Do you know who you are? As a Christian, do you know that you are an ambassador? In this short podcast, grab your walking shoes and step out your door. Enjoy some sunshine and remember what you were created for. God has a special assignment just for you!
Recently, my church began a sermon series on the book of Malachi. When it comes to the most popular books of the Bible, Malachi likely doesn’t finish near the top of the list. Malachi is a small book at the end of the Old Testament. It may be small in size, but its message is big and timely. As you read Malachi, you will begin to see that the people were going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from God. One section really seems to highlight this. If you have time, I highly encourage you to read Malachi 1:6-14 today.
The people had dishonored God by bringing defiled sacrifices, and the priests disobeyed God by allowing it to happen. God was not pleased, and plainly tells them they can keep their lame sacrifices (Mal. 1:8-10). They were supposed to be giving God their best (Leviticus 22:19-20). Instead, they were giving God their leftovers, because they wished to sell all the valuable livestock for thier own profit. To follow God’s law required a sacrifice. It required them to put God first, trusting that if they honored God with their best, He would bless them abundantly. However, they had become apathetic in their worship. They were too busy making worship about themselves to worship God properly.
It seems God’s people have a history of amnesia. Time and time again, all too quickly, they forget who they are dealing with. Despite God intervening for them in miraculous ways, His people constantly turn away from Him. As you follow their story throughout the Old Testament, you can see them follow God and obey for a while only to turn aside and chase worldly things.
In this section of Malachi, God calls for their best and they offer stolen, lame and blind animals. These sacrifices are both literally and figuratively lame. These are not a sacrifice. They cost them nothing. A sovereign King deserves better. God is having nothing of it and it is as if God is saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Adding insult to injury, the people are so far gone they don’t even realize how offensive their sacrifices are. When God calls them to account, they ask God, “How have we done this?” (Mal. 1:6-7). The lack of respect is staggering. The audacity leaps from the page.
However, before we are too harsh with the Israelites, let’s ask ourselves the same question. “How have we done this?” Have we ever brought lame offerings to God?
a) Do we ever compromise our convictions for convenience?
b) Do we ever schedule other things over the priority of corporate worship and offer God the leftovers of our week?
c) When we are not entertained with the music do we ever say, “I just wasn’t feeling the Spirit move today”?
d) When we dislike the Sunday message, do we disregard and devalue its truth? Who told us it was acceptable to disregard and disobey simply because we disagree?
e) When it is inconvenient to serve do we step forward or do we quit?
f) When we don’t feel like praising God, do we still lift our voice in song to God to offer a sacrifice of praise that is due His name or do we quietly hold our coffee?
g) Does the business of worship consume us or have we become consumers?
This should break our hearts: God has called us to selfless sacrifice and we offer selfish sacrilege. Modern worship is filled with this sad irony. What is supposed to be all about God (worship) we’ve turned into something about us. In so doing, we have shown the world a little god and we should not blame them if they are not interested in that.
How does this happen? We don’t wake up one day and decide to offer God our leftovers. It is my contention that slowly, our hearts naturally drift from God. Resting comfortably in the very protection and provision He provides, God shrinks in our eyes and simultaneously, we get bigger. The result is half-hearted worship. Half-hearted worship arises from a small view of God. We need a bigger view of God. We need to regularly be reminded of His majesty and greatness and glory. That will fuel a life of worship. We get it twisted around. We often judge the quality of a church gathering by its music, lighting, attendance and preaching. We want to be entertained instead of entertaining God. We do not need to be entertained by great music. We do not need eloquent speakers. We do not need to attend the most “happening” or “relevant” church. What is needed is for God’s revelation of Himself to set our hearts ablaze regularly. We need to make much of Jesus in every single gathering. Let him grow in our eyes. When God grows in your eyes, so does your worship. When you can get a fresh perspective of who God is, no one will have to convince you of His worth. When people see Him they melt to the ground. When people see God they are turned from “Sauls” into “Pauls.” They are all at once terrified and yet mesmerized.
The phrase “Lord of Hosts” is mentioned 7 times in this short passage from Malachi. What is this term? It is translated “Lord almighty” in the NIV. It carries a military connotation of supreme commander of Heaven’s armies. Think power, wisdom, respect, reverence and fear. The Lord of Hosts does not lose. He does not fear anything. He is supremely victorious over any opponent and He holds life and death in His hands. God has primarily revealed himself to us in grace through the incarnation of Jesus, the Lamb of God. But never forget that is not all that He is. Because God is so compassionate and graceful it’s easy to forget His power, wrath and holiness. When we get a little too comfortable with God, it leads to a lack of Respect and Reverence. Let us not lose the full picture of who God is. He is the Lamb of God, but He is also the Lion of Judah.
Lions are inherently majestic and dangerous. When you get into intimate proximity with a lion you feel something down deep. When he fixes his gaze upon you, do you not shudder? If you dare to peer into his eyes your guts churn a little bit, right? God is not only meek, gentle and graceful. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the beginning and the end. He is the eternal mysterious triune God. The mountains melt like wax before Him. He has swallowed entire armies with earth and sea. Let us never forget that the same God which can rain down blessing can pummel with pestilence and plague with only a word from His mouth. Consider the following from Ecclesiastes:
Eccl 5:1-2 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. 2 Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
“Lord of Hosts” is not just about a powerful military figure. It is first used at the beginning of the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the HOST of them.” When He is “Lord of Hosts” He is Lord of all. God is also the mighty creator. Look up at the stars and witness His brilliance. Gaze upon His beauty and you will fall silent. (Isaiah 40:26, Psalm 147: 4-5) Scientists estimate the number of stars conservatively at 1024. That is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Some of them are so big that if you were to board a passenger airliner it would take 1,100 years to fly around them. Can you fathom that size? Can you grasp that number? God calls each one out by name. He created them with just words from His mouth.
Our God is huge! We are tiny. We are a vapor and He is eternal. He is infinite and beyond reckoning. If you can truly see that, I won’t need to tell you to put Him first. You will gladly offer him everything. If you can just get a glimpse of Him, I will not need to convince you of His worth. You will quickly fall before Him in adoration. You will open your mouth, and your heart and soul will want to spill forth in song or fall silent in reverence. Isaiah saw Him in a vision and was floored by His magnificence and holiness.
This is our King. He is so holy, so powerful and magnificent that we would die in His presence. But this great King has also given us Jesus. He has stooped low and walked among us. Even now, we have King Jesus standing in our place interceding for us in the heavens where there is no sun or moon or day or night but the Glory of God fills the heavens. Because of Him we are healed. Because of Him our sins are no more. Because of Him we can come before the feet of God to love and be loved. Don’t you just love King Jesus?
Remember all this as you approach God. Remember our propensity to worship ourselves and remember a worthy King is waiting to be remembered and worshipped by you. Lift your voice, humble yourself and pray. Your King is listening.
Hope: The Fuel of Persistence
God’s people are no strangers to waiting on something. Consider the following examples. There are many more where these came from.
It took Noah between 55-75 years to build the ark. What amount of questions and ridicule did he endure from others in the process? He focused on doing all that God commanded.
Moses led God’s people (after being slaves for hundreds of years) for 40 years out into the wilderness on a journey that should have only taken days. He dealt with division/disagreement setbacks and complaints the entire time. The vast majority of the people on the journey failed to see the Promised Land. But, God was faithful.
Daniel endured a night with man-eaters and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out of the furnace without a trace of fire or smoke upon them. Their God was with them.
David was anointed as king over Israel as a boy, but had to endure a murderous and jealous Saul. Over 20 years later, after running for his life for years, he was finally made king. God’s timing, though sometimes confusing, is still perfect. It is just too big for you and me.
What are You Waiting For?
Have you ever had to wait for something? Perhaps it is something so great that you can barely stand the wait. Perhaps it is something really difficult and taxing and you don’t know if you can keep going. It’s hard to wait on something. Especially if it is not particularly comfortable in life’s waiting rooms. I do not claim to have this whole thing figured out, but I think great things often do take time. One of the greatest things is the Church! As a church planter, I know firsthand that building the church is an uphill battle with more than its fair share of set-backs and hurtles. However, I have also learned that it can be extremely rewarding, especially when I learn to see it from God’s perspective. Roman’s 15:13 hints at what I am describing. It says, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him.”
The Journey of Knowing God
I think we get a little hung up on the destination when God is busy trying to get through to us on the journey. He wants to grow us and be known by us. He wants to build a relationship with us. What if God was using the ark to teach Noah of His sovereignty and provision? I am sure Noah just wanted to be finished with it. God may have wanted one more plank and hammer stroke with Noah to teach him the treasure of knowing God. Think on this, God could’ve just snapped his fingers and wiped out everyone besides Noah and his family in an instant. Instead, he chose a long process that would allow this created man and his family to know their creator in a deeper manner. Imagine their trust in God as the last animals showed up, the great doors sealed and the first sound of thunder echoed in their ears.
How about Moses? As Moses was trying to lead God’s people across the wilderness I am sure he learned how to be more patient and graceful with the people he led. He got a glimpse of what God has to deal with. God doesn’t want us to just arrive at the “promised lands” in our lives, he wants us to grow into the likeness of his Son in the process. Every hammer stroke, every act of obedience hones us. Joseph, Daniel, David, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and many more all learned first-hand that God can be trusted with really big and scary stuff. They grew into mighty men of God and God used some terrible circumstances to accomplish mighty things in them and through them. God has a track record of allowing us to go through more than we can handle so that we will reach out and seek him. I am learning to ask, “God, what can I learn in this?” instead of asking, “When will this be over?”
Sorrow May Last for the Night…
Take another look at the list above. What is taking longer than you originally thought? What has you discouraged today? What seems to hurt more than you can bear? I know it is often very hard, but trust God and celebrate Him today. Sometimes you will need to beat on God’s chest and cry out, “Why God…Why?” That’s ok. He knows we are only human (dust) and has a father’s compassion for us in our weakness (Psalm 103:13-14). Read the Psalms and you’ll see David routinely call God into question. God is no stranger to that and what’s more, He can empathize. Recall the words of Christ in the garden “take this cup from me” (Luke 22) and on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Psalm 22). He knows obedience in the shadow of doubt. He knows suffering and sacrifice. God sees your persistence and rewards your trust. Though David would question God, he would not linger in despair. He always circled back to remember God’s power and love. He would express pain and doubt, yes, but then he would recall the faithfulness of God and rest in it. My prayer is that you would do the same and that it would give you strength to soldier on.
Joy Comes in the Morning
Be humble enough to trust and obey. When life beats you to the ground, lift your hands to Him and He will lift you up and dust you off. Do this often enough and you will know God. The familiar grasp of His hands will become your treasure, for they know the way forward and they are imbued with hope. Do not quit. Do not give in to despair. For one day, all the world’s suffering will be rolled up as a scroll. Struggles, fears and doubts will cease. Sin, anguish, sickness and even death itself will be no more. The dawn of the new world will burst through. His victorious light will shine with brilliance, as darkness is destroyed once and for all. And now the best part – at the center of it all you will see your Savior and King. See Him that way even now and “May the God hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Keep building arks, keep leading God’s people and trust God to do what only He can. If we do, soon enough our stories will add to the list above.
This year our church taught a series entitled “Something Bigger than Me.” It got me thinking about the western church. It occurs to me that the church historically has grown the most under times of persecution. Though it seems counter-intuitive, we seem to grow under strain. Our character and our church are rather like a muscle. If we are worked and pushed harder, we grow and strengthen. When we all pull and push together amazing things can happen. If we are left to our own comfort and leisure, we atrophy and weaken. The progress is slow in both directions, but assured none-the-less. Most everyone knows this already, but somehow we still lean toward leisure when given the choice. We naturally pull away from strain or stress and move toward comfort at every turn even when we know it isn’t what’s best for us. We have the sickness of “self” and really, it’s a very old idolatry problem. We need no golden calves. We are our own idols and we sit on the thrones of our hearts ruling them with one central tenet – My will be done.
However, there is one thing that tends to inspire us to action; one thing which moves us away from our own desires and toward service and sacrifice. We need a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves. It is almost as if a remnant of our creator rests deep within our centers and recalling and/or witnessing someone make a great sacrifice stirs it from its slumber. Deep inside we know we are made for more than ourselves. The life of Christ, and certainly his crucifixion, stand as the greatest examples of personal sacrifice and service. The Bible records, in no less than three places, that he came not to be served “but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6).
Now the big question – Why do we not follow suit? Have we lost sight of Jesus’ example? Is this the reason for the decline of the church? My contention is that there are many reasons for it, but we can be certain that this pull toward consumerism and comfort explains an awful lot. It seems low expectations, anonymity and lack of commitment are the order of the day.
Far too often, we have been guilty of seeking churches for ourselves that ask very little of us. Discipleship is the one thing Christ told us to be busy pursuing, but discipleship means following Christ and that always leads us to a cross. The cross is neither convenient nor comfortable and so, tragically, it remains decidedly unpopular. Christ came to die and so must we. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, NLT)
We want to be free from messy relationships, so we don’t bother to know or be known by others. We easily talk ourselves out of time with the body of Christ in favor of something else. “Besides”, we reason, “no one will really miss us.” We have abandoned being a part of the Body of Christ in favor of some sort of personal and private version of “faith.” Apart from the body you will not be cared for or discipled. Still, many think it’s worthwhile to stay detached. The fringe benefit, of course, is that anonymity makes it much easier to leave a church for any reason what-so-ever and zero accountability.
We quit far too easily. Faithfulness and commitment seem like quaint ideas that cost far too much. Rather than building the church we’d rather go somewhere it is already “built”, somewhere easier where pushing and praying can be replaced with simply partaking. If difficulties or disagreements occur, we simply hop to a new church or quit altogether.
We must remember that it is godly relationships, perseverance and commitment which bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and inspire others. Without them, we tend to gravitate inward. Under this inward and selfish focus, our gaze is not on Christ, it is on ourselves and that is far from inspiring. It all comes down to consumerism. I believe it feeds the previous issues because it is a pre-existing mindset. It colors everything with unhealthy expectations. The expectation is that church is for you. Not surprisingly we have got it backwards. The church is not primarily for us. It is for God. It is His bride. The church really should be the death of “me”. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
We have a habit of settling for far less than God has planned for us, all in the name of comfort and convenience. Please, don’t settle. Set your sights much higher. A pastor’s job is to equip you for works of the ministry, not merely entertain you. In seeking our own comfort and view point we very often get it, and sadly, find it wanting. You and I were meant for more. We are to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-21) joining with Christ and the Holy Spirit on a grand mission. Now, that’s big! God has offered us a life of richness and reward. It is a life which truly matters, a life with eternal implications. And what’s more, the world is watching. It is inspired as it witnesses us forget ourselves as we serve without hesitation, forgive without reservation and persevere through hardships and setbacks. This is the love, unity and purpose which changed believers into disciples of Christ and drew the world to the early church.
Chapter 12 of Hebrews encourages us to fix our gaze on Christ. He came to serve, not be served. Let us adopt his attitude and do likewise. He told us to lose our life, and in the process, we will save it (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). Oh, that we would save that life. As the selfless church rises from the ashes of consumerism, the gates of hell stand no chance. May He help all of us remember that our true purpose is found in this incredible miracle of God’s economy – When we pour ourselves out in His worthy cause, we somehow are filled in the process. Don’t just become a convert and consume. Be transformed, push forward and knock down the gates of Hell.
The World Needs Disciples – Not Converts
“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Disciples…this is the whole ball of wax. It was the only plan. Jesus had no plan B and he still doesn’t. When you focus on making disciples, you get everything else. You get educated Christians, motivated “self-feeders”, selfless God-lovers, committed church members and empathetic evangelists. A mature disciple is all of these things. He or she loves God, the church and the lost. Our problem is that we largely have not focused on biblical discipleship. The church has been guilty of making converts, but left them to fend for themselves as baby Christians. Sometimes we have focused on making better church attendees and have lowered the bar below the challenge/growth level to entertainment. Other times we’ve focused on Bible knowledge and left the lost out in the cold. Why we have we done this, we cannot be sure of. Perhaps we have focused on the perceived efficiency of larger gatherings. Maybe we have been scared to challenge people toward growth and possibly lose them from our church. Making disciples Jesus’ way is not easy and it is not clean. It is a relationship. And relationships are a messy and time-consuming endeavor. One thing is very clear, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey IS what Jesus told us to do. We do many good things, but largely miss the main thing he focused on. He could have told us to build bigger buildings, start a TV ministry, build a school, focus primarily on deep theological teaching, focus on excellent programming, etc. These things aren’t inherently bad, but if they interfere with or impede his prime directive to make disciples, then they need to finish second. Discipleship is the main thing and we have to keep the main thing the main thing.
So, what is a disciple of Christ? What do they look like and how do we make them?
Disciples do not just happen – They are made
Intentionality is a great word. It means “on purpose.” Are you ready to live life on purpose toward God and others? This means denying yourself (Luke 9:23). It means that you understand that your life is not your own and that you were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You were dreamt up by the creator of the world, placed specifically in the history of time and gifted just so that you could help mankind seek God and find him (Acts 17: 26-27). You are no less magnificent than the sun. You are just as crucial as H20. The same God that gifted and planned these resources for growing earthly life planned and gifted you for growing eternal life. If we think on this long enough, we eventually begin to live like this. Everything changes. We realize that we are made to reconcile men to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20). This is our purpose! It begins with clarity of that purpose and the intentionality that flows from it.
Disciples are only made by a disciple
In order to make disciples, YOU yourself must first be one. You must be following Jesus. That means you must be obeying and seeking him. You must be intentional and disciplined in your walk with the Lord and those you wish to disciple. “What is my next step with God?” This is a question you must constantly be asking of yourself. Be honest. Think small steps. Don’t try to boil the ocean. How often are you spending time with God in prayer and reading the Word? How often are you challenged to step further into obedience? How are you giving? How are you serving? Does it require faith? If not, how can you be in a place to lead others in the same process? How can you lead others if you are not going anywhere? Jesus said many things but, “Do as I say, not as I do” wasn’t one of them.
Disciple-makers are ready to lead others
How can you lead someone where you have not been? A travel agent points the way, even though they may not have ever been there. The church will not grow with travel agents. It needs seasoned and salty tour guides. These disciples of Christ have been “there” before. They know how to get “there.” Where is “there?” It is a life devoted to Christ apart from Sunday. It is a daily, cross carrying, selfless life. It is the knowledge of our grand purpose and the commitment to carry it out. Are you willing to lead by example? A disciple-maker goes before others and travels with them at the same time. They take your hand and help lift you up just one more time. They’re with you in the trenches and they know how to get to the next step. Seminary is not required to be a disciple maker. Jesus used fisherman and tax collectors! What is required is integrity, intentionality and commitment.
Disciples are baptized
What is it to be baptized? We know Jesus did it and therefore, set an example for us. His blood on the cross washes away our sin, so we know baptism doesn’t accomplish that. However, we also know it identified the believer with a local church and the Christian faith. In the early days of persecution, this was a bold move. It signified you were resolute in your decision and there was no turning back. Indeed, you were willing to die for it. It was an outside sign of obedience and adherence. The new believer is identifying with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection. They are now showing the world that they are a new creation and they are letting go of their past. They now adhere to a new life and a new family. Why is it important to be baptized? A young believer must let go of their old life and cling to a new family. (2 Cor. 5:17) This family plays a critical role in their budding faith. Without it, one is easily dragged back into old lifestyles and sin. A public profession of faith helps a believer fully commit to the journey of discipleship with a local body.
Disciples are taught to obey
By definition, knowledge that doesn’t lead to experience is useless. If you don’t use it, it’s useless. Jesus is more concerned with our next steps than our last. He is more excited about a young obedient follower than a well-trained bench rider. God made you with a jersey, so to speak. You were made to play on the court and you are expected to run the plays your coach calls. Imagine someone who studied the game of basketball and could quote every rule and statistic, but refused to lace up their shoes and step on the court. Following this basketball analogy, you were not made to keep score or call penalties. You were not made to sit the bench or just visit the concession stand. You were made to score points, make passes and grab rebounds. A disciple must be challenged to obey. Inherently, this means they need to take new steps deeper into obedience with Christ. Most people don’t like change and challenge. That’s why we need coaches to push us and hold us accountable. They hold us to higher standards than we will hold ourselves to. They believe bigger things about us than we do ourselves. A good coach will know what areas a player needs to be taught on. They will teach the “why”, but will then run drills on the “how” so that the player can accomplish new and greater things. Most times, the lessons learned on the court are the best lessons. Moreover, the player will be in a position to take newly acquired skills and teach them to others as well. The knowledge is only important in that it leads to action. Otherwise, we have players on God’s court who know the game well, but have never learned how to play the game. They will not win the game. They will not push back the gates of hell. They may be well-informed, but they are not transformed.