The Mark of True Worship – Romans 12:1

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. – Romans 12:1 CSB

What is worship? To most of us it is something we do on Sunday mornings in a ‘worship’ service. We sing ‘worship’ songs, listen to a sermon, maybe give an offering, and visit with other church members. But is that what worship really is?

While I believe there is an element of worship in what we do on Sunday mornings, I believe that worship is much more than that. In the Old Testament, worship generally involved the sacrifice of an animal that was given, in whole or in part, to God. But we are no longer expected, or required, to offer animal sacrifices. This is largely because Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for us in his death on the cross. But that does not mean that sacrifice has no place in the life of a believer. In Hebrews 3:15-16 we are told that our praise to God is a sacrifice, as is doing good to others in need.

But the most significant sacrifice we have to offer, and the one that constitutes true worship, is the giving of ourselves to God, wholly and completely. I express my reverence and adoration for God most completely when I continuously offer myself as a living sacrifice to him. I truly worship only when I lay my whole self at his feet in surrender.

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Heavenly Worship – Rev 4:9

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
     “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
          who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
     “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
          to receive glory and honor and power,
     for you created all things,
          and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:8-11 ESV

This is one of my favorite scenes from Revelation. God is sitting on his throne, with what appear to be the four cherubim from Ezekiel 1 & 10 surrounding him and engaged in continuous praise and worship. And surrounding them are 24 elders who join in continuous worship with the cherubim. God’s throne room is a place of continuous praise and worship; and I would guess it is not the sedate and orderly worship that many of us are accustomed to today.

Do you enjoy falling down before the throne of God and engaging in praise? Is so then you will fit right in with the heavenly court. If this kind of worship is more challenging for you, then maybe we need to practice more. Picture the cherubim and elders worshipping, and join in with them. Fall on your face before the throne of God and praise your creator and redeemer.

Worship in Spirit and Truth – John 4:23

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23 ESV

What is worship? For many Christians it is what takes place for an hour or so on Sunday mornings, singing a few songs and listening to a sermon. But is that really worship? Vines expository dictionary defines worship as “to make obeisance, do reverence to.” I have long thought of worship as bowing down before God, of surrendering to his lordship, giving myself to him (Rom 12:1-2).

Now please don’t get me wrong, I enjoy gathering with other believers, singing songs of praise and hearing the word preached. But I think that our typical worship services are probably geared more toward our own benefit than they are to worshipping God. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but shouldn’t real worship be focused on exalting God rather than pumping me up to survive another week?

God wants worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth. The outward forms of worship are good if they help in leading me to do homage to God. But what is important is that I do obeisance to God, whether it is corporately or individually. Join with the twenty-four elders and “fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever” (Rev 4:10).

Seeking God’s Direction – Acts 13:2

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” – Acts 13:2 NIV

Antioch was the home of the first known, predominately Gentile church. While it is not explicitly stated here, it would appear that the church leadership is seeking direction from God as they worship and fast. I suspect that this could very well be connected with God’s earlier calling of Paul (Acts 9:15) to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. God responds to them in some fashion, making clear that Saul (Paul) and Barnabas are to be sent off to proclaim the gospel. So they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them, and sent them off. And thus the first intentional missionaries are sent out.

While I do not expect that there are many Apostle Pauls waiting to be sent out from among us, this church at Antioch does set a good example of how to seek God’s direction. They worshipped, bowing down before their sovereign Lord; fasted, denying themselves and any outside distractions; and prayed, seeking God’s direction. And I suspect that it was not just for a few minutes on Sunday. I wonder what would happen if the church today was to do that? Or for us as individual believers?

Worship in Spirit – John 4:24

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:24 NIV

To worship God is to show reverence or adoration for him.  Worship should be the natural response of a person who has encountered the creator of the universe; their own creator.  But for some reason worship seems to come hard for me.  I look forward to ‘worship services’ with the church body and enjoy both the older traditional hymns and many of the newer chorus’.  But how often do I actually worship God during these ‘worship services’?  I am afraid that it is not nearly often enough.  And the fault is not with the worship team.

I am afraid that my motive for ‘worship’ is all too often selfish; I do it for my own benefit, for what I get out of it.  If I come away from the time recharged, then I would say that the worship experience was good.  If I come away empty, then the worship experience was bad.  Now I am not saying that real worship won’t impact me.  But I do believe that the measure of worship should not be how I feel when done.

While I may indeed be recharged by true worship, I could also be recharged when no real worship is taking place.  Meeting together with other believers, singing some catchy songs about God and listening to his word can all change my mood and make me feel better when leaving.  How often do I come home Sunday afternoon feeling good because of the mornings experience, and have not actually worshiped the one who I claim as my Lord?

Worship is really about expressing reverence and adoration for God.  He needs to be the focus of my thoughts and feelings.  If I am not joining the chorus in Revelation chapters 4 & 5, falling down before the one who sits on the throne and praising him, then I am not really worshipping.

Jesus tells us in the passage at the top that true worship is a spiritual exercise.  It is not just a matter of saying or singing an appropriate set of words.  Worship only occurs when I fall on my face before the one who alone is worthy of my adoration, and praise him for who and what he is.

Worship for me is primarily an individual experience, even when I am surrounded by other people.  And it is an experience that is not nearly common enough in my life.  I long to worship more naturally.  And I yearn to be able to be a part of a koinonia that can worship together, not only in song, but also in prayer; that worships in spirit and in truth.

Because He is worthy!

Replacing God’s Commands with Human Tradition – Mark 7:6-8

As far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was not a very good Jew.  He seemed somewhat disinterested in following all of the traditions that had developed over the years, and they took offense with this.  Eventually they challenged him over his disregard of their traditions and received the following in response.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Mark 7:6-8 NIV
Jesus here affirms what Isaiah had earlier accused the people of: giving lip service to God, but not giving him their hearts.  They are also accused of ‘worship’ that was really just a waste of time, and focusing on human traditions rather than on God’s instruction to them.
 
How often am I content with offering God lip service, going through the forms of worship, but not really having my heart in it?  I know of no place where God directs us to spend an hour in Sunday School on Sunday morning, followed by another hour to sing a few catchy songs, listen to a sermon, take up a collection and visit among ourselves for a while.  Yet I somehow seem satisfied that when I have done that, I have fulfilled my weekly need to worship God.
 
And somehow I suspect that I am not the only person guilty of that.  Our churches are partially filled each Sunday with folks who offer lip service, satisfied that they have fulfilled their obligation to God, all the while they are making plans for the rest of the day or week; wondering who the preacher is preaching to this week; and catching up on the latest news from our fellow worshipers.
 
Don’t take me wrong here.  I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with our traditions for Sunday morning worship.  Those traditions can provide us some structure that can enhance our ability to worship, especially those of us who are uncomfortable without that structure.  But we should be careful that the observance of those traditions does not take the place of worship.
 
So, if our tradition on Sunday morning is not enough, what worship does God find acceptable?  Jesus seems to equate obedience to Gods commands with worship in the passage above.  And below he shares with us what commands are most important.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31 NIV
I worship God when I give him my all, loving him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  And I worship him when I treat others with love, especially those who are most in need of it.  Come and sing songs and hear God’s word proclaimed.  But do it with love for God as well as those around you.  And don’t be satisfied with an hour or two on Sunday; instead worship him in all you do.  Don’t just give lip service.  Give heart service as well..

On This Rock – Matthew 16:15-18

In Matthew 16:15-18, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is.  Peter responds with “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”  To which Jesus responds that God has revealed this to him, and that upon that rock he would build his church.  Many believe this ‘rock’ that the church is built on was Peter, but most of the rest of us believe that the rock was the truth that God had revealed to Peter concerning Jesus identity: that the church is built on Jesus, the Son of God.

Who

But what is the church?  This word is used twice in the gospels, both times in Matthew, and frequently throughout the rest of the New Testament; but never with a description of what, or who, the church is, and what its purpose is.  The word generally translated as church is the Greek word ekklēsia which more literally means “called out” or “called forth”.  It was generally used in Greek to reference a civic assembly that was called together for a specific purpose, i.e Acts 19:39.

So you might think of the church as an assembly of those that God has called out of this world, an assembly that is under the authority of Jesus.  The church, contrary to some, is not a building, it is not an activity we engage in on Sunday morning, it is not a social gathering.  The church is people, people who have been called out of this world by God, and who have responded to that call.  Sometimes it refers to the called out believers in a specific location, and sometimes it refers to the called out believers across the world, but always it refers to called out believers.

Why

That is the ‘who’ of the church, which is part of the ‘what’ question.  But ‘why’ is also a very important part of ‘what’ the church is.  Why is it that we are called out of the world and into assembly together?  For too many people in the church, or hanging around the church, the answer is either a blank look, or something like “to worship God”.  Now I find it hard to believe that God had no purpose in ‘calling’ us out.  Nor do I really believe he takes great delight in us assembling together on Sunday to sing a few songs and listen to a sermon; as inspiring as either might be.

While we may not always designate Jesus followers prior to Pentecost as the church, they were the ones he had called out from the rest of the world, and had been assembled with him for over 3 years.  And the last thing he does with them before his return to the Father is to commission them.  Matthew’s version, in Matthew 28:18-20, or Luke’s version in Acts 1:8, both tell the same story.  We are to go out into the world and tell people about God, bringing others into the assembly, making disciples of them.

I believe that commission contains our marching orders, to represent God to a world that is sorely in need of him.  And that is the picture we see painted in Acts, as the gospel is taken into wider and wider circles; into all the world.  Here the church is intentionally sharing the gospel where they are, and going to places the gospel hasn’t yet reached.

Nowhere, apart maybe from the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 do we find a church that withdrew from the world to be a safe haven for beleaguered believers.  And yet too often that is what we have become today.  Too often we sit within the comfortable confines of our safe walls, singing nice songs, studying the Bible, and moaning about how the world around us is going to hell in a handbasket.  And the closest we come to taking the gospel to them is when someone wanders in off the street and sits through a sermon.  And we wonder why the church is not growing!

Body Life

Of course there is more to life in the body that proclaiming the gospel.  It is appropriate for us to worship our Lord; to grow and develop as disciples; to love each other in personal and practical ways.  Worship should be a natural expression of who we are.  One of my favorite parts of Revelation is the scene described in chapters 4 & 5.  Here we see the 4 living creatures praising God, followed by the 24 elders, bazillions of angels and every creature, including those on the earth.  Too often we follow the lead of a worship team on the stage at the front of the building we meet in on Sunday to set the tone of our worship.  Consider following the lead of the 4 living creatures instead, and be constantly in a state of worship around the throne.

Part of the Great Commission in Matthew is teaching the disciples to follow Jesus direction.  And the example of the earliest church is that they were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles.  The New Testament church was eager to learn all they could about God, the good news about Jesus, and about living as God’s called out ones.  Following their example would help us to grow in our knowledge of God, both intellectually and relationally, as well as becoming more effective in sharing with an increasingly skeptical world.

The church is not just an assembly of believers while we hang around earth waiting for our promotion.  The church is also described as the bride of Christ and one of the most interesting parts of John’s vision in Revelation is his description of the bride of Christ in chapters 21 & 22.  Here the bride is described as a pretty spectacular city; an eternal city.  The church will be around for eternity, not the SBC or the Roman Catholic, or Methodist, but the assembly of called out ones.  That may be why Jesus and his apostles were so insistent that we love each other and get along here.  A part of being the church, the body, the bride, is to lose ourselves and become one, like Christ and the Father are one; to love one another.

Thoughts

  •  How does the church you are apart of compare to the church described in the book of Acts?
  • Is there a passion for taking the gospel to the lost around you?
  • When you come together to worship, do you have a sense of having entered into God’s presence?
  • What can you do to improve the quality of life in the body?

Church Ordinances

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.  Almost every church and denomination includes these two activities as a part of their life together.  But just how they practice them, and what they mean widely vary across Christianity.

For some, like Baptists, they are ordinances.  We consider an ordinance to be a symbolic act that we do in obedience to Christ’s direction.  An ordinance is an act of obedience and worship, but plays no part in my salvation or in imparting God’s grace to me.

As ordinances, both of these paint a picture that describe what Christ has done for me and what has happened in my own life.  As I partake, either directly, in my own baptism or in communion, or indirectly through someone elses baptism, I remember what has happened and so am drawn deeper into worship.

For others, most notably Catholics, they are sacraments.  A sacrament is considered to be something that God uses to impart salvation, or some measure of grace, to the person who participates.  And so participation in these activities becomes important to secure, or keep oneself in, right relationship with God.

Baptism

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus instructs his followers to teach and baptize wherever they go.  And then in the rest of the New Testament you see them doing just that.  In Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12,  Acts 8:38, Acts 10:47-48, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8Acts 19:5 and 1 Corinthians 1:14-17,  we see baptism closely connected to the expanding reach of the gospel.  Baptism appears to have been practiced by the church from its inception.

While Acts 2:37-38 does appear to express the necessity of baptism for salvation, a very similar question in Acts 16:30-31 makes no mention of baptism.  While we find baptism practiced and directed throughout the New Testament, nowhere else is it linked as a requirement for salvation.  On the other hand we frequently find salvation being an issue of grace and faith alone.  We are baptised, not because we must, but rather to outwardly identify as a follower of Christ and illustrate the change that we have experienced.

The Greek word from which we get baptise was a technical term used by dyers of cloth.  They would prepare a vat of dye and then immerse, or baptise, the cloth into the vat.  This idea of immersion also works well with the symbolic act of baptism: in baptism, the believer demonstrates his death to the old life, his burial as he goes down into the water and then resurrection into a new life as he comes back out.  Other modes of baptism, i.e. sprinkling, are not really able to fully symbolize what has happened in the life of the believer.

Since baptism is an act of obedience on the part of a believer, Baptists do not baptise infants, or anyone else who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ and risen Lord.  Rather we limit baptism to those who have chosen to follow Jesus as Lord and want to declare that allegiance to the rest of the world.

While not universally true, most Baptists require that a person be baptised, by immersion and as an act of obedience, in order to become a member of the local church.  While this is not something that is explicitly taught in the New Testament, it is easy to justify.  If a person is not willing to publically declare his commitment to Christ, are they really going to effectively align themselves with a body of believers who have?  Of course there are exceptions to this for people who are physically unable to be immersed, or in places where the church is forced to operate in secret, but it is generally true.

When I watch someone being baptised, I rejoice in their commitment to Christ and their changed life.  But I can also take the opportunity offered by this ordinance to celebrate Jesus death, burial and resurrection.  I can turn every baptism into a mini Easter celebration and worship the one who has made our new life possible.

Lord’s Supper

In Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:14-20 we find Jesus, after sharing in the Passover meal with his disciples, introducing a new element to the observance: the cup of his shed blood and the bread of his broken body; symbolic of the new covenant he was establishing.  Later, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul, in the midst of a correction concerning the observance of the Lord’s Supper, passes on what he had been taught; that taking the elements is to be done in remembrance and proclamation of Jesus death.

In a Communion meal there are generally two elements: bread and wine or grape juice.  These elements are taken in remembrance of Jesus death on the cross and all that it means.  It is also a proclamation to the world around us that we believe Jesus died for all who will put their trust in him.

For Baptists, this bread and juice never becomes more than a piece of bread and cup of juice.  They are elements that only help us in remembering Jesus sacrifice.  For others these elements are believed to actually become, or contain, in some way, the flesh and blood of Jesus.  And as the actual body and blood of Christ, these elements introduce some element of grace into the life of the participant.  And so this sacrament, becomes more than just a remembrance of Jesus death.  It becomes a way of sharing more completely in the life of Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is most commonly observed as an act of worship while the body is assembled together, although there are those who will also share in the meal in smaller group settings, something that can aid in the development of intimacy within the group.  Most churches will try and limit participation in the meal to believers, since it has no meaning to those who are not ‘remembering his death until he comes’.  Some open the meal to all believers, some limit it to those of like faith, and some will limit participation to active members of the local body.

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul gives some additional direction concerning the Lord’s Supper, direction that is in response to inappropriate behavior at the meal by the Corinthian believers.  It is important, when taking the bread and wine/juice that I recognize the body and blood of Jesus.  At the very least this would mean that during the meal I am focused on Jesus sacrifice.  But it likely goes beyond an intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus died on the cross, and joining myself with him, dying to self and living for him.  What better way to remember his death than to join him, dying to self and living the life he died to bring to me.

Failure to recognize the body and blood of Christ is to eat the elements in an unworthy manner, potentially bringing the Lord’s discipline into my life.  Examine your walk with him before eating, and eat remembering what he did for you.  Make your participation in the Lord’s table a time of renewal and worship.

Thoughts

  • What is the difference between an ordinance and a sacrament?
  • Based on your understanding of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from the scriptures, are they best considered ordinances or sacraments?
  • When you watch a baptism, or participate in the Lord’s Supper, do you do it as an act of worship?
  • When you share in the bread and cup, do you picture Jesus crucifixion in your mind, remembering what he did for you?
  • When you watch a baptism, can you picture the person coming out of a grave rather than the water?
  • How can you make Baptism and the Lord’s Supper more meaningful in your own life?

Emanuel: God With Us

In Matthew 1:23 we find a quote from Isaiah 7:14 that is applied to Jesus:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  While the Isaiah passage is given as a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah, concerning his current enemies, the author of Matthew sees in this passage a look ahead to Jesus, who was “God with us”.

All too often at Christmas we focus on a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago; looking more at the circumstances of his birth rather than who was born.  Yes, we recognize him as the “Son of God” and that he was born to be our savior.  But how often at Christmas do focus on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, with their accounts of shepherds, wise men, Herod, angels, imagined inn keepers, sheep, donkeys and drummer boys; and treat Jesus as just one more character in the story?

That little baby, that so many of us picture laying in a miniature manger among our other Christmas decorations, is so much more than a baby.  John says that he was the Word, who was God, and who created this universe, who became flesh and lived among us.  Paul says that he was equal with God, but set aside his glory as God to take on human form and die for us.  The author of Hebrews says that he became a man, just like us, so that he could become a faithful high priest.

This Christmas, remember Emanuel, God with us.  That child that Mary bore and delivered under humble circumstances over 2000 years ago was God, clothed in human flesh.  Like the wise men, come and worship him and give to him the best gift you can: yourself!

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