Posts Tagged ‘worship’

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.

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We had every intention of attending worship this morning. It's  all a part of this thing we are trying, a thing we like to call 'getting unstuck from stupid.'

I had arranged earlier in the week to drive to our home church which is located about hour and a half from where we currently live. My parents and my bother (and his family) all worship there and so it is always great to be with them on a Sunday. Alas, we woke up late. For some reason my wife forgot to do something to the alarm clock and we woke 45 minutes late with not nearly enough time to get cleaned up, dressed, and in the car to make it on time to the 10:30 service. It had also snowed last night which made the roads between here and there a bit sketchy. Strike one.

Resigned to a day of slumber, I went into the bath and began to shave my head. Little did I know that Renee was downstairs on her laptop searching for a church nearby. We have been searching for a local church for over a year now, but we wanted something within our tradition and have been unable to find something that had all we were looking for–weekly communion, contemporary worship, solid, biblical preaching, and a membership more suited to our age. We're not picky. Renee found two.

She called the first church and found it was what we were looking for. It was relatively close. The problem was this: they were closed today because their preacher was sick. Strike two.

We were nearly giving up when she decided to go ahead and call the second church which was about the same distance away as the first but in the opposition direction. They had all we were looking for. They were open. And we had plenty of time to arrive for their second service.

When we arrived we were greeted by a large gathering…some folks were arriving for second service, some were leaving from first service. Turns out, their preacher was stuck out of state due to the weather so the youth minister would be preaching today. There was also a large contingent from another church worshiping with them as well: a large group of christian motorcycle enthusiasts, a couple of which had actually ridden their bikes to church.

We picked what we thought would be a 'safe' spot in which to sit–off to the left side of the auditorium, near the middle, close to the window aisle. Within minutes we were disabused of the notion we had chosen a safe spot as between 50-60 bikers, clad in leather and chaps, began taking up the chairs around us. Then, shock of all shocks, they began making small talk with us. Then, one of them touched my bald head with his hand and said that I 'fit right in' with their group. Then they invited us to their worship services.

I believe we got a hit. And that's enough. 

DownloadTitle: The Case for the Psalms

Author: N. T. Wright (Unofficial)

NT Wright: Amazon Page

Publisher: Harper Collins; HarperOne

Page Count: 200

Date: 2013

There are many preachers and theologians I admire to the point of buying anything they write and listening to anything they preach. Among them are Eugene Peterson, D.A. Carson, Frederick Buechner, David Wells, Tim Keller, and Eddie Vedder. I am, however, especially fond of N.T. Wright.

When I was in Bible college and especially after I started preaching in the church, there were always aspects of the Bible that bothered me: things didn't make chronological sense, this verse seemed to contradict that verse, and so on. Then one day I finally figured out that N.T. Wright was not the same person as H.N. Wright and I started reading. And I haven't stopped. His theology simply makes sense to me of all those verses I couldn't reconcile with one another and all those contradictory things are no longer contradictory. And while I still have several volumes I need to read, I have read a great deal of Wright's work and listened to countles lectures/sermons he has preached.

When I was given an amazon.com gift card for a Christmas gift, I knew some new N.T. Wright would soon be in my hands. The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential was the first volume I read (currently I'm reading How God Became King and after that will be Scripture and the Authority of God.) 

The Case for the Psalms is a small volume–an aspect that sort of bothered me–but it is a Wright's call for the church to return to the Hebrews Psalter. I agree. I think there is not enough use of the Psalms in the worship (except for a rather shallow use) or in the church in general. Jesus taught us the value–a terrible word–of the Psalms when he uttered in prayer Psalm 22 while was being crucified. Why don't we pray the Psalms in the church? Maybe we are afraid of the language of the psalmists who pray prayers about God destroying enemies and bashing the heads of babies against rocks. Maybe the Psalms are too personal for us in the West.

How does a Christian, not least a modern Christian who values our developed Western democracy, pray these lines? (44)

There is a reason the Psalms use this language–and worse–in prayer to God. It validates our experience, it confirms our pathos, and justifies our wailing, gut-wrenching pleas to God: is there anything we can say to God that is offensive when offered in the context of prayer?

That is why this book is not so much an invitation to study the Psalms–though that, too, is an immensely worthwhile exercise–but to pray and live the Psalms. (22)

The Psalms seem to think not, and if we do not have words of our own to express our deepest anger, grief, pain, or joy we have the Psalms. What better place can we go to find words to offer back to God?

Another important aspect of Wright's thoughts is that the Psalms are more than mere words on paper. The Psalms are transformative–when practiced continuously, carefully, and predictably, the Psalms change us:

And the Psalms are there to enable people not only to become aware of this possible change but actually to help bring it about. (158)

It is a matter for all of us to take seriously. I have begun this very thing: reading 5 Psalms per day, in order, throughout the day instead of all at one sitting.

Finally, as with everything Wright puts on paper or into the air, the Psalms are about showing us Jesus:

Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: trying singing those Psalms christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, hwere they take you. (110)

The book fits nicely with Wright's theology of God becoming king. In fact, it is an invitation for the reader of the Psalms, the pray-er of the Psalms, the singer of the Psalms to get in sync with God in space, time, and matter. The Psalms teach us how to 'offer ourselves as living sacrifices' (Romans 12). The Psalms teach us to number our days.

The aspect of this book that I enjoyed the most was the last chapter where Wright makes a connection between the Psalms and his life. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his life and the things that have shaped him. Yet what I found is that he always tied his life to Scripture. Wright lets down the curtain for a minute or two and allows us to see his humanity–that side of him that has been shaped by Scripture, not just the side of him who has made understanding Scripture his life.

I actualy found myself doing this just yesterday when we found ourselves 'trapped' in the house due to frighteningly cold temperatures and a power outage. I had been reading through Psalms 8 through 12 during the day and shortly after the power went out, I found myself reading Psalm 11: "In the Lord I can take refuge" (v 1). It was cold. It was getting colder. The house was empty because my wife and sons had gone to warm houses. It was dark. Yet 'in the Lord I could take refuge.' It was a lot of comfort during a short period of physical discomfort ot hear those words at just the right time.

It made me wonder how many times I had missed hearing God's voice in other difficult, disastrous, or discomfitting times.

Only a couple of things bothered me about the book itself. One, I wish the book had been larger and longer. I read it in a day and wish it had taken me two. It felt rushed. Two, I wish the section dividers had been more than a mere double-space. Some headings would have made the text flow and connect better.

I rate this book 5/5 stars simply because if it did nothing else, it gave me the courage to start reading the Psalms all over again. And to pray them too. Which means I have started learning how to talk to the Father again.

 

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Friends,

Here’s an update on my Psalm 98 notes posted last night. These are more along the lines of prayer thoughts and gave way to my prayer time this morning–a sort of thinking out loud about the Psalm (and will make much better sense if the lectionary notes are read).

Past, present, future–there is never a time when we shouldn’t worship. There is never a generation who should declare his praise. There is always a reason to worship: His salvation has been made known, visible.

Never shall a day pass when God’s name shall not be declared. Worship is the effluence of the Spirit bursting us at the seams, rattling us to the bone, shaking us to the core. Worship turns us inside out. That is, everything inside of us comes pouring out of us uncontrollably. His Spirit within–stirring us, shaking us, rattling us.

Rivers never stop clapping. Seas never stop resounding. Mountains never stop rejoicing. We do, though. How can we keep from singing? How can our praise abate? This is why the apostle says that our daily act is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices–our spiritual act of worship.

Maybe we should always carry around our guitars and make noise in the park? Maybe our harmonicas should always be in our back pockets or on our lips. Maybe we should hoist pianos on our backs and carry them about with us? Maybe we hold back the the shout out of fear or worse, complancency. Maybe our hands ought to be cymbals and our mouths trumpets. We breathe in air and turn out worship and praise. Even air is transformed in the lungs of God’s children. What sort of factory is in us? What are our lungs producing? Is it worship?

Is it praise?

Our feet ought to be drums and our tongues ought to be flutes. Our teeth ought to be tamborines and the growls in our stomachs the low bass of the tuba or the slobbery sound of the trombone. Our bodies instruments of worship and organs of praise.

And we join in with the sounds and noise around us–the everydayness of today; the present. Rivers and mountains are not afraid to be what they are: noisy, boistrous, loud, constant. Why are we? Rivers let rip; why don’t we?

Thanks for stopping by.

I’m getting a head start this week on my notes for the Lectionary readings. Today I spent with Psalm 98. You can download the notes from my box.net account. Here’s an excerpt:

This is David dancing before the ark like a mad-man. Do the expressions of praise ever end? Do the varieties of worship ever find conclusion? Is there any way in which we should not praise and worship? If God indeed invites rivers, mountains, and seas and rocks to join in the praise—where then should our worship stop?

This is the final act of unity for all of creation: Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Is this anything less than what God demands?

Our worship is too sedentary. Our worship is far too complacent. Our worship is far too mundane, controlled, and earth bound. We don’t really sing to the Redeemer, King and Judge; the one who Was, and Is, and Is to Come; the One who is the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever. Our worship is far too centered here on earth instead of on the great spiritual realities, that God has revealed in his Victories and Salvation. Have we really come into the presence of the King?

Do we know what the Lord ‘has made known’? Oh, I think not. If we really knew what the Lord made known we wouldn’t be feeling so safe in worship. We wouldn’t feel so secure when we enter into his presence. Oh, we should be writing new songs all the time. The songs should be flowing out of us like rivers and streams as the Spirit who wells up within us does (John 4). Let rip.

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

May 17, 2009, Psalm 98, Our Sedentary Worship

(I may add to these as things come up in other reading this week. Be blessed.)


Friends,

This is a podcast of the sermon I preached this past Sunday evening from Hebrews 10:19-25. It is the fourth part of a series I am preaching through Hebrews. I have been posting the manuscript links here and I will publish this manuscript too and also upload it to my box.net. Here are the links to the first three sermons:

Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus

Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith

Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work

Sermon four is: Drawing, Holding, Considering Because of Jesus

_______________________

Download Podcast here: Hebrews 10:19-25

Or us the inline player below:

Sunday, March 22, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 4
The Book of Hebrews

I suggested to you last week that chapter 5:11 through chapter 6:12 was a parenthesis. That is, the author interrupted his argument about the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood which began in chapter 4:14 (which actually began in 2:17 & 3:1) and reminded us yet again about the need to persevere in the faith.

In last week’s imperative, he said that we need to grow up in the faith-we need to grow up in the Word of God. Paul said similar things to the Church in Corinth; things we looked at this morning. A little maturity will go a long way towards Christian unity. This was the interruption in the book of Hebrews 5:11ff. Grow up!

Now he brings it back around to his earlier discussion on the High Priesthood of Jesus. And this discussion is not a short discussion. And the author is not willing to spare a single detail of this conversation-however hard or complicated it might be for the babes on milk to understand. Thus there is a lull, so to speak, in his imperatives from 6:13-10:18. When the author is all done, we sense a deep breath before he finally utters, “Therefore…”

This high priesthood of Jesus carries with it powerful consequences to all who know of it and are blessed enough to participate in it. When we begin engaging in the 90 Days with Jesus in May, we will explore deeply this priesthood because I think it is probably one of the more unexplored aspects of the Christian faith. Still, we can say this much: Everything said in Hebrews 10:19-25 is predicated on the substantial idea of Jesus’ high priesthood being sufficient, and, what’s more, on the idea that he is not only He the High Priest over the House, but He is also the sacrifice that was offered. Both aspects are important when considering what he says in this sixth ‘therefore.’

As one commentator notes:

As Paul often does, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers on the basis of the doctrine he has made so clear. Because the great teachings he has set forth are true, it follows that those who profess them should live in a manner befitting them. There are resemblances between the exhortation in this paragraph and that in 4:14-16. But we must not forget that the intervening discussion has made clear what Christ’s high priestly work has done for his people. On the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, the writer exhorts his readers to make the utmost use of the blessing that has been won for them.

So, again, the great teaching he has made clear is the High Priestly work of Christ and the perfection of the sacrifice He offered. So, imperative section number 6:

6. The sixth marker is found in Hebrews 10:19-25: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Now, as you heard, and as you can see, he actually includes within this ‘therefore’ three distinct imperatives that we should be concerned about because Christ has opened up a ‘new and living way for us’. I don’t think it would be unhelpful at this point to visit the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and see exactly what all this entails-this ‘entrance’:

1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats-one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you- 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.

So you can see what a terribly complicated situation this was. Jesus not only simplified this matter of entering in, but he also opened it up for people outside the priestly caste and people outside the Jewish population.

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

This is what he is talking about: Jesus, at his death, opened things up for people. Those who enter the temple, the part opened up for us, enter in as priests (‘let us hold unswervingly to what we profess’), as companions (‘let us consider how’), and as people who have the right and authority to commune with the living God, that is, worshipers (‘let us draw near’). It is in this context then that the author of Hebrews offers up his imperatives in verses 19-25. Let’s look at each one briefly.

First, he says, “Therefore…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is the authority to commune with the living God. Jesus has opened up the way, and he has clothed us with the proper wedding clothes. I happen to think here he is talking about baptism in some way. We might debate over the issue of baptism a great deal, but the Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the important things that happen at baptism.
So we can draw near to God.  The work of Jesus at the cross makes worshiping such a God even possible. There is a cost. Jesus paid it. So we should draw near. Get close. Get to know. Worship. Offer ourselves up to him. He is not for us to fear in the sense that we stay away. We come before him in sincerity because he knows we don’t have to fake it. We come before him with assurance. What I wonder, for those who have not experienced the outward sign of baptism is: Can they have the full assurance? If it is merely an outward symbol of an inward work, can we be certain of the inward work if we have not experienced the outward symbol?

Second, he says, “Therefore…let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised us is faithful.” We have hope. We have hope precisely because hope does not depend on us. Somewhere in all the mix is a mustard seed of faith that the story we have believed and the Messiah we have followed is true. Frankly, sometimes that’s all we have; sometimes less. But there it is: hope does not lie within us. If it did, it would be destroyed in a minute. Our hope, Peter says, is stored up for us in heaven; it is precious; it is resurrection hope in Christ; it can never perish, spoil, or fade; it is protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Praise God.

Our hope depends upon the one who is faithful and therein is our hope. Again, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a dream, or an idea, or a concept, or a religion or anything of the sort. The author of Hebrews says that we have hope because he who promised it is faithful. He is faithful. We hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. This is the same thing he said back in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Profess is also confess or announce to declare. As priests, we have a confession to make; we announce to others this hope. We must hold unswervingly to this hope.

Third, he says, “Therefore…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching.” The danger, of course, is in trying to hold on to this course alone. As I have been emphasizing in our Sunday morning messages from Corinthians, we are best served and best when we are together. So we must encourage one another which means that this is a responsibility for everyone in the body towards everyone in the body. These are words we ought to be sharing with one another constantly. But I think it is critically important that these words rest not on a single person, but that the responsibility falls to all of us.

If this is but the responsibility of one person the words can grow weak, the person can grow weary, the warning can be wasted. I think if I am reading this correctly and all of us have been invited into the priestly class, then all of us have a confession to make, a worship to offer, and encouragement to give. How can we do this? Well, it means we have to talk to one another, share with one another, be involved in one another’s lives. We have to love one another enough to care about them. We have to know enough about one another to do the spurring. Frankly, as I have said elsewhere, some people have more access to others than some others do. We all must share in this responsibility so that people know they are loved and cared about and that people are concerned for them. We are companions on this journey. We move at the rate of everyone, neither speeding ahead nor lagging behind. We journey together.

Let us draw near is an exhortation to worship, fellowship, communion, confidence, faith, and trust. We enter as worshipers.

Let us hold fast is an exhortation to our priestly responsibilities inside our confession. Our confession is not something we keep secret. We enter as priests.

Let us encourage one another is an exhortation to fellowship, communion, companionship, and love. We enter as companions.

Let us.

The profoundest part of these verses is that they are even possible. But Jesus had made it so. We no longer exist in solitude, we no longer live in isolation, we no longer walk alone.

Let us.

The profoundest part of these verses is surely that Jesus’ work does not compel us laziness and complacency, but rather to work and energy and fellowship. We are together.

Let us.

We are called together in a fellowship in God’s presence. He has opened the way for us not to enter singly, on our own, but together; as one. We come before him together. We draw near together. We hold fast together. We encourage one another together. We. Together.

Let us.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

The latest issue of Touchstone is now available and as I was reading through it today I cam across a short essay by Christopher Jackson titled Minor Keys to the Kingdom. I wish there was an online link available, but the best I can do is refer you to the September 2008 issue and provide you this link to the table of contents for the issue.

I really appreciated the essay because it he cut to the chase when it comes to our gatherings as Christians and the fake smiles we sometimes wear. I feel this acutely at times as the preacher because on Sunday’s I am required, as a stipulation in my ‘contract’ or something, to wear a smile as well as a suit when I go to worship on Sundays. There is an unwritten rule that I did not learn about in Introduction to Ministries that states: The preacher is not allowed to have a bad day on Sunday morning. Jackson writes:

Sadly, many American churches unwittingly encourage their members to pretend to have it all together and be perfectly content. Even churches that vocally reject the prosperity gospel implicitly confirm that heresy. A kind of health-and-wealth theology has infected many churches, promulgated not so much by preaching or catechism as by the manipulative ‘How-are-you’s,’ backslapping, and vigorous handshaking before and after services. (12)

Perhaps this is a not so much a real problem as it is a serious problem in the church. If we Christians cannot be authentic and honest with one another, how on earth can we possibly be honest and authentic with those who in no way share our faith? I think that people are smart enough to know when we are faking it. Even Christians know when other Christians are faking it. Problem is that we Christians choose to ignore it and play along with the fakery likely so that we don’t have to actually engage people’s real hurt.

Jackson goes on:

Yet we often expect the fullness of joy and the absence of sin in our fellow Christians now. Therefore, we not only undervalue suffering, but we also lose the great hope of life of the world to come. We have forgotten that tears are the seed of joy (Psalm 125:5-6). We have exchanged hope for lies, making liars out of those who are world weary and depriving them of hope. (13)

And he concludes:

Will we ever stop the manipulative looks and questions Christians offer each other before and after the worship. I am not sure. (13)

I guess I just don’t understand why people can’t be honest with one another. Why can’t we share our hurts, our fears, our anxieties? Why are we so afraid that any doubt creep in among us? These are some of the questions that crept into my mind as I read Jackson’s essay. When will we, Christians, learn to speak the truth to one another in love? (Ephesians 4:15) If we cannot, and are not, honest with one another who we see, how can we, and why should we, by honest with God whom we cannot see?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends, here is part three of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. In this sermon I discuss the inevitability of people being drawn up the moutain of God. What I noticed, and what is ironic, is that the ‘people’ of the nations say, ‘Let us go to the house of the God of Jacob…’ but the ‘house of Jacob’ has to be implored by the prophet (in verse 5) to even walk in His light. This is extreme irony. Why do the people of God seem to miss so abundantly what the ‘peoples’ do not? I will post the audio later in a Skycast. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

 2 In the last days
       the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
       as chief among the mountains;
       it will be raised above the hills,
       and all nations will stream to it.

 3 Many peoples will come and say,
       “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
       to the house of the God of Jacob.
       He will teach us his ways,
       so that we may walk in his paths.”
       The law will go out from Zion,
       the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

 4 He will judge between the nations
       and will settle disputes for many peoples.
       They will beat their swords into plowshares
       and their spears into pruning hooks.
       Nation will not take up sword against nation,
       nor will they train for war anymore.

 5 Come, O house of Jacob,
       let us walk in the light of the LORD.

I think the problem here is that people simply did not believe the prophet. I think the problem we have in our day is that people still do not believe the prophet. He begins chapter 2 the same way he began chapter 1 which leads me to believe that chapters 1 & 2 are somehow intimately linked together. Chapter 1 told us about all the syncretism and idolatry and wasted worship of the people of Israel-the children God had reared, tells us of their soon destruction and rebuke at the hand of God. Hear the Word. Hear the Word. Listen to God. But no. Chapter 2 tells us of the same people, the same prophet, the same God but it doesn’t tell us of the people’s victory, or their redemption, or their restoration. It tells us instead of God’s victory and the establishment of God over and above all idols, gods, and rulers. God will destroy all those hindrances and establish Himself as the only rightful Person to be worshipped. Isaiah 1 tells us of the wayward Israel; Isaiah 2 tells us of the Victorious God. Isaiah 1 tells us of the way things are; Isaiah 2 tells us of the way things will be. The question is, when is the ‘will be’?

In his book Above All Earthly Pow’rs David Wells writes, “The conquest of sin, death, and the devil and the establishment of the Rule of God do not await some future, cataclysmic realization. It has, in fact, already been inaugurated although its presence is quite unobtrusive…Thus it is that, in the period between Christ’s two comings, ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ coexist. As a result, eschatology, or the penetration of God’s future into the current time of sin and death, is light that floods across a number of New Testament doctrines. Certainly in [doctrines of salvation], everywhere there is the ‘already/not yet’ tension that the present of eternity in time creates-or, more accurately, that the presence of Christ’s victory that is already present amidst fallen human life creates.” (208)

Isaiah said, “In the last days…” By this I am fairly certain he is saying that the establishment of the Lord’s Mountain will not conclude the last days, it will not be the dénouement of the last days, but it will happen in the midst of the last days. Could be that a large part of our problem, a significant reason why we have to be called to ‘walk in the light of the Lord,’ is because we are looking to far away, not close enough, for God’s established mountain. Perhaps when we least expected it the Kingdom came upon us. Isaiah here is saying: In the last Days God will break in and establish his rule. In the last days God’s rule will take effect. In the last days-and there will be many or few days after the establishment-in the last days God will make himself fully known when His mountain is raised above all other mountains and thus renders them insignificant.

I think that time is now. I think that we are living in the last days. I think that the Mountain of God has already been raised up. I think all nations are already streaming to that mountain. It may not seem to be so, as Wells says, it may be unobtrusive. We may not see it fully or completely or realize all of its powerful effect, but it is. Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

This Mountain will be established by God. It will render all other mountains insignificant, meaningless. They will appear at once for what they already are: small and lackluster. But if God’s Mountain has been established in these last days, then why is it people don’t see it for what it is? You know what I mean? We humans are strange like that. We settle. God’s mountain is grand, massive, magnificent and we settle for hills and mounds. And why don’t God’s people acknowledge this mountain’s grandeur? Mostly it is the people of God who miss the greatness of the mountain God established.

Why aren’t people streaming to it the way the prophet says they will? I think it is because people don’t like the rather upside down nature of it. People will stream up to the mountain-well, how do we stream up? I think this is God’s way of saying that this Kingdom of heaven will mark a complete reversal of the way things are and of what people expect. People expect ease. People expect gravity and the least resistance. People expect a grand city-and what do they get instead? They get narrow paths. They get against the grain. They get not a city, but an ugly old tree covered dirt and rock mountain. This is a reversal. This is not what people expect. People expect a Kingdom with pomp and glory and sparkles. Instead we have to climb the mountain. But whether we get there or not, the temple of the Lord is there. And his mountain will be established as the only place where worship can rightfully, joyfully, and significantly take place. All other worship, worship on any of the lesser mountains is idolatry and meaningless and, I believe, justly punished.

And this will be for the people too. This is a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem but he does not stop there. He says this will be for the nations, the people of the world. In other words, worship at the mountain of God is the past, present, and future of all humanity not just of a particular nation. At his Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess. The invitation is extended to all: Come up the mountain, worship the Lord. And it is the people who will respond: Come, let us go the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.

There will be no other gods to speak of. There will be no other mountains of interest. There will be no other places to go.

But Zion, Jerusalem, will have an appeal that is not based on any national identity. The appeal of Zion will be for other reasons. People will be going up to the house of the Lord not because a particular nation has subdued and subjected all of God’s enemies or because they have been exalted by God. Look what the prophet says will be the magnet that draws people to Zion: The Mountain of the LORD, the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us. We may walk in His ways. The Word of the Lord. He will judge. He will settle disputes. He will bring peace. The attraction of Zion is not political or anything particularly appealing about a national identity.

The appeal of Zion is YHWH himself! The appeal of Jerusalem is not Jerusalem, but God! The appeal of the Mountain of the Lord is the Lord. The appeal of Law and Word is that it is God’s Law and Word. The appeal of the peace is that it is God’s peace. The appeal of the justice is that it is God’s justice. You see we are not looking forward to that day or place or that way because of anything inherently wonderful about all that goes along with it. We look forward to that day, to that place, to that mountain because we look forward to God. The people were not going up to enjoy the view, they were going up to meet God. Something tells me that would be enough.

You understand, the reward here is God. Even eternal life, whatever that means, is not so much about eternal or life. It is about God who gives eternal and life and inhabits them both. It is about God being our God and us being his people. It is about the dwelling place of God being among men. Even now, if we take the last days in the temporal sense of their meaning, even now our reward is not eternal life, or blessings now, or hope, but Christ. He is our reward because honestly, what is eternal life if there is no God? What is life now if there is no Christ? Do you understand?

I noted a couple of things here about this going up to the mountain of the Lord. The first thing I noted is that this will be a place or a time or among a people who will honor his Word. It is the Word of the Lord that will prevail in matters of justice and dispute for people. It is the word of the Lord that will govern and dictate the terms of peace we seek. It is the word of the Lord that will end all wars. I wish that we were that people now. Look again. The people who are going up the mountain are hungry for God’s Word, for God’s law, for God’s teaching, for God’s ways. These are people who are no longer content with the unfaithful words and laws of people. These are people who desire something more, something lasting, something real, something permanent. Would that we had such a hunger now.

I also noticed that Isaiah had something to say about war and peace. We live in a world that is full of war and violence. And we have people working around the clock and on every side saying, Peace, Peace. End the War. End violence. Rebuke politicians who start them and send unfortunate sons to fight them. What we don’t realize is the enmity that exists and that because of this enmity wars will be fought and continue to be fought because people are trying to forge peace upon a world that is simply incapable of having peace. Terry Briley noted, “Rather than disarmament resulting in peace, God’s peace will result in disarmament.” But you see war is simply a symptom of enmity. It reveals the real conflict going on in the world.

If the world really, really, really wanted peace, well, here’s the solution: To the Mountain of the Lord. But I think a case can be made that since the world doesn’t seek God the world probably doesn’t really want peace.

So the prophet ends on a rather strange note: Come, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Why end here? Well, I think it is because Israel wasn’t currently doing that very thing. Consider this from Deuteronomy 4:5-8:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Israel had a special obligation to lead the way. But I also sense here the prophet’s frustration with his people. Come house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. In other words, what are you waiting for? The same goes for us. What we learn in these verses is that even now the Worship of God prevails, even now the Word of God prevails, even now the rule of God prevails. So what are you waiting on? What are you waiting for? Why are we lagging behind? Why are we content to linger in the darkness? Why are we content to disregard the light of the Lord for some other false illumination?

If this is how the kingdom of God works, unobtrusively, and this is the current and the future of things-what are we waiting for? Why do we lag behind while others move on ahead of us? Come let us walk in the light of the Lord. He has already given us the light what are we waiting for? Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself….Then Jesus said, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is sermon #2 from a short four part series I did a while back. The sermon series was called ‘A Theology of the Body for the 21st Century.” I wasn’t terribly pleased with the series as a whole, but I did enjoy writing and preaching this sermon on worship. jerry

A Theology of the Body for the 21st Century

Sermon #2: In Praise of the King or

Worship Starts with Seeing God

John 4, 1 Corinthians, Revelation 4-5, Psalm 103, Isaiah 6, Exodus 15

Introduction

David was a man after God’s own heart. David was king over Israel.

David was a man who understood what worship involved.

As we read through the Psalms, the majority of which he wrote, we can sense his understanding of what it means to worship the Lord.

But it was an event that took place near the end of his life that, in my judgment, opens the eyes of all would be worshipers of the Lord.

David had sinned by taking a census of his fighting men. When David had repented he was told by a prophet what to do. From 2 Samuel 24:18-25:

On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.

Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”

“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”

Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. O king, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

David teaches us that worship involves sacrifice-that is, it must cost us something. Worship is freely offered, but it is not free.

In his beautifully written book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places Eugene Peterson says as much, “For a people like us, trained in a culture of getting things done…and taking care of ourselves, sacrifice doesn’t seem at all obvious; neither does it seem attractive.” He quotes from Annie Dillard who wrote in Holy the Firm “A life without sacrifice is an abomination.” Again Peterson writes, “There is only one Gospel way to participate in Jesus’ work-live a sacrificial life in Jesus’ name.”

_________________________________

We can sing the songs we like, have the best worship leaders the planet has to offer, have the best trained musicians or sing a cappella if we like, but these things will make little difference. Ultimately, worship is how we see God. And the way in which we see God ultimately dictates the manner in which we will come before him. David wrote, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, o God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17) “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” asked the Psalmist David again. “Who may stand in the holy place?” he asked. “He who has clean hands and a pure heart who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” (Psalm 24) This is the type of person who may worship the Lord God. What Scripture declares, explicitly and implicitly, by example and by metaphor, is that when it comes to worship the thing that matters the most is the heart of the person worship not the style of the worship being offered.

Not every style appeals to every heart. It does not have to.

_________________________________

But you see that’s not where we live. Worship is not fashionable. Says Charles Colson, “True worship…is radically countercultural, being directed not towards self but God.” That’s not where we live.

Writes Richard Neuhaus, “The celebration we call worship has less to do with the satisfaction or the pursuit of happiness than with the abandonment of the pursuit of happiness.” But that’s not where we live.

It is not such an attitude that makes up the majority of American culture today. We live in a land where hero worship is in the flavor of the day. We live in a land where we worship the self.

Quoth Jesus, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)

Many worship. John wrote in Revelation that all inhabitants of the earth will worship the Beast-all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Paul wrote that someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

From here on, I would like to share with you seven thoughts from the Scripture concerning worship. To be sure, I am leaving out a bunch of thoughts. And I don’t think these seven thoughts are in any way comprehensive. I do think they are representative of that attitude the Bible says a true worshiper of God will have.

_________________________________

First, Worship is our response to God’s salvation acts. What response should we make when we consider what God has done for us?

Israel had just been brought out of captivity. They had just been brought out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”

What was the first thing Moses did? Throw a party for himself? Throw a party for Israel? Get a plaque declaring himself a hero or starting up a charitable, tax-deductible fund in his and Aaron’s and Miriam’s names? No. The first thing Moses did, in response to God’s salvation was worship. “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord.”

Eugene Peterson writes, “What is true for Israel is true for us: a people immersed in salvation-determined history in which we maintain a believing, participating, involvement by worship the God of history.” Worship is our response. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time, his response was worship: “My Lord, and my God.”

_________________________________ Continue Reading »

Friends, This is actually the second sermon I preached in a series of four in January 2008 that dealt with worship. The other three are here:

Worship as Proclamation 1 Corinthians 10-11 (Preaching the Cross)

Worship as Possibility: Hebrews 9-10 (Facing the Cross)

Worship as Sacrifice: Romans 12:1-2 (Displaying the Cross)

As you can see, the cross is at the center of our worship in a variety of ways. I hope these sermons will be helpful to you in your worship.–jerry

January 13, 2008
Spiritual Disciplines: Worship 1.2
Revelation 4-5
Worship as Response: Remembering the Cross

Introduction

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

    “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honor and power,
   for you created all things,
      and by your will they were created
      and have their being.”

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

   “You are worthy to take the scroll
      and to open its seals,
   because you were slain,
      and with your blood you purchased men for God
      from every tribe and language and people and nation.
    You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
      and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

   “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
   to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
   and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
   “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
   be praise and honor and glory and power,
         for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

In last week’s sermon, I contended from Hebrews 9-10 that it is the cross of Christ that makes worship even a possibility. This week, I’d like to make the point that now that worship is a possibility through the cross, it is, properly speaking, also a response to the cross. That is, since we know what possibility Jesus has created for us in the cross, we ought to respond in the only way we can: Worship.

Now this doesn’t mean we worship the cross, or even the work done on the cross. We worship the One who worked the Cross, namely, Jesus Messiah. This is, I believe what the Revelation fills out for us in these two chapters. When we worship, we are remembering and re-enacting the events of the cross. When we break bread, we remember the Body and Blood of the Lamb. When we sing, we Sing of our Redeemer. When we give, we remember the One who gave. When we preach, baptize, pray, or fellowship we are in some way remembering the One who worked at

Michael Horton wrote or said:

Often our services are attempts at entertainment rather than worship. When the preaching centers on our own happiness rather than the attributes and achievements of God, we attend church to passively enjoy and receive from the professionals—the preacher, the choir, the soloist, the occasional drama troupe. But I believe this way of coming to public worship is indicative of a human-centered theological orientation. If Jesus Christ entered at the back of our church on Sunday morning, would we all clap our hands and dance and sing, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’? Would we show him our ‘God is rad, he’s my dad’ sweatshirt? Or would the room be filled with awe-stricken silence? Of course, there are different styles of worship, and I am not for one moment suggesting a style better suited to a funeral than to a worship service. Nevertheless, what we believe about God and salvation ultimately determines the object, focus, fervor, and direction of our worship. If we really rediscovered this biblical portrait of God, we would not need entertainment gimmicks; enthusiasm would not be artificially generated. And because our minds would be connected to it all, there would be a lasting impact even when we were not surrounded by choirs, musicians, and a cast of players.”-Michael Horton

Now, let’s look at the text and make two large points. One point from chapter 4 and one point from chapter 5. First, chapter 4:

Chapter 4: Worship the Creator

What draws John’s attention immediately after he has ‘entered heaven’ is found in verse 2: At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. This throne is dominant enough of a piece of furniture that it captivates John from the start. It’s all he sees initially. It’s not an empty throne: He will tell us many times that there is indeed someone sitting on the throne.

But the throne: he mentions the throne ten times in the fourth chapter, five more times in chapter 5. Everything in heaven is spoken of in relation to the throne: stuff surrounds the throne, encircles the throne, is before the throne, comes from the throne; some is sitting on the throne; another is standing on the throne. Everything is spoken of with relation to the throne. And when worship happens, whether strange creatures who repeat the same thing over and over again, or strange elders who cast their crowns down from their own thrones, all the worship is directed towards the One who Sits on the Throne.

He is worshiped because he is worthy; he is worthy because he ‘created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.’ In other words, the One on the Throne is worthy to be worshiped simply because He is. There is no explanation given. He is worthy of everyone’s worship simply by virtue of His very being, and because he has given us being. He is worthy because he is powerful, holy, mighty, and willing.

But what we never get in chapter 4 is a clear picture. Understand me. We understand first that there is ‘someone’ seated on this throne who is worthy of worship. We understand Him to be a King—but this is no mere king! We should divest ourselves of the silly idea that the term ‘king’ here is meaningful if we think in mere terms of earthly monarchs. We need a bigger vision of King if King is to be worshipped. No this King is worthy to be worshiped because he did something that no other king can do and is something that no other king is. He Created; He is Holy. So John’s senses are filled. He sees a place that is dominated by the presence of a throne with Someone sitting on it. He hears a place that is dominated the sounds of creatures constantly singing out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and who is and is to come.”

That is what John sees. That is what John hears. He gets a clear picture of what heaven is. He can learn something about what heaven looks like. But as for the One seated on the Throne. Well, John has trouble with that: The One who sat there on the throne had the appearance of Jasper and Carnelian. Huh? Everything else in this scene is clear: Crystal clear water before the throne, elders with crowns, thrones, thunder, lightning, sound, sights, voices. But all John gives us is a picture of someone sitting on the throne who is worthy, who is holy, who is God—but who looks like a couple of gemstones.

Chapter 5: Worship the Redeemer

For some strange reason, the vision that John has of heaven does not bring him any particular comfort or satisfaction. What he sees, in fact, causes him to weep and weep: “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.”

Then something changes: “Then I saw the Lamb!” In the words of Chris Tomlin: How Can I Keep From Singing! “Then I saw the Lamb!” And when John sees the Lamb—also on the throne—looking as if He had been slain—and yet quite alive—well, then a New Song Breaks out all over the Universe. No longer is this ‘just’ the One on the Throne who is worthy: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

You hear? The One on the Throne who was previously, Jasper and Carnelian, the Unnamed One on the Throne is now: The Lamb! And old Puritan said:

“The reason men worship God in a casual way is because
they do not see God in His Glory. If a man has ever had
Isaiah’s vision of the Holiness of God, he would be changed
in an instant. But until men have seen God as He truly is
they will be forever guilty of the very same
rebuke that God gave to the wicked in
Psalms 50:21 ‘You thought I was just like you’.”

–Jeremiah Burroughs

But John didn’t just hear twenty-four elders, or four living Creatures worshiping: I looked and I heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand:

o ariqmoV autwn muriadeV muriadwn kai ciliadeV ciliadwn!

 

That is a long Greek way of saying: There were so many I couldn’t begin to count them. And they were around the throne! Worship the Creator! Worship the Redeemer! Countless angelic voices gather as one to repeat the refrain: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Who can number the voices that repeat the refrain?

But John hears more: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them singing: To Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. All Creatures of our God and King lift up your voice and with us sing! All Creatures of our God and King: lift up your voice and with us sing: O Praise HIM. Hallelujah!

But the refrain is always the same, isn’t it? Look at all three repetitions of it:

You are worthy because you were Slain!

Worthy is the Lamb, who was Slain!

And to the Lamb!

The worship of the Lamb is always oriented around His sacrifice. Worship is always a response to the Lamb as the One who was slain, the offering, the Sacrifice. Before anything else in the Revelation takes place, there is a Response in heaven to the Sacrifice of the Lamb. Before anything else happens in the Revelation: There is a response of worship to the Lamb! The Lamb is already triumphant. Before plagues strike. Before Seals are opened. Before Trumpets are sounded. Before Dragons rampage. Before Anti-Christ appears. Before the bowls of wrath are poured out upon the earth.

Before any of it is written: We are transported into the throne room of heaven and we see the Lamb triumphant! And we worship!

And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death—
Even death on a cross!
Therefore God Exalted Him to the Highest Place
And gave him the Name that is above every name,
That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the Glory of the Father.

Worship once made a possibility is a properly a response to the death of Christ. It was then. It is now. It will be soon. Even those who now think they have escaped detection will not fail to worship the Son of God, the Lamb who was Slain.

Conclusion

So why do we gather? What is the objective? What is the point of making this weekly trek to a place away from our lives an homes and sometimes our family? Truth be told, we worship because that is what we are made for, but also there is a sense that we worship because we cannot help ourselves. I say this humbly, but I cannot imagine anything on the planet preventing us from worship. I cannot imagine coming face to face with the Lamb who was slain, accepting his free gift, and refusing to worship or allowing anything to stand in the way of worship.

I always go back to my friend Carolyn C. I’ll never forget Carolyn dying from cancer. Dying. Dying. Dying. I’ll never forget that mother’s day when her husband and son and a friend rolled Carolyn into the sanctuary on some sort of bed. I’ll never forget Carolyn worshiping even as she lay dying.

It’s like Jacob, when he was old, and he wanted to bless his sons before he went the way of his fathers. He was nearly dead and yet: “worshipped as he leaned on top of his staff.”

And Paul and Silas were thrown into a prison after being beaten. They had been mocked and humiliated and yet what does Scripture say: “About Midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God….”

And David said, “I will become more undignified than this.” He refused to stop worshiping.

RC Sproul wrote:

If people find worship boring and irrelevant, it can only mean they have no sense of the presence of God in it. When we study the action of worship in Scripture and the testimony of church history, we discover a variety of human responses to the sense of the presence of God. Some people tremble in terror, falling with their face to the ground; others weep in mourning; some are exuberant in joy; still others are reduced to a pensive silence. However the reactions may differ among human beings to the holiness of God, one thing I never ever find in scripture is someone who is bored in the presence of God, or someone who walks away from an encounter with the living God and says “that was irrelevant”.

There is no encounter a human being could ever have that is more relevant to daily life than meeting up with the living God. … You were not created to be bored by the glory of God, you have to be spiritually dead to be bored by the glory of God. –RC Sproul, The Holiness of God

People who have come in contact with the Lamb of God, people who know the Cross, will not be prevented from worshiping. The Lamb who was slain compels us to worship. Our worship is a Response to the Cross of Jesus Christ–Revelation 4-5 is a picture of what the church is now doing; not a futuristic glimpse of what we will do. And it can be nothing else but a response to the cross. It is not entertainment. It is not primarily evangelism. Our worship is a response: Worthy is the Lamb who was Slain! Worthy! Worthy!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I have enjoyed blogging with you this week. Reading your thoughts, sharing mine. I have enjoyed blog hopping. I hope this week I have been able to share even a piece of God’s grace with someone ‘out there.’

Grace is truly amazing. As you prepare for the Lord’s Day worship, I pray you go with God’s grace. May grace be your constant companion each step you take, each syllable you utter, every prayer your pray, every pancake you make, and in every life you come into contact with each day.

Worship well. Love the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

For quite a while now I have been reading a book by Mark Labberton called The Dangerous Act of Worship. It has been a hard read because I had a few other projects going at the same time. I am just about finished wit it now and I came across this section that I found particularly insightful.

The poverty of imagination in the body of Christ causes many to continue suffering in the world. That poverty is not just in others, but also in me.

The aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ that I struggle with most is not the generalized suffering of the innocent, as big as that issue is. Rather, for me it is this conundrum: if God is all-powerful and all-good, why are God’s people so unchanged? This issue is worthy of far longer treatment than I can give it here, but I mention it to express the seriousness and difficulty of the church being God’s agent of justice and mercy in the world when we show need of such transformation ourselves.

Perhaps that is the point. God’s work of re-creating all things, especially the church, is a necessary and difficult work. It’s beyond my imagination. Scripture tells us that God in Christ has done on the cross what is the most decisive action necessary to secure that transformation. However, it is a work that goes on in God’s people–and we see just how virulent, resistant and free we are in rejecting God’s work in our lives. If this is true among those in whom Christ dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit and who now dwell in Christ in God, then let’s abandon any naivete about what it will take to live and do the work of justice in this world.

We are not called to be idealists about the church. That’s fantasy, not sanctified imagination. That’s a false, distorted, immature imagination. Instead we are to practice hope for the church. We cannot say, ‘Look at Christ, not the church,” when Jesus says, “I want people to look at you and see me. The family of God’s people is neither a utopian society nor a negligible witness. Again, this is what makes the church a living school within the heart of God: a place to vigorously, profoundly and slowly grow into the likeness of Jesus as we seek (and don’t seek) God, as we love (and don’t love) each other, as we do (and don’t do) justice in the world. God is in the mess that is the church, and the mess that is the church is in God.” –156-157

This is probably the best four paragraphs I have read in the entire book. I think these paragraphs alone make the price of the book worthwhile. You might not agree with everything Labberton writes, but it is hard to escape the truth of what he is saying here. The church is not place of pristine fairy tales or utopian fantasy. The church is real. And loved. And it is the church that God calls to be His witness in this broken world. Within this witness is evidence of God’s grace: If God can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt church then surely he can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt world.

I appreciate these words from Labberton very much.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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[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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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