Holy Week Musings: Palm Sunday- Evaluate Expectations

Today, 4/1/2012, is celebrated as Palm Sunday. It is the day Jesus made is triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt and people laid palm fronds before Him proclaims Hosanna. Jesus came to Jerusalem for Passover and excitement was buzzing. He had raised Lazarus from dead and taught from the Mount of Olive. People were excited about what Jesus was about to do. They eagerly expected that the tyranny of Rome would be shaken off and that Jesus would take his place on David’s throne to rule as Messiah. On that day, many years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem in the way that scripture prophesied Messiah would enter Jerusalem. The buzz that day had to be immense and it culminated in a huge spontaneous celebration. Palm Sunday was in essence really the first flash mob, only there was no planning involved, it just happened. People were excited. God was about to change everything and life would soon be better for all. Unfortunately, they missed the reality. Yes, God was about to change everything, just not in a way that matched expectations. Rather, God moved in a greater way that was beyond improving our life now, but rather making a way for all to be made right, fully. For Jesus did not lead a revolution or take the throne. He did not destroy Rome and life was not going to be any different. Now certainly the throngs and cries of the people had to bring temptation to invoke the plan of doing whatever to make life best for now. He could have taken the throne and undid of Rome but that would have missed the point of undoing what had been done. Adam had put all of creation under a curse of sin by one action. Jesus by one action made the way of restoration and redemption. He made it possible for man to be in direct relationship with God. He suffered greatly to bring freedom.

People expected and wanted one thing but God had something else in mind. Today, often times we are not any different than the Palm Sunday crowd. We want God to make our life best in the moment. We are focused in what God is doing for me know. We get upset if God doesn’t somehow bring circumstance to our liking. Personally, I have had my own expectations shattered at times and it did lead to periods of great anger and sin. God didn’t do things the way I thought He should. See our expectations are dangerous things and are usually wrong. Our expectations are based on our view of the world and what we think is best in the moment. Our expectations come out of our selfishness. Life doesn’t play out in accordance with what we think is “our best life now.” Things do not work out in accordance with what we want. And if we get what we want, the how we get there is usually not the way or path chosen on getting there. The story that plays out in life is never what we expect and always filled with surprises. There are many reasons for the many twists and turns of life that run contrary to even the most honorable of expectations.

So does that mean we should not have expectations? No, but we need to be constantly evaluating our expectations and desires. We need to continually be submitting whatever we expect or want before God. We need to exam self and the motives behind what we expect. We need to continually pursue God and his truth and change our own perspective to line up with His perspective. We need to move beyond the momentary and temporary and be open to whatever greater has in store. Ultimately, God meets our wants, desires, and expectations. When God does act, He acts in ways that far exceed whatever we could hope or imagine. Just like God’s plan of redemption truly met the needs of all who are willing to accept it. God had a better way. This remains true to this day. So, take time to examine where you are at, what you expect of God, what you expect with others, and what you expect of self. Examine all in light of scripture and ask God to direct paths and steps, even if things to do not go the way you expect. For Gods ways always exceeds expectations, even if we do not grasp it.

Holy Week Musings: The Ascent

Tomorrow 4/16/2011 is Palm Sunday.  It is the day of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem with people proclaiming Him as King. A lot of time is spent remembering that day as it is celebrated in churches throughout the world.  How much time is spent thinking and talking about the approach to Jerusalem?   There are several events and teaching that transpire as Jesus approaches the city and the enfolding of His mission with the suffering that will soon follow.  Each gospel account references different things that happened as Jesus moved with purpose from Jericho to Bethphage to Jerusalem.  He approach the city knowing full well what was to come.  He did so faithfully without wavering.

Outside of the actions and teachings of Jesus leading up to Holy Week, my mind is going to what Jesus was experiencing during this time,  as He knew what was to come, that suffering, betrayal, and death awaited.  Here is one incredible thing, as he ascended to Jerusalem, to that which God set before him, He experienced a wide range of emotions and maintained his course. He did not shrink back, pull back, or hold back. He moved ahead.  Think for a minute Jesus focusing on Psalms 120 through 134 the Psalms of Ascent and knowing that what He was about to do created the help, peace, and salvation.  Jesus kept the focus and surrender and moved ahead, knowing what He knew, He still followed and surrendered.  Jesus knew the personal cost to him, but He also knew the purpose and intent of what He was to endure. He knew the victory and salvation it would bring.

Now in our life and call, we do not know the details like Jesus did, but we do know that there is victory.  We do know that God is faithful even when we do not understand what is before us.  If we follow God’s leading, we will receive His blessing in God’s time and in God’s way.  For we know that God is love and while there is pain, suffering, and threats untold, God is greater.  Sure, we may endure great suffering for a time, but as we walk the road God set before us and approach that which He has called us to, God’s purpose will be fulfilled always.  There may be great pain and suffering getting to where God calls, but His will and His love will always be served. Whatever are the evil intents, if surrendered to following God and His ways, He will always bring the victory.

Yet, folks do and will lose out.  The losing out happens when any one of us leave the path of ascent.  We when go down our own way and leave God’s path there are consequences. When we do not surrender, trust, and obey there is loss. Loss that can impact many more than just our self.  This is seen over and over in scripture as deviation and distrust bring choices that have great impact.  The choices is ours minute by minute, as we are all in the ascent, approaching that to where God want us, until we reach the final moment when “It is finished” for this life and we move on to New Jerusalem.

Passion Week Musings: Jesus displays anger at temple

Today’s thoughts focus on the first then Jesus did upon arrival in Jerusalem. Since he went about his Father’s business, the first place he went was to the Temple. Now the temple was set up as was normal for the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. There were booths selling animals for sacrifice and booths for exchanging money for “Temple coins.” It seems to me those coins were the equivalent of an arcade token. You could not spend other money in the temple; instead, you had to have the special coin of use nowhere else. Add to that, the merchants were making it easy for those traveling to Jerusalem. They did not have to select a lamb or dove prior to making the trip to Jerusalem. They did not have to tend to it for a week while traveling to Jerusalem. All they had to do was show up, purchase a sacrifice and go on their way. It was profitable and ingenious. It was making it easy for folks to do their duty at little cost to self. So Jesus arrives, sees this grand program all set up in the court of Gentiles (only place foreigners allowed) and comes across this scene, which in my find would be similar to a country fair. If it was today there probably would also be assorted thrill rides somewhere close. So Jesus arrives, gets angry and disrupts the whole scene driving them all away. The portrayals of this event most likely do not even come close to doing justice. Jesus was angry and likely angry for many reasons. The chief reason though is summed up in Luke 19:46B (ESV) “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

There is a contrast between what God intended for the Temple including the court of Gentiles, and what the process had became. The Temple was about communion and interaction with God with space designated for those not part of Israel to engage in communion with God. The temple was all about facilitating connection with God almighty. Now the feast day and Passover in particular was very important. Instead, it became a big commercial enterprise serving everyone of Israel and all that came to partake. The offered services really in essence made sacrificing easy for you did not really have to bring your own. If you did, most likely it was disqualified as imperfect forcing you to buy one at the temple, which most likely was an animal disqualified from someone else. The whole scene served as huge barrier to people truly seeking to connect with God and follow through with what God required. A time of solemn remembrance and celebration became about either creating an obstacle for genuine worshipers or providing short cuts for those who did not care to give the whole devotion and simply intended to follow through with the duty.

In thinking over why Jesus became angry, it is worth reflecting how we manage church today. The gifts and talents God has given to members of the body are sold just as readily as the goods offered in the court of the Gentiles. We readily depend on what God has given others to aid our growth and communion with God. More often than not we pay for it. We cycle and recycle Sermons, worship music, and teaching usually at a cost. The Gospel is even denigrated to something cheap and easy with no real cost to the individual. The Gospel has become just the frame around which many build their own Kingdoms, separating things from others that is meant for own profit. In a large sense, we have developed a self-involved approach to worship that involves passive engagement with no real true engagement of self. It would be the equivalent of waiting to get to the temple and buying a dove or goat because it is easier. The truth is, the Church as we know it had digressed far away from a fellowship of believers supporting one another to often what is a group of individuals gathered together engaging in corporate worship as individuals. There are people seeking genuine interaction with God and other believers, and there are those who are not. However, we have great barriers between self and others and people all too to sell prefabricated information that prevents true engagement and attachment, creating a barrier between God and us. Far too often there is very little genuine response to God’s reveal reality much less following and acting with dependence and gifting from the Holy Spirit even by those making claims of same. Each of us need to take a look at ourselves and see are we engaging in genuine worship that reflects community and a house of prayer, or do we simply engage in a machine moving money and filling the pockets of others with money? Now it is worth noting that there are those out there following God in spirit and truth and moving beyond the machine around us that professes to aid God’s kingdom but simply places barriers or cheapens God’s grace.

Take time, seek God, pray and ask for revelation of how robbers have been let into or engaged in your own walk with God, for we all have given money and time to thieves. Examine yourself and see are you genuinely seeking God, or after something to simply satisfy and build self? Do we walking in loving God and loving others, or do we simply engage in what is expected and put in some time. Does God daily impact your life? These and many other questions come to mind but all revolve around living surrendered to God or serving self. So two paths are clear, the path of thieves who draw the anger and wrath of God, or the path of a genuine worshiper seeking to come under God’s rule and bring Him glory.

Passion Week Musings: Palm Sunday

Today was Palm Sunday. It is the first day of what is celebrated as Passion Week, which celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Grasping the events of the week really starts with this day, know as Palm Sunday. It is interesting to consider the symptoms of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. An interesting article, http://www.answers.com/topic/palm-sunday, indicates palm fronds were a symbol of victory and triumph. The book “Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible” edited by J.I. Packer and M.C. Tenney indicated that palms were also symbolic of righteousness. It also is reported that palm fronds serve as the covering during the Biblical feast of booths. This symbolism is important for us when considering the events of Palm Sunday. Jesus was recognized as coming royalty, acknowledged for righteousness, and prophetically pointing to Jesus serving as our covering as that covering was laid before his path. The aforementioned article also referenced the riding in on a donkey as being symbolic of entering in peace versus entering on a horse which would symbolize war. So take some time to think about that symbolism while taking time to read the Luke account of the Palm Sunday story. Feel free to also take time to read the account in Matthew 21: 1 – 17 and Mark 11: 1 – 11. After reading the passage will offer brief commentary on three reactions that occurred during Jesus approach to Jerusalem.

Luke 19:28-44 (ESV): Luke When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.
As he was drawing near–already on the way down the Mount of Olives–the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side
and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

 

Now let us take a look at three reactions to Jesus entry. First there was the reaction of great expectation. Jesus was recognized as the coming Messiah. The crowd in their response declared Jesus as Messiah, the coming Son of David, with the expectation of deliverance from oppression and living a time of victory and peace. The anticipation and expectations were high. It was seen the time had come for Messiah to act and bring freedom.

The next reaction is that of Jesus. He understood the reactions, and the expectation. He recognized that they did not grasp that for him to become the true covering, to offer true freedom from oppression, to be able to being true peace, he would need to be sacrificed and suffer much. Jesus knew what they were blind from seeing and understanding. Even though the celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread and Passover, they did not grasp the meaning. So Jesus wept for he knew the full extent of what was to come. He knew the consequences that would result. He knew that it was necessary for the bringing of true peace.

The third response was that of the religious elite, those in power in Israel. The saw the reactions, heard the proclamations and acted in fear. The conspiracy to bring about Jesus death took full shape and they were not going to rest until they solved the threat to their power and control. They were comfortable with their position and power, Jesus coming and taking over was the last they wanted. What made it worse is Jesus came not giving the honor for faithfully administrating Torah and the people, but rather challenged them at every turn, yet while remaining righteousness an honor. Jesus actions and words brought the shame; they could not have that, so the only way to remove the threat was to see to Jesus death.

The end result of the responses is what lead up to the ongoing events of Passion Week, the very elements that took place so that all may be brought to peace and free of oppression. For true peace is only found through the sacrifice of the innocent and redemption by the power of blood.


 

Fellowship of Maceio English service 9-26-2009: Worship in spirit.

On September 26th, 2009 I spoke at Fellowship of Maceió Church, in Portuguese, Igreja Batista da Comunhão, after my brother-in-law, Pastor Lon Davidson asked me to speak at there English service.  I will post here the thoughts I shared while speaking. It probably is not a perfect replication of all I said but the essential points are included. 

Good evening, I was surprised when Pastor Lon asked me to speak at the service but am glad to be doing so. After being asked to speak, I prayed and asked God what to speak about and the direction he pointed me was to speak about what it means to worship in spirit and truth.  Tonight we focus on worship in spirit. 

 The main text for this topic is John 4:20-24 and it is where Jesus talks about worshiping in spirit and truth.  

John 4:20-24   Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 Now in order to understand what it is to worship in spirit and truth we first need to have an understanding of worship. There are two passages that point to the essential meaning of worship.

Romans 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 

John 3:30 “He must increase, I must decrease”

For the purpose of this study worship is defined as putting God at the forefront and involves elevating God and surrendering self.  Now there can be whole sermons written on the nature of worship but this simple definition is central to what we are examining.

It is also good to be aware of what the issue was that Jesus was responding to.  Samaritans and Jews had significant issue of who held the proper place of temple and followed God truly. Samaritans believed that the temple belonged at Mount Gerizim, Jews in Jerusalem. They really were at strong conflict; they did not like each other at all.   So, yes Jesus response was contrary to both views.  True worshipers worship in spirit and truth.  Today we are examining worship in spirit. 

In order to understand what it means to worship in spirit first we  need to understand what is spirit?  The bible has multiple references to spirit. 348 references in the  Old testament, 350 references in the new testament. Now not all those references are referring to the human spirit, some reference the Holy Spirit, some reference evil spirits. But the bible does speak specifically about the human spirit. Here are some verses to give an example:

Psalm 51:11 “Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me”

Matthew 5:3 “blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

Mark 14:38 “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”

 Rom 8:16  “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

The spirit is the inner most part of man.  The bible tells us that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  If you think about it, the Holy of Holies is symbolic of the human spirit.  The spirit is the deepest part of humanity. The spirit is the place that Holy Spirit indwells:

1Co 6:19  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own

 

Worship in spirit is all about God with us. It is about being indwelt with the Holy God in our spirit. It takes things away from rightness of place and into being indwelt and surrendering to the Holy Spirit.

It is all about a covenant relationship with the almighty God, where God is within us, leading us daily.
Now to understand the nature of this relationship it is important to understand the past covenants, in particular with Israel.

Do you what we refer to as the law was not the first covenant.  Rather it was the second option.

God first simply wanted Israel to hear his voice and obey. The biblical reference for this is Exodus 19:5.  However, the voice of God scared them and they wanted to renegotiate the terms.  This is found in Exodus 20:18-19.

 God agreed to renegotiate and this resulted in God using a mediator or intercessor: Moses, priests, and prophets.  It resulted in the Torah, what we call the law: mediated instructions. This can be found in Deuteronomy 18:15-19

 But now because of Jesus Christ we no longer need a mediator. We have a relationship with access to God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is not just hearing God’s voice. It is not just following God’s mediated instructions.  It is being indwelt by the Holy and living God through the Holy Spirit. There are three passages that really explain how this works:

Colossians  1:27  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

This indicates that it is Christ in us that everything points to, it is the essential point. Yet, we know Jesus is in heaven as indicated in the next verse;

 Hebrews 9:24  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

So Jesus is described as in us, yet He is in Heaven with the father.  How can both be true? This is answered in the next verse;

Eph 3:16, 17a  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-

Jesus is in us, through the Holy Spirit residing in our spirit. 

So here is how it works.  Jesus is in heaven with the father, interceding on our behalf. Our faith enables us to be redeemed through his sacrifice for our sins.  This enables us to be filled with God’s presence through the Holy Spirit in our spirit. This is the dynamic of worship in the spirit. We have the Holy Spirit who communicates to Jesus who goes before the father. It is really an amazing thing to have all aspects of God interacting when we worship in spirit. 

God is truly with us. His presence abides in us.  So since the Holy Spirit resides in us we can begin to understand worship in spirit.  It really is about an ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit and as such with God. 

Let’s look at understanding relating with the Holy Spirit a little bit more, how do relate with the Holy Spirit?

 Four passages help explain this better:

Ephesians 5:19  Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery, but be being filled with the Holy Spirit.

We all know what it is like to be drunk with wine. It is a loss of self control.  The imagery stands in contrast to being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit involves a release of self, and letting the Holy Spirit fill.  It is an ongoing process. Actually most English translations describe the passage as be filled with the Holy Spirit but if you look at what the actually translation is, it is be being filled. As I stated it is an ongoing process.  Now lets look at the next verse that helps understand relating with the Holy Spirit.

Mat 11:28-30  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yokupon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Now you may be thinking what that verse has to do with the Holy Spirit. Well, if you examine the meaning of yoke it is clear it points to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to the right way of living.  There are actually two ways the word yoke was used that help us to understand this. A Rabbi’s (teacher) instruction for students is called a yoke. It is how a Rabbi expects his disciples to live. Now we have a more common understanding of a yoke in relations to animals. A yoke guides them in the right path or direction and keeps them from heading their own way or direction.  In the same way the Holy Spirit is our guide and leads in the right path.

The next passage is really two separate verses but they really emphasize the point.

Galatians 5:16 & 25 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” & “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

We always have a choice, walk in self or live by Spirit.  Go our own way, or follow the Holy Spirit. It is up to us, choose to submit to the Holy Spirit, God within, or we follow the way of self. Let’s look at this in another verse:

 John 15:4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

How do we abide in Christ, what was Jesus talking about here. Well, it is worship in the Spirit and surrender to the Holy Spirit. Worship in spirit is daily following the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is daily surrendering self to His presence. It is abiding in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. When we engage in such daily surrender God gives us many benefits. It is not about some external manifestation. It is not about some internal mystical experience. It is about God with us and daily abiding in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits.

First the Holy Spirit gives testimony to our New Identity.  Romans 8:16-17 states:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Holy Spirit also teaches us as seen in John 14:26:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

It is also seen in John 16:13:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Both those passages actually show the Holy Spirits function here on earth and in our relationship. Leading us and teaching us truth is one of those roles. Not only does He lead us into truth, when we ask for wisdom the Holy Spirit is the one who leads us into Wisdom.

James 1:5  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Holy Spirit  leads us to repentance and helps us overcome our flesh. I already referenced

 Galatians 5:16  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

and it clearly shows the Holy Spirit has a role in our overcoming sin.

 When we worship in spirit and surrender to the Holy Spirit we receive fruit. This is seen in Galatians 5:22-23 which should be familiar to you.   

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

When we worship in spirit and surrender we receive these things in the midst of our circumstances. They come from  surrender to the Holy Spirit.

 Also the Holy Spirit gives us gifts, things to use to make disciples as seen in:

 1 Corinthians 12:7-11  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. So you can see surrender to the Holy Spirit and walking in worship in spirit has many benefits.  Now I want to bring this to a close and give you some questions as an application point.

 In summary, worship in spirit is surrendering to God on a daily basis and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is ongoing relating with God.  It is God dwelling in us and leading us on His path. Now it can involve righteous behavior. It can involve internal, mystical experience. It can involve outpouring and external manifestations. It can involve supernatural activity. There are places where we sense the Holy Spirit active, such as in this church. But none of these are worship in spirit. Worship in spirit is daily, ongoing surrender of self to the Holy Spirit. So for application thing about these questions:

 What is more evident in your life?

Are you walking in flesh or walking in the Spirit?

Are you depending on self or things of this world for what is described as fruit of Spirit?

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today that you need to change to walk in the Spirit and live out worshiping in Spirit?

Now I will close in prayer, take a few minutes to think about those questions and I will then pray.

 

 

Dear heavenly father, thank you for sending the gift of your Son. Thanks for sending us your Holy Spirit and truly being with us.  Lord, make us aware of when we are walking in flesh and not the Holy Spirit.  Draw us into deeper worship in spirit while we release self and fill us with your Holy presence through the Holy Spirit. Thank you father, for making this way for us, help us to surrender. In your name, Amen.