Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Worship Defined

For the past several weeks, I have been preaching through the 10 commandments. For me, this has been a very enjoyable series, and in some ways a surprising one. It has been surprising to me how much I talk about worship as I discuss these verses. This past week I discussed worship somewhat in-depth as my introduction to the third commandment. This week, I will offer my definition of worship, drawn largely from the various teachings of Martin Luther, Mark Driscoll, and various other mediums.


One of the best definitions that we can find for worship can be found in the book of Romans, chapter 11, beginning in verse 36.

Romans 11:36 - 12:1 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. 1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

So worship is three parts, glory, dedication, and sacrifice.

Glory is that we hold something or someone in a position of prominence, preeminence, significance or centrality. This is the center of your life; this is that thing that drives you to get out of bed every morning. This is what drives you life and governs your heart. Whatever that is, that is what you have glorified in your life. And whatever it is, whoever that is, you have placed them in a position of highest praise and value.

We dedicate ourselves to those people or things that we have placed in a position of glory. That’s what Romans means by presenting our bodies, or dedicating our bodies to that which we have glorified.

Whenever we dedicate ourselves to something, we give it our devotion. We follow it; we know everything about it. Its schedule dictates our schedule, literally our entire life revolves around this object of glory that we have dedicated ourselves to. When we dedicate ourselves to something it is essentially like letting everyone know what team they’re on.

We see this with bumper stickers. If you’re going down the highway, and you come up on somebody driving a hybrid Prius with a bumper sticker on the back that says PETA – people for the ethical treatment of animals – you know what team that guy’s on.

In the same way, if you’re going down the highway and you come up on an old Ford truck with a gun rack in the back and that you can hear from a mile away and on the back of this truck you see a bumper sticker that says PETA – people for the eating of tasty animals – then you pretty much know what team that guy’s on too.

That’s the dedication, you dedicate yourself to this object of glory and they announce that devotion – you say this is my group, this is my team, my political party, these are my friends, these are my values, this is what hold a place of glory in my life. This is what I value and cherish above all other things in my life.

And when you devote yourself to this thing of glory, you begin to make sacrifices for it. Because I don’t care who you are there are limits in your life. You are limited by the amount of time you have. You are limited by money, and energy, and desire and everything else.

And so your sacrifice is that you don’t devote your time, energy, and money to certain areas of your life that may need it, because you have devoted all of those things to this thing that you glorify, that you worship, in your life.

And that is worship – that is, at its very heart, exactly what worship is.

That being said, we are all worshippers. You’re a worshipper, I’m a worshipper, the guy down the street that wont give God a second thought is a worshipper, we’re all worshippers. The only question is what will we worship, what will we place in that place of glory over our lives?

We’re all worshippers, which is a good thing because we were created to worship. The Bible tells us that true worship happens when the creation – you and me – places the creator, God, in that place of glory, we devote ourselves to him, and make sacrifices for Him.

However, because of our sin nature, because we are sinners, we have this natural tendency to invert worship. Where we elevate creation over the creator, and we devote ourselves to created gods, devote ourselves to something of our own making, and sacrifice the worship of God for that thing of glory in our lives.

Now, you might say to me John, you know you have been harping about worship an awful lot for the past several weeks. This is a series on the 10 commandments, what does worship have to do with these passages?

Well, I think Martin Luther had it right – when he was teaching on the ten commandments, he said that the first two commandments had to do with the worship of God. And the rest of the commandments dealt with the implications of what happens when we get the first two wrong.

The 10 commandments tells us don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t covet your neighbor or his possessions. And so you say OK, how do I go about obeying these commandments. You obey these commandments by getting the first two commandments right. You realize that there is only one God, and you only worship that God.

So what Martin Luther would say is that if you only worshipped the one true God, then you wouldn’t have problems with coveting. Because when we worship God and God alone, we will not look at our neighbor’s wife and say: you to me are an object of glory. Therefore I will dedicate myself to you and I will make sacrifices of my own integrity and holiness and purity to be with you and have pleasure with you.

If you have a problem with lying, Luther would say that you lie because you have placed your own glory at the center of your life. And so you have become devoted to your ego - to this image of yourself that you have in your mind, and you sacrifice the truth to maintain this image. And so your problem is that you have placed your glory over God’s glory, and you have placed your image over God’s image. You problem with lying is a problem with worship – you lie because you are an idolater. And your idol is yourself.

So Luther rightly writes that if we never broke the first two commandments, then we would never break the other 8 either.

And so, I don’t know what kind of sin problems lurks within our hearts in the blogosphere. I don’t know what specific sins you are dealing with in your lives. Maybe its anger or greed or an addiction to porn or alcohol abuse. Or maybe you don’t have a problem with those things and so your secret sin is pride – you see yourself as holier or better than those people with more blatant sin problems. Whatever it is the sin problem you have is not a problem of being unable to keep God’s law.

Our problems with sin are worship problems.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Quick (And Late) Post

There has been a lot of talk about polity and ecclesiology lately which is, in my opinion, a very good thing. One of the leading questions that people have explored is how a church should be governed. Should it be elder led? Should a church be congregational, or the seemingly most controversial today, pastor led? I’ve plowed this ground before, so if you want my answer to these questions, I would invite you to look here.

Today, I want to address something a little different. I do believe that a church should be congregational in nature, but at the same time, I believe that many of our churches have perverted the biblical understanding of congregational polity. In many of our churches, I fear that we have traded congregational polity in for democratic polity, though we have kept the name.

Democratic polity can be seen in churches that believe that all things must be voted on. These churches will desire a vote on all things – who to baptize, who to accept into church membership, when to have outreach events, how much money may be spent by the youth group on a given activity (even though there is a pre approved youth budget for them to draw on), everything. In democratic churches, the congregation itself cedes no authority to the pastor or any of its leaders, except for their influence.

This is however a perversion of congregational polity. In the biblical model, the congregation will vote to provide wide perimiters for their leaders to operate in – such as the ordination of leadership, budget, etc. However, once those perimeters are established, the congregation must trust and follow its leaders until they clearly violate biblical precepts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thoughts on Tuesday's Acts 29 Event

OK, OK, I know that I’m posting on my visit with the Acts 29 network a little later than I said I would – but hey, its my blog and it operates on my schedule.

When I go to SBC events, I’m struck by the fact that the majority of people are older, well dressed white guys. When I walked into the meeting room I was a few minutes late, and as I walked in I looked around & was struck by the fact that it was primarily young white guys with facial hair and flip-flops. Given that I fit into that category well (sans flip-flops) it didn’t really bother me – it just struck me as odd for some reason.

There were two sessions in this meeting. The first was taught by Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis. He wanted to answer the question "what is missional?" To answer this question, he looked to Acts 2:42-47, and argued that missional churches sought to emulate those things found in the primitive church. Mainly, preaching/teaching, fellowship, Lord’s service and benevolence. All in all, his interpretation was spot on, though a bit basic. I have heard Mr. Patrick speak in the past on similar topics much more in depth. I’m sure time constraints played a big part in this, but none the less the brevity of his discussion made it less than fruitful, unless one was completely devoid of any knowledge in these fields.

The breakout session that followed was of great value. There were two offered – the first designed for people new in their field on learning how to exegete their culture. The second (which I attended) was on transforming the city & focused upon benevolence ministries. The facilitator of this session, a guy named Josh, had clearly struggled with benevolence ministries, had encountered the same problems that I had, and seems to be formulating answers to questions I have been considering myself. Josh argues (correctly in my opinion) that churches should move beyond strictly charity in their benevolence ministries, and begin to focus upon empowerment – or training people so that they can help themselves. Here’s the money quote from this session: "Doing for others what they can do for themselves is charity at its worst. We must believe that every person has something of value to bring to the table." Therefore, church benevolence ministries should focus more on creating an environment of empowerment as opposed to simply throwing money at the problem.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Delayed Post

This week I'm going to put off my post for a few days. Tomorrow I plan on attending an Acts 29 event, and God willing will most likely post my thoughts on it on Wed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Religiosity vs. Christianity

For the past several weeks I have, as a side note, preached about the greatest religious rival to Christianity. Despite its growth in the West, it is not Islam. Nor is Christianity’s greatest rival Mormonism or New Age thought. No, Christianity’s greatest rival today has been its greatest rival throughout all of time. It is Religiosity. For a moment today, I would like to share with you a few snippets from a couple of my past sermons that deals with the difference between Religiosity and Christianity.

If we look in the New Testament, we will find Jesus, being confronted with the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were a perfect example of people ensnared by the lie of Religiosity. Whenever they would fast, they would go around and wail and moan because they were so hungry, but they couldn’t eat because that’s how holy they were.
And Jesus looks at these guys and he says:

Matthew 6:16-18 16 "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

So here Jesus says that outward expression with no inward meaning is pointless and empty and vain.

That’s not holiness, that is religiosity.

And so today, when we ask ourselves, what makes us acceptable to God, what do we say?
Do we say that going to church on Sunday mornings and maybe Sunday School, and dropping a 10 in the offering plate and praying over meals, and as long as I do those things then I’ll be alright with God.

That is not Christianity, that is Religiosity.

Christianity says that we are made right with God through the blood of Christ.

Religiosity says that we are made right with God by doing religious things.

Christianity says we are saved through faith in Christ.

Religiosity says that we are saved through participation.

Additionally, Religiosity tells us that if we want God’s blessings in our lives, then we have to be good, and we have to be moral. And if we do everything right then we will get what we want from God.

And the reason why Religiosity is so dangerous is that it leaves out any mention of God’s grace in our lives.

But Christianity calls us to more than morality. Christianity calls us to holiness, and that is something that we cannot produce in our hearts on our own.

Christianity remembers:
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick

Christianity tells us that God’s blessings upon us are not dependent on what we do for God.

Christianity clings to the promise of:
Romans 5:8 while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

That while we were still in a state of rebellion against God, while we lived as our own gods, while we were not just unwilling, but even unable to please God, God sent His son to die for us so that we might live for Him.

Christianity knows that there is a break between our actions and the blessings of God, and that break is the grace of God.

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