Church (5): Worship and praise

A woman with a lovely soprano voice sang the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ while making breakfast. The visitor staying remarked how spiritual she was in her everyday duties. She replied:

“Oh, that’s the hymn I boil the eggs by; three verses for soft and five for hard”

Click image for Sunday's service sheetSometimes our praise can be merely functional, or our lips can be moving but our hearts are not worshipping God. As Jesus said:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. (Matthew 15:8–9, NLT)

In contrast, we are to worship ‘in Spirit and in truth’. Jesus also said:

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23–24, NLT)

We ought to praise and worship God, because he is worthy of our praise:

Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever. (Revelation 5:13, NLT)

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased. (Revelation 4:11, NLT)

Praise and worship should be directed towards God.  Praise is not primarily for our benefit, but when we focus our hearts and thoughts on God, we are blessed in turn.  We can praise him in a special way at Sunday services each week.  But we can worship him through all of our lives in between too.

Let’s worship God and give him the glory and praise that he deserves, and which is our privilege to give, if we have been reconciled to him by faith in Jesus Christ:

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker (Psalm 95:6, NLT)

Sing a new song to the LORD! Let the whole earth sing to the LORD! Sing to the LORD; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. (Psalm 96:1–2, NLT)

Such were some of you!

Churches should not be places where people try to keep up appearances of being either better than others or putting on the appearance of being godly when the reality is very different.

One reason the Apostle Paul gives for not thinking too highly of ourselves, is how he speaks to the believers in the church at Corinth.  He tells them that they ought not to judge others outside of church, because God will do that if they don’t turn to him for forgiveness and mercy.  (Although they are to judge themselves, and to root out evil and not let it get established in church.)  But also, they were to remember that the immoral lifestyles that they might be tempted to look down on were exactly the same way that some of them used to live themselves; “Such were some of you” 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetBut thankfully, he reminds them of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, whereby they have been cleansed of their sin, been accepted as God’s holy people, and have been justified or declared not-guilty.

While not everyone lived an immoral lifestyle before turning back to God, it is helpful to remember that believers are in no position to look down on others.  Instead, we are to invite them to turn to God, and away from both gross immorality or polite selfishness, through the forgiveness that comes by trusting in Jesus alone.

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

Praise God for his grace and mercy to sinners such as us.

Church (4): Love others!

How many Christian charities do you know of?  There are loads!  What’s more, many of the earliest charities or charitable organisations were set up by Christians who had a love and concern for those in need.

We ought to love and care for others, not simply because being charitable is fashionable these days, but because that is part of our calling in life.  Loving others isn’t simply something which is an optional or sideline activity that we ought to do – it is to the core of our reason for living.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 (NLT)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetNone of us loves others as we ought to.  We find it hard to love those close to us as we ought to, never mind those we don’t know, or our enemies, or those in other parts of the world.  But loving others is still our duty.

Part of our sin problem before God is that not only have we loved God and put him first in all areas of our lives, but we haven’t loved others as we ought to too.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to convince the religious man that God’s standard wasn’t a low pass mark, but perfection.  When Jesus told the man who questioned him; “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT), he was at the same time telling him two things:

  1. This is how you ought to live all the time with respect to loving others.
  2. This highlights how much you have failed to live a sinless life before God.

While the parable of the Good Samaritan can be argued to be primarily an evangelistic message, highlighting the man’s need for grace and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, it also highlights God’s high standard for godly living.  We fail to understand the impact of this parable, and the entire encounter with this religious man, unless we see both these aspects.

Jesus wants us to live lives where we love our neighbour perfectly.  But that is only possible (i) once we accept that we haven’t done it as we ought to have, (ii) accept forgiveness for our sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and (iii) rely on his renewing power by the Holy Spirit to be able to live the way we were supposed to in the first place.

Praise God for his holiness, his grace and mercy, and his enabling by the Holy Spirit for us to be the kind of people we ought to be, through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Church (3): Go… and make disciples

What do you think when you’ve got an opportunity to share the gospel?  Do you worry what people will think of you?  Do you worry whether you’ll share it well enough?  Are you concerned about being on your own with such a huge mission in the world?

Don’t worry, God is with you.  It’s a glorious thing we have been called to do, to take the gospel to the world.

People already know right from wrong

Click image for Sunday's service sheet‘Natural revelation’ is found in many things in life, as Paul outlines in Romans 1:19–20:

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19–20, NLT)

Also, people know right from wrong, and know what they should do, without ever having come across God’s Word in the Bible:

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:12–16, NIV-84)

So, everyone knows about God from the world around them, and about sin and right/wrong from God’s moral law which is written within their own hearts.  We don’t need to tell people that they are sinners – we just need to remind them!  We are often not telling them something new, we are just making their consciences more sensitive, we are reminding them of things that they had pushed away at the back of their minds.

But the gospel is only known when the message is told, using words!

Paul argues in Romans 10:9-15 that people cannot be saved unless we go and tell them.  How can they go unless they are sent, Paul continues.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”” (Romans 10:9–15, NLT)

In a recent blog, Ed Stetzer writes:

There’s a popular saying often repeated by Christians. It has found new life on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you have even uttered these words, commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”

I think we can appreciate what many are getting at when they say something like this. As Christians, we should live in such a way that our lives point to the person and work of Jesus. However, good intentions cannot overcome two basic problems with this quote and its supposed origin. One, Francis never said it, and two, the quote is not biblical.

The gospel requires—demands even—words.

So let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is the Church’s mandate to go and tell the good news about Jesus Christ.

 

Church (2): How can I join?

Whether it is trying to cross a border, or someone claim that they are a child of someone else’s, it is very difficult, although some manage to do it, on occasions.

However, when it comes to entering God’s family, it is impossible to fake it and get away with it.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetIn John’s gospel, he lists different ways which are impossible to become part of God’s family. But he also tells us one way which does allow us to become part of God’s family.

There is only one true Church of God’s people.

Only the Lord knows the heart of each person – only he truly knows who are his children, and who are not. Only God can see into the heart, where we cannot see. That is why the true Church is called the ‘Invisible’ Church. In contrast, the ‘Visible’ Church is what ‘we’ can see. We can see people go to church, attend services, take part, be baptised, take the bread and juice at the Lord’s Table. But no matter how well we can judge people at times, there are sometimes those who we don’t really know whether they are true believers or not. There are many people who go to Church who are not God’s children, not part of God’s family.

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1:12–13, NLT)

Jesus did not command us to force people to convert, but to spread the message of the gospel, and let people believe themselves.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”” (Romans 10:9–13, NLT)

John tells us that “to all who believed”…  Entry into God’s family is by faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s as simple as that.  Faith that goes hand in hand with repentance from sin, faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for our sins.

Praise God for such a wonderful gospel message.

Church (1): Who or what is it?

Church - 1 - Who or what is itWe all need community, whether it is a real local neighbourhood community, a work community, or a virtual community via Facebook or TV soaps.

But more than that, we need a loving, caring family or community, not a dysfunctional one where we are afraid, insecure and unloved. We also need community so that we can love others; Jesus reaffirmed the biblical teaching that we ought to not only love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength, but that we ought to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWe all serve someone or something. We often serve ourselves. Or we may serve some idol such as ambition, relationships, money, peer opinion, etc.

The search for utopia, the perfect society, is as old as mankind. But no matter how much we progress in terms of education, economy, technology, etc., we still struggle with unkindness, selfishness, abuse, jealousy, theft, murder, exploitation, and so on. While there is a lot of good being done by many people, overall we still do not live in a perfect society. The Bible calls the actions and motives which cause this ‘sin’.

Yet, there is a perfect society or community being established. It is those who have entered the kingdom of God, having their sins forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ. Each one also receive the Holy Spirit to do what his name suggests, to give us a spirit which is holy and not sinful. While this worldwide community throughout all ages is still imperfect overall, it is nevertheless being transformed. One day, when the Lord returns and establishes his final kingdom, we will see it made perfect, beautiful, and glorious.

Believers in Jesus Christ aren’t just saved for their personal benefit, in isolation from others. There is no such thing as individual salvation which is not part of God’s larger plan of salvation for his people. Believers should therefore also be united as part of a local church here and now, as they look forward to being part of the global people of God in the future.

Praise God for redeeming sinners from a world which is so imperfect, to live in a world where perfection and love will abound.

Listen as we look at the first in this series as to what the Church is, and how it should function, and how we can better fulfill our role as God’s people on earth.

Unity (28 September 2014)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetPablo Mandresa (from Hope Fellowship North Belfast) preached to us on the topic of ‘unity’ from John 17.

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” (John 17:21–26, NLT)

Developing a servant heart (21 September 2014)

Developing a servant heart

Bob Dylan once wrote these lines in one of his lesser known songs:

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWe all serve someone or something. We often serve ourselves. Or we may serve some idol such as ambition, relationships, money, peer opinion, etc.

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:7–10, NLT)

Overall, the Bible teaches that being a servant includes:

  • Action, doing – it is not a philosophical concept, but a role to be lived out
  • Obedience to the master, not disobedience
  • Trust and dependence on the master, not self-reliance
  • Submission to the will of the master, not doing our own thing or rebellion/disobedience

Those who have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation are not just free from God’s judgment – free to do as they like. They are freed from sin in order to do good, to live righteous lives, to be holy.

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5, NIV-84)

“Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” (Romans 6:15–18, NLT)

Followers of Jesus can find fulfillment and joy in serving God, willingly and from the heart. We should not seek so much for God to serve us, but for us to serve him, which is an inestimable privilege.

A life of service to God, in whatever role, job, or situation we find ourselves in, is a great blessing now and will be even better in eternity to come.

The wonderful love of God (14 September 2014)

The love of God 14 Sept 2014

The only ground of God’s love is his love. The ground of God’s love is only and wholly in himself. There is neither portion nor proportion in us to draw his love. There is no love nor loveliness in us that should cause a beam of his love to shine upon us.

Thomas Brooks (Puritan)[1]

Click image for Sunday's service sheet“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, NLT)

“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NLT)

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” (1 John 4:9–11, NLT)

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” (1 John 3:1, NLT)

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”” (Zephaniah 3:17, NLT)



[1] The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 376–77.

 

Joy in heaven over those who do a U-turn (7 September 2014)

Joy over one who repents - Luke_15-7

God cares not just for those who already follow him, but also those who don’t yet have a restored relationship with him:

““For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)

God rejoices when just one person turns to him. God and the angels are overjoyed when people turn to God through faith in Jesus. They are overjoyed not just when many people turn, but when each individual turns to God.

Click image for Sunday's service sheet“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:1–7, NLT)

God doesn’t just call you to turn from sin to do good. That’s what the morally superior group of people had done in Romans 2:1-16. And judgment was still on them because they were not perfect. Turning away from sin is not enough. We need to turn away from self-reliance too, and rely on God’s grace and mercy, not our own self-righteousness. We need to trust in Jesus Christ, and be accepted by the Father through faith in him.

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:21–24, NLT)