Archive for Worship

Rainer research is offering more insight on the worship preferences of young adults. To read the research click HERE.

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Jun
13

Worshiping Nehushtan

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Spring

Last week I was reading about King Hezekiah’s religious reforms in 2 Kings and came across this interesting verse. “(Hezekiah) removed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4, NLT) Interesting!

The story of the bronze serpent is found in Numbers 21:4-9. During their wilderness wanderings the Israelites complained against God and Moses about their lack of water and the limited variety of their diet. God punished them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp. When many of the people were bitten and died, the people repented and asked Moses to intercede on their behalf. God did not take the snakes away. Instead, he instructed Moses to create a replica of the serpent and place it on a pole. When someone was bitten, they could look at the serpent on the pole and live (cf. John 3:14-15). For nearly 700 years the Israelites had kept the serpent on the pole, eventually bringing it out of storage and sacrificing to it as an object of worship.

The greatest mistake we can make in worship is to demand that our likes, preferences and tastes be met to the exclusion of God. If there are elements of worship that we “have to have” in order to connect with God, we could be guilty of creating functional idols. There is a difference between being a worshiper and being a consumer of worship. Worshipers focus on God, while consumers focus on themselves.

Back in the 1990’s, Soul Survivor Church in Warford, England, was facing such a challenge. The pastor of the congregation was concerned about the apathy that had developed in the congregation. Fearing the church was unintentionally creating consumers of worship, he pulled the plug on the worship band and the sound system for a season of time. For weeks the church worshiped with only their voices. Eventually the instruments were introduced back into the service, but not until the church had learned a valuable lesson from the experience. Reflecting on what had happened, worship leader Matt Redman wrote the following lyrics:

When the music fades
and all has slipped away
and I simply come.
Longing just to be
something that’s of worth
that will bless Your heart.

I’ll bring You more than a song,
for a song in itself
is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear,
Your looking into my heart.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

King of endless worth,
no one could express
how much you deserve.
Though I’m weak and poor,
all I have is Yours,
every single breath!

I’ll bring You more than a song,
for a song in itself
is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear,
Your looking into my heart.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

If you feel as though you’ve lost your way in worship, perhaps its time to smash your Nehushtan. It could be time for you to rethink what worship is really about, or better said, to rethink who worship is really about.

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Jun
12

Jesus’ Two Tests of Worship

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Spring

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24, NLT).

The first test of worship is that it must be inspired from the spirit. The word “spirit” is a reference to the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ emphasis here is that true worship is an inside out experience. My understanding of the New Testament is that we are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. The body is easy enough to understand. The soul is composed of our mind, will and emotions. The spirit is the place where God takes up residence when we are converted.

The conventional wisdom of Jesus’ day was that external conformity to traditions and rituals produced internal righteousness. This is evident in the practice of the Pharisees and further revealed through Jesus’ dialogue with them. But lives aren’t transformed outside in. Sitting in a church building no more makes one a worshipper than standing in a garage makes one a car. We may worship imperfectly, but we cannot worship insincerely.

So how do we learn to worship inside out? First, worship from the spirit takes private preparation. No one should reasonably expect to have a life changing worship experience on Sunday morning when no thought is given to God for six days and 23 hours. Private worship prepares us for public worship.

Second, we must eliminate the obstacles that slow or detour our connection with God. Broken relationships, sins, attitudes, and a host of other things can impede our worship. As John the baptizer said, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Jesus second test of worship is that it be informed by the truth. The Bible is a reliable and authoritative guide for our faith and practice. The written word reveals the Living Word, Jesus Christ. If we divorce the Bible from our practice of worship we will become like the Samaritan woman who worshipped a God she did not know (John 4:22).

Are you worshipping from the inside out? Is your worship informed by truth? Those are the tests Jesus offers regarding true worship.

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Jun
11

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth

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Spring

The larger picture of John 4 details the dialogue Jesus had with “the woman at the well.” As you read through the story, you come to a twist in the conversation where Jesus confronted the woman with her personal morality. Rather than respond to Jesus’ insight, she changed the subject to religion.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:19-20, NLT)

Credit the woman for looking for the right method of worship. Unfortunately she only saw two options. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament and rejected the rest. They were enthusiastic about their worship, but lacked all of the truths of salvation history, most notably the Davidic line that would trace all the way through to the Messiah. Their worship could be characterized, if you will, as heat without light.

The Jews, on the other hand, had at their disposal all of the Old Testament scriptures. They had the “truth,” but lacked any kind of joy or enthusiasm. Their worship could be characterized as light without heat. Their barren orthodoxy is what led Jesus to remark “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6, NLT).

It was from that backdrop that Jesus not only responded to her question, but also gave us two important tests to discern appropriate worship. True worship, according to Jesus, is inspired by the spirit and informed by the truth.

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Jun
10

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth

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Spring

I grew up in a small Baptist church in a time where music was simple and uniform across denominational lines. My “home church” worshipped faithfully, led by volunteers who gave their time and talent to lead the people of God in the enthusiastic singing of hymns. No one thought anything about it because that was a common, across the board experience. Bigger communities may have had bigger choirs or newer organs, but other than that, we all sang the same songs from the same hymnal, using the same order of service printed on the same bulletin paper.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, contemporary music crept onto the scene. Christian artists wrote songs and sang them in churches and eventually broke into the recording studio. With recordings came radio, then the emergence of contemporary styles of worship. For the longest time the divide has been between traditional worship and contemporary worship. But today we see the development of many other nuances to worship make their way to the forefront, including the “hip-hop church,” the “biker church,” and the “cowboy church” to name a few.

Can we do that? Is that right? Is it possible to be wrong? How can we discern what constitutes appropriate worship? I think we can find the answers to those questions from Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. That’s the subject of this week’s posts from my series on worship.

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2 Chronicles 26 tells the story of King Uzziah. He took the throne of Israel at the tender age of 16 and ruled for nearly four decades. By and large, Uzziah was a good king. He led the nation to return to the monotheistic worship of God, and as a result the nation was greatly blessed. He was a good king and a capable leader. The national vibe could be characterized with words like peace, prosperity and strength. But when Uzziah became strong he became arrogant. His pride led him to presumptuously offer incense in the Sanctuary of the Temple. When confronted by the priests, Uzziah “raged against” them. As a result he was infected with leprosy which would send him into quarantine and cause him to abdicate his throne to his son. The incurable skin disease would eventually take his life. Uzziah’s demise was tragic and left the nation reeling. One can only imagine the disappointment and anxiety the nation must have felt! “Who will lead us?” “Who will protect us from our enemies?” “Who will keep the economy churning?” are examples of questions on the minds of thousands. From that historical backdrop we come to Isaiah chapter 6, which opens with the phrase, “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” In the context of national tragedy, Isaiah entered into worship. Despite his disappointing circumstances, he found himself drawn to the presence of God.

Isaiah is one of several examples of people who turned to God on tough days and during hard times. You may recall the ancient story of Job. Job was a man greatly blessed in every possible means of measurement. Suddenly, it was all gone: his wealth, his children and even his health. Yet in the midst of his tragedy, Job bowed in worship (Job 1:20-21).

King David is another who worshipped on a tough day. Following his adulterous sin with Bathsheba, the child they conceived died. When servants informed David that the child had passed, the Bible reports that David rose from the ground and went to the Tabernacle and worshipped (2 Samuel 12:20). I’m sure you can think of other examples…Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison at midnight…Jesus retreating to a place of solitude for prayer after a hard day of ministry…the apostle John worshipping in the Spirit on the Lord’s day while exiled to the island of Patmos to name a few.

Here’s the point. Don’t let all that is wrong with life keep you from worshipping all that is right with God. The King is still on His throne!

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Jun
04

Christ-Centered Worship

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One of the resources I’ve used for my current series on worship is the new release by Bryan Chapell titled, Christ-Centered Worship. Chapell serves as President of Covenant Theological Seminary and has also authored Christ-Centered Preaching. The book is helpful in that the author traces the development of worship through church history. It was interesting to see the theological development of many elements of worship that we take for granted. Listed below are some quotes from the book that I think you will find helpful.

1. “Always we are to be informed by tradition; never are we to be ruled by it. The Word of God is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, but an unwillingness to consider what previous generations have learned about applying God’s Word discloses either naiveté or arrogance.” (p. 16)

2. “Liturgy (the structure of the church’s worship service) tells a story. We tell the gospel by the way we worship. Where a church maintains the truths of the gospel, it inevitably discovers aspects of worship that are in harmony with other faithful churches. In fact, worshipping with these aspects is one important way a church maintains fidelity with the gospel.” (p. 19)

3. “The structure of a church’s liturgy also inevitably tells its understanding of the gospel story. This means the worship structures that communicate the gospel are themselves shaped by the gospel. The medium is the message because the message shapes the medium.” (p. 85)

4. “Where the church remains true to the gospel, her worship reflects the truths she holds most dear. Where the gospel is lost, worship becomes reflective of a dead tradition or an evolving heresy. There are two immediate implications: (1) when the gospel is distorted, then the worship of the church will be distorted; and (2) when the worship of the church does not reflect the gospel, then the gospel itself is in danger.” (p. 101)

5. “Understanding worship as a love response to the truths of the gospel does not merely shape the contours of the worship service; it also shirts the focus of our hearts in worship. Worship becomes less about earning God’s approval by correct observance of traditions and more about delighting to express our love for him in the ways that most please him.” (p. 112)

6. “Gospel priorities will force us to consider both God’s glory and the people’s good. We cannot simply fall back on what the church did in the past, especially if that no longer brings glory to God or ministers to his people. We cannot simply impose personal preference without idolizing our glory and good.” (p. 122)

7. “We should not be forced to choose between being traditional or being relevant. Only the most arrogant congregation would say that God has taught nothing to its forefathers from which it can learn. And only the most self-absorbed congregation would say that it does not need to be concerned about making its worship relevant to the present generation.” (p. 137)

8. “Over time, only what truly serves the ministry of the Word survives in worship.” (p. 151)

Chapell’s argument is that the gospel itself should shape our worship practices. Christ-centered worship includes–
Recognition of God’s Character (Adoration)
Acknowledgement of Our Character (Confession)
Affirmation of Grace (Assurance)
Expression of Devotion (Thanksgiving)
Desire for Aid in Living for God (Petition and Intercession)
Acquiring Knowledge for Pleasing God (Instruction from God’s Word)
Communing with God and His People (Communion)
Living Unto God with His Blessing (Charge and Benedition)

Part 1 of the book is a blend of church history, theology, and practice. Part 2 contains several practical resources and examples to utilize in worship planning. While the book’s likely target is those who devote themselves to worship leadership, any believer would benefit from Chapell’s outstanding book.

Categories : Books, Worship
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One of the books I’m working through this week is Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. I plan to post a review of it in coming days, but wanted to share this brief reflection on how cultural sensitivity informs our worship styles.

“Sensitivity to worshipers’ capacities goes awry when concern to communicate to those in our culture tempts us to be undiscerning about the realities of our culture. Jesus and Paul were willing to challenge religious traditions in order to communicate spiritual truth, but they were not naive about their choices. They refused to be bound by conventions that would hinder the gospel, but they respected cultural norms that would enable them to keep the gospel credible and knowable. Jesus ministered to the woman at the well (which would have raised eyebrows about his message) but he did not accompany her alone to her home (which would have resulted in the rejection of his message). Paul in Athens made allusion to an unknown God, but he did not make an offering at that altar. On Mars Hill the apostle quoted pagan poetry, but he care fully chose a passage that would underscore his message and not undermine his credibility. Concern for the witness of the gospel made Jesus and Paul willing to break with some traditions and willing to honor others.

Applications of these principles are always most difficult in the present tense. How do we minister to the necessities and capacities of people in our worship today? Their necessities require our faithfulness to the gospel. Our worship must reflect the truths of the ministry of Christ revealed in his Word. As previous chapters have demonstrated, the structure of our worship and the content of our words–said, read, demonstrated, prayed, and sung–communicate the message that God’s people need. People’s ability to understand and appropriate the message depends both on the work of the Spirit in their hearts and on worship leaders’ willingness and ability to discern how to communicate in the cultural context.

Sensitivity to the cultural context does not mean automatic capitulation to cultural norms. For example, the expectation that a generation that has grown up with Power Point presentations and video marketing will want the same in worship can be quite naive. Some in this generation feel so bombarded by all this cultural “noise” that they long for a place of quiet reflection. Some persons who have experience the dead spirituality of religious formalism will long for informality that communicates authenticity. Others who feels the aimlessness of a culture without heroes, institutions, or values to respect will seek churches that “feel like” church–where faith, at least, seems secure because continuities with the past are honored through traditional songs and symbols. Some will run from churches whose anachronistic music communicates lethargy and selfishness; others will run from churches too naive to recognize their music is so “with it” that it carries secular baggage that many young people are desperate to escape.”

Chapell is clearly not advocating for one worship style over another. What he is suggesting is that we be thoughtful, biblical, and gospel centered in how we order and conduct our worship.

Categories : Books, Worship
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May
29

Worship 101

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This week I’ve posted three foundational points that are basic to my understanding of worship. They were:
1. Worship is based on our redemption in Christ. (Exodus 20:1-2)
2. God identifies himself as the exclusive object of our worship. (Exodus 20:3)
3. We must guard our hearts against idolatry. (Exodus 20:4-6)

The fourth basic concerning worship found in Exodus 20 is God is to be reverenced and worshipped for who He is. Exodus 20:7 states, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.” Or as the KJV reads, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” I grew up in a Christian home, and the cardinal sin was “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” Nothing would cause my mother to flare with anger more quickly than that! I was not permitted to use common euphemisms such as “Oh my gosh,” or “golly” or “geez.” While the third commandment certainly would cover profanity, I don’t think that’s the main issue it seeks to address. The command is directed toward those who misuse God’s name to create a personal advantage or who take the name of God lightly. Irreverence is the issue. Profanity can be a part of that irreverence, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The next commandment reminds the reader that, in the words of Robert Webber, worship is a verb. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT). Sabbath was given by God for rest, reflection, and renewal. The ability to stop all activity was and is a sign of trust in God for our provision. Sabbath was also to remind us that we must be intentional about worship, and regular at that.

As a part of my preparation for this series I’ve been reading Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. Reading his survey of the history of Christian worship reminded me of the gifts of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation emphasized the participation of the congregation. The liturgy and the Scriptures were produced in the vernacular of the people. Congregational singing was instituted as well. God is to be revered in worship. It begins with Him and must be about Him.

The final six commandments deal with our social responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. Worship, therefore, is in the context of community. We worship as the people of God, not the persons of God. Hebrews 10:23-25 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Why is corporate worship important? First, because we encourage one another. Is it possible to worship alone? Sure. But if I neglect the opportunity to worship with others I might begin to think that I’m the only one with a problem. When we gather, we gather with others who face challenges and difficulties. Our mutuality inspires us to move forward by faith and to encourage others to do the same. The other reason for corporate worship given by the writer of Hebrews is that there is an urgency to our mission. “The day of his return is drawing near” challenges us to remain engaged in the mission of the Church and the message of the Kingdom.

Thanks for checking in this week. I trust that these thoughts on worship from Exodus 20 will challenge you and bless you as you think about our ultimate priority!

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May
28

Worship 101

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Our worship is based on our redemption in Christ. Unless we see that clearly, much of our “worship” will be conducted in vanity and will be for the most part self serving. Continuing in Exodus 20 we find the first commandment where God identifies himself as the exclusive object of worship. “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3, NLT).

Postmodernism has done much to deconstruct absolute truth including the Bible’s exclusive claim of monotheism. In one of my previous pastorates I preached a sermon that highlighted the exclusive claims of Christ. Afterwards I was confronted by a person who was indignant that I would make such a bold claim. “I think in the end all Gods are the same. We’re all praying to the same God and we’ll all end up in the same place.” The person continued, “If you are going to continue to preach that there’s only one God and one way of salvation, I’m going to have to find another church.” I simply replied, “If every way is ok then no way is necessary, and all of this is a colossal waste.”

God’s first commandment to the people of Israel was to always hold fast to the conviction that God is one and there are no others beside Him. This conviction does not justify spiritual arrogance or grant permission to be judgmental. You can hold a conviction without being angry about it. But if we yield to a system of plurality, we make worship about us instead of about God. We think of what we want and not what God desires. Which leads naturally into the second command.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on thoseb who love me and obey my commands” (Exodus 20:4-6, NLT). The claims of God are exclusive, yet our hearts are naturally inclined to idolatry.

Israel had scarcely caught their breath from their deliverance from Egypt. One would think that their dramatic rescue would have left a lasting impression on their hearts. Yet as God speaks these words to Moses on the mountain, Aaron is making a golden calf at the base. Why are idols so compelling? The thing about an idol is that it doesn’t have to be something we carve or chisel and erect on the mantle above the fireplace. It can be anything. An idol is when we take a good thing and make it a god thing. They can be subtle. Romans 1: 21-23 reads as follows: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.” Birds, animals, and reptiles were examples of idols in Paul’s day. In our day, we use birds, animals and reptiles as mascots for sports teams. Those of you who know me know that I like sports as much as the next person. But there’s a fine line between fanaticism and worship. We wear player jerseys, collect memorabilia, and pay big bucks for tickets. According to Deadspin, 41 of 50 states list a college coach as their highest paid state employee. Again, I’m not anti-sports. I’m simply trying to point out that idolatry is seductive and slippery, and once we erect them in our hearts they turn on us and become demanding taskmasters.

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