Saturday, 13 February 2010

For His Glory

I've just come to the end of two tiring but brilliant weeks of CU missions with RUCU and Surrey CU. Psalm 96 has been on my mind over the past few weeks, since Mo spoke on it so brilliantly at Relay 2, and it really helped me to have the right perspective throughout these focussed weeks of mission. I spoke on Psalm 96 at the launch meeting held by RUCU before their events week, and the text of my talk is below (big thanks to Mo, who did most of the prep!).

Psalm 96

There are lots of ways I could try to get you to tell your mates about Jesus as we head into Events Week (and I think I’ve heard variations on all of these).

I could make you feel guilty – I could remind you that thousands of people on the campus face an eternity without God unless they hear the gospel this week. And I could add that this might be the only chance they’ll get to hear it, and that if they don’t, it’s your fault. But I won’t.

I could demand it – I’m the staffworker, so do as I say and get on with it. OK, that would never work, but I could quote Matthew 28 and say, Jesus said go and get on with it! But I won’t.

I could lie to you – I could tell you that it’s going to be a really easy week, and that nobody will turn down your invitation to an event or disagree with what you believe. But I won’t (mainly because it’s a lie).

I could bargain with you – if you go and do this for God, then God will like you more and he might do something nice for you, but I won’t (because that’s a lie too).

Instead, I want us to really get straight why we’re doing this and who we’re doing it for. And we’re going to do that by having a quick look at Psalm 96.

This Psalm is a call to worship. In the book of 1st Chronicles, David defeats the Philistine armies and brings the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people, back to Jerusalem. And in chapter 16, they quote this Psalm. It’s a declaration of who God is – of His power and majesty and glory - and it’s a call for His people to worship Him.

It might seem odd to read a call to worship at an Events Week launch. Why, oh why didn’t I pick a bit of the Bible that’s actually about evangelism? But can you see how this Psalm is calling God’s people to worship?

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

The call is to worship God by singing songs about Him, and by telling people who don’t know how great He is. If “all the earth” is going to sing to God, like it says there in v1, then they need to know about Him! So we don’t just sing to ourselves, but we sing to the world how great God is. Worship and evangelism are bound together, and both bring glory to the one who deserves it.

Obviously I’m not talking about literal singing (some of you will be relieved to hear). I’m not suggesting the band sets up outside Palmer…
It’s like being at a football match (I’m always on slightly dodgy ground when I try to use a football analogy…). I went to a football match once – Southend United (the Shrimpers). It was at Roots Hall, which is their home ground, and we were all cheering them on and singing the praises of Freddy Eastwood. Effectively, we were worshipping. But suppose I went with them down to Swindon with them yesterday and started singing their praises there. Then my worship is also evangelism. I love the Shrimpers, and I want the crowd at Swindon to love them too.

Or it’s like my new favourite TV show Glee, which is amazing (basically High School Musical for grown-ups). If I talk to my friend Andrew about how brilliant it is, then it’s worship because he loves it too. But when I try to convince Dave Kitson how amazing it is, then my worship is also evangelism. And that’s the idea here in Psalm 96. Worshipping by singing the praises of God to people who don’t agree. And that’s what we’re going to be doing in Events Week: Declaring the glory of God to people who don’t agree, so that they can turn and worship Him too.

What are the lyrics to this metaphorical worship song? The song is about God’s salvation. For King David, it was about God rescuing and restoring His people from the hands of their enemies. For us, it’s about Jesus. We “proclaim His salvation day after day” by telling people about the Lord Jesus. We tell them about how God made this whole universe and everything in it, including them. We tell them how they’ve turned away from him, and that the consequences are a terrible eternity without Him. And we tell them that God loved us enough to die for us so that we could be made right with Him. Through the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and only through Him, we’re forgiven for our rejection of God, and we’re welcomed back into God’s family. And one day he’ll come back, and we can look forward to a perfect eternity with Him. That’s the salvation we’re talking about.

So that’s what the Psalmist is calling us to do. But why? The reason why starts in verse 4, with the word “for” (or because), and it carried on for the rest of the psalm. “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods” (small G).

God is the only one in the whole universe who really deserves our worship. Forget Freddy Eastwood, “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” He alone deserves worship. But he isn’t the only one who gets it. People are worshipping other gods. Other things have taken the top spot away from God. The gods of the nations, gods like Asherah or Ba’al or Dagon, or idols. They’re imposters, created by people.

Your friends probably aren’t Ba’al worshippers, and they probably don’t bow down to statues. But if they aren’t worshipping God, then they’ll be worshipping something. Maybe it’s a success god, or a money god, or a sex god or a stuff god. But they aren’t really gods at all. Oh, they demand sacrifice and service and attention, but ultimately they’re powerless and worshipping them is just slavery. Your friends are trapped worshipping this junk, instead of the God of the universe who loves them enough to die for them. Do you see the contrast? Their gods, whether they’re represented by an asherah pole or an iPad, are homemade rubbish. But the Lord made the heavens! So this is GOOD NEWS for your friends. We’re inviting them to worship the one who is really worth worshipping. We’re inviting them to leave behind their slavery to things that are created, and into the freedom of worshipping the creator. This is good news for your friends and it is for God’s glory.

The rest of the psalm is piled high with reasons to sing to the Lord and declare His praises to the world. His glory, His strength, His holiness, His authority, all displayed in the world He created. In the picture painted by the psalmist, even creation sings out in worship – the heavens, the earth, the sea, the trees, the fields. “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.”

Everything we’ve seen about God from these verses would be enough reason to praise Him, wouldn’t it? But do you see why the whole of creation rejoices in the last verse? Because “he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (v13). Creation rejoices, because God is good, and righteous and faithful. He will deal with evil and sin. As you and your friends look around the world and see horrors like the earthquake in Haiti, or a mother killing her two sons and leaving them in the boot of her car, you can look to God and rejoice that he will deal with the sin that disfigures His creation. King David trusted God’s faithfulness, and He knew that one day, God would deliver his people once and for all. For us, it’s all about Jesus. As Jesus died he faces God’s righteous judgment in our place, he paid the price for our sin. And as Jesus rose from the dead, he declared that death is dead for those who trust him. Now we’re waiting for Him to come back and remove every remaining trace of sin from His world. Creation rejoices at the thought of it! Do you? Do your friends?

What ever you think mission week is about, in fact whatever you think the Christian Union is about, this is the heart of it. This should be our attitude towards God all the time, shouldn’t it? But this week we have an unparalleled opportunity to declare God’s glory among the nations, and to call them to worship Him too.

To steal a phrase from John Piper, Events Week exists because worship doesn’t. Christian Unions exist because worship doesn’t. The point of events week is for your friends to hear about the God who made the universe, the God who they’ve rejected, but who did everything to make it possible for them to know Him through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The point is that they’ll hear about Him and turn and worship Him themselves, for His glory. In fact, if we want a three-word reminder of the point this week, that would be it: "For His Glory."

So, as we kick of events week, I’m not going to try to make you feel guilty.
I’m not going to order you around or lie to you.

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.