Distractions Bug Me!

By his grace, Jesus wants to clear away the things which distract you from experiencing his fullness. He’s got the best wine waiting for you. Jesus isn’t going to settle for distractions. His passion is to remove the stuff that gets in the way of worship.

Solar Eclipse

Yes, distractions bug me.  When I’m interrupted it takes me a long time to get refocused and restarted.  Distractions are like an eclipse which blocks out my goals and purpose.

Jesus had some serious issues with distractions.  In John 2 Jesus unapologetically trashes the Temple courts because of distractions.  On the outside the distractions to worship seemed justifiable.  People needed to exchange their money to get the Temple coin to buy their sacrificial animals.  They needed the animals to worship God.  But they were getting extorted by fees and high prices.  The ability to worship was diminished.  Jesus, with zeal in his heart, dismantles the distractions so people could worship.

This is the same Jesus with the same passion for people that we saw in the wedding at Cana.  At Cana, Jesus offers a chance for people to see the grace of God in action.  At Cana, we see God who is for people.  Maybe in the Temple we see the same grace only in an unexpected form.  This grace is powerful, violent, and demanding.  The grace of the Temple courts is not cheap grace.  It is a grace that demands people have access to God.

When asked about his authority to clear the Temple Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Like the post-resurrection disciples, we know what Jesus meant.  But what if there is something more?  What if Jesus was also suggesting that he will renew the things which get confused by distractions?  What if he is always working to rebuild what we allow to be destroyed?

We easily let ourselves be distracted from worship.  We fill our calendars with so much that we don’t have time for daily or corporate worship.  The average American now only attends church little more than once each month.  Even when we do make it to church we are easily distracted by so much: styles, opinions, lunch plans…  These things, and many others, act like those money-changers and their marketplace which can keep us from experiencing the fullness of God in worship.

By his grace, Jesus wants to clear away the things which distract you from experiencing his fullness.  He’s got the best wine waiting for you.  Jesus isn’t going to settle for distractions.  His passion is to remove the stuff that gets in the way of worship.

I love what A.W. Tozer says about distractions.  He uses the image of a solar eclipse.

“Now you know that when a thing is eclipsed it doesn’t mean that its light has diminished any, that its glory has anywise diminished.  It merely means that there is something between us and that shining frame.  When the sun is eclipsed, the sun is not one degree cooler than it was before…It’s still as hot and as big and as powerful and as free as it was before it went into eclipse, because it’s not the sun that’s eclipsed.  It’s us that’s eclipsed!  And we ought to get that straight.”

For you, what sorts of things or activities are eclipsing God?  What is distracting your worship?  Is it outward or inward?  What do you need Jesus to cleanse for you to worship him more fully and faithfully?  By grace, Jesus wants to renew what we’ve allowed to be cluttered and distracted.

Excessive Grace

What kind of God do you and I worship?  Who is the God who reveals himself in Scripture?  Who is the one who created and sustains the very fabric of the cosmos?  Near the beginning of John’s gospel, there is one amazing story through which God reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus, the Son.

But before we get to that story, let’s remember what happened first.  In the beginning chapter of John, we witness the Word of God (the pre-existent Jesus) being incarnated and “pitching his tent” among humanity. The Word of God who created all that is becomes part of his creation.  And, as John writes, “out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16).

This grace God communicates through the second person of the Trinity is a pervasive theme in the opening chapters of John’s gospel.  It is apparent in the way Jesus invites people to follow him and it is an excessive grace in the wedding day miracle.

The wedding was so full of joy.  Jesus, his mom, and his disciples had been invited and most certainly engaged in the celebration.  Bride and groom were laughing, smiling, dancing, and full of hopefulness for a blessed future.  A new family was being birthed. Wine was flowing, food was enjoyed, and life was pleasant.

I’m not sure if Mary discovered it on her own or if she heard the whispers of the servants.  But all the joy was about to come to a screeching halt!  The wine that had helped create the atmosphere of joy was gone.  The party was literally and metaphorically, over.

Wine was a sign of God’s blessing.  Plenty of wine meant God was blessing the marriage and its future abundance.  Not only was it embarrassing to run out of wine, it also meant God’s blessing had been removed.  Not the best way to start life together.  That’s why I’m glad Jesus was there.

Jesus shows up and permeates the whole experience with grace.  Water is turned to wine.  The new couple avoids social embarrassment.  The future looks positive.  God is good!  But there is so much more below the surface.  Much more which reveals the heart and character of the God we worship.  Through this miracle, God shows us something about the relationship he is creating with us.

Weddings are a big deal to God.  The image of a wedding describes Jesus’ relationship with his church.  The groom and bride are united into a new relationship.  Jesus and his Church become a family.  It’s no wonder that Jesus uses a wedding to show off his promises.

 

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11)

 

Not only does Jesus bless the wedding at Cana, but he reveals the ways he will bless his wedding with the Church.  Jesus’ relationship with his people is always marked with grace.  Emptiness is filled with plenty.  Ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Faith is rewarded.  Blessing is common place. Trust is secured.

Our God can be trusted.  That’s one of the reasons we worship him.  God is always for you and me.  And he is always prepared to bless even in the midst of something hopeless.  Jesus reveals who he is through ordinary circumstances.  His grace is always excessive and it’s directed to you.  The grace of God is always enough.  It is never in short supply.

Worship Because God is Worthy!

A number of years ago, a woman in Kansas City walked into a Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop at her local shopping center.  While waiting, she turned to find actor Paul Newman standing behind her.  He was in town filming a movie and was now standing behind his biggest fan.

He smiled at her and said ‘hello.’  She took one look into his eyes and her knees almost buckled.  Her heart was in her throat.  She tried to speak, but not a sound came out.  Mortified, she turned around, paid for her ice cream, then quickly walked out of the store.  Outside, she sat down on a bench and caught her breath.  As she calmed down, she realized she didn’t have her ice cream cone.  She was debating walking back in to get it when Paul Newman walked out.  “You looking for your ice cream cone?” he asked.  Speechless again, she nodded.  “You put it in your purse with your change.”

If you or I would come face to face with a celebrity we admired, I imagine we would behave in a similar way.  I wonder we, who get excited about celebrity – why it is that we can enter into the presence of God with a yawn and a shrug?

Worshiping God is the single most important thing that you and I can do.  In fact we, we were created to worship God (Isaiah 43:21).  Worship brings pleasure to God.  In worship we practice the greatest commandment that Jesus taught – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Worship bends our lives toward God.

When Scripture talks about worship it always reminds us that the purpose of our worship is glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God.  Worship is the number one priority.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in the 19th century, once clarified the most common misconception about worship using the analogy of a drama. “When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship.”

Kierkegaard is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we receive than what we give. Kierkegaard goes on to say, “Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preachers and other ministers are the directors and God is the audience.”

It is revolutionary to worship something other than ourselves.  Every time we worship, we set our own egos, desires, ambitions aside so that God is the audience.  When we worship we should make much of God!

That’s why real worship can only happen when we enter into the presence of the Living God.  Worship is a deliberate encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  We can’t worship to squeeze God in; to feel better for the week; or to get a blessing.  With eagerness and expectancy we encounter God and are drawn into his presence where our focus is on giving to him. Worship is an encounter with the Holy God!

While there are many moments in Scripture were we see people encountering God, one act of worship stands out.  One story that should be the rule instead of the exception.  It is the story of the moment Isaiah encountered the Living God.  It is a story of worship and what naturally happens when we rightly worship God.

READ Isaiah 6:1-4

Let me provide some context for these verses.  The first five chapters set the stage of Isaiah’s vision of God.  In Isaiah 1-5 we are given a description of God’s people – Israel.  It is a picture of a people who have completely and deliberately turned their back on God.  They have exalted themselves in the place of God.  They worship the creation instead of the Creator.  The bow down to idols that they have made.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.  And God does everything he could for his people, but they won’t respond to God’s goodness.  But even in this context of his vision, Isaiah holds out the possibility of radical transformation – an unholy people can become a holy people.

These people for whom Isaiah cared so much about were experiencing turmoil under King Uzziah.  When the king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Who was Uzziah?  In 2Chronicles 26 we are given a detailed account of his reign.  Uzziah was 16 years old when he was crowned king of Judah, and he reigned a long time – 52 years.  For years his reign as king was grand and significant.  Uzziah trusted God and took Judah to a period of prosperity and glory.

But unfortunately Uzziah’s reign which had begun in faithfulness and obedience to God, ended in shame and humility.  He grew proud and arrogant.  One day he entered the temple and went to the holy place where only the priest could go.  But when he came out he was no longer the proud and glorious king.  Instead he staggered out a leper; broken and humiliated.  Uzziah lived as an outcast for the rest of his reign.

And when that once powerful king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Isaiah and the whole nation felt devastated and abandoned.  The one they placed their hope in was gone.  What next?  But this emptying was absolutely essential.  It was necessary if Isaiah was going to see God.  His own throne had to be emptied before he could see God sitting on his throne.  His false Gods had to be brought down before he could see God high and lifted up.  Generally we don’t really seek after God and find him until we have tried almost everything else; every other possible way and found it empty.  When we reach the end of our own resources, we turn to God and worship him.

And that is why this event from Isaiah teaches us so much about worship.  God is all that we can turn to.  God is all that we can trust in the darkest moments of life.  And when we move from ourselves into the presence of the living God – we find life.  That’s worship!  The place where we glorify, honor, praise, exalt and please God.

So who is this God who calls us into worship?  And why is God worthy of worship?  He is the same God that Isaiah sees.

This God who we worship; this God who calls us to himself; who invites us into a life with him – this God is holy!  This vision has a profound effect on Isaiah.  What does he see?  What does he comprehend for the first time?  It can be summed up in one word – a word that the angels repeated three times:  “Holy, holy, holy!”  Isaiah got a glimpse of the holiness of God.  It became clear to him as never before that God is holy.  There was this great sense of awe.

Holiness is not just one attribute of God.  Holiness is all that God is.  At the very beginning of this vision, Isaiah sees God sitting on a throne, high and exalted.  At that very moment Isaiah emphasizes God’s separateness; his transcendence over all of creation and all that is.  God alone is exalted!  Isaiah sees nothing higher than God.  To say that God is holy is to say that he is utterly different than you and I and all the rest of creation.  And as Isaiah encountered this God, the temple shook!

When was the last time you stood in awe of this holy God?  When was the last time you were engulfed by an encounter with this God who is high and exalted?  Most of us are guilty of what is called the “sin of reductionism.”  We reduce God to a manageable size.  We put God in a box – we don’t want too much of God; we want to control the outcomes; we want to limit what we know about God.  Isaiah would have been so in awe of God’s holiness that he couldn’t help but approach God with reverence and honor.  We need to guard against casual, indifferent attitudes when we enter the presence of God.  God is more powerful and more holy than our ability to describe him.

Yet, here is the amazing characteristic of this holy God whom we worship with reverence and awe.  This holy God can be known!  When we commit the sin of reductionism, we not only reduce God to what is manageable to us, but we also reduce Christianity to a set of moral and ethical imperatives devoid of relationship to God.  Christianity and Christian worship is primarily about having a deeply connected relationship with the God of creation.

What is amazing about God, as we see it unfolding in this worship experience of Isaiah, is that God chooses to make himself known.  He allows Isaiah to see him high and lifted up.  And when God makes himself known, you and I can enjoy his presence.  The God who is holy and high and exalted, comes to you and makes himself known to you.  And in worship we can enjoy the presence of God.

Even though we have access to him, we never take it for granted.  We never treat it lightly.  We are going to his throne, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is at the same time our heavenly Father and yet he is the reigning, ruling righteous supreme king of the universe and we live in that tension.  He is the God of all, the supreme judge, yet we have a relationship with him.  And so we can come in with that intimacy yet with reverence at the same time.  He’s our father, he’s our friend.  He’s a shepherd.  He’s redeemer.  He’s righteous king.  He’s the judge and ruler of all.  And he makes himself known.  He wants the whole earth to be filled with his glory. He is looking for people who will be receptive of him.  God is looking for people who will present to him.

Of course, God is present everywhere at all times, but not everyone is aware of his presence.  I’m not sure we always come to worship expecting a life-changing encounter with God.  Many people go to church.  Not all worship!  But God is present whether we are aware or not, but his presence is made manifest only when we are aware of it!  God makes himself known, but God’s presence must be sought.  We must be receptive to God’s presence.  God is always present to us, but in order for his presence to have its full impact upon our lives, we must learn to be present to God.  And in corporate worship we can be present with God when we pray, when we read and hear the Scripture, and when we break bread through the sacrament of communion.

God is holy.  He is utterly and completely separate from you and I and creation, itself.  God is high and exalted.  But God chooses to make himself known.  And ultimately, God makes himself known to creation in Jesus Christ.  We know God through Jesus. Jesus is the self-revelation of God.  God in the flesh.  When you are intentional about knowing and following Jesus, you are intentional about knowing this God who makes himself known.

One last thing I want you to see (and we will spend much more time on this over the next two weeks) – it is that while God is holy and God makes himself known, God calls you and I to holiness.   When Isaiah has this vision of God during worship, he sees and maybe even feels the temple shake and the whole place fills with smoke.

Smoke means a couple of things in the Bible.  Sometimes it symbolizes the presence of God.  Other times, like right here, smoke also conveys God’s judgement.  Remember the context here – God’s people had turned away from God.  They were worshipping creation instead of the Creator; they bowed down to idols.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.

One of the things that should happen when we encounter God in worship, is that we change.  We become more of who God wants us to be – just like Jesus.  In an encounter with the Living God you and I are called to be holy as God is holy.  In worship we should be convicted of the ways our lives are not lining up with God’s will.  In this encounter between Isaiah and God, and running throughout Scripture is the call to separate ourselves form the values and life-style of the culture around us.  To be holy, is to be separate.  Separate from the culture-driven values and lifestyles and free to be attached to God!

Read Romans 12.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could experience God, face to face, like Isaiah did?  Scripture tells us that we can.  A little girl was drawing intensely one morning in Sunday school.  Her teacher asked her, “what are you drawing?”  “God,” answered the little girl.  The teacher laughed and said, “Honey, no one knows what God looks like.”  She never even looked up from her drawing – “well, they will when I get done.”

We’ll never see God with our physical eyes, on this side of heaven.  But we can encounter God with our spirits through the act of worship.  In worship, we become aware of the presence of God.

Resources:  Dr. Steve Seamands Holiness of Heart and Life

 

My Next Right Step

  1. Remember and journal a moment of deep worship – one in which you were very aware of the presence of God.
  2. Apart from Sunday worship, when are you practicing disciplines of worship like prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc.?
  3. If worship is a lifestyle, how are you reflecting that lifestyle? Where do you need growth?
  4. God is holy and calls me to holiness. If I stay close to God (worship) I can reflect more of God in my life.  By God’s grace, how am I becoming more like Jesus and less like culture?