Rev. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: II Timothy 3:5
Old Testament: Isaiah 58
New Testament: II Timothy 3:1-7
There seems to be a shift in worship expectations. This shift isn’t limited to one generation or another. I say “seems to be” because I can only measure this by my experience as a pastor from 1980 until today.
It seems that people come to worship with expectations about what they ought to get out of it. They worship in order to be rewarded. Worship isn’t about praising God for the blessings they are already receiving. Worship is about worshippers wanting something for themselves. They want something more than what God is already giving them.
I’ve heard the following in countless conversations with church members. They want satisfaction they don’t already have from their relationship with God. Some people want to feel something emotionally uplifting that they aren’t feeling in worship. Other people want their personal opinion validated by something said in the morning message. Still others want to hear the platform of their political party supported by the Gospel that is preached.
Worship leaders face many expectations in designing and leading worship.
I never asked the minister of my childhood, Dr. John McDivitt, whether this was his experience. He was preaching during the sixties and early seventies when the free love, civil rights, and feminist movements spread across America with an alternative Gospel to hope in Jesus Christ.
These movements were about self-satisfaction, self-liberation, self-actualization. They weren’t about praising God for His blessings. Dr. McDivitt stuck to the Gospel. But if the continuing participation of my Baby Boomer peers in worship is any indication, they were turned off by thousands of Dr. McDivitts across the Church. They stopped going to Church. In fact, the majority of Baby Boomers and their children stopped being part of any church anywhere.
I did hear complain the next minister was too theatrical. He was preaching during the economic collapse that crossed Ohio in the wake of the auto industry’s failure to be competitive. People were losing jobs.
Factories were closing. Trucking was leaving the region, and Dr. Storch was too theatrical. Maybe they thought the Gospel he preached wasn’t connected to the real problems they were facing in their lives.
I appreciated Dr. Storch for sticking to the Gospel. He saw God’s sovereignty when others were more concerned about worship style. He saw God’s majesty when others were distracted by failing economics in the region. God’s sovereignty, God’s majesty are awesome! When we see the awesomeness of God, it ought to evoke within us greatness of voice and power, regardless of what’s happening that’s upsets us.
I arrived in Pittsburgh Presbytery in 1980. I entered a continual culture of anger during presbytery meetings. Presbytery worship during presbytery meetings was a slight pause in hostilities among Presbyterian. But even worship was tainted by anger.
Anger was justified by certain presbytery members against fellow Presbyterians. Accusations found their way into t before the gathered in worship. Worship music seemed disconnected from the spirit of acrimony that permeated the culture.
Worship was an instrument through which fellow Christians were being demonized in the name of Jesus Christ. I was an outsider who was called by God to serve Christ in the middle of all this. I was deeply saddened.
The Gospel in worship was being used to serve the interests of a few to oppress others who were struggling to follow Jesus Christ. I did not hear repentance from those making accusations.
Those who were being condemned were in pain for being condemned. I watched Harold Scott look over his shoulder during personal conversations he had with me. Harold was a sincere Christian who devoted his life to serving the presbytery as best as he could as Pittsburgh Presbytery’s executive presbyter. He was anxious he would be misquoted or misunderstood. He was in pain
Some presbytery leaders did offer personal repentance. But they couldn’t speak for others who had no involvement in the blanket indictments being made. Those who were doing the condemning felt they were justified without needing to be repentant.
How some presbyters spoke during presbytery meetings did not satisfy the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control the Apostle Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. These are the fruits of the spirit of Jesus Christ that should infuse worship’s atmosphere.
Presbytery meetings were a manifestation of Presbytery worship. They rarely displayed the fruits of Christ’s spirit. They were overwhelmed by the anger of accusing Presbyterians seeking after their self-interest.
The shift I saw was quite simple. Worshippers were focusing on satisfying themselves. We were not focused on celebrating Jesus Christ’s work among us. The direction of worship was horizontal. We were scrutinizing others as judges.
True worship is vertical. It directs the mind, the heart, the soul, heavenwards towards Jesus Christ. Christ is the only true object of worship for we who call ourselves Christians.
Congregations can get into the rut of horizontal worship. They can get distracted during worship services by things other than praising God.
Isaiah 58 is a long admonishment by God against worship that does not measure up to praising God for His blessings. Carefully notice the development of God’s complaint against horizontal worship.
Verse one identifies horizontal worship as an act of rebellion against God. It’s not interested in praising God. It uses worship to oppress God’s children.
Isaiah says in verse two this rebellion appears to be genuine interest in seeking after God. But God does not see it as righteousness. “Day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practices righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.”
Isaiah focuses on the misdirected purposes behind worship in verse 3-6 – in this case in the worshipful act of fasting. Worshippers are worshipping by fasting. They appear to be seeking after God. But their actions show they’re only serving their own interests. They oppress their neighbors. They worship, but quarrel and fight people beside them. They lack humility.
Worship that’s vertical recognizes that God wants His people healed. He wants the accuser to be healed of the pain from which he or she makes accusations. God also wants the person being accused to be healed of the pain in being accused.
In verse 8 we read God’s blessing should not be used to bring accusations against one another. God’s blessing should not be the pretext for oppressing one another. God’s blessing is that God has your back.
Vertical worship uplifts that God has the back of those being oppressed: “. . . your vindicator shall go before you. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard . . . You shall call and the Lord will answer. You shall cry for help and the Lord will say, ‘Here I am.’”
You see worship, especially on the Sabbath day, but any time you worship God, is never a time to pursue your own interests. Isaiah says in verse 13, “If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath by pursuing your own interests on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable, if you honor it not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs, then you shall take delight in the Lord.”
Delighting in the Lord of Hosts is the purpose of worship.
Christian worship lifts our hearts and minds heavenwards towards Jesus Christ, where He sits at the right hand of the Father.
Christ’s blessings evoke gratitude for Him. His promises inspire hope in Him. His love generates humility before Him. His sacrifice compels repentance to Him.
Genuine worship thanks God from whom Christ’s blessings flow. Worship expresses your appreciation for your relationship with Jesus Christ. Genuine worship is vertical worship.
It begins with you and your love for God and extends heavenward from there. Christian worship focuses only on the blessings you and your brothers and sisters in Christ have received from Jesus Christ.
Christian worship joyfully celebrates the spiritual gifts Christ gives His community of faith to fulfill His mission of disciple-making. This happens when preacher and listener focus on the glorious sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ.
Where people genuinely thank Jesus Christ, there’s a culture of joy that lifts us heavenward. People are free to use their spiritual gifts for God’s glory!
There’s no place for the love of pleasure in Christian worship. There’s just love for Christ.
Timothy writes about this in his second letter. He states that in the days just before Jesus Christ’s return people will be lovers of themselves. They will be lovers of money. They will boast in their accomplishments and be arrogant. They will be disobedient to their parents – ungrateful, unholy.
In the last days, people will be swollen with conceit. They will love pleasure rather than love God. They will appear to be godly by having the outward form of godliness. Yet they will deny the spirit of God’s powerful presence that’s there in vertical worship that points to Jesus Christ.
Timothy highlights what separates powerful worship which uplifts God from horizontal worship that’s only interested in pleasing an audience. Worship that points to God uplifts the power in God’s name that saves the world.
God’s name saves the world from sin. God’s name evokes new life. God’s name transforms the heart and renews the mind. God’s powerful name in worship uplifts the worshipper to the threshold of God’s Kingdom in joy!
As critical as people can be in their expectations for worship, God measures worship not by its form or its style. God doesn’t measure worship by whether the congregation feels God after worship. God doesn’t measure worship by whether the congregation is satisfied. In fact, there are many times in worship when God’s glory in worship convicts a congregation of its loss of faithfulness to Him.
God measures worship by the direction to which it points.
Worship that satisfies God points upwards to Him so that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God! God’s standard for worship far exceeds any lesser standard we use to measure worship.
God’s standard for worship is the only standard that matters.
God measures worship, not by what you see or hear in some sanctuary. God measures worship by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control each of us brings to worship that celebrates His blessings. Worship is the sanctuary within you where the spirit of Christ lives that is grateful to God. Where Christ is alive inside of you, there’s genuine worship to the glory of God that inspires others to join you in thanksgiving and praise!
Worship that’s pleasing to God pleases the worshipper. It inspires others to yearn for the worshipper’s relationship with God. Worship that’s inspiration is a catalyst for healing and new life.
It’s filled with love for God, and gratitude to Jesus Christ! To Christ be the glory! ! Amen.