Sunday, April 27, 2008

Not Your Average 28 Year-Old (1 Cor 3.1-9; Heb 5:11-14)

April 27, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
play/download

Let me describe a phenomenon to you and see if it sounds familiar. A child grows up surrounded by nurturing family, is successful in high school in terms of grades, sports, and friends, goes to college and graduates with a degree in a particular field…

Then what?

Gets a job? Spends a few years finding him or herself? Takes a part-time or light job to make just enough for daily needs? Moves back in with mom and dad, plays a lot of video games, and hangs out with friends in a similar situation?

Does it sound familiar? Does it get your judgmental juices flowing? Can you think of a thing or two you’d like to say to that twenty-something?

Now take those thoughts, that judgment, those words, and that energy… and let’s examine ourselves. “But I have a career… I buckled down… I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a 28 year-old I know that grew up in exciting times, was nurtured carefully, and thrived in the teens. I’m talking about a 28 year-old whose birthday we are celebrating today.

I’m talking about the collective body we call Good Shepherd.

What kind of 28 year-old are we? What have we done and what are we doing with what we have been given and how we have grown up? Are we eating and exercising spiritually in the way we should? Are we doing the work that God intends for us? Are we focused in the way we need to be focused?

Let’s turn some of that righteous energy towards ourselves this morning and, in the light of God’s Word, ask ourselves what kind of 28 year-old we are, and more importantly, what kind of church we are becoming.

What Are We Eating?

In the two passages we read today, one of the big questions is that of spiritual food. What are we eating when it comes to our spirit and soul?

To my shame, I remember some of the eating habits of my twenties (before getting married). In college, Pop Tarts were popular. Just after college, when money was in very short supply, I ate lots of Ramen noodles and PB&J sandwiches.

In the scripture, we read Paul’s concern about believers getting stuck on “milk” and never moving on to “solid food.” In Hebrews, the believers have back-tracked so far, that “milk” has become necessary to re-educate them in the basics of the Gospel message. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes that he cannot communicate with the church because they are not mature spiritually – they are like “spiritual infants.” (v. 1) He explains more in verse 3: “…for you are still fleshly.” He cites jealousy and strife in the church as the proof, and perhaps also the cause, of his description. In Hebrews 5, there is a different problem. It has become difficult to explain the depths and riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the people have become “dull of hearing” (v. 11).

I wonder if either of these situations describes any of us? And rather than diagnose the person sitting next to you, I’d ask you to consider your own health and maturity. Do you have the Corinthian challenge? Have the things of this world – that is what Paul calls “fleshly” – stunted your spiritual growth? These are not just sins, though sins like jealousy and strife, like Paul mentions can definitely keep us from growing up spiritually. There is also lust, pride, and many more. There’s also the spiritual “junk food” all around us. It’s not just that we settle for “milk” – which is healthy, but not deep. We also take in hours and hours of television, Internet, and media, with spiritual lessons from sources ranging from Oprah to Britney to Larry King.

What chance does a 20-minute sermon have against all the TV, music, movies, and Internet you watch each week… probably anywhere from 10 hours up to 50! This is the reason for a personal quiet time – a time of prayer, reading scripture, and listening to God. It’s not because it makes God happy, but because it’s critical to your spiritual health and development. This is the reason for participating in Sunday school and weekly Bible studies. It’s not because you have to for God to like you, but because it’s critical to your spiritual health and development. Without regular, intentional study of God’s Word, you will not grow in faith and mature past spiritual infancy.

Or maybe this isn’t you. You come to all these things and try, but it just puts you to sleep and doesn’t connect with you. Maybe you have the Hebrews challenge – you have become dull of hearing. I think this happens easily in our culture, especially if you have been coming to church since you were a child. Church can become only habit and not heart. The Good News of Jesus can become information and not transformation. We will see that there is a remedy for this as well – and it involves putting faith into practice. That’s what wakes us up and clears the plugs out of our ears.

The first challenging question from these passages, directed to us as a young 28 year-old congregation is “what are you eating?”

What Are We Doing?

A second challenging question comes from the Hebrews passage. It is the question, “What are you doing?” I mentioned that putting faith into practice is a remedy for the dullness described in Hebrews. Hebrews 5:12 has the zinger… “by this time you ought to be teachers.” A few verses later, we read that the mature are able to eat “solid spiritual food” and discern good and evil because of practice. If we don’t use what we are learning from God’s Word, it is not only useless, but dulls us to hearing more of it.

Consider this: every single one of you in this room who is over 16 probably has more formal education than the typical house church pastor in China. And yet, each of these pastors risks life and livelihood to teach what he or she knows of God’s Word each week as believers gather out of the sight of the government authorities.

Every single one of you probably has multiple Bibles in your home. And yet, these same house churches in China sometimes must share individual pages out of one Bible so that the Word of God will not be confiscated by authorities.

For six years running, we have spent at least 4-6 weeks doing evangelism training. For two years we have emphasized sharing the Good News of Jesus as our primary mission. Many of you have sat through multiple Sunday school classes surveying numerous books of the Bible.

We should be teachers by now. By that, I mean that except for those who are preparing to profess faith for the first time, be baptized, and join the church, every single one of you has what it takes to live as an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. You’ve heard the story; you have the information; you have the mission directions; you are challenged regularly.

But here’s what Hebrews says: if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m not talking about salvation, but I’m talking about your spiritual health and vitality. How do we grow spiritually? How do we discern good and evil? Hebrews says it is through practicing our faith – putting it into action.

It’s not unlike the experience of the college graduate who moves back home. It gets harder and harder to get out there and find a job and make a life. What is hard at 24 is excruciatingly difficult at 28, and only gets harder and harder. The only way forward is to use what we’ve learned and put it into action. Only then will we continue to grow and mature.

Where Do We Set Our Sights?

Now, let’s look briefly back at 1 Corinthians 3. It asks yet another challenging question: where do we set our sights? You know sometimes that is a big issue for the 20-something. “I just don’t know what I want to do.” For those of us who don’t really have a good answer to that question, spiritually, Paul gives us some direction.

In a nutshell, the church in Corinth had gotten side-tracked on its famous pastors – Apollos and Paul. Paul had planted the church; Apollos had developed it. But Paul was reminding them that God is the one who causes growth. Neither Paul nor Apollos are anything; only God, who causes the growth. (v. 7)

Now my point isn’t to draw connections with Dr. Katibah (our church planter) and myself (as second pastor). Sometimes that succession is an issue for churches, but I think we have done pretty well at dodging that pitfall. More broadly though, I think Paul is describing the pitfall of looking to a pastor or teacher to “do the Christian work” for us. Your success as a Christian does not depend on how good a pastor or preacher I am, but on your responsiveness to God’s Word and work in and around you.

Just as parents can’t find a job and do it for their grown child, neither can I be a Christian or even serve the Lord on your behalf. My job is to preach and teach God’s Word to you, to challenge you in your faith, to pray for you, and to care for you; but it is not to be spiritual or faithful for you.

Paul rightly asks where you have set your spiritual sights. That focus must be on God alone, for it is God alone who causes growth. It is God alone whom we follow and serve.

Who Does God Say That We Are?

Finally, I want to end with the last verse from the 1 Corinthians passage. This is a reminder of who we are. We, as a church, are not your average 28 year-old, if by that you mean immature, uninvolved, and misdirected. God has spoken clearly throughout our church’s childhood and teen years, and the calling to us is clear as we grow up into the Body of Christ God desires us to be.

Listen to verse 9:

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

I believe we are at a pivotal time in the life of Good Shepherd. And by that, I mean that you are at a pivotal time in your own spiritual journey, for this church is not the building or the land, but the people – it is you. You are the ones God would use to reach our neighbors with the Good News of Jesus. You are the ones God would use to show our neighbors the compassion of Jesus Christ. You are the ones God would use to bring glory to His name in this place, in Old Providence, and in South Charlotte.

God is alive and on the move, and you are God’s fellow workers. He has given you all you need. It is time to get to work! Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Are Christians Normal? (1 Corinthians 2.1-16)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 20, 2008
play/download

In our church play, “Emilia’s Gift,” Emilia is teased for being different – for not being “normal.” She has a good imagination and has imaginary friends and the other kids can’t see her imagination for the special gift that it is. Through the course of the play, she struggles with being normal and fitting in, until she accepts her own creativity as God’s special gift to her.

I imagine there is something each of us can relate to in Emilia’s character. Part of growing up is learning the careful balance between fitting in socially and accepting the things that make us unique.

On a spiritual level, this struggle can be even more profound, particularly in a culture increasingly hostile to Christian faith.

Expelled

The movie Expelled opened this weekend. We talked about it last Wednesday night and will again this coming Wednesday night at Bible study. The film depicts the struggle between two approaches to science: Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. But the film isn’t primarily about the validity of one or the other, but about the way intelligent design scholars are being denied a seat at the academic table. Because their science points to something bigger than and beyond the material world, they are dismissed as superstitious wackos. It’s not a matter of saying, “Here’s where your science is flawed,” but basically of saying, “You’re not normal and can’t associate with us.”

In many ways, it’s a tragic replay of what happens in the lunchroom at school. Because the “in-crowd” determines some not to be normal, they are ostracized and not allowed at the table.

The makers of the film are not so much trying to push an alternative scientific approach as appealing to freedom of speech and ideas and warning about the dangers of limiting these freedoms.

Your Own Experience

I wonder if you have experienced Christian faith as “normal” or “abnormal.” At one point in our culture, particularly in the South, Christianity or some version of it was accepted as normal. Not to belong to a church or attend church on Sunday was abnormal. But increasingly this is not the case. Certainly to be involved beyond the Sunday worship service is not the norm any more. Sports leagues and other extracurricular activities used to be planned around Sundays and Wednesdays, but now practices and games are set right in the middle of those times, even at 11:00 on Sunday morning.

Businesses were once closed on Sundays. Truett Cathy’s legacy at Chic-Fil-A is one of the only businesses nationally that seem to diligently follow that practice any more. Many of you are not only asked, but expected, to work not only into family time but into the Lord’s Day.

Increasingly, there is pressure to keep matters of faith personal. Faith is fine as long as you keep it to yourself. But dare to share it with another, particularly at school or work, and the social consequences (from others, not the one you are sharing with!) can be intense.

But here’s the question: is Christian faith normal? What is going on with us who trust in and follow Jesus Christ? Do we have a mental deficiency? Are we insane? Do we just march to the beat of a different drummer? Are we social outcasts and misfits?

Is Christian Faith Normal?

Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2. He is describing not only his method of teaching in the sophisticated Greek culture in Corinth, but the reception he and the believers there would receive.

First, he describes his message. Simply put, it is “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (v. 2) He does not come to debate Greek philosophy. He is not depending on his own oratory or charisma, but on the message. It’s not about him; it’s about Jesus. One practical reason for this is so that the local believers’ faith “would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (v. 5)

Then, he describes the source of this message. It is not one that he or any human being invented. He speaks of “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man.” (v. 9) He is not saying that no one saw Jesus, but that God’s will, plan, and revelation, are not of human invention, but come from the mind and heart of God. Jesus is not a common man that some followers turned into a hero; he is the Son of God, chosen before the world was made to be God’s light to the world.

Paul describes God’s means of revelation: “For to us God revealed [these things] through the Spirit.” (v. 10) Paul’s argument is that only God could reveal God’s intentions to us. It is not something, curiously enough to the argument of Expelled, that we can discover through our own investigations. God is a self-revealing God and it is only through “the Spirit who is from God… that we may know the things freely given to us by God.” (v. 12) And it is only words of faith, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words,” that we can adequately talk about such things. (v. 13)

Finally, Paul gets to the punch line for our consideration of normalcy. In verse 14 he writes, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them.” This is because the things of God are only understood spiritually… by faith and by God’s Spirit.

So, the short answer to the question of normalcy is, “No, Christians are not normal.” But let’s also consider what that means.

What is Normal?

What is normal? Is it fitting in with the culture around us? Certainly that is the public definition. Majority rules and to be normal you have to fit in with the majority.

But is that biblical? Is that TRUTH?

What if our society turned to cannibalism? What if that became the norm? Would we want to be “normal?” More importantly, would God want us to be “normal?”

I chose what I hope is an obviously extreme example, but is this not the very kind of thing with which we struggle in our culture?

If the norm for American culture is to devalue the elderly, to abort babies, to perpetuate racism, to celebrate criminal behavior, or any other thing that runs counter to what God teaches, do we want to be normal?

The real challenge for Christians is choosing between the apparent comfort of fitting in to the culture that surrounds or the fair warning given by Jesus that following him will be difficult. Christianity is a counter-cultural thing. It does not involve fitting into anything other than God’s revealed will and design for humanity.

And that’s the bottom line. We shouldn’t ask whether we are normal, for that is a word describing one among the cultural crowd. We should be asking whether we are faithful, fulfilling God’s design for human life and for our lives.

The children’s story, The Ugly Duckling, illustrates this point well. In the story, the so-called ugly duckling was teased and ostracized for not being normal, but once he realized he wasn’t created to be a duck, he found his real purpose and understood just how beautiful he was… he was a swan.

There is a sense in which a faithful Christian can only be so “normal” – we are not made ultimately for this world, but for God’s Kingdom. We are witnesses and lights in this world, but we belong elsewhere. Our beauty and true normalcy are to be found in Christ alone, as we fulfill God’s design for us through following Jesus.

In our play, Emilia discovers this truth, as does her friend Jessie. May God give us ears to hear what His Spirit is saying to the Church. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

Sermon by: Jeremiah Caughran
April 13, 2008
play/download

When you think about God’s comfort, what do you think of? Do you think of it as being the removal of something that makes you uncomfortable? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of yourself? Or is it something more substantial? Have you thought about the comfort of God? Paul speaks a great deal about it here at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians. It is the primary point of today’s text. Let’s begin with what he says:

Paul starts with setting his words in context. He begins with God. He praises Him in an amazing way! He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This is a grand description of God. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. The context that Paul is giving here is that all mercy and all comfort originate from God. These are things that God extends to His people and these are the things for which Paul praises God. Mercy comes from God and with that mercy there is comfort for us.

Again, God is the source of mercy and comfort. Paul puts this understanding of God into place for the believers at Corinth. After stating this, Paul goes on in v 4 to write: “who comforts us in all our affliction.” God seeks to comfort His people whenever and wherever they are hurting. But this comfort that God gives to us is not an end in itself. Paul continues to write, “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted. In this verse the emphasis falls upon our comforting others based upon God comforting us. We are the benefactors of God’s comfort. We receive comfort from Him. And we are called to give that same comfort to others in their afflictions. Paul tells his readers that God desires us to share the comfort He gives to us with others who are in the midst of affliction! Look at how this verse is structured. God comforts us so that we can comfort others with the comfort that God has given to us. Something that is interesting about this statement is that it is parallel to God’s love and forgiveness. In Eph. 4:32, Paul tells his readers to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you.” John tells us in his first epistle that “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” I think seeing this parallel helps us to better grasp what Paul is saying here. What God gives to us is to be used and not kept to ourselves. When God blesses, we are to bless others with the blessings of God! As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive others; as God loves us, we are to love others; and now, as God comforts us, we are to comfort others. Again, what God gives to us is to never be kept to ourselves. He expects us to respond to what He does by giving to those around us. As He comforts us in our afflictions, we are to comfort others in their afflictions just as God has comforted us.

Paul continues in v. 5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort through Christ is abundant.” Paul begins explaining how God’s comfort works in this verse. Let’s look at this verse and what it means. The sufferings of Christ are those things that are done to us as we are obedient to Christ. As Christ suffered in obeying the Father, so we suffer for obedience. This suffering is not just from people, but it is from the world and from Satan and his forces of darkness. This is going to happen to us because we identify ourselves with the Lord. Yet, as these things happen to us we are promised that we will also be comforted through Christ! The amazing thing is that suffering in abundance is promised, yet comfort in abundance is promised. The divine comfort that we receive through Christ will more than match whatever sufferings we undergo at the hands of the world. Though there is an abundance of suffering, there will be an abundance of comfort through Christ for us.

Paul clarifies what he is writing through v. 6. He writes: “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Paul’s obedience in bringing the Gospel to people leads to his being afflicted, yet this brings comfort and salvation to the Corinthians. How is this possible? Are Paul’s afflictions some source of salvation? No, of course not! His afflictions are due to the Gospel and it is the Gospel that brings salvation and comfort. Yet, Paul’s faithfulness to Christ is seen in his willingness to undergo these sufferings. And without that, the Corinthians would not have the Gospel proclaimed to them. So they witness the affliction and sufferings of Paul and the Corinthians can see the truthfulness of what Paul is bringing to them. Paul says more though: “If I am comforted, it is for your comfort which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Paul is saying that when he receives comfort from God, it is also for the Corinthians and becomes effective in their patiently enduring the kinds of sufferings that Paul goes through. Here we begin to see a deeper meaning to comfort. It is not that God takes away our afflictions to comfort us! Comfort from God is not a sedative, it doesn’t take away the pain; instead it strengthens so that we can endure the pain. God gives us strength when we undergo sufferings. God makes us capable to patiently endure. That is His comfort to us. When we endure, we have been strengthened by God, we have received comfort from Him. We can withstand suffering because God gives us the ability to do so. Remember what Luke wrote about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After praying for God’s will to be done and not His own, an angel appeared before Jesus giving Him strength. God did not take away the suffering that Jesus was going through and about to endure, but He gave Him the strength that was needed in order for Him to endure! This is true of us. And consider what we are seeing here. We are discovering strength and encouragement as we look at how God strengthened and encouraged others! God is even now, I hope, strength you all here today through the comfort that He gave to others!

Paul concludes that His hope is firmly grounded. He says that he knows that the Corinthians will be sharers in his comfort as they share in his suffering. In other words, as they are obedient to Christ in the world and partake in sufferings like Paul’s, they will also share in Paul’s comfort which is comfort that God has given to them through Paul!

In the verses that follow, Paul gives an example of what he is talking about. He reveals to the Corinthians that a great amount of suffering and affliction occurred while he was ministering in Asia. He gives no details, for those are not the important things to Paul. He only says that they were burdened excessively, even to the point of despairing of life! This was way beyond any strength that Paul had within himself. There was nothing that he could do. Yet, he concludes that this was so that he would rely on God and not himself! His source of comfort was to only be God; His strength could only come from God! Knowing what kinds of things that the Corinthians were going through, he relays this to them to encourage them in their struggles. God will strengthen them! Paul is absolutely sure of this! He knows this comfort, not only because he has received it, but more importantly because God raises the dead! This is what he says in v. 10. This phrase would be especially meaningful for the Corinthians for Paul spoke in great detail as to why he knows that God raises the dead! He raised Christ and we who are with Christ will also be raised! So Paul’s hope and comfort, his strength and encouragement comes from knowing that God raises the dead because He raised Christ from the dead!

We see in the whole of these verses that Paul is concerned with the comfort of God. His comfort is known in the midst of our afflictions. This is what Paul is saying to us today: God comforts us in the midst of our suffering for Christ. This comfort that He gives is not the removal of the suffering; it is the strength needed to endure in it. We must look to Christ to realize this comfort. We must turn to God in our suffering if we are to have strength to endure. Yet, this strength is not for us alone. This comfort and strength is given that it might be shared with others who are in the midst of afflictions. It is truly for others; we must share it with them! We cannot keep it to ourselves, because doing that is becoming disobedient to what we have been called to do.

What will this look like in our lives then? Three things that come out of this text are needed: The first is that we must share with one another what the Lord is doing in our lives. He has comforted us and we need to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for us! This, I believe, can become a call to evangelism. The first comfort that we have received from Jesus Christ is salvation itself! He died and rose again to procure forgiveness and justification for sinners. We have received this great comfort from Him. In turn, it was not given just for us! It has been given to us to share with others. So we must be telling others about this comfort from Christ so that they can know it for themselves and believe in Him and what He has done! Second, we need to share our struggles with one another. When we do this, we allow other believers to fulfill God’s call to comfort others with the comfort that they have received. This means that we must open ourselves up to others. We must be ready to receive encouragement and strength, which will mean that we can endure our suffering, not have it removed from us. Last, we must pray. Not only for ourselves as we seek God’s comfort, but for others that need His comfort. We must pray that believers will comfort those around them that are suffering. We cannot forget that this comfort must be shared because it is not ours to keep. We can also pray that God will help us to put into words how He has comforted us so that we can share it with others. As we do these things faithfully, Christ’s Church will be strengthened for we will all be comforting and encouraging and strengthening one another. This is how the church is to work. And it takes all of us to do this.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What Are We Doing Here? (John 4.19-26)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 6, 2008
play/download

This morning I want to ask what may be the most basic of questions: “What are we doing here?” By that, I mean, why come to church and sit in this room for an hour or more and sing and pray and listen to words from this ancient book? Is God here? What do we think is going on? What do we expect will happen? Are we doing it the right way? Is there something more or less we should do or say? If worship is at the center of a church’s life, are we clear on what it’s supposed to be about?

Jesus addressed that question famously in the middle of an encounter with a woman of another race. There were a number of things going on during that encounter and in that passage, but one key part has them discussing the worship of God, which was one of the points of historic difference between their two races (Jewish and Samaritan). They worshiped in different ways, and most importantly (to them), in different places. Jesus ends up describing to her the “people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:23)

I want to look with you at what Jesus said here about worship to help us grow towards being the kind of people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. I believe that is the right answer to what we are doing here, and the question really is whether we are being those kind of people or not.

The worship conversation began at the same place our worship conversations most often begin: Samaritans and Jews, Presbyterians and Baptists, Jerusalem and Mt. Gerazim, a traditional church building or a rented storefront. Jewish worship was ancient, full of heritage and tradition. The Samaritan worship was new-fangled and mixed in questionable new practices. But Jesus didn’t take the bait.

Verse 23 may be the single most important verse about worship in the Bible. Listen to what Jesus said:
An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
Not only were things supposed to change radically from the arguments about time, place, and style, but Jesus announced that things had changed. The hour is coming and now is.

There’s more here than I could unpack in an hour, so we’ll just focus on the two qualities of worship that Jesus highlights: spirit and truth. But underscoring that, do we not want to be “true worshipers?” Do we not want to be the kind of worshipers that God seeks to worship Him? If we are doing anything else, ultimately we are wasting our time and God’s!

Worship in Spirit

What does it mean to worship God in Spirit? Let me mention two things. One is that location is no longer essential to true worship. It did matter, once upon a time, that the Jewish people worshiped in the place that God commanded, because God chose to be present in a particular place, be it a mountain, the Tabernacle, or the Temple. But now, with the coming of Jesus, God has sent and left His Spirit with all who believe. So, location is not as important as the presence of God. And Jesus taught that where two or more are gathered in His name, God is there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20)

There is also a sense in which “worship in spirit” addresses the human spirit. But like the issue of location, this simply means that human worship isn’t about going through the motions, but about worshiping God authentically and transparently, from our spirit to His Spirit. All this adds up to exactly what Jesus told the woman: the essentials of worship are not in the mechanics and the externals, but internal and spiritual.

Secondly, worship in Spirit means that God’s participation (and even leading) are essential to worship. Hebrews 9:14 describes the definitive worship in Spirit:
…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
That worship is Jesus obediently making the perfect worship offering on our behalf, and it is applied to believers through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues to lead our worship, because it is he who presents us as “acceptable” before God. And it is the Holy Spirit who connects and binds us to him for our worship to go anywhere at all.

We think of worship as something we do, but perfect worship is something Jesus has done and is doing for us, even as he has died for us and risen for us, and it is “worship in Spirit” by which we share in that work.

Worship in Truth

What does it mean to worship God in Truth? I’ll mention four things. First, there is a link to “worship in Spirit” because scripture describes the Holy Spirit as the “Holy Spirit of Truth.” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) Therefore, to worship in the Spirit is to welcome Truth into the midst of the community.

Second, we may understand “worship in truth” at the human level, meaning that we should worship truthfully or authentically, not in pretense or for show. We may fool one another with our Sunday morning best, but of course God sees right into our heart. This is not to say “don’t come,” but to say, “be real.” Church is not a spiritual beauty pageant; it is an encounter with the one who knows us deepest of all.

Third, God’s Word is Truth. (John 17:17) Jesus prays for his disciples and for us in John 17, and declares that God’s Word is Truth. He also prays and asks God to sanctify or set us aside in that Truth. Worship must be rooted in the Word of God written in the Bible. That is how we know about Jesus and how we interact with God’s will and words.

Fourth, Jesus is Truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “I am the truth.” Worship must be fixed and focused on Jesus Christ, for he is the living expression of God’s Truth. When you also consider that Jesus leads our worship and we only participate in that through His Spirit, we realize that worship must be completely and only about him!

Worship in Spirit and in Truth – that is what matters and what is essential to true worship.

Worship in Community

There is one more dynamic to worship that is not addressed directly in this passage. But, of course, the Bible isn’t a lot of disconnected teachings, but one whole. So, in our second scripture reading for today, we heard 1 Corinthians 12:18-25. That is one of many passages which describes the worshiping body of believers. It is one of many passages that recognizes that God has made us to worship in community.

In creation, God recognized that it was not good for the man to be alone.

When He called a chosen people, Israel, God’s very covenant promise was to a people, the descendants of Abraham. They were the covenant community, and God’s Word to them was always in the context of the community. You worshiped in community; you served in community; you were blessed in community; and you were even cursed in community, when the whole turned from God.

When the Church began in Acts, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the community of Jesus-believers. They lived and breathed and worshiped together, sharing everything. Whole households were baptized and those who were formerly considered “outsiders” – the Gentiles – were brought into the family of God.

Our future in Heaven is one of worshiping with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, in an unimaginably immense community of believers. (Revelation 5:9)

In the passage in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the connectedness of the Church, calling it the “body of Christ.” Without each member of the community, the body is made less and is incomplete. And yet the worship principles from John continue to be at the center. Christ is our head; the body serves and follows him. And the very existence of the body is made possible through the “glue” of the Holy Spirit, binding us to Jesus and to one another.

Perhaps the most important aspect of being in community is that of our relationship to God. God’s pattern throughout the Bible is not to be distant and uninvolved, but to invite us to share in – participate in – what God is doing.

I have said before that God is still alive and moving in the world, and we are invited to share in that work in our community and world. God is also alive and moving in the church, perhaps nowhere more significantly than in worship. The Father seeks those who will respond to His invitation to worship in Spirit and Truth, in the context of the believing community. That’s us!

Some Implications for Our Worship

Finally, I’d like to draw out a few implications for our worship from these passages.

Let me start with worship in Truth. Worship isn’t about music or a fancy building or what we wear or whether we’ve been doing it a certain way for a long time or a short time. Worship is about God’s Word being read and proclaimed and Jesus Christ being lifted up as Lord and Savior. That’s why we go to such extraordinary efforts to ground our service in God’s Word. If you look at the bulletin, every moment from start to finish relates somehow to the Word. We are either getting ready for it, hearing it, responding to it, or leaving with it. We do not pick any music for the sake of the music, but for the sake of the words and whether they line up with God’s Truth. We do not do skits in church because we think drama is the newest church fad, but because we find it to be an effective means of declaring and portraying the Truth.

We desire to worship in Spirit. That means we must surround and fill our worship with prayer. Three months before you come for a given service, the ministry staff begins praying for the choice of scripture, music, drama, children’s message, and more. We begin each service welcoming the Holy Spirit into our midst by calling on the name of Jesus. We joyfully invite the Spirit and submit to the Spirit’s presence in our worship. That is why we have an order, but also remain flexible.

And we worship in community. It is vitally important that we do this together. God’s desire and design for his family is not to farm the youth out to a rock ‘n’ roll service or send our older saints to an “oldie-but-goody” traditional service. In many ways it would be easier to do that – folks would probably enjoy having every part of the service tailored to their personal taste. But that would not be a picture of the family of God. One of the things I love about worship at Good Shepherd – and please know how unique this is – is being able to look at a row of people containing an infant, a preschooler, a great-grandmother, a teenager, and everything in between. Of course no one of us will find every moment of the service our very favorite song, prayer, or sermon illustration. But, with God’s help, my prayer is that you find every moment of the service chock-full of God’s Spirit and Truth, celebrated in the context of this special family of God.

This is a good time to remind you of our worship philosophy, which is printed on the back of the bulletin every week.
The style of worship at Good Shepherd is an intentional blend of ancient, traditional, and modern forms of liturgy, prayer, music, and communication. Our starting point for planning each service is God’s Word, the Bible. Each week we seek to provide effective and numerous ways for worshipers to gather around, hear and respond, and go forth into the world with the good and hopeful Word of God in scripture. We also intentionally gather as a family of believers of many ages and backgrounds, and so use all the means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God. It is our hope that each person present will not only worship God in Spirit and truth, but also in community. It is a joy and privilege to worship God with you this morning!
Finally, I’d like to suggest several things you can do to enhance worship.

Spirit

Make sure your spirit is up and running when you get here. Get a good night’s sleep on Saturday night. If you had a morning job interview, you wouldn’t stay up until midnight or 1 a.m. the night before. Is worshiping God any less important? Wake up in plenty of time to be alert and ready for worship. Leave time to pray that God would meet you and bless worship. Even better, ask God to speak through the pastor and the service! Invite the Holy Spirit to begin preparing you for worship as soon as you wake up.

Truth

Read the sermon text ahead of time. It’s available 2-3 weeks ahead in the newsletter. Read it devotionally and try to figure out what God would teach you through that passage. If you do this, I think the service will come alive for you, because each service is so planned and geared to the scripture for that day. Go online and listen one more time to the sermon a day or two after Sunday. Most are under 20 minutes long, and you may hear many things you didn’t the first time around.

Community

Pay attention to those worshiping around you. You aren’t here just for you. Really, you are here for God, and God has called together this family around you. It matters if the person next to you is having a rough time. Worshiping in community means reaching out to them or at least praying for them. It matters if the mom in front of you is there by herself with three kids. Do you know how hard that is? Offer to let one sit with you, or choose to sit with her. Share a hymnbook or bulletin with someone during the music. Greet someone new this week.


Hear the Good News – an hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.

Let us be that kind of worshipers! Amen.