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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Discipleship and Worship

Would it make a difference in our churches if, as part of the discipling of new believers, we invested a significant time in teaching a biblical understanding of worship?

This question has been front and center in my mind recently, and I find myself mulling over its implications. I realize that there are many really good materials already in existence designed to help new believers in their daily walk. Many of these actually incorporate some basics of worship as part of the material on how to have a daily devotional time with God. I praise the Lord for them, but what I am talking about is a little more in depth. We tell new believers, and even those who are well established in church life, that worship is important. We encourage them to worship daily and to participate in corporate worship, but do we tell them how to do it and show them what it looks like?

Once someone accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, we must bring them along side another believer to help them learn how to have a daily walk with the Lord, to learn how to begin to discover for themselves the riches of God’s Word and how to pray; to help them become part of a local body of believers and be nourished in fellowship and encouragement; to help them learn to discern how Satan beguiles us with temptations; to help them learn the importance of daily surrender of the will, surrender of goals, to seek His direction, to give and to realize that part of the mandate of a relationship with Christ is to carry the Gospel to every tongue in every land. We must teach them. We have to. Not to disciple a new believer is like having a baby and leaving it in the kitchen to learn to feed himself. We must do these things.

As part of these essentials of the faith, shouldn’t we include a biblical understanding of what worship is and is not? Shouldn’t we include how to prepare for worship, both personal and corporate? Shouldn’t we show them how and model worship for them?

What would happen if we did include such training? Is it possible that we could raise up a generation of believers that base their worship experience on an obedient response to God and not emotions? Is it possible that we could raise a generation that is not dependent on a specific style of music, because worship has been confused with what is being sung? Would it be possible to raise a generation of believers that does not confuse entertainment and worship?

I think the worship wars could have been avoided in part, entirely, if years ago a deep overall understanding of what worship is and is not had been taught. As I look back at many of the worship controversies in church history, many of them might even have been avoided. Biblical worship unifies and brings together. One of the reasons that Rehoboam placed the golden calves at either end of the newly divided kingdom was to keep the ten tribes from returning to Jerusalem to worship, because he feared that worship would reunite the people. The picture of worship in heaven is people from every tribe and nation [multicultural] and all ages [multigenerational] around the Lamb on His throne [one central focus]. Worship in the church should be much like the spokes on a wheel, different yet all connected to the hub; true unity in diversity.

Worship is too important to hope that somehow new Christians will learn what to do, or that it is enough to tell people that they need to do it. Including the practical aspects of worship as part of discipleship would help us develop a more holistic approach in training new believers and aid in the stopping the spiral of dissension and splitting that has been so pervasive in our past. I firmly believe that when we get both our heads and our hearts right about worship, we will see both the growth in outreach and growth in unity among the members.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

His Yoke is Easy... But What About Ministry?

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Look at Matthew 11:28 again from the Amplified version
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] 29Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 30For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne."

Who of us in ministry cannot hear these words from Christ, longing for some rest. “Over scheduled, over committed, snowed under,” — these are but a few of the expressions that come out of our lips. Before we look into the specific applications of passage, let’s remind ourselves of the context.

In Matthew 10, Jesus summoned the 12 and gave them instructions before sending them out. As they were leaving, he addressed the crowd and told them about the John the Baptist and his ministry. He then denounced the cities that had rejected his message and prayed the well known prayer [11:25-27]:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Then, to address those around him he then said: “Come to Me...” Notice what he had just said: “and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” For Jesus to say only those whom He chose could see the Father, and then say “Come to Me, all...” opened the door for everyone or “whoever will.” The door of salvation is open to those who hear the open invitation.

Jesus’ invitation is for all those burdened, weary, tired. [Know anyone that fits that description?] Jesus calls out to the worn out, but what is His promise? “I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.” What a promise!

After teaching all week, Wednesday evening choir practice, and playing catch up with around the house things on Saturday, Sunday starts at church early and ends late. Many times coming in from church means a time of collapsing in a recliner, and trying to get some other things done before going to bed. I know that I am not alone in such a schedule. Bivocational ministers, as well as those in full time positions often feel like they can only come up for air between activities. We need to come to Christ for rest, but how can we have it? We can’t just stop at that part of the verse, we must go on. Jesus makes a statement that seems out of place and it is the condition for finding rest: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

You might ask, “What does a yoke have to do with rest?” A yoke was made for work, but this is not just any yoke, it is His yoke. Scripture says His yoke is “easy,” or one that “fits perfectly, one that is “useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant, and My burden is light and easy to be borne.” The yoke was placed on a beast of burden to plow and to pull heavy loads. Rightly placed, the strain of the load was evenly distributed and allowed more effective results. Putting on God’s yoke, His will done His way fits rightly, brings rest, or “relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet.”

What does that mean? It does not say that there would not be any work or that there would not be any burdens. Jesus calls us to take “His yoke” and to “learn from Him.” We can understand that “taking His yoke” is doing what He has called us to do. The qualification is that we do it as He would do: we must learn from Him, who in His nature is gentle, and humble, then we will find rest for our souls.

When we begin to take up His yoke, to do what He has called us to do and follow in obedience, our normal response is to barge on ahead and just do what needs to be done. It is easy to live in such a way that the goal justifies the means to achieve it. Jesus’ words seems to cut directly across such attitudes. For His example was to do the work as a servant [humble] and without complaining or being harsh [gentle].

As we respond in obedience to what God is calling us to do, we must learn to do it with a learner’s heart, gentle and humble, not complaining, etc. It is easy to see the negative, in fact, for some of us that becomes our focus. One way of refocusing our attention from the negative is to give thanks and consciously focus on what God has provided. We must ask God to help us respond in gentle and loving ways.

How can we say that His yoke is “easy?” A better translation simply means “fits perfectly.” As we are doing what God has called us to do, we will discover that it is not a burden, but a joy. We can actually feel energized rather than worn out. Eric Liddell, who became an English missionary to China, was also the central figure of the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” and won the gold medal in the Olympics for his running. He once told his sister, “God, has made me for China, but God also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. ” When we are doing what God has called us to do, in His power, and in His character, we too can feel the pleasure of the Lord.

One of my greatest joys and privileges is to teach the worship classes at the seminary. I can be tired, and worn out, but when the opportunity to share the truths of God’s Word about worship, about Who He is and What He has done arises, I can honestly say that I can sense a new energy that I did not have before. Yes, it is the grace of the Lord and His power, but it is also the fact that it is his yoke that is fitting perfectly for that moment.

What are we to do? What does it look like?

1. We must go to Him. As we are serving God, it is easy to get so wrapped up in so many things that they become a burden. We get frustrated, upset. –“Here we are trying to serve God, and look how bad all this is...” In those moments of weariness, He is calling out to us to “Come to Him.”
2. We need to focus on Him, and not the negative things around us. Not to ignore problems, but refocus on giving thanks to God for what He has done.
3. We must ask God to remold our character after His, and respond as He would respond. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”
4. We need to ask for the Spirit of God to help us, to accomplish what He has called us to do, and not take on what He has not. No one can do it all. We can get so involved that we cannot do anything well. Discerning what God want us to do also involves discerning what He does not want us to do. We need the help of His Spirit to avoid these problems. Sometimes we are worn out because we are doing good things, but not the best things, or those things for which He has called us.