June 2019   
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Message for 9-1-13 WORSHIP THAT INSPIRES


Psalm 100, 150


            Today’s world is filled with souls who are hungry for worship.  They are starving for a life-changing experience with God.  But they’re not sure they’re going to find it in church.  We need to take that skepticism to heart.

            Before Christ came into my life, I myself viewed worship as a mild form of torture required by a boring God.  When Christ came into my life, I was so full of the desire to worship!

Worship is not a place for us to go through the motions.  Worship should be an experience that draws us closer to God, a place where we meet God, an experience that involves our entire being.  Psalm 103:1 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name!”  Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands!”

            We all know the instinct to worship.  But the place where we are most likely to turn that instinct loose is at a ball game, or listening to our favorite music, even songs that have nothing to do with God.  How can we channel that instinct toward the only One who truly deserves it?  For me, I feel that instinct most strongly in classic songs such as “O Holy Night” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  Lots of those in the younger generation feel the same way when they sing songs like “I Love You, Lord” and “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

            Worship is celebration.  If God is more worthy of worship than our favorite sports team, why can’t we show the same kind of excitement about God that we do over our favorite team?  Why don’t we show more enthusiasm?  Sometimes it may be because we’ve been trained not to show it through years of being told to sit down and shut up.  We all know how to celebrate.  Maybe we’ve just forgotten how to do it in church.

            But neither can worship be forced.  We can’t make people worship; it has to come from the heart.  It can’t be fake.  Likewise, worship should never become a performance or a show or production.  Worship should not become entertainment.

            The central purpose of worship is to lift up the name of God, to tell God how great God is.  (God already knows, of course; God just wants to see us figure it out.)  Psalm 100: “Enter into the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, and into God’s courts with praise.”  What is praise?  Praise is verbal adoration, putting our feelings of worship into words.  We thank God for what

God has done or given to us, whereas we praise God for who God is.  God’s power, God’s awesomeness, God’s goodness, and God’s love are all reasons for which God is worthy of praise.

            One natural channel for expressing praise is through music, to sing praises to the Lord.   Again, Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into God’s presence with singing!”  In Ephesians 5, we are told to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart.”  And if we can’t sing well, the Bible commands us to make a joyful noise.

            Meeting God in worship should fill us with both excitement and with awe.  There is a time for us to express our heartfelt praise, and a time for us to be quiet and listen, a time to be overcome by the awesomeness of God, and by how much we need a Savior.  There is a place for celebration, and a time for reflection.  Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

            Worship can happen anytime, anywhere.  You can worship by yourself driving down the highway in your car, or in the cab of your tractor, or while taking a walk in the woods.  Yes, you can worship on the golf course or in your bass boat.  But I warn you: real worship will distract you from what you’re doing.

            I encourage you to worship God throughout the week, as much as possible.  But worship is at its best when a body of believers can get together and catch the energy from each other, a time when we can experience together the presence of God, and hear together as a group what God wants to say to us.  Sometimes God may choose to speak through me.  Sometimes God may choose to speak in spite of me.  I love to hear what God has said to people in the pew on Sunday morning that I never said.  Thanks be to God that God’s hands are not tied by me!

            Worship should inspire believers and outsiders alike in a way that they will feel that they have met with God.  Paul says that one byproduct of worship (at its best) is for the unbeliever to surrender and exclaim, “God is truly among you!”  Dynamic worship must convince the outside observer that God is alive and active in our midst.  That’s the vertical part of our worship.

            Former Chicago journalist Lee Strobel says, “I look at it this way.  IF Christianity is true, IF Jesus is real, and IF He did sacrifice Himself for our sins, then what would you expect church services to be like?  You wouldn’t expect them to be stilted, stale, and stiff; you would expect them to be sincere, stimulating, and spirited!”  Strobel contends, “If Christ is alive, His church shouldn’t be dead!”

            Furthermore, Jesus says the outside world will know that we are his disciples if they can see our love for one another, the horizontal part of our worship.  Both the way we relate to God, and the way we love our fellow believers, combine to convince outsiders of the reality of God.

            Worship must be culturally relevant.  Worship should value both the new and the old.  Yes, it’s healthy to go back and reclaim the best of our ancient music and customs.  Some of our old hymns are timeless.  Some of our old church music, like Bach, or even the old Gregorian chants – lots of it is priceless.  Quite a few of the old classics are used in TV advertising – they sound as contemporary as ever.

            Taking a trip back in time has its place, but who would want to do that every Sunday?  I don’t know anyone who wants to go back to hour-long sermons and hymns from the 1600’s that nobody sings anymore. 

A young man back in the late 1600’s complained about the church music of his day (those songs we don’t sing any more).  His father told him, “If you can do better, prove it.”  And he did!  Imagine how impoverished we would be if young Isaac Watts had never written: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” or (last but not least) “Joy to the World”?  As we are reminded on Composer’s Datebook, “All music was once new.”

Worship, whether it’s traditional or contemporary, must be designed with today in mind.  The music, the verbal praise, and the message should speak to the heart of today’s worshipper, in a way that connects to the world in which they live.

            We need to use, not only music and speech, but all of the arts to lift up the name of God and to proclaim God’s word.  Drama has proved to be a powerful preaching tool to reach today’s generation. We live in a culture where people would rather see a movie than read the book, where people would rather watch the evening news than read the newspaper.

            A well-written drama about everyday issues can penetrate the defenses of today’s person in the pew more effectively than any sermon ever could.  Pastor Bill Hybels complains that the church has relied too long on talking heads, while Hollywood has been far more effective at preaching its godless message.  Why?  Because Hollywood uses art forms that are far more easily absorbed by today’s generation.  It’s time for the church to learn a lesson from Hollywood on how to reach a post-literate society.

            That’s why I use PowerPoint pictures to illustrate my preaching whenever I can.  Pictures can grasp the imagination and stay in a person’s mind longer than what I say.  We remember 10% of what we hear, but we remember 50% of what we see and hear.

            It is true that worship can take place in the depths of a stinking prison cell (remember Paul and Silas at Philippi), but we need to try to remove whatever distractions may stand in the way of the worshipper’s vision of God.  Sometimes we ourselves can be a distraction: our hypocrisy, our lack of love, our coldness toward God, or the way we sometimes try to set ourselves up as star of the show and grab the attention away from God.

            Worship need not be confined to what comes out of our mouth.  We need not be embarrassed if the Spirit moves us to clap our hands and sway with the music, to offer God a round of applause, to even fall on our knees, like we sing in the song “O Holy Night”: “Fall on your knees!  O hear the angel voices!”  Have you ever felt the urge to do what the song says?  When I was at college in Carbondale, I used to go out in the woods behind the spillway at the campus lake and fall on my knees and sing praise to God.

            In the Psalms, we read lines like “I stretch forth my hands unto thee” – “I will lift up my hands unto thy name.”  That’s how people used to worship God in Biblical times.  They got involved.  They used to lift up their hands.  They used to fall on their knees.  In fact, the word “worship” in both Old and New Testaments means to prostrate yourself flat on the ground, like a Muslim.  Psalm 47 calls on us to “Clap your hands, all you people!  Shout unto God with a voice of triumph!”  (Sounds like we’re back at the football game!)  Psalm 150 even says, “Praise God with the tambourine and by…dancing!”  The Hebrews even used dancing as a way of celebrating God’s goodness.

            Worship can and will involve a variety of cultural expressions.  Psalm 150 tells us to “Praise God with stringed instruments” – one of these instruments was the ancient equivalent of the guitar.  It also tells us to “Praise God with sounding cymbals!”  Even the native tribe who worships to the sound of the drumbeat is using a valid form of worship.  We all have our own cultural preferences.  The ultimate measure of worship is not “Am I entertained?”, but, “Does this form of worship lift up the name of God?”

            Whatever we do in worship, worship is not a spectator’s sport.  It is not a performance we critique, but an experience in which we all participate.  The hymns, the special music, the prayers, the offering, are all times for us to spend in 2-way communication with God.  In some churches, people pray out loud all at once; you hear voices all over the sanctuary praising God.  Whether we do so silently or out loud, worship should be a time when everybody participates.

            Worship should both lift up the name of God, and lift up the hearts of those who worship.  As Bob Logan observes, “Effective worship will be meaningful to regular attenders.  They will leave feeling that their eyes have been lifted from their own problems and onto the Lord.  They will be refreshed and revitalized in preparation to face a new week.”  Worship should prepare us to face the outside world again: replenished, refueled, armed with new tools with which to tackle the challenges of life.

            Worship should put us in touch with God.  It should convince the person who wanders in off the street that God is truly present in our midst.  Unless the average person can go home convinced that they have spent time with God, unless we have offered God the praise that God deserves, worship has failed in its purpose.  Together, let us seek to worship God in a way that lifts people’s hearts to God.

            Let us pray.  Lord, you are indeed worthy of praise!  Forgive us for those times when our worship has been dull and lifeless, those times when we have failed to focus entirely on you.  Fill our minds and hearts with praise to you.  Help us to open up and celebrate how much you mean to us.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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