Tag Archives: worship

THE VANITY OF WORSHIP

“In vain do they worship me – their teachings are merely human rules”  (Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6—7 of the church leaders who opposed him.)

Such manifest vanities are today practised and displayed daily by millions of church goers. Jesus could well say of today : they worship me after their own traditions instead of obeying my words.

Consider : Jesus never asked his disciples to worship him!

Imagine this absurd scenario:  The first disciples come together to worship Jesus. So they put him up on a throne and lift up their hands or they prostrate themselves! They say they love him, adore him, bowing down and singing before him, sure that their devotion, their religious acts will please him. They devise a form of service and trot it out ….. and they ignore his expressed words in the gospels.

Or, just imagine the first disciples post-Pentecost composing or going through a liturgy or holding services or dedicating buildings to Jesus! Of course, such scenarios do not fit. Human constructs.

Instead they show the worth of Jesus by obeying his Holy Spirit, sharing goods, experiencing apostolic teaching, eating together, praying, receiving the Holy Spirit.

Are we using “worship” as a substitute for plain obedience to Jesus? Faithfulness unto Jesus means we  follow him to the end.

Many ignore his commands to believe, to pray, to persevere, to go make disciples, to teach all peoples all his commands, to receive the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to him.

He has unequivocally and expressly stated that his disciples are to put his movement, his kingdom, before their interests and agendas, to put him first, to seek the Father’s will and heart, to sit at his feet, to abide in him, his words abide in them, to love one another as he has loved them.

Have we forgotten he asks us to lose our lives for his sake, to be fishers of men, to give freely, to rejoice in suffering ….. ?

Did Jesus start “worship” classes? Did he teach about how to do “services of worship”? Did he appoint worship leaders? The whole idea is absurd. So many human inventions.

“Do whatever he tells you said Mary, his mother to the servants at the wedding (John 2)—the best advice ever given. The last recorded words of Mary. How spot on! “Do whatever he tells you.

Now that’s worship: Do whatever he tells you.

Listen as he teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. His Father’s will not just listened to, but actually done.

The writings of the whole Bible are all about pleasing God, doing his will, living under his wonderful rule (that’s worth-ship—acknowledging God’s amazing and eternal worth). Isn’t that what Jesus’ parables are all about? The house built on the rock is the person who not only hears but does the will of God.

Following Jesus is to worship him, obey him, doing whatever he says. It’s obedience to God, not sacrifice that counts, declared the prophets.

Where is worship in the Letter to the Hebrews, that most Jewish of all the New Testament writings? It’s being provocative, “stirring up one another to love and good works”.  It’s drawing near to God with faith, it’s seriously listening to your leaders, it’s enduring suffering. It is in rendering a sacrifice of praise by our lips which bear witness to his name—that is, being a witness to Jesus. It’s being mature and teaching others.

Prayer is worship. A notable example is in Acts 4 prayer with shouts of praise to God in the context of persecution.  Study of scriptures is worship.

Worship is not just a sing-song.

Worship in Acts? What about Paul and Silas in that Philippi jail in the most uncomfortable circumstances; or with Lydda at place of prayer.  Pauls’ teaching and arguing, and urging, writing letters, always on the go. Frequently imprisoned. Always acknowledging Jesus’ worth.

For Paul the apostle “acceptable worship” is service to others and witness to Jesus (Romans 12).

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 it’s building one another up when you meet together with the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit—that’s worth-ship of Jesus.

In Ephesians 5 it’s “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” … to one another! Edification of the brothers and sisters is worth-ship along with making melody in the heart to the Lord.

Entertainments are common in many churches today and they call it worship! More like having an indulgent fun time—a substitute for the solid joys of doing what he asks.

The heart of God is the saving of the lost, that’s worship. Reaching outsiders.

What did Peter teach? What did John teach? James? And the others? It’s all about serving one another and doing the work of the Lord, being lights in a dark world. Worship in spirit and in truth.

Though the Israel cultus is gone, yet people feel the need to be religious, to offer up something other than “ourselves, our souls, our bodies as a living sacrifice”.

The Father “seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth”.

The Fruit that Jesus insists on

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The Sacred Cow of Going to Church

We have seen in the wonderful Letter to the Hebrews that because Jesus is faithful and the promise is lock solid, guaranteed, at last we have something to hold unswervingly.This is the place to be. But notice how the author keeps addressing, not a lot of individuals, but a group of people. This is their place corporately. Together.

So now in chapter 10 and verses 24 and 25, he addresses how and why they met together:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This all leads to our author’s plea to concentrate on the care of one another. How critical it was that they should consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. It was the role of everyone, not just some vicar or pastor or a dominant leader. Their meeting together—their ‘worship’, was all about encouragement and stirring up one another. In the NT the meaning of ‘worship’ is service by one another, to one another.

Here is the only place in the NT calling believers to be together regularly, but it is often quoted by clergy to keep people coming to their church. It really means something quite different.No one among the first believers “goes to church”. They were the church when together, wherever. They were together the Body of Christ present to encourage, to serve one another and to spur one another on to love and to excellent deeds!

Until the Day of his return, which seemed to them quite ominous.

Two important things stand out. First the necessity of meeting together—we cannot do without our brothers and sisters. We cannot do without expressing the Body of Christ. We must not go it alone. A hand or an eye cannot stay alive apart from being attached to a living body—to recall Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. They were not just a lot of individuals collected together. They were a body! A living body.

Secondly, the one essential matter when gathered was to encourage one another. If we fail to do that we have departed from God’s ordained pattern, God’s design. To follow God’s amazing design, his plans and specifications is to truly worship him. To do otherwise, is to dishonour him.

Look, we are asked to consider how to stir one another to love and good deeds. There is a pattern to follow, and the mundane details are left to us to arrange. But the pattern, most certainly, always concerns reproducing Jesus’ life, his love, his servanthood, his actions, priorities, behaviour, his perfection, his will, his purpose, his way, his truth, his life—by looking unto Jesus.

Our author is consistent with the other authors of the New Testament documents. It is clear that they did not come together to hear or see a “service” conducted by a minister. Nor did they come to hear a preacher. They did not come together to sing “worship songs” or hymns organised by a “worship leader” or clergyman.

They came together to care for one another, to weep with those who weep, to comfort one another, to encourage one another, to help one another in building up faith, to love one another, to confess their needs and faults with one another, to pray for one another, to submit to one another ….

The phrase one another appears over 40 times in the New Testament in relation to believers together.

How can we practice this if an “ordained” priest or minister or a dominant leader is present?  They will instinctively do what they have been trained to do, what they are paid to do. There is no hard evidence of any official or officers active in the churches described in the New Testament record. There is function and not form. There is dynamic action led by the Holy Spirit, his gifts distributed among his people, the organisation of the Holy Spirit.

Today, churches are frequently described in terms of their leader, pastor, priest or minister, in terms of a dominant controlling leader. Jesus sternly warned his disciples to avoid this scenario. Paul warned against this and constantly calls himself ‘a servant/slave’.  Peter echoes Jesus words that God’s people are not to be ‘lorded over’ by leaders. And so does our author.

God knows how much we are in need of him, his resources and how much he has to give us through our brothers and sisters when we submit to one another in the fellowship of Jesus.

We need all the help we can get, eh?

Holiness for the many

Continuing looking at the Letter to the Hebrews, in chapter 10, verses 1 to 3, the writer drives home again that the Jewish law is a mere shadow with great limitations. Those same sacrifices were continuing—they did not stop because they were ineffectual, he said. They did not bring holiness.

In religious circles today, what offerings or worship do people make that needs continual repetition? Do these make them holy? Do these remove the feelings of guilt? We are often reminded that feelings are untrustworthy. Sure, only God is trustworthy! Yet, if we feel guilty, it may be because we have not entered into the true life in the Spirit, promised for us for us in the New Covenant to give us great hope for what is to come.

Much of today’s public expressions of Christianity carry continual reminders of sins to the hearer. In many places the order of service (not a New Testament idea) obliges people to confess sins in a vague, non-specific sense and they are expected to feel contrition. Then there are often sermons preached ‘six feet above reproach’ which are designed to induce guilt feelings but not real guilt. (Actually amongst the primitive believers in Jesus, there were no sermons, no preaching, no clergy, just encouragement and exhortation by one another.)

Real sense of guilt comes from God, from the Holy Spirit, a result of the reality that we have offended God and friendship with him has been severed as a result. It is a precondition for true holiness.

Hebrews 10 goes on to show that Jesus understood these famous words from Ps 40:6-8 to apply to him,

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;  with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll —I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Jesus accepted the central mission on which God had sent him—to offer himself in a human body, in his own human body, to do the will of God. Remember the scene in the garden, Gethsemane? And this perfect offering has replaced all other! This once for all obedience makes us holy, an emphatic statement much repeated. We do not understand this cosmic event, but we are amazed at its wonderful depth and sure of its benefits.

Jesus was no puppet, no mechanical man dictated to by God. No. Jesus had a will of his own. He chose to make his will conform to the Father’s will. It was the will of the LORD to bruise him, we read in that amazing servant song of Isaiah 53. At Heb 10:10,  our author maintains

by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all

Holiness is a gift from another to be received by turning to Him and believing—can’t be achieved any other way.

Do you get it?

THE BEST OF ALL

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote that the Holy Spirit shows (the Holy Spirit must be a real person! He shows, speaks, can be grieved, etc)showsthat the way into the true Most Holy Place of the Lord was hidden. In fact, only once a year could just one man enter the temporary copy standing on earth! (Hebrews 9:8)

But now a different tabernacle now stands! It is a person, a human like us, yet unlike any of us, the one-and-only Son of God.  He has tabernacled –pitched his tent— among us by coming in human flesh. Now he lives forever in God’s presence to carry on his work for us who abound in his work, participants in his movement. In him we find all our needs met, all our dreams fulfilled, all our weaknesses helped, all our sins forgotten.

We have seen how the conscience of the individual remained clouded and confused and rose up to condemn him under the Old. Only the outward was included, the inner person remained untouched. A better “tent” was needed to touch the inner person. It is here. And it’s no leaky tent.

So our author reminds us yet again He offered himself, which deals with our guilty conscience, but more than that: that we may serve the living God!

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and came to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

To be ransomed means a price was paid for our freedom. What an astronomically great price! And now our great privilege is to serve the living God.To serve is to worship—to acknowledge his tremendous worth. Worshipping God means working in his service. It does not mean sitting in a church pew being entertained –or bored to sleep.

To serve the living God—how good is that!

As John Wesley shouted : THE BEST OF ALL IS GOD IS WITH US.