Archive for July 2012

A LITURGY OF NARCISSISM

July 30, 2012

Perhaps you have seen the video “Sunday Morning” on YouTube or Vimeo, which pokes fun at a rather predictable “contemporary,” “relevant,” or as the video indicates in this instance, “contemporvant” way of doing worship based on a kind of mood trip.  In this liturgy of narcissism central questions might be,

 

“What did I get out of worship today?”

“Am I getting what I want?”

“Is this making me more of who I want to be?”

 

Quoting mentor and author Robert E. Webber, the three areas of consideration for worship and worship planning are content, form, and style, but the greatest of these is content.  Content in Christian worship is the essence of what worship is, who it is for and about according to the very Word of God.   Worship of our Triune God is empowered by the Holy Spirit, centered in the Gospel of Jesus, and based upon His Word.  If content is unsound then form and style are moot points.  Form is the next area of consideration as we think about what shape worship takes in our communion with God, and the final area of contemplation is style.

 

The spoof video mentioned above draws attention to the form and style of worship.  Absent content, form and style hold no value.  Likewise, aiming for emotional manipulation simply to evoke feelings is valueless for Christian worship.  Oh, it can certainly be effective, even when it is completely lame.  Sadly, its most powerful effect may be that persons think just because they felt something, evoked by sad or glad songs, goosebump-producing video, or loudly authoritative preaching, they have had a spiritual encounter.  Placing the name of Christ in the midst of such emptiness seems nothing short of sacrilege.  Far too often the point of such liturgy is simply a view of self, albeit the self we think we want to see.  We start with a big song, move through stages to get to a “just me and God” moment.  If we get there, we fool ourselves to think we are satisfied, only to find we quickly thirst again.  And rightly so, for no religious feeling will ever suffice.

 

Essentially, when talking about form we are considering the shape of our worship, our communion or encounter with God.  Of course, many churches have set liturgy or order of worship.  In other traditions including Baptists worship order is not prescribed, even though it often follows a rather predictable liturgical pattern.  Congregations trust that the worship planners (pastors and/or music or worship ministers) will lay out worship in a prayerful and thoughtful way that will help worshipers engage with God.  I would venture to say there is an expectation that worship planners would remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit for guidance while also maintaining awareness of who makes up the worshiping congregation.  Biblical worship seeks to frame the connection of God and man.  Faith is rooted in Biblical truth.  God Incarnate is among the worshipers.  The Spirit’s work empowers Word, said and sung, to engage hearts and minds.  The resultant vision is Christ Jesus.  Worshipers depart to serve, patterning life and love after the One they have seen by light of Spirit and the Word.  Rather than seeing a “better me” I have seen a perfect, Risen Christ.

 

God, help us to form our worship that we may be formed to better see and reflect Jesus.

 

‘Til He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!

 

 

THE MYSTERY OF SPIRITUAL WORSHIP

July 22, 2012

  I believe one of the reasons secularist society is so cynical toward us who practice the Christian faith is that our engagement in worship is a spiritual reality.  My own sense of secularism is that apologists for that manner of viewing the world place their faith in their own logic and reason which is naturally dependent, then, upon those things they can personally experience by virtue of one of their senses.  Never mind the irony that the God they try to discredit is the One Who has given them those senses and the brain that makes them work, the mind with which to reason their fallacious conclusions.  It is truly ironical that those who claim to be too “intelligent” to believe in a risen Savior, are unable to reconcile the mystery of worship in spirit and truth.  In essence this thinking places these persons as captains of their own proverbial ships; it places them at the center of their world – in effect, they are god.

One of the many challenges for those of us who help to plan and shape the environment of gathered worship is to nurture experience in the spiritual realm with our Triune God who is Spirit, and we who worship Him are instructed to worship “in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)  Theologian Wayne Gruden as others help us grasp how we humans engage in this spiritual activity using our physical bodies, but by power of the Holy Spirit also participating in the spiritual realm by faith.  Biblical models help strengthen our grasp on how this might occur.  Mary knew she was worshiping when she declared “…and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47)  Presenting God as He truly is absolute pre-requisite to Christian worship.  Worship occurs in His presence.  An attitude of worship is a response to seeing God as He is.  Numerous biblical examples for this have long served as foundation for healthy approaches to worship planning.  The Old and New Testaments give examples, structural models, and descriptions of characteristics of true worship such that  we should have a sense of the direction for our worship.  What these descriptions cannot give to us is precise understanding of the numinous encounter itself.

Last week I was reminded just how mysterious encounter with God can be.  I sat in a concert held in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Knoxville.  Listening to music, singing hymns of faith, greeting fellow believers were all contributors to an atmosphere that could be called worshipful, and certainly these components effected my own spirit.  Another contributing factor for me was the acoustic environment of the room as well as the memory of recording sessions in which I had participated as choral singer and as conductor.  In recalling one of those sessions my mind remembered there was  text printed on the upper marble border of the room.  When I looked up to read those words, a sense of the Spirit’s presence and spiritual worship flooded my soul.  My participation in the next congregational song was somewhat limited by my emotionally overwhelmed state.  I had a response of spiritual commitment to some looming questions.  The encounter defies detailed articulation.  The gap of experience and description is only negotiated in faith.  

What is describable are some of the results that are characteristic outcomes of genuine Christian worship.  Gruden describes these:

  • We delight in God – joy for sense of direction and simply His presence is result of worship
  • God delights in us – though hard to comprehend, this sense of God’s pleasure is reflected in Genesis 1:31; Isaiah 62:3-5; Zephaniah 3:17; and Heb 2:12
  • We draw near to God – this is the amazing provision of the Gospel that engenders our highest praise.  Our confidence in this spiritual movement is not in ourselves, but rather in Him, and the invitation to come boldly (Heb 4:16; 13:15-16)
  • God draws near to us – James 4:8; Psalm 22:3)
  • God ministers to us – 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 4:16
  • Enemies flee – 2 Chron 2:20-21
  • Unbelievers know of God’s presence – I Cor 14:23-25; Acts 2:11)

I have long believed that the power of art forms in worship, like music and especially corporate singing, is at least partially rooted in our inability to define exactly what it is about these that effects our spirits.  There is a mystery in the effect upon us as persons.

The room, the songs, the sermon, the fellowship of Christian community, the reading of the Word, the sights and sounds of all these things and more, all speak into the spiritual act of gathered worship.  No one of these is “it,” but any and all participate in the “it,” namely the spiritual reality of worship.  Though the worship is reality oin the real world, it is at once a mystery.

WAIT FOR IT

July 9, 2012

  The character, Barney Stinson (Noel Patrick Harris) on the sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, is credited with igniting the use of the phrase, “wait for it.”  I’m not a fan of the show, but have heard the phrase used by my grown children as well as numerous others as a means of emphasizing the anticipation of what is to come, for example in the phrase from the show, “Ted, my boy, it’s going to be legen…..wait for it…..dary.”

Our culture is not very good at “waiting for it,” and could be called down right impatient.  Those of us with worship planning and guiding responsibilities may find ourselves wrestling with how to contend with impatient people, especially when it comes to public worship.  To make things more difficult we may sense the impatience gnawing at us during the time of congregational song.  Of course, let’s be honest, the impatience may be internal within our own beings as well as external from those we seek to lead.  Best address that first with the Spirit, then move out.

Media ecologists tell us that the contemporary mind that is conditioned by constant media exposure has an attention span of five to seven minutes.  Anyone who watches TV knows the annoying decibel level change that invades our space when the commercial comes on.  Some say the volume increase technique is used to wake up the viewer and capture their attention.  That mindset effects the worshipers who sit in our pews Sunday by Sunday.  Unless we worship facilitators can make participation expectancy clear, today’s church attenders will likely anticipate this same rhythm of a five to seven minute segments of content to be followed by a decibel hike that will wake them up and cause them to listen again.  There is plenty of application here for the teaching pastor, but the same media-driven environment applies to music in worship as well.  Like the dial of their car stereos, CD changers, or iPods, people may want the song that is not their favorite to hurry up and change, and even more if it is not even of a style they appreciate.  And they are suppose to be joining in the singing, making music with full participation of head and heart.  Ugh!  What’s a worship music leader to do?

One of the many drawbacks of the culture of entertainment we have become is that the planners – presenters are assumed to bear the load of responsibility for getting people involved where that is even possible.  If the spectator is not amused within the given attention span, then the presenter is surely to blame, and in time, is dismissed.  Though we all recognize our ministry is in context of present day with all of the harmful patterns that get set in people’s lives, we simply must redirect responsibility in worship wherein the participants remain engaged precisely because they are, in fact, in a corporate spiritual worship gathering.  This is countercultural, but seems to me a heart cry emanating from those lost in this culture, needing deliverance from its jaws of impatience.

As planners and guides for Christian worship we must be certain that we faithfully provide opportunity for engagement in the Gospel.  It is our responsibility to be sensitive to the context of those we lead.  If we call ourselves pastoral leaders, however, then it seems critical for us to work at helping those we seek to lead to see the virtuous character of patience, pointing first and foremost to the Jesus we are to lift up, and the Gospel, which is the essence of our worship.

My friend, author, poet, and preacher, Dr. Calvin Miller, taught a worship conference where he reminded us of the significance of worship “at the altar of need.”  Those who are desperate for a Savior will likely not care so much that the song being sung is not necessarily their favorite.   Let us somehow help our congregations to be concerned with displaying the character of Christ in all of their worship, even “when the road’s marked with suffering, and there’s pain in the offering, Blessed Be Your Name!”

C.S. Lewis reminded us that our problem is not that we desire too much of God, but rather that we desire too little, settling for lesser pleasures:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

–C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

 

Let us root our worship firmly in the full sweep of the Gospel, the metanarrative of God’s Story, patiently remembering the past, celebrating the present, and looking to the victorious future!  Mara….wait for it….wait for it…..natha!


Rob Moll, Author

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