Archive for the ‘worship’ Category

In a little book I have called Answering God, author Eugene Peterson writes,

"But the first requirement of language is not to make us nice but accurate. Prayer is not particularly 'nice.' There is a recognition in prayer of the fiercer aspects of God…Psalm language is not careful about offending our sensibilities; its genius is its complete disclosure of the human spirit as it makes response to the revealing God. Given the mess that things are in, it will not be surprising that some unpleasant matters have to be spoken, and spoken in the language of our sin-conditioned humanity, for the language of prayer is, most emphatically, human language. It is not angel talk." (41-42)

Sometimes we simply do not have the words though. Sometimes talking to God is difficult because perhaps we think what we have to say might be offensive or too caustic for God's ears. When I read through the Psalms–or the Bible in general–I am quickly disabused of that idea. Those who pray use real words and often rather salty language. It seems that God's ears are quite accustomed to our complaints and our verbal atrocities. He's been around a while; he can handle it.

But that's not how we pray. It really isn't. I have been involved in the church since I was born. I cannot remember a day when I haven't been involved with the church in some way. And I am one of those people who actually listens to everything that is said in church. I pay close attention because I want to hear the Scripture read and preached, I want to hear the prayers prayed and offered, and I want to hear the Spirit move among God's people. On the other hand, I'm also like Stanley Hauerwas who wrote,

"I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most 'spontaneous prayers' turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, 'Lord, we just ask you…" Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I prayer that God will save us from 'just.' (Hannah's Child, 255)

Hauerwas goes on to note that because of his fear he took to writing out his prayers. I'm OK with that. Some folks need to do just such a thing. When I was younger I objected to such things, but the older I get and the more cut & paste prayers I hear from people leading worship or in small groups, the more I am fine with the practice. Nevertheless, I think there might also be another solution though and that solution has to do with the Scripture.

Part of the reason I think corporate prayers are so anemic is because our minds have not drank deeply enough of the Scripture to let it saturate the part of our brains that generates language. Or we are simply content with formulating our own nonsense. But if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then why shouldn't we pray back his words to him? Why shouldn't we remind him of what he said? Why shouldn't we pray the very words he gave us and hurl back to him the words he hurled at us?

I'm not sure why we think our words are better than his words. But to my point: the prayers we offer in public worship, the prayers offered by our leaders (preachers, elders, deacons), those prayers are weak and speak nothing: "Thank you God for this day. We just pray for this or that. Bless the gift and the giver so that your message will go out in this community and around the world. Be with us."

There's nothing wrong with these words at all, but when these words are the meat and substance of our prayers, and when these are the same words repeated time and time again from pulpits and by leaders, it makes me stop and wonder if we are even in tune with what the Bible has to say about the work God has planned for us, through Jesus, in this world? Jesus said that the very gates of hell cannot count an offensive to stop the church or mount a defensive position that the church cannot conquer. Yet our prayers are prayers thanking God for the day. Again, nothing wrong with thanking God for the day, but don't you think our prayers could have a little more urgency? Don't you think our leaders should pray with a bit more expectancy? Don't you think our prayers should have a little more prophecy infused? 

I mean seriously: Why are all those prayers we read in the Bible there in the first place? Are we just supposed to read them? Are they there for decorative purposes? Are they there so we can marvel at how wonderful the saints of old prayed? Or are they there to guide and direct our own prayer life, to give us words to pray, directions for our journey, and/or language to fatten up our prayers? Think about Jesus on the cross and the prayers he prayed. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" is from Psalm 31:5. Mark 15:34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" is a quote from Psalm 22:1. Or think about Stephen in Acts 7 who was stoned to death because of Jesus. He prayed twice during his execution: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "Lord do not hold this sin against them." Well, it seems to me that these are both allusions to the words that Jesus prayed on the cross, words that Jesus quoted from Scripture.

Or think about Revelation 6:10: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This was prayed by the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. But here again is my point: How many times in the Older Testament, especially the Psalms, do we see these words or words similar to them? Look at Psalm 13:1, for example. Or Psalm 6:3. Or Habakkuk 1:2 for that matter. The point, of course, is that even these dead saints in Revelation are still praying the Scripture.

This post could go on for a while because I haven't really even laid out all of my reasons for believing these things or the reasons why I think we should pray the Scripture. And by 'pray the Scripture' I do not only mean using the language of Scripture but I mean literally praying through it. That is, opening up a book of the Bible and literally praying it's words back to the Father–kind of like we do when we recite the Lord's prayer. Like I said, this post could go on for a while and I want to end it for now. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that I think perhaps it would do us well to dig deeper into the Scripture as congregations. Our lives as members of the church should be centered around the Scripture. Scripture should be read frequently from the pulpit. Scripture should be sung. Scripture should be read as part of the worship. Scripture should be prayed. Scripture should be preached. Scripture should be read privately and publicly.

I hear the words of Amos the prophet:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it" (8:11-12).

I get this. I think it's going on right now and is evidenced in the prayers we pray.

Advertisements

The boysI tried to secretly take this picture of the boys this morning. I think Samuel knew I was taking it and was trying to hide, scootch backwards so he wouldn't be included. I got him anyhow. I'm good like that.

This is a picture of my three sons in worship this morning.

I didn't like worship this morning. It wasn't anything personal against anyone and there wasn't anything necessarily wrong with it. It just didn't work for me.

It started when we watched a movie in Sunday school. Nothing wrong with a movie. It's just not what I had hoped for.

I didn't like that we watched a slide show to begin the corporate worship. Nothing wrong with watching a slide show, but the one we watched was accompanied by a song from the 60's or 70's ('He's my Brother'). I literally cringed when it started playing.

I didn't like the organ music that started the worship, played during the worship at certain points, and ended the worship. There's nothing wrong with organ music. It's great at a ball game! There's nothing wrong with the people who played the organ. They did a great job. But it was not my thing.

I didn't like the songs that we sang this morning at all. I looked it up, because I had time, and here's what I found (I figured that's why all those indices are in the back of the hymnal.) The author's of our song service:

  • Jesus Saves, author born in 1829, died 1907
  • Old Rugged Cross, author born 1873, died 1958
  • O Zion Haste, author born 1835, died 1923
  • Just as I am, author born 1789, died 1871

And on top of that, we only sang two verses of Old Rugged Cross. There's not a thing wrong with any of these songs, but there's a part of me that wonders if these songs are still relevant–to anyone.

I had also flipped through the Christian Standard (during the organ recital) and learned things from 50 different people–the same people that the Christian Standard always (!) refers to because they are mega-church preachers, authors, or other super Christians. I couldn't even enjoy that precisely because the articles were drawn from the same pool of people that Standard Publishing always draws from. They are great people. They have important things to say. And I have nothing against them. But good grief can we interview some new people for God's sake? (And don't even get me started on the fact that not a single African-American man was interviewed for the piece. 50 different people. Not one black man among them. Sad.)

I struggled to 'come to terms' with what I was hearing and seeing and doing and reading. I struggled to sing. I thought maybe I had missed the Holy Spirit today. I struggled to get in tune with the sermon and the songs. It felt so old and routine. I thought maybe my worship angst was getting in the way…and then something happened. I saw my dad up front among the leadership. Then I heard my younger brother offer prayer for offering. I thought maybe the drought was being deluged. Then we sang two of those songs and I was kind of right back to square one.

Then something else happened. I looked to my left and saw those three young men in the picture above–my sons. I saw those three boys and my eyes melted. I saw my three sons partake of communion with me for the first time in at least 3 years. My heart swelled and the Holy Spirit did speak to me. He reminded me of his grace. I saw my three sons–right there in that blue church pew. Paying attention. Listening. Respecting. Worshiping. Present.

And then I was able to come to terms with the fact that our worship practices this morning reminded me of something from the 1970s or 80s–something that was, again in practice, highly irrelevant to me and to my sons. But relevancy isn't the sum value of worship, and worship isn't necessarily the sum value of our attendance at sunday gatherings. Sometimes attendance in worship is more about what God gives us and less about what we bring him.

Something bigger was taking place this morning. In a sense, God wanted me to take my eyes off of everything else–to sort of 'zone-out'–and have an intense focus. When all the distractions of songs and slides and sermons were gone, I saw my sons. And then I saw Jesus. Right there. In my sons. His grace flooded me, and tears flooded my eyes. I tried to hide it, just like Samuel tried to hide from my picture, but Samuel, with his keen eye, caught me.I felt his hand upon my back. I tell you it was the touch of God.

This morning helped me understand that even if my heart isn't into what's going on around me, even if I'm not fully engaged, there's still something going on inside me–something I didn't initiate, something I cannot control, and something I may not understand. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what I saw this morning was simply the grace of God. I saw my sons, my beautiful sons.

Those three boys are proof of God's grace–their presence proof that God's grace is bigger than any sin I may commit. I can sing anything knowing that.

“When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it…Yes, in church on Sunday at 9:00 AM, but also in the seemingly mundane. In traffic at 5:15 PM. In a parent-teacher meeting. In the colors of a sunset. On the other end of a tragic phone call. Every second is an opportunity for praise. There is a choosing to be made. A choosing at each moment. This is the habit of praise. Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it. This is what we were made for.”–David Crowder, Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi, 13-14

I’m required to wear shoes at work. I want to wear shoes at work. Even if I heard the voice of God on my way in saying, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are working is holy ground,” I would be hard pressed to be obedient. I mean people walk in an out of that store every single day with only God knows what on the bottom of their shoes. The other day a teenager walked in wearing only socks. Maybe he had heard God’s voice on the way in to the store; maybe he was a lazy teenager.

But that is where Moses found God, isn’t it? Out in the desert, at his place of ’employment,’ there in the place where only God knows what walked by or through every day, Moses heard the voice of God say, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I find it strange, maybe I’m over-analyzing, that God did not say, “Come over here and before you do take off your shoes because the place where I am at is holy ground.” No that’s not what God said. According to the strictest translation of the OT (ESV), God said, “Do not come near; take off your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Maybe I’m over-analyzing. Maybe I’m terrified that the place where I work, the unholy of unholies, is actually a place where I might find God and embrace him with abandon.

I have always been taught that it was God who made the place where Moses was standing holy. Yet God seems to be saying that Moses had something to do with it also. We cannot deny what God said, “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Did Moses have something to do with the consecration of the ground upon which he stood? Did God want Moses, who probably spent a lot of time complaining about those damn sheep, to see the sacred space created each day by his work with sheep? Could it be that there is no such thing as unholy ground if we are standing in a place practicing God’s presence?

I’m sure there will be all sorts of arguments to the contrary: Humans are sinful, we don’t make things holy, we foul things up, Moses was a sinner, only God is Holy. Yeah. Sure. Right. OK. I’m not going to win a theological argument by proposing that it was Moses, not God, who made the earth holy by his presence, by simply standing in a place where sheep likely urinated the day before. On the other hand, who is going to prove me wrong?

Still it is striking, isn’t it, that before Moses arrived the ground was just ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And nothing more. But after he arrived the ground where he was standing was holy because God declared it so. Moses didn’t decide that it was holy. To him it was just urine soaked, sun baked soil. When he arrived, however, God declared it sacred. God declared it sacred. Does he say that about the soil upon which we walk? Could he?

Someone asked me the other day: “This post makes me wonder how you would describe the high calling of working in a video store?” I confess that I find it difficult to practice the presence of God at work. It is extremely difficult to find God in the faces of mostly unhappy and lethargic people who are convinced that we charge too much for our rentals and that it is perfectly unreasonable that their credit card should be on file with our store. I wonder to myself: How can I find God in the face of a customer who is intent on renting the latest installment of ‘American Pie’ or the most recent Zalman King exploration of the world of porn? How can I find the face of God, I’d settle for a burning bush, when a customer is challenging me to a fist fight in the parking lot because his credit card was declined?

There’s also the issue of Jesus. I’m not sure, but something tells me Jesus would not be wearing a Slayer shirt, reek of alcohol and tobacco, curse at me if he had late fees, pre-order the latest episode or Halo, or rent Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus. I could be wrong. Seeing Jesus in the face of customers who refuse to buy their children candy (‘because that junk food is bad for you’) but then rent or buy them Hot Tub Time Machine because, evidently, their minds don’t matter, is impossible. I’m not opposed to seeing Jesus there or meeting God or creating holy space, but, to be sure, it requires some imagination. I do not know if I have that sort of intestinal fortitude.

Then again, maybe it’s not so much about meeting God or recognizing him or receiving a calling from him in a burning widescreen high definition television playing Blue-Rays. Maybe it is simply about the very way I treat all those people just in case it is Jesus. “But Lord, when did we give you a cup of water or visit you in prison or give you a break on late fees?” (the implication being, of course, that when these things happened, Jesus went unrecognized.) Maybe it is the attitude that accompanies the service of the least and lowliest, the bawdiest, the raunchiest, the rudest, the crudest, and credit inhibited. My co-worker said to me last night, after I was challenged to a fight, “What’s sad is that those people are allowed to breed.” I chuckled, politely, but inwardly I was cringing and my heart was broke.

Can it be that the very ground where we stand is somehow or other made holy just by our being there? Is that so much of a stretch? Maybe my problem is that when I go to work I refuse to take off my shoes because I’m convinced in advance that there is no way God could make such a place holy or would even declare it holy. Maybe the problem is that I refuse to see that place as a place where God might show up at any given moment. Maybe I am so intent on God not being in that place that I have refused to invite him in, or see him already there, or practice his presence because he loves all those that ‘shouldn’t breed’. Maybe I’d rather have something to complain about than something to praise him for.

I don’t know what sort of shoes Moses was wearing. Maybe he had on a nice soft pair of Nike’s or some really comfortable Wolverine’s. All I know is that something happened after he arrived on the scene that day. Or maybe it had happened a week prior when Moses walked his sheep through that place. Whatever it was that happened, God told Moses to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was sacred ground. And I think Moses had something to do with that.

When I go to work this evening to sell Starburst and Peanut Butter Whoppers and Coca-Cola and Jennifer’s Body, I’m going to take off my shoes for a while. I’m going to go ahead and take the chance that there might be holy space at my job. Could be that I spend way too much time waiting for God to show up when, in fact, God is already there and he is waiting on me to show up, take off my shoes, and let Him speak.

Friends, here is the last part of the series on worship. The sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 10-11. It develops the idea that worship is, at its core, saying something about God. In fact, it may say more about God than it says about us; although, to be sure, it says something about what we think of God too! Worship seems to be done entirely too flippantly in some cases. While I am not a proponent or ‘fan’ or so-called high church liturgy, I do think there is something to be said about the idea that Christian worship should be significantly holier than it is. People are watching how Christians worship and the question becomes something like this: What are we telling the unbelieving world about Jesus through our worship? This is why worship must, in my judgment, be planned and practiced in such a way that God is honored first and only. I do not believe that worship should be ‘designed’ with the unbeliever exclusively in mind. Worship is ultimately directed to the only one it can be: God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Worship planned, directed, or designed with any other intention or object is idolatry which is nothing less than devil worship. –jerry

Introduction

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

_____________________

While in the early planning stages of this sermon series I came across this article on the internet. It concerns a popular trend that is taking place around the world: Mystery Shopping. The twist, however, is that these mystery shoppers are not targeting your favorite restaurant, but rather churches. Consider:

LONDON – Singing hymns and clasping hands in prayer, they look like regular church-going Christians. But the worshippers at some Sunday services in Britain definitely are not. Instead they are mostly nonbelievers paid $60 a pop to rate churches in Britain on everything from sermon length to after-service refreshments.

For decades, businesses have used “mystery shoppers,” researchers dispatched to retail stores to pose as consumers, to evaluate customer service and quality control. Now, churches are turning to “mystery worshippers” to visit and rate their performance. The program was launched in November by Christian Research of London and expands this month before reaching nationwide in May.

Religious experts agree that the research could be beneficial for any church seeking to understand how to best draw and keep worshippers in an age of declining attendance. “Any self-respecting organization is, or should be, alert to useful criticism of its modus operandi,” said Sam Berry, an expert on religion at University College London.

“I would regard the mystery-worshipper approach in the same way I would hotels asking people to fill in a form about their experiences at the hotel.”

Attendance at Anglican church services has dropped by 50 percent in 40 years as Britain has grown increasingly secular. (From the Toledo Blade)

Well, I think they might be on to something. The question that comes from this is simple: What are we showing to these mystery shoppers who visit the worship? A popular American preacher recently posted 12 convictions his congregation has about worship. On the one hand the author of the 12 convictions writes:

10. A service geared toward non-believers is meant to supplement personal evangelism, not replace it.

Then, on the other hand he writes:

4. While unbelievers can’t worship, they can watch believers worship.

I’m not sure how the two work together. In other words, why design a worship service that is geared towards non-believers when unbelievers cannot worship? It seems rather self-defeating. Nevertheless, I agree with the second part of the second proposition. I don’t know that unbelievers cannot worship, but I do agree that they can watch believers worship. So, what do we show to those unbelievers who are at least watching what us believers do? What should those mystery worshipers see in our worship time—at least the worship time we participate in on Sunday mornings?

I’d like to develop briefly a couple of ideas from chapter 10 and then show the full expression of what this means from chapters 10-11.

Warnings From Israel’s History: Chapter 10 in context

The apostle scans the history of Israel—mostly wilderness wanderings recorded in the book of Numbers, but also Exodus—and says flat out, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” We are meant to learn, but what? What did the apostle say: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people would sit down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’” He then tells how much of the worship during that time was corrupt: pagan revelry, sexual immorality, grumbling.

The problem is, essentially, that they did not recognize ‘Christ among them.’ Paul wrote, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all at the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that Rock was Christ.” His point is that they acted and worshiped as if God were not among them. So they mimicked and aped the culture, participated in the activities of pagans, and in general displeased the Lord among them. There was, and I think this is key here, there was nothing distinctive about what Israel was doing. As the rules were given to them by God through Moses the point of the rules was to set them apart for God’s service; they were to be a kingdom of priests leading the nations in worship of God. That is why they were to be distinct, different. That’s why they had funny rules to follow, and strange rituals to observe.

As silly and strange as they seemed to Israel, and as unique as they were in that culture, they marked those people as God’s people and declared things about the nature of the God to whom they belonged.

Truth be told it is not any different for the Church, the New Israel. We are a distinctive people, a unique people, who follow a strange God so to speak who has called us, Peter wrote, “like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…[We are] a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” We are not the culture. We are not just anybody. We are somebody, uniquely belonging to the Father. As such our worship is meant and designed to reflect God’s will, God’s message, and significantly, God’s Messiah. What we do we do for His Glory Alone: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Even outside of this specific context, this verse is applicable. He will apply this specifically to the observation of the Lord’s Supper and demonstrate that it is the Lord’s Supper and we dare not presume that it is our supper.

So Paul tells us all these things and says: Don’t follow their example. He notes that when Israel behaved this way ‘God scattered them in the desert,’ and ‘in one day 23,000 of them died,’ and some ‘were killed by snakes,’ and some were ‘killed by the destroying angel.’ However, he also notes that in the Christian context it is no less dangerous to fall into the hands of the living God: ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement unto himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have come under judgment. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.’ In short, God deals with His people differently than he does the world in general. And if Israel’s complacency about worship brought judgment, then how much more will judgment fall on the Church and the Christian who is complacent about worship?

Continue Reading »

Friends,

I’m preaching a short, four-week series on the Spiritual Discipline of Worship. This sermon on Romans 12:1-2 is part three in the series. Thanks for stopping by.–jerry

Let’s begin this sermon with a brief review of Romans up to the twelfth chapter:

  • Paul begins by asserting that all of us are sinners in need of salvation.
  • He makes the case that there is no one who has any excuses before God. All have sinned and fallen short.
  • He asserts that if all are sinners, and there is no difference, then all are also ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
  • For those of us who ‘believe in him who raised him from the dead’ our faith is ‘credited to us as righteousness.’ (4:23-24)
  • We have been given a gift of immense proportions—totally undeserved, totally outweighing the offense and totally from God’s grace.
  • For those who believe, there is a death: We die to sin in baptism and are united with Christ in his death. So then if we are we will also be united with him in resurrection. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It is the same for us. Risen to walk in newness of life.
  • So then, we also become slaves to righteousness: set free from sin, offering the parts of our bodies to righteousness, so that we may increase in holiness. We have received this gift of eternal life from God.
  • So there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ. We are not to live by the flesh, but by the Spirit. We have an obligation to the Spirit. We are more than conquerors.
  • We are the ones who have believed in our hearts and confessed with our mouths: Jesus is Lord.
  • We are the ones who will be saved by God’s great power and mercy.
  • ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.’

And chapter 12 begins: Therefore

“Therefore, 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 act of worship. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I’d like to make four observations about these verses this morning.

Worship: Surrendering the Body

At the root of all that we have said about worship is a single thought. It is this: The God who saves us in his mercy also is the God who makes demands on our lives. The question we ask is this: Does God have a right to make any demand, let alone this demand? I think part of the problem with the way we do church is precisely at this point. When we do evangelism, for example, we are happy to let people know that Jesus died for their sins, that he wants to set them free, that he will help them in their difficulties—maybe even heal them of illness and disease, and that he will be a great pal through the many changes that occur in life.

What we frequently fail to tell people, while we are telling them to ‘give their hearts to Jesus,’ is that God has made demands not just on our heart, but on our very lives as represented here by the apostle in these words: “…offer your bodies…” Now this is representative, but it is far more than metaphor. No, I happen to think that the apostle is not mincing words at all. Offer your bodies is Paul’s way of saying: Your entire being now belongs to God in light of His mercy.

I think we do a great disservice to the people we share the Gospel with when we tell them that salvation is only about salvation as if redemption had nothing to do with sanctification or making us holy creatures. I think the demand that God places on our lives is best said here by the Apostle: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices…” We are fond of salvation, but worship as a sacrificial lifestyle is probably abhorrent to us.

True worship demands our entire being: Heart, mind, body. It means our flesh. Worship is complete surrender, utter devotion, absolute, unconditional relinquishing of our autonomy.

“To sanctify something means to separate and prepare it that it may be presented and offered to God. This is more precisely defined in the conception of sacrifice. The exhortation which is grounded upon the mercies of God and is directed towards men is summed up in the demand that men should present their bodies—that is, their concrete, observable, historical existence—as a sacrifice. Now, sacrifice means surrender; it means an unconditional gift; it means the renunciation of men in favour of God. If men are themselves the object to be surrendered, renounced, and given up, their sacrifice can mean nothing less than the relentless acknowledgement of that questionableness and confiscation which occurs when they are confronted by the unfathomable God; the sacrifice which they have to offer by means of an ever-renewed, but never completed, return to His mercy and freedom…”—431, Barth, Romans

There is always the temptation to think that we can give Christ our spirit and keep our bodies for ourselves. Our Bodies too belong to Him.

______________

Worship: The Living Sacrifice I happen to have an advance copy of next week’s Christian Standard. As I looked through it I happened upon an article that I was certain I was going to reject out of hand before even reading it. Then I did something silly: I read it. And I liked it. The article in question is by a woman named Mandy Smith. I’d like to share some of her thoughts with you.

‘Paul doesn’t talk a lot about worship, but when he does it’s usually in the context of the Jewish tradition, in discussions about circumcision and sacrifices. That is understandable, since the Old Testament sense of worship had a good deal to do with sacrifice. As worshipers brought sacrifices from their fields and flocks, they brought together everyday life and spiritual practices, the products of daily work into sacred space.

‘Unfortunately, in our contemporary setting, we have separated worship from daily life. In Romans 12:1, however, Paul provides a new pattern for worship (new for first-century believers and new for us): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Instead of offering dead animals, we are now to offer up our very lives, which are more valuable to God because they allow us to offer ongoing acts of sacrifice. [My emphasis.]

‘Paul goes on, in Romans 12, to describe the various gifts and functions of the members of the body, putting a very practical spin on worship. For him it is not just bowing and singing weekly, but serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing financially, leading, and showing daily mercy (12:6-8). In fact, the word used for worship in this passage is related to work and is often translated ‘service.’ If worship in the OT was largely synonymous with sacrifice, worship in the NT is synonymous with service (living sacrifice), inside and outside of the service.’

‘If worship is supposed to be unceasing, a way of life, then the weekly service is one of many occasions to worship. The Sunday service is special and significant, not because it’s our opportunity to worship, but because it is a joint celebration of the worship that has been going on all week long, an occasion to remember the reason for the work, and a time of preparation for the Monday-to-Saturday service in the week to come.’

‘But that’s what living sacrifice feels like. This is not about changing what we’re doing, but acknowledging that what we’re already doing is worship, if we devote it to God. There’s music and euphoria at times, but there’s also small daily choices of service, simply acts of selfless love, and perseverance, lots of perseverance. It’s the kind of worship that makes you sweat, the kind that means you’ll need a nap in the afternoon.’—Mandy Smith, Christian Standard, January 27, 2008 [When the link becomes available on-line I will link to it.]

The only problem I have here is that for some reason the author thinks that the New Testament descriptions of worship are devoid of sacrificial imagery and that the Old Testament is only about sacrifice. In my estimation, one cannot really see such a clear cut dichotomy—especially as it relates to the New Testament.

The New Testament imagery is, perhaps, equally about sacrifice except that in the New Testament sacrifice is defined not as dead animal sacrifice but as living human sacrifice. I got to thinking that perhaps the reason why the Old Testament people killed the animals before offering them on the fiery altar is this: Dead animals could not crawl off the altar once the heat was applied. But God makes demands of us: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This means that we must, and have to, make a conscious decision to offer everything to Christ as an offering. Gareth Reese wrote it this way: “The idea would be that the Christian’s sacrifice was to be constant; there was to be a dedication about his life-style, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service..”—500-501

Perhaps we might think we can live a day without making this offering to Jesus. Living sacrifices—so long as we are living. Daily—so long as it is day. Day after day. Take up your cross.

There is always this terrible danger that we will crawl off the altar when the heat is applied.

_______________

Continue Reading »

[Friends: I will be posting some sermons I am preaching on ‘Worship.’ I have benefited greatly from some recent posts at blogs around the web that have dealt with worship. A little searching turned up some great quotes. After I preached this sermon, I thought perhaps points 2 & 3 were a bit cluttered, so I have edited those points for clarity. What I am saying is that 2) Christ Jesus has made worship a possibility in His Cross work and 3) He has also empowered us to worship by making us Holy. I hope that is clear enough, but let me know if not. This particular sermon is from Hebrews 9-10. The rationale behind it is that Jesus, in His Cross work, made True worship a possibility. What remains is for the Believer to enter into the Holiest (Andrew Murray’s term for the Holy of Holies) and worship. Obviously, I didn’t deal with every single issue these marvelous chapters introduce, but I don’t think I have harmed the general character of the author’s point. I’ll appreciate any feedback.–jerry]

_______________________

January 6, 2008
Spiritual Disciplines: Worship 1.1
Hebrews 9-10
The Possibility of Worship: Facing the Cross

Introduction

1Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

____________________

Yesterday, I got to thinking. We were working outside putting drive-through stuff away for another year. The temperature wasn’t bad—except, I noticed, when the wind blew. When the wind blew, things became a little more dangerous; the temperature dropped; work became more difficult. And the wind cannot be controlled. Would it be any different if the wind blew among us? If God’s Holy Spirit blew among us, would worship be easier? Would worship be less complicated? But if the wind cannot be controlled, neither can the Spirit. So I don’t think, or believe for that matter, that worship necessarily becomes simpler as we grow deeper. Growing and going deeper in Christ necessarily entails a counter-cultural movement that will grate against popular notions of worship; will fly in the face of watered down ecumenism; will be a threat to the peaceful, established order of the worldly culture.

In other words: True worship of a Holy God will rankle the devil’s of this world. True worship faces the cross of Jesus and cries out for mercy.

So a brief example of the consequences. I begin with these words from Barry Taylor who wrote them in a work titled An Emergent Manifesto: “To ‘go with the flow’ might seem a trite way of describing theological engagement, but a commitment to fluidity and a willingness to swim in the cultural waters rather than insisting on one’s own paddling pool is a necessary perspective.” But if we swim in the cultural waters we swim against the stream not with it. He says we should live in the haze of uncertainty that our ‘declarations of faith are always fragmentary and provisional.’ But is this so in a world where the very Christian life depends upon our faith in revealed witness and eyewitness testimony to certain historical realities and truths? In other words, we are not worshiping the wayward, frenzied, hazy-gray culture. Nor are we worshiping a God who is shaped by that culture. We are worshiping God who is anything but culturally relevant. Will a fragmented, provisional, and hazy faith stand up to the rigors of this world’s persecutions, this culture’s evils, this life’s struggles? I shall suggest later that the answer is a resounding ‘No!’

We could strip all the stuff out of our buildings, give away the hymnbooks, the amplifiers, the guitars, pianos, pews, and buildings, and powerpoints, and projectors and still worship; perhaps worship better. The truth is that worship is not and never was designed to ‘reach the senses’ of the worshiper. We are not to create a worship that appeals to the worshiper as if the aesthetic were what mattered. So Eugene Peterson wrote, “If Christians only worshipped when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship that went on. Feelings are important in many areas, but completely unreliable in matters of faith….Living in the age of sensation, we think that if we don’t feel something, there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different, namely, that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.) In other words, the last thing we ought to be doing in worship is appealing to the senses which are over-stimulated. Worship so much deeper than the senses.

What draws people to God, as I hope to show you this morning is the Cross—and the Creator who confronts the creation in that Cross. We are dealing with a holy God into whose hands it is a dangerous place to fall. Cultural advances, cultural impressions, cultural demands do not determine the nature of worship or even create the possibility for worship. The possibility of worship is created by God, in the Cross, for His Glory.

___________________

So Andrew Murray wrote,

“The veil was the symbol of separation between a holy God and sinful man: they cannot dwell together. The tabernacle thus expressed the union of two apparently conflicting truths. God called man to come and worship and serve him, and yet might not come too near: the veil kept him at a distance. His worship in the tabernacle testified to his longing for the restoration of the fellowship with God he had lost in Paradise, but also to his unfitness for it, and his inability to attain it.”—305

I’d like to make 4 quick points about these two chapters. Bear in mind please that what the author of these two chapters is talking about to a great extent is our ‘separatedness’ from God and how God restored the possibility of worship through Christ’s work on the cross. In a full sense, he is speaking of our alienation from God in a salvific sense. In other words, there existed no relationship between man and God even though God clearly commanded man to worship. What we are doing this morning is looking at this severed relationship from the point of view of Christian worship, which is the essence of the restored relationship.

These two chapters explain how it is that this relationship was restored—how the tabernacle veil was rent thus enabling man into what Murray calls the holiest. And the author continues to come back again and again to the thought that our proper response to God’s initiative is to acknowledge and pursue the possibility that God has created for us in the Cross to worship.

First, Why Can’t we Enter in? “This is an illustration for present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” I have to say: If this was true of the Jewish people, how much more is it true for us who did not have the tabernacle? The author is making the point that no matter how nice the externals, no matter how golden the furniture, no matter how well organized and orderly—we have nothing to bring before God that makes our worship acceptable. And I think this is even true now. Many people try to worship God out of the abundance of the flesh, out of the abundance of emotion, out of their abundance of externals—but none of these thing enable us to truly worship God.

If there was a time when we couldn’t properly worship God, I wonder if there is still a time? I think so. I think we have, to a large degree, a modern church so enamored with externals and emotions that we haven’t yet really worshiped God and primarily because too many haven’t yet allowed Christ to properly deal with their sin. Something stood in the way: externals do nothing to deal with sin and sin is clearly a major, major, if not the major, obstacle to true worship. We need something to deal with the sin that prevents us from truly entering in to the holiest and worshiping God. Sin must be dealt with, and only in Christ Jesus is sin dealt with sufficiently to not only allow, but to promote worship of God.

Second, The Cross of Jesus makes worship a real possibility! AW Tozer wrote:

“It is true that order in nature depends upon right relationships; to achieve harmony each thing must be in its proper position relative to each other thing. In human life it is not otherwise. I have hinted before in these chapters that the cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, an upset in our relation to God and to each other. For whatever else the Fall may have been, it was certainly a sharp change in man’s relation to his Creator. He adopted toward God an altered attitude, and by so doing destroyed the proper Creator-creature relation in which, unknown to him, his true happiness lay. Essentially, salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.”

The author of Hebrews here says that it is possible for this relationship to be restored and it was by Jesus Christ. The possibility of true worship does exist but only after this relationship has been restored. He writes, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God?” In other words, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ creates the possibility for worship, true worship of a Holy God to happen. To be sure, what externals cannot do, Jesus can.

“He has died a ransom to set them free from sins…” And “He is the Mediator of a new covenant…” “Christ entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence…” “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sins by the sacrifice of himself…” And, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” Now this all means that we can worship. The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes the possibility of worship of God, of entering into the holiest, a real possibility. The previous point contends that the possibility to worship God is a reality.

Continue Reading »

Friends,

This is brilliant! I will quote several sections from Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God, chapter 8: “Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation.”

It is true that order in nature depends upon right relationships; to achieve harmony each thing must be in its proper position relative to each other thing. In human life it is not otherwise.

I have hinted before in these chapters that the cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, an upset in our relation to God and to each other. For whatever else the Fall may have been, it was certainly a sharp change in man’s relation to his Creator. He adopted toward God an altered attitude, and by so doing destroyed the proper Creator-creature relation in which, unknown to him, his true happiness lay. Essentially, salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.

. . .

Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is not use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is. As we go on to know Him better we shall find it a source of unspeakable joy that God is just what He is. Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. In those holy moments the very thought of change in Him will be too painful to endure.

So let us begin with God. Back of all, above all, before all is God; first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self-existent One He gave beings all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him. “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: For Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being who and what He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full Lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less.

The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not refer here to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings.

Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation to God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token of respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day.

“Be Thou exalted” (Psalm 21:13) is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. It is central in the life of God in the soul. Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually, “Be thou exalted,” and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity.

. . .

Let no one imagine he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all he finds his own highest honor upheld.

 . . .

Made as we were in the image of God, we scarcely find it strange to take again our God as our All. God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode.

I hope it clear that there is a logic behind God’s claim to preeminence. That place is His by every right in earth or heaven. While we take to ourselves the place that is His, the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above.

“Them that honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30)…

. . .

Another saying of Jesus, and a most disturbing one, was put in the form of a question. “How can ye believe, which receive honour of one another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44). If I understand this correctly, Christ taught here the alarming doctrine that the desire for honor among men made belief impossible. Is this sin at the root of religious unbelief? Could it be that those ‘intellectual difficulties’ which men blame for their inability to believe are but smoke screens to conceal the real cause that lies behind them? Was it this greedy desire for honor from man that made men into Pharisees and Pharisees into Deicides? Is this the secret back of religious self-righteousness and empty worship? I believe it may be. The whole course of life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.

In our desire after God let us keep always in mind that God also has desire, and His desire is toward the sons of men, and more particularly toward those sons of men who will make the once-for-all decision to exalt Him over all. Such as these are precious to God above all treasures of earth or sea. In them God finds a theater where He can display His exceeding kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. With them God can walk unhindered; toward them He can act like the God He is.

A.W. Tozer, 1948

I think Mr. Tozer is dead-on. This is, incidentally, another reason why Christians must reject Darwinism.

jerry

Friends, these verses are tough. I hope I have done well by them and not obscured the meaning. I have checked my understanding against a couple of commentaries and found that I am not un-orthodox in my interpretation. Nevertheless, I apologize if I have made this more difficult than it needs to be.–Jerry

 

John 4:11-26 

 

11″Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17″I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19″Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

I have read this story a hundred times (that is, a lot). Tonight, for the first time, I noticed something I have never noticed. Jesus said, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Why did Jesus say this to her? Was it a simple social courtesy? What was it for? Was he rude? Was he trying to make her feel bad because he knew the answer to the question? What was he hoping to accomplish with such an in-your-face demand?

 

She wanted the water, I think. But she also, at the outset, thoroughly misunderstood what Jesus was talking about. When she asks, “Are you greater than our father Jacob,” I wonder if she would have believed the answer. But Jesus was not talking about the sort of water that is comprised of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. Clearly this sort of water was in no way able to supply this woman with what Jesus was talking about; nevertheless, she was eager to have it. She did want it; at least she seems eager enough for something. Jesus clears matters up for her essentially saying, “I’m not talking about this water which could never satisfy you as completely as the water I am offering.” Everyone who drinks that water will indeed be thirsty again. The water Jesus offers is different in every way, “The water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It satisfies more than the thirst; better than water; beyond this earth.

 

It is ‘living water’. It is ‘water that springs up to eternal life’. Still she did not quite get it: “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Translation? “I’m tired of making this daily trip. I’m tired of this work. I’m tired of all the complications of daily, redundant, life. Make it easier on me by filling my jars with water that never run empty.” Sometimes it’s true that this is the approach people take to Jesus. You know those ones who are convinced that Jesus’ goal is to make life easier, to eliminate all the stumbling blocks, to take out all the hurdles, to lower mountains and raise valleys. Well, who doesn’t want that sort of Jesus? “Peace, peace in our time.” That’s a nice, domesticated Jesus—at our beck and call, ready to serve when we ring our little bells. Maybe it’s the sort of Jesus who eliminates all the redundancy of life so that we can spend our time on our pursuits that certainly will not involve the everyday hard work of everyday hard work, and most likely will not include the demands of holiness.

 

If the woman had no idea what sort of water Jesus was talking about then I suspect that neither did she have any idea the sort of man she was speaking to. “I can see that you are a prophet.” Jesus will tell her that this is not enough that he is a prophet. Forsyth says that Jesus was here as more than a mere prophet, but in fact as the Creative King of the Kingdom. “And Christ went to His death in His function as King, not to become King” (Forsyth, The Justification of God, 176). She did not yet realize that Jesus was unfolding before her the identity of the God of the universe. So when he says to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back…’ I don’t think Jesus was merely showing off his ability to know things about her that she had not told him—no, Jesus is more than Prophet; Prophet though He may be. I think he is sitting (he had sat down by the well, v 6) there by the well, talking with this woman, as King, Judge. His demand for her husband to be present was his demand that she confess her sin. I think it was his demand for her to acknowledge her un-holiness, an un-holiness that was more important to her than worship. Forsyth again, “We are all standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. And one day we shall know it. We end where we began—in Him” (The Justification of God, 187).

 

She did not want to talk about this aspect of her life. I agree with the NIV study note here, “His presence exposes sin and makes people squirm…” But squirming is not an end in itself. People can squirm, be very uncomfortable and never actually get to God. Jesus is getter her to God. That is, he has other designs for her confession. Bruce Milne notes, “The deeper point is that Jesus brought to her awareness the relational desert in which she was living” (John, BST, 84-85). And not just with men, but with God.

 

Yes she changes the subject and starts talking about Jesus’ status as a ‘prophet.’ Then she changes the subject again: “So, you are a prophet. Well, perhaps then you can tell me why you Jews say that the only place where anyone can worship is in Jerusalem.”  Remember the garden of Eden? “Uh, it was the serpent. He made me eat it.” “Uh, it was the woman, she gave it to me and I ate it.” “Uh, it’s everyone else’s fault.” “Uh, it’s you Jews that prevent me from worshiping.” Jesus had cut to the heart of the matter: This woman had no relationship with God whatsoever. “She…had been furtive and unwilling to open her heart to God” (Tenney, John, 56). The evidence of her unfaithfulness to God is found in her continued unfaithfulness in marriage (regardless of the reasons why the marriages hadn’t worked). Oh, I’m sure not all those husbands were gems. But five, plus one more?! Was she Liz Taylor? Here was a woman, for all her better qualities, who was simply an unfaithful person (and not merely in an allegorical sense). Jesus brings all this out and then says, “There is no excuse for you not to be worshiping the One True God. There is no reason, certainly not the Jews, for you to be flitting around from place to place, person to person, god to god.” She was blaming someone else’s argument about the place to worship for her pathetic attitude towards worship altogether; toward God. Jesus has opened up the entire history of this woman and confronted her with her real need: It is God she is lacking. It wasn’t water. It wasn’t good marriage. It wasn’t friendship with the other ladies in town (why was she at this well, at that time of day, alone if not because she was somewhat ostracized because of her lifestyle?). Jesus was pointing out to her that her life reflects a surprising lack of God-interestedness. That was her real problem in life.

 

It is in this context that Jesus makes his most startling announcement yet: “I who speak to you am he.”

 

This is the great need of our day too. People are flitting about, like bees going from flower to flower. They gofrom person to person, relationship to relationship, god to god trying in vain to find something or someone that satisfies them, trying to find some place to perch. In the process of doing so, they alienate all those around them and they end up alone by a well in the heat of the day. They end up godless, submitted to no god, irreverent towards any god; unfaithful in all cases. They end up blaming everyone on the planet for their problems and accusing everyone else for their lack of worship and reverence for God. You’ve heard them: “Well, I don’t go to church because I can’t stand hypocrite Christians. It’s their fault I don’t worship.” And are they sinless? I think not. (There’s even a new movement going around of churches being planted with this slogan: “A church for people who hate church.” This is a rather impolite way of condemning existing churches and the people who comprise them. And, in my judgment, blaming them for other people’s lack of God-interestedness.) They’ve been hurt, burned, tricked, manipulated and angered and they take it out on God. Jesus comes along, takes all that blame and says, “I am the One who changes all that.”  Jesus says, “In me, there are no more excuses. In me, there are no acceptable excuses for not worshiping God.”

 

But of all these verses teach us I’m settling on this: Jesus does not accept our excuses for not worshiping God. He points out that if this woman blamed Jews for their insistence on the place of worship, she herself is no less guilty of excluding herself because of her sin and flitty, flirty unfaithfulness. In other words, no one has a right to be in God’s presence, and all should be uncomfortable before Him; all are judged in Christ. Slowly, but surely, this awakening is dawning on this unnamed Samaritan woman with whom Jesus spoke that day. So if all are judged in Christ, all are also welcomed in Christ. If freedom to worship is what one looks for we have no excuses; instead, we have Jesus.

 

I hope this 14th Day is Blessed for you in the Lord.

 

Soli Deo Gloria!

John 2:12-25

12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” 17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

Friends, after today, you will have read two chapters in John’s Gospel. This is good progress. You have taken your time, read slowly, and chewed on only a few passages each day. You have allowed them to sink deep into your heart and there take root as you learn about the Jesus you follow, and learn about how to follow the Jesus you know. Congratulations! This is not small thing in our hurry up world. The hurry up world says it has to be done today and delights in large, massive quantities. We are taking the long stroll, the far look, and the slow journey. We are not tourists visiting interesting sites; we are disciples on the narrow road, on a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’ Also, please feel free to leave me your thoughts by clicking the ‘comment’ link.

The (physical) place of worship had turned into a place of economics; the practice of worship has turned into an empty, hollow, market place where God is not at the center. As such, worshipers were marginalized, worship was de-sacralized, and other less vital functions were elevated and imperialized. It sounds strange to say it in such a way, but consider this: what dominates us controls us, what is important to us takes precedence. Here in the temple clearly what dominated people’s lives was not theology, not worship, and not the Presence, but economics, power, and control. It was a market, Jesus said, a place where buying and selling, bartering and bickering, haggling and harassing were taking place not necessarily to the exclusion of worship, but more prominently than worship and in distraction of worship. In other words, the place of worship, the atmosphere of worship, the spirit of worship were all subjected to the whims of humans. Human interraction, human function, human beings and their needs and wants were centralized; God was marginalized. Does this sound at all familiar?

Imagine you invited a friend over to your house for a nice dinner and conversation. Imagine you had planned out a nice afternoon together of fellowship, eating, drinking, making merry and simply enjoying one another’s company and conversation. Imagine, now, that your friend arrives and sets up a yard-sale in your front yard and begins hawking and hollering at other guests you had invited. There would be no fellowship, no companionship, no conversation that would be enjoyable. Intimacy would turn into rape. And, I suppose, you would be jealous that you had to compete with your guest for the affections of your friends and neighbors–in your own house! It’s not the best analogy, but I think it suffices. In the house of God there is only One Master and He is not keen on sharing the limelight. It’s His House. Now whatever else this passage teaches us I think it certainly teaches us this: Jesus’ purificaction of the temple was an act of judgment against those who had been invited guests. He wasn’t angry with a building, but with people; people he knew all too well. And His point was clearly this: The God who lives here will not tolerate competition. Would that such zeal would consume many of those who are invited guests in the house of God today. But I suspect that the same exact thing happens in many ‘temples’ today: There is competition for attention, competition for Centralization, competition for Glory & Praise. This is what happens when God is marginalized, when worship is economized, when the sacred is trivialized. God is moved out and man takes over; can man keep anything pure and righteous?

David Wells wrote, “It is hard to miss in the evangelical world—in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, in its reveling in the irrational. And it would have made few of these capitulations to modernity had not its capacity for truth diminished. It is not hard to see these things; avoiding them is what is difficult” (No Place for Truth, 95). I think what was happening that day is this: Jesus was not only purifying the temple, creating space, centralizing God once again (we say ‘cleansing’), he was also emptying it of all that deadness that inhabitited it and preparing it for new life. This is precisely why he ties this action to his resurrection: Destroy this temple, he said, and I will raise it up again in three days. He was saying, through actions, that the true purpose for the temple will never again be found in Jerusalem’s physical ediface, but will be found in Himself. He was telling the people, through word and deed, that the temple would be destroyed: His was also an act of judgment. But no matter! The true temple would be raised up and the function and purpose of the temple will be reestablished and never again corrupted. Jesus is the true temple and in Him, the Resurrected Lord, God will never again be marginalized, man will never be centralized, man will no longer control and ‘change’ (‘you have turned it into…something you desire’) the purpose of the temple and worship will continue freely and unabated by those who seek God. (Why do we prefer busy markets to worship?)

I think it is no wonder that Jesus would not entrust himself to man. The Bible says, “He knew what was in man.” I don’t suppose that has changed. Man has found a way to corrupt the church, to ‘turn it into something it was not intended to be’, the make man the center and life of the church, and, worse, we have found a way to do this to Jesus. I hate to say it, but man, within whom lies so many evils and ills, has found a way to corrupt the temple once again. We have found a way to make Jesus serve our purposes. We have found a way to use him. If man could not rightly serve in the physical structure the Presence inhabited, do you think we can or will rightly serve the Lord Jesus who inhabits us? Or do you think that we, like the temple rulers then, will once again turn the temple into something we can control, corrupt, and use? I cannot help but wonder if this is not already the truth. David Wells again:

“This is why we need reformation rather than revival. The habits of the modern world, now so ubiquitous in the evangelical world, need to be put to death, not given new life. [This is essentially what Jesus was saying in his judgement of the temple that day. And a new temple would be established in Himself.] They need to be rooted out, not simply papered over with fresh religious enthusiasm. And they are by this point so invincible that nothing less than the intrusion of God in his grace, nothing less than a full recovery of his truth, will suffice…In this regard, the death of theology has profound ramifications. Theology is dying not because the academy has failed to devise adequate procedures for reconstructing it but because the church has lost its capacity for it. And while some hail this loss as a step forward toward the hope of new evangelical vitality, it is in fact a sign of creeping death. The emptiness of evangelical faith without theology echoes the emptiness of modern life. Both have elected to cross over into a world in which God has no place, in which reality has been rewritten, in which Christ has become redundant, his Word irrelevant, and the Church must now find new reasons for its existence” (No Place for Truth, 301)

Judgment. Destruction. Resurrection. I wonder if it would take this much for the church to realize afresh that we are slowly killing ourselves by removing God from the Center? What will it take for Jesus to entrust himself to us? Woe is us if we try to turn the True Temple into something we can manage, manipulate, and master. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And judgment begins with the house of God.

There are some churches  in the world that argue about whether or not a musical instrument should be played in the worship of God on Sunday mornings–or whenever worship of God is conducted. I’ve been reading some of those arguments. I dislike them all for the same reasons. These are some thoughts I wrote concerning some of the arguments posted.

You know how Jesus wrote seven letters to the Churches in the Book of the Revelation? I got to thinking, what sort of letter would Jesus send to the church in the United States. I wonder what He would say is commendable about us and what is an abomination. I wonder what Jesus thinks of the ‘problems’ we have. I wonder why the church in the US has not been ‘counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name.’ Right now, 11:40 PM, I’m rather sad. I went to the NACC last year and I honestly thought that progress was being made on this issue of instruments and not-instruments. I thought people concluded it didn’t matter because both ‘sides’ could be used for His glory alone. I mean, does anyone realize that we have the greatest message in the universe to share with people and we are still arguing about instruments? It is mind-boggling, staggering, beyond comprehension that this is what we have made a test of fellowship. Sometimes I wish I had never gone to a Christian college–after all, it was there I had to take Restoration History and learn that this ‘discussion’ was even taking place. I often wish I was still in the bliss of ignorance because I, for one, am filled to the brim with grief that such a thing, such an argument, such a division, exists in the Body that Christ Jesus died for. I don’t think I even have words to describe how sad I am over this. And do I feel helpless? It’s almost like none of us have any idea at all what grace is all about or what it means or how it comes to us. Shame on us! Shame on us! I resolved to know nothing…except Christ Jesus and Him Crucified. Meanwhile, the thorns are pushed deeper, the nails cling tighter, and the spear is thrust harder–and satan laughs and laughs and laughs.

I think we need to get out of the way and let the Spirit of God conduct His business. I think God can and does use all worship for His own glory. I think it is time for us to get out of the ‘in opinions liberty’ business and back into the ‘in all things love’ business.