Unique Earthbound Worship

I was blessed on Sunday to enjoy a Worship Sunday service where Roger preached about our whole lives as an act of worship.

What really resonated with me most of all was a statement Rog made at the end of his message, about how “there is no retrenchment in heaven”!

Roger has been retrenched a number of times and on one occasion he simply went home and asked his wife to play worship songs on the piano as he prostrated himself on the loungeroom floor and worshipped God.

That kind of worship cannot be offered in heaven.  It is the Unique Earthbound Worship we can only bring to God while we are stuck on this mortal globe facing the pains of human life.

In heaven there will be no tears, no pain, no sorrow.  So we cannot offer God our worship through gritted teath and pain-filled heart.

Alabaster Box

As a young man I heard a sermon about the lady who broke an alabaster box of precious ointment and poured it onto Jesus, as an act of devotion and worship.

“And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.” Mark 14:3

By breaking the box this woman released the precious ointment and filled the room with the fragrance of her act of worship.

In the same way, when we are “broken”, we are able to offer God a fragrance of worship that cannot be released if the box is not broken.

My Song

All those years ago, as I reflected on that message, my heart’s desire was to release to God the kind of fragrance that can only come from being “broken” for Him.

I made up a simple song to voice the thoughts of my heart.

“Some times I feel like an Alabaster Box, Waiting to be broken to Glorify My Lord”.

I don’t think I ever looked forward to the “breaking” process, but I knew it would always bring glory to God.

Today, as I work through my battle against bank fraud and court injustice, being crushed by the powers of those who are intent of denying me my lawful rights, I recognise that there is a level of “crushing” going on.  I am heartened to realise that in these difficulties my worship to God becomes all the more precious.

Praising Through the Pain

Only on earth can we praise God through the pain of heartache, fear, loss, brokenness, shame, trials, sickness, and all the other evidences of a fallen world.  In heaven these things don’t exist.  There is no sorrow in heaven, so no way we can praise God through our tears of pain and struggle.

So that gives you a new way to view your present situation.  If you are facing pain, challenge, discomfort, opposition, uncertainty or anything else that causes you pain, you are in a perfect place to offer precious worship and praise to God.

Call to Worship

Many Christians become picky about the forms of worship they will engage with. They have their own preferred style for the music, service format, message themes and presentation, and so on.

Once a person’s preferences have been chosen there are several factors which come into play. Firstly they may tend to think less of any form of worship that is not their preferred model. Secondly they will likely stop exploring the options, and stick to their preferred alternative, for better or for worse.

Form Replaces Reality

The danger for many Christians is that they come to settle upon a preferred ‘form’ of worship, with its various elements and expressions, and move away from the reality of worship itself.

While they may have come to faith and initially been ready to embrace any of many modes of worship, just willing to glorify God, they can settle over time into routines and rituals which become empty of true heartfelt worship.

Liturgies and rituals can become routine and people can go through the motions, rather than engaging at a heart level. And don’t think that it is only the more traditional churches which have liturgies and rituals. I have been in churches which boast their liberty from ritual, while following a rigid format which is replicated religiously week after week.

Do You Know How To Worship?

I am concerned that many people do not know how to worship God. They know the words of the hymns or songs and they know what to expect and how to fit into their regular church programs, but they do not know how to worship God outside of those constraints.

Jesus Christ revealed that God the Father is seeking people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

“But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.” John 4:23

I am always happiest to see people who can worship God in multiple formats, expressions and circumstances. Those who need music, a group setting, some rousing preaching, or similar prop to enable their expressions of worship do not yet have the liberty to worship that they could have.

God’s Question

If God came to you and asked you if you would worship Him, what would you say? “If I asked you to worship Me, would you do it?”

Most of us would answer the Lord with a ready “Yes”!

But then the next challenge might stumble us. What if God asked you to go into a church which uses format and style outside of your approved set of expressions? Could you worship God in that setting? Could you sit in silence, or, alternatively bounce along with a jubilant throng? Could you endure slow grinding organ chords, unaccompanied psalmody, thundering rock bands or vigorous calypso?

In Your Heart

The answer to that interrogation is best found in the answer to this question, “Can you worship God in your heart?”
If you can place God in the centre of your attention, despite the distractions or lack of familiar encouragements then you can worship Him. If you find that you cannot place Him in the centre of your attention, or if you must have a special style of support to be able to do so, then your worship is disabled.

Worshiping God or Self

When you feel sour about a church service, music selection, service format, or similar aspect of your worship activities what is the problem? Is it that God has been offended and you are upset on his behalf? Or is it that you have been offended in some way?

Do you go to ‘worship’ to glorify God or to serve your own desires for a positive experience?

I have often heard people talk about a church which they left because it didn’t meet their needs. It is not uncommon to hear people speak ill of a preacher or a church.

It’s also common to find people who are ‘church shopping’, looking around for the best fit for themselves and their family. They have a shopping list of qualities which they are looking for, specifying music styles, sermon qualities, ancillary programs for their children or youth, and so on.

All this “I must find the right church for me” stuff takes on the form of worshipping ‘self’ not God.

Worship More

A friend recently told me how he is building more worship into his family life each week. He has even organised to celebrate communion with his children, in the home, at random times during the week.

I know of others who have removed their television set so they can find more time to spend in prayer and worship in their own home. I have met many people who have enrolled in courses, joined new groups and created new routines, in order to give more worship to God.

Since God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, what is it that you are doing to increase your real worship of God? If you are relying on a weekly church service to give you your religious fix, then you are hardly worshipping God. You may even be just worshipping yourself – indulging your preferred pleasures in your chosen modes of religious activity.

Call to Worship

There is a call to worship going forth into all the earth. Can you hear it?

It is coming from heaven and it has been sounding forth since creation. God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

I call you to worship. On God’s behalf I plead with you to glorify God. I call you to engage in adoration of the Lord. I call you to meet with fellow Christians and worship God with them. I call you to put aside your ideas of what makes a good service or a great worship time, and to get into worshiping God with all you are and all you have.

He is God. He is worthy of your worship. He is more important than your personal likes and dislikes. He is more important than your opinions and preferences. He is SO important that He is worthy of being worshipped DESPITE what you think or want.

I call you to be a worshipper who abandons yourself in glorifying God, in season and out of season, within your comfort zone and outside your comfort zone, when it suits you and when it doesn’t. Do it so God gets the glory, not so you get what you want.

Glory to God! I can hear a call to worship!

A Call To Worship

What is your life all about? What have you been thinking about all week? What is the next landmark achievement you have been working toward? How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?

What do your friends think of you? How do you feel about yourself? What is your greatest achievement? What are your regrets? What are you looking forward to? What do you enjoy the most? If you had a spare weekend, what would you do with it? If you had enough money, what would you do? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

What are You Worshiping?

Your answers to those questions reveal what you are worshipping.

By ‘worship’ I am not talking about temples, candles, incense, robes, hymns and the like. I’m talking about the more real form of worship. What do you glorify? What do you consider to have real weight in your life? That’s what you worship. What are you exchanging the years and energies of your life for? That’s what you are worshipping.

Some people worship education. Others worship pleasure. Some worship self-will, being able to have things their way, as they like it. Some worship meaningfulness, ever seeking to impress others in some way or another. Some worship sin and shame, intent on getting away with illicit things. Some worship things they are enslaved to, like booze and drugs, sex or power.

The Gods Define You

While you may think of yourself as an individual, you are defined by who and what you worship. And at the same time, your culture is defined by the pantheon of gods which you collectively worship.

[A Pantheon was a place of worship where the local gods were to be honoured. Pan means across or all. Theon means god. Pan-theon, then, means “all the gods”. The Greeks built Pantheon buildings which served as a place of worship of the mix of local deities, as opposed to the specific temples to the more important gods.]

Among other things, Aussies worship independence, pleasure, material comfort, and freedom to do as they please. Aussies also worship the State, expecting the government to be the provider of solutions for social ills, welfare payments for the needy and so on.

Americans have a higher component of national pride in their mix. And each culture and sub-cultural group has its own blend of things that the members will spend their lives in pursuit of, or stand up and defend.

The gods in any cultural pantheon not only specify what is to be worshipped, but also what is not to be worshipped. Certain things are seen as “Culturally Correct” (to spin off the notion of Political Correctness) while other things are seen as un-cultural. Anti-social behaviour is seen as incorrect in Australia. Taking life easy is seen as incorrect to Asian students. Multiculturalism is incorrect to some extremist groups. Being excessively rich is incorrect to the working class. And so it goes.

Religion in the Mix

The sorry situation for western Christians is that it is culturally correct to add God, Jesus and Faith into the cultural mix, but incorrect to allow them to displace the approved gods in the local pantheon.

Religion is allowed in the mix and is smiled upon with approval, as long as the religionist is also committed to materialism, social approval, education, independence, pleasure, and the other gods worshipped by those around them.

When a person decides to throw away their education, career, comforts, money and talents, and then give up their freedom (such as some Moravians did in selling themselves into slavery) or go to some place where their life was sure to be cut short, then they are seen as cultural misfits. They are despised, because they will not worship what everyone else is worshipping.

It’s All About God

The Bible does not allow for a cultural pantheon. The Bible reveals that the whole and sole focus of life is to be one God; and one God only. Almighty God does not fit in any pantheon, because He declares Himself to be, exclusively, the one true God. He is a jealous God who forbids the worship of anything else. Every other god, be it a recognised deity, or a thing to which people devote themselves (such as wealth, fame, independence, or the like), is not a true god at all.

So the whole of human existence is to be focused on Almighty God. It’s all about God.

Abducted Cultures

When cultures, nations and communities give themselves over to the worship of anything other than Almighty God they are abducted by those other gods. When people and societies give themselves to the worship of their cultural values they have walked away from God, come out from under His protection, rejected His blessing and become abandoned to their own inept and useless provisions.

Look at how the prophet Jeremiah describes the state of a people who have decided to worship something other than Almighty God.

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13

Empty Religion

While Christians know that the first two of the Ten Commandments declare that there is to be only one God and that no idols are to be worshipped, and that the First and Great Commandment is to Love God with all our being, they give those truths lip-service only.

They have no intention of giving up their comfort, materialism, pleasure, independence, reliance on the State, position and place in society, wealth, security and so on. They cling to those things with a grip that cannot be opened even by their worship of God. So God becomes a lesser god in their pantheon. Their religion becomes empty, since it is nothing but a show of piety and ceremonial devotion. Their true religion can be seen by what they give their time, money, emotion and energies to.

The Call to Worship

You, your family and your culture have no real hope of transformation and glory until you come back to the true worship of the true and living God. As long as you bow the knee (figuratively) to all those other things you love and honour, you will be drawing water from broken water tanks that are empty. You will pursue your hoped for outcomes, but never realise them.

It is reformation time. It is revival time. It is time for a revolution. It is time for God’s people to become God’s people. It is time for them to begin to worship Him. It is time for them to renounce their worship of other things and to become good at taking time to give God the honour that He is due.

I call you to worship: in your home; at your work; with your family; at your leisure; with your time; with your money; as a lifestyle; in place of the things you normally do; in prayer; in Bible reading; in acts of devotion; and in yielding your life to God.

Note: The concept of the Cultural Pantheon was presented to me by my son, Stephen. It’s a handy way to see what is really going on in a culture.

Stand Aside

People can often get in the way of what is best for them. This post explores that idea and will open your heart to your need to “stand aside” and let God be God in your situation and circumstances.

This topic was brought to focus for me recently when, due to a misunderstanding, I went to a meeting to lead the program and ended up on the sidelines. That incident was simply a misunderstanding, but the Lord used it to challenge my heart about the process of letting Him sideline me.

To help bring the issue to life I have written a literary excursion, creating a fictional case of someone being asked to ‘stand aside’. I trust this helps to give dimension to the issue for you.

A Literary Excursion

He said, “Stand Aside!” But I was in full swing. Seven thousand people sat in the palm of my hand. I had their rapt attention and I knew I could escort them into the spiritual glories they expected to see.

But He said, “Stand Aside!” I lost my place and stumbled to a halt, mid-sentence. Some people chuckled, thinking this to be one of my many cleverisms. I hung in indecision. The throng waited, attentive and expectant.

I had been building to a point for many minutes and had not resolved it. It felt wrong to leave the audience unresolved. And there was so much I could share that would illuminate their understanding, as it had done for other audiences around the world. This crowd had come to hear ME, not to have me stand aside.

Yet the voice persisted. “Stand Aside!”

I had heard the voice before, but never yet obeyed. Glad-handed accolades and large offerings followed my popular meetings, but I felt the salty sting, that I had let each audience down. The Master had something in mind and I did not know its dimensions. Letting go was not my natural style. My carefully crafted, finely honed display was worthy of the highest honours. Consistency and cogency underpinned my fame.

“I believe there is something unique which God wants to do tonight. And I believe I should have you stand in His presence and wait upon Him.”

With that I stepped aside and bowed my head. The crowd shuffled to their feet and a deathly silence engulfed the auditorium. My thoughts raced to see what I could do to enhance this moment. I had now taken the heroic step God had been pressing on me for almost a year. I had “done it!” and now I waited, expectant to see what God would do.

“Stand Aside!” He said again, making me conscious that I was still the only person on stage and thus I commanded their focus. My mind conjured an image of the towering presence of Jesus standing behind me, but unseen because my own presence distracted their view.

I stepped from the platform and stood at the front row, speaking soft words of devotion to the Lord, as encouragement to the crowd. Gradually others joined in. I earnestly wanted them to see the Risen Christ and to hear His voice, even as I did. “Lord I commit this crowd to You. They are Yours. Do with them as pleases You.” My silent prayer lifted them all before the Lord.

“Stand Aside!” He commanded. But What? Had I not already stood aside? Had I not already even left the platform?

But, Ah Yes! I was still leading them through my microphone. I was still asserting my leadership and influence through the very devotion I prayed to encourage their own.

I clicked off the microphone. Then I quietly moved backwards, away from any place where people might look at me or to me to lead them.

To my delight the audience gradually entered in. I heard people praying, some pouring out their heart in adoration. Others had tears for reasons I could not tell. Some knelt. The Lord began to do quite a reasonable job, without me.

I handed the microphone to the chap at the rear sound desk and simply watched the huge crowd. I was half inclined to pray earnestly that God would move powerfully on them all, but there seemed to be an echo of the command to stand aside, still reverberating in my heart. So I did nothing. I simply watched proceedings.

It felt weird to be in such a meeting and not to be controlling the pulse. I felt out of place with the Lord in control. That was the position I had always sought and held. I felt redundant.

While I couldn’t say it was clearly from the Lord, there was a sense to me, standing at the back, that I could stand down. I was relieved of duty. I was discharged for the day. I was not needed and my presence was not required. Hoping no-one would see me. I slipped out to the coffee shop and sat alone.

With these unexpected few moments of privacy I rang my son-in-law and congratulated him on his recent promotion. I rang my wife and she caught me up on a frustration that I needed to resolve for her. It would have to wait until my trip was over, but it was noted. After a quick “hello” to Bradley and a sweet catch up with Lee-anne, I wondered how God was getting on with His meeting.

Part of me wanted to go and peep back into the auditorium, but I felt restrained. It was not my meeting any more. It made no real difference to me what God did with His business and His people. The meeting, the church and the people were all His business. He wanted me out of the way, and so the rest is up to Him.

The silly thought even danced through my mind that Jesus might get stuck at some point and have to call me back in, because I could get through to these people in ways He could not. Then I was stung with the blasphemy of such a thought. “Lord, if You need my help tonight, then You are not King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I thank You for disposing of me and taking charge of Your people in Your church for Your glory.”

The overflowing gratitude with which people greeted me as they spilled out of the meeting encouraged me that God may have handled the whole thing rather well. But some chipped me for not finishing my story and resolving the piquant interest I had aroused. I made a mental note not to play my audience next time. I distracted them with my stories and took their eyes off the Lord.

“Next time”. Those words were pregnant with uncertainty. Would there ever be a ‘next time’? Just how serious was God about His command to “Step Aside”? I realised I had a lot of praying to do before I stood before a crowd again.

Are You Getting It?

How many pastors, parents, Christian friends or concerned citizens take matters into their own hands? Isn’t it the case that we send people to Bible Schools to get degrees so they will know how to preach, run the church, serve God and so on? We applaud people who are clever enough not to need God any more. We envy them and aspire to be like them.

Yet when we take matters in our own hands we risk displacing God in the experience of those we are trying to reach or help. We can completely block people’s view of Jesus and we can persist in doing things in human energy, while God is waiting for us to get out of the way, so He can do divine things with His people.

Coming Up

Juan Carlos Ortiz told me about his own experience in Argentina of learning how to step aside. I’d like to share that with you in a future post.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” – and that deserves a review in light of the “Stand Aside” message.

Then there’s the old discussion of “God in a Box” and that relates to this topic too. When we insist on doing God’s work for Him, we have effectively put Him in a box that is smaller than our own talents and abilities.

Then we could discuss the issue of New Wine in New Wineskins. When we perpetuate what we know and can control from our own skill set and experience, we are sticking with our old wineskin. How do we then allow God to bring us a new wineskin? What would happen if God tried to put new wine into those meetings we run so well the way we’ve always done it?

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept It…

Your Mission may be Mission Impossible to you. Your Mission, should you choose to accept it, is to Stand Aside. Get out of God’s way. Stop distracting people with you, and with your programmed and set service for the Lord. Get out of the way, so people can see Jesus. If He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself.

Ruled by God or Mammon

What I address here might be a revolutionary eye-opener to you. I trust it opens the Bible to you in a fresh way. Many Bible truths take on a completely new complexion when considered in a fresh context. My post about the Bible being a Book of Books hinted at some of the possibilities that open to us when we see the Bible in a fresh context and with sharper application. To help me get where I want to go, allow me to present a few basic premises from which to work.

You Are Ruled

Whether you like the idea or not your whole life is being ruled by someone other than yourself. Obviously you have a high level of personal autonomy within the bounds set by your sovereign, but you are ruled none-the-less.

You are either ruled by truth or deception; confidence or fear; love or hate; and so on. But for the purposes of this discussion you are either ruled by God or Mammon.

God or Mammon

The Bible affirms that you are ruled and identifies the two masters who you can choose between. They are God and Mammon.

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:24

In the original language the meaning could be taken to be, “No person has the power to serve two lords…. You do not have the power to serve God and the power of wealth.”

Note that the Old Testament prophets warned Israel about worshiping such gods as Baal and Ashtaroth. When Jesus came He did not speak of these gods, but embodied all other competitors to Almighty God under the title of Mammon.

You Are Ruled by the One you Serve

Another way of understanding what Jesus taught is that you are “ruled” by the one you serve. The Apostle Paul said that we are enslaved to the thing we serve.

“Don’t you know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Romans 6:16

So you are ruled either by God or by Mammon.

What is Mammon?

Since there is a 50:50 chance you are ruled by Mammon it might be good to know what it is. Mammon is a Chaldean word. It is a word that came from the heathen people around the nation of Israel. It apparently refers to a deity and the root meaning of the word is: “confidence”; “wealth personified”; and “avarice” (which is greed).

What Mammon refers to, when opposed to the person of God, is the power of wealth.

Time to Reflect

Take a moment to ponder the following question. If everyone in the world is either ruled by God or Wealth, what would be the indicators to identify each one?

How would you tell if someone was ruled by God? How would you tell if someone was ruled by money?

And to take the reflection further, does the evidence suggest that you are ruled by God or Money? What about your family, community and culture? Which deity is ruling over them?

Simplifications

I love to simplify things so they are easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to teach. While simplifications involve reductionism which can remove key information from the topic, they do allow an easy grasp and a ready starting point for further investigation. So allow me to make some simple observations.

The simplified point I have already made is that you are either ruled by God or Money. The next observation is that God’s rule demands that we live for others. Consider these instructions from God to love others and to do to others what you want them to do to you.

“You are to love your neighbour as yourself” Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31

“A new commandment I give you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

“Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Mammon stands contrary to God’s standards and involves people living for self and personal gain. This causes people to live in pride, directed by their greed and lusts.

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 1John 2:16

Reflecting Again

So do you live for self or for others? Does your family and culture promote selflessness or self-gratification?

If the focus is on self, then Mammon is the master. If the focus is on selflessness, living to be a blessing to others, then God is the master.

It’s time you made sure you are in the right kingdom. Repent of self interest and self serving attitudes and values. Ask God to transform you until you can live for others and not self.

There’s More

I started out intending to discuss the Bible and its value on political topics. Hmmm. I think I’ve made a pretty good fist of this posting, without getting where I want to go. So I’ll make a point in the near future of picking up the theme of the Bible as a Political Text.