Worshipping Together by Todd Stiles
Well, we are on Day #36 in our 40 Days of Community, and we’ve been talking about all the ways we’re better together. Remember some of our themes – reaching out as “partners”, growing as “batteries,” serving like “slaves” (after all, you’re just a “doulos”) … we’ve been learning a lot and putting lots of it into practice. Each week I hear about so many cool ways you all have impacting our community, and I just want to thank you for being an open-armed church.
This week we look at what it means to worship together. Now I realize we just came out of a series on the subject of worship from the Psalms, but I also know that if there is one topic that’s hot in the church today, it is the arena of worship. Someone this week even called it the “Worship Wars.” So it’ll do us good to gain even more biblical insight and perspective on this important subject.
By the way, I’d encourage you to check our new Web site, www.firstfamilyministries.com, not only for past messages from our recent series “Worship 101,” but also for a BONUS MESSAGE I put on there this week strictly about worship. It’s called “Traits of a True Worshipper,” and I really think it would help many of us as we strive to become the kind of worshippers God is seeking.
However, I want you to know I’m concerned mainly today about what makes worship work well when we’re together. Let’s be honest – in this room this morning there are as many preferences and styles – ‘worship wishes’ as I call them – as there are people. But I want to cut through most of that and bring to light some essentials that are required if we’re going to experience worship together. To do this, I want to refer to a situation in the Old Testament book of Malachi that God has led me to and bring out three contrasts they were dealing with. First, let me give you some background…
The children of Israel had been freed from captivity and were back in the land, but their revival didn’t last very long. They again fell away into idolatry, and God sent Malachi as his messenger to warn them and prod them back towards the right kind of living. In particular, the priests had gone astray in their leading of worship, and so the people also were wandering…going astray and worshipping wrongly. Whenever they would gather to offer sacrifices, it was done wrongly from the top down. It is in this context of incorrect and false worship, starting with the leadership and trickling down to the people, that we find this prophet’s inspired words:
[Read and comment on Malachi 1:6-14; 3:6-15]
The three contrasts that are highlighted in these verses show us what God values when it comes to worshipping together. Let’s take a look at them for few minutes.
CONTRAST #1: INSIDE vs OUTSIDE (Malachi 1:9-10… “useless fires”)
[The deadly game of PRETENSE] When you are more concerned about looking right instead of being right, you’re playing a deadly game. Don’t believe me? Just look around at all the debt piling up on your friends so that they can have the right car, the right home, the right look…and when we say right, we mean “right” according to the Jones! But before long the Jones either file bankruptcy or get divorced, so that’s not a standard you want to use. There’s just got to be more to life than pretending, don’t you agree?
Unfortunately, pretense was part of everyday life for the priests and their people. They kept on doing and going and serving, but no heart. It was all a show. There was no honesty, no authenticity, no genuineness. But worship without authenticity is ceremonial.
This brings me to ask you a question…
Key Question: “Am I being less than completely honest with God and others?” If so, you’re more involved in a ritual when we gather than a relationship.
You see, this highlights what is a key ingredient in worship as a community: AUTHENTICITY. Look at what other biblical writers have said about authenticity:
• Psalm 51:16,17 … “broken spirit … contrite heart”
• 1 John 1:8-10 … “walking in the light”
When there is no honesty, there is no community. No worshipping together. Trust not only takes time, it takes truth. And we’re all depending on you to be honest with God every Sunday so that the community here can grow and flourish. What can you do?
• Pray before you come and/or on your way (watch out for the magical parking lot!)
• Give an honest answer (not brutal, but honest)
• Reject the fear of rejection and rest in the love of God.
Authenticity is a big deal when it comes to worshipping together. So here’s what I want you to do – tell someone near you the honest truth about how you felt when you got up this morning. See? No one left, got mad, or labeled you. What are you worrying about? Let’s move on, okay?
CONTRAST #2: BEST vs GOOD (Malachi 1:13-14 … “crippled animals”)
I’ve always been amazed at the amount of energy and passion we give our hobbies and favorite teams, and have often wondered why we can’t give that same energy and focus to the praise of our God. I know there are lots of reasons and excuses, but I still wonder – why are we so lackadaisical towards God and so committed to our jobs? Our possessions?
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it is an either/or proposition. But I do maintain we should give God the same intensity we give any other relationship or interest.
In this passage, they were more concerned about the cost of operations than the cost of obedience. The result? Offerings and worship that was less than their best. It wasn’t excellent.
In fact, that is the second essential ingredient to worshipping together: EXCELLENCE. Of course, that begs the question, “What is excellence?” Well, let me see if I can define it for you: Doing the best you can with what you have for the right reason.
[EXPOUND…Teachers and workers, musicians and greeters, Facilities and equipment]
Are we doing the best we can with what we have for the right reason? If so, God is pleased with our worship. Period. And if we’re not, he’s disappointed, even if we looked good or “pulled it off.”
So I’ve got a question for you – are you offering less than your best to God and others? If so, you’re affecting the atmosphere of worship at FFC. We need the best you have, and so does God! That’s essential in worship – your best, not your second best. Remember, worship without excellence is complacency. Are you satisfied with complacency or committed or excellence?
Here’s what I want you to do – sing your best with me for a moment, would you? [START SINGING “AMAZING GRACE”] See? Doing your best feels good, doesn’t it? Let’s do it every week!
CONTRAST #3: WHOLE vs PARTIAL (Malachi 3:9-10 … “partial gifts”)
There is an intriguing word in Malachi 3 ... it’s the word “whole.” They were apparently bringing some of the required offerings, perhaps 3%, 5%, maybe 9.5%, but not all. They were bringing a portion of their tithe to God, but not all of their tithe. Not the entire 10%. But what did God want? ALL! Every bit of their 10%. Of course, he is talking here specifically about the aspect of giving their resources, and he says to them, “I am not comfortable with just some of your resources. I want you to go all the way and give completely what you need to give. The full 10%!” That’s a pretty nice God, wouldn’t you say? He’s letting them use 90%...all he was asking for from these Israelites was 10%. Yet, they found ways to give less than what he wanted.
One interesting thing about this passage is that God connects worshipping together with giving together. WOW! In fact, some of you may perhaps be wondering right now, “I thought you were talking about worshipping together? Seems to me you’re talking about money!” Understand something about God – worship without giving is no worship at all. These two components are so closely tied that you find them linked throughout the Bible.
• OT – They came with offerings of all types. I know of no references to group worship where they didn’t bring some kind of offering.
• NT – Widows mite, Romans 12:1, 1 Cor. 16, Acts 2 and 4…sharing and giving was first and foremost.
Now you’re probably thinking I’m headed towards a legalistic sermon on tithing. No, I’m not going to be that nice. I’m headed towards a biblical sermon on sacrifice. For you see, that’s the most biblical way to give –sacrificially. That’s the clearest NT teaching on giving – SACRIFICE! Until we give sacrificially, we aren’t giving biblically. We may give legally, and we may give generously, but it isn’t biblical till it’s sacrificial.
You see, that’s a fair standard for us all. It’s not about equal amount, but rather equal sacrifice. This is the common denominator throughout the Bible. The community of faith in all ages was always one characterized by sharing with God and others, even to the point of sacrifice. So let me ask you, our community of faith, a critical question: “Are you giving less than your share to God and others?”
The way to tell is sacrifice. That’s the litmus test. And it is the third ingredient of worshipping together: SACRIFICE!
In fact, worship without sacrifice is cheap. That’s not the kind of worship we want to give God, is it? Of course not! We need to pattern our responses after King David who, when given a building for free in which to offer his sacrifices, refused to take it for free and instead paid for it. Why? As he said in 2 Samuel 24:23-25, “I won’t give God something that costs me nothing.” Valuable things ought to cost you something, and worshipping together is valuable. So sacrifice. It’ll mean a whole lot more when you do.
It’s clear that worshiping together – building the community of believers – involves sacrificial giving. So here’s what I want you to do – right now, share with someone near you an item you have that you could loan/lend/share with a fellow believer. See? That didn’t hurt, did it?!
As we wrap things up today, think about this sentence:
“When I get together with the church for worship,
I’ll be authentic, excellent, and sacrificial.”
Not ceremonial, complacent, or cheap. But honest. Passionate. Selfless. It makes worshipping together better!
I’m going to ask you to get in groups to pray as we close today – pray for what is coming next Sunday. Pray we’ll be honest as we report and give praise to God. Pray we’ll be sacrificial in our giving. Pray for excellence in our efforts. PRAY! If ever we need a day in which we experience worship together, it ought to be on Day 41. Many new people, our celebration offering, praise stories…let’s pray we’ll give it our honest and sacrificial best. So right now, find some people close to you and pray for next week, would you? Ready, set, pray!
[PRAYER GROUPS, followed by WORSHIP]