The Glory of the Church

cassetteAround 1996, I heard a sermon on cassette tape from the library of the El Monte Church of God (Holiness), El Monte, CA, the church I was pastoring at that time.  It was a sermon on the Church and was delivered many years before at the local Inter-Holiness Convention by an outstanding expositor and revered pastor, the late Raymond Pollard.  I remember being so moved by the message, especially the reading Rev. Pollard used at the conclusion of his sermon. I wish I knew who penned the piece but it was published in our church periodical, The Church Herald.  It made such an impact upon my mind and heart that I have sought in vain for over 20 years to find the reading.  I thought the reading was lost to time and posterity with the death of cassette tape media.

Then God surprised me.   This week I was reviewing our new quarter of Sunday School material, which focuses on the theme of the Church.  As I was looking over the lesson scope and sequence, I re-discovered this inspiring lost reading Rev. Pollard used! God had evidently prompted our current editor, Dr. Gordon Snider, to rediscover the piece and republish it.  Needless to say I was ecstatic and determined to capture it on permanent media so it will no longer slip away into obscurity.  This reading is reproduced below.  I hope it’s as thrilling to others as it has been to me.

“The Church of God was incepted at creation, instituted at Calvary, inspired by the blood of the martyrs and is destined to rise in the rapture.  She is the most powerful, the richest, the most peaceful, the hardest working the most elegantly dressed, the best advertised, the most benevolent organization in the world.  The oil of the Rockefellers, the steel of the Carnegies, the railroads of the Vanderbilts yea the gold of Ft. Knox could never attain the heights of her power and riches.  

medical missions“Her people are royally born–the most elite, in the highest society ever known.  There is not a sinner in her nor a saint out of her.  She has saved more  homes, delivered more slaves, clothed more nakedness, fed more hungry, slaked more thirst, sobered more drunkards, emptied more jails, opened more eyes, unstopped more deaf ears, healed more diseases, satisfied more needs, appeased more wrath, stopped more wars and settled more disputes than any police force, Red Cross, March of Dimes, summit conferences, or armed forces have ever done.

“Her banner flies high above flags of the highest civilizations.  Her foundation is surest and most steadfast this universe could ever know.  She has withstood more oppression, weathered more storms, survived more assaults, and outlasted more antagonists than any other organization.  Yet she towers higher than ever, above the filth and stench of this world.

“Her people are the most pure, holy, peaceful, meek, long-suffering, hospitable, yet the martyrdom most feared in battle, the hardest fighters, the most determined, rugged, and sacrificial people ever known.  They have died by rack, lions, stoning, sword, bullet, torture, burning a the stake, because of her.  Yet as the death angel claimed their tortured and pain-raked bodies, they shouted praise to their glorious divine Father.   

“Within her framework are found the most privileged people, the best chances for advancement, the best reward for labor, the greatest opportunities for service, the most varied careers, and the most security of any organization known.  

“Time has not weakened her, nor bloodbaths vanquished her.  When the world ceases to be, she shall still stand victorious over all: Jesus Christ the Righteous at the head, and Satan, her greatest foe, conquered at her feet.”   church

Advertisements

A Story with a 700 Year Resolution 

There s irony in the drama between Mordecai and Haman which unfolds in the Old Testament book of Esther. Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul, and Haman was the descendant of King Agag. 700 years prior to the current story another story played out in 1 Samuel 15 between Samuel, Saul and Agag, the Amalekite. God instructed Saul to destroy the Amalekites including their King Agag to punish them for fighting his people as they exited Egypt. Saul spared Agag however, setting up another showdown 700 years later between Mordecai and Haman. 

Of course the fall of Wicked Haman illustrates great poetic justice. The story highlights the  courage of both Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai to risk the King’s wrath by exposing the plot of a prince favored by the King. It further displays the sovereignty of God in protecting His people, Israel. 
But one lesson often missed due to the forgotten link between Saul and Mordecai, Agag and Haman is that Disoedience today will lead to problems later.  

Ahab’s Daughter on David’s Throne?

For 6 years it appeared that God’s covenant with David had been broken. For Athaliah, daughter of Phoenician queen Jezebel was also the wife to Jehoram, King of Judah. When both her husband, Jehoram and her son, Ahaziah, were killed by Jehu, Athaliah seized upon her opportunity to be queen. She destroyed all the royal seed of David–her grandsons– and claimed the throne of David As a Gentile queen. Had God forsaken His promise to David?  

But through the the secret intervention of his aunt Jehosheba, Joash was spared as the last surviving male member of David’s family.   Jehosheba was King Ahaziah’s sister, Athaliah’s own daughter and wife of the high priest, Jehoiada. 

Six years into this reign of Athaliah, Jehoida and Jehosheba, led a coup to overthrow the queen and re-establish the Davidic Kingdom with Joash serving as King.  What courage and independence to defy your own mother to save and hide your nephew.  Truly an act of sacrifice. 

Joash’s story begins with promise and providence.  2 Chronicles 24 tells how Joash’s youthful zeal for the Lord was lost when his mentor, Jehoiada died. Joash allowed himself to be influenced by ungodly friends. His mentor’s son, Zechariah, tried to dissuade him from drifting but Joash had him killed for his rebuke.  
A sad end to a promising and providential life.

Shallow Music vs. Hallowed Music

I’m not much for contemporary Christian music. There’s something distasteful to me about elevating a song because it’s on the top 40. (And I suppose the same could be said for Southern Gospel).   It seems so shallow to make a big deal about the newest tune that hasn’t proven it’s serviceability to the Christian family through years of worship.  Further, if an artist seems more focused on his image and style than being a conduit for the historic gospel message it’s difficult for me to take him seriously.  The music shouldn’t be more about the singer than the Savior.  In evaluating quality Christian music I’m looking for music that has stood the test of time and remained spiritually meaningful and useful.  

This hit me tonight as I was streaming some songs by a top tier contemporary Christian artist from two decades ago. Twenty years ago I dismissed most of his music as fleeting in value. Tonight I found myself drawn into worship while I was washing dishes and listening to one of his songs.  I guess the songs I was enjoying have earned their keep and I am now able to see the artist as a serious minister of music not just the latest icon of the Christian pop culture. He’s grown and so have I. 

Maybe I’m judgemental. I think my kids would say I’ve opened up considerably since their teen years. But I’m still convinced that good quality Christian music transcends fleeting popular tastes. It carries a substantive and spiritually edifying message. It has to retain it’s usefulness across generational boundaries to earn a slot in my worship library.  And it takes more than 6 weeks on the top 40 to earn that grade. 

Solitude: Alone but not Lonely

Today I am returning to a previous theme; one which I have a difficulty practicing: Solitude.  I believe we were made for socialization with God and others.  This seems counter to solitude.  But solitude can actually enhance our bonds and relationships with those whom we love and love to be with. 

Gordon MacDonald wrote about the importance of solitude in his book Ordering Your Private World. Here’s just one reason he says solitude and silence is so critical:

The archenemy of God has conspired to surround us at every conceivable point in our lives with the interfering noises of our civilization that drown out the voice of God.

What is the purpose of solitude?  Spiritually, and specifically for the disciple of Christ, solitude is elementary to the one on one relationship we share with Him.  Solitude provides quietness for Him to speak to us and for us to meditate on Him.  It disconnects us from the tyrannical demands of the clock.

Why is solitude good for us?  I took the day off from work and find myself sitting in a local public library. Its quiet except for the music playing through my Bluetooth headphones.  But the stillness of the day and  stillness of the moment have helped me think about things I would not normally take time to consider.  How often do we have the luxury of pondering the more important relationships and decisions in our lives?  If you’re like me it’s not often enough.

Where am I headed in life?  How can improve my marriage?    Should I put in for a promotion?  Where are the areas of my life where God seems to reworking me?  What are my feelings right now?   Am I sad?  Why?  Am I happy? Why? Who am I becoming?  What is the Spirit teaching me?

A vital piece of solitude for the believer the Word of God. The Bible is the source of light, truth, healing and correction. We cheat ourselves when we neglect its power and benefits. 

Solitude requires that we disconnect from distractions.  At times it may mean we close our eyes and listen to God. At other times it may mean getting buried in a book. Prayer may effective at other times.  It may mean writing (which is therapy for me), listening to music which speaks to your heart needs. Whatever the method you use, the outcome should be a brighter outlook, a clearer understanding, a deeper peace, a calm mind and heart. It should increase our mental and spiritual stamina. 
 

Are Christ’s Answers Too Easy?

​One criticism of the gospel I have heard is that it’s claims are unrealistic, it’s answers are too easy and unsophisticated and that it fails to account for the complicated rawness of real life. Critics argue that Christianity’s message fails to account for real life scenarios and complications.  They contend that easy believism is too easy and life isn’t as straightforward as we make it sound. 


But the kind of issues the gospel of Christ addresses are those of inner, spiritual conflicts, relationship challenges and transformation of behavior patterns.  These are not easy problems. In fact most of contemporary sociology and psychology struggle to resolve these common human conditions. It just so happens that Christ’s diagnosis (human sinfulness) is more accurate, and His prescription (repentance, faith, discipleship) are more effective.  


Far from offering straw men and easy, unrealiatic solutions to life’s riddles, Jesus offers both a clear perspective and a realistic hope. While our presentation of the gospel may come across as over simplification of the problem, the answers themselves are not empty or hollow.

Heritage, Hubris and Eternal Life

Philppians 3:1-11
Intimacy with Christ affects how we respond to the pressures of life.  Intimacy with Christ enables us to face life with indefatigable invincibility.  It is sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s cross, and resurrection power so that just as He was triumphant in the face of Satan we too are triumphant in the face of Satan.

imageAccording to Paul, this level of intimacy with Christ required that he refuse to claim any personal merit based on heritage, affiliation, or achievement.  Heritage and Hubris (a sense of achievment and place) were insufficient to qualify him automatically for intimacy and eternal life.

image

As I reflect on this Scripture I am reminded of how rich I am in Christian heritage.  I am a benefactor of Christian education from kindergarten to college.  I was reared in Sunday School, Sunday worship and Wednesday night prayer meeting.  My heritage exposed me to a broad base of Bible knowledge, Scripture familiarity, and doctrinal clarity.

image

Alcohol, drugs, tobacco and many other social vices never  sunk their claws into me. God was good to extend to me much prevenient grace.  Still I was a sinner.

Like Paul, my education, Bible training, heritage and relative purity are insufficient to bring me intimate knowledge with Christ.  In order to win Christ, in order to know Him intimately, I can neither claim these as substitutes for eternal life nor use them as automatic qualifiers for intimacy.  Only grace favors me with God.

Paul insisted that heritage and hubris are insufficient for eternal life.  He considered them refuse–even dung.  Before you stop reading and declare Paul and me ingrateful recipients of grace, it is important to note he did not say that his heritage was useless dung. Rather, that in light of the glory of eternal life, he considered it as USELESS as dung.  As blessed and obedient as he was as a religious Jew, he came to the conclusion that his heritage and hubris must be abandoned as a satisfactory qualification for knowing Christ.

Here is an opportunity for application.  I’ve been taught to celebrate and exult in my heritage. But at what point does our exultation in our heritage and Christian hubris become a hindrance to intimacy with Jesus?
I would suggest the following answers to this uncomfortable and probing question.  Heritage and hubris become hindrances to eternal life when they are thought to be adequate substitutes for knowing Christ in His resurrection and death.  That is, when I am satisfied to have the heritage and hubris without the intimacy.

Heritage and hubris also become hindrances to eternal life when I believe the heritage to be an adequate qualification for intimacy.
That is, because I have this heritage and hubris, I am automatically in receipt of holy intimacy with God.

So how do I know if I am depending upon heritage and hubris instead of grace?
Here are a few searching questions to help answer that question.  I invite you to ponder these questions and ask the One whose name you claim to speak to you as He did to me.

1. In the midst of suffering, do I respond in human exasperation and intolerance or do I demonstrate the reality of grace?

2. In the face of evil, do I shrink in defeat or do I enjoy the confidence of triumph with Christ?

image

3. Am I content with lifeless, powerless and calculated performance of religuous duty or do I enjoy regular, intimate communication with Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

4. Am I so satisfied with my personal accomplishments that I am not pressing for further Christlikeness?

5. Am I more likely to speak of and glorify my heritage and hubris or Christ’s cross and resurrection in my behalf?

image

6. Do I have a higher regard for my heritage and hubris or for the cross?

The glory of knowing Christ’s conquering power is too rich a commodity to be bought by human goodness. The good news is eternal life is a gift of grace. You don’t need to have the heritage or hubris of human goodness. If you have a good heritage, thank God for it. It probably kept you out of deep sin. But it’s not your ticket to eternal life. In fact, if you’re not careful, it can get between you and Christ.

What makes a Great Worship Service?

As believers engage in worship, we find a rich meaningful life. 
Admittedly, there are more flavors of corporate worship than soda pop.  Worship may be sacrament-centered or sermon-centered, observational or participatory, traditional or contemporary, clergy-driven or lay- led, formal or open, orthodox or organic. But worship of the true God can  deteriorate into lifeless routine if we become careless.  We should be able to identify a short list of common characteristics present in  great worship regardless of the style and flavor.  One observation to note is that we may consider these to be either seeds or fruits of great worship; they may lead us to worship or worship may lead us to them.  So what makes worship great? 

There is a connection between great worship and standing in wonder and awe of God.  This is why visiting the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls inspires even the irreligious to feel closer to heaven. 
Wonder has a humbling effect upon me. We feel smaller in the presence of one who is greater.
I
Wonder can be found in the music prayer or preaching.

Great Worship includes a Spirit of Praise and Joy. 

A Corporate Participatation

An Open Atmosphere of prayer where faith and hope are restored and burdens are lifted.

A clear exposition of Scripture where man’s struggles are addressed in the light of the cross.

1. Hope
2. Light
3. Faith
4. Awe
5. Expression
6. Participation
7. Joy
8.

Developing the Habit of Praise Day 7

Psalms 109:30 NLT

But I will give repeated thanks to the lord , praising him to everyone.

It is one thing for me to praise God in the privacy of my personal worship but it is quite another to have the boldness to speak of the praises of God to others around me. There is no fear at all in me that God will accept my praise. He eagerly glories in me praising Him. But others may not be so thrilled to hear men praise Him.  

The Pharisees were appalled when the crowds sang “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They rebuked Jesus for allowing what they thought was blasphemy. But Jesus’ reply is memorable: “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”   (Luke 19:40)

The Psalmist is committed to praise God to others as well. “But I will give repeated thanks to the lord , praising him to everyone.”  Am I as ready to take the risk of reproach of others for broadcasting the praises of God publically? 

Jesus, today I commit to praise you to others. Open my eyes to opportunities I have to praise you to everyone.  May my lips be a ready instrument of praise for you wherever I am so that others may glorify my Father which is in heaven. May someone today, who is oblivious to you,  hear your praises through my worship. God, be glorified in me today.

Developing the Habit of Praise Day 6

Psalms 107:21-22 NLT

Let them praise the lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and sing joyfully about his glorious acts.

The extravagant Love of God toward me should be enough for me to praise Him enthusiastically.  He has showered me with his love. He blessed me with an amazing wife and 6 beautiful children. He has provided for me, and many times in miraculous ways. He has forgiven me of my sins of pride, anger, and lust. He has given me a purpose to serve Him through the exposition of the Word. He has quenched my thirsts for emotional companionship, intellectual discovery. He has answered questions I’ve anguished over and left other questions unanswered for now. He has permitted me to see the transformation and spiritual growth of my children. He’s been their teacher, friend and guide when my efforts to correct them failed miserably.  He cares not just for me but for all those I care for.

Lord, today I praise you for your love. I bring to you my wife and children as an offering of thanksgiving and praise. You alone can love me and my family perfectly. I praise you Father for this treasure of love I have in You.