Last night, I had 70 of my closest friends over for dinner! Now, if you consider yourself a close friend of mine and DIDN’T have dinner with me last night…don’t get your undies in a bunch…let me explain! My church is now in the 3rd year of a program called Wednesday Night Live…WNL for short. During the school year. the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month are devoted to food, fellowship and faith-strengthening. Dinner is at 6PM, with adult classes, youth groups for all ages, Bell Choir practice and Vocal Ensemble practice…the Nursery is also open for those 4 years old and younger. So a family can come, eat, put their kids in the Nursery or age-appropriate youth group, and attend a class of be a part of a music group. The dinner is a free-will offering…you pay as much…or as little…as you want or can afford. The group that hosts that particular meal decided where the money goes. It really is a great way to spend a Wednesday night!
I was stuck in traffic last week. You may be thinking, “Well…whooped-dee-do, Pastor! I’m stuck in traffic every day!” And I’m sure you are correct! When I lived in the St. Louis area, traffic was a way of life. But you see…I don’t live in the St. Louis area any more. I live in Central Illinois. In the town in which I live, we (literally) call the back-up of cars in the morning and evening “the rush 5 minutes!” No rush hour here! A BIG back-up is 6 cars at the 4-way!
Today is Labor Day. (How ironic that the one day many of us DON’T work…in on the ONE day specifically devoted to labor! But I’m NOT complaining, mind you…the office is closed today! Woot!) What do you actually KNOW about Labor Day? I realized that, for me at least, the answer to that question was, “Not much”! So I did some reading about it…and here’s what I found.
In an attempt to be all things to all people and offend no one, the United Methodist hymnal is being rewritten. All your old favorites can now be sung without guilt, discomfort…or conviction. Some of the revised titles include: “Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound”, “Praise God from whom All Positive Affirmations Flow”, “Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me”, “What an Acquaintance We Have in Jesus”, “Blest Be the Tie that Doesn’t Cramp My Style”, “I Surrender Some”, and of course “Sweet Minute of Prayer”!
This is the LAST Sunday of the Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries Psequal! After a 2-week hiatus, we return for one last hurrah with David’s Old Testament writings in which he literally pours his heart out to God. And today, with the “revised hymnal” as a backdrop, we look at the act of worship. And that begs the question, “WHY do we need to worship God?” Well, Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” had a strange picture hanging on his office wall- a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked why, he said, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think they’re wonderful and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.” THAT’S why we need to worship God- because we didn’t get here on our own…we had help! Here the words of Psalm 100:
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a big city church. When he came home, his wife asked him how it was. “I guess it was alright. But they did somethin’ different. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.” “Praise choruses? What in tarnation them?” “They’re like hymns…only different.” “Different how?” “Well…if’n I sing ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound’…that’d be a hymn. If’n I repeat it 6 more times…that’d be a praise chorus!”
Psalm 100 was written to remind us of our need to be thankful, our need to praise God. It was written for the Hebrews. God said to them, “When you get to the Promised Land, when you get settled down in your nice, warm homes, when you’ve had plenty to eat…don’t forget…Me…the One who led you out of the wilderness and brought you into a land flowing with milk & honey.” Why did God say that? Because it didn’t take very long for the Hebrews to lose that focus and need a reminder. I’m afraid that, all too often, we need that reminder, too. We are a people and a nation truly blessed by God. We need to praise Him! As we walk through Psalm 100, we find five imperatives, five things we are called, as Christians, to do-
1. The first imperative is, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” And this does NOT mean just a little shout-out, but a trumpet blast, a shout of joy to God that comes from your toes, the very depths of your being. Maybe God solved a big problem you had. Maybe He’s given you a new direction. Maybe He’s blessed you more than you could possibly imagine or deserve. A medical missionary spent years in India. Many from the region in which he served suffered from progressive blindness. They were born with healthy vision, but gradually lost their sight as they grew older. Over time, the missionary developed a treatment that would stop this progressive blindness. People came to him, he performed the treatment, and they left with their sight saved. Ironically, they never said, “Thank you”…because the phrase didn’t exist in their dialect. Instead, they used a word that meant, “I will tell others your name.” So wherever they went, they would tell others the name of the missionary who cured their blindness. They received something so wonderful that they simply had to eagerly proclaim it. When you realize God’s been so good to you that you can’t keep it inside any more, you shout your joy to Him. So, from the depths of your soul…sing His praise!
2. The second imperative is, “Worship the Lord with gladness.” Notice- it’s not “worship the church.” It’s not “worship the preacher” (darn the luck!), or “worship the leaders”, or “worship the organization”…but “worship God.” The Bible says that if we tell others about God, if we feed the hungry, if we clothe the naked, if we do God’s work…whatever that might be…we’re serving God. Sounds great, but I’m not sure we always truly get it. Maybe sometimes we serve out of a sense of obligation…or fear…or guilt…or even to draw attention to ourselves. But King David writes, “No matter what, worship God with gladness.”
3. The third imperative is, “Come before Him with joyful songs.” Think you can’t do that? Aren’t capable of joyous songs? Psalm 98:4 says it this way, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” THAT we can do. Notice- the first 3 imperatives center around joy and gladness. God wants us to be happy, to shout with joy, to serve with gladness, to come with joyful songs. Now- look around you. Do the people on either side of you look happy? Or are they just sitting there…scowling…or trying to stay awake?! David says, “Come before Him, serve Him and sing His praise with joy in your heart.”
4. The fourth imperative is, “Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” God took every bone, every joint, and welded them together with sinew and muscle and covered them with skin and gave us eyes that see, brains that think, and hearts that love. God made us, inside and out. He made us the way He wanted us to be. Amazing, isn’t it? That somehow, in God’s providence, He decided that He wanted an average-looking, barely medium-height man (my acting resume said I was 5’10″…I lied!), bald, not particularly outstanding in anything, just a faithful father and husband who keeps plodding forward. He made me. He made us. God had us in mind…and He made us, just as we are. And He’s STILL making us. He’s not satisfied with the unfinished product. So He’s still making us, still working in our lives.
5. The fifth imperative is, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.” In the Old Testament, the temple symbolized the very real presence of God. So when the people came to the temple, entered the courtyards, they understood they were coming into God’s presence. That particular temple no longer exists, but that’s OK…because God is everywhere. He’s with us as us drive down the highway. He’s with us at work. He’s with us as we raise our children. He’s with us just now, as we gather here. He’s with us every moment of our lives.
But there’s this nagging thought that gives me cause to pause- what if God started treating us like we often treat Him? What if God decided to meet our needs to the same extent that we meet His church’s needs, to the same extent that we give Him our lives? What if we never saw another flower bloom because we grumbled when God sent the rain? What if God stopped loving us because we failed to love others? What if He didn’t bless us today because we didn’t thank Him yesterday? What if He answered our prayers the way we answer His call to service? What if God stopped leading us tomorrow because we didn’t worship Him yesterday? Sobering, isn’t it?
Sometimes our expectations regarding worship are simply not quite…met. We want the service to offer THIS…but not THAT. We want THIS kind of music…not THAT. Sometimes we wonder if the preacher is EVER going to stop talking! Let’s be clear…worship isn’t exclusively a “church” or “service” or “Sunday” thing. Instead…worship is a matter of the heart. It’s also not about…ready?…US! Worship is NOT based on who WE am…but Who GOD is. We are NOT here to please ourselves…but God. Worship is about God, about the passionate pursuit of God. Worship is declaring God’s glory…through your words AND your actions. Worship should be done with enthusiasm. Worship should be vocal, public, organized and expressive. Our worship to God should be MUCH more passionate, dynamic and expressive than our response to our favorite sports teams. And when we worship, and when we sing, we shouldn’t do it weakly. We shouldn’t do mildly. We should do it with full voice, with all we have and all we are….or to quote Methodist founder John Wesley, “lustily and with great courage!” Somber, dull, uninspired Christians are NOT contagious Christians. No one is interested in a faith characterized by melancholy, malaise and ennui. We shouldn’t come to worship apathetically. We shouldn’t come only when we are in dire need AND have nothing better to do. We should come regardless of our circumstances. What we should be expressing to God is heart-felt praise. We should DAILY come to God eagerly and adoringly, in whole-hearted anticipation AND participation. And we have GREAT reason to do it….we have a story to tell to the nations…Good News for the world. We are called to have a real relationship with the God we worship. And the closer we are to God, the more we’re motivated to worship Him.
Are you passionate about worship? Worship God joyfully- we have a lot for which to be thankful. Worship God publicly- we strengthen and encourage each other when gather together in His name. Worship God passionately- God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might live with Him forever. Worship is not a spectator sport. Worship is not the people up front performing for everyone else’s enjoyment. WE are the players, and we perform for an audience…of ONE.
At my last church, I was the Associate Pastor. From the moment I stepped in the door until 7 years later when I left…that was my title. It never changed. My DUTIES, on the other hand, changed pretty dramatically during that time. At first, regardless of my title, I was ‘the youth and children” guy. That’s what I did! And that leads me to today’s story.
An older gentleman in my church shared a marvelous analogy with me this week- he said his faith was like a TRACFONE! Let me explain! If you’ve never had a TRACFONE, you might not know what it is. A TRACFONE is a cellular telephone that does not have a contract. You simply buy minutes and add them to the phone as you need them. It is a prepaid cell phone that you can “dump” at any time and not worry about how much time is left on your contract.
132 years ago today, on September 1, Emma Mills Nutt became the world’s first female telephone operator when she started working for the Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company (AKA Boston Telephone Dispatch company) in Boston, Massachusetts.