Sunday, March 23, 2014

HOW We Worship is What Counts

We are in a series called “Private Disciplines that God Rewards”
Today’s topic - Worship
In one sense, this one isn’t really a private discipline, 
Because we worship together – especially on Sundays
but In another sense, this is very much a private discipline 

In today’s Gospel reading, we have an account of a conversation Jesus had with a woman from Samaria
_ Samaria was the region between Galilee and Jerusalem
Definitely the “other side of the tracks” to the Jews
Worse than FL/Fla State, Ga/Fl, Aub/Ala
Jews would go a day or 2 out of their way to bypass
Samaritans were descended from Jews who intermarried with non-Jewish people after the Babylonian Exile
In 722 BC, Nebuchadnezzar – the King of Babylon – invaded Israel and took all the leaders that he didn’t kill back to Babylon as prisoners
The people were scattered to other regions
Some settled in Samaria
There was a mountain in Samaria – Mt. Gerizim – 
Samaritans believed it was a holy place because it was where Abraham received the blessing that he was going to have an enormously big family, and all the nations on earth would be blessed because of Abraham’s faithfulness
They had even built a temple there to rival the temple in Jerusalem
Though it had been destroyed about 150 years before this conversation
The Jews said No – that mountain is really Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
You Samaritans don’t know what you’re talking about
You’re not really Jewish anyway because you intermarried with non-Jews
So it was a big surprise to everyone except Jesus that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman – maybe within sight of the ruins of the Samaritan temple
John 4:20-23 (TLB) [The woman from Samaria said…] 20  But say, tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here [at Mount Gerizim], where our ancestors worshiped?" 
21  Jesus replied, "The time is coming, ma’am, when we will no longer be concerned about whether to worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. 22  For it’s not where we worship that counts, 
This was an extraordinary statement
It cut to the heart of the disagreement between the Samaritans and the Jews
Jesus says
Where isn’t the point
In fact, it’s not important
Doesn’t matter if you’re here, 
In an Anglican church, 
a Baptist church,
a Catholic church…
This was borderline blasphemy
Because Jewish worship was centered around the Temple
The prayers, the sacrifices
But not quite blasphemy, because even in Jewish thought that wasn’t the only way or place to worship
Hebrew word “avad”
To worship
To serve

Exodus 8:1 (NIV) 1  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Let my people (avadim) go, so that they may worship (avad) me. 

There’s an ironic twist in this verse
The Israelites were slaves (avadim) – ones who work/serve
Pharaoh was to release them from service/slavery so they could go serve the Lord instead!
But if avad means both work and worship, that means something that we Western Christians don’t often consider
Our work and our worship are equally important to God
They are the same thing!
That means that what you do here on Sunday mornings is as important – not more or less – as
Doing homework
Paying bills
Supervising employees
Taking inventory
Calling customers
Cutting your grass
Cooking dinner
We tend to think that what we do the other 6 days is “secular”
That making money and doing the daily chores is our business, not God’s
We just need to share a little of it with Him on Sunday and He’ll approve of the arrangement
We think that Sundays are more sacred, more holy because that is the day we “worship”
But to God, the other 6 days are equally important because we are also worshipping those days
In everything we do
….everything we give our time to
…we are worshipping.
Or not.

That’s why Paul wrote a letter to the Colossians that said:
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV) 23  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Because understanding avad is understanding that our work is really worship, and that our worship is also our work
Our job, our task, our expectation

Exodus 34:21 (NIV) 21  Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest 

I used to think that meant that we’d work for ourselves for 6 days and worship on the 7th
but it’s closer to the heart of the matter to understand we’re to serve God 6 days, 
and rest on the 7th
even from the work God has given us to do
6 days you shall avad
On the 7th, you shall cease
Not the one day we quit working so we can worship!

That helps us understand what he meant when Jesus said worship is not a where
we will no longer be concerned about whether to worship the Father here or in Jerusalem.
Or as another translation (NIV) says

John 4:21 (NIV) 21  … you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

22  For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? 
Since there is no difference between secular and sacred
Then what matters is NOT 
Do we go to church?  What denomination?
But… How do we go about life?
Do we worship God as we work?
Do we lean into Him as we
Study for a test
Vacuum the living room
Care for aging parents
Have lunch with friends
Do we try to make him smile as we…
Buy our groceries
Pay our bills
Wash the dishes
Read bedtime stories
Do we see that All of life is spiritual? 
Do we recognize the reality that our work and our worship can be the same thing?

The Jews also have a word that describes the difference between just going through the motions of worship 
and choosing to be present in the moment of worship
Kavanah – (Lit. “intention”) – to focus one’s intention and concentration on recognizing and being in the presence of God. 
If you’ve read Practicing the Presence of God, this is what Brother Lawrence was talking about
For instance: The Lord’s Prayer
Most of you have it memorized
We pray it multiple times a week
Frankly – you could think about going golfing  while you mouth the words
 But praying with Kavanah means you focus on the prayer – that this is a living conversation with the living God
And not on the distractions around you
You may pray the same prayer a 1000 times
But praying with kavanah means you choose to be present in the prayer
We can experience new insights in that old prayer because we are immersed in the words and the present reality of God
In many Jewish synagogues, the cabinet that holds the Torah scrolls will have a plaque that reads, “Know Before Whom You Stand”
That is what it means to pray with kavanah
To have a sense of standing in the presence of God
To know you are addressing the sovereign lord of the universe
When we sing and pray and share communion on Sundays
It would be easy to do it half-heartedly and let our minds wander
But worshipping with kavanah means we choose to be present in the moment
…inclining our hearts toward the reality of God’s presence with us
When we work with kavanah
We incline our hearts towards Him just as we would in church
Because there is no difference between secular and sacred
This is how public corporate worship becomes a private discipline
Each of us must choose to actually worship instead of just going through the motions

23  Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship (avad?) as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us. 

God helps.  He meets us in the middle
That’s the reward. 
We find him when we seek him with all our heart
Because this is what He wants
He wants to be found by us
It’s not where we worship that counts, 
Because we can worship, we can work anywhere
but how we worship
with kavanah
with intention
knowing God meets us there no matter how we feel

Today, lean into your worship
Practice the presence of God in our prayer, our singing, Communion
Don’t use communion as a time to socialize
But to recognize that God is present
Commune with him! 
Lean into him

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Response to the Critics of "Son of God"

The Son of God movie came out over the weekend, and there is already a lot of discussion swirling in some church circles about how faithful/unfaithful the script is to the text of the Scripture in the 4 Gospels.  Some are already decrying the movie because it takes some license in the telling of the life and ministry of Jesus.  Therefore, some critics are saying, we should avoid it.  It’s too new age! Jesus went into Lazarus’ tomb instead of calling him out! Jesus tells Peter they will change the world!  When Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, he doesn't say it’s for the forgiveness of sins!  And these only scratch the surface of the transgressions.  There’s also a lot of contempt because Jesus is too “hot” – and all good Bible scholars know he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2 – ESV) 

I enjoyed the movie, but not because it was 100% accurate to the texts of the Gospels.  If that’s our standard for approval, it would be better to never see a movie, never participate in a Passion Play, never allow a children’s nativity.  After all, nothing but Scripture can be as accurate as Scripture.

Accuracy to the theology and texts of the Scriptures is to be desired, and it should be. We should want to be true to the Word of God, no doubt.  This movie changes the order of some events in the life of Jesus, and combines some others.  But that shouldn't be cause for keeping people away from the theater.  Yes, Jesus went into Lazarus' tomb in the movie, etc.  There were a number of areas that weren't accurate.  It was pointed out to me today that it's not even specifically stated that Jesus died on the cross because of the sins of the world!  I didn't notice that when I saw the movie.  Yes, the movie lacked some accuracy, to be sure.

But then again, so did the Children's Christmas Program we put on at my church this year.  Children were actually saying that if Jesus would live in your heart, it would make your heart sing, for cryin’ out loud! Where is that in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or the rest of the Bible?  And didn't they know that Jesus wasn't born on Christmas?  The nerve…  How closely did they portray what happened in Scripture?  They were off in some ways.  But we all applauded and welcomed their sharing of the Gospel story, you can be very sure of that.  We were proud of them, and took the opportunity to welcome others to receive the Gospel.  It was a good day.

Scripture is Scripture.  God's word written. And it becomes alive with the breath of its Author when the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it.  Nothing else is like it.  Let me repeat: Nothing. Else. Is like the Word of God written (meaning nothing else is totally accurate to the Scriptures because, well, they're not Scripture).  Not my preaching, not Billy Graham's, not the Children's pageant, not the millions of presentations of the Gospel by men, women, and children through the last 2000 (or so) years that have all lacked sometimes essential details or gotten other details mixed up.  Yet God redeems those presentations, and I and millions of others – maybe even you – have somehow entered into a saving knowledge of Jesus the Messiah - even with that lack.  

This movie is just a movie.  Don't judge it to the standard of evaluating Scripture.  Nothing but Scripture could stand up to that kind of evaluation. Its purpose was not to portray the scriptures 100% accurately, and how could it – even if the producers wanted to?  The standard is too high.

What it does, it does well.  It makes much of Jesus.  It is faithful to the Gospel relating to the teaching of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection.  It adds in some dramatic details, etc.  But I don't see that as any big deal.  

I was a counselor at a summer camp which - on the last night of camp each week - portrayed the Gospel from Jesus' birth to his resurrection in a live drama we called the Christ Walk.  We counselors acted out scenes around the lake at the camp in costume, and were fairly faithful to the Scriptures.  I say "fairly faithful" because we did have a slew of inaccuracies, I'm sure.  We didn't get anywhere as close to accuracy as even this Son of God movie did!  We had some of the girl counselors following Jesus as disciples because we didn't have enough guys in the cast. We improvised conversations at times because we'd get off-script because that stuff happens at camp and you make the best of it. We omitted powerful (some might argue "essential") words and scenes because we only had a couple of hours to do the best we could.

But each week, there were kids who made decisions to follow Jesus that probably changed the trajectory of their lives.  I believe we depopulated Hell a little bit with our wooden, amateurish, mostly accurate-but-boy-am-I-glad-today's-critics-and-Christian-police-didn't-see-it production.  I'm proud to have been part of it.

Really, our “Christ Walk” was a mess when viewed through the filter today's critics are viewing Son of God.  And they know what they are talking about.  But like I said - we made much of Jesus. And kids took a step over the starting line of faith.  Every week.  I think heaven rejoiced over the fruit that came out of it.

I say go see the Son of God.  Enjoy a movie worth your time.  And please, take a non-Christian with you and then share coffee, lunch, dinner, or some wine afterwards and talk about it. Maybe you'll even be able to look at the Scriptures together.  It's potentially a wonderful tool to reach outsiders, and I hope there will be a lot of fruit that comes from doing just that. 

Lighten up, Critics.  The folks who made this movie have not confounded God, nor are His purposes thwarted. You have in this film a great conversation starter with the unchurched, which I think was one of the motives for making the movie in the first place.  No matter if it wasn’t – I stand with the Apostle Paul: 

But whatever their motive for doing it, the fact remains that the Good News about Christ is being preached, and I am glad.” – Philippians 1:18 (TLB)