A lesson about worship from Arnold the pig and Tom Lester

This is from a conversation with a friend back in the year 2007.

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old Green Acres television series. At the time of our conversation, Tom was semi-retired and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. He and I were sharing the program for First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana’s annual senior adult fling.  Over lunch he told me this story about another star of Green Acres, Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” Tom said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.”

At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there” or “God led me there.”

And how many times have we heard people remark after church that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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The one question I’d love to ask our Lord Jesus

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him…. And he questioned Him with many words…. (Luke 23:8-9).

Someone asked Larry King, the legendary television interviewer, if he could sit across the table and interview one person in all of history, who would it be.  “Jesus Christ,” said this man who is Jewish.

“And what would you ask him?”

“I would like to ask Him  if He was indeed virgin-born.  The answer to that question would define history for me.”

To be sure. That answer could change everything.  As it  has for many a person.

So with the resurrection.  Answer that in the affirmative and everything else falls into place.

Many people asked….

Throughout the Gospels, we find people asking one question of the Lord Jesus, then going their way.  We have to wonder if through the years, as they reflected on their single moment with Destiny, this one touch with the Divine, they didn’t regret the shallowness or superficiality of their request.  Here are some…

–The disciples of John asked why they had to fast, but Jesus’ disciples were not required to.  Matthew 9:14.

–The tricksters asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” that they might accuse Him.  (Matthew 12:10)  It’s not a bad question, although they didn’t care for the Lord’s answer.

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How pastors can mistreat worshipers

“….they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt” (I Samuel 2:17).

The first rule of worship leadership should probably be stated as Try Not To Get In Their Way.

When  people come to worship, if you cannot help them, at the very least try not to interfere with what they are doing.

The sons of Eli the High Priest were nothing but trouble. Hophni and Phinehas–who doesn’t love those names!– “were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people” (I Samuel 2:12-13).

God literally calls them SOBs.  “Sons of Belial” is the Hebrew expression translated as “wicked men” or “corrupt.”

Scripture has not a single positive statement about these miscreants.

These men stand as warnings to every kingdom worker to tread softly and serve honorably.  We are stewards and not owners; servants, and not lords.  We should encourage worship and not place obstacles and burdens upon the worshipers.

We are to help people worship and not divert it into our own purposes.

The people can worship God without you, O thou shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

If we cannot help them do it better, we should back off and remove ourselves from the picture.

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Considerations for those wishing to help people worship

Our text is the first few chapters of First Samuel.

The first rule of worship leadership should probably be stated as Try Not To Get In Their Way.

When people come to worship, if you cannot help them, at the very least try not to interfere with what they are doing.

The sons of Eli the High Priest were nothing but trouble. Hophni and Phinehas–who doesn’t love those names!– “were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people” (I Samuel 2:12-13).

God literally calls them SOBs.  “Sons of Belial” is the Hebrew expression translated as “wicked men” or “corrupt.”

Scripture has not a single positive statement about these miscreants.

These men stand as warnings to every kingdom worker to tread softly and serve honorably.  We are stewards and not owners; servants, and not lords.  We should encourage worship and not place obstacles and burdens upon the worshipers.

We are to help people worship and not divert them into our own purposes.

The people can worship God without you, O thou shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

If we cannot help them do it better, we should back off and remove ourselves from the picture.

Every pastor, every minister of any kind, every support staff, every church custodian, and every denominational worker should be familiar with the first few chapters of First Samuel and heed their caution about worship leaders.

1) The wicked leaders treated those who came to worship with contempt.

“(Hophni and Phinehas) were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (I Samuel 2:22).  See Exodus 38:8 for a reference to this ministry of the women.

And you thought lustful ministers were a recent phenomenon.

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Wasting time in church

“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!”

Let’s talk about the second of these: Wasting time.

We do a lot of that in church, I suspect.

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.

If we’re not going to do what God tells us, then a worship service in which we say all the right things and act like we believe Him and believe in Him, is an exercise in folly.  Jesus asked such time-wasters, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).  Why indeed?

“Wash yourselves,” says the Lord in the Isaiah chapter 1 passage.  “Make yourselves clean.  Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil.  Learn to do good. Seek justice.  Reprove the ruthless.  Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow.”  Only then would their worship be genuine.

So many ways to waste time in church

When I asked some friends what they perceive as the biggest time-wasters in church, the consensus was that making announcements already printed in the bulletin ranks at the top of the list.

I’m not sure I agree.

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Worship: Going about it in the wrong way

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name. (Psalm 29:2)

It’s Sunday around noonish. As the congregation files out of the sanctuary heading toward the parking lot, listen closely and you will hear it.

It’s a common refrain voiced near the exit doors of churches all across this land.

“I didn’t get anything out of that today.” “I didn’t get anything out of the sermon.” “I didn’t get anything out of that service.” “I guess her song was all right, but I didn’t get anything out of it.”

Sound familiar? Not only have I heard it countless times over these six decades in the ministry, I probably have said it a few times myself.

This is like dry rot in a congregation. Like a termite infestation in the building. Like an epidemic afflicting the people of the Lord, one which we seem helpless to stop.

But let’s try. Let’s see if we can make a little difference where you and I live, in the churches where we serve and worship. We might not be able to help all of them, but if we bless one or two, it will have been time well spent.

1. You are not supposed to ‘get anything out of the service.’

Worship is not about you and me. Not about “getting our needs met.” Not about a performance from the pastor and singer and choir and musicians. Not in the least.

2. Worship is about the Lord.

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name. That Psalm 29:2 verse is found also in I Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 96:8. It deserves being looked at closely.

a) We are in church to give. Not to get.

Now, if I am going somewhere to “get,” but find out on arriving, I am expected to “give,” I am one frustrated fellow. And that is what is happening in the typical church service. People walk out the door frustrated because they didn’t “get.” The reason they didn’t is that they were not there to “get,” but to “give.”

Someone should have told them.

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A guide to mistreating worshipers

“….they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt” (I Samuel 2:17).

The first rule of worship leadership should probably be stated as Try Not To Get In Their Way.

When  people come to worship, if you cannot help them, at the very least try not to interfere with what they are doing.

The sons of Eli the High Priest were nothing but trouble. Hophni and Phinehas–who doesn’t love those names!– “were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people” (I Samuel 2:12-13).

God literally calls them SOBs.  “Sons of Belial” is the Hebrew expression translated as “wicked men” or “corrupt.”

Scripture has not a single positive statement about these miscreants.

These men stand as warnings to every kingdom worker to tread softly and serve honorably.  We are stewards and not owners; servants and not lords.  We should encourage worship and not place obstacles and burdens upon the worshipers.

We are to help people worship and not divert it into our own purposes.

The people can worship God without you, O thou shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

If we cannot help them do it better, we should back off and remove ourselves from the picture.

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What I learned in choir rehearsal

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

Rehearsing songs–whether for church or school assembly or for the juke joint down the street–is hard work.

Gradually, I began to see some patterns forming. Eventually, those shapes merged to form life-lessons that have remained with me all these years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

But a funny thing happened. The following week, when the director passed out that music for the second time, I was interested in that piece.  It had possibilities. And the third week, I kind of liked it. By the fourth week, the preparation for actually singing it in church, I was in love with it and had been humming it all week.

But you know what happened, I expect. At rehearsal, the minister handed out some new music once again. And again, I cringed. “I hate learning new music.”

2) We sound better together than we do separately.

Even the good singers, when called on to do a little solo in rehearsal to help the others, even they were not all that great.  And of course, I was the very definition of mediocre. But a funny thing happened. When we all joined our voices together, the result was something magical.

I wonder if that’s the reason for church.  If perhaps we work better and worship better and pray better in concert with brothers and sisters than we do alone.

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What the carnal mind will never get about worship

Can we talk about worship?

Here are a few quotes to get us started. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of them, having found them in that motherlode of fascinating quotes, real and imagined, solid and made-up-on-the spot, the internet.  Smiley-face goes here….

–1) From actor Brad Pitt:  “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”

First, you have misrepresented the Heavenly Father, Mr. Pitt.  And secondly, there is a reason this makes no sense to you.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.  Nor can he understand them, for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

I don’t mean to be harsh in that assessment, but this is the reason so many on the outside look at Christian worship and shake their heads. They just don’t get it.

Let me repeat that: They. Do. Not. Get. It.

–2) From a blog in which some guy talks about religion. When asked why God wants us to worship Him, the man answered,  Everyone likes being praised. It’s a huge ego bump, after all. But why does God need it? I mean, what kind of egomaniac needs millions of people all over the world praising his name? Isn’t that a little arrogant? Short answer: Yes.

He went on to make a case for God being egotistical.  Oh, really further, it turns out he thought he was being pro-God.

He should spare God the compliment.

Without knowing this fellow, from the evidence I would say he’s another one who just doesn’t get Christian worship.

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The room in your house no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A fellow I know wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

Everyone has them, he said.

One of our deacon families was hosting a gathering of church members.  I was amazed at the lack of clutter.  They ought to see my house, I thought.  But they had no stack of newspapers, no unread or partially read magazines lying around, no pile of books to be donated to the library or returned there.

When I asked our hostess how she did this, she surprised me.

“Brother Joe, there is one room you dare not look into.  That’s where we dumped all the clutter!” And she laughed.

Do we do this with the human heart, I wonder. Have one room that holds all the family trash, all the clutter, all the stuff we dare not show the world?

It is true that everyone has their secrets, things they dare not tell the world. And, I will go so far as to say that’s normal.  It’s even probably healthy.

I do not want to know that you and your spouse had an argument last night.  Neither do I need to know about your private lives, the intimacies (or lack thereof) between you.

Keep it to yourself. It’s all right.

For months, Fran had cared for her ailing husband before death finally claimed him. She was literally worn to a frazzle. Their long marriage had been difficult, but she had been faithful and had kept the family secrets. And now that was all gone.  That’s why she did something highly questionable.

Within hours after the funeral, the widow told her children: “No more secrets.”  What followed was her announcement that she felt strongly that she and a family friend had grown close and would someday marry.  “I wanted you to know,” she said. “I’m so tired of keeping secrets.”

That was one bit of news the family wished she had kept to herself. They were not ready for this and could not handle it.

Some things should be kept secret: What a couple does in the bedroom does not need to be told.  What the husband or wife did before marriage (or before coming to Christ) should be left behind.  If the couple went through counseling and the garbage came out in the safety of the sessions, they should forgive and forget and go forward.

So, let no one who reads this think Joe is calling for complete openness about every detail of our lives.  You do not need to know everything I’ve done and I have no use for that information from you.

But many of us maintain secret rooms in our spiritual houses which need to be cleaned and disinfected and aired out.  We’re talking about repentance of sin, and healing and a new holiness.

A bizarre little incident took place in the days when Nehemiah was leading God’s people to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem.  Throughout their long, hard ordeal, the Israelites were harassed and undermined by their pagan neighbors, led by a wicked trio known as Sanballat the Samarian, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab.  (These brutes are active throughout the book of Nehemiah, and receive an ‘A’ for persistence!)  Finally, the wall is completed around the city and things are moving forward. That’s when Nehemiah the governor makes a discovery.

Eliashib, the high priest, who was in charge of the various storerooms in the temple, turned out to be a relative of Tobiah the Ammonite due to the forbidden practice of intermarriage with the pagans.  On one occasion, when Nehemiah returned from conferring with his boss, the king of Persia, he “discovered the evil that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah.”  And what was that?

He had provided the enemy Tobiah “a room in the courts of God’s house.” (Nehemiah 13:7).

Got that?

The enemy of God’s people was given an apartment in the Temple.  It would be hard to think of anything worse.

Nehemiah says, “I was greatly displeased and threw all of Tobiah’s household possessions out of the room!”  But he did not stop there.

“I ordered that the rooms be purified.” And he did not stop there.

“I had the articles (instruments of worship) of the house of God restored there, along with the grain offering and frankincense.”

He threw out the offensive material, had the place fumigated and washed down, and then furnished the room with holiness.

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

Nehemiah adds, “Therefore, I rebuked the officials, saying, ‘Why has the house of God been neglected?’” (Neh. 13:11)

There are fewer joys in this life more satisfying than knowing your entire life is open to the Lord, that all the rooms are His, that you are completely clean and pure, and you are fully free in Christ.  Jesus once said, “The ruler of this world is coming and he has nothing in me” (John 14:30).

We must not stop until this is the case with each of us.

“…to You our hearts are open; nothing here is hidden. You are our heart’s desire….”  (“Here for You” by Matt Redman)