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Our DAILY GOSPEL DEVOTIONAL is the story of Jesus from Incarnation to Ascension. This is a chronology and harmony of the gospel accounts in which the ongoing narrative and doctrinal context are carefully considered. In one year we reflect on every passage of every gospel.
May God bless you as we follow the disciples on the journey through the earthly life of Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Submission to Authority Part 1: Introduction

Christians by nature of their relationship to God through Jesus Christ have agreed to obey His authority. This includes those parties invested with delegated authority on this earth. All authority starts with God, and from the Supreme authority we recognize delegated authority. Authority structures in human relationships are designed by God to accomplish His purposes. All people who claim the name of Christ are to be involved in submitting themselves one to another (Ephesians 5:21), which is the path to blessing (1 Peter 3:8-12).

Many problems in life can be traced back to a misunderstanding of submission to authority. We thought we could do it our way and it messed up our life. Many ruin their relationships and wreck their faith because of rebellious attitudes. Many want to equivocate on the clear teachings of the Bible regarding the nature of submission in relation to obedience. Obedience is about our actions toward authority, while submission is about our attitude toward authority. Christian submission, whether a policeman, parent, or person in charge is around or not, should be from the heart, seeking to please God and knowing that He will reward us.

Submission is required for sanctification – Romans 8:7, 13 – we do not naturally submit to God, but believers we have the ability to submit. Our flesh fights against it, but the Holy Spirit can lead us to victory over our flesh the through the process of submission.

Heaven has an authority structure, with God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, then the archangels and other angels who all submit to those above them. Satan’s kingdom has a hierarchy (Ephesians 6:12), and he and his minions war with God’s children (1 Peter 5:8).

James 4:7 – Submission involves resistance to Satan. Isaiah 14:12-15 – Lack of submission is the reason for the fall of Satan. By not submitting to authority, we are in rebellion (1 Samuel 15:22-23), and this is why so many suffer so needlessly. There is tremendous freedom in submission. We are set free from the anger and bitterness of wrong actions toward us, and free to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).

The world teaches us to strive for independence, but biblical submission is concerned with interdependence (Romans 12:4-5 / 1 Corinthians 12:14-27). Submission makes us a servant to others; thus submission is the surrendering of our independence. In submission we place the interests of others above our own personal interests (Romans 15:1-2 / Philippians 2:1-4), which enables us to humble our thirst for recognition.

In the eyes of the world, the greatest is the one who has no one over him. In the kingdom of God, Jesus said that whomever would be the greatest would be the servant of all (Mark 9:33-37, 10:43-44). Being a disciple of Jesus means talking up our cross by denying ourselves (Matthew 10:38-39 / Mark 8:34-35 / Luke 9:23-24 / John 12:24-25). Submission is the attitude which underlies servant leadership. When we subordinate our interests to those of the ones we lead, we die to self. In this way we become models of submission to the church (1 Peter 5:1-7).

God is the key and Christ is the model and the means for submission. In Romans 13, Paul tells us that we are to be subject to all authority because God has orchestrated it (Romans 13:1-7). In Ephesians 5, the husband and wife relationship is patterned after the relationship of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:21-33). In Philippians 2, the submission we are to have one to another is to imitate Christ’s submission (Philippians 2:5-13). Peter also makes God the focus of submitting to governmental authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), to workplace authority (1 Peter 2:18-20), and to those who cause them suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25, 4:19). Respect for and obedience to authorities is important because it is an expression of God’s authority over us.

The Bible teaches unconditional submission, but not unconditional obedience. Submission would include those times when we don’t agree with those in authority over us or feel that they are wrong. Even though the Bible differentiates between submission and obedience, the only time we are not to obey is when we are told to do something that is in direct contradiction to God’s written Word. That contradiction must be based on fact not feeling. Submission doesn’t mean we can offer no opinion, or that those in authority don’t need our opinion.

Acts 19:13-16 – You can only exercise authority to the extent at that you are under authority. The policeman saying "Stop in the name of the law" says that because he is standing in the place of the law and speaking on behalf of it. To the degree that he speaks for the law, then he can enforce the law and he has authority. When he steps outside of the law, he has lost his authority even though he still says, "Stop in the name of the law." Praying “in Jesus name” is not some magical incantation, it is representative of our being under His authority. It says we come in the name of our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), on the merits of Jesus, not on our own merits. We must pray consistent with His character and His will, which is what in His name means.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sweetest Sound

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.
(Proverbs 18:22 – ESV)

On our anniversary day, I think back to a time when I came face to face with the reality of my love for my wife. Oh yes, certainly I did love her and I knew it, and I knew that she knew it too. We have a great marriage, and we go through the ups and downs and “all arounds”, and we grow through it all, to the glory of God, we pray.

Now I don’t want to sound all pious about our “picture book” relationship, I want to be real, and to help you with some hope. The truth is that sometimes things don’t work out like we want them to, but the Lord of Life has a way of helping you regain a true focus and rediscover the depth of devotion when the shallow waters of situation come roaring into your mind.

You may be distracted, disappointed, disgruntled, or in despair, but I hope God will help you apply this to your situation. He can turn any situation into a celebration of Him and those good things He allows us, even if only for a season.

You see, we were in church one Sunday, and my wife had a sudden, intense attack of pain, and she couldn’t tell if it was just some muscle thing or something much more serious, because it was near her heart region. She was in incredible agony, and she had that look of “ultimate concern” on her face as tears were streaming down her clothes. The church had the look of horror as we ran her out of the building as fast and as calm as we could.

We rushed her to the emergency room, and they were able to stabilize her quite quickly. Thank the Lord, it didn’t seem serious, but even after several visits to other doctors, no one could ever tell us what actually happened or any root problem there might be. In any event, we were relieved, as was the church when they found out she would be okay.

A few days later, my wife and I were sitting around the house in the morning hours. I was doing some writing at the computer, and she was eating breakfast. Now my wife and I both have these little “noises” we each make, and I won’t go into all of them here, but it can be quite entertaining to say the least. However, sometimes our little “noises” become nauseating to us, ourselves and to each other. Some noises we can “appreciate” more than others, if you know what I mean.

One such noise that was bothering me to no end on this day was that all I could seem to hear from the other room was my wife crunch, crunch, crunching her cereal. Munch, munch, munch, crunch, crunch, crunch, I was about to scream out, I tell you the truth. This was one of those little “noises” that could really get to me, especially when I was in the middle of doing “important work” like writing my sermon.

All of a sudden, it would seem as if God crunched right down on my head and munched right into my heart. It was then I realized that while I had always detested the sound of the crunching of cereal before, to be able to hear it now was sweet music to my ears, for it meant that she was alive, and she was here. I now did more than “appreciate” it; I relished every little noise, every little wonderful sound! Crunch, crunch, crunch – It was her! Munch, munch, munch – My baby was still with me! That munching became the melody of love to my heart.

Now I am a lover of classical music, and I have heard many live orchestras perform many great works of music in my life, but no Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms could have lifted me to such heights as I felt that day.

I hope you find the joy I found…the day I heard the sweetest sound.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Monday, November 22, 2010

True Worship Part 5: Corporate Worship

This is important to God (Ephesians 5:19 / 1 Corinthians 12-14). Revelation 4-5 gives us a taste of heaven, and several marks of a God-centered service.

• A high view of God
• A constant focus upon God
• A distinction between God and man
• A deep fear of God
• A people separated unto God
• Repentance toward God
• Prayers to God
• The exaltation of Christ, as worthy, as the only way, as the glory of God

Corporate worship is obviously about more than music, as we have discussed, but part of corporate worship is that it allows us to proclaim truth to each other in song (Colossians 3:16). Personal worship is performed privately, and is a vital component of the Christian life. It reflects the “me and God” component which the Christian enjoys through the cross of Christ. However, it is not quite so with corporate worship. If you view corporate worship as only a “me and God” experience, you will not only lack the joy which comes from corporate worship, but you will be failing to accomplish one of the purposes of our meeting together, which is to edify one another (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Since corporate worship allows us to proclaim truth to each other it also allows us to learn truth from one another, with the words and the expressions we give, and the gifts we use. The church is not only taught by the lyrics of the songs, but by the church’s response to these lyrics, it is taught what it looks like to be impacted by truth. If the church fails to utilize such expressions, it has, to some degree, failed to feed its sheep with the teaching that corporate worship should offer.

While private worship is a vital component in the lives of God’s children which allows us to personally express devotion to God, corporate worship is God’s design to give us but a glimpse of what it will be like to be glorified in heaven. One of these things is that the redeemed will be joining together in song (Revelation 4:8, 5:9-12). To see the church congregated together to worship God in song gives us a glimpse of this. It increases in us the hope for future glorification which God has placed in the hearts of his people (Romans 8:24-25). When we envision worshipping God and the only thing which comes into our minds is ourselves, we fail to recognize what we are a part of (1 Peter 2:9).

The purpose of our corporate worship service is for our congregation to worship God. Every church has a liturgy, which refers to the form our public worship takes. That form may involve creeds, organs, bulletins, prayers, electric guitars, videos, and the list goes on and on. The question is not whether or not we have a liturgy, but whether we have a biblical one that includes scriptural elements, rehearses the gospel, builds up the church, and glorifies God. In worship today, there is a tendency toward casualness. The emphasis on feeling God’s closeness in worship may short-circuit our being transformed by a glimpse of the Transcendent One.

Idolatry is alive and well. We must not bow down at the altars of coolness, fame, material success, cutting edge technology, and emotional experience. We can appear to be worshiping God while serving our idols (2 Kings 17:32-41). We err greatly if our focus is on “hitting the right sound/style/song” in our services, rather than consistently and clearly leading our people to worship God in light of the Cross and Resurrection, God’s glory and our gain. Of course, the answer to slick, overproduced, overemotional worship is not shoddy, emotionless worship. Glorifying God by our worship must be our goal, our highest priority (1 Corinthians 10:31), and excellence is part of that. Worship is our highest calling, and it is more than a Saturday night or a Sunday morning or any specific time. Worship is more life than event (Romans 12:1-2).

Psalm 100 is a summary of instructions on how to worship the Lord. Who should worship the Lord? Everyone should (vs.1). How should we worship the Lord? We do it by serving (vs.2a), singing (vs.2b), submitting (vs.3), and sacrificing (vs.4a), both individually (vs.4b), and corporately (vs.4c). Why should we worship the Lord? He is good, loving, and faithful (vs.5).

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Monday, November 15, 2010

True Worship Part 4: Old & New

Worship Before the Law – the emphasis was upon an individual relationship to God (Genesis 8:20). The father acted as the priest for his household (Job 1:5). There was no central place of worship prescribed, with the worshipers offering sacrifices on altars which they built (Genesis 12:7-8). Besides the offering of sacrifices, worship in this period was characterized by the expression of thanks to God (Genesis 24:26, 48, 52). There were no fixed times of worship.

Worship Under the Law – everything about worship is laid out in minute detail. Nothing is left to the imagination. The Levitical priesthood was instituted (Exodus 28:1). The place of worship was centralized, first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple (Exodus 20:24 / Deuteronomy 12:5, 11). The high priest could enter the holiest place once a year (Leviticus 16). In addition to the daily sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-42), there were five specified offerings: the burnt, meal, peace, sin, and trespass offerings (Leviticus 1-7). Israel was given a calendar of seven special feasts: Passover, unleavened bread, first fruits, Pentecost, trumpets, Day of Atonement, and tabernacles. Anything God didn’t prescribe was considered strange fire, detestable in God’s sight. When the Jewish Temple was destroyed in 586 BC, the Jewish people were no longer able to carry out Old Testament worship as it was explicitly laid out in Scripture. They no longer had a temple, or the ability to offer blood sacrifice. So they devised a method for instruction and fellowship called the synagogue. The word “synagogue” is not a Hebrew word, it is from a Greek word which means a gathering together.

Worship in New Testament Times – the exact prescription and prohibition was for the OT, but the NT reveals a different pattern of worship. The OT types pointed to Christ, and now we do NOT do those, they have been fulfilled, and so now we worship Christ but in varied forms, no Tabernacle or Temple, no sacrifices, etc., no exact prescription. The NT prescribes liberty (Galatians 5:1), not forms or formulas (Philippians 3:3), but it does give parameters for practice (1 Corinthians 12-14). Every believer in Christ is a priest (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Jesus Christ is the great High Priest (Hebrews 10:21). There is no central earthly place of worship, nor is there an appointed calendar of sacred feasts or religious observances. The sacrifices are “spiritual sacrifices” (Romans 12:1, 15:26 / 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:13 / Philippians 4:18 / Hebrews 13:15-16). Worship in the present age most closely resembles that which will occur in heaven, and sharply differs from that prescribed by the Law.

New Testament church worship is about freedom of communication, with some measure of spontaneity, and yet there is a structure: the reading and interpretation of the Word, the sharing of words of exhortation and encouragement, praying and singing together, and sharing money to help poor folks and to advance God’s kingdom. Jesus takes the Jewish Passover and transforms it into the central ordinance of the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper which, whenever it is observed, takes us back to Calvary and points us to the finished work of Christ.

New Testament worship leaves us with no New Testament book of Leviticus. Some believers today try and impose the OT regulations of worship on NT believers. We would agree in essence that anything that God doesn’t explicitly prescribe or implicitly command is prohibited. However, all of the New Testament proof texts that some try and use in order to limit worship are not really about formal worship at all, they are about life, because a fundamental thing about worship in the New Testament is that all of life is worship (1 Corinthians 10:31). The emphasis is not on binding the conscience of someone. While it is certainly true that God alone has the right to determine true worship and that He has done so in the Scripture, the NT focus is on the liberty and freedom we have in worship. That is what God has prescribed; worship in spirit and in truth. We do ourselves a great disservice when we think of worship only in stereotyped terms. However, we also would be in error in assuming that spontaneity is spirituality. Having said that, let’s now look at some further principles of NT worship.

Principles of New Testament Worship – The encounter Jesus had with the woman at the well (John 4) gives us clear principles for worship. The Lord led her to the true worship of Himself (vs.19-26). We come to understand that not all worship is acceptable to God (cf. Acts 17:16-31). God is the One who initiates true worship through the person, work, and word of Christ; there are none who naturally seek God from their hearts (cf. Romans 3:10-18). As we discussed earlier, God enables true worship (cf. Romans 8:26, 11:36). God is the appropriate object of worship. Worship must be in spirit; internally real and not outwardly by ritual alone (cf. Philippians 3:3). Worship must be in truth; not just a projection of our sincerity, or a reflection of culture, but firmly based on the truth of God revealed in the Bible (cf. 1 John 4:5-6).

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

True Worship Part 3: Application

The Application of Worship – Let’s apply our definition of worship and understanding of our attitudes and actions of worship to certain activities we think of as worship.

Prayer – Prayer should have elements of supplication and petition, but in the context of prayer as worship, we must also include grateful expressions about who God is, His eternal attributes and actions of the past (Philippians 4:6). The Psalms provide wonderful models in this regard. We should set aside time to make prayers focused fundamentally on praise to God, and less on laundry lists for God, because although He does want us to ask Him for our needs (James 4:2), He already knows what we need (Matthew 6:8, 32-33 / cf. our sermon This is How to Pray).

Testimony – many of the Psalms are based upon the experience of the writer. This experience becomes a vehicle which turns the attention to the greatness of his God. God is merciful and kind not only because the Bible tells us so, but because God has been at work in our life. To testify is not to simply revel in our good blessings, but to reveal His character, that is our cause. Yes we should be excited to hear of great stories of God’s hand of help, if not such Psalms and stories wouldn’t be in the Bible at all, but in doing that we must remember the bottom line is about God. It is not, “look what I did” or “look what I can do for God”, and not simply “look what God can do through me” (I was delivered, I am ministering, etc.), but it is “look at God through me” (Matthew 5:16 / cf. our sermon This is How to Testify). Then it becomes worship.

Music / Singing – while the primary dwelling of worship is the heart, the expression of worship is physical. The expression of worship allows us to portray outwardly what is felt inwardly, and the regular mode of this expression is music and singing. The Psalms teach us that the praises of the people were set to music and sung. Music can be used to quiet our hearts and minds and focus them upon God. Yet, in the Pastoral Epistles, we notice that Paul doesn’t tell Timothy or Titus to make sure they have a great praise band! By concentrating on doctrine Paul doesn’t say don’t do music he is saying that all our music should be doctrinal leading to devotional. The content of our songs of worship must be doctrinally rich if they are to be biblically sound. Paul isn’t teaching that music is unimportant, but that focusing on the Bible will help us to focus correctly in worship with music and singing. Colossians 3:16 – Some teach that our music should only be exclusive psalmody, but this is incorrect because that leaves out hymns and spiritual songs and a host of NT truths. We see saints in the book of Revelation singing a new song that has clear references to redemption and NT truth. There is a difference between public and private devotion and music, which we will cover later.

Preaching / Listening – Preaching which is focused on God and directs our attention and affection to Him may prompt true worship. Listening with our minds and hearts is a vitally important part of the process. Preaching that inspires us to live a godly life, and preaching that transforms us by the renewing of our minds leads to worship, although it may not be worship in the immediate moment. A shallow approach to preaching makes it less possible for true worship to take place, because we only rise as high in worship to the same proportion which we have been taken deep into the profound truths of the Word. There is no way we can have lofty thoughts of God unless we have plunged them into the depths of God's self-revelation. Too often preaching merely aims to entertain. Too often we fail to worshipfully listen.

Study – Theology is the study of God; doxology is the worship of God. This is where all theology should end up, in praise to God. Study without praise is pride. Praise without study is shallow. Knowledge without a heart surrendered to God is empty of God’s life. All true worship is a response to the revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who He is and what He has done. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. That is why Scripture is so important in both public and private devotion. On the other hand, worship is not about a purely academic interest in God. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship. Good theology should sound like doxology (Ephesians 1:3-14). Doxology is fueled by theology and theology is made more potent by diving into the depths of revealed truth. Certainly by the end of his life the Apostle Paul had come to a higher place, he didn’t stay on that Damascus road.

The Bible paints a picture of theology and doxology together, deep roots in the soil of the scriptures matched with the fervent fruit of fired up worship. We need to see both, not one to the exclusion of the other, and unfortunately, some who have deep roots in theology don’t express the outgrowth of that enough in their corporate worship or lifestyle. Also, some Christians think going deep means exploring the depths of their own feelings, and therefore "God" becomes a projection of their best thoughts, and they practice idolatry without realizing it. The problem is when we don’t progress beyond those feelings and then we go searching for that feeling as the tell tale sign if we are worshipping correctly or deeply or not. We fail to dig deeper into things we may at first have a hard time understanding because they don’t give us a feeling yet. We become satisfied with feeling what we think is “fullness”, but the better we understand God from the scripture the better we are able to worship. It doesn’t mean the better we will worship but the deeper our thoughts of God become, the higher our worship of God can become. We stand in awe of God, and then our affections are stirred, not vice versa.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Monday, November 01, 2010

True Worship Part 2: Attitudes & Actions

The Attitudes of Worship – Three main sets of Greek and Hebrew words that are rendered as the word “worship” in the Bible give us a picture of the attitudes of worship.

Humility – The most frequent pair of words used for worship in the Old and New Testaments represent the act of bowing oneself in submission. The outward posture reflected an inner attitude of humility and respect, a high view of God and a humbling opinion of self. Thus, true worship views God in His perfection and man in his imperfection.

Reverence – Another pair of words used in both the Greek and the Hebrew is that of fearing God. It is not so much terror as it is wonder and awe at the greatness of God. Humility focuses inward on our finiteness and sinfulness in the light of His infinity and perfection. Reverence focuses outwardly upon the awesome majesty of God. Irreverence is contrary to worship.

Service – The third pair of words employed for worship in the Bible emphasize the idea of labor. In the Old Testament this service was most often priestly service. In the New Testament we are all priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and service involves the entire congregation of believers. Worship and service must be integrated, if it is to be true worship (Luke 4:8).

The Actions of Worship – The contexts in which these words for worship are used give us an understanding about the actions of worship.

Response – biblically speaking, we do not worship to get God to act, we worship because God has acted. Yet the worshiper is not merely an observer of redemptive history, but he has been included in this story, and has been personally impacted by the act of redemption is his own life. Romans 11:36 – Worship is from God (Romans 3:21-24 / 1 John 4:19), through God (Philippians 3:3), and unto God (John 4:23). Apart from God’s revelation of Himself and of how man can approach Him in worship, man could never worship God in a way pleasing to Him.

Adoration – since worship is fundamentally a response, what is the nature of this response? It is that of adoration and praise which God rightfully expects of His creatures. When most people think of “worship” this is what they are thinking of, and indeed, the ascribing of worth to God, the enjoyment of giving glory to His holy being, and all the things surrounding this are a crucial part of what worship is. We thank Him for His acts and praise Him for His attributes. Perhaps the best way to see this is in book of Psalms, which gives us the patterns for adoration. Even those who reject Jesus in this life will wind up worshipping Him (Philippians 2:9-11).

Sacrifice – Central in the worship of the Tabernacle and in the Temple was the practice of sacrifice. When Abraham worshiped God in Genesis 22, the offering was termed worship. The presentation of the first-fruits was also regarded as an act of worship (Deuteronomy 26:10). When the wise men came to worship the baby Jesus, they came with gifts to give. David spoke of worship that costs something (1 Chronicles 21:24). In the New Testament the idea of sacrifice is still prominent in worship, but since Jesus is our sacrifice, and no bulls or goats are needed, it is the sacrifice of self which is essential (Romans 12:1). The book of Hebrews adds to this the sacrifice of praise, of doing good things, and of sharing (Hebrews 13:15, 16).

Proclamation – proclamation is a vital part of worship. Israel was not to worship God in secret, but was supposed to be a “light to the Gentiles.” When Abraham worshiped, he built an altar and “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8, 21:33). In the New Testament, the church has been created by God as a display of the wisdom of God to all the true and false systems of religion and the powers that are behind them (Ephesians 3:10). In the Lord’s Supper all believers proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). We are not just spectators watching what God has done and is doing, we are participants in the divine drama, being observed by both those in heaven and those on the earth (Ephesians 3:8-10 / 1 Peter 1:12).

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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