1 – Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 – Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
3 – For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.
4 – In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 – The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
6 – Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 – for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
Today, if you hear his voice,
Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a parable that told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said, With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks can not go! There is no God-given task we ducks can not accomplish!
With these wings we no longer need walk through life. We can soar high in the sky! Shouts of amen were quacked throughout the duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, With our wings we can fly through life! WE……CAN…..FLY!!!! More ducks quacked out loud AMENS! in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that were present commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard from their duck preacher….and then they left the church and waddled all the way home. You know when we hear this story it is natural to be critical of those ducks….you might even want to cry, FOWL! But if we were honest with ourselves, when it comes to worship, many Sundays we just wing it. Too often would be worshipers like you and me waddle away from worship the same way we waddled in….unchallenged and unchanged. This is tragic because genuine worship involves our responding to God’s grace by giving Him our lives so that He can change us and make us better people. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul described worship in this way when he wrote, Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies-your lives — as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God….this is our spiritual act of WORSHIP. And do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind. True worship then should be a time when we allow God to challenge and change us. Those who waddle in should not waddle out! In worship we should follow the guidance of Isaiah 40:31 and wait on the Lord, renewing our strength so that we SOAR ON WINGS like eagles.
Now, before we go any further let me remind you that this is the last in a series of sermons designed to help us as a church better understand our brand new purpose statement which is printed on the cover of your bulletin. If you are our guest, then let me get you up to speed by telling you that we feel that God is calling this church…..REDLAND BAPTIST CHURCH…to be driven by grace. For the last month or so we have studied God’s word together to help us see how grace affects the five things we are called to do as a church: We have discovered that grace influences the way we grow as Christians….a.k.a. Discipleship. It affects our efforts at evangelism….it enriches our fellowship. Grace is also our motivation to minister to the physical needs of our community and world. And today we are focusing on the fact that a proper understanding of grace also influences the way we worship.
So for the fifth time, take your bulletins and turn over to the cover and let’s read our purpose statement and the final part of the acronym…the part dealing with worship: Redland Baptist Church is a grace-driven church for a grace-needing world….E.xalting in the glory of Christ.
You know, I don’t think we can overstate the importance of worship. In his book, The Life of the Church, Lavonn Brown writes, Worship is to the church like breathing to the human organism; it is an absolute necessity. The church must worship to live. But it must not stop with worship. Worship provides the inspiration for everything else the church does. And I think he is right. If we are to be a healthy church, then a proper attitude about worship is vital because it will keep us strong in everything else we do: evangelism, ministry, discipleship, and fellowship and, as we have already seen in Romans 12, grace affects our worship as a church. Worship is our weekly corporate response to the merciful grace of God. But you know, as important as worship is many Christians still don’t understand it. Misconceptions about worship abound. Some Christians see worship as a FILLING STATION where they receive the necessary resources for the normal activities of the week. To them worship is little more than a routine pause that refreshes. In the words of Brennan Manning, people like this want to get …just close enough to God to warm themselves with His love but not close enough to be consumed by it. For others, worship is more like A GIANT PEP RALLY. To them a meaningful worship service seems to be related to the length of prayers, the loudness of the participants, and the amount of energy expended in the process. They come to worship each week to be entertained and tend to view worship as something done TO them or FOR them, rather than BY them.
Now, don’t misunderstand me….in some ways worship is a filling station. We meet in this place each week to be equipped and energized to do God’s work in the world. And there is a sense in which it is also a pep rally. We come together to encourage one another…to cheer each other on. But the Bible teaches that worship is so much more. The word worship means worth-ship. We come to this place in order to worship that which is worthy. And scripture teaches that ONLY God is worthy of our worship. As it says in Revelation 4:11, You are worthy, O Lord to receive glory and honor and power.
So when we worship God, we are declaring His worth. I love the way William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, described worship. He said, Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the CONSCIENCE by His HOLINESS; …the nourishment of the MIND with His TRUTH,
…the purifying of IMAGINATION by His BEAUTY; …the opening of the HEART to His LOVE; …the surrender of the WILL to His PURPOSE. In these phrases Temple reminds us that worship is the response of all that MAN is to all that GOD is and does.
So worship happens whenever human inadequacy is met by and embraces the grace of God. Worship is the intersection of our lives with God’s presence and power. In worship we experience the truth of James 4:8 as we draw near to God and He draws near to us. Worship then is the best in us striving to be better. It is man and God communing together.
Well, how can we be sure that authentic worship happens? How can we encounter the grace of God in worship so that we can be transformed and changed into better disciples? Well if we are to experience genuine worship, then I think a proper attitude is required in three areas.
1. The first is a PROPER attitude about GOD
Some theologians have described God with the phrase, wholly other-meaning that God is not one of us, nor is He like us. And I like this phrase, because God IS beyond anything we could imagine. He is greater than we can comprehend, more magnificent than we could ever describe. He is GOOD beyond description, POWERFUL beyond description, HOLY beyond description. He is completely independent of this world, and His involvement with humanity is purely by choice…not the result of any need or limitation on His part. He is WHOLLY OTHER.
So we enter times of worship with an attitude of reverence or respect for God. Psalm 25:14 says, Friendship with God is reserved for those who REVERENCE Him. With them alone He shares the secrets of His promises. The prophet Isaiah wrote of a time of worship in which he learned to have reverence for God. You may remember that Isaiah chapter 6 records a vision in which he went to heaven and saw God high and lifted up on His throne. When this happened Isaiah was overcome with an awareness of God’s majesty and holiness. He heard the angels saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory!
At this point I should remind you that the Hebrew language has no words to express comparison. In English we have words like good, better, best or big, bigger, biggest. But the Hebrews don’t have words like this, so to express comparison they use repetition. Many times in both Old and New Testaments, you will find words repeated to express intensity or comparison. If the Hebrews wanted to describe great joy, they said, joy, joy. If they wanted to speak of great fear they said, fear, fear. You may remember that many times in the Bible Jesus said, Verily, Verily I say unto you… When He said this He was saying, What I am about to say is really, really TRUE!
Now, when the Hebrews wanted to express a superlative….when they wanted to say that something was the very best….the greatest…they repeated the word three times. This occurs only twice in the Bible, both times in very interesting places. One is found in Revelation, Chapter 8 where John sees the judgments of God being poured out upon the earth. A great angel in the form of an eagle flies through the heavens crying out, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth. (Revelation 8:12 ). The angel is saying here that there could be no greater time of trouble, no greater woe. The only other time this superlative repetition is used is here in Isaiah 6 when the angels cry, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is filled with His glory! In other words they are saying, God is the holiest Being in all creation. There is no one….nothing….that even approaches God’s holiness. Worship begins with this attitude about God….this awe…this reverence….this awareness of God’s supreme greatness.
Verse 3 of today’s text says as much. God is worthy of our worship because He is, ….the great God, the great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth and the mountain peaks belong to Him. In this comparison of ocean depths and mountain peaks the psalmist shows us the infinite greatness of our God. In essence he challenges us to take a tape measure and stretch it from the deepest place on earth, which would be in the bottom of some sea, to the highest peak in the Himalayan mountain range-earth’s highest spot-and in so doing see that our God is still infinitely greater. And Someone that awesome, that great, is deserving of our worship and praise.
Look at verse 5…The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Have you ever been out to sea? I mean out in the midst of one of earth’s great oceans? My wife operates a day care center in our home and for nearly 4 years now she has taken care of Sam Givens and his little sister Abby. Sam and Abby’s grandparents are retired and a couple of years ago they decided to take a cruise. They were cautious in their plans, not wanting to go through any storms, so they selected a cruise to Nova Scotia thinking this was far away from any hurricanes.
Well, it just so happened that they ended up going right through the eye of Hurricane Hortense. They shared their experience with me. The storm raged all night long. The boat sustained serious damage. Lifeboats and rafts were ripped away by the force of the storm. They barely made it into port safely. I remember asking them if they had a window or anything to look out of and they told me that they had a huge picture window at the foot of their bed. As the storm raged, they huddled together on the bed….holding on for dear life watching as waves crashed against the window and their little boat was tossed like a match stick through mountains of water. I still shudder to think of their nightmare on the high seas.
Speaking of storms, I remember flying home from a conference in Nashville a couple of years ago. Our flight was delayed over an hour to allow several severe thunderstorms to pass by but I don’t think we waited long enough because when we took off we still flew through them. I remember looking out my window and seeing dozens of towering thunder head clouds with lightening flashing in and around them as our tiny plane carefully threaded its way between them. That flight improved my prayer life. Now I would be lying if I told you that my flight through thunderstorms did not cause me fear. It did! But you know the same instant that fear came I remembered that my God made the skies. They were crafted with His hands….and those seas with mountainous waves that scared Sam and Abby’s grandparents? He made them too.
So neither waves nor winds intimidate Him. There is no downdraft that causes God to suck in His breath out of fear. There are no waves so big that they cause Him to lift His eyebrows in amazement. I experience genuine worship as remembering WHO GOD IS calms my fears. Psalm 139 says, If I go up to the heavens, you are there…if I make my bed in the depths you are there…if I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast. He made it all! How glorious is God’s strength! How deserving of our respect! So we should do as it says in Psalm 95:6 …we should Come and worship and bow down; we should kneel before the Lord our Maker.
In his book GOOD MORNING, MERRY SUNSHINE, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene chronicles his infant daughter’s first year of life. When little Amanda began crawling, he records:
"This is something I’m having trouble getting used to. Every day I will be in bed reading a book or watching TV. And I will look down at the foot of the bed and there will be Amanda’s little head staring back at me. Apparently I’ve become one of the objects that fascinates her…It’s so strange. After months of having to let go of her, now she is choosing to come to me. I don’t know quite how to react. All I can figure is that she likes the idea of coming in and looking at me. I’ll return her gaze and in a few minutes she’ll decide she wants to be back in the living room and off she’ll crawl again.”
You know you and I are much like little Amanda. As we crawl through life we have a need to stop from time to time and get on our knees at the foot of God’s throne and simply look at God. We need to do this to remind ourselves who He is — to reassure ourselves of His power and love. Then with this reassurance we can go on through life with confidence and peace. True worship begins with this attitude of reverence and respect for Who God is. But it doesn’t stop there because a proper attitude about GOD leads to….
2. …. a proper attitude about OURSELVES
When we are confronted with the holy perfection of our God, our own imperfection stands out like a dark stain on a white dress. We become painfully aware of our own sin. Simon Peter experienced this that time he had been fishing all night and Jesus told him to put his net in the deep water. Do you remember that story? It is recorded in Luke 5 . Simon answered Jesus by saying that they had worked all night and had caught nothing and then in an almost sarcastic tone he said, But, if You say so, I will let down my nets.And then when he followed Jesus’ instructions, They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. In fact, when they began to load the fish into the boat, there were so many that the boat began to sink.
All this made Peter realize that he was in the presence of not just a man, but the living Christ. In response He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ?Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ (Luke 5:8 ) When the prophet Isaiah stood in the presence of our Holy, Holy, Holy God he exclaimed, Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. You see, there is something about being in the presence of God that makes us aware of our own sinfulness. Somehow time spent in the presence of God opens our eyes to the ugliness of our thoughts and actions and gives us a proper perspective on our lives. Standing in the light of God’s loving perfection enables us to see our lives clearly again.
Sue and I love to bike on the C. & O. Canal tow path. The last time we were there we saw an artist painting. From time to time she would back away from the canvas so as to view it from different angles. She did this to keep her perspective correct. When she only works up close to the canvas she risks losing her sense of perspective and is in danger of magnifying the less important and diminishing the more important parts of her work. And you know as we go about our work day in and day out, we are apt to give the wrong things an exaggerated importance. We tend to emphasize the trivial at the expense of the vital. We drift into sinful actions and rationalize them away. Because of this from time to time we should step aside like that painter and take the long view. We need to step back and let the light of God shine on our lives so we can see them clearly.
God designed worship for this purpose. Through worship we come to see THINGS as God sees them and somehow the glamour of the material and nonessential will lose its attractiveness and a proper perspective is restored. In the 73rd Psalm the writer says, My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold….when I envied the prosperity of the wicked…until I entered the sanctuary of God and then I understood their final destiny.
Worship allows us to stop our hectic lifestyle long enough to re-evaluate our lives. There is a story of a wealthy American entrepreneur who went on a hunting safari in Africa. He chose a seasoned guide and hired local natives to carry the necessary gear. Aggressive and driven, the business mogul wanted to go much faster than his guide from the very first day. And every day after that, he pushed and drove his bewildered safari team from morning to night, until they could hardly stand. Finally the burden bearers stopped and would go no farther; they would not stir from where they sullenly reclined in the shade. The American tycoon, used to instant obedience, was furious. Get up, Get up! he yelled. Push on! But they all just sat there not even meeting his eyes. The impatient man stormed at his guide, What’s happening here? Why won’t they go on? The guide replied, They must stay here all day. They won’t move, no matter how much you shout and bully. We have been going too hard and fast, and WE MUST LET OUR SOULS CATCH UP WITH OUR BODIES.
So often we are like that tycoon. We rush through life until crisis comes and then we learn the hard way that we are designed to stop regularly and worship our Heavenly Father….and in so doing let our souls catch up. We need time with God….time to rest in his presence….time to get His perspective on our lives…time to ask for and receive His forgiveness.
So authentic worship requires a proper attitude about God which leads to a proper attitude about ourselves which should lead to one more thing…
3. …a proper attitude about OUR DAILY LIVES.
Worship must not stop with a personal mystical experience. It must lead to practical ministry. Genuine worshipers see every task of every day an opportunity to worship God. They follow Paul’s guidance in Romans 12:1-2 and worship by presenting their lives to God as living sacrifices. Mrs. Billy Graham keeps a sign above her kitchen sink that says, Worship services held here three times a day. She sees washing dirty plates as worship and she is right, you see, worship is not a one-day-a-week event. It is a lifestyle. J. C. Ryle said, The best public worship is that which produces the best private Christianity.
Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of marrying Supi Seesata and Brady Lay. I enjoy being a part of wedding ceremonies involving men and women like these two who love the Lord. But I tell all couples in premarital counseling that weddings are easy whereas staying married is extremely difficult. Couples understandably want to plan a wedding service; I want to help them plan a marriage. They want to know where the bridesmaids are going to stand. I want to help them learn where to stand when their relationship is undergoes the inevitable stress that comes when two people share their lives. I can do a wedding in about twenty minutes with my eyes almost closed. But a marriage takes year after year of wide- eyed attention.
Now weddings are important. They are beautiful, impressive, emotional, and sometimes expensive. We are careful to be at the right place at the right time and to say the right words. Every detail of the service is important, but all the same, weddings are easy. Marriage on the other hand, is complex and difficult. It’s in marriage that we work out every detail of the words, the promises, and the commitments that we speak at the wedding. In marriage we develop the long, rich life of faithful love that the wedding promises and announces. The event of the wedding without the life of marriage doesn’t amount to very much. If there is no daily love shared….no continuing tenderness…..no forgiveness asked and received…no attentive listening….no creative giving……no lifestyle of blessing each other as husband and wife….then the wedding service is a sham and the marriage is an empty charade. In the same way if worship does not translate into a changed life, it is a sham. You see, God is not as much interested in the activities of worship as He is in the actions of life. In Isaiah 1:12-17 He expresses this when He says,
I have more than enough burnt offerings…I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. Stop bringing your meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to Me. I can not bear your evil assemblies. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.”
In God’s eye worship is much more than what happens Sunday mornings. It is what happens the rest of the week. Christians who want to experience genuine worship respond on Sundays as did Isaiah by saying, God, Here am I send me. Take my life and accept it as an offering to You. Use it as You see fit. This leads us now to the most important part of this service of worship….the time we set aside for the purpose of publicly responding to God by giving Him our lives. As we sing ask yourself if there is any part of your life that you need to offer to God this morning…part of your day-to-day existence that has not been worship. Perhaps you are not a Christian and our focus on the holiness of God has made you aware of your need to as for God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. If this applies to you I hope you will walk forward and give your life to Him today. If you are a Christian you may hear God calling you to dedicate your marriage to him….or your parenting…or your career…or your relationships with neighbors. He may be leading you to join this church, giving Him your life to use in helping us fulfill our purpose as a church. There’s an old chorus I like that is designed to be sung at the end of worship. It’s lyrics go like this, Now the worship begins…now that our lives have been re-united….let us go out showing the world God really cares….now the service begins so let us love as God has loved us. The words to that chorus are right because now…as we sing….worship truly begins.
So take your hymnals and let worship commence.