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March 19, 2023

Just Take the Next Step: Week 2

I want to get right into it. I didn't have any Mountain Dew or any coffee, so it's not caffeine. I’m just excited about speaking, this weekend. I try really hard, and I hope that you can tell, to say things that are applicable to our lives and where we're at. We live in a pretty crazy world, right now. I mean, it's probably always been crazy, but I just don't know that we've had TVs, iPhones, and things to give us all the information that we're getting, but there's so much going on. So, this weekend, I really hope that what I have to say will be encouraging to you, inspirational to you, and I really pray that it speaks to you. If it doesn't, just tell me it did anyway. Okay? But we'll get to going.

So, we all know that we live in a world where everything is pretty divided, but I suspect — and I think that I'm probably correct on this — that most of us would at least agree with this: When we get into our cars, when we flip on our phone, or when we flip on our iPad, and we go to whatever map you decide to use — whether it's Google Maps, Apple Maps, we can disagree on which maps are better. But when we go to those maps, what we know, and I think we would all agree — if you go to your car and you flip it on, most of us probably have some sort of Garmin system in there. When we flip that map on, we're there, and we're looking at that map, we all know something. We all know that the white road, the yellow road, the orange road, the red road — whatever it may be, we all know that's not the color of the road. Those are symbols and cues to tell us about how bad traffic is. We know that the little things, blues, and reds are things to tell us about hospitals or restaurants. The ATM has a money sign. Maybe the little stars are there. We've put little favorites in. Here’s what the people who make these maps know: They know that if you and me were looking at a map that was actually a physical representation of exactly where we were at, so you could see the houses, the doors, and whatever else, our minds do not assimilate that as quickly as looking at something like this, knowing what all the cues, symbols, lights, and all those things mean.

They know that. You know that and I know that. We can look at something like this, and we can know where there's traffic, we can know where we're going to get something to eat, we can know how to move around. Many of us do that. We take our phones, we're somewhere, and we go, “Hey, I'm going to go somewhere,” and we're even walking. It'll even tell you how to walk. But you know this and I know this: That's not what it looks like when you show up because, when you show up, it's different. But this is there to lead you and me in a way that we can assimilate it in our minds, and it helps us to understand what we're doing.

To give you another example, many of you all may know this, you may not know this, but there is such a thing called contour maps. When you're looking at one of these things, these lines are telling you elevation, if you're going up or down. When you know and what I know is this: When you're going up that mountain, whether it's in North Carolina or whether it's in Colorado, every 100 feet, 200 feet, or every 10 feet, there's not this line going around the mountain that's on this map. You know that and I know that. But this map enables us, with the symbols, the cues, the codes, and all of these things, to readily assess something quicker than if we were looking at just something that was exactly what it was.

Why is that important? That's important because it’s sort of the way our brain works. Our brain is able to assimilate colors, symbols, cues, colors, and all those things in a way that is, sometimes, often, quicker than if you were looking at the real thing. You may say, “Why did you bring that up? Why is that important?”

Well, it's important because when you are writing to someone in the first century who's going through all kinds of difficulties, persecutions, problems, pains, wondering if their life is going to be called upon that day, wondering if somebody's going to storm in, all of a sudden, and take them to be sacrificed, head chopped off, or whatever it may be, which was going on during this time, you tend to write differently than you would have written otherwise. There’s a whole language, a whole way, in which the Jewish people would communicate these things to people that were going through difficulties. There were a lot of codes, symbols, lights, flashes, and all of these things. What it did was enable somebody to read that, you could hear it, and it could illuminate you. You would know, “Here’s the map of how to meander through the difficulties of life.”

We live in one of those times. We live in a time where we need a map. We need a way forward. We need to be told how to do these things. The book that I'm talking about is a book that is super controversial, and many people have incredibly passionate feelings about this book, and I get that. I'm not here to try to sway you or make you see it the way I see it. I mean, I'm right, but other than that — no, I’m just playing. If you're new here, that's a joke. That's a Chip joke, okay?

But reality is that we're going to look at the book of Revelation, this weekend, and I'm actually going to read you two complete chapters. You’ll be like, “Wow.”

Yes. So, we'll get out of here by about eight o'clock. I think Chili's is still open. No. We won’t, but I think what we're going to do is we're going to see that this book really communicates some very deep and profound things not only to the first century people, but to you and I, right now, and gives us a map with some symbols, some codes, some lights, and some thunder. All of these things that allow us to see something maybe a little bit more profound than we see right now. Why do I bring that up? I bring that up because we're in a series called “Just Take the Next Step,” and what I want to do, this weekend, is I want to try to help us, as a church, take the next step in understanding worship. Not just singing a song, although that's fine, and not just raising our hands, although that's fine, and not just showing up to worship night, although that's great, but I want you to understand what Scripture leads us to understand about our worship and what's going on. If we could ever see from the heavenly perspective, what a change that it would bring to our lives.

That’s why John writes, to help them to understand what's going on because they're going through a very difficult, challenging time. Much more challenging, in many ways, than what you and I are going through. He writes to give them a heavenly perspective. If we can see it, if we can see that map, if we can see those clues, if we can hear them, it will forever change the posture of the way that you and I live, and the way that we worship.

So, that being said, in Revelation 4, John writes that he has been lifted up into heaven. Now, this is language that's being used because there's the earthly view in Revelation, and there's the heavenly view in Revelation. And when we get to see the heavenly view, it gives us hope in the world that we live in that, oftentimes, is very scary, ugly, chaotic, and the questions, “Where’s God? Does He know?” and all of those things that go on down here. When, all of a sudden, we're lifted into the heavenly world. Which is why church, for years, for all the years that the church has met, they sang songs, then somebody would get up and teach something out of Scripture. It’s interesting that that's the way church has done it. Why is it done? Because singing those songs, what it does is it reframes and focuses us on heavenly things so that when we go to the Word of God, our minds and our attention is there. I can tell you this, right now. We all rob ourselves if we don't show up to sing the songs, sing them, and enter into thinking about the heavenly things. You’ll never get as much out of a sermon as if you are here, sing the songs, and get your head in the right posture. There's just no way you can roll in here 20 minutes late and get the same thing as someone who has truly elevated themselves and their minds into the heavenly world.

So, we're going to go there, and we're going to see how John puts this out. It’s going to really speak to us in a profound way. So, in Revelation 4, John has written that he's been moved into heaven. Of course, people read that, today, and they read in their own little eschatological things. John's not talking about anything that we talk about in the world, being whisked away or whatever. He's using language that would've been understood in the first century, and we're importing different doctrinal things into these passages, like being lifted up, and all this stuff. He's just saying, “I've been moved from earth to heaven and, all of a sudden, my mind has been expanded.”

He tells us, in Revelation 4:2, “At once I was in the Spirit,”

See, when he moved, as we move — when we move out of looking at everything here, and we start looking at things there, we start to enter into the Spirit. And what happens when he enters in? He’s in a world where there's persecution, problems, difficulties, pains, chaos, and all of these things, and it doesn't look like anything's going the way God would want it to go. All of a sudden, when he's lifted up, and his eyes are in the heavenly places, he's in the Spirit. And what does he see?

“…a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.”

Can I tell you something? Whenever you and I put our eyes on the heavenly places, we realize that God is on the throne, and everything's going to be okay. Can I tell you something? When you're worried about if somebody's going to come in, take you, and kill you, you're not sitting around trying to figure out crowns, symbols, and everything else. That's why it said, “Blessed are the ones who read and the ones who hear,” because this is a book of hope. This is entering in. He's saying, “I got my eyes up in heaven, I was in the Spirit, I saw a throne, and one was seated.”

Not fumbling around. Not standing up, trying to figure out what's going on. Not a short order cook. Seated. Everything is good.

“And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow…”

Just get beyond the symbols. It’s like, “Whoa. This is a moment. I've been elevated into the heavens.”

Like Paul says, set your mind on things above. This is why we gather. This is why the saints have gathered every week, all the time. It’s to get out of the world, and to get their focus in the heavenlies. It’s like, “Whoa,” if you can ever get there.

“…a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”

It's like, “Whoa. This is beyond.”

“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders,”

Probably the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles. The Old and the New Testament here, together. All of God's plan unfolded.

“…twenty-four elders, clothed and white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,”

So, there's a moment here, like, “There's the throne. God's in control. The Gospel, the Old Testament, the saints. Everybody's here.”

But it's also a place, like, “Whoa. There are rumblings thunders. God is God.”

It reminds me of the C.S. Lewis where the beavers asked about Aslan, who's a symbol of Christ in Lewis' work. He’s asked, “Is Aslan safe?”

“He ain't safe, but he's good, I'll tell you, because he's the king.”

You get a feeling here that there’s a little bit of, “Whoa.” There’s a little bit of awe. There's a little bit of what Scripture talks about as the fear of the Lord.

“Hold on. I'm in a place, here, that's a little bit beyond me. I can't put God in my little box. There are flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.”

“…and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,”

It’s this idea of perfection. God is just so beyond, but He’s there, there's a throne, and things are going on.

Then, all of a sudden, “…before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”

Why is that so important? It's important because in the Old Testament, as soon as you start the book of Genesis, what do you have? You have the briny sea covering the whole world. What does the psalmist say? He says, “Well, if the whole world goes back into the water, if the mountains fall into the water, I'm still going to trust God.”

This idea of the sea was chaos. You didn't want to stay by the sea. People didn't want to sleep by the river. They thought the water — that’s why Jesus walked on the water. That's why He calmed the water. That's why, here, the water is the sea, which the beasts come up out of in the book of Revelation. If you can ever get your mind and heaven, you're in the Spirit, you see God on the throne, and you see that He’s, “Whoa,” there's also this thing that he's got it under control. The sea's calm like a sea of glass, like crystal.

“And the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind.”

We have a creature like an ox, a creature like a lion, one with the face of a man, one like an eagle in flight. What it’s saying is that when you're in the heavenly world, you realize that all of creation, everything, is worshiping God in ways that we don't usually see here, but if we could ever see it. All of creation, and all the four living creatures with their six wings, full of eyes, day and night, they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

It’s that place of being elevated, being in the Spirit, and seeing the majesty of heaven, the majesty of God, the majesty of His sovereignty, the fact that He is holy, that He set apart. As much as I love grace, and as much as I love love, they say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

All of creation, in that moment, John sees everybody is worshiping God.

“And whenever [day and night] the living creatures give glory an honor and thanks to him who is seated on a throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who seated on a throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne,”

All the great things that were done in the name of God are thrown before Him because of His majesty. This is incredible. John is writing, trembling in Patmos, wondering, “Am I going to die? Am I not going to die? What's going to go on?”

He’s writing to people, saying, “Man, if you could just ever get whisked up into the Spirit, if you could ever see things from the heavenly vision, what's going on down here won't wig you out like it’s wigging you out. If you could ever see, there's so much majesty going on.”

They say, “‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’”

It’s this beautiful sort of pause. I mean, there are no chapters in these books. We put the chapters in, but they weren't originally the chapters. It's in this moment we're elevated, in this worship moment, that it's like, “Whoa,” but there's more. Worship's not just that. We're getting ready to just get, like, “Whoa.”

It’s going to be a moment. I mean, this is just ushering and calling all of us to another place. If we’re honest with ourselves, so often, we just get so bogged down with all the things that are going on in the world — the wars, the problems, the media, the stuff that we hear, and everything — and John's going, “Man, if you could have been with me, you could have seen the heavenly vision. In fact, you can. Here it is. This is what happens. This is what's going on. God is really God.”

Then, all of a sudden, there's just this little, cool twist that happens. Let's continue to read.

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll…”

Right in the middle of all this “whoa,” thunder, lightning, majesty, everybody worshiping, all of creation worshiping, God's in control, He’s seated, and, all of a sudden, there's a scroll. This scroll is the unfolding of the plan and purposes of God.

“…written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.”

It's right in the middle of this worship, there is, all of a sudden, this scroll. The tension is here.

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’”

Right in the middle of everybody worshiping, and giving God glory and honor, there is, all of a sudden, a scroll, the unfolding of all that. Who can open it? You should be going, “Whoa. I mean, God, it’s in Your hand. Why don't You just open it up? Why are we asking who's worthy to open the scroll?”

“And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,”

Like, “Why are we looking down here? Why are we looking? It's in Your hand. What are we looking for?”

“…and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it,”

Right in the middle of this worship scene, of being elevated, all of a sudden, he's crying because of the scroll. Everything was going good until right this second. The scroll.

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’”

Right now, if you understand this literature, you were expecting that if the scroll's going to get opened, we need a hero. We need a conqueror. We need somebody that is making it happen, and now we’ve got it. We’ve got the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has conquered. He's the one who can open the seven seals. Then, all of a sudden, the twist.

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing,”

Hold on. We just had the lion. Why do we have a lamb? What's going on?

“…as though it had been slain,”

Down here, He was. They beat Him. They put Him on a cross. In fact, the seven scrolls, the seven seals, how can they be opened? Well, they can be opened because the crown of thorns wounded Him, one, the nails in both hands, two, and three, the nails in His feet, four and five, the scourging on His back, six, and the spear into His side, seven. The woundings of the Lamb make Him worthy to open the seals of the scroll.

It was as if He had been slain. No, no, no, no. From heaven's perspective, He came before the foundation of the world to do the things that God had said. But when you're looking here, it looks like He’s been slain. But when you're looking here, you realize the Lamb who gave His life has the sovereignty with seven, the number complete, of horns, seven eyes to see everything, and seven spirits to rule everything. All nice, big map images to say, “He is the one who is worthy.

“And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures in the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

This is awesome. It's like, in the middle of worship, realizing the Lamb, because of His woundings can open the scroll. Right in the middle of all of that is when the harps, the music, and the prayers of the saints all converge.

Did you ever stop and think that when we gather here, we enter into that heavenly mindset, there's music, they’re singing, and the prayers of the people of God are ascending before God? It's why we do what we do. We don't go, “You know, on Monday or Tuesday, let’s sit in a room and go, ‘Okay, we’ve got an hour here. Can we do 20 minutes of some music, and put little, cool lights out there, and just make it look a little cool? Because nobody really wants to hear a 50-minute sermon, so what we'll do is we'll…”

If you think that's what we do around here, you are sorely mistaken. This worship team meets, sings, and practices because they have one motive. One. They want to help lead you into the presence of God when you come here so that we can get elevated into the heavenlies, so that when we read the Word of God, it speaks to you and I so that our lives can be changed, so that when we walk out of here, we’re different than when we came in. Every week, we get a little bit better, and a little bit more equipped, so that we can be the people that God has called us to be.

It's not done.

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,’”

Whoa, whoa. Here comes the other turn.

“‘…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God…’”

So, in the middle of worship, seeing God, seeing His majesty, realizing His plan, realizing who Jesus is, there's also a moment in that where there's actually something about us, as well. We've been ransomed.

“‘…from every tribe and language and people and nation,’”

Do you want to know why I always say I don't care who comes through that door? Let them come in here because they might just be the next tribe, language, people, or nation that comes to know the Lord. Because the Lord has opened the franchise to every single person, and we do not want to keep anybody from ever coming into the Kingdom of God and being one of our brothers and sisters. Ever.

This weekend, our whole family went to away for spring break. We took the whole family, which was a little adventurous because we have some younger kids. We went and saw the “Jesus Revolution” movie, which I would tell you that you should go see. I mean, it's a good movie. My eight-year-old wasn't quite understanding of what was going on, but I just told her, “I rebuke you in the name of the Lord,” and gave her some popcorn. No. I’m just kidding. But the whole idea is this idea that there are people, like hippies, and this one church decides to let them in. Can I tell you something? I don't care who comes through those doors, folks. Those doors are open for every single person, no matter where they've been, what they've done. I don't care. This is what this is all about.

This is the beauty: “‘…and you have made them [the people that have been ransomed]…’”

You and me. You have made them, not you and me, but He.

“‘…a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”

Let me let you in on a secret. When you and I get into the heavenly realms, we understand who God is, we understand the majesty, and we take the, “Whoa,” and we understand who Jesus is, what He’s done, and all of that stuff, we realize that God is a God that's others-focused. He came to ransom you and me, and one day, you and me, all of us who are believers, are going to reign on the earth. Do you know what your preparation is, right now, and my preparation? To start to understand what it means to be someone who reigns on the earth. Because the way we're going to reign is we do it like Jesus. We love our enemies. We turn our other cheek. We go above and beyond. We're intentional neighbors. We serve. We give. We exhaust ourselves for others. We should be in the process of learning to become what we are absolutely going to be in eternity because He that began a good work in you and me will continue to complete it until the day that Jesus comes back. Okay?

That was weak. That was a moment where you really should have — the internet folk were clapping. I'm going to go back and look at YouTube, and they're going to go, “That was the moment. I don't know what was going on in here.”

Anyway, they reign on the earth.

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’”

So, let's take a moment, here, and pull back to take the next step in our worship because worship is more than just singing a song, although it includes that. It’s about entering in, seeing God for who He is, worshiping Him for who He is, but in understanding that, to understand that He also wants to use you and me to be His mirrors in this world. So, to take the next step in our worship, to take that next step, we need to start seeing life through the lens of heaven. I'm going to give you a few things to just chew on. As you think about when you come in, when I come in, when we worship, when we really enter into worship and we see God for who He is, here are some things I think we’ll realize and we'll see through the lens of heaven.

First of all, God reigns. A throne stood in heaven, and He was seated. Seated means He’s accomplished what He needs to accomplish. Can I tell you something? We need more Christians in our world, today, who don't look at the world through the lens of chaos, but through the lens of heaven. Let me tell you something. What Jesus did is He said, “It is finished.”

As far as God is concerned, He reigns, He's going to get everything the way it needs to be, and we just need to learn, sometimes, to chill and let God be God. He will do what He says He will do.

Second, we need to start taking God a little bit more seriously. Let's be honest. We like God being our friend, we like grace and all this stuff, but there’s a moment, here, of flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder. Let's just be honest. God is God. Maybe one of the next steps for you and I is to realize, “You know, He's God. Like, that means He’s God. Like, God. Like, He can do whatever He wants.”

Psalm 115:3 says our God is in the heavens and He does what He pleases. Maybe we need to just sit back and go, “Well, do you know what? Maybe I do need to take God a little bit more seriously.”

Third, when we see things to the lens of heaven, we embrace that God is going to bring worldwide shalom, worldwide peace. Like, it's coming, folks. There's going to be a day when the beast that rises up out of the sea is going to be cast into the lake of fire. There's going to be a day when all evil is destroyed, and all evil is put down. And there’s going to be a day when all your tears and all your sickness, and all my tears and all my sickness are going to be gone, in Jesus' name, and there will be the glory of God that will cover the earth as water covers the sea. What a day. I mean, we ought to skip every time we leave church. We ought to be skipping out of here, going, “Man, I know where this thing's ending.”

Read the end of the book. You win.

“I feel like a loser, right now.”

You're on Jesus' team. You win. Period. End of story. That's why this book is a book of hope. It's not a book of fear. Everybody reads it, like — no. It's written to give you a map to tell you, “Hey, God's got it. Chill.”

We need to take holiness more seriously. This is something we need to talk about here, for a minute. We live in a world where everything sort of goes. Let me tell you — and I mean this in love. I'm not trying to get anybody a hard time. I'm not trying to be snarky. God's ways are the right ways. If we're Christians, we should do it God's way. We shouldn't be trying to figure out how we can get out of God's way. We should understand that He doesn't say what He tells us to do because He’s trying to hurt us. He knows what's best. They say, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Look, I like grace as much as anybody. The name of the church is Grace Community Church. But I can tell you something. God is a holy God. And I'm not talking about the legalism stuff. I'm talking about living a life that really reflects God in every way. I'm going to tell you something. When you do it God's way, it's way better than when you don't do it God's way. Can anybody testify that when you do it your way, it usually doesn't work very well? Right? Okay.

We also see, when we come in through the lens of heaven, that this is the time where we cast our crowns. What is it that's important to you? What is it that's a prize to you? What is it that you've done in your life that's your crown? When we come in here, we throw them on the ground because we say, “God, I wouldn't have the things I have, I wouldn't do the things that I've done, I wouldn't have accomplished the things that I've accomplished if it weren't for You. Somehow, in a way that I don't understand, You’re above it all.”

They cast their crowns before the throne. What are you casting, every weekend, before the Lord's throne? Can I tell you something? When you cast your crown before the throne, I'm just telling you that what God will do in your life is beyond anything you could ever imagine. When you give up your life, you'll gain a life that you never thought you could ever have. When you cast that crown, you have no idea what God will do.

Sixth, we recognize that worship is actually the crucible for prayer. When we're worshiping, singing, and going before the throne room of God, it says there were golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints that were brought in, escorted in. Sometimes I wonder, because of our lack of intensity in worship, if we sometimes miss out on some of the great things that God has for us. When we see through the lens of heaven, we testify that Jesus has conquered. We realize that He’s ransomed people, that His work is complete. Let me tell you something. If you're a Christian, there ain't nobody in this room, myself included, that gets it right, perfectly, all the time. Christianity is not based on our performance, but it’s based on the performance of Jesus. It's not based on what we do, but it’s based on what He has done. If He has ransom to you, you can take it to the bank. You are going to be there with Him in eternity because His hold on you is greater than your hold on Him.

Last, this is the thing I want to really focus on, here, before we sing the final song. When we’re really worshiping God, acknowledging God, seeing God, embracing God, what happens is we actually enter into the story, which is exactly why He wants us to come, gather, sing, read Scripture, study Scripture, and pray because we realize that we've been made something. You have royalty flowing through your veins. Not because of you or me, not because of anything new, but because He has made us a kingdom. He's made us priests to our God, and priests are the ones who are mediators between people and God. We’re priests, we represent God, and we're going to reign.

See, worship is far more than just singing a song. It's being lifted into the heavenly realms. I'm going to tell you something. What the church in America needs, right now, is to get out of the earthly realms, and we need to get our attention into the heavenly realm so that we can start to see what's really going on, and take comfort in the hope and majesty and peace of God so that we can get the story into our veins, so that we can go be the intentional neighbors that God has called us to be who reflects Christ.

So, when I say, “Wait, don't leave. Sing the last song,” it's not because I'm trying to get out before you, get in my car, and leave. We sing these songs because we're doing everything we can, as a church, to help everyone connect to God, to be moved out of the earthly vision, chaos, and garbage into just a moment and a glimpse of your future.

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