Archive for October 2015

YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT WORSHIP – OR DID YOU?

October 26, 2015

obamas-you-didnt-build-that-spin-destroyed-in-1-5-minutes-620x451 In July of 2012, President and then also candidate Barak Obama began a political firestorm when he rather inartfully tried to make a point about all that goes together to help make a business, and more broadly the American economic system, successful. Taken out of context, but still on point he said, “look, if you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own.” And later in the same speech, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Well, we Americans pride ourselves in being independent, self-made, pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of folks. Obama’s adversaries made political hay out of the statements. Likewise, the candidate’s allies not to be outdone pointed their nanny-boo-boo fingers back at his adversaries and called them “one percenters” who were filthy rich and born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Don’t you just love politics?

Well, for goodness sake let’s get off politics, but there is a correlation when we think we can pull off “great worship” in our own power. We need a heart check in relation to our worship life and attitudes to see if a “we did it ourselves” spirit is not at the center of some of our worship environment issues. In his just released and much needed book, True Worshipers, Bob Kauflin writes of our inability on our own to worship God. There is perhaps no point so pertinent in our day in Christian worship than this central tenant. Through healthy biblical reflection Kauflin reminds us of the absolute dependency upon God’s own provision for our worship. Though created with perfect orientation toward our Creator, having no need for exhortation to worship since that was initially our very nature, the temptation to be little “g” gods ourselves was overwhelming, and thus the Fall and resultant sin nature that stands at the heart of every problem and issue we have to this day. God’s faithfulness, though, is never failing. He is Jehovah Jireh! He provides. From Cain’s unacceptable offering to the Tower of Babel to golden calves to glitzy light shows and American Idol-esque “worship leaders,” we tend to depend on our own designs in worship. It will never suffice. All the while, God has continued to provide. There is one provision for our access to the Father. He is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE! It is Jesus! “Through Jesus we bring the sacrifice of praise.” (Hebrews 13:15) We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, and spur one another on to love and good deeds in our faithful gatherings, all because of our high priest, Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

So why do we tend to pattern our worship after entertainment models? Why do worship planners tend to plan and pattern using an entertainment rubric for everything from scripting, to timing, to music. Consumerist lifestyles have become our means of interpreting what is taking place in church. We are certainly capable of assessing whether we enjoy the service, if we like the preacher, or if we agree with the style of music, etc., etc. But so what? The same can be said about a movie or a club. After all, those events are centered around pleasing us. But look to Colossians 3:12-17 and consider the ecclesial lifestyle encouraged. Here is a spirit pleasing to God, on Whom we say worship is focused and in Whom worship is centered.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I am afraid I agree with Paul Tripp who says for many if not most church members, “church is a place that they attend thankfully but that constitutes no essential aspect of their living.”[1] God does not ask us to check in on worship now and then to see how we like it. Through the apostle He says offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God – this is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

[1] Paul David Tripp Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do (Crossway Books 2015)

IS WORSHIP REALLY ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

October 18, 2015

worship experienceHow often do you hear these two words used together, “worship” and “experience?” Churches consistently promote their Sunday gatherings using this terminology. Senior Pastors and search committees looking for a worship leader often give top consideration to someone who can “give us a great worship experience from week to week.” In fact, one of the largest conferences for worship leaders wears the very moniker, “Experience.” I have friends who have taught at that conference and many more who have attended. I get it. We are human after all, and who doesn’t want to have a great experience? Who doesn’t want to hear their favorite band or learn new songs? Plus most worship leaders are all too aware that their people prefer that they try to inspire them rather than be prophetic or try to confront them with convicting truth.  I mean, granted Old and New Testament use sacrificial terminology in relation to worship, but who is going kick off the Sunday morning gathering by stepping up to a microphone, playing a couple of power chords and yelling out “Are you ready to sacrifice?!?!?” Not a winning technique for an opener.

Robert Webber warned against worship practices influenced by the culture of narcissism. One example of deepest concern for this writer is the tendency for so many worship songs to focus on ourselves. Of equal concern is an entertainment-inspired approach to how worship music is presented. Seems obvious to me that worship that prioritizes my experience is worship that has become about me. We seem to have been fooled into thinking that if our songs are about how much I love Jesus, how much I want to serve him, and lift him up, how I will praise him and magnify him, then this is great worship. God is made the object of my affection and this becomes the measure of worship, how strongly I feel gratitude and express it to God. The same cultural influence that has fooled us into thinking that marriages are built on love measured by feelings has likewise placed the heart of worship in the feelings of the worshiper. But the heart of Christian worship is God’s story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His birth, death, and resurrection. Worship brings glory to God because “it recalls God’s saving deeds in the past and anticipates the culmination of his saving deeds in the new heavens and new earth.”[1] Worship centered in Jesus Christ calls us outside ourselves. John Piper says, “God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God.”

I hope you will not misunderstand the point I am trying to raise. Surely, our affections are stirred at the mere thought that the God of the universe desires relationship with us. That Jesus would die on a cross to make the way for relationship possible is overwhelming. To contemplate the power of His blessed resurrection and the resultant victory over sin and death is certainly reason for unbridled celebration on our part. The challenge of Christian worship is that it is spiritual by nature. Our participation is a spiritual act of faith. Again, our culture has sought to associate spirituality as something we feel, a sensation or group of sensations. Dating all the way back to the ancient church, however, the pattern for Christian worship has centered in Word and Sacrament through which God’s vision for the world is proclaimed and enacted. Modern culture, Enlightenment thinking, and fierce individualism seem to have moved us away from our roots. Renewed worship will surely return us to a faith-based practice of Word and Table trusting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to reveal and enact God’s Word and His intention for the world. Inclusion in His work as citizens of the Kingdom will likely result in joyous expressions at times as well as deep lament and concern at times as we await His return and the completion of His re-creation. Meanwhile worship centered in Him will shape us as His disciples to be more like Jesus.

Worship transforms us from people who live for ourselves to people who live for him who died and was raised again.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Worship transforms us from being the served to be the servants.

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Worship is to help us take our eyes off the temporal and remind us of the eternal

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

[1] Robert Webber Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books 2008) 85.

WORSHIP FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

October 11, 2015

blurred worship band shotImagine what it would be like if you had one of those out-of-body experiences, but over a worship service. Instead of hovering at the ceiling in an emergency room where you look down on your body laid out on a gurney being zapped with paddles from the crash cart, imagine you are floating above the church worship center on a given Sunday and you get to observe worship and worshipers, including yourself, only from the outside. Do you think you would be questioning what the people including yourself are feeling? What if your position outside the church looking in on worship placed you where if you looked one direction you saw the church at worship and the other direction you saw a bright reflection and a silhouette of Jesus, knowing the Father is there as well, although you could not see Him?

As you look down on worship what would you likely be thinking? Do you think our declarations like this one below would be convincing?

“Worship is all about God. It’s not about me.”

  • If we were looking in from the outside would our worship practice show us to be truly concerned with God’s glory? Would you see your church and you determined that God’s narrative be told and retold and that He would be the center of our activities in gathered worship?
  • Would the worshipers be answering Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17, that we would be one in unity?
  • Would worship show us honoring others above ourselves? (Rom 12:10)

If you were the one planning and guiding worship for your church and then were hovering above the sanctuary during worship would you be confident, knowing God is looking on? What do you think He might say about the amount of scripture being read in the worship?   How do you think He might respond to the songs and the singing? As you think in your own mind about floating around that room what do you see reflected on the faces of individual worshipers? What is the sense of hospitality being expressed to each other and to those who are visiting and know little about worship, or about God? Does the worship and the environment do much to make much of what God has done in the past? Is there a recapitulation of God’s story of the world in creation, calling to Himself a people, incarnation when Jesus was born, died and was raised from the dead? As you look upon the room of worshipers is there a sense of anticipation of Jesus’ return? Does the tone of the singing and the content of the songs as well as the spoken message include a sense of certain victory and triumph? Is there an atmosphere where response is expected and strongly encouraged? If you are observing a revivalist atmosphere what do you see in the time offered for public response? If you are observing a Eucharist is there a sense of covenant and thanksgiving in taking the bread and the cup?

Imagining the out-of-body experience may seem silly, but it could be helpful to give a notion of the important question for gathered worship, “What are we doing here?” I am fascinated to read about worship, whether it is the glimpses we have from the New Testament, or the description from the 2nd Century words of Justin Martyr’s First Apology where he was clearing up rumors that had even caused persecutions based on misunderstanding that in worship Christians sacrificed an infant and drank its blood and ate its flesh. I am convicted when reading the God-centeredness of liturgies recorded from Eastern or Western traditions through history, and prayerful as to how the Holy Spirit might lead us in our day toward a much clearer centralization in a Trinitarian worship shaped by holy scripture. I am strengthened reading of Reformation worship and seeing the pursuit of adherence to scripture. When I read about worship during periods of awakening or about the work of some gifted evangelists I am inspired to reflect on personal spiritual commitments made in church revival worship. Reading about movements under dynamic preachers like Spurgeon, Moody, and Billy Graham causes me to yearn for next generation evangelists. In a sense, these observations might be compared to the imagination exercise I mentioned before. Perhaps it would good for us to occasionally exercise our imagination in this way as one means of assessment as to our worship atmosphere, and the role we play in it. After all, God really is looking on, but more than that, worship is about and for Him, and He really is there with us.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN? WHAT ABOUT WORSHIP?

October 5, 2015

nothing-new-hereThere’s nothing new under the sun. If so then why do so many churches talk about their worship and worship leader using terms they seem to think will give onlookers the impression that what happens in their worship is all about new? Lots of churches promote their worship using words like fresh, innovative, creative, unique, trailblazing, and unconventional. When it comes to “youth worship” some push the atmosphere of their particular worship “experience” using words like edgy, slammin’, natty, and raw. And honestly, is it really all that unique? Kinda reminds me of the gag motivational poster I once saw displaying lots of snowflakes that says, “You’re unique! Just like everybody else.” All that newness gets a little tiring afterwhile. One might say, “It gets old.” (You see what I did there?)

Speaking of old, when considering our worship should we not think of all time, past, present, and future? Robert Webber, strongly emphasized worship “doing God’s story,” as the heart of the content of worship, which surely indicates that looking to the past would embrace not only biblical times, but give consideration to the faith community through all time. Seems to me it could serve us well to contemplate ways God has been at work in the worshiping church throughout history. What about in the Age of Enlightenment, when faith and reason first seemed at odds? Where did we see God at work in those days? How did His people respond? What can we say about times of great calamity like the plagues, wars, cultural and civil unrest, or periods of political oppression? What’s more, what about our own churches’ past? Could our own worship and mission be served by revisiting the early days of our congregation’s existence? A pastor friend recently decided to read church minutes to check out some of what his older deacon leadership kept trying to tell him. He found a proverbial goal mine in what he read as he realized the visionary passion of the church’s early leaders. He even began to intersperse quotes from these pages into his sermons to help the church find its way toward embracing a stronger missional presence in their community.

A few years ago I assisted a church celebrating its 100th anniversary as a congregation. Old photos made into a digital display were used to backdrop the worship environment. People came to church dressed in the fashion of the early 1900’s. Hymns of the day were sung in a manner reminiscent of the period. Children and youth were purposefully included in worship participation. Pictures of former pastors were placed in prominent display and their tenure was reviewed in the morning service, recognizing a couple of them who were still living and present. Through the planning process I recall ongoing caution by some of the church leadership wanting to be sure the church did not slip back into “glorifying the past,” as they feared “getting stuck again” as they felt the church had become before the church’s current pastor had come to save the day. Certainly “getting stuck” can be a problem for any of us in our spiritual lives, and as a church. We all could probably give examples. It seems equally or I would say even more dysfunctional, however, to ignore or disconnect from our own past, and more importantly, disrupt God’s people from remembering how His Spirit has worked in the past to bring them where they are at present. Our need to remember is to see what the Lord has done, not to just become nostalgic. Some nostalgia can be positive if it is tempered by biblical truth and stirs true spiritual sentiment, but it can also be toxic if it fosters just staring at an older version of the root problem of all unworthy worship, which is self focus. In other words if we end up worshiping our past selves even as we are wont to do in our current culture to worship our “best selves, thinking that is our goal, then we are surely offending God with our worship. There is only One worthy of our worship, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen. His story, His truth, His hand at work in all times must be themed in our worship. One of the many reasons I am a strong proponent of the use of hymns from all periods is that it holds prospect to bring to remembrance those tensions present in past times. Even through outdated imagery and language, guided by prudent leaders, hymns help speak the past into our present and provide hope for future certainties. Consider the tyranny of being slave to what I will call “nowness.” Worship songs selected only from a radio playlist, or created only by living artists in present day risks ignoring 1400 years of hymnody, which means neglecting centuries of God’s work among His people. Thankfully some modern songwriters like David Crowder are finding ways to integrate ancient hymns into their writing, and modern hymnwriters like Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend are carrying forward hymnwriting with great integrity and popular appeal.

Worship that truly does God’s story brings together past, present, and future. All time is under His Lordship. Remembering the past, anamnesis, and looking to the future, prolepsis are central to worshiping the Lord of all time and space. In so doing we offer our hearts, our “living bodies” (Rom 12:1) as our spiritual act of worship, and trust Him for eternal resolution. By His Spirit He is alive in and among us as we sing, pray, listen, read, partake, fellowship, and enact ministry and mission. The ancient church taught us lex orandi; lex credenda; est, Latin for “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” Another way Webber states it is “show me the way you worship and I’ll show you what you believe.”[1] Now is the time to rejoin the song that proclaims the “old, old story of Jesus and His love,” that hails the “Gladsome Light” (Phos Hilaron) and looks to a day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord!” as we sing around the throne, “Worthy is the Lamb!”

[1] Robert Webber Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books 2008) 104.


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