Worship and the Lost

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Luke 15:1-71

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

One of the biggest controversies in worship that has been debated in the last few decades has been around the concept of “seeker-sensitive” worship. The term alone sets off bells and whistles in the minds of most church leaders today, although, to be fair, the heat of that conflict has gone a bit underground in the last decade.

The original conflict grew out of the disconnect between tent meeting revivals that attracted people and brought about changed lives, but sometimes could not transfer the same spirit and passion into the regular Sunday mornings of local churches. But it was not just the folks outside of church that were drawn to these. Regular church folk are drawn to the food, fellowship, and musical performances – the entertainment value of these services as well. So are the performers. These services are often set up with names attached to draw people in. Sure you can advertise that your church is going to do a revival and that you expect God to be present and working there… but if you really want to draw a crowd, bring in a popular music group and get a well-known speaker, and everyone will come out to the show.

These kind of revivals are about coming to get something, not coming to give something. Generally, the only people who prefer normal Sunday services over those special worship events are the clean up crew, who pick up the mess left by everyone who came for their religious experience and then went back to live their life again. There are exceptions to this of course. I’ve participated in several revival services that incorporated a day or at least part of a day of community service where people came to give instead of just receive – but these are typically not perceived as “seeker-sensitive”.

It’s not just seekers that push us to ask less of church people, it is everyone. It is easier to be encouraged than challenged. It is easier to be the encourager than to be the challenger – especially if you are challenging in ways that involve supporting them with follow up and help after the service ends. In the last decade, as church attendance in many non-seeker-sensitive churches has dropped, it seems that the practical arguments to the debate have ended and we are now looking at being seeker-sensitive or closing our doors for good. The original arguments against entertainment based services and simplified gospel teaching are still there. Mature Christians still think that watered down gospel will not bring people to God or to the Church, and they may not be wrong… but the number of people outside the church, the seekers themselves, are far greater than those mature Christians inside the church. So many have taken those arguments underground for the sake of attendance, financial obligation, and just keeping the doors open.

Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the one that is lost. It is this kind of philosophy of letting mature Christians fend for themselves while a church focuses its effort on the lost that some have used to justify “seeker-sensitive” worship. The problem arises from how we identify the parties in this analogy.

         For Seeker Advocates  
         - Seekers (non-believers) are the lost sheep  
         - Believers are the 99 "found" sheep  
         - The Shepherd is the Church worship leaders/organizers  

Here is my struggle with this perspective: It is too impersonal. Jesus emphasis is on the importance of the individual here. The lost are not 20 or 30 some people, it is a single sheep. The Shepherd is not a nameless/faceless leadership, it is one leader. The only corporate group is the 99, and even they are counted individually. He did not just say “the rest of the sheep”. Every individual counts.

I think a more literal and accurate application of this parable to worship would be to simply postpone worship until everyone had been personally invited. We won’t start church until we knock on every door in our neighborhood and make sure everyone is 1.) safe and 2.) personally invited to come to worship Jesus with us. I’m not talking about hanging posters or dropping fliers in mailboxes. The good shepherd did not just go post lost sheep posters around the towns. I mean person to person checking in and inviting. We would would hold off the service even starting until we had done that if we truly believed that their needs for God were even equal to our own, let alone more important, as Jesus teaches in this parable.

That would be kinda crazy and impractical, depending on your community, and it certainly would overturn the tables of expectations and leadership in most congregations. It is a practical exaggeration, just as the parable itself is. Yet it is the absurdity of it on a practical level that brings to light the true point Jesus is trying to make. In the absurdity of leaving 99 for 1, I believe, lies our true relationship and purpose with the lost sheep of our neighborhoods. The question is not about what we do with them once they come to church (although those details are certainly important). The question we have not been asking for some 30 years, that we need to be asking is: How are we reaching the lost sheep of our communities before they come to church?

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Israel’s False Shepherds

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

We, the Church, (meaning all those who have chosen to follow Jesus, making disciples in His name) are called to be good shepherds, but we have turned down the task. It has become to hard for us to try to bring salvation to people and then bring them to church. It is more convenient to my time to let the church building, the church programs, the church staff,… maybe even just God Himself go after those lost sheep. Yes, Jesus, I know You gave me the commission, the command to go out into all the world, look for Your lost sheep, and take the salvation I received from You and share it with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes I just don’t want to. I would rather just keep You to myself.

How does your own personal worship affect the lost in your community?

Who are the lost sheep that God has brought to your attention?


  1. (Mt 18:10–14)

The King of Humility

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The King of Humilty

Matthew 21:1-111

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” “


  1. (Mk 11:1–10; Lk 19:28–40; Jn 12:12–19)

Just give me Jesus

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Just give me Jesus

Psalm 143

Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies

A Psalm of David.

Hear my prayer, O Lord;

give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;

answer me in your righteousness.

Do not enter into judgment with your servant,

for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued me,

crushing my life to the ground,

making me sit in darkness like those long dead.

Therefore my spirit faints within me;

my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old,

I think about all your deeds,

I meditate on the works of your hands.

I stretch out my hands to you;

my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord;

my spirit fails.

Do not hide your face from me,

or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,

for in you I put my trust.

Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;

I have fled to you for refuge.

Teach me to do your will,

for you are my God.

Let your good spirit lead me

on a level path.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.

In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.

In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,

and destroy all my adversaries,

for I am your servant.

Most days, I really do not know what I want. That may seem silly or stupid to you, but it is true. I’m exactly the type of person who stands in line at McDonald’s for hours trying to decide what kind of burger to order… no I have a coping mechanism of either getting the same thing every time or defaulting to whatever seems new. In either case, I am usually not incredibly excited about what I get. Sometimes I feel like one of the purposes of my life is to figure out what I really want. I hope I find out before the end.

I have enemies. Some of them I have loved into friendships. Others have been washed away by time and circumstance. The worst of my enemies wear my own face, sleep in my bed, eat my food, and pull me down from a place that few can see. I cannot run from them. I cannot hide. I can only endure and lift up my soul when the tide rises too high.

Where the Spirit of God swoops down to catch me up…

My problems are nothing compared to King David’s. My enemies are few and powerless by comparison… but I can relate to the call for help. Notice though that David asks for more than just salvation from trouble. He asks for guidance and refuge. He ends declaring himself as God’s servant. David’s prayer was to be saved to serve.

How do you pray?

Do your prayers for help connect with a desire to serve God?

Gifts from Heaven

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Gifts from Heaven

Exodus 16:9-21

“Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. ”

Love the giver, not the gifts. Love is not jealous . Love doesn’t get greedy.

Easier said than done.

How about, just follow the directions… hahaha.

Welcome to existence. It is not overly complicated. It is not impossible to live a life that blesses others and leaves the world better than you found it. However, it does require you to surrender your desires to control, to know everything, and to be humble enough to receive the help God has sent your way.

God provided the means for the Hebrew people to survive in the wilderness. He sent them food from Heaven every day but the Sabbath and Moses gave them specific instructions on how to use that gift. “But they did not listen to Moses…”

Too often I want to blame my problems on some kind of inability to do right, but God gives me everything I need. It is not everything I want, but it is everything I need to follow Him. It is easier to claim that I do not have the secret knowledge I need to really follow God, or to act as though I am powerless to choose otherwise. If you do not believe you have any choices, simply ask yourself, “Can I think of a worse person than myself?” Most of us can probably think about someone who has done something worse than our many misdeeds. I could have followed their example, but instead I chose a better path. Even if it was not the best option, I made a conscious choice to be better.

The trick is, taking that same motivation and trusting God to give us the direction instead of making something up ourselves – following directions instead of making our own way.

The Apostle Paul wrote this about battling our desires:

Romans 8:4-11

“ For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. ”

God does not just provide for our bodies, He provides for our souls as well. God has made sure that we have the choice to follow Him if we are willing to receive His help and follow His direction.

What directions do you struggle following?

What directions has God given you today?

 

Worship and Obedience

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Worship and Obedience

Psalm 95

A Call to Worship and Obedience

O come, let us sing to the Lord;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture,

and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation

and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,

and they do not regard my ways.”

Therefore in my anger I swore,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

I imagine that Psalm 95 was a standard song of Israel. Perhaps it was one of those you sang every year at the Feast of Booths when the Israelites remembered their 40 years in the wilderness and God’s provision during those times. Maybe they sang it once a year the way Christian’s sing O Come All Ye Faithful during Advent. Or perhaps it was even more standard… Something they sang every week like the Doxology

It is not just a song about their history. This psalm is theology set to music. Here, God is portrayed as the frustrated shepherd of a rebellious flock. There is a warning, that rebellion is rewarded with permanent exile – that those who seek their own comfort apart from God’s will face an eternity removed from the comfort He is providing. Like the movie Groundhog’s Day, starring Bill Murray they will wander through a perpetual Monday, never making it to the weekend, until they actually do the work that is required of them each day. To the psalmist, the weekend off is not a divine right, it is a divine reward for a responsible work week.

I think you probably understand the concept of being obedient to God for the reward of entering into the rest He provides. What then is worship? Isn’t that just more work we are asked to do on our day off? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical of good to ask us to have a Sabbath day of rest and then spend it working for Him? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Why is worship work? Family dinners spent together require work. They are becoming a rarer phenomenon today, but even several hundred years ago it took a lot of harvesting, cleaning, prepping, and cooking to put together one meal for a small family of four or five people. Everyone had a job as part of it. Yet they did not see the meal itself as work, but as time for rest, nourishment, and celebration – even though they knew someone would have to do the dishes soon after.

They saw dinner as a celebration of the work they had done with God… and that is what I think worship is for us as well. It is res, nourishment, celebration, thanksgiving, … and work as well. It is a different kind of work though. On it we reflect on how faithful God has been to us and where we have been faithful to God. It is our family get- together.

Where do you worship?

What are you doing today that you can celebrate during your next time of worship?

 

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“The Lord said:

Because these people draw near with their mouths

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

so I will again do

amazing things with this people,

shocking and amazing.

The wisdom of their wise shall perish,

and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,

whose deeds are in the dark,

and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”

You turn things upside down!

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?

Shall the thing made say of its maker,

“He did not make me”;

or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

Hope for the Future

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while

become a fruitful field,

and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a scroll,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more,

and the scoffer shall cease to be;

all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—

those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,

who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,

and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,

no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,

and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Isaiah 29.13-24 (NRSV)

What do you think about memorizing scripture? I struggle with it.

I learned scripture first in Sunday school, where we were taught it by rote – that is, a repeated exercise or ritual meant to help you internalize something. Some of the first scriptures I learned through song (a kind of rote). I remember learning Proverbs 3:5-6 as a song that blessed my life many years later and helped lead me to God.

In between that first lesson and the moment I decided to surrender my life to God, there was a lot of unfaithful living and outright running from God. There is very little unique about this part of my story… most of us have been there/done that. However, what I have noticed is that it was during these very rebellious years that I could probably recite the most scripture from memory. I knew the bible – I just did not follow it with my life at all.

20 years later, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it was back then and I stumble over the words more. It’s not near as impressive. Yet my understanding of those scriptures has grown deep and wide. I may not be able to recall the specific words, but I often tell you who wrote them, who they were first written to, why, and how they apply to us today. Even more than that “preacher knowledge” I can give personal testimony about how they apply to my life today as a personal witness.

My wonderful teachers, taught me to memorize the scriptures, but only half the job was done. I’ll claim it was because of my own stubbornness. What I needed, more than rote memorization was a relationship with God. Perhaps my teachers thought I was too young to have a relationship with God, so they gave me rote instead. Maybe they just did not know how to explain it. Or maybe I was not listening.

It was during the year of Christ’s birth, we are told, that those who had memorized the scripture missed the Messiah. They knew where to find Him… indeed they knew enough to send the Gentile Magi to meet Him, but they would not follow the scriptures themselves. For them, knowing the bible was enough. They did not think they needed to know God.

Regardless of what happened in my own life, God makes it clear that our connection with him needs to be deeper than something we just memorize and recite. There needs to be a spiritual understanding underneath and through it all. As Isaiah wrote: we need to do more than memorize the commandments. We need to trust and obey our commander.

  • What spiritual lessons did you learn by memorization?
  • How have they blessed your life over the years?
  • How has God brought deeper meaning to them ?

Surely goodness, surely mercy

right beside me all my days

and I will dwell in Your house forever

and bless Your Holy Name

Thursday December 22, 2016