By Michael Batley (centralpc.org)
Comedian Jackie Mason said, “I see life as a dance. Does a dance have to have meaning? You’re dancing because you enjoy it.”
Actor Leonard Nimoy said, “I find the question- why are we here”, now this is Leonard Nimoy who played Spock on Star Trek and he said, “I find the question why are we here typically human. I suggest, are we here to be the more logical choice?” Thank you Leonard. Thank you.
Paleontologist Steven Gould, maybe unfortunately said this, “We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures because the earth never froze over entirely, and the Ice Age because a small and tenuous species arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago has managed so far by hook and by crook to survive. We may yearn for a higher explanation, but none exists.”
I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much of that before I have to re-center myself with more dedicated theologians. It is then that I reach for one of my favorite books, this little book called Children’s Letters to God. I don’t know if you have seen it. These are actually children’s letters to God, six, seven and eight year olds as they pen their concerns or cares or their thoughts or questions to God.
Like Jane who is seven said, “Dear God, in Sunday School they told us what you do. Who does it when you are on vacation?”
Or Joyce, “Dear God, thanks for the baby brother, but I prayed for a puppy.”
Allison writes, “Dear God, I read the Bible. What does begat mean? Nobody will tell me.”
Or Anita, with a little concern here. “Dear God, is it true that my father won’t get into heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house?”
Nan, getting a little transparent here, she is just six, what can you expect? “Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four in my family and I can’t do it.”
But here is by far, my favorite. “Dear God, it rained for our whole vacation and boy is my Dad mad. He said some things about you that people are not supposed to say, but I hope you will not hurt him anyways. Signed, your friend, but I am not telling you who I am.” That’s awesome!
And then finally Nora, “Dear God, I don’t ever feel alone since I found out about you.”
See these kids seem to recognize automatically that God exists and he is a rewarder of those who seek him. They go to him for help, security, and just because they know he cares. What a great picture.
One of the famous people quoted in that Life Magazine article is Mortimer Adler; he is a philosopher who came to Christ late in his life. When asked about the question about what the meaning of life is he said, “The question is not why am I here, but how should we live our lives?” So our first step is maybe to take a cue from this learned man and also say, if I was made by God for God, if I understand anything at all about his character, his majesty, his pursuing love for me, even in a general sense, my first response should be to give my life to him. That initial offering of our lives is our first act of worship and it’s a picture of how our lives need to be continually offered to him in worship.
Back in January of 1982, I had a chance to worship God for the first time myself. I was a sophomore, second semester in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, originally from Wisconsin, hader, hodar, go Packers. And I was pursuing what I thought would fill me in life, and the more I pursued, the more hollow I felt, and it never crossed my mind that it was anything spiritual because I had kind of been there, done that. So I came back that second semester in my sophomore year knowing that I needed to finish out that semester, but thinking, I just got to get some other answers, and maybe I got to switch my major or change schools. So I am sitting in my next-door neighbor’s room, a guy named John Sweetlan who was my RA and I was asking him, “What did you do over Christmas break?” Pretty typical question. And he started to tell me about this Christmas conference he had gone to with Campus Crusade and the more he talked about it, it was like, oh my gosh, I missed a great time. So I said to him, “Sweets, why didn’t you invite me to go?” And he said, “Well Mike and he kind of hemmed and hauled. It was a Christian conference.” He didn’t think I would be interested in that. Which, he was true. And I said, “Oh come on John, give me a break, I am a Christian. I mean I believe in God. I go to church kinda. I am an American,” which I thought was the resume. And thank goodness John had the courage to say, “You know Mike, the Bible is a little more straight forward about who and what it calls a Christian.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you need to have a personal relationship with God.” And I have never heard that phrase before and I said, “What?” He said, “Well, do you have about 20 minutes?” I said, “Sure.” So he pulls out this little yellow booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws, maybe you have seen it. This is a straight forward verbatim how to become a Christian and John, I didn’t’ know this, I found out later, had only come to Christ himself about three months prior, so all he knew to do was read the book. So, he literally read me the book. I swear he read me the copyright information at the end. He just read me the book, and for me that was the most personal, the most, I mean it was like someone was watching my life and the hand penned that for me because I was ready by God to worship him.
Romans 12:1 reads, “Therefore I urge you brothers, 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 offering your bodies, your very self to God in your conversion was your first true act of worship. So therefore continuing to offer your bodies, your very self to God everyday, is true worship. It is simply our number one priority of our lives. It’s the most important thing that we can do as human beings. We find our reason for existing, in worshipping Him. To worship God is to get the equation of life right.
But, unfortunately, worship lately has been misunderstood. It’s been clouded over. As Rick Warren in his book and you will read this in the chapters this week, says that worship lately has gotten to be defined by music, and sometimes even by a style of music. And when we do that, we do a great disservice to the greater issue about worship. And because you will read the Rick Warren quotes, I don’t need to go into that in detail, but I want to share an amazing quote to you about this. It’s from Michael Hamilton, who is the coordinator of The Pew’s Scholars program and concurrent assistant professor of history at University of Notre Dame. I think this is one of the best quotes I have ever read on the issue of music and its place in our life of worship, and particularly music in this context of the worship service. Listen to this.
“The Bible has four different gospels. No single one of them tells us the whole truth about the life of Jesus. Likewise, no single musical style brings to full flower more than a few of the many possibilities of communing with God. It is said that when King George II of England heard Handels Hallelujah chorus for the first time, it was not the glory of the music that to the astonishment of the audience pulled him to his feet. It was rather the glory of the Lord surging through the conduit of music and it is much the same” He goes on to write here. “When my neighbor Elise Hudson lay in a coma for several days, she responded to no one, not even her closest family members until her pastor sat beside her and softly sang the simple gospel songs that she had sung all her life. The power of God surged through that music also to the astonishment of the hospice workers waking her one last time before she went home to be with the Lord.” Hamilton goes on to write, “It is fruitless to search for a single musical style or even any blend of musical styles that can assist all Christians in true worship. The followers of Jesus are a far too diverse group of people, which is exactly how it should be. We need rather to welcome any worship music that helps churches produce disciples of Jesus Christ.”
So, I hope that makes this issue clearer for us. If we are to worship God correctly we need to do it in a way that brings Him pleasure. For worship is for Him, but in doing it we find ourselves. For us to grow in true worship, we need to take a lesson from a lonely harlot. Would you follow along with me as I read in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4? Grab a pew Bible if you want. And I am specifically going to read from verses 15-24 of John 4. But I will give you some background first. Jesus was up north in Israel preaching, but he was getting all sorts of resistance from the Pharisee’s. So he decided to head south. Now, for most Jews, if not all Jews, in order to get from north to south they had to walk the long way around Samaria because they wouldn’t go through it. But the scripture in this passage says that Jesus had to go through Samaria, almost as if he knew there was a divine appointment waiting for him. Sure enough he shows up in the Samarian village around noon, hot part of the day, and he stops by a well to get a drink. We would all do the same. No one is there except a single woman and the reason why she is there alone is that she does not want to be seen by anybody else. No one goes to the well at the hot part of the day. You either go in the morning when it is cool or in the early evening when it is cool, but she is there in the middle of the day. They strike up a conversation. She is amazed that not only a man would talk to her, but a Jewish man. And they begin to talk about this water. She keeps coming at it like, yeah, give me water so I don’t have to come here anymore and Jesus keeps coming at it that he has eternal water that can slake the thirst of her soul. So let’s pick up in verse 15.
“The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, that you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Now, there is the nugget that we must get. That the Samaritan woman, who had five husbands, and was living with another man understood. True worshipers; worship in spirit and in truth. Kind of like balanced wings on a plane. So let’s take on the first one first – to worship in spirit is the affair of the heart. Now, let me ask you this. Are you ever amazed at the length that some people will go to be Raven’s fans? I mean, it’s unbelievable what grown men will wear, what they will put on their bodies, even paint on their bodies, for a team. Now let me set up a scenario for you. It’s late in the season. Raven’s need a win. They are playing the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s late in the game with about a minute left,75 yards to a touchdown. The ball is snapped from the center, a pitch out is made, tackles are broken and the guy streaks for 75 yards. You watch this happen, and you just sit there. You don’t say anything. You don’t do anything, you just watch it happen. What are you kidding me? You are up, you are like whoa! Yeah! You are embracing perfect strangers. You’re spilling your beverages on people around you. You are high fiving people. You know, in other words you are worshipping in spirit. Spontaneous worship erupts out of you in that moment.
Pastor John Piper says this in his book, Desiring God, “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God, the radiance of his worth.” Let me say that again. “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of his worth.” As our heart is captured by who God is, what he has created, how he works, that his purposes are always good. What he sacrificed for me and you and how he pursues us in love even at this moment, it moves me. It makes me grateful, happy, joyful, glad and I want to reflect that back to him in worship. My heart spontaneously overflows in joy. You know where this consistently happens to me truly is when I go in to my boy’s room at night. I have four boys, from 10 to 4, and at night when they are all asleep they are quiet. They are not moving. They are not wrecking anything. No fights are breaking out and they are beautiful. And inside me, and not sought by me in any way, I get this welling up of joy and I just have to say to God, “What did I do to deserve this? What an amazing blessing these boys are. Thank you God.” And I have to worship. I have to high five God in that moment. To not do it there is like sitting on your hands at that point in the game. I would again say that in that moment, worship, that spontaneous worship, completes that moment and that experience for me. Only in my boy’s bedroom, that’s worship that actually matters. So worshipping God in spirit you have to open up your heart to him. You have to see him as the only true source that can truly make you glad and that in him is fullness of gladness.
This Purpose Driven, “Why am I here?” question was actually tackled very well 100 years ago or so by the Westminster Catechism, which states, and you probably don’t even know it.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
But I agree with Pastor John Piper who says this, “and” like sometimes I get to glorify him and sometimes I get to enjoy him, no, no it says, “chief end of man, not the chief ends.” Let’s just say that,
The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be happy. I want to be glad. The good news is, God wants that for us too. To find him to be the source of happiness in our life or as philosopher Blaze Pascal said, “Happiness can be found neither in ourselves nor in external things, but in God and ourselves as united to him.”
Now, we have this great choice of seeking God for things that I think can make me happy or I can settle for seeking God himself. But friends, we do need to consider what we do settle for. What safe pleasures we do embrace. And we need to know that these things are the moral enemies of true spirit worship. Listen to this quote by C.S. Lewis. See if it resonates with you at all.
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us,like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far to easily pleased.”
Or as John Piper put it,
“The great hindrance to worship is not that we are pleasure seeking people, not at all, but that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures. We have settled for a home, a family, a few friends, a job, a television, a microwave oven, an occasional night out, a yearly vacation, a new laptop computer. We have accustomed ourselves to such meager, short lived pleasures that our capacity for joy has shriveled and therefore our capacity for true worship has shriveled. Many can scarcely imagine what is meant by “a holiday at sea”- worshipping the living God.”
Somehow, and I do this, I forget. I need to remember that I forget that we lose sight of the great feast that worship is. This losing of sight comes as we don’t worship in truth. There is the other wing of that plane. For they must be in balance truth and spirit. So the affair of the mind is to worship in truth. Now I know even for my short time being here at Central that this place values at an amazing level the revealed word of God. That God’s word here at Central is deeply respected, loved and followed. Your adoration for God’s word, his truth is wonderful and I thank you for it. It’s what Jesus was talking about when he had his conversation with that Samaritan woman at the well, as well. It’s this very ongoing growing love and knowledge of God’s word that is the fuel for the fire of spirit worship or worship in the spirit.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, speaking of the Jewish leaders, “These people they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.” Now there is a picture of truth, but no spirit. Their hearts were far away. Equally bad is spirit with no truth. For Paul says in Romans 10: 1 and 2, “Dear brothers and sisters, the longing in my heart and my prayer to God is that the Jewish people might be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal.” Here we have zeal and enthusiasm, but it is not anchored in truth. So again, they cannot worship. But we need to have our worship centered in truth, the truth about God again about his character, his work, his story, his pursuit and the rich truth about his son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Listen to these words from Jonathan Edwards about Jesus and the truth about who he is and it will make you want to worship.
“We must see and feel the incomparable excellency of the Son of God. Incomparable because in him meet infinite glory and lowest humility,infinite majesty and transcendent meekness, deepest reverence towardGod and equality with God, infinite worthiness of good and greatest patience to suffer evil, supreme dominion and exceeding obedience,divine self sufficiency and childlike trust.”
Man. Who wants to worship? But wait, like the two wings of the plane, they need to be linked to something. To worship in spirit and truth is only the “how” part of worship. We need to ask what do we worship with? And, the what, is our lives. Again, Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore I urge you brothers, by these mercies of God, these things we just heard, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” We need to offer all of us – all of ourselves – to God in worship. Instead of worshiping with our hearts in love to God when we learn or hear truth about him, we need to worship in service to others, so they can catch a whiff of the aroma of that same Jesus that we came in contact with. We need to worship with our giving of tithes and offerings, our money, so that’s a thank you back to God for all he has given us. We need to worship with our obedience that our following him is an attitude of gratitude. We need to worship with our lips by telling others how they can know this great savior that moves us. And yes we need to sing our fool heads off. But not just here. We need to sing a melody with our lives. Let your life be a pleasing song to God.
One of the series of books that I love reading to my boys has been The Chronicles of Narnia. And in the 7th book, the last one, it’s called The Last Battle. Lewis has one of his characters say this short but power-filled line. “There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”
God is both that happiness and wonder. Let us be serious worshippers.