Why God Wants Our Worship

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. … Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols … (Romans 1:19-23 NLT)

“Wow! Thank you Lord.” My friend Jamie kept saying, as we sat outside under a full moon looking at the sky and listening to the thundering waves of the ocean.

We took a couple of days off this past week and stayed at Virginia Beach with the Winships. Robin and I have been friends with Jamie and Donna since our college days. It’s great to get away and refresh friendships and recharge our batteries. There’s something special about being at the beach and enjoying time with old friends. Through the years, getting our families together at the beach has become a kind of Combs/Winship tradition.

But it’s easy to get so caught up in the enjoyment of creation and the pleasure of human friendship that we forget to worship the Creator from whom these gifts come. That’s why it was good to sit with a friend and proclaim together our thanks for the God of creation.

All too often I have lowered my eyes and my affection from the Creator to his creation. I go to the beach and I enjoy it so much that I want a house there. I drive to a lake in the mountains and I dream of owning a cabin there. I grasp for and try to keep those beautiful, awe-filled moments in my hands to assure my future enjoyment of them. I don’t want to let go of the beauty of those moments.

Perhaps that’s what motivated the apostle Peter to want to build a temple on the mountain when he saw the glorified Christ transfigured. It’s the human response. We want to keep what we just experienced. We want to build a monument, a temple to it. Then, we think to ourselves, we can visit it anytime we like and experience that same feeling again. In a way, Peter was saying, “Let’s just build houses up here and live on this mountain.”

But God doesn’t want us worshiping the mountains, or the beach or the stars… He wants us to worship him.

Is it because he is jealous of our worship? Yes. He is jealous because it belongs to him like the love of a wife belongs exclusively to her husband.

But I don’t think that’s the only reason he wants our total and exclusive worship. I think he wants us to worship him because he knows that’s how he made us. We were made to worship him. When we put something else in the place where God is supposed to be, it’s like trying to run a car on water. Sure, it’s a liquid and it fills the space, but it doesn’t make the engine run. And make no mistake, we were made to run on our worship of him.

The apostle Paul explains our need for worshiping the true Creator in his letter to the Romans. He says that when we lower our worship from the Creator to his creation, it results in our minds being “dark and confused.” He goes on to describe a state of mind that causes us to go about putting everything we can find into that place, but finding nothing to fill it. So, we settle for idols — mere man-made images of God. The result is that we become fallen creatures that no longer glorify God in this world by being the Imago Dei, the image of God, that he made us to be.

I think it was the French philosopher Pascal who said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the soul of every man that can only be filled by the person of Jesus Christ.”

When we put anything, no matter how good, in the “God-shaped” space within us our worship is fallen and so are we. It keeps us from living out the God designed purpose of our lives. It keeps us from living out the “full and abundant life” that Christ came to give. Having the awareness that only God fulfills, pulls our worship off the creation and onto him and causes us to be what he wants – one who reflects the image of his Son.

“Yes, thanks Lord!” I agreed with Jamie as I sat back and drank another sip of warm coffee.

Dried Up and Empty?

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:7-9 NIV)

Ever feel like the “brook dried up?”

Even worse, have you ever had the brook dry up and be told to go get help from someone that looks like they probably need help more than you do? Why does God do that? Why does God send some of us to receive from people who don’t have it to give? Why does God send people to us for help and command us to give to them when our own wallets are empty?

Our church is growing in most ways that people would notice: More people attending, more people deepening their commitment to God, more people seeing life change. But something’s up with the “brook.” Our finances have gone down at nearly the same rate that attendance has gone up. As the number of needs and people grow our wallets and resources have been depleted.

For a while I’ve been sitting by the brook wondering why it seems to be drying up. I’ve been asking God to get it going again. I’ve been wondering why God would send us here to deliver His Word and then not provide for us. I’ve been wondering why he would send needy souls to us for help and then not give us the resources to help them. It seems… cruel.

“We want to serve You. We want to help others. God give us the resources we need to do it!” I’ve cried out in prayer.

But the brook just keeps trickling by.

“Perhaps it’s us?” I wonder. “Perhaps, we’ve done something wrong or we’re not working hard enough?” I question.

I’ve sensed no reply until recently. But lately I’ve sensed that God may want to use another brook or another source to provide for us. I’ve been sitting by the brook not wanting to change, but God seems to be leading us to move out of what is comfortable and yet still be obedient as servants of His gospel.

Here are a few things I’m feeling led to do:

I’ve asked Robin to find other work. She’s been the church secretary for eight years, but the finances to pay her aren’t coming in right now. She has already found another job and will start working at a local veterinarian in June. She has loved working for the church, but we really need the income she makes and perhaps working somewhere else will open other doors we haven’t yet foreseen.

I’ve given Stephen the freedom to consider working somewhere else too. The money to pay him hasn’t been coming in of late either. Both he and I have been working without pay for several weeks. Stephen is putting out his resume as a percussion instructor and also looking for other work that wouldn’t prevent him from continuing to live out his passion for leading worship. I’m really proud of him. He is willing to sacrifice and work side jobs in order to have the resources to keep serving at WCC.

I’ve taken some side work too. As many of you already know, I have been working with the Innovative Church Community to help develop learning communities in North Carolina for pastors and ministry leaders. I’ve been under a short term contract with them for several months. This small income stream has been a real blessing. I’ve also been certified as a Christian life coach. I’m currently coaching several church planters that pay me an hourly fee. Plus, I’ve been trying to write more. I recently sold an article to Church Solutions Magazine.

Finally, I’ve decided to stop being too proud to ask for bread from the “widow.” It must have been hard for Elijah to take food from her. She didn’t have enough even for herself and her son. But Elijah believed God. He believed God enough to ask the widow to believe too. He told her to make a little cake for him first and then there would be enough for her and her son too. He told her that if she would give the first portion of whatever she had to God, that God would always meet her and her family’s needs.

Do you know what happened? God used a widow’s empty jar to feed the man of God and the widow’s family.

I’m going to change my view of our church as being made up of people who don’t have anything to give. I’m going to ask people to stop looking at their empty jars and start asking them to believe God. We shouldn’t even be looking to jars or brooks anyway. We should be looking to God.

So, we’re moving away from dependence on one little brook. God’s not the brook anyway. He is the water. He is the life. He is what we need. And He can use any brook or widow’s jar He chooses.

Besides, He loves making dried up things flow with life and empty things full.

We Have A Great Church!

Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips. (Proverbs 27:2 KJV)

“Sounds like you have a great church!” My new friend Larry said, as we sat in a booth at a local Mexican restaurant getting acquainted.

Larry is a missionary and the father of Susanna, one of the Barton college students that recently joined WCC. She arranged for me to meet her father when he came to pick up her up from school this week.

As we got to know each other, I began to tell him about how our church was 15 years old and that we had become experts at seeing people come to Christ, get baptized, get discipled, and then sending them away.

“Of course…” I said, “The sending part hasn’t always been intentional. We have sent some of our best to the mission field and to plant churches, but many have left for other local churches. It seems we have become experts at growing a church up to around 300 and then growing it back down to 100 again.”

“So, what’s wrong with that?” Larry asked.

“Well, for one thing, it’s getting harder to lead because we keep sending those whom we’ve invested in most. It’s like a joke around here that no one wants to be on the WCC staff because within a year or so you’ll find yourself shipped to the Middle East or starting some ministry in another area. Our last associate pastor got shipped to Baghdad and now serves in Jordan. Of our last three youth pastors, one is now in Cairo, Egypt, another is preparing for ministry in Czech, and the third is planting a church in Greensboro.”

“I’m still listening for the problem.” Larry said, a smile tugging at his mouth. “OK, it’s not just former staff. Just being a deacon, a women’s ministry leader, or a children’s ministry leader can get you shipped out of here. We have former deacons out there who left us to go to seminary and become church planters and pastors. We have a former women’s leader who got her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies and teaches on the subject in New Orleans. We have a former children’s ministry director who moved from here and now helps another church plant with their children’s ministry.” I muttered.

“But…” Larry interrupted.

“I’m not finished.” I continued. “It seems like the minute we get people saved and baptized… the minute we get the husband to stop drinking… the wife to start loving her husband and children… the minute they start learning to serve God with their time, talent, and treasure… they leave. There. I said it. They leave right when they could be some help to us in building the church!”

“Wow. Now I know you have a really great church! Larry exclaimed. “I think your church is an equipping and sending church. I love the fact that you send people and that you still rent a building. I think you have a really, really great church!”

Having lunch with my new friend Larry has got me thinking. We are building a great church—Christ’s church! And His church is bigger than WCC.

So, what does that mean for us? Well, for one thing, after falling back last year to around 130 or so, we are now growing like crazy again. Based on current trends we’ll grow past 300 this year. People are getting saved. Joining the church. Getting their lives right.

But with this growth, we are having some very familiar growing pains. With more people coming we need more people serving. We need people serving with their time, talent, and treasure. Who among you is ready to step up and increase your commitment by giving back to God? Will you give your time by working with our children? Will you give your talent by helping serve on one of our ministry teams? Will you give a significant and sacrificial portion of your income to God as an investment in His Kingdom and an expression of your love and obedience?

I know some of you will say “Yes” to God. Of course, the danger is that some of you will grow up and be called to go out from us. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that part.

But hearing the “praise of another” certainly helped my perspective.

The Desynchronization Effect

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:1-3 (NIV)

This year daylight savings time began a couple of weeks early.

I’m one of those guys that love to “Fall back,” but I don’t “Spring forward” with quite the same enthusiasm. I like gaining an hour of sleep, but it takes me a while to adjust to the loss of same. I know. It’s a minor thing. I’m coping.

The same can’t be said for my PDA. It didn’t like the early arrival of DST at all! I noticed that it didn’t synch with the time change last Sunday, so I tried to reset the time an hour forward. After manually changing the time and synching it with my laptop, it decided to change every appointment in my Outlook program. Every appointment time is off one hour now. Every all day appointment is now two days long (In the case of birthdays, younger folk no doubt will be pleased with the scheduling change, while older ones certainly won’t feel the same ardor).

So, I have been out of synch this week and so has my PDA. I’ve recently learned that what I’ve been experiencing is called the “Desynchronization Effect.” I think it also makes one grumpy. I have certainly been so.

Last week I spent some time with Alex McManus. Alex is one of the most out-of-the-box evangelists and futurist thinkers that I’ve encountered. I really loved being part of the dialogue that he led around how the gospel is moving across time and culture.

Alex said, “The movement of the gospel is not only across cultures to reach the earth, it is also across generations to reach the future.”

Alex explained that as the gospel moves from one culture or one generation to another, those carrying it experience a “desynchronization” with their old culture or time. There’s a kind of threshold of resistance to the new culture/time, followed by a decision to adjust/reset to the new culture/time or to reject the change and go back to the familiar.

Anyone who has flown to another country has felt the desynchronization effect. That’s why we have jet lag – we have to adjust to a new chronos, a new time and culture. Alex led us to look at the Book of Acts to see how Peter experienced this effect when God gave him a vision to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

Alex said, “God, through giving Peter a vision, is trying to synch him with the larger work He is doing in the culture. It was time to reach the nations. But this puts Peter out of synch with circumcised believers.”

I think God is still doing this today. His call to carry the gospel to the nations and to the next generation will always put us out of synch with our present. That’s why when we say “Yes” to God to go to the nations or to the next generation, there is always a litany of (surprise, surprise) “believers” who “criticize” us. They sense that we are out of synch with them and something has to give. Either they come with us, or they convince us to stay with them, but we can’t continue to be “desynchronized” in limbo.

As I look at WCC I see us choosing to be like Peter. He was willing to be desynchronized with his Jewish Christian peers in order to by synchronized with the movement of the gospel towards the nations. I’m sure it made him a little grumpy at first, but all in all, he decided that joining the movement of God was better than being left adrift. That’s why Peter’s story is in the book of Acts. Peter acted. He decided to move with God.

What will you do? Will you inconvenience yourself in order to follow the move of God to another culture and to another generation? Alex said that we tend to present the gospel as if we (the individual) are the end of it. But the truth is that the gospel comes to us on its way to someone else.

Try following its movement. You’ll feel a little out of sorts at first, but eventually you’ll get synched up.