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Archive for the tag “Easter Message”

Re-imaging Worship

Several years ago, my Pastor had a vision for the future of the Church. He believed the Church would once again be as it was in the beginning – small gatherings in homes; studying scripture, singing praises and then eating together – sharing life together. Soon after the vision, he began a teaching program called Solutionary – to help the membership (well, those who signed up for the classes) learn how to lead a house church. Through the years since, the vision has morphed into missional communities – small groups meeting together regularly, driven by a single purpose to help the community in a specific way.

As I was contemplating this Easter without any of my family – either my biological or my church family – I realized this maybe the first of a new normal. This thought brings some real grief. I have ever been without my family for an Easter celebration. I also realized during this season of forced solitude, I don’t do worship well by myself. I join the online experience, but I can’t seem to get into a worship rhythm with the worship team. This new normal feels wrong somehow. Worship is supposed to be a joint effort, right?

The thought of a house church really appeals to me right now. How about you? But what if we’re months away from another in-person gathering? What if our new normal is small gatherings where we are forced to stay within twenty or less people? What if I have to worship alone for another few months? That’s a lot of what ifs and I can get a bit freaked out if I think about the possibilities too long.

My spirit has felt a bit dry lately even though I have been in God’s Word every day for the last fifteen years or so. I have been in Bible studies. I have going to the church building for our weekly gatherings up until these last couple of weeks. However, something seems to be missing. Maybe I am just going through the motions without really connecting with God. Maybe this forced solitude is to reconnect with my Lord and Savior. Maybe this is a great time to refresh and reconnect and to learn to worship properly without the others around me to influence my worship.

I was reminded a week or so ago from a message by Francis Chan about the worship experience being an act focused on God, not us. He said breaking bread and drinking from the Cup was central to the act of worship in the early Church. It is an act of remembrance of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was broken for us. His blood was poured out for us. Jesus told His disciples to remember Him in this way.

Communion should not be taken lightly. This is an act of reverence for what God did for us. He sent His Son to the cross for us. And Jesus’ death was a harsh by suffocation alone, but He was brutalized by flogging and beaten with sticks before He was nailed to the cross. I don’t think we get how offensive sin is to God. Jesus’ death should be our evidence of what God thinks of sin. If not for Jesus, we would have to suffer an eternal punishment for our sins.

According to God’s Law, sin is removed by a blood sacrifice of a perfect lamb. Jesus’ blood had to spill in order for our guilt of sin to be paid. Jesus said from the cross – it is finished – an accounting term meant “paid in full.” One and done. The Perfect Lamb was sacrificed and our sins were washed away. No more eternal punishment for those who believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins! Praise Jesus for what He has done for us!

However, we have to own up to what we’ve done. It’s our sin debt Jesus paid. We have to agree with Jesus – we did not meet His standard. We are guilty. Every time we take communion we come to the table acknowledging our sins before Jesus. But as we lay those sins down, we pick up the bread give thanks for what He has done for us and drink His offering of the Cup that was poured out for us. We come to the table humbled before Him. We go away from the table cleansed by His blood.

Worship should not be taken lightly either. Francis Chan explained in his message, we are actually joining the angels and the ones in heaven in their worship time. We come together to worship, but we are actually slipping in through the back door to join in the worship of God the Father and worshiping Jesus as Lord. The angels are already doing this worship experience non-stop in heaven.

Revelation 4 and 5 show us their worship experience. One day we will be in that crowd of worshippers. But today, while still here on earth, our voices join theirs. They are already on their knees singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty. We are the backup singers. And our worship should be God-focused. He is worthy. Our hearts should be turned in His direction. Our voices are lifted to the throne room of God.

We may have to do our worship experience a little differently this year, but it is still an act that pleases God. I may be alone in my living room, but I am joining together with the rest of the Body. It’s a spiritual act and one I should not take lightly.

We don’t know how long we’ll be forced to stay in this solitude time. But until God sees fit to release us from this time out, we will have to re-imagine worship – including communion and remembering all Jesus has done for us. It’s a time of humbling ourselves before our great and almighty God; recognizing we have fallen short of His standards, and confessing our sins before Him. Once we come to the place of repentance, I believe God will heal our land and our spiritual Body will be better for it.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28

The Sabbath Rest

According to God’s Word, the Sabbath was to be observed by the Jewish community wherever they lived. No matter the circumstances, there were rules they were commanded to keep on the Sabbath. It was a day of rest. They couldn’t work; they couldn’t walk but a short distance. They were to keep the day holy. God set the time of the Sabbath on the seventh day – evening to evening – not when the sun rises but when it sets to the time of the next setting is a day. God created nothing on the seventh day. He rested and commanded His people to rest as well – to set it aside as a holy day.

God created humanity and everything we would need for food on the sixth day. I think it is quite fitting that Jesus would die on the sixth day; the day humanity was created. It just seems symbolic, doesn’t it? Jesus died for humanity on humanity’s day of creation. It all goes back to the very beginning when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. They believed the lie from God’s enemy over God’s word. The first sin. And Jesus died for that first sin and every sin thereafter.

But the Sabbath rest came at sundown. They wanted Jesus’ body down from the cross before the Sabbath came. They rushed to put Him in the grave before sundown. Then they rested. I bet it really wasn’t much of a rest. The disciples gathered in an upper room mourning the loss of their leader – the one who was supposed to save them from the Romans, or at least that was their expectation. They were disillusioned, disappointed, and grieving such a devastating loss. Yet, it was the Sabbath, a day set aside for holiness – contemplation and rest. I am sure they discussed what took place. I am sure they wondered what’s next – who’s next? They weren’t just up in a room contemplating; they were in that room hiding from the ones who would come after them.

Their sorrow was great; but Peter’s sorrow was greater. He denied Jesus. He let Jesus down or at least, he let himself down. Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus wasn’t disappointed in Peter; he expected Peter to act that way. I would think that Jesus was sad that Peter denied Him, but not disappointed. Jesus also knew who all these things would be resolved. Jesus would return. Jesus would reinstate Peter as the leader of the movement in a few days time. But in the meantime, Peter and the others didn’t know all this would be resolved.

On this Sabbath rest, they saw nothing of the future even though Jesus told them the future. Jesus taught them all that would occur. Jesus said He would rise again. Jesus said that Peter was the rock that would build His church. They had a future, but they couldn’t see it on that Sabbath. They thought it was the end when it was truly the beginning. Something far greater was going to occur in just a few hours time when everything would change again. Victory would rise up. Sin was defeated by the blood of the Lamb.

We look back in ancient times when the Jewish people had to sacrifice a lamb to take away their sins to find that Jesus was that Lamb. God spoke to the prophets to record these things so that we could see the thread throughout history. Passover was an observance of killing the lamb, placing the blood on the doorposts of the house so that the death angel would pass over that house. It was in the land of Egypt before the deliverance of God’s people. The Passover lamb was slaughtered; the blood was shed to cover the people in that house. They didn’t have to fear death, because the blood covered them. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice – the Lamb that was slain to defeat death so that we would no longer fear death. He would save us from our sins through His sacrifice and His blood offering.

The Bible is full of threads that Jesus will one day fulfill completely. He is the Word of God come to life. In Him all things will be complete. God said it. We are to believe it. And Jesus will bring it to completion because He always fulfills what He started. It is done when He says it’s done. Today is the day we contemplate all that Jesus has done and will do.

This is the day set aside for holiness and the anticipation of things to come. Victory has been won. The blood of the Lamb says so. It is finished; rise up in victory and praise the Lord! We might not see everything right now. Like the disciples, we are still wondering what will happen next; but we haven’t seen the end yet. It’s still only the beginning of greater things to come!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14

The Championship Team

Last week was an anniversary that I had completely forgotten this year. One of my college friends posted a picture of a plaque she received on the 20th anniversary of NAIA National Championship won by our women’s basketball team. She was the point guard, and I was the manager of the team. We had different roles on the team, but we got to experience the same event. It was an exciting year in my life.

We were the Cinderella team that won the title. If you had asked any of us just a couple years before that championship year if we would be in a national title game, we would have thought you were delusional. I joined the team my sophomore year (it was also the coach’s first year as well). We only won five games that year. It was a transitional or building year. The next year we did better. Our coach had recruited well.

We were a much different team with the new recruits. However, it wasn’t really about the quality of the players. We had chemistry and functioned well. There was a unity on the team that was remarkable. By the third year, we were almost unstoppable. We did lose five games that year. I don’t remember too much about the losses except for one we had on the road in New Orleans. It was a Christmas break trip. We faced a scrappy team that played more “street ball” style than “play book” style. We lost by about a dozen points.

The reason I remember this team over the others was because we faced them again in one of the playoff games before the title game. When we faced them the second time, we knew their game plan. Our coach had counter moves to thwart their play. We ended up winning by about 18 points. That last week of our season was completely March Madness!

My friend’s plaque reminded me about that time in the past, but I heard a message about unity that brought to mind something deeper. The message spoke about Jesus bringing unity through His life and death. Before Jesus died on the cross, He recruited a bunch of rugged men who were diverse in their backgrounds. The team He formed had fishermen to tradesmen. There were two though who were extreme in their differences: a Zealot and a Tax Collector. Who in the world could bring unity to this bunch? The Tax Collector (Matthew) would have thrown the others into a tizzy. Matthew was a hated man among the Jews.

Yet, Jesus saw the diversity and called it good (I assume). The disciples each had different gifts and different roles. Judas Iscariot was the treasurer of the group; not Matthew. Judas was trusted with the money, even though he shouldn’t have been since he regularly “helped” himself to the funds. Matthew would have been trusted with nothing since everyone knew Tax Collectors regularly “helped” themselves to the taxes paid by the citizens of the country. But Jesus taught them for three years how to live together and actually love one another (in the end).

In the beginning, Jesus knew who would betray Him before He called Judas Iscariot. Peter, one of the twelve, had something gnawing in his gut about forgiving someone. He asked Jesus how many times someone should be forgiven. The answer: seventy times seven or don’t keep score! Maybe Peter had problems with Matthew or maybe the “loved one” John. But the team had problems; they were too unified in the beginning. By the time Jesus died, everything changed then. In His teaching, Jesus was adamant about loving one another. He instructed them over and over this is how others will know they were part of Jesus’ team.

Just as my college team was unified for a greater purpose, we as followers of Jesus are to be unified as the Body of Christ. There should be no division in the Body of Christ. We stand on the foundation of Jesus and work together as a Body with one Head – Jesus – who directs us in the mission. We all have different roles but the same purpose – to proclaim the Good News of Jesus! Others will know us by our love for one another – it was a commandment by Jesus!

Without the unification of Jesus, the disciples would not have brought the message beyond the borders of Israel. They would have scattered without getting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But because the disciples were true to Jesus, we are here today proclaiming the same message that was given 2000+ years ago. We don’t get national championship rings with the victory we are given in Christ; we get a crown that lasts for eternity! Now that’s something to remember and really celebrate! Let’s get in the game and finish well for the winning team!

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:15-16

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