The Drama of Redemption: Creation

Why do you think God created the world, and people in particular?  Was it because he was bored?  Lonely?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism has famously declared, “The chief end of man (aka: the reason we were created) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  God created out of love, that we would worship Him and be filled with his joy as we worship.  We were created by God in His image in order to “mirror” him by glorifying/worshipping Him in everything we do, because we received joy when we honor God.

What’s it mean to “Glorify” God?  One of our high schoolers gave among the best definitions of “glorify” I’ve ever heard: she said, “It’s to recognize who God is and what he’s done and to show that to other by what you do.”  1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Eating and Drinking are pretty normal things, not super-spiritual things – and yet we’re told to do them (along with whatever else we do) “for the glory of God.”

So what’s it look like to glorify God?

  • When you’re in school and learning about biology, you recognize that God made your body to function so perfectly that every cell is designed to do a specific task.  Meanwhile, you also learn about the universe and how ridiculously small and “insignificant” planet Earth is when compared to all the galaxies far far away.  Just think: God created all those galaxies, and yet He cares for you so much that he sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for you!
  • When you’re on the practice field, you want to use your physical body and athletic gifts to honor the One who gave them to you.  That means you practice hard, take care of your body, and play as a good teammate (that means you pass the ball when someone else has a better shot!) and you aren’t an arrogant glory-hog when you play well.
  • When you’re home, you help with chores around the house, respect your parents, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Christian author, John Piper, has said “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  Are you satisfied with God?  You were made to glorify God in everything you do, and to enjoy God forever!  Remember, en-joy, God wants to fill you with joy!  That doesn’t mean life is about being happy and living out the “American Dream,” because God often calls us to difficult things and He brings us through seasons of suffering – but He fills us with peace and joy even in the midst of those experiences.

Out of love, God created you to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever.  Don’t want until “forever” begins… start now.  That’s what God made you for.  Obviously, “something” (Sin, which we’ll discuss next week) has gone terribly wrong; but it’s absolutely necessary for us to remember WHY we are here and WHAT God made us to do.

Thoughts After a Hillsong United Concert

Last night I attended a Hillsong United concert at the Wang Theater in Boston.  The Wang Theater seats 3600, and it seemed filled up with people pouring out their hearts before God – what a night… I was very blessed.

Here are some of my reflections on last night (mostly positive):

1.  I love Hillsong United’s heart. You can say what you want about their worship style, but they are totally souled-out for Jesus!  There’s a world of difference between a worship song led by someone who’s performing rather than truly worshipping God.

2. I REALLY appreciate worship songs that address the reality of suffering without simply saying “Jesus will fix it.” When we read the Psalms (the Hymnal of the Old Testament) we find all these times when the writer is really struggling with God’s “distance” and silence.  Many of our worship songs seem to gloss over this “silent times” of faith and almost end up saying “You may be in the valley now, but don’t worry… God will take care of it.”  I appreciated that some of Hillsong United’s songs really dealt with these silent times in a meaningful way.  If you want a better idea what type of song I’m talking about (in a good way) then here’s a video to check out:

3. Altar calls that don’t point to the cross and call people to actually repent and give their lives to Jesus really frustrate me. Jesus is the Gospel.  “God” is a very general word in today’s culture and people can easily interpret “God” to mean whatever they perceive Him to be… but “Jesus” is very specific.  There is no Gospel without what Jesus did on the cross and through the empty grave.  I don’t think every Gospel presentation and Altar call needs to be presented the same exact way, but they should include at least two elements to be affective: First, they need to be Cross-Centered, and Second, they need to call people to Repentance and not simply confession of sin (I can say “Sorry that I’ve sinned” without committing myself to Jesus… but I can’t repent without doing that).

4. I’m getting older... there were moments when I felt like I was on the outside looking in because I didn’t get the worship experience others were feeling.  This really helped me identify with some of the older generations in my own church who are pretty ambivalent about the contemporary worship we’re trying to incorporate at Emmanuel.  There was one point in particular when people were singing “Woah woah woah” with arms raised high and clearly were being “moved,” but I just didn’t get it.  I don’t mean this as a judgement or anything… I just didn’t get it and felt like an old fuddy-duddy for a few minutes.

5. I was challenged to ask “How does some of this translate to serving churches in their worship services?” Some of the songs were great songs declaring who God is and what He’s done and what He promises,etc… but I couldn’t help thinking “How do you get up and preach a sermon after this song?”  Maybe I’m even more old-school than I realize (which I just may be!), but I firmly believe the sermon ought to be the focal point of the Christian worship service: bringing the Word of God (Scripture) to the people of God to call them to live righteous, humble, godly lives.  I don’t think it’s wrong or bad for there to be worship songs that you would only use for “special” worship services occasionally, but this was just one of my thoughts from the night I thought I’d share.

6.  Revival in New England is on more peoples hearts than I realize. To my knowledge, every nation-wide revival in America has roots  in New England.  I don’t want to be a “crazy” Christian… but I really am praying that God would do a might work in our nation through the least likely place (Boston!).

LWAYG: T3 – Stewards or Owners

Does God want you to be rich or to be poor?  Pick one or the other… and take a minute to really think about why you answered that way.

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents.  A Master went away for a long time and left three men in charge of his money . One servant had 5 Talents, another was given 3 Talents, and another was given one Talent.  I’ve looked at a few websites to find out today’s equivalent of 1 Talent, and found it ranging from $600,000 – $1,000,000!  That’s a lot of money!  The first and second servants both doubled their money by the time their Master returned, but the third servant did nothing with his money.  He buried the money in the ground because he didn’t want to lose any of it, and the Master judged him harshly for it and gave his money to the one who made the most.

I believe we can see at least three principles that apply to honoring God with our T3: our talent, treasure, and time.

First, a lesson in personal management.  Do you see yourself as a steward who will one day give account for how you’ve used your talent, treasure and time; or do you see yourself as an owner who can use your T3 however you want to without needing to answer to anyone?  An owner possess and controls what he has.  A steward uses what he’s been given to the best of his abilities, but remembers that eventually he will return it all to the true owner.  If I let a friend live in my house for a year while I was off traveling the world, I would want him to treat my house well and to care for it.  If I returned and found the house in disarray and with holes in the walls I would not be happy!

The second principle is one of excellence.  God is not honored by mediocrity.  I learned this while doing my internship with the High School Ministry a large church in the Chicago area.  I was doing a mailing and stuffing hundreds of envelopes, then labeling them, but I put a few of the address labels on upside down without realizing it.  When my mentor looked through my work he noticed my mistake and asked me, “When he/she gets this letter and it looks like this, what’s it telling him/her about how important the content of this letter is?  We try to do everything, even address labels, to the best of our abilities as an act of worship to honor Jesus Christ.”  I’ve never forgotten that.  Certainly, God doesn’t want us to become perfectionists who live like any mistakes are absolutely unacceptable, but we ought to do things excellently for Jesus.

The third and final principle I see here is one of accountability.  Remember what happened to that third servant.  He didn’t use his talent to honor his Master, so he lost it and was “cast into outer darkness” as well.  There are people I know who have lots of money, and they use it well.  They support missionaries, give generously to the Church, and use their T3 to bring honor to Jesus Christ.  God has given them treasures because He knows they will use their treasure to honor Him.

If God gave you treasures, how would you use them?  Would you spend all you were given to get “stuff” – or would you spend your money wisely and give generously to those in need and to support Christ’s work in the world?

When it comes to your T3, are you a steward or an owner of your talents, your treasures, and your time?

How do we Know Love?

Ok, so that title’s a little manipulative to get you to read this… sorry:

Here’s what the Bible says about love:

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  (1 John 3:16)

I absolutely love Matt Redman’s song “This is How We Know.”  Below is a video with the lyrics and the song, I hope you enjoy it and are drawn to remember the love of God displayed through Christ’s death on the cross for you.

Here’s a video of Matt Redman talking about the story behind the song:

Worship Leader as Preacher?

I think we’ve all been there:  You’re in the dumps spiritually, then a hymn or a worship song comes to mind and you’re spiritually revitalized and encouraged.

I’m a pastor, and I LOVE sermons… I love preaching them, and I love listening to them (most of the time).  I would never “put down” the role and centrality of good, biblical preaching in Christian worship.  But here’s the thing…

…when most of us go to church on Sunday (or whenever else you go), how do you view the music?  I’m not sure we realize that each song we sing is like a mini-sermon, burning its message into our hearts and minds as we sing.  Experts in education tell us that the more people participate and interact with the material, the more likely they are to remember it… I think that’s why when we’re spiritually depressed we think of great songs we’ve sung in church rather than great sermons we’ve heard.

The worship leader in most churches isn’t a pastor, but simply a person (or team of people) who has a musical gift and passion to lead the congregation in worshipping Jesus Christ through singing.  But in his own way… I think the worship leader (regardless of “worship style”) is a type of preacher, preparing the way for the sermon.

How do you view singing in church?  Is it just music… or is it something more?  Something deeper?  Do you get frustrated by the music being too traditional or too contemporary and edgy?  Rather than focusing on what you don’t like about the worship song, focus on the message and the words and sing them to the Lord as an offering of worship.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
(Revelation 4:11)

This is one of those songs that frequently preaches to me:

William Temple on Worship

Pastor John read this quote in his sermon today and it really struck me, I hope it challenges you to re-think what worship is too:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,
Nourishment of mind by His truth,
Purifying of imagination by His beauty,
Opening of the heart to His love,
And submission of will to his purpose.
And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”

William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-1944)

Church & Me

Check out this video:

Sometimes we really do treat church like that.  People leave churches over all sorts of reasons, but I wonder what Jesus (or the early Christians) would think about those reasons.  What about you?

As a pastor, obviously I want the people in my church to have a great experience when they come and to look forward to coming again.  I feel the same way about teens in my youth group.  I really do want it to be a good, fun, welcoming, helpful time for them to come and grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.  But I can’t make anyone listen to the sermon in church or to the lesson in  youth group.  If you come to church looking for what “I’m going to get out of this,” then I encourage you to question whether or not you’re coming with the right heart-attitude.

Jesus said “The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  We should live likewise.  Maybe Church isn’t about ME and what I get out of it; maybe it’s about worshipping Jesus Christ and serving those around me.