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Posts from the ‘Worship’ Category

Why We Worship Worship

It is no secret that people, as a general rule, are prone to make idols. The same nature that existed in the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt and created a golden calf to worship at the base of the mountain (where God was visibly present in the form of a cloud) exists in us.  We are quick to abandon God and replicate the worship of the one true God with a form of worship that is pleasant to us. We are quick to assign deliverance to a false deliverer, exalt what our own hands have created, and make worship an idol. Now we jump to today within the context of the modern day contemporary church. Like in the past, there are many who are worshipping worship.

God created us to worship – but He created us to worship Him.  What does worship look like? It looks like obedience. It is interesting to note the work of the people in crafting an idol to worship in Exodus.  They used everything that God gave them – even the wealth from the Egyptians, to make-up a God that fit their imagination. Just like Israel did in the wilderness, today the professing Christian often labors hard to fashion a god that makes no demands except basic belief.  We create, with the tools and the gifts that God has given us, a representation of something,  in the very presence of God.  So then, just like Israel, we too, are expert idol makers. Moreover, our ‘golden calves’ or ‘sacred cows’ distort other people from seeing and worshipping the one true God as revealed through His son Jesus Christ.

Why does worship have to be obedience? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Therefore, the assessment of true worship is obedience. Take for example the ‘sacred cow’ of modern musical worship.  In a sense, we can become people who worship worship music.  How does this happen?  First it happens when we relegate worship exclusively to a form of music that suits us well (fast, slow, traditional, contemporary, etc).  Second, it happens when we  sing songs to a God that makes demands of us yet we never follow through on what he  desires of us; chiefly, obedience. Instead, we sing what we like louder, and our lives are not affected since our lifestyle is detached from any sort of obedience inherent in the words we sing. Therefore, we worship worship. We have created an idol, and we have made that idol in the very presence of God.

I confess that I used to be a worshipper of worship. At one point in my life I had grown accustomed to one way to worship God in a worship service and had exalted that paradigm as the pinnacle of experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit. This elevated a particular formula or model of worship that became an idol. Soon, worship was not about obedience but it was about songs, sounds, effects, key changes, rhythms, and words that I liked. Worship began to be defined as ‘music’ and it became self -pleasing and self -focused – it became an idol. This slow drift was unnoticeable at first, but later became a stumbling block as I met and sat in church of people from other worship traditions. My idol was now a tool of judgement imposed on others to test whether or not they were really worshipping. I had made an idol of worship and I was forcing others to bow down to it. And, I did all this in the presence of God.

To a degree, all ministries follow a predictable form which helps people worship God. It can be 3 fast songs and 2 slow songs or whatever combination. Yet, when we refuse to change, we show that we are worshipping worship.  We hold on to the form above the function. And, most pastors will never change their order of service or order of musical worship songs. So, we worship worship by making it tame, predictable, and patterned after what we like and detached from a life of obedience.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Examine if You Are Worshipping Worship: 

  1. Is my life oriented in a responsive way to the words that I am singing in a church song? Does my worship look like obedience?
  2. Do I find that church music matters more than its content?  Do I place more emphasis on the sound (aesthetics) over substance (theology)?
  3. Can I worship God in a variety of church traditions with an array of worshipful ‘tools’ (liturgy, hymns, responsive reading, choruses, praise songs, scripture reading, meditative prayer, contemplative prayer, fasting) and moods (rejoicing, celebratory, solemn, contemplative, joyful, triumphant, etc.) and instruments (organ, elec. guitar, drums, sitar, piano, bass, trumpet)?
  4. Do I wrongly judge other people if they listen to other music beside ‘worship’ music? Do I find myself playing worship music all the time in order to keep my spiritual life from flatlining?
  5. Do I choose to use a song simply because it is popular, or is sung by a ‘big’ or ‘exciting’ church? Can I change my order of service and choose to add songs or other ‘tools’ that I do not like so that I may learn to worship with them?
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Marked With Distinction

Walking in righteousness amidst a wicked world can make one cynical; even critical. The root of a critical sprit reveals itself from time to time in our lives when we complain to God about our situation and compare our lives to those who live independently of God and appear to escape his eye. Even with our secure identity in Christ we might often think that the grass is greener on the side of those who do not follow God, but not so green on our own side. Yet, even in being critical of our circumstance we are actually criticizing God. Let’s take a look at how we do this.

In Malachi 3, we see Israel as they fail to understand the benefit of keeping God’s law. In fact, those who followed God in their day said that those who do not know God appear to be happy while Israel looks like a mourner in it’s service to God. In their view, the evil are successful. Those who oppose God escape his judgement. On the other hand, those who know God and follow his ways, seemingly suffer great loss at times. Despite these claims from Israel, they were ignorant of their own hypocrisy (which is what the Lord is dealing with in the book of Malachi). Many were following God’s law in the public place but in the inner place; from a complete and undivided whole-heart. They were allowing idols into their life, rendering their worship acts invalid.

Amidst misdirected worship, what I find so interesting about this passage in scripture is that the Lord took notice of those who revered the Lord (3:16). Even though Israel’s self-inflicted piety had wrong motives and was mixed with hypocrisy, the Lord took notice of the righteous among them and considered their complaint. Then God makes a beautiful declaration by saying,”They (the righteous) will belong to me in the day when I prepare my own special property.”

You know, even in our own hypocrisy at times as Christians, God still makes a pronouncement about us. He says, ‘You belong to me.’  Through Christ, You belong to him. You are written in God’s book, his ‘memory book’ (literal translation) which is mentioned throughout scripture (Ex 32:32; Is 4:3; Dan 12:1; Rev 20:12-15). And, the book of life was prepared before the foundation of the world! What a picture of God’s grace and mercy!

Though Christ has distinguished us today in part from the Spirit’s deposit in our lives, why is the full distinction of the righteous to be revealed in eternity and not in the present?  To put it bluntly, I don’t know the answer to this question. Nevertheless, let’s consider again the question the ancients asked by saying, “How have we been helped,” by serving the Lord?  I do have the answer for that: We have been marked with distinction and set apart for the day of the Lord to be his and his alone.

Are Believers Cursed If They Do Not Tithe?

As I work with a lot of different churches and ministries, I have had to sit through (or endure…) many different messages on giving. Now before you get the wrong idea, I want to say first and foremost that I am a giver and do my grace-enabled best demonstrate the discipline of giving in my own life. Having said that, my frustration with the messages I hear many pastors preach deals with where they go in scripture to support our Biblical command to give. Many times, a pastor’s primary supporting text is Malachi chapter 3.  The passage, especially verses 8-12, says that the nation of Israel is robbing God and under a curse.

Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions! You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me–this whole nation is guilty. “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the LORD who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the LORD who rules over all.  “All nations will call you happy, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the LORD who rules over all.  Mal. 3:8-12

The conclusion that most pastors draw from this is that present day believers are robbing God and under a curse if they do not give.  Let me show you my deep angst at this faulty theology which prompts people to, “give to get out from under a curse.”

Jesus became a curse for us so that we would not be cursed (Gal 3:13). If you apply this verse in Galatians to the present day experience of the believer and preach that Christians are under a curse if they do not tithe, you are faced with an imposing choice.  Essentially, you are saying that the death of Christ did not completely remove the curse of the law.  Think of it this way: Why would Christ rescue us from the curse only to place us back under a curse if we don’t tithe? Why would he set us free from the law only to enslave us to it again? Or, even further, if tithing causes us to be ‘blessed’ then why do we need Christ? The Bible points to Christ as the supreme, all-surpassing blessing and the curse breaker. Therefore, all curses were broken at the cross and giving is not required to keep us in God’s grace. 

Why didn’t Paul or any of the Apostles bring up this verse in the New Testament?  We know that the Apostles quoted scripture and knew the commands of God, so why did they not highlight this text to take care of their own needs among the churches in their day? I believe that it is because they knew that this verse applied to Israel under the Old Covenant, but did not apply to the people of God after the finished work of Christ. In other words, a different dispensation was in effect. Believers in Christ did not offer sacrifices at the temple anymore because they had received Christ’s substitutionary atonement. The death of Christ had made the sacrificial system obsolete. Therefore, why should people give to perpetuate a form of worship that was only a shadow of the greater thing?

The ‘Tithe’ is actually about 33% or so of one’s income. Yes, I am aware that the word ‘tithe’ does mean a tenth. Yet, if you study and calculate all the offerings and tithes written and required in the law, it equated to about 33% or so of all gross net worth (crops, animals, oil, wine, money, etc.). So, are we supposed to give 33%?  Are we to give grain and animals to a local church?  Any pastor today will tell you that he does not want your grain or animals (wine maybe… but that depends on your denomination!). So, I guess, if you were to follow the torah understanding of tithe, you should sell them in proportional increase, and give to your pastor/church or you will be cursed. In Seminary, I had no OT professors agree with the idea of God cursing his people today for not ‘tithing’.  These were men who were great examples in the faith and knew both the OT and NT with humility.

So, what is the believer to do? The believer is to give and give generously.  The amount is not important. Here are 4 reasons why the believer is to give and not tithe:

1. You can’t out-give God! It all belongs to him anyway. So, whether it is 30%, 4% 22% 12% or anything else, it is ultimately all his. The question then becomes, how much of God’s stuff will we release back to him in an act of worship? Do we give to get? No, – but rather, we give to become. When we give, we become more like Christ who gave of himself without condition or reserve, so that we might have abundant life. God is the quintessential giver.  We give because we want to be like our Father.

2. If you give everything and have not love it is nothing (1 Cor. 13).  It matters not if you give to the utmost with no love. Therefore, the amount is inconsequential. It is the motivation behind the gift.  If the motivation is material blessing or the removal of an imaginary curse, then I am not so sure that that giving amounts to very much – if anything – at all.

3. You reap what you sow. Whether in immaterial or material things, this truth is vital to understand. The effect of Christ’s death was his glorification and reward of souls that he had purchased with his blood. From one incorruptible seed sown in death came life to the many.  Armed with this understanding, we sow generously knowing that we will reap generously;  if not on the earth, then in eternity. God sowed generously through Christ and he will reap generously.

4. Some people live off of your giving. I think that it is spiritual manipulation for someone who lives off a congregation’s offerings to preach that people are under a curse if they do not give. But, just as the Levites lived off of the temple tithe, many people in the present day who serve the Lord live off of support (financial or other means) from believers. Whether you believe this type of lifestyle is by choice or by divine calling, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you give to those who you are in relationship with and who are working to bear fruit that will last (making mature, healthy, disciples who reproduce themselves in others).

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