A Church on Purpose

We seek to encourage our church in reading, studying, and living out Scripture in our daily lives. This study guide is designed to correspond to Sunday’s sermon (January 14th) [Listen Here]. Read through this lesson on your own or with a small group.


A Spiritual House

Week One: A Church on Purpose

Pastor Mike Halstead – 1/14/17

This week, we began a new sermon series entitled “A Spiritual House,” in which we are examining what “church” is truly supposed to be.

In our first passage, we will look at what Peter says about what it means to be a spiritual house and who God’s people have been called to be.

Read

1 Peter 2:1-11

Go Deeper

  1. Based on this passage, what is a “spiritual house?”

 

  1. In the first verse, Peter mentions things that cause dissension between people in the church. Have you ever experienced something like this? What was the result of that strife?

 

  1. This entire passage focuses on the spiritual aspect of what it means to be a Christian, and the importance of God’s people, rather than the buildings, titles, and services we use. What is the danger of viewing the church as a physical place?

 

Peter’s words would have pleased Jesus. He, too, was concerned with the goings on of not just His followers, but also with the actual workings of the temple and made efforts to right the wrongs that were being committed in the courts of the House of God.

Read

John 2:13-16

Go Deeper

  1. How does this image of a violent, passionate Jesus clash with the popular image of Jesus we have today?

 

  1. How does the scene in this passage relate to having a pure and spiritual house of God?

 

  1. If Jesus were to attend a church service this Sunday, how do you think he would react?

 

Apply

  1. How can the church become a more spiritual house in 2018?

 

  1. How about your own house?

 

  1. Pastor Mike talked about the misconception that we have sometimes that church is supposed to be a boring event. Do you agree? How do we make church less boring? How does this relate to the idea of a “spiritual house?”

 

Pray

Pray for guidance in how to build yourself, your family, and the church into a spiritual house. One that seeks to build each other up and spread the message of God’s kingdom to those who’ve yet to hear it.

Worship in Observing the Sabbath

 

Today’s post is for those who feel tired, beaten down, and overwhelmed. Sabbath has been woven into the fabric of creation; God knew that we would need rest from our labor to keep us healthy. Learning more about Sabbath has changed my life, and I believe that it can change yours as well! I highly recommend reading the two books that influenced this post, “The Sabbath” by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and “Sacred Rhythms” by Ruth Haley Barton. Both are available in our Harvest bookstore on Sunday mornings.

 

“Better one handful of quietness than two handfuls of toil.” Ecclesiastes 4:6

We are all familiar with the days of creation found in Genesis. In this first account, we see creation poetically patterned into days where God makes the entire universe in which we live[1]. At the end of the account, we reach the seventh, final day, and the Bible tells us “God finished His work” and “rested from the work.”[2] Wait, God finished working on the seventh day? I thought he took a day off? What did God finish on this seventh day, what did he create?

The ancient rabbi’s taught that there was an act of creation on the seventh day. After six days of creation there was still something that was lacking in the universe, and that was Menuha (the Jewish word for “rest”). The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book “The Sabbath” explains that menuha is so much more than the cessation from labor, toil, or activity – and that the universe would be incomplete without menuha. Here is how Heschel describes menuha:

“To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony. The word with which Job described the state after life he was longing for is derived from the same root as menuha. It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters” (the waters of menuhot). In later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.”[3]

In a previous post, “Living a Life of Worship” we talked about how learning to live a life of worship begins with time. Entering into menuha on the Sabbath is where we enter into God’s time. Heschel describes the world as existing in a tension between space and time. Space, is our realm where we create and we possess. In space, we build and we do. Time, is God’s realm, for not a single one of us can possess time.  In time, exists eternity and the world of eternal life to which we look to in the future.

We control space. Within space, we create and we build. We do. We shape the world into what we would have it be. In Genesis, God commanded humanity to “fill the earth” – to build up civilization within the realm of space. The goal of space is to have, to do, to create. We spend most of our lives caught up in space. God knew this when he created the universe, which is why he wove menuha into the pattern of creation so that we would not forget to leave our space behind to seek out God in time.

When we observe Sabbath, when we enter into God’s menuha (his eternity of time) we set aside our “doing” in the realm of space in favor of simply being. This is the meaning of Sabbath. When we observe the Sabbath we are set free from the dreaded “to-do list” that constantly hovers over us, and instead get to live in a time as if the cares and burdens of our world have already fallen away and we are already living in the eternity of the world to come. The goal of time is not to have, but to be.

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”[4]

Maybe you have felt as I have, that there is always something to do and there is never enough time in which to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished. Perhaps your chest will begin to feel tight, like mine does when I become overwhelmed by “doing.” Like me, maybe you will begin to lose sight of God’s eternal time and menuha. Don’t waste your life in “space” pursuing temporary life and neglecting the pursuit of eternal life and time!

The Sabbath is what sets us free from having to do, anything! It is not simply something else to do, another righteous task that we have to commit. The bible tells us not to grow weary of doing good, and the way that we keep from becoming weary is by entering into menuha – on a regular basis. Menuha can’t be sprinkled around or squeezed in “when I have time” – because let’s be honest, there is never enough time. We need to be intentional about drawing a hard line between our space (our work) and our time (our rest). I hope this is making sense.

The Sabbath is not another thing to “do”, as if it existed in the realm of space – it is instead something for us to look forward to! It is the climax of our week. Heschel says that the Sabbath is not a date, it is an atmosphere.

“The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not a day for petitions…

[The Sabbath] is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with God. This is Sabbath, and the true happiness of the universe.”[5]

Sabbath is something that we need, and God knows it. Otherwise, we risk becoming slaves to our work, and we become caught up in the rush and we never slow down. I heard someone say recently, that God rarely speaks at the rate we are running. The Sabbath is about slowing down, and matching our pace with God. It is about letting go of everything temporary in this world that demands our attention and our time and instead giving our bodies and spirit a day to bask in the eternity of God’s time. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Here is how Ruth Haley Barton describes her experience with the practice of Sabbath keeping:

“The truth is, Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul and spirit. You will long to wake up to a day that stretches out in front of you with nothing in it but rest and delight. You will long for a simple way to turn your heart toward God in worship without much effort. You will long for a space in time when the pace is slow and family and friends linger with one another, savoring one another’s presence because no one has anywhere else to go.”[6]

I don’t know about you, but I’m busy. I’m so busy that there are days when I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to do much of anything for anybody. There are days when I don’t have time to “waste” on my three year old daughter who just wants to sit with me, or read a book. Weeks can go by without spending time with friends or family. It is rare anymore that I can even remember a day where I felt “bored” because there was “nothing to do.” I am such a do-er. Resting is not my strong suit, I like to accomplish things and be productive! Yet, God is calling me to put down my work and enter into his rest. Maybe he is calling you into menuha as well – and perhaps you have been too busy to notice.

The question remains, how do we understand Christian Sabbath? In Jewish observance, on the Sabbath there is no work for an entire day, time is sanctified, and family gather together. For a Jew, observing Sabbath was part of keeping the law of Moses. We may not be bound by law to observe Sabbath, or to enter into menuha, but it is still a beneficial practice. As for incorporating Sabbath into your life, I have some suggestions.

First, find a day or a window of time in a day (it really doesn’t have to be the whole day) where you can devote time to entering into God’s rest. Use the following “litmus” test to determine if what you are doing during your Sabbath is true to its purpose. If an activity falls into one of these categories, its Sabbath honoring!

Faith based. The Sabbath is a holy time of entering into God’s rest. It needs to be centered/focused on God.

Family focused. Sabbath is a time for family to be infused with God’s goodness and presence together.

Friendship. The Sabbath is communal. It is not the same as spending time alone in silence or solitude to recharge. It is about entering into eternity with God, and with others. It is about living as if we are already enjoying eternity.

Freedom from “have to.” In God’s time, we leave behind our space. We don’t do anything because it has to be done, we do because we want to.

Fun. The Sabbath is not a somber duty; it is a day of celebration and joy! It’s a time to play games and have fun.

I challenge you to find time, as a family, to participate in Sabbath rest. If you’re having trouble finding a time slot try drawing out your weekly schedule by day and time. Color in the blocks of time that are already committed to things that cannot be changed (like your work schedule). Next, color in the times where you’re involved in church related activities, like your small group or attending on Sunday mornings. If there is any other things you do on a regular basis, fill those in as well. Then visually look for the gaps. For my family, that gap was Saturday morning. That is our time of Sabbath. We do whatever we want to do, together, on that day (as long as it isn’t a “have to”). Sometimes that means sleeping in, having a late breakfast, and then going on a drive or a hike. Other times, it involves going to the park or visiting with friends. Anything that is Sabbath honoring. Give it a try. See how you feel. Find freedom in “rest” and let your “have to’s” wait for a little while. Enjoy it. Find your stride again.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His most Holy Spirit continue to call you into the eternity of his time and give you rest. Remember, that our control over space is only temporary. Let us not get so caught up in “doing” that we forget to simply “be” in the presence of God. Amen.

[1] “First account”? In Genesis, there are two creation stories – have you noticed? The first is in 1:1-2:3, the second is in 2:4-25. The order of creation differs slightly in each account. Additionally, in the first account God creates all of humanity; in the second, He creates one man and one woman (Adam and Eve).

[2] Gen. 2:2

 

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951) p.23

[4] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 10

 

[5] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 30-32

[6] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2006) p. 133

A Week in the Life

Sunday:

I am open today from 11 am to 1 pm. Generally a team of two, alternating weeks, staff me. People come in the side door past the big staircase in the wedding garden where they are greeted and recorded. Depending on their family size, they shop for food to meet about 3-4 days’ need. Today, about ten to twelve families will come and shop my shelves and the one average-sized refrigerator that fits into my small room.


Monday:

At about 11:30 the shoppers return from Birch Community Services – whose mission statement is “to provide a community where people can be responsible and accountable for their needs and to equip them with tools to overcome financial difficulty”. They get between 600 and 900 pounds of food to stock the shelves with – bulk rice, frozen vegetables, strangely-flavored chips and soda. Occasionally they get lucky and find some meat or some canned goods. Some shoppers have houses and apartments to cook in and some do not, so volunteers who go to Birch try to balance the foods they are offered with what different sorts of shoppers can use. Occasionally there are other things in storage to be pulled out, so the people stocking the shelves look for other gaps on the shelves to fill.


Tuesday:

Every once in a while bulk foods need to be broken down, be it boxes of hamburger patties or bags of cous cous. This usually happens on an off day, where a volunteer will break things down and then come down and stock the shelves.


Wednesday:

One of our great Food Pantry Volunteers

A different team from Sunday opens up the pantry at two. As on Sundays, they check the donation bin at the church entrance to see if anything needs transferred onto my shelves downstairs. They will usually have six to eight shoppers to greet and record, with a new person or two to get registered on a short sheet. These volunteers are responsible for making sure that everyone is getting a fair amount of food according to their family size, for keeping the room uncluttered, and for making people feel invited and warm. The pantry is closed up again at 4 pm.


Thursday:

Most weeks, the occasional person will walk in and ask for help with groceries. Even though the pantry is not open, someone from the office will walk them downstairs and help them get set up with a registration card and a few days worth of food. Sometimes they have another need to be filled, such as energy assistance or clothing. The office takes in these requests and follow up with the guest shopper.


Saturday:

Volunteers go to a nearby bread company and get roughly fifty bread items, then come in and stock my shelves for the next week’s worth of shoppers. The bread contribution is a huge blessing that provides a staple item for families in our church and local community.


Thanksgiving Food Basket donations from the generous attenders at Harvest.

Our food pantry is small and discreet; many people might not even realize that we have one. However, to our friends who shop regularly, it is a big help to stretch the budget a little farther. Some people have other methods of grocery assistance and some do not. We believe that our pantry is for the good of our community in any form that takes, and we try to put as few stipulations on our shoppers as possible. We recognize that it is a huge act of love that helps to make earth look a little more like heaven. We also reach out to people not already part of our church family – maybe this will be the thing that makes a difference.

 

This year it was also an avenue for the distribution of our Thanksgiving baskets. It was an opportunity for Troutdale Elementary families to recognize that they have yet another resource – and another friend – at Harvest Christian Church. I was overwhelmed by the support that we received for that ministry drive. It was a big relief to families and a great way for our pantry to show even more love. Thank you thank you thank you for taking part.

If you decide you want to help support our pantry, there are several ways to do it:

  • Volunteer:
    • Occasional Opportunities: breaking down bulk items, scooping ice cream at the January 14 chili cook-off, cleaning, stocking items,
    • Regular Opportunities: become a weekly volunteer: We are currently in need of an additional Sunday volunteer who can work fairly reliably every other week from 11 am until 1 pm. We are also currently in need of two people who are regularly available on Mondays from 10 am to 12:30 pm.
  • Donate:
    • We can always use the following items:
      • Peanut butter
      • Canned meat
      • Canned veggies
      • Canned fruit
      • Canned soups
      • Excess garden produce
    • We also do pay a fee to shop at BCS, so financial giving does have a place. Any money given should be designated to the “Care Team” fund.
  • Fundraise:

    American Heritage Girls Stocked the Pantry and made cards for those who receive food as a service project.

    • If your workplace, school, or community group wants a service project, we would love to have you come up with ways to stock our shelves. Recently, a group of nursing home employees had a contest to see who could bring in the most non-perishable items. Our pantry hugely benefited from this drive.
    • Again, financial contributions are incredibly helpful as well.
  • Spread the Word
    • If you know someone in the area who needs extra help: let them know that we are here to support them.
    • If you know someone with extra resources: remind them that we are a willing recipient of anything that can be easily passed out of our pantry (mostly food, occasionally clothing and hygiene items)

Some of the Food Pantry Volunteers who served in 2017! Thanks to everyone for your support.

Interested in helping in the Food Pantry? Contact Faith Fox at faithf@harvestworld.com.  We could not do this without our faithful volunteers!

Worship in Silence and Solitude

This post is heavily influenced by the chapter “Solitude: Creating Space for God”, from Ruth Haley Barton’s book “Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.” If you’re anything like me, having quiet time alone is a rarity. It may even feel like a luxury that you cannot afford, yet entering into silence and solitude on a regular basis is vital to not only becoming more aware of God’s presence, but also teaching us how to be present with God – important aspects in living a life of worship.

 

“The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.”[1]

 

We are going to begin our journey into constructing a pattern of life that allows us to live wholly in worship to God with silence and solitude. Silence and solitude are two things that are very difficult to find in our modern, western world. Try for a moment to think back to the last time you experienced silence, real silence. There is always noise in the background. One of the only times I can remember being in utter silence was deep in a cave underground, where there was no light and the natural noises of the earth were blocked out by the thick, surrounding rock. It’s nearly impossible in this world to find pure silence.

In fact, silence makes us uncomfortable. We try and fill the emptiness with something, anything to keep it from being silent. I’ll be the first to admit that I need noise to sleep, because when it is silent I cannot sleep, so I turn on a fan to block it out – isn’t that odd? What is it about silence that makes it difficult to relax? I think that it is because we are vulnerable in the midst of silence.

It is in silence, stillness, quietness, and solitude that our soul will emerge from the trees and make itself known. This is why solitude is so important. Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt the noise and stimulation of life, and give allow ourselves to be quiet so that we can hear our loneliness and longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing.

The longing for solitude is the longing to find ourselves. The longing for solitude is the longing for God.

“Solitude is a place. It is a place in time that is set apart for God and God alone, a time when we unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions, from the noise, busyness and constant stimulation associated with life in the company of others. Solitude can also be associated with a physical place that has been set apart for times alone with God, a place that is not cluttered with work, noise, technology, other relationships, or any of those things that call us back into doing mode. Most important, solitude is a place inside myself where God’s Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union. This place within me is private and reserved for the intimacies that God and I share. What happens between the two of us in that place is not meant for public consumption. It is a place where I can give myself with abandon to the Lover of my soul, knowing that I am completely safe from anyone else’s curious gaze or judgmental glance.”

The goal of silence in solitude is to hear and acknowledge our own hearts; to know and take seriously, what is happening inside of us and rest in that knowledge with God. This is not a time for problem solving, or action, this is a time of discovery and recognition. It is important to set aside regular time to step out of the noise and commotion of life and consider how your soul is faring in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.

When was the last time that you sat in silence, alone, and listened to your own heart? I’d like to encourage you to give it a try. Find a place that is comfortable[2] to you, where you can relax and be open and available to God. Take some time to settle in and just breathe deeply. With each breath, become more aware of God’s presence and your desire to be present with God. This is called centering-down, and for me it can take a while. My mind doesn’t like to stay centered and still in the moment, it likes to run miles an hour after all the things that need doing. Take the time to properly center down, don’t give up or get upset at your wandering thoughts. Be persistent, keep breathing, and keep relaxing.

Don’t speak. When your mind has gotten quiet, and your body has become still, start to think about your life and begin to notice what is true about you these days. Take your time, and go slow. Don’t rush to make something happen. Embrace the silence. Allow your soul to emerge and say something to you that maybe you have not wanted to admit. Is there an emotion that needs to be expressed (anger, joy, grief, confusion)? What have you been too busy to notice?

Whatever comes to mind, whatever your soul makes you aware of – don’t try to fix it, just sit with it for a little bit. Become more aware that God is present with you in this awareness. Barton says,

“Feel the difference between trying to fix it and just being with it. Feel the difference between doing something with it and resting with it. Feel the difference between trying to fight it and letting God fight for you. What does it mean for you to be still and let God fight (or work) for you in this particular area?”[3]

Spend a solid amount of time in solitude, I recommend starting with 30 minutes and a couple times a week. Allowing your soul to rest in silence and solitude is a blessing that you need to be experiencing. Take some time and look at the story of Elijah meeting with God in 1 Kings 19:11-13. God’s voice was not found in the noise, busyness, or chaos – God’s voice came to Elijah in “sheer silence.”[4] Have you been creating space to hear God in the silence? Or, has your life been overrun with noise and “to-do” lists? Building a life of worship takes intentionality, it requires that we set aside our previous patterns and unhealthy tendencies and re-shape and re-order our lives to more closely reflect the life of Christ. Jesus was never “busy” or “in a hurry.” His pace of life was so different from many of ours. Use times of Silence and Solitude to filter out everything that you “have to do” and focus on allowing God to speak to your heart. He will show you what work you truly need to focus on, and what things you need to let go of. It is time to learn how to rest.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may you learn to be still and listen to His voice again. Remember, that even our Lord Jesus took time away from His ministry to withdraw from the crowds. If Christ required silence and solitude, how much more do our own souls need to be consistently re-grounded in the presence of God? May the Lord bless you as you seek to re-order your life to truly live a life of Worship, in His name. Amen.

[1]Quote from Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness – as quoted in Sacred Rhythms p. 29

[2] Not so comfortable that you fall asleep!

[3] Barton. Sacred Rhythms, p. 44

[4] Your translation may say “a still small voice” or “a gentle whisper.” The intent behind the Hebrew word here is best translated, “sheer silence.”

Study Guide: The Genealogy of Christ

Star over Bethlehem

We seek to encourage our church in reading, studying, and living out Scripture in our daily lives. This study guide is designed to correspond to Sunday’s sermon (Dec. 17th) [Listen Here]. Read through this lesson on your own or with a small group.

The Genealogy of Christ

In the grand story of Jesus’ arrival on earth, it can be a bit strange to modern day readers that 3 out of the 4 gospels of the Bible take time to give at least a part of Jesus’ lineage in their writings. Family legacy and heritage is simply not as important in 21st century American culture as it was to the Israelites during the time of Jesus.

However, this does not negate the fact that where and who we come from has a large impact on how we view people. If you were to learn that your spouse descended from a former US President, or has some connection to a royal European family, you might not see it as a declaration of their character, but you certainly could start to view their family in a different light.

The ancestry of Jesus is where we enter the story of the birth of Christ in this week’s topic.

Read

Luke 3:23-38

Go Deeper

  1. Why is authenticity so important to us?

 

  1. If authenticity is so important to us, why is it that we tend to doubt when something is presented to us as genuine, even if we might not have a reason?

 

  1. Why do you think the gospel writers found it important to inform their audience of the ancestry of Jesus?

 

  1. What is a name that stands out to you in the genealogy? Why?

 

After Matthew’s recounting of Jesus’ lineage, he takes to time to talk about Joseph, the husband of Jesus’ mother. Once more, we see that it is important to the gospel-writer and his audience to know about the people from whom Jesus came.

Read

Matthew 1:18-25

Discuss

  1. Special attention is given to Jesus’ “step-father,” Joseph, pointing out his reaction to being told his soon-to-be-wife is pregnant with the savior of mankind. Why do you think this is?

 

  1. Joseph had a tough decision to make. He was caught between being faithful to what God had said, and dealing with being socially ostracized for marrying a woman who was already pregnant. What do you think was going through his mind at the time?

Apply

  1. Talk about someone from your “spiritual lineage,” that is, someone who has influenced you in becoming a Christian. Is it important to recognize the people who’ve had this role in your life?
  2. Have you ever had to make a decision that you know was correct, but led to ridicule or humiliation, like Joseph? What makes it easier to get through that situation?

Pray

Pray for the people in your spiritual lineage, thanking God that He placed them in your life. Also pray for your future opportunities to influence others for the gospel.

 

Living a Life of Worship

Today we are continuing our journey into learning how to live a life of worship. We will be introducing the spiritual disciplines today as patterns that we can infuse into our lives in order to acquire new “habits” that will re-direct our life of worship to its proper place: to God, and God alone.

 

Learning to live a life of worship takes practice, intentionality, and commitment. In a previous blog post, we talked about how easily we can fall into patterns of false-worship, often without being consciously aware that we are doing so. In order to combat these patterns, which are rooted in our very culture and society (even trends!), we must introduce different patterns into our lives that are designed to bring us into a life where we are living out our worship to God.

Just as the disciples were called to follow Jesus, we too become disciples of Jesus when we make the decision to follow him. Discipleship in the ancient world was specific and involved. When Jesus told Matthew, a sinner and a tax collector, to “follow me” he was asking for Matthew’s entire life. His time, his money, his career, his identity, his everything. “Following” your rabbi comes down to three basic tenants:

  1. Be with your Rabbi
  2. Become like your Rabbi
  3. Do what your Rabbi does

Our call is no different. As Christians, we too follow Jesus. This means that we are to be with Jesus, become like Jesus and do what Jesus did. We have to be willing to give him everything. It all begins with time, with being with Jesus. The more time we spend with Jesus the more we are transformed into his image and we become like him. Finally, we need to put that into action and do the things that Jesus did. If we don’t, can we really say that we are following him?

I loved this quote from Smith’s book, “You Are What You Love” about what discipleship looks like:

“Discipleship is a kind of immigration, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). In Christ we are given a heavenly passport; in his body we learn how to live like “locals” of his kingdom. Such an immigration to a new kingdom isn’t just a matter of being teleported to a different realm; we need to be acclimated to a new way of life, learn a new language, acquire new habits – and unlearn habits of that rival dominion. Christian worship is our enculturation as citizens of heaven, subjects of kingdom come (Phil. 3:20).”[1]

Read that quote again. Really. Let it sink into your mind and heart.

We live as citizens of heaven, but we are also still physically living within this world (the rival kingdom). All around us are the rival kingdom’s language, habits, customs, trends, values, and culture. In Christ, we are called out of that kingdom and into his glorious future kingdom, right now, in this present moment on this earth. In order to remain citizens of heaven, and not revert to our previous citizenship, we need a new way of life. We need to learn the language of Jesus, and acquire his habits, customs, trends, values, and culture.

God created us to be creatures of habit. As the creator, He also knows how formative those habits are on our lives. The more we engage in habitual activities the easier they become and the less we think about them. So, rather than allowing our present world, this rival kingdom, to give us habits and patterns that take us away from God, we should look to Jesus to learn the habits and patterns of God’s kingdom so that we may be his representatives (his ambassadors) in this rival kingdom.

We know these patterns and habits as the spiritual disciples. Dallas Willard describes the spiritual disciplines as conduits to the Spirit’s transforming grace[2]. It is through the learning of and devotion to these practices that we become transformed into people who live a life of worship. These practices are a gift from God, designed to meet us right where we are in order to counter the patterns of the rival kingdom (all the other things that tug at our attention and devotion).

Perhaps you have tried to squeeze in a spiritual discipline or two in the past and have not been very successful. Maybe you have previously sensed that you need more of God in your life, but you aren’t sure how to go about doing such a thing. Or, it could be that you feel like a completely different person on Sunday mornings at church than you do on Monday mornings at work. I believe that the solution to these situations (and many others) is to completely wipe the slate clean, start from scratch, and re-pattern your life into a life that will lead you deeper into spiritual transformation and into a closer, more complete relationship with God. This re-ordering is done so that God exists at the center of everything we do, day in and day out. This is where adopting the habits of the spiritual disciplines comes in handy. If these practices form the core of your day-to-day life, everything else will revolve around them.

In the blog posts to come we will be focusing in on the following spiritual disciplines: Silence and Solitude, Sabbath, Bible Reading, Confession, and Prayer. Through these practices, we will learn more about what it looks like to live a life of worship. I once heard it said, “If you give God the time of your life, he will give you the time of your life.” It all begins with time. And it is time to start living your entire life in worship to the Almighty God.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His most Holy Spirit work in you a transformation of your time and habits, that your life may become more aligned with the life of Christ. Remember that you are a child of God, and are no longer a child of the world. As such, you are called to a new life, with new habits, in a new kingdom. May we never cease learning how to be more like Jesus or grow weary of doing good. Amen.

 

[1] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2016), 66

[2] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: Harper One, 1999).

The Purpose of Worship

Today we will define why we need worship, what it is designed to do for us and in us. Much of today’s post was generated from my notes on a lecture about liturgical worship.

 

Today’s post will be a short one! I hope by now that this series has challenged you to examine your life through the lens of worship, and has helped you discover any areas in your life that you have not surrendered over to God. If you have not read the previous two posts, “Our Life is Our Worship” and “You Are What You Worship” I encourage you to go back and check them out before proceeding to the post below.

In my last post, we examined the idea that “You Are What You Worship.” We discovered that worship isn’t merely something we do, but worship does something to us as well. And, as sinners, we can often end up worshipping things that we should not be worshipping, even without fully realizing what we are doing.

The question now remains, how do we break the patterns in our life where we worship other things? The “simple” answer is to introduce counterformative patterns into our life to combat the “patterns of this world.” But, how do we introduce these counterformative patterns into our lives, so that we can begin to remove our subconscious acts of worship and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our entire being? I believe the answer lies in the spiritual disciplines, but before we get to those, I think, we first need to take some time to talk about the purpose of worship…

Consider this quote, from Pope Pius X:

“Worship is for the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.”

This is a simple and succinct statement concerning the purpose of worship. Yet, there are a few, rather large, aspects to this purpose statement for worship. So, I’d like to break that statement down a bit.

First, worship is for the “glory of God.” As believers, we gather in worship to extol the nature of God; to celebrate His glory and His glorious attributes. Simple enough, right?

Second, worship is for the “sanctification” of the faithful. This one is a little trickier because sanctification is one of those churchy words that we use a lot, but are not always quite sure how to define what it means. Sanctification, simply put, is the biblical concept of making God’s people holy. Remember, holy simply means to be set apart. Therefore, the purpose of worship is also to shape us into people who are different from other people, set apart for God and His purpose. This is what we examined in the previous blog post about how worship is formative – it does something to us.

Finally, we see that worship is for the “edification” of the faithful, another churchy word. Now, edification is not about making people feel good. It is a word that communicates action, specifically the act of creation/building up. This is “architecture” language here (think “edifice”). Edification is the creation of a structure, the building up of Christian Community as the temple of God. Think of it this way, the gathered people are depicted as stones that are built together, through worship, to become the temple of God. What a great image!

In this simple quote from Pope Pius X we see a complex and beautiful image of worship emerge. Worship is so much more than simply singing songs. Worship is about giving glory to God, which transforms us into the people of God, who together form the living temple of God. Worship is something we do, but it also does something to us – and it is all for God’s purposes.

Another way to view worship is, as Constance Cherry describes, like a journey:

“[Worship is] a journey into God’s presence [gathered together], of hearing from God [reading of the Word], that celebrates Christ [at the communion table], and that sends us into the world changed by our encounter with God [when we are sent back out].”[1]

Worship is where we come together, unified in the Body of Christ, to celebrate God and what He has done for us. In worship we offer up praise, but we also experience the presence of God, and receive communication from Him. Worship shapes us into people that are separate/different from the rest of the world. Worship gathers us together, collectively, to construct a living temple dedicated to God.

Worship isn’t merely the hour, once a week, that we gather on a Sunday morning in the auditorium. Worship is every hour, of every day, in each week and month and year. Worship goes out into the world with us. Worship is in our families, our jobs, our relationships, our priorities, our interests, and our actions. Worship is who we are and what we do. Worship is all of us. Worship is our lives. This leads us naturally into the next question: what does it look like to live a life of worship? More on that, in the next post.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His most Holy Spirit continue the good work in you until Christ has been fully formed in you. May you always remember that you were created to love and to worship God, and that He alone is worthy of your love and worship. God, continue to build us together in worship into your temple, that we may be the place where the lost people of this world can come to encounter your presence. Amen.

[1] Cherry, Constance M., The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010) p. 47

Step Up: Week Five Study Guide

Week Five: A Plentiful Harvest and your Treasure

We seek to encourage our church in reading, studying, and living out Scripture in our daily lives. This study guide is designed to correspond to Sunday’s sermon (Dec. 3rd) [Listen Here]. Read through this lesson on your own or with a small group.

The concept of “sacrifice” in the Bible is a pretty loaded topic. It could mean the burnt offerings the Jews offered to God under the Mosaic Law, the sacrificial atonement that Jesus made on the cross,the self-sacrificial attitude Christians are to display as they follow the Christ, or even just giving up some portion of our earthly treasure to provide for others. This week, we are going to talk about that last definition, and what it means to step up to spreading the message of the gospel through how we spend our money and value our possessions.

Read

Malachi 1: 6-10

Go Deeper

  1. If he is truly all-powerful and outside of any sort of earthly need, why does God demand such expensive sacrifices from His people?
  2. What are some ways that we can “pollute the offering table” than turn around and pretend like we have done nothing wrong?
  3. What is the modern day equivalent of offering a lame or diseased animal as a sacrifice?

Read

John 12: 1 – 8

Go Deeper

  1. Ignoring his true intentions revealed to us by the author, do you feel as though you might agree with Judas in this story?
  2. What do you imagine the mood was like in this home, knowing that Lazarus was dead not too long before this?
  3. What does Jesus mean in verse 8? Is he declaring that the poor are less important than Him?

Apply

  1. There are many different views on how a Christian should use their money in relation to the church. Some people give to specific charities, some give when they feel like they have enough to give, some give a constant %10. How do you feel people should view money and financial responsibility toward the mission of the church?
  2. What resources, aside from money, can we use to serve the church?
  3. What is your “expensive perfume” from the story in John? Would you have a hard time using the things you find valuable as a way to worship, like Mary?

In Matthew 6, Jesus declares that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When Mary uses her treasure to serve Jesus, her heart is in the right place. Judas outwardly claims to have a heart for the needy, but his heart was truly for himself. It seems that not only do our actions matter, but the attitude with which we do them, as well.

When you use your wealth and possessions to serve others, it is with a sacrificial heart? Are you seeking not only to provide for the church, but also to bring glory to God? This week, examine your sense of generosity and take steps to uncover where your heart truly lies.

 

Pray

Pray for opportunities to live sacrificially. Pray that your heart is in the right place, so that God will see fit to open up the storehouses of heaven and use you as a way to bring the gospel of contentment to those who don’t yet know who He is. Pray for assistance in realigning any selfish motives you have when considering how to use the money and valuables you have received from God.

Step Up: Week Four Study Guide

Week Four: A Flock for Everyone

We seek to encourage our church in reading, studying, and living out Scripture in our daily lives. This study guide is designed to correspond to Sunday’s sermon (Nov. 26th) [Listen Here]. Read through this lesson on your own or with a small group.

Read

1 Corinthians 12: 12-20

Go Deeper

  1. What are the different parts of the body of Christ? For example, someone who preaches could be considered the “mouth.” What other roles do members of the body play?

 

  1. Paul seems to be encouraging people by reminding them that everyone has a role to play in God’s plan. Why is this something of which we need to be reminded?

Paul wants his readers to know that they all have a specific role to play in the church’s mission. We have all been given personalities and abilities that make us uniquely suited to serve the purpose of evangelizing the world. Sometimes, however, we feel as though we will never live up to the precedent that others have set. We decide that our prayers aren’t eloquent enough, or that we aren’t truly faithful if we don’t give up our possessions and move to Africa to minister to an unreached people group. However, the story of Jesus healing a paralytic explains to us that we all have a role to play, regardless of the “level” of talent we have.

 

Read

Mark 2:1-12

Go Deeper

  1. In verse four, the men encounter a roadblock, but simply find a way around it. What are some roadblocks we come upon when spreading the gospel?

 

  1. How do you think the various characters felt at different points during the story:
    • The four friends when they saw the daunting crowd.
    • The paralytic when being brought up on to the roof.
    • Jesus, as the paralytic is being lowered down to Him.

 

  1. It would have been far easier for these men to simply say “let’s just wait in line” or “maybe we’ll catch Jesus the next time he is in town, rather than go through the hassle of climbing onto the roof and doing what they did. Why do you think they chose the hard way?

Apply

  1. What do you consider your role in the body of Christ to be?

 

  1. Have you ever encountered a roadblock when you attempted to share the gospel with someone? How did you get around it?

 

  1. Who is someone that you have hesitated to talk to about Jesus, and why?

 

A major new idea that Jesus brought to the followers of God was the concept of “gentile inclusion,” that is, that salvation wasn’t to be kept to the Jews anymore! Instead the whole world was not included in the church’s mission to expand the Kingdom of God.

Things haven’t changed. While it is easy to say “I agree, the world needs to know Jesus” it is much harder to get around our own personal concept of who is worthy of evangelism. Sometimes, we just can’t stand a coworker and don’t want to talk them more than needed. Sometimes, we’re holding a grudge against someone who used to be a friend.

However, the culture of the church needs to work against the culture of the world. Rather than putting our own desires and opinions first, and expecting to be served, we need to see others as more important than ourselves, and realize the urgency with which we should be spreading the gospel to all people!

 

Pray

Pray for your role in the body of Christ to be revealed to you, and for opportunities to play that role. Pray for opportunities to stretch your comfort zone, to live out the fact that everyone in the world is deserving of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Life is Our Worship

This is the first blog post in a series of posts on the subject of “Worship.” God placed a desire in my heart to share what I have been learning in my first seminary class, “Practices of Worship.” This blog series will draw from lectures and reading materials from that class. For me, it has been a powerful and formative experience, and has revealed to me the importance of recognizing that our life is our worship. My hope and prayer is that you would be challenged and encouraged by what God has been teaching me over the last few months.

 

For many people today, words like “worship” and “praise” have become synonymous with music, with songs. Yet, simply defining worship and praise as musical is to diminish what worship truly means. Music is, of course, a way in which we offer up praise and worship to God – but worship is so much more than melody.

God divinely wove into our entire being a desire to worship. Just as we were created to be in relationship to God with our whole self, so too was worship designed to engage us on every level. When we are truly and rightly expressing worship to God we are using all that we are to praise Him. Worship engages us in the many dimensions of who we are. It is our heart, our soul, and our mind – united in the process of offering up worship to God.

True worship isn’t a single simple act of song or praise, just as it isn’t only an event that we attend on a Sunday morning. True worship is a lifestyle, to put it another way: our life is our worship. Worship doesn’t exist solely within the confines of a song, service, or an experience. Worship exists in our very DNA. There is no such thing as “your life in worship”, and “the rest of your life.” Either you are living a life of worship or you are not. As followers of Jesus, we are called to offer up our entire self our entire life as worship to God.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

These two verses, written near the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, are powerful and life altering. You may have noticed that first word: therefore. That word is a red flag for us, it should get our attention, and when we see that word we should always stop and find out what the “therefore is there for.” This is signaling a conclusion to a previous argument, in this case Paul’s argument is the entire eleven chapters of Romans preceding this verse![1]

For eleven chapters Paul has been laying out his theology of who God is and what God has done, and now in chapter twelve he pivots and lays out what our response to all of that should be. That response is that we should, in light of God’s mercy, offer up ourselves – our whole selves – as a “living” sacrifice. We offer up our friends, our family, our hopes and dreams, our careers and ambitions, our possessions, our time and our money; everything we have is given up in worship to the God who gave us everything He had!

Our spiritual act of worship is our life. A whole and complete life that is holy – which simply means “set apart” or “different.” By living life differently from the world around us, by breaking the patterns of the world and culture that surrounds us, we are offering up acceptable worship to God, True worship. A sacrifice of our entire being is how we respond to God and how we worship Him.

Our life is our worship. As true believers, we are to live in worship all the time. When we become followers of Jesus, we give up everything in service of our Messiah. There is no part of ourselves, or our life, that exists outside of our life in Christ. Jesus invades the entirety of our life and transforms us within all dimensions. He leaves nothing un-altered or un-touched.

During this blog series, we are going to be looking at what it means to live a life of worship. It begins today, with recognizing that our entire life is our act of worship. God created us to live in worship, and true worship engages our entire self and our entire life. From there, the next step is to determine what it is that we are worshipping, because we are all worshipping something (and it may not be what we think) and worship changes us; it is formative. Equally important to developing a life of worship is to identify and recognize the purpose of worship. Finally, we will be taking some time to examine different patterns, or practices that we can incorporate into our lives that will help us cultivate a life of worship.

To be clear, having a life of worship doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it is something that we strive for every day for the rest of our days. A life of worship is a life-long pursuit. Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t the end of our story, it is the beginning of our story. Now is when the real work begins. Make no mistake, building a life of worship will take work and purposeful intent. God is always revealing to me my need to grow and mature into Him, and I am convinced that I will not be fully matured until Christ returns and finishes the good work in me that began long ago.

As you read this series, it is my hope and prayer that God will speak into your life and your heart and reveal to you how He wants you to be living your life. For He seeks to give us life abundantly. Living a life of worship is the path toward realizing the good life. As we examine the purpose of our lives and worship, and practices that we can take to draw closer into that life of worship, remember that it takes time and hard work. Also, do not expect to take the practices of worship and jam them into your already busy life. These practices aren’t to be added in to your life, they are to serve as the very foundation of your life; each aspect of your life and work should revolve around living a life of worship.[2]

The next post will examine what it is that we love and worship in our lives. What we love will be at the center of how we structure our life, and will declare what it is that we worship, for:

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.”[3] – Martin Luther

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His most Holy Spirit bring you comfort and new insight as we seek to draw closer to the God who loves us and continue along our life-long journey into a life of true worship. Amen.

[1] Seriously, check it out – read Romans 1:1-12:2 and see how Paul builds and builds on one theological point after another, it’s awesome.

[2] Think of a New Year’s resolution….so many of our resolutions fail because we don’t make significant, lasting, and sustainable changes to our pattern of life in order to support our goal. Transforming your life into a life of worship can’t function like a new years resolution. Instead, our life must be re-ordered to that everything supports our new lifestyle.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Large Catechism, trans. John Nicholas Lenker (Minneapolis: Luther, 1908), 44. Quotation taken from You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 23