Fall 2011 Sermon at Nampa First Church of the Nazarene - September 11th
The Ultimate Act of Praise
Sermon at Nampa First Church of the Nazarene
September 11, 2011NNU & NFCCORPORATE PRAISE & WORSHIP IN THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH
Let me say it again:
Be careful what we worship,
Worship is for God.
Worship is organized around, based upon the character and acts of God.
Do we get that?
I thought worship was for me?
As Psalm 96 so powerfully states, we are to "ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name".
First and foremost, worship is for God. Certainly worshipping God will affect you, change you, but worship is for and about God.
Christian "worship is grounded in the character of God and the three primary acts of God: creation, redemption and covenantal relationship." (Webber, Common Roots, p. 85)
"It is absolutely essential that the Church keep God as the subject of worship since to be Christian means to believe that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is everything to us - Creator, Provider, Sustainer; Deliverer, Redeemer, and Lord; Sanctifier, Inspirer, and Empowerer." (Dawn, Reaching Out, p. 76)
Every Sunday, across America, we count on worship leaders to help us remember our place, and God's place in the theater of worship. God is the audience, worship leaders are the prompters, and we, the Church, are the performers, through our acts of worship we offer sacrifices of praise to God.
Churches must remember that the image of God portrayed in each Sunday's corporate worship is critically important to the image of God we carry with us throughout the week. We must be ever asking ourselves, what image of God do our worship practices portray?
I pause to make this point because I think it is a crucial, critical matter for the church in America. We live in a highly individualistic, feelings-based, consumerist, anti-intellectual, overly specialized secular society, and into this culture we ask, we need our worship leaders to focus us on God first and foremost. Church beware, the nature of the culture in which we live, can easily infiltrate the life of the church in general and our worship in particular.
N.T. Wright issues this caution: "most of what Americans do in their religion now is done at the behest of feeling. They judge Christian activities and their own religious condition according to their feelings. The quest for pleasure takes over the house of God. What is good or what is true is no longer the guide." (Wright, After, p. 199)
Our pastor has issued a call to praise, and we must guard against all the things that would cause us, entice us, tempt us to do something other than focus our praise and worship on God and God alone.
Let me meddle just a bit more, and say that the temptations to skew our worship away from God, are often very subtle and creep into our practices rather than boldly show up one Sunday. Don Hustad, who for many years served as Billy Graham's music team, wrote a wonderful book, Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition, in which he identifies four sins that the evangelical church and its members must avoid if we are to offer genuine and sincere praise to God and God alone.
We must beware of and guard against these worship temptations:
Sin of pride (our worship is better than the church down the street; how do I know that? Because I 'shopped' there before coming here)
Sin of hedonism (to allow the pursuit of an emotional experience to be the benchmark for whether or not one has worshipped)
Sin of spectatorism (to behave like the audience instead of the actors, passive consumers in our worship recliners)
Sin of sentimentalism (the temptation to judge current worship practices against memories of former worship experiences)
The worship of God is so much more than any of these human contrivances.
When we come together, our time before God in worship should "re-describe the world" the very world in which we live.
I love that description, it sounds like a place where God is honored and praised and people go out empowered, encouraged and enabled to live the life of a true disciple, praising God corporately and individually.
Now, I'd like to step back, and move from contemporary writers on worship in today's evangelical church to consider the activity of God revealed to us across the ages. What can and should we learn from the Biblical narrative about the proper ordering of praise and worship? What has God wrought, and what does God expect of His people?
THE STORY OF GOD: CREATING, REVEALING, MAKING COVENANT
Let us turn our attention to the story of God, as recorded in the Scriptures, and remember the God who creates, the God who reveals Himself and the God who makes covenant.
Turn to Deuteronomy 4: 32-40. Listen to the word of the Lord as Moses recounts thehand of God upon His children:
Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your very eyes.
He showed you these things so you would realize that the Lord is God and that there is no other god. He let you hear His voice from heaven so He could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so He could speak to you from it.
Because He loved your ancestors, He chooses to bless their descendants and personally brought you out of Egypt with a great display of power. He drove out nations far greater than you, so He could bring you in and give you their land as a special possession, as it is today.
So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other god!CREATURES RESPOND IN PRAISE TO GOD THE CREATOR
Deuteronomy 6: 2-6
If you obey all His laws and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, to everything I say. Be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised.
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord you God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today.
Do not worship any other gods besides me.
The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and thirsty, weak and faint. Then the wood-carver measures and marks out a block of wood, takes the tool, and carves the figure of a man. Now he has a wonderful idol that cannot even move from where it is placed!
He makes an idol and bows down and praises it!
How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a chunk of wood? The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He is trusting something that can give him no help at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
The people of God were living a lie; too many times they discarded their God at the altar of their national and personal greed. They followed the urging of their appetites and lusts, often times still going through the motions of worshiping and praising God while simultaneously making, buying and relying on the idols of the cultures that surrounded them. In effect, they stopped being the people of God and followed the fallen examples of the kingdoms of the world that encompassed them. Even as they were being hauled away into exile they failed to see the folly of creating and worshipping false gods.
Isaiah records this folly in Isaiah 46: 1-9:
The idols of Babylon. . . are being hauled away on ox carts. But look! The beasts are staggering under the weight! Both the idols and the ones carrying them are bowed down. The gods cannot protect the people, and the people cannot protect the gods. They go off into captivity together.
To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It cannot even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It has no power to get anyone out of trouble.
Do not forget this, you guilty ones. And do not forget the things I have done throughout history.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. He reaffirmed the plan laid out from the beginning, that we are designed to love the Lord with all that we are. Yet what did the people of God do? They chose idols. They chose power and prestige, they choose to remain in control, and under the camouflage of religious authority they crucified the Son of the One true God.
The lure of idolatry with all of its lusts and appetites outweighed the call of God on His people.
And they choose to maintain their way of life.
And they choose to acquire more.
we cannot not worship. As dependent, finite beings we must, we will
Who believe that there is but one, true God.
And that God has created us, and we only find fulfillment in life as we find our place in a life yielded to Him.
This is the good news for this day, the only way to truly praise God, is to give yourself to God.
The ultimate act of praise is a life consecrated to Him.
Let me ask you this.
Are there idols in your life?
Do you understand that the ultimate idol is the idol of self?
Who do you choose to serve, to worship, to depend upon?
Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Cultu
Hustad, Donald. Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal. Carol Stream: Hope, 1981, 1989.
Wright, N.T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. New York