Worship That Wearies God

Worship That Wearies God

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

If we are honest, some days it is easier to worship with focus and enthusiasm than others. We’re human and we struggle. With mental preparation and prayer, we can minimize the frequency of such times, but they happen to the best of us.

Have you ever thought about God getting tired of the worship brought by His people? I don’t mean worship done incorrectly and according to the will of men which violates what He commands. Apparently, He rejects such worship (Mat. 15:9). I don’t mean the idea that He gets bored and had rather skip a Sunday here and there. No such picture is ever painted of God.

But through the prophets, He repeatedly talks about being weary of the worship brought by His people. 

“I have had enough…I take no pleasure in…your worthless offerings…an abomination to me…I cannot endure…They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:11-14).

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps” (Amos 5:21,23).

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you” (Malachi 1:10). 

Each prophet is dealing with specific circumstances prompting such a response from God, but it should cause us to take notice that just coming into the “meeting house” and going through the motions does not equal acceptable worship. Neither does simply following the New Testament pattern for the acts of worship. You will find in each of the passages above that the people were at the right place offering the right sacrifices on the right day led by the right people. The problem was either one of attitude, hypocrisy, or outright worldly living. Jeremiah documents how the people lived just like the world for the rest of the week, then filed into the temple to sing, “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!” (7:4-10). 

Worship is a special privilege, to come into the presence of our Maker and Savior. At our best, we worship Him with sin and weakness in our lives. He knows that and the cross proves that He knows it. He is not expected sinless perfection, but He is looking for characteristics in our worship just beyond doctrinal accuracy.  He wants:

  • Feeling (Psalm 95:6; John 4:24).
  • Engagement (Matthew 15:8).
  • Effort (Hebrews 13:15).
  • Gratitude (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:16-17).
  • Thoughtfulness and Intentionality (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
  • Devotion (Acts 2:42).
  • Consideration of one another (Hebrews 10:24). 

It is such a blessing that God communicates with us not only about the “what,” “when,” and “who” of worship, but also the “how” and “why” of it. When we are assembled for worship, He tells us what worship should look like. Between the assemblies, He tells us what a life looks like that partners with that worship.

God speaks of the various sacrifices of His children being a “fragrant aroma” to Him (Philippians 4:20; ). He likens the prayers of His faithful people to incense (Revelation 5:8; 8:1ff).  Jesus assures us that true worshippers offering true worship are highly sought after by God (John 4:23). That’s the aim, isn’t it? The idea of presenting God with both a worshipper and worship which enthuses Him is the pinnacle of excitement! 

Next Sunday, before we come together in worship, we can read Psalm 95, Psalm 96, Isaiah 6, or a similar chapter which reminds us of Who we get to worship. Today and every day, let us strive to build on the most recent worship we have offered by a life of faithful service and sincere devotion. That will set the table for worship God can’t wait to receive! 

Motivation For Attending Church Services

Motivation For Attending Church Services

Neal Pollard

“An Italian newspaper recently carried an interesting story about a young couple in Milan who had a wonderful attendance record at a particular cathedral. The priest assumed they were very devoted to their faith because they regularly spent an hour before one of the statues in the church’s worship area.  He thought they were doing some intense praying.  Only later did he discover the couple simply came to re-charge their cell phone from the electrical outlet behind the statue” (King Duncan, via Waterview, Richardson, TX, 3/16/14).

My first reaction to that was to chuckle, then be a little indignant, and then become introspective.  The thought that someone may come to church services for apparent honorable intentions but be serving some baser motive may be shocking, but it is not unheard of.  Jesus taught, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat. 15:9).  Jesus is quoting Isaiah, and it was a problem in that prophet’s day, too.  Think of what another prophet wrote.  Ezekiel said, “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain” (Ezek. 33:31).

When I come before the Great I Am, not only must I keep from distractions.  Deeper than that, I must examine my overall motivation for being at worship or serving the Lord.  Why am I a Christian?  Self-examination is as important as any spiritual exercise there is (2 Cor. 13:5).  Nobody else may know why we are before the Lord in worship, but He does.  May He see our motivation as transparent and true, honest and sincere!  

Godly Character Traits

Godly Character Traits

Saturday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

When I was growing up, there were certain tasks that my parents would give me that I didn’t want to do. Washing the floorboards, weeding the garden, cutting vinyl siding, and digging holes with a post hole digger are just a few examples of what many of us would consider hard work. 

I remember the hours working on these jobs, covered in sweat with blistered hands, and an all-around feeling of fatigue. There were a couple times In particular where I can remember my dad saying the classic phrase, “Son this is character-building work.” And then he would tell a story about some hard job he had to do as a kid. Looking back, these jobs really did build character, but there’s more to it than just digging a hole and sweating. 

You can be a hard worker, and still lack honesty, sincerity, and humility. Character building takes serious work and commitment. Luckily, God has given us His perfect word that tells us how we can grow our character. 

If you’ve ever struggled with living out your faith, or with your commitment to Christ, working on growing our character will help us to focus on what’s truly important in this life. 

There are many different ways that we could go about building our character, and as we look to scripture a good place to start in this endeavor is by practicing righteous thinking. If we want to grow our character, we have to start changing the way that we think. Problem is, it’s a lot easier said than done. There are two different passages that tell us how we can practice righteous thinking. 

Philippians 4:8 reads, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” As Christians we can learn to dwell on righteousness by filling our mind with godly traits. If we are truly set on transforming our minds to think on righteousness, we have to replace worldly thinking with godly traits. 

Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It’s possible to practice righteous thinking by renewing our mind with the will of God. No longer looking to ourselves as master, but to God. By doing this our thinking changes. Our focus shifts from this world, and our minds will dwell on righteousness. 

Do you want to be known as a person of character? The first change we must undergo is to start thinking righteously. Righteous thinking is no easy task. It takes work, and many times we fall short of this goal. Thankfully we serve a loving God who wants nothing more than for us to spend an eternity with Him in Heaven. 

Question is, do we want this future enough to make the right decisions? 

“Toying With God All My Life”

“Toying With God All My Life”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

It was such a beautiful moment yesterday morning. A brother in Christ from our area who has been attending with us for a few months responded to the invitation. As Kevin and I took his confession, he spoke of sins in his past that fill him with regret. Though he was raised in the church, he has been away from the Lord for a long time. Among the things he expressed from his tender heart, he confessed, “Ive been toying with God all my life.” His point was simple. He felt doubt about God’s existence and concern for him, and it led him to make regrettable choices. But, recently, his study of God’s word and fellowship with God’s people led him to see how real God is and how much he needs Him in his life. 

I wonder how many of us could confess that, at times and in ways, we’ve toyed with God in some way. Perhaps we appealed to Him only when we were in trouble that we couldn’t solve ourselves. Maybe we promised Him we’d be faithful if only He’d give us something we specifically prayed for or thought we needed, and when we got it we broke our promise. It might have been a time or season when we “played church” and acted the role of Christian in the building but acted like the world when around them. 

This is not a tendency that started in our current generation. It is a human tendency. Bible writers exposed such thinking. God tells Ezekiel, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them” (Ezek. 33:30-32). This is similar to what Isaiah wrote (29:13) and Matthew (15:8-9) and Mark (7:6,7) quote. It’s playing with God to speak as though we desire His Word and even listen to it but be driven by desires and a heart that practice something different (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). 

I need to have the good heart our dear brother expressed on Sunday morning. One who wants others to see and know how much He believes in God, loves Him, and intends to serve Him. May we all keep our hearts tender to God’s Word and let its power do its surgical work in removing what doesn’t belong and moving us to act on what does belong. 

Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Neal Pollard

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), they were asking the most qualified instructor. However, they had a good teacher from the background of their own heritage in David. The book of Psalms is at times a songbook and at other times a prayer journal. Numerous examples of David’s prayers are contained in this beautiful book of Old Testament poetry. In Psalm 141, for example, we have several characteristics of prayer from a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

First, David’s prayer was urgent (Psalm 141:1). He writes, “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me!” David saw prayer, not as a last resort, but as a first retreat. Since David knew God was able to help, he wasted no time in bringing matters into God’s own hands.

Then, David’s prayer was intense (Psalm 141:1b). He continues, “Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.” You will not hear rote memorization of prayers or lackadaisical lethargy in David’s prayer. David cried out to God. He is pleading with God. These are indicators of a fervent prayer life, which God includes as typical of righteous people of prayer (James 5:16).

Further, David’s prayer was sincere (Psalm 141:2). He treated his prayers as if they were actually offerings or sacrifices. He says, “Let my prayers be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” He was willing to lay open his prayers to the All-Seeing eye for His scrutiny. The entirety of this psalm reflects no superficial piety or pretentiousness. David simply laid his heart before God.

David put obvious trust and hope in the power of prayer. He had confidence in God’s ability and he had cognizance of his own dependence upon God’s ability. Never wait to turn to prayer until the need is desperate. The man after God’s own heart made prayer a staple in his religious diet. So should we.

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Why Do You Serve?

Why Do You Serve?

Neal Pollard

Has a preacher ever been motivated by finance, popularity, or fame? Has an elder ever been motivated by power, influence, or notoriety? Has a Christian ever served in any way for notice, accolades, or to satisfy pride? In individual cases, it’s so hard to tell (ultimately, it’s impossible). But, knowing human nature, we would have to say motivation can be tainted and corrupted.

Paul says as much of preachers, that they preached Christ from envy, strife, and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15,17). Greed propels some preachers (1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3,14). Woe to the preacher who falls into traps like those! He may do harm in this life, but it cannot compare to the ultimate harm he does to himself and others. Peter calls out elders who he says serve for sordid gain or on a power trip (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Woe to the elder who serve from such a base motive! He will not joyfully anticipate the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4)! Christians have been led by their appetites and an earthly mindset (Phil. 3:19). Woe to the Christian who serves God for selfish reasons. Such will not be able to successfully endure their spiritual race.

Sometimes, our words and actions betray our motives and intentions. So often, what gets in the way is self— self-service, self-will, self-interest, self-indulgence, self-importance, selfish ambition. It leaves a sour taste and sounds ugly when said. It is manifestly unattractive to even read the words. It is detestable when witnessed in others. But “self” is such an impediment to spiritual service.

I don’t know why anyone else is serving Jesus. But I need to be careful to examine myself. How terrible to let my speech and actions be the cause of anyone questioning what moves me to render any act or service. Let our goal be to live so selflessly that no one has legitimate cause to ask why we do what we do in God’s Kingdom. Paul contrasts Timothy with others, saying, “ For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). Let’s be a Timothy, moved by a genuine concern for others (Phil. 2:20). That’s just what this cynical world needs to see!

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The REAL Terry Symansky Can’t Stand Up

The REAL Terry Symansky Can’t Stand Up

Neal Pollard

There is a famous line from the longstanding game show, To Tell The Truth, that is so apropos here. On the show three people would all claim to be someone and make their pitch to “prove” it, then at the end the host would ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?” Recently, a real-life version of this game surfaced in Pasco County, Florida, regarding a seemingly harmless man with a normal life in Zephyr Hills. He was a husband, father, landlord, pilot, and upstanding citizen, and he carried off the ruse for over 20 years! But the real Terry Symansky drowned in 1991.

Richard Hoagland, who had once boarded with Terry’s dad in Palm Beach, Florida, learned of Terry’s death, stole the death certificate to get his birth certificate from Ohio, which he used to obtain an Alabama’s driver’s license in order to obtain a Florida’s driver’s license! He also married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995, with whom he has a teenage son. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Hoagland has a wife and four children whom he abandoned with a story that the FBI was after him for embezzling millions of dollars (The Washington Post, “He Left A Family And Started A New One Using A Dead Man’s Identity, Police Say,” Peter Holley, 7/24/16). Think of the carnage for at least three families: the real Symanskys, the fake, Florida Symanskys, and the Indiana Hoaglands. Untangling this mess will not be easy, all because a man decided to try and be someone he obviously wasn’t. A professor who studies identity theft summed it up rightly, saying, “It will all catch up with you” (Holley).

Sure, this is outrageous and despicable. But, have we stopped to consider that something far worse than this happens, spiritually, more times than can be counted? Whenever a Christian behaves one way among the saints but another way away from that fellowship and environment, a similar phenomenon unfolds. Some would be blown away to learn that their co-worker, fellow team parent, neighbor, classmate, and the like, is actually a Christian. Were they to see them participating in worship, they would be baffled, using God’s name in a reverent, respectful way. To know that they, perhaps, were a church leader would be beyond the pale. In this way, it can be quite easy to assume an identity. All it requires is keeping “Group A” (the church) separated, as much as possible, from “Group B” (worldly associations). But, persisting in such a life will, sooner or later, catch up with the perpetrator (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).

God sent Jeremiah to stand at the “front door” of the “church building” (so to speak) and tell the people entering for worship, “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place” (7:2-3). He specifies, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (7:9-11).  They thought a day of worship substituted for six days of ungodly living, but the last word is most chilling. God says, “I, even I, have seen it.” Whoever else we may fool with a double-life, we cannot fool God.

Integrity requires honesty and strong, moral character. There must be genuineness, wherever we are and whoever we are with. May God help us to be the genuine article, all the time.

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Hoagland (L) and Symansky (R)