Monday, August 29, 2016

Are You a Good Worshipper?

            It’s the late sixties, and a mother takes her young daughter to a new church in a new city they’ve recently moved to for Sunday morning worship. But, even though it’s the same denomination the mother has grown up in and—to date—raised her daughter in, this church is different. “Strange” actually, according to the mother. Why does she label it “strange”? Because nowhere in decibel range is the sound of an organ vibrating the walls or a stole-clad choir harmonizing a two-hundred-year-old hymn. Instead, there’s a longhaired guy playing (gasp!) a guitar, playing an unfamiliar song! The service has a more relaxed feel than a high church service. The mother endures the service but beelines out the door and goes straight home afterward. No stopping to meet anyone else, or chatting with the pastor. No enjoying coffee, punch, and cookies in the fellowship hall. And that’s it. They never attend that church, or any other church, on a regular basis again.
            What happened?
            Was this mom right in her assessment of guitar playing being “strange” (and, consequently, just too weird to accept) in a Sunday worship service? Or was she attending church with her own set of prejudices and overarching comforts and “likes” at the forefront of her worship? Her ingrained perceptions and idea of “church”? Her comfort pre-eminent in her decision-making.
            The above recount is true. I was that young girl, and the woman is my mother. Forty-something years later, it’s still the same: congregants arguing about how service should “look”, what songs should be sung, what instruments should be used during worship, what order the service needs to be, who needs to do what, and who’s in charge.
            If you missed last week’s post, I recommend that you head back there to read that one before reading this post, because we’re expounding on what was covered last week. We’re talking about worship and whom it’s meant to be for. Hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to do some of the exercises I suggested at the end of last week’s post, and also had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Steve Ingino’s message on worship (and have a good laugh!).
            But if not, we can still move ahead with some realities to ponder and carry with us this week, and into our worship.

Who—and what—is worship all about, anyway?
            I think maybe my mother forgot the point of worship. Or maybe, like so many church attenders, she never really knew what the point was. Is it social time, to gather with friends and catch up on the week’s activities? Is it weekly entertainment, or a pastor-driven encouragement “group” session?
            When you get right down to it, worship is a culmination of your (and other people’s) response to God’s word—its revelation, the miracle and joy of the Gospel, of the person of Jesus Christ, and the mercy and grace of God. And that means: “the word of God is the fuel for the worship of God.” When we know the word of God—the rich history, the stories, the losses and victories, the drama, the transforming truths—we have a deeper worship bag to reach into for resources.
            And the great news about that is that listening to the word of God, or reading it, is an act of worship itself! So when you’re curled up in your favorite chair, perusing God’s word, digging into the stories and truths, you’re learning more about Him and growing closer to Him. Like Mary in the New Testament, you’re sitting at His feet to learn. You’re worshipping Him by listening to Him. You’re choosing the best, and that pleases Him!

            In the 12th chapter of the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul pleads with the believers to offer their bodies as willing sacrifices to God. When you worship, you really are offering yourself to Him as a sacrifice. You’re thanking Him for accepting you as a sacrifice, and for offering Himself so that you could be praising Him like you are. You’re thanking Him for the gifts and talents with which He has endowed you, and for the means to express them. You’re thanking Him for the hope that resides in your heart.
            While it’s always nice to feel charged up, replenished, and filled by the music or the message, it’s really not what we get out of worship but what God gets out of it that matters. Do we honor Him with what we say, the words we sing, the attitudes of hearts that we bring—and offer—to Him? Worship is about Him being the center of your life, and letting Him know that He is.

What kind of music should be sung?
            This question—and response—has caused raucous fights and church splitting. It is a perfect example of the sarcastic joke: “When Satan fell from heaven, he ended up falling into the choir loft.” Do you prefer modern choruses with repetitive verses, old-time gospel songs, upbeat beats, or slow, tear-jerking dirges that make you feel more holy and serious?

            Before you look down your nose at one method and mentally (and verbally) exalt another, let’s do a little reality check.
            When the Apostle Paul refers to singing psalms and hymns, he’s referring to those used and written in the Old Testament. Songs, poems, and praises used in Judaism for thousands of years. Songs written by David and other Psalmists. Songs written and sung by Moses and Miriam.
            A quick flip in your Bible to the last Psalm (150) gives us an overview of praising the Lord. It tells us to:
            Praise God in both the organizational building and in earth–inside and outside;
            Praise God for His mighty acts;
            Praise Him for His excellent greatness (for who He is);
            Praise Him with:
                        trumpet sounds
                        stringed instruments
                        loud cymbals (see that loud part!?)
                        clashing cymbals (more loud)

            Sounds like the combination of an orchestra and a brass band! Lots of noise, to be sure. And dancing!! Oh, my, how could we ever do dancing in worship!? (For years many denominations didn’t allow their members to dance, let alone consider doing it in their churches.)
            To be sure, as Dr. Ingino says, “Christianity is a singing faith,” as is the Jewish faith it’s built upon. (Attend worship in a Jewish synagogue to hear the cantor sing Scripture. It’ll give you goose bumps!)
            And the most frequently mentioned instrument for praise use in the Bible is the lyre, which is a stringed instrument that sounds like a guitar! Uh, oh. Psalms are to be sung with the plucking sound of a stringed instrument. Isn’t that some kind of heresy??? Yet, as Steve Ingino points out, “We get so hung up on what instrument is used that we miss true worship.”
            Many would read this instrument (and action) list and find it irreverent, or blasphemous. They’d argue vehemently against the guitars, the dancing, the tambourines. One of the liveliest worship services I’ve ever witnessed was at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco. The small band was composed of professional musicians who knew how to toot trumpets, slide trombones, and swing saxes. The keyboardist was rocking his keyboard stand, and the guy signing the worship songs practically put on his own show of exuberant worship! While I wouldn’t support this church’s theology, these people knew how to praise, and they didn’t hold back!
            And then there was another praise and worship event I witnessed. I remember vividly back to a day on my Midwest college campus, either late spring or early summer, when the weather was perfect and the mood relaxed. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was trudging solitarily across the Memorial Mall, on my way somewhere. As I passed the library, a group of young men and women caught my attention. They were seated in a large circle on the grass, enjoying lively conversation. Then they stood in unison and joined hands as one of them lifted a tambourine to play. As the instrumentalist expertly rattled and tapped the tambourine, the circle moved clockwise and then retraced their steps in a beautifully orchestrated rhythm and choreography. They swayed and, with hands clasped, lifted their arms high in unison. They drew together in a tight bunch and then enlarged their circle again.
            I was mesmerized. If I closed my eyes and imagined, they could have been Miriam, Moses, and the Israelites extolling God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea. They were clearly Jewish, (some of their clothing revealed their faith), and lavish and happy in their praises of the Almighty. And I was envious. Oh, how my heart and body longed to worship with them, to at least know how to worship like them.
            And now I do know. And the more I know about the Lord, the more songs I sing, with gusto. The more reasons I have to sing! Sunday worship seems like a little taste of heaven to me—the gathering together of other believers at the throne of God. All of us bringing our individual joys and concerns before Him, our individual praises—raised as one collective voice! My kids always roll their eyes at me when I do it, (and when I required them to suffer me when they were young and go along, too), but I nearly always attend worship whenever I am traveling or vacationing. I love to see how the other churches worship in their communities; I love that little taste of heaven I’m fed when I gather with other Christians and feel the shared faith and hope that permeates our hearts, that draws us together before the Lord. That makes us one, together, in His body. I LOVE feeling as though I belong and am at home, even though I might be a thousand miles removed from my “home” town. I imagine what it will be like when we gather en masse in Heaven to worship before Him. I wonder how many of them I’ll run into in Heaven. Just the thought of it makes me sing! And I smile at the vision of David dancing before the Lord, banging on his tambourine, (just as he did before the Ark of the Covenant), leading a mighty choir of angels and the rest of us in vocal tribute to God.

            There is just one final point to consider, whether it is following a time of worship, your daily devotion time, a time of fellowship with friends, or following a Sunday morning worship service. Instead of asking, “Was it a good worship service today?” ask, “Was I a good worshipper today? Did I honor God with my heart, my songs, and my prayers? Was I pleasing to Him? Did He delight in my worship of Him?”
            I hope your heart can answer a jubilant “Yes!”

Take-away points (nice reminders when you’re preparing for—and in—worship):

1. Worship is for God. It’s all about Him.

2. Knowing God’s word fuels your worship of Him! If that’s true, then logic tells us that if we want to have deeper worship experiences then we need to spend more time in God’s word. Make time for that precious word and watch your worship expand and deepen!

3. Thank God for all of the ways He’s given us to worship Him. Ask Him to open your heart to styles and approaches that are pleasing to Him, not preferential to you. Can you really imagine yourself angrily crossing your arms across your chest, scowling and pouting because drums, tambourines, and a lyre were being played during a praise time in Heaven!? Just because you prefer a robed choir? Conjures up a silly, embarrassing picture, doesn’t it?

Who is worship about, and for, anyway?

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.

It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,

Nourishment of mind by His truth,

Purifying of imagination by His beauty,

Opening of the heart to His love,

And submission of will to his purpose.

And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”

And I would add, enabled by our faith in Him from His grace to us by His Spirit of truth because of His love for us seen in His Son Jesus Christ.
                                                                    William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944


The second Monday in September we’ll be returning to our study of peace!

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

And may your heart overflow with worship!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google

Monday, August 22, 2016

What (and Who) Do You Worship?

            A throng of red and white-clothed spectators surge along the avenue toward the oval stadium looming proudly in the distance. Chugging alabaster clouds scatter intermittent shadows on the collegiate landscape below as a crisp breeze scatters red, gold, and burnished bronze leaves. A mound of leaves heaped on a grassy slope is too much for one supercharged sojourner to leave undisturbed. He discharges himself from his pacific group of friends, sprints up the slope, hurls his body airborne, and pounces in the middle of the lazy leaves. They scatter across the withering grass as leaf dust swirls through the air and triggers sneezes from the offending leaf stomper. His invigorated friends hoot and holler and pump their fists in the air. They’ll do a lot of hooting and hollering and fist pumping—and probably ear piercing name-calling—in the next four to six hours. An excessive amount of it if they’ve indulged in a pre-event warm-up celebration.
            Additional spectators join the push from intersecting arrival points and swell the ranks. A cool snap in the air hastens them forward. The crowd’s energy increases as it nears the granite memorial arch and arena, hears the brass notes and thumping percussion rhythm of the beloved fight song; as they smell the sweat dripping from their gladiators’ brows. They hasten to locate designated seats and get a first glance at their favored red and white uniformed contestants warming up on the field below. The air is charged with expectation and energy.

            Make no mistake about it, these fanatics are worshiping! Some wear the matching uniforms and numbers of their favorite gladiators. Others are festooned in costumes they wouldn’t be caught dead in on a normal day. Still others boast flamboyant body paint that makes them unrecognizable to their peers. These fans will roar when their players erupt from a special entrance tunnel onto the playing field between blazing fireworks, jeer when the opposing gladiators enter the arena, shriek with joy when one of their gladiators drills an opponent into the unforgiving turf, cavort unabashedly to familiar (and highly orchestrated and frequently practiced) band accompaniment, and even weep and wail when their virile squad of men come up short in victory. (If you’ve never seen the University of Wisconsin football fans shake their keys, do the wave, jump around, or polka to the “Bud” song, you haven’t really lived!)

            Sound anything like a Roman arena’s matchup of bone shattering, blood-letting gladiators? It’s actually a more modern, civilized version of the Roman sporting event. Go to nearly any university in the United States on almost any fall Saturday, and you’ll find this scenario played out. It’s college game day! And for hours fans will prepare for the game, drive, bus, or walk to the stadium, enjoy a little (or a lot of) pre-game socializing, sit for four to six hours on a hard bleacher seat to cheer on their team, and then maybe enjoy a post-game wrap-up engagement. Some college kids will devote more time to attending these events and living vicariously through their favored fighters than they’ll spend in classrooms and on studying.
            Sound like fun? Oh, it is. It can be exhilarating. And if you want to ramp it up a few more notches, you can get addicted to the professional gladiators—the ones good enough to make it to the “big leagues” after they battled on a college field. The ones who now assemble to clash on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

            But what does any of this have to do with faith and religious life? I could go many directions here, but I’ll focus on the biggest one: Worship. Yes, worship. These fans (fanatics) are worshiping. As our pastor Dr. Steve Ingino points out, all of us were created to worship, so we’re going to worship something. And these fans are worshiping their team and individual players. Some of them are devoted to it; their identity is wrapped in it.
            Maybe your sport isn’t football, but soccer, or rugby, or some other cherished team sport. It all seems kinds of innocent, until you think about how much time you spend in this kind of worship, compared to the amount of time you spend worshiping the One who is actually worthy of receiving this kind of orchestrated praise. Or maybe it’s a hobby you spend time “worshipping.”

A Matter of Time, and Energy

            How much time do you devote or set aside to praising the Creator? An hour? Hour and a half? Sundays only? Maybe Saturday nights? Are you a sold-out fan, or are you a watch-glancer, thinking about your grumbling stomach and where you’ll enjoy lunch. Are you an engaged participator or a bored, detached observer? Do you stay up so late Saturday night that you can’t get out of bed Sunday morning to worship, or go to church and yawn through the service? How much energy do you put into your worship, into allotting time to sing and extol His majesty?


Better, More Satisfying Worship

Here are some things you can do to find out just how much time you’re spending on worship:

1. Keep a notebook and log the number of minutes a day you spend devoted to worshiping the Lord. Do you spend 5 minutes daily on a devotional? That would add up to 35 minutes, if you include a Sunday devotion time.

2. Note what you usually spend your time on during your devotion or worship time—studying God’s word, praying, rejoicing, etc.

3. Note how you pray and worship. When you pray, do you launch right into your own, or others’ prayers requests, or do you follow the prayer template Jesus gave His disciples? What has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer” starts with: “Our Father, which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
            What is noteworthy in this template is that praying begins with recognition of who God is and where He “resides” and then moves into a declaration of how holy His name is to us. Then it goes into the recognition of His will being the overriding priority in our lives and in the universe.
            It’s the mindset we need to have for prayer and worship. While in our desperation, we sometimes omit that and simply get to “Lord, save me!” most of the time we are in a position to get the priorities lined up and focused on.

Where do you need “improvement”?

1. If you’re short on your worship time, look at your schedule and habits to see what you might be able to eliminate or change in your schedule in order to devote more time to praising and worshiping Him.

2. If it’s an energy issue, look at your schedule to see how you can better schedule your time so your energies can be full and focused on worshiping.

3. Ask God to make you sensitive to activities, and others, that draw you away from worship and cause you to compromise that special time with Him.

4. Then take baby steps to improve your worship. I know you’ll be happy you did!

If you’d like to hear a great sermon on the topic of worship, you’ll want to hear Dr. Steve Ingino’s convicting and sometimes hilarious sermon on this subject. Go to this link and listen to the August 14 sermon. If you’re at all familiar with sporting events, you’ll enjoy his brilliant paradoxical metaphor.

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google

Monday, August 15, 2016

Being a Savvy Messenger: Do You Know the Deadly Questions?

            When you’re having a debate with someone about something, it is always dangerous to assume that when one of you uses a distinctive term that you and the other person, (with whom you are having an argument or heavy discussion), automatically have and agree to the same definition for that term. The other person’s meaning may be light years away from yours. Why is it important? Because the old adage says that he who defines the terms wins the argument is true. When you’re having a discussion with someone about something, particularly heavy, like God and faith, it is even more critical (while you’re being careful to be patient, kind, loving, and respectful) to get the other person to zero in on exactly why they believe what they’re proclaiming as truth, and whether or not they even know what defines their beliefs.

            Andrew Heister, Jeff Myers, and Mark Cahill have been using what they call “The Four Deadly Questions” in their work at Summit Ministry. I received a handy bookmark version of them years ago at a home school convention where Jeff Myers was speaking. Not only do they challenge me to narrow down why I believe what I believe, and present my faith in a lively discussion format, they challenge the other person to really be more analytical (and honest) in their thinking and information processing, and ponder more intensely what they’ve always considered to be “facts.”

            In a nutshell, these questions squash lazy thinking. They’re called “deadly” because they can quickly zero in on the important issue and torpedo someone’s faulty thinking and assumptions. Learning and practicing them will help you be a better, more thoughtful messenger. (You can read last week’s post on the importance of being the best messenger you can be with a tough message).
            So let’s get into these “deadly” questions.

Number 1: What do you mean by that?

The true weakness of an argument lies in the fuzzy definition of terms used by people. When someone makes a “truth” claim, ask him what he means by that statement. It may be that he’s just heard it uttered by another person and have decided that it “sounds” right, or he isn’t being completely honest and doesn’t really want to come clean on or admit to the facts.

Number 2: How do you know that is true?

Actually, as Heister, Meyers, and Cahill say, “most people believe things for which they have absolutely no evidence.” They don’t know the source, they don’t know the facts, and they’ve taken what someone else has said for truth. (Can anyone say “political hyperbole and spin”?) A person who holds strong, confident convictions will be bold in her explanations of her beliefs. While she’s explaining those beliefs, you might come to realize that her “facts” are based more on mere feelings, hopes, dreams, skewed biases, and convoluted logic than on real facts. This question should open up a great discussion.

Number 3: Where do you get your information?

If someone makes a “radical” claim, it is important to question him about his source. Think like an investigative journalist or researcher. Is his belief based on first source information, hearsay, opinions, political dogma, pillowy or abstract philosophy, or …? After some wrestling together with this question for a little while, you’ll eventually get to the basic foundations of the person’s belief and will be able to better define the terms. That’s helpful for both of you.

Number 4: What happens if you’re wrong?

Bingo!! That’s something most people never consider. They never ask themselves: What if I’m wrong? It’s one thing to believe something and quite another to stake your life on it, like Jesus’ disciples did. Can you imagine them dying like they did for something they knew was a lie and awful hoax? Really!? Would you honestly go to the head chopping block, be crucified upside down, be stoned to death, or sacrificially climb into a vat of boiling oil for something you knew wasn’t true!? You might die for something you believe to be true (and many people around the world do that); but you would hardly willingly die for a known lie.

If we’re honest, it is a question many people of deep faith ask themselves, more than once in their faith journey: What if all of this is just a hoax? The Apostle Paul says that if it is, Christians are to be the most pitied of people. But remember, what is the loss if you believe, and you are wrong? Honestly, not much.
But if you don’t believe and are wrong, what do you stand to lose? The answer to that is: A lot! Unless you don’t think eternal life is everything, in which case I guess it depends on your view of “eternal life.” If you know what Jesus said about it, it’s enormous. It’s EVERYTHING! And that’s another reason it’s important for everyone to know just what He had to say about eternal life. (And the description is not us being turned into a bunch of winged angels, sitting on clouds strumming harps. People don’t become angels. God already created a bunch of those types of beings.) That’s why it’s important for us to boldly violate the “rule” of not discussing religion, and going forth with a prompt on discovering and revealing someone’s faith. 

The bottom line is the most important questions in life are:
            1. “Where do you go when you die?
            2. “What happens if you are wrong?”

And the ultimate question is: “Who do you say Jesus is?”

           How would you answer those questions, and help someone else answer them?
            Are you a savvy messenger?


Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google