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Read this message transcript from the "The First 5" message series

Harold Bullock:  Have you ever had one of those experiences where you suddenly realize that the Bible says something different from what you think? I have. I've had a lot of them through the years. I remember one, one of the first big ones was 1970 which was long before the world was born. I was a young man and I had my ideas about how God ought to run the universe. I didn't pretend to direct him, but I ran across some things in the Bible that were very different from what I thought. So different that actually, I cried, I paged my bible. I had one of those bibles that had real thin pages. That page had buckles on it because of the tears. That wasn't the way I thought it ought to be.

But, you know, when it's God or you, what are you going to do? Oh there there've been many of those moments through the years, you keep on learning. So I developed a saying for myself that Bible study had ruined many of my big ideas. And, you know, you keep on learning. For Americans, that's actually pretty easy for that to happen to us because, we tend to do sort of one sided type thinking. You know, we get a big idea out of the Bible and we run with it and we, one idea is enough or maybe two, we run with it and we discover that actually you, the Bible says some other things also. One of those is, you know, freedom.

The Bible says that Christ has set us free and we are free indeed. So we run with that. That means that there are no restraints on us. That means there are no responsibilities for us. We're free. It turns out that yes, that is true. What it means in context is, we are free and we're free to a lot of responsibilities. Huh.

Anyway, it just keeps on. We're going to be taking a look today at one of those areas where it tends to just sort of get past you. We're going to be talking about worship. We're into a series on the first five, Matt Sturtevant. Pastor Matt has done the first three messages. I'm Harold Bullock by the way. I'm Senior Pastor here at Hope. I've had some medical problems a little bit earlier and so I'm back up today. Matt has medical problems now.

He had surgery on his left knee this past week and he has been surfing the higher reaches of reality, grateful for pain medication and he's doing well. He had surgery Thursday, had a lot of pain the first day and the second day medication got straightened out and so he's doing okay. He's healing up. But, I'm with you this morning and what I'd like to talk about is one of those first five. The first five that we're talking about are some patterns in your life that if you will establish them, you'll find that they keep on leading to a life that opens up with God. Now, they're necessary for getting traction with the Lord. God does accept us completely in Christ Jesus.

It's an amazing thing. He is almighty God, but despite the fact we have been rebels and that sometimes just downright opposed to him. Despite that, he has accepted us because Christ Jesus died to pay the price for our rebellion and he accepts us completely. It's an amazing thing. It's hard to grasp how someone could love people that much and that's the God that we want to walk forward with.

However, we have some actual responsibilities, not things to do that will help us be saved because we're already accepted by Christ, but we asked them responsibilities if you want to progress on the journey with him, there's some things you have to take responsibility for.

One of those is worship. So as we're looking at these first five, this is number four out of the five. Worship, if you want it to define it, would be deeply and respectfully honoring and admiring God, worship deeply and respectfully honors and admires God. God says he actually desires people to worship him in the right way. It's one of his desires.

It's something really that is just due to him. He is God. So we worship God. You can worship God personally. There'll be moments in your life where you see how God has worked and has really been of help to you or you see something that he's promised come true and in that that quiet moment you just worship right there. However, God's people also pull together corporately to worship him and we worship him because of who he is and what he's done.

He is, he's absolutely sovereign. God is absolutely in charge. He's in charge of everything. That raises a lot of questions because we have, we run into a lot of the troubles in our life and we can't quite exactly figured out how they all fit into God being in charge and being good. He is still in charge. Your understanding of that. We can grow through the years, but he's absolutely in charge. I've heard people say, well, if there is a God and he's like the Bible says, I don't want to believe in that God. Well, you're stuck. He is who he is. Now it turns out He's not only sovereign, He's also infinite in wisdom and power. Wisdom is the ability to make, to figure out how to make things move forward in the best way to accomplish things. Power of course, is the ability to make it happen.

He can figure it out and He could make it happen. And He's, it's infinite. I'm at that point in life where I have what are called senior moments. You know, you see the face in your mind. You cannot recall the name. It takes a moment for it to connect or you remember an event and you cannot quite exactly recall when that was. It takes, then you get it. For those of you who are younger, you will have to take that by faith. It happens later. But God is, God doesn't have moments like that. His knowledge, His wisdom is always immediately there. And so as His power. Whenever He spoke, the universe sprang into existence and it sprang into existence in amazing complexity. You have both the wisdom and the power to make that happen. He's good. He never lies. He never sinned. He actually is just good. Me. I'm sorta good. And we know about you. Of course.

You know we all have that part of us that moves toward what's right And good. We also struggle with the other side. God. God is only good. He never does wrong. He never lies. He never sinned. He will not. People ask the question, can God do anything? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, but God will never sin. He can't. Why? Because that's just who He is. He will not act contrary to His nature. He's good. So as you approach Him, you're approaching someone who is good. He's holy. He hates wrongdoing, and it's abhorrent to Him. That's why He'll never do it.

And he looks at the human mess and He sees people being hurt and He hates it. He's loving. He sacrifices, actually sacrifices for the best for his creation. There are limits, but He sacrifices for the best. Even His enemies, He treats with mercy and kindness. That's amazing. Yeah. We know what to do with enemies, but He's patient with us. I've been in His enemy. You have, He's been very kind to us. He will deal with sin finally, but He's very kind. He's just, He gives everyone what each person deserves.

And that's both a comforting thought because you really do want Him to reward for what's right. It's also a disturbing thought because we've also done some things that really don't deserve good. But all these pull together in Him. The amazing thing is He wants to relate to me as my father. That's amazing. The God of the universe. The God who created it all. The God who died to pay the price for my rebellion wants to relate to me as my father.

Now we tend to bring to God our experiences with our own dads and some of those been good and some of them been very hard depending on your background, God defines fatherhood. Our father doesn't define Him. God defines fatherhood and this, He's very kind. He is protective. He will train us, but He loves us. This is the God we worship.

We pull together and we honor Him because these things are true about Him. Also, He's done things that really deserve praise. He created everything. Everything. Actually the Bible says that you're designed by Him and you know, you look at supermodels or very handsome Hollywood guys and you go, well, He made a few mistakes with me, but you know, He has purposes for me and for you. He has things that He wants to see it happen out of your life that will never happen out of mine and vice versa.

We're unique before Him, but were all designed by Him and designed for good. He's created all things, the beauty of nature, all the complexity of amazing and us, and He also provides for all His creation. This is something sort of dropped out of western thinking earlier. It was a big idea in the west or western world. God, Acts 25 says, you have the reference on your handout. Acts 25, I'm sorry, 17:25 says that God gives "life and breath to everyone. The breath that you just drew and the next one you draw is from Him." This is a gift from Him to you, to everyone, and then Acts 14 says he gives us "food and the stuff that brings us joy."

You know, He does that for people who know Him. He does that for people who have no idea who the true God is. Actually, He even does that for people who deny Him and attack Him publicly. This is just how God is. He provides for what He created. He also saved us from the mess that we've made of the world. Whenever the human race rebel, we messed up what God had created. It's not totally gone, but we broke it. The human race itself, there are all kinds of magnificent things about us. You can look at societies that have been created in the past, architecture, you can read books. It's amazing what we're capable of. At the same time, through all the civilizations runs a basic cruelty that comes out of human beings, who we are. And then in our personal relationships, you know, we've been able to be a help to people. We also do some things that are just mean sometimes for the people closest to us. We're broken.

Christ died to pay the price for our rebellion so that we could reconnect with God and become the people that should be as He works within us. He saved us, those us who've turned to Him out of the mess that we've made. And He offers that to the human race. And then besides these things in general, there's also His kindness to me. Has God ever answered a prayer for you?

Probably. And He did it out of His kindness. I promise you He was not obligated. He did it out of his kindness. One of the things that's happened to me as I've gotten older, is Deborah and I were talking about this the other day. It's just amazing how God has worked in life, not only with me or with her, but in circumstances beyond both of us to guide our lives.

I met Deborah, my wife, in Los Angeles in 1970, which was before most of the world was made and born anyway. And when I met her, I was immediately infatuated. I did not, I thought I'd worn that out already. I was 23 and I've been infatuated a few times. I was infatuated and then over time, God led us together. And we got married. But we were just talking about all the unusual circumstances that worked for her to be in the place where she was. And that worked for me to be in the place where I was, and very far from our homes to meet. And amazing just how God orchestrated all that. You know at the time, you just say, Oh, thank you, God. As time goes on, you get further and further from the experience.

You look, it's like your perspective increases and you see more and more things that God did that you never even thought of. He's been very kind to you. You may have some hard circumstances right now, but I promise you the kindness is bigger than you realize. For these things that we worship Him. We bow before Him when we want to deeply honor Him and show respect for Him. That's why we sing. We listen to the scriptures because He desires this and He's really worthy of ... the word worship comes from an old English word, worthy ship, His worthy ship. That's what we talk to Him about on Sundays.

We worship because we're grateful. We're just grateful to Him. Congregational worship is very interesting. It turns out to be a most crucial habit for believers. I'd like to show you a quote from John Stonestreet. Oh, this is a picture of him. He's a brilliant guy. He and a group of followers work together at the Colson Center. You can go to and they work on helping American believers deal with the culture and all the mess and stuff that's coming at us. They're very sharp intellectually, very biblically committed. Walk with the Lord. Stonestreet is one of the major leaders and he writes this, their ministry is not a church ministry. It's a parish church ministry. Helping believers. This is what he writes:

"What is the central," I'm going to show you this extended quote. "What is the central practice of the Christian life? What is the core of it all?" he says. The most crucial habit that no believer should ever end up trying to be without, endeavor to be without, it's not personal devotions or Bible reading. As important as those are, it's not even private prayer or attending Christian conferences. It's not even catching breakpoint. That's his broadcast everyday."

He goes "On the central practice of the Christian life, at least biblically speaking, this is what's in the scripture is gathering together as Christ's body for corporate worship, for hearing the word and for participating in the sacraments."

He goes on "Going to church as we somewhat inaccurately say, is the means that God has designed the means that God has designed and determined to feed us spiritually, and to allow us to participate in that kingdom where God's will is done on earth as in heaven."

This is a very different, and I show you this quote because he is not a pastor and he's a leader in a pair of church ministry. What he says is true. But I'm a pastor.

I should be telling you to come to church every week. He's not a pastor so he's not saying this out of self interest and I'm really not saying it to you either out of self interest. This is just a crucial part of what God has designed. A personal bible reading is really good. Did you know before 1300 no one did personal bible reading? A priest did. They have the Bible in Latin. It was in the 1300s, we began to get scriptures in the common language. Not many people had them beforehand. In the new testament time, if you wanted a copy of the Bible, you were looking at a copy of the Old Testament. It would cost probably around 900,000 bucks and it would be a wheelbarrow full of scrolls of the 39 books of the Old Testament. What we have today for a Bible to be able to read is an amazing thing in the history, but it wasn't a part of the first.

The first Christians, as they come into the church at Pentecost, this massive conversion, thousands of people come to Christ. What they do is they devote themselves to gathering, to listen to the apostles teach, and then to small groups during the week throughout the city where they prayed and took the Lord's supper. Amazing. And this this is rolled on through the centuries, is it? It's a key part of life. "The central practice of the Christian life, biblically speaking," he says, "is gathering together as Christ's body." This is how the Lord designed to basically feed us. There's a lot more that goes into this relationship with God. But this is really important.

You will become what your habits enable. This is very important. We develop patterns of life and who we become grows out of those patterns. The New Testament mentions this priority itself. It says, Hebrews 10:25, "Let's not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing it." Some people were not. "But let's encourage one another and all of the more as you see the return of Christ coming toward us." The passage doesn't say you must be there every Sunday. You know, it's written from a different direction.

The direction is, look, don't, don't drop out on this. This is something God has provided. Don't drop out on this. You need this. So we gather on Sundays to our worship the Lord and listen to His word. As time goes on, you will become what your habits enable. It's important that you pick up habits like first five to help you move toward the things that God wants.

Actually my new life that I have in Christ, it actually functions congregationally. We're in a time period in America where there's all kinds of thinking about what Christ means and what the Christian life is about. Now thinking that is has to be pretty shallow, is widely available on Facebook and in various blogs. You want to get into the scriptures and read for yourself about these things. But my life actually functions congregationally. Congregational life is assumed in the New Testament.

I've never found the verse that says you must be a member of a congregation. It's not there. It's just assumed, for instance by the Lord Jesus. Matthew 18:16, Christ himself was talking, and he's talking about when relationships get messed up, you go to people and straighten them out. And he said, "But some people won't want to straighten them out." He says, "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, you Christian, you, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you will, a pagan or a tax collector. He's not to be treated like a brother in Christ. Now tell it to the church."

If you're a Christian and you're having a problem, which church should you tell it to? You know, there's a tendency to say, well, I'm a part of the overall Church of Christ. I'm a part of the invisible Church of Christ. Well, yes we are. However, this says tell it to the church. So do you post it on Facebook?

 And this is talking about a particular group of people. Which church do you tell to? The one year a part of. Christ is thinking about this. This is what he assumes. Another, there are a bunch of these verses, but here's you another and Hebrews 13:17, obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They're keeping watch over you as men who must give an account to Christ. Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be no advantage to you if you made it a pain for them. So you obey your leisure and submit to them. They're keeping watch over you as mean who will have to give him an account. Which people are keeping watch over you? Your leaders. Which leaders?

Not the internet or media preachers. It's the leaders in the congregation you're a part of, this is just assumed. One of the very helpful things you can do is to read the letters in the New Testament, Romans and First Corinthians and all the way through to Revelation. Read them from the angle of what if I was a part of this congregation they were writing to, how would I handle things? And then step away from that and say, well, I am a member of a congregation, so how do I handle that kind of stuff in the congregation where I am? This is just assumed by the New Testament.

It's a part of our life together. My life in Christ is designed to function this way as a part of a congregation. As I do what God wants, life works out better for me. Galatians 6:7-8, you have a reference on your handout is a verse that says, "If you sow, you reap. You sow wheat, you get more wheat. You sow weeds, you get more weeds. Whatever it is you sow, that's what you get a lot of. And the thought is, if you sow the right things, stuff just goes so much better for you.

As we decide, where we're gonna worship and how it fits into our lives. We're making a decision that's actually going to impact our future. For me in 1970, again long ago, as a young man, 23 years old, I started attending a church in East LA. I'd been a Christian for quite a while, as I was into college, my last year of college, I got into a lot of intellectual questions, got some bad answers. And for about two years, just sort of pulled away from church. Went occasionally. I was just drifting and it wasn't a very good drift.

And I ran into this one place where I was really getting some help, learning, beginning to grow and my life was changing. There was good changes and one day the Lord just brought me insight. It was like I could see my life and the Lord just said, all this good stuff has started happening for you. I said, yeah. He said, if you don't make some decisions about how you're going to handle your life, all that good stuff is going to curl up and blow away. And I understood what I needed to do. The little church I was going to was about 15 miles away through Los Angeles traffic which is nasty.

But right then I made a commitment. And I said, I'm not very poetically. I just said it. I'm not that good a poet. I just said, well, okay, I'm going to be there when the doors are open. And that was all I knew. I mean they had Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, and Wednesday night service, which was a lot of traffic. And I'm gonna be there when the doors are open or they will find my body pointing that direction. And I meant it and you know what? Everything that I have experienced out the last 50 years has come out of that. Out of that came all kinds of life change. Out of that came insights I'd never had before. Out of that came a direction change. Out of that. Out of that came my wife and we've had a blessed marriage.

I mean, everything, I'm standing here today because of that decision and that when I made that decision, I was a chemist. I was not preparing for a religious career, but it's all flowed out of that. If I decided to go with what I was doing, it would have all curled up and blown away. What we decide it makes a difference on our future.

And there's a lot more and a lot deeper decisions that need to be made, but our lives tend to flow this way. God brings me to a situation and in this situation there are conflicting priorities. There's stuff I ought to to do. There's stuff I want to do. There's stuff I don't want to do. Conflicting priorities and I make a decision and when I'm make a decision, I will get the results of it.

Some of those results will come soon. Others up and may come 10 years later. I'm still getting the results of that one decision many years ago and God has done more. But that was a crucial decision. My choices in the situation are usually between what's right and what's easy, easy just feels so much better. It's between what's true and what's safe, what's not risky. And a lot of times if you stand with truth, it's risky.

It's between what's helpful to myself, actually and to others. And then what's gratifying, what's more pleasurable for me. It's between what's best and very often between best and proud. A lot of times if you're going to follow what God says, you have to humble yourself.

But if you make the choices, the future shifts, it takes time. But you will become what your choices enable. You will become what your habits set. So if you, if you want to grow in Jesus Christ, you really like to get traction and move on with this thing, you need to commit somewhere to be in worship.

Here at Hope, if you want to grow, then the first five, number four is I worship at Hope when I'm in town. Fort Worth is blessed with a lot of really good churches, so if God's leading you to worship somewhere else, great. But you need to make a commitment. And you need to decide to be a part. Your life actually functions congregationally.

And there's a lot more to this walk with Christ. But this is at a crucial level. It's at a very basic level. And it sets the directions for our future. So I would invite you to commit to worshiping here. Without a commitment, you sort of blow in the wind and then it comes up, you know, the right, easy wind.

Or true risk free winds. As you're part of the congregation encouraging each other, it's a lot easier to walk the better way. So number four, when I'm in town, I worship at Hope.

Is this magical? Will this make you into a gigantic, awesome Christian? Well, look around. See if you find one here. But I promise you, it will help.

The Lord desires our worship. And He so designs life that congregational worship is a key part of growing. So I'd invite you to do that. I'd like to lead us in prayer. Oh, by the way, [inaudible 00:31:10], you can go to, that's John Stonestreet's article and there's another one. You can search for, you go to that place. Search for these titles. And you can read a couple of short, really helpful articles. Let me lead us in prayer.

Father, thank you for loving us. Thank you for not walking out on us. Thank you for a love that goes beyond what we can comprehend and an acceptance that is deep. Thank you for your commitment to train us and grow us. And thank you so much, Lord, that time and time again, whenever we've have turned our back on you. We turn back around and you don't smite across the face. You hug us. Thank you for your love. And thank you, Father, for the opportunity to make decisions that really do affect our future. And thank you for the power of God to help us live it. In Jesus' name. Amen.