Living Members: Worship

LM ppt background

Read: Acts 2:43, 46

This week’s sign was a little bit cheeky:

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How many people would have driven past that and said to themselves ‘you gotta be kidding’? In fact, how many Christians would have driven past the sign and said ‘yeah, right’? How many of you looked at the FB post and thought ‘what is that about’?

Worship

We have this issue with worship: we know it’s critical, but it’s not something that often captures our hearts. Some of us, admittedly, will come through the door wanting to hear a good message, or wanting to sing some good songs. But few of us, if we’re honest (and I am not being too unkind), will have walked through the door with a consuming desire to direct our hearts to the living God and worship him with everything we are.

Now, here we read:

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:46, NIV)

One of the problems with worship is that we read our experiences back into texts like these. And we think it’s talking about people like us worshipping in a place like this the way we do it today.

Bad idea.

Look how Luke begins: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts…”

It speaks of meeting together. Meeting daily. Meeting in homes. Meeting in the temple. Why? Well for this fledgling church worship was not a time in their weekly schedule. In biblical terms, all of life is worship. The true heart of worship is a Jesus honouring life: heart, soul, and body directed to the glory of the Risen Lord! It’s what we read in Romans 12:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1, NIV)

These people met daily in their home, in the temple, because they were worshipping the Risen Jesus. That’s the connection Luke wants us to make. His gospel tells the what Jesus began to do: his birth, life, death, resurrection and return to the father. His sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, tells us what Jesus continued  to do through his Spirit acting in his people.

We cannot escape the conclusion that community is alive! They will never be the same!

  • They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching
  • They have fellowship in the new life of Christ
  • They share compassionately with those in need
  • Their lives are wall to wall worship

How did Jesus come to these people? He came through his Spirit and took up residence in them. This is what Jesus told them a few days before he went to the cross:

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18, NIV)

This is what we see happening at Pentecost: the Spirit is poured out and the Rien Christ is alive in his church. So we should not be surprised to see them overflow with praise and worship, meeting together as often as they can: daily, sometimes several times a day.

One question we do need to address, however, is what is ‘worship’?

In the New Testament sense, worship means ‘to bow, to kiss, to serve, to worship’. Worship is directing one’s entire being to the praise of God, a spirit of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise. Look how it is expressed in Acts 2

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…” (Acts 2:46, NIV)

They were glad! They were sincere! In fact ‘glad’ is a bit of a limp translation. The original denotes an exuberant outburst of joy. This was a true sense of celebration. This is what it looks like to be a living member of Christ! Why? Because worship is the overflow of what you believe in your heart. Here, we can see Christ living in their hearts by the way their lives are filled with worship. Worship is the overflow of the heart. It works both ways. John Stott, commenting on this passage says:

The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than our ecclesiastical traditions encourage. When I attend some church services, I think I have come to a funeral by mistake. Nobody smiles or talks. The hymns or songs are played at the pace of a snail or tortoise, and the who atmosphere is lugubrious. But Christianity is a joyful religion, and every meeting should  be a celebration of joy.

One of the great things about reading John Stott, of course, is how he expands your vocabulary. To be lugubrious, in case you wondered, is to be sad and mournful (from the Latin Lugere).

Here’s what is happening in this passage: Luke is telling us two very important things. First: he’s saying, look at these people! They are Jesus’ new community, the new Israel, God’s new society. See what happens when Jesus lives in people? When he gives them new life, new forgiveness, new grace, new understanding of their world and how it works? Their lives become an every day expression of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise.

Keep in mind how much a miracle of grace this was. This is the 3000+ people who were added to the disciples’ number at Pentecost. This huge community had grown overnight. And they are meeting in a variety of forms and contexts. In the temple courts (at least they could all gather there) but also in smaller groups in their homes. Despite the fact they are from all quarters and a variety of nations, we see them meeting together daily, gladly, sincerely, joyfully, exuberantly. The Spirit of Christ has broken down the social and ethnic barriers that often keep people apart.

Now, it is obvious that our world is very different to theirs. There are 2000 years, half a world, and many cultural divides between us and the Acts 2 church. So, we need to be careful before expecting every aspect of what we read here be replicated in our own church. Who can repeat Pentecost, for example? Yet we should ask why our worship experience often seems so far away from what we read here. Personally, I do not believe the simplistic criticism of some that if our worship lacks something it is because we don’t have the Spirit, or we don’t have enough faith.

And yet, we should ask why the joy, the attitude of unconditional obedience, the fullness of God in the fullness of life is not as apparent in some western churches. Churches like ours, perhaps. Haven’t you ever wondered about that?

As I said, I don’t think it is because we don’t have the Holy Spirit. But I do sometimes think we allow the ‘spirit of the age’ to quench his work. Isn’t it true that the exertion required to pursue our lifestyle and wants often exhausts our desire to worship and submit? Life’s busyness, life’s insatiable demands, our leisure pursuits, our moral dalliances, even our gross indifference to matters of justice and mercy, so dominates our lives that any intentional mindset of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise often simply evaporates.

Don’t you find this happening?

Then don’t give in to it. Don’t confirm to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. One way you can do that is by developing a prayerful, worship intention.

Don’t you think that would change the way we engage when we meet with God’s people – whenever and however that might happen? Isn’t that what we should be praying about before we meet on a Sunday, before we go to our home groups, before we meet with other Christians?

With that in mind I penned a short prayer. You don’t have to use these specific words, of course. But it may just help you focus your thoughts and your heart before you meet:

Lord, I come before the throne of your risen Son. I submit myself fully to you, Lord Jesus, my Creator and Redeemer.

Jesus Christ, I honour you will all my being. I seek to obey you in everything and I commit to ordering my life to your will.

I seek to praise you in every act of life, relationship, work and leisure.

Let my eyes be on you, allow me to focus on you, and have me leave my wants, my desires, and pleasures behind.

In your name,

Amen

Awe

One of the reasons prayers like that might not feature too much in our lives is because we don’t always know what to do with the second thing Luke wants us to see. We find it in verse 43.

“Everyone was filled with awe ….” (Acts 2:43, NIV)

Use European westerners struggle with that little word. Part of the reason is the original meaning includes the idea of ‘fear’. And we don’t know what to do with that. Fear, to us, is being afraid, being terrified, scared witless. How many of us were horrified by the footage of Australian pro surfer Mick Fanning being attacked by a shark?

Mick Fanning - Fear

That kind of fear comes from a very specific part of the brain, called the amygdala. It’s the source of the basic ‘fright or flight’ response. Mick Fanning did not have to think about what he needed to do: it just kicked in. Get me outta here!!

That is fear. But it is not the fear or worship, or the awe referred to in v.43. There is another kind of fear. This fear, this awe, comes from a different part of the brian where responses are reasoned and intentional. This awe is an engaging wonder, flowing from a specific event, resulting in purposeful behaviour.

The Christians in Acts 2 are overflowing with wonder of Jesus Christ. Their awe and wonder flows from the specific event of his death and resurrection, and it results in them purposefully directing their entire lives to his honour and praise.

Knowing this, we will often ask ‘well, if this arises from awe and wonder, what can we do to engender a response like this?’

We often think we need to create contexts which will draw the same response. Some churches have huge auditoriums filled with thousands, stage works, lighting effects, incredible sound systems, massive subwoofers. And what happens there amy well be awesome. People’s lives are often deeply impacted. And so we think: how do we make that happen? How do we create that context of holy fear where we are?

And the answer is: bad question.

See, this awe, the awe and wonder and fear of v.43, is not circumstantial. It’s not a context to be created or managed. This awe is a reasoned response, yes. It involves the mind, the will, the heart and the emotions – the fullness of one’s being. But these people are not responding to what’s happened in the building. They are responding to what has happened on the cross and in the resurrection.

We see this in the context. Peter preaches, proclaiming the confronting truth that his listeners had crucified the Lord of glory, Jesus, whom the Father had declared both Lord and Christ. They realise their sin and were cut to the heart. They asked: what shall we do? Peter told them to repent, to receive the covenant promise of grace in Christ. Many believe and are baptised, and they are this community we read about in Acts 2:42-47.

See the connection? They are not responding to circumstances. They have come under the reign and rule of the risen Jesus! That’s why they are filled with awe! They are so deeply moved by Christ’s grace that they can’t stop worshipping him. Together, in community, they respond in awe: engaging wonder, unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise.

Not because the lights have come down, not because the keys are playing under the pastor while he prays, or because the preacher is so eloquent.

It’s because of Jesus. They see Jesus. They know Jesus! They know that we went to the Cross – for them – some of whom were responsible for his death just seven or eight weeks before!

THAT’S what is happening here. Awe is the response of wonder from people whose hearts have been cleansed and washed in the blood of an innocent Saviour. Christ in one’s heart will always leads to change in one’s life. It’s Phil 2 a few decades before its time, isn’t it? They have considered Jesus…

Phil 2:6-11

This is what Jesus has done for us! God be praised! Hallelujah!

How can you apprehend that truth and not respond in joyful exuberance and awe! With a considered response which says ‘this is what Jesus has done for me, praise his name, now it’s time to celebrate him with my church family and all of life.’

So, the sign is really true for those who know Jesus, right? Once you undersrahd what Jesus has done for you all you want to do is live a life full of worship!

WORSHIP – IT’S WHAT YOU REALLY WANT

If we don’t understand the cross we won’t ever get the worship thing. And we’ll be stuck in the land of ‘why should I go?’ forever.

These people were filled with awe… they worshipped  daily. In their homes: It is impossible to read these verses and imagine these people thinking an hour on so on Sunday was enough. They are doing life, godward life, together. They shared meals. They shared lives. Their voice echoes down the ages to us, drawing us to connect with people beyond the weekly ‘big group’ many of us call Sunday worship.

They also continued to meet in the temple. This fledgling church challenges our own engagement with worship, doesn’t it? Can you imagine these people being satisfied with a three weekly attendance cycle?

This is a beautiful church because Jesus is in the centre of everything they are and everything they do. Wouldn’t you love to be part of a church like this?

Then stop praying. Stop praying for others to change. Stop praying that God will bring other people. More people.

And start praying. Start praying that you will see Jesus so clearly. That you will consider what he has done for you. Pray that he will change your heart. Pray you will be overcome by his death and resurrection – for you that your life will be filled with worship as it was here. Pray this for your church and for your Christian community.

Jesus did this, for me? For me? Then here’s my life, Lord! I bow before you in full submission, honour, obedience and praise. Let your love overflow in my life, and let my life be constant worship, wonder and awe, for all you have done for me, for all you are doing in me, and for everything you will continue to do through me.

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