The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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Death Demystified

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few months ago my mother died. She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. She faithfully served the Lord for over 70 years. As a way of honoring her life we chose a celebration theme for her funeral. We sang songs of praise to God. We even danced. A friend of mine who watched a video clip of the funeral commented that it was a funeral of a different kind.

But even with all the testimonies and celebrations, facing the reality of my mother’s death was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. A day before her death, my wife and I agreed that we would pray and surrender our mother’s life to God’s will—and that was the hardest prayer we ever prayed. Although we knew in our minds that it was time for our mother to go to the place she had always longed for, we were not emotionally ready to let her go.

Death is perhaps the scariest experience on the face of the earth (if you doubt, just google “death” and checkout the images that show up). It is a grim reality we have to deal with. The reality of death is very painful, whether it is the death of a loved one or us facing it due to a terminal illness. Death is an intruder. It is unnatural. It is something we can never get used to because we were not created to die.

What scares you most about death

However, death this is not the end. Just like sin, death has no place in heaven. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a great difference in how we deal with death. Satan’s victory in the Garden of Eden was temporary but Jesus’ victory on the cross was decisive and final. On the cross, Jesus demystified death. We can encounter death with confidence. There is hope beyond the grave. For a Christian, death is an irony. It is a moment of pain, especially when we lose a loved one. But is also a moment of victory, because those who die in Christ will certainly live again.

What scares you most about death? Even the scariest thing on earth has been defeated by our Lord. We can, therefore, say with confidence, “Where, O death, is your victory?” We have victory over death because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).

What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”

Dealing with Life-Disruptions

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Psalm 46:2-3 (NIV)  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Yesterday I was greeted with some not-so-good news. Although it was not life threatening, it disrupts a fairly major course of action of a department I supervise. It affects our timelines and I am trying to figure out what good might be in it. As I was trying to deal with it, I was also handed a bill that was totally out of my budget—and yet it was for an important and urgent emergency need.

Life does not always loyally follow our plans and expectations and along the journey we encounter disruptions. Some may be minor, like the one I encountered yesterday, but others are major and devastating like the news one receives from the doctor when you had simply visited for a routine medical checkup. How should we respond when life does not deliver according to our plans? The natural (human) thing to do is to freeze, feel bad about ourselves and other people, or give up. But we know that not only is this kind of response unhelpful, it can also be destructive.

The better way is to look Up, beyond ourselves and circumstances, to God our Father and ask for wisdom and direction. God’s wisdom will ensure that we take the right course of action in any circumstances. The Bible says that God’s wisdom is way different from worldly wisdom.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).

Food for Thought

  1. What life-disruptions are you dealing with right now?
  2. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?

 

Being Caring Christ-Like Community

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Mark 10:13-16  (NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

In the last couple of weeks I have been sharing on the implications of our identity and purpose as followers of Jesus Christ. We have been called by God to live for Him—to make Him look great. How we express our purpose, of living for God, largely depends on our different contexts.

For starters, let’s ponder on these questions?

  1. If you were a pastor of a local church, what kind of people would you pray that they come to your church? What motivates that desire?
  2. Which kind of people do like to you associate with? What motivates your choice of friends?

In the story of Jesus blessings little children we see in the disciples’ response a reflection of many of us when it comes to living out our faith. As we know, Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. His actions were unconventional and counter-culture. But there was also something predictable about Him in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. He touched and cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the dregs of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

In the Bible passage above, Jesus’ disciples felt that He should spend His time doing better things—meeting the important and influential people. But Jesus had a different idea. He chose to spend time (and bless) the children. Children were: vulnerable, often ignored by adults, powerless and had no social, political or religious influence. Therefore, according to the disciples, time spent with children was considered wasted. We demonstrate Christ-like character when we act the way Jesus acted—by choosing not to live by the dictates of our societal values but His.

The community in which our local church is located has very many children. We minister to hundreds of them every month by sharing with them the word of God, dancing with them, offering them a cup of hot porridge and bread. As church, Children’s Ministry is one of our local expressions of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community.

Reflection:

  1. Who are “the least of these” (cf. Matthew 25:40) in your community?
  2. What is an appropriate expression of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community in your context?
  3. What is God calling you (as an individual or body of believers in Jesus Christ) to do in your community?

 

The Hallmark of a Christ-like Community (II)

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Living for God’s Glory

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Last week we looked at our identity as a Christ-like community. It is this identity (who we are) that defines our purpose (what we are here for). This week, we will focus on what we are here for? As someone put it we would like to examine whether what we are living for worth dying for. How do we, as people of God, measure our success? Do we go by the world’s parameters of money, status, titles? As a church is our purpose to have big congregations, a plethora of programs, big and state of the art buildings and technology? Although none of the above is in and of itself bad,  we cannot make it the heart of our existence–our purpose.

 

The Audience of ONE

The Word of God is clear about the purpose of the church (the people of God): “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out…”  This seems a pretty straight forward statement–and it is. But some of you might be asking, “yes, but how?” How do we declare God’s praises? How do we live for God’s glory? How do we make God look great in our lives and ministries? How do we live for the audience of ONE? This is a very difficult thing to do in our present generation that exalts “self” (or is it selfie) above everything else. How do we direct praises (fame) to God and not ourselves?

Your Context is Your Platform

Every single person and church community has a unique context which is a potential platform for living for God’s glory. Whether it is in an upscale urban setting, inner city slum, or rural setting you can live for God’s glory. You can make God look great whether you are working with professionals, single mothers, sex workers or orphaned children. The key thing is to discern where God has placed you and the opportunities (often disguised as challenges, or problems) your context offers you to shine for God’s glory.

Is it a Big Deal?

One might ask whether orienting our mission around the glory of God is such a big deal. Yes, it is. God is passionate about his glory. He declares in Isaiah 42:8 that “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” God forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land because Moses “you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy” before the people of Israel (Numbers 27:14). God takes His glory serious. The reason He created us, the reason he saved us, the reason the church exists is to live for His glory. That is our purpose.