fourfold worship

Four Parts of Worship: Celebrate!

So, we’ve talked about what it means to gather ourselves in search of God, and we’ve talked about how God is consistently revealed in Scripture. What is an appropriate response to God’s presence?

A celebration! The third part of worship is like a thank-you, praise-you party thrown for God, where we declare our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer the jolly good fellow, the one worthy of honor.

Again, it’s one of those reasons I like to put the declaration of God’s word up front as much as possible in a worship service. I think a lot of people struggle with worship because we don’t spend enough time rejoicing, and it’s hard to celebrate until we’ve really heard from God. When we fail to celebrate in worship, we miss out on the joy of being Christian, a joy available to us regardless of our circumstances.

I know—we may not always feel like rejoicing. Poor? Sick? Lonely? Broken by sins committed? Victimized by another’s sin? Those aren’t ideal situations to be in, but our current circumstances brighten considerably when we put them in the light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The temporary nature of this life becomes obvious when the Holy Spirit begins to work in us through God’s word, giving us a taste of what it means to be citizens of an eternal kingdom.

The joy of the resurrection—first, Christ’s, and later, our promised own—is something God offers us whenever we immerse ourselves in his story and praise him.

You see such celebratory worship in the Old Testament. One example would be the story in 1 Chronicles 16:1-6, when David returned the Ark of the Covenant—Old Testament evidence of God’s presence—to Jerusalem. Even before these verses, there are recorded acts of worship on the way to Jerusalem: sacrifices, singing, dancing and music, most of it quite exuberant. It all continued once the Ark was in place, with people appointed to keep it going.

Celebratory worship continues in the New Testament, particularly after the victorious nature of Christ’s work on the cross is made clear in the resurrection. We’re told in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

God’s word begets gratitude, and with gratitude in our hearts, we sing and direct our celebration toward our audience, God. We can rejoice in such ways during appointed worship times, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, for example. We can rejoice when gathered in small groups. We can rejoice in our one-on-one time with God.

I know not everyone rejoices and celebrates in the same way, just as people will enjoy a party in different ways. I’ve always been more of a wallflower at a party. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy parties; it just means I’m not necessarily going to put a lampshade on my head.

You may be a fairly laid-back, reserved person in worship. Not everyone wants to jump up and shout “Amen!” while holding their hands up in the air. (Thank God for the worshipers who do such things; they are great help to a preacher and to worship in general.)

But if you’re reserved in nature, ask yourself this: Am I celebrating? Does that joy regarding Christ’s gift wash over my soul, at least as a quiet, tender experience?

Do I let the music take me back to the revelation of God I’ve just heard, connecting my emotions to my logic? Do I understand the prayers we lift up corporately as an open door to heaven? When I come to the table for communion, am I expecting to meet the one who will feed me for all eternity?

God calls you to such celebratory experiences whenever you stand before him in worship.

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Four Parts of Worship: The Word

This sermon is out of order.

By that, I mean it was delivered in the wrong place in Cassidy UMC’s worship service, if we were to follow the ancient pattern of worship. Like a lot of churches in the southeastern United States, our reading of the day’s Bible verses and the preaching rooted in those verses began in the latter third of the service. It was followed by a brief invitation to respond and a short benediction to send the people on their way.

In a gathering-word-celebration-sending forth pattern, Bible readings, preaching and other means of declaring God’s word occur a lot earlier. It happened and can still happen that way for a very good reason: When a direct, guaranteed encounter with God occurs early in worship, the rest of worship happens in a highly focused way.

Use of God’s written word to reveal God’s truth goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church, when the words we translate as “scripture” or “word of God” were references to the Jewish Bible, the writings we now group under the Old Testament.

Consider these references from letters that later became part of the Christian Bible:

2 Timothy 3:14-17: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Hebrews 4:12-13: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

James 1:21-22: “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

In these verses, we see God’s word as living and powerful, something that flows through the pages of a Bible and into a reader. Open it, use it, and you’ll find yourself equipped in new ways. God’s word will dissect you, exposing what is of God and not of God. It will even implant itself in your soul, bringing you face-to-face with salvation through Jesus Christ.

This last idea also brings us to a deeper understanding of what is being revealed by the Bible as a whole. It is the story of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ.

Up to this point, we’ve been talking about God’s word, God’s truth as revealed through the pens of people he has inspired. But there also is God’s Word, written with a capital, and we begin to explore the idea that the truth-filled, eternal, creative aspect of God is what took on flesh and walked among us as Jesus.

Here is God’s word revealing the Word. John 1:1-5: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So, back to the four parts of worship. God is before us in the word. If we’ve come as believers to worship God and to experience God, what better way to do so than to explore what is written in the Bible every week, using those words as the guiding principle and core of worship?

And when we have heard what God has to say, we know that eternal life is ours. Of course we celebrate! More on that next week.