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Heart, Habit and Other Holidays

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Scripture: 1 Chronicles 16:1-7, 2 Samuel 6,


Worship without creativity is like inviting a congregation to come and chew on Kleenex for an hour.

Cal LeMon in Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 2.


( Why am I preaching this sermon this AM?  I believe that we need to meaningfully engage ourselves in vital relationship with God.  We’ve got the truth thing down fairly well.  I am confident that as a church we preach the gospel well.  We advocate a standard of living that is Christlike, we call this holiness and believe that this lifestyle is merely the visible evidence of an invisible spiritual reality – we are made new in Christ, our hearts are made pure and the way that we live is evidence of this reality.  There is a tendency to go into spiritual slumps and lose focus and intensity.  We become content to fool people, not to be hypocritical, just to be accepted and also because we are sure that we will work things through.  There may be many living just that way today – you know that things are not as they should be and you are pacifying yourself by telling yourself that you will come to grips with it – you will work it out.  So weeks come and go and we “backshelf” our faith and try to survive on the truth on orthodoxy, on the correctness of our theology but our hearts are hardened by our willingness to tolerate our sinfulness or our rebellion.  We come to church on Sundays and worship him in truth but not in Spirit.  Thus we become false worshippers.  Jesus said to the woman at the well that the Father desires true worshippers who will engage Him in Spirit and Truth.)


I may be the only person in this church who struggles with church ritual and liturgy. 

At the turn of the century, James Burns wrote the book Revivals: The Laws and Leaders.  In the opening chapter he discusses "laws" of revival, as well as the "laws" of the absence of revival.  "The first tendency," he writes, "Is for the doctrine of the church to lose its power of convicting the conscience, convincing the mind, or moving the heart."  He goes on to point out that spiritual decay brings with it a formality of worship in which the "ritual" is so exalted that it crushes the spirit.

See:  Rom 6:17-18; 1 Thes 1:5

When I first began in the ministry, I remember how awkward it was to get up in front of a group of people and labor through the reading of various of the more formal ministerial ceremonies and sacraments.  It felt stiff, formal, even dead by times.  I was concentrating so hard on the words in front of me that I was failing to minister to people.  I was bound to the book.  Weddings now are one of the favorite things that I do as a minister.  I have the ceremony committed to memory and when I look at two people who are approaching the marriage altar, I savor every word that I speak because it is rich in it’s meaning and I pay attention to every thing that I say and enjoy it all.

It’s difficult to grasp the significance of what we do here on Sundays unless we are personally acquainted with the Lord and intimately enough to begin to actively love him.

A young woman teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too.  Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks.

There is, however, one exception.  A girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd. The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. 

"Because I'm not an atheist."

 Then, asks the teacher, what are you?  "I'm a Christian."  The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy  why she is a Christian. "Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian."  The teacher is now angry. "That's no reason," she says loudly. 

"What if your mom was a moron, and your dad was a moron.  What would you be then?"

 A pause, and a smile. "Then," says Lucy, "I'd be an atheist."

I have this aversion to “going through the motions”. 

A devout Christian who had a cat used to spend several minutes each day at prayer and meditation in his bedroom. He read a portion of Scripture and a devotional book, followed by a period of silent meditation and prayer. As time went on his prayers became longer and more intense.

He came to cherish this quiet time in his bedroom, but his cat came to like it, too. She would cozy up to him, purr loudly, and rub her furry body against him. This interrupted the man's prayer time, so he put a collar around the cat's neck and tied her to the bedpost whenever he wanted to be undisturbed while at prayer. This didn't seem to upset the cat, and it meant that the man could meditate without interruption.

Over the years, the daughter of this devout Christian had noted how much his devotional time had meant to him. When she began to establish some routines and patterns with her own family, she decided she should do as her father had done. Dutifully she, too, tied her cat to the bedpost and then proceeded to her devotions. But time moved faster in her generation and she couldn't spend as much time at prayer as did her father.

The day came when her son grew up and wanted to make sure that he preserved some of the family traditions which had meant so much to his mother and his grandfather. But the pace of life had quickened all the more and there simply was no time for such elaborate devotional proceedings. So he eliminated the time for meditation, Bible reading, and prayer. But in order to carry on the religious tradition, each day while he was dressing he tied the family cat to the bedpost.

Thus forms become more important than the faith they are meant to convey.

   --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 437.

During a more cynical point in my ministry I remember one morning looking out in the church to see people disengaged from the worship experience.  I saw folks singing and chewing gum and looking around.  While I did not want to judge them, they gave me every impression that they were just mindlessly drifting through a familiar routine to them. 

Isaiah 29:13  The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. {Hebrew; Septuagint They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men}

I can’t imagine what it would be like to see from God’s perspective.  He knows the truth – he sees you this morning friend.  He knows whether the expression of faith that you have participated in is real or merely rhote.

The following words are from an old engraving on a cathedral in Labeck, Germany:

   Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us:

   You call Me master and obey Me not.

   You call Me light and see Me not.

   You call Me the Way and walk Me not.

   You call Me life and live Me not.

   You call Me wise and follow Me not.

   You call Me fair and love Me not.

   You call Me rich and ask Me not.

   You call Me eternal and seek Me not.

   If I condemn thee, blame Me not.

Finney said something cute:  "There can be no revival when Mr. Amen and Mr. Wet-Eyes are not found in the audience."

See:  James 4:9-10

1. The Appointment To Give Thanks


1 Samuel 4 –  A battle between Israel and the Philistines in which Israel is defeated with the loss of 4,000 men.  They decide to take it to the Philistines one more time and bring the ark of the Lord along with Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s decadent sons.  They become over confident.  The Philistines are fearful, the battle commences.  Israel loses once more at the cost of 30,000 men thisn time.  Hophni and Phinehas are slain and the ark of God is taken. 

1 Samuel 5 – The Philistines set the ark in the temple of Dagon, whose image is found the next morning prostate before it and broken in pieces.  The Philistines also are afflicted with a strange disease.  The people of Ashdod refuse to have the ark stay with them and in consultation with the Philistine Lords, order it to be carried to Gath.  God smites the inhabitants there with the same disease.  They then send it to Ekron and heavy destruction falls on that city.  Finally they resolve to return the ark to Shiloh.

1 Samuel 6 – They put the ark of God on a driver-less cart and point it toward Beth Shemesh and the border of Israel.  Along with the ark they send gold models in a separate chest of the tumors with which they were afflicted and gold models of rats which over ran their land.  These were sent as trespass offerings. It comes to rest in Beth Shemesh, in the field of Joshua and they celebrate it’s return with sacrifice.  Seventy of the men of the village were struck dead when they looked into the ark.  They in turn request that the men of Kiriath Jearim take the ark to their own community.  The ark stays there for 20 years.

q      David’s heart was to bring the presence of God to Jerusalem where his government would be seated. He tried to do it his way on the back of an ox cart and was thwarted with the death of Uzzah who died attempting to prevent the ark from tumbling off the cart.

2 Samuel 6: 11  The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household.  12 ¶ Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.  13  When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.  14  David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might,  15  while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.  16  As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

He lost his dignity as a king and danced before the Lord to his wife’s displeasure.  She was not at all concerned with what God might have thought but with what others thought.

2 Samuel 6:20 ¶ When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would."  21  David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel--I will celebrate before the LORD. 22  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour."  23  And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

1 Chronicles 16 fits right here between the 16th and 20th verses of 1 Samuel 6

q      He appointed people to “minister before the ark”.  Obviously it was important to David that God be worshipped.  That is important today as well.  We come together today to minister to the Lord.  We cannot sit back and let others do this for us.  It requires our cooperation fully.

Specifically to:

Ø      Make petition

Ø      Give thanks

Ø      Praise The Lord


David associated worship with what was spoken and what was sung.


2. The Act Or The Attitude of Thanksgiving

If I were to stand before you today to invite the church to praise the Lord together, what would you do?

What is the relationship between the things that we do and our attitude?  Are we motivated to action by a proper attitude or do our actions alter or determine our attitudes toward things.

Involvement in anything brings a different outlook.  It transforms us from being an analyst to a realist.  We are never fully aware of the possibilities or the obstacles in any given endeavor until we are the ones who are forced to deal directly with the thing. 

I am over a critical attitude toward the church.  There was a period of time during which I was almost ashamed to tell people that I was a preacher.  I was overcome by the weakness or faultiness of the church.

They were commissioned to engage themselves in worship to God as participants.  They  were to do this for the Lord not for a sense of personal gratification primarily – they were honoring Him.  Your participation in any church service is the same – as a worshipper you have come to this place to be a participant not a watcher. 

As a watcher you may see certain things that touch your emotions and if you are an emotional watcher, you will determine the worth of the service by the degree to which your emotions are touched.

If you are a watcher from the truth perspective you will weigh the proclamation of truth and you will notice every point of preference and consider it as it relates to your own interpretation of truth.  It is my contention that if you come today to engage God in personal encounter and you participate then you will encounter him because you are ministering to Him.  If you truly encounter Him then all other things will be secondary.

In order for my worship to be meaningful I must engage myself in the act of worship.  I am the one who determines the degree to which I encounter God.

Psalm 107:1 ¶ Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.   2  Let the redeemed of the LORD say this--those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,


If I am to understand the spirit of Christmas, to be truly thankful at this season, to celebrate the resurrection, then I must become a “minister-er”.  I must participate fully in the truth and the spirit of each occasion. 

Why is it that we like the back seats so well?  Often it is because we wish to create distance and communicate non-participation.  Let me challenge you today to become a front row participant regardless of where you may sit in this church.

We take ourselves far too seriously.  Our somber spirits are more a projection of our own dignity.  It’s not that we worry so much that God would misinterpret our frivolities or our humanness – it is more that we consider ourselves to sophisticated to release our hearts unreserved to worship Him regardless of how silly it may make us look.  We are inhibited in expressing ourselves to Him because we are more self-conscious than we are God conscious.  Let me give you fair warning, when I see God one day face to face, I’m going to lose it – I’m planning on it right now.


If you think it's hard to sit through a sermon, try preaching one

If you think the pew is hard try the pulpit

If you think the singing should be better, try leading the songs

If you think the teaching is not plain enough, try explaining the lesson yourself

If you think the church is not friendly try speaking to someone before he speaks to you

You'll be amazed at what you discover.



3.     The Assignment Of Thanksgiving


Ø      Give thanks - v. 8

Ø      Call on His Name – v. 8

Ø      Sing to Him – v. 9

Ø      Glory or rejoice in his holy name – v. 10

Ø      Look to him for strength – v. 11

Ø      Seek his face -  v. 11

Ø      Remember what He has done – not what we have done vs. 12-22

Ø      Proclaim his salvation – v. 23

Ø      Declare His glory – vs. 24-29

Ø      Bring an offering and worship – v. 29

Ø      Fear the Lord – vs. 30-33


He was just a little boy, on a week's first day.

He was wandering home from Sunday School, and dawdling on the way.

He scuffed his shoes into the grass; he found a caterpillar.

He found a fluffy milkweed pod, and blew out all the "filler."

A bird's nest in a tree overhead, so wisely placed on high.

Was just another wonder that caught his eager eye.

A neighbor watched his zig zag course, and hailed him from the lawn;

Asked him where he'd been that day and what was going on.

"I've been to Bible School," he said and turned a piece of sod.

He picked up a wiggly worm replying, "I've learned a lot of God."

"M'm very fine way," the neighbor said, "for a boy to spend his time."

"If you'll tell me where God is, I'll give you a brand new dime."

Quick as a flash the answer came!  Nor were his accents faint.

"I'll give you a dollar, Mister, if you can tell me where God ain't."


Cowboy at Church

Cowboy Joe was telling his fellow cowboys back on the ranch about his first visit to a big-city church.  "When I got there, they had me park my old truck in the corral," Joe began.

"You mean the parking lot," interrupted Charlie, a more worldly fellow.

"I walked up the trail to the door," Joe continued.

"The sidewalk to the door," Charlie corrected him.

"Inside the door, I was met by this dude," Joe went on.

"That would be the usher," Charlie explained.

"Well, the usher led me down the chute," Joe said.

"You mean the aisle," Charlie said.

"Then, he led me to a stall and told me to sit there,"

Joe continued.

"Pew," Charlie retorted.

"Yeah," recalled Joe.  "That's what that pretty lady said when I sat down beside her.

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