After our question and answer time when I came in view of a call, I remember talking with two members of the pastor search team afterwards to get a feel for how they thought it went—for there were a lot of different questions from a lot of different subjects. I remember telling them, “Well, I know they asked me a lot of questions, but if God calls me here, I’ll be asking a lot of questions—and a lot of them will likely start with the word ‘why.’”
Why ask why? Because every church that has any age about it will develop traditions, patterns that ebb and flow unnoticed after a while. As a newcomer to ARBC, I haven’t picked up on all the patterns, so I ask why things are done a certain way. It serves to help me learn about my church family—but it also helps those answering the questions to think about it.
That’s what this sermon series is about. Because if I’m asking these questions, there may be others of you who are new here who are asking the same things! Why do we come to church? Why do we pray? Why do we have to listen to a preacher? Why do they pass the plate and why do I see people putting some money in the plate? Why do we have to leave—and what do we do when we leave? And what is the purpose behind all of it?
There’s nothing wrong with asking why. But there may be something wrong if our answer is the way many of us parents respond: “Just because,” or “Because I said so,” –or the piece de resistance: “We’ve always done it that way.” These answers do not wash—nor should they! Peter tells us to be ready to give a defense for the hope within you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
For the next six weeks, we will be going through a series called “Why We Do What We Do,” outlining some core values of ARBC. In his leadership book, Aubrey Malphurs defines core values this way:
The core values of an organization are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. We have an entire universe of values, but some of them are so primary, so important to us that through out the changes in society, government, politics, and technology they are STILL the core values we will abide by. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant.
This worship service and all of our worship services outline these core values. And the first one we will take a look at is the core value of assembling together—that is, coming to church. Has there ever been a time in your life when you wondering, either silently or out loud, “Why do we go to church?” Or as an unbeliever, “Why do people go to church?” For many in certain parts of the country, it was what you did on Sunday—more of a cultural event. But even now in those parts, a younger generation is coming up asking these questions, but not getting very many satisfactory answers. The answers are usually a variant of: “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do” or “Because that’s what we’ve always done.”
This morning, we are going to talk about the value of ‘assembling’ or coming to church. This is important for us to address because, in our culture, church has fallen on hard times. By ‘church,’ I mean coming to church, the institution of church! Some influential leaders have even said that the institutional church has had its day, but other things can take its place. Now, you can watch a worship service on TV, go to ‘church’ via the Internet with its numerous websites to hear sermons, music and all sorts of other things you can hear.
Kevin DeYoung recently wrote:
These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame. Both inside the church and out, organized religion is seen as oppressive, irrelevant, and a waste of time. Outsiders like Jesus, but not the church. Insiders have been told they can do just fine with God apart from the church.
But Jesus describe the church as the bride of Christ—and as one person said, “You cannot say you love Jesus, and not love what he loves.” And Jesus loves the church—He built it—and he also said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it!
1. Worship joyfully (Psalm 95:1-2).
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
One of the things that I love is seeing a church that worships joyfully! Where the music is joyful, the praying is joyful, the preaching is joyful—and the people are joyful in what Christ has accomplished. May Psalm 133:1 be true of us: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”
I did not always buy into this notion. At a church where I grew up, we were always encouraged to stay quiet as we come into the church out of reverence and out of a time where we could meditate and reflect on what we were about to do. In fact, right above the order of service was a verse from Habakkuk 2:20: “The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him.” This was a misuse, because in this, Yahweh was distinguishing between the idols crafted by the hands of men and their ‘worship’ of him by yelling and screaming so he would answer. We don’t have to scream at God for Him to answer—we can come before him in silence and ponder his majesty! So do that as a quiet time in your homes on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Psalm 95 shows that when it’s time to come into His house, let’s be joyful because of the promises God made and has kept in Christ!
Psalm 95 is a progression. They are heading to the Temple to worship, but they are not in the Temple yet. They are encouraging one another and anyone else who will listen to come! What does this joy look like?
Twice in these two verses, singing or songs are mentioned. We are beckoned to come, “let us sing to the Lord.” Twice, the phrase “let us make a joyful noise to” God is used. Joy is expressed—not kept in. Dictionaries define joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight; the expression or exhibition of such emotion.” Yes, the exhibition! The great type of exhibition is that of singing. Which answers the question, “Why do we sing?”
One of the reasons that those of us from our Baptist tradition may shy away from this is the excesses we may see from other traditions. But should we allow anyone else to take away our joy just because we are afraid of looking like someone else! We are letting that come between us and God—and each other! There are too many things in this world and can steal your joy. In Philippians, many times called the book of joy, so many things took that work against maintaining that joy:
· Rival preachers tearing down each other out of envy or jealousy
· Selfishness and arrogance among the members of the church when things do not go their way.
· Critical spirits that discourage the work of the ministry of the gospel and its workers—all based on their own personal preferences!
· False teachers who hold to works over Christ!
But we sing “to the Lord.” We make that joyful noise “to the rock of our Salvation.” We sing out of joy that overflows from His atoning work on through His Son!
2. Worship theologically.
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Our worship is about Christ, not about us. Say that with me this morning: “Our worship is about Christ, not about us!” When we worship, we worship joyfully, yes. But we also worship with our minds! This is why we think of this as worshiping theologically. Worship is about God, and we should be about the study of God (which is what theology is), engaging the mind as well as the heart. We do not want you to leave your mind at the door—Jesus told us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!
Psalm 25:4-5 says,
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me into your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.”
Why do we assemble? Because these times together are given over exclusively and decidedly for learning about Christ and His Word and His word. This needs to be a joyful time because our Savior and Lord lives and has rescued His people from their sins! And we need to take time to pour through who He is, what He has done, and what He aims to do through us!
Look at what this passage is saying. This serves as the motivation for the joyful worship—it is informed by truth regarding who we worship. “For”—and then he begins sharing how he is great! God rules over all His creation. Gods usually are over a portion of what we see, yet God is over all—via a tribal or territorial god. But God rules over all—to the point that even in His own hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains.
This deals with the basic understanding of God as Creator. This is basic because this is how the Scriptures begin: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!” This is critical. One unbelieving South Carolina man was listening to James P. Boyce preaching on Genesis 1:1 and heard, “In the beginning, God. . . .” He said, “If that is the case that ‘In the beginning, God,’ then I am in terrible trouble.”
3. Worship personally.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
The progression continues! Worship is connecting with God, not as equals. He is supreme! We are ones who submit to him. We understand the theology of God creating us—and then we understand as Christians how Christ rescued us from ourselves and made us a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Turn with me to Ezekiel 36:26-27. Here, God is giving them a foretaste of the ‘new covenant.’ He had told the house of Israel that he would act, not based on their obedience, but in spite of it and based on his holy name. The people of Israel had profaned His name among the nations. How? Look at verses 26-27:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.
You see, we cannot receive eternal life and favor with God by mere adherence to outward rules. God changes our hearts so that we are able to obey Him and turn to Him! Every other religion is about change from the outside in. Christianity is about change from the inside –and it comes out! We plant the theological seeds, and God grows those seeds into a beautiful fruit. He removes the heart of stone that is insensitive to Him and His Spirit—and He gives us a heart of flesh that is sensitive to the Spirit’s work! This is not something that we can do or decide upon—God gives us the new heart and the new spirit within us! By this, he causes us to walk in his statutes.
It’s only by His grace and how He changes our hearts that we would even want to worship, to bow down, to kneel before the one who made us! But we gladly say, “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture!” Those of us who have been around in church world know that if the Lord is our shepherd, we shall never want for anything we need. He will even guide us through the valley of the shadow of death.
And who is our Good Shepherd? John 10 quotes Jesus as saying, “I am the good shepherd.” What does he do?
· Verse 11: He lays down his life for the sheep.
· Verse 14: He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.
· Verse 15: He has other sheep not in the fold, and he is going to get them.
· Verse 27: Jesus’ sheep know his voice.
· Verse 28: He gives them eternal life. They will never perish. No one will snatch them from me.
Dear friend, in whose pasture are you feeding? Because make no mistake, you are feeding from somewhere? Does the shepherd of that pasture you’re dwelling care about you? Did they lay down their life for you? Do they know you? Do they take care of you, or expect you to take care of them? Do they give you eternal life? Do they protect you from the enemy who is trying to snatch you away?
In this we press on to the last…
4. We worship carefully (Psalm 95:7-11).
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Have you heard the voice of God? Before you start thinking of a personal experience you have had, please keep in mind that you have heard the voice of God in concrete form—the preaching of the Word! And as James Montgomery Boice reminds us, “Worship begins with listening rather than speaking or singing or shouting. It requires listening to God as he speaks to us in his Word. Worship must be based on the preaching of the Word. We must hear God’s Word… [and] obey it. Only then can we praise God joyfully for what we have heard.”
But when we hear the Word of God, one of two things happen: our hearts are softened or hardened! Has that ever boggled your mind—that two people can hear the same Word from the same Bible by the same preacher, and one responds by faith and another rejects it?
The Jewish people remembered well what happened at Massah and Meribah. “Massah” means ‘testing,’ and even with all the miracles that God displayed to them in the wilderness, they still wanted proof that God was with them and cared about them and would provide for them. They tested God by their unfaithfulness and unbelief. Year later, they did the same thing at Meribah, even after God had shown his full glory to them!
But that unfaithfulness was there for the entire 40 years (and yes, they only journeyed in the desert for 40 years)—and by their unfaithfulness and distrust, they would not enter into the Promised Land.
What is interesting is that this passage is outlined in Hebrews 3-4 and is brought up three times. In response to this, Hebrews 4:9-10 says:
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
So this Psalm, written far after, is talking about ‘today,’ meaning that the Canaan land promised corresponds to the “Sabbath rest” even now—salvation! This is not just for Israel—but Hebrews shows us that it’s for us today! By persevering in faith, we will obtain rest.
But it’s also a warning for those who identify with God’s people on the outside, but are still hardened in heart on the inside. God’s people were find until a time of testing, then they quarreled and tested with God. So look at Hebrews 3:12-13:
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
This Psalm 95 is about the why of worship! And worship is about hearing from God. God will encourage you, but will also challenge you! And he challenges you because He loves you. He provides these lessons and examples so that you will take care, should you have an unbelieving heart that is taking you away from God. So those who are faithful fill up with the word, why? To “exhort one another every day.”
If you have not responded and surrendered to Christ today, sin, self, and Satan is deceiving you right now, working to harden your heart. But while it is called ‘today,’ come! Worship and bow down. Kneel before the Lord your Maker! Find out why there’s so much joy in so many hearts today! They have surrendered to Christ, they belong to Him—their sin is forgiven because God loved them enough not to leave them that way. He sent Christ to pay a high price on the slaughterhouse of the cross so we wouldn’t have to. He atoned for our sins by taking God’s wrath that was careening toward us!
That’s why we come to church! We come to church to see how to come to Christ! Have you come to Him?
Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religions (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 13.
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 778.