This ladies and gentlemen is a picture of a paradoxical frog.  It is native to the eastern parts of South America.  And what makes it a paradox is the fact that while a full-grown specimen is about 7.5 cm in length, when it’s a tadpole it can reach up to 25 cm in length.  It literally is four times larger as a tadpole than it is as a frog. Here is a picture of both the tadpole and the frog.

So, as it matures, the frog gets smaller.

Those in the know tell us that there is nothing else in nature that compares to this, and it’s so odd, that for most of history the tadpole and the frog were considered to be two different creatures.

You might be wondering, how that is even possible and so we go to the science department of the University of California Santa Barbara, which tells us, “While the precise mechanism of shrinkage in Pseudis paradoxa (Paradoxical frog) is unclear, the change occurs mostly during metamorphosis, a complex cellular/molecular event in the life of any organism.”

Which means, the scientists haven’t got a clue.

Even though we don’t see this evidenced in nature, we do see it sometimes evidenced in our spiritual lives. 

Do you remember the passion you had when you first became a Christ follower? Your desire to pray and read God’s word.  Your desire to be in church every chance you had in order to be with God’s people? Your desire to tell others about Jesus? 

And maybe it’s the same now as it was then, but for many people, it’s not.

In the book of Revelation, we read the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus.  And there are many things that he praises them for and then in Revelation 2:4, we read, Revelation 2:4 “But (remember, after the but comes the truth) I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”

This is week three of our Spiritual Disciplines series. 

The why of practicing spiritual disciplines is simply, to draw us closer to God so that we don’t lose our first love.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about What Spiritual Disciplines aren’t, that they aren’t a way to salvation, they aren’t a measure of our spirituality, they aren’t legalism and they aren’t always the same. And then I gave you Donald Whitney, author of, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, definition of spiritual disciplines, “Spiritual Disciplines are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times. They are the means of blessings for followers of Jesus and a part of their growth in godliness.”

Last week Pastor Deborah spoke about the Spiritual discipline of Sabbath Keeping and spoke about taking time to rest, a time to recharge and a time to refocus on God.

This morning, I want to look at the discipline of Worship. 

John Ortberg author of the Life You’ve Always Wanted, writes, “I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.” 

And that brings us to the scripture that was read earlier. 

Jesus was asked by a man what was required for eternal life, and this was his answer:  Mark 12:29–30 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’

Jesus said that is the most important commandment, if you can only do one, this is it.  This is the one that you don’t want to miss.  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  

So we were created to be loved by God and our purpose in our lives is to love him back.  He should be the most important thing in our life. 

And there is a word for what we do when we love God that way and that is “Worship”.  We worship God.  Goes all the way back to the first book in the Bible, Genesis 4:26 When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. It was during his lifetime that people first began to worship the Lord.

If we go all the way back to the beginning of the story we realize that Adam and Eve were created to be in fellowship with God.  There was a direct connection and they deliberately rebelled and walked away from the relationship.  And after they were banished from the Garden of Eden, we have no idea what type of relationship they had with their creator. 

But it’s not very long into history that we read those words about their grandson Enosh, it was during his lifetime that people said, “We need to have that relationship with the one who created us, we need to connect with him again.”  And they began to worship God.  That’s why we are told in in the book of Hebrews, Hebrews 9:1 That first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth.

But what does that mean? 

Does it mean that they started having church and part of that was the “Worship” service?  Did they have drums and guitars and keyboards and sing songs by Ren Collective and Phil Wickham, or did they have an organ and piano and sing hymns?  Was it contemporary worship or more traditional worship? 

And by the way, the term “Contemporary Worship” is often misleading, in more cases than not it means that churches sing songs written somewhere between 1980 and 2020.  But the word contemporary as defined by Collins English Dictionary means 1. belonging to the same age; living or occurring in the same period of time2. existing or occurring at the present time3. conforming to modern or current ideas in style, fashion, design, etc4. having approximately the same age as one another

In his book The New Traditional Church, Tony Morgan makes a great point when he wrote: “If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).”  That was an aside, when people ask what our music is like at Cornerstone, I often use the word current.

The problem is that we limit worship either to what we do in church or narrow it down even further to half of what we do in church and then we make it the least significant part.  And so, we have the “worship”, which is the singing part of the service and it is the prelude to the important part which is the “preaching”. 

Sometimes you will hear people say, “I really enjoyed the worship this morning.” And what they mean is that the music spoke to them.  And that’s not bad, but it is personal and while it may be a part of what worship is it certainly isn’t all of what worship is.  When we limit worship to music then it becomes very personal and anything that is personal, we become defensive of.

And that’s why musical styles in churches can sometimes result in conflict because it is so personal.  When we say that we don’t like a particular type of music then those who like that type of music take it personally.  And sometimes that’s called worship wars, which is really an oxymoron.

In other words, if I don’t like singing traditional hymns in church then in some people’s minds, I’m saying singing traditional hymns in church is wrong and so by implication, that means I’m saying that those who prefer singing traditional hymns in church are wrong as well.

Understand that was just an example, there are a lot of hymns I like.  You probably don’t have your funeral planned out, but I do, and there are two hymns that I want to be included.   but hymns are not a part of what we are trying to accomplish at Cornerstone. 

But even if I didn’t like hymns, it would just mean that I personally don’t enjoy that style of music.

I don’t like classical music or rap music, I don’t like reading poetry, or putting anchovies on my pizza.

And if you do like classical music or rap music, reading poetry and eating anchovies on your pizza you probably aren’t offended because I don’t.  But worship is more personal than just our preferences.

So, when we narrowly define worship as one style or type of anything it puts God in a box.

Worship can’t be defined by style because style is too individualistic.  And so, worship music is really a misdefinition because it’s only “worship music” for some people and for others it’s just plain annoying. 

Neat story, that I’ve told before.  There was an elderly pastor on this district by the name of Walter Fernley, he passed away about ten years ago and his wife passed away a couple of years before Walter.  Mrs. Fernley’s first name was Mabel, but everyone called her Mabs.  One day Walter asked Mabs to say grace at dinner, which she did, very quietly.  To which Walter commented, “I couldn’t hear you.”  To which Mabs replied, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

So, when you say, “I didn’t enjoy the worship this morning”, the proper response is “We weren’t singing to you.”  

I don’t think God prefers any one style of worship music.  I think that we offer our worship to Him and if we do it with the right motives and a pure heart then He goes, “Thank you, that was so cool.” 

Because as good as our music was this morning, God has heard so much better. Sorry team.

Think about it twelve hours ago he heard the worship team from Hillsongs Australia sing. Five hundred years ago God heard Handel’s Messiah for the first time, and three thousand years ago God heard King David sing an original arrangement that we call the 23rd Psalm.

And you understand that heaven is filled with music that God hears all the time.  It’s actually country music, it sounds a lot like Willie.  

But we are God’s children presenting our gift of worship to Him.  When your child gives you a gift that they made themselves do you say, “Well it’s nice but it’s not very good compared to other art I’ve seen.”  No you say “Thank you, that is so cool.”

So if worship isn’t what we do in church, and it isn’t just music, what is it?

Paul was writing to the early church in the book of Romans and this is what he said Romans 12:1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

So look at the last line, This is truly the way to worship him.In other translations it reads “this is your spiritual act of worship.” What is your spiritual act of worship?  To give your bodies as a living and holy sacrifices.  But what does that mean?  Well there are three things that we need to note about that statement.

1) Worship is a Gift

 We are told to give our bodies and when you give something it is called a gift, and in the case of worship, it is to be a voluntary Gift.  From day one God created mankind with this incredible gift of free will.  He didn’t create us to blindly serve him without thought or choice. 

In 1942 Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called Runaround and in it, he introduced us to the 3 laws of Robotics which state  

1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Those laws were fiction of course, but God could have put very similar restrictions on humanity.  But then we would have been robots and not people and God wants us to choose to worship him and so he allows us to choose whether or not we will obey him and whether or not we will worship him.  He wants it to be a conscious decision where we in effect say, “I offer this to you” 

Francis De Sales  summed it up when he said  “There are no galley-slaves in the royal vessel of divine love — every man works his oar voluntarily!”

Of course, free will is a double-edged sword, author P.J. O’Rourke commented “One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”

Nobody else can worship for you and if you don’t take that step there is nobody else you can blame for it not happening.  And that worship might be your personal worship.  The time you take on your own to read God’s word, pray and listen to Christian music, and the time you take for devotions with your spouse or your family. Or it might be public worship, what we do collectively on Sunday morning. 

And that applies to what happens on Sunday as well.  We can decide to not enter into worship during a service because the music isn’t to our taste or we find it too loud or not loud enough, or it’s not our favourite worship leader, but understand it will be our choice.  We do what we want to do. 

2) Worship Is the Gift of Us

We are told to give our bodies, not anybody else’s bodies, but our bodies.  And that simply means that you are to give “You”.  While we are here, we are here in our bodies, if we are going to do anything it will be done with our bodies. 

Every once in a while, someone will tell me, “I can’t be here next Sunday Denn, but I will be here in Spirit.”  Do you know what that means?  “Nothing, zip, nada.”  If your body is not here then your spirit is not here. They are interconnected and they go together.  In this life, you can’t have one without the other.

And so, by asking for our bodies God is in effect asking for all of us.  So understand you will be worshipping something and that will be indicated by what you are doing with your body and where your body is.  It defines our priorities. 

If you tell me “Denn I really want to be worshipping at church next Sunday, but I have to be at . . .”  What you are saying is “I really want to be worshipping at church, but I want to be at . . . more.” 

Because ultimately, “We do what we want to do.”

So when we offer our bodies we are offering ourselves in a practical way to God, it’s not just something that happens here in our mind, kind of like a card I sent to my best friend one year for his birthday, on the cover it said: “When it comes to gifts it’s the thought that counts.”  And inside it said, “And I thought about getting you a gift.”   And it’s not just what happens here in our heart, where it is a good intention. 

When I was growing up my favourite Aunt would often remind me that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  And Margaret Thatcher said “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he only had good intentions. He had money as well.” 

So it’s not enough to think about worshipping God or even wanting to worship God if we don’t actually worship God.  

3) Worship Is a Gift With a Cost  Every decision we make involves a positive and a negative, when we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else.  And it isn’t simply a matter of choosing between what’s good and what’s bad.  That would be too easy. 

As a pastor I will sometimes hear people talk about how much they love Jesus, but they never offer anything back, no time, no service no gifts.  It was Michael Novak who wrote “Love is not a feeling of happiness. Love is a willingness to sacrifice.”    Remember how Paul said we were to offer ourselves to God?  A living and holy sacrifice.

And that often means choosing one thing over another. 

And so worshipping God, offering your body to Him will require a sacrifice.  Sometimes it’s small.  Maybe it means being in church instead of sleeping in or mowing the lawn.  

Maybe it means lifestyle choices.  I will do this thing and will not do that thing.  Or perhaps there is a relationship that drags you down and puts you in situations where you know as a Christ follower you really shouldn’t be. 

Jesus was talking about situations like that when he told his disciples in Matthew 5:29-30  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 

He was so serious about that statement that he repeats it in Matthew 18:7-9  

Now, Jesus didn’t poke anybody’s eye out or cut off anybody’s hand or feet.  He was talking about removing yourself from situations and relationships that would cause you to be disobedient to what he is calling you to do.

And there are some of you here today who know exactly what I’m talking about.

Your sacrifice might be reflected in how you use your volunteer hours.  Every one of us has to decide for ourselves where we will give our time.  Because we only have so much time to give.

It is reflected in our giving, because I understand that when you choose to give to God’s work you are choosing to not use that money somewhere else. 

But ultimately those decisions are life changing decisions because when they come together they are saying “I will put God first in my life.  Before my family, before my career, before my recreation, before habits.”  And that’s not easy, and that’s probably why Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 

Because Jesus knew that what he was asking of us wouldn’t be easy, he knew that it would cost something, and he knew that it would require a sacrifice.  If it doesn’t cost something, then it’s not a sacrifice. 

And we are not just speaking of your money, worship demands your focus and your attention. 

In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney writes, “The act of worship without actual worship is a miserable, hypocritical experience. So if worship wearies you, you aren’t really worshipping. God is not wearisome”

He goes on to write, “Worship is focusing on and responding to God, regardless of what we are doing, we are not worshiping if we are not thinking about God.” 

I was at a funeral last week and was talking to another pastor, I took out my phone and turned it to silent and asked if he had done the same.  He told me that he leaves his phone in his car when he goes to church because he knows if he has it with him it will distract him.  Hmmmmm.

What is it that you are giving up?  How are you making yourself a living sacrifice today?  Because we were called to follow Jesus and to continually grow in our Christian walk.

Don’t be like the paradoxical frog.

One thought on “Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

  1. Wow!What a lot to take in.I must read this again It has so many points for me to consider.Thank you for writing this.It is great.It gives me a great deal to think about and in some ways zi need to change my behaviour

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