Pulling Together

“Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods. The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens! Honor and majesty surround him; strength and joy fill his dwelling. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.” – 1 Chronicles 16:23-31.

Worship is considered to be the singing and praise part of a church service. While that is part of it, worship is truly so much more than that. God is not interested in rote forms of worship; He is interested in a heart that glorifies Him and a life that honors Him. We were created to worship Him. We worship God because he is God. We love God because He first loved us. We worship God because of all He has given us.

But given our connected world, do we really need to go to a bricks and mortar building each week to worship?  We have online streaming, podcast and other ways of hearing what is said in the church. But while listening online is fine when you cannot attend in person, church is much more than the message. It’s community. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others, and being involved in the lives of others. The local church is where we gather with other Christians and worship God. This does not mean that a church building is the only place we can worship (it’s not), but it is something the church is to do regularly. Regular church attendance also shows support for the work of God in our community and in the world.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven. In it there is “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  God desires that God’s people from every nation, tribe, people, and language be united around Jesus, worshipping together.

Think of it this way. You can be a Christian and not go to church in the same way that you can be a family member and never visit anyone. But what would be the point of that? Our lives are immeasurably enriched over time by participating in a Christ-centered community such as church and small groups. Going to church opens us up to all facets of the body of Christ. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.

From the earliest days, Christianity has been about community, where Jesus-followers learn, worship and grow together while serving each other and modeling Christ to a world in need of salvation. Give God the first fruits of the week by attending church on Sunday. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your religious experience, how would you define worship?
  2. Is true worship dependent on location? What role does the church play in worship?
  3. Is worship based on the condition of the heart?
  4. What changes could you make as a result of this week’s message?

Morning Glory

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35.

Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!” This is good advice. Sometimes prayer is not what I “feel” like doing. But when I set a regular appointment with God and honor it, no matter what my body or emotions might say, I feel refreshed.

The best time for your appointment with God is early morning – not because most of us love jumping out of bed, but because it is the only time of day when we can be fairly sure of not being interrupted and because it is best to commune with God before you commune with people. Your attitude toward them will reflect your life in Him. Offering to God the first hour of the day is a representation of all of our time.

Scripture puts a high value on waking up early, even before dawn, and giving the first fruits of our day to God in prayer, worship and seeking His face: Psalm 57:8 says, “Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song.” Proverbs 31:15 adds, “She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.”

Jesus Himself set for us a clear example of rising early to seek the Father’s face: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35).

John Bunyan wrote, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” I have found this to be absolutely true in my own life. I found that having a regular time each morning is an opportunity for me to spend time alone with God. I would encourage you to offer the “first fruits” of the day to God by spending time in His Word and in prayer.  It’s an opportunity to declare with our lives, not just our lips, that Jesus truly is our most important priority. It gives the Spirit of God the first say. When I seek Him in my first act of the day, I find that every other area of my life comes into proper alignment.

There’s something to be said about giving God our best, even in treating our daily quiet time as an appointment to be kept and respected. Give God your first thoughts and He will direct your path.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does spending time with God develop our relationship with Him?
  2. What are some other benefits of getting completely alone with God? Where is a place where you can get alone with God? How can you help yourself to not get distracted?
  3. A relationship with God is not one-sided. A lot of times, we view prayer as us talking to God, telling Him our needs and wants, and praying for Him to do certain things. What can we do to better listen to God in our quiet time?
  4. Ask God to show you the practical things you can do to not only guard your daily appointment with Him, but also to make that time as powerful and Christ-centered as possible.

What Comes First?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

The beginning of the year is a good time to make any needed changes in our lives. We need to take inventory, tune-up, tune in and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. It’s a good time to get aligned. If we want to be aligned with God we have to put first things, first. So what comes first? 

The Bible tells us what comes first: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)  Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God. But what does that mean and how does it fit into the firsts of seeking God, worshipping, tithing and fasting we talked about on Sunday? 

The first time you read Matthew 6:33, you come away with this verse being a foundational verse: simply stated, it means giving Jesus first place in my life. So if you are creating a priority checklist, for the day, week, month or year, Jesus should be on top. But “seek first” is not about fixing priorities and putting Him on top of a to-do list. To make God part of the list, is to make Him just another part of life. But He is not just part of our life, He is our life. Everything centers on and revolves around Him. 

“…and all these things will be given to you as well.”  It’s in putting God first in everything and seeking His righteousness that all these other things in our lives will be given to you as well. How many times have we seen when people put God first, their lives are enriched. We will experience joy and peace when God comes first in everything. Seeking God, worshipping Him in church, tithing and fasting are a few of the disciplines we are to practice as we strive to become more like Jesus. 

The outcome of your life is determined by what you seek first.  Do you want to be Christlike? Seek Him first. Do you want your family to be Christ-centered? Seek Him first. Do you want to have the best work ethic and stand out in the office? Seek Him first. Jesus comes first in every aspect of our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we prioritize God first in our lives?
  2. Practically speaking, what does it mean to first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
  3. What are some ways to keep the work of Christ central to your thinking as you try to seek His kingdom first?
  4. How do we know that are fulfilling Matthew 6:33 in our lives? 

Created To Worship

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2.

In the series “Come To Worship, we have been looking at worship. What is it? How do we do it? There are Christians who believe worship is what you do at church when the music is playing. It is that moment when the lyrics grab you, and spiritual feelings flood the soul. But worship is not a worship song. Worship is not the amount you place in the offering. Worship is not volunteering in children’s church. Yes, these may be acts or expressions of worship, but they do not define what true worship really is. 

When we distill down the last four weeks of the Come To Worship series, we can sum up worship in the following way: Worship is the acknowledgement of Who God is and what God does. This acknowledgement includes lifting your hands, bringing your gifts, pouring out your heart, and bowing before Him. Worship may be by lip or by life. That is, worship may be either verbal praises and thanksgivings to God for Who He is and what He does, or it may be non-verbal deeds done in acknowledgement of Who He is. Worship is the sum total of living as a Christian. Worship is an attitude of the heart.

Listen to the words of a worship song written in 2006 by Christ Tomlin. In the first verse of “Made to Worship,” we sing that “before the day, before the light, before the world revolved around the sun. God on high, stepped down into time and wrote the story of His love for everyone.” The next verse recognizes and declares that “you and I were made to worship. You and I are called to love. You and I are forgiven and free. When you and I embrace surrender. When you and I choose to believe. Then you and I will see who we were meant to be. All we are. And all we have, is all a gift from God that we receive. Brought to life, we open up our eyes to see the majesty and glory of the King. He has filled our hearts with wonder, so that we always remember.”

All we are and all we have is the free gift of God, not something we deserve or earn. Worship is not confined to the walls of a church. It does not only start or end with church services. Rather, it is a life-long bowing down of our hearts before God, serving Him and surrendering ourselves completely to Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Worship involves surrender. Surrendering to God is not about losing; it’s about gaining. What will you gain by surrendering more of your life to God?
  2. Worship involves communication with God through such means as prayer and quiet time. What can you do to remind yourself to think about God and talk to Him more often throughout the day?
  3. Which of the four (lifting your hands, bringing your gifts, pouring out your heart, and bowing before Him) aspects of this series is the hardest to do?  Easiest? 
  4. Worship is expressing your affection to God, focusing your attention on God, and using your abilities for God. What is one thing you will do this week to become a better worshiper?

Submitting To God

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you.” – Job 22:21.

Submission is not very popular these days. The very sound of the word submission can offend many people today. Every Christian at one time or another will struggle with the concept of submitting themselves to God. Often, it revolves around major decisions in life.  “Lord, I have this job opportunity in California. Should I go or should I stay here in Florida? I want to submit to your will and your plan for my life.” Silence.

So we wait and then wait some more for the answer. More silence. Okay, I didn’t want to make this decision on my own. I wanted to submit it to God, but in lieu of a response, I will have to make the decision on my own. Major decisions are not the only time we will feel tension when trying to submit to God. Often it is because we need to fully understand the meaning of the word submit. On our job, most of us will submit all the time. In marriage we mutually submit. The government requires taxes and we pay them. But submitting to God is something entirely different.

If you are a project manager, you will submit your plans for a project to the decision makers. They will mark it up in red and typically offer a few suggestions or changes. Then as the project manager, you go back to work, refining, changing the project or proposal to make it better. We should look at Biblical submission in much the same way. You are the project manager for your life. You are managing your life as best you can. But then you show your life to God with the admission that “this is the best I can do. I’ve given you everything I have. But I realize I might have missed some things. Will you help me make it better?”

By submitting to God we allow Him complete control of our lives. As He works in us and through us, we will also see Him working around us. And where God works there is healing, life, and restoration. The purpose of submission is so that God can change the things around us, by changing us, and then working through us as project managers of our lives.

Submission is not easy. We run from it. We try to ignore it. But because of the submissive example of Christ, I want to submit all that I am to Him and allow Him to work in me, through me, and around me. 

Total submission of our lives to God is worship. Paul said as much in Romans 12:1-2: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Is God the hardest to submit to in your life? Why or why not?
  2. What are the benefits to submitting ourselves to God? Obstacles?
  3. What do we need to do to allow God to improve our life project this week? 

No Turning Back

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” – Isaiah 30:15.

Repentance has never been a popular topic. It is easy to move this subject to the back of the line behind other more pressing concerns. It is not something that we readily want to jump right into.

But repentance is a holy command of God. It is something God can give to us through the grace of His Son Jesus. Repentance is not just believing in God, but rather as we believe and make a decision to trust and follow Christ, we will turn from our old ways. Or as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”   

Yes, repentance, or belief in Jesus, will lead you and your actions to the life-changing, saving grace of Jesus Christ. Acts 16:31 says:“…Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.”  But we also need to remember that repentance is not something you do in order to earn your salvation. That probably seems paradoxical to you. But its really isn’t. You cannot do anything to earn your salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says,  “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Salvation is a free gift, and repentance is the act of accepting that gift—not earning it.

When we don’t repent, we worship ourselves. If we are followers of Jesus and continue to live in sin, not only are we lying to others about what the Bible says, but we are lying to ourselves that God knows better. We are leading people down a dangerous path and continuing to be stumbling blocks. We are basically saying to God, “thanks for the forgiveness, but I got this and I will take it from here.” 

But when we repent, we worship God. When we claim what Christ has done for us on the cross, we are believing His Word and coming to the conclusion that a life serving God is better than a life of sin. We grow in our walk with the Lord and continue to remove sin from our lives. In these moments, we are truly living as new creations and the old versions of ourselves pass away. We are trusting God that what He says is true and that He knows better. 

Martin Luther once said, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.” Repentance shows that we love Jesus more than our sin and we trust His promises more than the deceitful promises of sin. Real repentance is not a work of man, but a work of God. God creates repentance in the heart of man so that we experience it in the heart and it causes an overflow from the heart, but we did not create it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view the subject of repentance?
  2. Confession and acknowledgement of our sin is an essential part of a believer’s conversion. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. How can we determine whether our repentance is false or true?
  4. What in your opinion is the most difficult aspect of repentance to personally apply? 

Pursuing The God Who Pursues Me

“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up.You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.” – Psalms 139:1-4.

Think about this for a second. God is the only one who can make a donkey talk, walk on water, make water come out of a rock, heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, make a cripple man walk, cast out demons, feed 5,000 with just two fishes and five loaves of bread, and the list goes on and on. The simple truth is God is omniscient. He knows everything, including the past, present, and future and He pursues us to bring us to Him.

If you have just started a relationship with God, it might feel like God is a new addition to your life. In reality, however, the Bible makes it clear that God has been at work in your life before you were born. Psalm 139:15-16 says, “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

So how do we pursue God as He pursues us? This is where we typically list the usual suspects such as small groups, studying the Bible, and quiet time. But I would like to answer the question from a different perspective. It would be hard to find somebody who didn’t want more in their life. More money, more time, more love, more gifts, etc. There is one area of life, however, where wanting more is a very good thing—wanting more of God.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we content with how much of God we have right now? Because if the level of God’s involvement in our life is sufficient, we don’t need to pursue Him any further. “It is wonderful that He loves us and that He died for our sins as a means of getting to Heaven, but, I feel pretty good about where the relationship is today.  On Sunday, I put money in the offering, I sing the worship songs and I attend a small group each week.”  All that is good, but does it stimulate or feed our hunger for more of God? Does that motivate us to know more, to be closer to our Savior?  Are we proactively seeking God rather than waiting until a crisis hits to seek His face?

I know these are hard questions. But here is what I know. The constant presence of God is promised to every one of His children. However, it is not a one way relationship. While God pursues us out of love, we should be pursuing Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much of God do you want?
  2. How do you pursue a deeper knowledge of and relationship with God? Are you as consistent as you would like to be?
  3. Who do you know who seems to pursue God earnestly and consistently? How does that investment of time seem to impact their lives?
  4. If you could do one thing to better pursue God this week, what would it be?

Take A Bow

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.” – Ephesians 3:14-15.

Whenever the subject of kneeling or bowing before God comes up, Philippians 2:9-11 is sure to come up pretty quick, and for good reason: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.” 

Paul echoes this in Romans 14:11: ”As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.”  This is the proper response when encountering the name of Jesus. This verse calls on every being in the universe to recognize His position. Because of His position, we should love Him, serve Him, worship Him, praise Him and obey Him.

The reason why we should bow down, and worship God only, is because it is God who woke you up this morning. It is God who blessed you with food to eat. It is God who gave you clothes to wear. It is God who gave you shelter over your head. It is God who healed you when you were sick. It was God who delivered you when you were in trouble. It is God who blesses you to work a job and earn money to pay your bills and provide for your family. It is God who enables you to do well in school. It is God who answers your prayers.  We ought to bow down and worship God because He is our Creator, our Heavenly Father, our Deliverer, our Healer, our Provider from whom all of our blessings flow.

We should bow down because as C.S. Lewis said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. Jesus laid aside His heavenly glory to live among us.”

God is worthy to be bowed down to and for us to give Him worship and praises. Daniel did. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10)  Peter did as well. “When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”

Aren’t we all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe bowing or kneeling before God is optional or mandatory? Why?
  2. What activities in your life help you most in surrendering, worshiping, and expressing gratitude to God?
  3. Do you believe the more we know God the deeper and easier our worship flows? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do this week to know God just a little bit better?

More Power To You

“And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.

There are many definitions and many ways of looking at power. Most often, we look at power as control over resources, influence, strength, political control, energy/electricity, etc. We all desire some level of power in our lives. The trick is how to get it. One group who figured it out was the early church. The Bible tells us that 3,000 souls were saved on one day; “…and each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) The early church was marked by powerful miracles and larger than life personalities. They experienced amazing growth and were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most followers of Jesus want that same kind of power today. We want what they had. We want to impact our world as they impacted theirs. In most other ways, we have a whole lot more than the early believers did. We have homes, enough money to do most of things we want to do, amazing technology, and the freedom to worship God as we please. But do we have the power of God? The early church was plugged into the power of God, and since God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that same power is available to us today.

God gave each of us a brain that is fantastically intricate. But in spite of all our progress since the early church, we will never get our heads around the power, majesty, love and grace of God until we go to Heaven. The Bible reveals a God so great that we cannot compare anything to Him. No wonder God says, “The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes they count for less than nothing—mere emptiness and froth. To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?” (Isaiah 40:17-18). While we may never fully grasp the power of God, the question we have in the midst of trials and difficulties is, “can we rely on His power for our future?” 

The answer is yes. God is faithful and trustworthy.  Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us: ”I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” According to Paul, we rely on God’s power to work in us by faith. Our hope is greater than we know because Christ resides in us. We can and do experience the wonder of His power. So no matter what your circumstances or how dark the clouds overhead are at the moment, God “is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

So if we want the type of power the early church had, we need to stop doubting what we think God can’t or won’t do, and started believing in what He can do. “God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only the things we can do by ourselves.”— A. W. Tozer

Discussion Questions

  1. Does it detract from God’s power that He often relies on a response of faith from people? What does that show us about God’s respect for His creation and the importance of our faith response?
  2. If God is truly able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, how does that impact your thoughts, prayers, and actions?
  3. What is the one lesson or truth you took away from what you heard in the message this week that you can apply in your life?   

Taking Something On Faith

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” – Lamentations 3:22-23.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed” is a popular saying, implying that when you are in need, then you find out who your real friends are. But how do you find true friendship? It is not easy because true friendship involves action: doing something for someone else while expecting nothing in return, sharing thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or negative criticism. True friends stick by your side no matter how rocky the road becomes.

Do you need a friend? God wants to be your true friend. Are you longing for companionship? God is always with you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”  And it comes in handy to have a friend that is faithful and has the last word on all things.

Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us that God has the last word on everything: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

Basically that passage is telling us that whatever God speaks, happens. What He says goes. Hebrews 1:10-11 says, “…“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing.” Jesus Himself made it clear: “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (Matthew 24:35)

That means God will keep all His promises. It means that God will fulfill every prophecy He has made. God never forgets, never fails, and never falters. Every promise the Lord has made He will make good, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”  (Numbers 23:19)  We can count on His promises because He is faithful.

And regardless of your circumstances, God will keep you. Remember Lamentations 3:22-23: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”  Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 1:12  “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” God will keep you because God has committed Himself to completing your salvation. Because He is faithful, He keeps up His side of the relationship even when we don’t. “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Because He is faithful, we can depend on Him, count on Him, and look for Him to come through for us in every circumstance. We simply need to trust Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word “faithfulness?”
  2. Can you think of someone in your life who proved faithful? How did that make you feel?
  3. Because God is faithful, we can trust Him to always keep His promises. How do we live that truth?
  4. What difficulties in your life do you need to surrender to God’s faithfulness?