No longer set apart 2

Praise is equivalent to being in the outer courts of the temple, and worship is like approaching and then entering the Holy of Holies. The goal should be bringing the body together in unity, rejoicing or praising, and then moving into a time of intimacy with the Father, in preparation for hearing from Him both as a body and personally. He speaks through prophecy, the Word, words of knowledge or wisdom, and/or revelation. It might be in the sermon or message. It might be that as you read the Bible a sentence, phrase or chapter speaks to your heart. It can come in all kinds of ways. One way that is hard than many others is through a still, small voice. This is difficult because, in this day and age, finding time to be quiet enough to hear Him when the voice is still and small takes more effort than some of us are willing to put forth. How many of us can actually turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, the cell phone, and all other distractions to spend even just a little time listening for the voice of God? Do we even know how to do it? Would we recognize His voice if He spoke directly to us?

Have you taken the time to listen to God lately, or is your prayer life full of petitions and reminders to God about His promises? We should be spending more time praising God for what He’s done and for what He will be doing in our lives and the lives of those around us than telling Him what to do and how to do it. If you ask God to do something specific in a specific way, and His plan doesn’t include moving in that way, His only answer can be no. We need to remember that left to ourselves, we would be on our way to hell. We can’t even manage our own lives, much less the lives and needs of others. We are in need of His intervention in our lives in order to have hope for today and tomorrow. His promises encourage us. His hands surround us. His wings protect us. He deserves our praise, adoration, worship, and thanksgiving. Just getting up this morning was a blessing. Being able to dress yourself, feeding yourself, going to the bathroom, communicating your needs and desires — all these are blessings. Many people live without even the simple things we take for granted. For that, we should be full of praise and gratitude.

Setting ourselves aside for God doesn’t necessarily mean living in a hut in the desert (unless you’re called to do so), but it does mean thinking before we act about how our actions will reflect on Him. We are His ambassadors. People look to us to be examples of what it means to be a Christian. As a group we’ve fallen far behind in this area. Christians – not all, but enough to be noticed – get drunk, fornicate, commit adultery, steal, lie, commit fraud, gossip, dress immodestly, live together outside of marriage, and put ourselves before others; all of these are in defiance of the commands in the Word of God. We don’t display humility, but instead show off and act proudly. Instead of striving to be shown a good workman, we strive for worldly recognition and financial rewards. We see people in need and instead of helping them, we either pass right by or we proceed to preach at them about how their behavior led them to be in this situation – forgetting that it is God’s place to judge, not ours.

How should children of God act? Well, we should be gracious, honest, and kind. We should function with integrity and honor both at home and in the world. We should dress modestly and conduct ourselves in the same way. Avoid putting yourself in a position where you have to choose between right living and sin. Don’t go in bars. Don’t spend time alone with members of the opposite gender unless you are married or a sibling. Stay away from temptation as much as you can, and ask for help with the things you can’t avoid. Seek to honor others before yourselves. And, last but certainly not least,

Put

God

First.

That there is the most important way to live as set apart for God. Step aside and let Him have the first spot in your life, and then live that way.

No longer set apart 1

“13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

“25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (I Cor 5:13-25)

The more I read, the more I wonder. The more I wonder, the more my heart aches.

So many of today’s churches have turned away from the things of God and are, instead, embracing a form of godliness while those with discernment can see without effort that sin is rampant in those churches. It used to be that Christians were held to a higher standard than those in the world. Now? It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

  • We got rid of wearing suits and dresses so that we didn’t offend people who wanted to come to church in jeans and t-shirts instead of waiting for them to catch on to the idea of looking your best for God, to honor Him.
  • We stopped using the word “sin” so people wouldn’t be uncomfortable during the message.
  • We stopped preaching directly from the Word, instead using illustrations and examples. After all, the Bible is an archaic text that shouldn’t be taken as being relevant for today’s world, right?
  • We stopped telling people that living together outside of marriage was sin. We didn’t encourage them to be celibate, because that might make them squirm in their seats.
  • We instituted giveaways, raffles, and contests to draw people in rather than letting the Presence and Power of God draw them in. After all, the Holy Spirit isn’t relevant today; only foolish people take the Bible as literal instead of symbolic.
  • We stopped having Sunday and Wednesday evening services because people are busy and expecting them to give so much time to church is unrealistic. They have so many things to do!
  • We limited our services to an hour so people don’t get bored. Some folks will just flat get up and leave a service if it goes over an hour in length.
  • Worship? Sure, if you can fit it into 15 minutes or 3 songs. After that, people get tired of standing up and get bored. Come on, we have to be relevant. People have schedules; places to go, things to do, people to see.

I’ve watched a number of churches that used to be full of the fire of God and the move of the Holy Spirit shrivel up and become a mere suggestion of who they once were because worship is no longer the reason they come together. Many church services today have an awful lot in common with a concert during praise and worship — a prominent worship leader, instrumentalists, drummers, back up singers, and sometimes even lights or special effects. Sometimes it’s so loud you can’t hear the person next to you singing, but everyone can hear the worship leader. This ambition, this spotlighting, goes against the Word regarding how we are to serve others.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I suggest that we get back to basics. Church should be a place for believers to gather for praise to and worship of  God the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s not a social club, though fellowship certainly has its place. Our primary focus should be gathering together to praise and thank God for the miracle of salvation, for the things He has done in our lives and for His Presence within us. It’s about worship – corporate worship – setting aside the temporal, the day to day worries, the fusses and conflicts we deal with, and focusing our beings on the goodness and awesomeness of our mighty God. It’s a time to close our eyes, leave the worries and cares of life behind, and simply

Be

With

God.

It’s hard. I know it’s hard. We have so many things going on — work, raising children, keeping our homes clean, maintaining our cars, managing our finances, dealing with difficult relationships, health issues, parents, stress in our marriage or stressing about not being married, and so on — that it’s not easy to set it all aside and focus on our Lord and Savior. This is the purpose of corporate praise.

When there’s a group of people, from 5 to 5,000, all focused on giving God praise, something happens. Joy is infectious. Praise edifies us. It’s catching. We hear the joy around us – the hands clapping, the laughter, the lighthearted singing, the thankfulness for getting through another week – and we start to feel lightened ourselves. “A merry heart does good like a medicine.“(Prov. 17:22) No truer words have been spoken.

Once praise has helped us set aside our detailed lives, it’s time to worship. Worship is coming into the very presence of God in an intimate way. It’s opening our spirits to Him and sitting at His feet, which is the perfect place to tell Him how thankful we are for salvation, for healing, for how He has changed our lives….the list goes on and on. While worship may start with singing, it doesn’t necessarily end with singing. It often ends in prayer, whether corporate or individual; the manifestation of one or more spiritual gifts; or even a time of deep silence and communion between God and the believer.     (continued next post)