Obeying

[Part IV in a series on Abiding in Christ]

Jesus wants us to love him! He tells his disciples that their obedience is the demonstration of their love for him. My obedience to Christ’s commands gives evidence to whether or not I am abiding in Him. Here are two excerpts from a previous blog series.

Jesus often talked about the Father demonstrating love for us. This may be the only time Jesus talked about us demonstrating love for him, so it is worth taking it to heart.

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21 ESV)

We can sing of our love to God. There is nothing wrong with that if it truly comes from our hearts. From a human perspective, hearing the words, “I love you,” when they are truly meant is one of the greatest joys to my soul. The absence of those words from our loved ones, especially our mothers and fathers, is often highly damaging to our souls. But how much more sweet and foundational is the demonstration of that love! That’s what Jesus is saying to us. Our love is demonstrated by our obedience.

Before we continue, it is important to avoid a common misperception about our obedience to God’s commands. Our obedience demonstrates our love. It in no way earns God’s love! Obedience is not out of compulsion or guilt or fear or trying to earn favor with God. All of that has been cared for by Jesus demonstrating his love for us. The Scriptures say, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) We must remind ourselves of the gospel, daily, because our tendency is to get it backwards. (Herein lies a major role of the worship service: we sing the gospel, we are taught the gospel, we read it from the Scriptures, we act it out, we dance it out, we write it in our stories, we capture it in our films and on canvas. Why? In order to remember.) The gospel reminds us that obedience is our worship response to the unconditional, perfect love of our Heavenly Father. Obedience is the demonstration of our love, the expression of “I love you,” to the Lord. [from Loving God]

Obedience is part of the practical fruit that flows out of abiding in Christ. It is also fruit that we should ask God to produce in us! So we see the wonderful way that abiding, asking, loving and obeying are linked together. Our love for one another proves that we are Christ’s disciples. Our obedience proves to God that we love him. Love is fruit, in fact the first spiritual fruit listed in the Galatians 5:22,23 passage. Love and obedience are enabled and fueled by abiding in Christ and they are evidence that we are indeed abiding.

[from Loving God, Part 2] Back when our pastor, Gary Inrig, taught on John 14, I wrote a 3rd verse for the chorus, I Love You, Lord. I wanted a way to express my love for God through my desire to obey his commands. Dancer, Claire Peister, added some simple movement and we have used it in a few of our worship services since. It goes like this:

I love you Lord, so I will obey
And follow you as I live each day
Take joy my King, in this offering
May my life be the love song I sing

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Coming next: Part V: Our Helper

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Loving

[Part III in a series on Abiding in Christ.] I’ve been surprised over the past few years by how difficult it is to love like Jesus did. I’ve found myself challenged within the church community to love those who are critical of me or who differ on matters of theology and practice. I’ve struggled to accept, let alone love, those who have wronged me, wronged the church or wronged someone I love. We all know these same challenges within our own families, at school or at work or with our neighbors. Christ’s love is an enemy-loving, sinner-loving love. Love like this is just not humanly possible! It is a fruit of the Spirit, a result of abiding in Christ! Could it be that Christ-like love is possible not by brute determination, but rather by humbly asking? Love is one of those things we cannot do with out a growing abiding relationship with Christ.

There is another repeated command that stands out in Jesus’ marching orders to his disciples in the upper room. Within the context of our relationship with Christ (abiding), we are to love one another like he has loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

Loving one another bears the same witness as bearing fruit. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35 ESV) Love is witness, evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. His followers are to bear his resemblance! Understanding and accepting Jesus love is where we must begin, then from there we can begin to demonstrate that same kind of love.

Jesus loved his disciples in two general ways: he served them and then he forgave them! He began their time together in the upper room by showing them “the full extent of his love.” He washed their feet, reminding them that the greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves. Love is demonstrated through service! When he gave his life on the cross the very next day, he demonstrated perfect love by forgiving their sins, offenses that were committed against him! Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! This is the full extent of his love!

John would later summarize Jesus’ new commandment with piercing directness: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV) If I am to love like Christ, I must lay my life down for my brothers, especially those who have wronged me, who are critical of me, and who may disagree with me. I’m reminded that all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned, betrayed or denied him the evening before he gave his life up for them. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) That is the kind of love we “ought to” show to our brothers.

Laying down my life for “the brothers” is probably not going to require that I physically die, but it may feel like it! My pride must die. My need to be right must die. My need to get even must die. Forgiveness is what it practically means to lay down my life for my brothers. After all, that is why Jesus went to the cross, for the forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness establishes reconciliation with God, restoring our relationship with him. It is the same with our brothers. Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! Christ-like love is all wrapped up in two things: service and forgiveness.

The church’s witness to the world is tarnished by our lack of love for one another. Christ’s reputation, his very character, is tarnished! When we recognize our failure to love, repent of our sins and chose to love like Christ loved us, we have the opportunity to spotlight the beauty of God’s love and grace like never before! God’s love is a serving and forgiving love. That is how Christ loved us and that is how he told us to love one another.

Love is the essence of God’s character, to the point that John can say, God is love! (1 John 4:16) When we abide in him (stay connected to the vine), this is the type of fruit that he produces through us, his branches! One could argue that love is his choicest fruit, delicious, attractive, edifying, and irresistible! It’s no wonder that it tops the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Perhaps one of the most important things we should ask the Father in Jesus’ name is that we would have a growing capacity to love one another as Christ loved us. After all, this is our greatest witness to the world!

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Coming next: PART IV – Obeying

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Asking

[Part II in a series on Abiding in Christ.]

While Jesus’ call to abide is about relationship, it is also about the resulting fruit that brings glory to our Father and demonstrates that we are his disciples. I like to think of fruit as what Christ accomplishes in and through us as we do our work. Practically speaking, fruit is evidence that we are abiding in Christ. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12–14 ESV). It is important to note that the fruit Jesus is referring to here is continuing his work. He says that whoever believes in him will also do the works that he did. We have been saved by grace for good works and our greatest joy comes from doing those works that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do. (Eph. 2:10)* The key to doing these works is asking him to do them. After all, they are his works, not ours. Asking reminds us of this critical truth.

Apparently, Jesus really wants us to ask him for anything in his name. He repeated this command seven times on four separate occasions during this passage from John 13 – 16. Most often the immediate context of this invitation “to ask” was about the works he would do (the fruit) through those who believe in him. The “anything” has some parameters on it – it must be according to God’s will and purposes and for his glory. That’s what it means to ask in Jesus’ name.

Asking is done through prayer. One way to measure how well I’m doing at abiding is to look at how I am praying. Am I asking? What am I asking him for? Are we asking God together? Are we asking in Jesus’ name? Are we asking him for fruit?

Remember that Jesus was having a conversation with a group when he was giving these commands to abide, to ask and to love. While we can and should apply this to our personal relationship with Christ, we must hear his commands to us within the context of community. I have learned to pray by praying with other people. I’m not talking about grandiose religious-sounding prayers, but rather heartfelt, honest, biblical prayers demonstrated to me by those who have been my spiritual role models. One of the four main practices of the early church in Acts 2 was praying together. Our unity is strengthened by praying together. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus even links our joy with our asking? “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24 ESV). Over and over he says that the Father will answer. God loves to answer prayer when it is in accordance to his will and purposes. Seeing him accomplish his work to a greater measure will bring us fullness of joy.

God intended for us to pray together. Asking God to increase his work in and through us is an area we ought to grow in this next year. It is a critical aspect of abiding in Christ. God’s glory is dependent upon the fruit that will come as a result. Here lies proof that we are his followers. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7–8 ESV).

I once asked one of our missionaries to share some of the fruit he was experiencing in ministry. I expected to hear him proclaim the powerful works of the Lord, but instead he surprised me when he answered that he was in a season of pruning.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2 ESV)

Could it be that the Lord is graciously pruning us, calling us back to the basics of abiding in Him and bearing fruit so that the world will know that we are his disciples? Pruning will bear a greater harvest of fruit to our Father’s glory. Asking him to accomplish his work in us and through us may just be the most important activity we could undertake during this time of pruning.

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Coming Next: PART III – Loving

*Doing the works that Jesus did begs the question, “What works did Jesus do that he intends us to continue?” Looking at his departing statements will yield an answer: go, make disciples, be my witnesses. I’m eager to clarify what that means as we spend the next fourteen weeks in a Discipleship 101 series with our new Transitional Senior Pastor, Dave Jenkins.

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Abiding

Here is a charge for us as we team up together in the work God has given us to do for his glory in 2015. The health of the team starts with the health of each individual member on the team. I am convinced more than ever that success in ministry rises and falls with our personal commitment to one thing: abiding in Christ. A genuine relationship with Christ is the spring from which everything flows. To put it another way, it is the vine from which all the fruit grows.

Jesus was about to pass the baton of his ministry to the twelve men that he had been raising up to carry on. He gathered them together for the passover meal and some very important conversation. He did most of the talking, telling them, “Love one another. Believe in me. Keep my commandments. Don’t be afraid. Abide in my love. Ask me.” Right in the middle of what we call the Upper Room Discourse, he delivers the central imperative that makes all the others possible.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5 ESV)

Success (fruit) is more about God’s work than my work. My main responsibility is to abide in Christ. This permeates everything that I do. Everything that I am! Fruit flows out of my life only as I remain connected to the Vine. Abiding in Christ is my life-calling. My roles at home and work are all sub-callings. Daily frustrations, anger, strife, stress and sin all originate from letting these other callings slip into first place. As soon as I think it’s about my strength, my ability, and my giftedness to fulfill these roles, I cut off the life-source; I am no longer abiding in the vine.

Practically speaking, how do I abide in Christ? I need to be with him. Relationships are characterized by two people knowing, trusting and loving each other. I do that with Christ through conversation, speaking and listening to him through prayer and reading his Word, learning, growing, obeying and worshiping him. It’s so simple, yet I can make it so hard and unattainable. I think it’s because I see the gap between where I am and where I ought to be. I feel ashamed. But our Father sees his beloved child whom he saved by grace, through faith, and he reminds me that he knows and loves me; he is with me and he is for me! He is not ashamed!

Relationships grow one step at a time, one day at a time. Our relationship with Christ begins with grace and grows by grace no matter how far along we are in the journey. Need an example? Go to the psalms! The psalms demonstrate what a relationship between God and man looks like over the long haul. Therein is honest dialogue with God from the heart, remembering, lamenting, questioning, revealing and confessing sins, pouring out troubles, fears, anger, requests, praise, thanksgiving and adoration.

I have a tendency to place my calling to be a pastor ahead of my calling to abide in Christ. In other words, I tend to emphasize my work over God’s work. It is a subtle but potentially fatal shift of focus. Jesus reminds me that I cannot bear fruit by myself! Apart from him I can do nothing! God is calling me back to this foundational practice of abiding in Christ. He’s calling us back. We need decisive, courageous, zealous leadership at Trinity, but this leadership needs to be characterized first and foremost by abiding in Christ. I am committed to that in 2015 and I’m asking you to join me and hold me accountable. As we press on to the unique callings God has placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus, let us not forget that we all have one primary calling: to abide in him. Let’s encourage each other in that pursuit and rejoice in the harvest of fruit that comes as a result.

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Next week: PART II – Asking

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Working Properly

Most people mistakenly refer to the church as a structure where people come together to worship & fellowship together. We say phrases like, I go to church or where do you go to church? We name our churches and put a sign out in front of our building that reinforces this erroneous thinking. Rather the church is a body, a spiritual building. Thinking rightly about this gets pretty exciting!

Romans 12:5 says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Ephesians 4:16 says that when every part (or member) with which it (the body) is equipped is working properly, Christ makes the body build itself up in love. Reflecting on this truth has given me confidence that Trinity Church, and every local fellowship of believers (church family) for that matter, has been gifted, equipped, with everything that it needs to build itself up in love. The gifts are the individual members, the parts chosen by God himself, the people that fellowship together. You and I! But it also begs the question, “Something is wrong when the body is not building itself up in love?” This is an important question to ask when growth is not happening.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)

This passage points to two essential and practical applications. First, we’ve got to speak the truth in love! The word “rather” is referring to the previous warning of never maturing. The truth spoken in love brings maturity to the body. This is how we grow up! Truth not spoken in love is useless – this is as true of evangelism (pointing others to the truth of Christ as Lord) as it is of how believers, family members, interact honestly with one another about areas where we are not behaving like Christ. Without truth, we fail to grow up. Without love, we tear down and destroy. We need both!

Jumping to the end of this passage, we see that we are built up in love. Love is the mortar that holds us together. Love is the beauty that causes the outside world to gaze upon us and marvel at the Architect and Builder! A church that is not growing in their love for each other and for the Lord is not being built up. Paul refers to two problems with the church in 1 Corinthians 12. One is people feeling like they don’t belong. The other is people saying to others, “I don’t need you.” The body will not be held together if all its parts are not appropriately valued and honored. It is interesting that when Paul teaches the Corinthian church about the spiritual gifts, he immediately follows with the beloved 1 Corinthians 13 passage on love. I can have and use amazing God-given spiritual gifts, but if I don’t have love I am nothing! So we’re being built up in love or we are not being built up at all!

Second, Christ is the head of the church. We are growing up into him. He’s the church boss! (Thank you Mark Wold for that one. Click here for his related message on Church Health.) Christ causes the growth in the church, both in maturity and in members, only when all the parts are working properly. If growth isn’t happening, some parts aren’t working right. One element to working properly is that we are all working. Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” (1 Peter 4:10 ESV) There really is no room for anyone to sit on the sidelines in a church. “Working properly” means that we’re all working together, pulling in the same direction, following the church boss!

When it comes to the Church, God the Father is the architect. The Church is his design to carry out his purposes of blessing the nations with redemption through Jesus Christ. God the Son is the builder (also known as the Carpenter). He says, “On this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) God the Holy Spirit is the foreman, directing and equipping, carrying out the building project until completion. So what are we? In one sense we are the workers, co-laborers with Christ, the builder and the chief cornerstone. Our work is the work of making disciples. When we are working properly, we are in fact building ourselves up in love. Elsewhere Peter says that we are “living stones” being built up as a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5) So in another sense, we are the building material in the hands of the Carpenter. As living stones, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who through his transforming work in our lives is molding and making us a more beautiful building. He makes us grow! May we truly be a beautiful body, displaying the glory of our Triune God as we grow up in every way into him!

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Humility is the Way Forward

Last week I wrote that worship was the way forward for us, and that is exactly where Romans 12 starts. In view of God’s mercies (all that Paul has written up to this point in his letter to the Romans) here’s what we are to do: surrender our all to him! That is our spiritual worship! How do we do that? We become transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God; that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Paul doesn’t leave us on our own to figure that out. He shows us in the rest of his letter what is good and acceptable and perfect, ultimately, what is the will of God. Discerning God’s will in the commands that follow from verse 3 on, by implication, is a continuation of our spiritual worship! Doing these things is the work of worship—ultimately, transformation is the work of God that happens when we surrender our all to him! So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work, actually let God get to work on us. First, a prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24 ESV)

If discerning God’s will is the “how to” of worship, here is the starting point in a long list of the “good, acceptable and perfect” will of God.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3 ESV)

Pride is ugly to God! In fact his Word tells us that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Pride is most terribly seen in our tendency to be self-centered. In fact Paul’s language here, saying we are to “think with sober judgement,” implies that “conforming to this world” is to be intoxicated with “thinking of ourselves too highly.” When we are intoxicated, we have poor judgement. Even worse, many of us are self-aholics, and in denial. If untreated, our lives become a wrecking ball, wreaking havoc on everything that is close to us, most tragically, our family. God’s family (the church) is the reason Paul tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgement.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4,5 ESV)

Paul is turning to family matters for the rest of the book of Romans. The reason we are to think of ourselves with sober judgement is because we are part of one body in Christ, each member serving a unique function. The analogy here is of a human body with each organ, each part necessary and needed to be healthy and alive. (see 1 Corinthians 12) If our opinion of ourselves is too lofty, we end up hurting the people closest to us, by devaluing and dishonoring them. Could it be that our pride is at the center of the mess we find ourselves in right now? Are some of us intoxicated with self? I’m feeling a healthy dose of conviction here! Reading on in Romans 12, I read that I should never be wise in my own eyes. (verse 16) I realize that I’ve been thinking pretty highly of my own opinion these days. But I was floored when I read this verse in the NIV translation last week: “Do not be conceited!”

What a relief to know that God has made a way for us to overcome our pride. Humility is the weapon that destroys pride. Christ, humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross, not just as a model of humility, but for the forgiveness of our sins. This is part of the view of God’s mercy that Romans 12:1 refers to, urging us then to surrender our lives to him. Transformation is preceded by repentance, turning away from sin, not being conformed any longer to the world. Elsewhere, God’s Word instructs us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV) Confession and true repentance takes humility, and that my friends is the way forward for us.

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Worship is the Way Forward

A few weeks ago my wife and I received some life-coaching on how to have difficult conversations. Our coach asked us to answer three questions, first considering them separately and then discussing them together. What do I need? What do I think she needs? How are we going to move forward from this point so that our marriage wins? Having come through a time of strong differing opinions, mistrust, disagreements and discord among us at Trinity Church, that third question is the most important question that we should ask, answer and act upon. How are we going to move forward from this point so that our church wins? But it’s not only the church that must win. God must win! His glory must be displayed among us and his glory is displayed through our unity, demonstrated to the world by our love for one another.

Sunday night was a pivotal moment for our church family. We came together with nervous anticipation of what would happen as we moved toward a vote that would determine the course of our church. There was little to no felt or observable joy for the first hour of our meeting. Then came the time for us to worship in song together and everything changed. We were broken and thirsty for God. We had been called to repentance at the beginning of our meeting. Many bowed their heads, even took to their knees in small groups and began to confess our sins. Reminded of the psalmist’s words, I believe that call to repentance paved the way for God’s work of healing, restoring and strengthening love and unity among us to begin.

“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” (Psalms 66:18–19 ESV) 

I came into the meeting, knowing that with a vote charged with strong differing opinions, there would be no short term win for us, actually for God, unless we unified under the Lord, Jesus Christ. And that’s what we did as we raised our voices to worship him together! That is what we must continue to do. Worship is the way forward from this point. After Paul called the Roman church to unity in chapter 14, he followed with his final plea.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5–7 ESV)

He turned people’s attention away from the disagreement to the main thing, the glory of God! The only way forward is to place God’s glory as our number one priority! Practically speaking, we need to live in harmony with one another. The beauty of harmony is that we’re not all singing the same melody, but all parts are working together to make one combined beautiful sound. Diversity is of utmost importance in the body of Christ, where unity is a beautiful display of the glory of God. Many different voices become one voice glorifying God! That unity flows out of our relationship with Christ – in other words, he orchestrates it. We’re just following his lead together. And so we are told to welcome one another, as Christ welcomed you. Elsewhere we are encouraged to forgive one another as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:13) Christ himself said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV) He is our example and he is the one who will make it happen. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church;” (Colossians 1:17–18 NIV)

So let’s commit ourselves to worship God wholeheartedly, privately as we live each day, listening to his voice in prayer and in his Word, and corporately as we join together with one voice to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! And let’s follow him wholeheartedly, even courageously, as he leads us in those times of worship. This is what gives God glory and this is the way forward!

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Seeking the Presence of God

May 21, 2014
9:42 AM

“Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!” (Psalms 105:4 ESV)

Scattered throughout the Scriptures, we see the heart of a longing worshiper for the experience of God’s presence. After all, is there anything more necessary and wonderful than the presence of God? David says, “My soul thirsts for God as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63) Asaph says, “On earth I desire nothing besides you … the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73) What does it look like to seek the Lord’s presence continually, both personally and corporately when we gather to worship God?

Let’s take a look at Moses with God on Mount Sinai. God had just told Moses that his presence would go with him and then Moses responds:

“And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15,16 ESV)

Moses came to realize that God’s presence distinguishes us from every other people on the face of the earth. The reality of God’s presence is super sized for those of us who are in Christ! The promised Messiah came! His name is Emmanuel, God is with us. Christ’s presence with us, propels us to walk with courage as we carry out his mission on earth, for this was his parting promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV) As if that’s not enough, Jesus promised his disciples that they were going to be given something even better than his presence with them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17 ESV) Five weeks later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and from that time forth is in us forever. No wonder that the Apostles began referring to the mystery,“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27 ESV) One of the defining characteristics of believers is that God dwells in us. His presence within distinguishes us from every other people on the face of the earth! And so the presence of the Lord, manifested through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, ought to be a distinguishing characteristic of you and I in our daily lives, wherever we go and whatever we do, especially when we gather with other believers to worship him.

We need to “seek the Lord and his strength, seeking his presence continually,” not because he isn’t with us, but for the grievous fact that we are not wholeheartedly with him. Our loyalty to God is divided among the pleasures of this world, the longing of our fleshly desires and the sin which so easily entangles us. He has given us all of himself, but we fail to give him all of ourselves. While God has been true to his promise to be with us, moreso, live in us by his Spirit, we commit the horrible sin of quenching the Holy Spirit. Our proud hearts depend on our solutions to problems instead of God’s. We prefer our words over his Word. We find greater pleasure in the world than in him. Rather than walking in the Spirit (evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit) we walk according to the flesh (evedidenced by some pretty awful deeds). (see Galatians 5) Most of the references in the Old Testament to seeking the Lord have a context of the people of God who have turned away from him and are being told to turn back to him. Amos warns the wayward people of God, “Seek the Lord and live.” (Amos 5) Our primary avenue to seeking the Lord ought to be repentance.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near; 
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6–7 ESV)

And this is where we often find ourselves, needing to repent and return to the Lord in order to receive compassion and pardon, back to a closeness we once knew, and then beyond to a greater intimacy.

As a worship leader, I feel a strong heart connection to songs that express a desperate longing for the presence of the Lord. This is the heartbeat of the worshiper, to be near to God, having all of our desires fully satisfied in him alone! But I’m reminded that any longing for the presence of the Lord and subsequent encounter should be followed by repentance and consecration, giving ourselves more fully to him. This is what it looks like to seek the presence of the Lord continually. Isaiah’s encounter with God, found in Isaiah 6, is a great example. He sees that the Lord God Almighty is Holy, Holy, Holy, falls down ruined, confesses that he has unclean lips, is forgiven and then offers himself wholly to the Lord. “Here am I; send me!” Repentance and consecration is evidence that we are truly seeking and experiencing the presence of the Lord. Anything else might be idolatry, worshiping or seeking a feeling rather than God himself.

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Delighting in God

May 14, 2014
9:12 AM

As I work my way through David Platt’s Follow Me study, now in the 3rd week on Delighting in God, I realize that we have come to the heart of the matter. This is why I am a worship leader, and perhaps the greatest part of my role as a pastor, leading the people of God at Trinity Church to wholeheartedly delight in him. I can remember as a middle school student when my soul awakened to the joy of knowing and following Jesus. But it wasn’t until reading John Piper’s Desiring God (Amazon), that I was set free to joyfully seek pleasure in worshiping Christ. Piper’s thesis is that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him. Piper’s encouragement is toward Christian hedonism, seeking our greatest pleasure in God alone. This was revolutionary for my life as a worshiper, having been somewhat ‘holding back’ up to that point, all of a sudden I was set free to delight in God, even to the point where it might cause embarrassment. At that same time, through great biblical teaching, my eyes were being (and continue to be) opened to the Almighty God, the glorious gospel (good news of Jesus), and my soul began to sing like never before!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before, O, my soul
I’ll worship your holy name
~Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons, inspired by Psalm 103

Platt asks the question, “In what ways do you experience pleasure through your relationship with Jesus?” Certainly singing is one of those ways for me. The Lord designed all of us to find pleasure in singing; after all, it is commanded over and over in the Scriptures. It doesn’t take a great voice. It’s simply the joy of adding whatever voice we’ve been given to the choir of people singing God’s praise. Often during months of doctor’s prescribed vocal rest over the past few years, it was a joy to hear the ‘loud’ combined voice of the gathered people of God singing wholeheartedly to the Lord, something I’ve come to greatly appreciate about the congregation I’m privileged to lead! You better believe my soul was singing loudly even when I was only mouthing the words.

But there are many other ways I experience pleasure through my relationship with Jesus. In addition to singing praise, here are other ways I worship.

Serving the Lord by serving others. This is the heart of what it means to be a community of Christ-followers. We most follow Christ when we serve like he did. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Mark 10:45 ESV) We all have been given gifts for the purpose of building up the body (the church) in love. (see Ephesians 4) This is the most practical way I have come to know and delight in God – by working together with his people to serve. I also find this joy serving my wife, my kids, neighbors, friends & extended family. Serving is the defining activity of a Christ-follower.

Giving Sacrificially. Mark pointed out in his message on Sunday from Psalm 73 that extravagant generosity flows out of delighting in God above all things, specifically in this case, above the pleasures of wealth. I think it’s a two way street. Practicing extravagant generosity also helps us to delight in God. They both feed each other, although the inspiration and motivation to give extravagantly comes from realizing that this is what Jesus did for us! It’s in the Mark 10:45 passage above; he gave his life as a ransom for many!

Discovering God through reading, studying, listening to sermons/teaching. Discovery is intellectual, but it is so much more than that. There is adventure in discovery! An astronomer looks at the vastness of the universe through the lens of a telescope, taking what is immensely huge, infinite and magnifying it so as to see something he cannot see with the naked eye. In the same way a biologist looks through the microscope to magnify the intricate details of a cell. Another word for worshiping God is to magnify him. Magnifying God leads to discovery! To seek, gaze upon beauty and inquire, is what discovery is all about!

“One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4 ESV)

Marveling at his Works. I love pausing to behold the beauty of God’s creation! All of his created works praise him and inspire me to praise him. But I’ve found a delight even greater: seeing the transformation he works in lives when he takes what was dead and brings life! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV) Hearing stories about God’s saving and transforming work and experiencing it in my own life has become one of the greatest ways I delight in God.

Walking in his Ways. Psalm 119 has become a foundational mindset for me. This is a picture of delighting in God by delighting in his Word and walking in his ways.

“I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways. 
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.” (Psalms 119:15–16 ESV)

Resting in Jesus. Simply enjoying a personal relationship, Father to dearly loved child, is too often overlooked in my driven spiritual life. Prayer and satisfied silence in his presence, like a child calmed in the loving arms of his mother or father, is how I rest in Jesus. The invitation stands, in fact, this is where it all begins. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)

Singing, serving, giving, discovering, marveling, walking and resting are the main ways that I experience pleasure through my relationship with Christ. There is so much more pleasure yet to be had! May we truly seek our greatest pleasure in knowing and following Jesus!

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Worship Fuels Following Jesus

April 28, 2014
7:31 AM

Trinity Church is doing a church wide campaign called, Follow Me, complemented by a teaching series by David Platt. Our discussion in my small group this week reminded me how important corporate worship is for Christ-followers. Namely this, the more our hearts and minds are filled with a true picture of our glorious God the more we will be moved to wholeheartedly trust and follow him. Herein lies the main goal of our worship service: magnifying the glory of Christ! The Scriptures beautifully describe this as “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) The maturity of our faith is a byproduct of our knowledge of God. A very important aspect of the worship gathering of God’s people is declaration and teaching on the character and essence of our Triune God. On Sunday we sang Crowder’s, O Praise Him, which invites us to hear the worship of heaven and then join and sing “all to Christ the King.” We praise him because he is Holy! Mark Brown’s first point of the message, Follow Me: The Call, was this very thing, the call is to follow Jesus because of who he is! Then he proceeded to help us be amazed and awed by our Lord. David Platt did the same thing in the message we watched last night in our small group. I’m deeply grateful for pastor Gary Inrig’s greatest contribution to my life as a follower of Jesus and worship leader (and the quality of our worship as a church): consistently preaching & teaching a true and thorough picture of the majesty of God.

This is what we discovered in our group last night: following Jesus is directly related to our trusting Jesus. While we worship God simply because he is holy and worthy to be praised, we find that in worshiping him we come to trust him more. When we trust him more, we follow him more wholeheartedly, we become willing to die to self, lose our lives, surrender our will, risk to share our faith, to step out of our comfort and love in extraordinary ways. Worship fuels following Jesus. So while we are in this series that will seriously challenge us in what it means to follow Jesus, let us not forget that our motivation for following him does not come from our own effort producing the willpower to follow. No, it comes from a growing knowledge of who he is, his relentless love and amazing grace. (to quote Citizens, Made Alive) Such wonderful knowledge manifests itself into a worthy response: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” (Isaac Watts, 1707)

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