Don’t Settle for the Substitute

We have discussed the question, “What is Worship?” numerous times before here on the blog. To be honest we could attack that question from a different angle every week and end up barely scratching the surface of all that encompasses worship.

So today I want to discuss what it means to worship? Or more specifically, is there a right way or a wrong way to do it?

Is it singing, clapping and/or raising your hands at your local church on Sunday… or is there something more to it than that?

The question of “what does worship look like” is extremely important. Far too many arguments have been had over what is and is not a legitimate form of worship. Whole denominations have formed and churches have split over the nuances of this question! Preferences can too easily become elevated to precepts if we’re not carefully grounding our understanding of worship in what we see in the Bible.

Worship is singing… but not only singing.

Many Christians today understand worship as singing. When we talk about Sunday morning, we refer to congregational singing as “worship.” When we say, “I really enjoyed the worship,” we almost always mean “I really enjoyed the music.”

This isn’t entirely wrong… it’s just incomplete. There are clear examples of singing as worship found in Scripture. Exodus 15:1-2 says,

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Judges 5:3 says,

Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

2 Samuel 22:50 says,

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.

Psalm 5:11 says,

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 7:17 says,

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

These are just a select few of the vast examples of singing out of worship that we can find in Scripture, and as you know I could go on and on. The point is… we’re admonished to sing to the Lord and to encourage one another with hymns and spiritual songs.

So singing, biblically, is a part of worship.

However, we must be careful not to equate worship solely with singing and music.

The word “worship” at its most basic level means to ascribe worth… or “worth-ship.” This is helpful to keep in mind, especially when you consider the words translated as “worship.” The two most commonly used words in Hebrew and Greek that we often translate as “worship” are ḥā·wā[h] and proskyneō and refer to bowing or kneeling down, both to God and to men.

They describe an act of reverential deference.

This is the important thing to understand, then, about worship. It’s not merely about singing, but it’s about reverence. It’s about having a biblical fear of the Lord. At its most basic level, then, you could define worship as the humbling of yourself before the One who is your better. This, naturally, has serious implications.

Worship is not primarily about how you feel.

First, if worship is about humbling yourself before God, we have to consider the place of our feelings. Many today seem to equate fired up feelings with genuine affection for the Lord. The louder the music, the higher the hands are raised, the more our hearts must be inclined toward God… right? We all do it! We leave an energetic worship service where the atmosphere and mood was just right, the music struck a chord deep within us, and we feel as if we have “taken” something away and out of worship with us.

But this understanding places too much emphasis on feelings. We must always remember that while emotional expressiveness can be a sign of genuine affection, It’s what is in the heart that really counts and those things aren’t always demonstrated fully in a 25 minute worship set on Sunday.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way,

Nothing can be certainly known of the nature of religious affections by this, that they much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God.

His point is simple: people can fervently praise God with their mouths and still be far off from Him. This is much the same warning Paul gives when he tells the Corinthians that you can have a great outward show, but without love, it’s worthless. You can see that in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Is it any wonder that Jeremiah reminds us not to put too much stock in our feelings in Jeremiah 17:9?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Worship is what you do every moment of every day.

Second, in the Old Testament, particularly once the nation of Israel is established, there’s a definite connection between place and worship. God’s people were to worship in a specific place (first the Tabernacle, then the Temple). This was the meeting place between God and His people. At the Temple, God’s people would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, peace offerings to God, and numerous other offerings and acts of service.

It can be tempting to take the imagery of the Temple worship and place it upon the local church. However, the New Testament doesn’t allow for this. Instead, starting with Jesus, the New Testament presents a definite shift away from “place and time” worship to “every moment, everywhere” worship.

In his discussion with the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 Jesus tells the woman,

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Hebrews 13:15-16 says,

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

While I’ve only included a few brief examples, the general thrust of the New Testament, while never neglecting the importance of believers gathering together in corporate worship, drastically broadens our understanding of what worshipping God truly is. It’s not a matter of getting together on Sunday, singing songs, giving money, listening to a sermon and heading home for the rest of the week to do whatever we want.

Every moment of every day is to be an act of worship to God.

This brings us to the most serious implication of the New Testament understanding of worship: our need for the Gospel.

The reality is: the Gospel perfects our worship.

On our best days, our efforts are half-hearted, our motives conflicted. The flesh is constantly at war with the spirit. If our worship were up to us alone, we’d be utterly lost. None of it would be pleasing and acceptable to God. But this is where the good news of the Gospel aids us in our worship… Jesus is the perfect worshipper. In His incarnation, He obeyed every command of God without flaw or failure. His devotion is unwavering.

He gives us His perfect worship to cover our imperfect offerings of songs, service and sacrifice.

The Gospel gives us reason to stand before the throne of grace, imperfect as we are, because we have an Advocate there who has completed the work for us, one who appeals to us to rely on Him increasingly to purify our motives, and perfect our worship. Hebrews 4:16 says,

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

That’s what biblical worship looks like. Don’t settle for a substitute.

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Fight or Flight – The Story of Your Life

Psalm 45:1 says,

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

What would you like the story of your life to look like? What is the theme of your heart and the story of your tongue?

I watched a man chiseling on a rock once while I was in college. After a bit he turned and I asked him what he was making. He replied, “The state of Kentucky!” The rock looked nothing like the state of Kentucky… in fact it looked more like a log. He then said something that I have remembered and thought about since. He said, “It may not look like it now, but the state of Kentucky is in there… I just have to get it out!”

What an idea! The artist knew that what he wanted was attainable, but it just was going to take some effort to get it exposed.

I am a perfectionist, which often restricts me as an artist. I get frustrated when what I have on canvas or paper doesn’t match what I had in mind in my head. That frustration restricts my ability to be artistic, whereas I watch my wife work, whether it is drawing or painting, she allows the work to transform throughout the process. Like a sculptor allowing the piece to take form with every hit from the chisel bit. She has a way of allowing a piece to take shape itself, and you are able to watch it take shape and detail as it transforms and evolves throughout the process of her work.

The Psalmist gives a valuable reminder that everyone has a “canvas” on which to “paint” the story of his or her life. If you were to paint yours, what would picture you create? The story of your life is determined by the overflow of your heart. Are you like me as an artist? Do you get frustrated and want to throw in the towel when the story you had in mind from the start isn’t taking shape just right? Or are you like my wife or the sculptor I mentioned above? Do you allow the story and art to unfold and transform as you pour yourself into it and work?

We must remember, transformation is always progressive, always changing and moving forward.

The Apostle Paul knew all about transformation first-hand. From murderer of Christians to Apostle of the Church, the canvas of his life underwent radical change. In Philippians 3:12-14 he admitted,

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul was well aware that he had some changing still to do but he understood that it wasn’t about perfection, qualifications or credentials; it was about Christ’s righteousness. He was committed to pressing toward the goal of transformation into Christ’s image.

Paul didn’t allow the first chapters of the story to determine the ending.

Paul refused to flee from the struggle and suffering involved with change. He was passionate for the Cause of Christ and his passion oftentimes involved pain… sometimes the change doesn’t come naturally but instead it takes work! In fact, the Latin word for passion means pain.

1 Timothy 6:12 says,

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In our fight for change, we must realize that a certain degree of pain and work is involved. Putting to death the old ways of thinking, feeling and behaving is uncomfortable at best, and often painful! Don’t be passive, but instead be committed to pressing on.

Life is filled with situations where we are faced with a “fight or flight” decision. If you run, you’ll have to face the same fight again. You want to change your life? You have to fight for it. But take heart – you are in good company!

Be like Paul. Be like the sculptor we discussed above. Live righteously and know that what God wants for you is attainable, but it just might take some effort to get it exposed!

A Wealth of Resources

What is your dream team? For a basketball coach it might be a star guard who is good at feeding a wide-bodied seven footer. Maybe like Kobe and Shaq? For a bank robber it might be made up of someone who is the brains, someone who is the brawn, and a wheelman? For a Navy Seal unit it might contain a comms guy, a sniper, an ordinance expert, and a squad leader? What makes all of the team makeups similar?

A good team draws from a wealth of resources from people with different gifts and specialties.

Are any of these specialties, gifts, or resources more important than the other? Well no… they work in tandem to accomplish a goal. Community allows us to put together our team and function towards a goal together. It widens our abilities and opens us up to new resources.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 says,

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

We have been talking for the past several weeks about the importance of having a faith community. We have determined that a Spiritual community is key for us to grow and persevere in the Christian faith, and we have also established that we are safer when we are operating together… meaning that we have the confidence and support to defeat sin and live a God-honoring life. This week we are going to talk about the wealth of resources available to us when we choose to life in Christian community.


Gifts

I like tools. For some reason there is nothing more satisfying than having the right tool for the job and being able to solve a problem yourself. When I first moved out on my own I started to put together a tool box. I’ve got a hammer, a variety of screw-drivers, assorted wrenches, needle-nose pliers, channel-locks, socket sets, files and rasps, wire strippers, a drill, nails, screws, etc…

Most of these tools came from necessary purchases. What I mean is there came a point in a task where I realized I was not equipped for the job. I had to go get the right equipment. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are God’s tool kit. To keep us spiritually healthy, God gives various members of the body specific tools, specific gifts. There are times we just can’t fix ourselves. We need someone whom God has specially equipped.

When we’ve hit bottom, we need a listening ear, a word of loving counsel, a friend who will affirm God’s forgiveness. These are the spiritual gifts of mercy, exhortation, a word of wisdom. When our faith is ebbing, we need someone who possesses a gift of faith to pray for us. When we are confused, we need the gifts of a teacher or a Pastor.

These gifts seldom operate in isolation. The fellowship of believers is the context where the gifts flourish. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

In a Christian fellowship we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to build our Christian lives.


Role Models

Who has impacted your life the most? Your parent(s), a friend, a mentor? How did they do it? When thinking about these questions we will most likely all have something in common… the people who have and are impacting our lives the most do so on a personal level. We all have celebrity role models, whether they are movie stars, rock stars, or celebrity pastors/ authors is irrelevant, because these people can only do so much… they can instruct from a distance on an impersonal level but that is their limitation. What about the average blue collar guy who lives life beside us and speaks wisdom into our heads and hearts everyday.

What makes him special?

The thing that sets the important people around us apart from others is the personal interactions we share with them. They live life beside us… they are in the trenches beside us everyday. We know that when the going gets tough that they are the ones who will stand strong beside us through it all. They truly care.

I remember the first time I met my friend Zach. His big smile, loud laugh, and the way he bounces around and lights up a room can’t be missed. His genuine interest and care for people is apparent and I have seen him go way out of his way to help myself and others out. Ever since, I’ve wanted to care and serve others like he does.

When we’re around people who clearly portray Christ’s character we are stimulated to grow. When we see the fruit of the Spirit fleshed out before us we are eager to try it out ourselves. Hebrews 13:7 urges us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Being around Zach inspires me to emulate his strengths. Being part of a whole body of Believers keeps me balanced. In a Christian community you will discover a well-balanced menu of role models who will protect you from developing flat spots in your character.

Emulation changes lives and congregations. Look at the chain reaction at Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 says,

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Fellowship gives us exemplars in the faith to spur us to growth.


Sidekicks

Did any of you ever grow up watching wrestling? I always liked the tag team matches. It’s where a 2-man team squares off with another 2-man team… but only one person can be in the ring from each team at a time. In order to get your break… your backup… you had to slap your partner’s hand and “tag” them into the ring. So as the match went on inevitably one partner would get his tail whipped. He would start to crawl towards the ropes and his partner’s outstretched hand, and the other fighter would do everything in his power to drag him as far away from his teammate as possible. You see… his help was dangerous and just needed a simple slap of the hand to turn loose!

There are plenty of famous 2 man teams that we can all think about. Batman and Robin. Abbott and Costello. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. A good team has to include more than one person! Who is walking beside you? Who is gonna reach out and allow you to tag them in when you’ve just about had enough.

It’s easier to face down your problems when you know you have an army behind you. The fellowship of a church at its best is people watching out for people, not in criticism but with love. We help one another through the unpredictable turns of life. When we are down and out and getting our tail whipped we all need a community of partners reaching out their hands waiting to be “tagged” in.

In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes,

Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

When you get sick, your community rallies behind you. When you fall into depression, your brothers don’t let you lose touch. We are all needy at times. You’ve been lonely, discouraged, or depressed. There are times you’ve longed for somebody to show he or she cared. In Luke 6:31 Jesus said,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The help we give to members of His body is, after all, given to Jesus Himself.

Matthew 25:40 says,

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

In the fellowship of Christians we work out Jesus’ command to love one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The Christian fellowship is a mutual aid society of believers pledged to build each other up, to watch out for each other’s good. The fellowship is even designed to help the hapless and the careless.

Paul urges in Romans 15:1,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.


Yes, Christian fellowship is indispensable. The community reinforces our faith. Its spiritual gifts heal and build us. The body’s godly members serve as role models. And our Christian family supports us in time of need.

Believers can curl up and die without fellowship. At best they become stunted, never growing to full, healthy adulthood. But it’s amazing what can happen when we reach out and touch someone.

Get in fellowship. Join a community. One cannot stand alone.