Recapturing the Wonder (Part 2)

I admit, so many church services are simply boring. Mind you, I understand they are not meant to be entertaining, that is not what I mean. But often they are fairly informal, nice, and passionless. Many of the songs seem to be more about how much God loves us than how majestic and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) He is. Many of today’s sermons seem either like a stale lecture or a cheesy pep rally. One will tend to hear about how cool the worship was or the fun event that went on. But how often does one hear, “God was there, today! He got our attention! It was no social club today! No sir!”

Part of the reason, I believe, is we do not go with reverence or expectancy. Furthermore, often we make church about us rather than God. In fact, there are some churches who have taken out references to the blood of Jesus in their hymnals because it is “offensive,” but take out the blood and you cease to have Christianity altogether. But I digress.

The prophet Isaiah got a glimpse of God’s glory and it changed him.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” ~ Isaiah 6:1-8

When Isaiah was in the presence of God, he was not only amazed but he was also convicted of his sin. Furthermore, he did not argue the point that his lips were not unclean. Be certain of this—any time a person is truly in the holy presence of God, he or she will not stand there trying to justify him or herself. Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me! I am lost!” The Hebrew word for lost is Damah, which means to cease, to be destroyed and left desolate. “This verb depicts a violent end.” [1]

The presence of God shook Isaiah to the core.

In the New Testament we read:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ~ Acts 2:42

It was during this time as the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship of believers, the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer that they witnessed astounding moves of God.

The problem today is not that God had ceased to move, bring revivals, etc.; rather, the problem is we have discarded reverence and lost our sense of wonder. When God’s Word declares something as sin, we want to fight with Him about it. We want to make everything about us and what we want, instead of coming to Him with genuine recognition that He is God (hence, we are not). 

One can only speculate as to what could happen if we were to recapture the wonder of the Lord and surrender to Him. 

[1] Spiros Zodhaites, The Complete Word Study Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG, 1994), 2310.

Jesus’ Colossal Declaration

If I were to say, “I took my boy fishing,” you would probably assume I am a father, although I did not specifically say that I am. Or if I said that I am going to a marriage conference this weekend, you would likely think I am married. If I was brought up in a conversation, someone might say, “Yes, Geno is married and is the dad of at least one child.” Why would they come to these conclusions? I did not explicitly say that I am a father or that I am married. I did not say the boy is my son, for he could be a boy that I mentor. I did not say I am married but that I am going to a conference. Yet, one used logical reasoning to come to the conclusion I have a son and that I am married (both of which are true).

Somehow, however, many chuck such logical reasoning when it comes to the Scriptures. Some deny the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, “No where does Jesus say that he is God.” Really? In John’s Gospel, we read,

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” ~ John 10:29-33

Although Jesus did not come out and say, “I am God,” the Jews knew exactly what He was implying. Yet, how do educated individuals today not understand?

However, the following passage is more explicit, and to miss it seems to be a deliberate denial. 

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. ~ John 8:56-59

Abraham lived around eighteen centuries before Jesus, yet He says that Abraham rejoiced that he would see His day. “What?” the Jews said, “You are just a young buck, younger than many of us!” Jesus answer? “Before Abraham, I AM! When Abraham was talking to God, that was Me! And that was Me who revealed Myself to Moses in the  burning bush!” (See Ex. 3:14)

For Jesus to declare, “Before Abraham, I am!” He was not simply saying He is God, He is stating that He is the Jehovah God! This statement is, in fact, far more emphatic than simply saying, “I am God.” The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was stating. So again, how do so many educated people fail to understand today? It is one thing to deny He is God, but it is quite another to say He did not claim to be God. He most certainly did.

At This Point, Do You Walk Away?

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus miraculously provided food for over five thousand people. Wow! So far, so good. At this point, Jesus is cool and life is good. It’s sort of like today, is it not? Jesus is cool and all is good if He is dishing out blessings, grace, encouragement, and forgiveness.

When Jesus and His disciples departed from the area and crossed the sea, we are told that the next morning many of the people also crossed the sea and sought after Jesus. Again, so far, so good. They are seeking after Christ. Like today, it is good when people are seeking after Him. 

When they found Him, Jesus confronts them with their motives. They were not seeking after Him, but for His blessings. They did not desire Him; rather, they simply wanted their needs met (see vs. 25-27). This is still like today. Many people do not truly desire Jesus, but the luxurious life televangelists promise, or peace of mind of going to heaven, or a healing, or warm fuzzies during a church service.

Beginning in verse 35, Jesus states that He is the bread of life, and He will provide life to those who come to Him. Furthermore, those who believe in Him He will resurrect in the last day. Here, the people began to grumble. Driving home the point of dependence on Him, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (vs. 53). Ah, this demand and this exclusivity is too much, but Jesus does not budge from His position. We then read:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. ~ John 6:66 

Today, talk about Jesus’ deity and exclusivity; talk about the cross, repentance and renouncing of sin, holy living, and sound theology. Furthermore, take out the lights, the programs, and excitement, and watch the masses turn away. Mind you, this does not necessarily mean people will stop attending church. We are forewarned,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4

When the Gospel message begins calling you to turn from sin, to deny yourself, and to surrender unto Christ wholeheartedly, do you continue to follow and pursue Christ or do you, at this point, turn back and no longer walk with Him?

The Essence of Genuine Worship

Jesus teaches us that the worship of God is to be done in both spirit and truth (see John 4:23-24), and those who truly love Him will keep His commandments (see John 14:15-24). In essence, genuine worship is marked by obedience stemming from grateful hearts. Singing, clapping, raising our hands, and tingling sensations do not necessarily prove worship has taken place. Rather, are we coming to God through Christ and yielding to His Word and Holy Spirit? If these are neglected, then genuine worship acceptable to God is not taking place. Let us not make the same mistake as Cain, who refused to worship God on His terms (see Gen. 4:1-8).

Sacrifices of Praise

A sacrifice comes with a cost. It is to surrender something we desire for something better, and the cost can be undesirable as the heart breaks. 

Typically, “praise” is associated with joy, gladness, and an eager willingness. Honestly, often it is. However, have you ever been in a church service with a broken heart and fractured soul? You still loved God, although you might not have “felt” like it, because your heart ached and your mind was being bombarded with an onslaught of questions. Perhaps only you and God knew what was tormenting your heart, mind, and soul: loneliness, guilt/shame, loss/grief, anxieties, betrayal, etc. And while those around you sang with enthusiasm, it was an extraordinary accomplishment that you got out of bed and made it to church.

What does all this have to do with sacrifices of praise? During these times praise is a sacrifice, feeling heavy as lead as our feeble voice struggles beneath the strain. Chances are, for many, during these times you do not want to offer such a sacrifice. Believe me, I have been there (and still am, at times). Such an offering is not without pain, but it is a sacrifice for something better (albeit, not immediately). While seemingly small sacrifices, God accepts the sacrifices of tear-sprinkled praise arising from broken hearts: “You are faithful, God!” “I love You, Jesus!” “I trust You, Lord.”

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ~ Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)

God (Part 2): The Importance of Correct Perception of Him

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.

This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.

Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:

“And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)

God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.

One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets’ rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).

One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures. 

Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).

And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.