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Is it Important Where We Worship?

If you are looking for a resource to help you study the Bible, may I recommend Thru The Bible with J Vernon McGee. It is a systematic and thorough study that takes you through every chapter of every book of the Bible in 5 years. It is broadcast on half-hour segments on the radio, or you can access the program on demand through their website; you can even download mp3s of the study for free.

Anyway, as they were going through Deuteronomy 12, verses 5-6 were pointed out, in which God tells His people that when they enter the Promised Land (after they have settled) that they were to seek the specific place God Himself would choose to “dwell,”, and only there were they to worship. McGee then tied that passage into Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42); there, the woman questioned the importance of where to worship (v20). Jesus’ response was that the time had come (v21) to have a different focus, because He had come. No longer was the place of worship important; now, what was important was the person you were worshipping: the Father, in spirit and in truth (v23). Because Jesus has identified Himself as the truth (John 14:6), one could interpret the statement in John 4:23 that Jesus is pointing to all three persons of the Trinity.

In the Old Testament, God placed restrictions on the people of Israel as to where to worship, so that they might not be enticed to follow other gods or even to worship the true God through the ways the other nations were worshiping false gods. Why? Because they were doing things in the name of worship that were detestable to God, like burning their children as a sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:30-31).

So, what changed in the New Testament? Jesus established His church. God no longer limits His ‘dwelling’ to a single place like the temple in Jerusalem, but through the Holy Spirit, Jesus dwells in the heart of every believer (John 14:15-16,23; Matthew 28:20). Now, the location of worship doesn’t matter, but only that we are worshiping the one true God.

There ought to be a oneness today among believers… Today we don’t meet in one place, but we meet around one person, and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ… It doesn’t make any difference what the name is in front of the church… the important thing is, in that church do they meet around the person of Christ? If they don’t, may I say then, they’ve got an idol there, because they’re meeting around something. Sometimes, it’s entertainment. Sometimes, it’s nothing in the world but to socialize, and that’s the thing that draws them together. Those things are wrong. The thing that’s to draw us together is the person of Christ.

J Vernon McGee

I don’t think that the aspects of socializing or entertainment are necessarily wrong, in and of themselves. But we have to be careful not to let those things (or anything else) become our focus, our reason for going to worship, because then they do become idols.

Regardless of where we worship, may God bring about a oneness in His church today, through a focus on Jesus Christ.


You Don’t Have to Be a Rock Star to Lead Worship

I enjoy leading worship. I believe it is something God has called me to do, created me for, purposed for my life. At the same time, no one would mistake me for a professional singer. I would not get very far on the The Voice or American Idol. Yet, it is because of my less-than-stellar talent that I believe I am effective as a worship leader. How?

Paul, in many of his letters to the early churches, acknowledged that he wasn’t the best speaker. He referred to himself as a jar of clay, contrasting his personal worth compared to the “treasure” of the message of the gospel. He recognized that God often uses ordinary people with ordinary talents,”to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Now, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best or think too lowly of myself or my talents. No, the Bible encourages those who lead worship to do so skillfully (Psalm 33:3, 1 Chronicles 25:6-7). In fact, whatever we do, we should work at it with all our heart, as though working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Even when we are striving to do our best, though, we should rely on Christ’s power – not our own – to work within us (Colossians 1:29).

So, it is fine to feel less than adequate to serve God. It reminds me to depend more on God and less than myself. It keeps me humble, lest I be tempted to draw attention to myself and away from God. When God uses me (of all people) to lead others to a meaningful worship experience, to an encounter with God, then the praise and glory goes rightfully to God Himself.

When God Hates Worship

It is possible for church-goers to be doing the typical things they do – worship, fellowship, etc. – and for God to hate what they’re doing. That sounds like strong language, but those aren’t my words:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

    your assemblies are a stench to me.

Amos 5:21 (NIV)

In Amos 5:21-27, God is speaking to His chosen people. Clearly, God is not accepting their worship. After making the blanket statement above, God gets specific: he does not accept their offerings (v22), and he doesn’t want to listen to their worship music, saying, “Away with the noise of your songs!”(v23)

Why is God so opposed to the worship of these people? Perhaps the rest of the passage helps to explain. Verse 24 says, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” More important than outward expressions of worship are championing justice and living rightly according to God’s standard, found in His Word. This verse also reminds me of Micah 6:8, in which God indicates that going through the motions of sacrifices (religious ceremony) is not as important as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly (living out our lives) with God.

Going back to Amos 5, in verses 25-27 God challenges the people to consider the authenticity of their hearts. Maybe they did bring sacrifices and offerings to God, but they also – or maybe, instead – worshiped idols. In our day, we have to be careful of making the same mistake. The challenge we have is that our idols are not as obvious as those of Amos’ day; ours are more subtle. I shared more about what I’ve learned about modern day idols in this blog post.

The important thing is to honestly assess our hearts and minds, and ask God through the Holy Spirit to show us where we may be worshiping other ‘gods’ in our life. And then we have to be willing to get rid of those idols. God does not change; if he hated such worship then, He hates it now. God will not accept our worship of Him if we are also worshiping other idols. I think this is what Jesus Christ was saying when He taught that one can only have one master; one cannot serve both God and other things (Matthew 6:24).

May we purify our hearts and motives for worship. May we be willing to discover and discard any idols in our lives. May our worship be not hateful, but pleasing, to God.

Confession in Worship

One aspect of worship that is often overlooked in many contemporary churches, especially churches that are not tied to any historical, or denominational, church, is confession. The Bible encourages confession of sin, both privately and corporately. The most common examples of confessions are instances in which someone is confessing their own sins or the sins of a group, or even of an entire nation. But there are also examples of corporate confession of sin, including Nehemiah 9:1-3 and a call to corporate confession in James 5:13-16.

I’m not sure why some churches don’t include confession in worship. Are they worried that people may become offended and attendance will decline? Do they think it’s not important, and in the desire to keep the worship service from being ‘too long’ they leave it out? Having a time of confession necessarily requires talking about sin, and that in itself can be a very sensitive subject, so maybe it’s just safer to not talk about it.

I think a common misconception that creates the sensitivity around this topic is that, if we confess sin, we’re admitting that we’re “bad” people. When we come to church, we don’t want to be told we’re bad. In fact, just by coming to church, doesn’t that show that I’m a good person? The problem is, we tend to think of sin as only real bad things: murder, theft and the like. But anything that falls short of God’s perfect law is sin. Moreover, every person is born with a sinful nature, and no one is able to lead a sinless life (Psalm 53:3, Romans 3:23). I love what Joel Hunter wrote in his devotional book Inner State 80: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”

The best thing about corporate confession in worship is that, after taking time to be honest with God about our sin, we can be encouraged by the reminder that God forgives us, and even receive forgiveness from God right then and there.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for corporate worship to confess. Confession is a vital part of personal prayer and worship. Not only confessing our own sins, but the sins of our family, of the church-wide body of Christ, or of the nation. God encourages us to do this, and He has given us examples of confessional prayers in the Bible, that with a very little effort can be adapted and used today to cover these areas of confession. Some include Ezra 9:6-15, Nehemiah 1:5-11, and Daniel 9:4-19.

Confession in worship helps remind us that none of us is perfect, that we need God’s forgiveness, and that we are not alone – everyone else needs forgiveness too. By participating in corporate confession in worship, it can help us to be more open to private confession in our personal time with God. Perhaps, God is waiting to intervene in troubling situations – in our personal lives and even in our nation – until we get honest and serious about confession, and turn away from the things we confess (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Invite Others to Church

Jesus tells a parable ( a story with a message) about a wedding banquet. It is recorded in Matthew 22:1-14 and in Luke 14:15-24. Each account of the parable includes slightly different details, as each Gospel writer has a unique perspective and was writing to a different target audience. We get a more complete understanding of what Jesus was teaching by looking at both.

Jesus makes it clear that the illustration of the wedding banquet is a comparison to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 22:2). It is a wedding banquet because many times in the Bible, Jesus Christ is referred to as a bridegroom and the church is referred to as the bride of Christ. With this understanding, the wedding banquet can be seen as a gathering of celebration of all believers with God.

Several points are made between the two accounts about this banquet:

  • Many who are invited will make excuses not to come (Luke 14:18-20)
  • Some will simply refuse to come (Matthew 22:3)
  • Some will ignore the invitation (Matthew 22:5)
  • Some will mistreat, and even kill, those who gave the invitation (Matthew 22:6)
  • Invitations will continue to be sent to anyone, from all corners of life (Matthew 22:9-10, Luke 14:21,23)
  • Those who try to get to heaven without accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, the only way to make us righteous before God, will not be allowed (Matthew 22:12-14)

The other day as I was reading and meditating on these passages, I believe God showed me that this illustration also fits the church here and now. Every weekend, we gather to celebrate Jesus Christ and what God has done for us. Like the master in the story, God wants us to be constantly inviting people to join our worship celebration. When we do, we should not be surprised if people make excuses, simply refuse, ignore us, or even mistreat us. But none of those things should deter us from continuing to invite people. Sometimes this means continuing to invite the same people: years ago, I read about a study that showed that, on average, it takes people 7 invitations to church before they accept. Sometimes, like in the parable, we just need to find other people to invite. The important thing is to keep inviting people, for how can people come to saving faith if they’re not introduced to the one true God? (Romans 10:14)

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