Sunday Worship: Merry Christmas

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

This is one of those special Christmas days that actually falls on a Sunday.  And because of that, many of us will get the opportunity to gather and worship in a church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  (For others, this may pose a dilemma as the rigors of celebrating the birth of Christ get in the way with the actual worship of Him.)

But one of the neat things about Christmas the holiday — even in the USA circa 2016 — is that this holiday points us right to Jesus.  No matter what a person’s religious background may be, no matter what stage of life, no matter where a person is, Christmas (like a couple of other holidays) points people right to Jesus.  Whether we love the holiday or loathe it, at some point, the question will cross our minds, “what is this all about?”

The answer to that question is Jesus.  Good news of great joy has come — for all people.  A Savior has been born and given to us.  This is important because we’re all sinners and we’ve all sinned against God, who is perfect and wants nothing to do with sin.  But God, in His state of perfect love, made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus.  And that is what Christmas is about. It’s about Jesus making that journey to us so that we could be reconciled to God through Him. 

Another blessing is that we don’t just worship God once a year. We actually get to worship Him whenever and wherever!  But today, as we wake up on the Lord’s Day which falls on Christmas, let’s especially worship Him.  

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.


Sunday Worship: Your Father Speaking Through You

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:16-20 ESV)

I’ve been stuck for a while in Matthew 10.  There’s lots of good stuff in this chapter.  Jesus is preparing to send out the 12 disciples into ministry and He spends time telling them where they should go, how they should act, what to expect from people and how they should respond.  As He does this, He is also sharing with them the proper perspective of who He is.

The passage above comes from Jesus’ instructions and is one that many Christians cling to for hope and inspiration, myself included.  In any situation — great or small — in which we act on behalf of Jesus Christ I would guess that a lot of us refer back to this passage.

As we act on behalf of Jesus (i.e. “doing ministry”), there is the chance that we will encounter hostility (“in the midst of wolves”) and during those times the intensity of our ministry increases.  As Jesus points out in this chapter, the Gospel creates division as people have to make a decision to follow Him or not.  And as we face this division and potential hostility, we are often fearful of how we will act.  We not only have the anxiety of wanting to honor Jesus, but we also often face the trouble of forcing the right and appropriate words to come out of our mouths.  In the midst of a crisis, its often very hard to get our brains working properly so as to make the appropriate words come out of our mouths!

But in this passage, Jesus soothes us by removing the anxiety.  He says to not worry about what we will say, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  This is phenomenal, right?  In this passage, Jesus is speaking to His 12 disciples and remember, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit as it would be given at Pentecost.  Yet Jesus promised that the Spirit would act through them as they were ministering on His behalf.

Today, followers of Jesus Christ already have the “Spirit of your Father.”  We already have the Holy Spirit inside of us.  So, as this encouragement was true for the disciples, it is also true for us today as well.  When we are ministering in the name of Jesus Christ and trying to honor Him, His Spirit that lives in us will also speak through us.  What an amazing thing!

Amen and amen.

Sunday Worship: Love Your Enemies (Again)

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV)

For the last couple of months, I’ve been hanging out in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7.  I’ve wanted to hear directly from Jesus and there are few better places than the Sermon on the Mount.

I’ve written previously, and not so long ago, on today’s verse.  I’m figuring that’s OK though.  I’m sure I need to hear the message in this verse again.

As I read this verse today, I wondered again why Jesus would tell the crowd to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  As I read this verse, I hate to admit this, but the thought came to mind of me as a child sitting at my dinner plate being forced to eat something I just didn’t like.  Is that what Jesus is doing to us here?

No.  That’s not it.  With a little more thought, two things come to mind.

First, Jesus is telling us how to love as He does.  Romans 5:8 tells us this,

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ died for us while we were His enemies, so when He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those persecuting us, He’s telling us how to live and love like Him.

Second, we are being pointed to a higher standard.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48,

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A lot of us will say that Matthew 5:48 points us to a standard that we cannot meet and that forces us to realize we need a Savior.  I agree with this logic.  But I also think we need to stop and gaze at the standard and the Standard Bearer.  Jesus is perfect and He loves us perfectly.  This even involved loving us when we were unlovable.  We should not just rush past this standard and jump on God’s grace.  Let us also gaze at our perfect Lord and be in awe of how He has loved us.

So today let’s worship our amazing Father who has loved us so incredibly.  Let us worship Him because He is holy and perfect. And as we exit from our worship, let’s love and serve those around us as Jesus has loved and served us.

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.

Sunday Worship: Living by Yes and No

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  (Matthew 5:33-37 ESV)

Jesus does not ease God’s standard.  Let’s consider this as we talk about the above passage.

The dictionary tells us that an oath is the form of words in which such a statement or promise is made.”  According to what Jesus said in the passage above, some would make an oath and attempt to guarantee or make it stronger by invoking heaven, the earth or Jerusalem.  And Jesus said this was wrong.

So what’s up with this?  Why is it not right to make an oath of this type?

We get an idea about this when Jesus says, “And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, anything more than this comes from evil.”  Of course, He’s not talking about hair dye here.  What He means is that we aren’t in control.  We aren’t the sovereign, all-knowing God.  God is.

When we make an oath — pledging in our own strength to do something or another — and then attempt to seal that oath by invoking something like heaven, earth or Jerusalem, we are trying to take control from God.  We are trying to be God or to usurp His authority and privilege by invoking pledges that we have no right to give.

It may not seem like it to us, but we are, and Jesus gives us an idea of how people in His time would do so.  Some would swear by heaven, or by the earth or by the city of Jerusalem, and Jesus essentially said, “Don’t do this.  These are God’s not yours.  On your own, you cannot make happen what you have said.”  To underscore this, Jesus reminds us that we can’t even change the color of our hair.

Instead, He reminds us,

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Instead of swearing by God, or by something that is His, we should live within our means.  To do otherwise, is sinful.

At first glance, this whole discussion may not seem like that big of a deal.  After all, how often do we really invoke oaths in this way?  I would argue that’s it’s a lot more than we think.  In fact, I had this same conversation with myself.  I actually wondered how much do I really do this?  But once I thought about this for a moment and gathered some perspective, I didn’t like what came to mind.

Want an example?

“Damn that coach.  He’s an idiot.”

I think, for my sake, I’ll end the examples there.

This is my Father’s world.  He is my Maker, Redeemer and Sustainer.  I often need reminders of my place in the pecking order.  I often need reminders of who God is and who I am not.  Thank Your, Father, for Your reminders.  Let us praise You today for Who You are!

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.

Sunday Worship: Sermon on the Mount

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.(Matthew 5:2-12 ESV)

The passage above contains the opening verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  As we read through this passage, several words jump out at us.

The first word is “blessed,” a word that is often used in such a way that it takes on very generic and monochrome sort of meaning.  For example, Johnny’s mom may say he’s blessed to have a certain opportunity, but Johnny may or may not agree about it being a blessing or he may be totally unaware of any sort of “blessing” that would follow him being blessed.  Often times, we use the word bless to pronounce a feeling or a hope or a wish when we can’t think of a better word to use.

But that is not how the word “blessed” is used in this passage.  Here, the Lord Jesus is saying that those who exhibit certain behaviors or actions, will in fact be blessed.  What are those behaviors or actions?  Well, those are the other words that come to mind:

  • “Poor in spirit”
  • “Mourn”
  • “Meek”
  • “Hunger and thirst for righteousness”
  • “Merciful”
  • “Pure in heart”
  • “Peacemakers”
  • “Persecuted for righteousness’ sake”
  • “Revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely”

Jesus is saying that there is a state of being blessed that follows these attributes or actions.  Now, before we get lost thinking these items are a list of things we can do to be saved, we can forget that.  We know that other Scripture, including what is taught in this Sermon, do not teach us that.  Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace through faith.  We are saved not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Jesus did and because of how God loved us.

We could accurately say, however, that these are attributes that God likes because He blesses them!  And we could say that these are attributes that flow out of followers of Jesus Christ!  And we could say that these are things that Christians should be doing!

However, we could also say that this is something Christians in the United States don’t do very well.  Unfortunately, I could also say that these are things I don’t do very well.

And this is really a shame, because don’t forget that God makes some promises related to these behaviors.  First, He does say that we’ll be blessed.  This could be a blessing of any kind, but it is especially a blessing of deeper fellowship with Him.  There is also this promise in verse 12:

“…for great is your reward in heaven…”

This isn’t some Utopian mirage that we’ll never experience.  This is the promised reward of a faithful, all-powerful God to His children.  There is a tangible reward for God’s children in heaven waiting for them when they live in such a way that these actions flow out of them, even when these actions and beliefs may cause persecution and pain.  They did it to the prophets and they will do it to us.

I need to remember this promise every moment of my life.  I need to let this promise change how I think and how I act toward others.  I also need to praise Him because He has made these great promises to us and to me.

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.

Sunday Worship: Jesus on Judging

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

In our culture, one thing that we’ve gotten particularly good at doing is judging things.  We all have an opinion and we like to let that opinion shine.  We like to let the world know what we think about things, so we let our opinions shine on the Internet.  We like to let the folks at work know what we think, so we add our critical opinion to every single thing.  We like to let our family know, so we deal the truth in brutal fashion.

Hey, we have to be honest, right?

Well, Jesus has a thing or two to say about letting our opinions shine.  In verses 7:1-2, He makes it pretty clear for us:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

As we discuss this, let’s first get one thing clear.  Jesus isn’t talking about the “judgment” that is used as we exercise our appropriate authority.  He isn’t talking about sweeping sin under the rug.  He isn’t talking about preachers that stand in pulpits and point out what the Bible says about certain activities.  These types of things can be done wrongly and will, therefore, then be sin, but that isn’t the point.

No, it seems that Jesus is mainly talking about the judgment that is lived out in our personal relationships.  What makes me say this?  Well, for one different types of judgment are clearly allowed in Scripture, so it’s apparent that Jesus isn’t talking about all types of judgment.

Second, scroll back through the previous couple of chapters of Matthew and get a feel for how Jesus is addressing the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here are just a couple of examples:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 ESV)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 ESV)

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5 ESV)

Of course, there are a lot of things to talk about from this Sermon, but don’t you see the personal call here?  “Let your light shine…practicing your righteousness…when you pray.”  There is a personal call to holiness here that is separate from the appropriate warnings to be given at appropriate times (i.e. other forms of judgment).

And Jesus’ warning to us about this type of judgment is very clear.  We’ll be judged by the same measure we use to judge others.  The example Jesus gives to help us understand this warning is picture perfect.  We should work on the plank in our own eye, before looking for the speck in someone else’s eye.

He didn’t say the speck in the other person’s eye doesn’t matter or that it’s OK where it is.  He said worry about our plank first, and then be warned that how we go after the speck will be applied back to us.

O how I wished that I had this conquered!  O how I wish I obeyed Jesus in this area!  But, sadly, I don’t.  In fact, this is one of the most sinful areas of my life and just recently Sweet Wife has gone through great contortions to gently remind me of how badly I’m failing in this area.

My expectations are too high for people and they never meet them.  I look at everything critically.  I fail to separate the criticism of events or happenings with the people involved and everything becomes personal.  [I’m a messed up dude!]

I know all of this and I hear the words of Jesus, so, really, woe is me.

So what do I do?  What do you do?

Well, we can first be thankful that we again hear God’s call in this area.  Perhaps that tells us that we aren’t spiritually dead.  Then, we can pray and ask for forgiveness and petition God to ask that He grant us repentance.  Then, we have to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ.  We have to be aware of what Jesus is calling us toward, and then build a plan to have this on the front of our minds all of the time.

Lord, I am the worst at judging others.  I do not want to be judged by You in the way I’ve judged others and been critical of them.  Father, would You please forgive me and grant me repentance from this?  Lord, I can’t let my light shine for You if I constantly use my light to hunt the wee sins of others.  Father, thank You for hearing my prayer in Jesus’ name, amen.


Sunday Worship: All These Things Will be Added to You

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

God has a promise for us and it’s written in the verse above.

If we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” He has promised that “all these things will be added to” us.

What is the “kingdom of God and his righteousness?”  The “kingdom of God” refers to God’s reign and rule, both now and forever.  Seeking “the kingdom of God” refers to becoming a willing subject under our King, Jesus Christ, who rules this kingdom.  When we seek this kingdom, we are seeking to follow our King, seeking to serve in advancing this kingdom and seeking to point others to this kingdom.

“Righteousness” refers to perfection.  God is righteous and this is another way of saying He is perfect.  When we are seeking “righteousness,” this doesn’t mean we are seeking to be perfect in order to have a place in the kingdom.  This means we are seeking to do things in a righteous, or right, way that pleases the Lord.  We aren’t properly seeking the kingdom of God if we aren’t doing things the right way.

What are these things that will be added to us if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?”  We find out if we look back to Matthew 6:25-34.  We see that we will be cared for like the birds of the air.  They don’t sow or reap, but they are cared for by God.  We see that we will be clothed like the lilies of the field.  And we have worries such as what we will eat or drink or wear.  God knows these things and has promised to meet these needs.

Here are two more points related to this.

First, we know that it is God’s will to give food and drink and clothing.  So, if we see or hear about these needs, we know for sure that we can do God’s will by meeting these needs.

Second, if we are in Jesus Christ, we have these needs — and all of our needs — met eternally in Him.  There may be periods on earth where we don’t have these things.  But this is temporary.  If we are in Him, these needs ARE met and they are met for all of eternity.

For these things and many more, let us praise Him today!

Amen and amen.

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.