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A New Beginning
Discovered In Worship

Acts 2:38-44

Jim Davis

Henry Ward Beecher was to be absent from the pulpit of Plymouth Church one Sunday, and asked his brother to preach for him. As the worship service was beginning, and it became apparent that the great preacher would not be speaking that morning, some people got up to leave. At that point, Beecher's brother stepped into pulpit and said, "All of those who came to hear Henry Ward Beecher this morning should take this opportunity to leave; all of those who came to worship God may remain." No one else left the sanctuary.

It is odd how church-going people can get caught up in religious activities while losing sight of the purpose behind those activities. I remember hearing sermons on worship as I attended church as a child. The main idea I remember from those sermons was that worship was something God commanded and demanded. I was taught that by virtue of God being the creator, it was my duty to obey his command to worship. Many of those early childhood sermons presented worship as a series of acts to be engaged in by those who wished to be obediently faithful. Somewhere along the line the emphasizes was more upon my duty and where I should be at the time of worship. Just being present for worship eventually became the only criteria for the test for obedience and faithfulness. I think many times our worship was so focused on what was going on around us that we completely lost the sense of God's presence.

I think that my religious experience as a child growing up in the church is closely associated to what happens today as many attend worship. Most are focused on the wrong things. Modern worship is evaluated by the talents of those leading the worship service. It is gauged by the eloquence of the speaker, the musical ability of the song leader or choir and the assortment of instruments on the stage and how well they are played.

In many religious groups the majority of those attending worship services come to be entertained or made to feel good by what is happening on stage. Those leading the worship services today are challenged to make it exciting and interesting. Some endeavor to make worship services exciting by doing everything different than it has been done in the past. Then there are those whose focus is on doing things like they have always been done.

I preached at a place where someone switched sides with the elements used in communion. The bread had always been on one side of the table and the wine on the other side. Someone new came into the congregation and began preparing the communion. But each time they would unknowingly switch sides with the bread and the wine. They knew nothing of the old order of things. This so disturbed one of the older members that he took out his pocket knife and carved a "W", which stood for wine, on the side of the table that it had always been placed in the past. He also carved the letter "B" on the other side of the table where the bread had always been placed in the past. That "B" and "W" remain on that table to this day as a monument to an improper focus in worship.

Rather than participating in the worship many have become spectators looking for an exhibition. If the exhibition doesn't measure up, they find themselves bored and tire of the ordeal. Sadly, many believe that revitalizing the church lies in our ability to cater the worship service to the desires of those gauging our performances.

Jack Hayford said, "I'm concerned about the absence of truly accessible worship music for the church. So much new praise and worship music is performance-oriented and very well-done. But the majority of the people listening to it can't sing it...If you're going to have a worship service, it needs to involve the people." (Via Inforsearch Database, Arlington, Texas.)

True Worship Rooted in Hearts and Lives

Acts 2:38-44
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. (NIV)

There was an objective reason for the subjective experience of being together. That first worship was thoroughly rooted in scripture. The scriptures gave them a Christ-centered focus. That first worship service was focusing each person's life more fully on the risen Savior. A new life with Christ began as they opened themselves to God's direction. Paul states the purpose of baptism in Romans 6:3-4 as dying to the old life and arising to walk in newness of life. Here in Acts 2 the first Christians arise from baptism to begin their new life of repentance toward God by following the apostles teaching concerning Christ.

The vitality of that first worship was rooted in a faith that appealed to the mind. The first worship service was thoroughly grounded in scripture, but it was a search of scriptures that focused their lives on the living Christ. It was a worship service grounded in the hearts and souls of those seeking to discover the reality of God's presence in their personal lives. The purpose of that first worship was to transform the mind, heart and lifestyle of the one engaged in it. Those present were seeking a new beginning for their lives as they discovered what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. There were no rituals, no formalities, no traditions, no hype and no entertaining exhibitions designed to hold their attention. The only cohesive force bringing them together and sustaining their interest was the power of God demonstrated through their risen Savior. Their minds were kept in focus by a humble submission to God's word spoken by the apostles.

Sadly, many worship services only provide momentary diversions rather than providing an opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. In that first worship there was a study of Scripture which appealed to the minds of those present. This teaching of the Scriptures was an appeal to their minds that would allow them to grow. They were carefully examining the Scriptures that they might grow. 1

True Worship Creates A Comprehensive Fellowship

The saying they had "all things common" expresses a comprehensive fellowship. It was a fellowship that far surpassed an hour spent together rehearsing ritual or trying to create interest by doing things different. It was a fellowship where lives became mangled together as one as they discovered the reality of God's presence in their lives. I am always impressed with the comprehensive fellowship in the following verses.

Acts 2:44-47
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

The excitement of that first fellowship was the result of the virgin birth, the Master's ministry, the cross and the empty tomb which manifested the possibility and power available for a new life focused on God. It is not difficult to bring people together who are motivated by a common purpose.

That first fellowship had all things in common because it constituted those who were brought together as a result of focusing their lives on the living Christ. A Christ-centered worship grounded in scripture rooted in the hearts and souls of individuals ultimately brought those first Christians into fellowship with each other. It was the breaking of bread or communion that reminded each person of the common bond bringing them together and the purpose of coming together. They had a common purpose for being together. It wasn't something commanded or demanded; it was a natural response to their longing for God. As they were drawn to Christ they were naturally drawn to those who expressed a common interest in Christ.

In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer wrote, "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers (meeting) together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship." (Via Infosearch Database. Arlington, Texas.)

In that first fellowship their lives became so entwined together that they lost sight of what's yours and mine. Those wishing to abandon their selfish lives in their longing for God powerfully motivated it. They sold their possessions and departed the proceeds to those who had need. Individual burdens became mutual burdens as they entered into fellowship. That first fellowship was so comprehensive that they entered into one another's suffering.

Notice the following comfort from Paul's letter, which gives us an idea of the mindset of those worshiping God. It stresses how individual burdens become mutual burdens through proper fellowship of Christians. In the first fellowship you see a price being paid for the comfort of others.

2 Corinthians 1:2-7
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (NIV)

Real worship is where lives are wrapped up in one another. After all God has wrapped his existence up in ours. So much so that he laid down his life for ours. This fellowship of sharing far surpasses mere church attendance, observance of ritual or the need for momentary excitement. It surpasses the excitement of creative exhibition. The first worship involved a community of believers. The community of believers provided support and encouragement.

The excitement of that first worship overflowed into their daily lives. "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47 NIV)

God's Praise Comes Natural

God's praise is the natural response of genuine fellowship.

"The best of human relationships, apart from the Holy Spirit, are based on the barter of mutual needs, interests, causes, or fears. We do not naturally live in close, harmonious, giving, and forgiving relations. Unless there is something we need either to get or provide, we are not drawn into either friendship or partnership. Without the Holy Spirit, we use people or are used by them depending on our dominance-subservience personality quotient. Loneliness drives people into one place, but that does not mean that they are together, really. We are fundamentally selfish." 2

The church as it was meant to be is made up of people who have accepted God's eternal purpose to become one with him and with one another. It is a fellowship of individuals who have given themselves to one another as Christ has given himself to them. It is in this new setting that God's new creation of humanity is demonstrated to the world. The result is the praise of God who initiated the initial sacrifice to make it so. He died and lives to make it possible. 3

True worship is the result of the praise and adoration of a life overflowing with God's living presence. The songs and prayers are the result of individual lives responding to the call of God, which results in a comprehensive community of sacrificial praise.

In 1808, just a year before the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, a grand performance of his outstanding oratorio The Creation took place in Vienna. The composer himself was there for the occasion. Old and feeble, he was brought into the great hall in a wheelchair. His presence caused an electrifying enthusiasm in the audience. As the orchestra and chorus burst forth with full power into the passage, "And there was light," a crescendo of applause broke out. Moved by this response, the elderly musician struggled to his feet. Summoning all his strength, he raised his trembling arms upward, crying, "No, no! Not from me, but from thence--from Heaven above came all!" Although he fell back exhausted in his chair and had to be carried from the hall, the old master had made his point in a dramatic and unforgettable manner.

God is at the heart of Christian worship as he reveals himself in the lives of the saints. Praise be to HIM!

Conclusion:

Where does worship begin?

It begins as it is rooted in the hearts and souls of those who believe in Christ.

It is sustained as believers focus on embracing God in repentance as our lives are surrendered to his leading through the teaching of the scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is aimed at bringing honor and glory to God's name as he recreates us in his image to be a shining light in a dark world.

An old Quaker story tells about a visitor coming into the silence of a Friends' Meeting for worship and asking the person next to him, "What time does the service begin?" The Quaker's said, "When the worship is over."

1. James Thompson, Strategy for Survival. Sweet publishing Company, Austin, Texas, 1980. pp. 13,14

2. Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator's Commentary, Acts. Word Books, Waco, Texas, 1983. pp. 73,74.

3. Ibid.
 
 

 

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