Day 1- Thanksgiving: What’s the difference

I’m writing this to you, to help you maximize your Thanksgiving holiday as a family. You could choose to do this from Wednesday-Thursday, Thursday-Friday, in one sitting, or not at all. Whatever you choose, please meet with God over this Thanksgiving and I would recommend doing this with me.
 
 
 
Scripture Reading:
Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
 

Psalm 100:4-5 ESV

Know that the Lord, He is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good;his steadfast love endures forever,and his faithfulness to all generations.
 
This holiday season you will see many requests and online appeals to “be thankful”, hoping to dial down the noise of busy lives and vitriolic discourse that has been plaguing our society. That is good, we could definitely use that. However, while we will hear some uplifting messages, have a more peaceful sounding season overall, and all behave suitably Christmassy (and less Grinchy), it all grossly falls short of what a grateful believer in Jesus can really step into concerning their life with God. God is calling us to an awareness of His work in our lives. Mere platitudes and generic good thoughts don’t cut it. Even attending church services and christian deeds won’t accomplish it. He is calling believers in Jesus to a live a life with the constant awareness of Him; knowing Him and of His salvation, not just our awareness that we have “much to be thankful for” in some generic sense.
 
Before we go any further, I need to draw a clearer distinction between what is generally understood as “thanksgiving” and what the Bible calls “thanksgiving”. Hopefully, you will see what I mean in a second. When we ask people around the table “What are you thankful for?”, we get responses like “’I’m thankful for family” or “I’m thankful for good health”. Most, if not all of us, smile and move on to the next person. What we heard was really good! The person just expressed that they are aware of something they have. However,  if you pay close attention, we are in a culture that promotes an awareness of what we have without an acknowledgement of a source. So, is a person wrong when they say things like that? Absolutely not! Awareness of what we have is a great place to start. We have just not been trained to be intentional or directional with our thanks in light of this awareness. When I jokingly summarize this state, I often reference the fact that if you ask some kids in cities where cheese comes from, they will say “Walmart” without skipping a beat. This kind of thinking is indicative of a condition that is bigger than we imagine and we are all affected by it. In daily life, there is almost no necessity to attribute a clear source to what we have, we just assume that we have it when we want it.. For some this is an intentional exclusion, because attributing credit elsewhere means they are less of a “self-made man/woman” in their own eyes. Now, most of us don’t see life like that, and we truly are thankful for those around us who make us better, and we’re thankful for the things we enjoy through other people’s work. But still, we find ourselves throwing out the “walmart” answer when it comes to seeing and acknowledging the true source of the little and big things we have. To help myself and my family grow in this area, I use a simple fill-in-the-blank statement, that helps us with intention and direction. This practice might help you as well
 
I AM THANKFUL TO________ FOR _________.
“I am thankful for family”
now becomes
“I’m thankful to God for His faithfulness to our family”
That directs our thanks to God and acknowledges His faithfulness. When I think through that, I’m reminded of all the things He brought me through. Man!<mind blown> Am I thankful for my family story in God or what?!
(OR)
“I am thankful to you (Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa), for raising us a family”.
Giving honor where it is due on earth as well is a principle that helps us build strong relationships on trust. We grow the people around us into confident givers of the little or much that they have from God.
 
Both intention and direction matter. A well directed statement, made just for the sake of saying it, is useless. I’m just parroting something people expect. In the same way, a well intention-ed statement with no direction (where most of us are) keeps us thinking good thoughts, but honor and thanks is never given where it is due.  But, when direction and intention are married, we begin to mean what we say, because we’re actually chewing on what we’re saying before we say it. We become less callous and self centered and more thoughtful and openly others-centered.
 
Can you practice this with me today? If you are with family, without going into as much detail, you can help them be intentional and directed in their thanksgiving by giving each one this simple fill-in-the-blank statement cue.
I AM THANKFUL TO________ FOR _________.
 
Let’s be thankful people! Happy Thanksgiving!

Read more...

Day 2 – Thanksgiving: Pathways in Worship

In the previous segment we looked at the distinction between generic thanksgiving and deliberate thanksgiving. Hopefully, we’ve found it helpful to be more deliberate about the things we say. Today, let’s look at why thanksgiving to God is so important in the life of every believer. We will unpack why thanksgiving is the foundation of christian worship.
 
 
 
 
 
Scripture Reading
Psalm 100:3-4 (ESV)

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Psalm 50: 23 (ESV)
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalm 50:23 Paraphrased (TPT)
The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of my grace, always choosing to walk with me in what is right. This is the sacrifice I desire from you. If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”
 
Thanksgiving is important because its the foundation of what we call ‘worship’. It can seem synonymous, but there is a depth that might be useful to unpack a little right here. In the Bible, God talks about ‘thanks’ as the doorway into His presence. Without getting too involved it is worth mentioning that when Israel built the tabernacle in the wilderness during their exodus, God was very specific about the approach and pathway to meeting with Him. While we are not under the obligations and practices of the law handed to them, we must see that the new covenant God made in Jesus, through His work on the cross, fulfilled the total requirements of the law and ushered in the complete reality of God’s manifest presence which the Old Testament pointed toward. Many people get caught up trying to copy what the Old Testament practices were, forgetting that these things pale in comparison to the reality that is found in Jesus. It was pointing to the reality of a guaranteed meeting with God face-to-face; the promise for everyone who comes through Jesus. So, with that context, here’s the bullet-point version of what God taught Israel about worship.
 

Scripture tells us quite plainly on more than one occasion to ‘enter His gates with thanksgiving’. In simple terms… If you are planning to meet God at his home… ‘thanks’ is the front door! The way into God’s presence is thanksgiving. It sets the context for an encounter with God. Anything done well involves preparation and life teaches us that there is no substitute for good preparation. Thanksgiving gets you into a place of God consciousness.  This is ‘good preparation’ for face to face encounters with the One who made everything and rules over everything.
 
As we ‘count His blessings’ or ‘call to mind’ or ‘forget none of His benefits’, starting with the work of The Cross, we are rehearsing what our God has done. As we do this, we are quickly filled with how amazing our God really is and praise becomes a real thing and  is no longer a dry-mouth-with-fake-words activity. “God is almighty” is not just hearsay, we have actually seen Him do mighty things for us and now we’re better placed to see how He could be mightier than just our experience. Scripture now informs my praise. Soon, a song or tune becomes irrelevant and we discover that praise and worship had little to do with music and everything to do with being wrapped up with God while responding with our whole being; using words, shouts, tears, dance…and maybe even song. I find myself meeting God in worship where it is no longer about me, but Him alone. He gets to show me who He really is. I respond to what He reveals and I am overwhelmed. This, my friends, is how worship works. Do you see how each of the three stages fold into each other? A progression of seeing God in light of where we’re at to seeing Him for who He is alone. I hope you don’t take this and turn it into a formula, but see that God is after something much bigger and grander than we imagined for our encounters with Him.
 
Never ever ever let a song or a thanksgiving table “moment” get in the way of lavish thanks and praise (don’t be intimidated by musical worship or more tuneful/eloquent people near you). Notice, I emphasized the need for us to use our voice. The book of James talks extensively about the power of the tongue. Oh! that we would be people whose mouths are continually filled with thanks and praise (Psalm 34). I hope that we as worshipers are looking at ‘Thanksgiving’ as something more than just a family meal that ends with <burp>! I long for us in the church to move past the trappings of music and songs and come into the place where all we do is return to God and just say “Thank You”; completely unreserved and unashamed. May we be so wrapped up in God and His goodness that looking like a crazy dancing King David (I will be more undignified than this) would be something we want to emulate.
 
When God has our attention in the midst of a life situation, we magnify Him more than we do the situations we are in. Now the truth about what I am facing is dealt with in the context of seeing God. My responses to the great successes or great trials of life are handled much differently than they would be without God being “The Way, The Truth, and Life” for me.
My greatest influencer must always be “God with me”. Just hearing that phrase is no good to me. It does not change who He is, but I have no context for relating to Him in the context of what I am facing. However, when I go right up to Him and say, “Lord, in this circumstance, reveal yourself to me”, He responds with His presence and I find myself  magnifying Him with truth, not just Christianese. This sort of worship is not fake or contrived; it is completely truthful and responds with spiritual realities winning the day.
 
 
Ephesians 1:17-19
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
 
Psalm 27:8
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.
 
Action Point:
So, let us ask God to awaken us to what He has done. May we move past the Christianese responses to life and begin seeing how awesome our God really is, so we can respond with worship that pleases Him. Can we practice setting aside a little time today to enter God’s presence with thanks, continue to praise Him with a psalm  (there are 150 in the Bible) or a attribute of God seen in the Bible, and finally come to a place where God can speak to our heart with something new about Himself that we’ve never seen before. Take a journey in worship today!
 
 

Read more...

Why Church Matters – Part 1

 

Over the years, I have heard many reasons for why people think “church” is no longer relevant, and that going to one is a pointless exercise. Some may even argue that what we see today is unbiblical. I will take the next few posts to slowly unpack some of the common themes and places of confusion we might have as those who’ve grown up in a church or as someone now on the outside dreading the thought of “church”.

Before I address the most common points surrounding this issue, I think it is worth noting that the fundamental roots of this problem is found in the enterprise of church (more so, in my experience, in the Untied States). It has left many wondering if God is even part of the picture in this “experience”, let alone remaining the center of it. One extreme thrives on making an event become “church”. From the welcome to the coffee, the parking lot to the kids ministry, the men’s breakfasts to the women’s luncheons, the conferences to the streamed content, much of church related activity has been hijacked by a pick-and-mix bar of  programming to meet each consumer’s needs. When all that gets extreme, there is not much attention given to inviting those who don’t know Jesus to true encounters with God and diligently training them as followers of Jesus. On the other end of the spectrum, some churches are so intent on preserving “traditional church” (whatever that means to each kind) that it deviates little from a set format and practice regardless of a changing culture and world around them. It often means long meetings with little engagement of the attender, a few chosen ministers who do everything, and everything revolving in the orbit around THE “man of God”. Committees and boards abound and a lot of talking is done. Likewise, in extreme cases, encounters with God are missing and little training and developing of disciples happens.

<Sigh>……..This is where much of society finds themselves at odds with the “church”. Their wariness is founded on an opposition to both these extremes or a fear that every church between those extremes is headed towards one of those extreme ends. This leads many to make a summary statement “I would much rather meet Jesus by myself, and not have to deal with all this”.

With that backdrop, and all the preconceptions that fueled those blanket statements above, you can see how starting a discussion about the relevance of church from scriptural standpoint is quickly drowning as the listener gears up to tell you why your brand of church is tending towards one of those extremes if it is not already there (as they see it). This is why I’m hoping that calling these things out at the outset, gives us an opening to really dial all the preconceptions back so we can see why church matters. My hope is that you will see that much of the reasoning we have for leaving the church is based on snap preconceptions and the misconceptions that result from them. By the end of this series I hope that your particular concern is addressed and you are encouraged to reconsider joining or getting more involved in a Bible believing and practicing church with a passion.

The church is a people, not a person, definitely not a place

The sooner we get to grips with this, the better off our thinking on the subject is. The preconception that “Jesus loves me” equals “I am the church” is one of the biggest falsehoods of our time. While it makes for a good soundbite while sharing the gospel and mobilizing people, it is patently false. Jesus definitely loves the individual and died  and rose for each individual’s personal salvation, but by no means was that the gospel in its fullness. The intent of the gospel message was a reconciling of “people” to God

(Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9). Many people. From every tribe, language and nation (Revelation 5:9

). The work of salvation and the returning of Christ is focused around a people made ready and not a person and their private online PhD and hotline with Jesus.
The church matters because Jesus started the church, we didn’t. He did this when He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and make more disciples with Holy Spirit leading the work

(Acts 1:4-8, Matthew 28:18-20). When church becomes about me and ‘my’ Jesus, I’ve already veered far from the purpose of salvation in this time period. It is about MANY being saved from sin and all that plagues our world, and you and I (together) have been given the charge to see them reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Seeing disciples made happens in the context of daily life and in community, the alternative is asceticism.  Before you say it, we all know how making isolated religious communities turn out.  So, rather than go there, can we agree that getting together with people from your immediate town or community regularly is a good idea? God could have asked us to run, hide away and be the best online Bible PhD that ever lived, but instead, He wants this gospel of Jesus to be on display right here in the darkness of our cities and communities (Philippians 2:15).

The Church: Disciples that make more disciples

Now, before we move further, let’s just clarify– the church as Jesus described it in very simple prototype terms, is a group of committed disciples of  Jesus making more new disciples by the indwelling and powerful work of the Holy Spirit. If our churches cannot use that simple statement to describe our condition, we are already messing with what “church” is. The word disciple (learner, follower, student, trainee) and the idea of making new ones is central to the mission.

Going to church, being the church, and getting over semantics

So, with the mission in mind, meeting regularly in a common place or building is helpful but by no means a necessary item. It so happens that one of the best coffee places in my town is called “The Commonplace” and whole lot of discipling and following of Jesus happens there with the smell of fresh roasted coffee around. Now, before you say “yeahhh…that’s my kinda church”, remember that we just established that you and your coffee-loving self are not the point of church. So, if the group of disciples that you roll with on a regular basis (read “home church”) happen to meet at a coffee shop during the week, great! The church is meeting! However, God made sure that you and your coffee buddies didn’t get to hold all of God’s manifold grace (

1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:3-6, Ephesians 4:4-

7). He has dispersed this immeasurable grace among believers (with no one being an exception). So, guess what ?! If you believe in Jesus and have committed your life to His service, you have a grace gift that no-one else can supply to God’s church. We might be similar in gifting, but not the same. This is one of the good reasons why local churches meet. This, for most churches happens in one place regularly. I call it a church building. A building where the church meets. Don’t be afraid of buildings, they can be useful and necessary if alternative spaces cannot be found regularly. This is often a practical decision. When you don’t show up, something is actually missing in church whether they have a building or not.

Functioning locally, trans-locally, and globally

We need each person functioning and supplying the part of God’s grace which He has uniquely committed to them. This means the group of Jesus followers I call my “home church” needs what God has placed in me. I don’t get to “go to church”. My local church is missing something if I only show up to receive something. I come ready to be a life-giving expression of Jesus to my brothers and sisters. Something I have in my personal following of Jesus is meant for their growth as disciples of Christ.  When we grasp this, church means something totally different from what we’ve been used to. This is not even limited to my own “home church”. I often love to get together and have coffee buddies from other local churches, just so I get to receive from them and in turn bless another part of God’s big church that I might not get to see on a regular basis. So across my locality (trans-locally) other churches have gifts and expressions of the life of God that I can be thrilled about and cheer on. This must become a vital part of our understanding of church. If all we see as “church” is our brand, denomination, or pastor, we’re missing the big picture.  I also hope you see that being on the same team “The Church of Jesus” does not mean I become Mr Baskin-Robbins and decide to try all 31 flavors each week. I stay committed and accountable to one group/church, so I grow with intent and purpose (More in another post about reasons for this). But, with an attitude that sees  and values the church of Jesus as an ever-growing group of unique people all over the world, every encounter with His church in my town, on vacation, on mission trips, university life, etc… are all opportunities to  receive and bless.

We’ll cover more reasons for why the church matters  in the next post.


Read more...

Prayer and God’s Kingdom


Read more...

See the Lion and the Lamb

As we began considering the power and authority behind the proclamations of truth God has made in Jesus, I found that I have carried around some things that were in total opposition to  Jesus’ work. I had let a natural thinking (power), rationally get me to let go of heavenly promises that are mine by right. I walked around with little lies that I took on good authority simply because it reflected certain things about my current state. The kind of stuff in life that makes you go ” Well, that’s you right there, buddy!! Deal with it”

Jesus is our life. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15). This simple truth is proclaimed over our lives by the One with all the REAL power and authority in all creation. He is the life-giver and sustainer. Let’s consider just that and then turn over to Christ every part that we’ve been cheated into relegating to trash heap of lost causes. Do you see how sinister and quiet our enemy is in his scheming to have us let go of more and more of our birthright in God?

Jesus, the lamb of God, satisfied God the Father fully on our behalf. The only one with all power and authority is no longer our enemy (Romans 4-5). He is on our side. Jesus, The Lion of the tribe of Judah has risen with power and has disarmed every enemy (Revelation 5:5) ; He has been given the name above every other name. All of heaven’s power and authority is now backing the children of God by new birth (Your birthright kicks in here). The church of God who individually and collectively say ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven (in my life, my family, my church, my community, the world)

I’m looking forward to taking more ground in the coming weeks.
God bless you,

Judah

Read more...

The Word is for your mouth

I have found this simple truth to be so transforming for my everyday life. There are days when I just don’t know what to make of my life and the situations surrounding me. Everything feels numb, and I’m definitely not in the mood to “get my praise on”. It’s in precisely moments like these when God calls me to worship. God’s word is always true- FACT! My life hurts sometimes-FACT! I always know exactly what’s going on- LIE! 

When life hits us with a 2X4, we have to be people who are quick to run to God  and find out what He sees and says about our lives rather than just letting our perspective on our life experiences do all the talking. I hope you realize I’m not saying that what we feel is irrelevant, but rather, there is a higher truth which trumps what I think I’m facing right now. The Word is a tool to be used in our mouths, not just something to be agreed with in theory or believed with a blanket “I believe in the Bible” ascent. God says something quite specific regarding our everyday lives. Let us receive that truth in our hearts and proceed to speak that word in our lives. This isn’t a mindless rattling of key verses. This is a heart response which receives God’s Word as final and respond with our “Amen” to what He says, facing the problem at hand with faith God supplies when we receive His word.

So church, let’s use God’s word in the very real life situations we see day after day. When we bring a humble heart to His word; anything our mouths speak as a result will be backed by faith in the One who spoke those words.
See you on Sunday!

Judah

Read more...