Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Time to Worship?

I don't remember when, but sometime ago I realized that a lot of people show up late for church. At first I thought it was just my church, but then I talked with other pastors and they admitted that people show up late at their worship services too.

Realizing that other churches had regular late attenders, I let the issue go. I figured it was a cultural thing that needed to be accepted. Some people are just late.

A few months ago my opinion changed. Ten minutes before one of our services I noticed one of our seasoned saints who is always early for the worship service sitting by herself reading her Bible. So I went over to her and asked, "Why are you always on time for church?"

Her answer surprised me. She said, "The worship service is a time when I give God my best. If I'm not here on time, I can’t sing his praise. If I'm not here early, I can’t meet the guests that might not know God. It's my responsibility as a Christian to be here to give God my worship and serve people who come."

Is she fanatical? Is she over scrupulous? Is it that she's a part of that 'greatest generation' and does what is right because it's right? Maybe or maybe she's just right.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Real Question

In talking with agnostics and atheists about my faith over the years I have learned a great deal about my own hope in Christ. Their honest and open comments and questions have helped me clarify what I believe and why. One of the comments that clarified my relationship with Jesus revolved around the exclusivity of Christ and the way a person gains access to heaven.

The problem many unbelievers have with Christianity is that Christ is considered to be the ONLY way to God. They would prefer that Christ be a way and that the severity of hell not exist for those who do not believe. Agnostic E.O. Wilson complained about hell and Christianity’s claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven in his book The Creation, which I would not recommend, “And that is just the beginning of how long condemned souls will suffer in hell – all for a mistake they made in choice of religion during the infinitesimally small time they inhabited Earth” (p.6). His point is that eternal hell is a ridiculous outcome for a brief life that mistakenly chose a religion or system of life that was not right.

I understand what he and others who hold his view are saying and I agree. That a person would be sentenced to an eternity of suffering for a mistaken belief system is unthinkable to me.

I am thankful that my relationship with God is not built merely on my mental capacity to understand God and choose to do right, but on my love for God. If salvation and an eternal relational bond with God are created by having and believing the right facts about God, then all the demons of hell and the devil himself would be redeemed. James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. Their sound theology does not save them or make their relationship with God right.

So how then is a person’s life saved from sin and death? Romans 10:9-10 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. It’s not enough to know the facts about God. You must believe them in your heart.

The heart is the seat of emotions. The heart is where we feel what we believe. Those who are saved and are united with Christ are those who love God.

The real question that must be asked and answered is, “Do you love God?” It is not enough to say you believe in Him and in what He has done for us in Christ. In order to be saved a person must love God. This is much more difficult than believing a bunch of facts, saying a prayer, signing a card, and belonging to a church.

To truly love God means that God must matter more to you than yourself. To truly love God is to trust Him. To truly love God is to surrender all that you are to Him.

This is not something a person does naturally. In our natural selves none of us can love God. We love ourselves too much. We love being pleasured and empowered. Being able to define our destiny and discover our dreams are much more appealing than looking to God for direction and serving Him like a slave. But that is exactly what a person does who loves God. Serving others like a slave and forfeiting our anger, our pride, our agenda, and our rights is what we do when we love them. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. Love is hard, if not impossible.

So how do we come to love God? 1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. God must first love us before we can love Him. Thankfully, God has loved us. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. In Christ God has shared His love with us. This love, like all love, came at a great price. It cost God His son.

What overwhelms me is that God loved us and gave His son for us even though we rejected God and despised His Son. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God did not love us because we honored Him and His Son. Even though we did not love God, He loved us. Even though we believed God was wrong and we were right and we did not want God to have a say in our life, God loved us.

If we receive the gift of His love and love Him with the love He has given to us, then we are saved. Yes, to love Him you must understand something of who He is and believe in what He has done. But it is not enough to merely understand who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. We must love God.

We can know that we love God by our actions. Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). If we love God, we will obey his commands. And what does He command? What are His greatest commandments? Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The real question is not do you believe in God and the Christian faith system. The real question is, “do you love God.” That is the question. We would do well and serve our world well to stop talking about God as though He were not in the room. God is there. God is here. God is everywhere. He is not an it or a religious choice. He is God and He is either loved or not loved.

Maybe unbelievers, atheists and agnostics could be more open to the truth claims of Christianity if they knew and we lived as though the issue was not facts and systems, but the real issue was love. Because the real issue is love.