Worship – When God Detests what He Desires

 

FullSizeRender

To illustrate the severity of sin and the completeness of the coming Savior’s sacrificial work, Old Testament saints were given detailed instructions on how to approach God in worship: blood sacrifices, particular clothing, specific days and times, always with reverence and a holy fear. This is what God desired of them. But when their heart of worship undermined their acts of worship, God began to detest what He had desired:

“‘What are all your sacrifices to Me?’ asks the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires this from you – this trampling of My courts? Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to Me. New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies – I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.'” (Isaiah 1:11-15)

Thankfully, the New Covenant in Jesus’s blood has done away with Old Covenant forms of worship that included blood sacrifice and meticulous, legalistic standards of designed reverence. But is God not the same today as He has always been? Is it possible that the heart of our worship sometimes undermines the acts of our worship? And that when this happens, God detests the very things He has desired of us? 

In modern worship, those who are cleansed of sin – redeemed by the blood of the sacrificial Lamb (John 1:29, Revelation 12:11) – bring an offering to the God of the Ages. But any act of worship that is not born from a repentant and reverent heart of worship is just as detestable to God today as it was in Isaiah’s lifetime. God desires communion with His children in authentic, meaningful worship. But unrepentant sin is the great divider – the great destroyer of our proper communion with God. How often have you stood in the fellowship of the redeemed on Sunday morning singing songs, giving offerings, and listening to the Scripture read and preached, but just not “connecting” with God? Chances are the acts of worship are not the cause of your disconnection. It was not because the music wasn’t catchy enough, the offering plates weren’t new enough, or the pastor wasn’t funny enough. Chances are it’s much deeper than that.

In verse 16, God reminded the Old Testament saints how they could begin to connect with Him once again in their worship:

“‘Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil.'” (Isaiah 1:16)

The truth is… our offerings of worship are often nullified by our unrepentant sin. God does not just desire reverent acts of worship – He desires reverent acts of worship that are expressed from the overflow of a proper heart of worship. It’s not about religion. It’s about relationship. It is a sad myth that we can defame Christ’s name during the week, then worship God in the splendor of His holiness on the weekend. Our actions, words, thoughts, social media posts, and other disobediences that offend God’s holiness are all factors in our ability to worship Him properly. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil.” THEN, we can approach God with acts of worship that are born from a proper heart of worship. THEN God will no longer detest what He has desired from us.

When I come to worship services prideful and unrepentant of my sin, I make God’s desire something He detests. But when I come clean, I commune with Him in a powerful way. Maybe worship is about so much more than musical styles, instruments on the stage, Bible translations, whimsical speakers, technological advancements, and comfortable environments. Apparently we can get all of that right, but still make offerings to God that are very wrong. Maybe worship is more than an act thing. Maybe it’s more of a heart thing.

Grace and Peace,

Tony

Posted in church, life, worship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer for Spiritual Awakening

“Lord, I have heard the report about You; Lord, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath, remember mercy!” (Habakkuk 3:2, HCSB)

The prophet was faced with the immanent destruction of his people. The Chaldeans were on their doorsteps, preparing to lay waste to the nation that God had once blessed as a chosen and prized possession. What went wrong? How did we get here? How did we end up at the hand of God’s wrath when our nation was born at the hand of His favor? How did we come so far from justice and righteousness?

“This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted,” (1:4).

I’m no Habakkuk, but with just a cursory look one can surmise that 21st Century America seems to be dancing on the fingertips of God’s wrath. Righteousness is choked out by evil. Wickedness spreads. Hatred is rampant. The rule of law is ignored. Justice comes out perverted. It is long past time that believers in Jesus begin to cry out to God for a spiritual awakening in our day. God’s Spirit is not sleeping, but it seems that we are.

Wake up, church. Celebrations of God’s mercy and favor in our yesterdays are not sufficient to carry us through today. We’ve heard about Great Awakenings. We’ve read the books. We’ve contemplated the mighty movements of God’s Spirit in our past – stood in awe of His works. But like the prophet Habakkuk, we need to be crying out to God that He would revive His work in these years. As watchmen on the wall, staring into the armies of evil that are quickly approaching, believers need to be about the daily business of begging for God’s mercy and grace. A fresh move of His Spirit. Repentance. Favor. Blessing.

Have you spent time on your face before God today, pleading for His mercy and favor on our country? Have you labored in prayer today for a spiritual awakening?

Grace and Peace,

Dr. Tony Wolfe

Posted in church, grace, leadership, life, revival, USA, worldview | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Open Letter: Lovelady Lions Football Program

Lions Football 2015

Lovelady Lions, you wrapped up an incredible season last night! You ended the Football season 14-1 as State semi-finalists, going further than any other team in Lovelady Football history. You displayed outstanding character and played with integrity at every battle. Coaches and players, you represented our community in a way that makes every Lion proud. Your success is etched in our history books forever, with “Lovelady Lion Day” being set on Dec. 11, for all future generations to remember and celebrate. As you reflect on the season and begin to move forward from here, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on “What’s Next.”

What’s Next?

  1. Celebrate the way you’ve won as much as the fact that you’ve won. As much as I love football, it only lasts a season, and life does not slow down for it or after it. The integrity with which you’ve competed this year is impeccable. You learned to work together as a team… to never give up… to trust your coaches… to respect your opponents… to honor your families and your community. That kind of “win” can translate into every area of you life, if you’ll let it. Academically, study and learn with integrity. Socially, interact and fellowship with integrity. In your future places of employment, work and contribute with integrity. Though it may seem to be true right now, football is not life. But it is chock-full of life-lessons. Because you’ve played with integrity this year, let those lessons cross over to every other discipline in your life. Celebrate the way you’ve won as much as the fact that you’ve won.
  2. Allow this to be a “defining moment,” but do not let this moment define you. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first glance. Let the moments of success define your high school football career. Let them define your 2015 sports season. But do not let them define you. My prayer is that you use this success as a launching pad, not a reclining chair. There are so many exciting life adventures that are just around the corner for you. Make new memories. Work hard and celebrate new seasons of success. Don’t be that guy who always lives in the past. Be the one who uses the past as a springboard toward a brighter future. In the words of our most famous 20th Century philosopher, Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go . . . Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”
  3. Give thanks where thanksgiving is due. Whether it’s sports, academics, band, or career, you are who you are on the shoulders of those who have come before you. Who are the people in your life who have invested in you over the years to mold you and shape you into the person you are today? Find them. Thank them.
  4. Pursue the Lord with as much vigor and integrity as you pursued this football season. One of my favorite Scripture quotes to put on ABC’s Lovelady sports advertisements is Hosea 11:10. It reads, “They will go after the Lord. He will roar like a lion.” Can you imagine if you pursued a right relationship with God with the same passion that you pursued the win this season? What if, in church, you learned to “work together as a team… to never give up… to trust your coaches… to respect your opponents… to honor your families and your community?” To allow God’s “roar” to be louder than yours at all times? As a pastor, I can say with full assurance that this would change the climate of our community, and possibly, the whole world. God didn’t establish football, band, cheerleading, or schools to be the herald of His saving grace to the ends of the earth. He created and established His Church. If you were to take the passion and integrity with which you’ve pursued this football season, and apply it directly to your walk with Christ, teenagers, you would flip the world upside-down.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

2015 Lovelady Lion Football Team and Coaching Staff, I am (we are all) so very proud of you. You left your imprint on Lovelady history. Now… leave your mark on the world. And make it big.

Grace and Peace,

Tony

Posted in life

Congregation Appreciation ;)

Tonight, our church honored and blessed us in so many ways. Reading through cards and thinking back through comments from tonight’s “Pastor Appreciation,” Vanessa and I are overwhelmed by the kindness ABC has shown us. Our emotions tonight are compounded by three and a half years worth of seeing the hand of God move mightily in the lives of individuals, families, and our community that we love so much. In the faces of our church family we often see the hardships, struggles, joys, and victories we’ve been able to walk through together with you. In so many lives, we’ve seen pain turn to joy, defeat turn to victory, and failure turn to renewed purpose. And God will receive all of the glory for it. We feel like He has blessed us beyond what we will ever deserve by placing us in this church and the Lovelady community “for such a time as this.”

So in addition to “Pastor Appreciation” tonight, I’d like to offer a “Congregation Appreciation” as well. ABC is a church family like no other. You love on our little family as your own. You praise my wife and support my boys. You are patient with me–forgiving, generous, and expectant. I thank God tonight that I can type this with sincerity in my heart, and no reservation in my words: There is no place I’d rather be than right here, right now. There is no church I would be more honored to serve and lead than ABC Lovelady, TX. There is no community in which I’d rather my children grow up. There is no group of believers with whom I’d rather do life together.

In case I haven’t told you lately, I love you. And I appreciate you, too.

Tony

Posted in life

What a Church’s Structured Education Ministry Does for You

Educational Ministry–the organized structure through which your local New Testament church facilitates the work of the Holy Spirit in delivering God’s Word to the believer’s heart in a transformative way. Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. It’s the vehicle of your church for the intentional guided growth of its members in Christlikeness.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, HCSB)

The Bible is so much more than a self-help book. It is a book divinely inspired by God the Father, delivered to the hearts of men and women through the work of God the Spirit, and on every page it testifies to the redemptive work of God the Son. If, as a believer, you ever feel uneducated, rebellious, untrained, incomplete, or ill-equipped for a life of godliness, consistent exposure to (and obedience to) the unadulterated Word of the Living God will be your pathway to purpose.

In a world of quick-fixes, it is tempting to move from one hot-spot spiritual experience to the next, hoping for some spark of Spiritual vigor to be reignited once again. A retreat or conference here or there, with an occasional revival meeting between. Those are all good things. Yet for some reason, we still walk from day to day spiritually immature – fleshly, carnal, defensive. The apostle Paul shares his frustration with the lack of spiritual growth in a church body:

“Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still fleshly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and living like unbelievers?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

The author of Hebrews agrees:

“We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (He. 5:11-14)

Your church has a Small Group program (or “Sunday School”) not because it’s a good way to ramp up numbers to report to denominational headquarters. Consistency in structured Small Group Bible Study is where believers have the most potential to learn and appropriate biblical truth in their lives. It’s where you maximize your potential for spiritual transformation, and become a partner in the spiritual transformation of others.

If it’s a life filled by the power of God’s Spirit, effective for Kingdom work, and productive for your own good/blessing, then your faithfulness to Small Group Bible Study in a local New Testament Church is “where it’s at.”

Grace and Peace,

Tony

Posted in life

Moving Forward at ABC (Building Program)

Last night at Antioch Baptist Church, the power of God and the faith of His people were on full display. Recognizing that God has been moving in us and through us to reach our community and our region for Christ, we voted on a Master Plan that stretches us in faith and obedience. There was an evident spirit of unity and forward momentum… and the unanimous vote on these plans was a living testimony that God’s people at ABC are “letting go of what is behind, and reaching forward to what is ahead” as Paul wrote to the Philippian church in Phil. 3:13. We acknowledge the good work that God has been doing in us and through us in the decades past. And together, our unanimous vote proclaimed that there is no better way to honor the precious saints of our past than to build on the solid foundation they have laid in giving everything we are and everything we have to the cause of Christ.

For many reasons, I decided to record on this blog the motion as unanimously adopted at the business meeting last night, and a short recap of plan descriptions that were discussed. The two main reasons for this blog post are as follows:

  • To serve as a point of reference for clarification as to what was discussed and decided. Share this with others who are wondering what the future looks like at ABC. And remind yourself occasionally of the direction God has laid before us.
  • To serve as a celebratory mile-marker along our journey of faith together. There have been many decisions that have led us to this point, some from decades past. But this specific decision is to be celebrated and remembered as well. It can be a memorial stone, for generations to come, of how we trusted God and stepped out in faith in the direction He is leading us.

The Motion as Unanimously Adopted December 14, 2014:

The Church Council moves that Antioch Baptist Church adopt a three-phase building program as follows:

  1. (Phase 1 to begin immediately, incurring no debt) Remodel the old sanctuary into a children’s wing as presented.
  2. (Phase 2 to be saved toward [estimated $1 million], with a goal of 50% down-payment) Remove the middle section of church facilities and replace with a new building consisting of a worship center, education space, and offices.
  3. (Phase 3 to be completed by church members at minimal cost) Remove the baptistery from the old sanctuary and reconstruct the area into storage space.

The Master Planning Team worked for two years (since December of 2012) to seek God’s direction in a “big picture” plan for our facilities. They thought outside the box, inside the box, and even as if there were no box… all to provide a “best guess” picture of what the facilities at ABC might look like when they meet the needs of our church life together. Below is a shortened recap of the discussion of the three phases:

Phase 1 – The children’s ministry at ABC is the fastest growing ministry area. There is an immediate need to renovate our facilities to accommodate this rapid growth. The remodel of the old sanctuary building into a children’s wing will include a large-space meeting area for children (AKA: “KidZone”), three large classrooms, a large preschool area with two breakout-style classrooms, an expansion of the nursery, and two children’s bathrooms. The baptistery in the old sanctuary will stay for now, until the completion of a new worship center. This phase also includes updates to the outside of the old sanctuary. Metal siding will cover the area, with a 2.5-3′ wainscoting of brick, austin stone, or something similar running along the bottom (this outside “look” will carry across the facilities after the construction of the new building). Ray Butler will oversee this Phase. We currently have all funds necessary to complete Phase 1.

Phase 2 – The new building will offer a centralized concept of church life. Large classrooms downstairs and upstairs will accommodate needs for education space, and an indoor hallway will connect the East side of the building to the West side without having to walk through the worship center itself. The upstairs classrooms are designed in such a way that they could be changed into balcony-seating if needed. The proposed worship center will include seating for 300 (old sanctuary max seating was 140… we currently seat 220, but can fit up to 375 in the FLC if needed). It was stressed that this plan is an educated guess. If, by the time we’ve raised the $500,000 needed to begin we need a worship center that seats more than 300, we will formulate another committee to reevaluate. In any case, upon entering the building portion of Phase 2, a building committee will need to be formed.

Phase 3 – When the new worship center is finished, including a new baptistery, a team of ABCers will remove the baptistery from the old sanctuary and turn that area into storage. Until then, we will continue to use the baptistry in what is to be the “KidZone” by allowing close family and friends to be in the room with the baptismal candidate, and a live-video feed will run to the FLC. This will allow for during-service baptisms without having to relocate the congregation from one end of the building to another or to an off-site location.

OTHER DISCUSSION:

  • Parking – Currently, the maintenance team is working on adding 15-20 parking spots on the West side of the building. We dreamed that eventually we would have concreted or asphalted parking space all around the building. This can be discussed at any time in the future.
  • Your Giving – We are officially in a “building program.” We receive no funding from government institutions or special interest groups. That means we are completely dependent on God’s provision through His people to meet the needs He’s placed before us. Since we currently have the funds necessary for Phase 1’s completion, you can be assured that from this point forward, when you give to the designated “building fund” at ABC, you are giving toward the new worship center (“Phase 2”). Your undesignated tithes fund the daily ministries and operational expenses of our church. Please do not stop your current giving practices. On top of these, I challenge you and your family to prayerfully consider how God would have you sacrificially give regular designated gifts to the building fund. Our church budget models this sacrificial giving by designating 12% off the top to missions… and we are currently forward-paying ourselves $1500/mo. into the designated building fund. This $1500/mo. will not, in a reasonable time frame, add up to the needed Phase 2 funding – we do this to model for our members the sacrificial nature of giving.

According to 2012 Census data, there are 2,888 people living within a 10 mile radius of our doors. Half of them claimed they were either “somewhat involved with their faith” or “not at all involved with their faith.” . . . And we do not plan to stop our outreach efforts at 10 miles from our doors. God has placed thousands of people all around us who are in desperate need of the salvation and the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ. They need a church family who will “do life together” with them, love them, and serve them with the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus. Last night we officially decided that we want to be that church. This is where we’re heading. This is the direction God has given us. We’ve stepped into the Jordan River in faith, and are trusting God’s provision as we move toward putting our foot on the destiny He has set before us. May He alone receive the glory! And may He use us in ways we cannot even think to imagine, for the cause of Christ.

Buildings are great, but Antioch Baptist Church is not a building. We are a people. And our only goal is to know Jesus and to make Him known. Our plan for accomplishing this also has nothing to do with buildings. Our method of operation toward the vision God has given us is through Christ-Centered relationships…. one by one, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with whomever God sees fit to put in our path, and inviting them to repentance and faith. Our strength is not in our facilities, our budget, or even our numbers. It is in Christ Jesus. May His power and His glory take center stage in all that we do, and all that we are. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!

Grace and Peace,

Tony

Posted in ABC, church

Campfire Reflections

IMG_5158-0.JPG

In John 18, it was a campfire much like this one where Peter stood warming himself after Jesus had been taken away by the chief priests and soldiers… in a ridiculous display of injustice that would eventually lead to His execution on the infamous apparatus of Roman torture we call a “cross.” Peter had assured Jesus that he would give his very life for the wellbeing of his Lord. Yet here he stood – ashamed that he had allowed Jesus to be taken. And what’s worse, here around the fire Peter denied even knowing the Man. Three times. Peter felt like a failure. A deserter. He had defected.

As I sit around this fire tonight, God’s Word reminds me of how many times I’ve failed my Lord today. I wish it were only three. Sometimes as I reflect on my own unfaithfulness to God, I feel like a failure. A deserter. Defected.

But thank God there was another campfire after Jesus’ victorious resurrection – the resurrection which turned that infamous apparatus of Roman torture into a symbol of victory and triumph for all who believe. This campfire is in John 21. Around this one, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to declare his love again. Three times.

“Do you love Me, Peter?”
“Do you love me, Peter?”
“Do you love me, Peter?”

What a gracious Savior is ours. The fire tonight convicts me of sin… But it also brings healing to my soul. Instead of gazing upon a dead Savior hanging on a cross, I have the great joy of owning a personal relationship with Him – The Resurrected, Living Lord of All. His Word brings conviction even to the strongest of men. But it also brings forgiveness and grace to those who love Him.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Posted in life