Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Establishing a Pattern of Worship

I am going to say something to you which will sound strange. It even sounds strange to me as I say it, because we are not used to hearing it within our Christian fellowships. We are saved to worship God. All that Christ has done for us in the past and all that He is doing now leads to this one end.
– A.W. Tozer -- Whatever Happened to Worship
He’s speaking about the importance of worship:  How the promise of God comes through worship.  Today, I want to take the time to examine worship:  What it is, what does it mean to our lives?   How many of us realize that worship is necessary to the Christian Walk?  I want to look at worship because I believe there are three key things that demonstrate the importance of worship.

Genesis 12:6-8
6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Faith Begins Through Worship

In our text we see Abram.  This takes place after he has heard the call of God to follow God to a place He would show Abram.  He has picked up and left his father’s house and he has traveled to Canaan:  The land of promise.  This is the land that God said that he would give to Abram’s descendents.  He arrives there and God shows him the land.  God tells him, “Look around this is the land I will give to your descendents. Abram sees the promise of God and builds an altar.

He’s seen the promise of God and it has moved him, to do what?  What is an altar for?  The Hebrew word for Altar comes from the Hebrew word for slaughter, so he has built this altar to offer sacrifices to God.  Sacrifice is a form of worship.  He’s worshipping God.  He’s seen the promise; glimpsed what God will do and it has driven him to worship. 

Can you look at your life and see what God is doing there?  Can you see the promise that’s on the horizon for you if you will remain in the will of God?  What does it motivate you to do?  Does it motivate you to worship?  Worship is the natural thing and that’s what Abram did, he worshipped God. 

He sees the promise of God and he builds an altar to worship the one who has given the promise and in that moment something is established in his life.  This isn’t a one-time shot for Abram.  He begins to worship at many points in his journey.  A pattern of worship is established in his life.

How many times do we see Abraham, build an altar?  He builds altars over and over throughout his life.  Worship has become a pattern in his life and we can see from his life that  worship strengthened his faith. 

Look at the Book of geneisis, in Chapter 12 we see that Abram hears from God and even though he is raised in the pagan environment of Ur he recognizes the voice of God and responds to the call that’s there.  God calls him to go to a place that I will show you.  Abram leaves the house of his father, follows God to that place and he worships God there. 

But then he leaves that place where he has worshipped God and travels down to Egypt.  He becomes afraid that the Egyptians will kill him so he tells his wife to say that she is his sister so protect himself.  Where has the faith gone?  What happened to the man who believed God?  He has left the place of worship and his faith has been lost.  Afterward he returns to bethel from Egypt.

Genesis 13:3-4
3 And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,4 to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

He rebuilds the altar that he had built before and in the process his faith is reanimated.  This is the time when Lot’s shepherds and Abram’s shepherds begin to fight, so Abraham tells Lot pick a direction and go that way I’ll go the other way.  Lot looks to toward Sodom.  He sees that in that direction he will have more opportunity to find prosperity so he chooses to go in that direction.  Abram goes in the opposite direction out into the desert; into the place that God had showed him and trusted God for provision.  Lot has chosen the direction through the wisdom of mankind.  He sees a better chance for success so he goes that way.  Abram on the other hand, has chosen to trust God and has chosen his direction in faith.  he stays in the Land God has promised his descendants and worships God.

Finally, we see the powerful faith of Abram, who by now is called Abraham, in the test that God gives him when he asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Issac is the child of Abraham’s old age.  He is the child that God said will be the heir through whom the promise is fulfilled.  So when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac he is really testing whether or not Abraham has the faith to obey God.  Remember, he had a son through Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar, because they didn’t believe that God could give barren Sarah a child.  So this is a test to see whether Abraham can obey God, knowing what’s at stake. 

Abraham responds to the test by placing Isaac on the altar and preparing to sacrifice him.  This is a great act of faith look at this statement regarding Abraham’s faith:

Hebrews 11:17-19
11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

He had becomes so full of faith that he knew if necessary for God to keep the promise that he would raise Isaac from the dead.  This is a far cry from the man who doubted that God could deliver him from the Egyptians. 

What’s the key to Abraham’s faith?  I believe it is the act of worshipping God.  Every time God spoke the promise to Abraham he built an altar and worshipped God.  He called on the name of the Lord.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  Abraham’s faith was ignited by the word of God spoken in the form of a promise.  But the building of the altar signifies an openness to hearing from God.  It isn’t automatic that if you speak the word of God that everyone you speak it to will respond I faith.  If it was then everyone you witnessed to would get saved.  We know that doesn’t happen.  But it is an openness to the word of God that allows it to build faith in our lives.  Worship opens us up to the word of God and the will of God and establishes in us the faith that God is a God who will deliver on His promises.  That’s why worship is so important in our church services.  It’s also why we have worhip service before the preaching. 

Here are some interesting statistics:

Nearly two-thirds of regular church attendees have not experienced God’s presence in a church service.  48% of regular church attendees have not experienced God’s presence in the last year. But yet 65% (two-thirds) of church-going adults are very satisfied with the ability to worship God afforded by their church.

The problem here is that there has not been a pattern of real worship that has been built in most churches.  It’s too bad that we don’t have to build altars anymore because people come to church and expect the presence of God to just fall on them:  That it is God’s responsibility to pour Himself out.  Some churches have professional worship groups, the have the perfect mood inducing lighting, all the right high tech effects.  Those things induce a mood but they don’t always bring about heartfelt worship.  There isn’t a formula; worship doesn’t come from singing, clapping, mood lighting and musicianship.  It comes from the heart.   It comes from being inspired by the promise of God.  That’s what motivated Abraham.  We have to ask ourselves are we inspired by what God is doing in our lives?  Is that what motivates us, or are we just going through the motions?  Do you want to feel the presence of God?  If you do then you need to worship from your heart and you ill feel the presence of God, powerfully.  Song service and the preaching will come to life for you because God will show up.

The House of God is Established in Worship

The word Bethel means “House of God.”  This is the place where God dwells, this is the place where Abram built that first altar.  This is also the place where Jacob sees the vision of the ladder of God and names it Bethel. 

Genesis 28:16-19
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”  18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.

When Abraham was there it was called Luz it was built by the Canaanites, who lived there.  It wasn’t called Bethel until Jacob’s time.  He called it that in a time of worship.  That’s what he was doing when he raised up a stone and anointed it.  He was worshipping God.  This is the same place where Abram built that first altar; it is the same place where Abram worshipped God.  The worship of God in that place established it as the House of God.  Jacob says, “this is none other than the House of God,” and what is it?  It’s a place of worship.

Take a moment and look forward in history into the nation of Israel.   Look into a time after the people have received their inheritance; after the four hundred years of captivity in Egypt.  This is centuries after Jacob’s time.

Judges 20:18
18 Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?” The Lord said, “Judah first!”

Judges 20:26-27
26 Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.27 So the children of Israel inquired of the Lord (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,

Judges 21:2-4
2 Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly,3 and said, “O Lord God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?”4 So it was, on the next morning, that the people rose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

This place is established as the House of God and it was established there all those years ago when Abram first worshipped there.  Worship establishes the place of God.

Our church is in an old building.  There have been a number of businesses in that building.  One of them, a KTV business, where men pay women to entertain them as they drank and sing karaoke, not really the type of business that would establish the place as the House of God.   But now it’s our church, now it’s a House of God where we regularly experience the presence of God.  What establishes it as the House of God?  It’s the worship of God by God’s people. 
But let’s make this personal for a moment.  If you worship God from your heart, will your heart not be established as a House of God.  If your heart is established as a dwelling place of God what fruit would be visible from that? 

Luke 6:45
45 “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Worship will build in your heart a [ace where God can dwell and we will see the fruit of a heart given over to God.  What will that fruit look like?

Psalm 45:7
7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.

God is not a God of depression.  He’s not a God of suicide.  God is a God of Joy.  Do you want the joy of salvation to be the fruit of your life?  Worship will usher in the oil of gladness.  As we build a habitation for God in our hearts, then out of our hearts will come the abundance of what is there, which is the oil of gladness.  Worship establishes the dwelling of God in our hearts, in other words worship is what will bring about the indwelling of God in our hearts.

Worship is a Refuge

Jeroboam, when he was king of Israel desecrated the place of God through the worship of idols. 

1 Kings 12:32-33
32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.

He perverted the House of God by setting up an abomination there.  In time the people came to be ashamed of that perversion of God’s house.

Jeremiah 48:13
13 Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh,
As the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.

The word translated as confidence can be more properly translated as refuge.  So what is this saying?  It’s saying that the people of God came to be ashamed of that that was once their refuge.  Jeroboam, through his worship of golden calves in the house fo God caused God to depart from that place.  We are in danger of the same thing if we allow some form of idolatry to take the place of God in our hearts. 

What do we worship?  We worship the thing that has the greatest priority in our hearts.    It’s that thing we put before God:  That thing that keeps us out of church.  The thing that we worship is the thing that keeps us from worshipping God. 

I spoke to a young man who didn’t want to serve God because he knew that if served God he wouldn’t be able to be sexually immoral.  His conscience wouldn’t allow it.  He knew that. So Sexual Immorality is thing that he worships.

He is in bondage to that thing, there is no place of refuge from that bondage available to him, until he puts God back in the place of worship in his heart. 

What is a place of refuge?  In our times we have appointed places called Wildlife Refuges.  These are places where wildlife can live without fear of being hunted and killed by men.  They are a place of safety and security.

That’s what bethel was for Israel.  It was a place where they could have confidence that God would protect them and provide for them; safety and security.  That place of refuge was destroyed by jeroboam as he worshipped idols there.  This is the last place in the Bible where bethel is referred to as the place of God.  The last mention of Bethel is in the Book of Amos:

Amos 7:11-13
11 “For thus Amos has said: ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, And Israel shall surely be led away captive From their own land.’ ”  12 Then Amaziah said to Amos: “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, And there prophesy.13 But never again prophesy at Bethel, For it is the king’s sanctuary, And it is the royal residence.”

The people have grown ashamed of Bethel.

Worshipping God creates for us a refuge from the bondage of sin, from the assault of the one who seeks to destroy us.  How many times have you gone into church, bogged down, feeling the weight of the day or some assault from the pit of hell.  You walk in, allow yourself to enter into a place of worship, allow God’s presence to be established once again in your heart, and you are buoyed up, leaving glad once more.  That’s the power of refuge.  It’s what makes the worship group such an important part of the service; they are the ones who usher us into worship.  They are the ones who, in a sense, build that altar.  But don’t get me wrong worship is an individual responsibility.  Worship should come from the heart.  It’s the opening of our hearts to God and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Not giving it all we’re worth profanes it.  

Worship can establish and strengthen our faith.  Worship can build the House of God.  Worship can be a refuge from the assaults of hell.  It depends on you.
One final thought, we think of worship as a personal thing: That we are the only ones affected by the intensity of our worship, but that isn’t true.    Abraham’s worship built his faith, but it also built the faith of Isaac and Jacob.  Have you thought about how much faith it took for Isaac to let his father offer him on the altar?

Isaac was about twenty and Abraham about one hundred twenty.  Isaac could have outrun him certainly.  Could have fought him, but we don’t see that.  Isaac submitted to the sacrifice.  Where did Jacob learn to worship God by standing up a stone and pouring oil on it.?  He learned that from his father and grandfather.  The House of God was established by one man’s worship but it remained the House of God for all of Israel for centuries.  The lack of worship on the part of Jeroboam destroyed that place as a place of refuge.

Do you realize that your faith is dependent on your pastor’s?  His faith is dependent in part on yours.  Together we strengthen each other’s faith, so we owe it to each other to build our faith as much as we can and we do that partly through worship.  Together we establish a refuge from the assaults of the devil as we come into the sanctuary and worship.  We, through worship, make it a refuge.  Let’s establish a pattern of worship in our lives and see the promises of God come true in our lives.

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