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Worship requires ‘life,’ Merritt tells seminarians

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A “dead worship service” is an oxymoron, because a dead worship service is not worship at all, said Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 12.

“I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been in some churches where you’d think amens were a hundred dollars apiece,” Merritt told seminarians and participants in the Next Level Leadership Conference during chapel at the Fort Worth, Texas, school.

“Why let the charismatics have all the fun?” he asked. “We ought to praise God.”

Using Psalm 100 as his text, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., said Christians should shout gleefully to the Lord.

The word “shout” means a sound that splits the ear, said Merritt, and signifies excitement and enthusiasm.

Baptists, he said, have gotten the wrong idea about worship, and because of that “we have really allowed the charismatics and the Pentecostals to rob us of the joy that rightly belongs to every child of God.”

When some people say they want worship to be dignified, “they don’t know the difference between dignity and rigor mortis,” quipped Merritt.

“Worship ought to be sober but not somber. It ought to be serious but not sullen.”

Worship is preparation for joyful service, he continued, referring to Psalm 100:2.

“First the shouting, then the serving,” he said. “First the worship, then the work, but work always follows worship. It is worship that puts joy into your work.”

“God is not only concerned with what you do,” Merritt added. “God is concerned with how you do it and why you do it.”

When believers understand who God is and who they are as a result of God’s mercy, Merritt said, “there are certain things you will automatically do as a result of your worship. You can’t help it.”

“You enter the presence of God; he wants you to do so with a song in your heart,” he said.

Singing, Merritt said drawing from Ephesians 5:18-19, is also the first mark of someone filled with the Holy Spirit and has nothing to do with talent.

“You don’t have to audition to sing in God’s choir,” Merritt said. “If you’ve got a heart that loves Jesus, he wants to hear you sing.”

In addition to a spirit of acclamation in worship, Merritt said, Christians must know who they are worshipping and they need to worship in a spirit of adoration and appreciation.

Merritt said Psalm 100 gives Christians an idea of “what church is all about.”

He cited a newspaper poll taken several years ago in which the number one reason people gave for going to church was, “It’s good for us.”
Worship, he said, didn’t even show up as an answer.

“If the number one reason you or anyone else does go to church is not worship, you’ve gone for the wrong reason. That is what church is all about – the worship of God. ‘People who are bored or turned off by worship are not ready for heaven,’ Merritt said, quoting A.W. Tozer.

“The focus of worship and the foundation of worship is none other than God himself,” said Merritt. “If God really is who he says he is, he deserves our worship. But if we are who he says we are, he demands our worship.”

Quoting Psalms 45:11, Merritt, emphasized that Christians need no other reason to worship God than that he is Lord. But his people cannot worship him correctly until they know him personally, Merritt added.

Interpreting Psalm 100:3, “Know that the Lord, he is God,” Merritt said, “God is a concrete fact.”

“If you’re going to worship the true God and worship that true God in the true way,” Merritt said, “you’ve got know that he is God and that he is Lord.

“The foundational truth of the Old Testament is this: Jehovah is God. The foundational truth of the New Testament is this: Jesus is God. And the foundational truth of the Bible is this: Jehovah is Jesus.

“You cannot worship God correctly, you cannot worship God the way he wants to be worshiped, until you understand there is only one God, only one Lord, and his name is Jesus.”

God is also a creating force, said Merritt, quoting the rest of verse three, “it is he who has made us, and not we ourselves.”

The psalmist who wrote that verse was dealing with Israel, Merritt said, but God speaks to all humanity through this verse.
“God is not a creation in our image; we are a creation in his image,” Merritt said.

“There is no such thing as a self-made man,” he added. “We are God’s personal creation.”

God is also a compassionate father and a shepherd who protects his flock, Merritt continued.

“God has not created us, then folded his arms, turned his back, closed his eyes and said to the human race, ‘You’re on your own.’ The Bible says you can become a part of his family,” Merritt said.

Quoting Jesus’ words in John 4:24, “Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” Merritt said, “Not only must you worship him energized by the Holy Spirit, you must worship him with the right spirit in your heart.”

Psalm 100 shows that spirit, one of acclamation, appreciation and adoration, Merritt noted.

“Thanksgiving is the password into the gates of heaven,” said Merritt, quoting Psalm 100:4, “enter his gates with thanksgiving.” “Thanksgiving is a little thing, but it’s never a small thing.

“In my estimation, we’re living in the most ungrateful generation in the history of the United States of America,” Merritt added. “The vast majority of Americans right here in this city will drive to a restaurant in a beautiful automobile, sit down in a beautiful restaurant to a table full of food, and eat like a pig and never bow their head and thank God for the food they receive.”

He contrasted the American situation with most of the world, where many people live on the equivalent of one U.S. dollar a day.

“You can always find something to be thankful about, no matter how tough your church may be,” Merritt said. “We spend too much time griping about what we don’t have to be grateful about what we do have.”

Adoration is also essential to Christian worship, said Merritt, drawing attention to the phrase in Psalm 100, “… and his courts with praise.”

“Praise is the flip side of the coin of thanksgiving,” Merritt noted. “The hallways of heaven are scented with the perfume of praise. You can’t go anywhere in heaven where God is not being praised.”

“Hallelujah” comes from an Arabic word meaning a shout of triumph after a battle, Merritt said, and Christian have the greatest victory of all to celebrate.

“Two thousand years ago, our commander in chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, met the enemy of sin at Calvary, and he met the monster of death at the Garden tomb,” Merritt said. “Three days later, he came out of that tomb carrying the corpse of sin under one arm and the sting of death under the other.”

Christ is returning not to take sides but to take over, said Merritt, and to divide the spoils of victory, and “that’s why every Christian ought to be a ‘Hallelujah!’ from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.”

Christians are to bless God because Psalm 100:5 says, “the Lord is good all the time,” Merritt said. “He’s not only God; he is good. He is the God of everlasting mercy. It never runs out. He is the God of enduring truth.”

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  • Cory Hailey