Posted by: lepages | May 12, 2010

Worship God!

Here’s my notes from my preach on Sunday as part of our series ‘Preparing for Growth’. The preach is available online here to listen to and the notes I made available to help stimulate the congregation in thinking about what was shared are available here

“Preparing for Growth”
“Worship God”
John 4:22-24

Introduction

Numerical growth in churches takes place in several ways:-

it takes place through conversion growth – members of the church share their faith, the church as a body runs evangelistic events like Alpha or the Y-course, seasonal services like Christmas, Easter, baptism services as members witness to their new found faith, invitations into a cell groups weekly meetings and so on. That’s the sort of growth I like to see.

It takes place through ‘import’ growth – Christians move to a new area through changing jobs and so on and seek out a new church to share in – but what makes them stay in a church they visit?

It takes place through ‘transfer’ growth – a crowd attracts a crowd – people seek out others of their age, or their social or cultural background and so on – and over the years we have seen this repeatedly – sadly, not in our favour by and large!

If you went back 30 years or so, what were the things that Christians sought after if they moved area and looked for a church?

a) it was their denomination or stream or group of churches
b) it had good teaching

What about today?

By and large those two things aren’t what most Christians look for when they move to a new area.
The two keys most commonly used are:-

a) do I relate well to the people
b) is the worship good

Our world has undergone and is undergoing a change of culture.

We have moved from a modernistic way of thinking which is about rational thought and exploration to a post modern world where primary priorities are about feelings, emotions and relationships.

We have also moved from a largely working culture (what can I do?) to a largely consumerist culture where a primary influence is ‘What’s in it for me? Do I like it? Does it meet my needs?’

Is it important for churches to be aware of this?

Yes, it is!

There are two dangers in response to it.

One is that we sell out to it – that everything we are about is about meeting people’s needs, providing for them, making them feel good about themselves. Our programme of events, our church services, our worship, our teaching is all about making people feel good.

But this flies in the face of what the gospel is about. The call of the gospel is not just for us to be saved – its a call to lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel – to surrender our lives to God and let him rule as sovereign over our lives – directing them as he sees fit – not for us just to receive the blessings that we want from him, which meet our felt needs at any given time.

The other danger is that we ignore it. We stick in the same old way of doing things and fail to recognise that we live in a different world.

If as a church we want to grow, we need to be prepared to adapt the way we do things to communicate the same truth but perhaps communicate it in a different way. If we were to go back to the world of the psalms we would find different instruments being used in worship to what we use now – harps and lutes – don’t think I’ve come across either of those being used in congregational worship?! Strangely though – what we use most here – keyboards – clavinova – in the past piano, organ – me on my accordion – none of these get a mention in scripture….

It seems to me that in music to aid us in our worship we should use that which reflects our culture – not our own ‘sub-culture’ but the culture we find ourselves in – so we support Rob and Lois in Mali as they work to see people released into using their musical culture to bring their worship to God. If you were to go to the Asian church in the town (New Life Christian Fellowship) you would find different instruments to what we have here – tabla drums, a harmonium – like an accordion played horizontally but with a very different tone, some Asian fellowships would use the sitar. Go to Roise Street (Bedford Pentecostal Church) and as well as typical Western instruments you’ll also see some large free standing drums of African origin. If we want to grow to be a multicultural church we should expect over time to see differing musical elements sharing in our worship.

But there is a prevailing musical culture worldwide – turn on just about any radio station and you will hear it, in various forms – what instruments does it typically involve??

Response

I remember back in the 80’s, when I was a lad, there was a fear that live music would die out to be replaced solely by electronic music produced through computers – the reverse has happened – there has been huge growth in live music, with music festivals multiplying exponentially in recent years. And this is being reflected in church culture also. Greenbelt used to be out there on its own – now its one of many – and we have a large poster of ‘The Big Church Day Out’ in the Lounge.

Why is this?

It’s because music has a power to move us – read through the psalms and you’ll see instructions for the music, read about the dedication of the Temple in the Old Testament and you’ll see instructions for the choirs, orchestras with all sorts of instruments to be used in worship.

Unusually for me, I’ve spouted on for a while without taking us to scripture, other than making odd references to it. I wanted to set the scene as we come to read an extract from a brilliant story in John 4. Turn to it with me if you would, John 4.

Jesus is in the town of Sychar in Samaria – its not the best place for him to be – relations between Jews and Samaritans were about as good as current relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. He sits down at a well – famous for its origins, honoured by both Jews and Samaritans through their ancestor Jacob who established the well – and there he asks a Samaritan woman for a drink (his disciples had gone into the town to buy food) – not what you would expect – a Jewish man asking a Samaritan woman for help! This leads into a fantastic conversation about how we can receive eternal life as a spring of water welling up from within us through faith in Jesus. In the conversation Jesus moves in the prophetic with a word of knowledge about the woman’s past, and we’re going to pick up the story at that point, v19

READ John 4:19-24

What Jesus spoke of has come true.
We don’t worship in Samaria or in Jerusalem.
We worship here, we worship in our homes, we worship in our cars, as we walk down the street, as we enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, we worship anywhere!

We worship what we know!
The wonder of the Christian faith is that God is not some far off distant, abstract being – he’s a God who reveals himself to us in a multitude of diverse ways – he reveals himself to us through creation – his glories are seen in his incredible creativity – he reveals himself through his word – we see there the way in which he works, we see his nature, his love, his compassion, his righteousness, his holiness – he reveals himself through becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, showing us God in the flesh as it were – and he reveals himself by his Spirit – who comes to make his home in the life of those who give their lives to Christ – when we receive the Spirit suddenly God is not a distant being, he’s someone whom we know personally, he’s someone who speaks to us, who reassures us, who strengthens us, equips us and enables us.

Worship is a delight, because it is about meeting with our God, meeting with our Heavenly Father, meeting with our Lord and Saviour. And as we face this change in culture which on a broad sweep says that what we experience (rightly or wrongly!) is the important thing in life, it is in worship that we can so often come to that place of meeting with God, not in a matter of mental acknowledgement but in heart experience. It is in worship that so often we can come to that place which Charles Wesley spoke of in his magnificent him, Love divine, all loves excelling, where we are ‘lost in wonder, love and praise.’

I believe that this scripture has much to teach us about worship today.
Jesus says, “…true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…. they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks”

Do you realise that God has chosen you, adopted you as his child, for a purpose – to worship him! He seeks worshippers out! He reveals himself to people that they might come and worship him!

Jesus said “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

As I’ve prayed and reflected on those words, I’ve felt something stirring within me – this feeling that in our worship he wants us to enter into the blessings of both the modern culture and the post modern culture.

You see, in the modern culture, reasoned, rational thought is of pre-eminence, in the post modern culture, experienced reality is of pre-eminence. It seems to me that both of these things are reflected in what Jesus said the Father wanted of his worshippers – to worship in spirit and in truth.

What does it mean to ‘worship in spirit’?

Its interesting that ‘spirit’ is not a noun – so its not ‘worship in the Spirit’ – its not about the Holy Spirit taking control of us – though I’m sure there is an intention that as we worship we should expect the Holy Spirit to prompt us in worship, to release his gifts amongst us and to make the presence of Jesus known amongst us – but I’ve felt stirred that to ‘worship in spirit’ means to worship from our spirits, from the centre of our beings, not just from a mental ascent, or even a mental act of will – I’m sure that to worship in spirit means to be lost in wonder, love and praise – but there is a danger in just worshipping from our spirits…. we can become obsessed with how we feel, what we think, what we want to say…. and so many hymns and songs are about our emotions, our feelings, our thanksgiving, our love for God…. particularly if you go back to some written 20 to 30 years ago, but still today. And there is a place for expressing our heart felt feelings to God. But worship based on what we feel falls short of the mark – because we don’t always feel great.

So we need to worship not only in spirit, but also in truth.
The last 10 years has seen a growth in what I would term theological songs and hymns – hymns and songs which speak out truth about who our God is, what he’s like, truth about what he’s done for us in Christ. When we use these words in worship our focus goes from ourselves to our God, to all he is and all he is to us – and when we reflect on him, on his nature, on all he is and the wonder of what he has done for us in Christ, then it releases us in our spirits to bring him praise.

It strikes me that the worshipping in spirit fits with our post modern mind set, and the worshipping in truth fits with our modern mind set – and we need both – the worshippers our Father wants are those who will worship him from their spirits, from the centre of who they are, who will lay their lives before him and give themselves to him in every part of their being – and so scripture encourages us to come with music, to come with clapping hands, to come with dance, to come with holy hands raised in prayer and praise – and if we are to grow as a church in a post modern culture we need to reflect that in our worship – worship needs to be an experiential thing, that moves our spirits – music helps us in that – and perhaps as we grow we will see fresh musical gifts released amongst us, music that identifies with the broad musical culture of our day, perhaps as we see folk added in from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’ we will see other musical talents added in, whether that be African drums and rhythms or Asian ones, or some other type! If we are to grow as a church we need to reflect our musical culture which affects so much of our life today, that it may be used to bring glory to God and release people in their spirits to bring God praise from the centre of who they are.

At the same time, our worship needs to be meaningful, it needs to be filled with truth. Lets make it a priority to proclaim truth in our worship and not just get lost in an emotional gush of feelings without foundation beyond our feelings, lets always root our worship in who God is and what he has done, that we might be the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

So shall we worship the Father in spirit and in truth?

We have some songs that speak truth and that I hope will release our spirits to bring our worship to our God. Please bring your worship at any time, in any way you choose – you may feel prompted with a song, with prayer and praise, with a scripture to speak truth to us, or the Holy Spirit may release some of his gifts amongst us to build us up.

Lets begin with ‘The splendour of the King, robed in majesty…. how great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God’ (Loads of versions on YouTube, but this one moves me!!)

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