Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Do You Approach Worship?

How do you approach worship? Is it just something you feel you have to do, an obligation to be met? Is it just a place where you talk with some friends and put in your time for God? Is it a joyful thing, or a mere ritual to go through? How do you approach worship? It's an important and vital question because the way we approach the weekly time of worship will determine what we get out of it.

In survey after survey, the thing people say they want most from the time of worship is to "connect with God." And in those same surveys, most of the people say the one thing they don't get out of worship is that sense of being in God's presence. Yes, some of the fault rests on we pastors, who too often simply plug in the same elements every week with little regard to any sense of unity or purpose in the service. But sometimes it's also because we come expecting so little from our worship. We get out of it what we put in it.

Joshua Harris, in his book "Stop Dating the Church," suggests several things we can do during the time of worship to get the most out of it, to increase our openness to what God wants to do in and through that time. The first thing is to remember why we gather. It's not for entertainment or to be part of a social club. We gather to worship God, and so ultimately it doesn't matter if we like the songs or the style or the sermon or even the people who sit around us. The purpose of worship isn't to make us happy. The purpose of worship is to lift up the name of Jesus and to remember that we are his people. Worship should shape us for the week to come, not just leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling. In fact, if worship is really effective...we might just leave feeling uncomfortable because we've been in God's presence.

There are, in most worship services, two main opportunities to participate in worship. One is in singing. Many a pastor will tell you that they probably have had more complaints about music than anything else because we tend to focus on whether or not we know the song or we like the song. But the song isn't the point. God is. We sing to God. The words we use should glorify God, and beyond that, in a really well-thought-out worship service, they should contribute to the overall theme of the day. If we can focus on the one we worship rather than our own personal preferences, music and singing becomes a way to express praise and gratefulness to God.

The other way we participate is during the sermon. No, not necessarily in "talking back" (though if the preacher asks a question, he or she is probably expecting an answer!), but in listening. And, again, not to the preacher but to what God is saying through the preacher. The sermon is, at its best, God's word applied to this particular congregation. If the preacher has worked hard all week to prayerfully bring the Scripture to the congregation, is it asking too much for the congregation to listen and seek what God is saying to them? We will be held accountable for what we have heard regardless of whether it moved us emotionally or not. That's kind of a scary thought!

For some people, it's helpful to take notes, although that's not helpful for me, but I know it is for others. The main thing is to listen for what God is saying and seek to apply it to your life in some concrete way during the week.

How we approach worship shapes our lives and our week. Worship is the central act of the Christian, and it shapes our hearts and lives. How will you approach worship this weekend?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Whatever This Day May Bring


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Prepare For Worship

Several years ago, I read a book by Karen Mains about making Sunday the best day of the week, and she suggested that part of our problem with worship is that we don't come prepared. I remember her comparing the Christian attitude of "hurry up, let's go and get there at the last minute...if we don't have anything else planned today" to the Jewish mindset that the day of worship is the high point of the week. For the Jew, she said, Sabbath is the center. Three days before are used for preparation and three days after are used for reflection. Our calendars are not set up that way and our brains aren't wired that way. But what if they were? What if we started seeing Sunday as the high point, the center, of our week?

Recently, I ran across another book by Joshua Harris called "Stop Dating the Church," and at the end of the book, he makes the same argument: Sunday should be much more than it is. And he suggests the reason worship isn't the center is because we fail to prepare ourselves for us, to participate fully in it and to deeply reflect upon it. We hurry in and hurry out, sometimes even leaving before the last hymn or song is over so we can get to the next thing. Worship becomes just something we check off our "to do" list.

Preparation, Harris says, begins with what we do on Saturday night. Getting adequate rest, spending some time reflecting on the Scriptures, spending some time in prayer can all go a long way toward focusing our heart and mind on what is to come. Pray for the service. Pray for the pastors (please!) and the music leader. Pray for our Sunday School teachers. Pray that the electronics functions correctly! Harris points out that we don't go into a sport without "warming up." Why do we think we should go into something as meaningful as worship without being prepared?

One other thing he suggests that I hadn't given much thought to is this: what are we filling our minds with the night before? Watching a movie, surfing the Internet, partying late—do these things prepare us for hearing the word of God? Each and every week, Jesus has something to say to us in worship—are we ready to hear it? Are we prepared to hear it?

This weekend, as you prepare for worship, what will you do to make sure you have a great day in worship?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are We Serving Christ or Our Own Set of Rules?

"It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles" (Matthew 15:11).

We get so hung up on externals, just like the Pharisees. We're often hard on the Pharisees when we read the Gospels, but the truth is, we're very much like them. We all have our lists of what is acceptable and unacceptable—what we should eat, what we should drink, how to dress for worship, what kind of music is acceptable and approved for worship, what kinds of friends we should have and who we should hang around with...we get so wrapped up in all these things that we miss what Jesus really calls us to. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus call us to judge others by externals. Jesus is concerned with something deeper: the heart.

Take, for example, the issue of food. That was one of the Pharisees' main concerns, and in this passage in Matthew 15, Jesus is taking them head on about that. The Pharisees were concerned about eating the right sorts of things, the allowed sorts of things and doing it in such a way that they weren't "defiled." But Jesus tells them that the real issue isn't what goes into the mouth, but what comes out of it. When the disciples question him, he says (and I'm paraphrasing here), "What you eat doesn't stay in you long. It goes in and comes back out. The stuff in the stomach isn't so important as the stuff in the heart. It's out of the heart that evil intentions, false witness, slander, even murder and adultery, come. Pay more attention to the condition of your heart than what's on the dinner plate."

We still practice the error of the Pharisees. We judge others by the externals, good and bad, whether they follow our lists of rules or not, and have little interest in their heart. Maybe the place to start in changing that is to look at our own heart and see what condition it is in. Are we serving Christ or our own set of rules?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Open Our Eyes and Transform Us

"These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" (Acts 17:6).

Near Freeport, Maine is the headquarters of the DeLorme Map Company.  In the lobby there is a huge globe completely made up of satellite images of the entire earth.  They call the globe "Eartha", which sort of sounds like a feminine goddess to me!  It is the largest rotating and revolving globe in the world, measuring 42 feet in diameter and comprised of 140 gigabytes of information.  

I wonder about something and have yet to find the answer. Globes and maps depict the northern hemisphere as up and the southern hemisphere as down. Is this only the case from our conventional perspective or is there an objective reason this is so? Is there an up and down out in space?

I think Acts 17.6 is a powerful expression of the world's perspective on the mighty impact the early church had on the earth.  It is specifically referring to the ministry of the Apostle Paul and those who traveled with him as they proclaimed the message of Christ in Thessalonica.  Apparently their reputation had preceded them.  Their message was so absolutely transforming that it was said to "have turned the world upside down."

Indeed, wherever the true message of Jesus goes, it has a transforming impact.  This impact will be on individuals, families, communities and entire cultures.  It's important to realize that the transformation is upside down from the world's perspective but right side up according to God's created design!  That's why it is so important that we, as followers of Christ, spend time reading, studying, memorizing and obeying God's owner's manual, the Bible.

This morning I recall a moment when a fellow believer shared with me a spiritual concept based on Romans 12:2.  "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  That was many years ago. The process of breaking conformity to the world and transforming into spiritual conformity to Christ continues in my life through the renewing of my mind.  There have been some setbacks along the way but God continues the process and I am assured that God will carry it on to completion until the day He appears.

"Lord, open our eyes to just how upside down the world is and transform us in Christ to being right side up according to your created design.  Amen."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Encourage One Another Daily

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness"  (Hebrews 3:13).

I want to consider the word "hardened" in the text.  This translates the Greek word "skleruno" which is the very same word from which we get the word sclerosis in English.  You may be most familiar with this word in the description of a disease called arteriosclerosis, which is the hardening and thickening of the arteries.  

If you're over 40 you've probably had your cholesterol checked.  High cholesterol contributes to the build up of gunk in the blood vessels and that's not good.  This is a inherited health issue I struggle with. No amount of proper diet lowers the numbers thus, it has to be maintained through prescriptions.

Taking care of your physical health is important but it's even more important to take care of your spiritual health.  The warning in the daily text is every bit as needed today.  We all know people that have become hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  Satan is a crafty, creative, and persistent foe.  His specific weapons will change, but his strategy and goal are always the same.  He wants to harden our hearts.

Today, I urge you to look for someone to encourage. It seems to me from reading the text the act of encouraging is beneficial both to the encourager as well as the one being encouraged.  Be vigilant in the fight against spiritual arteriosclerosis caused by the cholesterol of sin!