What is Worship?

“True worship is a valuing or a treasuring of God above all things.” – John Piper.

There are many different definitions of what true worship is. Some believe that worship is the worship song that moves you on Sundays. Others believe worship is the amount of money you contribute to various ministries. Still others see volunteering on Sundays as an act or worship. All those and others are acts or expressions of worship, but I am not sure they define what true worship really is. I agree with John Piper: True worship is valuing or treasuring of God above all things.

True worship is God-centered worship. People tend to get caught up in where they should worship, what music they should sing in worship, and how their worship looks to other people. Focusing on these things misses the point. Jesus tells us that true worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). This means we worship from the heart and the way God has designed. Worship can include praying, reading God’s Word with an open heart, singing, participating in communion, and serving others. It is not limited to one act, but is done properly when the heart and attitude of the person are in the right place.

Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.” This verse expresses the psalmist’s recognition of God’s unique value, as well as a passionate desire for God. But can we always say that? If we are completely honest, can we say that every day and in every circumstance? Probably not. There will be times in every Christian’s life when we truly hunger for God more than for anything else. But our hunger and thirst for God can be more up and down. We want God, and what God provides: peace, health, joy and love. All those things are gifts from God, but true worship is echoing the Psalmist’s confession, “Lord, I desire you more than anything!”

So how do we do that? Where does such a passion for God come from?  It comes from truly knowing God. The more we see God as He really is, the more we will hunger for Him. But a fervent desire for God comes, not just from knowing about God in truth, but also from knowing Him personally and intimately. The more we experience God as He is, the more we will long for His presence.

True worship is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. The highest form of praise and worship is obedience to Him and His Word. To do this, we must know God; we cannot be ignorant of Him (Acts 17:23). Worship is to glorify and exalt God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you experience God’s presence in your life?
  2. What increases your desire for God? What competes with God for your ultimate desire?
  3. What can we do this week to increase our desire for God more than anything?

Do Something

“For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” – James 1:23-25.

It must be pretty exciting to receive a sports scholarship to college. I’m sure every one of them looks forward to the day they get in the game and show the fans what they can do. They expect to rise to the top when the game hangs in the balance. No one goes to college to sit on the bench for the season. So why are some of us who belong on God’s team so comfortable and satisfied with standing on the sidelines? Why are we so complacent about being actively involved? What happens that we lose our passion and become apathetic?

Maybe it was a disappointment or negative circumstances that caused you to move toward the sidelines. Maybe things got so bad that the sidelines seemed like the best option at that time. Maybe you feel inadequate, or ill equipped or maybe you feel like a hypocrite playing in the game with what is going on in your life. There will always be reasons and circumstances that will motivate you to back up and to back down. It is probably during these times when you look toward heaven and ask, “Where are you, God?” 

The God of the universe has not abandoned you. Your life isn’t over because you had a setback or because you came short of accomplishing something or you feel like a hypocrite. “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

You and I are key players in this game. The field is ready for us to take our place. Just because we are in the game does not mean we are a finished product.  We are still under construction—the closer we get to Him, the more He reveals who He created us to be. Everything I need is found in Him, and everything I am is because of Him.

Don’t stand on the sidelines. No matter where your heart for ministry is, minister in it. Don’t just talk about it. It is only by acting on your convictions that you can make a difference.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What role does hypocrisy play in keeping us on the sidelines?
  2. What can we do this week to get back in the game. 

Hypocrisy Unplugged

“To nobody’s surprise there are hypocrites in the church? Yes, and in the mall and at the home. Don’t hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less.” –  Billy Sunday

Throughoutt the years, one of the general suppositions and objections to Christianity is that the church is filled with hypocrites. People have gone to school on the words and actions of Christians whose walk doesn’t always match their talk. They have a fish on their car, but become a madman when someone cuts them off.

Are Christians hypocrites? Guilty as charged. I doubt if too many people would contest that statement. Most would admit it and move on.  And why not, as followers of Jesus, we are well aware of our tendency toward hypocrisy. If we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves, regardless of our perspectives on faith, we will find a life riddled with broken promises and inconsistencies. Even with the best intentions, our beliefs often don’t match our actions. It’s just part of being human. Jesus challenges us to love our neighbors, yet naturally tend to care more about ourselves.  

We are all adept at saying one thing and doing another. But that doesn’t make it OK. The hypocrisy of Christians has caused too many people to walk away from the idea of faith and religion. It’s resulted in people disregarding a loving, forgiving God because of how imperfectly we represent Jesus to the world around us.

I hate when I realize that I’ve been hypocritical. I can’t begin to express to you the pain I’ve felt when I know I’ve broken a promise, let someone down, or failed to follow through on a commitment. Have you ever felt that way? One of the things I love about Easter is that it reminds me that Jesus accomplished exactly what He said He would. Everything He preached, He backed up with action. Easter reminds me that Jesus doesn’t make promises He can’t keep. Even if His followers get stuck in hypocrisy, Jesus never does. In a world full of hypocrisy, Jesus is and has been the only one to be completely, unequivocally non-hypocritical. 

The cure to hypocrisy in the church is to be authentic about our sinfulness and authentic about the righteousness of Christ that is applied to us when we accept Him as Lord and Savior.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does hypocrisy hinder the work of the church? 
  2. How can we be more authentic in the church?

The Cure For Hypocrisy

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish,[a] and then the outside will become clean, too.” – Matthew 23:25-28

We have all had that moment when we want to be someone else, or trying to be different than we really are so people won’t see us as losers or irrelevant. In those times, hypocrisy seems to come easy to us even though we hate it. We hate it when we see it in other people. We hate it when we see it in the church.  And we really hate it when it rears its ugly head in us. It would be nice if we could go to our doctor and say, “I’m having a bout with hypocrisy,” and the doctor writes a prescription that you get filled at the local pharmacy. Three days later all the symptoms of hypocrisy are gone and you go on with your life. Your general practitioner cannot solve that problem for you. Fortunately, God can.

Jesus has a prescription for dealing with hypocrisy in our life. The cure starts from within. Matthew 7:3 says, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” Verse 5 adds, “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” When dealing with hypocrisy we need to start with ourselves. Refuse to compare yourself with other people. Refuse to evaluate what’s wrong with other people. We tend to fall into the hypocrisy trap when we know that we have some things we need to deal with, but we know five or six other people that have bigger issues than we have and are more in need of change than we are.  Love is the prescription we need because love changes everything.  

Jesus was never called a hypocrite because Jesus loved people. He valued people. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for every one of them. We should not seek perfection, not should we seek to place ourselves on a pedestal over others. Being a Christian is all about having a life-altering relationship with Jesus. It means we spend time with Jesus. It means we seek to emulate Jesus. Being a Christian is not about outward persona or wrappings, it is about the inward reality. So part of the cure for hypocrisy is to stop trying so hard to be better than others. Instead, develop a real relationship with Jesus. The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we are molded into His image, filled with His love for others and covered by His grace. The more we love others the less we will have hypocritical moments.

Remember, that it all starts within.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does hypocrisy start within?
  2. What can we do to love people more this week?   

Hypocrisy

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.Their worship is a farce,  for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9. 

If you have ever talked at any length with an alcoholic who participated in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, you will never hear the words, “I am a former alcoholic.” Rather, you will hear the sober declaration, “I am a recovering alcoholic.”  Veterans of alcoholism know it doesn’t matter if their last drink was five hours ago or five decades ago; the possibility of falling off the wagon looms as close as the nearest bar or difficult relative. One mistake, one wrong decision, one moment of indulgence could rip away everything they have achieved. That is because recovery is a journey, not a destination. 

We, as Christians, can learn from that mindset. We are all “recovering hypocrites.” And we can fall back into being a hypocrite at any time. That is because we have developed a habit and a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Some form of hypocrisy seems inevitable and we don’t want to open ourselves up for the steps to put hypocrisy behind us. You probably have an intense urge to go to another website right about now, and I understand that. Hypocrisy is a difficult subject. People use it as their principle reason for not going to church, rightfully pointing out “How could someone possibly say they believe one thing and live like they believe another?”

Jesus has a lot to say about hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn’t necessary, because He makes his disdain for them pretty obvious. He says things like: “You hypocrites!” (Matthew 15:7) “whitewashed tombs!” (Matthew 23:27) And, “Sons of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33

But how do we define hypocrisy? And are all Christians really hypocrites? I would make the case that doing what we don’t want to do doesn’t make us a hypocrite. It makes us sinners. Sinners in need of a savior. And therein lies the confusion. We have blurred the lines between the two. We need to make a clear dissection between the two. All of us sin but we all don’t need to be hypocrites. Confused? Let me try to clarify a little: a sinner is a person who falls short from time to time, all the while striving to be more Christlike. On occasion, we all act in contradiction to what we truly believe. None of us will ever perfectly live out each and every one of our beliefs, on a consistent basis, in any arena of life; especially when it comes to issues of faith.

A hypocrite, on the other hand, is a person who purposely deceives others, a person who attempts to live two lives simultaneously — one in public and one in private. They practice sins on a routine basis and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, but choose not to deal with their sin. They deny the grace that God exteds to them. To me, this is how Jesus defines hypocrisy.

So yes, there are hypocrites in the church. We are all owning up to our faults and seeking forgiveness. We will stumble, we will fall. But to label all of us hypocrites isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, we may be recovering hypocrites, but with God as our guide, we will continue our journey to be more Christlike, one moment at a time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can Christians act like religious hypocrites? How do you feel about someone when you realize that they are a hypocrite?
  2. What can we do this week to minimize hypocrisy in our lives? 

Thank You Mom

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:” – Proverbs 31:26-28.

On Mother’s Day each year we acknowledge the unique contributions that mothers make in the lives of their children. My prayer is that we show our appreciation and gratitude more often than once a year, but on Mother’s Day specifically, we recognize the behind the scenes sacrifices and struggles every mother makes. We recognize that, all too often, your contributions as a mom, may feel undervalued, misunderstood and overlooked because so much of your best work is hidden away in the unseen moments of grace with your children. Most people will never see you throwing yourself in the daily chore of cleaning spit-up, cooking another meal, responding to another tantrum, pick up the thousandth crayon, listening to your teen’s concerns or graciously shepherding feuding brothers and sisters. And for all that, mom’s simply don’t get their due. How often does a child walk up and say, “wow mom, you have it all together.” 

Fortunately, that doesn’t stop you from always being there. You are there at all our sporting events. You were there with some good advice when we started dating. You were there on the front row watching us getting married. You were there when your grandchildren were born. You sacrifice and struggle because of love, and selfless, sacrificial love is worthy of recognition.

My hope is that you know that you are valued by your church. We thank you for all the small, the ordinary, and the mundane things you do for your family. Thank you for sowing the seeds of God’s love in the hearts of children. Chuck Swindoll in Strong Family listed some “I owe you’s” which apply to mothers all over the country, all of which are long overdue. “I owe you – for your time. Day and night. I owe you – for your example. Consistent and dependable. I owe you – for your support. Stimulating and challenging. I owe you – for your humor. Sparky and quick. I owe you – for your counsel. Wise and quiet. I owe you – for your humility. Genuine and gracious. I owe you – for your hospitality. Smiling and warm. I owe you – for your insight. Keen and honest. I owe you – for your flexibility. Patient and joyful. I owe you – for your sacrifices. Numerous and quickly forgotten. I owe you – for your faith. Solid and sure. I owe you – for your hope. Ceaseless and indestructible. I owe you – for your love. Devoted and deep.”

So, on this Mother’s Day, take a moment and consider the priceless value of the one who made your life possible – your mother.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you appreciate most about your mom? 
  2. What can we do this week to honor and respect your mother?   

Faith Is Taking That First Step

“This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.– Revelation 14:12

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

This quote by Martin Luther King Jr., is a great analogy for faith. King lived his life by faith and ultimately sacrificed it by serving others. In this week’s message we talked about doing something every day that requires faith. Taking that challenge will inspire you to walk with Jesus. You don’t have to go fast; you just have to take that first step of faith.

Noah took that first step when he started building an ark to survive the flood–and they’d never even seen rain. Can you imagine how crazy that must have seemed to everyone? David was just a young lad when he faced Goliath. But he took that first step of faith and walked out to face him. Abraham took that first step of faith when God told him to travel to find his inheritance–and he didn’t even know where he was going. God gave orders to Joshua to march around the city of Jericho for seven days. Imagine how ridiculous that must have looked while they marched for seven days before the walls fell. It was a step of faith for the children of Israel to walk into the Red Sea–but God provided dry ground for them to walk on. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego had to take a step of faith to walk into that fiery furnace. I can only imagine how overwhelmed a young orphan girl felt when God told her to stand before the king and beg for the lives of her people, but the Jewish people were saved because Esther took those steps of faith.

We will all have those moments in our lives when we are asked to step out in faith. And we all have concerns about that first step because getting out of our comfort zone can produce stress and worry.  Our initial inclination is to question whether we are ready to put ourselves out there. On the other hand, you are excited about what God wants to do through you and and you can’t wait to see what that is, but…you don’t have it all worked, figured or factored out. That is where faith comes in. God responds to our action, not our concerns. So step out even if you have that unsettling combination of wanting to step out in faith but not feeling completely prepared. God didn’t ask you to get ready to go; He just asked you to go. You can get ready along the way.

Hebrews 11.6 famously says, ”And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” At Northstar we believe that God is who He said He is and as a result we trust Him to do everything that He has promised. He is worthy of our faith and taking those first steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

Am I Indifferent?

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8.

How do you feel when somebody seems indifferent to you? Indifference suggests that he or she thinks you are boring, uninteresting, worthless or fill in the blank. Most people find indifference worse than being disliked. But what if we are a Christian? Can we be a follower of Jesus and be indifferent to others? 

God has called us to purposeful living. And one of the threats to living a purpose driven life is indifference- to God and to others. Indifference is the absence of feeling or interest in someone or something. If we are indifferent to others, we will never involve ourselves in their lives, as Christ involved Himself in ours. Instead, we should be loving others.

Loving people is difficult. Yet this is what the Bible commands. “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (1 John 3:11). We spend time on what we deem important. For many of us these choices are valid: time with family and friends, work, prayer, serving the poor, fighting for rights, protesting wrongs. But as the Scripture reminds us, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Jesus made a point about our priorities in Matthew: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Love, then, is not a gray area. Every thought, response, and act of goodwill must first pass through the fine filter of love. So how can we be indifferent and love at the same time? We can’t.   

In “Strength to Love”, Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged us to realize that “our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.” 

So take an interest in others. Concern yourselves. Unintentional living leads to indifference. Live deliberately, not indifferently. Love God and love others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be indifferent to people than to God? Why or why not? 
  2. What can we do this week to love people more effectively?

Are You Driven To Distraction?

“I am disturbed when I see the majority of so-called Christians having such little understanding of the real nature of the faith they profess. Faith is a subject of such importance that we should not ignore it because of the distractions or the hectic pace of our lives.” – William Wilberforce

When you are doing something important, whatever that is, it requires your full attention: It is important that you don’t get distracted because typically that is when things go wrong. That is why you don’t text while driving, or you don’t operate heavy machinery when your mind is somewhere else. As followers of Jesus, to be at our absolute best we must be focused, which means we must be focused on what matters most. For Christians, distractions can be a real threat to that focus. 

Jesus sets the standard that we should model on focus. In Luke 13:22-24 (MSG) we read: “He went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem. A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved?” He said, “Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention.”

Jesus was subject to all the pressures we are and yet remained completely disciplined, always giving His time to what was ultimately most important. He was constantly moving forward to the ultimate goal of Jerusalem. Jesus knew exactly what needed His attention. He knew what He was meant to be doing and where He was meant to be going. He obviously had little time for someone who appears to have come out of the sidelines raising an issue that on the surface may have seemed valid, but on closer examination wasn’t going to bring anyone any benefit. Jesus said to the bystander if He really wants to live the “God life” it’s a vigorous life that demands our total attention. Allowing distractions into our life means we can never give God the 100 percent He deserves.

What really matters most, no matter who we are or what calling we have in life, is our relationship with God. If we allow anything to distract us from our relationship with him we will never be able to be who He has called us to be, or do what He has called us to do. If there is one lesson we learn from watching Jesus it’s the fact He never allowed His schedule to crowd out His time alone with God. He knew no matter what else was going on His relationship with his father had to have top priority.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some distractions that can impact our daily walk with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to keep from being distracted and completely focused on God?

In Me I Trust

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” – Philippians 4:13 (MSG)

Is being self-sufficient a problem? Countries, cities and people long to be completely self-sufficient. No one wants to rely on others if they can help it. After all, depending on someone else is often painful. As Christians, self-sufficiency can detract us from pursuing the life that only God can give. The bottom line is I am only self-sufficient, when I don’t believe God is truly sufficient.

We also want that inner confidence that we need to achieve godliness in our lives. Then one day reality hits. The presence of God is like paint thinner, removing the layers of self-reliance that have built up over the years only to disappear when we find ourselves in a mess of our own making. Self-confidence and self-sufficiency is no longer the answer. Self-reliance is no longer the solution. When the layers are removed, all that remains is a broken vessel that cannot beat without the life-support of Jesus and His Spirit in us. It is at that time when you realize that God is sufficient.

At various points in my life I started down the road feeling like the self-reliant Pharisee who walked into the temple, stood by himself and prayed this prayer in Luke 18:11: “…’I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery…”  But somewhere along the journey, I end being the hopeless tax collector who stood at distance and said, “’O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

Before you start imagining that pastors spend their days as a unorganized mess surrounded by chaos (I do have those days now and then), let me shed a little light on the subject: I have structure, plans, goals, and purposes. They help me because aimlessness is never a good thing.

So yes, I take matters into my own hands. But my intelligence, talents, material possessions, is never a substitute for relying on God alone. In Colossians 2, Paul uses phrases “in Him” or “with Him” six times:  In Him we have been made complete (v. 10). With Him we are buried in baptism (v. 12). With Him we are made alive (v. 13). All I could ever need for the rest of our lives is found in the very person of Jesus Christ.

God is pruning away self-sufficiency and growing faith in Christ in it’s place. I’m learning at a deeper level that self-sufficiency doesn’t honor God. Doing something beyond what you can do through your own strength and willpower brings glory to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you draw the line between self-reliance and reliance on God?
  2. What can we do this week to place our trust and reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ?