This is the second of four installments in the series entitled “Practical Christianity 101,” the purpose of which is to consider the application, the “how-to,” of practicing our faith. To make the teachings of this series available to everyone, especially those who are unable to be in our worship service every Sunday, manuscripts of each week’s message will be posted on the church’s website http://www.fumcpecos.org and social media outlets. Those include our Tweeter feed @fumcpecos, our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/fumcpecos, and my personal blogpost http://www.jamesbcarroll.com. It is my prayer that each of these messages will inform, enlighten, and challenge you in the daily practices of your faith.
Practical Christianity 101: Love and Submission
Before any of you become so distracted by what appears to be a t-shirt under my sport coat, rather than a shirt and tie, and because of that might be unable to focus on today’s message, let me assure you that it is. And, yes, there is a fraction on the t-shirt that reads 1/168. Let me also assure you that it has a direct correlation to today’s message and I’ll be glad to explain it in a few minutes. Let’s continue . . . .
The World Today
Across the country today, there are churches that have hired praise bands whose musical ability could land them a recording contract. There are other churches who feel compelled to serve Krispy Kreme donuts and Starbucks coffee during their fellowship time. Still others have made their Sunday School areas look like a page torn out of a Veggie Tales story book. All of these things have been done with a single purpose – to enhance or improve the worship experience in hopes of growing the church or, in too many cases, reverse an attendance decline. The epitome of this mindset is the letter that a little boy addressed to his pastor: “Dear Pastor, I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland.”
I think we have the solution to the issues that face the church all wrong; instead of looking to things, we should be focusing our attention on our motives. The apostle Paul got it right in today’s passage:
“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”
(Romans 12:1, New Living Translation).
In Webster’s original dictionary, published in 1828, one of the definitions for worship was “to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.” In other words, our worship should express the beauty of holiness through extravagant, exaggerated love for God and in extreme, excessive submission to Him.” Those are the two points I want us to consider this morning.
The Word Revealed
Extravagent Love. When asked by the religious leaders of His day to identify the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus cited the two great commandments, the first of which being “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30, New Living Translation). When we express our love for God, we are worshipping Him. If we say we love God, we should express that love.
The story is told of a Russian woman whose body was twisted by Multiple Sclerosis. The simplest tasks had become almost impossible for her. Corrie Ten Boom, a well-known author whose life’s story included helping Jews escape the tragedy of the holocaust during World War II, visited her one night. Her visit was under the cover of darkness to escape detection by the Communist authorities. She kissed the woman’s wrinkled cheek. The woman’s response involved using the only part of her body she could still control – her right hand – with which she stroked Corrie’s face. Corrie took her hand and kissed her index finger for a special reason.
She knew of the routine of the old lady’s husband of propping her into a sitting position on the sofa every morning and placing an old manual typewriter within her reach. With the index finger of that hand, one peck at a time, she would be about the work of demonstrating her love for God by translating Christian books into Russian. It was the woman’s attitude that was extraordinary. She saw her sickness as a prerequisite, not a detriment, for the work she did. Even though the secret police knew of her faith, they saw her as posing no threat to the Communist Party because of her condition. Her work went undetected, allowing her to spread the Good News of Jesus. “Not only does she translate these books,” her husband told Corrie, “but she prays while she types, praying for those whose books she is working on.” Her’s was a life of expressing love for God, a love that was more than a feeling, a love that demonstrated commitment. It was her act of worshipping Him, expressing extravagant love for God.
Extreme Submission. Imagine being Abraham and hearing God’s voice and these instructions, “Take your son, your only son – yes, Isaac, whom you love so much – and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. . .” (Genesis 22:2, New Living Translation). If, like Abraham, you know God well enough to love Him and trust Him, you will submit to Him, knowing He has your best interest in mind, regardless of what He tells you to do.
The story is told of a captain of a ship who looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “alter your course 10 degrees south.” Promptly a return message was received: “alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “alter your course 10 degrees south, I am the captain!” Soon another message was received: “alter your course 10 degrees north, I am seaman third class Jones.” Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “alter your course 10 degrees south, I am a battleship.” Then the reply came “alter your course 10 degrees north, I am a lighthouse.” The question that this illustration offers is who should submit to whom.
God desires that we express our love for Him, submitting to His will for our lives. Submission in the context of worship means far more than our actions. One author writes, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.” Oswald Chambers, in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, wrote that as Christians we should become as “broken bread and poured-out wine.” What a wonderful word-picture those words represent as they portray our extreme submission to God.
The How-To’s. As Christians, we desire to experience in worship the beauty of holiness through our extravagant love for God and our extreme submission to Him. But, what does that look like? What are the “how-to’s” of such worship? As we talked about last week, each message in this series will include a “how-to” section which describes the practical application of what we have talked about. This message is no exception, but before I jump into that, I want to describe for you two groups of people who aren’t with us today.
The first group is those whom we all know and have heard them often say, “I can worship all by myself.” The irony of their proclamation is that, in part, they are right. We talked about the practice of private worship last week and referred to it as our Daily Devotional Time. For most of us who are here this morning, I am confident that it is a challenge to attain and faithfully maintain such a daily discipline. Meanwhile, I’m equally confident that for many, if not most, of the “all-by-myself-crowd,” the discipline of a Daily Devotional Time is more akin to one of their New Year’s Resolutions rather than their reality.
A second group is those who are members of our church family and have been active in the life of our church in the past. They are absent this morning – whether for a few Sundays or for a much longer period – for a variety of reasons, most of which, as my dad would say, “wouldn’t hold water.”
There was a regular attendee of a local church, as the story goes, who stopped attending worship without explanation. After an absence of several weeks, the pastor paid the man a visit. Upon entering his home, he noticed that the man had been sitting in a solitary chair in front of the fireplace. Pulling up another chair, the pastor joined the man in enjoying the blazing fire. Both sat in extended silence without speaking a word. The pastor picked up a brightly burning ember with a nearby set of fire tongs and placed it on the hearth, all alone. The two men watched intently as the ember’s flame diminished to a glow, then its fire was no more – it turned cold, as “dead as a doornail.” All this time, not a word was spoken. Prior to leaving, the pastor again picked up the ember with the tongs, placing it in the middle of the fire. There it began to glow with the light and warmth of the coals around it. As the pastor reached for the doorknob, he heard his host utter his first words of the visit, saying, “Thanks for the visit, pastor, especially the fiery sermon. I’ll see you in church on Sunday.”
That leaves those of us who are present this morning. It brings us back to the question of what worship that exhibits extravagant love and extreme submission looks like. What are the “how-to’s” of experiencing such worship? In an increasing order of importance and value to the practice of our faith, such worship includes:
– experiencing hymns, prayers, Scripture, offering, and preaching,
– enjoying fellowship, a sense of belonging to one another and to God,
– facing the recognition of who God is and what He has done for us,
– coming to an acceptance of our unworthiness to be called children of God and the unmerited grace of God that adopts us as His,
– claiming the opportunity to repent and experience God’s forgiveness and grace while growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through worship, Sunday School, Bible Study, and classes that instruct in the meaning and significance of baptism and church membership.
Worship is all this and so much more. When we meet together as a church, our time of worship is not merely a preliminary of something else; rather, it is the whole point of our existence as the body of Christ. It is all of the above, but with some icing on the cake – it includes a promise: when we worship God in all the ways we have talked about this morning, He will come and commune with us. And, above all, God will respond to our worship by making our hearts more like His!
Oh, about the t-shirt. It’s time to share with you its meaning and significance to today’s message. We’ve been talking about worship and that’s what the fraction on the t-shirt addresses. The number 168 as the denominator of the fraction represents the 168 hours that God gives us in a week. The number 1 as the numerator represents a single hour of our God-given week of life. The fraction begs the question that if God so freely and willingly gives us 168 hours a week to do as we please, isn’t it the least we can do to give an hour of that week back in worshipping Him? When I remove my coat, what’s printed on the back offers a further challenge – “It’s not enough.” The combination of the fraction and the statement that an hour of our week is not enough declares that while an hour is the least that God expects, it’s never enough to dedicate only a single hour to growing in our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us.
Applying the Word to the World
There is Good News in what we have considered for the last few minutes. If we are to create an environment where we can grow the church as well as the Kingdom of God,
– it doesn’t require hiring an awesome praise band,
– it doesn’t require Krispy Kreme donuts and Starbucks coffee during Fellowship Time,
– it doesn’t require transforming our Parlor to a page from a Veggie Tales storybook,
– it doesn’t even require moving our church to Disneyland!
All we need do is to conduct worship in a way that expresses the beauty of holiness through the extravagant love for God and through extreme submission to Him.
Love and submission. It truly is what worship is all about!