A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

John 4:24 "True Worship: Spirit and Truth"

John 4:24 "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Godly humility -the humility necessary for true, authentic worship -is a matter of understanding who we actually are before God.  It is neither thinking more of ourselves nor less of ourselves than God thinks of us.  When we understand this –when we let down our masks and our walls and all of those things that we build up around ourselves to protect ourselves, and we stand alone and vulnerable before God, something wonderful happens –we find the ability to truly worship.

But we have a very, very difficult time letting down our defenses –especially in the context of corporate worship as we worship with other Believers.  We don’t easily allow other people to see behind the facade we have built.  We have so carefully constructed the false personas that we want other people to see.  We have these masks that we hold out.  The real me is somewhere back here behind the mask, but the person you see is the mask, the person I want you to think I am.  We all do this.  We create an identity that we put on when we go out into public.  This identity kind of protects us.  If you don’t like me, you see, I know that it’s not me you don’t like, it’s the mask.  If you only knew the real me, you’d probably like me.  But of course, you might not and I don’t want to take the risk.  If I let down the mask, and allow you to get a peek at the real me, and then if you don’t like me, then I might truly be hurt. 

The ironic thing is that these masks and false identities that we construct become such a part of us that we forget we are even hiding behind them.  When we go out into public, we put them on automatically.  This is my public image.  My public image is kind of like me, but it certainly is not the real me or the entire real me.   Because we automatically put on these masks whenever we go out into public, and because we are so used to wearing them, when somebody suggest that we are hiding behind a mask, we automatically respond, “Un-uh. No way.”  You see, part of our mask, part of our defense mechanism is to create the illusion that what you see is who I really am –but it’s not.
Now, understand this.  At least in part what God is saying when He tells us that He requires that we worship in spirit and truth, is “take off the mask.”  True humility is not about putting ourselves down or making ourselves less than we are; it’s about taking off the mask, tearing down the walls, removing the barricades, and being honest and open before God.  Authentic worship cannot happen anywhere in any context without this.  We can go through the motions of worship without removing the mask, but we cannot truly worship.  One of the dilemmas we have in corporate worship, then, one of the reasons true authentic worship rarely takes place in church services is because it requires that we take off our masks in the presence of others.  Let’s look at an example of what I’m talking about from the New Testament.
There is a story in Luke chapter 7 where Jesus is invited to the home of one of the Pharisees.   Some friends and acquaintances and followers of Jesus evidently came with Him to this meal.  As they were sitting around the table, something dramatic and a little wierd took place.  A woman who had come with Jesus -a prostitute to whom Jesus had restored dignity by forgiving her was overcome in her love and appreciation for Jesus and fell at His feet crying.   

This forgiven prostitute was weeping so hard that her tears made Jesus feet wet.  She was actually embarrassed by this, so took her hair and attempted to dry Jesus’ feet.  The Pharisee, of course, was appalled.  He was thinking to himself, “How can Jesus call Himself a holy man when He allows this prostitute to do such a degrading, ridiculous thing in public?”   The Pharisee said to himself, “There is absolutely no way that I would ever put up with that kind of thing –it would be embarrassing –it would be humiliating.  First, she is a prostitute.  She shouldn't even be here.  Second, her crying and carrying on is too personal and intimate and is making everybody here uncomfortable.  She should quit.”
Jesus, evidently, knew what the Pharisee was thinking and responded, “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.”  The Pharisee was a religious leader.  The woman was a sinful, social misfit.  The Pharisee made a lifestyle of worshiping God in public, and yet knew nothing about true worship.  The woman knew nothing about decorum or style or appropriateness, or even how or where or when worship was acceptable.  She only knew that Jesus had forgiven her and that she loved Jesus more than she could express.  The woman is the one who was worshiping, not the Pharisee.   

Now, I want us to understand what made this pathetic woman’s actions true, authentic worship.  It was true worship because she did not care about what anybody thought, she was not inhibited by society’s rules, she couldn’t care less that the Pharisee thought her foolish and annoying.  Her love for Jesus superseded what anybody else in the room thought of her.  She took off her mask, she pulled down the walls, and she fell at Jesus feet and worshiped.  And Jesus found that acceptable.

Lord Jesus, help us to worship you in Spirit and in Truth -without masks and without pretense.  Help us worship in such a way that You find acceptable.  Amen.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Acts 2:46-47 "True Worship As Evangelism"

I believe true authentic worship is the best witness we have to an unbelieving world that Jesus is, indeed, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I’m convinced that when unbelievers enter our midst and see first hand Christians in communion with our Savior -when they see us remembering the saving deeds of God, and bowing humbly in brokenness before God with thanksgiving in our hearts and giving praise, when they see us singing joyfully to a God with whom we have a personal relationship, when they see us letting down the walls and the masks that hide us and separate us from each other, when they see us reaching out to God and to each other with love -they begin to understand that something real is going on. When unbelievers see true, authentic worship, they begin to see the truth. When unbelievers see true, authentic worship, they get a glimpse of the otherliness, the holiness, the transcendence and the majesty of God.

We see this dynamic clearly in the experience of the early church. Acts 2:46-47 tells us, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

This Scripture tells us that in the early church the Believers went to the temple to worship everyday. Why do you suppose these young, new Believers wanted to gather together to worship everyday? I think that their desire to worship is a reflection of something very significant that had happened in their lives. When they turned to Jesus for forgiveness, a radical change took place in their lives –in effect, their entire lives changed –their priorities changed. For these new Believers, Christianity was not just something that they added into the routine of their daily lives –it became the routine of their lives. Because of what Jesus had done in their lives, worship became a significant and routine part of their existence. Whatever else they had going on in their lives before knowing Christ, now took a back seat to their new priority of worshiping the God who had redeemed them. So the routine of their lives included gathering together with other like-minded Believers for corporate worship.

These first Christians regularly met together for worship, and regularly met together for fellowship –and because the fellowship was grounded in a mutual relationship with Christ, there was not even a great distinction between the times of worship and the times of fellowship –it was all part of the Christian lifestyle –it was all part of the new routine of their lives. And this passage tells us that whether at worship as a congregation or whether fellowshiping over a meal in individual homes, everything this church did was characterized by glad hearts and praise to God.

Now, here is an interesting thing. We are told that one of the consequences of this unity –one of the consequences of sincere, authentic corporate worship and intimate friendships was that these people found favor in the community. Happy, friendly, graceful, merciful, forgiving people are nice to be around.

We live in a time when many people are, frankly, prejudiced against Christianity. Many people have serious misunderstandings about what we believe and how we think. Often times the media portrays us as narrow-minded, unthinking, bitter, angry, hateful bigots that can’t get along with other religions and can’t get along with other viewpoints. So, in movies and on television and even in new reports, Christians are often shown as stupid, mean-spirited, ignorant people. And yet, interestingly, these same people who are prejudiced against Christians in general, are often attracted to the qualities they see in the lives of the Christians they actually know.

Several years ago when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the first game of the NFL playoffs, the sportscasters were trying to describe the character of Tony Dungee, the Buccaneers’ coach at that time. Tony Dungee is a very vocal, very serious Believer. These cynical sportscasters didn’t have enough good words to describe Dungee. They talked about his honesty and his integrity and his kindness. One of them, in all seriousness, said that Tony Dungee is the best human being in the whole world –it was interesting to me that the qualities they affirmed in Tony Dungee are explicitly Christian qualities.

The truth about Christians is that we are good citizens and good neighbors, and good employees, and good friends. True Christians are people of integrity and compassion and mercy and grace. And the result for the early church was that they found favor in the community –and that God used all of this –the authentic worship, the sincere, glad fellowship, and the good citizenship to draw people into the Kingdom. The Lord added to their numbers daily.

I believe that God added to their numbers daily because everything they did daily was a reflection of Christ working in their hearts and lives –there was no separation between their secular lives and their religious lives. Joyful, sincere worship was a way of life that was attractive to a cynical, unbelieving world –and I believe it still is.
Teach us as Your people to love Your house best of all dwellings, Your Scripture as best of all books, Your provisions as best of all gifts, and the fellowship of Believers as the best of all company. May we as one family give thanks and adore Your glory. Amen.