Please open up to John 3:22-36. We’re back into the Gospel of John series we started a while back. Life is ever-so-slowly starting to look a little bit more normal – and I think it’s good to get back into the regular exposition of God’s Word as we were doing before.
I think, since we haven’t been here since February, it behooves us to do a bit of a review of the Gospel of John up to this point.
I remember a while back when I was contemplating what series to do next – after coming back from that big stress leave I took – that I wanted to do something simple, straightforward, with lots of stories that wouldn’t be super complicated to study. And so, I figured I’d pick the Gospel of John. After all, a lot of people are told that’s the very first book of the Bible they should read, right?
Wow, was I ever wrong. When I sat down to work on the outline and overview of the book, I had no idea that just introducing the structure of the book was going to take 4 weeks. The Gospel of John is like an onion – every time you peel off a layer, there’s another one underneath. The book is, for lack of a better term, “intricate”.
The first line, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) kicks off a prologue that outlines and summarizes the whole rest of the book. It introduces Jesus as the condescended God, incarnated light of the world, John the Baptist as His forerunner, and the message of salvation through the “grace and truth” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Him alone.
It sets up the book as one full of rich imagery meant to expand the reader’s understanding of who Jesus is. It speaks of concepts like light and darkness, the Tabernacle and Moses, Law and Grace, our adoption as children of God, Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and seven other important titles. The concepts in the prologue are then expanded on throughout the rest of the book – and the structure of the book is woven together like a tapestry.
In the first four chapters we see Jesus interacting with individuals, then from chapters five to eleven we see Him interacting with large groups – and always expanding geographically outward, with more people following Him. All throughout, we see the themes from the prologue keep coming back as John introduces Jesus using seven different miracles, or as he calls them “signs”, that point to who Jesus is.
We see Jesus as the source of Life when he turns water to wine, as the Master of Space and Distance as He heals a Nobleman’s son. We see Jesus as Master of Time as He heals a Lame man on the Sabbath. We see him as the Bread of Life as He feeds the 5000, and the Master of Nature as He walks on water and calms the storm. But, with the multitudes we don’t see growth, but instead we see more and more groups rejecting Him.
All throughout, Jesus is becoming more and more controversial. We see little breaks in the story as people are confronted with who Jesus really is and are forced to reckon with that reality. And along with more controversy comes more enemies, who get angrier, more jealous, and more violent.
Until we get to the sixth sign where Jesus heals a man born blind – something completely unheard of, and absolutely miraculous. His enemies argue and complain, but they can’t deny Jesus’ power. In this miracle Jesus shows He is the “light of the world”, able to bring light into the darkest of places, just like the prologue said. And His enemies respond by showing they “love the darkness” and hate the light, just like the prologues said.
Then, in the seventh miracle – seven being a very symbolic number in the Bible – Jesus does something completely otherworldly, something only God could do – He looks at Martha and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:9). Martha says “yes” – and then Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
You’d think this would solidify Jesus as Christ, Saviour, and God, right? How can you argue with someone who can raise the dead? Well, no. Instead, Jesus enemies loved the darkness so much that their response to seeing the lame walk, the blind see, the hungry fed, and the dead raised – was… let me read 11:53, “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”
At that point, the story of Jesus slows down to a crawl. The first half of the book, 11 chapters, covers about 3 years of Jesus’ life – the second half of the book, 10 chapters, takes place over the course of one week: Passion Week.
The Gospel of John is a truly incredible book. I haven’t even gone over all the ways that John divided and organized it. It’s incredibly interwoven and beautifully designed.
My hope is that this series we’re doing will inspire you to not only read the Gospel of John, but to appreciate it, to meditate on it, and most of all, to see Jesus in new and fascinating ways because of how He’s revealed here.
John the Baptist Exalts Christ
But let’s get into our passage today. I hope you’ve kept your thumb in John 3:22-36. This part occurs right after Jesus spends the night talking with the Pharisee Nicodemus about why he had come into the world, what His mission was, how it would all go, and how people would react.
Then, the next day, hopefully after Jesus got a couple of hours sleep, it says,
“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’”
Pause there a second. This whole section is about argument and interpretations of what’s going on. See the picture here, because a lot is going on. Remember, a lot of what the Gospel of John is doing is simply answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” and to do this he uses a lot of imagery and illustration – which we’ve already discussed a bit. Another thing it uses is contrast.
I take a lot of pictures these days. I set up a lightbox in my office to take pictures of the various little projects I do. A lightbox is simply a big, white, cloth box that you shine a bunch of lights in. If you’ve ever seen anything sold by Apple, you’ll know they love lightboxes. They take their phone or whatever, and stick it on a completely white background. That’s what I try to do.
When I’m editing the pictures, there’s a bunch of settings I can use, but , to me, the one that makes the biggest difference is the “contrast” setting. The more contrast there is, the bigger the difference between the white and the object. The colours get richer, the blacks get darker, and whatever I’m taking a picture of pops off the screen.
Many times in the Gospel of John you’ll see the author boost the contrast so that we can see something about Jesus – when compared to someone else. In this case, Jesus is being contrasted with John the Baptist.
We’ve already seen that John the Baptist is called the “witness”, while Jesus is called “the light” (1:7-8). John the Baptist is a “voice”, Jesus is “the Word” (1:14,23). John baptizes with water, Jesus with the Spirit (1:33).
Here we see both Jesus and John are having baptisms, but Jesus is in the Judean countryside, and John the Baptist is in Samaria. John is called “rabbi” (or teacher) – and this is the only place in scripture anyone other than Jesus is called “rabbi”, so you know something’s going on.
So, what’s happening there? The stage is set in verse 22-24, but the situation comes about in verse 25, “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.” This was a major point of argument between the followers of John and Jesus, and the rest of the Jewish leadership. The Jews, meaning the Pharisees and members of the ruling counsel, would often, it seems, come to John and confront him about why he thought he had authority to baptize people. He wasn’t an official in the temple, he wasn’t an authorized teacher, and he wasn’t even in Jerusalem. So it rankled them that people kept coming to John to be ritually washed – or baptized. For the Pharisees, as most of you know, ritual washing was a HUGE deal. They were all about rules and regulations and religion and ceremony. They were always upset with Jesus – not because He broke the Mosaic Laws – but because He kept breaking all the extra laws they had put on top of them.
For example – you know how we’re all about sanitization and washing hands right now? – well, we have nothing on the Pharisees. Consider this: at one point (in Matthew 15), a bunch of high-ranking Pharisees and scribes travelled all the way from Jerusalem to Gennesaret (which is, like, 130 kilometers) to ask him one, super huge important question that had been bothering them so much they just couldn’t wait. That question:
“Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?” (Matt 15:2).
For them, washing hands wasn’t about personal hygiene, it was about being ceremonially, religiously clean. Before a Pharisee would eat they had a special ceremony for washing. For them, the condition of your hands was the condition of your soul. Some taught that if you didn’t wash your hands, you could get a demon. Others, that it showed how much sin was in your life. Others said that if you ate with unwashed hands, you could forfeit eternal life.
Their ceremony was interesting. Every home had to have a certain amount of ceremonial water available. They were told to use the amount of water that would fill one and a half eggshells. They were to hold their hands upwards, have water pored over their fingers while the water ran off their wrists. Then they were to turn their hands with fingers pointed downwards and do it again. Then, they were to rub the fist of one hand in the palm of the other, and then do it with the other hand. If you were really devout, you would do this in between every course of the one meal!
You can see the heart of the one that came to John’s followers with questions about “purification”. Which is why, every now and again, one of the officials would take the trip to wherever John was and basically say, “What are you doing and why?” And start an argument.
John’s baptism wasn’t about an external show of religious devotion, or some kind of superstition. His baptism was one of repentance. It was an external symbol of what was going on in the heart of the person being baptized. They were saying, “I’m a sinner. I need God. I want to change my life and priorities. I want my heart to be ready and clean for when the Messiah comes.” And they would show that by publicly immersing themselves in water.
Which is why we see in verse 26,
“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’”
Apparently the argument with the Jewish official got pretty heated. Not only was he upset at what John the Baptist was doing – but he had brought a report that there was another person, named Jesus, who was nearby, just on the other side of the Samaritan border, who was baptizing people too.
This was all too much! The Jewish official was upset because now two people were breaking their ceremonial laws… and now the followers of John were upset too because Jesus was starting to gather more followers and baptize them. In fact, some of the people who had been baptized by John were headed over to Jesus to be baptized again. So, they ask, “What’s that all about?”
The Jewish official was mad because traditions were broke and his culture and authority were being insulted. The followers of John were jealous on behalf of their master, because Jesus was getting more popular. Everyone is upset because this ceremony, this ordinance, these ritual washings, were all being done by different people for different reasons.
John the Baptist’s Answer
So what does John the Baptist say? Remember, they have just called him Rabbi. John the Gospel writer makes a point of that. In other words, this Jewish Official and the followers of John, and everyone else gathered around them, look to John the Baptist, the teacher, for an explanation.
And in essence, in his answer, John contrasts himself and everyone else – including the Jewish officials – with Jesus. He looks at them and
“John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’ He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
What does John say here? “I might be a rabbi, a teacher, who talks about God – but Jesus literally is God and the source of all knowledge. I didn’t come up with any of this, it was given to me by God… and He’s right over there. I am the forerunner, He is the Christ. I am the best man, He’s the groom. I might be at the party, but the party is all for Him. I’m from earth, He’s from heaven. I’m a witness to the truth, but He’s the truth incarnate. I talk about repentance and wash people with water – Jesus utterly changes people and gives them the Holy “Spirit without measure”. I was chosen for a mission, but Jesus has been “given all things”
“Therefore – now look at me everyone – look at me Jewish official – look at me disciples – look at me people who are here to get baptized… I am hereby announcing my retirement. I refuse to be a distraction to what Jesus is doing. I will not compete with Him. He must increase, but I must decrease. My job was to tell you the problem. I’ve warned you about the wrath of God, the death of your soul, the corruption of your religion, the poison of the Pharisees, and the need for repentance, and you’ve listened to me – but now instead of talking about the problem, I’m pointing you to the solution. He’s right over there… His name is Jesus, He’s the Son of God, and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
And that’s the point of this whole narrative – and where we can find something to apply to our lives. Just like the Jewish Officials, Christians and religious people argue about all kinds of things too. Just like John the Baptist’s disciples, the way we practice our faith, religion, Christianity can become competitive, and we can get jealous and upset as we argue about which teacher is best, which translation of the Bible is best, which music is best, which tradition is best, which church is best…
Individually, we can be like the Jewish Officials by being argumentative, stubborn, superstitious, overzealous for trivial issues. Or, we can be like John the Baptist’s disciples and start to worry more about our positions, traditions, focusing on numbers and finances and growth, rather than on Jesus or serving people. Both of these two groups had it wrong because they were worried more about the external things: teachers, washing, popularity, respect — and not worried enough about the internal things: Am I right with God? Is my heart full of sin? Where is my faith? Do I “believe in the son” and “obey the Son”?
John the Baptist’s words here, and John the Gospel writer’s intent here, is for us to stop comparing ourselves to others, stop comparing our ministries or church to others, stop comparing our families to others, stop trying to impress God and others through external things – and to realize that in order to be a Christian, it is our internal priorities that need to change. “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.”
Over and over we see John the Baptist say what he’s not. “I’m not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah” (1:21), “I am not worthy to untie” Jesus sandals (1:27). Those are the words of a man that is more concerned about what God thinks than what anyone else thinks.
He’s courageous enough, and bold enough to stand up and declare what God wants to say – even if it gets him in trouble, even if it gets him arrested, even if it gets him beheaded. But every word he speaks, everything he does, points away from himself and toward Jesus. And when one of his own people try to elevate John – he reacts by debasing himself and declaring the praises of Jesus as God, Lord, Saviour and Christ, and in no uncertain terms, stepped away from the spotlight, humbled himself, humiliated himself, so Jesus could be seen all the more clearly.
And so, I want to ask you this morning: Do you see yourself in this narrative? Are you like the Jewish Official, more worried about external things than what’s going on inside you? Are you like John’s disciples, competitive with others, comparing yourself, your life, your church, your ministry, you marriage, your kids, your job, with others – always worried about success, and numbers, and finances, and what people think?
Or, are you willing, if that means Jesus gets more glory, to “decrease”. Are you willing to decrease your influence, decrease your expectations, decrease your finances, decrease your comfort, decrease the authority you think you have over any part of your life – and turn it all over to Jesus so He can “increase”?
You’ll often hear the gospel framed as a pitch for all the wonderful things that you can get from Jesus – and there are many wonderful gifts that come from Him – but there’s another part, a deeper aspect of faith. It’s that the closer you get to Jesus, the more you are with Him, the more you study about Him, and worship Him, the brighter He will shine – and the duller you will look. Are you ok with that? Are you ok if God uses you in a mighty way, changes people’s lives, speaks through you in a special way – but no one will ever know? Are you ok with never getting rewarded, praised, or thanked for doing the right thing? Or maybe, in your obedience, in doing the right thing, a whole lot of people misunderstand and it actually costs you. Are you ok with that?
I think of the story of David in 2 Samuel 6. Do you remember that one? The Ark of the Covenant, the very Throne of God, was coming back into Jerusalem for the first time in a long time. It had been taken by the Philistines, recovered and then profaned by Saul (which cost him is throne), and, because it was so powerful and dangerous, had been kept at someone’s home. But when David became king and heard that the one who had the ark was being blessed, he decided it was time to bring it to Jerusalem so the whole nation could be blessed.
And David, being a passionate, musical, worshipful guy who loved God, made it into a huge deal. It was like a parade with music and dancing and instruments and party food and sacrifices to the Lord. And it says in 2 Samuel 6:14, “And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.” A “linin ephod” was a simple version of the type of garment that priests used. So there’s the king of Israel, not walking all dignified in a fancy royal robe, but dancing with all his might, in a simple outfit, right in front of everyone.
David’s wife Michal sees him and is super upset. Her dad, Saul, would never have done that. It says she “despised him in her heart” (2 Sam 6:16). Once the party was over and the Ark was set in its place, David returned home and his wife tore a strip off him. (2 Samuel 6:20)
“How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Sam 6:20)
And what was David’s response:
“It was before the Lord [I was dancing]… and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible (other translations say “undignified”) than this, and I will be abased in your eyes.” (2 Sam 6:21-22)
In other words – I don’t care what people think. I was worshipping God, dancing before Him, and if it means more worship and glory goes to God – then I will become even more undignified. In other, other words: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
I think of Jesus words in Matthew 5:11–12,
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So I ask you: Are you willing to decrease, to be undignified, contemptible, abased, unpopular, reviled, persecuted, uttered against, falsely accused – if it means obeying Jesus and that Jesus gets more glory? Or does your self-image come before your obedience and worship of God?
 Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 189). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 You Are the Christ, David Whitcomb, Ambassador International, Pg. ??
We’re about to enter into a time historically known as “Passion Week”, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday. It’s a week filled with history and meaning. This is the most important week of the Christian calendar. Centuries of history have revolved around it and believers from all manner of different traditions observe and celebrate it differently. Some people fast, others sing, some have prayer vigils, some read the bible from cover to cover, some even shave their heads. Each tradition has their own way to show worship by sacrificing something special in their lives to focus on God.
In their own ways they are living out what is written in Romans 12:1-2,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Before Jesus came, believers use to present sacrifices of animals or grain to the temple on certain days, but now, because of the work of Jesus, we have moved from presenting our worship and sacrifices in a certain building to living out our lives as sacrifices to him – still trying to make them pure, unblemished, holy and acceptable to God, but knowing that we can only do this through the power of God.
Please open up to Matthew 21:1-11 and we’re going to tie together our series on Stewardship with the sacrifices of worship we see in the account of Palm Sunday.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”
Going Through the Motions
Our theme today is worship, particularly the importance of having a lifestyle of worship, but more than this – that worship in itself, true worship, is sacrificial – it costs us something. I just watched a clip of a sermon recently where Matt Chandler was gently confronting some people in churches in Texas with the understanding that just because you go to church doesn’t make you a Christian. He said,
“In the Bible Belt churches are jam-filled with people who have no mark of being Christians on their lives other than the fact that they attend once a week. No obedience whatsoever, no desire for obedience, no relationship with Christ, no seriousness about God…. You come, you check it, and you call yourself a Christian. And I want to lovingly tell you that if there is no desire for obedience and no obedience then you should not count yourself a Christian. You should consider yourself lost and in danger of damnation.”
That sounds like it could be harsh, but he’s right. He isn’t talking about “salvation by works” but the changed heart that comes when we turn our lives over to Jesus. He’s talking about sacrificial, lifestyle worship. There is no true faith without obedience, there is no true worship without sacrifice.
Most people here understand the concept of sacrifice. Parents know what it means to give up our time and resources for our kids. Military people know what it means to make sacrifices for their country. The disasters that keep coming at the world all have relief organizations that want some of our money to help people. Some people even donate their own blood for the sake of others.
I think we understand the concept well enough, but what we need to see is that to be a worshipper of God demands sacrifice. We see that all through the Bible: there is worship that God accepts and that God rejects, and most often the worship He rejects is the easy, mindless, going through the motions activities of religious people. Sing because it’s time to sing. Talk when it’s time to talk. Bow heads when it’s time to bow heads. Read the words written down because you’re supposed to. Look at the guy talking for as long as he’s talking. That disengaged repetition of mindless, religious activity is worship that God rejects.
But let’s take a look at some of the people involved in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday. We don’t see people dropping money in a plate, reading a script, or doing anything in the temple in this story. What we see is some of the ways Jesus required them to sacrifice to Him as an act of worship.
The Donkey Man
First, let’s look at the man who gave up his donkey. Jesus had told his disciples to go to the village ahead and get a donkey that was tied up. The book of Luke (19:20-34) sheds a bit more light on this situation: Jesus says,
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, `Why are you untying it?’ tell him, `The Lord needs it.’ Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Notice that little difference? The owner is in this one.
Imagine what was going on in this guy’s head. There he is, working on something around the house and some random guys come up try to walk off with two of his animals. The disciples are just being obedient, but what about the owner?
Consider yourself. You’re washing your car in your driveway. The door is open and the key is dinging away. You step into the garage for a moment to get something and a couple of guys walk up, get in the car, and prepare to drive off. You come running out and say, “Where are you going in my car?!” And the people inside respond, “The Lord needs it….”
Now it’s decision time, right? What do you do? Therein lay the sacrifice. The moment he heard that the animals were to be used by the Lord, his argument stopped. He sent his valuables, maybe his most valuable things, on with these strangers. Maybe God prepared this man in advance as he was praying, or maybe he didn’t. All we know is that when the Lord wanted something from him, he gave it up. He didn’t even know what Jesus was going to do with it.
The simple question for us is this: Would you or I have done the same? Would we have let the disciples take our car? We’re presented with this option more often than we think as God gives us the opportunity to sacrifice what we have for others. Someone gets into trouble, someone needs our time, energy, money, resources, and we are presented with the option to give. We feel the impression in our heart to do something. Someone calls us with a need. What do we do? We analyze the situation. We ask questions. We wonder about return on investment. We negotiate how little to give. We try to find other options. But what if the only reason we get is, “The Lord needs it”? Regularly giving up our resources is part of what a lifestyle of Christian worship looks like.
There’s another group that gives of their resources in the story too. Verses 7-8 tell us that there are folks who were spreading their cloaks on the ground. As an act of worship, a way to show their deference to Him, and also a way to acknowledge and declare that He is their promised Messiah and King.
These weren’t their old “Goodwill” or “Salvation Army” clothes either. They didn’t run home and get the jacket they never use anymore. This was whatever they were wearing. But even that doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, right? A couple donkey hoof prints on there. But anyone who has ridden horses or has been to a parade knows that something else happens when animals go for a walk – there’s a reason the street sweepers follow the horses.
The point is that these people, upon seeing Jesus, started to worship Him and that worship required an immediate sacrifice of what they had. Honoring Jesus will require the use of our time and our resources. We cannot grow as a disciple of Jesus if we don’t spend our time and resources on Him. This, what we are doing here at church, is not the pinnacle of Christian experience and I feel sad for anyone who thinks it is. Sure, we have to get up, some people have to serve, but this is perhaps, the easiest sacrifice of our week. The real test of our Christian character, the real opportunities to give sacrificial, lifestyle worship come later in the week as we are presented with opportunities to give of ourselves to do what God wants us to do.
Consider St. Patrick, whose special day was just a few days ago. Despite the day now being about celebrating Ireland, wearing green, and generating green vomit, the story of St. Patrick is one we shouldn’t forget.
Patrick was born in northeast England, not Ireland, in the late fourth century. When he was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave to a tribal chief who put him to work as a cattle herder. He was raised in the church but it wasn’t until he faced this level of suffering that his faith started to take root. Seeing the beauty of the Irish countryside caused him to worship God’s amazing creativity and it was in the total isolation of slavery in a foreign land where he really learned to pray.
He was held captive for 6 years until he escaped, made his way back to England, and joined the priesthood. He trained and served many churches but then, one day, at age 48 God told him that he needed to go and share God’s love with the unreached Irish Celts. This was unprecedented, totally controversial, and he gained little support – but after a time of negotiation the church finally, and reluctantly sent him off to the barbarians, likely to never see him again.
What was unique about the way Patrick did missionary work was that he didn’t go into the land and try to civilize it. He didn’t try to turn the Irish into good, English people, build English churches, and teach them English songs. He knew that wouldn’t work because he knew the people. So he gave up the way he was used to worshipping for their sake. He gave up his own style for their sake. He spoke their language, gave them his time, his prayers, his food and resources to the poor, and most especially his forgiveness. He gave his whole life to them.
It was this heart of sacrifice that enabled thousands of people to meet Jesus for the first time and gave rise to one of the greatest missionary successes of all time. Patrick was a man who knew what it meant to worship God by sacrificially serving others.
The Sacrifice of Reputation
There’s one more sacrifice I want to point out in the account of the Triumphal entry and that is the reaction of the crowds. Calling out “Hosanna!” to Jesus was dangerous. They put their reputation and their safety at stake. It was a thumb in the nose of the Jewish ruling class, the Sanhedrin. It offended the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, it risked reprisal from the Romans who did not take kindly to anyone claiming to be another king, “the Lord”, or “the Highest”. Their worship required risk.
Consider our own societies celebrity worship culture. Society holds them up for all to see, watches them on TV, listens to interviews, seeks them out on YouTube, wears what they wear, eats what they eat, reads what they read, go where they go. People on the sidelines of the award shows often yell things like “I love you!”, and companies make contests of just spending one hour with a certain celebrity, but it’s all with very little risk. We can shout how much we love Jennifer Lawrence or Vin Diesel from the rooftops until we’re blue in the face and no one cares – but have you noticed what happens when someone stands on a rooftop in front of a crowd and shouts that they love Jesus? Doesn’t’ really happen, does it? Why? Because that’s different, isn’t it? That’s got risk.
When the people in Jerusalem that day were yelling “Hosanna” they weren’t yelling “I love you!” They were yelling, “Save me!” Hosanna is literally the word “save”. They were crying out to Jesus for deliverance. This wasn’t about His celebrity status, but about deliverance. Deliverance from their Roman oppressors, their corrupt civic leaders, and the mess that their religion was in. It was a cry for mercy, an acknowledgment that He was the Saviour.
It’s one thing to yell that you love Jesus in public – you might get away with that in North America – but it’s totally something else to yell out that Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord of the Earth.
We have a hard enough time asking for help, don’t we? We’re all about self-help, self-determination, self-esteem, do-it-yourself. For some people, it’s almost agonizing to ask even those closest to them for help. So many people suffer alone, and it requires a massive sacrifice of pride for them to admit they need help.
But when we cry out to Jesus, that’s exactly what we are doing. We are asking for His help, admitting that we are not enough, that we require His intervention. As Christians we first admit that we are sinners, bent away from God, serving ourselves and messing up our lives and the lives of others. Then we ask for forgiveness, something only God can grant. We cannot forgive ourselves. Then we ask to be reborn, remade, changed from the sinner that we were into a new creation that hates sin and wants righteousness. Only God can do that. And then, every day, we admit once more that we are not strong enough, wise enough, good enough, to accomplish even one right thing without God’s help.
Many come to God in prayer but actually refuse to admit they actually need His help. They use God like 911 or like Santa Clause, the last resort or the way to get something they know is a long-shot. Some treat God like a help desk, asking for a minimal amount of help when they get stuck and then telling God that they’ll take it from there. They believe they are 90% strong enough, and that God gives them the other 10%. That’s not how it works.
A Christian recognizes their deep need and falls before Jesus saying, “I don’t have anything to offer. I’m dead inside. Whatever I touch gets worse. Even my supposed good deeds are done selfishly. I am a sinner in need of a Saviour. Hosanna, Jesus. Save me.”
And there are some that will admit this in private – but these people were doing it in public. Listen to Luke 19:37-40:
“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”
The leaders of their city were offended and trying to stop them. Most Christians I know won’t even pray a simple prayer in public – they are too nervous, too ashamed, too worried about what others think. Some refuse to sing even in church because they’re worried what others think. Some go to work and literally no one knows they are a believer. Some won’t even say grace with their own families out of fear. But these people cried out for help right in front of their friends, the priests, the Pharisees, the Roman centurions.
According to Luke 19, as Jesus rode he wasn’t smiling, he was weeping because He knew what was coming. Jesus rode up to the temple, once again drove out those who were selling there, and then began to teach. Listen to what it says in verses 47-48,
“And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.”
The people turning their hearts and attention to Jesus, crying out for his help in public didn’t convert the city – but instead threw it into an upheaval. Their sacrificial worship, their willingness to cry out to Jesus in public, was the catalyst that made the city leaders want to utterly destroy Jesus. And they tried. And that persecution caused all of the believers, even the disciples, to flee.
When you call out to Jesus, people are going to think you’re crazy. There’s a risk. Calling out to the Saviour has risk. Your friends, your family, your fellow church people, may see you as a fanatic, may tell you to calm down, not be so serious, that there are a time and place for that sort of thing. That’s what the Pharisees tried to tell Jesus and his followers.
My conclusion is simply this: the worship God accepts requires sacrifice. It is a reflection of our thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice. He gave up everything, came to a world that would hate Him, reject Him and crucify Him, for our sake. He lived as a servant every day and still lives as a servant to His people. Our response is to do the same to Him by giving our lives to Him. Not just one morning per week, but every moment, every action, every decision of our lives. And that will require sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there is no worship.
Do you live a lifestyle of sacrificial worship? Do you spend your time, resources, and reputation on Jesus? Do you risk your time, resources and reputation to worship Jesus? Or does it only happen in closed rooms and dark corners? Does your worship require sacrifice?
Is there something God has asked you to give, some way He has called you to obey, that you’ve refused because it was too much, too risky? What if “The Lord needs it” from you?
And, finally, ask yourself if you ashamed to call yourself a Christian. Does your lifestyle, your words, your deeds, your conversations, your prayer life reflect that you are a believer? Have you cried out “Hosanna” in the streets? I’m not asking you to get on a rooftop this week or stand on a street corner – but how about this: does everyone in your life know you are a follower of Jesus?
At the very least, will you take the risk of showing your faith in a practical way this week? Pray in public, share your faith, tell someone that you are a Christian.
We’re currently in the middle of a mini-series-within-a-series called “What is a Good Church?” – which is inside the “Burning Questions Series”. Now you know what happens when I give myself a few bumper-weeks in my sermon planning – we get series-within-series. I hope that isn’t confusing, because my intention is neither to confuse you nor bore you, but to teach you what the Bible says and point you to Jesus – and it would be a great crime for me to make that either boring or confusing for you.
Two weeks ago I did an extended introduction to the topic of “What is a Good Church?” where we discussed “Christian consumerism”, and we followed that up last week by talking about two mistakes that Christian Consumers make. The first being “using human standards to judge whether God’s church is good or not” and the second mistake being “crafting God’s church into our image.”
In the midst of all that I’ve been talking about four was that God, according to the Bible, defines a “good church”. A “good church” according to God’s Word is one with Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism. You’ll recall that I added those adjectives last week in hopes of helping the conversation, knowing they aren’t perfectly chosen and are open to interpretation.
Last week we talked about the first two, Biblical Discipleship and Loving Fellowship, and so this week I want to discuss the next one, Inspired Worship.
For those who are new this morning, I apologize. You’re sort of jumping in in the middle of a multi-part sermon. I made the case over the last couple weeks, and now I’m just going to jump into the next part. If you did miss the last couple sermons, you can go to my website and read and listen to them to catch up.
Please open up to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47 and let’s read it one more time so we can have it fresh in our minds. Remember, this is the description of the first, Christian church that developed after Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. God convicted thousands of people of their sin, the repented, got saved, and came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Awe Upon Every Soul
Let’s talk first about God’s Biblical qualification that a “good church” is a “Worshipping” church. You’ll notice in this first church that “awe came upon every soul”, that they “attended the temple together”, and that they “praised God”. These are the marks of a worshipping church.
Look at that phrase used in verse 43: their “souls” were full of “awe”. That word “awe” is an interesting one. It’s the word PHOBOS, from where we get the term “Phobia”. It mostly translated as the word fear, but it also means terror, and panic! It’s the term for respect and reverence.
It is the word used in Luke 5:26 to describe after people heard Jesus claim to be God, forgive a lame man’s sin, and then command him to stand up and walk. “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’” This describes more than surprise, more than interest, more than being impressed – it’s the feeling we get in the presence of something that truly shakes us to the core.
The other night I gave a talk to a group of kids about sharing their faith. As an illustration I used a bunch of things that people are afraid of – their phobias – spiders, heights, snakes, loud noises, needles, etc. We all know what happens when we bump up against one of our phobias. We tense up, we lose control of our bodies, our heart races, our fight-or-flight response is activated, adrenaline floods into our blood stream, we say and do things that we wouldn’t have done a moment ago. I once jumped out of a moving vehicle because a scary bug landed in the back seat. There have been multiple times when I have used my children as shields from bees. I’m not proud of it, but I was scared.
That’s the word we’re talking about here when we say that “awe came upon every soul.” This is where we talk about “Fearing the Lord”. Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”
After Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, taking the fullness of the wrath of the Father against Him, making the final payment for all who would believe in Him, it says,
“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:51-54)
This is the heart of worship that the church is to have. Certainly speak of God’s love, faithfulness, miracles, closeness, intimacy and the peace that is made between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is good that we give thanks to Him for all of these things – but the mark of a “good church” isn’t merely thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us, but a sense of awe, fear, reverence, and deep respect for God, His Son, His Spirit and His Word.
For those who are saved, and have the Holy Spirit within is, the presence of God in our world, church, lives, and hearts, fills us we AWE and we are “inspired” – literally inspired by the Spirit of God and inspired by all of the Truth we know about Him (John 4:24) – to bring Him worship.
A Jealous God and a Consuming Fire
To emphasize this point about having awe in our hearts, I want to read a passage from Hebrews. Remember, the author is here writing to a group of people who wanted to turn away from following Jesus because it was causing them suffering and would soon force them to choose between life or death. They wanted to go back to the Jewish way, or the Roman way, and he reminds them that turning away from God is a terribly foolish thing to do.
He starts by speaking about the terrifying events of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – how Moses shuddered with fear, the thunder and clouds, and punishment of death that came to anyone who even set foot on the mountain, and says,
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)
It’s almost like the author of Hebrews is saying, “This isn’t a game. You don’t get to pick and choose who you worship or how you worship. The worship that is due to God because of who He is and what He’s done, is not optional. You ought not to be thinking of going to lesser gods or empty religion. You ought to be grateful because you have been given a greater gift than the Romans or even the Jews at Sinai. Your response to this God should be worship, reverence and awe. Why? Not because God is love – he doesn’t go there – because “our God is a consuming fire!”
Some of you may have Joshua 24:15 at home written on something. It records the words of Joshua to Israel telling them to choose between the idols of the nations around them or the One, True God. It says,
“Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Part of me wishes that this wasn’t written on so many cute things, because they are not cute words. Joshua didn’t give this option lightly. We must continue to read the next verses. Turn to Joshua 24 where the bible records this conversation between Israel and Joshua. Look how many times Joshua warns them to take their pledge seriously:
“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:15-28)
In the Bible, God reminds His people that He is a “jealous God” who doesn’t share worship with ANYONE. In the 10 Commandments, the Moral Law of God that stands for all people for all time, God says,
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
Yes, God is where we put our hope, and where we find our strength. He is full of love, compassion and mercy – but we must not forget another side of His character: He is to be feared because he has wrath against sin. He does not take idolatry lightly and jealously pursues His people as a husband pursues his wife. In Hebrews 10:26-27 he said that those who would forsake their faith, or would continue to sin after being told about Jesus, should live in “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Our church must remember this aspect of God – that He desires our full, uncompromised worship.
Fear and Repentance
Go back now to Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon every soul”.
Where did that awe come from? Back up a few verses to verse 36 and read the crescendo of Peter’s sermon,
“’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:36-41)
Their awe and fear of God was a result of coming face to face with their sin. Jesus, the Son of God, died because of their sin. They were the cause of the death of the God’s only begotten Son. And Jesus, the one who died, was “both Lord and Christ”. He was their king and their saviour, and they killed him.
Their response was not to shed a single tear and walk up the aisle while “Just as I Am” played softly in the background. They were terrified. The Holy Spirit entered their hearts and they saw why Jesus died – it was their fault. They saw their sin and rebellion against God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were utterly afraid of what God would do. “Brothers… what shall we do?” was an acknowledgement of this. “Oh no! We are in serious trouble. We are doomed! God is right to be angry with us. We deserve Hell. We scorned His Son! Whatever can be done to save us?!”
Then, after telling them the bad news, Peter tells them what they must do: He demands that they “Repent”. That word means change your mind, change your priorities, change your ways, change your heart, change your allegiance, and come to the Son. Perhaps Psalm 2:10-12 jumped into their minds:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Repent! Change your allegiance. How do you show your change of allegiance? By being “being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. Make it public. Make it known to all. And do it soon.
It is by your repentance and confession that you are saved. Later, Paul would write in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Not just in your heart, but with your mouth. Show it to all that you’ve repented from your sin and come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Why? Once you have repented and confessed your sin, you will receive “the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the amazing grace of God! He hates sin, but offers forgiveness. He brings wrath, but also mercy upon those who would repent. He is a consuming fire for all his adversaries, but He put His Son through Hell and then offered Him as payment for our sins.
Then it gets better. We don’t just get forgiveness, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our hearts, reminding us of all He has said and leading us every step of this life! We have access to the very voice of God every day. We are adopted into God’s family. And as Romans 8:17 says,
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Who He Is and What He’s Done
“If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week. There is no such thing know in in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worhsp and Tuesday worship and so on.” (AW Tozer)
Part of the reason for my emphasis this morning is that we sometimes don’t take God seriously enough, which is why we don’t worship Him enough.
As I said, God loves you and has given you every reason to worship Him. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and gives you every breath you take. He is the most powerful force in existence, able to manifest universes with a word, sustaining all of existence by His power. He is worthy of our reverence and fear. As Jesus said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) God’s very nature, what He is, should draw us into awe-inspired worship. We should worship God for who He is.
And we should worship Him for what He’s done. He is also the friend of sinners, the one who traded His Son’s life for yours so you could be with Him. He is Love incarnate. He is the source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, and faithfulness. It is only in a relationship with Him that we have an abundant life.
He is always worthy of worship because of who He is and what He’s done.
A Good Church Worships
And so we come back to our question about “a good church”. What is a Good Church? One which has Inspired Worship. Not inspiring worship! This isn’t about whether the music, the song or the people inspire us – it’s about whether or not the church is inspired to worship because they have a holy reverence and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.
This is the question I ask of myself and of this church. Is my life, and the lives of the Christians in this church lived, every day, as an act of worship? Is there a palpable fear, respect and spirit of thankfulness when we meet together? Do we speak often of who God is and what He’s done, or do we think we have something better to talk about?
Another important question: Are there any idols in our church? Is there anything that stands above the Word of God as our guiding light? Is there anything we hold as more important than giving worship to God?
Another question: Is there anything in this church that is keeping people from worshipping God? Are there disagreements, unforgiveness, slander, or sin among us that prevents us from being able to worship God?
A “good church” worships God, and that starts with every believer in the church committing themselves to a lifestyle of worship. The words of Romans 12:1 must convict us today:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”
Let’s go back to that Tozer quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week”. Showing up and singing a few songs and trying to stay awake for a sermon is not worship. Worship is a lifestyle, every day. Remember, God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to share you or your worship with anyone else. We must take worshipping God as seriously as we take the right reading of His Word because He takes His worship very seriously.
A good church knows this, and encourages everyone in the church to worship every day, because God is worthy. So let is speak, and sing, and read, and serve, and pray, and honour God in the way that people have, and should, be praising Him for all time, and into Eternity.
“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)
“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)
“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 4:11)
Let us be a worshipping church.
Every Christian wants to attend a “good church”, but we all seem to have different ideas of what a “good church” looks like. The guys take on this question and give a biblical perspective.
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A while back, before it was interrupted by Thanksgiving, Children’s and Friendship Sunday, we were going through a “Burning Questions” series that was based on questions submitted by people here in the congregation. We’ve already covered a bunch of questions and I want to get back into it and finish it off over the past weeks. We’ve talked things like: what kind of superhero suit God would wear, how to be in the world but not of it, and ways to deal with discouragement and depression.
We’re continuing today with another question that has been popping up, and one that I believe is an important one to cover, “If you were looking for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for – and how does our church look to visitors who are seeking?” I appreciate that question, but I’m going to rejig it a bit to simply be: “What makes a good church?” because I think that answers both sides of that. If I were looking for a church, I’d want a “good church”, and I certainly want the church I’m currently serving to be a “good church” – so the question is: “What is a Good Church?”
A “Good Church”
That’s what people want, right? Christians search for a “good church” until they find one and then stay there until they move – or their “good church” becomes a “bad church”. Small churches believe that in order to become large churches they simply need to become a “good church”, and then people will flock through the doors. But what is a “good church”?
- Outreach minded people define a “good church” as one that is sharing the gospel with people in practical and obvious ways.
- Service minded people define a “good church” as one that has lots of ministries to help people.
- Discipleship minded people say that being a “good church” is all about the sermons.
- For musically minded people, a “good church”, is the one that has meaningful, excellent music.
- Some people think that a “good church” is a big church, others think the only “good churches” are small ones.
- For new believers, a “good church” is one that makes it easy to understand what is going on and helps them to grow step-by-step in their faith.
- For a hurting person, a “good church” is one where they feel loved.
- For a family oriented person, a “good church” is one that is full of children.
- For a single, college student, a “good church” is one that has people their age and speaks meaningfully to their heads and hearts.
- Traditionally minded people want liturgy, robes, incense and art.
- Modern people want a sound system, a projector and stage lighting.
- To an intellectual a “good church” has messages that challenges their minds and drives them to further study.
- To a practically minded person, a “good church” has messages that challenges their lifestyle and drives them to action.
- To someone who has been through divorce or abuse, a “good church” is one where nothing bad ever happens, no one gets offended, and people are nice all the time.
- To a man looking for a strong mentor and a challenge, “a good church” is one with no nonsense, tough talk, some yelling, and a willingness to offend people.
- Some people would define a “good church” by looking at its ministry list. A good church has counselling, small groups, children’s programs, multi-ethnic ministries, is politically active, has a dynamic preacher, plays the right kind of music, supports local and global missions, develops leaders and missionaries, etc. ect. For them, a “good church” has lots of diverse ministries – usually ones that fit their lifestyle and interests.
And the list goes on and on and on. Is it any wonder that churches and church leaders have such a hard time trying to design ministries and Sunday services that are meaningful, helpful, and attractive to such a diverse group of people? It’s a tall order. Actually, that’s an impossible order. We can’t please everyone all the time – especially a church our size. But, is our job to create a church that pleases as many people as possible? Is that how we are to define a “good church”; by how many people like it? No way.
A Bible From the Sky
So, lets go back to our question: “What is a good church?”. I want to look at Acts 2:42-47 today, but before we read it, I want you to do something: clear your mind of all your preconceptions about church. Pretend you’ve never been to a church service. You are like many Canadians today, and have never even set foot inside a church building, and have no idea what goes on in there.
And then, one day, an airplane flies over your head, hits some turbulence, and a bible falls out of the luggage compartment and lands right in front of you. The pages explode away from the cover as it hits the sidewalk and they are blowing all over the place. You reach out your hand and grab one of the pages and start to read it. You look down and find that you have the whole of Acts chapter 2.
You start to read Peter’s first recorded sermon, preached at Pentecost, and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He’s presented as the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah, come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You read that after the sermon was given, a multitude of people feel terrible convicted, repent of their sins, give their lives over to following this Jesus, are baptized in His name, and start to meet together regularly.
As you continue to read Acts 2, you read about the change that starts happening to these people. You figure out that these were the same people that crucified Jesus in the first place and were his enemies. They were once people destined to be destroyed, but are now “saved” because of Jesus. This good news changes their hearts so radically that they decided to meet together all the time to celebrate what Jesus has done for them. This is AMAZING and you start running around, gathering as many pages as you can, and start to sort them together until you have a good portion of the New Testament. You read it, believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the people who are “saved”!
Later that week your boss comes and tells you that you are about to be transferred to another city. He’s sending you to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, Ontario. You’re going to be working there for a while, and they’ve already set you up a home just outside the city in a nice, little place called Beckwith.
You pack all your things and move into your new home, and as you drive around your new neighbourhood, you see an adorable, little building with a white cross on top and a sign that says, “Beckwith Baptist Church.” Your heart starts to race as you pull your make-shift Bible out of your pocket and start to flip through the pages. It dawns on you that this is a building dedicated to housing a group of Christians – just like you read about.
Your excitement is almost palpable. You bang on the door, but no one is there. You race out to the sign to see that you have to wait until Sunday at 10am until service starts. You can’t wait! You finally get to see all that you have been reading about come to life. You get to meet a whole group of people that know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living in them. You get to meet a group unlike any you have ever met in the world – a group of people that call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
And as you stand out in the parking lot, you open up to your favourite passage. The first that landed at your feet, the very first chapter that you ever read in Acts 2. You read aloud Acts 2:42-47:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
You can’t wait to meet these people! You can’t wait to come to this church. You can’t wait to be a part of this body of believers and be “added to their number”!
This text is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses, not because it is a prescription of what we are supposed to be doing – but because it is a description of what happens when we get it right. This is a description of a “Good church” . This is what it looks like when we stop trying to please people, be clever with our ministries, and find some kind of secret code that causes more people to come through the door. This is what it looks like when a church allows God to take over and lets the Holy Spirit reign in their hearts.
These verses are not prescriptive – they’re not telling us what to do. They are descriptive – they are telling us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people that love Him. People get this confused. They think if we can do the things described in these verses, then God will bless the church. No, it’s the opposite. If we allow God to work in our hearts, then this is what will happen to us.
Bill Hybels’ “Reveal”
When we get this backwards and believing that a “good church” is about the ministries it does instead of the God it worships, we fall into a “consumer” model of Christianity. We become people pleasers who try to design our church to primarily “meet people’s needs”, “make people happy”, “feed people”, “attract people”, etc. Whenever you hear the term, “feed”/”fed”, it’s consumer-minded. It means, “I’ve come to your church and you’re not giving me what I want.” It’s just like going to a restaurant and saying, “I don’t like what’s on the menu, so I’m not happy, and I’m going to find a new restaurant”. That’s consumer minded Christianity, and that kind of church and Christian doesn’t please God.
Let me give you an example. Willowcreek Church in Chicago, Illinois, headed by Pastor Bill Hybles, is one of the largest churches in North America, with over 23,000 people attending weekly. They were the uncontested champion of the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-driven” church movement. They’ve generated a huge amount of ministry ideas, content, songs, and are modeled all over the world.
In 2007, they released some internal survey results (in a book called “Reveal”) where they made an amazing confession that rocked the Christian world. Let me quote from an article that describes what they learned:
“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life. Hybels confesses:
‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”
In other, other words, the consumer model – where a “good church” is defined by how many programs we have, how great our music is, how winsome the pastor is, the attendance, the vision casting, the constitution, the ethnicities, the small groups, or anything else that is defined by human standards – doesn’t work! It doesn’t please God or fulfil our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Only One Opinion Matters
All of those things that I described are going to change. The programs of today’s church are far different from those a hundred or a thousand years ago. The preaching styles will change. The music has changed and will change again. The attendance of church will fluctuate from time to time and place to place. The constitution and bylaws do not define a church. Nor can the ethnicities within it. Culture will change. Technology will change. All of these things are going to change due to geography and time. None of these things cannot define what a “good church” is.
Therefore, a “good church”, cannot and must not be something that is decided by any individual or group of people. If the church is as important as we think it is – as important as God declares it is in scripture, then there must be a more universal list of attributes that describes a “good church” in standards that apply to all people, for all time, everywhere.
As a pastor, that question bothered me for a long time. I read a lot books and articles about how to grow a church and make a church “effective for the culture”, and they all sounded good – but they were almost contradictory in their advice and conclusions.
Some said the church needed to do more activities, others said we needed to gather together more. Some said the church needed more prayers services, others said it needed to be out in the community. Some said the church needed short sermons with video clips, others said the sermons needed to be deeply theological. Some said small groups were the answer, others said to give up the church building altogether and just meet in people’s houses, while others said the best thing to do is start a building program and open up more services. It was frustrating and confusing, and made it really hard to know what to do.
Four Universal Characteristics
Then I changed the question instead of asking myself “What do I think is a ‘good church’?” or “What do the experts think is a ‘good church’?” or “What does today’s culture think is a ‘good church’?, I asked, “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That change, while it may seem obvious now, was somewhat revolutionary for me – and perhaps it is to you too. Instead of asking, “What is a good church for me, or my family, or my culture, or my country?” let’s ask, “What is a Good Church by God’s standards?”
And so, to find out what God’s standards are, I went to God’s word and came up with four universal characteristics that make up a good, godly, Christ honouring, effective church. And you’ll notice that they are all found in our passage in Acts 2. These four universal characteristics are:
- A good church is a “disciple-making church”.
- A good church is a “fellowshipping church”.
- A good church is a “worshipping church”.
- A good church is an “outreaching church”.
I’m going to take next week to go through these four in detail, but I want you to just notice quickly what I’m seeing. Remember, this isn’t just a recipe of ministries for a “good church”, but instead is what God says a good church looks like. They aren’t a list of ministries, but more a list of attitudes and priorities.
One of them isn’t more important than the other – all four must be present in the church for it to be a “good church” by God’s standards. A “good church” can’t focus on having good worship, but not good at outreach and fellowship. Likewise, a “good church” can’t be a disciplemaking church, but not care about worshipping God or fellowshipping together. All four must be held as the most important areas of our church life. Look again at Acts 2:42-47 and you’ll see them all there.
This Christian Church, maybe called the first in existence, was devoted to “the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” – that’s areas of discipleship. That’s committing to biblical sermons, practicing the ordinances of the church, and the development of a private the spiritual life.
They were also devoted to “the fellowship, having all things in common, attending the temple together, breaking bread in homes, distributing to the needy among them” – that’s fellowship. They showed love and care for one another in practical ways.
See how “awe came upon every soul, they attended the temple, and praised God” – that’s worship. They saw, heard, felt and experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives and gave awe-inspired worship to Him as a result.
And, they saw “many wonders and signs, distributed proceeds to all who had need, had favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number.” That’s outreach. That’s evangelism. That’s caring for people outside the church, building the reputation of being godly community members, and seeing people turn to Jesus and be saved.
I want to talk about that more next week, but that’s what I want you to chew on this week. How have you been defining a “good church”? Has it been by how you feel about it? By how many people attend? By what ministries it has? By how “fed” you feel afterward? Let me encourage you to repent of those attitudes and ask yourself if you want a church patterned after your preferences, or God’s.
And for all of us here, when we think of Beckwith Baptist Church, and what we want it to be, are we seeking to craft it into our own image – with our type of music, our favourite style of preaching, ministries that cater to us – or are we seeking to be the kind of church that God favours. A church that practices discipleship, fellowship, worship and outreach – no matter what that looks like.
I would ask you to think about that for the next week, and then we’ll come back (Lord willing) and dig more deeply into these four areas.
Inside the Mind of a Worship Leader (Feat. Russ Smith of Hokus Pick!) (Carnivore Theology: Episode 13)
What’s it Like Inside the Mind of a Worship Leader?
The CT guys get inside the head, heart and ministry of our first special guest, Worship Leader Russ Smith from Hokus Pick!
(Russ was the lead vocalist/guitar for Hokus Pick, a Christian Rock band from 1988 to 1999 that toured in Canada and the US.)
And here’s the link to the Behind the Scenes YouTube video.
As Always, We Want Your Feedback
Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!
You are the life-giving God.
and give us the energy to call upon Your name,
for our minds are not enough to understand,
our thoughts are wayward
and we are easily distracted.
We love the world too much
and within our heart is still the struggle with unbelief and doubt.
It is only by Your Holy Spirit that our many weaknesses
can become strengths.
We approach You as our Father
and our Friend.
You are our portion forever,
the person from whom we get exceeding joy,
and from You comes the strength of our hearts.
We believe in You as the God of nature,
the God of all things,
the great Creator,
the one who set everything in motion,
the one who sustains the universe,
the one who controls providence,
and the one who sent Jesus to be our Saviour from Sin.
Inside each one of us today is a voice that makes us feel too guilty to come before You,
or too proud
to call upon Your name
– but today we choose to praise You
because of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
that we are able to be reconciled to You
because of Him.
May the truth that is in Him
illuminate in us all that is dark,
firmly establish in us all that is wavering,
still within us all of the storms of our hearts,
accomplish in us and through us all of the good plans that You have set before us,
and glorify in us the name of Jesus Christ.
Some of us are passing through a vale of tears,
through a difficult, almost impossible time
– but we choose to thank You
and bless You
for opening the gate to glory at the end of it.
Help us to realise that in You is something better than what we see before us,
help us keep heaven and eternity with You ever in our mind.
Prepare us for the journey You still have for us to walk.
Uphold our steps by Your word.
Keep us from any sin that would dominate us.
Teach us that if we put ourselves first,
then we are not walking towards Jesus.
Teach us that if we are trying to save ourselves,
then he cannot be our Redeemer.
Help us see the kinds of idols we are setting in our hearts
so we may have a better relationship with You.
Give us a strong faith that accepts Jesus as our Redemer
and Lord and our God over all.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
(Inspired by “Truth in Jesus” from “The Valley of Vision“)
I gave a little talk to some kids at AWANA last night and wanted to share it with you. It was intended to make the kids laugh and think. The older kids seemed to get it, but it might have went over the heads of the little ones. It’s adapted from a post I wrote a long time ago.
Here’s the audio if you want to listen to it.
I’m so ANGRY with my toothpaste! I’m so upset with my toothpaste that I wrote a note to it and I want to share it to you. Is that ok? Can I share the note I wrote to my toothpaste with you?
No, wait… you’re not “Dear”… I don’t like you. Let me start again:
Oh toothpaste, I don’t like you anymore! You’ve really let me down! You made some pretty big promises to me, and you’re not keeping them!
When I’m watching TV I see your commercials and you tell me that I need you so badly. You say that if I don’t buy you, and use you, and keep using you all the time… people won’t respect me, or love me or enjoy my company. You say that no one loves a person who doesn’t have super shiny, glowing, white teeth. Everyone in the commercial is so happy, so successful! Surrounded by minty, bubbly wonderfulness! They have great jobs, and nice cars, and beautiful people around them… and you say that it’s all because of you, toothpaste!
I look around myself and I don’t have that. I don’t feel beautiful all the time. I don’t feel successful all the time. And you told me that the reason for all my problems is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my incisors, canines, bicuspids and molars were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular, have a more positive attitude, have more friends and a happier life.
And it’s not just the good stuff that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, there are also the fearsome negatives of not having perfectly white teeth… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills and the sugar-free gum (the… d.d.d.dentists…) have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth.
“BEWARE! Your tooth-enamel will never, EVER grow back! If you drinking pop or coffee, you may as well be drinking battery acid! If you forget to brush before you go to sleep, right after you wake, after yoy eat, or snack, or chew a little too much… you will contract all sorts of terrible, horribly, scary maybe-even-fatal diseases like tartar buildup, gingivitis, periodontitis, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or maybe even cancer!!!” (Scream!)
“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better! I will save you! I will take away all the bad things in your life and give you all the good things!”
And I try to follow your ways, I really do! I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 8 hours since my last brushing! Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me clean from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.
In truth, when I think about it Toothpaste, the reason I need you is because I’m scared! I live in a world which is more concerned with how I look, how fresh my breath is, how clean my teeth are, what kind of things I have —- rather than who I am, what I love, or even my talents. People judge me by how I look on the outside far more than what is on my insides – so I’ve convinced myself that I need you. I need you, o Toothpaste, to make me right with the world. I need you, o Toothpaste, because without you no one will like me.
And then I turned on the TV, and I saw another commercial, and I realized, to my everlasting shame, that I had been using an old kind of toothpaste! The toothpaste I had been using has been surpassed and is not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks. This must be where I went wrong. This must be why my life isn’t perfect. I though that for sure, this Toothpaste must be where I need to go to get peace, and love, and friendship, and hope, and happiness!
And so I gave my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste! I don’t know what it means, but it’s iso-active. It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens all the sugar-bugs and plaque buildup away.
And I brush. Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush! Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls. Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel full of elements, compounds and lofty promises will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence! Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!
But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more friends, fortune, success or adulation than I did before. And so I am writing this note to you Toothpaste. I’m angry with you, Toothpaste. I am turning my wrath unto the giver of these great promises… you, O toothpaste. You have let me down. I don’t know what to do now. (SIGH)
So, Toothpaste, I’m going to go to AWANA tonight and I’m going to ask them for some help.
So what do you think, everyone. If toothpaste doesn’t work to make me feel safe, happy, joyful and loved… maybe I should try some new things to make me feel better.
I think I’m going to try video games first! They make me feel smart. They make me feel like a hero, like an explorer. I can spend hours on them and never have to talk to any real person who might say something bad to me. Hmm… I wonder if that will work? Do you think I’ll feel better for the rest of my life if I play more video games?
Hmm… maybe not…
Ok, what about shopping? If I change my clothes, buy fun things, use all my money to impress the people around me by buying things I don’t really need, do you think I’ll feel better?
No… Hmmm… this is tough…
Well, what about sports? What if I get really, really good at sports, and win all the games and get all the trophies, and get my face on a cereal box? Will that make me happy? Hmm… maybe for a while. But if I make my happiness comes by playing and winning at sports, then what happens if I lose some games, or get hurt, or get too old to play?
Yeah, that’s no good…
Wow, this is hard! Can you think of someone I can count on that will never let me down, that will show me how to know happiness and joy for the rest of my life, that will help me not be afraid, that loves me from the inside out, that tells me the truth all the time, that never needs anything from me except for me to love Him? Can you think of someone that loved me so much they were willing to give everything up for me, even their own life, and then showed how amazing they are by even conquering death so I would have nothing to fear?
Maybe I don’t need to worry about all that other stuff. Maybe all I need is Jesus.
After being challenged by the elders to study and pray about Pastoral Prayers I have decided to write and give a new prayer each week during the church service. I’ve thought a lot about posting them here and have decided to do so in hopes that people will experience a new way to pray and be encouraged through them. Feel free to use them privately or in your church’s worship time. This prayer is from June 30, 2013.
“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!…
Within Your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God, Your praise reaches the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.” (Psalm 48:1a , 10)
We come before you in song,
in our tithes and offerings,
and by giving attention to your Word
because you are worthy of our attention, our praise, our faith, our prayers and our lives.
We praise you this morning as a community of people in need of your mercy,
We confess to you that we have not lived as we should have this week.
We have idols in our hearts,
have grieved your spirit,
have trusted in our own strength,
and, at times, have forgotten your very existence by not being mindful of your presence.
We have indulged our own selfishness and have not loved one another as we are meant to.
We have indulged addictions that you have told us to give up.
We have indulged feelings that you have told us were harmful as we wallowed in bitterness,
We have indulged Satan and given into temptation willfully and mindfully.
You gave us the way out, and we didn’t take it.
We confess our sin and our error, and once again we repent from it.
We need your forgiveness Lord.
We need to be cleansed.
We need your supernatural strength to live a holy life.
As individuals and as a community we come before you trusting your promise that “if we confess our sins, [You are] faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We trust in your faithfulness.
We know that as a just God you poured out the punishment for our sins onto our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We know that because of His sacrifice we can be purified.
Purify our church.
Purify our souls.
Purify our community and our city.
Make us clean.
We pray for those in authority over us,
those you have raised up to lead this community, city, province and nation.
Help them listen to you and govern well.
We ask you to bless the other churches in our area as they praise you and listen to your word.
Grow them in number, and deepen them in spiritual maturity.
And for us here this morning Lord, illuminate your word and draw us into a deeper, stronger faith.
Build up our relationship with you and each other.
Give your special attention and healing to the sick who cannot be with us.
Give your supernatural joy to those who are grieving and hurting this morning, Lord.
Lay a heavy hand on those who need to feel your presence today.
Bring conviction to the prideful and elevate the humble among us.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen
Church Attendance: Getting The Most out of Sunday Service (Part 1) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines
Attending Church is one of the Four Core Christian Disciplines, but some believers are not in the habit of attending church on a consistent basis — or, hop from church to church seeking to find the perfect place to “get fed”. Being around other believer is an important and complex endeavour. We come to church from a variety of different situations, perspectives and backgrounds, with different needs and requirements to get the most out of our time at church. Consider how different we are.
A Diverse Group
Most of us are busy people. There’s a lot going on these days. It’s summer, the weather is warming up and it’s time to for yard-work, fishing and vacation. There have been a lot of sports finals to watch, and even more coming this summer, so there’s lots to be interested in. It’s block-buster movie season so there’s lots of good things playing at the theatre. There’s a tonne going on in local, provincial and national news – not to mention all the global crisis’ that we are supposed to keep up with. Some of you have some very serious things on your mind, experiencing troubles with your family or friends while others are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s all of our other day-to-day tasks and events. We’ve got a lot on our plates.
Physically speaking, some are feeling pretty good, had a great rest, a nice breakfast and can’t wait to get to whatever you’re doing later today. Others had really rough sleep last night and can barely stay awake. Maybe you’re feeling physically ill today or have been in chronic pain.
Practically speaking some of you are visual learners and have a hard time listening to someone speak for a long time – so just the idea of a 35 minute lecture puts you to sleep – so you stare at the PowerPoint hoping that it will keep you interested. Others of you are auditory learners and get distracted by the PowerPoint. Some of you are tactile learners who are having a really tough time right now because you’re having to sit still and try to pay attention, so you have to fiddle with a pen or tap your foot, or do something or you’ll go bananas.
There were some people who like “church music”, others don’t. Some like guitar, others piano. Some like to sing, others don’t. Some love going upstairs to hang out with people, others just want to get in and out without being bothered by a bunch of people who don’t really care about them anyway.
Some looked at the title and thought “that might be interesting”, others groaned knowing this had nothing to do with them. Some people are mad at other people. Some are mad at people who aren’t even alive anymore. Some have been hurt but won’t show it. Some are barely holding it together, hoping that no one notices. Others are desperately hoping someone will notice. Some are wondering why the intro is so long and wondering when we are going to get into the Bible. Others are glad there’s an intro because there’s been way too many verses for them to follow lately. Some have a deep, growing and flourishing relationship with their friend, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Others don’t even know what that looks like.
So, with all this diversity of background, levels of spiritual maturity, emotional and relational baggage, personal preferences, unique life situations, and learning styles, how can we possibly create a Sunday morning experience that helps everyone in the church grow closer to God, learn more about Jesus, worship Him in an intimate, personal way, grow closer in relationships with the group, and then go home blessed, comforted, uplifted and challenged to apply something new to their lives throughout the week. That’s a tall order!
You Have What You Need
Here’s the thing:
If God is present with us,
Jesus is alive and active,
and the Holy Spirit is still powerful,
then you already have everything you need
to experience Him no matter where you are.
If you’re at church and the worship music is well rehearsed, has God-honouring lyrics, and presented with excellence, regardless of style a path to worship is available for you to take. If the Bible is being read and preached with humility and truth, then there is something to learn. And i you are surrounded by people who love Jesus, then I believe we have some very good conditions to see God do some special and amazing things. Yes, we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes the songs are a little off, and my sermon is boring, and the technology doesn’t work, and the room is too hot or cold… but by and large, I believe deep in my heart that most church services are fertile ground for God to grow our spirits each week.
What must be done is for you and I to come in a receptive condition for what God wants to do. We must stop using others as the excuse for our own spiritual weakness and realize that getting the most out of the Sunday morning experience falls on us as individuals.
Getting the Most out of Sunday Service
So if that’s right, then the question we must ask ourselves is this: “How can I ensure that when I come to church I can experience the presence of God, worship Jesus from the bottom of my heart, obey Him in whatever He desires, and walk away encouraged and challenged as a disciple of Jesus each Sunday?” In short, “What can I do to get the most out of Sunday Service?”
I read an article by Pastor John Piper a while back called “Take Heed How You Hear” where he presents 10 different ways we can ensure that we are spiritually ready for whatever God wants to do during the Sunday service. I found them very helpful, and I believe you will too.
1. Pray that God Would Prepare Your Heart
So, as we’ve been saying all along, prayer is where all of our spiritual development begins. I went through a book a while back called “Power through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds which was written to preachers to implore them to realize the desperate necessity of constant and passionate prayer. One of his points was that no matter how good the scholarship, the illustrations, the force, the emotion, and excellence of the delivery of the sermon, it will mean nothing – and could even do damage to the people listening if it is not built on the foundation of a prayerful relationship with God.
But it works both ways. Those who come to listen, to sing, to serve, to give, and to learn need to come with their hearts prepared to receive. Piper says, “The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we [have to] pray for it.” A soft heart for God isn’t something we can generate within ourselves, it must come from God. Remember Ezekiel 36:26 where God says “I will give you a new heart.” We’ve covered this many times before, but remember that if we don’t take time to ask God to prepare our hearts, we have no chance of being changed by the music we sing, the word we hear, or the believers around us.
Think of your heart as a cup. If we come each week full of jealousy, pride, covetousness, fear, sin, unrighteous anger, worldly pleasure, or anything else, what else can fit into it?
Think of your heart as soil. If the soil is hard and dry, and hasn’t been tilled and turned over, softened by the healing rains of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then whatever seeds of change are cast out by the music, offering, prayers, sermon, service or fellowship will just bounce off the ground and won’t take root.
Our prayer each week should be before we come on Sunday, “[Lord, I don’t know what you have for me at church today, but please] give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.” (JP)
2. Feed Yourself During the Week
Don’t let the Sunday service be the first and last place you see God’s Word, worship Jesus, and talk to Him each week. The Christian life is so much more than Sunday morning! The meat and potatoes of your faith happen during the week – this is just the appetizer before the meal that will be your week.
Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” Imagine that the word of God is your food, and prayer, worship and fellowship is like your drink. It is certainly nourishment for your soul, but what if it also affected your body. What if you only ate and drank once a week? What if you starved yourself the whole week long and then came crawling into the building each week, famished and exhausted for the one meal you know will be set for you. Would you enjoy the food? Would it help you grow and strengthen your muscles? No, you would come in starving, barely surviving, and when it was served you wouldn’t treasure it, smell it, taste it and enjoy it… would you? You’d barely taste it, and it wouldn’t be enough. Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it and might even make you sick because you’re not used to eating.
Sunday morning can’t be your whole spiritual diet. Think of it like a big pot-luck dinner with your family and friends each week. It’s a special time where you get to experience foods that you don’t have to make, and which you don’t usually get. It’s a place you can savour, and pause, and converse over the food, push back from the table and drink from your cup, try things you’ve never experienced, and lean over to people and say “try this, it’s good!”.
If you’ve ever heard someone say that they left a church because “they weren’t being fed”, I would almost guarantee that they didn’t have the practice of feeding themselves during the week. “Not being fed” isn’t a biblical excuse to leave a church. Heresy, which is where the church is serving poison food, is a good reason to leave a church.
I promise that if you come prepared by feeding yourself the word, and drinking in prayer, worship and fellowship regularly during the week, that you will have a much better appetite for Sunday morning and will enjoy it more and grow more quickly in Christ.
3. Purify Your Mind
A corrupt, sinful, indulgent heart and mind will dramatically affect your spiritual life during the week and on Sunday mornings. You know this, but perhaps you don’t realize how dramatically it effects your attitudes towards worship, study, prayer and other Christians.
James 1:21 says that Christians need to be, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Philippians 4:8 implores us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is a challenge to me because I’ve incorporated worldly entertainment into my rest time. I’m not as bad as I once was, but it’s still something I have to watch and be careful of.
Let me read directly from Piper on this because I’m not sure I would have ever written this sentence myself.
“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship.”
Chew on that for a moment. Consider the tv shows and movies that you watch and ask if they are banal (meaning unoriginal, obvious and boring), empty, silly and trivial. I only get about 5 channels on my TV, but if I ever turn it on to surf I always regret it because it really is empty, silly, trivial and boring. It’s like eating cotton or listening to white-noise – just empty filler with no redeeming quality.
Worse, perhaps, are the shows and movies that are titillating, suggestive and immodest. The most popular shows today, on the specialty channels like HBO, Showcase and Spike have these sensuality designed into them! You say you want to watch it for the plot, the action, etc., but right along with is sexual immorality, suggestive themes, and outright pornography.
Watching these shows makes us small in our minds – because we import no new, good, helpful information. It makes us weak in our spirits – because we are consistently giving Satan more and more images and memories to distract, tempt and entice us to sin. It messes up our vision of reality and creates unholy and unrealistic desires that make us unhappy and discontent.
It would be amazing if Christians could stop putting this stuff in their brains altogether, but at the very least, let’s try to make Saturday night a “garbage free zone” where we only watch or read “something true and great and beautiful and pure and honourable and excellent and worthy of praise.” I love how Piper says the result will be,
“Your heart will shrivel and be able to feel greatness again.”
I have felt that shrivelling of my heart before, and I have also experienced God unshrivelling it and filling my heart back up to make it full and ready for Him. I know that there are some people who have slain this demon already and can attest to this truth too. This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand and begin afraid of culture, or about throwing our TV’s out and never going to the theatre. It’s about being able to focus our hearts on God. Can you imagine how different your Sunday morning would be if it began on Saturday night?
4. Settle Your Mind
This is all about trusting in the truth that you already have so you can grow and develop more truths. Some people have struggles with their faith that they just can’t get past, and it is a roadblock to their spiritual development. They come week after week, but they are not growing because they are stuck on one or two big questions that make them doubt God, their Salvation, their Faith and the grace of God.
There are other people who have many answers, but have not put them into practice. They are theoretical, but they have not become real. This means that they never really learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them because it never goes from their mind to their heart and hands – so God keeps repeating the same lesson over and over and over because they’ve never taken the step of obedience so they can move to the next lesson.
The encouragement here is to settle certain things in your minds – and move on. If you have a struggle with some aspect of Christianity then investigate those areas and settle them in your minds so you might be able to extend your roots deep into the soil. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Do the work of learning what God says, do what needs to be done practically to make that real, and then settle your heart and mind on that subject.
For example: If you come every week doubting that the Holy Spirit is real and wonder if the book He wrote may not be truth, then you will not be able to grow deeper. If so, then you need to read, study, and talk to me and other believers about the authority of the scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. Do the work, have it settled, then move on.
If you spend your week in difficulty and wonder if God is good or bad, present or absent, it will stunt your spiritual growth. Settle in your hearts that your immortal soul was purchased once and for all on the cross by Jesus Christ, that if God is for you who can be against you, and that there is nothing you can do to earn or lose your salvation because it is the free gift of grace. If you have to wonder each moment if you are good enough to be accepted by God, or if the sin you committed means God doesn’t love you today, then there is no way you will be able to worship effectively, pray personally, sing joyfully or listen to the Bible attentively. When trials come, if your roots are not deep, and your faith is unsettled, your faith will fail you.
If God has been working on you in an area of obedience like how much time you spend doing something so you can avoid your family, indulging in pornography or courting an affair, something that you need to change in your attitude or outlook, or something you need to give away… whatever it is… it’s my experience that your spiritual growth will be stunted and stalled until you deal with that area. You can tinker with the car engine, adjust the mirrors, clean the carpets and get all the pretty decorations you want, but if your tires are flat, you’re not going anywhere.
5. Get Some Sleep on Saturday Night
This one seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says this, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” That’s Bible talk for “Yes, you’re an adult and you can go to bed whenever you want… but being an adult also means doing the right and responsible thing.”
There is no law for what you are supposed to do or not do on a Saturday night. There is no bedtime or specific bible verses that say what you are supposed to be doing the night before. Sure, you’ve got some guidelines about drunkenness and orgies, but there are lots of things you can do on Saturday nights that aren’t sin, but that will absolutely ruin your Sunday morning worship experience. When you are tired you are more susceptible to temptation and Satan can use your weakened physical state to distract you, play with your emotions, and enslave you. And you get into a cycle of lack of sleep and then spend the day jacked up on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, then you are absolutely destined to fall for temptation – you’re easy prey.
And when you add the spiritual side of coming to church – the battle that rages to keep Christians away from worship, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of believers, then you are in real trouble. Lack of sleep is something people use to torture the enemy and weaken their resolve so they will crack under pressure. Sunday morning is a spiritual battleground, and sleepy soldiers are no help to anyone.
I like what Piper says here too:
“Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel [is to] decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.”
I read that knowing that I need to learn it too. I’ve built some boundaries that have really changed my life and my Sunday morning experience, but I need to do better for my own spirit and my family’s’ as well. I hope that you will pray though this list and that you will grow on Sunday mornings even more.
This is the first of some week-long experiments where we take something ordinary and see if we can use it to Worship God, grow as Disciples, encourage Fellowship, and practice Outreach. And the first thing that springs to mind is the writer’s best friend — coffee.
Did you know:
- Coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder who noticed his herd acted pretty excited after eating a certain kind of berries.
- Coffee beans aren’t beans at all, but are the seeds inside a kind of cherry.
One of the main focuses of this blog is to grow a passion towards making your relationship with God a part of every moment of your life. That’s why I started “Project: Always & Everything”,“an every growing list of unique, interesting, exciting and challenging ways that we can meet God in our daily lives and practice keeping Him Always involved with Everything we do.”
So in keeping with that idea, I want to brainstorm a bit about coffee and worship.
For some, drinking coffee is an act of worship — not one focused on God, but in fact worshipping the ever-so-delectable-bean itself. Think about it. Worship is to give honour, reverence, regard, homage and sacrifice to someone or something regarded as sacred. Now run your attitude for coffee through that matrix.
- If you don’t have coffee for a few days, how do you feel?
- Do you pursue coffee as a necessary part of your day?
- How much time, effort, energy and money to you sacrifice for coffee?
- How do you celebrate coffee in your life? Do you have a sanctified chalice (special mug)? Do you have any consecrated garments to celebrate your object of worship (any clothes with coffee on them)?
- When you wake up in the morning to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, filled with longing and desire to roll that first, hot, delicious, sip across your lips and past your long waiting taste buds — is it an act of emotional worship?
- Is coffee the first thought on your mind in the morning, and your source of energy and inspiration throughout the day?
- Is your coffee an idol?
Worship With Coffee
Yes, coffee can become an idol, but can drinking it also be an act of worship? If we approach coffee remembering that God created this world full of amazing things to enjoy but not worshiped (1 Corinthians 6:12-13, 19-20), have our hearts focused on God in thanksgiving and prayer (Ephesians 5:20, 6:18), then I believe we can redeem our coffee time and make it an act of worship. How?
- Make God your first thought in the morning, and then thank Him for creating things we can enjoy, and even use to perk us up for His service – like coffee!
- Do an idol check now and again by not having coffee for a time (a week, a month) to be sure that it is not controlling you, and you are not dependant on it. (Here’s an infographic about caffeine.)
- Thank God for all the people, from harvest to processing to delivery to the store clerk, that worked hard to get that coffee into your hands. You may want to (strongly) consider drinking only fair-trade coffee.
- Have coffee with your Father. Capture the time you take drinking that first cup as a time to simply be with God. Not rushing around, not dumping it into a to-go mug, not even during your bible-study time. Just take that time to talk things over with your Father in Heaven.
What about you? Have you ever worshipped at the altar of the great bean? Can you think of ways you can connect coffee and worship?
Connecting with God in a meaningful way is so much more than sitting in a quiet room with your hands folded, head bowed, eyes closed. Relating to God is unlike any other relationship in your life, and the ways you can meet Him in your daily life are nearly unlimited. This blog intends to explore as many of those ways as possible.
Do you believe that you can have the presence of God with you throughout your day? Can you use any of these words to describe your relationship with Him?
Or is your relationship to your Creator and Saviour limited to fifteen minutes in the morning and evening, and a prayer before you eat?
Have you ever wondered if there could be more to your spiritual life? There can. Let’s explore how together.