Recently, as my wife and I settled into our favorite pew a few minutes before the morning worship service, we greeted the people around us. The woman to our right was waiting for her husband, she said, and would not be remaining in that pew. A couple of minutes later he arrived.
Before she left, the woman leaned over and said to my wife, “This is going to be a very difficult service.” When Bertha asked why, she said, “I’m not at liberty to say. But you’ll see.”
That changed everything for me in that service.
Our church is pastorless at the moment, so I knew we were not going to be hit with a resignation of our shepherd. Those are always tough. The staff is fairly depleted these days, and we have an interim pastor who flies in on weekends from another state. We’re in the early stages of raising several million dollars for renovation, but that seems to be moving seamlessly.
I had no clue.
“What did you go out to see?” (Luke 7:25)
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)
The other day during the worship service at our church, I had a revelation.
I now know something that had eluded me before.
I know the secret of people who come to church year in and year out and are never dissatisfied with what goes on there. They like the preacher “enough,” they’re generally satisfied with the programs of the church, and you’ll not hear any carping coming from their direction.
They don’t require much of the church.
That’s it. That’s their secret.
“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your….appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me…. Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1)
Often I pray at the beginning of a sermon, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss my opportunity!”
Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.
We do a lot of that in church, I fear.
We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:
–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.
–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.
–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful. Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.
–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.
Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
Such worshipers are wasting their time.
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” I John 4:4
I was a 20-year-old college sophomore and still 15 months shy of receiving a call into the ministry when our church selected me as “pastor” for the annual Youth Week. Basically, that meant I was to preach a sermon that Sunday night. Yikes. That was excitingly scary.
The text was this verse. I’ve never forgotten it, primarily because I never quite got the significance of its meaning. It sounded wonderful and encouraging, even motivating. But what little I was able to glean from its riches is thankfully gone and erased from the minds and memories of those present that night in the Spring of 1960.
I love the promise. “Greater is He who is in you than the one in the world.”
The Lord is with you, He is in you, and He is for you. Scripture declares each one in no uncertain terms.. Need some verses for those?
The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–
–little of the Lord
–too much of the church
–and nothing of ourselves
And because we expect LITTLE FROM THE LORD, we are powerless, prayerless, weak, ineffective, and defeated.
Because we expect TOO MUCH FROM THE CHURCH we are frustrated, demanding, self-centered, and end up church-hopping or pastor-terminating.
Because we expect NOTHING FROM OURSELVES, we are lazy and spoiled, passive and shallow, and get offended when asked to do anything outside our comfort zone.
Luke 7:18-35 deals with expectations in three areas: What we expect of Jesus, what we expect of the preacher, and what we expect of ourselves.
“God is Spirit. And they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him all the earth” (Psalm 96:9).
If worship is powerful–that is, if kneeling before Almighty God in humility and rising to praise Him in gratitude and going forth to obey Him in faithfulness–if this has power in the world to change lives and redirect society, then the enemy will be working to put a stop to it.
Count on that.
If God uses our worship to transform sinners, starting with us, then the enemy will do all in his power to neutralize it.
So–how is your worship these days?
(My commencement message to the 2016 graduating class of William Carey University. Delivered Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016.)
Dr. Larry Kennedy was President of this institution for the last decade of his life. In the 1960s, Larry and I were seminary classmates, and then we pastored several churches in Mississippi near one another. He told me this story.
“My son Steve was 7 years old when he went to his first big-church wedding. He sat in the sanctuary beside his mother and watched as the door in front opened and his dad walked out and took his place. Behind him came six or seven good-looking young men dressed in tuxedos. Spread across the front of the church, they were a handsome lot. The bridesmaids entered and took their places. Finally, everyone stood as the bride entered on the arm of her father and moved slowly down the aisle. At this point, Steve tugged on his mother’s arm.
“Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry? Or is she going to decide when she gets down there?”
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood….” (Revelation 5:9).
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing….” (Revelation 5:12).
“And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).
Up in Heaven, they’re singing about Jesus.
And the Father, far from being displeased, threatened, or jealous, loves it.
“That’s not in question.”
“That’s not the issue here.” This is not about deserving.
“You are unworthy and will always be unworthy.”
“Get past this.”
“It’s all about grace.”
“Now, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing.”
It was sometime in the early hours past midnight, and I was hoping to get back to sleep. Sometime in that vague area that blends wakefulness and sleep, the Lord and I were having this conversation about my burdens and His sufficiency. That’s when I pulled out the unworthy card and began playing it, as I am wont to do.
“Ah, Lord. I am so unworthy. I am not righteous enough. Not holy enough. Much too carnal. Weak beyond description. Flawed and marred and inept. I am unworthy.”
When He answered, I knew by long experience to get out of bed and write down what He said.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….” (Isaiah 6:1)
Have the Lord show up, and your worship will come alive like never before.
Ask Isaiah. Ask the two Emaus-road disciples (Luke 24). Ask the disciples who had retreated into the safety of the Upper Room when suddenly the risen Christ appeared (John 20:19ff).
Isaiah left the temple that day with a new calling upon his life. The two disciples reversed their paths and rushed back to the city to tell everyone that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them. As for the disciples, soon they removed the locks from the door of the Upper Room and lived in the streets and countryside–not to say the jails–as they told the world of Jesus.
A few moments in HIs presence will do that to a fellow.
No one is ever bored in the Lord’s presence. No one has ever fallen asleep under His voice. No one emerges unchanged.
If Jesus is present, something is going to happen.