Worship Unites Us

To many people, the suggestion that worship and religion unite us is absurd. They point out that millions have been killed in the name of God through religious wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. They argue that religion has been a great source of division and suffering in the world—and in some ways they are correct.

Religion focusing on “do’s and don’ts” kills the spirit. It is a set of rules and regulations that people use to show God that they are acceptable to Him. By keeping a set of rules and regulations, they mistakenly feel they have done something good—and God is obligated to accept them. They count on their performance to earn God’s love. Jesus had harsh words for rule-keepers—people like the Pharisees—because they missed the Gospel message: God loves and accepts us, even though we are sinners who offend Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to die for us (see Romans 5:8). When we fully understand this undeserved gift, we respond by doing good things and avoiding sinful acts. Religion tied to regulations leads to arrogant self-righteousness.

However, a relationship with Jesus leads to a life of service to others in love.

When we worship together, knowing that our sin has been covered, our worship unites us. It deepens our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood by pointing out our common needs. True worship reminds us that we are all sinners, making it difficult to point a finger of accusation at someone else. The fruit of the Spirit grows in each one of us, resulting in unity and loving attitudes.

Jesus came to abolish religion and replace it with a relationship with Him. We cannot earn His love; He gives it to us for free.

Music contains great power both to soothe us when we’re anxious and to stir up our emotions. Dentists’ offices play soft music. NBA pre-game music is loud and piercing. Advertising companies work overtime creating catchy jingles to remind us of their products.

Music plays an important role in our walk with God too. It can either help us combat evil, or it can lead us into evil. Like a rudder on a boat, music can set our frame of mind and steer our attitudes and actions toward something good or evil.

Music that degrades male or female dignity and glorifies drug use will poison our minds. Music and words create images in our brains. We visualize shameful stuff in our heads. And what we think is what we do. Bad stuff—wrong direction!

The opposite is also true. Rising from our beds with the words to “Awesome God” running through our heads makes it easier to sidestep the devil’s assault in the office. Quietly singing “Amazing Grace” as we walk to lunch with a friend focuses us on God’s gift instead of our worries. Martin Luther, who wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” felt music was not our invention but rather a gift from God. He taught that the devil hates it because music drives evil out of us. Luther was right.

We must be extra careful about the music that goes into our ears and into our brains. We don’t eat garbage, so why feed it into our heads through our ears? When we put wholesome spiritual food into our bodies, we can expect good spiritual health as a result. We need to discover the power of music and its effects for good or evil in our lives. After we start the day in prayer and in God’s Word, let’s add His music to our souls.

 

Someone said, “The real disasters in life happen when we get what we want.” We can relate to that. Some of you women readers wanted a man in your lives so badly you would have done most anything. Then, you got one, he verbally abused you, ignored you and treated you with contempt, all the while expecting you to cook, clean and sleep with them! You soon discovered you were better off without him.

Although that statement is true in some human circumstances, it’s not true in our relationship to God. Sometimes the problem is that when God speaks to us, He says things we don’t want to hear. Our idea of what we want God to say is different from what He says. We pray that “Thy Will be done,” but really would like to know what God’s Will is BEFORE we agree to obey and follow. This is not surrender to God but our attempt to keep control over our lives, while asking God for directions.

Our plan may be for God to give us financial security so we can mentor young men and women to help them avoid the mistakes that could send them to prison. A worthy and noble aspiration! But what is our reaction when God speaks to us and we hear Him plainly command us to minister to the homeless community that resides in a tent city a block from our house? Whoa! We immediately think, God must be mistaken. We turn it over in our minds, looking for a sign that we didn’t hear correctly. This is wrong!

Oswald Chambers writes in his book “My Utmost for His Highest” about trying to rationalize that we didn’t hear God correctly. “When I have to weigh the pros and cons, and doubt and debate come in, I am bringing in an element that is not of God, and I come to the conclusion that the suggestion was not a right one.” Our unwillingness to pay attention to what God says may very well lead to disobedience that disappoints God. But obedience leads to a richer and fuller faith. When we hear God’s voice, we must move on it and begin to obey. Let God’s hand be played out on His card table. When it’s over, we may be privileged to witness the results of His work through our efforts. If so, we’ll finally see that He was correct.

In closing, ask yourself, what attitudes lead you to discard your ideas of what you think God has planned for your life and really hear and accept His leading

Going to a funeral isn’t high on any of our lists. Funerals mean we’ve lost someone we know or love. We experience pain and sorrow, along with tears and crying. Not a very good time, usually.

Yet for us to get right with God, we’ve all got to attend what Oswald Chambers would call our own “white funeral”—the burial of our old lives. We call it a white funeral because our old natures—the accepted wisdom that we’ve relied on has gotten us nowhere—must die. Most of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior remember the exact time and date when we attended our own white funeral. Our needs changed from craving success, status, and material pleasures to craving a relationship with Jesus. It is as if we became captivated by God. The Holy Spirit pulled at our hearts like a magnet. We became new persons on the inside.

For those of us who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus, we need a white funeral—to be born again. We may scratch our heads, not really knowing what that means. What it means is this: When we come to that place where our hearts cry out to God and we open them to the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ enters into our hearts. If we truly appeal to God to change our lives in a transforming way, our old natures die and our new natures are born. We gain freedom from guilt, fear, anger, and an unforgiving heart. In its place is a heart that acknowledges sin and comprehends Jesus’ amazing sacrifice on our behalf. We become newborns—new creations in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our sinful selves die; we bury it at our “white funeral” and begin a new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

The Holy Spirit promises to grow the Fruit of His Spirit in our lives. But what does that actually mean and how do they manifest themselves on our daily walk, at work, with our families? Lets look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23:

Love: This fruit encompasses them all. When we love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19), it shows that we understand grace and have accepted God’s love for us.

Joy: When we know our names are written in the Book of Life, because of His grace, we will be joyful in the way we act and conduct ourselves around other inmates.

Peace: When we have “made peace with God,” we will cease to be anxious. Our fruit will be a calm, untroubled spirit.

Patience: “Passive” love shows itself in a spirit of tolerance and endurance around any type of personality we meet.

Kindness: “Active” love is the most convincing evidence of God’s love for us. When we are kind, people will be attracted to the Word and to us.

Goodness: Generous and good people do the right thing, even when it hurts or pricks our pride.

Faithfulness: Integrity—doing what we say we are going to do—means we walk the talk.

Gentleness: This fruit makes the weak strong and the strong gentle.

Self-control: When we show this fruit to others, they will respect us and be convinced that we have changed.

When we bear this kind of fruit, we will live the abundant, fruitful life and lead others to it, as well!

 

 

 

Famous scientist Albert Einstein was asked what he believed was his greatest discovery. He replied, “Compound interest.” Loan sharks know about compound interest and how it works. A person borrows $1,000 from a loan shark at 30% interest per week. After the first week, the person owes $1,300. Without a payment, after two weeks, the victim owes $1690. After three weeks, $2,197, and on and on.

Sin compounds too. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. And apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

Every day at the office, on the road or in our neighborhood tavern, we make decisions. Swearing, bad-mouthing the boss, our wives or boyfriends are just a few bad loans we take from Satan, the ultimate loan shark. Macho trash talk sows a negative seed. That seed grows, and a plan emerges. Once the action plan is in place, it takes only a moment of madness for our world to blow up. On the other hand, when we attempt to love people as Jesus commands, we find ourselves liking them more. As we practice good feelings toward people, we find ourselves liking more people…including those we could never imagine liking.

Walk with Einstein and give Compound Interest a try!

 

 

For most of us, if we had the history of our problematic behaviors printed out it would resemble “rap sheets” similar to criminals arrested many times. Many us would have long “rap sheets” that probably don’t begin to detail our entire sketchy history of activity. Our “rap sheets” most likely began with petty stuff. We stole a little beer from our parents, lifted a few bucks from Dad’s wallet, but soon found ourselves wanting and doing ever more dangerous and serious stuff. Temptation is an escalator…it moves us from minor to more difficult indiscretions. Take Rachel’s true story as an example.

Rachel was eleven when her parents split up. She was angry with her parents and angry with herself since she mistakenly blamed herself for her parents’ divorce.

The rage got worse when her mom’s new boyfriend started making sexual moves on her when she turned thirteen. It boiled over when her mother didn’t believe her when she told her about the advances. Rachel decided to run away.

Once on her own, Rachel needed food and began stealing it. Then someone offered her some weed, which took the pain away temporarily. Money was always a problem, so Rachel traded her body for food and drugs. That led to numerous arrests. After getting out, Rachel hooked up with a pimp who was also responsible for a large cook of meth. She started to use and then agreed to sell it. She was busted and sent away for eight years for distribution.

The devil is never satisfied with little temptations. His goal is to lead us up the escalator to “bigger and badder” sins. Remember: King David’s adultery with Bathsheba started with just a peek and ended up being first-degree murder.

We need to understand temptation. We need to know where it comes from, what it looks like, and how it works so that we can identify it, prepare for it, and deal with it. Temptation is ultimately a test. Will we do the right thing, or will we give in to the temptation?

When we realize that each temptation leads to greater sin, we need to stop and think. We must recognize the path that we’re on. Never be deceived into thinking temptation is a one-shot deal.

Jesus was tempted too. Jesus did not give in. He did not sin in the face of temptation. He won the battle. We serve a Savior who faced the same temptations we do every day. Jesus went into the wilderness for a showdown with Satan, the enemy of our souls—and Jesus won!

Let’s be on our guard. We can be confident of God’s strength to give us victory over temptation.

Some days we feel broken. Shattered. Useless. We wonder if God could ever find us useful to Him.

We need to remember that even if our lives are completely blown up, they can be repaired. God is a repairman who fixes shattered lives and makes them whole again. His tools are conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sin. These are the tools of deep, permanent, personal change in our lives.

One of the dangerous facts about sin is that the more it increases, the more our awareness of it often decreases. We become numb to our own inner rebellion. We need the touch of the Holy Spirit—or friends who are willing to be honest with us—to make us aware of our sins. Conviction is the first great tool in God’s repair shop.

Once convicted, we must confess our sins to God. When we confess them, we are agreeing with God that we are not in tune with His plan for our lives. Our confessions to Him tune the radio of our hearts to the exact frequency, bringing clear music into our souls.

When we repent, we turn away from our sinful behavior. We admit that the problem lies in us. When we repent, we give God permission to begin His repair work.

God’s forgiveness is like the finish coat of paint on an old toy. It makes it look new again. Forgiveness helps us begin to feel worthwhile again. Our spirits are made whole. We can begin to perceive ourselves as worthy because we are worthy in God’s eyes.

 

 

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become totally new persons. Our old life of bondage is gone, and a new life of freedom begins.

Many of us know bondage. Some of us were (or still are) in slavery to drugs. We know fear and what it feels like to be really afraid. Many of us were abused and are now held hostage by feelings of abandonment and rejection. We still feel the pinch of the shackles of hopelessness around the wrists and ankles of our lives.

We carry around the chains of pride and self-centeredness that prevent us from asking God to unlock the manacles of hopelessness. Some of us are afraid to trust Christ because we don’t really believe He will get our lives right. We fall into the trap of thinking that a life in Christ is all about rules and regulations. It isn’t. Anything that stresses rules and regulations as a way to God may be a religion, but it’s not a relationship. It is not true Christianity. When Jesus saves us, He saves us for a life of freedom—not freedom to sin, but freedom to do the right things.

Our Savior’s keys unlock our chains. Our old lives—with their bondage and negative patterns—are gone. A process of change begins. Our old lives are like polluted fish tanks that smell up a room when the water filter is broken. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He places a new water filter in the water tanks of our lives. He drops chlorine tablets into the reservoir of our hearts. The result is pure, sweet water that promotes life and health and hope.

Taking our faith in Jesus to work or out with our friends is an intimidating thing. We are considered wimps or worse for believing in Jesus, and we get confronted with tough questions. People want to know why a “loving” God allows starvation in Africa or massive earthquakes in poor countries or a gunman killing six-year-old kids at school. They consider us extremist, arrogant and intolerant for believing that Christianity is the only way to God.

While we should and can validate their questions and exhibit Jesus’ sympathetic and understanding heart, we must avoid the devil’s trap. Don’t let those taunts and questions intimidate us and prevent us from proclaiming the truth. So how do we avoid that ambush and share our faith? Point them to Jesus!

Jesus is not a religion—He’s a person. That makes all the difference. He the foundation that must be addressed before any other issues are talked about. As any builder knows, the foundation is the most important thing to get right. It does no good to discuss kitchen cabinets until the foundation is squared away.

People must decide who Jesus is. They must be given the chance to examine His life and ministry so that they can decide if He is a liar, a nut-job, or Lord of the universe. If they reject the claims of Jesus, then discussing God with them is a waste of time. If they come to accept Jesus as Lord, then the tough issues are put into context of a loving Lord who gave His life for us.

If the hub of a wheel is true to form, the whole wheel performs correctly. When we take our faith to the yard, we must take our searching sisters and brothers to meet the risen Lord. Everything else will fall into place once they get Jesus right!


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Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
    Hebrews 13:3

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
     1 John 3:18

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