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What is worship? – Part 4

November 30, 2015 Leave a comment

The very idea of worship begins and ends with relationship with God. Our God has shown us that His revelation of Himself to us is for the sole purpose of relationship. He needs nothing. He needs no one. But He has proven His desire to make Himself known to us, even to dwell among us.

Because of the clear gap between us–He is God and we aren’t–the principle means by which we can engage this relationship is called worship. We come to Him in full acknowledgment of His superiority, His righteousness, His sovereignty, and His absolute right to have His way with all that He has made. Such an approaching posture is what worship is all about. As His Creation, our obvious response is to bring our lives to Him seeking His desire and purpose. Nothing else makes sense.

So what does this pursuit of relationship with Him look like from our side? The dominant answer would have to be obedience. He is God and we seek to connect with Him by chasing His desires and pursing His purpose. In no other way can we do that except through obedience.

He didn’t leave us to figure that out on our own. Repeatedly, Scripture underscores the idea that obedience is the evidence of our love for Him. Examples dot the Bible of those who claimed to know Him but failed to obey Him, thus proving their “worship” was more about them than Him.

Where does obedience “fit” in the worship expressions of the local church? It seems we’re a bit more focused on expression than obedience. Sure, we give a moral nod to the priority of obedience, but how does that show up in how we lead others in worship? If we asked the average congregant to define worship, how many do you suppose would start with musical expressions? In recent interviews with pastors, even their view of worship was dominated by Sunday morning singing.

Real worship has a Monday-Saturday quality to it. Real worship greets each new day with a desire to be pleasing to God–not so we can earn His favor, but because we already have it. Real worship wants to live every moment as a “thank you” to the God who comes near, as an evidence of the supernatural connection we share, as proof that we really know Him.

Sadly, many modern Christians have become casual in their view of God and careless in how they live before Him. That’s hard to imagine when Jesus said so clearly, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” How often is God the heartbroken spouse to a Church that only pays attention to Him a few hours each week?

Maybe Sundays should be deeper rather than louder. I don’t mean deeper in complex knowledge so only a few can engage, but deeper in personal reflection and life-altering reflection. Maybe we should turn the lights back on so we can see one another wrestling with our selfishnesses and struggling to become what God offers us to be. Maybe times of worship expression should be less about great feelings and more about sacrificing our self-will on His altar.

Expression over obedience is the unfortunate hallmark of modern worship. That’s the way man has always preferred. Still, the One who makes the rules has a different view, so how can we bring obedience back into our worship. This is the challenge for the modern worship leader. Only when obedience undergirds expression will we truly engage Him in Spirit and truth.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 272

November 28, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).

The idea of calling for the work of ministry remains a bit confusing, even after all of these centuries to ponder it. All are called and gifted for works of ministry. There’s little doubt of the priesthood of all believers. And yet, there is also evidence of a distinct and more limited calling that typically results in a vocational path of ministry. Affirming one, at times, seems to diminish the other, but these must learn to cohabitate when we think of the massive ministry assignment before us. Here, Jesus affirms a purposeful selection of these disciples for a unique work assignment. Yes, we are all called to fulfill their same Commission, and we could argue that this task would have even been extended beyond Jesus’ small circle then as well. But these were chosen, called out, appointed for an apostolic mission. They were chosen to receive this once in human history revelation of God in the flesh. And bear fruit, they must. This was their hour–and it also happened to be humanity’s hour as well.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

What is worship? – Part 3

November 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Having looked at both the Old Testament and New Testament priorities in man’s worship of God, we’re now ready to start asking the modern question: How are these same priorities reflected in our worship?

  1. Relationship with (obedience to) God
  2. Relationship with one another
  3. Rest
  4. Giving and serving
  5. Remembering and praising

As we have previously noted, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on Sunday morning music and presentation in our current definition of worship. Powerful musical displays approach concert levels in some venues while others wrestle with congregational preferences as they maintain the expressions of previous generations while peppering their efforts with more current approaches.

The so-called “worship wars” may reveal our limited perspective of worship. After all, if our greatest question in worship concerns what we sing, we may not really understand the nature of worship at all.

When looking at the biblical foci of worship, it seems that musical and verbal expressions have a more narrow seat at the table. Yes, there has been and always should be celebrations of praise and proclamations of God’s greatness, but the biblical approach seems more concerned with relationships than with words. We love God by obedience and by loving one another, by demonstrating dependence on Him and giving of what we have to serve the needs of others. That hardly sounds like the consumer worship we tend to cater to.

Real worship would be about Him and not about us, our comfort levels and preferences. In the biblical model worship isn’t performed for us, but instead demands something of us. Frankly, an approach to worship that thrills and appeals to our lust for good feelings sounds more like what Israel was doing around that golden calf than anything they were ever to do near the Tabernacle.

We must always remember that since it is God we are worshipping, His preferences and directives dictate our actions, not ours.

In our next blog, we’ll begin to look more closely at the five priorities of worship, in search of ways we can bring this same focus to our worship.

Stay tuned…

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 271

November 20, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

What is the standard for gaining such a title–a friend of Jesus? Here, Jesus calls His disciples His friends because He hasn’t held anything back. He has given them every bit of the revelation the Father has sent Him to give. He has told them the truth–the full truth–though they have certainly struggled to understand it. This is the nature of friendship with God, that He would reveal His heart and His plans to those who will listen and obey. To those who harden their hearts, no such connection is available, but those who will truly draw close to God will find Him ready to come close as well. If God is not your friend, perhaps that disconnect resides in your preference for some other path.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 270

November 18, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).

Obedience and love are made equivalent with these simple words. We love Christ when we obey Him. Now, some would borrow from a parental metaphor in making this point, i.e. if you love your parents, you’ll obey them. It’s not a bad idea and certainly offers some portion of truth, but Jesus’ idea conveys a bit more. You see, obedience is an expression of faith. Obedience isn’t simply an adherence to His life list. We obey regardless of our level of understanding. When we can grasp the moment and connect the dots to Christ’s chosen action, we obey. When we don’t know what is happening, why it is happening, and what will come next, we obey. Obedience is the choice regardless of our level of knowledge or grasp of His plan. We simply obey. It’s the life of faith–the only kind of life that pleases God. So much of life is made of moments we don’t understand. What do we do then? We obey! That’s what loving Jesus looks like.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

What is Worship? – Part 2

November 16, 2015 Leave a comment

In the previous installment of this blog series, we introduced a challenging question for modern Christians…what is worship? It seems that many of us are raising this question amidst the seeming performance-priority arising in the contemporary Church. When we use the word worship, is it healthy that our first thoughts focus on a Sunday morning music set?

We began with a look at the Old Testament and the foci of worship God himself established for His people:

In the end, Old Testament worship targeted five focal points:

  1. Relationship with (obedience to) God
  2. Relationship with one another
  3. Rest
  4. Giving and serving
  5. Remembering and praising

Now, we have already agreed that the zoo noises are no longer necessary. Animal sacrifices were made obsolete by Christ’s perfect sacrifice and the feasts are fascinating to us, but hardly a part of our personal practice. But who would argue that these purposes are no longer valid?

The Early Church wouldn’t make such a case. When we see them in action, it seems there is plenty of evidence that these same ideas guide their approaches to God. Take a look:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Once can make the case that while methods changed, their understanding of worship remained this “whole life” idea. You still see relationship with God and one another at the top of their lists. You still see giving and serving alongside remembering and praising. And while this particular paragraph doesn’t underscore rest or Sabbath, there’s still plenty of evidence that they were completely dependent on God.

So the point? Same list! Worship on both sides of the testamental divide centered on:

  1. Relationship with (obedience to) God
  2. Relationship with one another
  3. Rest
  4. Giving and serving
  5. Remembering and praising

Is that enough evidence to allow these priorities to rewrite our focus? Can we make a case that each of these are in our thinking and our practice when we shape our practices of worship? Those are the questions that we’ll begin to tackle on our next blog.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 269

November 13, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

There it is…the ultimate definition of love. Jesus has just commanded His disciples (and us) to love one another. Now, He adds the premium tag, explaining that there’s no greater way to demonstrate this than an act of self-sacrifice. Yes, Jesus will show this kind of love in His sacrifice for all of us, but the context suggests that He isn’t speaking of His death, but of their lives. How will you live? Will you put the needs and hopes of your friends ahead of your own? This is love. Throughout human history, such sacrifice is always admired, applauded, and revered. We are amazed at the soldier, the protector, or the dad who stands between his family and danger. We see human greatness in the heroic willingness to risk everything for the needs of others. In our individualistic and self-focused culture, this is what is means to truly live…and to love.

Categories: Leadership Journeys