Visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life carried by Christian Hedonism.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Three weeks ago I tried to unfold for you a vision for our future together called Treasuring Christ Together - a vision of Bethlehem (and perhaps other churches) not built mainly on growing by increasing centralization downtown, but by increasing multiplication through congregations, campuses, and independent churches. You can see the entire vision sketched out in the booklet at DG's website.
The implications of this vision are huge.
1. For example, it means that we take the north campus now with tremendous long-term seriousness. I call you to earnest prayer that God will give us a location - to use Tim Johnson's words - that will preserve and advance the momentum of what God is doing in this group of people - to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
2. It also implies a Saturday night service downtown as the anchor live service that creates the video that makes the present multiple site vision possible. I call you to pray that God will make that Saturday night service (starting this coming Saturday at 5:30 pm) a powerful, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, soul-saving, saint-sanctifying, joy-spreading, justice-advancing meeting with God.
3. It also implies a change in mindset for more and more of our people. Most of us are wired to be settlers, not sojourners. It simply feels really good to settle in and have a lasting home. The thought of pulling up stakes and moving to another campus or another congregation or a church-plant feels burdensome. That's normal. I share it. But the neighborhoods and networks and the nations will never be reached for Christ if the settler mindset dominates the sojourner mindset.
It isn't just missionaries that need a risk-taking, comfort-disturbing, semi-nomadic mindset. We all do. Christ did not call us to settle in on this earth. He called us to be exiles and sojourners on the earth. Our moves won't all be to Pakistan or Thailand or Indonesia. But they might be across town. Or even across the street. It's the mindset that needs to change, if we are to really spread a passion for God's supremacy. A church that grows merely by centralization and familiarity fits the settlers' mindset, but a church that grows by multiplication and moving toward unfamiliarity must develop the sojourner's mindset - which I think Peter would simply call the Christian mindset. "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . ." (1 Peter 2:11).
So the implications of Treasuring Christ Together are huge. But they do not demolish the essence of what Bethlehem is. In fact, they embody it and express it. Consider four examples of what Treasuring Christ Together does not demolish, but express:
1. Treasuring Christ Together does not demolish the mission that defines this church: to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Treasuring Christ Together embodies this mission. We exist to spread. If a great awakening comes and thousands are converted, centralization will have to give way to multiplication. We would like to plan for this.
2. Treasuring Christ Together does not demolish the broad and deep doctrinal commitments of this church as expressed in the TBI Affirmation of Faith. This vision is built on it. Doctrinal truth defines us. More than ever I am committed to this kind of doctrinal definition of who we are. It seems like every time I open one of the magazines that I get there is an assessment of American evangelicalism that warns against the dangers of doctrinal weakness and superficiality that plague American churches.
In the most recent Christianity Today, for example, Alan Wolfe's new book, The Transformation of American Religion, is reviewed. Here are a few nuggets: "The cultural success of evangelicalism is its greatest weakness. . . [i.e., numbers give the illusion of substance]. Doctrinal ignorance is one feature of American religion that amazes Wolfe most" (October, 2003, Vol. 47, No. 10, p. 34). Stressing doctrinal identity will always be criticized by some as divisive and by others as non-relational. But for those who see beyond this generation and love the people in generations not yet born, clear doctrinal identity is a non-negotiable. In 80 years there will be no Christian mission, unity, or love without it.
3. Treasuring Christ Together does not demolish "church" as an experience of deep, lasting, personal relationships; it demands it - as I tried to show two weeks ago when we talked about our small group life together. There is nothing in the New Testament to say that big church is good or little church is good. What is says is that loving relationships are good. And there are little churches where loving relationships don't happen. And there are big churches where loving relationships do happen. Treasuring Christ Together is not about bigness or littleness; but it is about spreading and multiplying true Christian worship and true Christian love. This will be a never-ending task. Pray that we do better. And pitch in.
4. Treasuring Christ Together does not demolish the treasure that we cherish in the worship-life of this church.
And that is what I want to talk about now for two weeks - what unites us in worship across congregations, campuses, and church plants? This is crucial because heart-felt worship is our ultimate destiny as human beings - this is what we are created for. And corporate worship is a powerful part of what defines us as a people.
So let's go to Hebrews 13:14-16 and spend two weeks unpacking these three verses as the essence of what marks the worship life of our church - or which, I pray, will mark us as a people more and more. I will give the overview of the whole text today, and then next week (Lord wiling), we will take it a piece at a time.
Visible Worship: A Seamless Sacrifice
The summary phrase I want you to take away and remember is this: Seamless sacrifice. That may be short enough to stick in your mind. I will show it to you from the text in just a moment. Then once that is fixed in your mind, you may be able to recall a sentence. Here is the sentence: Visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life. That we will see from verses 15 and 16. Then when we look at verse 14, we add this to the sentence: Visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life carried by Christian Hedonism.
The Sacrifice of Worship with Your Lips
Now let me show you the overview from the text. Start with verse 15. "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." Every phrase here begs for meditation and explanation and exultation. But just get the one main point first: worship is a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips. So that is one part of the seamless cloth of visible worship: a sacrifice from the lips - a sacrifice of words sung and spoken.
The Sacrifice of Worship with Your Life
Then look at verse 16 for the other part of the seamless cloth. "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Here again we have the word "sacrifice," only here it is not the fruit of lips that praise God, but the actions of your whole life during the week in doing good and sharing what you have. This is not corporate worship of song and preaching on Sunday morning; this is individual or group worship of life and labor and love for people during the week. Both are called "sacrifices" of worship.
That is what I mean by "seamless sacrifice." There is one seamless fabric called "sacrifice" - meaning the sacrifice of worship. There is worship with the lips and there is worship with the life - all of one piece. We show the value of God through Christ by what we say about him and sing about him in corporate worship. And we show the value of God through Christ by how loosely we hold our possessions and how eagerly we share them, because Christ is our treasure, not things.
Carried by Christian Hedonism
So visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life. Why do I add the phrase, "carried by Christian Hedonism." What in the world is "Christian Hedonism" anyway? It's the conviction that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And it's the implication of this conviction that we should therefore pursue with blood-earnestness to be as satisfied in God as we can be. And it is the further implication that this satisfaction in God is the essence of authentic inward worship and the root of authentic visible worship - namely, the seamless sacrifice of lips and life.
Where do I see this in the text? I see it in the connection between verse 14 and what follows. Verse 14 says, "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." This is not just a statement of fact. It is a statement of heart. We have our hearts set on the city to come - the city of God. The city where the glory of God is the sun and the Lamb is the lamp. The city that has no temple because "the Lord God the Almighty" and his Christ are the temple. This is what we seek. This is the joy set before us. This is what satisfies our longings. "Fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures forevermore at his right hand" (Psalm 16:11). In other words, verse 14 expresses what I mean by Christian Hedonism.
That's verse 14. Now the connection with visible worship is found in the connection with what follows. Notice the word "then" or "therefore" near the beginning of verse 15: "Through him then (or: through him therefore) let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God." In other words, verse 14 is true, therefore verse 15 is true. The reality of verse 15 (and verse 16, since they are so closely linked by the word "sacrifice") is sustained by the reality of verse 14. Or, more specifically, the seamless sacrifice of worship in verses 15 and 16 is carried by the heart of verse 14. And what is the heart of verse 14? It is a heart seeking God, set on God, satisfied in God, treasuring God. So, flowing from this satisfaction in God, and carried by it, is the seamless sacrifice of worshipping lips and worshipping life.
Hence my conclusion: Visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life carried by Christian Hedonism. But let me make more clear in what sense the seamlessness of our worship is created and carried by Christian Hedonism. What we are saying is this: being satisfied in God - seeking the city of God to come and not the present city of man, setting our hearts on the Creator and not on the creation, being satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus, not in all that this world is for us in comforts and fun and leisure and power and esteem - this creates and carries the seamlessness of worship from lips and life. In this way . . .
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth - the lips - speak. Therefore, when the heart is abundantly savoring and cherishing and treasuring Christ above all else, this will overflow from the lips. It creates songs and sayings and poems and conversations and testimonies and prayers and confessions and sermons. It creates audible and visible worship from the mouth. Some of this we do together on Sunday morning. We call it corporate worship. We savor the glory of God together and we say, "Oh, that is good! That is good. I need that. I love that. I treasure that."
But this same heart of satisfaction in God - this same seeking after the city of God, not the city of man; setting itself on the treasure of heaven, not the treasure on earth, being satisfied finally with the beauty of Christ, not the beauty of creation - this same heart that gave rise to the sacrifice of lips also seamlessly gives rise to a radically different life. When Christ is our treasure - really our heart treasure - we don't feel the same way about money, we don't think about houses or cars or lands or family or leisure or entertainment or career or aging or death the same. What happens is that we start to live in a way that shows that Christ is more precious than possessions, and more precious than money, and more precious than security, and more precious than worldly success, and more precious than family and fame and health and life. What gives us deepest pleasure is seeing Christ savored in the hearts of others. And so verse 16 is created and carried, "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
In other words, Christian Hedonism - passionately pursuing the fullness of your joy in God - is the common root that creates and sustains the seamless sacrifice of lips and life that we call visible worship. The passionate pursuit of the fullness of your joy in God is the essence and root of worship. The key to the seamlessness of worshiping lips on Sunday and worshiping life on Monday is the heart that counts everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is what, I pray, will more and more mark Bethlehem in the vision of Treasuring Christ Together.
Now that is the overview of the text. We have just scratched the surface of these verses. Next week we will take them apart and dig into the specifics of what they teach about visible worship as the seamless sacrifice of lips and life carried by Christian Hedonism.
Is Your Heart a Heart of Worship?
Today the issue is this: Is your heart a heart of worship? That is, does your heart treasure Christ above all? Does your heart seek a city that is to come where God is the sun and moon and sky and light and temple and the air we breathe? Do you say with the apostle Paul, "to live is Christ and to die is gain"? Do your lips and your life make Jesus look more precious than anything else?
If not, pray with me. "Incline my heart, O God, to your glory. Waken my slumbering affections and give me life. Open my eyes to your perfections. Set my heart on fire for you. Unite my divided soul with one holy passion. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love. And weave in me a seamless sacrifice of lips and life."
One Pure and Holy Passion
Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You.
To know and follow hard after You
To grow as Your disciple in the truth.
This world is empty, pale and poor
Compared to knowing You my Lord
Lead me on, and I will run after You,
Lead me on, and I will run after You.
Words & music by Mark Altrogge
1992 Dayspring Music, Inc./PDI Praise/BMI