The Potency of Right Worship

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Introduction:

Many of the problems confronting modern Christians is that they diligently try to do the right thing . . . in the wrong categories. They try guitar fingering on a mandolin; they try chess rules on a backgammon board; they apply the rules of French grammar to English. And for us to draw attention to such mistakes is not to object to any of these things in particular—chess, guitar, backgammon, whatever. But this is the mistake we make whenever we try to “make a difference” and our activity does not proceed directly from a vision of the Almighty Lord, high and lifted up.

The Text:

The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory. Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods. Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD. For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods. Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Ps. 97:1-12).

Overview:

God reigns, and the whole earth is called to rejoice (v. 1). His holiness is not what we might assume—His righteousness and judgment are like clouds and darkness (v. 2). A fire precedes Him, and burns up His enemies (v. 3). Lightning flashes, and the whole created order sees it, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of God, hills and mountains melt like wax in a fire (v. 5). The heavens preach, and everyone sees His glory (v. 6). A curse is pronounced—confounded be all false worshippers, and all gods are summoned to worship the one God (v. 7). When this is proclaimed Zion hears and is glad. The daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). Why do we rejoice? Because the Lord is exalted high above all the earth (v. 9). This transcendent sense of true worship has potent ethical ramifications—you that love the Lord, hate evil (v. 10). In this setting, God delivers His people from those who return the hatred (v. 10). Light is sown for the righteous; gladness for the upright (v. 11). We are summoned by Him to therefore rejoice, and to give thanks as we remember His holiness (v. 12).

Clouds and Darkness:

Holiness is not manageable (v. 2). Holiness does not come in a shrink-wrapped box. Holiness is not marketable. Holiness is not tame. Holiness is not sweetsy-nice. Holiness is not represented by kitschy figurines. Holiness is not smarmy. Holiness is not unctuous. Holiness is not domesticated. But worship a god who is housebroken to all your specifications, and what is the result? Depression, and a regular need for sedatives—better living through chemistry.

Holiness is wild. Holiness is three tornadoes in a row. Holiness is a series of black thunderheads coming in off the bay. Holiness is impolite. Holiness is darkness to make a sinful man tremble. Holiness beckons us to that darkness, where we do not meet ghouls and ghosts, but rather the righteousness of the most high God. Holiness is a consuming fire. Holiness melts the world. And when we fear and worship a God like this, what is the result? Gladness of heart.

Gladness for the Upright in Heart:

Worship the god who does nothing but kittens and pussy willows, and you will end in despair. Worship the God of the jagged edge, the God whose holiness cannot be made palatable for the middle class American consumer, and the result is deep gladness. Do you hear that? Gladness, not pomposity. And, thank God, such gladness does not make us parade about with cheeks puffed slightly out, or speak with lots of rotund vowels, or strut with a sanctimonious air. Gladness, laughter, joy—set these before you. This is deep Christian faith, and not what so many are marketing today in the name of Jesus. The tragedy is that in the name of relevance the current expression of the faith in America today is superficial all the way down.

Soft teaching, delicate preaching, is how you reinforce hardness of heart. Hard teaching, straight out of the Word, is what breaks up the stony heart and creates tender-hearted Christians. Preach with feather dusters, and what will the congregation fill up with? Infidelity, lies, envy, divorces, immorality, abortions, molestation, business rip-offs, treachery, and more. Preach with the jackhammer of God, and what happens? The decayed concrete of our insolent hearts is broken up, the pieces removed, and the garden planted. Soft teaching/hard hearts. Hard teaching/tender hearts.

Ye That Love the Lord . . .

So hate evil. This is why an ethical application of the vision of the holy is most necessary. If we bypass this vision of who God actually is, the necessary result will be a prissy moralism, and not the robust morality of the Christian faith. The distance between moralism and true morality is vast, and the thing that creates this distance is knowledge of the holy. Those who content themselves with petty rules spend all their time fussing about with hemlines, curfews, and scruples about alcohol. But those who see this folly and go off in their own little libertine hipster direction are no better. The former act as though their moralism is grounded on the dictates of a gremlin-like god who lives in their attic, but his word is law. The latter say that this is stupid, and aspire to become the gremlin themselves. But there are two parts to the genuine Christian life—love the Lord. Hate evil.

The Potency of Right Worship:

In this psalm, how should we define right worship? The answer is that right worship occurs when the congregation of God approaches Him, sees Him as He is, and responds rightly, as He has commanded—in joy and glad submission. Such worship necessitates turning away from all idols (v. 7), and turning to the holy God who cannot be manipulated. And in this psalm alone, what does right worship do? What effect does it have? What are the results? The earth rejoices (v. 1). All the islands are glad (v. 1). His enemies are consumed with the fire that goes before Him (v. 3). The earth is illuminated by His lightning, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of the Lord (and in worship we are in the presence of the Lord), the hills melt (v. 5). The heavens preach, and the people see His glory (v. 6). Idolaters are flummoxed, confounded (v. 7). The universal call to worship is even issued to the idols (v. 7). Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). The name of God is exalted above every name (v. 9). The saints of God learn to hate evil, and God preserves them from those who persecute them (v. 10). Light and gladness are sown in our hearts (v. 11). His righteous people rejoice, and are grateful when they remember His holiness (v. 12).

A Call to Worship:

Those who serve graven images are confounded (v. 7). Those who worship false gods cannot be anything but confounded. Those who worship the true God falsely are missing the scriptural call as well. But those who worship rightly will inherit the earth.

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MeMe
4 years ago

“Preach with the jackhammer of God, and what happens? The decayed concrete of our insolent hearts is broken up, the pieces removed, and the garden planted.”

No offense Pastor Wilson, but the Lord has never approached me like a jackhammer, nor do I respond well to such things.

“Hard teaching, straight out of the Word, is what breaks up the stony heart and creates tender-hearted Christians.”

I have yet to see that produce fruit. In fact, I have seen the precise opposite. Hard teaching tends to just produce hard people, unforgiving, filled with judgment, condemnation, and envy.

Bryce Young
Bryce Young
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29

MeMe
4 years ago
Reply to  Bryce Young

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 23:1

nate
nate
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

23:1 Exactly. You just made Bryce Young’s point. Please consider context.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

“I have yet to see that produce fruit. In fact, I have seen the precise opposite. Hard teaching tends to just produce hard people, unforgiving, filled with judgment, condemnation, and envy.”

Good thing you avoided being filled with judgement. Not like those other guys. They’re awful.

MeMe
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Not at all. One cannot know either the Holy or right worship, without a keen awareness of grace. We are not called to preach hard nor to call people towards hatred. We’re supposed to be loving one another.

I meant what I said, “I have yet to see that produce fruit.” Show me your mercy, show me your grace.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

“We are not called to preach hard nor to call people towards hatred.”

You say these as though they’re remotely the same thing. They aren’t. That you infer a great deal of meaning into Pastor Wilson’s words that aren’t there on these topics is generally the source of disagreement.

“Hardness” is not a negative qualifier. Jesus was hard with many, yet loved all.

MeMe
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Soft teaching/hard hearts. Hard teaching/tender hearts.

Those are Pastor Wilson’s exact words. I infer on them precisely what they mean. “Hardness” is indeed a negative qualifier. Hardness is not strength, hardness is not grace, hardness is not the good news. Hard teaching has driven many, many people away from Christ as has people embracing hatred rather than love. Not once did Jesus command us to be hard or to hate.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

“Those are Pastor Wilson’s exact words.” Yes. ” I infer on them precisely what they mean. ” No. You added “nor to call people towards hatred.” Nothing about “hard” teachings require hatred. You made that up. ” Hardness is not strength, hardness is not grace, hardness is not the good news.” That’s true. Hardness is also not mutually exclusive with those things, as you’re pretending it is. ” Hard teaching has driven many, many people away from Christ as has people embracing hatred rather than love.” While I would probably agree with you that the practices of churches that utilize… Read more »

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Luke 14:26. While hatred is relative here (we are to love more) it shows that words like hate and hard can be used.

I would also note the healing of the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter.

The woes to the Pharisees seem quite abrupt. And when the lawyers objected to being included Jesus added more woes.

Though I suspect that by hard Doug is more meaning a call to deep devotion, to lay down our lives, to pick up our crosses, to give all.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

“While hatred is relative here (we are to love more) it shows that words like hate and hard can be used.” Well now I imagine we’re going to get tangled in the the multiple words for love and hate that exist in the original language. Though certainly within the realm of modern english “hardness” and “hatred” are not synonyms. “Tough love” is a phrase for a reason. If MeMe intended to refer to hatred in this context you mention, which I sincerely doubt, it would certainly call on asking Doug to clarify, not run an assumption and criticize him based… Read more »

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Agreed, hatred as a term is used, and the gospel is often hard.

lndighost
lndighost
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

Meme, you say, “Hard teaching has driven many, many people away from Christ” and if you stop right there, I completely agree. This from John 6:60 ff On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

MeMe says, “We’re supposed to be loving one another.” Perhaps she could give a practical demonstration of what she means by this. So far she has “loved” me by pointing out that I am friendless, churchless, husbandless, and have no life. On top of that, she has alleged that I come here to suck up to racists and red pillers in the pathetic hope of getting male attention. And, of course, she alleges that I am personally amused by the sexual abuse of children. If MeMe believes she has been loving toward me, it would be truly terrifying to see… Read more »

lndighost
lndighost
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

Your rules of engagement seem to be:

1. Meme may say whatever she likes because that’s truth.
2. No one may say anything Meme doesn’t like because that’s mean.

That’s no way to operate, so I think we’re done here.

JP Stewart
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

“I have spoken the truth to you.”
From the same person who just said “We are not called to preach hard nor to call people towards hatred. We’re supposed to be loving one another.”

Amazing. Or maybe not.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

You have said things that you imagine to be true–without any evidence other than your wish that I be miserable and friendless, and your belief that anyone who dares to criticize you must be a truly worthless person. You want me to have no life, no church, and no friends because it makes you feel better about yourself–why, I cannot imagine but I don’t have your mean girl experience to fall back on. Any attempt on my part to make peace with you has been futile. But do not delude yourself that you have spoken to me in love–there is… Read more »

MeMe
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

The truth I have spoken to you since the day we met was, “it is not all about you. Stop personalizing everything I say.”

Here I am trying to address Pastor Wilson’s blog post, and you are once again trying to make it all about yourself, Jilly.

Jimmy
Jimmy
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

You have a warped definition of love like many do. It is often the most loving thing you could do to rebuke someone.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

My beloved John Donne had something to say about this: Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp’d town to another due, Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end; Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain, But am betroth’d unto your enemy; Divorce me, untie or… Read more »

JP Stewart
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

You don’t “respond well” to many parts of the Word, but that’s neither DWs’ problem nor God’s.

Now keep your promise and stop commenting here.

gabe
gabe
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

This exact thing happens to Jesus himself. He says eat my flesh and drink my blood, knowing its offense, which drives away those who were following Jesus for the wrong reasons. They literally say ” This is a hard saying who can hear it?” (John 6) Jesus used hard saying to provoke and reveal hearts all the time. It is always on the individual to hear God even when the truth is hard. It is on us to make sure that it is the truths that are hard and not us as presenters of it. Attempting to give a benefit… Read more »

Brendan
Brendan
4 years ago

Marvellous stuff Doug–can feel the power and the glory over here in Ireland!

Thank you
Brendan

Kevin Brendler
Kevin Brendler
4 years ago

“Those who content themselves with petty rules spend all their time fussing about with hemlines, curfews, and scruples about alcohol.” This is nothing but a straw man. Name one Christian group that spends -ALL OF THEIR TIME- fussing about petty rules, *content* with such as their expression of Christianity. I’ve known a number of Amish and Mennonite folk, with whom I have the most profound differences, but even they don’t fit your condescending caricature. ” … the thing that creates this distance is knowledge of the holy.” Why would one, professing knowledge of the holy, resort to the demolition of… Read more »

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Brendler

He is getting at an attitude that an individual Christian may have, not a specific denomination.

And the point is that fussing misses holiness, not that it is fine to be a libertine.

Kevin Brendler
Kevin Brendler
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

“And the point is that fussing misses holiness ….” Does fussing over the destruction of idols miss holiness? Shall we yield to the Culture and cease fussing over gender distinctions? What about purity of heart? Does fussing over that miss holiness, too? Can you really be excessively concerned with the obligations of love? I tell you the truth, if you are not a fussy Christian, then you know very little about the obligations of holiness. Matt 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the… Read more »

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Brendler

Does fussing over the destruction of idols miss holiness?

Ummm…, since when are hemlines idols?

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

Bethyada, I would say that a hemline becomes an idol–or is at risk of becoming one–when modesty is seen as “the sine qua non of feminine holiness.” A holy woman ought to be modest in both senses of the word. She should cover what ought to be covered, and have better things to think about than what she wears. But the sine qua non for holiness–for women as well as men–must be faith, hope, and love.

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

a hemline becomes an idol–or is at risk of becoming one–when modesty is seen as “the sine qua non of feminine holiness.”

which reinforces Doug’s comment and refutes Kevin’s.

Kevin Brendler
Kevin Brendler
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

1 Tim 2:15 Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, **-with modesty-**. RSV (emphasis mine)

MeMe
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Brendler

This is the fruit of hard preaching, Pastor Wilson. It is a dark,ugly mass of broken men, totally consumed by policing women’s sexuality and misappropriating scripture to justify the hardness of their own hearts.

Kilgore T. Durden
Kilgore T. Durden
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

Can you name one society that has not policed women’s sexuality? The Word polices women’s sexuality, and so does everyone else to some degree or another. It is a reality of life. The the very basis upon which a society survives is by procreation. The very means of procreation is sexuality and it is simply not egalitarian. The male contribution to procreation, biologically speaking, is minuscule and brief. The female contribution is nearly total. (As a side note, the Bible sees this as a glory for women, while feminists see this as a curse to be overcome.) If you think… Read more »

JP Stewart
4 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

That may be the most skewed view on sin and redemption I’ve ever heard. Talk about letting a pet issue determine your theology…

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Brendler

” Name one Christian group that spends -ALL OF THEIR TIME- fussing about petty rules,” You’re being overly literal with the phrase “all of their time”. Clearly he didn’t mean that they don’t do anything else at all. “Why would one, professing knowledge of the holy, resort to the demolition of straw men in order to secure his definition of holiness?” Given that you’re using a straw man and he isn’t, I would ask this of you. “Besides, hemlines have to do with modesty, the sine qua non of feminine holiness.” That’s true. They “have to do” with modesty. Not… Read more »

Farinata degli Uberti
Farinata degli Uberti
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

I can’t upvote, but good point, Justin.

Farinata degli Uberti
Farinata degli Uberti
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Brendler

Is it indeed “nothing” but a straw man? Of course not – it’s merely a slight hyperbole. Notice the subject of the sentence “those who content themselves with petty rules”. If you and yours do not content yourselves with petty rules, then this criticism is meant for others. On the other hand, the fact that you feel feel stung by it suggests that perhaps you ought to take it under advisement.