SermonsDiscover the Joy of Leaving Laodicea Behind
One of the pressing questions today, as we take an honest look at the church, is what does worship look like? Is it what we see manifested on Sunday mornings? Is it music, a light show, an engaging speaker telling interesting and affirming stories? Or is it something more?
The greatest verse regarding the mechanics of true worship is found in the book of Romans. Consider the following:
Romans 12:1-2 – I beseech (parakaléō – to beg, exhort, desire, call for, encourage) you (personal) therefore (based on what was previously written), brethren (to believers), by the mercies (compassion and pity one shows for the suffering of others) of God, that you (personal) present (to place, offer) your (personal) bodies (whole person) a living (constant, enduring) sacrifice (offering, something slaughtered on the altar of God), holy (hágios – set apart, sanctified, consecrated, devoted, sharing in God’s purity and abstaining from earth’s defilement), acceptable (good, well-pleasing, that which God wills and recognizes) to (whom) God, which is your (personal) reasonable (implies intelligent meditation and reflection as pertaining to the soul) service (voluntary worship or service which conforms to human reason). And (you) do not be conformed (syschēmatizō – to fashion alike, to conform to the same pattern outwardly) to this world (generation, culture, referring to an age or time in contrast to kósmos), but (you) be transformed (metamorphóō – to transfigure, to change one’s form) by the renewing (a qualitative renewal, a restoration or renovation which makes a person different than in the past) of your mind (intelligent understanding, perception), that you (personal) may prove (try, test, discern, distinguish, to determine whether a thing is worthy or not) what is that good (excellent, best, distinguished) and acceptable (good, well-pleasing, that which God wills and recognizes), and perfect (complete, having achieved its goal and purpose, full, wanting for nothing) will (desire, God’s gracious disposition done out of His own good pleasure) of God.
Take a few minutes and reflect on these two verses. Have you done this? Do you worship Him this way? Is it even close? If not, then keep listening.
Over and over again we see the commands in Scripture to “remember” something. Often we are to remember the commands of God (Num. 15:39-40). Other times we are to remember what God has done for us (Deut. 5:15). Then God Himself is said to remember His covenant with us and all living creatures (Gen. 9:15) or to not remember our sins anymore (Heb. 8:12). Jesus told His disciples to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32) and in the Revelation the church at Ephesus is commanded to “remember therefore from where you have fallen” (Rev. 2:5). We see sinful man asking God to “remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42) and the Lord asking us to “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24). And we are told, not to “keep” the Sabbath as a command, but to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Why? Because remembering who we are and what God has done for us will bring a desire to “keep” His command and make His day holy.
But did you know that one of the key prerequisites of true worship is the ability to remember who God is and what He has done for us? Remembrance brings past realities into the present. It makes yesterday alive today. And it gives us courage to face tomorrow, no matter what, come what may.
Do You Remember?
Let me ask you a couple of questions:
What do you forget in the dark that you remember in the light?
What about the Lord’s Word and character do you fail to remember daily?
How has He shown Himself faithful to you?
Do you remember?
If you want to discover more about true worship through remembering, then keep listening.
In his classic book, the Costs of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up the teaching of Jesus in this one phrase: “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” That’s die to self. Die to our dreams. Die to our reputation. Die to our wants and rights. Die to our families, friends, and future. And die to our very lives.
We see Jesus continually calling men “to forsake all and follow Him” (Luke 5:11) Consider the following.
Matthew 16:24-26 – Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him (1) deny himself, and (2) take up his cross, and (3) follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Note the order. First, there is the desire to “come after” Jesus. This is followed by the list of conditions to “deny” yourself and then visibly and publicly show others your self denial by taking up your cross. And finally, after the conditions are met, the desire is fulfilled. Only then does Jesus say, “follow Me.”
Which raises a few questions. Do you follow Jesus? Have you died to yourself? If so, in what way? Can others tell? Are there areas in your life you have refused to die to? And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?
When it comes to worship, some of the most profound words are those of Jesus to the Samarian woman He met at Jacob’s well in the city of Sychar (John 4:5). It was here that Jesus gave us clear instructions on the type of worship the Father seeks.
John 4:23-24 – “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true (one who cannot lie, real, genuine, sincere) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit (human) and truth (reality, the essence of a matter); for the Father is seeking (to look for, search, strive to find) such to worship (to kiss, adore, fall or prostrate before, pay reverence) Him. God is Spirit (Holy Spirit), and those who worship Him must (what must be done from duty) worship in spirit (human) and truth.”
Which, as usual, raises a few questions.
What is worship?
What’s the difference between worship and true worship?
What is true worship like internally?
What is true worship like externally?
And what does true worship look like today?
One last thought, in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first question goes like this:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.
Did you catch that? We glorify by enjoying Him forever. So, do you enjoy God? Do you love your time with Him? Is that time the highlight of your day? Do you know how to worship Him in spirit and truth? If not, then keep listening.
God never wastes an experience in our life, good or bad. When we sin, for example, God uses our failure as a ministry to help others struggling with the same sin. He allows us to share the times we fell flat on our face to encourage others who are doing the same. It seems that’s what Jesus was teaching Peter.
In the upper room, during the last supper, Jesus told Peter He was praying for him. But His prayer was not to remove the temptation and inevitable fall from Peter. No, His prayer was that when Peter fell and suffered the consequences of that fall, that once he repented and returned to Jesus, he was to strengthen his brothers by that experience. Consider the following:
Luke 22:31-32 – And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Jesus didn’t tell Peter he would deliver him from the temptation, the sifting. He promised Peter that after he fell and recovered and returned to his faith, Jesus would use that experience to encourage and strengthen others who were struggling in the same way. That’s why, in John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter by saying, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15). Even after Peter’s epic denial of Jesus, his ministry was not finished. In fact, it was just beginning. And so it is with us.
Does this thought encourage you? It does me. If you want to learn more about your usefulness after your failure, then keep listening.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates anger with murder (Matt. 5:21-22), in much the same way He equates lust with adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). Later, John adds the following:
1 John 3:11-15 – For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love (agapaō) one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his (Cain) works were evil and his brother’s (Able) righteous. Do not marvel (wonder, be surprised, astonished), my brethren (fellow believers), if the world (kósmos) hates (to detest, an active ill will in words and conduct, a persecution spirit) you. We know (eidō) that we have passed from death to life, (how) because we love (agapaō) the brethren. He who does not love (agapaō) his (personal) brother (fellow believers) abides (rest, make their home) in death. Whoever hates (to detest, an active ill will in words and conduct, a persecution spirit) his (personal) brother (fellow believer) is a murderer, and you know (eidō) that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Anger + Hatred = Murder
John also equates anger and hatred with murder. And he states that “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” This is a profoundly important point. Which raises a couple of questions:
Have you been angry with a fellow Christian?
What was the cause of your anger? Was it the holiness of God? Or some personal preference about which you felt slighted?
Are you still angry with that person? And if so, why?
Did you know that, according to the Scriptures, you are guilty of murder? Why? Because the one you hate and murmur about was created in the image of God. And to hate someone created by God, who is also made in the image of your God, is to hate God. You cannot love the Creator and hate His creation.
The Scriptures call this murder. Are you confused? Do you think hatred and murder are two different things with two different penalties? Do you want to know what the Scriptures say about anger and murder? Then keep listening.
In John 21, we have the account of Jesus revealing Himself to a few of His disciples while they were fishing. As soon as it was revealed to John that it was Jesus on the shore, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 17:7). And in perfect Peter style, he overreacted and jumped into the water to swim to Jesus.
But by the time he swam the 100 yards to where Jesus was, something happened. You can see it in Peter’s demeanor. You can almost feel his reluctance to approach Jesus. Why? Maybe Peter was afraid Jesus was angry with him for his denial in the courtyard. Or maybe Peter was ashamed he had drawn the others away and gone fishing, back to their old life, like nothing important had happened these last three and a half years.
Or maybe Peter hadn’t forgiven himself for his denial of Jesus. Maybe he was ashamed. Who knows?
Change is Not Always for the Better
But something changed. Not just with Peter, but with all the disciples. They had excitement and passion that can only come from belief while on the boat. But once ashore, it seems more like calm reservation. In fact, John goes out of his way to tell us what the disciples weren’t thinking. It was his way of trying to explain the strange way they approached Jesus.
John 21:12 – Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.
There are life lessons to be learned in these fourteen verses. Profound lessons. Are you interested? Then keep listening.
Life teaches us that anything worth having has a price attached to it. Nothing of value, other than salvation, comes free. “No pain, no gain,” as the saying goes. Jesus spoke that same truth in Luke 14:26-33.
And the same principle applies when it comes to understanding and experiencing spiritual gifts. There are some things we must do and some things we can expect. Let’s look at our part first:
You must have a desire for more of the Lord. A desire for the Spirit’s gifts. But that desire means more than calm, wishful, thinking. Consider the following
1 Corinthians 14:1 – Pursue love (agápē), and desire (zēlóō – to burn with zeal, to be heated or to boil with envy, to lust, covet) spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
Then you must cultivate a vibrant prayer life. This takes time and effort. But the rewards are life-changing.
And finally, you must be willing to fast. Why? Because the Lord links fasting, for some reason, with prayer and spiritual fervency. They seem to come in a package. Two for the price of one.
Do you want to know more about growing deep in your intimacy of the Lord? Do you want to begin living in the realm of the gifts the Spirit has given you? Do you want to let Him manifest HImself to the world through you (1 Cor. 12:7)? Great. Then keep listening.
If you’ll take the time, you’ll find the core message of Jesus was about the kingdom of God. Over and over again we find summary verses like this one:
Matthew 4:23 – And Jesus went about all Galilee, (1) teaching in their synagogues, (2) preaching the gospel of (what) the kingdom, and (3) healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.
In fact, Jesus said the object of the gospel He preached, and commanded us to preach, is the kingdom of God. Consider what Jesus said in His olivet discourse:
Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of (what) the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
There are also certain kingdom characteristics in the lives of believers that the Scriptures point out to us as signs of His kingdom. In essence, when believers manifest certain characteristics of the kingdom in their lives, we can know the kingdom of God is present. And, conversely, when a believer doesn’t manifest these kingdom characteristics, we can also safely assume the kingdom of God is far from them.
This is a sobering thought. Character, holiness, and sanctification matter. Do you want to discover more about the signs of life in the kingdom? Then keep listening.
One of the greatest blessings the church has experienced has become its greatest curse. And that is wealth. Opulence. The ability to run ahead of God rather than waiting on Him to provide what His church needs and when it needs it. Then there’s the great blessing that comes with persecution that a wealthy church always views as a curse. How did it become so upside down?
The early church understood the blessings that come with persecution. Because they remembered the promise of Jesus when He preached His sermon on the mount where He said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
And later, Paul would tell his son Timothy that “Yes, and all who (condition) desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (result) will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Do you see the condition and the result? If you desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, which most Christians would say they do, then you will suffer persecution because of your godly life in Christ. It’s a given. A promise.
And the opposite of this promise is also true. If you are not suffering persecution, then it stands to reason you do not desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. Sobering, isn’t it? This is not how the early church lived. They embraced every opportunity to live godly in Christ, regardless of how they suffered. Do you want to know more about people who love Jesus that way? Good. Then keep listening.