Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Thoughts on Worship

Part III

For many years I have maintained that heartfelt worship begins within the believer and has far more to do with the condition of the heart than the style and order of the worship service. In Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel, the authors make a strong plea that worship is not based on the state of the art but rather the condition of the heart.[1] The state of the art refers to the outward demonstration of worship as experienced through music and other forms of artistic expression. Beyond the artistic expression, there is a direct correlation between the desire to worship and the spiritual prowess of the worshipper. In order not to address only the form of worship and to encourage parishioners to recognize their role in worship, I began to formulate a comprehensive plan that would allow our congregation to understand their need to worship God privately and their responsibility in corporate worship.

As I examine all the different styles of worship and plans for implementing the newest and greatest gadgets for worship, I am left wondering why must we draw the congregation into worship through entertainment. How can we teach them about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit? When will the words of the Psalmist, “Shout joyfully to God all the earth,” motivate us to worship God? As I look to scripture to find a biblical and theological foundation for worship, I see many passages that encompass a variety of elements for worship. Specifically we can see from Paul’s words to the people of Rome a clear picture of worship that can be applied to both personal and corporate worship. I also want to delve into the unabated worship seen in the life of King David as he danced before the Lord.

We find in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome a comprehensive theology and clear instructions as to a life committed to following Christ. I would like to focus on Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”[2] In this passage, based on Paul’s exhortation, I have outlined what each one of us must do in order to encounter the Lord in worship.

We see in the first eleven chapters a clear indoctrination into the teachings of the early church and the role of sanctification within the believer. There is a dividing line drawn at the beginning of Chapter 12 in which we are able to see a transition. He uses the word “therefore” to say, based on everything I have shared about how we believe and what we believe, now let me share with you what actions are required based on what you have understood in the first eleven chapters. In essence he is saying now that you believe, you need to make a commitment.

So as Paul begins chapter twelve we hear him pleading with the Jews and Gentiles to take full consideration of “God’s mercies.” The particular mercy, to which the apostle here refers, is shown to those whom he was addressing. He had proven in the first eleven chapters that all were by nature under sin; that they had no claim on God; and that God had showed great compassion in giving his Son to die for them, and in doing so, forgiving their sins. This was a ground or reason why they should devote themselves to God.[3] As we embrace the tender mercies of a compassionate and loving Father, the sequential pattern Paul suggests leads us to “offer our bodies.”

Paul begins to speak metaphorically in the next section as he addresses the need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. For those hearing his words and for us today, we are exhorted to give ourselves up in the spirit of sacrifice; to be as entirely the Lord's property as the whole burnt offering was, no part being devoted to any other use.[4] I am suggesting this process not occur only three times per year, as was the Jewish custom for sacrifice, but daily as we consecrate our lives before the Lord. This results in lives of worship, seeking to give God glory in all we do.

Once we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of His mercies, then we are made holy and fully pleasing to God. This process of sanctification allows us to be set apart for the purposes of God and in turn live lives of worship unto God. This progression of recognizing God’s mercies, offering our lives as living sacrifices and being found holy and pleasing, is worship.

As I examine Paul’s teaching further, I find him urging believers to be found holy and pleasing to God. The word holy in this context refers to the type of sacrifice they would offer in Old Testament worship. The animal would be without blemish or defect. No other sacrifice could be made to God. The Jews were expressly prohibited from offering what was lame, or blind, or in anyway deformed.[5]

The process of holiness is not something we can do. It is only through the Holy Spirit working within us. We can never know holiness apart from Christ. Any evidence of holiness in us is a clear demonstration of the power of God working in us through the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s next directive is for us to be found pleasing to God or as one translation says “acceptable to God.” When we come to the place of laying our lives before the Lord in complete surrender and complete sacrifice, it really pleases the Lord because it indicates the condition of the heart. Hear the words of the Psalmist:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.[6] (Ps 51:16-17)

The final section to analyze is the “spiritual act of worship.” Paul is saying that worship, in the context of this verse, does not refer to a gathering of people, but to an experience where we realize God’s benevolent mercy and we commit our lives unto Him. The offering of our lives in worship is a voluntary act and no other expression of worship can be a true offering, and none other can be acceptable. We are to offer our entire selves, all that we have and are, to God. The character of God is that of mercy; of long-continued and patient forbearance, and it should persuade us to devote ourselves to him. God is as worthy of such service, or spiritual act, now as he ever will or can be. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.[7]

Because of Christ, we no longer need to bring material sacrifices -- we bring ourselves. We no longer have to limit our sacrifices to three times a year; it has become a part of our daily lives as believers. We no longer use the blood of an animal to cover our sins; we have the all-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ, which takes away the sins of the world. God is calling us to be living sacrifices, daily dying to ourselves in order that we can live our lives in service for Him. This sacrifice comes at a high cost. King David responded by saying, “I will not sacrifice that which cost me nothing.”[1] It is not a sacrifice unless there is some value to what is being offered.

Learning to Worship...


[1] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[1] Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror, Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982), 23.
[2] The Holy Bible, New International Version, ed. International Bible Society (Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984).
[3] Jim Gilbertson, Pc Study Bible Ver. 4.1 (Seattle: Biblesoft).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Holy Bible, New International Version.
[7] Gilbertson.
My Thoughts on Worship

Part II

In the following comments I will delve into the important subject of worship and seek to address the ever-changing dichotomy found in understanding worship. I must attend to this task in light of my context for ministry and theology of worship. Though my philosophy and theology of worship are defined, changing context will continually impact my understanding of worship. My definition for worship is actualized in two parts, personal worship and corporate worship. Personal Worship refers to the people of God living a life of worship through an expression of complete surrender to God that is lived out in authentic lives by the grace of Jesus Christ. Corporate Worship is defined as the experience of the body of Christ coming together through grace to offer up our lives as living sacrifices to the glory of God. Through this encounter we are changed and those whom we meet see an authentic love manifested in our lives due to the shared experience we have with Jesus Christ and the Church.

The context for worship is always changing because we are always changing. As I read the history of the church and each of the perspectives of worship presented from the various denominations, transition in worship is inevitable. Much in the church and their worship throughout time can be seen in a cyclical nature in which aspects once considered to be essential become obsolete. Without a fresh and compelling renewal or reformation worship will die. The responsibility for the church and worship leaders is to make sure the new directions in worship contain elements of the liturgy, biblical grounding, hymns of our faith, and fresh relevant new material that will provide an arena for the overflow of our daily worship to culminate in worship for the glory of God.[1]

More to come...


[1] D.A. Carson, Worship: Adoration and Action (Fugene: Zondervan and Hodder & Stoughton, 1993).
My Thoughts on Worship...
Part I

During recent years I have repeatedly asked the question, “how do we worship God?” The concept that we can orchestrate, develop, and market a “how to” for worship is presumptuous at best and idolatry at worst. In his book, To Know You More, Andy Parks says, “Christian worship is a living thing; its form can never be packaged and finalized. If we had a prescribed order of service or format to follow, we would worship it instead of God. Our worship would become stale – a rote religious exercise.” Worship cannot be limited to order and structure but encompasses the totality of all we are in Christ. The desire to separate the notion of worship from our lives, or limit it to a corporate setting, has compartmentalized our expressions of adoration and renders the church as the only place for worship.

The recent revitalization in worship has attacked the problem backwards. We have sought to change the outward expression of worship within the congregational setting to more of a celebration resulting in a grand worship experience but leaving the believer’s personal responsibility to come prepared for worship unchecked. Believers are responsible for their contribution to the gathered worship time. This begins with a life that is seeking to bring glory to God in every aspect. We encounter God in all of life and therefore should respond to Him in a manner that declares His worth. True worship does not limit itself to order, structure, and location but instead encompasses all we are. We must prayerfully seek to provide a authentic worship experience that all people regardless of age, gender, or background will be empowered to worship God with their total being. In order to effect this transformation within our body of believers, we must begin with a compelling and comprehensive theology of worship that drives the experience despite internal and external roadblocks inherent within our church, its membership, and me.

May God grant us the opportunity to see His glory and respond with all our hearts in worship!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Eve...

It is Easter eve and I am thinking about the significance of what we will celebrate tomorrow. My mind is wrought with the question, "are we really celebrating Resurrection Sunday?" Has Easter become just another Sunday with a few more people and a couple of seasonal hats sprinkled about the sanctuary.

I am wondering and asking myself, “do I really believe in the resurrection of Christ or am I just practicing a superficial holiday?” It's not that I don't want to believe, I really do want to believe but some how in the grand scheme of life, little is placed on Christ' bodily resurrection. I don't often consider the power of a life lifted from a tomb to walk, converse and eat once again. I am often reminded of His love and sacrifice and I regularly remember His death and the power of forgiveness; however, being dead and coming back to life alludes my thoughts and drifts away, that is until this day we call Easter.

Resurrection is difficult for us because it is completely supernatural. It is a divine act that is only produced through a divine God. Yet, that is exactly what we profess and so we make the yearly pilgrimage to our place of worship to encounter once again the Risen King.

My point in asking and wondering is to encourage you to deal with these questions in order that you might be empowered to believe. To be reminded that the God of the Universe commands life and if He chooses, can give life again. Tomorrow we will profess this belief with music and preaching, with readings, creeds and proclamations. We will be reminded that we serve a "Risen Savior." It is one thing to talk about resurrection once a year, but a much different proposition to live for a resurrected King throughout the year.

I long to encounter something transformational tomorrow as we celebrate Easter. I trust that the power necessary to lift the Messiah from a borrowed tomb will be present in houses of worship around the world and we will in one accord truly celebrate something magnificent…something transcendent…our Risen King.

Let's join together to declare that "Christ the Lord is Risen today."


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Times of searching...times of wonder.

Life is a mystery and along the way we are granted clues that will enable us to discover once again our direction, even if it is only for the moment. I love to discover new things, whether it is technology, music, knowledge, or God's ever-changing glory. Like a young child, I position myself for learning, seeking and growing, all the while energized by my discoveries. That is why mystery is a good place to be.

However, the lessons we learn from wonder and mystery are not always easy. During the past four years the mystery of God has taken me to places that are often times uncomfortable. Places where the answers were not always easy and the way difficult to traverse. I find that through these challenging lessons, along with the uncertainties of life, a crisis can occur. While we seek to avoid any type of difficulty, conflict and yes, crisis, our decisions, and sometimes circumstances thrust us into these difficult and even painful situations.

The book of James has been very helpful to me and allowed me to be reminded to "Consider if joy...when you encounter trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance..." I know difficulties do not produce joy; however, the writer says to "consider it joy." I have to chuckle at this thought of considering something to be joy even though in reality it reeks of a root canal! James wants us to keep our minds on what God is producing in us...i.e. endurance. That which gives us power to hang in there...not tenacious, and yes, even be joyful.

So mystery drives me to wonder and curiosity, which leads to a place of searching. Searching can often times open a difficult can of worms; however, I hope this journey will bring me to a place where I gain endurance and in the end will see God working to produce something in me that only He can do.

Friday, October 5, 2007

This past June I had the wonderful priviledge to attend the "Worship and the Arts Conference" at Willow Creek Church. This was my first experience at Willow Creek and I went feeling some reservation about the style and scope of their ministry. I must admit how pleased and surprised I was by what I encountered and left feeling much admiration for this church and their vision of the Kingdom of God.

There were several key ingredients from the conference that I left chewing on and really evoked in me a strong desire to view life differently. The first from Dewitt Jones, a National Geographic photographer, who in a very unassuming style transported my mind into images of God’s creation and our ability to see God in a multiplicity of ways. I also heard from Erwin McManus who really challenged me in a presentation that was so unorthodox and fresh that I was confused and unaware as to what was happening for most of the presentation. In a combination of proclamation, narrative, rap, dance, melodrama, music, and visual art, we were led along a path that encouraged us to scribble outside the lines.

I left Willow with a renewed passion for moving into a new direction as an artist and worship pastor. I was reminded that transformation must begin in me. As I emerge as a spiritual leader with a new and ever changing perspective of the Kingdom of God, the opportunities for transformation are limitless.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Come on...let's WORSHIP!!

There is a revolution in how we worship sweeping across Christian churches. This is leading congregations, denominations and clergy to face new and powerful forces of change—forces that bring renewal to some churches and fear to others. Churches are carefully examining what they are doing in worship hoping to somehow create an atmosphere of worship.

During recent years at First Baptist Church we have progressed in the use of new elements of worship and different genres of music. While these changes do not automatically elicit the response we might all hope, it has allowed us to experience different facets of worship. We have sought to be a multi-generational body of believers worshipping together using a blend of various types of music, drama, and multi-media.

We are once again embarking on an expansion in how we prepare for worship. There are many changes taking place in our society that are transitioning us from worship as an “event” to worship as a “lifestyle.” During the “40 Days of Purpose” we learned that worship is carried out and experienced in all of life. No longer is worship just a weekly service but is represented in a life surrendered to the Lord in the praise of His glory. If worship is not happening for you on Sunday, there is a good chance it is not happening during the daily routine of living.

So how do we make the transition, as a congregation, to daily live a life of worship? Christians are already inundated with devotional books, discipling materials, and other necessary information so now what more must we do to live a life of worship. We are able to see in King David a life of worship that brings honor to God and is fully given to His lordship. We also see in David a culmination of his daily worship in the corporate event we typically call the “worship service.” David begins his worship in the places where he lives his life, outside the local sanctuary, walking with God. He exclaims, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” (Ps. 89:15).

We also see in David’s life a worship that was uncompromising. He held nothing back and was willing to wholeheartedly express his devotion to the Lord. It was David who removed his outer royal garments so he could dance before the Lord as he led the Ark of the Covenant back to the temple. This was not the typical worship format of the day and his unabated expressions certainly ruffled some royal feathers.

Finally we see in David his desire for worship to be a witness of the transforming power of Almighty God. When David worshipped it was authentic. We have all benefited from someone we observed in church who was clearly worshipping the Lord. What a witness this was to the power of the one true God as David proclaimed, “I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples” (Ps. 57:9).

David’s life is a wonderful picture of worship. Despite his failures and sinful ways we find a heart seeking to glorify the Lord. My desire is for you to also come to the place where your worship will bring honor to the Lord and you will want to wholeheartedly express your devotion to the God. The outcome of this “life-worship” will be a clear demonstration to others as they see a genuine heart, offering genuine worship, unto the Lord. Worship is not a spectator activity you must become involved. Robert Weber says, “Worship is a verb. It is not something done to us or for us, but by us.” Let’s worship the Lord!