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October 22, 2013

Wow… it feels like the last part of this year is moving so quickly!   I am just now getting the hang of writing 2013 on homework assignments, checks, and emails, and it is soon going to be 2014.  Even so, I love this time of year. Football on T.V., October baseball being played, leaves turning colors, and a chill in the air… Ah, yes… As jack-o-lanterns prepare to be replaced by turkeys and trees, it gives me cause to remember the many places and people near and dear to my heart. So many with whom I’ve had the chance to cross paths over the years were used by God to shape me into who I am. I walk around with many thoughts, sayings, actions, and attitudes gleaned from Godly men and women who took a moment to speak into my life! Their efforts make me a better person and a better pastor. For that, I will always be grateful.

As a Star Trek Fan, I am reminded of this scene when I think about the word “remember.”

Any self respecting Trekkie would recognize this scene as the mind meld from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which happened when Spock transferred his “Catra”, the essence of his personality, knowledge, and memories, into Dr. McCoy’s brain before climbing into the radiation-filled dilithium crystal chamber to fix the ships warp drive. His sacrifice saved the entire crew from Khan’s plan to blow them all to smithereens by detonating the Genesis Device, but he died in the process. The mind meld allowed for a regenerated Spock to “remember” everything once his Catra was transferred back in Star Trek III. Great story writing if you’re a scifi fan!

Remembrance of your past experiences is good. Remembrance of those who mean something to you is good as well. However, remembrance needs to extend to our spiritual life as well. God called the first century Hebrews to remember, and so should we, for we end up failing more often than not when we forget God and try to do things our own way. Let’s take a look in the Old Testament book of Leviticus at one of the various offerings they were supposed to observe.

Leviticus 19:5-8 (NIV)
“‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf.
It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up.
If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted.
Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the Lord; that person must be cut off from his people.

Now, you might be asking yourself (and me) “What in the world does the Fellowship Offering in Leviticus 19 have to do with remembering God?” This is a noble and important question! Let’s unpack it a bit. In order to understand where I am going, we need to understand why God set rituals like the fellowship offering in place. I believe there are 4 main reasons.

1. God put rituals such as this in place to visibly set His people apart from the rest of the surrounding cultures in the area.

Many of the surrounding cultures practiced all kinds of pagan rituals such as prostitution, sexual immorality, self-mutilation, and human sacrifice. God set forth a completely different set of rituals which would free them from dealing with these dangerous and potentially deadly ones.

2. God put rituals such as this in place to constantly remind His people who He was and what He had done for them.

From the beginning of God’s story with Abraham through this point after the Exodus, God was tangibly active in the life of His people. However, they continually forgot His deeds and commands, eventually ending up in bondage. God instituted these rituals so His people would continually remember what He had done for them and return to Him.

3. God put rituals such as this in place to remind them of who they were in relationship to Him and with Him.

God wanted His people to remember they were set apart. They were to be a “peculiar people”. In observing these rituals, they were reminded of their relationship with God, and their relationship to Him as His people.

4. God put rituals such as this in place to remind them of their dependence upon Him.

God continually provided everything His people needed after the Exodus. He wanted them to remember their prosperity and blessing were gifts from Him, and all they needed was to depend upon God to supply their needs.

So, why choose the fellowship offering as an example? I believe the fellowship offering shows us 3 major points to being the Church as God intended for us to be.

First we need to look at “fellowship” – This generally means entering into a state of wholeness, unity, and restored relationship. To fellowship with others is to come together in unity for a common purpose. To fellowship with God is to commune with your Creator in unity.

Next we look at the word “offering” – It is a sacrifice. Many different sacrifices took place in the Old Testament, but they were all a gift of great price from the giver. You have to remember, first century economy was not the great capitalistic machine we have to day in America. It was a farming and ranching society with only so much money and livestock to go around. To give an offering meant to sacrifice a piece of your livelihood in order to atone for sin or spend time in communion with God and others.

Finally, we look at being “cut off” – it means literally to be broken off or ruined. To root out, eliminate, remove, excommunicate, or destroy by a violent act of man or nature. This is NOT a pleasant experience!

Elmer Martens, in his book “God’s Design” says this about being cut off: “The seriousness of violating these borders is emphasized by the degree of punishment: excommunication from the congregation or permanent severance from it, through either ostracism or death… Such drastic punishment is necessary because Yahweh’s name has been defiled.”

So, how does this ancient ritual from the first century apply to our church here in post-modern America? We need to take a look at our big 3 again.

Fellowship – Just as in ancient times, God desires fellowship between His people.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This tends to be a sticky subject in today’s post-modern mindset. So many people tend to quote the great evangelist Billy Sunday: “Going to church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than going into a garage makes you an automobile.” While Mr. Sunday spoke to thousands and many came to Christ, this quote is clearly contradictory to what Scripture teaches. One need only look at Acts chapter two for an example of what God desires. Apparently gathering together for fellowship and worship DOES matter!

He also desires fellowship WITH His people

Psalm 119:9-16 (MSG)
How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word.
10 I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
11 I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
12 Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living.
13 I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth;
14 I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches.
15 I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you’ve done it.
16 I relish everything you’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it.

Gathering together with other Christ-followers isn’t enough. We must spend time fellowshipping with our Creator one-on-one. Find a devotional book or a reading plan which gets you into the Word on a regular basis, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two. Just begin again!  BTW, if you’re looking for an easy way to get started, check out the YouVersion Bible app in your phone or tablet app store.

We are required to sacrifice. However, instead of livestock or agriculture, He asks that we sacrifice our very lives.

Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

We must have fellowship with others within the body of Christ so we might sharpen, encourage, rebuke, pray for, work with, and lift up each other for the benefit of all. We must have fellowship with God both personally and corporately so we might grow closer to Him and mature spiritually. In addition, we must sacrifice our wants and desires in order to be used how and when God chooses. His Word shows us the prescribed path we should follow, and the way in which we should go. These are very clear in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

These two passages remind us of the attitude and heartbeat for how we are to fellowship and sacrifice in order to do the work God has set before us. If we choose to forget what God has done for us and come to worship with any other agenda than those listed in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we risk being “cut off”. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be stoned to death or excommunicated from the Church, but it does mean you may have God’s blessing removed from your efforts.

You might be thinking “now what?” How do we honor the memory of what God has done for us, and pass that on to others so that they can make memories of what God is doing for them? There must be action.

Rick Warren, speaking at the Baptist World Centenary Conference in Birmingham, England, said “A non-serving Christian is a contradiction. God didn’t save you to sit, soak, and sour. He saved you to serve. Significance (or honoring the memory of what God has done) comes from service.”

He also said “What Jesus did in His physical body, he expects us to do in his spiritual body as the church. Why do we do this? Why should I care about the sick and the poor and the uneducated and the spiritually empty? Because of what Jesus has done for us. We do it out of gratitude.”

“Do you know what God cares about most?” Warren asked the crowd. “He wants his lost children found. … God never made a person He didn’t love.”

These are powerful words, and they cut to the heart of what we need to be doing. Let’s remember what God has done for us, and be the Church He has called us to be!

Be the Church INSIDE the walls!

The Church needs nursery workers, Small Group leaders, Ushers, Care Team members, Men’s and Women’s Ministry workers, Server, Communion preparers, Musicians, Technicians, Prayer Warriors, Sacrificial Givers, and more.

Be the Church OUTSIDE the walls!

The community needs Missions teams, Evangelism teams, Apartment ministries, School mentors, Vacation Bible School workers, Rescue Mission teams, and the list grows, depending on your community and its specific needs.

There is much to be done! However, nothing will be accomplished if we forget God has called us to fellowship and sacrifice TOGETHER. Many churches spend way too much time bickering and infighting amongst themselves to the point they lose sight of the amazing works God has done for them! When that happens, the memory of what God has asked the Church to do fades away. It is critically important to put this aside and start a new reformation from within; a reformation which hinges on the remembrance of the promises, command, and commission of God.

Rick Warren says “It’s time to stop debating the Bible and start doing it. It’s time to stop criticizing and start cooperating. It’s time for the church to be the church. This is the new reformation I’m praying for.”

Paul speaks of this in Ephesians as well.

Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV) 
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Stop engaging in backbiting, slander, false witness, gossip, and discontent. Stop trying to come to God on your own terms. Stop sitting, soaking, and souring.  JUST STOP!

Instead, remember what God did for you, and focus your energies into being the Church in the way God intended: Fellowshipping together and offering ourselves completely for His purposes. Then, rather than being cut off from His blessings, we are receiving a full measure of them as a body and as individuals.

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