In this worship gathering, we hear a message in which we explore why we worship God, and how we go about worship – since there is nothing precisely laying out how we are supposed to gather to praise the Lord. It’s based on Isaiah 6.1-8 and Colossians 3.12-17. You can watch the entire worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
I once had a conversation through social media with an acquaintance (whom I have actually met in person) in which, at its pinnacle, she claimed not to be religious. Based on what she posted online, though, I knew she was searching deep inside, but wasn’t prepared to admit that. I had offered counsel prior to that time, and she knew the door was open for conversation.
It’s astounding that people claim not to be religious, but it happens all the time. Many people today are what sociologists of religion call SBNR: Spiritual But Not Religious.
And yet, they are religious…just not in the traditional way.
People who spend every weekend at the casino? Religious.
People who keep a Buddha statue in their garden? Religious.
People who subscribe to porn channels? Religious.
You get the idea.
When we have any kind of ritual – even a subtle ritual – that surrounds an activity to which we ascribe worth, that makes us religious. And that activity becomes a form of worship.
What do you worship? To answer that question, ask yourself: What occupies my mind the most?
“Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God” (Psalm 95.6-7a, NLT).
Maybe you know someone who pays an individual to do their house cleaning. Almost everyone I know who has a house cleaner actually cleans house before the house cleaner arrives. I suppose one must pick up certain bits of clutter, but otherwise, I’ve never quite understood why people clean house, and then pay people to clean house for them.
Yesterday, I had the ducts cleaned in our house. (No, I didn’t succumb to one of those robocalls with someone from south Asia, representing heaven-knows-who.) It was just time to get the job done.
But, like many people with their house cleaners, I found myself preparing for the visit by cleaning house. We dusted and vacuumed in areas where we don’t always remember to dust and vacuum.
Because, I reasoned, if we’re going to have clean ducts, why would we want the cold air returns sucking in the dust and dirt and hair we had not cleaned off the floors? It would negate the whole purpose of getting the ducts cleaned.
This got me thinking: in some ways, coming to worship with God’s people is a bit like getting your spiritual ducts cleaned. And there’s value in being prepared for it.
Do you prepare for worship?
I don’t just mean by getting to church five minutes early so you can catch your breath before the gathering begins.
You can prepare for worship even the night before, by setting out your clothes (and maybe those for other members of the family, if they need help in that department), having Sunday’s dinner ready to go – things like that.
But you can also prepare your heart.
While time in silence and solitude, meditating on God’s Word, is a good practice for every day of the week, it might be especially helpful on Saturday evening as you prepare for worship with the church on Sunday. It can quicken your heart to be ready for God to speak to you. It can ready your soul to open up in praise of the Lord who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, and who sustains you every day by his grace in the Holy Spirit.
It is the dusting and cleaning you do before you get your spiritual ducts cleaned. And it can make all the difference. Give it a try tomorrow night before you go to bed!
“Worship the Lord in all his holy splendour” (Psalm 96.9a, NLT).
In the Christian world, we seem to find two extremes in our worship gatherings: on one end, we have those churches that use smoke and lights and hundreds of decibels to excite us. On the other end, we have those churches that do everything in their power to make the gospel as boring as possible.
I don’t think either of those is the way to go.
Last Sunday, I talked about the importance of worshipping God in the midst of the crazy world in which we live. In that message, I said this:
“When you come to worship, don’t come expecting to be entertained, though that may happen from time to time. Don’t even come expecting to learn something, though I hope that will always happen. Come expecting to encounter the living God, made known in Jesus Christ, who indwells us and inhabits our praise by the Holy Spirit.”
Worship is more than music and effects. Worship is more than historic words. Worship includes these things, as well as prayer, silence, preaching, and even the offering. We don’t “have a time of worship” that is followed by “everything else”. That “everything else” is also worship, if we couch it as such with intentionality!
And it’s not for us. While churches should be particular about how they craft their worship gatherings in terms of relating to the culture around them, the purpose behind that is not to entertain the masses, but to facilitate the people’s praises of the unchanging, holy God. When we come to worship, God is the audience. Not us. And he loves to receive the praises of his people.
This Sunday, I will tie all of this together with an understanding that we worship God because he is worthy. That can and should be the antidote to the epidemic of fear that has gripped our world.
“O nations of the world, recognize the Lord;
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him.
Tell all the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
He will judge all peoples fairly” (Psalm 96.7-10, NLT).
The Session at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton decided today to open this Sunday, June 21. This is the (edited) content of an email sent to the congregation tonight.
The building has been sanitized. All materials have been removed from the seats in the worship space. The lobby has been emptied of all furnishings except the small table next to the worship space doors. With the exception of the main doors, the lobby, the upstairs washrooms and the worship space, the building has been cordoned off.
Hand sanitizer will be provided and its use will be mandatory as you enter the building. If you choose to come – remember, nobody’s twisting your arm here! – and you are more comfortable wearing a mask, please bring one with you. We will have a few extras available in case you forget.
Here’s what will happen if you choose to come this Sunday at 10:
- As you enter the parking lot, please try to avoid parking adjacent to another vehicle.If you must, then please ensure the occupants of the nearby vehicle are not exiting their vehicle at the same time as you.
- All entry and exit will take place via the main doors that face King Road.All other entrances will be locked. Upon arriving at the main doors, if others are nearby, please maintain a two-metre distance from them as you wait your turn to come in.
- At the door, a masked elder (this Sunday, it will be Erma, in case the mask fools you) will write your name on a sheet of paper so that we can notify Public Health if for some reason we find anyone present is later diagnosed with Coronavirus.
- You will be instructed to use hand sanitizer at this time.Please do not wear gloves; you will be asked to remove them.
- Someone will escort you to a place to sit in the worship space.Households will be seated not less than two metres apart, staggered throughout the worship space. If you have a preference for where you wish to sit, you can express that, recognizing that priority will be given to those arriving first. You will be asked not to get up and move from the time you are seated until you are called on to depart the building. If you think you might need to get up and use the washroom after you’ve been seated, please be sure to wear a mask.
- Children are welcome to come, too.Individually packed take-home resource packages will be provided for smaller children to keep busy during worship. There will be no children’s ministry of any other sort provided at this time for health reasons.
- The worship gathering will follow much the same format as we’ve seen online, with acknowledgement of the people in the room.There will be two songs sung near the end. If you are not comfortable with having people singing around you, it is recommended that you sit nearer the back. (The science on singing and the spread of Coronavirus is somewhat conflicting; some say it is problematic, while others say that at a safe physical distance, it poses no threat.) Paul Mason will be joining me to lead the singing.
- When the gathering is over, you will be asked to leave as a household, with safe gaps between households as they depart.
- If you want to share fellowship at a safe distance, it is recommended that you wear a mask, bring your own beverage (if desired), and stand in the parking lot to do so.The lobby will not be made available for fellowship during this stage of re-opening.
The gathering will be limited to not more than 54 persons, inclusive of volunteers and worship leaders. So we’re asking that you indicate your intention to attend this Sunday if you plan to do so, by commenting below. That way, if guests appear, we will know how many we can welcome. It’s not like us to turn away anyone at the door, but under the current emergency regulations, we have no choice but to limit physical attendance.
We ask that if you feel unwell or have symptoms of Coronavirus, please stay home and watch the live-stream. And if you are in a vulnerable category, that is, elderly, or with a pre-existing health condition that compromises your immune system, likewise, please stay home and watch the live-stream. Furthermore, if you are not quite ready, whether emotionally or physically, to gather with others in worship, don’t feel that you must come because the doors are open. As much as we all would like to see one another in person, your health is your top priority. The live-stream broadcast will continue irrespective of the restrictions that may or may not be placed on public gatherings, so a worship experience will always be available to you online, as it has been for the past few months (and many months before that).
By opening for public worship this Sunday, we are offering an option for those who are ready and well enough to come together. I have no doubt it will feel a bit weird, coming into a familiar place that in some ways will seem unfamiliar because of the situation we’re in. But if you are physically and emotionally ready to gather together in God’s praise, this Sunday, we’ll be ready for you. The flag will be out at the road to welcome you…and if you come early enough, weather permitting, I might be out at the road to welcome you, too!
Again, if you plan to attend this Sunday, please comment below. Thanks!
May the Lord be with us as we take this step of faith.
You are invited to worship online with the St. Paul’s Church Family on Easter Sunday!
If you have questions or comments afterward, you can leave them below, and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible.
Rest: it’s important.
We all know it’s important.
Yet too few of us take time for real, significant rest.
We live in a time when the culture values busyness, almost as a badge of pride. “How are you?” someone will ask. “Oh, I’m great. Really busy,” we reply.
A while back, I saw a meme online that showed the image of a cellphone battery in the ‘red zone’ – less than 10% power remaining. It said, “You’d never let this happen to your phone. Why do you let it happen to yourself?”
We are a society of the dangerously tired. We so tightly schedule our own lives – and those of our children – that we leave little margin for God to work in our lives, or for us to notice God’s work in our lives. We need rest.
The Bible follows an “order of creation” model for teaching us about the value of rest by suggesting that because God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, we, too, should take one day a week for rest and re-creation. Every week. Yes, every week.
Many of us think that would be impossible to do, but it wouldn’t be impossible. We just have to undertake the hard work of prioritizing what matters in our lives.
As I’ve said before, in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what you did with Jesus. Work does not prepare us for eternity. Sports do not prepare us for eternity. But worship and rest do prepare us for eternity.
Eternity is a long time. Don’t you think that which prepares us for eternity deserves top priority?
Christians traditionally take Sunday as their day of rest, because it was the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. And it is from that day of rest and worship that we are able to have the energy to undertake all that the coming week holds.
I know that not everyone is able to take Sunday as a rest day in our secular culture. But if you can’t take Sunday every week, at least take a day somewhere in there.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).
Encouragement From The Word is taking an eight-week hiatus while I take a long-planned and much-needed Sabbatical. This weekly email will return on Friday, November 29, 2019.
This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to talk about hate. It’s a pertinent subject, since there’s a lot of it going around these days – but not all of it gets publicized in the same way.
Jesus tells his disciples the blatant truth in John 15.18-19 (NLT): “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”
That seems like pretty bad news. How do we survive, let alone thrive, in a society where we are surrounded by hate? (You’ll have to stay tuned for the answer to that. You can join us at 10:00 a.m. for worship on Sunday, or tune in to our live-stream on Facebook, or later on YouTube or on the church website.) Hatred toward followers of Jesus is not widely talked about, perhaps because the church has been a dominant force in society for so long…but it isn’t anymore.
But the good news is that there is help. We aren’t consigned to live the Christian life alone. We have the Holy Spirit, and each other. Each is important!
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, given to us by the Father and the Son to live in and through us when we come to him in faith. Living the Christian life without the Holy Spirit is like trying to breathe without oxygen: it can’t be done. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, our Advocate in the midst of the hate the world offers.
There are a lot of “one another” phrases in the New Testament, and these underscore how important Christian community is. We need each other if we are going to make a difference in a world of adversity. We need each other in both a macro and a micro sense, sharing corporate worship as well as a deeper intimacy with the Lord and each other through small groups.
The world will hate us for following Jesus, because it hates Jesus. But the good news is that the church of Jesus has been historically proven to thrive under persecution. Think of the Christians in China, forced underground to continue their devotion to the Lord. Imagine how much community means to them! Imagine how much they rely on the Holy Spirit!
We don’t know much about persecution here in the west…yet. But we can be ready for it by relying on the Holy Spirit and each other.
See you on Sunday.
Someone wise once said, “Faith is not a pill you swallow, but a muscle you use.”
It’s possible that we might go to church once in a while, perhaps to get a ‘dose of Jesus’ to keep us going for a little while, in much the same way we might take a couple of Tylenol® to keep us going and mitigate the throbbing pain of a headache. But, of course, the medicine wears off, eventually, since it’s designed to deal with symptoms, but not root problems. After all, if your headache is caused by having had a whittling knife stuck in your temple, Tylenol® isn’t going to solve that problem – it’s only going to take the pain away for a while.
Faith is not something designed to take the pain away for a while. Faith is a gift given to us through God’s grace that enables us to deal with the root of the pain – and so much more. If we just show up to worship once in a while, there might be a temporary ‘high’ we receive that encourages us for a short time, but that’s not what the Christian lifestyle is about.
Faith is, as the wise person once said, a muscle you use.
One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that my muscle mass is declining. I see it especially in my arms, which are not called upon to do a lot of heavy lifting. Periodically, I look at the dumbbells that I have and think, “I ought to start using those.” Even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference.
The same is true with faith: even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference. When we read the Bible and pray at home and in small groups, and when we gather regularly with the community for worship and fellowship, we’re using our faith muscle in ways that will strengthen it – something a periodic ‘dose of Jesus’ just can’t do.
Let me encourage you today to make your faith a lifestyle choice. Engage daily with the basic disciplines of prayer, Bible study and worship. Engage weekly with the basic disciplines of corporate worship and community. Use that faith muscle. As you exercise it, it grows.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.[a]
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation. – Psalm 100, NLT
At this notoriously busy time of year, let me encourage you simply to stop for a few minutes, amid all that’s going on around you, and spend some time chewing on this passage of Scripture.
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen! (Isaiah 9.6-7, NLT)
Let each name for Jesus in this prophecy wash over you, comfort you, and encourage you as we celebrate the most miraculous birth of all time.
Merry Christmas! I invite you to worship at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on this special weekend. Service times are printed below. God’s best!
On social media last week, there was quite a bit of rancor over a video clip of megachurch pastor’s wife Victoria Osteen talking about how when people come to church, it’s about them, not about God, because God wants us to be happy. (You can watch the clip here to hear her own words.) It’s been suggested, on sober reflection, that this might have caught our hackles, in part, because that’s what we really believe – based on how we act, anyway. Let me explain.
When we come to church – irrespective of the tradition with which we connect – there is often part of us that seeks our personal preferences. In our consumer society, we shop at particular stores because they give us what we want. We drive particular cars because we prefer that kind. We drink a particular brand of beverage because it fits our taste. But the Christian community with which we affiliate – is that supposed to be about consumer choice? Will we be giving “consumer’s choice” awards to churches based on how they meet our needs?
Maybe we prefer organ; maybe drums and guitar. Maybe we prefer expository preaching; maybe topical thoughts. Maybe we prefer small groups; maybe we prefer big Bible studies. Some of that is, of course, quite natural. We are attracted to what we like. It (often!) works in marriage, after all; why not in worship?
To an extent, that is probably true. We are divinely wired to have preferences. It’s part of the beauty of the diversity of the human race. The challenge comes when we universalize our own preferences, and then put ourselves (and our preferences) ahead of others (and their preferences).
I once heard a sermon in which the congregation was challenged to consider – from a consumer point of view – who is the customer, and who is the sales person. As the church, we are not called to self-satisfaction; we are called to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). Those in the church are in sales, seeking to reach ‘customers’ who are not yet part of the body of Christ. For followers of Jesus, this sometimes means stepping outside our own comfort zones – our own preferences – and willingly being part of a community of faith that caters its worship, and its proclamation of truth, to draw those who are outside the family.
We can never cheapen the act of worship into something that just makes us happy; after all, worship is intended to please God first and foremost! As worshippers, of course, we want to be able to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that is in keeping with who we are. But we also want to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that enables people who are far from God to draw near to him.
It’s a complicated issue, and perhaps this little dust-up within the Christian world has given some of us pause to think about how and why we worship the Lord of the Universe.
However your church “does church”, consider who, among your friends and family, you can invite to experience the praise of God. You could change someone’s eternity!