Archive for September 2015

SHUT UP AND WORSHIP

September 28, 2015

Monk Costume The world is noisy. Just as we are consumed with our incessant busy-ness, we seem likewise to be obsessed with filling every moment with sound. And frankly much of that sound is loud, even to the point of damaging our hearing, physically and spiritually. Rather ironic isn’t it? Some of the sound is just filler that seems aimed at simply avoiding silence. Certainly I have experienced that dynamic in public worship, and have even had pastors caution me about “dead time,” usually referring to what happens between songs, or other components of a worship service. Our fear of silence, however, may be more telling and even indicting than we are ready to admit. But rather than addressing the value, and frankly the need for silence in public worship at this point, I would encourage you to consider the role of silence, quiet, and solitude in our spiritual lives. I would especially want to raise alert to this need for pastors, worship pastors, and other spiritual leaders of the church. We need times of silence and solitude. Some might ask, “who cares?” The answer is we all should care. Those with responsibility to lead out in worship are inviting others into the most core activity of humanity. Worship is the very reason for which we have been created. We need seasons of silence to allow for transformation from our false self to the new self in Jesus Christ.

As we are swept up in the world’s cultic practices of busy-ness and noisiness our values begin to look like everyone else. The obsession is every bit as pronounced in ministry as it is in any other vocation. How often do we ministers feel the need to look busy. It’s not that we are not busy, because we certainly are, and we make certain that we cram every moment with busy-ness, regardless of the value of our activities. More meetings, more rehearsals, more phone calls and emails, more visits, more, more, more=high worth. That is what we tend to think. Likewise, more soundbites, more repetitions, more digital techniques=more emotive result. Since volume gives a sense of power, then in many instances more volume = more spiritual energy.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr says that sin is anything that disrupts shalom. Is it possible that we have cluttered our worship, our churches, and our own individual lives in a sinful way in that we have disrupted God’s shalom by our busyness and noise? We often replace Sabbath with more work. In those instances one has to ask “where is our trust?” Is it not being transferred away from faith in the Holy Spirit over to faith in our own efforts? In talking about the compulsive minister Henri Nouwen says “compulsive is the best adjective for the false self.”[1] Worship leaders and pastors often find ourselves in a revolving door of efforts to please people in order to prove our worth. The Worship Leader works hard and amps up the performance to draw attention to his or her worth in a manner reflective of celebrity personalities or entertainment productions. Pastors speak at every possible opportunity to make their presence (and popularity) known, attend every meeting to demonstrate their managing control, or make every ministry visit to keep their worth before their members. The activity becomes overwhelming.  Burnout is a likely and expected result. Our thinking may be that such burnout is justified because, after all, we were serving in the kingdom. We may have just been serving the image of our false self, the self we think others expect. How do we break the pattern? Time to turn to silence.

Nouwen calls solitude “the furnace of transformation.” Without it we remain victims of our culture as our false selves. It is in silence and solitude that our false self is often revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and through confession and renewal we can discover our new self in Jesus Christ. Here we come to know anew what it is to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Jesus himself pulled away to pray. He spent time with the Father and reminded us in Matthew 6 to go to our closet and close the door. Solitude and silence protect our souls. The fire of genuine spiritual nurture is fueled in the quiet place where the false self is exposed for who and what he/she is. Here even the most righteous-looking minister confesses “prone to wonder, Lord I feel it.” He who knows the journey of solitude and silence returns to the noise of the world holding to the internal silence of peace and confidence in Jesus. Our best worship and ministry is led from this position of inner silence and strength.

[1] Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence (New York: Ballantine Books 1981) 13.

DON’T BE LIKE THE SELF-FOCUSED WORSHIP LEADER ME

September 21, 2015

Rob Lowe like this me Have you ever been in worship as a participant in the congregation and been distracted by what appeared to be self-focus by the worship leader or preacher? That sounds harsh and could even sound judgmental, but discernment in our spirit usually speaks up for some reason. Worship Leaders, have you ever, like I have, finished your leadership responsibility and felt you needed forgiveness for drawing too much attention to yourself? Platform responsibility carries that potential danger.

Have you seen those crazy Direct TV commercials with famous actors and athletes like Rob Lowe, Andrew Luck, and now there are two Peyton Manning renditions. One is Peyton Manning, alongside Skinny Legged Peyton Manning, and Peyton Manning alongside Really High Voiced Peyton Manning. At the end Peyton says, “Don’t be like this me” pointing to the “really high voice me” who is singing Camptown Races in castrati-land with a barbershop quartet. I don’t know about you, but to me these ads are pretty funny. Granted, I still have Cable TV, but I enjoy the entertaining commercials.

Do you know of pastors and/or worship music leaders who seem to be almost two different people on platform and off? Some talk about having an alter ego, not referring to the psychotic kind, but just having a kind of stage persona that kicks into gear on the platform. Indeed, in most evangelical churches it takes a certain level of platform confidence to go about the duties of leading worship music or preaching in an effective manner such that people remain interested. For some the difference between “platform me” and the “real me” can be dramatic. In far too many cases, if we are not very careful (and prayerful), the platform me fosters a drift whereby we lose the sense of what worship is about and who it is to please. Worship Leaders and Pastors, have you ever assessed what goes on in your own mind and spirit and felt like you didn’t know who that was? Did you ever feel like you needed to pause and, like the commercial, say, “Don’t be like the worship-leading me?”

  • Intentionally surrender yourself anew to the desires of God before taking the platform for any leadership role.
  • Prayerwalk the worship space before anyone else comes in and consider those who will be sitting in the chairs or pews and pray for their spiritual edification and their participation in worship
  • Check your motivations for every part of the worship service, but most especially anything intended to embellish given material. For example ask the why? Question seriously about modulations, repetitions and extensions, or if you preach, about self illustrations
  • If worship services are videotaped review those with prayerful honesty as to what you see in yourself as you lead
  • Have an accountability partner who can go over planned worship items, or can even view video footage with you and give open and honest input regarding appearances and motivations
  • Develop a closet prayer team of a few individuals who will pray for your humility and servant spirit before during and after the worship service
  • Use a journal and chronicle your experience of worship leading soon after each service has dismissed. Take special note of how often your journal entries include an assessment of how well the people sing and otherwise participate in worship.

There is likely always some mix of motives in the platform leadership of worship, but it seems to me we must surely at the very least recognize the danger here, and move slowly and deliberately in planning and preparing for worship leading. After all, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10)   and Paul says,  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Fellow Worship Leaders, let’s ask ourselves the hard questions and seek wisdom in reflecting on the answers. Be not afraid to face up to those things that we do that really are to please our fellow man, to hush the critics, or worst of all, to draw attention to ourselves. We must root out the real resons for what we do and why we do it. That which stands true to the Word, and is offered to God in Spirit-inspired direction will not return void. Even the simplest of songs or most basic of sermons will prove far more powerful, even if we do not see those immediate results, than the most dazzling of performances that are given to show how good we think we can perform.

Lord, help our leaders to be humble before You, and to lead Your people recognizing that this is the Bride of Christ. May our services of worship reflect You more and more through the humble, Christlike spirit of our leaders as they grow to be more like You. May we find our leaders joining the spirit of what we read in 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

WORSHIP IN THE EVANGELICAL TRADITION – IT’S PERSONAL

September 15, 2015

Emily baptism I grew up the son of a Baptist Pastor. One of the things I learned early on was that Baptists believed in the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior. At its core Christianity was personal. I grew up in the glory days of Baptist programming, and I am really glad that I did. We had programs for developing music skills and learning about God through what we sing, which eventually led to understanding that whatever talents we had were gifts from Him to be offered back to Him in worship, ministry, and mission. We had programs for learning the Bible and sharing our witness. We had a program teaching the most basic fundamentals of personal faith and doctrine. It was in this latter program that I learned much about God, Man, Sin, Church, Creation, and Last Things, and about personal disciplines. All of these programs contributed to programming me. The programs, however, in and of themselves were missing the most fundamental component of Christian living. Worship. Warren Wiesbe reminds us that many things the church does are good, but divorced from real worship they are powerless and will not yield fruit.[1]

When I mention the word worship some think of music. It is, of course, much more. Some think of preaching. Worship is more. Many people think of worship as only the hour on Sunday morning when the church gathers for a worship service. Worship is a life style of obedience. With our emphasis on personal relationship we evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular sometimes miss the corporate understanding of worship as a body of believers covenanted together and gathered in a place and time to join the saints of all places and times in the eternal act of Christian worship. By the same token in our efforts to build our churches and draw large crowds I fear we have often lost our sense of the personal nature of worship even within the corporate setting. Although corporate worship is more than just the collected individual worship experiences of individual worshipers, in the evangelical tradition, even gathered or corporate worship serves to position individual hearts and minds to personally commune with the living God. Within the gathered body there are many individuals who are choosing to lend their hearts and lend their voices to corporate praise. Others may continue the struggle to yield to the heart of worship, and for them we pray.

Regardless of the size of a church it is imperative that neither sensitivity, corporate or personal, be lost. We are giving ourselves to the whole, many members one body. At once we are also in spiritual battle as individuals. Humbled before Him we trust His power, His Spirit. I could never fully explain it, but as our friends, our families, and particularly our children observe our humbled spirit yielded as spiritual response in worship the Lord’s presence is made known. Paul says others take notice and see. “So he will he fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25) Others around us, and I believe especially those who know us best, have some sense of the positioning of our heart and spirit as we sing, as we pray, as we listen, as we respond. Robert Wenz says “He has made us to live in a material world yet calls us to worship himself, the God who transcends the material world. He calls us to worship by faith, believing that the unseen kingdom and the unseen King are as real and more permanent than the sensory world we live in.”[2]

Imagine if we had a tattoo placed on our face when we committed to faith in Christ. Then surely church members, family and friends, and our children would know whose we were. Instead our identity mark is baptism as our first act of obedience, and we take a towel to our dripping selves following that ceremonial act. Where genuine faith takes hold that mark remains and serves as identity in our own hearts, in the minds eye of all those who observed our baptism, and in our response to other Christian acts as a worshiper. All these responses are personal. When we sing with head and heart, it’s personal. When we listen with open Bible prayerful to hear a word from heaven, personal. When we take the bread and cup and share it with our brother or sister affirming covenant, personal. And others see.

Sunday I had the glorious privilege of baptizing my second grandchild, my oldest granddaughter. Stepping with her into the warm baptismal pool was a joy that defies description. Entering those waters I felt in a sense I was once again entering into my own baptism. The Lord Who saved me has claimed the life of another grandchild. The moments of lowering her little body to stir the water emboldened my own faith and my prayer for her and for family yet to come. Hearing the congregation continue their songs of redemption while I dried and dressed in the dressing room stirred my own chords of song. Tears dripped from my eyes onto my shoes as I put them on my feet. These were tears of spiritual joy, a moment of emotional worship before I headed back to be seated with family. I had just baptized my granddaughter. It was sinking in. It was personal. It was worship. Lord, let me walk in your way that others will see only You.

[1] Warren Wiersbe Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground? (Bake Books 2000) 8-16

[2] Robert Wenz Room for God? A Worship Challenge for a Church Growth and Marketing Era (Renewing Total Worship Ministries 1994) 161.

WAR ROOM AND WORSHIP

September 8, 2015

War-room1 Last week I went to see the latest of the Kendrick Brothers’ movies, War Room. I will spare you my review of the film, since I am no movie critic. Nor will I serve as spoiler for those who may be planning to see War Room but have not yet gotten to the theater. Rather, since I think the theme of the movie is pretty obvious, I want to draw attention to an important dynamic of worship that watching the movie prompted.

I would invite you to consider the battle in worship, and think as well about the critical importance of prayer preceding, during, and following times of worship. The term, “Worship War” has been used to describe a conflict over music styles, a sadly common recurring dynamic in churches, especially over the last three decades. You know the drill, some people desire a specific style of music to predominate the song selection list for Sunday worship, and another group wants a different style, still others want a mix. The surface skirmish that has torn at the fabric of many churches is merely a symptom of the true war of worship taking place in the will of humans, within faith communities, in culture, and in the cosmos.

The war of which we speak is at the center of our existence ever since the Fall in the Garden in Genesis 3. We see the spark of the war in the desire of an angel to be exalted above the one true God, in order that he might be worshiped himself. Our own self-centeredness finds roots in this foundational separating sinfulness. Throughout the grand narrative of the scriptures we find the battle raging. We will not rehearse those battles here, but rather call to your attention the predominance of that theme in the whole of the biblical narrative, as well as throughout Christian history right up to present day. More pointedly, now I would like to draw your attention to the battle as it rages in present day worship practice and invite your consideration of a strategy for waging war effectively.

  1. The battle is at the core of the substance of worship, not the style in which it is practiced. While I would concur with those who believe the stylistic expressions in gathered worship reflect motivations that drive their use, I am convinced discussion at the point of styles of expression themselves yields little if any fruit. Such discussion has little to do with shaping worshipers as reflections of the one true worship leader, Jesus. The essential struggle has to do with the centrality of the Triune God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and whose desire is to be known and worshiped in all of His eternal beauty, having forever been and knowing He forever shall be the one true God. In opposition we have the competing desire of other centralities – ourselves, our church as an organization, nationalism, moralism, emotional gratification, etc.
  1. The battle must be informed by the past. Robert Webber warns, “we live in a society that has lost its own heritage.” He goes on to note “when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future.”[1] When worship ignores the past we risk presenting an unanchored gospel. While we fully trust the Lord to be at work in the now, we strengthen faith and sharpen sensibilities by reminding ourselves how He has worked in days gone by. In worship we gather up the stories of biblical, historical, and personal significance to foster continued sensitivity to incarnational reality.
  1. The battle is fierce in the present. Current conflict is the most intense because we are presently in it, we face it now. Whether things seem good, or things seem bad the battle goes on. Individually, collectively as community of faith, and culturally there is a continuous war and as Martin Luther penned, “and He must win the battle.” When things are good we struggle to give Him the praise and not turn it in on ourselves, give it to the preacher or the musicians. When things are going badly we struggle to find faith, or to trust the ultimate benefit. Jesus was the suffering servant, and following Him will, of necessity, place us on that same road at times.
  1. As warriors we be confident in ultimate victory. Isaac Watts gave us one of our victory marches, We’re Marching to Zion. The worship war calls for a recurring tone of triumph because the ultimate battle belongs to the Lord, and He is victorious in the finished work of Christ. Remembering what great things the Lord has done, with deep faith in His grace in the present moment, we look to the ultimate reward and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Worship is war. It is waged in us personally, corporately, and cosmically. We do not have the power within ourselves to win over evil. Satan’s influence is all around us. He disguises himself and deceitfully seeks us out to destroy and distract from the battlefield. He hates when we worship in spirit and truth for it renders him powerless. The battle occurs in prayer before, during, and after worship and is itself at the very heart of what it is to worship. Engagement with God is only made possible by Jesus’ shed blood that tore the curtain of separation away that we can enter boldly to the throne of grace, and His resurrection empowers us over death, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, leaves the Holy Spirit with us to interpret and pray even when we have no words.

[1] Robert Webber Who Gets to Narrate the World: Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (IVP Books 2006) 16-17.

Labor Day Prayer Song

September 6, 2015

Though the roots of Labor Day are found in the organized labor movement, the holiday has come to serve a broader concept.  Labor Day is a time of celebrating the privilege we have to work.  I have found this prayer hymn to serve effectively in gathered worship and personally as a daily hymn to pray for the working day. As worshipers whose whole life is to be a “living sacrifice” as our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1) it is important to fix our perspective of gratitude on life as a gift from God given to us that we might offer it back to Him.


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