Home > Opinion > Gutman, Mark > 2011 >
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Praise Me!
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Submitted: Jul 12, 2011
By Mark Gutman



When I preach a sermon, I always ask that my listeners tell me how wonderful the sermon was. When I audit financial statements I want my clients to thank me profusely and elaborate on all the benefits that my work brought them. And I want readers of this writing to send in their compliments on the wonderful new world my ideas have opened up for them.

Does that strike you as odd? People aren’t supposed to ask for compliments, are they? Even if they want compliments, they are at least supposed to have the social graces not to ask for them. (By the way, the whole first paragraph is tongue-in-cheek.) Yet in the Bible we find God telling us to praise him. (The objection may be raised that it’s the Bible writers, not God, who tell us to praise God, but since we say that God is kind of telling the writers what to write, it would seem to boil down to the same thing.)

Revelation 4 pictures a choir that apparently does nothing but praise God 24/7. Don’t they do anything else?  If I had a group of people who did that to (or for) me, I think I would tire of it quickly, but I am not God, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways than my ways. So maybe I should stop asking questions about the scene in Revelation 4 and join the choir.

Wait a minute!  On this planet, we tend to be suspicious of places where the leader is always spoken of respectfully. In North Korea, the president is called “Dear Leader,” and if you live in North Korea you had better refer to him that way and only that way. In Thailand, Harry Nicolaides spent time in prison because his fictional book, of which there were only 50 copies, had suggested that a member of the royal family might have done something considered improper. We who live in countries where we are allowed to criticize any leader shake our heads at the idea that citizens of a country are forced to say that the leader is wonderful. But do we give God a pass on commanding praise while we scorn the same directive from other leaders?

C.S. Lewis, in Reflections on the Psalms, points out that “We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand.” Or does that despising not apply to our religious world? While we may find demands of praise by God as reasonable, Friedrich Nietzsche spoke for many when he declared, “I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”

I suggest that there is a common sense way to understand the commands to praise God, without feeling that for religious purposes you’re being asked to act like a citizen of North Korea.

Imagine that one Sabbath I visit a church and preach a sermon that explains that we should wear orange shoes to church. After the sermon, people praise me for the wonderful sermon, gushing on how helpful they found it. A month later I go back to preach, and I can’t help but notice that nobody is wearing orange shoes. Undeterred, I preach a sermon on the idea that we should be using the Inspired Version of the Bible, and I let the congregation know where that version can be bought at an affordable price. Again, the comments after church are very complimentary, expressing appreciation for the best sermon the people have ever heard. A month after the sermon about the Inspired Version, I return to the church to preach again. Nobody is wearing orange shoes; nobody is carrying an Inspired Version. I preach on the idea that true Christianity will be demonstrated by wearing sunglasses. As the people talk with me after church and start complimenting me on the fantastic sermon, I tactfully say something to the effect of, “I prefer to see your praise acted out rather than given as words that are contradicted by your actions.” I would rather see folks wearing sunglasses and using the Inspired Version and wearing orange shoes than hear them telling me how wonderful my sermons are. If they really thought what I said was helpful, I would see a few more orange shoes.

In Isaiah 29:13 we read a complaint about how “these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me. . . .” In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks why folks call him “Lord” when they don’t do what he says (e.g., wear orange shoes). In effect, these folks are in a 24/7 choir but doing nothing to help hurting people around them.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked us to let our light shine before others in such a way that others will be drawn to glorify God. It’s said that the highest form of flattery is imitation, although I can’t give a specific Bible text for that. If we understand flattery as an excessive form of praise, we could posit that what the choir in Revelation 4 is really doing is helping others, being kind and loving, as Jesus demonstrated God to be.  (“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve . . . ?” Hebrews 1:14, NLT)

In Amos 5:23 God is presented at the end of a passage complaining about religious services and ceremonies by saying, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” But in the next verse he says, "[What I really want is for you to] let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” 

Even as many sports fans like to cheer (sing the praises of) their heroes, religious people often like to sing and talk about their admiration of God. God isn’t trying to shut off such natural displays of emotion. But he lets us know that talk is not as meaningful as action. When God asks us to praise him, he’s not asking us to say “Rah-rah! You are wonderful.” He’s asking us to live godly lives - lives that help bring about improvement in the lives of others and lead others to think that God’s way of life is worth employing.



 


 

William Noel
2011-07-12 7:56 PM

Mark,

What a contrast between the praise of God being expressed in scripture and how little we hear in church. Might that be proof of how few pew-warmers have ever had a serious encounter with Him to discover just how truly great he really is?

Pat Travis
2011-07-12 8:55 PM

Mark,

That's interesting and yes we too are to purpose to make a difference in others lives...but we "do not preach ourselves" so that "we" can truly "Praise Me" literally.

This is how great Jesus is in the Father's estimation..." 8 Being found in appearance as a man,He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is  aLord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil.2:8-11.

Perhaps we should go and do likewise to the glory of the Father?

regards,
pat

Frank Allen
2011-07-15 1:11 PM

The apostle John defiantly did not have a “praise me” attitude, either in his Gospel or letters, neither did John the Baptist.

Yet I have noticed how some SDA evangelists create a cult around themselves. As I open a USA evangelist web page I see his smiling face, his books, his CD’s, his sermons, places he has been, his next series, all for sale at a price. His monthly brochures are filled with his accomplishments as his personally and Bible in hand face—is front and center. When I buy his merchandise, I affirm his teachings and bring praise to his indispensible interpretation of Scriptures that I could never understand were it not for his wonderful ministry.

Nowhere on his web or monthly brochure is given any room for fresh insights about Jesus, instead there is a steady stream of doom in soon to appear last days of trouble. Fear sells and this keeps people focused on world events giving assurance that Sabbath keepers will be shielded as long as stay tuned and give their money to this prominent evangelist.

This kind of ministry alarms me, for it seems so far from the Gospel model, where funds were only collected for the poor. It was not that money was unimportant; Roman culture was obsessed with gold and silver. It is that money when united with preaching fame (“praise me”) are ego centered.

JaNe
2011-07-22 1:20 PM

"Nowhere on his web or monthly brochure is given any room for fresh insights about Jesus, instead there is a steady stream of doom in soon to appear last days of trouble. Fear sells and this keeps people focused on world events"

Why are you even an SDA? What is the Everlating Gospel about? Don't you care about saving souls? And as for spending money on the poor, how do YOU know that these people don't also donate to groups like ADRA, the Red Cross or do volunteer work?

You just don't like the ministry you are refering to because they preach the Gospel and hold to SDA doctines, which apparently bothers you....

Steve Billiter
2011-07-30 9:33 AM

"This kind of ministry alarms me, for it seems so far from the Gospel model, where funds were only collected for the poor" (Frank Allen)

No Frank, money was not just collected for the poor. Even from the building of the first Sanctuary, God commanded Moses to collect gold and silver for it's construction. Tithe was collected always after wards for it's support. The church that Jesus established was transitioning from the Jewish temple service into the early church, so it was some time before tithe and offerings were collected. We also don't always have complete and detailed information about everything going on with the early church, else the Bible would be as long as the SDA commentary.

Mat_23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Where would the Adventist church be today if we only collected money for the poor? Nowhere.

BTW, Frank, Since you wrongly(I believe) accuse "some" Adventist evangelists of creating a cult of personality and raking in money, those would be public sins--so then why don't you just name names publicly and provide some evidence so I can expose the charlatans? Stephen Bohr and Walter Vieth get 2 to 300.00 for certain sermon sets to help support their solid pillars of faith ministries; but I also can watch them for free--but if I had the money it would be my high privilege to buy all I can to spread around the good teachings and support solid ministries that teach the 3angels messages.

Anonymous
2011-07-15 11:10 PM

If I understood the writers point;
adulation leads to the cult and worship of personality. This is sometimes too evident within the corporate ranks, and nothing seems more antithetic to the truth than the throng of servile kool-aid sippers who engage neither conscience nor reason, but blindly follow some charismatic personality.

True adoration leads to emulation (of the One worthy; NOT me). If my sermon is about the message and not about mere messenger, the highest praise would be that the hearers become inspired to effect true change in their lives. Change, perhaps not just to the externals (colors, songs, liturgies, etc) but deep, meaningful, world-changing change.

In the tongue-n-cheek reference, yes, our all-too-human need for positive peer valuation would actually make some degree of it true; all humor requires premise of plausibility if not outright some reality. With this backdrop, even when our message is about the truth, and not about US, how challenging to not permit the "praises" to feed the wrong spirit. This is a very difficult task, especially in this media-driven visual world.

The Lord asks for contrite heart and a humble walk...oh that each follower of Jesus would humble themselves in this servant-leader role.

Mark Gutman
2011-07-16 11:54 AM

Summarizing my message in 2 points:
1. Over and over the Bible tells us to praise God - that is, God asks for praise - which seems either like a dictator's demand or a "socially unacceptable" rule.
2. The praise God wants is for us to "go about doing good." Words of song or prayer are not excluded, since we tend to "praise" (with words of rah-rah) people we admire, but words are secondary. As Emerson put it, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

Steve Billiter
2011-07-30 10:01 AM

Mark,
You seemed to have missed the entire point. For proper Bible understanding may I kindly recommend a true prophet--Ellen G. White; whose light given her by the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself far, far and away exceeds that of CS Lewis and Emerson? You strongly hint that God is demanding something akin to what a dictator wants; Is God a man? Why are you making these very strange comparisons? Angels veil their faces when they speak His name

Why does God want us to praise and worship Him? Because it takes us up higher where He is--in other words its for our own best good.

Rev 14:7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

Had God not created us we would have no being and no breath to speak and sing His praises. When I sing songs of adoration to Him, I know I'm praising the true God--Someone very exceedingly worth my love, and adoration, and I'm not committing the most dire, abject sins by worshiping the sun, moon, Buddha, or some such false god who can neither speak, hear, or see.

And what is true worship? "O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth" (Psa_96:9).

Living holy lives is imitating the Master Himself, and is the highest form of worship--then when we gather to meet Him in the Sanctuary on the Sabbath, our songs, spoken praise, and other acts of worship take on new meanings.

Psa 150:1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
Psa 150:2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Psa 150:3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Psa 150:4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance:(contextual evidence indicates "pipes" and not dance) praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Psa 150:5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Psa 150:6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

Steve Billiter
2011-07-17 9:35 AM

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

While doing is important, words are too, but shallow words that should be acted upon and are not, therein lies a problem;

Mat 12:37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.

Anonymous
2011-07-18 10:02 PM

Too often the pages of the Adventist Review as well as Union papers are peons of praise for individuals. The AR used three pages telling about the accomplishments of Neil Wilson on his demise. Isn't that overdoing it?

As I see it we have too often substituted praise for man instead of praise for the Deity. Even the dissonance of clapping in a sacred service in church reflects our praise of persons. Is it conformity to our culture? Even kids are greetd with "good job" for a mediocre accomplishment.

Elaine Nelson
2011-07-18 10:13 PM

Ted Wilson didn't want clapping, but loud Amens were O.K. It's all culturally related: In Bible times we read of people clapping their hands in praise. When did it be disrespectful to God?

Ella M
2011-07-23 4:53 PM

I have a book that covers some of our Christian traditions and where they came from (anyone interested, I will get you the title and author). The idea of bowing in prayer with folded hands came from the Middle Ages when peasants would bow before their masters. The first-century Christians raised their hands.

Anonymous


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