WORSHIP

These posts were extracted and expanded from a sermon I preached at Bethany Church in Fresno.  The dates of the original posts are left in place.


OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – OPENING REFLECTIONS

Posted on August 13, 2012 by pastaspin

On Sunday, August 12, 2012, I was privileged to speak to Bethany Church about bringing our best worship to the Lord now.  I had two concerns.  One, I had enough material for six sermons, as each point cried out for more scriptural depth.  Two, it was a prophetic word, one I would rather have not delivered, yet felt compelled to deliver.  Thank you to all who prayed ahead of time and who have graciously encouraged me since.

Two quotes challenged me prior to this message.  One I cannot find the source for, but I believe is true, “Our modern worship is a practice in search of a theology.”  This tells me that we have acts of worship that are often detached from any sense of what truly pleases God when we come to Him in worship.  We spend more time on perfecting a craft or indulging our preferences than truly worshipping.  Certainly, excellence has its place in worship, but it is not meant to supplant the object of our worship.

The second comes from A.W. Tozer when he said fifty years ago, “Worship acceptable to God is the missing crown jewel of evangelical Christianity.”  His expansion on this theme sounded as contemporary as the discussions that continue in some churches today which wrestle with how to worship and how to connect people with God while keeping traditions and accepting new forms.

When I consider worship, I have to admit that a strong theology of worship is lacking.  One of my aims on that Sunday was to present a definition of worship rooted in the Scripture that would then inform our practice.  This is the definition:

Worship is the heart-driven sacrifices of adoration and service to the God who alone is worthy to receive them by the supreme grandeur of His being.

Over the next few blogs, I will unpack that through Scripture and reflection.  I invite you to comment and ask questions.  Please challenge it as you see the need.  My real hope is that we start to make a clear theology of worship that helps inform us as we meet with God daily and weekly, serve him in every moment of life, and join others in unity to honor the Lord with the worship He richly deserves.

 

 

OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – THE ONE WE WORSHIP – Pt 1

Posted on August 21, 2012 by pastaspin

If we lived in the days of Israel’s kings and we belonged to one of the other nations, worship would be very different for us.  The form may not be different – sacrifices, music, dancing, etc.  But the drive to worship would be different.  Every act of worship would have an ulterior motive.

Our motives for worship would be more about appeasing our gods rather than pleasing them.  This appeasing was so that our crops would grow, our women would bear children, our livestock would multiply, and the rivers would flow and not overflow their banks.  We would worship just to gain the favor of the gods.

And the gods themselves would be fickle.  Sometimes, they would receive the worship and do as we asked.  Other times, the gods just decided that the humans needed a lesson and they would send a pestilence or a drought or flooding.  Such was the nature of transacting with a supreme being.

The Lord we encounter in Scripture is very different.  Abraham was called before he knew the Lord.  The children of Israel were chosen when they were enslaved.  Even now, we know God’s favor in Christ without making a single move.  The Lord is pleased to call us to himself without us raising one song or offering one sacrifice.

When we worship, we do not worship to appease or gain God’s favor.  Rather, we worship to recognize his inherent greatness.  The praise is for favor He has already bestowed.  Our worship does not move the Lord to act; it is an act in response to who he is and what he as done.

We read in the Psalms, “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:1-2, ESV)

The Lord is worthy of praise for who he is.  He is the God who is pleased to call us and make us his own.  Yet it does not stop at that.  Next entry, we get a eye-full of the grandeur of God.

 

OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – THE ONE WE WORSHIP – pt. 2


We worship God not because He earned it, but because he showed himself worthy of our worship. But we are sometimes forgetful children, and need a reminder of who God really is and how we are to approach him. Two scenes from Scripture open our eyes to the greatness of God’s being.

In Isaiah 6:1-7, Isaiah encountered the supreme God, grand and uncontainable. His very presence overwhelmed the temple and Isaiah. Truly meeting with God and knowing his presence is at once a glorious thing and a fearful thing. It would be something we want and something we want to avoid. Isaiah’s fear surfaced quickly as he realized he was in the presence of a holy God.

This same holy God calmed his fears through his messenger who says, “Don’t worry. I can take care of this. Your sins are atoned for.” Isaiah encountered the supreme God and realized he was undone. He also found mercy and grace in the presence of this same God.

In a scene similar to Isaiah, John was invited to step into heaven and see what was happening at God’s throne. He attempted to put into words the most indescribable scene he could make. In Revelation 4:8-11, we see beasts and elders and the host of heaven gathered at the focal point of creation, God’s throne.

Some called out, some bowed, all worshiped and recognized the majesty of the Lord God in front of them. It is natural to enter the presence of greatness and be overwhelmed. Where the presence of God manifests itself, we will either want to hide or want to worship.
Since God has called us into relationship with Him, it is right that we approach Him and bring our worship.

Worship is our response of adoration to the God who is worthy to receive it by the supreme grandeur of his being.

 

 

OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – NO CHEAP OFFERINGS


When we read of the great scenes of worship in Isaiah and Revelation, they amaze us.  Taking time to picture them truly stretches our imagination.  How great is the worship.  But there is another element to worship, one that recognizes that this great God cannot be worshipped cheaply.  No matter how grand the act of worship, that worship also had to have a price.

David once took a census of the people, something he was expressly forbidden to do.  His sin brought calamity on the nation.  To stop further calamity, David chose to humble himself by preparing a sacrifice to the Lord.  I think if he could, David would have offered himself on behalf of the people.

David wanted this sacrifice to happen on the highest peak of Jerusalem, a plot which belonged to Ornan, a descendant of Jerusalem’s original occupants.  He was a Gentile, and yet a subject of King David.    Ornan was more than willing to give the land and any cattle necessary for the sacrifice when David asked for it.  But David would have none of that.

David’s response to Ornan’s gesture was this, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24)

Worship is costly.  Isaiah knew it when he was in God’s presence and was undone.  David knew it as he stood humbly in God’s presence while a plague moved in thir midst.  Worship requires something more than just showing up and participating.  Worship IS service, a heart-driven rendering to God what belongs to him, which is EVERYTHING we are.

It is best summed up by Paul when he says, “I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship (service). (Romans 12:1)

Heart-felt tends to drift to what makes us feel good.  Heart driven moves us to a place where we are on our knees before the Lord of the Universe, offering up our lives for his glory.  Worship is the heart-driven sacrifices of adoration and service to the God who is worthy to receive them by the supreme grandeur of His being.

 

OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – NO RIVALS


When we recognize that God is at the center of all things, reigning on the throne, worthy of all honor, we also realize there can be no rivals.

Read this word concerning the Lord from Psalm 24:1-6

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god
.

They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Life is filled with its distractions. Some are obvious while others just melt into the fabric of life undetected. We do not see them because they are just part of what we know as life. That it true until the Lord challenges us to reconsider the habits of our lives and weigh them against His desires for us as his people.

Consider our political climate and how we as believers react in that climate? Do we trust the Lord who sets up and tears down leaders? Do we praise him even when the leader in charge is not to our liking? Or do we follow the spirit of the age which tells us that each leader (any leader of any thing) is fair game for disrespect and abject criticism? How are we instructed by the Lord and by Paul to treat our leaders? Who IS our leader?

There is no room for any other gods, whether they are presented to us or they are of our own making. If God alone is worthy of our worship, it is important to know when we have ascribed glory and importance to something else above him. When this is pointed out, we must be willing to deal with it.

Worship is the heart-driven sacrifices of adoration and service to the God who alone is worthy to receive them by the supreme grandeur of His being.

 

 

OUR BEST WORSHIP NOW – MOVING TOWARDS THE THRONE TOGETHER


AW Tozer said, “Worship acceptable to God is the missing crown jewel of evangelical Christianity.” He said this in 1962, over 50 years ago.

As I have considered what keeps our worship from being the best it can be for the Lord, I have come to these four thoughts:

1.       We have a practice in search of a theology.  We believe everything I said about God and worship, but have not applied the practice of worship to this theology.  When our practice is divorced from a good word regarding God, it then free wheels about with no focus and individual whim.

2.      We have missed the opportunity to form our worship language together.  We may be at odds with someone over how we worship.  We may be choosing not to say anything so we don’t rock the boat.  It would be hard work to together say, “We are going to have a common language with which to worship God, one that is accessible to all and shows our diversity.

3.      We have easily become indifferent to what we do together on Sunday mornings because we prefer a certain style or we have come to be entertained rather than become engaged in the act of worship.

4.      We have allowed certain forms or styles of worship to have a higher place in our hearts than the one being worshipped.  This means we have idols in our midst.

If these sound harsh and heavy, consider this: Over the years, many people – worship leaders, choir directors, choir members, song lovers, quiet lovers, and many others have been hurt by a general insistence that worship needs to happen a certain way.  When worship styles changed, the insistence on a style intensified leading to worship wars or uneasy truces.  In all of it, can anyone say that the Lord was worshipped for his greatness?

The worship service has displaced the one served.  Methods and forms have become greater than the one who created us to be creative worshippers.  I have only one thing to say to that: BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THIS SHOULD NOT BE.  IN ESSENCE, THIS IS THE IDOLATRY OF CURRENT WORSHIP.

In the 50 years since Tozer made his observation, we cannot deny that much harm has been done and many wedges pounded into place.  Some churches try to live and let live  while living with an underlying tension with some saying, “If they only understood why this is good for me.”

No one is immune; no one is exempt.  Even as I speak this, I have to say, “Woe to me for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.  The good news is we can change the course and release our idols if we will make some commitments together:

i.      Commit to keeping the Lord and his greatness at the center of worship.

ii.      Commit to navigating this landscape together – young and old, male and female, liturgists and free wheelers.

iii.      Commit to forging a worship language that is accessible to everyone yet display the diversity with which we worship the Lord.

iv.      Commit to not be indifferent or entertained, but to come here to engage in meeting with God together

v.       Commit to demonstrate the Lord’s greatness not only in what we say or sing, but in how we love one another.  We ultimately demonstrate the wisdom of God and the reality of Jesus Christ in this – that we love one another.

A.W. Tozer spent part of the last year of his life reflecting on worship.  One of his good words about worshipping God came in the last year of his life.  He reflected on the fact that worship is happening now and all of heaven is engaged in glorifying the Lord of all things. His good word to us was, “We join them when we begin to worship God because He is who He is.”

Brothers and sisters let us give our best worship now and continue to do so as we seek to build our worship together.  As we do this, I believe it will not only be our best worship now, but our best worship always.