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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 12, 1999
The Focus of Worship
This morning I want to bring before you something that has been on my heart for sometime. I would like to express to you something that is both a concern and desire. In some ways I especially want you who are new to Grace Bible Church to understand this because it defines for you where we desire to go as a church.
Our society has greatly changed over the course of the 20th century. Technology certainly has changed us. Travel has changed from horse and buggy to the Space Shuttle. Communication has changed from hand written letters to e-mail and cellular phones. Our work environment has changed from largely agricultural labor to technology based services. Our living conditions have changed. I think it is safe to say that most all of us live in homes that our ancestors living in the previous century could not even have imagined. Gas or electric ranges and stoves, microwaves, automatic coffee makers, washing machines and dryers, refrigerators and freezers, thermostat controlled clean heat and air conditioning, etc. All these appliances and convenience items we take so much for granted were beyond even their imagination.
Something else has changed in our society too. I spoke to this issue in a previous sermon, so I am only going to mention it briefly here, but we have become an entertainment oriented society. Amusements have become a large part of our focus of life. Whether that be vacations, day trips to area attractions, or the hours spent in front of a television, a large hunk of our lives, especially as compared to the previous century, are now spent in amusing ourselves. Someone has well pointed out that we now play at our work and work at our play. I spoke to that issue somewhat in last week’s sermon on Honorable Labor.
My concern is that this mentality of entertainment and desire for convenience has also changed the mindset by which we approach our worship of God. My desire is that we as a church are careful to have a proper focus on God and worship Him to the very best of our abilities. Our Lord who created us and redeemed us from our sins is deserving of our every effort to give honor and praise to Him. My concern is that we are affected by the spirit of our age and the selfish desires of our own hearts and instead come to get for ourselves rather than to give to God.
Now before anyone starts to squirm, I want to point out that I am speaking as much to myself and I am to anyone here. All of us are affected by the general mentality of our culture to one degree or another. I have certainly sat through enough worship services where the music was not to my personal taste or the preacher seemed dry and boring so that I ended up becoming critical or day dreaming about what I could do if only the service would end.
The story is told that when the preacher Henry Ward Beecher became famous, large crowds would assemble to hear him. One time there was a visiting minister that came up to preach, and when some of the people learned that Beecher was not going to preach, they began to move toward the doors. The visiting minister then called out, "All who have come here today to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church! All who have come to worship God, keep your seats!" No one then left.
We need to remember that neither myself nor our musicians or anyone else that comes up front is here to entertain you or even to meet your felt needs. You are not the audience. God is the audience, and all that we do is for the purpose of stirring up our hearts to true worship and prodding one another on to love and good deeds.
Too often we gather together supposedly to worship God, but our mind is really on ourselves and what we are going to get. Did we like the music selections? Did the pastor remember to pray for my request and why does he have to pray so long? What was the quality of the special music? How interesting was the sermon today and how long did he preach? The mind begins to wander from point to point and we think about what we will do when we get home.
We used to have some men here that would give me a hard time about the length of the worship service. Occasionally they would make a comment that the sermon was good, but more often there was a comment that we went over time. They said their concern was for the visitors. Maybe that was true, maybe it was not. But our concern should not be for visitors or for ourselves. Our concern should be how well have we worshiped God today! I praise the Lord for the general mindset that has developed in this church that reflects that.
Sometime ago I noticed that we were often going to 12:30 or later in our Morning Worship service, so I brought the subject up at our leaders meeting. The men nearly rebuked me that I should not be concerned about the time, but I should preach as long as I felt led by the Lord to continue. Some months later we had a service that went to nearly 1 p.m. The men talked with me about it after the service. They were not concerned that we had gone so long, but simply that we needed to find a way to communicate to our nursery and children’s workers so they could do something appropriate with the kids.
Our society has become extremely time conscious. We tend to plan all our activities by the clock. Part of that is simply the consequence of the complexity of our society. We want to get a lot of things done and we cannot do that if we are waiting on other people. I certainly understand the need for things to start at a certain time and end at a certain time so that we can get to the next thing that starts at a certain time. I believe, however, that when it comes to the worship of God, we had better be very careful of trying to put God in some sort of position whereby we only give Him a certain amount of our time according to our schedule. If for no other reason, understand that every breath you take is a moment of time that God has graciously given to you and if you want Him to grant you another, then you had better give some thought to Him. Consider Psalm 90:9-12.
Psalm 90:9 (NASB) For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is [but] labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. What will you do with the few short years of your life? Do you have a heart of wisdom?
In the Old Testament, we find the children of Israel gave their time to the worship of God. Not only was there all the time in hearing Moses teach them the law and all the time carrying out its many commands, but in Exod. 33:8 we find this. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent . 9 And it came about, whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. They stood and worshiped the Lord while God was talking with Moses.
When Ezra read the Law of God to the people that had returned from the exile, Nehemiah 8:5 records that the stood up while it was read and translated (aren’t you glad I do not have you stand during my sermon). A portion of each day for seven days straight was devoted to the public reading of God’s law. On the eight day, Nehemiah 9:2,3 records that the people stood for a fourth of the day while the law was read and then stood for another fourth of the day while they confessed their sins and worshiped God. (Maybe those padded blue chairs are not so bad after all?)
In Acts 20 there is an interesting story about Paul’s preaching ability. And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 8 And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9 And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." 11 And when he had gone [back] up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted. (I don’t preach long at all in comparison).
So, to our guests and to those who may be clock watchers, please understand that our desire at Grace Bible Church is to give of our best to Lord. We are already painfully aware that the time we give to Him in corporate worship is minuscule compared to what our Lord Jesus Christ is deserving. While we are sensitive to the fact that we are creatures of time, we do not watch the clock to make sure we end at any particular time. We could end at noon (rarely), we often go to 12:30, we may go even go to 1 p.m. on occasion. Our desire is set on the worship of God, not on watching a clock. We ask you to join with us in that desire and plan accordingly. We know there are times when a pressing engagement may compel you leave the service before it is over. Simply sit toward the back and slip out quietly and rejoice in the Lord as you go.
The time factor is only one small factor in the worship of God. In fact, it is only a small reflection of the larger issue. As I pointed out two weeks ago, true worship of God is Regenerated in the Spirit, Regained in Truth, Reverent in heart, Respectful in Action, Rendered in Service, Radiated in Proclamation, Resounded in Praise, Responds in Prayer, Reflected both as Individuals and as a congregation, and it is Rigorous work.
True worship about giving of ourselves to God. The great tragedy is there is an increasing trend even in the evangelical church that has shifted that focus. The worship service is no longer centered on God’s people worshiping God, but on God’s people trying to become more attractive to the non-Christian. This trend goes by different names, but often is referred to as being "seeker sensitive." I have nothing against being sensitive to non-Christians. I believe we need to be culturally relevant. We need to understand the mind set of the non-Christian, what is and is not important to them so that we might be able to clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Paul addressed this issue in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 For though I am free from all [men,] I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Paul was sensitive to the culture of the non-Christian so that he could communicate in the language of that culture the gospel message. He tried to avoid giving unnecessary offense because of ignorance any cultural taboos. We need to do likewise. We need to be culturally relevant with both the gospel message and the worship of God. We need to speak in language that will be understood and we need to help people worship God to the best of their ability. At issue is not the style of music nor the use of drama in a worship service or which Bible version is used. As the culture of the society around us continues to change we may need to adapt some of the things we do so that we can be like Paul who became all things to all men, that he may by all means save some.
We need to be sensitive to the non-Christian, but we must be careful not to let our focus become the non-Christian. This is the great problem with the so called "seeker sensitive" movement. The focus has moved from the worship of God to making things tolerable if not comfortable for the non-Christian. When this happens it is almost inevitable that the gospel message is toned down and changed because the gospel itself is an offense to the non-Christian. They do not like to hear that they are a sinner and their actions prove God to be just in His condemnation of them. A person who lies is a liar and a son of the father of lies. Someone who steals, and it does not matter how small the item stolen, is a thief. A person who has ideas about God that are contrary to what He has revealed Himself to be is an idolater. We could go on with many other specific sins – adultery, fornication, hatred, murder, greed, drunkenness, debauchery, etc., but you get the idea. God condemns all these things and those who practice them. People don’t like to hear that. The non-Christian also does not like to hear that they cannot somehow earn their way to heaven. The idea of begging God for mercy is offensive to them. The result is that the message of the Bible becomes distorted because God is no longer the focus. The non-Christian is now the focus and some means must be found to attract them to the church and get them to stay.
Now before I go on, I need to point out that the Bible is clear about the nature of a non-Christian. They do not seek the true God. As Romans 3:10-12, which is a quote from Psalm 14, points out, "There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one." Making things comfortable for them is not going to bring them to Christ. If a person is a "seeker" like that described in Hebrews 11:6 or Jer. 29:13, then the Holy Spirit is already doing a work in them and they do not need to have things made comfortable. They will seek the true God regardless of what you or I do.
At issue is not the peripheral things that are done in the church but the fundamental reason why the church exists and gathers together. Grace Bible Church has changed and will continue to change to be sensitive to the culture around us not so that we attract such people in, but so that they can understand the gospel message and can join with us in the true worship of our great God and Saviour. The church exists and gathers together for the purpose of the worship of God. All that we are and all that we do eventually must focus on this central issue.
Why do we Communicate New Life in Christ to others? We Evangelize so that others can become true worshipers of God. Why do we Cultivate New Life in Christ? We edify one another so that we may gain a greater understanding of God and His nature resulting in better worship of Him. Why do we Care for One Another in Christ? As we have true fellowship with one another in practicing all the "one another" commands, we become more like Jesus Christ and bring greater praise to His name. That is worship.
Folks, the mentality that underlies the effort to make church palatable to the non-Christian did not come out of a vacuum. It was already present when the church began to be more concerned with what the people within her thought than what God thought. I understand why church leaders began to change the focus from God centered worship to man centered religious services. They were responding to what the people in the pews wanted. Christians are not immune from the influences of the surrounding society. Unless you are very diligent to keep your focus on Christ, it is easy to accept as your own the prevailing mindset of our culture.
When I started this message I pointed out some of the vast changes that have taken place in this century. In particular I pointed out both the shift to an entertainment mentality and the increasing desire and expectation of convenience. That has infiltrated the church and robbed her of true worship, for the church in America, for the most part, now caters to the whims and fancies of her people than the glory of God. People now choose churches the same way they choose an appliance or a social club. Which one will best fit my needs? We should choose a church based on the two foundational questions of which church is the most accurate with the Scriptures, and where can I most effectively serve the Lord?
I remember visiting a young family that moved here from out of State. They had visited. We found out their needs and some people went over to help them with some things. We finally got to talking about the church here. They liked the teaching and the people, but then they were very direct that they would be looking for another church because we did not have a youth group and they wanted a good youth group for their daughter. I looked over at their only child lying there in the basinet and smiled. We had loads of babies then – still do. There would be plenty of youth when their daughter reached that age. If they really wanted a youth group now, why not help us start one.
I have run into many similar people over the years, and frankly, I am glad they are not here. We do not cater to people who are not serious about wanting to grow in Jesus Christ and serve Him. We do not need people who are playing church or only seeking to have their own needs met. They distract us from the mission God has given us. They complain when things are not going the way they want them. And if we are not careful, they slowly shift the focus of the church from the worship of God to placating people.
Ladies and gentlemen. Our purpose statement is straight forward and clear. Grace Bible Church exists to glorify God by making disciples so Jesus Christ. We are not here to have a good time, though we have a great time when we truly worship our God. We are not here to meet your felt needs, though we are here to have God work through us in meeting your real needs in true Christian fellowship. We are not here to raise your kids for you or provide the religious instruction you fail to give them at home, though we count it a joy and great privilege to teach your children about Jesus and help you in every way we can to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are not here to give you positive platitudes so that you will feel good when you leave, though there is no more positive message than the gospel and nothing can make you feel better than to know that God loved and redeemed you while you were yet a sinner. We are not here to entertain you with wonderful music, though we hope you will be blessed by our effort to glorify our great God in music, even if sometimes our best effort may only amount to a joyful noise. We are not here to make your life more convenient by providing quality programs and services, though we desire to provide quality programs and services that will challenge and help you in your walk with God.
Two weeks ago concluded my sermon on the Basics of Worship by stating that true worship is rigorous work. Let me expand on that briefly before I wrap up today’s sermon.
As already mentioned, we live in a day in age when amusement and convenience are valued. We also have become increasingly casual. We want things to be free and easy, nonchalant. That is not bad in itself, but we need to be careful that we do not become casual and nonchalant in our approach to God. That is not acceptable to God.
Consider that Exodus 25-30, some 225 verses are devoted to just detailing the design and manner in which the Tabernacle would be used to worship God. Exodus 36-40, another 179 verses describe the building of the Tabernacle. Leviticus 1-6, 124 verses describe in detail each kind of sacrifice and how it was to be presented. Leviticus 7 & 8 detail the preparation of the priests to participate in leading the worship of God. In Leviticus 9 Aaron offers the first sacrifices in preparing the priests to begin their work. Then in Leviticus 10:1,2 we find this.
Levi 10:1 (NASB) Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
They did not properly prepare the incense and God took their lives. Why? Verse 3 – Then Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’" So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.
There is some indication in the text (vs. 9f) that they may have been drunk and that is why they did not properly prepare. Their neglect to the details of the proper worship of God cost them their lives. A similar story takes place in 2 Samuel 6.
David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David did not do this haphazardly, but it was not done correctly. David had 30,000 men for the event (vs. 1). They placed the Ark on a new cart (vs. 2). David and the all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of musical instruments (vs. 5). This is quite a procession. Then tragedy strikes in verse 6 & 7. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset [it.] You would think, "wow, that was close, but Uzzah saved the day by keeping the Ark from being upset. But No! – vs. 7.
7 And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. We think, Oh Lord God, how could you do such a thing to a man trying to help. The answer is that is was irreverent. The Ark was supposed to be moved only by the Priests carrying it on their shoulders (Ex. 25:14; Deut. 10:8). They put it on an ox cart. God’s mercy was shown in that He only struck down Uzzah and not all of them. David learned the lesson and brought the Ark up in the correct manner three months later (2 Sam. 6:12f).
Lest you think that the same does not occur in the New Testament, turn to 1 Cor. 11.
Paul describes how they were observing the Lord’s Supper in verses 17-22. Instead of being unified, they were divided from each other. Some were gluttonous and drunk while others were going hungry. In verses 23-27 Paul describes the proper decorum that should be present when observing the Lord’s Supper. Then in verse 28-30 Paul warns, Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.
30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
Beloved, we must be careful in our approach to God. He is holy and we must treat Him that way. He is deserving of all that we are. We should be doing our very best to give Him praise and honor. We must be very careful not to fall into the prevailing attitudes of our society.
True worship is about God, not about you or me. We do not gather in worship to gain for ourselves, to be entertained or amused, or hear pleasantries that will make us feel good. We gather to give, not to get. We gather to focus our attention on the God, to give Him praise, honor and thanksgiving while learning of Him that we may be His obedient servants. Personal convenience is not an issue in true worship. In fact, the worship is probably better when we have been inconvenienced to do it. We must also be careful to have the right attitude of reverence when coming to worship the Lord.
I hope you share my desire to have a proper focus on God and worship Him to the very best of our abilities. We will pick up this theme again next week as we look into "The Work of Worship."
Sermon Study Sheets KIDS CORNER
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term "worship" is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about your own attitude toward God in worship.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What evidence of the "entertainment" mentality have you seen in our society? Do you sometimes find yourself evaluating the quality of the worship service instead of concentrating on God? Do you think you spend enough time worshiping God? Do you think God approves your usage of time? What do you think of "Seeker Sensitive" services? What is their strength? What is their weakness? How can Grace Bible improve in its sensitivity to non-Christians? Would you be able to adjust to such a change? What evidence have you seen of churches being more concerned about what people think than what God thinks? How are you personally involved in fulfilling our purpose statement – (Glorifying God by making disciples of Jesus Christ)? What do you think of God killing Nadab & Abihu? Uzzah? Those in 1 Cor. 11? What is your attitude in worship? Is God pleased with it? How can you show reverence for God? What is your desire in worship?
Sermon Notes – 9/12/1999 a.m.
"The Focus of Worship"
"God is spirit , and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth ."
God is the Audience
Time for Worship
Nehemiah 8 & 9
People Centered or God Centered?
Proper Cultural Sensitivity
Improper Cultural Sensitivity
Choosing a Church
The Danger of Casual Worship
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