Deliberate Discipleship: To God Be the Glory
A number of years ago, church consultants started leading congregations in developing their plan for discipleship – usually presented in a brochure. There were several metaphors to choose from – you could use a university style numbering system – with 101, 201, 301, and 401 level classes and opportunities to serve, or you could use a mountain climbing metaphor starting out at base camp and reaching the summit, or you could begin with a float trip and finally reach canoeing the rapids. The reason for the metaphors and guides and nicely labeled studies and groups and mission work was to help people have a path to grow deeper in discipleship. The problem is deeper, though, I think, than that people don’t know what classes or activities to choose. The problem is that the church has not been very clear about what it means to be a Christian.
We have said being Christian means confessing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that is true. But confession is not just something we say. Confession involves change. Confessing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior means repenting of everything else that you have had in the place of lord in your life, everything else you have turned to for salvation.
We have said that being Christian means being a follower of Jesus, and that is true. But there have been lots of followers of Jesus who weren’t Christian- some were curious, others hoped for healing, some were there to question and criticize, some were just there to see who this man was, what all the fuss was about. Being a follower of Jesus is a first step to becoming a disciple, but it doesn’t make you a Christian.
Being a Christian means being a deliberate disciple. Over the next weeks, we will look at 4 things deliberate disciples do. Disciples worship, disciples study, disciples serve, and disciples share. This morning, we begin our series on Deliberate Discipleship with the foundation for Christians, worship. Our Scripture lesson this morning is John’s vision of worship in heaven. Listen now for the Word of the Lord from Revelation 4:1-11.
Why are you here? If you came to the Sanctuary today, what motivated you to get up, get dressed, and drive here? Is it your habit? A way to begin your week right? If you are on the livestream, why did you locate the link and connect? Is connecting on the chat a way that you are able to connect with others? If you are worshiping this at a later time, did you set aside a time to worship or did a browser or a search engine bring you here? Regardless of how we come to worship, we are all drawn to worship for the same reason. We were made to worship.
We were made to seek God’s presence. Think back with me to the Garden of Eden. God formed Adam and placed him in the Garden, and then God formed animals and finally Eve because it was not good for man to be alone – the Garden was like heaven in that God’s will was done, it was God’s kingdom, everything in the Garden was as God envisioned it to be when God began creating. And when does God know something is wrong? When God is walking in the garden and Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.
Augustine, who was Bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430 AD, expressed our need to worship in this way, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
We come to worship because our hearts are restless for God. We gather joyfully in praise because our purpose in life, or as the Westminster Catechism puts it, our chief end, is “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” God is the focus of our worship, at the very center.
John’s vision of worship in heaven that we read this morning places God enthroned at the very center. John doesn’t describe what God looks like other than to say that the appearance was like jasper and carnelian. Jasper is a stone that is translucent, that sparkles and flashes, and carnelian is a stone that is a deep red color that when you gaze into it looks like there is fire smoldering inside the stone. And all around the throne is a rainbow, God’s covenant of mercy, that shone like an emerald, green to symbolize life. And the descriptions of those around the throne symbolize all the faithful from throughout history, and all living creatures are represented by: the noble lion, the strong ox, the wise human being, and the swift eagle, each with six wings and covered with eyes meaning that they can quickly be anywhere and see everything.
Day and night, all who are gathered around the throne sing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
The very word worship comes from the same root as worth. We come to worship God because God is worthy of our praise and as we offer our praise, we are transformed.
The Directory of Worship that is found in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order, part of our constitution, says, “Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God. In worship, the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship, the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world.”
We come to worship because we need to be transformed and renewed. Worship is like a hard reboot for our system. When we place God at the center and praise God, when we are reminded in worship of God’s worthiness of our praise, the other things in our life that we have let creep into the center are pushed back. Space is cleared away for God in our lives. Presbyterian pastor John Ortberg expressed his need to worship, “I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.”
And yet, church attendance since pandemic across all denominations is declining. Here at Farmington, so far our attendance has not seen a decline since pandemic, but many of the other trends of the last 20 years in church attendance are true for us. 20 years ago, active membership meant that you were involved in something with the church 3 times per week. Now, active membership means that you come to church 3 times per month. I don’t think the problem is that our schedules are crazy as much as we weren’t clear about the purpose of worship, to praise God and clear space for God in our lives. And so, as worship services didn’t meet the true need God’s people have for God’s presence, people just stopped coming.
Why are we here this morning? To glorify God. Worship is the foundation for the life of a Christian. In worship we seek God’s presence in our lives because our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God and we need to be transformed and renewed because we were made to worship, and God is worthy of our worship. To God be the glory, Amen.