Tuesday, July 8, 2014

True Worship

  If there ever was a word that is misused in modern Christianity, it is the word 'worship'. There exists a spectrum of people who, while all well-intentioned, have formed and fashioned their mode of worship off of their intentions and their priorities, instead of the word of God.
On one end of the spectrum  are the contemporary churches who, in a sincere and laudable attempt to  reach the unchurched, will take the basic  setup of a nightclub, and stick Jesus's name on it. Every trick from blacklights and  rock music to  Zippos held aloft during  guitar solos  is deployed in an attempt to create an emotional response in the audience that can  then be called 'worship'.  Personal experience is the currency of the realm, and if you 'felt' something, the  assumption is that it must not only be true, but it must be God. That's one end of the  spectrum and,  however well-intentioned, is woefully short of the Biblical standard.
 Towards the middle of this spectrum are the Baptists (who are resembling the Pentecostals they used to make fun of more and more) who exhibit a mode of worship spoken of reverently as 'the old timey way'.  In my observation, the 'old timey way' is whatever  your father or grandfather did, regardless of whether is was right or wrong.  In the 'old-timey way', the high water mark of church life was somewhere between the 1920's and  the 1940's in the American South. Entire meetings are planned and based off of this emulation, complete with tents set up in fields and sawdust  poured on the ground in an attempt to set the stage for 'old-timey worship'.  Enthusiasm is the currency of the realm and  if people run and shout and carry on  then it is assumed that the Holy Spirit has fallen and that 'worship' has occurred.  These folks, including some of my dearest friends, want to capture the perceived spirituality of  the past, but in doing so, often  also fall woefully short of the Biblical standard
  The other end of the spectrum  are the solemn, liturgical  churches where worship consists of rote repetition of phrases penned during the Dark Ages and led by deacons/bishops/elders/presbyters who are possibly old enough to have been there when the liturgy was composed.  Such churches, in a well-intentioned respect for tradition, assume that not only does God prefer quiet, but he prefers to speak Latin.  I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that these churches are populated by an older crowd who, as luck would have it, prefer quiet.
  The solution to all this confusion is, as always, a return to Biblical definitions and standards. That  book  which contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness", also defines worship and sets the  conditions and parameters of it. It sets this tone from the very beginning.
  In Genesis 22, we have one of the most heart-rending stories in the word of God, the account of Abram taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him.  Right in the middle of the situation, the word 'worship' shows up for the first time. The Bible says, in verse 5  "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship , and come again to you."  God has asked Abram to  do the unthinkable,  and it's insane to think that Abrams heart wasn't full of sadness and confusion and sorrow.  It's inconceivable that he didn't wonder if he had  understood God correctly as he prepared that trip up the mountain.  He had no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared, that this great typology of the Lord Jesus Christ was being displayed in his life and recorded in scripture for the edification  of millions.  All he could see was that God wanted him to sacrifice the promised seed, and there is no way that it made any sense to him.  His response is that they would worship right smack in the middle of all that.
  That puts to bed the notion among the brethren that everything must be all right, for worship to occur. Not only does Abram  put a priority on worship  right  in the middle of  turmoil and  sorrow, he's not the only man in the Bible to do that.  In Matthew 9, the Bible says "While he spake these things unto them, behold , there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying , My daughter is even now dead : but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live ". With his daughters body  growing colder by the minute, this ruler  found both reason and ability to worship God. Job echoed this sentiment when, according to the Bible, "... Job arose , and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped And said , Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave , and the LORD hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the LORD".   King David, as he mourned the death of his son "...arose from the earth, and washed , and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped : then he came to his own house; and when he required , they set bread before him, and he did eat". I see nothing  in these examples to indicate that there was excitement or 'running the aisles'.  No one shouted, no one laid on the ground or flopped like  a mackerel. There is no sign of the  'whoop-whoop for Jesus' crowd in this  worship.  There is a solemnity to these scenes, and with broken hearts, these men worshipped God.  The preponderance of individual worship in the Bible appears to take place during times of  great confusion and sadness.
  In Matthew 15, a gentile woman comes to Jesus.  Everything wasn't right at her house. She wasn't even  under the covenant extended to Israel. But the Bible says "Then came she and worshipped him, saying , Lord, help me." Once again, we see that her worship involved not excitement, but brokenness bordering on despair. Her worship took the form of crying out to God for help. So often we  treat worship as a pep rally for God when that doesn't seem to be the case in scripture.
  How can a person do that? How can a person worship God  with a coffin in their view and no hope in sight? How can a person bowed down with  grief  raise their eyes to the third heaven?  The answer to that lies with  Abram.
  Abram says in Genesis 22 that both he and Isaac will worship. I have always wondered if he was planning on worshiping before or after the sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us a peek into Abrams heart in Hebrews 11:17-19, which reads "By faith Abraham, when he was tried , offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said , That in Isaac shall thy seed be called Accounting that God was able to raise him up , even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." Romans 4 explain it even further, telling us "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,  (As it is written , I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken , So shall thy seed be And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead , when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:  He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;  And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised , he was able also to perform " God had made no promise to Abraham of a resurrection, but he had promised that  Isaac would  inherit the land.  The very foundation of Abraham's worship was that God  cannot lie, and that somehow, despite the circumstances, this all has to work out somehow.  He was so certain of God's  truthfulness that he had every intention of coming back down the mountain with his son at his side.  It seemed reasonable to Abraham that it was God's responsibility to keep the  covenant, and if  it was necessary , God could and would  raise his son from the dead.  Abraham's worship wasn't based on feelings, it was based on the word of God.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 29 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." The strength  of our worship isn't based on who we are or what  our situation is, but rather on God's word and God's character.Because of who God is, and how God is, and the promises made to us in the word of God, we can worship with full assurance that somehow, it will all work out. That isn't wishful thinking; that's worship.
  Taking it further, it's obvious that true worship cannot be done in your own strength or based off your own ideas. It has to be done in accordance with God's word. Jeremiah 26:2  says it plainly: "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Paul's confession in Acts 26 is "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:" You may like the  guitar solos and the Zippos, or your soft spot may be the running and shouting spells. Maybe you're the dry liturgical type but unless those things are found in the words of God, they are your idea, not his, and do not constitute true worship. After all, Isaiah 8:20 tells us "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"

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