In all my years of ministry I haven’t found anything that can make church people as cranky as the music. Seriously. Thom Ranier a church growth and health consultant wrote “The comment ‘someone complained about the music at my church’ is a universal phenomenon of our age.”
If you’ve been with us over the past couple of week’s we’ve been going down a path entitled. Why We Are. . . and we started two weeks ago by looking at why we are focused on the lost. We are by definition what some folks would call a Seeker Sensitive Church.
That is why we do what we can to make the unchurched, the de-churched and the pre-churched comfortable in our service. That’s why we have an one-hour service. It’s why we try to incorporate music that at least sounds like it was written in this century and why we try to explain churchy terms and concepts and preach and teach toward the end of making the message relevant to people today. To answer that all burning question that people ask during sermons: So What?
And the reason we do that is because God loves lost people. God loved lost people enough to be willing to give his Son. And Jesus loved lost people enough that he was willing to give his life. And so we asked the question, if those two statements are true than what are we willing to give to reach the lost?
Last week we looked at the story of the children who were brought to Jesus and how the disciples tried turning the parents away and Jesus got a little cranky and told the disciples, “Let the children come to me, don’t do anything to stop them.”
And we looked at why Cornerstone invests so much time and energy into our children’s ministry. And we do that for the future of the church. The church, this church and the church universal is always one generation away from extinction.
And without children the church will only exist until they close the door after the last funeral.
But more importantly, the reason why we invest so much time and energy into our children’s ministry is because we aren’t just impacting the future of the church we are impacting the eternity of those kids.
If we believe what we say we believe about there being a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned I would think there would be people knocking down the doors to help insure that our children would have an eternity with God.
We aren’t just offering a program to keep the kids occupied while you are in real church, our staff and volunteers are impacting their todays and their forevers.
And that brings us to the scripture that was read earlier.
Jesus was asked by a man what was required for eternal life, and this was his answer: Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.Jesus said that is the most important commandment, if you can only do one, this is it. This is the one that you don’t want to miss. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' So we were created to be loved by God and our purpose in our lives is to love him back. He should be the most important thing in our life.
If we have to pick the one item that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do without it should be God.
And there is a word for what we do when we love God that way and that is “Worship”. We worship God. Goes all the way back to the first book in the Bible, Genesis 4:26 When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. It was during his lifetime that people first began to worship the Lord.
If we go all the way back to the beginning of the story you realize that Adam and Eve were created to be in fellowship with God. There was a direct connection and they deliberately rebelled and walked away from the relationship. And after they were banished from the Garden of Eden we have no idea what type of relationship they had with their creator.
But it’s not very long into history that we read those words about their grandson Enosh, it was during his lifetime that people said “We need to have that relationship with the one who created us, we need to connect with him again.” And they began to worship God. But what does that mean?
Does it mean that they started having church and part of that was the “Worship” service? Did they have drums and guitars and keyboards and sing songs by Ren Collective and Chris Tomlin, or did they have an organ and piano and sing hymns? Was it contemporary worship or more traditional worship?
And by the way, the term “Contemporary Worship” is often misleading, in more cases than not it means that churches sing songs written somewhere between 1970 and 2001. But the word contemporary as defined by Collins English Dictionary means 1. belonging to the same age; living or occurring in the same period of time2. existing or occurring at the present time3. conforming to modern or current ideas in style, fashion, design, etc4. having approximately the same age as one another
In his book The New Traditional Church, Tony Morgan makes a great point when he wrote : “If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).” That was an aside.The problem is that we limit worship either to what we do in church or narrow it down even further to half of what we do in church and then we make it the least significant part. And so we have the “worship”, that is the singing part of the service and it is the prelude to the important part which is the “preaching”.
Sometimes you will hear people say, “I really enjoyed the worship this morning.” And what they mean is that the music spoke to them. And that’s not bad, but it is personal and while it may be a part of what worship is it certainly isn’t all of what worship is. When we limit worship to music then it becomes very personal and anything that is personal we become defensive of.
And that’s why musical styles in churches can sometimes result in conflict, because it is so personal. When we say that we don’t like a particular type of music then those who like that type of music take it personally.
In other words, if I don’t like singing traditional hymns in church then in some people’s minds I’m saying singing traditional hymns in church is wrong and so by implication that means that I’m saying that those who prefer singing traditional hymns in church are wrong as well.
Understand that was just an example, there are a lot of hymns I like, and I enjoy singing them at the Berkeley and at Beulah Camp, but it’s not a part of what we are trying to accomplish at Cornerstone.
But if I didn’t like hymns, it would just mean that I personally don’t enjoy that style of music.
I don’t like classical music or rap music, I don’t like reading poetry, or putting anchovies on my pizza. And if you do like classical music or rap music, reading poetry and eating anchovies on your pizza you probably aren’t offended because I don’t. But worship is more personal than just our preferences.
So when we narrowly define worship as one style or type of anything it puts God in a box.
Worship can’t be defined by style because style is too individualistic. And so worship music is really a mis-definition because it’s only worship music for some and for others it just plain annoying.
Neat story, that I’ve told before. There was an elderly pastor on this district by the name of Walter Fernley, he passed away about five years ago and his wife passed away a couple of years before Walter. Mrs. Fernley’s first name was Mabel but everyone called her Mabs. One day Walter asked Mabs to say grace at dinner, which she did, very quietly. To which Walter commented, “I couldn’t hear you.” To which Mabs replied “I wasn’t talking to you.”
So when you say “I didn’t enjoy the worship this morning”, the response is “We weren’t singing to you.”
I don’t think God has a preference for any one style of worship music. I think that we offer our worship to Him and if we do it with the right motives and a pure heart then He goes, “Thank you, that was so cool.”
Because as good as it might be on any given Sunday at Cornerstone ,God has heard so much better.
Think about it twelve hours ago he heard the worship team from Hillsongs Australia sing, and two hundred years ago he heard Beethoven play his fifth symphony and three thousand years ago God heard King David sing an original arrangement that that we call the 23rd Psalm.
And you understand that heaven is filled with music that God hears all the time. It’s actually country music, it sounds a lot like Willie.
But we are God’s children presenting our gift of worship to Him. When your child gives you a gift that they made themselves do you say, “Well it’s nice but it’s not very good compared to other art I’ve seen.” No you say “Thank you, that is so cool.”
So if worship isn’t what we do in church, and it isn’t just music, what is it?
Paul was writing to the early church in the book of Romans and this is what he said Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
So look at the last line, This is truly the way to worship him. In other translations it reads “this is your spiritual act of worship.” What is your spiritual act of worship? To offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifices. But what does that mean? Well there are three things that we need to note about that statement.
1) Worship is Something You Give We are told to give our bodies and when you give something it is voluntary. From day one God created mankind with this incredible gift of free will. He didn’t create us to blindly serve him without thought or choice.
In 1942 Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called Runaround and in it he introduced us to the 3 laws of Robotics which state
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Those laws were fiction of course but God could have put very similar restrictions on humanity. But then we would have been robots and not people and God wants us to choose to worship him and so he allows us to choose whether or not we will obey him and whether or not we will worship him. He wants it to be a conscious decision where we in effect say, “I offer this to you”
Francis De Sales summed it up when he said “There are no galley-slaves in the royal vessel of divine love -- every man works his oar voluntarily!”
Of course free will is a double edged sword, author P.J. O’Rourke commented “One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license.”
Nobody else can worship for you and if you don’t take that step there is nobody else you can blame for it not happening.
And that applies to what happens on Sunday as well. We can decide to not enter into worship during a service because the music isn’t to our taste or we find it too loud or not loud enough, or it’s not our favorite worship leader, but understand it will be our choice. We do what we want to do.
2) Worship Involves Who You Are We told to give our bodies, not anybody else’s body, but our bodies. And that simply means that you are to give “You”. While we are here we are here in our bodies, if we are going to do anything it will be done with our bodies.
Every once in a while someone will tell me, “I can’t be here next Sunday Denn, but I will be here in Spirit.” Do you know what that means? “Nothing, zip, nada.” If your bodies not here then youur spirit’s not here, they are interconnected and they go together. In this life you can’t have one without the other.
And so by asking for our bodies God is in effect asking for all of us. So understand you will be worshipping something and that will be indicated by what you are doing with your body and where your body is. It defines our priorities.
If you tell me “Denn I really want to be at church next Sunday but I have to be at . . .” What you are saying is “I really want to be at church but I want to be at . . . more.”
Because, ultimately “We do what we want to do.”
So when we offer our bodies we are offering ourselves in a practical way to God, it’s not just something that happens here in our mind, kind of like a card I sent to my best friend one year for his birthday, on the cover it said “When it comes to gifts it’s the thought that counts.” And inside it said “And I thought about getting you a gift.” And it’s not just what happens here in our heart, where it is a good intention.
When I was growing up my favorite Aunt would often remind me that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And Margaret Thatcher said “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he only had good intentions. He had money as well.”
So it’s not enough to think about worshipping God or even wanting to worship God if we don’t actually worship God.
3) Worship Demands Something. Every decision we make involves a positive and a negative, when we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else. And it isn’t simply a matter of choosing between what’s good and what’s bad. That would be too easy.
As a pastor I will sometimes hear people talk about how much they love Jesus, but they never offer anything back, no time, no service no gifts. It was Michael Novak who wrote “Love is not a feeling of happiness. Love is a willingness to sacrifice.” Remember how Paul said we were to offer ourselves to God? A living and holy sacrifice.
And that often means choosing one thing over another.
And by the way, another aside here. On the other side when you hear someone saying they are going to choose the lesser of two evils, remind them that the lesser of two evils is still evil. That was a bonus, had nothing to do with the message. Now back to our regularly scheduled Sunday morning message.
And so worshipping God, offering your body to Him will require a sacrifice. Sometimes it’s small. Maybe it means being in church instead of sleeping in or mowing the lawn.
Maybe it means lifestyle choices. I will do this thing and will not do that thing. Or perhaps there is a relationship that drags you down and puts you in situations where you know as a Christ follower you really shouldn’t be.
Jesus was talking about situations like that when he told his disciples in Matthew 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
He was so serious about that statement that he repeats it in Matthew 18:7-9 "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Now, Jesus didn’t poke anybody’s eye out or cut off anybody’s hand or feet. He was talking about removing yourself from situations and relationship that would cause you to be disobedient to what he is calling you to do.
And there are some of you here today who know exactly what I’m talking about.
Your sacrifice might be reflected in how you use your volunteer hours. Every one of us has to decide for ourselves where we will give our time. Because we only have so much time to give.
It is reflected in our giving, because I understand that when you choose to give to God’s work you are choosing to not use that money somewhere else.
But ultimately those decisions are life changing decisions because when they come together they are saying “I will put God first in my life. Before my family, before my career, before my recreation, before habits.” And that’s not easy, and that’s probably why Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
Because Jesus knew that what he was asking of us wouldn’t be easy, he knew that it would cost something, he knew that it would require a sacrifice. If it doesn’t cost something, then it’s not a sacrifice.
It’s been forty-five years since Wilbur Reese wrote these words, inflation has probably increased the price but the sentiment is still the same.
Three Dollars Worth of God
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
I don’t think that’s what God was asking for when he asked us to be a living sacrifice.
What is it that you are giving up? How are you making yourself a living sacrifice today?