The Appearance of Worship

Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-7) the priestly sons of Aaron, offered what was translated as unholy, strange, or unauthorized fire before God. Rather than following the Lord’s instructions, they chose and acted of their own will. This is curiously similar to the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-12). In this present age, we worship not necessarily according to a prescribed set of rules that dictate the form and appearance of our worship; rather, we worship as Jesus instructively foretold, in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24). Perhaps that is precisely what we must recognize – that to worship according to any prescribed form or appearance, or even according to no prescription at all is of little consequence. If we are not worshiping in Spirit and in Truth, we are offering unholy, strange, and unauthorized fire before the Lord our God. Ananias and Sapphira serve as a tragic example (Acts 5:1-11). For when they worshiped according to appearance, yet worshiped deceitfully, God struck them dead. Carefully note that Peter states that they lied to the Holy Spirit. God help me to cast off everything that only appears to be worship … that is not entirely and perfectly in and of the Spirit and Truth.

Coming Out

On this Father’s Day, 2013 … the day when men of God should be honored for their humility before and obedience to their Lord Jesus … yet the sad day when our land beholds a blight upon it as cities all across the nation pridefully celebrate sexual lust and perversion of that which God created to be good and holy … I was moved by the Spirit to place this in proper context for myself and any who may listen.  Although I’ve never been tempted to homosexual sin, I know others who have and heterosexual sin has certainly not escaped me.  Please, read on …

Today … is not the first day for me.  I came out a long time ago.  On that day I acknowledged, admitted, and fully accepted the way I was born.  There was nothing I could do to change myself.  My nature was what it was and no one else was going to change me either.  Homosexual lust was not in me; but heterosexual lust and pride and greed were all so natural.  That must have been how I was intended to be.  It’s not like I was faking those desires.  When I acted out, sometimes I felt guilty.  But that was everyone else’s problem, not mine.  They just had to get used to the fact that I was right.  They’d get over it.  Maybe they just hadn’t found the guts to come out themselves.  They just needed to take some pride in themselves. After all, the more I acted out in my true self, the less guilt I felt.  My conscience didn’t feel so bad after a while … it seemed to get a bit dull to these things … most of the time.

Any of that sound familiar?  Of course I couldn’t change myself.  But that was nothing to be proud of.  Acknowledging, admitting, and fully accepting the way I was born was only the beginning … I had to allow the True Word to reveal to me that my nature was corrupt and everything flowing so naturally from it was sin. (Rom 3:23)  My pride had to give way to shame and sorrow and repentance.  In the blazing light of God’s holiness, I was awakened to my unworthiness.  My natural self desperately needed something, Someone supernatural.  Thanks be to Jesus Christ my risen Lord, coming out was not the end! (Rom 7:24-25)

Jesus shed His precious blood, voluntarily, freely laying down His life (Eph 1:7, 2:13, Rom 6:23) so that coming out is only the beginning … so that sin confessed can be forgiven and the corrupted, fallen nature of every man, woman, boy, and girl can be washed clean, restored, made whole, transformed by the indwelling, purifying Holy Spirit. (1 John 1:9-10; Rom 12:1-2)  It’s not just the LGBT community that needs to hear this.  There is a whole world out there full of lost souls crying out … coming out in various ways and not understanding what the turmoil is within them … knowing they desperately need something, Someone supernatural … to set them free. (John 8:36)

As You Are? Yes and No.

In listening to a brief discourse by Ben Witherington, III (ATS) on homosexuality, I found myself greatly appreciating a perspective he expresses rather succinctly in this way: You’re welcome to come as you are. You’re not welcome to stay as you are. I myself came to the cross and into the congregation of the Body of Christ bearing the ugliness and pain of sin and its scars. I still carry in my un-glorified person the carnal nature. But I have and do continue to invite and surrender to the cleansing, purifying work of the Holy Spirit … repenting of, turning away from, every sin that clings to me and so easily distracts (Heb 12:1). Whether the sin – not the temptation, inclination, predisposition, etc. – is pride or greed or envy or rebellion or deceit or (given the context of this discussion) any form of sexual activity that is not strictly within the bounds of heterosexual, monogamous marriage or ultimately whatever else is not strictly of loving God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself (the later flowing inherently from the former), NO sin is acceptable before God or in the Body of Christ. We are NOT welcome to stay as we are. We must first be born again (John 3:6-7). We must be being transformed (Rom 12:2). We must be growing in grace (2 Pet 3:18). We must no longer walk/live as we were (Eph 4:17-19). We must be putting off the old and putting on the new (Eph 4:20-24). We must be continually seeking to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet 1:14-15).

In Spirit and In Truth

The continual emphasis on what is cool, weird, fun, uncomfortable, etc. feels like nothing more than another worn-out set of rags the Church has tried desperately to dress itself in.  The goal appears to be social/cultural relevance … the resultant effect is a vacuous excuse for worship.  A return to reverent worship is long overdue.  Yet even reverence itself can be contrived and/or inauthentic.  When the impetus for reverence is little more than the appearance of being reverent, then the resultant effect may be less exciting or stimulating to the senses only due to a pervasive dearth of spiritual life among the worshipers.

Ultimately, the basis for worship – its very essence – is missing.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV)  Jesus made this pronouncement in conversation with someone who was concerned and confused about where and how worship was to be rightly done.  As was always His way, He stripped away the symptoms and got to the root of issue.  The unregenerate soul has not been given the Spirit of God (John 3:5-8, Rom 5:1-5) and can do little more than make a pretense of worship.

In one of Jesus harshest criticisms of the Jewish religious leaders, he quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:8–9).  When heart of the worshiper is far from God, going through the motions of worship is nothing more than vanity!  When the teaching, instruction, and admonition being delivered in word and in song is full of human wisdom or when Truth is tainted or perverted, going through the motions of worship is nothing more than vanity!  Just because the Truth is not welcome culturally or socially or if it is supposedly not seeker-friendly … none of these serve as excuses for not teaching and preaching the whole Truth.  “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The Church ignores these precepts at its own peril.

The format of worship – whether traditional, contemporary, or blended (however one wishes to define those concepts) – is not terribly germane to its authenticity or efficacy.  The arguments and opinions abound – indeed, every human of every generation can find things they prefer or dislike about music, speaking styles, etc.  Yet substituting form and function for genuine worship will never honor God.  For example, for the worship leader to be continually coercing congregants to stand, sit, clap, cheer, or do something weird for a change tends to indicate the need for human intervention into what should be a spiritually-driven experience.  If congregants seem unable or unwilling to worship freely, it’s highly probably that the Spirit of the Lord is absent or grieved or quenched.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)

So what are we to do to realize the healthy growth of the Church, the Body of Christ?  The model given to us in Scripture is really quite clear and consistent.  Dr. Luke describes for us exactly what happened in the first century.  “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)  Living continually and prayerfully in the fear and reverence of the Lord and in the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit is the prescription.  We dare not waste our time on anything less.  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15–16)