Commitment. Corporate. Congregation.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” –John 4:23

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” –Romans 12:1

In my realm of Pentecostal praise and worship, in a congregational setting (I can’t speak for the whole realm of Christdom), many believers are swayed to try and have an “experience” with God. I think that they are missing the point of congregational worship. I don’t think congregational worship is about having an experience with God. I think that it is a precedent to the real focus of what is involved in a congregational setting – proclamation of the Sovereign King.

Proclamation is giving glory and praise to God despite what one is feeling. It is being shackled to declaring the truth, despite what experience or feeling says. Proclamation has to do with commitment. Like I said above, I think that experience is important, but I don’t think it is the main focus. Experience should be what a believer seeks in their own personal devotional time. This is a two-fold process of balancing experience with proclamation; its fruits are a personal walk with Christ and fulfilling the mission of God, which is the Great Commission.

I don’t think that congregations are the only ones in the wrong here. I think leaders of the church are to be held responsible too. Take time and read the majority of music sung in corporate worship settings. The majority of them talk about 1st person experiences – ignoring the purpose of congregational worship, which is to worship God as a collective whole.

Do you have a healthy balance of personal devotion and commitment?

Take time this week and focus on what you do when you spend time with God personally and corporately. I don’t think that these two ideas should be divorced. But I do think that we need to have different focuses of them in different settings, because there are different purposes of worshiping God collectively and personally. Remember – I don’t have this figured out. I might change my mind in a week and wonder why I ever thought this. Take time this week, whether you agree or disagree with me, and ask yourself if you are truly worshiping God. Live for Him. Meet with Him. Declare His love.

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When Culture Trumps Truth

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” -C.S. Lewis

What happens when we start focusing on that which is subjective instead of what is objective?

Postmodernism did away with the idea of having an objective truth. Stemming from the Enlightment, many believed that there was no such thing as truth, but that truth was just a subjective creation of the culture. From this opposition to Modernism, the Postmodern movement was born. Where truth is relative, now truth can be whatever one wants it.

I don’t have to tell you that this influence has deeply affected American culture. All it takes is listening to a conversation at the local coffee shop. But I don’t think that this idea has just infected the American culture but has also infected the church. I am not talking about objective truth. It is hard to deny truth when God is the Absolute Truth. I am talking about our means to that truth. We have become infected by how we determine what is true.

Instead of Scripture deciding what is true for Christians anymore I think that Christians have relied to believe what is true to that of church culture. This makes “Christianity” more about “issues” rather than about the truth. And though the mark might be made sometimes, by showing improper means, at best believers are unaware as to why the mark was made. As Alexi Sayle said, “Even a blind dog can find a bone every so often.”

I remember the first time I was put at opposition with what I learned growing up in church culture and what the Scripture said – it was in Pentateuch class. As we were discussing the different theories for the creation account, I remember sitting, appalled to hear that there were Christians who didn’t believe that God created the Universe and earth in six literal days. There were several weeks where I almost turned away from Christianity because there seemed to be so many things that I grew up thinking were set in stone that I realized were not.

So why do we have this problem? Well… what’s more important to us: the issues or the truth? The American Church has become a subculture where one has to speak the right way, dress the right way, listen to the right music, and vote for the right political candidate to be welcomed. That seems to be the “truth” of the church.

Hasty Generalization?
Maybe.

But when is the church going to lay down all that which isn’t truth, and truly come united together under the cause of Christ. This speaks truth to denominational barriers, certain cultural sins, and the like. Why has the church become so dogmatic about all the wrong things?

Why would this be considered a big deal? If one gets to truth, does it matter the means to which they get to it? One thing that I have come to notice since being at college is that there are a lot of adolescents and young adults who are turning away from God. And though there isn’t one thing to blame for this, I do think that this idea of truth could be one of the factors. Children in church are told not to drink or swear or smoke or fornicate. They are told to behave – almost as if they were living a “works” based religion. Once these children grow up and start using abstract thought, they start realizing that a lot of (not all of) the stuff their parents and pastors said were inherently evil weren’t evil at all.

I feel as though we have lost our focus. When we start focusing on that which is subjective, we lose focus on the objective. When we focus on a grace by works, then we don’t have a grace by faith. When we have improper means, we have improper motives. When we don’t seek the truth, we lose everything.

Isaiah. Illustration. Immediately.

I was sitting in a church service a few weeks ago. As I was sitting and enjoying the sermon from the very illustrative pastor, I heard him say something that really interested me. He was reading an Old Testament prophetic passage, and upon finishing it he said that this was a passage EXPLICITLY about Jesus – showing that even hundreds of years before his birth there were prophets talking about his coming.

As the pastor trailed down the idea of future-casting, my thoughts started to trail down the idea of what he said. Though I agree that there are passages that talk explicitly about Christ’s coming, most prophetic passages are actually touching on situations that were going on at the time of their writings – which would be fulfilled even fuller at the coming of Christ. This is called sensus plenior.

One of the great things about God is that He can be touching on situations of our hearts now that we don’t even know will effect generations to come. He can speak something to us in the present that we aren’t even aware will point to His glory in the future. This is one of the reasons I love reading the Old Testament. I can read passages in their context, and see in writings several hundred years later how God will use what he spoke to one prophet. He will speak in one specific time period, not only to minister to that specific time, but to point to a future hope – that hope which we are celebrating this holiday season.

Ahaz was king of Judah in the seventh century BC. Ahaz was receiving threats to the kingdom of Judah from the kings Israel and Aram. This is when Isaiah received a vision from the Lord. The Lord wanted Ahaz to stand strong and not be afraid – that the Lord would deliver Judah from the hands of his enemies. The Lord offered to give Ahaz a sign, anything with which to ease his fears. When Ahaz refused the Lord said:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” -Isaiah 7:14 (see the rest of Isaiah 7-8 for context)

Some theologians interpret this passage as such: “Ahaz, look at some of these young ladies in your kingdom (whom we would call “virgins“). By the time these women become old enough to bear a son, your kingdom will be oppressed no more. This will show that God is with you.” Some theologians also think that Isaiah could have been talking about the future king Hezekiah – Ahaz’s son who witnessed the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians. Regardless of what theologians think of this passage, it is clear that first and foremost this passage was meant to minister to the people of Judah (particularly Ahaz) during the time of Isaiah.

But the great thing is that several hundred years, this passage is seen to have a fuller fulfillment. The virgin Mary went to Bethleham and gave birth to a son. He was truly King and a true sign that God was with His people. Mary gave him the name Jesus. To this Matthew writes: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Don’t forget this holiday season that God isn’t just interested in future-casting, but He is interested in what you are going through right now. He might even use what you are going through right now to help you personally minister to someone else someday. Crazily enough, He might even use your testimony to minister to people hundreds of years from now. It’s very humbling to consider how temporary all of our lives are when they are put in the realm of eternity.

Be blessed today and may you all have a Merry Christmas!

Why, Oh YOU?

The English language has progressively astonished me. I just finished my third semester of a foreign language, and with that I’ve learned not only a lot about it but also a lot of my first language, English. Not everything that I’ve learned about English has been positive, however. English is actually a pretty archaic language if you ask me – especially when comparing it to some other languages. This raises problems when translating to English a biblical language such as Greek. Though there are problems with every language, I think that the American Church has been taken captive not only to its own culture but also to its language. There is one word that I particularly have a problem with: you.

Have you ever thought about this word? The word is contradictory in use and application. “You” is always singular, but it is always used with a plural verb. When one reads anything using this word, they are then confined to context to decide what “you” is referring to. And this ambiguity is what kills me.

When reading the Bible, especially in the New Testament, the word “you” is used a lot. This is where the ambiguity lies. I have been to so many churches, in so many services, hearing in so many sermons, how to apply pericopes to my personal life where this word is used. After taking a deeper look into the text I’ve learned that most of the time where “you” is used, it is used to talk not about the individual but to talk about the church, both locally and as a whole.

I think we are missing a big theme in the Bible because of our ignorance: the theme of unity. Even where there are passages in the singular tense, the Pastoral Epistles for example, they deal with the church as a whole. When Paul is telling those in Rome that they are more than conquerors, he isn’t talking to just one person, but that the whole body of believers in Rome can persevere. When John is talking to Thyatira in Revelation, he holds the whole church accountable for the false teaching of Jezebel, not just one individual. Even the famous “love” passage in 1Corinthians 13 is placed smack dab in the middle of passages dealing with unity in the church. I don’t think this is happen-stance.

Acts 2:42-47 – And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

I wonder if God intended for the church to be so disunited. Did God intend for there to be a different church on every street corner bearing a different denominational name? It breaks my heart. The church, to properly exemplify the Great Commandment, needs to be unified. In Acts this is the first mention of the church, and I think Luke is making some theological significance to their unity. I’m not saying we need to be a pseudo-communal group of believers. BUT, at the end of the short segue Luke says that they were “praising God and having favor with all the people.” The church was living out the Greatest Commandment.

Be challenged today to look outside of yourself. This isn’t restricted to the four-walls of a building. Just remember that you were made to be relational. Your sole purpose is to glorify God, and that can only be done relationally – with Him and with others. Take time to remember a name to a new face, praying for a need concerning a new soul, and making a friend of a new acquaintance.

Mankind. Masterpiece. Mesmerized.

Sometimes I do not have the greatest self-esteem in the world. As a task oriented person, if I fail at something I do, sometimes I feel as though I fail as a person. Though I know it is not supposed to be this way, and I try to change my oh-so ignorant ways, sometimes I nonetheless get into the rut of feeling worthless. I feel as though I am not good enough for God. I’m sure if you glance through the rest of my blogs you can tell that a lot of my posts deal with significance – the very thing that God is dealing with me. And though I know that grace is “getting what you don’t deserve,” I have trouble really feeling the grace of God sometimes.

With this I am reminded of the creation account in Genesis. Whether you believe in a literal six day creation, day age theory, the framework view, or another one of the myriad of exegetical interpretations, you have to admit that there is theological purpose behind what the writer pens. I was reading a book about the creation last semester for a class. One of the chapters I read talked about a theme that I never noticed before. As the author was talking about the “days” in the account, he pointed that all of these “days” had both a beginning and an ending… except for day seven. The day that God rested, he said, has never ended and that God is still at “rest” with His creation, waiting for the consummation of the age.

Why would God need to rest after “six days” of creating? It’s not like an all-powerful Being to get tired all of the sudden… what gives? Upon reading further the author explained that God wasn’t resting in the sense of being tired, but that He was resting in a sense of being “content” with His creation. He looked at this earth, the animals, and trees, with humans and all, and saw that “it was good.” This just reminds me of my own life.

I think of it in terms of art (every one who knows me says, “of course!”). When an artist invests his time into a piece, he works at it until it reaches its perfection. Hours of time are invested in the details of making sure every stroke is where it is needed to be. What might have started as a blank canvas ends as a masterpiece. The artist takes a step back, scratches his chin, and just soaks in the beauty of what he just created.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul spends the first half of the book reminding the Ephesian believers of who they are as children of God. Paul tells them who they were before they knew God, reminds them of what Christ did on their behalf, and boldly proclaims to them who they are now that they have accepted Christ as their savior. One of my favorite verses is in this section of the epistle. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Remember that you are God’s workmanship. That just as God spent time at the beginning of creation to perfectly shape and mold the crevices of the earth, he spent the same time molding and shaping you into the person you are. And though you are fallen now, as all man is, as a believer you show the workmanship of God through Christ. So don’t let anyone or anything in your life discourage you of that, because no matter what happens to you, God is always there ready to forgive you and receive you back into His loving arms.