Preparing for Worship
We would probably all agree that preparation for worship is important, but I am not sure that our being prepared for worship would match up too well with the way that God would have us prepare for worship. For most of us our preparation for worship includes getting a shower, getting ourselves and the kids, and heading out the door so that we are no more than 5 minutes late for church. Breakfast is optional and may amount to Pop Tarts. Unfortunately, many Sunday mornings, we are so rushed and hurried by our lack of preparation that our attempt at worship is a struggle at best. Clearly, God deserves better preparation than we give Him most of the time.
In the book of Nehemiah, God's people were gathered together for worship, and from this great chapter we can see what preparation for worship looks like. Nehemiah 9:1-2, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.[a] 2 Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” The Israelites did at least three things in preparation for an epic worship service.
First, we see that they “assembled with fasting.” Fasting is both an Old Testament and New Testament spiritual discipline. Moses, David, Elijah, Ezra, Esther, Daniel, Jesus and Paul just to name a few are all biblical examples of men and women in the Bible who fasted. I don’t believe that there was anyone in the bible who did great things for God who did not fast.
Fasting is not so much required in scripture as it is assumed that the believer will do it. See what Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Jesus said, “…when you fast…” when you read that statement you can know that fasting was something His disciples did.
Fasting is preparation for worship; it brings focus to our spiritual lives. Fasting prepares us by reminding us that our relationship with God is more important than any food we can eat. Fasting keeps us from being divided, distracted, and hard. If you have never tried fasting, why not give it a try in preparation for next weekend’s worship service?
A second thing that people did in preparation for worship is that they wore sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. The Israelites typically wore sackcloth when they were in mourning over something sad or tragic that has happened in their lives. In this case, they wore the sackcloth and put dust on their heads to show that they were sorry for their sins. In Nehemiah chapter 8, they read the law of God and they wept. They wept because they saw the holiness of God and they saw how they had broken his law.
The people dressed like this because they came to worship thinking about how holy God is. We should take a lesson from Israel at this point. We should be thinking about God and His Holiness long before we gather with our fellow church members for worship.
What caused Israel to prepare for worship in this manner is that they had the word of God read to them. I love to read the Bible, but I am often doing other things like (driving) so I often times listen to the Bible being read to me through one of the Bible apps I have on my phone. What things can you do Saturday night or Sunday morning that will cause you to reflect on who God is and get you ready for worship?
Finally, we see that they separated themselves from all foreigners. They separated, in part, because the foreign nations were leading them into sin. They were called to be a light to the nations, but they had allowed those nations to influence them. They had begun to live more like the ungodly than God’s chosen people.
If we are not careful, we can allow the world to infiltrate our lives just as the children of Israel had done. We cannot allow a lost culture to influence us. We, like they, must be drastically different from the world around us. God calls the church to be separate from the world as preparation for worship! James 4:4 speaks to God’s desire to have his church be holy and separate from the world, “4 Adulterers and[b] adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” 1 John 2:15 is another strong scripture concerning the holiness of God’s people, “15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I wonder, are there some things you should separate out from your lives as you prepare to worship the Lord?
As I close this article, I want to emphasize that preparing for worship is more that getting clean and putting on our Sunday best. Preparing for worship is not just a physical exercise, but a spiritual discipline. I hope this article has challenged you to be better prepared for worship. The truth is that we need to do more than we already are. We should hold nothing back in our efforts to give God the worship He deserves.
Choose to Serve
Joshua 24:24, “24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!”
Webster defines serve: "to be use of." As believers, God has called every one of us into His service. In Joshua 24, Joshua challenged the children of Israel to choose whom they would serve. The truth is that all of us will serve someone. We will either serve ourselves and the desires of the flesh, or we will serve God. As you are reading this article, I am assuming that you have made the choice to serve God, but how serious are you about serving Him?
Some offer God only casual service. These are people who claim to be Christians, but the practice of their faith is so casual that you cannot tell that they are Christians at all. Ask the vast majority of people in America if this is a Christian nation, and they will say yes. Ask the people if they themselves are Christian, and they will say yes. Pearl, for example, has around 23,000 people and 18,000 of those people do not attend a church anywhere, but I would speculate that 22,000 of those people, at minimum, claim to be Christians. Casual service to God is no service to God at all. Casual service is service to self not God.
Others offer their service to God only when it is comfortable for them. These are people who are on the fence with their faith. Sometimes they lean on God’s side of the fence, but then they lean on the world’s side of the fence. They have a level of service to God, but they also have a tangible connection with the world. Some people will serve God as long as it does not cause them to give up too much. They will go the church and like to blend in with the "good times" crowd as well. They struggle with giving up the worldly pleasures of their life for the priority of serving God and miserable because of it. There is no such thing as comfortable service to God. Comfortable service is service to self.
Over the years I have encountered what I call confrontational servants. These are the ones who are usually the most outspoken in the church. Many times those who are confrontational are legalistic and do not have much mercy, grace or forgiveness for others. There is something about outspoken people that lands them in trouble. I have seen them do the most damage to the church and they have disappointed me more than any other group listed in this article. Confrontational servers seem to have an innate ability to find fault with nearly everything. They seem to collect joy from telling other people what those people are doing wrong and what their job is. The person who claims to be serving God, but is critical and narcissistic is not serving God, but rather themselves and their own agenda.
The kind of service God would have us give is the kind of service that costs us something. If the service we give to God does not cost us anything is it really service at all? Jesus said, “…If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). If we are really and truly going to serve God our service has a price. The price for truly serving God is EVERYTHING! How many of us are willing to pay the price required?
In Joshua 24, Joshua tells Israel (and us) what they had to do in order to serve God. In verse 22, he tells them that they had to be holy, set apart, different from the world. To be holy and set apart will always mean giving up some people and some things. To be holy and set apart is to lose our agenda and adopt God’s agenda; to be holy and set apart means that we must desire God and His glory above all else. In verse 23 he tells Israel to throw away anything that would keep them from serving the Lord will all of their hearts. When we lose worldliness and yield our heart to God and God alone, we can give Him the kind of service He deserves. To lose worldliness, we must not love the things of this world. We are in the world, but we are not of the world. We cannot serve God and desire the things of this world. Our heart must belong to God and God alone. Are you willing to give God costly service today?
Why Give the Invitation?
Picture in your mind the end of the worship service at your church. The pastor prays, everyone stands and the music minister leads the church in a hymn or song of commitment. We call this portion of the service, “The Invitation.” We call it “The Invitation” because worshippers and seekers are invited to make spiritual decisions at that point in the worship service. Some churches have stopped giving a public invitation opting instead to invite those who need to make a decision of some kind to meet with the minister at a later time and place. Other churches continue to have this time of commitment but have not seen a decision made public for years. I know of several pastors who are so discouraged by the lack of response to this time in their churches that they wish they could stop doing it all together. Many would say that it is an out of date method. So why have a public “invitation” in the worship service? I would like to share a few thoughts on this subject.
I believe that we should continue to call people to commit to Christ with a public invitation because God does not call us to be secret disciples. There are three passages of scripture I will share which demonstrate the truth that God wants us to be public in our decision to follow Him. First, consider Matthew 5:14-16, “14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Next, consider the powerful words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,[a] for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” I saved the best for last. Listen to what Jesus had to say about the public nature of our decision to follow Him in Mark 8:38, “38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” I will continue to give the public invitation whether anyone responds or not because I am convinced that our calling from beginning to end as Christians is a public one.
The practice of giving an invitation started with Jesus Himself. The gospels are full of examples of Jesus publicly calling people to follow Him. For example, Matthew 11:28, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Or, Luke 9:23, “23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me.” It is noteworthy that Jesus also included Children in his invitations. Matthew 19:14, “14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” If we want to be like Jesus I think we should continue to invite people to follow Jesus every opportunity we have.
I believe a good sermon should be a call to action. As God’s word is preached there will be many areas of our lives that will be affected. The invitation gives people an opportunity to respond to whatever God’s spirit is doing through the preaching of the word in their lives. There should be an urgency to obey God whether He is calling a Christian to Sanctification or a Sinner to Salvation. We should give the invitation so that people can respond immediately to the preaching of the word. What if Jesus had not given Zacchaeus a chance to respond (Luke 19) or the woman at the well (John 4), or the man who was born blind (John 9) or Martha at the death of her brother (John 11)? All of these people might have a different story today if they had not been given the opportunity to obey in a physical, spiritual, tangible way at the moment the Savior was dealing with them.
In conclusion it is my belief that the public invitation is not just Biblical, it is necessary for the spiritual wellbeing of our members that our churches continue to call people to the Alter. Those who are under the conviction and leadership of the Holy Spirit must be given an opportunity to obey. We must continue the practice of the public invitation because those who are hurting, in need or broken must be given an opportunity to have someone pray with them.
We need to pray!
If I said many of our churches today were closing as a result of prayerlessness would you agree with me? I believe that today more than ever we have forgotten the importance of prayer. Too many Pastors have a weak prayer life. Too many Deacons just don’t pray, and too many people in the pews have neglected prayer. Here are a few reasons why prayer is vital for a believer…
Prayer is not optional for a Christian. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 illustrates the importance of prayer for a believer in that it commands us to, "Pray without ceasing." If my earthly father instructed me to do something and don’t stop doing it I would know and understand that it was super important. Clearly our Heavenly Father wants us to know that Prayer is so important that we should do it and not stop doing it.
Prayer causes us have the mind of Christ. In fact the Bible teaches us that we should have the mind of Christ. Philippians 2:5 states, “5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." God uses prayer to shape our thinking because when we pray we are focused on spiritual things. God uses prayer in our life not to give us what we want, but to help us want what He wants for us. I had an elderly couple in my office last week and I could not help but notice that they kind of looked alike, talked alike and their posture and gestures were even very similar. We tend to become like the ones we spend time with. When we spend time with the Father in prayer we cannot help but be conformed to His image.
Prayer is good for us. God has wired us in such a way that fellowship with Him always blesses us (even when prayer leads to conviction). Prayer nourishes our soul, heals our wounds, comforts our hearts and delivers us from temptation. Our deepest needs are supplied through prayer.
Finally I believe that prayer delivers us from worldliness. How can we pray without ceasing and honor the flesh? The answer is that we cannot be in prayer and in sin at the same time. Prayer causes us to be less worldly and more holy! Prayer delivers us from the things of this world because it causes us to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
In closing I want to challenge you today to begin to pray that God would use you to accomplish great things for Him in your life.
The Law of the Harvest
Galatians 6:7, “7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
Throughout the Bible God uses the process of sowing seeds and the harvest that follows to illustrate that the things we do in this life whether good or evil have consequences. We call this God’s law of the harvest. I want to share 5 truths about God’s law of the harvest with you in this article.
First, you will only reap what you sow. If you sow corn you get corn. No one ever picked squash from an apple tree. There is a warning and a blessing in Galatians 6:7 that you can miss if you are not careful. “God is not mocked…” You will reap what you sow. Galatians 6:8 reminds us that, “8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Be sure you are sowing the right things. God’s Law of the Harvest cannot be changed or violated.
King David is perhaps the best known example of the law of the harvest. Read these verses from 2 Samuel 12:10-14 as Nathan the prophet reminds King David of the seeds he sowed and of the Harvest he would reap, “10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’” 13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” As Christians our sins are forgiven, but we will still reap what we have sown.
Another truth of the Law of the harvest is that the amount you reap is proportional to the amount you sow. Paul reminds the Corinthian church of this truth in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
This is as true in our physical life as well as our spiritual life. It is true of our marriage, our job, our friendships, our church, our giving and anything else you can think of. The more you put into something the more you will get out of them. The more you sow the more you will harvest.
Third, sowing and harvesting are separated by time. Some crops produce fruit faster than others, but there is always a season between the sowing and the reaping. Just because you do not see results immediately after you have taken action does not mean that God is not going to reward your work. The same is just as true of wickedness. You may not see immediate consequences from your actions, but rest assured, “God is not mocked…” the harvest is coming.
God’s law of the harvest requires patience and faith. Galatians 6:9 promises that here is a harvest coming if we have done our part and sown good seed. “9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” God’s promise is that we will reap when the time is right. Galatians 6:9 also encourages us not to lose heart. What this means is that we are not to get discouraged.
A fourth truth is that we will always reap more than we sow. Think of the return you get from one kernel of corn or 1 tomato seed, or 1 acorn. This works for the good as well as for the evil we do. Jesus taught the positive side of this principle in Matthew 19:29, “29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” God is good and that is why he takes what we have and he adds to it.
Finally, we cannot do anything about last year’s harvest, but we sow new seed this year. The past is the past. Yesterday is history. Do not allow yourself to get stuck in the past. Live by Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I know there have been things in all of our lives that have discouraged us. Many of us have been put down, let down or even abused. We cannot move forward if we are looking behind. Will you make a personal commitment today to sow new seed and reap a new harvest?
3 Things that will Grow Our Church
Christian book stores are filled with books that have great ideas on how to grow your church. Some of the ideas are just gimmicks, while others are sound biblical methods. As we go forward as a church fulfilling the Great Commission there are several biblical things we need to do in order to grow.
We need to make a choice.
Just as Joshua told Israel after they had possessed the Promised Land, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” Joshua 24:15, so we must make a choice. It is easy to do nothing; to keep the status quo; to be comfortable; but that is not at all what God has called us to do. He has called us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Jesus was so adamant about our going that he told us to go 5 times in the first 5 books of the New Testament. We must chose to do what he has called us to do in order to grow. Obedience to our Savior is not optional.
We must make disciples.
Jesus did not call us to make decisions; He has called us to make disciples. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus instructs us to teach those we reach to obey everything He has commanded. Sermons are great, but Sunday school is the best way to make disciples. Sunday school is more intimate and open to dialogue and a more appropriate for making disciples. I can tell you from 1st hand experience that we will not grow if we are not committed to seeing our Sunday school grow.
We have to care.
I know this last one sounds so simple, but the bottom line is that we will not grow if we do not care about people. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 20:21, “…As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” We are sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world. When Jesus encountered the sick He cared, when He encountered the blind He cared, when He encountered the oppressed He cared. When Jesus saw the people He cared. We need to care for people enough to tell them how they can have the greatest thing that we have in our own lives (salvation).
I am excited to see what God does in the life of our little flock. As we are obedient He receives the glory from our lives!
How to Speak to Guests
(Reference: Thom Rainer)
As our church grows one of the things that we have that we have not had in the past is Guests! The fact is that we will not grow if we do not have guests. So as we grow and new people come through our doors we will want to greet them in the best way possible. Here are 5 suggestions on what to say to our guests.
- "Thank you for coming today." We need to communicate to people that we are glad they chose to worship with us. I believe a "thank you" could be the one thing that brings people back to us for a second visit.
- "Would you like to sit with us?" No guest should ever sit alone unless it is their choice.
- "Can I show you around?" We have a small facility, but someone visiting for the first time may not know where the nursery is or where the bathrooms are or where their Sunday School room will be.
- "Let me introduce you to the pastor." I am always thrilled when I have members who will introduce me by name to a first time visitor. By the way it should go without saying that you should remember their name.
- "Will you join us for lunch?" I can think of nothing you could say to a guest that is warmer or friendlier than inviting them to share a meal with you.
I believe that Jesus would have us practice hospitality. It helps me to remember sometimes how I felt when it was my first time. It is one thing to be friendly toward each other. It is another to be friendly towards others.
Choose the Attitude!
Philippians 4:8, "8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things areof good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
Attitude is a matter of Faith. The kind of faith you have will determine the kind of attitude you have! In my article I want to share a few things about attitude with you.
Did you know that your attitude is contagious? Whether your attitude is positive or negative those around you will be infected by it.
Listen to what the Bible says about how contagious our attitude can be: 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Galatians 5:9, “9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Since attitude is a matter of faith, then our attitude should reflect the attitude of the one in whom we our faith. Listen to what Paul teaches about the kind of attitude we should have: Philippians 2:1-11, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Wow! We should have the attitude of Jesus! But, more often than not our attitude does not reflect the attitude of Christ. So what can we do to have the mind or the attitude of Christ? First, let's identify and repent of attitudes that are not Christ like. Acts 8:22 tells us to, "Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you."
Second, we should apply discipline in our thought life. When we are struggling with a poor attitude we should bring it into obedience to God's Word. We should disregard our feelings, and determine to see life through the eyes of faith. Paul talks about having this kind of outlook in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
Finally we can rid ourselves of attitudes that do not honor God by spending our emotional and intellectual energy dwelling on the things that God’s word tells us to dwell on. Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things." These are the things that will elevate our attitude. These are the things that will feed the positivity in your life.
In closing our attitude is a matter of faith. As our faith goes so goes our attitude. In the same way a Christ like attitude will boost your faith. The good news is that we get to choose our attitude. So let's choose the attitude that will reflect the mind of Christ to the world around us. Stay positive people!!!
This Sunday we welcomed Brian Hill as our new pastor. We shared a meal after our evening service that consisted of sandwiches, dips with assorted chips, Mrs. Barbara's famous chicken salad sandwiches and an assortment of homemade ice cream!