Prepare for Worship   
Isaiah 1:16-17; Amos 5:25-27; Matt. 5:23-24; Jn. 21:15-16 
By Paul Robison

The final Jeopardy answer is: “In 1908, this book was written by a British army officer named Robert Barden-Powell aimed at a young audience was the fourth best-selling book in England.”  And the question is: “What is Scouting for Boys or what is the first edition of what became The Boy Scout Handbook?”  Just out of curiosity, if you've been in or been involved with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, or Girl Scouts, would you raise your hand?  Now what was that motto of the Scouts?  Yes, “Be Prepared!”  Yes, a scout was to think ahead of possible scenarios while living outdoors, and he or she was to ready himself or herself to deal with any situation which might arise.  Now we realize the importance of preparing ourselves for surviving and living outdoors.  But have we ever thought of the importance of preparing ourselves for worship?  Preparation for worship is not about survival strategies to get you through this hour (although moms with young children often have to do this).  The preparation God desires involves something much deeper.  It is a preparation that helps you to keep the time you spend before God and with fellow Christians from becoming a farce, and maybe even an offense.  This preparation helps you to have a worship that is meaningful.  Our bull's-eye for this sermon is “Prepare for Worship!”  Let's look at four ways that God would have us to prepare for worship.
The first way to prepare for worship is to live justly (Isa. 1:16-17).  In the previous verses, God touches on a big problem that the Jews have.  He says that He cannot endure their sacred meetings, and He hates their feast days.  You see, they lift up their hands in prayer, but there is the blood of innocent people on them!  God's tone is that of someone who is upset or deeply troubled.  Now God's solution to this situation is seen in verses 16-17: “Cease to do evil and learn to do good”—be obedient, and seek justice—“Punish the oppressor, defend the orphan, and help the widow.”  You see, how obedience and relationships are crucial.  Live justly!  One commentator said that God wants sacrifices along with obedience in heart and life (Jamison).   Another commentator stressed relationships: “It isn't that they should ignore entering His courts nor that sacrifice should be abolished.  It's that people should be made central and our relationship to them regarded as primary” (McGuiggan).  Could God be displeased with our conduct, especially when we mistreat each other?  “And what might God say today?  'I'm tired of your mid-week Bible studies.  Your worship assemblies make Me ill.  Your Lord Suppers are an offense to Me.  I hate your collections.  Who told you to come to church [when you mistreat each other every day]'”(McGuiggan)?  You see, in reality, preparing for worship doesn't involve just cleaning up and driving to services, it involves how you treat others each day all week long!  And if you think you can hurt others six days a week and then atone for such actions by being at worship on Sunday you are badly mistaken.  Your worship is a farce!  Why try to make others think you're a Christian when you don't live like one?  In God's eyes, all you are doing is just acting out an empty ritual for your heart is full of disobedience towards Him and hardness towards others!  This social aspect of preparation for worship is one we need think more about.  Galatians 6:2 exhorts us: “Bear one another's burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ!”  Prepare for worship by living justly!
A second way that God's desires we prepare for worship is by destroying idols.  This is what Amos teaches us in Amos 5:25-27.  In this text, note that the Jews are acting like hypocrites.  They claimed to be worshiping Jehovah alone, but were making and worshiping other pagan gods too.  The prophets call this is spiritual adultery!  Amos is showing that the Jews had been idolaters throughout their history.  “The generation of Amos' day, in mixing idolatry with sacrifices done in the name of Jehovah, was just like the contemporaries of Moses, practicing idolatry and all the while claiming to be worshipers of Jehovah” (Butler).  Are we just as guilty of the same sin?  Do we claim loyalty to Christ, but worship other idols as well?  Someone has said that idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, and using anything that ought to be worshiped.  With that definition, we can easily see that our modern idols can include: money, fame, beauty, sports, education, technology, cars, entertainment, recreation, and even religion.  Here's a good warning that we need to heed: “Playing God is not just difficult, it's impossible. [So] we have to look elsewhere for a backup, a homemade God-substitute.  We thus spend our lives swinging between the impossible (playing God) and the inadequate (relying on anything else)” (Pippert).  See how idolatry is deceitful, destructive, and damning!  The apostle John, in his old age, closed one of his letters to a church that lived in an idolatrous city in this way: “Little children [Christians], keep yourselves from idols (NKJV)!” “Guard against false gods (Phillips)!”  If your loyalties are divided against Christ and modern idols, your worship will be an offense to God.  Prepare for worship by doing something radical--destroy your idols!
The third way to prepare for worship is to seek reconciliation.  This is Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:23-24.  The worshiper realizes that he is at fault and has done something to upset another.  The fact that the worshiper interrupts his offering and goes his way shows the importance of Jesus' teaching.  We can't be right with God when we have wrong feelings towards other members in the body of Christ!  “Jesus commands reconciliation between disputing parties before worship takes place.  God is unwilling for men to come to Him unreconciled.  His worship can wait. ... An early writing said: 'Let none who has a quarrel with his fellow join in your meeting until they are reconciled ...'” (Lewis).  You see, in the church, there is no place for unsettled, long-standing grudges and unreconciled quarrels.  What about us?  Are there some of you who need to find another's door and try get things straightened out before you walk again through those glass doors into our auditorium?  Jesus desires that kind of preparation BEFORE you come to any services here!  We just recently canceled services for snow, but God might want us to cancel services for confrontation and reconciliation.  How often does God see us in worship and think, “I wished they'd just cancel services, work their differences out, and quit making a mockery of the unity in Christ that they should have!”  Thomas Carlyle was an English writer and historian who lived in the 1800.  He married his secretary, whom he dearly love, but was absorbed in his writing and other activities.  She was stricken with cancer, and was bed fast for a long time.  Carlyle rarely saw her.  After her funeral, Carlyle returned to the empty house and sat in a chair near her bed, realizing painfully that he had not sat there as he should have.  He spotted her diary.  “Yesterday, he spent an hour with me.  It was like heaven.  I love him so much.”  Another entry read: “I listened all day for his steps in the hallway.  And now it's late.  I guess he won't come to see me.”  Carlyle read a few more entries, then threw the book on the floor, ran to his wife's grave in the rain, and fell on it sobbing, “If only I had know...If only I had known” (Swindoll).  Don't live with remorse; make things right with another!  Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I, therefore, prisoner of the Lord, beseech [implore, beg] you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Prepare for worship by seeking reconciliation! 
The last way we can prepare for worship is by loving Jesus.  Isn't this the lesson of John 21:15-16?  Jesus asks: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  More than these what?  More than these nets and boats?  More than these other disciples?  Whatever the case, the emphasis is on love?  Then Jesus tells Peter to feed His lambs.  This same sequence is repeated twice.  This is probably a reinstatement of Peter before the other disciples (as there were three denials, so now there are three affirmations of love).  So the real question is: “Do you love Me?”  And the real response is: prove it by caring for what's precious to Me.  One commentator, focusing on love for Jesus, said: “That's it.  There's the true test.  That's the beginning mark of worship ... That's the driving question ... Do you love Me?” (Exum).  Another commentator, focusing on love for others, added:  “All the affection Peter had for Jesus was to flow out toward the flock, which was precious to Jesus.  His care would prove his love for Jesus” (Cline).  There is a constant danger that worship services will become cold, formal, and mechanical” (Kelcy).  Without love for our Lord as the base, the acts of worship become dry: the Bible is read with little excitement; the Lord Supper is a meaningless ritual; the preaching is a boring lecture; the singing is a funeral dirge; and the giving is mostly spare change.  Those who fill the pews become performance critics, clock-watchers, gossip swappers, horse traders, and people please-ers, who just can't wait for the whole “ordeal” to be over!  “Now put yourself in Christ's place.  ... As the Son who obediently took the horrendous lashes, endured the cross' extreme agony, and felt the loneliness of being forsaken by His Holy Father at His darkest hour, you can almost picture Him as He painfully moves to push Himself up for His final breath of air and cry out triumphantly and humbly: “It is finished!  Father, into Your hand I commit My spirit.”  He endured all that heart-break so that your sin-cursed soul could be saved.  Is it an ordeal then, for you to attend weekly services in His honor?  Is it too much to ask you to take just three hours per week to offer your praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to such a remarkable, wonderful, and unselfish Person” (Webster)?  You probably heard about the fellow who wrote to his sweetheart: “I'd climb the highest mountain for you.  I'd swim the deepest ocean.  I'd cross the hottest desert.  With all my affection and fondness, Silas.  PS -- See you next week if it doesn't rain!” Now contrast that lack of love with Mark Kelly's love for Gabrielle Gifford.  He has been constantly by her bedside holding her hand.  She has a ring with this inscription: "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been."   There's real love.  Following the University of Kentucky's winning the national basketball championship, there was a rally at Rupp Arena for the entire team and their coaches.  People dressed in blue and white and brought banners of praise.  A standing ovation was given to each team member and to the coaching staff when each entered.  There was no good performance nor good speeches; the team didn't play and the players were public speakers.  But these were not the purpose of this occasion.  The purpose was to honor team, not the fans.  The people left the arena stating: “I hope the team and coaches felt appreciated.”  When we leave this auditorium, have we honored THE team—the Father, the Son, the Spirit?  Can we affirm: “We hope they felt appreciated.”  Prepare for worship by recalling Jesus' question: “Do you love Me?”
God's expectations are high and quit revealing!  Live justly all throughout the week, destroy any idols, seek reconciliation (don't regret having not tried), and love Jesus supremely, our closest thing to heaven, in order to prepare yourself to come into divinity's presence at each service!  Prepare for worship!
Let's pray: “God, help us to take our worship seriously.  Help us to prepare as we should.  Give us You wisdom from above.  In Jesus' name, Amen.”
“I was glad when they said, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1)!  David was happy at the admonition to worship God.  Undoubtedly, David had prepared his heart to worship God.  How well have you prepared your heart?  Were you happy at the wonderful opportunity we had today to worship together?  Can we pray that you'll have the courage and strength to practice God's will so that you'll be better prepared before our next worship service?  If we can help you in any way, take advantage of this moment as Jesus extends yet another invitation through our singing to encourage you!