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Friday, February 10, 2017

Worship and Self-Denial

Worship and Self-Denial
Psalm 96:8

Psa 96:8  ...bring an offering and enter His courts.

In the course of my walk with Christ... I've had the opportunity to attend the worship services of several different denominations. Each group I've visited, claimed that their worship was “Christ-centered” and in accordance with the the Scripture. And I'm not going to disparage the customs and practices of the various groups because I understand that what appeals to me... doesn't necessarily appeal to everyone else.

For instance... there are those who desire to worship in a more “high church” and “liturgical” fashion. They love to see their priests or pastors wearing the vestments of their calling... or their robes. The sound of the pipe organ playing the lofty hymns of the church... and the performance of various rites and rituals each week brings a comfort to their heart and soul that they won't find elsewhere.

But there are others who prefer their “worship” to be at the other extreme. Services that are more in line with a rock concert or music festival. Where a band plays contemporary christian music... loudly... while a worship leader or worship team leads the congregation in the singing. There might be lights flashing all over the place... rising smoke... and there could even be people with flags or banners... dancing up and down the aisles.

Most churches though... fall somewhere in between these two extremes. But regardless of the form or fashion of the services... in order to truly be called worship... there are certain demands... or elements... that have to be present if the worship is to be according to Christ's command that... Joh 4:23   ...true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Now... as I've said before... “in spirit and truth” means that worship must be from the “inner being”, or from the “heart”... and it must also be in accordance with the truth... or the “Word of God”.

So... one of the elements that would be included in “heart-felt” worship is an attitude of thanksgiving for the goodness of God... which He displays toward us each and every day. You know, we slip up all the time... yet He doesn't pounce on us in judgment... does He? Of course not... but with grace He leads us into repentance and restoration.

Heart-felt worship will also include a sense of our own spiritual need... and the knowledge that only God can fulfill that need. And because He has fulfilled our needs through His Son... our worship will also include an attitude of indebtedness. In other words... we owe Christ everything... because He loved us and gave Himself for us. That it's through His death that we have any hope... and it's through His Spirit that we have any strength.

Thanksgiving... Spiritual need... Indebtedness... All of these attitudes have to meet and mingle together within our worship... if it's to be considered true worship. And if they aren't included... then the person who comes to church will more-than-likely leave the church no better than they came.

But there's another attitude that's also included in worship that's just as important as all the others... but it's most often ignored... because of the demands that it places upon us. This other attitude is “self-denial” or “self-sacrifice”.

Mar 8:34  Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, "If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.

Now most of us... when we think of worship... we think of praise. And we all know that praise is an important part of worship. We like praise. It's fun. It's easy to do. It flows naturally out of our gratefulness toward God, for all He's done for us. But its also easy for us to become so locked in praise, that we forget that worship also calls for self-denial.

You see... there's joy in worship... but there's also duty. And our duty in worship can be seen...


I. In Our Offering

Psa 96:8  ...bring an offering and enter His courts.

Exo 23:15  ...No one is to appear before Me empty-handed.

Worship... from the very beginning of time... has always included some sort of financial offering... Whether it be in the form of animal sacrifices... food or baked goods... or actual money... everyone brought something and no one came with nothing.

No Jew would ever come to worship empty-handed. Giving of his means was simply a natural part of his devotions. Within the Temple was an area that was called the “treasury”... and around the treasury were 13 boxes boxes... 4 of which were for the free-will offerings of the people.

And it was here, that Jesus... Mar 12:41-44  Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums.  [42]  And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.  [43]  Summoning His disciples, He said to them, "I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury.   [44]   For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed—all she had to live on."

You see... it didn't matter whether someone had a lot of money... or a little... everyone gave. It was simply the natural thing to do. And though He didn't condemn or make light of those who were rich and gave a lot... He did make special mention of the woman who gave sacrificially. She gave until it hurt. She actually had to deny herself something in order to give anything to the Lord.

And from the earliest of times... it has been felt by spiritual men that true offerings should touch on self-denial. For example... King David knew that when making an offering to God... it should come at personal expense...

2Sa 24:24  The king answered Araunah, "No, I insist on buying it from you for a price, for I will not offer to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

And then when Zacchaeus came into contact with Christ... we hear him cry out... Luk 19:8  ..."Look, I'll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I'll pay back four times as much!"

You see... he had always given according to the Jewish custom... in the Jewish way... Whenever he entered the Temple, he never came empty-handed. But when he came face-to-face with Jesus... he couldn't give enough!

This also puts me in remembrance of the children of Israel... while in the wilderness... they kept giving and giving and giving until Moses had to actually order them to stop!

Exo 36:4-7  Then all the craftsmen who were doing all the work for the sanctuary came one by one from the work they were doing  [5]  and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the construction of the work the LORD commanded to be done."  [6]  After Moses gave an order, they sent a proclamation throughout the camp: "Let no man or woman make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." So the people stopped.  [7]  The materials were sufficient for them to do all the work. There was more than enough.

And this ancient spirit of worship through giving has passed through Judaism into the Church. But now... it's been deepened and intensified by the addition of Christ's sacrificial death for our sins... and our desire to further His ministry through our giving...

2Co 9:6-7  Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.  [7]  Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.

So when it comes to our duty of giving... I think from time to time, it'd be a good idea that we ask ourselves... “Have I been giving to the point of sacrifice?”, “Have I ever denied myself anything that I might bring an offering to the Lord?”

Our self-denial in worship can be seen in our offerings... but it will also be evidenced...

II. In Our Heart

Psa 51:16-17  You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering.  [17]  The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.

As men became more spiritually minded... the thought of self-denial deepened. It simply wasn't enough to worship God with an offering in hand anymore. It slowly began to dawn upon the Jews that the truest form of offering came from the heart.

Think about David. He was a man who had been trained in ritual worship... and from his earliest years... you can be sure that he never entered the Tabernacle empty-handed. His worship would cost him something. The God he found while shepherding his flock wasn't a God to be worshipped cheaply.

But after his rise to kingship... and then his fall... his sorrow for his sin against God brought him to the realization that the blood of bulls and goats just wouldn't be enough. No outward sign would make him a true worshipper again...

That would come from the inside... from a broken spirit... and a broken and contrite heart. In other words... He had to give himself... deny his lusts... lay aside his pride... and be repentant... or all his worship would mean nothing.

He may have known from the first that worship meant denial... but in his trials... it was those thoughts of denial that deepened. He could be the possessor of great wealth... and he could give it all to the Lord... but it would mean nothing if his heart wasn't penitent and humble.

And this was a great truth for him to grasp... and it has helped to enrich worship throughout the ages... where it passed from the old covenant into the new covenant... and into the gatherings of its saints where we see self-denial also...


III. In Our Sacrifice

Listen to the words of David's greater Son... Jesus... as he spoke in the Sermon of the Mount about bringing offerings to the altar... Mat 5:23-24   So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you,   [24]   leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

He's talking about our attitude in worship... and what attitudes are necessary if we're to worship God in spirit and in truth. He doesn't tell us about giving... because that's a given... He's taking that for granted because no one comes to the Lord with empty hands.

But He does point out that behind every gift... there should be self-denial of the heart. You see... it's far easier to give up a quarter than a quarrel... isn't it! It's easier to lay down a generous offering than to lay down a long-standing grudge.

And Jesus is showing us that if worship is to be acceptable... the worshiper has to lay aside his pride and become as humble as a child. We need to clear our hearts and our thoughts of anything that would hinder our worship. Any resentment or anger that we harbor in our hearts... will be like a wall between us and the Lord.

And giving that up... or tearing down that wall... isn't an easy thing to do...is it! It goes contrary to the natural man who would rather bask in anger and unforgiveness... than in patience and self-sacrifice.

But true worship isn't meant to be easy. It's hard. It's not just a comfortable hour or so on a Sunday morning... singing beautiful songs of praise... and listening to a sermon preached. It's an attitude of the heart and soul that demands self-denial if it's to be appropriate.

Jesus has placed a demand upon our soul... and it's a call to sacrifice and cross-bearing... because the road to church is like the road to heaven... it lies in the shadow of the cross.

And our self-denial in worship then can also be found in the regular attendance...


IV. In Our Church

Heb 10:25  not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

I'd be willing to bet that just about every person in here today can easily see an element of self-denial in coming to church... week after week. Do you remember what I said at the beginning about the worship attitude of self-denial being most often ignored... because of the demands that it places upon us?

Well... one of those self-sacrifice demands that is most often ignored is in the weekly gatherings of the saints. There was a time when it was frowned upon... or a person would lose their good name if he seldom went to church... but those days are long gone.

These days... many believers are just simply too tired at the end of a hard week... and the Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest... right? Or maybe... we're just not feeling too good... or it looks like it might rain... or, you know what... I can get more out of worship on the golf course than I can in the sanctuary...

But whatever the excuse is... it demonstrates that our natural inclination is not towards church... and that a denial of self is needed if we are to be in the sanctuary every Sunday.

And that very self-denial that's required to do this, is not only good for man... it's pleasing to God. The best of all beginnings to the week... can be found when we take our desire for ease... and crush it a little...

When we do on Sunday what is our Christian duty... we are bringing our will into subjection... and this is a better beginning for the week than listening to the finest sermon being preached on TV from our easy chair.

Luk 4:16  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day...

Did you ever think about that? His custom was to be in church on the sabbath. He is the Son of God... and heaven is His home... and yet His custom was to go to church.

He never said that He didn't need to go... that He could have fellowship with His Father anywhere. He never used the excuse that there were simply too many hypocrites. No... His custom was to be in the Temple... or the Synagogue... on the sabbath.

And this should be our custom also. Not only that we deny ourselves and make a habit of worshiping Him regularly in the church... but also that we deny ourselves in our offerings... and our hearts... and our sacrifices.

All of these are included in His command that we take up our cross... deny ourselves... and follow Him.

He has done so much for us. How can we not desire to give Him our sincere worship and our complete allegiance? I mean... His love toward us was so great that even when we were His enemies... he gave Himself for us.

Would you do that? Would you willingly give your life for someone who hates you? Well... that's exactly what He did.

Rom 5:10  For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

So we have a decision to make. Continue doing things the way we always have... sort of haphazardly and grudgingly...

Or make a full commitment to the Lord today. To deny ourselves... take up our cross... and follow Him... wherever that might lead..


Invitation

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Forgiveness

Forgiveness
Psa 32:1-2

Psa 32:1-2   How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!  [2]  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

This last Wednesday evening... we started a new series of studies called “The Disciples Path... The Journey”. It's a new intentional discipleship program that's put out by Lifeway. It begins with the very basics of Christian doctrine and then builds upon those foundations... brick upon brick... with the end goal of growing disciples into maturity of their faith and understanding.

So... our class began with a session that asked, “Who Is Jesus?”... and it covered the biblical truth that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. He isn't 50/50 God and man... or 60/40... or 80/20... or any other combination. He was and is... 100% God and 100% man, both, and at the same time.

And why is this important? Well... by-passing a lot of the theological jargon and reasoning... it boils down to God's plan for the forgiveness of sinful man. You see... after the Fall... sin passed from Adam to all of his seed. So, every person ever born from the very beginning... was born dead in their trespasses and sins... because of the sin of Adam.

But God... from the foundation of time had established His plan for the salvation of man and the forgiveness of sins. That plan was that in the fullness of time... the Son, would come as a man... live a sinless life... and then He'd lay down that sinless, perfect life as the payment (or an atonement) for the sins of those who believed.

But... prior to that happening... from the time of Adam to the Incarnation of the Son of God... He told us and showed us that this was coming through the prophets... and the law... and the sacrificial system. In other words... for millennia... God has shown mankind through types and symbols, what His intentions were.

But the problem with types and symbols is that because they aren't the “real deal”... they're inadequate. The sinfulness of man is so complete... that the law and the blood of animals... is totally insufficient to save us.

Heb 10:1,4  For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.  [4]  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

The Son had to become 100% man in order to save sinful man. Man sinned... so all men became sinners. Sinful man could never save himself. God then, became a man born of the Holy Spirit, not man... so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He would be... as John the Baptist said... that spotless... Joh 1:29b  ...Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

And as that perfect sacrifice... all those who believe on Him... are forgiven of their sins. Col 1:14  In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

This is the gospel message. That through faith in Jesus, we can have the forgiveness of all of our sins. It doesn't matter how great or how small they are... they can and will be removed from you forever...

The Bible tells us that it's... Psa 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Now think about that for a moment. “As far as the east is from the west...” There's four directions right? (North, South, East, West) But he doesn't write that our sins are removed as far as the north is from the south... but as far as the east is from the west!

Anything that keeps heading north... will eventually head south... and whatever heads south will eventually head north. However... whatever keeps going east, will always go east. And whatever goes west... will always go west.

In other words... they will never meet... They will never return to you. That's how far away your sins are removed from you when you believe in Jesus and give your life to Him! To borrow a phrase from Buzz Lightyear... “To infinity and beyond!”

That's how much God forgives our sins. He's done His part. He's done the heavy lifting here... but we also have a part to play. You see... God has forgiven us when we trust in His Son... He's done that and it's ours. Nothing can take it away from us.

But there are some things that can keep us from fully realizing that forgiveness in this life. There are some things which can hinder our Christian growth and prevent our coming into maturity of faith...

Things such as, not...


I. Forgiving Ourselves

Now... the truth is that the Bible simply doesn't say anything about forgiving ourselves. It clearly teaches us that we're to forgive others... and that God forgives us... but forgiving ourselves... just isn't there.

This, however... doesn't mean that there's no value in the idea. And please understand that when I speak of “forgiving ourselves”... in no way am I trying to “belittle” our sins or to “make light” of our crimes against God and man. Because folks... our sins are so great that we all deserve death.

But through our faith in Christ... God has forgiven our sins. I can understand how we might struggle with our own forgiveness for a time... because in a very real sense... anyone who has no struggle with this... hasn't really seen how horrible their sins truly are.

But... forgiving ourselves... or moving beyond our past... though never easy... is necessary for us to grow in Christ and live fruitful and godly lives. But the sad fact is that there are many people who simply can't... or won't move on.

Maybe they don't want to move past their former sins... which in itself is sinful rebellion... because they've been forgiven. If you don't want to move past your former sins... then you really don't want to be forgiven, do you?

Or maybe they think that their sin is too heinous for God to truly forgive. But this is like saying that their particular wickedness is just too big for God to handle.

The Bible though, teaches us that if we truly repent of our sins and confess them to the Father... He will forgive us. 1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Forgive us our sins”... “cleanse us from all unrighteousness...” Not just some of them... all of them! (Washing dishes illustration) But if we don't accept Him at His word in this... then can we say that we've truly believed in Him?

Anne Graham Lotz tells a true story that so graphically illustrates God's forgiveness that I have to share it with you.

There was a woman that she used to visit in prison from time to time, who had been convicted of multiple murders and was going to be executed within a few hours of their last visit.

And this woman was struggling with the assurance of her salvation which she had claimed by faith six years earlier. And on the very night that she would be stepping into eternity... she was desperate for reassurance of her own forgiveness by God.

So, Anne asked her if she had ever seen the ocean. The woman nodded, “yes”. Then she asked her if she had ever walked along the shore and seen the little holes that the ghost crabs left behind when they darted in and out of the sand. Again she nodded, “yes”.

Then she asked her if she had ever seen the larger holes left by children and adults, playing in the sand. With a puzzled look, she again nodded, “yes”. Then Anne asked her if she had ever seen the much larger holes and ditches created by the machines dredging a channel or burying pipelines on the beach. She again acknowledged, “yes”.

Anne then leaned toward her and asked her, “Velma... when the tide comes in... what happens to those holes?”

Folks... when the tide comes in... all the holes are covered equally by the water. God's forgiveness is like the tide that washes over all the “holes” of your sins and covers them equally... It doesn't matter how great your sins are... or how small... they're all washed away and eliminated by the tidal waves of God's forgiveness.

Now... when we trust in Christ, God forgives us. When we come to the full realization of that forgiveness... then we need to move past ourselves toward...


II. Forgiving Others (Those who have hurt or offended us)

Mar 11:25-26   "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.   [26]  [ "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions." ]

The first thing I want to point out here is that there's a difference between the forgiveness that God extends to us... and the forgiveness that we are to give to those who've offended us. For us to receive God's forgiveness... it's required of us to repent. But God tells us that we are to forgive freely.

You see... God is responsible for the moral governance of His creatures... while we aren't. He set the rules... and He judges according to His holiness and perfect righteousness. On the other hand... any judgment we would pass would be tainted by our own sinfulness.

Another point is that God's forgiveness is with an eye toward the eternal salvation of people... while the forgiveness we are to give, is with ourselves in mind... Mar 11:25b   ...that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.

The person that we extend forgiveness to may not even be aware that they've done anything that offended us. But because we are offended... they've been allowed... basically... to live “rent free” in our heads... and we've allowed them to take control of our thoughts... when only Christ should have that place.

I mean... think of a time when someone did something that hurt your feelings... or gave you some sort of offense. Do you remember how that situation played over and over in your mind? Do you remember how difficult it was to get to sleep that night... because you just couldn't quit thinking about it?

It's kinda like that song that keeps playing in your mind... over, and over, and over, and over again. You just can't get rid of it. That recently happened with Terri and I with the new Hawaii Five-O theme song. It drove us nuts trying to get it to stop.

In a very real sense... the forgiveness that we are to extend to someone else... is more for our own good than it is for theirs. Because an unforgiving and resentful heart is a barrier between us and the Lord.

Mat 6:14-15   "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.   [15]   "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

When we think of forgiving others in relation to our own forgiveness... it really makes the whole process a lot easier for us to do. You see... I know how black my sins were. When I remember what I've been forgiven of... it makes it easier for me to forgive others.

Thinking about how... Psa 40:2  He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock... also helps me in...


III. Forgiving Enemies (Those who hate us...or those we hate)

Pro 25:21-22  If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:  [22]  For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

You know... it's one thing to be able to forgive someone you know, who's offended you in some way. Because many times this will be a friend, or relative... or someone you do business with... an acquaintance maybe...

But it's an entirely different thing to forgive an enemy. That designation alone... enemy... implies an anger or other emotions that go way beyond simple annoyance or hurt feelings... and it delves into the area of hatred.

I mean... look at vs 22 again... That whole verse seems to tell us that an incentive for being kind and forgiving to our enemies... is so that we can bring some sort of harm on them! We'll be heaping “coals of fire” on them!

It's kind of like praying for our enemies... that God would bless them... with a brick... up side their head! But this would be contrary to Christian charity... wouldn't it?

But using the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture... I found that if we look elsewhere for that phrase... “coals of fire”... we find something similar to it in Lev 16:12... where it describes the high priest on the Day of Atonement... taking his censer... filling it with “coals of fire...” and then putting incense on the coals so they'd burn and become a sweet-smelling savor to the Lord.

So... instead of desiring to do our enemies harm... maybe we should look at this as our hope that the first emotion that our enemy might have when we do good to them... be a burning shame... and that, that shame will do its work and cause their heart to burn toward God in repentance... which will rise up as a sweet smelling savor to God. Maybe that's how we should look at this.

This, then is how we can... Rom 12:21  ...overcome evil with good. By doing good to our enemies... in hopes that it will bring them to repentance... and ultimately... their own salvation.

The Bible also tells us that we should show a loving concern for our enemy's property by caring for it when they aren't around... or when they need assistance with it. In Exodus, we read... Exo 23:4-5  “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.  [5]  If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

If you see someone breaking into, or causing harm to your enemies house... you should call the police and then give testimony to it. If someone you dislike is being mistreated.. then get involved in some way that will stop it.

If your enemy has gone through an ice storm and needs help with heat, showers, water, food or tree removal... Well... I'll let you fill in those blanks.

In a very real sense... the measure of your Christianity will be seen in how you treat the people you don't like. Mat 5:46-47   For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?   [47]   And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

And right before He said that... He said... Mat 5:44-45a   But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,   [45]   so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven...

Love your enemies... not simply tolerate them. Love them... and pray for them. You know... it's difficult to maintain hatred toward someone you're actively and sincerely praying for. And if you truly believe that God answers your prayers... then why wouldn't you pray for them?

They are... after all... in the image of God, just like you. God causes the sun to shine on them... and the rain to fall on them... just like you. Forgiving others... and especially your enemies... and being kind to them and praying for them just may be all it takes to bring them to Christ.

And isn't that what we're all about? If it isn't... then we've got another problem... Paraphrasing something Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you have no desire to see the lost saved... then you aren't saved yourself.”

Jesus died for all of those who would believe. Not just those people that you like. And if God has shown His grace and mercy toward you... to forgive you, and to save you... then it's only right and natural that you should show the same grace and mercy toward others... including those whom you hate.

And when you can do that... through His grace... you'll... Mat 5:45   ...be sons of your Father who is in heaven...

Invitation