Come to the Party…

Come to the Party (2 Chronicles 29-30)

Introduction: Let me add one more promotional for our Tuesday nights. I love spending time with our Gathering each Tuesday. The dinner is always good. The study time is a chance to learn and to talk about life and Scripture. And the diversity of students and young professionals gives rise to a lot of interesting questions and spiritual conversations. For instance, two week ago I spoke with a student who is studying neuropsychology – that’s about how the brain works. And we talked about none of us needs to be stuck in bad habits. The brain can be our ally, our best friend in breaking destructive patterns. We’ve got some smart people here at ICF. If you don’t believe me, Look beside you to your right, now your left. Doesn’t it look like we have smart people here? And you’ve given us proof by being here today with us.

Let’s get started with our message. Our study today began in my personal devotions. Do you know what it’s like to read your Bible and you come across a passage, and it seems that God makes these verses powerful and special and important. I experienced an intense awareness of God’s goodness and presence as I was reading – and that led to further study; I would like to try to convey some of what I discovered and I believe it will encourage you and draw you further into His grace toward you.

So, let’s pray and invite the Spirit of God to teach us today and reveal the love of the Father to us.

Earlier this year, I had the honor to teach at a local Bible College near here. My course for that semester last year was on Apologetics – it’s the study of how to answer questions about Christianity. And we invested a number of hours comparing the claims of Christianity with other world religions. We studies Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and more looking at the basics of their beliefs compared with Christianity.

As I was teaching these 18 university students, our conversation led to just how lost and misguided other faith systems are. I’m a firm believer in freedom to worship and express one’s self as I believe this opens many doors for ministry and sharing the Gospel. And While I respect people for their choices and where they stand in politics and religion, it is clear that the values and claims of Christianity – and how the Christian faith has invited us to relate to God and to others – is radically different from other systems of faith.

And at the core of this radical difference is the person of Jesus Christ. His pure and unstained holiness in life, his miracles and teachings, and most importantly his revolutionary love and invitation to relationship to all who would choose Him. This sets Jesus apart from every other religious leader and makes Christianity unique.

When Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, he invited his disciples and others into a radical relationship of grace with Himself, and a revolutionary approach to a life of love toward others.

He invited everyone, regardless of past sins, political stance, gender, economic standing, race or national origin, to trust Him. Everyone was invited to His party!

He lived and demonstrated the lavish grace and forgiveness of His Father. And it was this revolutionary love that led Him to the Cross. More of this at the end, because I want you to join me in 2 Chronicles 29 for our message today. And as you find 2 Chronicles in your Bibles or on your Bible applications on your device, I want to frame our passage with some background.

Transition: The prophet Samuel from the Old Testament served the people of Israel as one of their judges; in fact, he ended up being their last judge. And in his old age, the leaders of Israel came to him and said this:

“Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” And they got Saul, then King David, followed by Solomon in the United Kingdom of Israel. And things went downhill from there. And for the next three centuries the people of God in the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel lived under the rule of one king after another – an occasional good and a lot of bad kings.

Our passage today is about a good king. Hezekiah was a ruler in Jerusalem who chose to be God’s leader. He was a good king among the many who did evil by leading the nation toward other gods. From his very first month as king, he determined to reclaim the Temple for worship of the Lord God and decreed that Jerusalem was to be a place to worship the living God and only Him.

I wanted to give you this background because during the first few months of Hezekiah’s reign, three things happen that show the wisdom of this king, and the favor that God showed His people because of him.

Read 2 Chronicles 29:1-12

The first thing he did was to reclaim the Temple so the people of God could worship Him. Can you imagine going away for a few years, and then returning to our church building here, and stuff was stacked up and stored, and there was rubbish everywhere, and you couldn’t even see the stage or the cross on the wall to your left? I can’t imagine, and you know that your pastor would never let this happen.

But, after years of evil leaders, the Temple had become exactly that, and more. In fact, the previous king had practiced the most evil of religious practices in the Temple and in Jerusalem. The Temple was in a bad way. And he is how the godly King Hezekiah began.

  1. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. When he started, he had a team of 14 from the Levitical tribe of Temple leaders. It seemed an impossible situation. Too few people. Too big a task. Have you ever read through the genealogies and lists in the Old Testament? There are pages and pages, just of Levites and priests! He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. And the King gave them this job: recruit more priests and clean the Temple.

Here’s how bad the Temple was in disrepair. It took them seven days just to clean out the courtyard so they could open the door. Additionally, the number of workers in the Temple had shrunk. And Hezekiah ignored the obstacles of a mountainous task and a small workforce. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome!

Can you think of another small group of people that become a movement? Absolutely. Jesus chose how many? Twelve. He walked around the fishing district and said – you, you, and you two also. He walked through the streets of Bethsaida and looked into the fig groves and picked two more disciples. He saw a political zealot in the crowds in Jerusalem and chose another. He walked through the Tax district (the Agenzia delle Entrate – can you believe a disciple could be there?), and he called another. And He gathered the Twelve He called from all areas of the culture minus one traitor, taught them about life in the Kingdom, trained them to pray, heal the sick, cast out the enemy, empowered them, and they turn the world right side up.

Could it be that we need to do the same with what we face today? We may have too little income, or too small influence, or we may feel we have too little education, or limited skills in speaking, relationship, or time.  Bring it to Him. Bring who you are and what you have and ask Him for the best outcome. I believe God’s glory and grace shine best in impossible situations.

For Hezekiah, with the beginnings of a new group of priests to lead the worship in the Temple, Hezekiah tasked this small group with making the courtyards and the Temple ready for worship. As this fourteen recruited and involve more of what the passage calls “their brothers,” they moved one step at a time to make this place one of worship and prayer.

Let’s read our next verses in this story for our next 2 Chronicles 29:16-17, 28-30

  1. They Cleaned the Outside and the Inside – step by step, one step at a time. The King’s team started at the courtyard – the most obvious – and move inward to the holiest places – the most intimate. And they hauled away the rubbish and the idols that cluttered the place. They swept, cleaned, and shined all the elements of worship that had been ignored or dirtied.

Restoration is hard work. Take a look at this picture of the last home my wife lived in during college. We learned that a piece of property in Susan’s family in Georgia is without owners – her parents have passed away, and two houses and land are sitting there – for ten years. It needs restoration.

When we restore a place, the obvious stuff, the big stuff goes first. But, when that’s done, the real work begins and we can see all the little things that need cleaning and repairing. We turn on the lights, and we see even more that needs restoring.

Restoration of our lives is hard work, too. Jesus has promised to make us new and renovate our lives. The hard work of restoration has already happened – he already sees the finished product! He sees you as a new creation. But then Jesus asks us to allow Him into the different areas of our lives, to remove the big stuff that keeps us down, to fix the places that we’ve not allowed the Spirit of God to touch. And He turns on the light in places that need His presence. And he changes us.

Here’s the Principle – whether it’s restoring a home or restoring a heart. It’s this: the rooms inside are more important to God than the outside. What’s outside matters. The big stuff matters. But God wants to get us to the holy places deep inside our hearts. This is the place of worship and intimacy.

Illust. My Heart Christ Home The story of My Heart, Christ’s Home illustrates this. The author compares our lives to a house -with kitchen, workshop, living room, bedroom. It’s the story of an invitation to Jesus to make himself comfortable in each room that makes up our lives.

Let me take you to the third action Hezekiah took that changed the nation. After the first sacrifices and worship in the Temple, Hezekiah looked to the nation and determined that, as a people of God, worship would bring the tribes and people together.

Everybody was invited to the Party.

Let’s read 2 Chronicles 30:15-20

  • The nation was divided. Judah and the Southern Kingdom was still together, but the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Manasseh and Ephraim and who claimed the name Israel had been conquered by the enemy. And they all needed the call to worship.
  • The people were not ready. And while many refused and laughed at this call to an “out-dated” religion, many came.
  • The leaders were too few. Even many of the priests and Levitical leaders had ignored the call to worship. And were shamed to miss out on the party.
  • The day for Passover was past. Imagine trying to get the word out by runners from one end to the other, city after city; then prepare the city for the crowds; then everyone had to travel to Jerusalem. And even though the day of Passover was past, they worshiped and celebrated anyway.

From one end of Israel to the other – from north, south, east and west, he sent runners to every city and he invited everyone to come and seek God and worship him.

What can you do when you throw a party and things go wrong? You throw the party anyway! Invite everyone you can, get the house ready, and work with what you have! Do you know what happened when everyone showed up for worship? They might not have brought their best, but they showed up. God heard their prayers and healed the nation. And their worship party lasted two week!

Conclusion: So, what does this mean to us. Today. You and me. This morning.

Would the worship team come up, please.

What speaks to me in this invitation – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been. You are invited. If you are hurt, forgotten, sick, broken. You are invited. If you have ignored God until now, you are invited. If you have been hiding out and not using what God has given you. You are invited.

So, let’s worship a few minutes and wait and see what God might want to do here at the end of our time together. Pray.

(We are called to come to the party and becoming worshipers. Making our lives the place Jesus feels at home. We are called to bring others with us. The nations need to discover the power of worshiping Jesus.

Illust. Marriage Feast of the Lamb

God heal me. God heal my church. God heal our city and our nation.)

“… I’ve never seen so many…”

When the doctors and their team working in Liberia during the height of the 2014 Ebola epidemic saw the damage the disease caused, one reportedly said “I’ve never seen so many bodies.” One doctor was in charge of gathering and disposing of those who died from the disease; he and his team worked tirelessly to serve the Liberians by helping them through the collection and, with a respectful process, cremation of their dead.

Stephen Rowden was a first time volunteer with Doctors without Borders; his team processed between 10 and 25 cremations a day in Monrovia as the work sought to contain the epidemic to the region. He said his team of 36 have shown no signs of the disease even though they worked in such proximity to the dangers of the contagion.

When ask about his motivation, Dr. Rowden confessed that he is “a practicing Christian” who finds support and “strength from his faith and family.”

Since the first centuries of Christianity, those who follow Christ run toward the danger, the tragedy, the hurt… even the contagion, while most flee. From the Antonine Plague in the mid-100’s that wipe nearly 25% of the Roman Empire into eternity and those many epidemics that followed, Christ-followers sought to stay and help and serve…and suffer, in order to live a life that gives credit to the Good News and the love and power of God.

While many might say that Christianity was established in the empire because of edits, it really spread as a revolution of love, sacrifice and suffering. We run toward the need, even if the rest are running away.

Dr. Rowden captures this kind of faith through his actions.

Live sacrificially,

Rick

(Thanks to a great NPR interview by  at https://www.npr.org/2014/10/09/354890862/in-collecting-and-cremating-ebola-victims-a-grim-public-service and Baker Book called Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People by Stonestreet and Smith.)

 

Vineyard 201 – Power of God, Power of Prayer

This week’s article by John Wimber, one of the key pastors who helped launch the “Vineyard Movement” links two important spiritual topics: the power of God and the Christ-follower’s prayer life. God wants to display His power through our lives – no question about his (the whole “same works and even greater” promise still wrecks my experiential grid!) But, what is our responsibility through prayer? And more importantly, how does prayer display God’s Kingdom and Power? Wimber would say, it’s all about intimacy!

Enjoy the article below and learn about the empowering nature of intimacy with God:

PRAYER: INTIMACY WITH GOD

Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will,

and understand his heart.

By John Wimber

If most Christians could listen to recordings of their prayers over a week’s time, we would discover we pray the same things, using the same words and sentence structures, over and over again. But, I suspect, what would disturb us most is the cold, mechanical, removed feeling of the prayers. We would become more aware of something we already know but can hardly acknowledge: our relationship with God is distant and impersonal – and because of this we are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Now think of the quality of Jesus’ prayer life. Picture in your mind the freedom and openness he always experienced with his heavenly Father. He spoke to his Father in terms of endearment, referring to him as “Daddy.” Jesus took every problem, every concern, and every decision to him moment by moment. And he did it with ease and joy! It was an intimate relationship, an openness in which he freely shared his most essential, private, and personal thoughts and emotions.

The quality of relationship with his Father also was a key to answered prayer. By knowing his Father’s will, he knew how, what, and whom to pray for. “The world must learn that I love the Father,” Jesus said, “and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). How did the world know Jesus loved the Father? Because he did what the Father told him to do, and he was able to do that because he had an intimate relationship with him.

I believe Jesus’ prayer life is something that we should aspire to, that intimacy with God in prayer is a primary goal of the Christian life.

Obedience

Why is our goal intimacy with God? Because only there do we experience forgiveness, renewal, and power for righteous living. Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will, and understand his heart.

Some of us, though, think of intimacy as merely a warm emotion—something akin to spiritual goose bumps. But this isn’t what I mean by intimacy with God. By intimacy I mean four things:

  • First, intimacy is self-disclosure. This is our ability to talk with God about who we really are, to say what we need and want, all the time knowing that he hears us and cares about these things. This touches on the formation of such character traits as honesty, integrity, and confidence.
  • Second, intimacy is being known by God. God doesn’t need our cooperation to know everything about us (Matthew 10:30). But for him to work in us and through us, we must cooperate with him, joyfully receiving his fatherly love.
  • Third, intimacy is continual obedience to God. This means knowing God in the deepest part of our beings, hearing his voice, experiencing his grace and then doing what he says to do. There is nothing fancy or mysterious about obedience. The rewards are great: A greater knowledge of God’s holiness and a clear conscience.

Scripture

  • Fourth, intimacy is knowing God. By knowing God I mean having relationship with him and knowing about him. The latter point contains a Catch 22, because a proper understanding of God’s nature is both a goal and prerequisite of intimacy. In other words, what we believe about God determines how we pray, and the quality of our prayer life powerfully affects what we believe about God!

A defective understanding of our heavenly Father’s nature (usually a result of some failure in our earthly father) is one of the greatest obstacles to an intimate prayer life. Do you think of God as quite distant from creation, disinterested in ordinary people’s daily struggles? If so your prayer life is probably an infrequent exercise in paying homage to the Creator, but in no way is it a life-changing relationship. Do you think of God as an angry old man, depriving you of life’s pleasures and joys? If so, your prayer life likely is a loathsome event, full of fear and anger.

God has provided means for overcoming our misconceptions about his nature: Scripture. In the Bible, God reveals his nature to us, but most of us require healing in some area of our lives so we can receive the truth of Scripture. Hurtful memories of our earthly fathers may hold us back from receiving our heavenly Father. Prayer for overcoming the effects of past hurts and immersion in God’s Word are the pathway to knowing God.

Models

Another obstacle to attaining intimacy with God in prayer is the dearth of mature prayer models, men and women who inspire and instruct us through prayer and deed.

As a new Christian, I was discipled by a man who embodied what it meant to be intimate with God. But even he wasn’t perfect, and when he moved away after only two years, I was forced to look elsewhere for a model of intimacy. So to whom can we look? Christ is available to all, our great example of intimacy with the Father. He is the one that we ultimately look to and pattern our lives after.

I began this article by contrasting our prayer life with Christ’s. In the remainder of the article, I will take a closer look at Christ’s relationship with his Father as found in what is commonly called the high priestly prayer of John 17.

The Upper Room

John 17 must be understood with its broader context, chapter 13 through17, the longest account of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the upper room. Jesus speaks to his disciples in an intimate, after-dinner exchange. He discloses to them some of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. One prominent feature of his discourse is his use of the word love. It is used only six times in chapters 1-12 of John’s Gospel but 31 times in chapters 13-17.

Chapter 17 records Jesus’ conversation with his Father about himself, the apostles, and all believers. I am not as much interested here in what he prayed about as how he prayed, for his manner reveals much about his relationship with the Father.

Verse one says, “He looked toward heaven and prayed.” Did you know that the customary attitude of prayer for Jesus was to open his eyes and raise his head? His position on prayer was different from the practices of most Western Christians. Now, I believe there is nothing wrong in lowering our heads and closing our eyes (it communicates reverence toward God and helps us keep our concentration on God), but Jesus looked up and opened his eyes because his relationship with the Father was open, free, uninhibited.

He begins his prayer with the simple “Father,” the common address of a child to its parent. Jesus was using language common to everyday family life and transferring it to God. It reveals the close familiarity between Jesus and his Father.

Reinforce Truth

Jesus then goes on in verses two to five to pray for himself as within hours he would face the cross. But the tone of his prayer impresses me—informal, free, and heartfelt. These were the prayers of a friend of God. In reading many of Jesus’ prayers, I get the feeling that he is interrupting a private, unspoken conversation in order to speak aloud so the disciples can learn how to pray. In other words, his spoken words appear to be the overflow of a continuing dialogue with his Father.

In saying, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” Jesus revealed his one motivation in life was to glorify his Father. This meant that all his prayers were steeped with an attitude of obedience and sacrifice, a desire to submit his life to whatever his Father wanted. It is almost as though he is reviewing a fundamental principle of the Christian life: You glorify me, I glorify you. We too, should never hesitate to repeat the fundamental promises of Scripture to God in prayer; in doing so we reinforce his truth in us and faith grows. We need to regularly review our commitments, and what better place is there to do that than with God?

In verses 6 to 19 he prays for the disciples. He continues to focus on fulfilling God’s purpose: to redeem and raise up a people who know the Father. When we experience intimacy with our heavenly Father our hearts will naturally turn toward intercession. Why? Because we will take on his heart, his burden for men and women.

Jesus and the early Christians rarely prayed for the world. Instead, they prayed that the church would be bold in proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved! You don’t have to tell God your friends aren’t saved. He already knows. You need to tell them about Christ, and ask God for the boldness to speak the gospel in love.

Unity

In verses 20 to 26 he prays for all believers “that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21). This is the punch line of the high priestly prayer: We can have the same type of relationship with the Father that Jesus has.

I grew up as an only child with both parents who worked. From the ages of five to eighteen I devoted my life almost entirely to music, sitting alone for hours practicing different musical instruments. I didn’t develop very many social skills with a horn in my mouth. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I don’t know if I would have ever learned how to have deep, intimate friendships. I have found it difficult to know God as my “Daddy,” but as I grow in the knowledge of his nature and take risks with him, I’m learning he loves me and accepts me the way I am. I can enter into the same quality of relationship as Jesus has with the Father.

When we experience the intimacy of the Father and the Son, it will affect our relationship brothers and sisters in such a way that many pagans will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem the world (v.23). Christian unity, rooted in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, is the most powerful testimony of Christ’s lordship in the world today.

 

A Lifetime Punctuated with Suddenlies…

What do shepherds, a leper, and Simon Peter have in common? (Cue “Jeopardy Theme). What is, they each were waylaid by a “Suddenly?” The shepherds on the hillside with the angelic host, the leper healed by Jesus, and Paul and the horse (on the road to Damascus, and that’s what he fell to the ground from in my picture Bible… humor me.)

How many times does the word “suddenly’  occur? A whole bunch… I quit counting in YouVersion. In the New Testament, though, it happens forty-five times.

“Suddenlies” are different from how we like to describe our Christian experience. It’s akin to Bilbo telling Gandalf, “Adventures? We don’t want any of those around here, thank you!” We go for lifelong, for the walk, or the word du Jour, “process.” But, what’s the fun in a walk without a few surprises?

In fact, when we have a real prayer need (not the ones that involved parking places or nail fungus), we pray for “suddenlies.” And we should.

Each moment as Christ-followers should prepare us for “suddenly.” We may still freak out, shake in our sandals, or drop to our knees in fear like the shepherds, Mary, the disciples, Paul, and even the centurion at the Cross. But our story afterward will be, “yep, that was God!”

We aren’t far away from Easter – it’s in just a few weeks. And we are not at all far away from our next “Suddenly.” So get ready… and if you freak, shake or fall down, I hope someone has a camera.

With all immediacy,

Rick

 

Collateral Damage

It’s almost Easter again (2013) and the Cross gets the headlines in churches and news-blogs. Most of us relegate crucifixion to the Gospels, but what about today? Men will be crucified on Good Friday in the Philippines as a sign of desperate devotion (one woman joins the parade of the crucified – her fifteenth time – hoping for a miracle for her sister.) The cross as execution tool is still used against Christians (and other betrayers) in the Muslim world. Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia and other nations have had recent crucifixions to punish the infidels.

For some, this is collateral damage to show the world that Islam rules. Or in the case of the Filipino devotees, a way to display a profane dedication to their God’s holy demands. For many, it’s a religious sideshow. For this Christ-follower, it breaks the heart.

The message of the Cross is simple, liberating, life-altering, and resolves the soul’s deepest cravings… for those who believe. For those who deny or oppose, it is a foolish thing for anyone to think God would take on the pain of the Cross for a barely worthless person. Such an idea would trip up the rationale of anyone with the sense the world gave him or her.

In some ways, the collateral damage that hurts the most is the sacrifice willingly made by the Son of God. (Maybe we should, at least around Easter, feel the pain of what God allowed in the crucifixion.)But beyond the Cross (and really for the Cross) Christ-followers have been willing to sacrifice themselves to show the message of the Cross to generations of cultures. Some have been willing participants of collateral damage, crucified or otherwise executed for the Message… a part of the legacy of getting the Good News to the world.

Collateral means parallel or alongside of, a good picture of what we as Christ-followers do in sharing the Good News with others through our lives, prayers, resources, gifts and talents… and of course, our words. But collateral also means payment or bond or guarantee (as in bail money).

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the bond paid forward and offered to be received by faith. And the sacrifice you and I make to take this Message that is so offensive to some in hopes they will received the gift? We may or may not be a part of the collateral damage, but it’s worth the risk and the reward.

With a view to the Cross,

Rick