Wasting time in church

“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  I hate your….appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me….  Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.”  (Isaiah 1)

Often I pray at the beginning of a sermon, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss my opportunity!”

Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.

We do a lot of that in church, I fear.

We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:

–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.

–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.

–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful.  Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.

–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.

Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

Such worshipers are wasting their time.

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Greater is He who is in you. Therefore….

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”  I John 4:4

I was a 20-year-old college sophomore and still 15 months shy of receiving a call into the ministry when our church selected me as “pastor” for the annual Youth Week. Basically, that meant I was to preach a sermon that Sunday night. Yikes.  That was excitingly scary.

The text was this verse. I’ve never forgotten it, primarily because I never quite got the significance of its meaning.  It sounded wonderful and encouraging, even motivating. But what little I was able to glean from its riches is thankfully gone and erased from the minds and memories of those present that night in the Spring of 1960.

I love the promise.  “Greater is He who is in you than the one in the world.”

The Lord is with you, He is in you, and He is for you.  Scripture declares each one in no uncertain terms..  Need some verses for those?

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Expectations all out of kilter

The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–

–little of the Lord

–too much of the church

–and nothing of ourselves

And because we expect LITTLE FROM THE LORD, we are powerless, prayerless, weak, ineffective, and defeated.

Because we expect TOO MUCH FROM THE CHURCH we are frustrated, demanding, self-centered, and end up church-hopping or pastor-terminating.

Because we expect NOTHING FROM OURSELVES, we are lazy and spoiled, passive and shallow, and get offended when asked to do anything outside our comfort zone.

Luke 7:18-35 deals with expectations in three areas: What we expect of Jesus, what we expect of the preacher, and what we expect of ourselves.

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Sixteen lies Satan feeds us about worship

“God is Spirit. And they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him all the earth” (Psalm 96:9).

If worship is powerful–that is, if kneeling before Almighty God in humility and rising to praise Him in gratitude and going forth to obey Him in faithfulness–if this has power in the world to change lives and redirect society, then the enemy will be working to put a stop to it.

Count on that.

If God uses our worship to transform sinners, starting with us, then the enemy will do all in his power to neutralize it.

So–how is your worship these days?

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Choosing: The precious, the load-bearing, the unseen

(My commencement message to the 2016 graduating class of William Carey University. Delivered Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016.)

Dr. Larry Kennedy was President of this institution for the last decade of his life.  In the 1960s, Larry and I were seminary classmates, and then we pastored several churches in Mississippi near one another.  He told me this story.

“My son Steve was 7 years old when he went to his first big-church wedding. He sat in the sanctuary beside his mother and watched as the door in front opened and his dad walked out and took his place.  Behind him came six or seven good-looking young men dressed in tuxedos. Spread across the front of the church, they were a handsome lot.  The bridesmaids entered and took their places.  Finally, everyone stood as the bride entered on the arm of her father and moved slowly down the aisle.  At this point, Steve tugged on his mother’s arm.

“Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry?  Or is she going to decide when she gets down there?”

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What they’re singing in Heaven, and what that means for us now

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood….” (Revelation 5:9).

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing….” (Revelation 5:12).

“And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).

Up in Heaven, they’re singing about Jesus.

And the Father, far from being displeased, threatened, or jealous, loves it.

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I said, “I’m so unworthy.” And He said….

“That’s not in question.”

“That’s not the issue here.”  This is not about deserving.

“You are unworthy and will always be unworthy.”

“Get past this.”

“It’s all about grace.”

“Now, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing.”

It was sometime in the early hours past midnight, and I was hoping to get back to sleep. Sometime in that vague area that blends wakefulness and sleep, the Lord and I were having this conversation about my burdens and His sufficiency.  That’s when I pulled out the unworthy card and began playing it, as I am wont to do.

“Ah, Lord.  I am so unworthy.  I am not righteous enough.  Not holy enough. Much too carnal.  Weak beyond description.  Flawed and marred and inept. I am unworthy.”

When He answered, I knew by long experience to get out of bed and write down what He said.

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How to liven up a dull worship service

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….” (Isaiah 6:1)

Have the Lord show up, and your worship will come alive like never before.

Ask Isaiah.  Ask the two Emaus-road disciples (Luke 24).  Ask the disciples who had retreated into the safety of the Upper Room when suddenly the risen Christ appeared (John 20:19ff).

Isaiah left the temple that day with a new calling upon his life.  The two disciples reversed their paths and rushed back to the city to tell everyone that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them.  As for the disciples, soon they removed the locks from the door of the Upper Room and lived in the streets and countryside–not to say the jails–as they told the world of Jesus.

A few moments in HIs presence will do that to a fellow.

No one is ever bored in the Lord’s presence.  No one has ever fallen asleep under His voice. No one emerges unchanged.

If Jesus is present, something is going to happen.

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10 things about worship on a Sunday morning

I’m preaching on worship today at a church in Southwest Mississippi. A few weeks ago when the pastor asked for my subject, I quickly said “Worship is a verb” for a title of the message.  Hardly without a thought.  This is a big deal with me, I thought. God is working on this in me.  I’ve preached and written on it before.  I know some basic texts and have one huge burden on the subject, namely, that most Christians I know have it backward and think worship is all about “me.”  Then, as often happens, when I began preparing and praying for the message, I realized just how little I actually know on the subject.  God help me. 

1) God wants His children to worship.  In fact, He wants “everything, everywhere” to worship Him.

In Revelation, at the climax of all history, the praise chorus will include “every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them” (Revelation 5:13).  No wonder Scripture says “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

I wouldn’t be surprised if finally “the rocks cry out” (Luke 19:40).

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Why Heaven requires new songs

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).

John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.

At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.  Who was and is and is to come!”

This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom.  We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).

Imagine that. An endless song.

Either seraphim are amazing singers or the Lord’s patience with the same song over and over knows no limits.

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