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God Wants To Be With Us

Every year around this time when I was growing up we made the long trek from Kansas City, Missouri to Etowah, Tennessee. I can remember getting up at 1 am as my father would pack the cars and me and my two brothers would get in the back seat of the car and go to sleep. By the time we would be half way there.

I had no idea how important those long trips were. For many of those years I didn’t realize that “grandma” meant “Mother’s Mother.” In fact, not until becoming a parent myself did I fully understand the need of parents and grandparents to just “see” their off spring.

For some reason it seemed that a phone call would be much more efficient. In today’s world why not just a twitter or an email. In fact we can even use Google Video and do a video call. Why is there a need to be there?

Being There is More Important

But we all know that there is something different about being there. We all know that there is something very powerful about being in the company of folks. We all know that there is something different about seeing, hugging, and kissing long last relatives, even if just for a brief moment.

Today, we find ourselves in the time of year that the Christian world celebrates the fact that God had to see, hug, and kiss us. It is then that God couldn’t just look at us from afar. God had sent prophets and priests before. God had allowed angels to interact with humanity. God had even given us a book, but God had to do a little more.

Incarnation and Christmas

There is a big theological world called “incarnation.” This is the idea that God became human. We as Christians state that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God into humanity. And I love a God like that. We have a God who is like my grandma, wanting to touch the children. The book of Hebrews says that Jesus, our High Priest, came so lose that he is “touched with the feelings of our infirmaries.” (Hebrews 4:15)

We sometimes ask why do we have to go through pains and heartaches in this life. we sometimes wonder why God didn’t just work things out in different ways. But the incarnation tells us, that though God didn’t change the circumstances, God still decided to come into our world and allow himself to be abused by structures that abuse us all. No God didn’t decide to come like a King and a Queen, but God decided to throw his hat in the ring with those who “had no place to lay their head.” (Matthew 8:20)

Yes Christmas means that God wanted to see, touch, and feel us so much that God decided to take on the worst this world has to dish out. And ultimately, that same Jesus, will return. And ultimately God has engraved Israel and all those grafted in on the very palm of his hands. (Isaiah 49:16) This will be the only reminder of the tragedy of sin and the love that would not let go.

Wrong Time For The Blessing

Proverbs 27:14 reminds us that there can be a wrong time even for a blessing. When it is time for something else, and someone comes in and loudly shouts, even the right sounding thing, we can find our blessing turning into a curse. This scripture gives the example of someone yelling the blessing to wake up the sleeper. It is time for sleeping. Sleeping has benefits and is a needed by the human body. However, someone might feel the need to wake up the sleeper to give her a blessing.

Yes this is a common occurrence. Maybe not while literally sleeping, but often we find people giving us “blessings” when they are either not needed or not helpful. In fact, even when the sentiment is true, we might be giving the “blessing” at the wrong time. How many have been told to keep their chin up because God will be a “doctor in the sick room” right when the person has not even dealt with the reality of the diagnoses? How many have been told to “stop crying” for God will bless you right when that one’s spouse has died?

Certainly these sentiments may be true, but just as the blessing that wakes the sleeper is the wrong time and becomes a curse, so does our promises of God’s aid at the wrong time. Certainly we should and must bless folks, but what this text tells me is to make sure that the blessing is at the right time, or it will become a curse to the one receiving it.

Traditional or Contemporary Worship…So What?

How do you Praise God? Today we have battles over the music that is sung in church. We have the traditionalists calling us back to the solid songs of their youth. They argue that the best music supports the church theologically and musically. It is largely a call to the rich heritage of the church.

In contrast there are those who argue for contemporary music. They argue that the church must reach the youth with their music by speaking to the “felt needs” of this generation or we will lose them.

Is Worship Just Entertainment for Us?

However, what is often missing in this argument is that often whether contemporary or traditional, we go to church, be entertained by the music and preaching we like, and then we go home unchanged. We want our music so that we can enjoy the service. We want to either should and jump up and clap or sit there in contemplative silence, but the music too often doesn’t call us to live a better life.

Something is wrong with that kind of worship that doesn’t lead to changed people. It was this kind of worship that God said God hated. God was tired of the music. We can be so proud of our orchestra’s playing “Holy, Holy, Holy” or our praise teams singing the latest praise song that we don’t recognize whether it makes any difference in our lives or the lives of those who are touched by us. God would rather we shut the church doors than continue our useless worship (Malachi 1:10).

God is Tired

God is tired of worship that ends at the door. God is tired of worship that is just so folks can “get their praise on” but doesn’t help you live a better life. God is tired of worship that makes you proud of the great brass and string players in your orchestra. God is tired of worship that doesn’t affect the people you come into contact with during the week. (Isaiah 1:11-13)

There is a cliche’ int he Black church that says that “Hallelujah is the highest praise.” It is a faulty one. God says, shut up and repent. God says, I’m tired of it. God says, obedience is better than sacrifice (worship). (1 Samuel 15:22)

Worship Battles Miss the Point

Too often worship is an end to itself. We battle to make the pulpit acrylic versus wooden. We argue over whether to have drums versus whether to have strings. We argue over whether we sing hymns or gospel songs. But today, let us stop the singing and start ministering to each other and the larger community. Then let us come back to worship with the added perspective that doing God’s will brings.

I love orchestras playing hymns and the great songs from the history of the Christian church. In addition, I love some of the great gospel songs of today. I pray that God will help me to love God’s will as much as I love to sing and worship the Almighty and Just God.

Why Worry About Doctrine When You Have Jesus?

Many Christians separate doctrine from their daily lives. This idea is manifested in the idea of “doctrine is less important than relationship.” Some who each this argue that doctrine is good and fine, but a personal, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ is more important. This is the common way that this is taught. We hear about how some Christians know too much doctrine, but don’t know the Man behind the doctrine.

There is definitely value in reminding people that the Christian walk is not merely a thing of the “head,” but it is also a thing of the “heart.” I think this is a part of what these sisters and brothers are preaching when they push this idea, but it has the side effect of making people think that a proper and good relationship to God can be obtained devoid of doctrinal understanding. Often little definition is given for this “relationship with Jesus” beyond a comparison to a friendship.

Is Doctrine Merely Nice to Know?

This idea makes doctrine something that is “nice to know.” It is not important or even valuable. It is an impediment. What this view misses however is the is a valid definition of doctrine. Doctrine is not esoteric, useless, or irrelevant facts. Doctrine is simply codifying our understanding of God. Certainly it will change as we learn more, but it is simply not possible to not have doctrine. We may have a doctrine we have not thought about much. We may have doctrinal understandings that center in irrelevancy, or we may have doctrinal understandings that focus totally on things that are relevant to daily lives. We simply cannot dispense of doctrine.

While it is true that having a growing connection to the Divine life is more important than merely knowing about the Most High, it is also true that one cannot fully separate our learning about God from our real relationship to God.

In short, if you are growing in your relationship with your wife, would you stop learning about your wife? Will you get to a point that you no longer study to find out what makes her happy? Do you stop learning about her using the tools you have access to? How is that any different from learning all you can about God?

The False Dichotomy

Ultimately it is a false dichotomy. You will not be growing in this “relationship with Jesus” if you have no desire to grow in your knowledge of Jesus Christ (Doctrine). In fact, how can you even know the difference between the false Jesus and the true Jesus unless you have some kind of learning to back it up. I know my wife immediately from her voice, from the way she looks, and from the things she does. How is it that I can be ready for the last day when God will have a people who “follow the lamb withersoever he goest.” (Revelation 14:4) If I marginalize or put down the very pursuit of knowledge of what Jesus is doing and will do in this world and in my own life.

In short, the separation of doctrine from life is not a viable position. The true position is to live out your doctrine. Live out your understanding of God. We don’t have to choose between putting an ephemeral and undefined “relationship with Jesus” above our understanding of Jesus. Neither do we have to choose to ignore doctrine altogether while glorifying this disconnected idea of “relationship.” We can go another road that is a doctrinally informed and lived life that is empowered by a growing relationship with the Most High.

Good Is Not Good Enough!

One of my seminary professors preached a powerful sermon. In it he argued that the greatest temptation for most of us is not to do that which is wrong. Many of us have that temptation, but it is not the greatest one. The greatest temptation is to do that which is “good” rather than that which is “great.”

Here the temptation is to attempt to accomplish good things rather than accomplishing your God given purpose which for you would be great.

We all have been called to a particular work by the Most High God. Like Jeremiah, God knew us before we were born and apointed us for a particular work. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Now this work is not always easy. It may not be the work where you will make the most money. It may not be the work where you will gain the most noteriety. It may not be the work that grandma, momma, and daddy want you to do.

Now you may have a natural ability for this work, but remember we are not talking about being “good” at his work, we are talking about doing a God-given “great” work. It will not be easy to move from Good to Great. This requires more ability than you have. In addition, it requires more power and endurance than you have. In short, your God given task is something that requires your faith so that you can grasp ahold of the one who is mighty and desires above all things to bless us. We will literally not be able to see where God is taking us unless we look by faith. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

You will be tempted to only do that which you could have done without the Spirit of God empowering you. But God has enough of the “good,” God needs someone willing to follow God into “greatness.” Some Christians use their own power and end up coming short of where God wants to take them.

God needs someone to speak to Pharoah to let my people go (Exodus 5:1), but many would instead speak to their freinds and collegues abouth how they wish they could go. God has placed in someone’s heart to start agencies to feed thousands when there are not enough funds to accomplish this, but instead they settle for giving a dollar to the man on the side of the street. If you can see it, if you can understand if fully, if you totally know the way, then you might be settling for “good” rather than pushing to “great.”

Good may get you accolades, good may cause someone to pat you on the back, but great will unsettle the “present evil world.” (Galatians 1:4) Great will throw the evil one’s kingdom off its foundation (Acts 17:6). “Great” will do what “good” can’t even attempt.

Stop settling for good, God has called you to great. Be like Abraham. God found him in a good situation. He was comfortable living in the land of his parents in Ur. (Genesis 12:1) But God had other plans for Abraham, and God has other plans for you. God called him to go to a land that Abraham didn’t know of, the promised land. IN leaving, Abraham was making that long trek from “good” to “great.

God has called you to greatness, stop settling for good.

Does Your Work Require Faith?

Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Ron Edmondson asked the simple question “Is the work you are doing requiring faith?”

We all have been given a work to do. We all have been given an assignment from God. And if we are to do that work in a way that God would be pleased, it must be in the power of faith. We simply cannot do our God given assignment without the power that comes from God and we appropriate through faith.

Abram and Sarai were advanced in age and were past child bearing age, but their assignment from God was to have a child of promise. There was no possible way that that work could be done, but yet, there was the promise. And when faith was allowed to flourish, Isaac was born.

Today, God has given you a promise. God has called you to a work that is impossible to do, without faith. And yet with faith, mountains can be moved. (Matthew 17:20). If you can do your work without Faith…then I wonder if it is truly your work to do!