Sunday, July 26, 2015

While I Was Sleeping…in New York

Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, and we have a great high priest over God’s house.
Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.
And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25)

O the Blood
Crimson love
Price of life’s demands
Shameful sin
Placed on Him
The hope of every man

O the Blood of Jesus washes me
O the Blood of Jesus shed for me
What a sacrifice that saved my life
Yes, the Blood it is my victory

(O the Blood, as performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Words and Music by Mary Elizabeth Miller and Thomas Miller. © 2010 Gateway Create Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI)))

You know with words like that—there is not much more that needs to be said, is there? Can’t we just sing an invitation song and call it a day? No, you know me better than that. I’m a preacher. I have a lot more to say. I’m a preacher who has had a month off. I REALLY have a lot more to say. But really, church, this verse and the lyrics to that song—they say everything that needs to be said about: Who God is, who we are, and what all of this is about.

And how tragic, how extremely tragic, it is that sometimes we forget just how life-changing those words really are.

I was reminded just how life-changing Jesus’ blood is a few weeks ago. As many of you know, when my sabbatical began, Kim and I took the kids on a long road trip. And when I say “long,” I really mean it: 18 states in 19 days long! But after all of that time, we still love each other. I call that success! During our time away, we were able to visit some churches that I’ve always wanted to visit. As a preacher, I do not have the opportunity to travel on most weekends. I rarely attend a worship service somewhere else and I hardly ever hear another preacher preach. I have long wanted to attend Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, and we did on June 28. I have thought for nearly a month now about how I might describe that experience to you. In the end, I think that may be impossible. It is something you need to experience for yourself. I will say, though these words do not do justice to that experience, it was the most moving worship experience I’ve ever had.

During that worship service, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang the song the Praise Team sang a few moments ago. It was a little different. It was not an a cappella arrangement. There was a full orchestra and there were 100 members of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing behind the lead vocalist. I asked John if our group could learn it in four days! I think it speaks to the level of talent we have here at Glenwood that they were able to do it! It was wonderful. But as great as the rendition of “O The Blood” was on June 28, that is not what made that service so meaningful. It was the fact that you could tell those singers, you could tell the people in that room singing along, you could tell they really believed it. They really believed that Jesus’ sacrifice saved their lives!

If you have not read the book Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, I want to recommend you read it. In this book Cymbala tells the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. How he began working with that church in the heart of Brooklyn in 1972, how the church was surrounded on all sides by poverty, drugs, prostitutes, and criminal activity of all kinds. How when he first arrived there were only 15 people, how their weekly collection was so small, they could not pay their monthly mortgage payment of $264! Many times they thought about closing the doors of the church. But in their desperation, they cried out to God like they never had before. They began meeting on Tuesday nights to pray. They prayed for God to change them, they prayed for God to change their community, they prayed for revival, and they completely surrendered to God.

Thirty years later, that little church has brought light into the heart of Brooklyn. They fill their 1,600 seat auditorium four times each Sunday. There are executives and homeless people. There are people from all races and ethnicities. And for them, that time together on Sunday morning is a reminder that the words of Hebrews 10:19–21 are true. In his book, Cymbala tells the story of many of the church members and members of the now-famous Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Many of them were strung out on drugs before they found God. Some of them were living on the streets. A few of them have HIV because of the lifestyle they lived before they came to church. So, when they sing:


What a sacrifice that saved my life
Yes, the Blood it is my victory


They mean it! Without Jesus many of them would be dead, literally! Without Jesus many of them would be in prison. Without Jesus many of them would be living on the streets trying desperately to feed their drug habit.

And I wonder sometimes if we really do…

Look again at the text this morning. The first four verses present some of the greatest news we will ever hear. We have access to God because of Jesus’ blood. No longer do we have to wait for the high priest to open the curtain between God and us. Before Jesus, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies—once a year. He went to God on behalf of the people. The curtain separated the community from God. But Jesus ripped the curtain wide open for us. So now, we can draw near to God. Now listen to what the writer does after giving us this wonderful news. Verse 23: Hold on to this confession without wavering! Let me ask you, why would anyone let go of this confession? This is the greatest news in the world. How could anyone ever forget? And then in verse 24: Let us consider how we might help each other spark love and good deeds in the world. Why would the writer need to tell us to do that? I mean the fact that Jesus has given us access to God, wouldn’t that just naturally give us the desire to give love to the world? Finally, verse 25: Don’t stop meeting together. Some have stopped meeting together. But don’t you stop! Meet together and encourage each other.

The writer reminds us of something so important. God has given us the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. And that gift has the power to save our lives. But if we do not fill our lives with constant reminders of what God did we will forget. The reason God gave us His Word, the reason God gave us the Supper, the reason God gave us the assembly, and the reason God gave us beautiful music—God knew that we would need reminders, because without reminders, we will fall away from God. That has been our story since Adam and Eve. Left to ourselves, we will move further away from God.

We do not live in the heart of Brooklyn. In Brooklyn or in most other parts of the world, there is a stark contrast between the church and the culture around it. And the church is often a refuge from the world, a community where followers of Christ can gain strength from each other before they run back into the world. It is as if they are carrying torches. They constantly move back toward one another to relight their torches. Taking it out again to bring light into a dark world. Culturally speaking, it is easy to be a Christian in Tyler, Texas. Our culture could be described as southern evangelical. There’s a church building on every corner. There is more than one Christian radio station. And if you are a politician, you will not get elected here unless you talk about Jesus during your campaign! In fact, I know folks who live here that were told by their employers when they arrived: “You need to join a church.” Why? Because being a Christian is good for business here. There are some advantages living in a culture like ours. And there are also some real challenges. In our culture it is easy to forget our mission. In our culture it is easy to get complacent or apathetic. In our culture it is easy to get too comfortable with the world around us. When we get comfortable, we sometimes forget just how important those reminders are. So, we treat church as just another appointment on our calendar. We’ll be here if we can, if nothing else comes up. We quit reading God’s Word because, “I know what it says; I’ve heard it my whole life.” We quit praying, because we don’t really feel the urgency to pray. In his book, Cymbala writes:
Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s life-line. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute—but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs.
Christians in our part of the world are dressed up real nice. Our church buildings are beautiful. Our programs are wonderful to look at. But if we are not praying and we are not making this time together a priority, if we are not reading God’s Word, we will die. God doesn’t want us to die; God wants us to live, and to live fully! As a reminder of the gift God has given to us, hear these words again.

O the Blood
Crimson love
Price of life’s demands
Shameful sin
Placed on Him
The hope of every man

O the Blood of Jesus washes me
O the Blood of Jesus shed for me
What a sacrifice that saved my life
Yes, the Blood it is my victory

While I was sleeping in New York I think God gave me this message for us. If we want to be all that God has in mind for us to be, we must completely surrender to Him. That means we have to quit treating Christianity as something we do and remember that a Christ-follower is who we are. It’s easy to forget. That is why God has given us these reminders. You cannot expect to grow in your faith if you are: Not spending time in prayer, not spending time in God’s Word, not spending time with God’s family. It’s like a dressed up baby that is not breathing. That is not what God wants for us! That is not what God wants for you. He has so much more in mind for us! And I want to pray that God will give us the desire to make the changes we need to make.

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