Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Purpose of worship 2 - gratitude towards God

Again, it may seem pretty obvious why gratitude is part of Christianity. Yet, we might not have ever looked at this in the context of worship before. In a way, it’s but an extension of the honor aspect of worship. If we are truly being honorable towards God, we’re certainly not going to be ingrates about it. Yet, there is value in being deliberate and formal with offerings of thanks, and treating it as worship certainly can do that. One way they did this back in Biblical times was with something called a fellowship offering. (Leviticus 3 & 7:11-34) It was about giving thanks to God, and it involved a communal meal. Sound familiar? I’m sure the very Biblically literate pilgrims had the fellowship offering in mind when they had that first Thanksgiving. Too bad most people have forgotten the origin and purpose of it these days. This also illustrates how the four purposes of Church overlap, as mentioned before; in this case, fellowship merging with worship. Yet, the current church tends to think of fellowship as something independent of, and less important than worship. I’d encourage you to remember this next time you go to church. I’d also ask that you make a mental note of this next Thanksgiving. To NOT just go through the motions of the traditional meal as a stepping stone to all the Christmas sales. Rather treat it as an act of gratitude and worship of God, as we should.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. -Deuteronomy 8:17-18

giving thanks to Jesus as offering
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” -Luke 17:11-19

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Purpose of worship 1 - honoring God

Previously, we revealed that one of the purposes of worship is honoring God. It may seem obvious, but is that really what we do though? Do we really choose or change churches according to their devotion, commitment, or surrender to God? It’s certainly not what I’m hearing. It’s more like what I have listed below. 

“You do altar calls, that’s not what I’m used to, I don’t feel comfortable with that.”
“You do your service differently than my last church, I’ve always done it that way, I don’t feel as if I’ve been to church unless it’s like that.”
“I prefer the old hymns, they are familiar to me and remind me of my church experiences as a child, it gives me a feeling of comfort.”
“I like the new praise songs; they make me feel good and alive.”

I’m sure you have heard or maybe even uttered similar sentiments yourself. You may not even see anything wrong with that, but is there in fact, something amiss behind all this. It has to do with the common element through all these statements; that would be feelings. In so many ways, people are driven by their feelings. In everything we do we just want to feel good, or at least not feel bad. That often extends to our perceptions of what church should be, as if it exists to make us happy. However, if we go into worship just wanting to feel good, then all we are really doing is trying to uplift self; not God. Uplifting self is not worshipping, at least not of God. It’s showing devotion to ones self, not God. It’s showing commitment to self, not God. It’s surrendering to self, not God. It’s honoring self, not God. Such a tiny little detail that can distort our worship immensely. Not that it’s wrong to find joy in honoring God, but our focus should be on uplifting God first, and let God worry about uplifting us. (James 4:10) The church as a whole seems rather powerless right now. Perhaps this is one of the critical reasons why we are not experiencing God’s blessing right now. 

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” -John 6:26-27

church person exalting self before God

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Purpose of church 1.1 - Worship

Last time I said we fulfill the purposes of worship with our lives, not just ritual. What are those purposes though? I think the best place to look is God’s instructions for worship in the book of Leviticus. Granted, we are under the new covenant now, not Mosaic law. Again, the new covenant is just a fulfillment of the old one, not something independent of the previous covenant. While the sacrificial system that the old covenant worship centered around is obsolete due to Jesus, for he was the final and absolute sacrifice under that system. The basic principles behind these offerings are still valid. I have them listed here under three different categories, for many are very similar with only minor distinctions. 

Honoring God
*Devotion to God
*Commitment to God
*Surrender to God

Gratitude towards God
*Recognition of God’s goodness & provision
*Giving thanks to God

Seeking Holiness
*Atonement for sin
*confession of sin
*cleansing of defilement
*restitution of sin
*seeking forgiveness from God

All their ceremonial acts of worship served one or more of these purposes. Our motivation in coming to church should be no different. It’s just not done through animal sacrifice any longer. If we honor God by studying his word on our own, we are worshiping. If we show gratitude towards God by supporting his church with our resources, time and talents we are worshiping. If we seek holiness by applying those teaching to our lives and following his commands we are worshiping. Not that I am saying there is no room for more formal acts of worship. I’m just saying we need to be more deliberate with our worship in its many forms. We need to respect God everyday, not just on Sunday. Always keeping these ten basic principles in mind, and on our heart.

reaching up to God in spirit

Friday, January 18, 2013

Purpose of church 1 - Worship

Worship is one of those words we tend to define by what we have experienced at church, but if asked to define it we would probably struggle to find the right words. Since we are seldom asked to explain exactly why we worship, let alone what it means to us. If you looked it up in the dictionary, it would say something like religious ritual. Somehow I find that definition inadequate as I’m sure most true believers would. Mainly because worship under the new covenant does not need to be so rigidly ritualistic as it was under the sacrificial system of the old covenant. What do I mean?

Romans 12:1 - 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.

Sacrifice equals worship in this verse, even in The New Testament and the covenant that goes with it. Only now our offerings are living, and done with our own bodies. Meaning we fulfill the purposes of worship with the lives we live, not a rote ritual or the forfeited life of an animal caracas. It goes deeper than that still though.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

This is a fulfillment of what happened in Old Testament days. When either the portable tabernacle under Moses, or the permanent temple under King Solomon was made complete, God’s presence would arrive, as illustrated in Exodus 40:33-34 and 1 Kings 8:1-21. It was made complete when the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were placed within the Ark of the Covenant, then the Ark placed within the most Holy Place of the temple or tabernacle. God’s spirit resides within us in the same way. However, under the new covenant our tabernacle or temple that needs completion is our own bodies, and the stone tablets have been replaced by our hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3) You don’t have to wait to go to temple or church to worship, for you are already there 24-7. 

human body as temple

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Purposes of Church

The next thing we will be exploring are the purposes of the church. While there are many, most fall under these four categories. 


We will be exploring each one individually in future posts, but keep in mind that there is much overlap in these categories, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. For example, one of the ways we learn and expand our knowledge of God is through one another. So fellowship and education are ultimately tied to together on this point. 

Yet, the Hebrew tradition that the Christian creed emerges from does make one surprising distinction where the present day church does not. It can be found in the words temple and synagogue. I’m sure you’ve come across them from time to time, and perhaps assumed they were used interchangeably. That is not the case though. Temples are for worship, and synagogues are for eduction. This detail raises an obvious question. Should the present day church lump worship and education together into a single convenient entity by including a sermon in our services? Or should all education be done more interactively via small groups. It’s certainly something we would do well to think about, and hopefully as we define and explore these ideas the answer will become more clear to us.

parting the temple from the synagogue
Two houses for one God

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Body of Christ: conclusion

The Body of Christ means unity in diversity. We’ve explored the concept rather throughly over the part several posts. Yet, the question of, do most churches live up to this model, remains. I wish I could say yes to such a question, but the reality is this is frequently not the case. Many churches are often identified with a far more singular approach. There are many reasons why this may be, and we really can’t face or deal with anything we don’t acknowledge or recognize. So I came up with a list of reasons why we defy God’s model for church in favor of singularity.

  • Someone of power and influence has a gifting or desire in a specific area - This can fall on the pastor or other dominant member. While it is good to pursue one’s spiritual gifts, nobody should assume that their calling is everyone else's as well. No mere moral has the right to force others to model their lives after themselves. All such people are doing is centering everything around themselves rather than Christ.
  • Comfort and familiarity - Church singularity can be as simple as an act of maintaining a comfort zone. People just want things to remain the same as it was in their youth, or fit into their vision of what they wish things to be. While our God can be a God of comfort, when one really needs him to be. He is also a God who wants his children to grow. Growth never happens in places of comfort. Everyone has to step up and be an adult sometime, even in the sprit. 
  • It’s what’s bringing the people in right now - When churches face declining numbers, the temptation to sacrifice integrity for a good bottom line is very real. Resorting to playing on peoples emotions via entertainment and two-dimensional feel good messages alone will certainly attract people. However, it does not induce spiritual growth, transformation, or any kind of real righteousness at all. Anything less than the whole truth, is no truth at all. 
  • A perceived neglect - At times when certain people feel an aspect of the truth is being neglected, there is a big push to emphasis said truth. Which there is nothing wrong in itself, but sometimes that can also lead to neglecting something else as a result of this over emphasis. Churches have split, and denominations have arisen out of this idea. This is why the present day church is more defined by factions than the body of Christ. (Matthew 23:23, Galatians 5:19-20)
  • A perception that one thing is more righteous than another - For example, the current church seems to be at war over which is more important; love or obedience. Both sides of the argument seem to mistakenly perceive these concepts as separate and mutually exclusive. The love side of the argument forgets that obedience is one of the ways we express love for God. (John 14:23) If we neglect that then we are just taking love without reciprocating, there is a word for that and it’s called selfishness. Love is a selfless act, not a selfish one. (1 John 3:16-17) The obedience side forget that we are commanded to love as Christ loved. When we fail to love, we are being disobedient to God. (John 15:12) Love and obedience are ultimately tied together, if we fail at one, we fail at both.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but reflects what I have observed. I would welcome other observations on this one. 

forced to submit and conform to the will of mortals

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Body of Christ: part 9

team work
Invisible Support,

Let me throw out another idea for you to wrap your mind around. If wholeness is found through Jesus, and we are the body of Christ, then naturally one of the ways we experience Christ and his wholeness is through each other. Someone else is strong where you are weak, and they can be that support for you, just as you are strong where someone else is weak, and you can be that support for them. That can never happen if we are only concerned with our own wants, needs, and desires. The irony is such selfish people are robbing themselves of a level of fulfillment they could only dream of.

Non-believers won’t read the Bible, but they do read Christians. We are the only Christ they will ever experience. if we truly reflect and emulate his holiness and character as a group, as well as individuals; it may inspire them to look closer. Rather than turn them off with our constant internal struggles keeping us focused on ourselves. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Ephesians 2:19-22
Philippians 1:27
Colossians 3:12-17
Hebrews 10:24-25

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Body of Christ: part 8

trinity Shepard
Trio of One
Why is church modeled this way, you may ask. The answer is that the church was modeled after the original unity in diversity; that being the trinity. While the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unified in character and mission, they have distinct and unique roles within that mission; just as the church should be. So when the church brings together all the many and unique talents for the mission of the gospel, we are being like the trinity. The Bible’s model for the church is just another way we abide with God and live out Christ-likeness. This is a critical step towards true holiness. 

I hear many people say they don’t understand the concept of the trinity, even within the church. That tells me they are not following God’s model for church at all, because if they were they would be experiencing the concept for themselves on a small scale. This model for church is meant to help you to know and understand God better via living experience, not just empty knowledge. Many people just find it easier to throw out things that don’t fit neatly into their minds. Such people disregard verses like 1 Corinthians 2:9 &13:8-12 where it indicates that the truth that has been revealed is but a dim reflection of the whole truth of God. In our flesh, we are just far too small ourselves to comprehend it fully. Then again, why worship a God so small that he can fit neatly inside your mind? 

Don’t think I’m saying living out unity in diversity is as easy as just doing as I say by any stretch of the imagination. It definitely is not; it is as difficult as dealing with the sinful nature of our very own flesh. To further illustrate let me point out yet another yet smaller scale example of unity in diversity; it’s called marriage. I don’t even have to back up my statement any more than that. We all know just how tricky it can be to unify such diverse people as men and women. Church is more complex by sheer numbers alone. Which is precisely why we must follow the unifying guidance of the spirit, and not our self seeking flesh

1 Corinthians 11:3
Ephesians 5:21-6:4
Matthew 19:4-6
the sacrament of unity of the flesh