CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 96:11, 1-2 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
GRACE & ASSURANCE – Psalm 107:28-30 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
This past Sunday Pastor James challenged us to look to Daniel’s example in prayer. His example involved going to God recognizing His greatness, and recognizing that we fall far short of greatness. We are weak, we sin, and we don’t do the good things we would like to (to borrow some of Paul’s thoughts). Thinking about prayer keyed some remembrance in my mind from the book of Job. I couldn’t remember the exact chapter offhand, so I researched a bit.
I found the message and discussion I was seeking in Job 33. We know that Job had some “friends” that didn’t seem much like friends. They have sometimes been called counselors, although that is a stretch in truth for a couple of them. One of them, Elihu, speaks to Job in an honest and non-accusatory way. He acknowledges that he is not superior to Job, and is human and subject to God.
“My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Answer me then, if you can; stand up and argue your case before me. I am the same as you in God’s sight; I too am a piece of clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy on you” (Job 33:3-7).
Elihu, like Daniel, correctly realizes that he is dependent on God for life. Job has been complaining about God’s treatment of him. He has attempted to live in an upright way, and claims to be free from sin. I believe that Elihu knows that nobody is free from sin, and wants to help Job remember that:
“But you have said in my hearing— I heard the very words— ‘I am pure, I have done no wrong; I am clean and free from sin. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths’” (Job 33:8-11).
Pastor James noted that God speaks to us through His word. When we pray in faith and sincerity, recognizing that we are sinful and dependent on God, we can expect an answer to our prayers. How do we recognize an answer? I think that sometimes our humanness prevents us from seeing an answer. Often people seem to look for an answer in terms of a spectacular, direct response according to the way in which they would like to be answered. Elihu reminds us to not limit God’s ways of responding:
“But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal. Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another— though no one perceives it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:12-18).
I know that Elihu’s thoughts made me stop to consider that God has possibly answered my prayers in ways that I haven’t expected, and didn’t recognize at the time. I am thankful that He still cares for me and loves me in spite of my sin and ignorance. I do mean well, even if I can’t always do well. I think all of us are in the same boat.Thankfully Jesus is our brother and advocate, and the Holy Spirit helps us communicate with God.
It is Daniel 9 – which may be known more for its last few verses. Most of Daniel 9 is a prayer, Daniel’s own personal prayer. And the reason he prayed is because he first was reading. He was reading God’s Word, specifically he was reading Jeremiah. As he was reading Jeremiah – perhaps chapter 25 and/or chapter 29 – he came across a promise. Daniel came across one of God’s promises. It is this specific promise: God would bring the people of Israel back to their land, back to Jerusalem, back home after 70 years of captivity. And so because of that promise, Daniel prayed.
As he prayed, he first began with adoration. It is rather brief. But he adored God out of his affection for God. “God, you are great! God, you are awesome! God, you are faithful. You are faithful to being faithful. And God, you love. You demonstrate your love with loyalty.” Daniel then spends most of his prayer in confession of sin. Finally, Daniel concludes his prayer with requests. But these requests are God-centered. Daniel has thought through these requests and offers them simply because each request would honor God.
Daniel prayed because of a promise. And his prayer was filled with adoration, confession and asking for God’s help because God helping would honor God. That is pretty amazing.
So, I am trying to do that this week. I am hoping our church, at least one other person, will try to do the same this week. Pray because of a promise or an assurance or a description. Pray because you read a promise or an assurance or a description in God’s Word. And fill prayer with adoration, confession and asking for God’s help because God helping would honor God.
I am doing this with the book of Colossians and I found a description that is helping me pray today. It is Colossians 2:19. Speaking of the church, Paul writes that a church “grows with a growth that is from God.”
How does a church grow? How does a church really grow? It grows with a growth that is from God! How will Calvary Community Church ever grow? It will grow with a growth that is from God! That is to be the growth we want and long for. And guess what? It is to be the growth we pray for.
I keep a piece of paper folded into 8 rectangles in my back left pocket. It is my prayer list. I write in it every morning. My list has four categories: thanks; asking for others; asking for God’s help and praying a promise, assurance or description. I wrote on it this morning that nothing I do works (this was in the list asking for God’s help). Nothing I do accomplishes anything. And it is true. I tried really hard last Sunday to accomplish something. Those are the Sundays I am most depressed – the Sundays that I try really hard to accomplish something.
And now I think I am ready to pray. I will pray because of something I read. “…grows with a growth that is from God.” I will begin with thanking God that he is omniscient (he knows absolutely everything, always). He knows my need and what I need and satisfies my need because of his great mercy and grace. Then I have some confessing to do. I have been trying for so long to grow Calvary with a growth that is from me. I need my church’s forgiveness too, for that does not benefit or help them. Finally, I am going to ask for God’s help because God helping would honor God. Here is my request: grow us, grow Calvary Community Church with a growth that only comes from You.
I hope we are praying this week. I hope we are reading Colossians a chapter at a time. And I hope there is a promise, assurance or description from each chapter that causes us to pray.
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 47:1-2, 6-8
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
GRACE & ASSURANCE – Romans 8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Last Weekend I took a walk through the Bradley Woods Metropark in North Olmsted. Trees and shrubs are in the beginning stages of budding. I saw a few Canada geese and a few titmice, but not nearly the roster of birds I would normally see later in the spring. I normally look for insects to photograph, but saw precious few except a few flies and a bumblebee that must have overwintered successfully somewhere nearby. I had to do a bit of searching for blooming wildflowers, and didn’t see many of them either. In this area at this time I noticed two types– Virginia Spring Beauties, and Trout Lilies. Virginia Spring Beauties tend to grow in spreading clusters. They are small white flowers with five pink-striped white petals. The Trout Lilies tend to be a bit more spaced out, with two or three grouped together in a space of a square foot or two. I attached a picture of one that I took on my walk. They have a pretty golden color that stands out against the darker ground that holds them. The petals also droop over so that you can’t see the inside of the bloom unless you make an effort. The attached picture was taken with my camera at ground level, pointed up toward the inside of the flower.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Remember that Jesus was speaking to an enormous crowd as He gave His sermon. The “you” He used was being directed to a large collection of people. A city on a hill is not hidden, but how far can a city be seen? Even a very large one, not more than a certain number of miles. But each city on a hill has a sphere of influence, or reach. Collectively, all cities can have quite a large reach and impact.
When Jesus talks about the lamp He says that it gives light to all in the house, not to all people in far distant places. The light has a huge influence on those it reaches. As believers we need to let the light of our faith shine before others to give glory to God. We will only be able to provide light to those we can reach in some way. It can be tempting to think, “I am just one simple Christian. How can I really make an impact for God in the big world?” Don’t worry about making a huge impact in the world you can’t reach. Pray to make an impact in the small part of the world you can reach. Small lamps spaced out effectively can provide a surprising amount of light.
As I walked through Bradley Woods I began to notice many small colonies of Trout Lilies that appeared at odd intervals along my path. It would be easy to overlook just one small plant and say, “Wow, spring isn’t here yet. How depressing.” When you notice many clusters of them glowing gold above the dark forest floor your thoughts change to “Hey, spring is on the way. The future is looking better.” We can have the same impact on others for God in a similar, but much more important way!
I have found that YouTube is sometimes like a friend. It has a section called “Recommendations,” where it suggests videos for you to watch. Sometimes they are based on videos or video creators you have subscribed to or have at least watched before. Other times it reaches a bit by suggesting new things to try to expand your horizons. I have also experienced both of these tactics from actual human friends in the past. I don’t consistently watch a lot of music videos, although I occasionally watch them. I think YouTube must, in its internal electronic brain, think “Hey, this guy watches a very odd variety of music videos. Let’s see if he’ll try this one.” A lot of the time they don’t catch my fancy. This week I received a suggestion that I bit on. Take a few minutes to watch it:
Wow. If you had told me at the beginning of the week I would see an 11 year old Ukrainian girl yodel I probably would have said, “What? I don’t think so.” Not only did this girl yodel, she did it as well as anyone I have seen or heard. Furthermore, she performed an old song in English, which is obviously not her primary language. Sofia Shkidchenko has talent, and seeing talent in others blesses me. Besides the unusual performance and talent, there is something else that stuck with me. In the background video leading to the performance Sofia’s mother said, “Talent is a talent and I think it is a sin NOT to develop it.” I don’t have any specifics about this family’s faith, but that thought seems to come from a well-considered Christian viewpoint.
That thought has been bouncing around in my brain periodically since I saw the video. We have Jesus’ teaching in the parable of talents that making the best use of your talents (money in this particular case) pleases God. We normally extend that to include our physical and personal talents. Throughout most of my life I have heard two basic types of sin described: sins of commission, and sins of omission. Many times throughout Scripture we see sins of commission; that is, that someone consciously breaks one of the Commandments, or does something that is expressly against the will of God.
What is an example of a sin of omission? In Matthew 25:41-45 Jesus teaches:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Considering how people attempt to control their own lives without considering God’s guidance, James states:
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
Sofia’s mother’s statement may fall into this condition. She wants to do what she believes is best for her daughter. Would NOT taking advantage of talent or ability you might have be considered sin? I can understand how it could be considered sin. If God has given you the ability to do something, it seems best to use it. The individual talents of people speak to the glory of God. The differences in talents that people have speak to the way in which members of the Church fit together to form a complete larger body in Christ.
I can’t yodel like Sofia the Ukrainian girl. But I can do what I can do. Each of us has talents, whether it might be speaking, teaching, singing, playing instruments, gardening and caring for plants, nurturing and caring for animals, fixing things, making clothes, making crafts, cooking, or even being able to listen to and comfort others on a personal level. You can be a blessing to others the way you are. You might be thinking, “Gee Joel, I know you have said something like this before.” You are right, and I will probably repeat it again at some point because it is important. Sofia’s mothers words are still echoing in my mind: “Talent is a talent and I think it is a sin NOT to develop it.” Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.
This week we gather together a little more than usual. Tomorrow at 6 pm, we gather together because it is Good Friday. We will sing, we will read, we will listen and think, and we will partake in the Lord’s Supper together. Oh, but tomorrow is so good! Listen to these words: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). That is so good, but there is more, so much more! We will gather together Sunday at 10 am because it is Resurrection Sunday. We will sing, will read, we will listen and think, and we will rejoice with joy that is inexpressible because “Where Friday Ends, Sunday Begins” – Galatians 2:20.
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 24:7-10
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
GRACE & ASSURANCE – Philippians 2:5-11 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness,
and being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This Sunday at 10 am we continue to think thru one of the longer recorded prayers in the Bible – the prayer of an old man in Daniel 9:1-19. There is a statement in those verses which seem to make this passage fit well for Passion Week. “And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have acted wickedly” (Daniel 9:15).
One last note. We need old men to pray like old men.
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 103:1-5
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
GRACE & ASSURANCE – 1 Peter 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.