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, 2011
Good morning. It is truly a privilege to be here this morning and to have the opportunity to open the Word with you. I want to thank Pastor Conrad for this invitation.
If I may, I’d like to say a few things before I say what I came to say.
NNU & NFC
I stand before you as the President of your school—Northwest Nazarene University. It’s important for us to continually remember and renew the bond we share church and school. I’m not only talking about the connection NNU has with the 400 plus Churches of the Nazarene here in the Northwest—from Colorado to Alaska—Oregon to Montana. I’m talking about the shaping, nurturing, uplifting relationship this church and the school 7 blocks away have had for almost a century. Do you realize that in two years both Nampa First Church of the Nazarene and Northwest Nazarene University will celebrate their Centennials? Both institutions were founded in 1913; first the church was birthed out of a revival held in March of 1913 and then, just a few months later, the same men, Eugene Emerson and Rev. Ferdinand, established the Idaho Holiness School, which has become Northwest Nazarene University. 100 years of ministry and service to God!
In my view, we need each other as much now as we did then. I pray often that God will bless us and use us in ways beyond our imagining in the next 100 years. In just two days, we’ll “officially” report the number of students at NNU; but before it’s official I’m happy to report to you that we once again enjoy a record enrollment; this year we have welcomed traditional aged students, adult and graduate students giving us a student body 2060. To God be the glory!
Pastor Conrad invited me to share with you this morning in the context of his series on praise. In accepting his invitation, I have prayed about how best to contribute to the tapestry of praise he has woven from various passages in both the Old and New Testaments. What I would like to do is make several observations about 'praise' in the corporate worship of today’s evangelical churches; and then conduct a review of the story of God, humanity’s place in that story and what has competed for the praise of humankind across history’s pages, ending up with what I consider to be "the ultimate act of praise".
I very much like the metaphors Pastor Conrad has been using across the arch of this series as he has issued a call to praise God. That call has been a call to corporate action on the part of this church both for our times of corporate worship and for our lives of worship outside the sanctuary - what he called the Pathway of Praise. Yet he also cautioned us to remember that praise is a human capacity that can be directed toward many things; we don’t just praise God. Thus we must periodically examine who and what we're praising and to what degree.
For those of you who haven’t heard me speak before, you need to know that I'm prone to try and squeeze too much into the allotted time; so hang on, I’m going to move quickly, make a lot of points, refer to many passages of scripture until I get us to a vista where we can consider God, and praise, and the people of God across the ages, and ourselves, and call us all to make a choice, a choice I consider the ultimate act of praise.
CORPORATE PRAISE & WORSHIP IN THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH
First, I'd like to talk about corporate praise and worship in the contemporary evangelical church in America. (And just so you’re aware, I may use the words "praise and worship" interchangeably this morning, for praise is a component of worship, it is not the only component of worship, but to consider praise is to consider worship.)
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
Did we hear that? Or did you only hear the word “behoove”.
Let me say it again:
Be careful what we worship,
For what we worship we are becoming.
If that’s the case, who, or what are we worshiping?
As Christians let’s agree to begin with this statement:
Worship is for God.
Worship is organized around, based upon the character and acts of God.
Do we get that?
I don’t know that I always get that.
I thought worship was for me?
I come here because I have needs and wants and concerns and issues.
Worship isn’t 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.
(Dawn, Reaching Out, p. 137)
In her book, "A Royal Waste of Time: the Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World", Marva Dawn writes: "The church’s worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God's presence in corporate ways that take us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God's kingdom." (Dawn, Royal Waste, p. 2) She goes on to describe Christian worship in this manner:
By God's gracious invitation and Christ's intercession and the Spirit's enabling we are welcomed to learn of the Trinity through the Biblical narratives passedon by faithful witnesses. Gathered in the community of saints, we are formed by the truth taught in worship’s music and Word to be Church so that out of our Christian character will flow the witness of our words and deeds for the sake of the world." (Dawn, Royal Waste, p. 69)
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:
“Search all of history, from the time God created people on the earth until now. Then search from one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened before.
Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god taken one nation for himself by rescuing it from another by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, awesome power, and terrifying acts?
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! If you obey all the laws and commands that I will give you today, all will be well with you and your children. Then you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
Moses is re-telling the story of God to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. As the prompter of the people he is rehearsing the plot of the nation, of a people, chosen by God, rescued by God. He is telling the story of the God who creates and reveals and redeems and makes covenant.
At the heart of the story, the story that reminds the people of Israel what God has done for them he states: “He showed you these things so you would realize that the Lord is God and that there is no other god.”
CREATURES RESPOND IN PRAISE TO GOD THE CREATOR
In this passage the creatures are reminded that the Creator has made all these things happen—He alone is God, He alone is worthy of praise. Then in chapter five Moses retells the conditions of covenant reminding the people of God’s laws; then at the beginning of chapter six he issues the most important and powerful declaration in the history of humankind:
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.
God has created, God has revealed Himself by setting apart a people, and now God calls them to worship God and God alone. In so doing, God has defined the parameters of worship for all eternity. Worship is the affirmative, transforming response of human beings to God’s self-revealing. (Hustad, Jubilate, p. 100) The Creator reveals, the creature responds.
There is only one God, there is only one being worthy of praise; the praise of worship should not primarily be for what He has done, but for who God is. In worship we gather to ascribe to the one who is worthy, the praise only He is due.
My colleague, Dr. Brent Peterson, member of the NNU theology faculty and member of this church, has been commissioned to write a book on worship. I love his title, “Created to Worship: God’s Invitation to Become Fully Human”. I asked him for permission to share several quotes with you before the book is published. Hear these statements on who we are, who God is and what praise should be. He writes, "God created persons to worship. The question is not if a person will worship, the question is what will they worship. Being created to worship reminds persons that to worship myself or any other creature is not only idolatry but to miss out on the fullness of what God intends for humanity."
"The worship of God, both individually during the week and then primarily in communal worship, is God’s gift to creatures to help them be more fully human by recognizing that they are not to be the center of the universe."
IDOLATRY—CREATURES TURN AWAY FROM CREATOR TO PURSUE AND PRAISE OTHER THINGS
Do we think that’s good news? There is one God, and that God has ordered existence in such a way that the life the Creator intends His people to live, is a life of loving obedience to Him.
Unfortunately, if you thumb through the pages of the Old Testament and take note of the people called Israel, you began realize that more often than not, the people of God did not accept this plan, they did not worship, follow or obey God.
They turned away and praised and worshipped other things.
Though prophets of God spoke on God’s behalf, calling the people to praise and repentance, time and time again, generation after generation, a people chosen and set apart by God, chose, individually and collectively, to worship something or someone other than God. In essence they broke the first two commandments God had given them:
Do not worship any other gods besides me.
Do not make idols of any kind…
The creatures of God abandoned the praise and worship of the one true God and worshipped other created things. Listen to God’s admonition in Isaiah 44: 9-20:
“How foolish are those who manufacture idols to be their gods. These highly valued objects are really worthless. They themselves are witnesses that this is so, for their idols neither see nor know. No wonder those who worship them are put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—an idol that cannot help him one bit! All who worship idols will stand before the Lord in shame, along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—who claim they can make a god. Together they will stand in terror and shame.
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 cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak he plants the cedar in the forest to be nourished by the rain. And after his care, he uses part of the wood to make a fire to warm himself and bake his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god for people to worship!
He makes an idol and bows down and praises it! He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. "Rescue me!" he says. "You are my god!"
Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
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, “Is this thing, this idol that I’m holding in my hand, a lie?”
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.
Listen to me, all you who are left in Israel. I created you and have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.
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. For I am God—I alone! I am God, and there is no one else like me.
God’s call to His people is consistent across the years. You are mine, I have called you, smash the idols of this world; come, worship and praise Me and Me alone, for I am the one true God.
And yet, the people ignored Him, slighted Him and abandoned Him.
And then, in the fullness of time God revealed Himself in a new way—Jesus. The God who creates, the God who calls a people, the God who makes covenant, is the God who sends His Son.
Jesus the Son of God, sent to show us the way, to make the way. It is important to remember that Jesus’ arrival did not and does not rearrange the order of things regarding the worship of God.
Remember this encounter, recorded in Mark 12: 28-31:
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the discussion. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
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.
Jesus said, “leave your nets”
And they choose to maintain their way of life.
Jesus said, “sell your possessions”
And they choose to acquire more.
Jesus said, “follow me”
And they said let me go bury my father.
Think deeper with me for a moment, think below the surface, to matters and motives of the heart; across all these years the idol worshippers have not really been worshiping idols. Instead they have been creating gods to get their own way. Whether they desired power, or possession or prestige or pleasure, the idols of the world of Moses and Isaiah and the Roman Empire were in reality tools used by the idol worshiper in an attempt to get their way.
I have reminded us of God’s story across the ages to get to this point. The idol is the servant of the idol worshiper, for the real idol, the thing we are truly worshiping is ourselves.
Humans are the universal idol. I worship me. You worship you. We want things our way and not God’s way. We pursue our wants and our appetites, we want control, to create our own false sense of security instead of following God’s ways and His commands.
Across the arch of human history, God has called us to Himself and we have instead turned to ourselves. We must come to the realization that we have idols to smash if we are to worship and serve the one and only God, and the idol that defiantly keeps us from God is ourselves. You. Me.
We each have a fundamental choice to make as humans, “are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing, transformative love into the world? Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible humanness by gaining power or pleasure from the forces within the world [thereby] contributing to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world?” (Wright, Surprised by Joy, p.185)
I came this morning to remind us of the journey of humankind, and our on again, off again relationship with our Creator God; to remember His repeated acts of revelation and redemption, all intended to bring us into right relationship with Himself; and to remind us of the fact that our lives are constructed in such a fashion that we cannot not worship. As dependent, finite beings we must, we will give ourselves in allegiance to something or someone.
And here we are, at the page of the story where our lives are being written. You have been reminded of the call of God and the nature of humankind, you have been called by our pastor to a life of praise, and now I feel compelled to ask us all—who do you worship? Who is your God?
You see, I’ve been asked to speak about praise. I have lived long enough around the people of God and those on the edges of God’s people to observe and learn a few things.There are those whose praise is compartmentalized. There are those whose praise is counterfeit. There are those who praise in an attempt to manipulate the one they praise.
And then there are those who get it.
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?
Complete this sentence, “This is my life and I give it to . . .”
If the answer is you, if you are in control—your praise is hollow.
If, however, you have taken your life, this gift from God, and surrendered it, yielded it; in essence died to self in order to live for God, then your praise is authentic, more importantly, your life is authentic, and a sweet fragrance before our Lord, the one, true living God.
I want us to sing a song of praise to God. Many will know it, for some of you it is so old it may be new.
I invite you to sing it with me in the spirit of praise that can only be sounded from a surrendered heart and life:
Sing “I Surrender All”
Dawn, Marva J. A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. Grand
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