Posts Tagged ‘worship’

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Five Plus Two (plus one) Equals 15,000

October 24, 2013

worship_kneelingI sat in the front row of my church recently and thought: “Finally, we broke through“. We failed to do this for the few weeks previous. One Sunday, we even felt completely submerged in despair, desperation and grim feelings. Though not everyone felt that way, it was a spiritual attack and we were not handling it well.

One primary reason for this is that people have not understood the power of worship. Worship is not a noun. I heard someone say recently to a friend who was discouraged: “We need to get some worship in you guy“. Another friend recently posted about a pastor who said “Let’s get our worship on.” These comments thrust worship into noun-status, relegating worship into a “thing” that we “receive”.

This is so far from accurate, we should cringe when we hear it.

Worship is a verb. It is an activity we perform with three distinct goals (we don’t always employ each goal, but they are all legitimate):

1. To pull away from the rat race of this world and re-connect with God whom we may have neglected or not taken time to connect with

2. To teach our souls that God is the center of the universe and deserving of praise and adoration, and not we ourselves.

3. To deny the soul-sucking beliefs and emotions that are inspired by selfish people and evil designs in this world. When we worship, we focus on God, his power and Truth and pull away from the negative influences of people and unclean spirits.

When we see worship as a noun, we passively receive some benefit from music, fellowship, church service structure or architecture. Though music can sometimes change our mood, it fails to change or address the deeper issues of the mind, emotions, memories and imagination. Only God can work with us on that level.

So, with those concepts in mind, let me go back to the worship service I reference at the top of this article. The week before, I had challenged the church to come together to do warfare against false beliefs and negative emotions by preparing for worship early and by coming together as a group to honor God whole-heartedly. For weeks, we had not done this and therefore, we were buried in the avalanche of life’s troubles and worries. That morning, instead of being buried, we broke through with a cry of relief and joy. Most people who were privileged to be there, and who shared in the experience, say it was one of the most dramatic times they had spent with God in a long while.

I remember experiencing the opposite on many occasions. I have sat in church services where it appeared to me (and I may have been wrong about this) that very few people were attempting to have a living, breathing relationship with God during their offering of worship. They were going through the motions. This brought to mind a dream I had 25 years ago. Let me share the dream then go on to a short teaching.

In the dream, another man and I were walking into a small country church. There were dozens of people there and the pianist was playing a well-known worship hymn. For some reason, no one could see my friend and I. We just observed what was happening among the people. I noticed that everyone’s mouths were moving, but I could only hear musical words coming from a few of them. That’s when I saw  a man standing beside my friend and I.

“Would you like to know what you’re seeing” he asked me.

“I don’t understand” I said. “Why can’t I hear most of them?”

He explained. “The ones you can hear mean what they are saying. The rest are just singing a well-known song. You are hearing what God is hearing. He can’t hear those who don’t mean what they’re singing.”

That’s when I woke up in a sweat. Through this dream, I came to realize that there is great truth in John 4:24, 25: “God is spirit; those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. God is seeking people such as this to worship Him.” God seeks out worshipers. This is not because God is vain, but because He knows that in worship, we connect deeply to him. In our worship, we throw down our self-absorbed ways and acknowledge our creator, bless his goodness, see his beauty and love and receive his power. It is in worship that we fully partner with God so that God is released in us to change us and re-structure all the damaged parts of our minds and hearts.

Let me dwell for a moment on this concept of partnership. Those times I have sat in the service where no one seems to be meaning what they’re singing, where no one is really connecting with God – I often get upset and start praying for them. I have often prayed that God would “break through and pour out His Presence.”

But recently, I realized God cannot just do this unless people are in agreement with it. If few people in a room want the presence of God to be seen, God cannot manifest his presence as He would want. But if enough people in the room (I can’t give  you a percentage, but it doesn’t have to be the majority) desire to have God show up and change our lives, then we experience that organic partnership that brings about miracles.

Remember the time Jesus was teaching the crowds and they all realized they were hungry. It would have taken hours – maybe days – for everyone to go home and have a meal. Jesus’ teaching was important, but they were hungry. So he tells the disciples to find something for the crowds to eat.

Matthew and Luke tell us there were 5,000 men at this meeting. It is reasonable to assume there were as many women and children there, so it is also reasonable to say that the crowd numbered somewhere around 15,000. They wanted more of Jesus and he wanted to feed them. There are a lot of deeper truths here, but I don’t have time to graze through them. Feel free to think more about this yourself.

A young boy came forward with his lunch: Five small barley loaves and two small fish. The word “small” is repeated in the Greek language. We are to see his offering as a small thing by human standards. But in offering his meal, he is offering to God a partnership with huge implications. Here is the deeper truth: It is not the size of the thing we are bringing to the partnership that is important: It is the attitude of wanting God to take what is ours and use it to God’s designs that changes our world.

The heart of worship is an attitude of surrender. It is not wise to come into God’s presence and bring nothing. Surrendering attitudes, decisions, relationships, plans, goals, desires, habits, money, sex, power, indifference, fears, loneliness – whatever we give to God freely with a full heart becomes the basis for a miracle.

Try this today. Get alone and put on some spiritual music that causes you to focus on God. Sing along with it if you like. But focus on inviting God to meet with you. Then, when you begin to experience his presence on the inside, surrender anything that wants to take your focus away from worship. Ask God to partner in this thing with you. Ask God how he wants you to act differently. Like the boy who had to give up the meal and then saw 15,000 people fed to overflowing, God will show you what comes next.

Recently, in worship, I surrendered my anger toward a colleague who had treated me poorly (by my estimation). I feel I am right in this situation, but once I surrendered my right to be angry, God showed me a perspective on his heart. My heart was filled with compassion for him, and God showed me how to bless him. Which I was able to do the next week. We have now renewed our friendship because of this. This is the kind of miracle I embrace. It changes our lives.

Worship is a verb, an action we perform so we can partner with the Living God to change this world.

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House Bands and Smoke Machines

April 8, 2010

I was in a church recently and asked my wife why we couldn’t see the worship leader at the front. We both realized simultaneously that the “house band” was employing a smoke machine! I half expected David Lee Roth or Jon Bon Jovi to come flying out through the haze to the center spot. And yes, there were several spotlights.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was showing me through their newly renovated “worship facility” and he humbly told me they just spent $50,000 on stage lighting for the band. I choked on my bile…I did. Then, I attended a local “worship” event two weeks ago where they had strobe lights, changing colors, sound effects and 12 speakers in the small church auditorium. The bass booster rivaled all the gang-banger cars in my neighborhood.

The final straw was an article in the local  newspaper quoting someone leaving an Easter Worship service at the local mega-church who said, “It was awesome. The band was really kickin”. I am trying to imagine God leaning back, listening to their songs and saying “Angel-dudes, come here…that band is really kickin'”

I am frustrated and feeling alone in this. My thoughts are all over the place these days with annoyance about church and music. I have wondered when the worship service got hijacked by CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). That was the actual thought that went through my mind. That is the same day I heard Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) had passed away. In honor of this great writer and Christian, I went through some of his blog archives. I found this from 2002:

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodox, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy.

He is saying that what most churches call “worship” now is simply the decisive invasion of the Christian Music Industry into our church services. It is to the point now where so many new Christians have been taught this is the only way worship is done, to change it would cause a riot. When this is the only way “worship” is practiced in church, can you blame people for equating worship with CCM?

Worship is not about us. It is not about music.  It is not about feeling better when it’s over. It is telling God how much we think he is worth. (That’s what the word “worship” means….worth-ship) Now we don’t bother…instead, we tell the band how much they’re worth. Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology. I often wonder who many people are clapping for at the end of “worship songs”.

This is what makes me mad. Worship is not a concert! Hear those words again: Worship is not a concert. It is not even music. You can use music. You can do it at a concert. But you can do it on an airplane, in a tunnel, when all your children and possessions have been taken from you (remember Job) and you don’t have to have ANY MUSIC AT ALL!

You are going to hate me for saying this, but many, many churches don’t have worship services, they have well-constructed, highly entertaining concerts. That’s why they’re spending $18,000 on a projection system, $12,000 on a drum enclosure, $80,000 for a floor that looks and sounds like Starbucks, and Mackie mixers that make P Diddy drool (or whatever his name currently is). The churches that can’t afford this, or who would rather have a children’s pastor, are left behind as the crowds go to hear the next great concert church  that appeared overnight in a School gymnatorium.

They don’t have worship leaders, they have cheerleaders who lead us to believe it is a sin not to clap, to have a bad day, to not know the words to the 200th new song we’ve learned this year and who can make the last syllable of every ballad contain 18 modulated  notes. I am one of those who test pastors for their theological knowledge and so many “worship pastors” haven’t much of a clue about theology.

It is time to eliminate the professional musicians and American Idol audition cast from the front of our churches and let a few people who have mad and deep love for God be up there. People who appreciate that silence is worship too. That bringing an offering or submitting attitudes of greed to our Father is worship. It is time for a few songs we sang 20 years ago to be sung again: Perhaps for two Sundays in a row. Perhaps have a time where people talk to God and listen for his voice…oh, it would have to be quiet enough for that.

I yearn for the day when no one says “that was an awesome time of worship” after the ringing in the ears stops – and people say nothing because they are speechless and repentant in the presence of a Holy God.

And those who do have a love for technology: Get over it. Technology is certainly a valid tool, but when it becomes an end in itself, it is a curse and a distraction. I have ADD…I can’t watch the screen where new lyrics are flashing and concentrate when the stage has already changed colors five times while I’m doing it. Just as preachers and teachers need to learn not to use PowerPoint/EasyWorship so strangely (really? Do we need a Dancing Jesus in the corner of the screen?), so we need to say “less is more” when technology meets worship.

I think it is time to return to the simplicity of the Psalms, where there were both songs of praise and songs of lament. There are songs of triumph and songs of repentance. There are songs of adoration and songs where we deal with the reality of enemies.

And please, please, please, can we not sing a song 11 times through. In fact, can we stop singing occasionally and just be in awe in his presence.

I wrote all of the above and here is my pedigree: I love rock music. I listen to CCM. I go to concerts. I was one of the first pastors anywhere to bring drums into church. But leave the concert in the concert hall. And you can have all your new songs. Give me Jesus…and one or two new songs. And silence.

And anyone who says this is a discussion about hymns vs. choruses is going to be shut in the drum enclosure down the street.

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Relevant is the Easy Part

April 7, 2010

Lately, all I can muster inside is a good rant.

Before writing this, I spent several days cleansing my heart from anger, resentment and any notions of wanting to hurt someone. It was a good exercise and I feel much cleaner. But elements of two separate rants are still buzzing in the brainbox and I have to get them out.This entry is the first one.

I am really angry with church teachers who are striving to be “relevant” when they preach or teach. It’s not exactly that I’m against being relevant – I’ve used that tool for years. But my primary criticism of so many preachers is that being relevant has become the goal instead of a tool.

Every city now has dozens of churches who make some version of the claim, “we are a church for those who don’t like churches“. Fairly soon, churches for people who don’t like churches will be in the majority. What many of these churches mean is that they feel church is out of touch with modern culture and therefore can’t reach that culture unless they preach relevantly. What they fail to realize is how easy that is: Only a moron can fail to be relevant if they want to. Show a movie clip, quote Men’s Health or Spin, play a song from the charts or drop an American Idol reference and you are instantly relevant. If you go the next step and talk about you and the “boys” watching UFC, mention how you and Bono are on the “same page”, or can show a Youtube video very few have seen, you go to the top of the relevant heap.

I am not thinking of any preacher in particular. I really don’t need to. Almost everyone outside of rural North Dakota is trying to be relevant. Last weekend, the Easter services were full of U2, Black-eyed Peas, Biggest Loser, Final Four and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ references. Each church had their “house bands” playing CCM with alacrity and only one out of eight preachers wore a tie. Anyone off the street could come in and instantly feel like they were on a set of TMZ or The View.

None of that is my rant. I used a Zombie movie reference last Sunday and it fit. Here is the bone stuck in my throat: THAT IS NOT THE ONLY TOOL IN YOUR TOOLBOX. In some ways, it is like a drug that once you start using  can suck you in and ironically make you irrelevant from God’s point of view.

Sure, Jesus used contemporary stories (we call them parables), but he actually did that to weed out the true seekers from the wannabes. He also told people to eat  his flesh and drink his blood. He also chased people away. He also prophesied to the crowds and made them very angry. His own family tried to lock him away one time and he had to rebuke his closest followers on numerous occasions.

Try using some of the other rhetorical preaching tools once in awhile and see if 10,000 people still flock to every Easter Service. Here are a few you might want to try sometime.

1. Prophetic: Jesus knew what was in the heart of the Pharisees and called them “blind guides” and “vipers”. When was the last time you used a viper reference? Being prophetic means to speak as if you are speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11). I have listened lately for a preacher to speak to my heart with conviction and God-content. I can count a hundred Youtube videos for every prophetic message.

2. Counter-cultural: The only reason Jesus was so against the religious leaders of the day was that they were setting the cultural tone. He was counter-cultural and spoke against the authors of modern culture. Today, he would have a lot to say about Tiger Woods, three-car garages, whining about the economy (when we still make 2000 times as much money as most of the rest of the world), and secular companies controlling Christian Music. He would have blasted Avatar for its godless plot instead of applauding its amazing CG. He probably would have offered his books for free to all who wanted them…and none of the commitments he called for would have lasted for just 40 days.

3. Biblically-centered, not culturally centered: I don’t mean a person should preach a commentary verse by verse. That is the job of each believer to study the Bible inductively. But the overarching themes of the Bible should be the themes of preaching. For instance,  there is little said about marriage in the Bible overall, but a lot said concerning caring for the poor. Total the current load of marriage seminars on Sunday mornings and compare that to the amount of preaching on living selflessly.

4. Exhortations: When you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, Hollywood is the place to go. If you want to challenge them to live dangerously, live on the edge, live spirit-focused, Hollywood won’t help. Hollywood is too busy ridiculing 40 year-olds who haven’t lost their virginity and lionizing 12-year olds who are following in Suburban Mom’s footsteps and selling dope to their friends. Jesus challenged people to stop crapping all over a woman caught in adultery, and then turned around and preached a short sermon to her: “Go and sin no more”.

5. Evangelism: Stop  “pre-evangelizing” everyone with the hope that somehow the incarnational message will seep in like a topical anaesthetic. “How will they hear unless someone preaches” is from the Bible. Along with being missional, incarnational, relevant and post-modernly accepting, actually tell them what it will be like if they are shut out of God’s Presence forever.

6. Raise the Standard: We often think that people will find God more acceptable if we bring the bar lower for them. Let’s not talk about sin or judgment or consequences, let’s talk about the benefits. Yet Jesus told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. I know he meant we were to receive His righteousness, but that comes through surrender. According to Romans 12:1, the spiritual service of worship is not singing the same song 11 times, but presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. Only when we know a “poverty of spirit” will we really begin to see God.

Rant #1…complete. For now.

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