We have reached week four in our series “Operation Enduring Freedom.” We are learning that freedom starts with the name of Jesus on our lips. It is completed with the nature of Jesus in our hearts. Let’s say that together – Freedom starts with the name of Jesus on our lips. It is completed with the nature of Jesus in our hearts.
We have looked at our need to keep our focus on Christ in the midst of the battle. We have explored the reality of times in our lives when God will call us to engage the enemy in battle. Even times when we would rather not, but God will nudge. . .or even push us to that place of spiritual warfare.
Last Sunday we scoped out common strongholds that can settle into our minds. Those places of protection for the enemy built by the constant inflow of influence from the world, and from our experiences, and from wrong doctrines or beliefs that we have established in our minds. Five common strongholds that we struggle with: pride, unbelief, failure, fear, and love that can grow cold towards God or others.
So how do we combat these strongholds? How do we actively fight for our lasting freedom? Today I want to introduce the most powerful weapon available to us as Christians in our Operation Enduring Freedom. This one is the key. With this weapon firmly in place, victory is guaranteed. Without it, failure is inevitable. The weapon is. . . worship.
Turn to the book of Revelation, and look at a few contrasting pictures of worship with me. The first one is in Revelation 7:9 (read through verse 17). What an awesome picture. By contrast, turn back a few chapters to Revelation 13:1 (read through verse 10). What a contrast! Look at them together in Revelation 14:6 (read through verse 11).
The picture that is painted for us here is the end time battle of, and ongoing battle for worshipers. In the heavenlies and in your life, there is a battle raging between two parties that desire your worship: God. . .and Satan.
And something that is important to understand about spiritual warfare is that “The essence of this battle is the central issue in our warfare today.” Often when you look at a battle, and you look at the essence of it. The real reason for it. It’s true meaning. And when you look there, you will find the central place of warfare.
Battle – Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq
Essence: Democracy & freedom for the people of Iraq
Warfare: Terror and disruption of a free lifestyle(bombing market places, restaurants, daily life)
The warfare is focused on the essence of the battle. The methods of warfare are focused on disrupting the ultimate purpose and reason for the battle. Another example -
Battle – World War II in Germany
Essence: The uprising of a superior race, as Hitler saw it
Warfare: Elimination of Jews, Concentration Camps.
The warfare methodologies directly addressed and attacked the essence of the battle. The warfare that is utilized in a battle is always designed to effectively attack the essence of the battle. To directly unsettle that reason, and heart of the conflict.
Make no mistake about it. This battle, this spiritual war that we find ourselves in, is for our worship. The essence of it is where we will spend our eternity worshiping, and who we will be worshiping when we get there. So if that is the essence of the battle, the warfare of the battle is going to take place on the battleground of worship. This is. . .
THE WAR FOR WORSHIPERS
Have you ever wondered why people get so upset in the church about worship? I do not think it is simply an ironic coincidence that more churches have probably fought, expended countless hours and energy, and even split over the issue of “worship” styles than probably any other issue.
That’s because it is the essence of the battle. This is a war that is raging for worshipers. John 4:23 says, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.” God is seeking for worshipers. True, authentic, spirit filled worshipers.
It has always been this way. Look back at the end of the book of Joshua. His closing challenge to the people of God is “choose this day whom you will serve.” You have wavered between God, and the gods of this world. Stop waffling. Decide once and for all who will be the object of your worship.
Elijah on Mount Carmel. A mighty battle of worship. In your One Year Bible readings through I Kings during June, what did you read over and over again? It is a documentation of kings who turned to other objects of worship. Who wouldn’t tear down temples built to other gods. Kings who worshiped idols, and provoked God to anger because of their ill-focused worship.
Worship is the essence of the battle for your freedom, and our worship is the primary weapon of our warfare. It defines which side we are on. It reveals our allegiance, our loyalty, our commitment. Our worship is being sought by our Savior and Satan. What we give our worship to will identify who is winning that battle in our lives.
So we must choose this day whom we will serve. Who will be the object of our worship?
MUSIC BREAK #1 – The Heart of Worship
So if worship is the primary weapon of our warfare, we have to ask ourselves. . .how do we respond in the battle? When the bullets are flying, the attacks are vicious, and the enemy is coming against us like never before. . .how do we respond?
Do we find ourselves drawn closer to God? Experiencing greater intimacy and worship of Him? Or do we pull away? Spend less time in the word and prayer. Spend less time gathering with fellow believers to worship? When the battle is hottest, do we draw upon our primary weapon of warfare, or do we retreat from it?
Francis Frangipane writes, “No man will worship through the great battles of tomorrow who complains in the mere skirmishes of today.” You see, we have to learn to. . .
WORSHIP IN THE WILDERNESS
Think back to the book of Exodus. Do you remember the reason why Moses told Pharaoh that the people needed to be allowed to go out into the desert? What was the reason given for releasing the Israelites?
Exodus 5:3 says, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God.” Let us worship Him. Exodus 7:16, “The Lord God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.”
The call out of the nation of Egypt was a call out to worship God in the wilderness. And God used the wilderness, for forty years, to teach the Hebrew people about worship. Again, what battle do we constantly see among the Hebrews during the 40 years of wandering? A battle of worship.
And this is an important truth about worship in the wilderness. “Worship is often revealed as superficial when life transfers us from the comforts of daily living to the trails, pressures, and afflictions of the wilderness.” (Francis Frangipane)
It is one thing to say I will serve in the Lord’s army. I will use my weapon of worship for the Kingdom of God. It is a whole other thing to live out that warfare when life turns from comfort to a wilderness.
True worship, enduring, freedom bearing worship, victory bringing worship, is that worship that comes out in the midst of battle. When we are wandering in the wilderness.
Don’t withdrawal in the wilderness, worship. Don’t balk in the battle, bring the sacrifice of praise to the temple and bring down strongholds through worship. Freedom begins with the name of Jesus on our lips. Worship is our primary weapon of warfare, and we need to learn to worship in the wilderness.
MUSIC BREAK #2 – Blessed Be Your Name
In Exodus 20:3 we are told, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
In Matthew 4:10 Jesus says, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”
Mark 12:30 tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
A third important truth regarding our weapon of worship is that. . .
GOD IS THE MOTIVATOR AND SUSTAINER OF OUR WORSHIP
The only long term motivator and sustainer of worship is love of God. Any other motivation and reason for worship will fail. If we are worshiping for an emotional high. If we are worshiping because we like a certain kind of music. If we are worshiping because it is an escape from our daily life. No matter how legitimate any of those reasons may seem in the short term, if the motivator and sustainer of our worship is not a love of God, before long. . .we will be shooting blanks. Our weapon will be disabled.
I know the trap I can fall into. (Example of a pastor attending church on Sunday). Worship can be, and often by definition is, work. That is what happens when God is not the motivator and sustainer of my worship.
Churches are full of people who don’t know the name of their children’s Sunday School teachers. They have no idea who is spiritually investing in their children’s lives. Couldn’t tell you what was preached on last Sunday, or any of the Sunday’s before that. No concern with the communication and application of God’s Word that was going on week in and week out. Churches full of people completely oblivious to the financial stability of their church. The challenges being faced. The needs of the ministries.
But those same people can identify a bad praise chorus in a heart beat, and will let the pastor know before they got out the doors and headed off to the buffets.
Why? Because the motivator and sustainer of their worship is not their love of God. It is self. What meets my needs. What satisfies me. (Example of my common pastoral reflections following a service.)
Max Lucado writes, “I once knew a man who treated Bible class and the worship service like a harsh movie critic treats a new release.
“Entertain me!” Arms folded. Lips tight. Expectant. “This had better be good.”
"With a ruthless eye and a critical ear - he sat and watched and listened.
“The teacher, the minister, the music director—all were his prey. And woe be unto the teacher who didn’t ask his opinion, unto the minister who went a few minutes over, unto the music director who chose songs the critic didn’t know.”
Here me very carefully this morning. This is not a defense of worship leaders who aren’t in touch with their congregations. This is not a suggestion that every song written after 1995 is great, deep and profound, and everything written before 1995 stinks.
This is simply a realty check that there is this huge battlefield that exists in the spiritual realm, and it is over worshipers. So if Satan can use my personal preferences, and my consumer mentalities to pull me away from worshiping God as my motivation and sustainer. . .he will do it in a heartbeat.
Erwin McManus writes, “He walked confidently up to me on a Sunday morning. It was clear that he knew his way around a church. He kind of stood out since he was wearing a suit and tie. Our cultural apparel is much more casual than that. He introduced himself and explained that he had been attending for a little over a month. He informed me that the teaching met his standards, that the music was acceptable, and that he was pleased with what he found in the children’s and youth ministries. He went on to explain that he was married and had several children. When I asked him where they were, he explained that they were not yet allowed to attend. He wanted to check us out for several weeks before he brought his family. He wanted to make sure the products and services were in line with what he felt his family needed. This wasn’t about theology; this was all about customer service.”
God help us. Customer service is about me. It is about self. It is about the stronghold of pride. And it is about worship that is focused on my needs rather than God.
In Ezekiel we are told that the primary function of the priests was to “come near to God and minister to Him.” Have you ever looked at worship that way? Ministering to God.
Richard Foster writes in “Celebration of Discipline”, “One grave temptation we all face is to run around answering calls to service without ministering to the Lord himself. Our lives are to be punctuated with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration.”
We have often used the negative phrase, “It’s not about you.” But how about the positive twist of that, “It’s all about Him.” He is the motivator and sustainer of our weapon of worship.
MUSIC BREAK #3 – I Could Sing of Your Love
One last point about this weapon of worship. There is a phrase that has become pretty popular over the last few years. It says, “We were created for God’s pleasure.” That has become a pretty famous phrase over the past few years. “We were created for God’s pleasure.” Any idea where that might have come from?
Many would answer, Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Life.” And it is in there. But almost 15 years before that, Francis Frangipane wrote it down in his book “The Three Battle Grounds.” What was he talking about? Worship. You see. . .
WE WERE CREATED WITH A PURPOSE – AND OUR PURPOSE IS TO WORSHIP GOD
But there is a problem that can creep into our lives, and is well illustrated by the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a place of great legend. Some very fascinating ones. But there is one legend in particular that is a bit haunting. It seems that the favorite wife of the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan died.
Devastated by her death, he resolved to honor her by constructing this temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land, and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the shah’s grief was eclipsed by his passion for the project. He no longer mourned her absence. Now it was the construction that consumed him. In fact, one day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered a worker to throw the box out.
Shah Jahan didn’t know he had just ordered the disposal of the coffin, now forgotten and hidden beneath layers of dust and time. The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway.
Difficult to believe? Perhaps. Could someone build a temple and forget why? Ask yourself that question, and answer it in church. Position yourself up here on the stage where you can see all the faces. Could someone build a temple and forget why? Sit up here, and then decide.
You will see some people who remember the Savior. Wide-eyed and expectant. And you can also pick out the ones who see only the temple. Their eyes wander. Their feet shuffle. Their hands doodle, and their mouths open. Not to sing, but to yawn. No matter how hard they try to stay amazed, their eyes start to glaze over.
Most of these people don’t mean to be bored. They love the church. They can cite its programs and praise the pastor. They don’t mean to grow stale. But something is missing.
You see, there are temple builders and Savior seekers. You’ll find them both in the same church, on the same pew, and at times, even in the same person. One sees the structure and says, “What a great church.” The other sees the Savior and says, “What a great Christ!”
Which do you see? Because you were created for a purpose, and that purpose is to worship God. To minister to God. That is why we worship. It is what we were wired to do.
One church consultant’s research has led him to conclude that most churches are made up of three groups of people. The largest group are those with a need. That is why they come to church. They have a need, and they want the church to meet it. To make it all better.
The second group, and as this consultant sees it, the next biggest group is the family group. They like tradition. They like to know the name of everyone in the building. And truth be told, they like to know the business of everyone in the building. If you asked them why they come to church, they would say things like, “To see friends.” “To be asked how I am doing.” “To touch base with people who are interested in my life.”
The last group is the smallest group according to this consultant. A pretty rare collection in fact. Nothing wrong with coming to church for a period of time because you have a need. Nothing wrong with wanting to experience family in church.
But ultimately, the group that really gets it is the smallest group. He labels them as those chasing after Christ. They have needs. They like family. But when you ask them why they are involved in church, they tell you it is because they are passionate about knowing God better than the day before, seeing Him clearer than they ever have, and allowing His nature to become theirs.
They are pursuing God. So they come to worship Him. To soak Him in. To express their love for Him.
If a co-worker, neighbor, friend walks up to us on Wednesday and says, “By the way, you go to church, don’t you? Why?” What would our answer be?
Let me close with this story as told by one pastor while living in Brazil.
“Our house was only blocks away from the largest soccer stadium in the world. At least once a week Maracana stadium would be packed with screaming soccer fans. Initially I was not numbered among them, but their enthusiasm was contagious. I wanted to see what they were so excited about. By the time I left Rio, I was a soccer convert and could shout with the rest of them.
“Seekers may not understand all that happens in a house of worship. They may not understand the meaning of a song or the significance of the communion, but they know joy when they see it. And when they see your face changed, they may want to see God’s face.
“By the way, wouldn’t the opposite be equally true? What happens when a seeker sees boredom on your face? Others are worshiping and you are scowling? Others are in His presence, but you are in your own little world? Others are seeking God’s face while you are seeking the face of your wristwatch?
He goes on to writes, “As long as I’m getting personal, may I come a step closer? Parents, what are your children learning from your worship? Do they see the same excitement as when you go to a basketball game? Do they see you prepare for worship as you do for a vacation? Do they see you hungry to arrive, seeking the face of the Father? Or do they see you content to leave the way you came? They are watching. Believe me. They are watching. Do you come to church with a worship-hungry heart?
He finishes with these thoughts. “May I urge you to be just like Jesus? Prepare your heart for worship. Let God change your face through worship. Demonstrate the power of worship.”
MUSIC BREAK #4 – We Fall Down
Closing Song – How Great Is Our God