learn more from what not to do, then what we’re supposed to do.
Jesus, seems to understand this and in the 23rd chapter of Matthew we see Jesus chastising a group of religious leaders who are doing the exact opposite of worshiping in Spirit and truth.
Would you read with me from Matthew 23?
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.”

Jesus is telling the people that the Pharisees and other teachers of the Hebrew religion are all about being seen. The purpose of their worship has nothing to do with worshiping God, but rather to worship themselves. 
Instead of worshipping in the Spirit, which is worship that engages our whole being to send back to God, the Pharisees and the religious teachers were only using what they needed to be seen. They performed worship by adorning themselves, by making themselves into a spectacle. This form of worship is self worship and not the worship in the Spirit that Jesus is calling us to.
But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes on to give them seven woes, or seven you’re in for its. Because when self is used in worship, truth flies out the window. We deceive ourselves and others in the process. That’s why Jesus points out why they look good on the outside, but their insides are polluted. That’s why Jesus points out why they emphasize the small parts of the law, but don’t live in a way that cares for the things of God, like justice and mercy.
This is what happens when we don’t worship in truth, we make ourselves out to be bigger than we really are and we make God smaller than he really is.
This is why it is so important that when we come into God’s vision we need to be people who are worshiping God in Spirit and truth, because if we are not moving in that direction, if we are not becoming people who are capturing God’s vision and who are worshiping him in Spirit and truth, then all we’re doing is worshiping in self and living in denial.
When we worship in self and in denial, we stand not with God’s vision, but rather against it.
As God leads us as a local community of believers, who he has placed here to reach the town of Quartzsite, we need to realize that our motivating factor is God’s love and we need to be people who are lifting God up in worship that is Spirit and truth worship.

As we talk about what God’s vision for us as the Alliance Church here in Quartzsite, we first talked about how Love is the motivating factor. The next step is the Lift response. God calls us to lift his name up in worship. By lifting God’s name up in worship, we reveal that we have the light of Jesus within us. And Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others…”
See, we need to respond to God’s love with lifting him up in our worship. We need to have Spirit and truth worship, because that leads us to the next part of God’s vision for us; which we’ll talk about next week.

But today, I want us to embrace Spirit and truth worship today. Take four minutes out of your day, pray that you would worship him with everything you have by being led by the Spirit and be truthful about who you are and who He is. Then sing a song, lift up your hands, bend you knees, lift up your eyes to heaven and confess during the song, the God is greater than you. And begin to worship in Spirit and truth.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Living in the Reality of God's Love

You ever wonder why God doesn’t just start striking people down who go against his law? Ever wonder why we don’t see the earth swallow people up when they go against God’s people? Ever wonder why God doesn’t send plagues or make people wander in deserts any more? You know, book of Exodus type of stuff.
The last time I got to share with you, I shared what God has been working on me. As our Church goes through a time of transition, I have been asking God what would you have me do. Because I have to tell you, I’m not interested in leading a local church, just to lead it or have a new title. If God decides that he wants me to lead a whole congregation, I want him to be the one directing me. Because I know I can easily mess things up. And while going after God on what he would have me do, he’s been opening my eyes to the path he wants us to take as a community.
The last time I shared with you, I shared the vision of God. We talked about how God had a vision of a perfect world were he could interact and teach his creation. We talked about how when we have visions of ourselves and those visions become hard to achieve we have a tendency to give up on them. But when humanity rebelled against God and committed the first sin of pride and disobedience, God didn’t give up on his vision of a world where he could interact with his creation. No, he didn’t give up on his vision, instead, he fought for it. He laid out a plan to bring his creation back to himself. Through the cross of Christ, God fought for his vision and he continues to fight and pursue that vision in the lives of people.
So, ever wonder why God doesn’t just start striking down people? He’s done it before, why not now? 
God says that sin is anything we do that is contrary to his law, his will or like we’ve been talking about, his vision. When a person sins, or breaks God’s vision, the result is separation from God. This is called death. The consequence of our sin actions are the death of our bodies and the separation of our spirits from God for eternity, that is called hell. So when I sin, my body moves towards death and my spirit moves towards hell. I personally know that I deserve the consequences of my actions. I know I deserve the death of my body and the separation of my spirit from God in hell. So why doesn’t God carry out the sentence? Why does he allow people to continue to go against his law, his will and his vision?
The apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15 that he is the chief, the foremost, the first among all sinners. Paul says of himself that he was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent of God. Think about that, this is the same guy that wrote that the wages, the payment we receive from our sin, from our rebellion against God, is death.
So why, why hasn’t God carried out our punishment? Why didn’t God take Paul out? Why hasn’t God taken me out?
Today, I want us to dive into an aspect of God that we talk so often about, yet we don’t tend live in.
I want to explore this aspect of God from the life of Jesus; would you turn with me to the book of Matthew chapter 15 verse 21? This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it shows us just who the God is. As you open to Matthew 15:21, let me tell you what has been happening so far in the text. Jesus was in a place called Gennesaret and when he arrived, people recognized him and started bringing the sick to him to be healed. Jesus was in the midst of this healing time when some Pharisees, or legalistic Jews who wanted to stop his work, found him to ask him questions. Jesus turns the tables on them and eventually teaches them that the things that make a person unclean or sinful comes from within and not from outside sources. 
At the end of this time, Jesus leaves the crowds behind and goes to a place to rest. And recuperate from the long journey. It’s at this point that we come to our passage today. Would you follow along as I read Matthew 15:21-28?
“Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

Years ago when I first read this, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Jesus’ is a jerk.” I mean here’s this mother, pleading for her daughter’s release from a demon’s clutches and Jesus calls her a dog. I mean, that seems pretty rude. Yet, as I meditated and sought God to understand the passage more, God led me to the answer about, not only this passage, but to why he hasn’t struck me down in my sin.
If we go back to the passage and really begin to look at what’s going on, we can see the truth. Jesus being fully-man is tired and probably worn out physically, and here comes another person wanting a healing from him. Up until this point, how many people have sought out Jesus just so they could get something from him? How many have gotten their healing and have gone on their merry way. Take those and then ask how many stayed and followed him? It seems like the percentage of people who have stuck with Jesus after their healing is less that the percentage that got what they came for and then left. Well, here’s another person wanting a healing. 
So we can see the physically worn out Jesus continue walking, but it’s his disciples that ask for the women to be sent away, because their tired too. But Jesus never actually sends her away, could it be that Jesus was waiting for something? A breather? The right time. Because when Jesus speaks to the woman, he doesn't send her away. Instead Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus doesn’t send her away, but rather gives her the reason why he is not responding to her. She is a Gentile, and his job is to get God’s chosen people, Israel, back. So in the response, Jesus is telling her, I have a mission that needs to be completed. He is telling her that he has to use his strength in the places that it’s most needed. He’s telling her, “I have a vision, a job to do and I need to focus on that.”
But this is where it gets good, because in Jesus’ reply to the women, he’s actually vetting her. He’s trying to see if she truly believes or she just wants something from him.
Her reply is, “Lord, help me!” It’s a response of a person who recognizes Jesus as Lord. It’s a response of a person who recognizes that Jesus is her only hope.
Jesus replies with what seems like very harsh words, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Ouch? Jesus just called this lady a dog. The God of Creation just called this pleading mother a dog. And if we left it there, who would want to follow a God who’s like this, right? But there’s more to that statement than the harsh words; there’s insight. We see Jesus purposefully pushing this women to reveal her faith or walk away hurt. Jesus is not sending her away, but he is actually pursuing her to see just how deep her faith is. Jesus is seeing if the woman is just there for a healing because she’s heard the rumors, or if she is there because she really knows that Jesus is Lord and has put her faith in him.
And her response is momentous. I picture all this going down like this: a broken mother on the ground clinging to Jesus’ robe, with tears on her face, looking straight into her Creator’s eyes when she says, “Yes it is Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This women understands who Jesus is, he is Lord and Master. She understands his mission to Israel, but she also knows something about Jesus, that he hasn’t revealed to her in their interaction. This mother, who it seems Jesus is pushing away, understands that Jesus loves the world and has come for all his creation. She understands that even though she is not a Jew, that this Jesus will not reject her, because he loves her.
She understands what Jesus is saying, she understands that he has a job to do, and she might even understand that he is tired and needs a break. But she responds with the insight and  understanding of who the Master is. Though the dogs are not his children, they are still loved by the master, why else would they be allowed into his house? She understands that the Master loves his dogs, that the dogs are a part of the family and she shows how much she understood who Jesus was, that he wouldn’t neglect even the dogs of his house.
If Jesus called us dogs, most of us would have walked away angry right there and then, but this women had a deeper insight and faith than that. She understood who Jesus was. She understood the God that loved his people and she responded accordingly.
And what’s amazing to me is that Jesus recognizes her faith. He sees that this isn't someone who is out to get something for themselves, this is someone who has put their faith into the God who created them, because they know the depth of love that Jesus has for his creation.
Why doesn’t God just strike us down? It’s because of the love that he has for us. Peter says in his second letter chapter three verse nine, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

The reason why I haven’t been struck down, the reason Paul wasn’t struck down, the reason none of us haven been struck down, is because God is patient with us. This is due to his deep love for us. But do we live in that love?
Do we have the faith, like this pleading mother, to look our God in the eyes and understand that he loves us deeply? That this love is not some emotional drive, feel good thing. But, rather, this love is desiring us to respond in strength and understanding?
This women had everything stacked against her, the disciples didn’t want her there. Jesus was tired, she was called a dog. But she understood that her God loved her deeply and that he would respond to her.
We might know that God loves us, but do we live in that reality? Do we live in the reality that God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us even though we are rebellious children?

Paul said it like this in his letter to Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Paul realized the depth of God’s love for him, because he understood the depth of his need for God. The pleading mother understood the depth of God’s love, because she understood the depth of her need for God. Do we understand God’s love for us, or do we need to understand more of our need for him?
If we took a hard look at ourselves, we are pretty dog like in our actions. You know the saying, that good for nothing dirty dog, isn’t a complement right? And when we realize that when we sin by going against God’s law, his will and his vision, we don’t deserve the scraps from his table. Yet, even though that’s true, God still loves us. He is still fighting for us, he is still pursuing us.

God has been directing me to know how deep his love for me is, though I still fail, his love never does. The first part of the vision that God has revealed for me for this church to live in, is love. Knowing that he loves us. Knowing that he loves his creation, knowing that he loves us unlovable dogs. And knowing that we need to live in the reality of God’s love for us.

But here’s the thing: that love must drive us to something, we must be able to respond to that love. God is wanting to pour out his love on us, and because of that, God is looking for us to respond to him. The next time I get to speak with you, we’ll talk about what God’s love must drive us towards. And what God desires for this church to do for his vision. Until then, God bless.