Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Heart of Thanksgiving, Part 1

Worship requires that we establish and maintain a heart and an attitude of thanksgiving. And oftentimes, for some folks, this requires discipline in their lives; it demands that they change something in order to establish and maintain an attitude and a heart of thanksgiving. Failure to do so robs us of many of God’s blessings.

One of the reasons so many are not walking in the fullness of God’s blessings is because of a failure to establish and maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not just eating turkey once a year! I thank God for Thanksgiving and a nation that seeks to honor the Lord because of His faithfulness and His blessings in our lives. From a biblical point of view, this is not something that we are instructed to do just once a year or only on special occasions. A life of thanksgiving is essential if we are to experience an overcoming lifestyle.

I listen to some Christians grumble, mumble, and complain. I want to remind you that complaining was one of the five sins that kept the children of Israel out of the Promised Land. God does not like murmuring and complaining, so STOP IT! It’s not good for you. God does not like it. He sees your situation. He’s waiting for you to get your heart and mouth in alignment with His Word so He can do something good for you.

Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 16. For many years, I’ve regarded the whole first portion of Thessalonians as basic instructions for Christian living. As Paul writes, at least the way that it was translated for us in English, he gives us some very direct instructions in how to live a life pleasing to God.

Notice how succinctly he makes each statement, there’s not a whole lot of explanation. For example, in verse 16, there’s a two-word directive: “Rejoice always.” What does that mean? It means, “always rejoice”! What does it mean to always rejoice? It’s easy to interpret that there should never be a time when you’re not rejoicing! What does the word, “always,” mean? ALWAYS! Now if someone instructs you to do something and he or she says, “Always do it this way,” what does that mean? It means that every time you do it, do it this way. There is never to be a time that you do it any other way. Am I right? So hear the Word of the Lord: “REJOICE ALWAYS!”

How do you do that? I am always to be in an attitude and a mind-set of rejoicing. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around me; it doesn’t matter what people say about me; it doesn’t matter what the situation looks like. Now this can only happen if I have learned to establish and maintain a heart of thanksgiving. You will not be able to rejoice always unless, and until, you have established and worked to maintain a thankful heart. I said work to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. Sometimes it is work. Do you remember the definition of “work” from MTS or from 7th grade Physical Science? Work literally means, “force against resistance.” 

This tells us that there are forces that are resisting our attitude of thankfulness. Just stop and selah for a moment. It’s amazing how thankful we can be and then someone might say one cross word, and it flips a switch that changes our whole attitude. Come on! Am I the only one? I see it in relationships all the time. You can be around someone having the greatest time, and then one person says one thing, huh? And bam, what happened to the attitude of thanksgiving? Then it’s like, “Well, I’d be awfully thankful if . . . mumble, mumble, mumble.”

Where did it go? Remember the definition of “work”: force against resistance. By definition, there’s going to be some pressure, there’s going to be some push back from time to time. Think it not strange. Even so, we are instructed to rejoice always! 

~ pg

Friday, December 23, 2011

Core Values, Part 4

In John 4:22, Jesus says, "You worship what you do not know. " I began to meditate on that this week. How many people are worshiping that which they don't even know? A lot of people worship money. Some worship other people and other things. Many are attempting to worship God, but don't know Him. Maybe you're like me. For many years I thought that I was worshiping God, but I was so far away from Him. Mine was a pretty feeble attempt. I knew that there was a God, but I surely didn't want to live for Him. If I had wanted to, I would have!

He says you worship what you do not know. May I suggest to you that idol worship is alive and well on the earth today. It's what drives many people to do what they do. And in verse 24, Jesus is not speaking simply of a future time of when the true worshipers would worship in spirit and in truth. He says, "And now is." Wow! Powerful words. Not only is the hour coming, but it is here! What gave Him the authority to make such a proclamation? I believe in part what He is proclaiming is, "The veil is being torn in two." Up until now, common man could come close and then no closer. The priest could come so close, but no closer. The High Priest could enter in once a year, but he'd better be tiptoeing with little bells on.

Jesus came to rent the veil in two, not only between Jew and Gentile, but also between God and man! Do we understand what we have? I don't think we do. So God have mercy on us for our failure to recognize what Christ has done for us by removing the partition between Him and us.

We who were nothing but sinners were granted access to the most holy place. Wow! You can't get into the most holy place if you ain't holy. And the problem with many in the Church is that they're trying to get there on their own. And they're trying to be holy on their own, and there isn't a way to do it, so they strive through religious ceremony right back to the Law and the pomp and circumstance. They think that if they could just do that, they'd be holy and God could accept them in. Man, we gotta be stripped of everything.

We'll pick up next time talking about worshiping in spirit and in truth. I want to encourage you, if I may, to gain understanding in regard to the fact that God is a Spirit and that He's called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth, and that's what He's seeking. And we're going to talk about what that spirit and truth thing looks like next time because there are parts of worshiping God in truth that we may not fully understand. And when we get to a place of truly worshiping in spirit and in truth, it will bring repentance. Revelation is always intended to bring repentance.

It's somewhat like spiritual math: revelation brings repentance, repentance is intended to bring revival, and revival is for the purpose of reformation. It has to happen in us and in the Church and in the culture in which we live. And it IS happening! Reformation is a very slow process. I believe we're in a process of reformation right now, and I'm not praying for reformation anymore. I got a revelation on reformation, and I believe some things are happening. There's never been an instant reformation in the history of the world. Every reformation has taken years to achieve. We just get impatient and want it now.

I encourage you this week to incline your heart to God and truly worship Him. You can do it anywhere, in spirit and in truth.

~ pg

Monday, December 19, 2011

Core Values, Part 3

Now in John chapter 4, Jesus was speaking to the Samarian woman at Jacob’s well (which is a significant location throughout Scripture, both historically and spiritually). This is where the bones of Joseph were finally laid to rest having been brought back from Egypt. It’s also where Joshua gathered the people of Israel to renew their covenant, and he made that very famous declaration that some of us have posted on our walls: Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” After Joshua made that declaration, the people of Israel renewed their covenant to God. And as they were pledging their covenant, Joshua said, “You ain’t gonna do it.” To which they replied, “Oh, yes we are,” and Joshua said again, “Oh, no you won’t.” You can go read it in Joshua 24. Basically, he’s saying, “You think you’re going to do it, but you ain’t gonna do it.” So they say, “Yes, only the God of Israel will we serve!”

And so Joshua says to them in Joshua 24:23, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.” “Incline” means to “stretch, to spread out, to bend.” Incline your heart to the Lord. As important as this place was, after Gideon died, it became a center for Baal worship. Oh come on, there’s going to be worship going on, and there are certain areas where worship is predominant. I believe that. There are focal points or hot spots, and if the people of God aren’t truly worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then there are other elements that will move in.

Let’s look at verse 19 of John 4; this woman is pretty amazing. Jesus asked her, “Where’s your husband, go get him.” Now she could have looked at Him and said, “Which one?” I’ve had five of them—she could have been thinking that—which one does He want me to go get? Instead she said, “I have no husband.” He said, “Indeed, you speak truth. You’ve had five husbands and the one you’re living with now is not even your husband.” You’re shacking up. Well, this catches her attention, “Sir (that’s all it took), I perceive you’re a prophet.” I want you to think about this woman also. To have five husbands and then to be shacking up, what do you think the opinion of her neighbors were? Wonder what the folks in the neighborhood thought about her? She was probably one of those that when she went out in the backyard, wives told their husbands, “You stay in here.”

Now, the account above is interesting because the people of Samaria considered themselves to worship the same God as the people of Israel, the God of Abraham. They held to the truth of the writings of Moses, but not any of the prophets. They did not hold to the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament. Basically, they didn’t believe that they were true. And yet here she is, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” You start reading people’s mail, and they get real perceptive. So she recognizes that He’s a messenger sent from God. You know, there are two trains of thought here. One is that she rises up and begins to contend with Jesus. I’m not sure that’s exactly true. I think that she may be displaying a desire to learn after perceiving that Jesus is a prophet. She might be thinking, “If He is a prophet, He has something to give me, some truth to impart into my life. And in verse 20, she said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.”

You think we ought to worship in that church, and we say that we ought to worship in this one! Skip down to verse 23 for a moment. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” God is a spirit and those who worship Him MUST, not should, worship in spirit and in truth. Now this woman apparently is very sincere in her desire to learn about true worship. As I said, the Samarians are thinking that they’re worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s not unlike certain religions today. And as I said, they rejected the teachings of the prophets, and they became involved in all sorts of idol worship in conjunction with their worship of the God of Abraham.

On the other hand, you have the Jews who were all hung up on religion, ceremony, the Law, and pomp and circumstance. So now here comes Jesus and He’s making clear: worship is not contingent upon where a person is. But what really matters as in the words of Joshua, “inclining our heart toward God.” Oh, if you don’t get anything else, my friends, this week, begin to incline your heart toward God. Let’s come down off our throne. As in Revelation 4, the same way that the four and twenty elders bow down and cast their crowns before God’s throne, we need to cast ours down! For without Him, we are nothing and can do nothing, but through Him we can do all things!

~ pg

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Core Values, Part 2

I almost caught a glimpse of something recently; I was so close and was right there at the door. Sometimes I can get so frustrated when I get right to the door, and I don't get in. But it ran very closely with Revelation chapter 4. What's going on up there in heaven? And if it's going on up there, why ain't it going on down here? If it's going on up there, can it go on down here? Does God have one purpose for those things in heaven and a whole different purpose here on the earth? Or in the beginning did He create these things to complement one another, to be joined in unison? Right now, as I'm writing this, the angels of heaven are gathered around the throne of God singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord."

It's interesting that in John 4:23, Jesus says that, "The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." True worshipers therefore worship in spirit and truth. That's point number one that I want to share. You have to ask yourself, "Am I a true worshiper?" They worship in spirit and in truth. And Jesus says, "The Father is seeking such to worship Him." God is searching, and where does He look? If God is looking to see if it's "spirit and truth worship" that is being offered, where does He look? Well, I suppose He's looking into the hearts of those who are rendering worship to Him. All religions have some form of worship. So the Lord is looking in the hearts of those who worship to see, I believe, if they are worshiping in spirit, and if they are worshiping in truth.

I'm going to bring up a touchy subject here, so please do not get offended. If you are, it's okay, but just try not to be. It would seem that true worshipers of God could and would recognize Him regardless of the culture, the environment, or the style of music being played. I've been thinking about this all week. I've heard people say, "Well, I don't like the music; I can't connect with that style of worship." Do you know what that attitude says? It says that worship is all about me and what brings me fulfillment, what satisfies my soul. We should be able to worship whether we're singing from a hymnal or singing off the wall!

I've had the privilege of worshiping amongst many cultures: American, Hispanic, North African, Haitian, Chinese, Brazilian, Trinidadian, Thai, and many that I haven't mentioned. The amazing thing is that no matter the culture-even if they're playing a bean pod and a broken accordion-I can have a worship experience and encounter God. Why? Because God is there! Anywhere God is, we ought to be able to worship Him. Do you believe God is everywhere? Then it doesn't matter what the music sounds like. WE'RE WORSHIPING GOD! It doesn't matter if we're in a jungle or an air-conditioned, carpeted building. It doesn't matter if they're playing maracas or electric guitars. It's not about the music; it's about God! It's about worshiping Him!

So if we believe God is ever-present, we shouldn't struggle with the form of worship. I get a kick out of people, "Well, you know, culture is very important." I hear about culture all the time. "We don't want to lose our culture." Oh really? Well, that goes contrary to the teachings of Apostle Paul. We need to give our culture up, our old culture, that is, and grab hold of our new culture. Welcome to the Kingdom! Everything is made brand new. "Well, what about my roots?" Some people have such tight earthly roots that they're going to have a hard time going when the trumpet sounds. What happens is that we get used to a certain form of worship, and then we just can't seem to connect with God in any way except our own. I would challenge that mentality. I would ask the question, "Is this attitude healthy, and is it accurate according to Scripture?"

Those are some points to ponder and ask yourself. Please take some time this week to reflect upon your response to God and examine your heart to evaluate if you're a "spirit and truth worshiper," or if you've been allowing your preferences to run rampant and dictate the depth of your worship experience. My prayer is that no matter where we are in our "spirit and truth worship" progress, that we take the opportunity this week to go even deeper.

~ pg

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Core Values

I want to talk about the core values of Cliffdale: Worship, Outreach, Relationship, and Discipleship. The acronym for our core values is the word "WORD." Let's spend some time talking about worship, the first core value. It is so essential. If something is essential, what does that mean? It means that it's the essence. What is the essence of our lives? The essence is the center; it is the most important point; it's the part from which everything else flows or springs.

There is nothing more essential than worship in the life of the believer, and we can prove this by examining Scripture. Worship is not something that we simply gather to do on Sundays. Worship is the very reason that we were created, and you don't have to be a Jordan Deal or your favorite Christian artist or singer to participate. All mankind has this in common: we were created to worship. Obviously worship has been perverted by the world. Isn't it amazing though how gifted many sinners are? People who have no knowledge of Christ? That's not to condemn, that's just an observation. You don't even have to be able to sing like a mockingbird; that's the beauty of worship.

How essential is worship to you? Worship is not just music; it's not just singing. I have a small paperweight that somebody gave me years ago that says, "My work is part of my worship." My work is part of my worship. What we do, day in and day out, should be viewed as part of worship. You've no doubt heard many sermons preached or lessons taught from John chapter 4. But there are probably very few Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, that focus on worship and its power more than that passage. We have to get it out of our heads that when I say the "power of worship," that it means coming to church and singing songs, singing in the shower, or singing on the way to work. Music and songs are just one form of worship.

Do you believe in creation? The pat answer in church is that, "I believe in creation." I think that before we answer questions, particularly regarding our beliefs, we ought to consider well what the question is before determining that we are giving an accurate response. Do you really believe in creation?

We spent the last two days out in the woods camping, and you know how it is, you feel closer to God for whatever reason. You're out there with the trees and the water and the stars, and yes, the rain and the wind as well. There are certain environments or places that can allow us to have a different experience in worship, maybe experience a different level of worship. Church is supposed to be one of those places. God ordained the Church to be a house of worship. He's always had a gathering place for the purposes of corporate worship and the teaching of His Word.

Again, do you believe in creation? My youngest son and I were watching a science show the other night, and they were showing the Hubble telescope and how mankind would now be able to see how planets are formed, how the gasses come together, and how a new sun is created. And I have no doubt that the above is true. The problem is that when you leave God out of the equation, the questions remain, "Where did it all originate? Where did those gasses come from?"

So we know from Genesis 1:1 that God created the heavens and the earth. And it's an awesome thing to consider that this very same God who created the universe has called you and I by name, selected us, and called us to Himself. So how does worship work into all that? When you consider the handiwork of God, how can you not but worship Him? Again, worship is what we were created for. There were other reasons we were created, but we were fashioned to be instruments of worship and since the very beginning of time, mankind has demonstrated the need and the innate desire to worship.

In my opinion, it was what moved Abel in Genesis 4 to bring the firstborn of his flock as an offering to Jehovah; that was an act of worship. And the truth is that from Egypt, to the temple, to our present day and time, we see this desire being demonstrated through mankind. We see it in Moses, Miriam, Joshua, Paul, Silas, and the prophets. These are all examples of man's need to worship and God's desire to be worshiped. There is so much to be said in this regard. We'll pick up with this topic in the next blog.

~ pg