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Let God be God: Out of Spiritual Blindness into Authentic Worship

December 15, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Keng Wan Ling (Isaiah 29:9-16, Mark 7:1-29) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Isaiah
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Isaiah 以赛亚书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Keng Wan Ling: Deacon Keng was theologically trained in TTC, and currently serves as the worship ministry chairperson.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: Let God be God: Out of Spiritual Blindness into Authentic Worship
DATE: 15 Dec 2019
Preacher: Dn Keng Wan Ling

Spiritual Blindness in Israel in the time of Isaiah
In this passage, God scolds Judah (via the prophet) for fake and insincere worship. V13:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
This insincere worship, we are told, arises from: spiritual blindness, spiritual illiteracy, from being in some kind of a spiritual stupor stupor, as if they are drunk or in a deep sleep. [1]
But- what’s causing this blindness? Is it Israel, or is it God? Actually it’s both.
• Israel has been proud, resting on the laurels of her spiritual heritage, instead of the present reality, and conveniently forgetting about God. (29:1).
• Because of her attitude, God has sent spiritual blindness and sleep to her, making Israel lethargic and insensitive. Because they did not want to see and do, the prophets and the seers were silenced. Ps Wei Kang reminded us last week (Is 6:8-10 that poor Isaiah was called to a ministry where God TOLD HIM to “make the heart of this people calloused, make their ears dull, and close their eyes”.
So both Israel and God had a part to play in this spiritual blindness.
Is spiritual blindness and lethargy a big deal?
I think, in modern day, we tend to think of spiritual affairs as a personal matter. So the state of your spiritual life, or your walk with God, is something pretty private. Actually that is really NOT the case at all, and in the example of Israel, is clearly played out. The consequence of inauthentic worship isn’t just that Israelites could not live out their “best life”, “be the best that they can be”, or “be passionate for God”, or walk around with a warm fuzzy feeling that they were right with God and sense His presence wherever they went.
We have to remember the context of Isaiah. The Israel it was written to was smack in the middle of political and military activities. There was the Northern and Southern kingdom itself, the Assyrian Empire, and, later on, the Babylonian Empire. It was NOT about self-actualisation, or good feelings; the consequence of being far from God is that God sent judgement to them, and brought them down. Spiritual blindness is NOT JUST A PERSONAL MATTER.
[From verses 1-4 earlier:
• You shall be brought down,
• You shall speak out of the ground;
• Your speech shall be low, out of the dust;
• Your voice shall be like a medium’s, out of the ground;
• And your speech shall whisper out of the dust.]
Spiritual Blindness in Israel in the time of Jesus (Markian)
The problem of spiritual blindness and inauthentic worship was not limited to the time of Isaiah. These verses were used these words were used to correct the Pharisees. They were called out by Jesus for being hypocrites.
In Mark 7, Pharisees made comments because Jesus and His disciples were eating with defiled hands (i.e. no ceremonial washing). Jesus replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Jesus went on to say, (Mark 7:14), “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] [f]
“You Hypocrites”. This word comes to us from the ancient Greek language. It was used to describe actors in a play. Ancient actors would carry different masks in their hands as they acted. The masks were attached to sticks and could be held before the face as needed. A smiling mask suggested humor, a frowning mask suggested sadness, etc. These actors were called the “hypocritos”. This word means “one who wears a mask”, [2] or “stage actor, pretender, dissembler.” So Judah was scolded for insincere worship; the Pharisees chastised for being hypocrites. So what’s the opposite of being a hypocrite? Being authentic, genuine? Is God saying He wants authentic worship?

There are more than a few sermons on what “authentic worship” is… e.g [3] .

- True worship must be directed to God, must accord God the glory He is due
- True worship must include a confession of sin, and proclamation of the gospel
- True worship is doing and being, not just lip service
- True worship requires a response

I don’t disagree with them… but I don’t think these quite hit the sweet spot.
Authentic worship comes from an authentic worshipper. What I’m saying is that, let’s switch our focus from the WORSHIP for a bit, and look at the WORSHIPPER. I don’t think authentic worship be given by a person who isn’t overall authentic. The worship you give, carry your personality and attributes. So… are you an authentic person? Am I? Is ANYBODY??
Life is hard- I think we are all used to putting on masks and different personas to some extent in order to cope, in order to function. Maybe in order to get the job done at work, we hide our feelings. Maybe in order not to upset our family or loved ones, we pretend that we are fine when we’re not.
So here’s the thing about being authentic… people talk about it like it’s a good thing, but actually, they would prefer to see the mask. Does your boss really care how you feel? He just wants to get the job done. Do your kids need to know your true feelings? Probably not, and it’s also not appropriate. Does your wife need to know that you, the man of the family, might lose your job and are feeling terrible? People are not ready to handle the real you. Wait, are YOU even ready to handle the real you?
There are some secular terms associated with putting on masks:
- imposter syndrome: feeling like you’re living a lie. E.g. Even though you might have worked hard and finally made it at your career, yet in your heart of hearts, you can’t believe it yourself. You feel like you’re just a fraud and will be found out at any time. “This isn’t really me!”
- mid-life crisis: a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 40-64 years old.
- Johanri window: a psychological model created in the 1960s to allow people to understand themselves, and ultimately lead to better communicate. Not that there is an area that we ourselves don’t even know and one that we know, but others don’t know.

Let me ask you… being authentic with yourself, with other people, and with God. Which would you rank as being the easiest? Which is the hardest? I think we would probably say it’s with other people. So I’m going to start from there first.
So how do we become more authentic?
Author Brene Brown is more known for leadership books but she started by talking about wholeness and self awareness. She says she no longer looks at authenticity as an attribute (meaning either you are or you’re not), but instead as “ a collection of choices we make everyday”, “the choice to show up and be real, to be honest, and let our true selves be seen”.
These are really hard to do because our need for connectedness, for belonging and for approval is so SO strong (the ultimate idol). [As an aside- some say it’s evolved as a survival trait because humans are pack animals and historically need to be in a pack to survive.] We may not want to be seen, because, “if people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me” 
We have constant comparisons to others, and to our own ideas of who we should be (perfectionism). And then we feel ashamed or lacking when we fall short of this. It doesn’t help when well-being people (parents, friends) have their own ideals of us… wait, doesn’t even Christianity present us with a long list of “should”?
I need to clarify that authenticity isn’t all about you. Being authentic doesn’t mean just showing up and saying, “Nah!! Tah-dah!! Here I am, in my warts and glory. Take it or leave it!”. No it’s a cheap form of authenticity. Being truly authentic means:
a) appropriate sharing - because oversharing can actually make us seem fake (aka dumping)(it’s intimacy that’s not earned)
b) having and expressing boundaries allow us make clear and express our own values and integrity (and not become a people-pleaser), and
c) allowing other people to be authentic as well. We need to allow them to let THEIR true selves be seen.
All this is hard work. It requires courage. This courage comes from self-love and compassion.
We need to love ourselves, and know that we are loved, and that gives us the courage to find ourselves. As Christians we are aided in this for we know that we are worthy because we are children of God, redeemed at a cost and highly valued.
And it is this believe that anchors us and gives us the courage to allow ourselves to be seen for who we are[4] . And this will in turn allow us to connect and belong in a meaningful way. C. S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship . . . is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought it was only me!!!. . .’” Without authenticity, these moments are impossible.[5] Authenticity makes way for compassion by expressing trust and allowing us to connect with others over shared experiences.
What are obstacles to this? Letting go of what people think. Shame. Fear. Pride. Fear that we’re not good enough. Shame that we are found out as imposters. Pride because we hold ourselves in high esteem, better than others.
Being Authentic with God
My take in this is that all this applies in our relationship with God too. I think that with God, we make choices everyday “the choice to show up and be real, to be honest, and let our true selves be seen” with Him. Yes, OF COURSE He’s God and knows everything But He’s a God that has chosen to partner with man, and allows us our free choice. Remember Israel? They made the choice not to listen, and God responded by blinding them spiritually.
How might what we said earlier work with God? I’m going to take the points backwards.
#3. We have to allow God to be authentic as well. We have to let God be God. No, he doesn’t need your PERMISSION, but YOU have to take Him seriously. Let God be God. God tells us our “origin story”… it’s in the bible (lol!!). He tells us He created us, He redeemed us, He loves us. He is our potter, He writes our story. And if we say “ “you did not make me”. You treat the potter as a lump of clay. That is pride. Pride is denying God His place. As The Message Translation puts it… You have everything backward! Pride is a book saying to its author, “you didn’t write a word of me”. Pride is a meal saying to the woman who cooked it, “you had nothing to do with it.”
#1 and#2. Unlike people, God is probably able to take our over-sharing haha. This privilege and intimacy isn’t fake or cheap- let’s remember it was bought at a price by the blood of Jesus Christ. And as for setting boundaries, we know that our God is a gentle God. He will not force, and you can talk to him and express your own values and what’s important to you.
Question: what if something is important to you, but goes against what God might want? Do you just not talk about it? Hide that part. But that’s not authentic right? #denial. So how? What if you experience same-sex attraction? Or believe women shouldn’t preach? Do you “agree to disagree”? Those are all the usual strategies when we disagree with other people on important things right? I’m afraid I don’t have a simple answer to that, but life isn’t simple. But if authenticity is daily making “the choice to show up and be real, to be honest, and let our true selves be seen” with Him, then it’s an ongoing process.
When we engage and dialogue with people with different opinions and characters and try to understand them, it forces us to be clearer on who we are, and why we hold those opinions. It sharpens our self-awareness, because we then are not allowed to hide, or fudge our answers.
I think, when we engage with God, something similar happens. However, with God, unlike with people, there is a difference. With God, if we have the heart, and the intention, to understand, to change, God will see our hearts and, in response, give us a miracle.
If the Israelites had only said, yes God, we want to see you and let you be God, God would have responded by lifting their blindness.
Coming back to our passage, the way out of blindness and lethargic is a joint effort. Israel needs to change her heart and be willing, and God will reciprocate.
“God, said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” There’s the problem: we’re blind. There’s the solution: supernatural, God-given sight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Spiritually dead, spiritually blind people who can only be rescued by a divine miracle, the key is to see that this blindness and deadness is willful.
I believe in this day and age, where authenticity is in short supply, the world will see it and take notice. I believe that, as we talk about evangelism, we need to be authentic to each other- to each other as fellow Christians because we do outreach as a church, not as individuals. We need to be authentic to the newcomers that we believe God will send us. Ps Wei Kang spoke about Happiness Cells- we will need to learn to explain ourselves, our faith, while also learning to see our newcomers for who they truly are and what is important to them.
Being real and being seen is very powerful. The story of the Velveteen Rabbit tell us of a toy that become real because it is so, so, so loved by his owner, a little boy. We have seen how children blossom under love and care, becoming real. In the same way, under the love of God, we too can grow into our authentic selves. THIS is the God we want to show to the world, a God who sees you for who you are, and still loves you.
It’s been said, In other words, if you want to know what are people really believe about God, don’t spend time reading their theologians. Watch them worship. Listen to what they saying and to how they pray.
I’d like to conclude with a glimpse of
So the TL:DR version- I believe that if we are authentic to God, and allow Him to reveal to us who He is, He will change our hearts, and our worship then, indeed, be said to be authentic. It will not come just from our lips.

[3], based on Isaiah 6: 1-8
[5] – summarising Brene Brown

Isaiah 29:9–16 (Listen)

  Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
  Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10   For the LORD has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
  and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13   And the Lord said:
  “Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
  and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14   therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
  and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
15   Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16   You turn things upside down!
  Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
  that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
  or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?


Mark 7:1–29 (Listen)

7:1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

  “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
  in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”