It can be tough to try to please everyone. Especially when it comes to highly subjective things, like our taste in music. Especially worship music. Fortunately worship isn’t about us or our preferences and tastes. Worship is about God.
- I will come ready to worship God in spirit and truth.
- I will come early and prepare my heart for worship.
- I will worship in a way that reflects my heart.
In the history of Blue Oaks Church, or for as long as you’ve been around, as long as that may be, if I ask you this question, how would you answer it — when was our experience of worship at its absolute peak?
Since this church has been around, if you had to name a time when our hunger for worship ran really deep and our devotion for worship was especially strong and the experience of worship when we gathered together was just at its most rich and heartfelt, when would you say it is?
From asking this question of some people over the last couple weeks, I think the best answer is right now. I think it’s right now.
I don’t think we have ever been closer to reaching our full potential for worship than we are right now.
Which brings me to this question — why devote a four-week series to worship?
If it’s going so well, if we’re on the best worship track that we’ve been on, what’s the big deal? Why devote a whole series to it?
Well, I’ll tell you why.
I believe it’s precisely because worship is so important that if it gets off the track, if the center of the target for worship is not painstakingly clear to all of us in this place, it just means disaster for the people of God.
You trace this through the Bible. When the people of God get fuzzy about worship, when they get distorted or off track about worship, it leads to dissension and conflict within the body.
It leads to a loss of spiritual passion. It leads to a misunderstanding about the nature of God. It leads to cold hearts, hard spirits and the death of community.
When it comes to essentials, shared understanding is just critical.
The University of Pennsylvania did a survey recently where they found the level of misunderstanding about American government and history among American teenagers is frightening.
They found that 37 percent of teenagers do not know a single freedom guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.
They found 48 percent of American teenagers could not name the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial.
One-third could not even give the date for the War of 1812.
Okay, I just made that one up. That’s not really true.
They said as a nation we cannot afford a vacuum where wise minds and passionate hearts are needed.
One witness told the Senate subcommittee, “The Constitution doesn’t work by itself. It depends on active, informed citizens.”
And there’s a very similar dynamic when it comes to our church community.
Great worship and ultimately the spiritual life and well-being of our community will not happen by default. It just won’t. It rests on a core group of Christ followers who share common values and a very deep devotion to a Biblically balanced worship that marks us as a community.
So over the next four weeks, we’re going to gather in this place, and we’re going to devote ourselves to what Biblically balanced worship looks like. We’re going to get real clear on it.
And today I want to hammer home one truth. And then we’ll share communion together.
Today what I want every one of us to leave this room very clear about is this —
Worship is about God.
Worship at its heart is God-centered. It’s not human-centered.
It’s not about me.
It’s not about getting my needs met.
It’s not about my preferred style.
It’s not about my personal tastes.
In worship we gather and encounter the presence of the Living God, and we declare his greatness and his goodness and his glory with our heart and soul and mind and strength.
So I want to look today at four ways worship gets off track — four ways worship gets off center, and then just commit ourselves to saying, “It’s not going to happen to us. We’re going to worship in a way that is God-centered.”
Alright, four ways worship gets off track:
The first one is this — sometimes in some churches for some people, worship becomes casual, and…
Casual worship is always off track.
I’ll give you a picture of this from the Old Testament.
The writer of 2nd Chronicles says that Solomon built the temple, filled it with things of great beauty and great value — great gold, including gold shields that were awesome to people that looked at them, a reminder of the greatness and splendor and goodness of God, very costly as Solomon intended them to be, an expression of the value that people placed on God.
Well, in 2nd Chronicles, when Solomon died and his son Rehoboam took over, the writer of 2nd Chronicles tells us that Rehoboam abandoned the law, abandoned his devotion to God, and at one point the king of Egypt came up and plundered the temple — took away the shields of gold.
Here’s the statement, 2 Chronicles 12:10, “But King Rehoboam replaced the shields of gold with shields of bronze.”
He replaced the shields of gold — what had been costly and sacrificial — with shields of bronze, that which was cheaper.
He didn’t omit them, he didn’t forget about the temple altogether — he just downgraded them, just replaced them with less costly things. He had a kind of casual approach to worship.
When he was in trouble before his enemies, he went to the temple and humbled himself before God.
When trouble went away, so did his urgency about worship.
He didn’t set his heart to seek the Lord — he replaced the shields of gold with shields of bronze.
Now, contrast that with another scene.
In Exodus chapter 19 — God has delivered Israel from slavery.
They crossed the Red Sea, and the prophet Miriam grabbed the tambourine after Pharaoh and his armies were destroyed and began to dance and sing and lead the people — “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.”
It’s the beginning of corporate worship for the people of God.
Then they come to Mount Sinai to encounter God.
Exodus 19, verse 10:
The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
Down to verse 16 now. Imagine this scene.
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.
Imagine for a moment what happens to people when they encounter the presence of the living God.
I want to ask you to imagine then that some people responded like this — imagine that some people were to say:
“We’re going to leave now because we’re not singing the songs we like to sing at the foot of this mountain — like that tambourine song. How come they don’t do that tambourine song anymore?”
Or imagine people saying, “I don’t like it when Moses leads worship. I like it when Aaron leads worship. I’ll come back to the mountain when Aaron is leading.”
Or imagine someone saying, “This worship is too formal, all that smoke and mystery and dense cloud. I like worship to be casual and informal.”
Or someone else saying, “Well, this stuff’s okay, but I didn’t like it when Miriam did that dancing thing — too uninhibited — not enough reverence.”
Or someone else saying, “Three days is too long. This is an inconvenience to my busy life.”
I don’t think that happened.
I think the people were filled with awe and wonder, and they trembled and they hoped and they feared because there, in the middle of nowhere before this bunch of ex-slaves, all of a sudden there’s the Living God, and there was mystery and awe and life.
I don’t know how else to say this, but do you realize what it is we do when we come to worship?
I think sometimes we’re so used to going to rooms and sitting through things — gathering for an event, or a movie, or a play, or a game or something — we just think of this as one more event that we may or may not attend.
We come into this place to be in the presence of the God of the mountain.
We’re always in his presence, but when we come here, we open ourselves wide up to him…
to the God who made the heavens and the earth.
the God who shook the mountains and roared like thunder.
the God who holds your life and mine in the palm of his hand.
the God who became flesh and dwelt among us.
the God who sent his Son to die for us.
the God of the mountain.
the God of the Cross.
He is here right now just as he was on the mountain — in all of his mystery and greatness and righteousness.
So when we come to worship, we cannot come casually.
I want to make some asks of you today so that we’re real careful not to become casual in our worship.
I want to ask you, first of all, to come prepared to worship when we meet.
Now, I know it takes heroic efforts for some of you to simply make it here.
I greet you on your way in and I see the cars as they pull in from Foothill road, and I understand that you have jobs and commutes and families and kids and schedules and sports and meals to wrestle with.
I know it takes heroic efforts for some of us to come. But I’m asking you to make one more heroic effort.
Don’t just get your body here.
Prepare your spirit — get your heart ready as God asked of his people. Prepare.
This is just a truth of human nature. We prepare for what matters to us.
Football players prepare for a big game.
Salespeople get real ready for the big sales pitch.
People going on a date prepare.
Some of you have spent more time preparing for a date than you spend on the actual date itself.
Some of you enjoyed preparing for the date more than you enjoyed the actual date itself.
I’m asking — come prepared for worship.
Spend some time in the morning before we worship meditating on Scripture.
Play some worship music on your way here if that helps you.
Spend some time in prayer.
If you have time, come here before the service and just spend a few moments in prayer. Confess any sin that could hinder your connection with God. Just confess it ahead of time.
Reflect on what it is that you want to give thanks for.
Between now and when you come back next week… do these things and get ready so that when you come here you’re just full — you’re just ready to worship.
Come prepared for worship.
And then I want to ask when we’re together — invest yourself fully in every moment.
The psalmist says, Psalm 66:2:
Make his praise glorious.
That’s your job. That’s my job in every moment of worship. Just make his praise glorious.
I’ve been at some churches, some worship services where people are just going through the motions. They’re bored or preoccupied. You can see when they’re sitting there, they’re just thinking about the shopping list or the things they have to do or something.
When you come to worship, when we’re here, I’m asking you, don’t wait for something to grab your attention. Don’t wait.
Say to God, “I’m fully present right now. I’m listening, I’m praising, I’m confessing, I’m responding. Every moment of worship I’m just offering myself to you.”
Come prepared. Fully invest yourself in every moment.
Then I want to ask you — come with a sense of awe.
We sing it sometimes, “We stand in awe of you.”
Because the God who made the mountain shake and the thunder roar and caused the knees of strong men and women to tremble, that’s the God we worship.
This is our mountain, Blue Oaks.
This is the place where we, the people of God, gather together, and that is an awesome thing. God is an awesome God.
One of my favorite passages in all of literature is from one of C. S. Lewis’s books. A lot of you know The Chronicles of Narnia.
In the first book some children are on their way to meet Aslan who is the Christ figure.
They’re being guided by a husband and wife, and when they just hear the name Aslan, “Christ,” something happens inside them.
Like the people in the story of the Exodus, they’re filled with wonder and awe at things they don’t even understand.
I love this — one of the young girls says, “I feel rather nervous about meeting Aslan.”
The wife says, “That you will, dearie, make no mistake. If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
The young girl, Lucy, says, “Then he isn’t safe?”
“Safe,” says the husband, “Didn’t you hear anything my wife said? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”
The Israelites come before the mountain, and there’s clouds of thick darkness, and there’s thunder roaring, and it’s God.
They say to Moses later on in the Exodus story, “Don’t let us get too near the mountain. Don’t let God get too near us. We’re nervous about this whole deal. We’re not sure he’s safe.”
Moses says the words that have come back to the people of God throughout the centuries, “Safe? Haven’t you heard anything? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe.
“Of course God is not some tame, domesticated being that you can just request things of and he’s not going to ask anything of you, never going to surprise you — who said anything about safe? — but he’s good. He’s the king.”
So, Blue Oaks, no casual, halfhearted worship, not here — because he’s the king and he deserves better.
Casual worship is off track.
Another kind of worship that’s off track, and it exists in spades in our day, is what I want to call a consumer approach to worship.
Consumer-oriented worship is off track.
And this is common in our day because we’re trained to be consumers in our day.
If this happens, then the focus becomes my experience, and I approach worship as a consumer rather than a worshiper.
I sit back with my arms folded to those leading worship and say, “Wow me. Do something to grab my attention. Do something to catch my interest.”
If this is your approach, you think about worship the same way you think about going to a movie that you want to critique afterward.
You want the particular style of music that you happen to like played. If it’s not, then you withhold your heart from worship.
You refuse to give praise and adoration to the God of the universe because you don’t like the band or you want the particular instruments that you like or you want the particular worship leader that you like. If not, you withhold your worship.
And maybe you let other people in your little circle know this style does not meet your requirements for worship.
Blue Oaks, I understand for all of us — as we go through seasons of worship, there will be times when we have thoughts about some aspect that we particularly like or some aspect that we don’t.
But I’m asking that you manage those thoughts real carefully and real prayerfully and that you come to worship to give, not to consume.
It’s not primarily about what I get out of it. That’s not what worship is about.
Worship is what we give to God.
This kind of thing has gone on throughout history.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth, and there’s factions and special interest groups.
He says, “I hear that some of you say ‘I belong to Paul,’ and others say, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ and others say, ‘I belong to Cephas,’ as if you were just customers of the Gospel and you could just chose the particular brand of teaching or leading or worship that suited your own spiritual taste. It’s destroying the body.”
Paul goes on, 1 Corinthians 14, to talk about how their worship had become chaotic, people doing things just to draw attention to themselves. Paul says it’s got to stop. He says the focus of worship is God.
So I want to ask you to search your heart.
Is there any kind of consumerism, consumer-tainted worship going on in your spirit?
I’ll be brutally frank. I get comments sometimes, sometimes in email, sometimes face-to-face.
People will say things like this about the worship that goes on here in this church.
Is it possible that we will ever really worship in this church?
Or why do you find it necessary to repress the spirit in this church?
Or for people pushing for something else — when are we going to worship with some true reverence?
And what’s behind those words when people finally get to the point is, “When are we going to do worship in my style? When are we going to do the kind of worship that I want to do?”
Blue Oaks, here’s what we’re going to do — we’re going to respond to the fullness of God’s being, to his holiness, and his righteousness, and his passion for justice, and his honor, and his goodness, and his compassion, and his tenderness, and his love, and his joy.
We’re going to respond to the fullness of God’s being, every facet of him, with every resource we have at our disposal — our minds, our hearts, our voices, our bodies, the word proclaimed, prayer, our response.
Sometimes we will come and we will be overwhelmed by the holiness of God and driven to our knees like Isaiah was when he said, “Woe is me.”
Sometimes we’ll come and we’ll just be undone by the compassion of God like the sinful woman in Luke 7 when she throws herself at Jesus’ feet and pours out everything she has.
Sometimes we’ll be seized by the joy of the Lord as David was when he danced before the Lord with all of his might.
But here’s one thing we will not do. We will not be here as consumers.
You are not here as a consumer of a worship service.
This is not a movie.
It is not a play.
It is not a game.
It is not a show.
This is what we do for God.
And you are here primarily as a giver of worship to God Almighty.
If that’s not your heart, I don’t know how else to say it — but you need to repent.
You need to repent and get on your knees and say, God, “I’ve been withholding worship from you, and I’m sorry. I want worship to be about you, not about me.”
“Come with a new heart,” says God. — “I’m here to give.”
No consumer worship, he deserves better.
Another way worship gets off track is with what might be called a narrow approach or an unbalanced approach.
A narrow approach to worship is off track.
In John 4, the Samaritan woman is talking to Jesus, and she says, “Where should we worship God? Is it on the Samaritan place of worship, a place called Mount Gerizim, or is the right place Jerusalem, as you Israelites say?”
Jesus explains it’s not about geography. God is bigger than that.
The time is going to come when people realize it’s not about this mountain or that mountain.
“God is looking,” Jesus says, “for people who worship in spirit and in truth.”
The mistake this woman makes that many of us make as well — is we think the only people who get worship right are the people in our little group who do it in our little style on our little mountain.
And lest you think this is not a danger, you need to know about this. Some of you may not because to a large extent we have been spared this so far here in our church.
But whole books and articles have been written on the topic of what is known as “worship wars.”
The single most common topic in church fights is — what style of music should we use to honor the God who died to make us one? That’s the single most common subject for church fights.
Here we’ve decided whatever brings honor to God and will make worship accessible to the maximum number of people that we want to bring into this church, we’ll do it.
Whatever brings full honor to the fullness of God and is most accessible to those around us that we want to have come into this worshiping community, we’ll do it.
In a lot of churches, worship wars have become generational warfare.
The old and the young become divided in a power struggle for worship style.
One of the signs of the maturity of a congregation is it’s a place where all kinds of generations can come together.
And that’s a challenge because we live in a world that just separates people by age.
I want you to know we have people in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties on our worship team.
At the heart of this church is this thought, this value — instead of focusing on my taste, my wants, my wishes, I pray to God we will do worship in a way that honors him and makes worship accessible to everyone we can.
And to keep saying to new generations, “You come in, too. We’re not hoarding this treasure for ourselves. We will keep singing to the Lord a new song and a new song and a new song, and we want you to teach us how to sing it.”
Jesus makes a classic statement I want to consider when he’s responding to this Samaritan woman.
He says the Father is looking for those who will worship him.
Then he has two adjectives — “in spirit,” that is, not just with outward conformity on the right mountain and so on, but with their spirit, heart, passion and soul.
And he says, “in truth.”
For the Samaritans, one of their problems was they only accepted the first five books of the Bible. They didn’t know about the God of the Psalms, the God of the prophets and so on.
Spirit and truth — there’s kind of a balance thing here.
There are some individuals, some churches that pride themselves on having lots of spirit in worship — lots of emotion and passion, but there’s little concern for truth, for the mind.
The choruses may get real individualistic or express bad theology.
Everything gets to be about trying to engineer a feeling, but there’s no thoughtfulness to it. They don’t love God with their mind.
I think it was Tony Campolo who told about a guy who’d come to the worship service every week and make kind of a big production about standing up and praying real loud. “Fill me, Jesus. Fill me, Jesus” during worship.
Every week he’d pray that, but then he’d go away and just live a selfish life — deceive people, be greedy and so on.
He’d come back to worship service and in a time of worship be praying: “Fill me, Jesus. Fill me, Jesus.”
One lady finally got sick of it. When he got up one more time and said, “Fill me, Jesus.” She stood up and said, “Don’t do it, Jesus. He leaks.”
You see, here’s the problem. When it comes to worship, reliance on an emotional experience is not enough, because you leak. You leak, and the person sitting next to you does too.
If you find that your goal is, primarily in worship, the production of a certain emotion, then you’re not really worshiping. You’re just shopping for feelings, and you’ll go to wherever you find the best store.
When a church service just becomes a tool designed to elicit certain emotions — a church may get real good at eliciting them, but — that’s not worship.
Some of you need to grow in the truth element of worship, and you need to think about the words that you sing and pray.
You need to spend some time in the serious study of Scripture so you get a fuller picture of who God is. You need to read great books.
One of my favorites was written by Dallas Willard called The Divine Conspiracy. It will deepen your understanding of God.
Some of you need to do that.
Then there are churches and individuals that consider themselves zealous for the truth. They drown people with information, take a lot of pride in doctrinal correctness, but when it comes to worship, no one there has ever been so moved that they’ve actually moved.
I grew up knowing more about that kind of church.
I’m not an expressive, demonstrative person by nature, and I grew up among baptists, who generally are not very expressive. We didn’t move much when we worshiped.
I remember singing a song, an old song — maybe you know it — “I stand, I stand in awe of you.”
We did the whole thing sitting down.
No one even thought about it. We were just that way.
I remember getting a letter from a man once a while ago, and basically this is what he said. He said, “The songs are just the preliminaries. The message is the main event because that’s when we get information, so let’s cut down on the prelims and just get to the main event.”
Blue Oaks, you need to hear me say this as the teaching pastor — worship is the main event. Declaring the glories of God, experiencing his presence — that’s the main event.
What do we do that’s more important than that?
Some of you need to open your heart to worship and to say, “God, my faith is all in my head, and I really need you to touch my heart.”
Maybe God’s calling you to be more expressive.
Any of you watch sports?
Watch the Warriors win the NBA Finals; watch the 49ers win the Super Bowl; watch the Giants win the World Series.
The demonstration, the expression is just unbelievable, arms go up in the air. Everyone is jumping up and down, hugging each other, high-fiving each other.
Some of you maybe need to say this, “Well, God, I’m not going to raise my hands way up like that because we’re not celebrating an NBA Finals or Super Bowl victory, but since we are celebrating that Jesus died for my sins, saved me from hell, overcame my guilt, was raised from the dead and will share his victory with me forever, at least I’ll open my hands like this.”
I’m going to be real careful about this. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to worship in ways that draw attention to me. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Alright, last thing — last kind of worship that gets off track is worship that is disconnected from your life, worship that is disconnected from the way you walk through your days.
Worship that is disconnected from your life is off track.
I think this is the worst, the most serious one of all.
If you read through the prophets, this is one of the most prominent themes.
Isaiah 29:13 — the Lord says:
These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder.
Worship is meaningful to God only to the extent that it is a reflection of the authentic desires and intentions of my heart on a daily basis.
You know, we sing dangerous songs around here.
We sang just last week:
I don’t want anything but you.
All the things I thought I wanted don’t come close to knowing you.
More than silver, more than gold, you are the treasure that I hold.
I don’t want anything else, I don’t need anything else.
You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.
Think about that for a moment.
There’s probably not a clearer statement of total dependence on Christ.
As we sing “more than silver, more than gold” we must think of all the fragile, temporal and earthly things that we put our hope and trust in.
our own righteousness
our own success
our own achievements
We’re saying, “I do not trust in these earthly things, I don’t want them, I don’t need them, all I need is you, Jesus.”
When Jesus hears us say those things, do you think he thinks we mean it?
If not, do we think Jesus is going to say, “I know they’re saying real serious stuff, they’re making real serious statements, but they’re all hyped up because they’re all together, and so I understand I’m not supposed to take it seriously.”
That’s a real dangerous thing.
We sing songs like:
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace
Yet the truth is, some of us sing that but were locked up in chains of bitterness and resentment — stubborn conflicts with a spouse or a parent or a friend, and we’re refusing to take even a first step toward reconciliation or forgiveness.
Or maybe you sing:
Take this life delivered, a vessel of your love.
Wholly now devoted, to see your kingdom come.
And in the moment you really do feel it. You really are sincere. You’re not being consciously hypocritical about it.
But you’re saying to God, “Take my life and use me as your vessel. I’m devoted to advancing your kingdom.”
And yet God may be calling you to serve.
Maybe it’s here at Blue Oaks and you’ve never even taken a step toward that.
Maybe it’s to serve the poor.
Maybe it’s just to serve the people with whom you live… and the truth is, there’s not a servant’s bone in your body right now, and you’re refusing to be interrupted from your own agenda.
Or we sing:
Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in you
Everything I need
Again, there’s kind of an emotion that catches us up, and we sing it with sincerity in the moment, but it’s possible that you can sing those words and you’re not even willing to do the hard work of getting your schedule in order so that you’re spending time with Christ.
We live like everything I need is in this world… that’s why we’re running so fast and doing so much… trying to earn more so that we can have more because we live like — Everything I need is in stuff.
You see, when this happens, it damages your heart.
You inoculate yourself against words. Words lose their power to move and form and shape you. And you damage the heart of God.
So I want to ask you to consider — are you honoring God with words when the truth is your heart is far away? And you’re not even making a serious attempt to align yourself.
The writers of Scripture give very serious warnings about this form of misguided worship.
I want to close with this:
I ask this of you today, at least as a start — if there has been a gap between your worship and your life, I’d like to ask today if you’d be willing to say to God, “God, I don’t want to just say words. I want to give you my heart. I want to give you my life.”
That’ll take a while. You’ll have to do the hard work of counting the cost, financially, relationally, behaviorally, emotionally.
But the ultimate truth is — worship is for sinners.
If you had to be perfect to worship, none of us would be here.
The amazing thing about God is, God says, “These people come to me with their mouths, they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is just rules taught by men. Therefore, I will astound this people with wonder upon wonder.”
And God did. And the astounding thing, the wondrous thing that God did was send his Son to this earth to be with us.
God looks at us and the gap between what we say and what we ought to be, and he says, “Therefore, I will astound this people,” and all of the judgment is poured out on his own Son.
So we celebrate that by taking communion together.
Christian is going to come up right now and sing a song that expresses the repentance and the contrition of an open heart before God. I’d like to ask you to make this song yours, to listen real carefully and say the words to God, if you can say them with integrity, and then we’re going to take communion together.
Alright, pray with me.
Blue Oaks Church