Monday, November 5, 2012

Passionate Worship

A third-grade boy had just heard the story of Abraham and his young son Isaac going to Mt. Moriah to offer sacrifice to God.  Of course the part of that  drama which would stick in the mind of a boy that age would be the fact of Isaac’s starring role – Isaac was the sacrificial lamb!   The next Saturday it was really pretty weather, so the family decided on a picnic.  They drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found a clearing to put their blanket on the ground.  Everything was going fine until the Dad said to his son, “C’mon Junior, let’s go get some firewood.”  The boy whined, “Why, Daddy, why?”

Do we know why we're here?

"Why" questions are important.  I have a friend who says that he has an alarm clock to tell him when to get up, but some days (particularly on Mondays), he needs one to tell him why! 
Why should we worship; because Daddy said so, or because Momma and Grandma always did?  Is God some self-centered infant that needs the positive strokes of all us mere mortals bowing and scraping?  Why should we worship? 
John 4 gives us the "whys" in the incident known as "The Woman At the Well".  The first 19 verses describe the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria at a well dug in ancient times by Jacob.  Jacob was even buried nearby. 
The Samaritans and Jews had a centuries-old feud that centered-around religious judgment.  Around 720 BC, Jewish Samaria had been conquered by the Assyrians.  Most of the people had been carried off in captivity.  Those who remained in the land intermarried with the foreigners who moved in.  This made the Samaritan descendants half-Jews, totally unacceptable to the "racially pure" Jews of Galilee.
When Jesus met this Samaritan woman at the well, he spoke of "living water" and the curious woman began to ask some "why" questions of her own.  The Lord then takes the opportunity to share some of the living truth with her.  In the exchange, the woman brings up the subject of worship.  Jesus gives us (at least) four reasons why we should worship...

Because Of His Sovereignty

20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  John 4:20 - 21 (NRSV)

The Sovereignty of God's Nature

Sovereignty indicates complete control.  God is sovereign, and has complete control in the entire universe.  The nature of God, therefore, is unbounded by dimensions as we experience them.  Time, space, height and depth are only meaningful to God as He chooses.  The Bible tells us that one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as but a day[1].  God transcends dimensions. 
God is worthy of worship just because He is so much higher than us.  If there had never been a cross, a tomb and an Easter resurrection, God is still worthy of worship because He is God.

The Sovereignty of God's Actions

As the creator and sustainer of all life, God is worthy of worship.  One author said, "Worship is an end in itself, and it requires no further justification than that God is God.  We do not go to church simply to receive benefits from the Lord; we also go to give him the honor due his name."[2]
A sovereign God can't be figured out, placed in a three-volume set of commentaries placed on an appropriate shelf -- God must simply be worshipped because He is sovereign.

How then shall I honor and worship a sovereign God?

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Hebrews 11:6 (NRSV)
John MacArthur said, "Worship is all that we are responding rightly to who He (God) is."[3]  The woman at the well said her ancestors worshipped at Mt. Gerizim, and the Jews held that worship should happen at Jerusalem.  Jesus countered with the right response for all of us, in that true worship recognizes the sovereignty of God, not some local address.  The act of genuine worship, ascribed to a holy, sovereign Lord, is taking the local address of our heart, and offering it to Him in faith; nothing less, nothing more.
Theologian Karl Barth described a scene during the war, in a monastery in Alsace.  The monks were chanting "The Magnificat."  ("My soul doth magnify the Lord...").   They were aligned in perfect rows, concentrating on lifting up praise to God.  A French bombshell suddenly tore through the roof and exploded in the rear of the church.  When the smoke and dust had cleared, the monks were still there, chanting the Magnificat.  God is never thrown off course by circumstances, but His heart is touched by those who bend the knee to an absolute sovereign.  We also worship...

Because of His Salvation

22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.   John 4:22 (NRSV)
This is an interesting exchange.  Jesus seems to be condescending to the woman, telling her she just doesn't know what she's doing in worship; salvation is from the Jews. 
Actually, Jesus is pointing to the shortcoming of both Samaritans and Jews.  The Samaritans limited their holy library to the first five books of our Bible, the Pentateuch, or law.  They worshipped God sincerely, with fervent hearts, but they chose to ignore parts of scripture with which they disagreed. 
On the other hand, the Jews indeed had the truth, for God had chosen to reveal Himself to the world through the nation of Israel.  They had Moses' Pentateuch, and the history of Israel and the prophets.  They had truth, but worshipped like tombs full of dead men's bones.  They were empty and blind.  When the embodiment of truth, and the full revelation of God stood before them on the very next Passover, they shouted "Crucify him!" 
It is empty to have only one part of the equation in focus.  Later Jesus would say to the woman that you must worship in Spirit and truth.  It is good to be enthusiastic in worship – but without having that enthusiasm based and founded in essential doctrinal truth, you will wind up with emotionalism that only seems right when it "feels" right. 
But there is also the risk of orthodoxy without genuine heart worship.  For instance, some churches major so heavily on evangelism that a new convert could get the idea that there is nothing else involved.  He might even start to believe that worship is a matter of maintaining his salvation through doing evangelism. 
In Kentucky a little boy heard his parents say they go to church to "waarship."  From that point on he told his friends that he was going to church to "warsh up!"  It is certainly true that there is a cleansing effect to worship, but that throws the focus on us, not Him.  Worship is for God alone.  The salvation He brings is not for sale.

How then shall I worship the God who saves me?

1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Romans 12:1 (NRSV)
The correct response to God who saves is to place all you are at His disposal -- all the time.  Continual, consistent worship is the evidence of truly being saved.  The "Easter & Christmas" crowd comes to church to pay dues, do the right thing, or please Mama.  Don't you be that way.  Come with your Bible open, having studied, willing to have an open mind for the things of God.  Come with your heart open, so there will be enthusiastic worship which leads to compassionate and joy-filled service.
We worship because of His sovereignty, salvation, and...

Because of His Seeking

23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  John 4:23 (NRSV)

What God is seeking

Please note that God is seeking true worshippers.  God is in the people business.  God is building a kingdom of the Spirit.  If He wanted more things He'd just create them with a thought or a wave of his hand.  What He is seeking in you and me, is the true worship of spiritual response.  He wants our hearts.

What God expects to find

Does God judge our worship?  Yes, indeed!  Jesus said the hour now is, of true worship – in spirit and truth.  We have all the revelation of truth we will ever need.  Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.  We are in the age of true worship -- not perfect worship (that will only be in heaven). 
We are expected to worship with our whole heart.  The reality is that worship occurs from the inside out.  Only God is equipped to judge that!  For that reason, we must be ready to make room for every one who walks through the doors of this place to worship.  Why?  Because God is constantly seeking for those who will worship Him.  He is constantly the holy God meeting with profane man. 
Jacob was a profane man, a deceiver, a street-wise con man.  God met with him at Bethel.  Jacob went to sleep and had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached to heaven.  And in the morning?
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.  --  Genesis 28:16
When a profane man meets a holy God, something is going to give.  Our business in God's service is to be ready to cooperate with holy God as he seeks to meet with profane men to change them.
We worship because of His sovereignty, salvation, seeking, and...

Because Of His Spirit

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.  --  John 4:24

The Nature of God is Spiritual

William Barclay has it:
 "If God is spirit, a man's gifts to God must be gifts of the spirit.  Animal sacrifices and all man-made things become inadequate.  The only gifts that befit the nature of God are the gifts of the spirit -- love, loyalty, obedience, devotion.  A man's spirit is the highest part of him."[4]
Oswald Chambers wrote "My Utmost For His Highest."  This same thought is contained, that it is the spirit alone within us that can truly commune with God.  It is a devoted spirit that God seeks, not some automated robot who attends church 156 times per year and gives the tithe of his income, accurate to the twelfth decimal place.
Money, things, comfort and entertainment are important to us because they are human symbols of what we can accomplish.  God doesn't need or want these.  He wants our love.  Whatever material things or works of obedience He may require are symbolic to Him of that love.  Beloved, if you love God, He will have your time, your service and your wallet.  Love responds in the realm of spirit to Spirit.

The Nature of worship of a Spiritual God is spiritual

3For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.  Philippians 3:3 (NRSV)
To worship in spirit and truth means the spirit reveals truth to us, and we accurately reflect that back to God in the way we live.  The word "truth" has its root in a sense of unveiling.  That is what God did for us.  He unveiled Himself in a manger two thousand years ago.  He spoke our language so we'd understand.  He lived as a man so we could see clearly.  Then He died as only a perfect man could -- a sacrifice for you and me.  Jesus revealed perfectly God.
I have been asked before, "Are you one of those?"  The questioner wanted to know if I was a Jesus person.  I have to answer yes without hesitation.  I worship Him with my spirit, because His Spirit has revealed truth to me.  What truth?
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.   Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.  John 4:26
On that day at the well, the woman said, "I'm waiting for God's man, the Christ."  To the woman that day Jesus said, "eimi" (Greek meaning:  “I am”)   Jesus gave her so much more than that for which she bargained.  She was waiting for a messenger from God, Jesus said "I AM."   That was what God spoke to Moses.
Beloved, realize your opportunity with your spirit.  You have truth abounding.   
·        You know God who spoke the stars and planets into existence.
·        You know the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
·        You know Moses' God of the burning bush.
·        You know God who can part the Seas with his breath and crumble Jericho's walls with only trumpets.
·        You know God who uses a shepherd boy's slingshot to bring down any giants in any life.
·        You know God who whispers so a Solomon writes ageless wisdom.
·        You know God who overshadows a virgin and brings together the holy and profane in spiritual victory.
·        You know God who healed the lame, the deaf, the blind.
·        You know God who is Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, God's only Son. 
·        You know God who told us in words that He loves us.
·        You know God who told us in suffering on the cross that he loves us.
·        You know God who told us he loves us by ripping death and Hell apart on Easter morning.
Who are we to not worship a God like that?

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

These are 5 practices and that word implies action, doing, breathing in and out.  If we want to be fruitful, obedient to our God we must be:
·        radically-hospitable, welcoming people in Jesus’ name,
·        extravagantly generous as we invest in ministry,
·        intentional about stretching our faith so we develop into disciples
·        willing to risk to serve others and fulfill our mission
·        and passionate about worship, because He is worthy!
Father, help us be passionate.  Too often we are guilty of counting the ceiling tiles until the service is over.  Help it to be that fire is lit in this congregation for worship.  Complete what we need to be people who worship in spirit and truth.  You’ve been seeking us; may we be found.  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the SpiritAmen!

[1] 1 Peter 3:8
[2] Fisher Humphreys, Thinking About God, (Insight Press, New Orleans, 1974), 183
[3] Grace To You radio broadcast 5/4/95
[4] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Vol VI, (Westminster Press, Phila, 1975), 161

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