Monday, November 7, 2011

What Happens When God Lives Here

I'm reading in the Old Testament this year and LOVE some of the prayers that King Solomon and his dad, King David prayed.  Reading in 2 Chronicles 6 today as Solomon dedicates the Temple to God and I can see that God did indeed give him incredible wisdom.  And I long for Real Life to inspire as the Temple did, not because of the architecture; the gold and dressed stones or the sheer size of the structure but because of God presence in what we're doing. 

Let me give you some background on what is going on so you get the full-effect.  King David stockpiled massive amounts of dressed stone, lumber, gold, silver and bronze for the construction of the Temple.  Then right before he died he gave massive amounts from his personal wealth to the cause.  Then when Solomon began construction he gave even more and the people of Israel contributed as well.  Think of it like, Fort Knox meets the Taj Mahal.  Yea.  Impressive.  Solomon was building a place for God, The God, to dwell so he knew it had to be the best. And now he is dedicating it to God in the presence of all the people of Israel who have come to see and to worship.

But Solomon didn't just dedicate it to God as His residence on earth, he dedicated the people TO God in this place.  And I think, as incredible a moment as this is, I love Solomon's vision and heart for God more than the pomp and circumstance the day required.  Let me quote the part of Solomon's prayer that I am just digging today so you can see what I mean.

"...And don't forget the foreigner who is not a member of your people Israel but has come from a far country because of your reputation-people are going to be attracted here by your great reputation, your wonderworking power-and who come to pray to this Temple.
Listen from your home in heaven and honor the prayers of the foreigner, So that people all over the world will know who you are and what you're like, And live in reverent obedience before you, just as your own people Israel do, So they'll know that you personally make this Temple that I've built what it is."
In the midst of dedicating this great Temple to God Solomon was looking forward to what this place would mean to people who were NOT Israelites.  The foreigners who would come from great distances because of, "Your reputation."  He knew that people around the world would be attracted to Jerusalem, in part because of the magnificence of the structure, but also because a God that would warrant such a great home must indeed be a GREAT GOD!  He even asks that God "listen" and "honor" the prayers of the foreigners so that, "people all over the world will know who You are and what You're like."  And then, because of God's Greatness they would, "live in reverent obedience" before Him, just like God's chosen people.  

But the last line is my favorite... "so they'll know that YOU PERSONALLY MAKE this Temple that I've built what it is."

It's not the brick and mortar, or the fancy band or the preaching or the nursery or restrooms or even the volunteers and people (sorry) that make a church great so that people from around the world would want to come (if it is then it will result in nothing).  It is the very presence of the God of the Universe.  

God, may people be attracted to Real Life because of YOUR reputation, not ours.  May they come here because of YOUR wonder-working power.  May they know who You are and what You're like and may that knowledge change their lives like it has ours.  May the people of Butler County and the whole world know that You personally make this church what it is.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reminder to Parents

Just had a simple reminder today from Deuteronomy 31:9-13 I thought I'd pass on to those of you with children or if you're expecting children some day.

Children believe what we tell them as their parents.  We have the ability, through what we chose to say, to totally destroy their self-image, by being negative.  Or to build them up and encourage them to be the best they can be.  But this also works with our faith.  Moses told the people of Israel just before he died to, "make the children listen so that they will learn to live in holy Awe..."

Have you talked to your children about your faith?  Have you told them how God has worked in your life?  Do you share stories with them in the car or at dinner about how God is working in your life or what you learned about Him in a Bible study or prayer time?  The more comfortable you are in sharing your faith with your children the more they will see faith as a benefit and privilege instead of a boring or dead part of life that could be tossed aside.

If they see God working in your life, they will begin to look for Him working in their lives as well!  Don't assume that they "get" it at church or in Sunday School.  You have the power and the responsibility to instill faith in your children's lives, the earlier the better.

Here's how I have tried to remind myself to be conscious about this issue.  If I am instrumental in leading hundreds, even thousands to faith in Jesus through my ministry and life, yet see my children far from that faith I will have failed as a father and as a pastor.  My first faith responsibility is to MY family, then yours.  I will not trade their souls for any others.

Have you talked with your children about Jesus?  Next time you see a beautiful sunset talk to your kids about the God who spoke that into being.  At the first snow discuss with your children how no two snowflakes are alike and while super tiny, each one is beautifully created and nearly perfectly symmetrical.  God set that plan in motion thousands of years ago.  When God answers a prayer or works a miracle, no matter the size, in your life, let the family be the first to know!

By doing these simple things you will teach your children to live in holy Awe of the creator and lover of their souls.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

There is Hope (Think Napoleon, not Uncle Rico)

I am generally a pretty critical person.  I think that we should pay for our mistakes and not just expect that God will get us out of the situations we get ourselves into.  God is not a genie who will appear and grant a wish every time we get in a tough spot.  I guess I've thought of God more like Uncle Rico, who constantly points out the stupid decisions I've made.  He may offer me a job selling DuPont woven fiber bowls door to door, might even let me drive his van, but he's always gonna make out a little better and I'm always gonna be counting my change on the kitchen table.  That's kind of the God we see in Deuteronomy 29 where Moses is listing the curses that will come on the people if they do not follow God with their whole heart.  It's a depressing chapter and kinda makes we want to throw grapefruits.

Then today I come to chapter 30 and maybe my view of God is not quite accurate.  See, in chapter 30 Moses tells the people what will happen if, while they are serving others and laboring and dying in other countries under the oppression of other nations, they turn back to God with their heart and soul.  He says God will restore EVERYTHING they lost, He'll have compassion and get them out of those nations and bring them back to Jerusalem and make them more numerous than their ancestors!

See I have this view of God sometimes, like He's just watching me suffer because I was the one who messed up and He wants to teach me a lesson.  But if God always let me suffer for the stupid mistakes I've made and the pain I've caused Him and others He would never respond to me again.  But He doesn't do that!  He doesn't let me suffer the full-extent of my own stupid actions.  See, even if I go off on my own and do things my way, if I realize my mistake and come back to Him He is faithful and just and will forgive and save me!  THAT MEANS THEIR'S HOPE!

But look at what else!  God will not only welcome me back into relationship, verse 6 says He will, "cut away the thick calluses on my heart and on my children's hearts, freeing me to love God with my whole heart!"  He not only forgives and welcomes, He actually makes it easier for me to love Him, cutting away all the crap I've let build up.

And the end result is that I am able to "make a new start, listening obediently to God..." (verse 8).

Here's the bottom line.  If you've messed up there is no point at which God ever says, "that's enough, I'm done with him/her."  He not only waits for you to come back to Him, He's watching for the exact moment so He can jump in and save you.  Maybe you've been burned by religion and so have left God.  The reality is that there are lots of religions out there that claim God - but He doesn't claim them.  Don't let what someone else said or did mess up your relationship with the God who loves you and died for you.  And if you're a believer but have made some bad choices, God is there to restore you, if you return to Him with heart and soul.

Do you need a new start?  Are you tired of being so grumpy and irritated and mad at the world because you think it's out to get you?  Turn (or return) to God, my God, He'll not only save you, He'll restore you!  He's full of compassion and love and one of His greatest loves is rescuing those who have messed up and come to Him for help.  So, if you're sitting in your truck and reading this - it's for you.  Open up a little and God will do the rest.  He hears you, knows you and loves you.

Turns out, God is a lot more like Napoleon then Uncle Rico... He's waiting until you realize you can't do it yourself.  That's when the music starts and He dances for you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's Your View of Church?

Has the focus of Church changed over the years.  It seems that church used to be about church.  Now there are social activist churches.  There are Pro-Life churches.  There are churches that take on current political issues.  There are churches that focus on self-help or self-improvement.  There are even sports or activity churches.  There are coffee churches and family churches and singles churches there are even churches that spend their time on the homosexual agenda, either fighting to promote it or to squash it.

I'm not saying that all these things are necessarily bad.  I think the church should have an impact on social, political and personal issues.  But too often these areas the church is supposed to impact end up being the main focus of our gatherings.  I personally know of a church that had a pro-life focus and the preacher actually got up in the pulpit and celebrated the fact that he had been arrested and spent a night in jail during the week.  (I thought we were supposed to obey the law of the land - like as a command from Scripture.  Romans 13:3-5).  In many cases the church no longer influences society as a natural expression of changed lives through the Holy Spirit, but makes a social issue the focus and uses it to teach some truths about God.

In my Bible reading yesterday I came across this passage from 1 Chronicles 29:1 (Great stuff in this chapter about humility; vs 14 and parenting; vs 19).  In this chapter and those leading up to it, King David is preparing to hand the reigns of the kingdom to his son, Solomon.  He's is talking to all Israel about God's decision that Solomon would build the permanent Temple for God, for which David has prepared most of the materials.  But it's in David's presentation about this building that got me thinking about how we view church today.

Here's what David said, "This place (the Temple) is NOT just a place for people to meet each other, but a house for God to meet us."  Profound.  Simple.  Perfect.  This building is not about getting together and catching up with those you haven't seen for six days.  It's not about fundraising or social/political conversations. Those things may happen at church and that's fine, but that is not what church is about.

No, church (not the building, but the gathering of God's people) is about a place for God to meet us.  It's where God's children come together to hear from Him.  To worship Him.  To honor Him as the beginning and the end.  To surrender to Him.  Confess their sins to Him.  To seek accountability so that we might receive more of Him.  To raise the call of holiness and righteousness that can only be found through Him.  It's not about us, but about Him.  So church should be a place where the heart of God is made known.  Where God's commands to love Him and love others are evident by actions.  Where people serve because He served and left us that example.

How would your view of church change if you really saw it the place where God was going to meet YOU?  Would it cause you to prepare for church differently?  Would you be more expectant when you entered?  Would you listen more intently?  Would your attitude be self or others focused?  Tell me how it would change your Sunday morning routine if you KNEW God was going to meet you in church...

...And then expect Him to meet you this Sunday.