Purposeful Phrases

You may not have heard of purposeful phrases before but I want to introduce you to them as they are a helpful way to study the Bible.  A purposeful phrase is a condensed collection of words that answer the question, why.  It can be a short phrase or even a few sentences or even a bit longer, but it is a short explanation of the purpose behind the action.  Generally it is just a verse or two, or even just a part of a verse.  Quite often, it will begin with the word, “that”, but it is not always the case.  It reveals the thinking or purpose of something that may not be obvious at first glance.  It is particularly helpful to understanding the purposes of God in His working with and on man.

In the book of Ephesians, there are five purposeful phrases (1:4, 1:12, 2:7, 3:6, 5:27) and we will look at each of them.  Collectively, they give us a picture of the thinking of God in His creation of man and how He intends to bring it to pass. 

Eph 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  The purposeful phrase is the last part of the verse that I have underlined.  The first part of the verse gives us the setting of that purpose which is His choosing us and that it was before the foundation of the world.  In other words, God knew us before he created time and space and that His plan has always been that we should be holy (a separated people) and without blame (does not mean never to have sinned, but having no sin charged to our account) before Him (abiding in His presence) in love (our character and nature has been fully conformed and fashioned like He is).   That was His overarching plan for man, that is why He made man.  Simply put, to fellowship with him.

Eph 1:12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.  It can be argued that verse 1:10 is another purposeful phrase but I do not list it as such because it does not answer the question “why”, but rather the question, “how”.  The real purpose is found in verse 12 as I have underlined.  His purpose for us may include our vocation here but that is not his primary purpose.  God’s purpose for us is not just temporal but eternal.  I suspect that it matters little whether you are a doctor, statesman, craftsman, etc. except to the extent of how it enables you to take on God’s purpose of properly reflecting His image and being conformed to His likeness and values.  Everything God does is with the view of its Eternal outcome.

Eph 2:7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  This verse is the answer to the question why would God go to such a great expense for the likes of me?  His return is not monetary, nor is it for any gain for Himself as He already owns everything.  His return is us.  Our victory over sin, our transformation into His image and likeness, our final state of the full realization of what it means to be the children of God are all part of the revelation of who and what God is.  In the end it will all be understood as to why He loves us so.

Eph 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:  The mystery of the ages was how did the Gentiles fit in to the plan of God since the Jews were the chosen people of God?  God has always planned for all people to be a part of His plan as children of God.  God is not a respecter of persons that He loves the Jew more than the Gentile for He loves them the same.  The Jews were chosen to be the priest nation to all nations and that will yet come to pass, even though they have not fulfilled that role yet.  Nothing has taken God by surprise and nothing has thwarted His plan.  It is not a favoritism to be chosen for a particular service, for we have all been chosen by God, even before the foundation of the world.  The hammer is not a better tool than the saw for both are necessary.  Verse 3:10 would be an example of a purposeful verse that didn’t begin with the word, “that”, except for the fact that it is a further explanation of how the eternal purpose is realized; which makes it a commentary on the purpose instead of being a purposeful phrase.

Eph 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  The question that precedes this purposeful phrase is “Why is it important that the church be sanctified?”  The church is a great mystery to the world.  They neither understand its purpose or its function.  To them it is just another organization when it is actually a living organism with eternal purpose.  It is the bride of Christ and must meet His standards.  We are in the word but we are not of the world.  Tit 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

Tit 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:  God is not content to just get us out of the world and free from sin and its influence but is at work in displaying through eternity His great love, great grace, great salvation, in and for us.  He is not just interested in getting us to heaven, but is even more earnest in preparing us for heaven, so that when we do finally get there we can call it home.

The Exceeding Greatness of His Power To Us-Ward Who Believe

Eph 1:15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

You will recognize the same scripture that I have used in my two previous blogs, as this is the third of three blogs on Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers. 

The Ephesian church was undergoing great difficulty because of the pagan influences and the untrained leadership of the church.  Paul was writing to Timothy from his prison cell and giving him direction as to how the leadership needs to be led in dealing with these pagan customs and teachings.  He emphasized that the leadership did not need the ‘how to do’ message but the Lord, Himself to work in their hearts in these three specific areas in order for them to be able to see the victory.  The Lord would have to give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of Him.  We do not need answers, but what we need is the person of the Lord Jesus, Himself.  He does not have the answers, but is the answer to everything.  He is known through both the spirit of wisdom and by revelation.  It is not head knowledge, it is heart and experiential knowledge.

It is in this light that Paul says that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened and then they would know these three tremendous blessings.  Expositors comments; “In these three clauses Paul leads the readers on from the hope itself which becomes theirs in virtue of their being called of God, to the splendor of the enheritance to which the hope points, and from this again to that in God Himself which makes the fulfillment of the hope and the possession of the inheritance certain, namely the limitless efficiency which is His prerogative.”  Kenneth Wuest goes on; “ This power of God working in our behalf with reference to our salvation is not thought of here as operating only in the future, but also at present.”  It is not that we shall have power but that we also presently have His power available to us in all our life endeavors. 

The exceeding greatness of his power speaks of a power that is beyond measure, that is much more than is needed to do the job at hand.  We do not need to fear that we might fail for it is not our might, but His might that overcomes the adversary. Again I quote Wuest; “Paul uses four words here, all having the general meaning of power; “ the first use of power is dunamis, which is the word that we get our word ‘dynamite’, the second word is translated “working” and is the Greek word energeia, which is the word we get our word energy from and means power in exercise or operative power; the third word is “mighty” which is the Greek word kratos, or manifested strength; the second use of the word power is the Greek word ischuos, or strength, or power as an endowment.  Collectively we have this translation; “And what is the superabounding greatness of His inherent power to us who are believing ones as measured by the operative energy of the manifested strength of His might.

This power that was illustrated when Christ was raised from the dead, is the same power that God stands ready to exercise in us today, as we face the world in all its depravity.  Timothy was to lead the church to see how great a salvation that is ours and what God has in store for us.  Then for us to learn what it means for us to be a child of God and its richness and blessings. And finally, to meet all opposition with the power of God that will totally defeat the powers of darkness and all its host.  We are not just meager, “sinners saved by grace” but we are Children of God with all the power of heaven at our disposal.  The victory is already won and we are to fight from the position of victors.

A Milestone

Yesterday was a milestone in my life – I turned 75.  Just think, that is 3/4 of a Century.  In those years I have come a long way and seen a lot.  The world has changed and life is totally different than it was when I got here.

My younger years began in a behind the times era before electricity in our home; before indoor plumbing; when water was drawn from a well, we grew our own food, canned, washed clothes on a wash board and graduated to a wringer washer; milked our own cow; churned our own butter; used kerosene lamps; chopped our own wood; plowed with a team of mules and rode in a wagon. I wore bib overalls; went barefoot in the summer; ate wild berries and plumbs; fished and caught fireflies and June bugs. The biggest event I remember from this era was when China was taken over by Communism and we watched the progression across the country.

My world was flipped up side down at the age of 10 when we moved to western Colorado. I went from a hick country environment to the city; from a two room school where there was just three of us in the same grade where I was the only boy to a much larger school where there were three classrooms of +/- 50 in each class room all in the same grade. This was the era of bell bottoms, hippies, rock and roll, hot rods, the greasers, in their duck tail haircuts. The farm life was replaced by the orchards and produce stands. Color TV was the big thing and the Korean war was the big news. Rotary phones and private lines replaced the 8 party lines and the wooden wall phone. Automobiles began to display a variety of extras such as automatic transmissions, AC, radios, variable speed windshield wipers, power windows and hard top and convertibles. The 40 hour work week became standard along with a two week vacation. Social Security became mandatory and retirement was at 62 with full benefits.

Upon graduation I traveled for several months, that took me to Utah, Oregon, California and back to Colorado. I worked for the Colorado Department of Highways on a survey crew and then attended college in 1964. It was that year the President Kennedy was assassinated and the world was once again turned upside down. Darla Rae Miler and I were married on December 27th and moved to LA and saw the fires of the Watts Riots from our living Room window. Then followed the Vietnam war, high gas prices and the impeachment of President Nixon. We returned to Colorado and I went to work at Climax Molybdenum Co. and was there for 4.5 years. That is when hang gliding became popular. Instead of depression we now had to face inflation and its varied problems. This was the period that I became a Christian and my life was turned upside down once again. We purchased a mobile home (our first ownership) and moved to Carbondale, Co and another career change, this time to Construction. By now our family had grown to 5 with the birth of our 3 kids.

The next era saw me going back to college and another move to Greeley, Co. to attend the University of Northern Colorado with a major in business. This is where God began to reorder my life. The first area that He dealt with is that I needed to trust Him with all of my life. He began with stewardship and began to unveil His economy. Change is the order of the day and once again everything is turned upside down. Once I got on board with trusting Him, He then called me into the ministry and I found the something that I had been missing all along

Then it was off to school to study for the ministry and the addition of two more Children, making our family now 7. While attending school, I also became the pastor of my first church. I also served in two jail ministries, rest homes, street evangelism and a variety of other ministries. Living by faith in the Lord brought many amazing events. He provided food when our cupboards were bare, shoes and boots and clothes, financial provision and multiple demonstrations of His love and presence. I was able to graduate without any school debt or loans even though my income was $1.80 per hour for a 20 hour week, though there were times that I didn’t get the full 20 hours.

Now I am retired and have lived through some of the greatest events of history. From the end of WW II, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the middle east wars, and several other military skirmishes. Through fashion changes of all kinds, social changes, dress codes and language changes. The technology has gone through the roof with the development of computers, cell phones, satellites and the internet. Knowledge has increased at a phenomenal rate. Space exploration has reached heights only dreamed of in earlier times. Travel has become a way of life with the airlines, trains, automobiles and water ways. Truly, I have lived in the “Golden Age” of all time and have seen and experienced amazing things.

So what lies ahead? The wonder of tomorrow is yet to be known but there are a few things that I am certain of. Time is in the hands of God. The Bible declares that now is the accepted time for now is all we have for certain. Preparation for eternity is the most important event in a person’s life. Jesus said “You must be born again” and we only have one life to make that choice. It is that choice that will determine what lies ahead. The second thing I am certain of is that everyone chooses the course of his or her life. It is not circumstances or others, or limits, or race, or environment, or chance, or even forces of darkness that determine our course, but the simple choice of accepting God’s way or the way of the world.(Jn.1:12) There is no one or anything that you can blame because the choice is yours and yours alone. Thirdly, like the Apostle Paul, I am persuaded that God is able to deliver me spotless and blameless before Him in Love. I know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two in my short 75 years.

Encouraged

Our journey through life often takes surprising turns. Sometimes they are quite rewarding and fill your heart with joy. One such time for me came this week as I am in the process of helping a family restore a deck in their back yard and to build a retaining wall so that there will be a flat play area for their children.

I was at my oldest son’s home during a pool party for their grandson. One of the ladies there was talking about their problem finding someone to work on their rear deck. She had several quotes but they all wanted over $5,000. and she felt that since she was just renting that it was way too much money as they didn’t expect to be there more than a couple years.

I listened as she told her story and somehow I felt that she was right and thought I might be able to help her. She has 8 children which she home schools. Three of them are grown but the rest are still at home. Her back yard is sloping so there is now a good place for her children to play. I agreed to go over to see if I could suggest a solution for her. Her son and my great grandson are best friends so there was a little personal incentive for me as well. I went over to look at the situation and left there with the commitment that I would do the work for her at a much reduced rate. The work was divided up so as they could save money by doing a portion of the work and I would provide the technical part as well as coordination and skills to complete the repairs.

Half of the deck had to be dismantled which was their part as well as the cleaning of the used stones of mortar from earlier use. When I arrived to begin my portion of the work, I found that the deck had been demoed in the correct manner I had instructed and the materials had been stacked out of the way. As I began my work the 15 year old came out and began cleaning the mortar from the used stone and stacking them separately. I watched as she worked, steadily and without any effort to get out of her job and without complaining. She worked for several hours, making good progress. I was so impressed with her work ethic and her attitude. It is so rare that you see a teenager who not only knows how to work but actually enjoys it. It was so refreshing to see that in a teenager without the usual phone in hand and plotting to get out of work. It made my work quite enjoyable.

But then I got a second surprise. The 11 year old sister came out and began to join her in the cleaning of the stones. She had the same work ethic and attitude. She also stayed at the job for two to three hours. Needless to say that they got a lot of work done and did a magnificent job as well. I wonder if they have any idea of how rewarded I was to behold their conduct. My hat is off to their parents, who not only are doing a great job preparing their children for life and instilling in them respect of others, but also for their attention to their other needs as well.

I am thinking of a few women of high standards that God used in His/story (history). There was Rachel, Ester, David’s grandmother Rahab, Ruth,and Mary the mother of Jesus, just to name a very few. God has great things planned for those who develop great qualities. They may not see it now but they will in time. It is a great encouragement to me to see this when all we here on the news is woe, woe, woe. God is at work and we will yet see him overcome all evil.

Persecution

For those of you who follow us on our “Journey Home”, there is some news that is quite important.  I just received an email from Japan on the state of the church in China.  The persecution there is intensifying every day.  I hear regularly about The Chinese government forcing Christians to sign a document that they renounce their profession of faith and pledging to total support the government.  If the document is not signed then there are severe consequences, such as forbidding them to hold a job and they are ostracized from society.   Sometimes they are imprisoned and other means to force them into submission.  I know of one individual who was in his third year of studying medicine and he was forced to leave the school and is not allowed to continue his studies. 

In another situation the pastor and his wife and 70 of the members were put in prison because they would not turn over the control of their church to the government.  The church was then disbanded and the remaining members were then interrogated and required to sign the paper.  In other situations the church is split into several smaller groups and forced underground.  Life for Christians in China is quite difficult,  It is illegal for a church to own property and all of their resources are confiscated.

The government will allow a church to continue if they will allow the government to place faces identification cameras in the church and yield to the government’s full control.  It didn’t work for king Ahasuerus in the book of Ester nor did it work for the Roman government’s requirement of calling Cesar Lord.  Historically, the church has always grown more under persecution than it has at any other time so we should be looking for what God is doing.  It is at the most difficult times that God is seen clearer and works the greatest miracles.  The examples are numerous of atheistic kings discovering God when trying to stamp out His people. 

I often hear the question, why does the Chinese government persecute the church?  I am sure that there is several reasons but the number one reason is probably that they are considered a threat because the church refuses to bow to the government as the ultimate authority.  It makes sense that an atheistic government would fear a people who do not recognize them as the ultimate authority.  After all, they came into power by not recognizing the then current authority so they would want to squash any authority that they couldn’t control.  This is especially true when there are as many as 100 million Christians in China (that is 1 in every 14) which is a large block of people that you don’t control.

Perhaps a more important question is, why does God allow persecution?  It all seems unfair (and it is) but God has good reasons to allow it.  Consider the following reasons as some of the purposes of God in allowing persecution:

  1. To reveal His personage.  The main reason that leaders demand to be acknowledged as the ultimate authority is that they do not know God who is the ultimate authority.  They see God as uninvolved if they even acknowledge His existence.  Often their view of God is in the lives of His professed followers who are not a good representation of Him.  They are unaware of the possibilities and the dangers of defying God.  (Consider Goliath)  God wants us to know Him as He is with all His power, knowledge, love, etc.  He has only good in mind for us but for us to enjoy it we must have our grip on sin broken.
  2. To refocus His people.  God’s people sometimes get out of step with God and become carnal or worldly.  We begin to take the reins out of God’s hands and attempt to justify ourselves and earn our place with God.  This will never be allowed by God.  The Bible states clearly in Romans 14:23 “whatsoever is not of faith (in Him) is sin.” In Hebrews 11:6 “without faith (in Him) it is impossible to please Him.”  Whenever we get on the works system we are setting ourselves up for persecution.  The Lord gave the early church the command to go into all the world and teach all nations . . . (Matt. 28:19-20) but the church stayed in Jerusalem.  The next event that followed was the death of Stephen and a great persecution against the church.  Then the church began preaching Christ after they were scattered everywhere.  We need to learn to follow God’s instructions and not what we think.
  3. To recover and refine His people.  If God did not let us know we were off course we would continue moving out of God’s will and people would perish and we would suffer great consequences.  We desperately need course corrections.  The hardest lessons are often the ones we remember the most and are most apt to turn us from our own self will.  Not only is it His intent to recover us from our error, He wants to refine us in His service and expand our usefulness.  Growing in His grace is essential in our transformation into His image and likeness.
  4. To renounce false gods.  It is important to note that everyone lives by faith all of the time.  Having faith is not our weakness but placing our faith in the Lord and not in anything or anyone else is the biblical faith that causes God to get involved with our situations.  He only responds to faith in Jesus as Lord (boss).  When we trust anything else it is unbelief in Christ and brings its own consequence.  The key to triumphant living is in living by faith in Jesus and renouncing all other options as false gods.  Why is it so important that we get this straight?  Because there is no other Gods and the world needs desperately  to see the truth.
  5. To reach the Lost.  The world will die in their sin unless and until they know the only true God.  We are the illustrated version of this message that God is real and He has revealed Himself in the personage of Jesus.  Romans 10:13-17.  Jesus said we are the light of the world.  (Matt 5:14), and II Corinthians 5:18 states that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.  These are but some of the reasons God allows persecution.  

Which is Better, Success or Failure?

As I thought on this question, I realized that it is a loaded question.  My opinion is just that, an opinion, but it may not be a fair answer without taking into consideration some basic considerations.  For example, what determines success or failure?  Which perspective is being considered?  Who is determining the outcome?  Is there a specified time period to consider? 

Perhaps we should just consider these ideas separately so we will start with a definition of success or failure.  My first thought is can it be both or is it either/or?  Could something be considered both a success and a failure?  The original question is presented as an either success or failure so we will start there.  So what is the standard that makes it a success?  Is it because it brings the desired outcome or the best outcome?  Is it best for me or best for others?  Is it because of monetary, emotional or appearance reasons?  How about who is doing the determining of the outcome?  One might conclude something a success whereas another would see it as a failure.  And finally, what may appear a total loss could turn out to produce the greatest reward.  As you can see this isn’t going to be an easy task and my conclusion could be just the opposite of yours.

Perspective is another consideration that can change the outcome.  For example, let’s suppose that there are four of us sitting at a table on each of the four sides and we are looking at a cup sitting in the middle of the table.  If I am looking at the cup and see that the handle is on the right, the person opposite of me sees the handle on the left, and the person to my right sees the handle in the middle and the person to my left asks, what handle?  We are all looking at the same object, but from a different perspective.  Sometimes we are not in a position to see the outcome and therefore could not make the determination of success or failure.

Values are another important aspect of deterring success or failure.  My life is touched by many different things.  If it affects my life then it may be important to me but if it doesn’t affect my life it may not be so important to me.  The price of tea in China may not concern me unless I am buying or selling tea from China.  If I am living in America and don’t use tea from China, it may not be important to me at all.  Another consideration is if it doesn’t affect me directly, it may affect someone who is important to me and thereby affect me indirectly.  What your values are will carry weight as to whether it is a success or failure.

Time is another consideration.  Is the benefit needed quickly or is the final outcome more important.  Variations of the time line of the event will necessarily affect our determination of success or failure.  What may be considered a failure in the short term, may be totally different when viewed from a long term outcome.  There may be many other considerations beyond these but these will suffice for my query.

By now you are seeing the problems with the original question.  It is easy to see why we may not be able to determine whether the outcome is a success or failure.  In our eyes we see a totally different view than that of God.  We see how it affects us in a temporal world but God sees it from the eternal perspective.  We see how it affects our environment, but God sees it from how it affect us in the light of eternity.  We measure it in terms of our profitability but God sees it from the perspective of the good of everyone.  We want to look good in the eyes of others, but looking good in God’s eyes is the only eyes that count.  Because of these considerations (and probably many others) he stated in 1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.  It is not necessary to know if an event is a success or a failure.  All of us are flawed is determining such a thing.  What is important is that you do it in faith in the Lord and leave the results in His hands. 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Crises of Faith – 4

2 Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good  4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;  5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.  6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,  7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds,  reprobate concerning the faith.  9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.

Today, I want to look at a passage of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:1-9 copied above.  The apostle Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy and describing the conditions of the latter end of the last days.  This looks a lot like the days we are living in today.  We know that we are much closer to the last days than we have ever been before.  Paul describes these times as perilous, that is risky and dangerous, and that there would be a type of “religious” people who are like the world but not like Christ.  Notice that they have a form of godliness that is they may be benevolent and involved in a church but are not focused on extending the kingdom of God. When the time to stand on principles comes, they stand against truth.  You need only to look at the issues of abortion, free speech for Christians, prayer, etc.  The workplace is a mine field and can bring accusations of raciest, sexist, homophobia, prejudice, unfairness, etc. for proposing any alternate to the proposed cause. 

How can you tell if the “religious” are real Christians or just imposters?  One way is to test their message.  Does it speak of glorifying anything other than Christ.  It the message is “Hey, look at me, it or them” when it should be saying “Hey, look at God”, then it should shout DANGER!  Another evidence is that those who are following Christ are accompanied by God’s power.  God backs up the believers faith by His power.  If there is an absence of God’s power, then there is cause to turn away from the person or teaching proposed. 

A third warning is the appeal to knowledge as opposed to a faith walk.  I am not against knowledge for the Scripture states that we are to study God’s word.  However, when we come face to face with the knowledge of the truth, we are changed by it.  We will be changed  from faith to faith and we will not be able to just absorb the information without being changed.  In My dad’s day, they used to speak of educated idiots.  They had tons of information but no application.  The military used the phrase, “a thirty day wonder.”  People sometimes think that if they could just understand it then they could believe it. Just the opposite is true, however, that you must first believe it and then understanding will come.  That was Jannes and Jambres problem with Moses.  They opposed it because the problem was in their minds and the Scripture states that they were reprobate (depraved, corrupt, unprincipled) in their faith.  The Bible states that their folly shall be manifest to all men.

The crises of faith we see in the church today is not because there is no faith, but that the faith is exercised in the wrong things, when it should be in response to God’s directives.  The lack of power in the church, the use of the platform for attention, and the hypocrisy in the leadership are some of the causes of today’s crises of faith in the church today.

Crises of Faith – 3

Today I want us to look at the state of the church in America.  We see its values being attacked on a daily basis and its effect on the American culture lessening continually.  Church attendance is shrinking and the message is becoming confused with false doctrine.  In short, we are steadily losing ground  

Churches are trying different strategies to try to turn the tide, but nothing seems to bring lasting results.  One of the cries is that the church is out of date and boring, so some churches are changing the format to include a different type of music and dress code to make people feel more comfortable.  The doctrines are being watered down and compromised.  Some churches are promoting the “prosperity gospel” that is measured by physical prosperity.  While it is true that the attendance does increase for a time and the excitement is there, it is also true that many of the traditional values are driven out of the church and when the emotions subside (and they will) and when the music style changes (and it will), then the same results of a diminishing core will certainly follow. 

The reason that these will be the results will follow is that they have not identified the real problem.  It is just as my father used to say, “you can’t fix it until you know what is broke.”  Attendance and excitement are not what makes a church effective.  In reality, it is much easier to fill a church with people than it is to fill a heart with hope. 

There are several flaws in this type of approach to building a church.  First of all, we need to remember that the church belongs to the Lord.  It is not our church and therefore the ultimate responsibility is His and not ours.  He is the one who has the power to convict of sin, and He is the one who will draw the people to come.  The point is that He will fill the church in direct proportion to the room we make in our hearts for Him.  God is willing and able to turn the tide but His grace is frustrated by our refusal to surrender the control of our lives to Him.  As long as we cling to the controls of the church, we prevent God from working as He wants to and our faith is in our abilities instead of in Him. 

As I shared with you in my last blog, the object of our faith is the Lord.  Not in what He will do but simply in Him.  We need to trust His working and not our programs.  We need to trust His promises and not our ways.  Our faith must not be in our ability but in His ability to effect change in us first and then in our living in His ways.  Here is a glimpse of what that means:   new life comes from the death to the old life; gain comes from giving; greatness comes from serving; humility and compassion trumps power and authority and Love never fails.  When the lost world sees the life of Christ in the believer, then that is the only thing that will satisfy the hunger of the heart.  No other plan of man will work to stabilize the church.  The problem is not in what we are doing but is in our failing to live by faith in Him.  Romans 14:3 states that whatsoever is not of faith is sin and Hebrews 11:6 states that without faith it is impossible to please Him.  That is why I say we are in a Crises of Faith.   We are religious but not righteous.  2Ti 3:5  Having a form of godliness but denying  the power thereof.

Worship

Think back to a recent worship experience.  Was it enjoyable?  Was it memorable?  How about life changing?  Sometimes we leave the service with an “oh hum” attitude that leaves us examining the value of the use of our time. 

Your response to the worship service is quite revealing and it is worth noting how you left the worship service.  The first thing you notice is was it a positive experience or did it leave you with something missing.  It may be the service but it could also be because of what is going on within you.  Before we go criticizing the church for failing to bring you into worship, we should at least consider that it may not be their fault.  Worship is personal between you and God and must begin with us.  Worship is possible in any situation when we are focused on Him, rather than on ourselves.

Now look at the focus of the worship.  To what did the service call your attention?   Did it focus on life in the here and now or in the sweet by and by?  Did it emphasis individuals or the Lord?  Sometimes it seems as though the leaders are saying, “Hey, look at me” rather than “Hey, look at Him.”  Was the main emphasis the church growth, a program, a performance, or was it one of what God is doing and how He is leading.  Oh, and be sure to check out your own expectations.  Were you looking to be entertained or were you looking for some direction or answer from God?

Thirdly, Look at the message, itself.  Did you take notes?  Even if you never look at them again, taking notes are beneficial for you to digest the message and to organize your thoughts.  Can you tell about the message in a word or sentence or two?  What was the message about?  Another very important point is was the interpretation in agreement with clear biblical doctrine.  The message should be directed by its text.  Preaching should break open the hidden things of the text and expose it to be examined by the listener.  Where did you thoughts travel?  Did your thoughts travel heavenward or were they anchored here in this world by circumstances or needs.   Were they led by the speaker or was you focus on things of this life and you never caught the concept of what is beyond this life only. 

Fourthly, consider your vision of life, were you left with the feeling of times are getting worse and worse, or did you leave with hope in the end that God has a plan and He is in control.  There are needs a plenty and difficulty is common to all but how does God fit into all of life.  What is the purpose of God in allowing us to go through all of this?  How can we have peace in the midst of all of this turmoil?

Finally, as you think back over this experience, were your expectations met?  This may sound strange to you at first, but I hope that they were not.  Many people leave a church because their “needs” were not  being met.  The criticism vary and may include such things as the sermon was too long, the choir is always off key, so and so has this problem, and so on.   This type of criticism is selfish and focuses only on self.  It lacks understanding of the others and the point of worship.  Worship is a corporate event and includes everyone.  Though it is true that God is concerned about your every need, it is also true that He is concerned about everyone’s individual needs.  We all need to be loved and valued.  True worship finds us as a part of God’s plan that includes everyone and excludes no one. 

So, as you consider your own worship experience, consider that worship requires and investment of yourselves, a discipline to bring self under His control, a vision beyond this life into the next, a faith in God and not in something temporal such as a man or church or a plan, and  a surrender to the will of God rather than just your will. My prayer for you is that your worship will become richer and fuller with each experience. Since worship is at least a part of our eternal existence, we should be practicing it now.

I cannot take credit for this insight as it was outlined by David Jeremiah with the following thoughts:

                It is not about us – it is about Him

                It is not about here (the physical) – it is about there (the eternal)

                It is not about what is seen – it is about what is unseen

                It is not about now – it is about then      

                It is not about one person – it is about many people

What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

I have listed a few of my favorite scriptures on believing as I will be discussing them and they are here for your reference.

John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Mark 9:23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

Matthew 17:19-20 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?  And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

In our harried world of social networking, busy schedules, pressures, and hectic paces, we often try to simplify or reduce the topic to one main idea.  We have all heard the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”  When it comes to studying the Bible, we often look for basic concepts or verses that go straight to the heart of the truth.  One verse that was eye opening to me was John 6:28-29 (The title of this article and verse 29 listed above).  I was a new Christian and I simply wanted to know what I should be doing.  I didn’t know a lot of verses or history and it was all new to me so I wanted to just be doing the right thing.  I wasn’t interested in denominations or traditions, just what the Bible said.  Verse 29 summed it up for me.

But then I asked the question, “What does it mean, to believe on Him?”  I had a generic idea that it meant to be in agreement and to do right things but what were those things that I was supposed to do?  Like so many other people, I thought that the Lord would be pleased with me if I did the right things.  My understanding was in the doing, but the verse said that it was in believing and not in the doing.  As I studied I learned that the word, believe and the word faith are the same word in the Greek.  That word is pistis and it is translated as believe in one place and faith in another.  This opened a whole new thought process to me.  The Lord is not looking for me to do great things but He is asking me to allow Him to do great things through me.  Now I am not working for God (as though I am earning His favor), but He is working on me, and consequently through me so that he can transform me into His likeness and image to prepare me for eternity.

I learned that to believe on Him is to trust and rely on Him to do the work.  It is His job to do the mighty works and it is my job to be in a position of faith, reliance and dependence on Him for the results.  Those results are limitless. There is nothing impossible that he will not do to those who are believing in Him.   This brings up the question, why then, do we not see this power working in and through our churches today?  I believe that He answered that in Matthew 17:19-20.  The disciples could not cast out the demon because of their “lack of faith”.  But it was not a shortage of faith, rather it was that their faith was not in Him.  This was also brought out with the father of the demon possessed son.  He began with the word “if”, as though to say I don’t know you well enough to trust you but I have no other one to turn to so please help.  I trust you to help my son, but I need you to first help me with my faith.  The barrier to our seeing God work is that we see him as a man, but he works when we see him as God.

This faith in Jesus is to see him as the God of Creation who can move mountains.  Even to the extent of using the likes of me to do greater works than those that He was doing.  Simply put, to do the impossible.  So how do you know Jesus?  Is He just a man?  Or even a prophet?  A might man of power?  Or is he very God who loves you and will spare no expense, and cross any barrier that we might know Him for who He is and know His resurrected power in this present evil time.

John 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.