Wake Up

Posted: January 13, 2011 in Relationship with Christ

Wake Up

“Sometimes it’s like I’m playing Game Boy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon.  I’m eating candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast.  I’m wadding in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean.  I know the time has come for me to wake up and see the glory!”  Chorus from “See the Glory,” Steven Curtis Chapman

The illusions from above seem ridiculous.  Who would do that?  But I bet we all can name some people who we’ve known who tell stories of reality that mirrors those lyrics.  Or we’ve seen it ourselves.   And if we’re honest with ourselves, we can look around in our lives and find areas where we are acting the same way.  And what’s infinitely worse, many times this obviousness to reality around us is prevalent in our Christian walks and lives.

I’ve been meditating on the lyrics of another song recently, because it echoes my prayers of late for myself, for our church, and even for the nation and the world.  It’s called “Awakening” by Chris Tomlin.  You can check it out here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljr6lqu2-ec

In this song, the artist cries out, “In our hearts, Lord, in this nation…Awakening.  Holy Spirit we desire awakening.”

What areas of our lives need a wake up call?  Where do we need a little dose of reality… spark of fire… an infusion of passion in our lives? Where in our Christian walks do we need to wake up?  Here are a couple realities to consider.

Reality 1:  The Holy Spirit lives in us.  If you are a Christian – if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit – God Himself – actually dwells in you every moment of every day.  If you need some reassurance on that fact, check out John 14:16-17, John 7:38-39, John 16:13, Luke 11:13, Ezekiel 36:27, Galatians 3:14, 1John 2:27, Romans 14:17, Romans 8:26-27, 1Cor 2:12, Romans 8:15.

Here’s the thing.  This is a BIG DEAL.  I think most of us walk around most of the time and are oblivious to the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We have the God of the universe – the creator of the heavens, the earth, and our very selves with us at every moment.  He is there as our councilor.  He is there as a mark of our relationship with God.  He is our power to accomplish what God would have us do.  He is our comfort.  He is a source of infinite truth.  And He is our friend.  We are never alone.  Never – not for one moment.

What would we do differently if the reality of the Spirit of God in our lives really breaks through?  How would we live differently?  How would we spend our time differently?  How would our relationships differ?  My prayer… God, show me the truths of your Spirit in me.  Show me the power you wield through me.  Show me the lives you can touch through me.  Show me how my relationship with You can soar to new levels as I wake up and embrace the unbelievable gift of Your Spirit!

Reality 2:  We have 24/7 access to the God Himself. Reality 1 up there has another pretty big up-side.  We can talk to God at any time.  He’s given us an “open-door policy” for all time.  Any time of the day or night.  Talking about problems.  Talking about desires.  Talking about our mood.  Prattling on about this and that.  He’s always listening, He’s never impatient, and He is always ready to hear more.   We don’t have to go through a pastor or a priest – Christ is our intermediary; we go through Him.

So let’s get real now.  Take that reality, and measure it against how often you make use of it.  How much time in an average day do we spend in prayer?  I’m guessing that for most of us, it would seem miniscule in comparison to the other things we spend time on.  We miss the boat.  Most people may pray at most once a day, and then mostly to ask for personal favors from God.

Financial people will tell you that you can tell your priorities by looking at your spending.  If you believe in saving, you’ll see it.  If you believe in giving, you’ll see that too.  Prayer is the same way – if we really believe that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” then we will see that in the time we spend with God in prayer.

How much different would our lives be if we accessed the throne of God like He has created us to do?  How different would our decisions be if we made prayer the default action in any situation – before any other action?  What would happen in our lives and in the lives that we touch every day if we would wake up to the reality that God has given us access to His heart; that He wants for us to express ourselves to Him with love, adoration, and pouring our hearts desire before Him – and that we would then act on that reality and pray?  My prayer… God, wake me up to the inexpressible privilege of knowing You and having access to you through prayer.  Help me to come to you more and more every day.  Make it one of the top priorities in my life.  Help me to see the results – that You move in mighty ways as your people pray.

 

Like I said at the outset, this idea of “waking up” has really been on my heart lately.  God doesn’t want us to just “play church.”  He doesn’t want us to just go through the motions of looking like good Christian people – just doing the minimum to get by in the eyes of the people around us.  Jesus came that we would have life abundant.  That our relationships with God would be more than a religious experience – that it would be a vibrant relationship filled with love and passion.  My prayer – for myself and God’s church – is reflected well by the chorus of the song “Awakening:”  Like the rising sun that shines, from the darkness comes a light;  I hear a voice and this is my awakening!”

 

Crossing the Line

Posted: September 22, 2010 in Worship

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “You just crossed a line.”  Many times it’s used in a negative context – you’ve gone somewhere that you may not be able to go back from.  When we speed on the road, we cross a line.  If we get caught, there will probably be a consequence.  There are literally millions of examples.

There are also what could be considered positive examples of “crossing the line.”  Hope and I were married for 8 years before we decided to try and have children.  Conversation and theory about what having a child would be like were abundant in that time.  But when she came home with that positive pregnancy test, I think you’d agree that a line had clearly been crossed.  There was no more theory now – now it was time for some reality.

I think there’s a line to be crossed in worship too.  It’s the line between singing and worship.  It’s the line between saying words and praying.  It’s the line between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.”  It’s the line between dutiful worship – singing, or praying, or whatever because you think you’re supposed to – and true, authentic, extravagant worship.

Here’s a simple example.  Say these words – whether out loud or just inside of your head.  “I love you, Lord.”  Simple to read.  Simple to say.  Pretty unambiguous meaning.  But now, (and really do this)… focus your mind and heart on God.  Think about Him – about who He is in your life.  About what He’s done.  Then respond – giving these words to Him.  Tell Him, “I love you, Lord.”

If you followed those directions, you just crossed the line.  I think it’s pretty easy to see the difference – one has no meaning; no real action.  They’re just words.  The other is focused; directed.  There is meaning behind it.  There is thought behind it.  It’s authentic communication from us to God.

How often do we find ourselves after a church service having experienced… nothing.  How often when someone else is praying do our minds seem to focus on anything except what the person praying is saying?  How often do you go through the worship part of a church service, and never even think about the meaning behind the words that are being sung?  And if and when these things happen, the big question is “Why?”  I think one of the biggest reasons is that we sometimes don’t cross that line.

One thing that has helped me in understanding exactly where that line is has been to look at the difference between “worship” as a noun and “worship” as a verb.  Here are the definitions off of my trusty dictionary program:

worship |ˈwər sh əp|
noun
the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity : the worship of God | ancestor worship.

• the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies : the church was opened for public worship.

• adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle : Krushchev threw the worship of Stalin overboard.

• archaic honor given to someone in recognition of their merit.

• [as title ] ( His/Your Worship) chiefly Brit. used in addressing or referring to an important or high-ranking person, esp. a magistrate or mayor : we were soon joined by His Worship the Mayor.

verb ( -shiped |ˈwərʃəpt|, -shiping |ˈwərʃəpɪŋ|; also -shipped, -shipping) [ trans. ]

show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites : the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods.

• treat (someone or something) with the reverence and adoration appropriate to a deity : she adores her sons and they worship her.

See note at revere .

• [ intrans. ] take part in a religious ceremony : he went to the cathedral because he chose to worship in a spiritually inspiring building.

Now, many people tend to focus on the noun part.  It’s the easier part.  “I went to the worship service.”  The words “worship,” “program,” and “service” have almost become interchangeable in Christian society.  And then it’s applied to all of worship.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “everything is worship.”  All we are.  All we do.  When I’m sweeping the floor, I’m worshipping.  When I’m driving the car, I’m worshipping.  When I’m eating dinner, I’m worshipping.  It’s a theology built upon the noun usage of worship.   Now, I’m not saying that you can’t worship while you’re sweeping.  You definitely can.  But I would ask, under most normal circumstances – are you really?

People who will inevitably argue with this line of thought will next tell me that our very lives – just by being living, breathing creations – is worship in and of itself.  They would say that this is true of all creation – that the earth, the rocks, the trees – everything is worship to God.  For this, I’d like to make a simple distinction.  When something by it’s very nature reveals or makes clearer who God is and what He does, that’s glorification.  And we do – we glorify God by our existence.  All of creation testifies – and therefore glorifies – to the presence and greatness of God.  And don’t get me wrong – this is a good thing!  God set it up this way – how could it be but a good thing.  But it’s not the whole story.  This is passive – it takes no effort on our parts, or on the part of creation.   We glorify God by our existence, but I’m not sure that worship happens until we start getting active about it.

Now, contrast that with what you get when you do a simple search on the word “worship” in the bible.  (Go ahead.  I’ll wait right here.  Try crosswalk.com, biblegateway.com or youversion.com if you need some suggestions).  Here’s what I see.  In practically every example (I couldn’t find any that this wasn’t true of, but for the sake of argument we’ll just say that this is true of the vast majority of the verses), worship is used as a verb.  It’s an action word.   It’s talking about doing something.  It’s not passive – it’s active.  It’s a choice – not an automatic function of reality.

I’ll take one more step back for those of you who are just crying out, “What about 1 Cor. 10:31?”  It says “So whether you eat, or you drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  Lots of people have used this verse to try and espouse the theory that everything is worship.  You can read the passage (and it’s context) on your own, but I think the point of the passage is to tell people that though there is freedom in Christ, whatever circumstance you are in you should keep God and others in mind.  They are talking specifically about food sacrificed to idols (I’m not sure if that’s a big problem now days,), but there’s a bigger point – that what you do should be done for the glory of God.  It doesn’t say that everything is automatically that way – and the very fact that Paul is talking about it shows that you could do something that is not to the glory of God.  (Thus the reason he sums it up that way).  Once again – it’s a choice.  It’s purposeful.  It’s active.

Now, back to the questions I asked a little earlier.  How often do we find ourselves after a church service having experienced… nothing.  How often when someone else is praying do our minds seem to focus on anything except what the person praying is saying?  How often do you go through the worship part of a church service, and never even think about the meaning behind the words that are being sung?  And if and when these things happen, the big question is “Why?”

We have to make worship a verb.  We have to cross the line from singing the words “I will love You, Lord, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength,” to giving those same words to God.  We have to cross the line from attending a worship (noun) service to participating in worship (verb).  We have to cross the line from listening to another person praying to agreeing with them in prayer and giving those prayers to God.  Let me tell you, when we become an active part of worship (verb), then our worship lives (noun) will be much greater.  We won’t be able to go through a service having experienced nothing, because we are actively and purposefully fulfilling what God has asked us to do.  Psalm 29:2 says “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.”  All action.  It takes effort on our parts.  It takes commitment.  It takes choice.  But when we make that choice, we enter into His presence in a special way – and God moves in a special way when we choose to give something of ourselves to Him.  In His presence, there is fullness of joy.  (Ps. 16:11).

I want to close with a few very practical ways to grow in this.  Maybe this is something you’ve never thought of, and you want to give it a kick start.  Maybe you’ve lived your life “crossing the line,” and just want to continue to grow.  Either way, here are some things that have helped me in my journey:

  • Do personal devotions on song lyrics that you sing in church.  I find that when I really delve deep into what a song has to say, I am able to understand it better.  When I understand it better, I can express it with far more passion.  It amazes me how many times I’ll be talking with someone about words to a song or hymn, and I ask what a particular word or phrase means, only to be responded to with the resounding silence of “Huh?”  But think about how much more meaningful it would be to sing authentically.  “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.”  What does that mean to you.  Are they just words, or are they an invitation to God to come into this time, right here, right now, and focus my mind and heart on Him?
  • Focus on praying.  It’s so easy for us to “zone out” during prayers.  Make a point not to.  Ask God for focus – on Him.  Make a point to really focus on what is being said.  Ask yourself, “Am I really in agreement with what is being said or prayed about?  Do I believe that God is capable of doing what we are asking?  Am I praying, or am I just going through the motions?”
  • Have a personal worship life.  I was listening to some training audio a couple of months ago, and the person speaking said something that really struck me.  He said, “If you really want to find out how people are doing in worship, when you get up there to lead, just tell them to do what they do at home.”  <Insert cricket noise here>.  His point – our worship in the corporate setting (church) should be an outpouring and reflection on our everyday worship.  If the only worship (verb) we get is at the worship (noun) service, then we aren’t doing it right at all.  Worship needs to be an “all the time” kind of thing.   And guess what… you don’t need a band, and singers, and horns, and drums, and lights, and cameras… you get the point.  You don’t even need music.  Singing is a way to worship God – a tool we can use.  You can worship through prayer.  You can just talk to Him.  The style and format isn’t important – this is the difference between New Testament and Old Testament worship.  What’s important is that we are authentic, passionate, and whole-hearted.

I’ll be the first to tell you:  I don’t have all of this figured out.  I get distracted.  There are times where I find myself just going through the motions just like everyone else.  But I’ve found when I don’t – when I make a concerted effort to “cross the line,” God moves in a very different way.  He moves in my life and my ministry.  He’s searching – looking for those who will “worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  And I think He’s calling all of us – all of us – to a “crossing the line” kind of worship.

But I Don’t Like the Music

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Worship

I imagine that police officers hear some pretty good stories when they ask people why they do what they do.  Stories students tell about why they didn’t do their homework can be epic.  I’ve been tempted myself when my wife asks why I didn’t get the laundry done…. well, that’s a different topic…  or maybe right on topic. 🙂

Excuses.  We tend to be pretty good at them when we want to get out of something, or explain why we want to get out of something.  We even tell them to ourselves – and we believe them!  We use excuses about everything in the book – from why we didn’t feed the dog, to why we didn’t take out the trash, to why we don’t exercise… why we don’t go to church regularly, why we don’t read our bibles daily, why we don’t give… even why we won’t engage and participate in the worship service.

As a worship pastor, I spend a lot of time thinking about… well, worship.  Specifically engaging people in worship.  God has given us this awesome privilege – this ability to approach the throne of God and express ourselves to Him.; to respond to His goodness in our lives.  It’s a free glimpse into what Heaven is going to be like.  Yet as with so many other aspects of our lives, many of us choose to avoid what is good; what is right; what we should be doing.

There’s a lot of reasons.  For someone who’s not “a believer,” it would be very difficult to engage in worship authentically.  How can you worship a God you don’t know?  If you’re in that camp, then let me encourage you – keep seeking.  Find out what Jesus is really about.  Find out what all those people mean when they ask you, “Have you been saved?”  It’s literally, seriously, the most important thing that you can do in your life.  And if you would like help in that journey, don’t hesitate to call me or e-mail me – I’d literally, seriously love to tell you about Him; what He’s done in my life and what He can do in yours.

As for believers – those who “confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead…” – well, like I said, some of us are pretty good at excuses.  Don’t get me wrong – I know a bunch of people who really seem to get this right.  But I’ve also seen the prolific use of every excuse that you could possibly think of to avoid fully engaging in worship – to either just stand there during the time and watch what happens, or even worse to purposely avoid coming for the worship part of the service and arrive late to “catch the message.”  Some are excuses that we tell ourselves.  Some are excuses that we tell others.  Most of the time when I hear them, though, it’s 2nd hand – either through a comment card that wasn’t signed, or a spouse telling me what their husband or wife thinks, etc.  And every time, I am thinking, “If only I had an opportunity to respond to that concern; to speak some truth into that way of thinking; to give another point of view.  So… I’m going to take this opportunity to do just that.  To respond.  To give another point of view.  To speak some truth.

Now, just one quick disclaimer.  Right here, right now, I’m talking about corporate worship.  The kind where the church gathers together and as a body worships our Savior.  Make no mistake – I fully believe and agree that worship should be an every day occurrence.   We should make it part of our lives.  But there’s something special when a body of believers gets together and gives God His due.  That’s what I’m talking about here.  So… lets see if we recognize any of the following – in others, or maybe even ourselves.  Here’s how I would respond to some of the most common concerns or excuses about “entering into” corporate worship.

  • I don’t like the music.  When we go to church, the music starts.  When the music is “good,” then we say we have a good worship time.  There are a lot of definitions of “good.”  My seven-year-old has already shown me that there’s going to be a music gap a mile long in our house.  Everybody has a style preference.  Some like it fast.  Some like it slow.  Some like it big and full.  Some like it light and transparent.  But here’s the big thing here.  The music isn’t for you.  Not really.  We spend a lot of time and energy and money trying to create an atmosphere that will engage people, but when it’s all said and done, whether we like the music or not is irrelevant.  What’s relevant is whether or not God likes the music.  It’s for Him.  It’s about Him.  And I’m pretty sure He’s more interested in the heart behind what’s going on than the sound itself.  He’s interested in the feeling behind the words, “I love You, Lord,” not the style it’s sung in.

One thing that’s pretty clear is that worship is one of the common denominators between this life and the next.  We see it all over the scriptures.  Yet never once have I read a passage with angels singing praises to God, but somewhere in the sixth row back one looks to another and says, “Well, that just isn’t my style.  I don’t like this song.”  Kind of ridiculous to think about, but it’s the same thing.  I’m pretty sure the angels are focused on what’s truly important – ascribing worth to our Almighty God!

There’s nothing wrong with having style preferences.  There’s nothing wrong with preferring certain songs, or certain singers, or whatever.  But (and please get this) when we allow those preferences to get in the way of us fully entering into worship, we are cheating ourselves out of an experience with God and cheating God out of the praise that is His due.

  • I don’t like to sing.  I recently wrote another blog article on a similar topic.   You can look it up here: http://wp.me/p12dNI-m.  The summery is this:  for whatever reason, God set it up that worship, and specifically singing to Him, is something that He likes.  So, our personal preferences in this area are nowhere near as important as God’s preferences.  But let me address this in another way.

I grew up Catholic.  We went to church every single week.  There was a lot of singing.  A lot.  I felt the same way as many of you did.  I didn’t like to sing.  That’s one of the little ironies of life that my mom likes to bring up every once in awhile – how resistant to singing I was in church for all of my childhood.  As I got older, though, and as my relationship with God matured, I realized that the singing portion of the service wasn’t for me.  And so I gave it a try – little by little.  And I realized something important:  there is truth when the scriptures say “In His presence there is fullness of joy.”  When I started to fully enter into worship – getting beyond my own likes, wants and desires – I realized that God gave back.  He gives back joy.  He gives back peace.  He gives back so much more than I can possibly offer Him.  That’s just the way He works.  So… if this is you; if you are someone who has historically not engaged because of this or other similar reasons, let me give you one challenge, born out of personal experience.  Try it.  Give it a try.  Fully enter into worship – not just singing the songs, but giving the words to God.  See if He doesn’t return your offering by blessing you in ways that you never imagined.

  • I feel self-conscious with others around me. Guess what.  I do too.  When I’m thinking about singing or public speaking and I’m focusing on other people’s reactions, it makes me nervous.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret that people who know me well know but people that mostly see me leading worship at church sometimes find difficult to believe.  I am a rabid introvert.  I’m shy.  I find interpersonal communication difficult when it’s with new people.  I’m not a performer by nature – I actually would prefer to not be seen at all most of the time.  But when I am leading worship – whether it’s with song, prayer, or just talking about God, He changes something inside of me.  He gives me the grace and ability to be more extroverted.  Here’s the trick – I can only do that when I’m fully focusing on Him.  I’ve tried some more “teaching” oriented roles, and I sound like I have the mental capacity of a pigeon.  It’s not good.  I get nervous, and I stumble over my words and thoughts.

Here’s the point.  Self-consciousness is caused by focusing on ourselves.  When we become God-conscious, we are changing the focus of our attention.  We’re changing from, “What will that person think of me if I raise my hands in worship?” to “God, does it please you if I raise my hands in worship?”  We stop caring what everyone else is thinking about and focus solely on pleasing God the Father – the One we’re here to see anyway.  It’s incredibly freeing.  King David of the bible once had people commenting on his worship – essentially saying that he was being undignified.  Instead of being concerned with what others thought, he (and this is a man that God called “a man after God’s own heart) essentially said, “I’ll be even more undignified if it will bring glory to my God.”  So, next time you struggle with this one, let me suggest telling yourself to focus fully on God, not on others, and see if He won’t do a mighty work in your life.

  • I don’t have a good voice.  This is a simple one.  Who cares?  Who really cares how you sound?  God says to sing.  He says to “make a joyful noise.”  He never said that you have to take singing lessons to do so.  We’re definitely not all gifted in the area of singing and music.  Again, I say, who cares?  God has given different gifts to different people.  My wife is an extremely gifted teacher of children.  Pastor George is gifted in shepherding and teaching in the church.  Some people can help others in discipleship.  Some with financial understanding.  Some with counseling.  Etc.  Etc.  Each and every one of these people – each and every one of us have exactly the same potential to bring joy to the heart of God with worship.  It has nothing at all to do with musical gifting and everything to do with giving to Him from deep within ourselves an offering of praise that is His due.

Now, that’s not to say there isn’t a place for those who are gifted in this area.  I am a firm believer (and I believe the scriptures back this up) in people serving in the area of their giftedness.  Those who are gifted to teach – should teach.  Those who are gifted to lead should lead.  Likewise, those who have musical gifts should be the ones helping lead the congregation in the musical portion of the service.  But everyone – EVERYONE – has been created to worship.  Not having a musical gift might mean that you aren’t up on stage leading the worship, but each and every person in the congregation doing their part and participating in authentic worship is just as important to the worship experience as the band, singers, and worship leaders.  God cares much more for the heart behind the voice than the voice itself – and He created the voice anyway.  To Him, everyone’s voice is pure beauty when it’s offered to Him in praise.

OK, this is getting a little (a lot) long, so let me just make a quick summery.  God wants us to worship.  There is power when we do this together.  There are many other excuses I’ve heard on this subject that I could talk about, but most generally come down to this:  either we’re focusing on ourselves; our wants, our needs, our desire; or we’re focusing on God. When we force ourselves to be less “self-conscious” and become  more “God-conscious,” a whole new world is opened up to us.

I was recently discussing a teaching that Darlene Zschech gave with the other worship leaders in our organization, and one point really stuck out to me.  She (Ms. Zschech) stated that our enemy is purposely, consciously, and regularly giving us more and more excuses to avoid worship.  How scary.   There’s not a whole lot we know about what heaven is going to be like, but one thing is sure – worship will be the main event.  We will be in the literal presence of God Himself, and just as we see in so many examples in the bible, the obvious and immediate response will be worship.  Right here, right now, we have the opportunity to practice for eternity.  Let’s not let anything – our excuses,, our self-focus, the enemy – let’s not let anything get in the way.  Let’s let our praises ring!  Let’s make worship the main event!   Let’s set ourselves aside, and give our savior His due.  Let’s worship!