Only Through Jesus: God-Centered Worship, Part 3

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

All things are through Him. This truth encompasses so many aspects of life that it would be impossible to address them sufficiently in this format. For our purpose here, though, this would seem to mean that worship would also only be possible as enabled through God. This may seem odd to us, since most of us have always viewed worship as something we offer to God – it is from us to God. We give our praises and offerings to the Lord. We do this in response to Who God is and what God has done for us. Scripture commands us to worship God. Therefore, as a follower of Christ, worship is to be a part of our obedience and our relationship with God.

So, how is it that our worship is through God? As I have discussed in previous posts, anything we have or give to God already belongs to God. Our very lives are created and sustained by the power of His Word and through His love and care. There is nothing that we are and there is nothing we possess that is not from God. It all belongs to Him. He can give it or take it away at any time. In this sense, everything exists and is only possible through Him. That would include our worship.

However, I would like to focus on something that is essential to worship, but which we either forget or do not fully comprehend. How often have we heard or used phrases like the following?

  • ‘We really entered into God’s presence today.”
  • “That song really brought me into God’s presence.”
  • “The Spirit was really present this morning.”
  • “I did not sense the presence of the Lord today.”
  • “We invite the Spirit (or Christ) to join us today.”

I understand, for the most part, the meaning behind these statements. Yet, if you look at these statements, and others like them, you will notice a common theme – us. All of them flow from a foundation that there is something that we do, something that someone else does, an event, the atmosphere, a performance, or some other activity which brings us into the presence of God or brings God into our midst.

The teaching of the Word is essential. Music and singing are wonderful. Prayers are meaningful. Testimonies reveal the work of God in our lives. Communion is a great time of reflection and remembrance. I could go on, listing many other things we do in worship, but none of these things bring us into the presence of God. There is only one thing, or I should say, one person, who brings us into God’s presence.

The Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, was the place in the Temple which was only entered once a year and, then, only by the high priest in Israel. When he entered, he came with blood for the purpose of atonement for his sin and the sin of the nation. The Holy of Holies was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was the place of the special manifestation of God’s presence in Israel. No one was to come into this place except the high priest. The penalty for violation was death. The Old Testament is full of God’s commands regarding this aspect of Israel’s worship. Anything I could provide here would be an oversimplification. Needless to say, entrance into God’s presence was rare and restricted. God is holy. We are not. The unholy cannot appear before the holy God.

In the book of Hebrews, God’s unbelievable gift is detailed for us by what was accomplished through the work of Christ. Chapters 9 and 10 describe the work of Christ in paying the penalty for our sin and what resulted from His actions. Reading this should blow our minds, if we truly understand the gravity of what was done on our behalf. When Jesus died, it says he entered the holy places. Not in the earthly temple, which is only a copy, but in the heavenly temple. He came with blood, but not the blood of animals. He came with His own blood. He did not come to continue the old covenant, but to fulfill it and become the mediator of a new covenant. He entered the heavenly temple, in the presence of God Himself, to appear on our behalf. He presented the sacrifice of Himself, once and for all, never to be repeated, to put away sin, forever. Hebrews 9:11-28

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:19-23

Jesus, alone, brings us into the presence of God. No other human being, place, performance, or event brings us into the presence of God. Only Jesus brings us there, through His own blood, sacrificed for our sin. If we have received Christ, we have direct access to the throne room, the heavenly temple. We don’t invite God into our presence. How can the God Who is present everywhere be invited anywhere? We have been granted access through Christ, alone.

In reality, this takes the pressure off of us. Cleansed by the blood of Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness. In worship, we just need to draw near to God. And we can do so with confidence and assurance because we are not paving the way with our righteousness or performance. The debt is paid and the way has been paved through Christ. So, the singing was bad this week – draw near! I did not like the sermon – draw near! The sound system is feeding back, again – draw near! I don’t like this song – draw near! I yelled at my wife or kids before the service – draw near! I am so fearful in my circumstances – draw near! I am struggling to believe God – draw near! I fell into sin, again – draw near! Draw near!

God is inviting us to draw near and He says we can do this with confidence. Coming into the presence of God has nothing to do with our righteousness, our performance, our surroundings, or our circumstance. It has everything to do with Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. As believers, we are in God’s presence, seated in heavenly places, through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:4-7). The next time you pray, come to a worship service, or just live your everyday life, just remember that you don’t have to invite, obtain, or find the presence of God. If you are a follower of Christ, you are in His presence. Jesus has provided our access into the very throne room of God. The Father is calling. Let us draw near and worship Him.

Together for His glory…

Giving Us Himself: God-Centered Worship, Part 2

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)  Continuing with where we left off last week, we are exploring what it means to have God-centered worship. Let’s jump in.

All things are from God. The apostle Paul states this clearly in the passage above. This is a simple statement that many followers of Christ would agree with, for, of course, God is our creator. He has created and given us all things. He provides for our needs, etc. However, when it comes to worship and acknowledging the work of God, I think it goes far beyond what most of us have in mind. Or maybe I should say, the way we practically live this out.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

God is our sustainer. God is the constant maintainer of all existence in the universe. He is at all times aware of everything – whether large or microscopic, audible or inaudible, visible or invisible. He is at all times holding all things together and making them exist (Colossians 1:17). If God removes his hand or “blinks”, we stop breathing. The universe dissolves or unravels. Nothing can exist or continue to exist apart from God’s will.

God is sovereign over all. There is nothing that slips through His fingers and happens behind His back or catches Him off guard. He rules the universe with perfect wisdom and knowledge. There is nothing that He does not know. No person or thing exists apart from His will. He uses everything to accomplish His will in the universe and in the lives of every person. Masterfully, He weaves the tapestry of our lives, using all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He takes the tragedy and devastation caused by sin and somehow creates beauty and restoration in the lives of those He created and sustains. And He bore the entire penalty for that sin and devastation through Jesus Christ. Our very lives and salvation are a gift of His love and grace.

God is a giver. He is the Giver. When we worship, there is nothing we bring that was not first given to us. There is nothing that we bring that we even own, whether it is money, talent, or praise. We are simply returning to God what is His in the first place. All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. When we give our lives to Him and receive His gift of salvation, we come because we have been drawn by God (John 6:44). We cannot earn our salvation through any work or effort of our own – it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even the works that we do for Christ and the kingdom are prepared in advance by God (Ephesians 2:10). When we love God or others, it is because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). When we serve, we are offering back the talents and spiritual gifts He has given to us.

Therefore, much like the analogy I used last week, when we offer anything to God, we are actually giving back to Him what He already owns. As Paul said in Acts 17:24-25, God needs nothing. We cannot give Him anything that would increase what He owns. We cannot say anything to Him or do anything for Him that increases His worth or value. We worship a God that is self-sufficient and lacking nothing. So, why do we worship? What can we possibly say or do that is of any worth or value to God?

Oh, my friends, in our self-sufficient and self-focused world, we have lost the simplicity and wonder of what God has for us. We have allowed what we offer to God in worship to become an end in itself, when God has something so much greater for us. What God wants to give us in worship is Himself. It was never about what we bring to Him. As God has revealed Himself throughout the ages, this life was never intended to produce a group of adherents to a pile of rules and regulations. It was intended to produce wonder and delight. It was for the purpose of finding delight in the only One Who can satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls.

Our offerings to Him were intended to be a response to the wonder of Who God is and what He has done in Jesus Christ. Obedience was meant to magnify the holiness of God and protect us from the ravages of our own sinful nature so that we could enjoy the wonder of fellowship with God. As we come to Him and offer ourselves, He pours out even more of Himself for us to see. When we sink our roots into His Word, we gain greater insight into what has been done for us in Christ. As we trust Him in our victories and battles and sorrows of life, God meets us. He gives and gives and gives. He works in us to transform us into the image of His Son. God is waiting to give us the greatest gift – Himself. May we come to Him and drink deeply.

Together for His glory…

It Begins and Ends with Him: God-Centered Worship, Part 1

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

When our kids were younger, we would occasionally help them buy Christmas gifts for each other. We would also help them by gifts for my wife and me. Other years, there were a lot of homemade gifts. The kids did not work and so they, of course, did not have money of their own to buy gifts or the materials to make gifts. My wife would go with them to buy gifts for me and each other. I would take them to buy gifts for her. The kids enjoyed this, I think. They were able to pick out something special for each other or for us, even though they really had no resources of their own to do so.

As we progress on this journey together, I will be discussing several foundational principles which I feel are essential to worship that is biblical. These ideas do not originate with me. For one, I would hope that principles for biblical worship would be, well, biblical – grounded in Scripture. That would seem to make sense. In addition, I have had the privilege of listening to and reading the works of godly people through the years. As they search the Scriptures and seek God’s wisdom, these wise individuals have helped me grow in my understanding of worship. Or, as the case may be, grow in my understanding of how much I don’t really know. Either way, I don’t claim that these will be my original concepts or ideas on worship. I just hope to faithfully share what God has taught me.

One of the foundational principles for biblical worship is that it is to be God-centered. This may seem obvious. In theory, yes, this may be true. However, I think if we evaluated our lives of worship, we would often find that it is more self-centered than God-centered. If we consider all of the attention and money focused on preferences related to styles of worship, worship marketing, and catering worship services to appeal to certain demographics or target audiences, it would seem that God and the gospel can get lost in there somewhere. I am not saying that styles or target audiences are unimportant issues, but they are not foundational. They come further down the line in importance and should flow from a solid foundation of worship built on biblical principles.

In the story I shared at the beginning, I provided an analogy of a God-centered approach. My children were given the opportunity to buy a Christmas gift for me. However, they were using my money to buy me a gift. They received from me in order to give back to me. It was through the resources I had provided for them that they were able to offer something to me. So, in the end, they were giving something to me that was already mine. It had never really been theirs in the first place. Yet, in the process, they were able to experience the joy of sharing and giving because of the resources I had provided to them.

Romans 11:36 is a great snapshot of this God-centered worship. From Him: He is our great provider. He is the creator of all things. All power and wisdom come from Him. All that we have belongs to God. He gives to us according to our needs. Through Him: He is the sovereign God. He is our refuge and sustainer. Christ is author and finisher of our faith. He is our mediator before the Father. He enables us to serve and worship Him. To Him: He alone is deserving of glory and praise. He is the recipient our praise and we reflect His glory back to Him through our worship.

In other words, our life of worship begins with God, is enabled by God, and is for God. He provides all that we need in order to know and worship Him. He makes our worship possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As believers, we come into His presence clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He quenches our spiritual hunger and thirst. He enables us to find in Him the greatest joy available in the universe – knowing Christ. As we go through the next few weeks, I will expand on these to try and help us get a better picture of what this means in our lives and worship. For now, let us remember that if our focus in worship is on what we can produce, that is all we will get. If our focus is on God and what He offers to us, we will receive from Him a greater and lasting joy.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” 1 Peter 1:8

Together for His glory…