The Spiritual Discipline of Worship

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23

You and I were made to worship… Chris Tomlin, Made to Worship

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The act of worship centers all of the other spiritual disciplines. Worship is the connection of spirit to Spirit, ours to Him. Many Christians will not immediately identify worship in the family of spiritual disciplines because it lacks an ascetic dimension but this narrow thinking constrains our growth. True worship that brings us into the presence of the God of the universe, to know His immediate glory and holiness and to fear it to our core is anything but a trifling pursuit. To enter the Shekinah demands everything we have to give spiritually and physically; it is not something to be engaged casually. All of the spiritual disciplines have as their objective the strengthening of spiritual muscles that give us the endurance, strength, and character necessary to approach the throne and offer our worship.

God seeks worshippers. He entered the Garden to seek out Adam and Eve. Through Christ and the horror of the crucifixion He draws men and women to Himself (Jn 12:32). Worship is our response to God’s loving advances. Scripture is filled with the stories of those who have fallen to the ground in the presence and reality of the ultimate Love. Human history mirrors this trend. We were made to worship and the trajectory of life is altered permanently when the truth of this characteristic becomes our reality. Worship becomes both the most natural and most challenging of the disciplines.

Our practice of worship must be clear in its objectives and dismissive of peripherals. The first burden to rid ourselves of is the concern for method. There is no single correct form of worship. High, low, liturgical, or free are all valid forms of worship as long as the object of our practice is God alone and our objective is to have His spirit touch our spirit. Anything less is empty and void and is not worship. We are tempted to say that we have worship when we have mouthed a praise chorus or sat through a sermon or greeted those around us or even simply appeared for the scheduled service but worship demands more. It demands commitment, preparation, and engagement.

Worship ends in obedience. Devoting time and effort to seek and enter the presence of God changes us. We are exposed to the same raw glory that caused Isaiah to proclaim his ruin we will know what it is have the burning coals of holiness touched to our hearts. The boundless love of God becomes more and more real in our lives and it affects all that we are and all that we do. Worship, true worship, changes us irreversibly.

 

Grace and peace to you…

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You, Theologian : Where We Begin

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As we accept our call to be theologians, the next logical question is to ask what that means. Many in the Christian community will default to the image of the sequestered scholar, surrounded by mountains of books and poring over the scattered papers piled before him. Theology, in this narrow view, is a field with high barriers to entry, only to be approached by a select few while the rest of us wait to receive their wisdom. Nonsense. This stereotype is not only damaging to the faith, it is flat out wrong. Go look in a mirror Christian. There is a theologian. Regardless of background, social group, education, or denomination even, you and I are called to be theologians and our theology is formed in two ways. One is by our experience of being a Christian. This is known as our embedded theology.

Our first order theology comes from the Christian environment that surrounds us. This environment, usually our church and this immediate community, usually drives what we believe about our faith. Since every church believes itself to be living by Christian principles, the initial framework of how we think about faith is organized on a similar framework to that which guides our church. The practices, stated doctrine, and general atmosphere give us some idea of what it means to be a Christian. We trust that those who developed the doctrines and traditions knew what they were doing and this confidence tells us we can accept these things without too much worry.

This is as far as many believers will ever go. If our church teaches it, regardless of the initial reasons, it’s good enough for us. Embedded theology works well for a while but some cracks in the firmness of the foundation begin to show when it is challenged. The first challenge often arrives in the form of a comparison between our church and our neighbor’s church. We may worship within a tradition that has a dry tradition toward alcohol and so we live as teetotalers. One fine summer day our neighbor Ed invites us over for a barbecue. Ed and his family are Christians who go to a different church but we still look forward to some fine fellowship. Knocking on the door brings Ed quickly to answer it, swinging the door wide with the hand that isn’t gripping his beer. Beer! Your embedded theology sends a message to your brain: smile, but watch this guy carefully since you know that no Christians use alcohol.

The barbecue is fine and later, as you nurse your third cola, you get a chance to talk to Ed alone. “Say Ed,” you say. “I noticed you drink beer.”

“Yep, I have a couple now and then. Why?”

You don’t want to lecture (but secretly you do) so you put a big smile on your face and say “Well, my pastor speaks against alcohol at least once every couple of months. I was just wondering how often yours does.”

“I’ve only heard him talk about it once.” Ed replies and takes the last sip of his beverage. “He taught us that the Bible talks about drunkenness but doesn’t say we must not drink alcohol. Didn’t Jesus drink wine?”

So it seems that some Christians do drink alcohol. How can the Bible teach both things? We trust our embedded ideas but often find them quickly challenged.

Second order challenges are much more difficult for this type of theological thinking. Imagine the family of the child who wandered away at the beach and got too close to the surf. She was swept out of reach of her searching parents and they lost her. How will the shallow theology of our community answer this tragedy. Why did God take the child? Were the parents secret sinners who were being punished? Was the child herself punished? Embedded theology is usually to fragile to deal with something like effectively. To come to grips with a loss like this requires a depth in the answers. It requires an intentional approach to theological questions. It requires that we practice deliberative theology.

Deliberative theology begins work right where we are by setting forth to reflect upon our embedded convictions. We question the beliefs that we have taken for granted and seek to place them among the spectrum of Christian belief on a subject. The deliberative approach looks into the various positions and seeks to understand that which is most satisfactory. Sometimes this is easier said than done since seeking answers outside of our narrow understanding can lead to challenges that we would rather not face. Beloved traditions and beliefs can be toppled in an instant and many will retreat to the shallow end of the pool when this threat becomes too real.

Sadly, we discover our need for a more intentional approach to theological thinking when the deeper tragedies of life occur. Our embedded beliefs prove unsatisfactory to answer the questions we have and we embark on a quest to understand. When we are prepared to set aside simply believing what we are told to believe and to make the effort to understand why we believe what we believe, we finally grow and mature as Christians. We see God as more than just Daddy. We seek out a deeper knowledge of His revealed nature and character. The result is a more satisfying faith and a more complete worship. We are living out our calling.

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Getting In Shape for Worship

Much of what passes for worship these days has drifted far from its biblical definition. In the minds of many, worship is the praise-singing portion of a church service and nothing more. It gets compartmentalized into a small part of life and becomes a checklist item… read my bible (check!), said grace at dinner (check!), sang a praise chorus at church (check!). This segmentation extends to the whole of our faith. Rather than faith permeating our life and all things passing through that filter, Christianity becomes simply a part of who we are.

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Modern worship has become I shaped. It is still pointed at God but notice how narrow it has become. It is just a portion of our life, perhaps as little as twenty minutes on Sunday morning. We have allowed worship to become associated solely with the praise choruses of the worship. Many of these contribute to our weak worship as they encourage us to express our singular love for the Lord without expressing the magnitude of his being, his creation or his acts. Segmentation also allows for worship to be put aside as the band lays down their instruments. We fail to make it a part of everything in life.

image When we decide to get in shape for worshipping God, the first improvements we see are that our worship life begins to look more like an upside-down T. Our worship is focused on our love for God but maturity helps us to see that it is a lifestyle. Being a Christian defines who we are rather than being one of many attributes. We have been reborn and given the Holy Ghost to dwell within and guide all we do. Worship is reflected in right thought and right action as we take all things captive to the will of God. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in Romans 12:1-2 in which he preaches that our (whole) lives should be an act of worship.

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We can declare ourselves in shape for worship when we can see the capital I taking root. In addition to expressing worship through all aspects of our life, our worship of God is told through all available channels. We see the musical, prayer, and teaching events of Sunday service as a part of worship in which our hearts and minds are stretched by the glory of all of God’s acts laid out before us. We express awe as the psalmist did and though the seas were not parted for us, we can look to equally momentous changes in our new birth. We are unsatisfied with prom songs for our friend God and we demand depth; we are convinced that All Is Well with our souls despite the crashing waves, that the grace we know truly is amazing. Prayer encompasses the entire body and not just our own wants and desires. The words of the pastor build muscle and strengthen us in areas that we may not have even seen the weakness.

We cannot afford to continue allowing worship to atrophy, even if our intentions in restraining it seem to be good (such as seeker sensitivity.) Whether we face joy or cataclysm, our first attitude should be that of a worshipper. Remember, others are watching.

Fear of the Church Calendar

imageWhile many liturgical churches retain the celebration of the various seasons of the historical church calendar, it seems to have lost favor among much of the modern Church. Christmas and Easter are certainly recognized but the preceding weeks of Advent and Lent have fallen from the consciousness of churchgoers and worship leaders. When was the last time your church celebrated Pentecost? The loss of the calendar for our worship serves to ultimately weaken our worship and worse, it allows the events of the world to dictate our schedules.

The idea behind the calendar of church life comes from God in creation. In six days he marked each new aspect of creation and then rested on the seventh showing us the pattern for different times of life having their own purposes. In the Old Testament the Jewish year revolved around three feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).

“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.- Exodus 23:14

Christians soon added Easter and the Christmas celebration to the calendar along with the seasons of piety (Lent and Advent) that preceded them. More milestones were added during the passing of year creating what are known as ‘seasons’ within the liturgy. These seasons served a specific purpose that is needed more than ever in our modern worship and that was/is to remind Christians over and over of the major events of God’s story. Be recognizing the period of the calendar in which we live and share life together we gain a greater sense of our place alongside all of the saints who have preceded us in history and those things we all share in common.

Birth of the Savior ~ Christmas

Rebirth and Second Coming of the Savior ~ Advent

Death of the Savior ~ Lent & Holy Week

Resurrection of the Savior ~ Easter

Coming of the Holy Spirit ~ Pentecost

Christians that recognize their own calendar separate themselves from the time keeping of the world. The calendar reminds us that God remains in charge of time and that everything occurs according to His schedule. When we recognize the seasons of worship that we pass through we begin to see and recognize the false idols of the world that attempt to infiltrate our lives for their own selfish purpose. No longer will we be susceptible to the Christmas decorations that begin to appear at the mall before All Saints Day in an attempt to purge our wallets of treasure. We will trust in God to bring the season as He deems appropriate.

Since the Reformation, there have been repeated movements to rid the Protestant church of anything that appears to Roman in its structure and the liturgy and calendar have been victims of these purges. Worship leaders and pastors especially should consider carefully what has risen to replace them in leading of God’s people. We have no reason to fear the calendar and every reason to restore it to its proper place within God’s Church. Pray on it…

[Originally published at Worship Craft]

Does God Laugh at Our Worship?

This announcement popped up at an institution I serve and as I started to let it just slide by, it occurred to me that perhaps God didn’t find our humor so funny.

MaryMass

Putting theology aside for a moment, does the mother of our Lord deserve a bit more respect? Are we guilty of treating worship too casually? Maybe it’s just me. What do you think?

THE Church in the City

Today, Church in the City in Denver dedicates the restored synagogue that will become its new home, a block away from the old Safeway store that has been its home for many years. Here is an article in the Denver Post about the move. This is my favorite church in the our area. It is the most ethnically diverse congregation we have. Lead by Pastor Michael, the church is also the home to Raleigh Washington, a prime mover in racial reconciliation and the Promise Keepers movements.

Glory to God on this great day for the church. The Temple is Ready! My prayers for blessings on the event and I hope you will add yours too.

The Church in the City

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The Church Coffee Shop Redux

coffeecup In a previous post, I voiced dislike for the friction created by the church coffee shop that tended to snag folks on the way into worship. It caused not to be fully present to worship, distracted as they were by coffee, chat, and momentary community. Meanwhile, little thought was given to the disruption of these brothers and sisters filtering in during times of praise and prayer, sidling into rows and breaking any focus that earlier arriving worshippers were enjoying.

Perhaps there is a via media that can work. Much like a ball park in the seventh inning, a local church that emphasizes worship closes the cafe ten minutes prior to every service as a way of encouraging worshippers to move inside of the sanctuary and to prepare themselves for a move of the Spirit. Caffeinated no less!

Priorities…

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Volume != Passion

image In the February 2009 issue of Christianity Today, John Stackhouse has a penetrating piece on the trend toward louder worship bands in the church. (You can read the text on his blog by going here.) The core premise of his essay is that we have lost the intent of the musicians in the church. They are to accompany the praise of the congregation, supporting our voices with rhythm, melody, and key as we lift our hearts in song to our Father who we came to worship. The trend has gone in the other direction however. The praise band have become performers in many cases who feel that they must then project their music onto us as though we were attending a concert.

Though no worship band has yet to reach Motorhead-at-the-Warfield sound pressures, the volume in some cases has become annoyingly loud. Besides the physical discomfort of poorly mixed loudness, the volume has an effect that many worship leaders have failed to note. When you cannot hear your voice or those near you, the tendency is to not sing or to sing quietly. Look around you this week if your church uses a high volume praise band and make note of the number of people not singing but instead, simply watching the ‘performers.’ An important part of singing in worship is not often discussed; you are often singing for the benefit of others around you. When a person is unable to raise their own voice in praise due to their pain, suffering, depression, etc. many times it is the sound of your voice that lifts them up and gives them hope. When drowned out by the sound of crash cymbals, an opportunity for love can be lost.

Has your praise group become performers? Has the worship service become so choreographed and scheduled to the second that there is no room for the Spirit to work? When I think back to churches I have visited in which there was a lone pianist who played the melody and God was serenaded by the majority of people in the room and contrast it with some of the production oriented services I have been too, I come to conclusion that the pendulum has swung too far to one side and perhaps it is time for the arc to begin to come back in the other direction. Worship leaders, can you hear us?

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