Monday, May 28, 2012

Living the Good Life

For a little context: this is a follow up to my sermon from my series “What’s In Your Well? … 7 Life Affirming Virtues”. This particular virtue was “chastity.”
How To Manage Your Sexual Desire
Or …
How to Control Lust

1. Check the water in your well. 
Are you thinking too highly of yourself? Are you thinking too low of yourself? Many times, misplaced lust has to do with thinking to low of yourself.

2. Are you managing your adrenaline well? If it is driving you, it can really come out in the area of lust (also anger.) Adrenaline, driven by anger, can fuel sexual sin. This reveal itself in using people to try to satisfy your sexual desire. It can especially apply to pornography, which some people look to the substitute for intimacy. 

3. How are you doing with guilt? Are you carrying any guilt with you?

4. Remember Satan is attacking you in the area of sexual desire. To use your sexual desire in an incorrect way messes with your soul. Having your soul messed up messes with your ability to have relationships with people. You will pay a price for this.

5. Minimize the opportunity for temptation. 

6. Abstain from all appearances of evil (I Thess. 5:22.)

7. Monitor your thoughts.

8. Use your God-given gift of imagination to project the potential consequences of the sin of lust. “When we ignore God's laws, we don't break—they break us.” Rick Ezell

Monday, May 21, 2012

Top 4 Reasons to be in Church… Reason # 4

An Attitude of Gratitude—Heb. 13:11-15
             When we are a third party looking on, I don't think we ever appreciate ingratitude. I have an acquaintance who was working at a camp one time, and he saw a situation that was really ugly—a fellow counselor whose son was attending the camp was having trouble with him.
            He was acting spoiled—like a basic ingrate. He was smarting off and sassing her. He was refusing to show her respect.
            My acquaintance had had enough, so he walked over to the kid. He told the boy to hold up his shirt. The boy obeyed. He pointed to the boy’s belly button. He told the boy, “Tell me what that is.”
            The boy was stunned. He finally mumbled out the answer, “A belly button.”
            My acquaintance said, “I want you to know that for nine months you were connected to that woman.” He pointed to the boy's mother. “And fluid flowed out of her body into yours, and she kept you warm, and she kept you safe, and she kept you alive, and she went through a great deal of pain to bring you into this world, and she went through all of that to give you a beginning here. Now you treat her with respect. You treat her with gratitude.”
            By the time he finished, that boy felt pretty bad. He should have; hopefully he changed his behavior.
            It is not nice to see someone who has been the recipient of much blessing, treat the source of great blessing with ingratitude. It is especially not nice for God when God is the source of that blessing.
            Ungratefulness is the source of all vice. When a person does not have the recognition of a higher source, he takes everything for granted and recognizes no authority, and his actions are not accountable.
            Back in the 1980s, a top defense lawyer in the Northeast, was very successful taking the cases of death row criminals and getting them off. By the mid 80s he had gotten off 78 convicted first-degree murderers.
            He made this statement, “Though I am committed to these men, I do not admire them. Of the 78 men that I have freed from the electric chair, I have not received so much as a thank you card. The common factor to these murderers is they are all natural ingrates.”
            Three decades ago, Tommy Nelson spoke about how Israel was to be an appreciative nation. They were a highly accountable nation.
            God consistently reminded every Israelite—every day, every week, every month, every season, every year, every seven years, every 50 years—he pounded into the nation the essential truth that the nation of Israel created and owned nothing, but were responsible for everything.
            Do you know how the day started in Jerusalem? With a sacrifice when the sun came up, and it ended with a sacrifice at twilight. It showed that God gave them that day. They thanked God that the sun came up.
            Every week Israel observed the Sabbath. They rested in recognition that the plants, the animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, the basic creation, the heavens, the earth, their families, and they themselves all came from God. God made it all; therefore, they rested on the seventh day.
            Six times in the Israelite year, they had a feast. For example: you celebrated the new year, you celebrated the independence of the Jew–the Passover, you celebrated the first fruits of the harvest, you celebrated the end of the harvest–Pentecost.
            You had six offerings. They included the grain offering to celebrate the harvest, when God blessed you with financial provisions. You made a burnt offering whenever your child was born, which meant you offered an offering to God to thank him for this child and to tell him it was God’s child. You had a thank offering when something good happened to you. You had offerings when your heart felt full of praise.
            Every seven years you had a sabbatical year. Anybody who owed you money was forgiven that debt, and it was in recognition that all money and all prosperity was from God.
            Every 7x7 years, every 50 years, you had a year of Jubilee. And all land that you had received would go back to its original owner, because God would not let anyone in Israel have a monopoly on the prosperity, and in recognition of the fact that the land was not yours, it was God’s.  
            Do you see what I mean? Every day, every week, every month, every season, every year, every seven years, or every 50 years, God pounded and pounded and pounded into Israel’s brain with tithes and offerings, that “your grain, your animals, the sun, moon, stars, your independence, your salvation, the kid from your womb” is God’s.
            The word thankfulness is used 166 times in the Bible. There's one guy in the Bible who every time he eats a meal, he prays. He prays eight times in Scripture for food. You know who it is? Jesus. Eight of Jesus prayers are over a meal.
            And so this preacher is finishing up this letter to the Christians of Hebrews, and he is trying to give these people a good motivation, a mature motivation, for following God. He is trying to give them an attitude of gratitude for following Jesus. He's trying to help them appreciate the grace of God. He’s telling them, after the cross, it should be as if our gratitude is on steroids:
            11 After the high priest offers the blood of animals as a sin offering, the bodies of those animals are burned outside the camp. 12 Jesus himself suffered outside the city gate, so that his blood would make people holy. 13 That’s why we should go outside the camp to Jesus and share in his disgrace.
            Now, here is the gist of his encouragement. Verses 11-12 reference the sacrifices of the Old Testament. When you were offered an animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, your priest took the remains of the animal and took them outside the camp and burned them.

          The skin and flesh of the bull, together with its legs, insides, and the food still in its stomach, are to be taken outside the camp and burned on a wood fire near the ash heap (Lev. 4:11-12.) CEV

            The remains of the bull and the goat whose blood was taken into the most holy place must be taken outside the camp and burned (Lev. 16:27.) CEV
            To a people about to quit, the Preacher attempts to resurrect an attitude of gratitude. He points them back to the cross. He takes them to the Old Testament teachings, upon which the cross was based.
            In Jerusalem you would take the remains of the animal and take them out to the ash heap, the city dump-outside the city-to a placed called Gehenna. The burning was ongoing. Sometimes that word in the New Testament is used, and we translate it in a different way—“hell.”
            The Preacher of Hebrews wants you to see this image of Gehenna—where the Romans would crucify the criminals. There would be skulls and bones everywhere. It was a place like this where the Lord was crucified.
            Question: how should you treat the Creator of the World? If the Creator of the World must die, how should he die?
            They crucified your Lord and mine in a place that was at the crossroads where people would come by from all directions, and they stripped him naked.            They would have taken his body and thrown it onto the trash heap to burn it: were it not for two men with power, influence, and money, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus. They took that body, wrapped in a shroud, and placed it hurriedly in Joseph’s tomb.
            I like what one writer said about all of this,
            “I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap… at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmanship is about.”
            --George McDonald
            McDonald is talking about the place where Jesus was crucified. Jesus never won “man of the year” from the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce. He never won any commendations from the Jerusalem City Council. Jesus did not die in a cathedral. He died on a trash heap, next to a marketplace. He died stripped naked, in shame, those were the circumstances surrounding his death.
            The writer of Hebrews wants you to see all of the foul and decay this fallen creation has to offer surrounding Jesus. He wants you to see the flies on the degraded bodies. He wants you to smell the foul odors of decaying flesh.
            Isn’t it interesting that the most sacred place on this planet… was at the city dump?
            We have become so accustomed to seeing pictures of Jesus on the cross. They seem detached from us; removed from our experiences. They are safe and distant.
            I knew a guy who went to the house of a fellow, and there was this huge painting of Jesus on the cross. It was very vivid. It was well done; the fellow said it was probably the best one he had ever seen. As a Christian, his the first thought was “Praise God. That should have been me.”
            Later, he began to think himself, what if a secularist came into that guy’s house? What would he have done when he saw that painting? Agnostic people are so far removed from a biblical understanding, they have no appreciation of what the Bible teaches about the cross; so what would he think?            
            What if we visited the house of a Buddhist who had a giant painting of a monk burning himself alive?
            What if we visited the house of a fundamentalist Muslim, and we saw the picture of a Muslim man being killed by mob violence by “Christians” during the crusade? And it was in vivid color? And all of the gruesome details were included?
            How are you going to react to that? What if the owner of the house says, “Want to stay the night? Igor, prepare a room for our guest.” Make you feel a bit creepy, would it not?
            Our lovely truck broke down the other day, and I was with two of my girls; we walked about a mile back to our house. Various people offered help. It was very nice of them. It was morning; the sun was up; it was a beautiful day.
            What if it had been at night? What if it had been pouring down rain? What if we had experienced thunder and lightning? What if a man stopped, rolled down his window, and had hanging on his rearview mirror a toy-like model-very precisely done-of a man dying in electric chair? What if the precision was so detailed, we could see the wisps of smoke coming out of little guy’s head? And what if the driver asked, “Want a ride?”
            How do you think we would feel?
            Those are probably close to the emotions that some of these people in the cultures surrounding these Christians of Hebrews felt as they observed this group of people, who were dedicating themselves to following the fellow who had been crucified. It was just flat-out weird. Jesus was just another criminal. He was not somebody to be respected, much less love and adored.
            (Ancient graffiti details the God of the Christians being crucified on a cross. He had the body of a man—and the head of a donkey.)
            These were some of the challenges the Christians were facing.
            Jesus died at the city death, and he bore all of the scorn and disgrace. We follow a Savior who endured. He was reliable. He calls his people to do the same.
            I have seen evangelistic Bible studies that imploded because the CHRISTIANS were not reliable. At times the non-Christians hung in there because they wanted to learn something about the God. It was the Christians who were not reliable.
            But Jesus was reliable. He was not buried with a flag on his coffin. Instead, he was faithful… despite the scorn. Verses 14-15 tell us:
            14 On this earth we don’t have a city that lasts forever, but we are waiting for such a city. 15 Our sacrifice is to keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus. (Heb. 13:11-15.) CEV
            We offer sacrifice and praise. We do it everyday. We have offered something well pleasing in God's sight.
            Here's where it really comes down to it. This is the challenge. Verse 13–let us join him outside the camp. Let us identify with him. Your will be done not my will.
            That… is… so… hard.
            Jesus says—I know. My prayer in the garden was “let this cup pass… but not my will be done; you’re will be done.”
            Can we reach that point? Can we pray that prayer?
            It is so costly. It is so scary. It is counterintuitive. It is not what we want to do. It forces us into a corner.
            And the Preacher of Hebrews says, “Do you want to get in or not.” It is so hard.
            You say, “I don't want to be an ingrate. But I want to grab as much as I can have in this life.”
            He says, “You got to make a choice.”
            Now, the interesting thing is that does not necessarily mean God will not entrust us to manage things of this world, or organizations in this world.
            Our leadership, however, will mean nothing to us if we are not serving God. There will be no ulterior motives of grabbing all that we can out of this life. It'll be property management—for God.
            Remarkably, all of this is very liberating. When you play for an audience of one, you are truly free. People cannot hurt you. They cannot say anything to hurt you. Ultimately, while you offer them basic human respect, their opinion means nothing; God’s opinion means everything--you play for an audience of one.
            That's why Hebrews says unapologetically to devote yourself to the most important group in the world. You're not losing anything, if you lose everything. The great philosopher Don Meredith once said, “Them that ain’t got it can't lose.”
            To be candid, I don't lie awake at night wondering what the people of New Guinea think about me. I don't lie awake at night worrying about what the people in China think about me. I rarely worry about what the people of the United States think about me.
            How about you? What if I told you that everyone in Christ is a leader. Not necessarily in the church, but in this world.
            Frankly, some of these people did not feel positive emotions. They were called to make a decision with the will. It was tough, but they were called to practice agape love.
            What if we parented like we live our Christian lives? What if we did everything based about whether or not our kids liked us? We have a term that describes that parenting style–child abuse.
            No, we practice agape love; we seek what's best for the child. We sacrifice. We are willing to surrender their good opinion of us, the opinion of others, and status; we will do what it takes.
            That makes us leaders in the culture. Every Christian is a leader in the world. You may be thinking, “No one is following me.”
            The world defines leadership by who is following;
            the Bible defines leadership by who is leading.            
            What that means is if God is leading you, and no one else is following you, that trumps somebody else who has a ton of followers but is not following God. If you are following God, GOD is leading. By the world’s standards, Jesus was a failure as a leader when he died on the cross, he had virtually no followers… except for the fact he was following his Heavenly Father. Because of who he was following, I would say this was the greatest moment of leadership in the history of the world.
            That's how we are supposed to live for God. That's what this letter is about. We sacrifice the opinions of others, we do what's best according to our benefactor, God, and we live in agape love. We play for an audience of one.
            Last week I saw a movie about Margaret Thatcher—THE IRON LADY. I was stunned that the people in the Motion Picture industry were as faithful as they were to the events of her life, and that they treated her with respect and even admiration.
            Here was a woman, who from the very beginning had to live her professional life surrounded by men, which meant she was a novelty. Most did not respect her or her opinion. They certainly did not like her.
            She was isolated and marginalized in so many ways. What those experiences did, though, was form her character. She learned to function without the admiration of those around her. She learned to diagnosis solutions to societies problems and proclaim them. This was unusual. All other government officials and political leaders were posturing for position to gain a political settlement or to gain votes. Great Britain was at an economic and cultural stalemate. It was in a mess and falling.
            So she up and announced, “Here is what we need to do, and I want to lead.” Stunningly, she won leadership of her party and then the nation.
            She was not flawless, but did you know that she is the first living prime minister to have a statue in the House of Parliament?
            All of this was because she was willing to stand alone and lead. We need to offer ourselves to lead a fallen world.
            How do we cultivate this attitude of gratitude?
            How do we summon the God-given power in our will to follow God stand out from culture?
            Well, in Hebrews, the Preacher says–
1. We meet with the church.
            We don't care what everybody else says, we go to the most important group in the world and we hear them tell us once again what is most important. Because God is speaking through them.
            It is not as hard as you might think to know whether he is pleased with us, because
2. We get into his Word. And we do that through the Bible. One of the reasons why we should get into the word is because it helps us understand what God wants.

3. We express our concerns to the Heavenly Father. This is called prayer. We offer God our thoughts, our yearnings, our questions, and our laments.

            Doesn’t it make you feel good to know that of all the groups on the planet, if you are in Christ, you are part of the most important one?
            I hope that thought gives you strength for tomorrow.

Thanks James Thompson, David De Silva, and Tommy Nelson

Monday, May 14, 2012

Top 4 Reasons to be in Church # 3

“Cool Experiences”-Heb. 12:18-29
        You may have heard of the mother who rebuked her boy for not attending church willingly. She admonished him, “You go to the movies for entertainment, and you go down to Freddy’s house and have a nice time. Now don’t you think it is only right that once a week you should go to God’s House, just for one hour?”
            The boy thought it over and said, “But, Mom, what would you think if you were invited to somebody’s house and every time you went, the fellow was never there!”
            I think some people have quit attending worship services because they think God is not there.
            I remember that the entertainer and singer Pat Boone, wrote an autobiography back in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In it, he talked about attending worship services at a church in the Los Angeles area.
            His life was so drained spiritually, and the sermons to him were so boring, that he had to do all sorts of tricks to try to stay awake. One of them was to stretch his feet and legs out under the pew in front of him, and hold them in the air. He would not let them touch the ground. All of this to stay awake!
            When I was in eighth grade, one of the great Sundays of my life was returning from summer vacation and finding out that the elders had wanted me and another young man to go out in the foyer during the sermon and tabulate the Sunday morning’s attendance. We had a big board on the wall in our foyer with everybody’s name on it. People had to put a golf tee in a hole by their name if they were present for worship that morning.
            I still remember thinking, “I am free! I am free!” because I got to miss a portion of the sermon. It was amazing how diligent and thorough eighth-graders can be when it means legitimately missing part of the sermon time.
            I wish we could see is happening during worship. I wish our minds could see all that is going on. I hope this passage in Hebrews can help us get a grasp on that. My dream would be for everyone to look forward to coming together in public worship and assembly.
            I am convicted that there are folks in this church in Hebrews who have had the exact same struggle. According to chapter ten, some have quit attending. In this passage, the Preacher addresses issues that the church and Christians are having to deal with.
            Some of these Christians did not want to listen to the word of God anymore. Some of these folks were getting tired. Some of these people were getting bored, so he addresses those issues.
            To do so, he offers A TALE OF TWO ENCOUNTERS:
                        The first took place in the material realm;
                        the second in the invisible realm.
             Each description tells of two mountains. The first occurred in the material world—on Mt. Sinai—when God brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. Here is how he recalled it. Look at Hebrews 12:18…18 You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. 19 For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. 20 They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” NLT
            This was an event that had taken place 1000 years before. It was a real event in a real-time and history.
            The second encounter is just as real. It is invisible, and it took place every Sunday. It continues to do so until this day. Look at verse 22: 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, NIV 1984
            The Preacher is saying: “Draw near to the second mountain.”
            What I understand him to tell these people is this, “Whenever you get together, you are entering into the very realm of God.”

What happens when the church gets together for worship?
                        First of all, We meet God.
            As we read, at Mount Sinai, when God's people were standing at the base of the mountain, they could hear the thunder. They could feel the mountain shake. They could see the lightening.
            I will readily admit that in our assemblies today there are no flashes of lightning; no thunder is being heard, they are no bells and no whistles. But this Preacher says, “It is never more real than now. You are in the presence of God.”
            The first was marked by fear;
              the second by celebration and worship.

21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, NIV 1984

            Do you see a contrast between 21-22?
            Remember, he is telling them why they should be looking forward and focused and excited about being in the presence of God. This was a big deal.
            I remember when my mother took me down to the TV station, Channel 3, in Shreveport, and I was hoping to get to meet Bozo the clown. I was so excited, I was going to a real-life television station. I just knew I was going to see, meet, and spend time with Bozo the clown.
            Alas, it was on a Saturday. Hardly anyone was at the station. Bozo the clown was nowhere to be found. I took it rather hard. Looking back, I'm sure a lot of people were wondering why a junior in high school was so upset that he did not get to me Bozo the clown.
            Okay, maybe my dating on the story is off a decade or so, but here is my point: during that time in my life, I was more excited about getting to be in the presence of Bozo the clown, then I was about being in the presence of God.
            You might be thinking, “How frivolous!” And you would be right. I hope I have outgrown that. I know there a lot of people who have not. They are a lot more excited about going into the presence of the frivolous, than they are about going into the presence of God.
            If you have been with us throughout this series, you have noticed that there are passages that alternate between the reverence of God and the confidence to go into the presence of God. For example, 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, NIV 1984
            This is important. If we're not careful, we tend to focus on our own instinctive way of responding to God.
            Another word summarizing this understanding is confidence. Not confidence placed in our work, but confidence placed in Jesus’ work. Throughout Hebrews, fear and confidence alternate: they make up two sides of the same coin.
                            The Preacher of Hebrews has alternated between
confidence and fear before God:

Fear                                                                        Confidence
            4:12-13                                                            4:14-16
            6:4-8                                                                        6:9-12
10:26-31                                                            10:32-36
            12:18-29                                                            12:18-29

            Some of us instinctively respond to God with reverence and awe; however, we do not have the ability to appreciate Christ's work, Christ’s affection, and Christ’s fellowship: 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” For others of us, it is the opposite. Notice verse 22:  22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, NIV 1984
            Express your worship to God in a way consistent with your temperament and calling, and don’t judge God’s other servants.
            I remember one time we had a guy that led our communion thoughts, and he said, “Take a moment as we share the bread and tell your neighbor what God has done for you this week.”
            Well, a fellow jumped on him in the foyer after service and chewed him out in front of everybody around. How dare he violate the worship service by doing something irreverent!
            That fellow is no longer with us, and I ache for the guy because the book of Hebrews is missing from his Bible; he is missing a significant portion of the rest of the Bible as well.
            He's pulling a “Thomas Jefferson.” Did you know Thomas Jefferson cut out all of the miracles of Jesus out of his Bible? They did not fit his belief system. Likewise, our former member was cutting out all of the things that did not fit his belief system.
            He cut out Exodus 24 and the story of the meal God had with Moses and the elders. He cut the fellowship offering out of Leviticus 3; he cut out a bunch of the Psalms.
            Here is the gist of the pre-cross celebration: God did not kill us, yea!
            Our friend cut out passages of the New Testament, including Hebrews. He overlooked Heb. 9:1-10:18. Remember:
            Reverence and joy are two sides of the same coin—how we relate to God.
            It is precisely because of the holiness of God and the work of Jesus that we are motivated to joyfully gather.
            Now… I know this is difficult for some people. There is a lot of church growth material out there that says you cannot have a community that is too far apart on the spectrum. And if you notice, a lot of these congregations that are written about as congregations that are growing are in fact, swelling. That is to say, they are not adding fruit to the Kingdom. They instead add people from other churches. Nevertheless, there seems to be a restricted view of how to do things. Furthermore, everybody buys into that view.
            That method appears to be the most successful, but is that the call of God? Am I being idealistic to think that it would be nice to have a community that could stretch as far as it can on things that are negotiable, and do so with love and respect for people? And while Christians in the body of Christ are loving and respecting each other, they are allowed to be authentic, and each embraces the authenticity of the other. Is this a naïve vision?
            It is hard to live in community. It is hard live in a family. There are always things in families that you view differently. You feel as though you are out of your comfort zone; however, you have got to embrace that fact… and move on.
            It is the same in spiritual families.
            Wrapping this up, it's especially this way in this thing called the worship assembly. You got some who are inclined toward the point on the spectrum of joyful worship, for which they are gifted. Others are inclined toward the other end of the spectrum—reverential worship (their gifted in that area as well.)
            In the church, you lean toward that for which you are gifted. You do what you are good at. Others do what they are good out. You can have both.
            In the assembly, it is the community that expresses worship before God, is not one individual. We compensate for each other. So don't lose that important dynamic in Hebrews.
What Happens in the public worship of the church?
            1. We meet God.
            2. We encounter and those spiritual beings who have run the race before us.
            Look at verse 23–23 You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24 You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. NLT           
            I have previously written that I like this teaching. He's made us think about others present in the assembly: Abraham, Moses, and others. Consequently, in the worship assembly, we have a little bit of heaven. We have come into the heavenly world. Better yet, the heavenly world has come into our midst.
            Here is a second theme in this section of Hebrews–we encounter angels and those spiritual beings who have run the race before us. We looked at this earlier in chapter twelve, verse 1–the cloud of witnesses. According to verse 22–when we gather together and worship… we are in the world of angels. We can't see them; he understands that. But they are present.
            Folks, he does not promise this access if I ignore the worship assembly on Sunday and take off to the woods by myself. We are so individualistic in our culture, that for a number of Christians, time alone in the woods would be a perfectly acceptable alternative. However, the world of the Bible was a world of community. In our world, we have made individuality an idol.
            If I shun you in order to go off into the woods by myself to be with God, there no promise that I would have access to these angels and those who have gone on before us.
            This letter was not written to a church like Shiloh Road; it was written to a little house church… or to a series of little house churches. They did not meet in impressive buildings. The preaching might very well have been bad, the singing might have been bad, people may have had to stretch out their legs to stay awake during the sermon, there were no bells and whistles that were making the people want to go. Perhaps some of them were asking themselves, “Should I go to church or should I stay home.”
            Nothing their eyes saw at the assembly was impressive. It may have been even dreary. Yet, look at this image that the Preacher gives them of what is happening: 25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.
            You don't think this was going to give them a charge? He was telling them, “You think you are in your little house church where the singing is bad and the preaching is bad. But no, you are meeting with the household of faith. You are joining God and the angels and those who have gone on before you.” It did not look like that, but he was telling them to get in touch with the “real” reality.
            I think of that and I think about how many people today are going to church buildings, and the key question in their minds as they leave will be, “Did I like the worship service.” They will have missed it all, because they could not see who was really there.
            This reminds me of a movie you may have enjoyed seeing, “Field of Dreams.” Remember, Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a farmer who builds a baseball field on his farm.
            A voice had told him, “If you build it, he will come.” Indeed, Shoeless Joe Jackson comes and brings along his friends from the past.
            One afternoon, Ray and his family sit in the stands and enjoy a game. If you remember, no one else can see the players except for Ray’s immediate family.
            Ray’s brother-in-law and his mother-in-law arrive, and they can’t see what's happening out on the diamond. They get quite upset with Ray and his family.
            It bothers them that Ray’s family can see something they cannot see. They just don't get it, and they do not react well.
            God is calling us to see what the world can't see. Typically, the world is not going to react well. Nevertheless, we choose to see what God wants us to see. There is blessing from that. Just as Ray and his family were blessed by what they saw, so too are we.

            The last part of this passage is … A Call To Worship (Heb. 12:28)—
            Invest in the unseen

28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. NLT
            The Preacher calls us to invest in the unseen.
            Remember in Hebrews eleven, verse 1, what his definition of faith was? Faith is the substance of all things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.             That is a big theme in this letter. There is a world above ours; it transcends ours; you cannot see it, feel it, touch it, hear it, or smell it. But it is more real than what you do see, feel, touch, hear, or smell.
            Invest in what you cannot see. They had been investing in the world around them. They had been investing in what they could see. Sometimes it is because they were attracted to what they wanted; something that meant more to them than the Kingdom did.
            This guy has consistently devalued worldly possessions, worldly citizenship, and worldly status. He has said: if you invest in the world, then you will lose like Esau did.
            He said to them, and he says to us—invest in the heavenly world.
            It is easy to look at Esau, today, and think “Wow! What a dummy.” But folks, there are people who do this every day. Some of them, sadly, are Christians. They go for what they can see.
            Have you noticed how many times he says we have an unshakable kingdom? They were surrounded by a world that was shaky.
            How about you? Have you got an IRA that is shaky? An investment?  
            He gives them hope in an unshakable kingdom… and in a lasting city.
            Earlier, we addressed one extreme concerning the way we approach the Father, now here is a reminder of another extreme.
            There are an abundance of passages that talk about the need to hold reverence for God. Many in our culture view God like Aladdin. Make a wish!
            Consequently, they have excised passages regarding the holiness of God from their Bibles. God is not a genie!           
            Albert Einstein said something that fits this subject well, “He who can no longer pause to wonder, is as good as dead.”
            When we as Christians gather together before God, we should do so with a sense of wonder.
            In the worship assembly, God comes to dwell among us.

A Call To Worship (Heb. 12:28)
            Invest in the unseen and if we do…
            we will be grateful worshippers.

            If we invest in the unseen, we will be thankful. When we go before God with other Christians, we should definitely be shaken out of the “automatic pilot” mode.
       28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.
29 For our God is a devouring fire.
            If we could really see what is happening in the worship assembly, would it not motivate us to more easily pay attention to what a guy is praying? Would it not be easier to focus at the Lord’s Table? How would it not impact our singing?
            Would we not be more grateful?
            Some of our members live in the Chapel Hill School District. Last Fall, Chapel Hill won the state championship in football. This was a big deal.
            This Spring, the people at Chapel Hill got so excited because their football team won the state championship, they had a special assembly where they offered championship rings to the players.
            People were grateful. They showed their gratitude in various ways. Some with their voices, some with hugs, some with tears, some with smiles, some with clapping… but they were all grateful.
            Imagine people in the presence of that team ignoring them, or being bored with the team, or feeling apathetic toward the team. Can you imagine?
            What is it like for God when he says, “Here is something that I would appreciate: A loving look… all of your voice in praise… your enthusiasm… your reverence…”
            Do you forget what he desires from you?
            I know Romans 12:1-2 talks about daily worship. I am all for that. Indeed, I think the product of what we do in assembly ideally reflects what we have been supplying the world in daily worship throughout the week.
            Still, the weekly assembly helps us recalibrate our daily walk.
            I lived several years in cotton farming country. Long ago, there was a time when people would plow the ground with push plows. One fellow was asked how he plowed his rows so straight, and he said, “I just look at a point as far ahead as I can see. I position my plow toward it, and I head in that direction.”
            The worship service is, in a lot of ways, like old time plowing. We look at what is ahead—unseen—and we encourage each other to head in that direction.             
            By the grace of God, these actions help our lives to be straight.

Thanks Dr. James Thompson and David DeSilva.