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What is Worship, Part 2

Perhaps you can remember a time when God drew very close to you, almost seeming to whisper in your ear, a time when light seemed to fill your very being and every cell in your body felt vibrantly and vividly alive? And you were overcome with a joy that you can’t explain or describe, but it felt as if you had just received the sweetest gift ever, and you simply couldn’t express the overwhelming gratitude that flooded you.   Those mountaintop experiences are the ones that we remember and wish to experience again, and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful form of worship.

And then I wonder…should we expect that kind of closeness with God whenever believers gather?   Or are corporate worship and personal worship two completely separate things? Are we simply trying to manufacture something of our own when we expect to slip into a heightened feeling during church worship time? There have been many instances where the Spirit of God has fallen onto a person and caused them to speak or act for Him, but are we supposed to be seeking that when we gather in His name? Some groups believe that if you have never spoken in tongues, then you aren’t saved. They see that as the evidence of a changed heart.   Others have their own evidences and expectations that a new convert should follow. But could we be putting too much trust in what our eyes see (which could possibly be what our own hearts and minds manufacture) as opposed to the heart that God sees? Do we put pressure on ourselves to look and act as others do in order to confirm our spiritual standing? Do you find yourself closing your eyes, raising your hands, nodding your head, saying “Amen” or ”Alleluia” as a habit rather than a true affirmation of God’s message in your heart? Do you try to attain a blissful oneness with God (and complete unconsciousness of other people) during the worship time?

–Do you ever feel that maybe you’re trying too hard?

Perhaps corporate worship is more for proclaiming the gospel, for questions and answers and discussion of ideas, rather than actual ethereal worship (an otherworldly experience.) Of course it happened at Pentecost and at other times that many people spoke in tongues or were otherwise overcome by the Spirit, seeming almost to be drunk, but there is no doubt that was an exception rather than an everyday occurrence.

I guess the point I am getting around to is this: Has the feeling of ethereal worship become an idol? Could it be possible that, in our quest for something greater, we have pursued the feeling rather than the reality? Are we wishing for a “high” from worship rather than simply serving God and showing our devotion to Him? And has that desire actually short-circuited the worship experience?  Are there people drifting from one church to another searching for a certain surge of emotion?

Most of us attend a worship service on Sunday. Did you ever stop to think why it is called a “service?” The dictionary defines service as “a helpful act” or “the performance of a duty.”   Isn’t it odd that we use the word, yet we recoil from that meaning? The King James Bible uses the word service in Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. In most modern translations, that word service is translated as worship. Worship is not necessarily a euphoric feeling. It can be, but it’s not always. It’s not for the purpose of having a good time. It’s not about sitting under stained glass, following a prescribed order of events, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, saying words in unison or singing in harmony.   It’s about yielding ourselves to God and allowing His Spirit to fill us. Worship isn’t receiving—it’s about giving.

If you’re not feeling close to God during worship, the problem is not the pastor or the songs or the church you attend. It’s YOU. You haven’t gotten yourself out of the way. You are trying to obtain a feeling rather than give up your will.

The euphoria I have described is a beautiful thing and very much to be desired, but there are many other aspects of worship that are just as vital. Remember Romans 12:1? Offering your body as a living sacrifice is worship! What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? It means to serve selflessly. It means that even when I really want to just relax, I will read that same story to my two-year-old for the twenty-fourth time this week. It means when I am racing to get home, I stop to talk with an older person who is in no hurry at all. Selflessness means that I give up my wishes when outnumbered (or outranked) even though I am sure that my plan would be better.

Those aren’t exhilarating experiences at all. There’s nothing thrilling about giving up my plans and doing things I don’t want to do. It’s more like drudgery, and sometimes really frustrating.   The feelings aren’t what make it worship. Sometimes it’s just… performing a duty. This isn’t at all what we think of when we talk about worship.   But God calls it worship.

And sometimes, if we truly give up our selfishness and instead give ourselves, we do receive a burst of that much-coveted joy that is true worship. Yielding myself to God and allowing Him to work through me –a living sacrifice–IS my worship.

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

I’ve heard this question asked before and sort of dismissed it.   Well…duh. It’s putting something/someone above everything/everyone else. It just didn’t seem like much of a question to me. I mean, I’ve always known that worship isn’t just the music on Sunday. Worship is a way of life. It’s what you focus on.

But today the exact same question hit me in a different way.   Have you ever had that happen?   It’s a strange thing… Same words, but after reading Isaiah 44:9-20 and thinking seriously about idolatry and how it affects us today, I was faced with these words in Isaiah 2:8.

Their land has also been filled with idols;
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made. 

And then in my Bible study came that question, What IS worship? What does it mean to worship the work of your hands? And suddenly, it was a new question for me. I had always thought it was asking, “What is the dictionary definition?”   But suddenly I was faced not with the abstract What, but instead with the hands-on How. HOW do we worship? What does it looks like, feel like, to worship? What is our method?

“To worship the work of your hands” naturally leads us to think of our work.   Businesses and careers can certainly become idols. When you think of the job constantly and make that the center of your existence, you begin to sacrifice other good things in order to focus on your work.   I would guess that many successful business people are guilty of some degree of idolatry. When you sit in church and plan the week ahead in your mind, it’s time for a heart check. 

Lifestyles vary, but this is a very common theme. I once heard of a woman whose spotless, perfectly decorated home had become her idol. Her children played outside, and she rarely allowed them to spend much time indoors because they messed up her clean floors. Her neighbors remember the children knocking on the door of their home asking to come in, but being refused. Her children remember that, too—with bitterness. When relationships suffer because of time and attention devoted to other things, it’s a good time to check for idols.

In years past, Christians heard quite a lot of admonitions about pride. Lately, that has become a much less common theme, but there’s no escaping the fact that pride is an abomination to God and we shouldn’t allow it in our lives. Pride is most definitely wrong, giving credit to ourselves for something God has accomplished.

But is that worship? I never bow down to myself or sing songs to myself or tell myself how much I adore me, nor do I set out sacrifices or offerings to show myself how eager I am to serve me. So those words and actions aren’t really the crux of worship, are they? Those are just the trappings.

I heard a message this weekend about how we have lost, to a degree, the awe that people once had for God. Many people portray God as just a good buddy with cool super powers, rather than an omnipotent Creator of the Universe who holds all life in His hands—a fearsome God who we could never possibly please on our own. I think we may have lost, at the same time, our understanding of worship. When worship becomes the singing of love songs and an inspirational speech, we have missed the real point. It becomes something we do for us, to receive a particular feeling, rather than something we offer to God in thanksgiving.

So how exactly should we worship God? What are the things that comprise true worship? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’ll post more of mine in a day or two when I have sorted them out a bit better..

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False Gods?

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”  Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”  So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”                             Exodus 32:1-8

 The people had gotten tired of waiting. This man Moses had disappeared. Perhaps he had encountered a wild beast up on the mountain. It had been over five weeks now, and that was a long time—how long could they just hang around waiting on him? They were bored. Nothing was happening. This God had evidently deserted them.

We understand that. I think we all get bored with waiting on God at times. It’s hard to just…wait. The thing we have more trouble understanding today is the eagerness with which the people accepted this new god. After watching Aaron melt down their jewelry and re-shape it, they immediately proclaimed the calf a god and proceeded to make offerings and have a celebration.

Moses was enraged when he saw the people in their ‘play,’– so angry that he broke the most precious things he had ever held, tablets that God had engraved with his own hand. Have you ever wondered why he reacted so violently? While he was up on the mountain, God had already told him that the people were worshiping a golden calf. He surely was expecting that. So why the eruption of rage?

I think there is a clue in verse 25–Moses saw that the people were out of control. The different Bible versions have widely varying translations, (click here to see them) so it’s not exactly clear what the people’s ‘play’ consisted of. Several versions refer to nakedness, some imply sexual immorality, and all of them refer to some type of lawlessness—running wild, breaking loose, out of control. In other words, not only were the people of Israel sacrificing to and worshiping a false god, but they were also doing it in a way that was an abomination to the true God.

2 Chronicles 33 has an interesting message. Manasseh had been a very bad king. He had “misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.” God was very angry with him, yet instead of destroying Manasseh, He gave him another chance. When Manasseh was captured by his enemies and in great distress, he humbled himself, and then “Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”   The released and newly repentant king set to work and strengthened his kingdom. He got rid of the idols he had placed in the temple and

16 He set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the Lord their God. 

Did you catch that? They were worshiping the one true God…in the high places. The places that had been created and dedicated to false gods.   Just in case you think that may be acceptable, notice what we’re told about the next king, Josiah.

While he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.

So those who had been worshiping the true God in the high places had been doing so before false gods. Manasseh had gotten the idols out of the temple, but he hadn’t done away with them. They were still very present.

Are we guilty of doing that today? Could there be remnants of other gods present even in our churches today? Have we failed to destroy the old idols, maybe even incorporating them into our worship of the one true God? Do we make excuses, as Aaron did? “You know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us ” (Ex. 32:22-23) In other words, Aaron was saying, “You know how they are. We need to keep them busy here so that they don’t wander off and hang out with the heathen. I was just trying to keep them happy.”

Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t so very far from that unquestioning acceptance of another god as we would like to think. To the followers of Moses, including Aaron, the adoring worship of lifeless things was perfectly normal. After all, they had spent their entire lives in Egypt, where that was the common and accepted thing, quite ordinary and rational. They didn’t see it as a huge departure from what they had been doing already. They still made sacrifices and feasted, just with a slightly different twist, in a way that seemed fun and exciting. They may very well have seen that calf as the same god they had been worshiping all along, equivalent with the pillar that led them. Remember they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” In their culture, gods took many different forms.   It probably was easy to rationalize the change.

We still have widespread gods in our world. The difference is that most people no longer admit that they worship. They simply are ‘fans,’ they ‘follow’ or are ‘into’ various endeavors. They don’t see that their passion often IS worship. My question is…could we possibly be bringing things into our churches that are introducing other gods without even being aware of it?

I realize this idea could be taken a lot of different ways, and I’m certainly not going to give a list of offenders or call out particular practices as false gods, because I don’t know, but it’s food for thought. Are we bored with waiting on God and looking for a new way to worship Him? Do we ever look in the wrong places? Sometimes I wonder.

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Seeking

It is a very odd thing that I can be such a stranger to myself. How can I become such a different person without even realizing it?   I woke up this morning with the realization that I didn’t remember the last time I prayed. Oh, sure, I bowed my head in church, I worshiped as I sang, I sent up ‘flare prayers’ now and then, but when was the last time I got alone with the God of the universe, seriously interceding and communing with Him?   And how could I have possibly gotten out of that habit? Especially when you consider that several rather difficult things have happened lately, and that I’ve started a new Bible study that has probed very deep and prompted good thoughts and conversation. How does one discuss the concepts of God, worry about circumstances, and yet go along in private life without ever falling flat out and discussing it with the only One who can answer all those questions?

Maybe it’s been a week, maybe a month. I really have no idea. Because when I, in the midst of my morning brain fog, dedicated my day to the Lord and asked Him to do with it as He will, it felt unfamiliar. Something that was once a habit has become a dimly-remembered curiosity. The realization was shocking and disturbing. How did I fall so completely, so quickly, and so far?

Saturday night I read quickly through a Psalm and noticed “God spoke to them in the pillar of cloud.”   I absently thought how odd it was that it mentioned the cloud, but not the fire. I mulled that in the back of my brain for a couple days, thinking there was more to that picture, and finally wrote down my thoughts. Even then, it was an intellectual exercise, an interesting concept.

Only this morning, as I realized my prayerlessness, did I realize that I haven’t been seeking GOD.   I haven’t been searching the various clouds of my life, looking for His direction. I have a tendency to be sidetracked by knowledge and fascinating tidbits, and I was getting lost in the words and the mechanics, enjoying a romp through the scripture without genuinely pursuing the One who wrote it.

Abba, forgive me for my hard heart, for going through the motions and talking the talk while forgetting You. I know that my life recently has been a shallow façade, that I have felt empty and powerless and dry, and it makes sense now. I haven’t been begging you to fill me!

On this grey, rainy day where the sky is completely covered with clouds, help me to see You. Help me to know your will, Lord, and guide my steps through this wilderness. Lift  me up from the heavy sand that pulls at my feet, direct me away from the mirage that lures with empty promise, but fades away to meaninglessness as I approach it. Lead me to Your living fountain, Lord, and fill me up. Fill me with You.

I need You, Abba, for every step. Every single step.

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Fire By Night, Cloud By Day

He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud
Psalm 99:7

I have never really stopped to wonder why God chose a cloud in the daytime and a fire at night as His means to lead Israel. Why not a fire all the time? Fires are bright enough that they can be seen even in the daytime.

And then I realize, yes…fires are really bright. Think what it must be like in the blackest night to see a tall pillar of flame reaching up into the sky. Impressive!   And also unmistakable. Even if you weren’t looking directly at it, you would know it was there by the glow. In the darkness, the flame would be impossible to miss.

How different the daytime guide was. A pillar of cloud. While it was surely an unusual formation, it was…just a cloud. Clouds happen all the time, and that wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.   Depending on how many other clouds were in they sky that day, it might not particularly stand out. In fact, unless you were looking for it, you might even miss it.

A couple days ago, it occurred to me that it’s a little bit the same way today. Throughout history, in times and places of persecution and oppression, God’s people give testimony of manifestations of God that were impossible to miss. From the appearance of Christ in a vision to the miraculous opening of prisons, there are countless ways that God has guided people to freedom. In times of extreme darkness, His hand is unmistakable.

And in easy times, these daylight times of life, His direction may be harder to see. God still leads us, but we can end up on the wrong path by not paying attention to which cloud is the sign. Sometimes we feel as if we are pulled in many directions, and lose track of which voice is God’s. The cloud is there, but we need to be alert, to watch for it.

Why would He make it that way? Why not make His will always obvious and easy? In Jeremiah 29: 12-13, He says, “When you call to me and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you seek me, you will find me, provided you seek for me wholeheartedly.” He wants us to seek Him. To seek wholeheartedly—putting my entire being into the effort. My Abba wants all of me, every molecule of me, completely focused on Him.

So trust in Him in the daylight. Watch carefully as He goes before you.

And isn’t it a comfort to know that the blacker the world grows, the more brightly our Deliverer will shine?

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All Israel Shall Be Saved

Romans 11:26
And so all Israel shall be saved:

From the foundation of the world, it was ordained.
Israel will be saved.
No doubt about it. God does not change.

The ironic thing is that the majority of Israelites don’t even know that they are Israel. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and Judah was only one of them. There are many Israelites walking around this planet with no knowledge of who they are, only knowing that they feel drawn to the God who chose Israel in the beginning. And that almighty God has declared them saved! Rebellious or not, they are His children, and He is still calling them back to Him, even down through the generations.

Romans 3:29
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?
Yes, of the Gentiles also:

The Israelites that were dispersed throughout the world many generations ago may see themselves as Gentiles, but God knows exactly what their family line is. No matter what their lives are now, God has a plan to bring them into His kingdom.

For those who do not have Israelite ancestry, there is a choice to be made. The evidence of God permeates our world, and they are given freedom to choose to believe and follow Him or to turn away.

I think our evangelistic efforts should focus on finding and encouraging those who have God’s calling within them. It is not a matter of introducing the idea of God, but simply giving them a name for the Person they already sense speaking in their hearts and then helping them to know Him better. As those people turn to their rightful God, there will naturally be a reaction among the Gentiles, drawing many to be grafted in alongside returning Israel.
Two House Tree borrowed from JoyfullyGrowingInGrace

1 Corinthians 12:13
For by one Spirit are we all baptized
into one body,
whether we be Jews or Gentiles,
whether we be bond or free;
and have been all made to drink
into one Spirit.

Ephesians 3:6
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body,
and partakers of his promise in Christ
by the gospel:

Israel is the root, and the Gentiles are branches grafted in. Each is a vital part of the tree, and all are equally important. (Rom 11:17-27)

The roots go deep into Christ. They support the branches and send water from the ground to every twig, while the branches seek light, process it, and share that nourishment with the roots.  In Christ, they grow together in love.

What an incredible gift our great Creator has given us that we ALL have access to eternal life in Him through the sacrifice of His Son!

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