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WHO IS LISTENING? - (Revelation 4 and 5)

WHO IS LISTENING? - (Revelation 4 and 5)

By Ted Schroder,
March 5, 2017

Why do we observe Lent? Historically the Christian Church has followed a sixth month calendar from Advent through to Pentecost, highlighting the coming of Christ, his ministry, passion, resurrection, ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the year is called Ordinary Time -- a time of growth in the Christian life. Lent takes us from the Temptations of Jesus through the events of Holy Week: Palm Sunday through Good Friday. It is a time of entering more deeply into the significance of the cost of our salvation seen in the Passion of Christ. Before we can celebrate Easter we have to go through the Cross. The Christian Year helps to keep us balanced in our faith as we cover the whole ministry of Jesus. Our worship reflects that balance in our selection of music, readings and messages. While all churches celebrate Christmas and Easter not all churches follow the rest of the Christian calendar. Styles of worship differ widely in churches from the somber to the ecstatic.

In April 1999 I took my staff team to a church growth conference put on by Walt Kallestad and his leadership at Community Church of Joy, Glendale, Arizona. It was a very productive conference on creating a vision for growth and putting it into action. In a Leadership Journal article in the Fall of 2008 Walt confessed his failures with his 12,000 member church. He said that his ministry philosophy had become: "The only way to capture people's attention is entertainment. If I want people to listen to my message, I've got to present it in a way that grabs their attention long enough for me to communicate the gospel." It worked. Attendance rocketed. "We'd produced consumers...too many were observing the show but not meeting God."

Then he had a heart attack. He spent three months on sabbatical rekindling his love and intimacy with God and seeking answers. He and his wife visited churches where people worshiped with their whole hearts. It wasn't a performance. When he returned to his church he was revolted to see what his church had become. He repented. "We were entertaining people as a substitute for leading them into the presence of God." He began to use worship leaders only those who had the gift and heart for worship. They also began to equip and empower their members to be the church in the marketplace where God had called them to serve. Many of the members followed the new direction, but over time three quarters of the congregation left. In 2016 after 38 years under the pastorate of Walt Kallestad the 2,500 member congregation merged with another church.

In Christianity Today, December 2013 there was an article on New Life Church, Colorado Springs which has similarly changed its emphasis since the downfall of Ted Haggard from an arrogant triumphalism ("we don't do Lent", no self-examination or confession of sins) to celebrating the Christian liturgical calendar. For the first time in its three-decade history it now offers Holy Communion every Sunday and adopted the Nicene Creed as the church's statement of faith.

What is your understanding of worship? What are we doing when we gather to worship?

Carved along the top of the reredos (the wooden screen behind the altar) in my church in San Antonio, Texas, are the four letters: A,L,O and E. They also appear in a stained glass window of the Great Commission. I used to tease my congregation by asking them what they stood for. No one could remember. They stand for the four living creatures that surround the throne of God in Revelation 4 and 5. The architect put them there to remind us that our worship is part of the unceasing worship of heaven and earth. Surrounding the throne are the twenty four elders, representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, the people of faith from the old and new covenants. Their dresses of white and crowns of gold remind us that they have been redeemed and have conquered evil.

In the center, around the throne, are the four living creatures who are all-seeing, and represent all of God's creation: the noblest (the lion), the strongest (the ox), the wisest (the angel), and the swiftest (the eagle). All of creation worships the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come: the eternal one. All the people of faith worship him who lives forever. They lay their own crowns before the throne and acknowledge the worth of God to receive glory and honor and power, because God created all things. The creation worships God continually -- this worship is endless, uninterrupted and is independent of us.

A sense of awe about creation can lead to worship of God because it is an acknowledgement that we are not the center of the universe, and that all creation, by virtue of its existence, worships God all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. It is only human beings, who are given individual consciences, who must choose by faith whether or not they will worship their creator and savior. All the rest of creation automatically worships the sovereign God who is on the throne by fulfilling God's purpose for them. There is an objective reality of worship in creation that does not depend upon what we do on Sunday morning.

The believer looks through the door into heaven and hears "the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand." In other words, innumerable, countless, infinite. If numbers count then God and his people have the host of heaven on their side.
"They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise.'"
Then John tells us that "I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'
The four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshipped."

The stance of those who worship is falling down in awe and wonder and thanksgiving. It is in defiance of the worship demanded by the earthly powers of the culture. Whether it is the first-century Caesar or twenty-first century self-centered secularism -- there is no contest between our God and Savior and rival false gods. It is only this God who is on the throne who can command our allegiance in this fashion. When we get worship right we get our perspective on life right. It puts us in our place.

Who is the audience for this worship? It cannot be the worshipper but only God on the throne: Father and Son and Spirit. The worship leaders are merely prompters for the congregation to worship.
Soren Kierkegaard in Purity of Heart reminds us:

In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken, and how they are listened to: hence the customary audience is wanting. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God." (p.164)

God is present in our worship. His presence changes the nature of our gathering. The audience in worship is God. We are not in the entertainment business, but in the worship business. We are not in the business of pleasing those who are present. Our audience is God who commissions us to proclaim his Word in spirit and truth. Jesus said that the kind of worshipers the Father seeks are those who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). That means that our focus is upon the sovereignty of God and the salvation of God.

What we do in worship takes into consideration the needs of the people, the season of the year, the events of the day, but they must not dominate to the exclusion of our primary focus. We come to worship God: to praise him, to thank him, to confess our sins, to seek his face, to acknowledge our dependence, to find comfort and healing, to pledge our allegiance to his service, to be taught his Word, to be filled with his Spirit. God is present. Let us worship in such a manner that an unbeliever will catch a glimpse of the throne room of heaven. "So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (1 Cor. 14:25)


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