29 Nov

Biblical Worship 04: Sin-Forsaking

It’s countercultural today to talk about sin.  Let’s face it:  the topic of sin is offensive.  In fact, we were ministering in Canada in October through a dramatic presentation of the Roman Road, which of course includes Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  A mother of one of the children immediately took her son out of the presentation at this point because she didn’t want him to hear that he was a sinner.  To be labeled a “sinner” is offensive.  I’m sure your brow furrowed the first few times you were told this gospel truth as well.

There’s a lot of pressure today to ignore sin, but if Christ is to be the center of our worship, we must talk about sin because that’s the very thing He came to save us from.  He died to free us of our sin and its penalty.  The good news of Jesus Christ is the good news that “Oh happy day!  When Jesus washed my sins away!”

Although Jesus has indeed washed the stain of sin away for all who believe on Him, we nevertheless sin.  Therefore, biblical worship has to constantly have a sin-forsaking aspect to it.  As we come into the presence of God in worship, we recognize that He is holy, and we are not.  It’s sort of like the time I fixed a water leak under a home.  It was dark under there, but the closer I got to the light as I climbed out, the dirtier I realized I was.  In fact, I was downright filthy!  Coming into the presence of God in worship should have that very same effect.

We see the sin-forsaking aspect of worship so clearly demonstrated in Isaiah 6:1-8.  The closer Isaiah got to God, the more he realized his filth and the more he realized his need to be cleansed.  We read:

  • In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Isaiah came into the light of God’s presence and immediately saw his sinfulness.  His response wasn’t, “Ah, no big deal.”  His response was “Woe is me, the sinner!”

Friend, to worship God is to forsake sin.  That’s why regular church gatherings for worship are so important.  We need regular maintenance where we intentionally come into the light of God’s presence so that sin is brought into the light.  Yes, you are always in the presence of God, but you are especially mindful of God’s presence at a worship gathering.  As you come into the presence of God, get ready to be convicted of your sin.  That’s a good thing!  And then forsake it.  Turn from it, abandon it, desert it, renounce it, relinquish it, turn your back on it, leave it.  FORSAKE SIN!

That’s an essential part of worship.

Links to previous posts in this series:

28 Nov

How Long, O Lord? – Hope

This week, we begin our season of Advent.  “Advent” is from the Latin word for “coming” — translated from the Greek word parousia. Speaking of the second coming of Christ, we find parousia translated in the following passages: Matthew 24:3,27,37,39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 3:4,12; and 1 John 2:28.  Typically, the Advent season reenacts and remembers how the Old Testament saints longed for Messiah to come, but it is appropriate for those of us this side of the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to look forward to Jesus’ second coming during Advent.  It’s for this reason that our theme this year is “How Long, O Lord?” as we meditate on and long for Christ to come again.

We find the phrase “How long, O Lord?” in the book of Revelation, chapter 5, verse 10, where the Christian martyrs cry out to the Lord, How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:10).  These martyrs are eagerly awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Our hearts certainly cry out as well because as we light the first candle of Advent this week, we are awaiting the Second Advent with much eagerness too.  God’s faithful waited for Christ to come the first time, and now God’s faithful are waiting for Christ to come again.  So, we say to God this Advent season, “How long, O Lord?”

We have no idea how long it will be, but Jesus has promised us that He will come back to receive us unto Himself, and with that promise comes much hope.

We read in John 14:1-6, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

This week, we light the CANDLE OF HOPE.  Jesus Christ has come, and He is coming again.  He has shown us the way to Heaven and has prepared a place there for all who believe on Him.  We don’t know how long, O Lord, but we know Jesus , and we know His promise:  He will receive into His glorious presence all who come by faith in Christ.

May your hope be great and unshakeable because it’s founded on Jesus Christ, who is coming again.

23 Nov

Biblical Worship 03: Life-Transforming

In case you haven’t heard, God has a plan for your life.  Have you wondered exactly what that is?  Although the Bible doesn’t give us individual specifics for our lives other than His revealed will contained in the commandments, we can say one thing for sure:  if you are in Christ, God’s ultimate plan for you is to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.  God so clearly tells us this in Romans 8:29, For those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.

So, if you are God’s in Christ, you are on a track to be completely like Christ, and one of the ways God is going to do this is through worship itself.  Worship is to be life-transforming.  To play off that standard invitation hymn “Just As I Am,” we are to come to worship just as we are, but we’re not to leave that way.  We’re to leave changed, transformed more closely to the image of Jesus Christ.

God reiterates this plan through Paul in Romans 12:1-2:

  • Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Presenting our bodies to God in worship means that we turn from the world and reject conformity to the world in all aspects of our lives.  Our bodies, our minds, our mouths are to be wholly devoted in holiness to God.  That’s worship in itself.  It’s crying out verbally and nonverbally to God that He is fully worthy of our complete dedication.

One of the biggest lies of modern philosophy is that we should just be satisfied with who we are naturally.  “Just embrace yourself,” pop psychology says.  “Don’t let anybody change you.  Become whomever you want to be, and do whatever your heart wants to do.”  That philosophical outlook is dangerous because who we are naturally is an offense to God, and what we naturally desire is an affront to God.  God desires to change you, and praise God that indeed He does.

In fact, one of our greatest motivations for worship should come from the transformation that God has wrought in our lives.  That’s why I love 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 so much.  It reminds me of what I used to be and what I would still be but for the grace of God

  • Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God, (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

But such were some of you…I love that because it points to God’s transformation of those in Christ.  May God change you through worship, and may that transformation lead to greater worship for our God who makes all things new!

Links to previous posts in this series:

21 Nov

Expansion Without Exception

Does it ever seem to you like the Kingdom of God is losing ground here on the earth?  Does it appear that lostness is growing and sin is increasing?  Does it feel like nation after nation is openly turning against God?

Indeed, the situation does look bleak from our perspective, but I pray that you and I would be people of revelation and not observation.  You see, one of the many great overarching themes in Scripture is this one:  expansion without exception.  As we look across the entirety of Scripture, this encouraging theme emerges, promising us that God’s plan is for His Kingdom to expand into all peoples, covering the entire earth without exception.

If we couple this theme with what God reveals about Himself in Isaiah 46:9-10, we have much reason to celebrate.  God tells us in Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” God’s plan is expansion without exception, and God’s plan will not be thwarted.

We see the beginning of this expansion without exception theme during creation itself in Genesis 1:27-28:

  • God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Mankind, who at this point perfectly bore the image of God, was God’s manifest agents on the earth and was given orders to be fruitful and multiply so that every inch of the earth would be filled.  And, these godly ones were to subdue the earth and rule over creation.  That is the Kingdom of God expanding without exception.

Through Abraham (called Abram at this point), God continues to reveal this plan to us.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God makes a covenant with Abram, saying:

  • Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

It’s important for us to note that God does not just promise blessing to Abraham’s family or even to only Abraham’s people.  Notice that last sentence:  And in you, Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed. That’s expansion without exception.

We turn to the prophets and see the theme continue.  God tells us in Isaiah 11:9 that there is coming a day when they will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. That’s expansion without exception.

Daniel interprets an awesome dream and continues the theme (Daniel 2).  In fact, the dream was a vision given by God to Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian Empire.  In that dream, an amazing, multi-metal statue is pulverized by a stone.  Daniel tells us that the four metals represent four empires, and that the stone represents the Kingdom of God.  Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel envisioned the following concerning the stone:

  • You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Notice that the stone didn’t remain a stone.  It grew into a great mountain and filled the whole earth.  Daniel further tells us that in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever, (Daniel 2:44).  That’s the Kingdom of God expanding without exception.

As we enter into the New Testament era, the theme doesn’t stop.  In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.” In the very next verse, Jesus teaches us, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened,” (Matthew 13:33).  In both instances, that’s the expansion of God’s Kingdom without exception.

In the Great Commission, we see the theme carrying on.  Jesus declares to His followers in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” There’s the Kingdom.  He goes on to command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” There’s the plan of expansion without exception—make disciples of all the nations.

And, Jesus vividly reiterates this command when He tells His followers in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Did you catch the geography there?  It was global, and that’s expansion without exception.

And finally, praise God that He didn’t just reveal His plan to us.  He also lets us preview the outcome in the book of Revelation.  First, in chapter 5, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders praise Jesus, who is the Lion and the Lamb, with a “new” song:

  • Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth, (Revelation 5:9-10).

That’s expansion without exception.

A further glimpse at the outcome of God’s plan is given to us just two chapters later.  We read in Revelation 7:9-10:

  • After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Again, that’s the expansion of God’s Kingdom without exception.

One final, ultimate, glorious glimpse is given to us in Revelation 21:1-4, 22:1-5:

  • Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away,”…Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

A new earth eradicated of sin with God dwelling upon it, healing the nations…that’s expansion without exception.

Friend, I say to you, “Take heart.”  Although it looks like the Kingdom of God is on the decline, it is indeed growing and will eventually expand to cover the earth without exception and touch every peoples and nations without exception.  God is going to do some remarkable and marvelous things.

So, the question is not:  will God’s Kingdom expand?  The question is:  how are you going to work today to expand the Kingdom?  May you do so to much increase!

11 Nov

Biblical Worship 02: Christ-Centered

Biblical worship is Christ-centered.  The person of Jesus Christ and God the Father’s work through Jesus Christ is to be focus of our worship because it’s only through Jesus that we have redemption.

Peter preached this truth by the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts 4:8-12:

  • Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus is the only hope for salvation, and therefore should be center of our worship

There are two great hymns in Scripture that model for us Christ-centered worship.  The first, Colossians 1:15-20, focuses primarily on the person of Christ and is believed to be an early Christian hymn:

  • He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

As I told my congregation a while back, “I knew Jesus was good, but I didn’t know He was this good!”  Jesus is incomparable and worthy of being our focus our center of attention when we approach the Lord in worship.

The second, Revelation 5:1-14, focuses primarily on the work of Christ:

  • I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders *said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

The hymns of the living creatures, the elders, and the angels will be our song forever!  Therefore, Jesus Christ with His substitutional life and death and His glorious resurrection should saturate every instance of our worship moments now.  In fact, a practicing Jew or a Muslim should be very uncomfortable in our worship services.  Our point is not to offend.  We just don’t have any other reason to worship than Jesus Christ!

The great rival to Christ-centered worship is not the devil.  It’s you and me.  It’s me-centeredness.  Let’s be honest.  Our society’s me-centeredness has crept into the church.  In our society that is consumer-driven and seeks “what’s in it for me,” worship can easily become a commodity that the church is trying to package and sell to you, the worship consumer.

I’m sure that every one of us has left a service saying, “I just didn’t get anything out that.”  I’m guilty.  However, that attitude is wrong.  The question isn’t “did I get anything out of that?” or “did you like the songs we sang today?”  It should be: “Was Jesus Christ lifted up?”  “Was God glorified?”  “Did I worship God?”  “Was God blessed?”

Let me say just a word about the music service.  I’ve been a worship leader in churches since 2002.  I’ve said for years that the worship leader has the most difficult job in the church because everybody has an opinion about what songs should be sung, how fast the tempo should be, how often we sing certain songs, how much of a song should we sing, etc.  It’s mind-boggling!

Let me say this:  the mature worshipper can worship in any style.  Now, I understand that it’s sometimes difficult to worship using songs that are new to us.  That’s fine because we can fix that.  However, when we say, “I’m not going to sing that song because I don’t like it; it’s too traditional or too contemporary,” that’s me-centeredness, and it displeases God.  Believe it or not, you are not the only worshipper in the service.  Church, when we become motivated in worship by me-centeredness, God is robbed of His worship.

May we get out of the way let Jesus be the center of your worship!!

Links to previous posts in this series:

09 Nov

Biblical Worship 01: Definitions

Worship is an essential part of our relationship with God.  In fact, we are created, chosen, called, and commanded to worship God.  Perhaps you are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  In it, the writers ask, “What is the chief end of man?”  And they answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  In other words, humanity was created for the purpose of worshipping God.

Throughout the Scriptures, we are told to worship the Almighty God.  One of the best passages calling us to worship is Psalm 149:1-6:

  • Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones. Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation. Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand…

There is no doubt:  God is seeking worshippers!  Therefore, the subject of worship is an extremely important pursuit for believers.

As we begin to wrap our hearts and minds around the big topic of worship, a few definitions might help.  D.A. Carson, who is a leading evangelical theologian, gives this definition:

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.  This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.  While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered.  Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulses in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.

That definition, of course, is a mouthful, but one of the most helpful aspects of it  is that it points out to us that worship is complex.  Worship is not one-dimensional or bland.  It’s multifaceted and full of life.  Even if you’ve been a Christian for 80 years, you still have not exhausted your discovery of what worship is.

Now, Carson is not the only person to give us a definition of worship.  Ralph Martin has put forth a definition that I really like.  His definition is deep but at the same time concise or straight to the point.  Here’s what Martin says:

Christian worship is the adoration and service to God the Father through the mediation of the Son and prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Notice how Martin’s definition makes a difference between common worship and Christian worship.  You know this to be true:  A person can worship many things.  In fact, as human beings, we cannot help but worship.  So, the question is not:  will we worship? The question is:  what will we worship?  Martin is saying that for the Christian, this is what worship should look like.  Second, he points out to us that worship has two aspects:  adoration and service.  It’s more than an hour service on Sunday morning.  It’s life. Adoration and service has not time or location limits.  Finally, he puts worship into a Trinitarian perspective.  It’s to the Father through Son by the power of the Holy Spirit

Let me try my hand at a definition:

Christian worship is the act of reflecting back to God how valuable and delightful He is to you.

So worship is a response to God’s significance, beauty, and glory

Worship, whether we’ve thought about it this way before or not, has a broad and a narrow scope.  In the broad scope, worship includes every second of your life.  The way in which you drink sweet tea is a moment of worship.  The way in which you brush your hair is a moment of worship.  The way you lay down to rest is a moment of worship to God.  In the narrow scope, worship is the time set aside as an individual or a congregation to honor God through singing, prayer, thanksgiving, and preaching.  In both the broad and the narrow sense, we have a God who is totally worthy of our worship and praise.

Over the next several articles, I will put forth and explain some essentials to biblical Christian worship.  May you be helped to rightly revel in the Righteous One!