We GET to….

18 Apr

Img_2599 cropIf you serve in a church (many of my readers do), you have had quite a week. You are undoubtedly tired, maybe exhausted, going into the church’s highest weekend as we celebrate our Savior’s death and resurrection.

The irony isn’t lost – we are tired because our greatest celebration and THE reason we do what we do takes the most work, sacrifice, time, energy, patience, planning, and ____. (Fill in your week’s reality.) Actually, that’s the way it should be!

Sometimes in the celebration, however, it’s easy to forget the why, to lose focus, and begin to resent it all.

At least it is for me.

Since I’m enjoying a couple hours of respite before kicking everything into high gear until mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday, I had time to read this link a co-worker sent me after our long night yesterday.

I’m happy (relieved after reading the post!) to say that we both had good attitudes last night as we locked up the church after working all day, and an hour beyond when the last person left dress rehearsal, to be ready for tonight.

I wish I could say that is always the case for me.

Next time, Mike’s exhortation will be ringing in my ears.

We GET to do this!

And I’d honestly rather be doing NOTHING else this weekend than keeping the stones quiet.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  Hebrews 13:15-16

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Every note, every fader, every strum, every cue, every light, every word… everything is for one reason.  It’s all for you, Jesus.

All of it.

 

 

Changed

12 Apr

Let Holy Week commence! Extra rehearsals, last-minute duties, extra services, and special programs…. all to celebrate the greatest moment in history!

Tomorrow – Palm Sunday -  we remember Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem.

My writing time was swallowed up by the busy-ness of the past week. So, here is a well-received post from a couple of years ago: the first Palm Sunday with a nod to football.

May we all be changed for having been with Jesus!

Unchanged and not the Same

5 Apr

Highpoint wall

The chapter and verse don’t matter.

During the morning I read a friend’s sermon and planned the songs to close out the worship service later that night.

My cell vibrated just as my friend started preaching. I left the room to take the call from my son. Family trumps ministry for me. (Or maybe I should say that family is my first ministry.)

He was upbeat as he shared he didn’t have a hernia. Instead he has cancer.

We talked a little about treatment and insurance. Since he had just came from a series of medical appointments, he didn’t have many details yet. But he does have cancer.

I went back to the service and to the sermon– the same sermon but not the same.

It could have been any chapter and verse. The point is that my circumstances changed, and I was now listening to the same sermon I had read a couple of hours earlier from a different perspective.

What I found was that the Truth remained unchanged. Even though I heard it through being in a different place in life, the foundation was still solid.

Nothing about my new circumstances changes the Truth of God.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

In a world where changes happen faster than anyone can comprehend, this alone is reason to worship God.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Before leading a song about God’s faithfulness that night, I shared my news – not for shock effect (although people were shocked!), but to give glory to God for his unchangeable truth even in– especially in– my changed circumstances

Interestingly, the sermon text was John 17, specifically he was on verses 1-5 about giving God glory. I came back from my phone call to hear my friend say: “You have to choose to give God glory. Jesus didn’t receive glory for his own sake, but in order that the Father would be glorified. If we don’t choose to glorify God, we take God’s glory for ourselves.”

When all else is upside-down and backwards, giving God glory turns me upright. I focus on his power, not my situation, putting my sites on his unchanging Truth when life is disorienting.

Much like a lighthouse anchors every direction in a ship captain’s soul when waves have turned the ship around and tossed the compass overboard, God is steady. He is with us through the turbulence, and he is also above the chaos.

I worship him for this. And even when I am wind-whipped, I can lead others to him.

He is constant.

Alleluia!

 

Dissing Unity

29 Mar

???????????????????

Hobby Lobby. World Vision. Westboro Baptist. Noah. Chik-Fil-A. Duck Dynasty.

Is anyone else tired of talking about all this instead of Jesus? I know I am.

About mid-week my heart was so heavy, I wanted to scream: STOP IT! Of course no one would have heard me among all the other voices, so instead I thought and pondered, asking myself if there was anything positive I could do in light of all Christian messes in the news lately.

My search took me to John 17 – Jesus’ last words to his disciples. Jesus prayed for himself, for the ones surrounding him, and for us– those who will believe.

“I do not ask for these (the disciples) only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  John 17:20-23

In his last moments with his friends, Jesus prays for unity. Why? Not so they will all feel good about each other and their relationships. Not so they will be emotionally healthy and fulfilled. Not even so they would have peace.

He says it twice: so that the world may believe and know God loves them.

Jesus could have said any number of things knowing that he would be arrested in a few moments. He chose unity; the if-you-missed-everything-else-I-said-get- this.

Christian unity is a big deal.

The main reason my heart has been so sick over the news stories lately is that more than the issues themselves, the disunity is what the world is noticing– the opposite of what Jesus prayed for right before going to the cross! Even in that moment he knew we would blow it, just as he knew Peter would. Yet he went forward to Golgotha for Peter… and for us.

Every facebook status, every blog post, every news report about these stories makes me ask: How can I be part of the solution? I’m not a player in any of these events. But I definitely have a part to play in the greater story. And so does every Christ follower.

Remember the principle in the Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard it said… but I tell you….”

Several times Jesus refers to the Law, then takes the issue further into the soul.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

What does this have to do with unity? Jesus repeats this pattern in Matthew 5 indicating that he is concerned with all heart-attitudes not just the few examples he gives. He starts the New Covenant ball rolling expecting us to keep it in play.

External obedience is not enough. Not if we claim to follow Jesus.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Unity isn’t a problem for worship teams…. right?

No one is ever jealous of another’s ability or opportunity.
No one ever thinks he/she could do a better job than someone else.
No one checks out what someone else is wearing on stage with a critical eye.
No one ever talks badly about another team member.

Especially not the worship leader.

Christian unity begins in the small interactions of everyday.

Team unity is a big deal. If we aren’t unified, will those in the congregation sense the love God has for them or be distracted by a spirit other than The Spirit?

And as the leader, I set the tone.

 

 

Cross Purposes

22 Mar

????????

Yesterday spring found a chink in winter’s armor.

My cheeks are still warm from a full day of sunshine, reminding me on this 35-degree morning that yesterday was really real.

Wanting to be outside and last fall’s undone garden chores intersected beautifully under the blue sky. I like working hard, especially when I can step back and see results, so I plunged in with a happy heart.

The first to go– dead stems from the perennials that will grow anew and be covered in color again this year. Next up were the branches pruned by the blades of the fierce windstorms that blew through the midwest this winter. The ruthless gardener had not been neat, and they were scattered cattywumpus all over the yard, on the roof, in corners by the chimney, and inside the shrubs.

At first I had a hard time determining which branches were legitimately part of the bushes and which were dead windfalls from the tree above. They looked practically the same without leaves to tell them apart.

A crooked branch caught my eye. I looked more closely and found lots – enough for a good start for a bonfire! The bush’s branches were all going the same way–  from main stems toward the sky. Dead windfalls were scattered in at cross purposes with the bush’s branches– ones that would soon welcome spring for real by putting out tiny pink flowers.

Being involved in church life, and specifically worship ministry, is never dull! Glorious times of worshiping God together are interspersed with difficult situations – criticism, arguments about musical style difference, and others’ expectations. It’s easy to get discouraged and give in to distractions that lead away from the main thing.

Last week I overheard someone say that not every difficulty we face is spiritual warfare. I’ve been thinking about that comment, and I’m not sure I agree.  We live in this temporal, physical world, which does make seeing what’s happening in the spiritual world difficult, but the heavenly world is just as real, and vastly more crucial to every situation, than this one. Everything in this world – every conversation, decision, thought, situation – is also intrinsically of eternity.

Everything is spiritual warfare. Not every difficulty is demonic or a spiritual attack, but every situation is part of eternity. Until we are in heaven, there are opposing values, ideas, and perceived realities in conflict.

If you’ll allow me a pun in the midst of a serious thought… the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven are at cross purposes.

One is interested in self, the other in Jesus.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

In the big conflicts of life it’s easy for me to discern which kingdom’s value structure is driving the situation. In re-thinking everything– even the more mundane and seemingly inconsequential– from an eternal perspective, it’s tougher.

  • In a conversation with someone from the congregation who doesn’t like the musical style of our worship– what is really going on? Self-centeredness?  Further conversation and several questions often reveals that there is a lot more to the story. Sometimes, however, it was simply a thoughtless remark.
  • Making a decision about which songs to sing on Sunday– do I choose the one I just wrote or go with a well-known standard? What’s my motivation– self-aggrandizement or allowing people to worship God with Truth. Maybe my song fits better.

These are just two examples of many, many ordinary opportunities for me to have a positive affect eternity as I live in both kingdoms.

The question is: how do I discern what’s going on?

How can I be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”? 2 Timothy 2:21

The answer: look for direction.

Is the heart-motivation going toward Jesus? Toward the cross of selflessness?

Or is it a dead, crooked branch that will be lifeless come spring, and only good for a bonfire?

Everything pointing somewhere besides the cross has to go. The first part of 2 Timothy 2:21 calls us to be cleansed from everything that is dishonorable.

Direction is everything.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Blowing Chunks

15 Mar

????????

Winter has been brutal in the Midwest this year. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE winter… in places that are equipped for it.

I like my snow measured in FEET, not inches, in a town boasting a fleet of ginormous plows and snowbank snowblowers.

Here in the city we have temporary plows fastened to the fronts of pick-up trucks. Winter laughed at them this year!

But now the trucks are emerging from winter’s hold like insects wrapped in a spiderweb losing its stickiness. The Northern hemisphere is tipping toward the sun, reversing the frozen grasp that has seemed so very permanent. Ice is cold, and hard, and unyielding… until sunshine returns.

This week I was driving into the city for a worship service. I was late and unprepared due to a tough, unforeseen situation. As I drove, I tried to pray and keep it under 70. Watching the speedometer was easier. I was so distracted by this issue and frustrated that I wasn’t prepared!

God often uses my environment to speak to me when I’m like this. Behind the truck in front of me what looked like puffs of smoke blowing across the road caught my attention. I sped up to see what was going on, kind of like Moses checking out the bush.

The truck was dropping ice bombs that exploded into snow-puffs when they hit the road.

The mud flaps (or should they be called snow flaps this time of year?) concealed the truck’s underbelly where I suspected the ice chunks were coming from. All I could see were little explosions of celebration every time one fell off. Even the biggest and toughest pieces of ice couldn’t weather a drop onto concrete going 70. Every one was obliterated. I laughed, imagining that the truck’s mileage will get better this week after winter falls off.

When I pulled into the parking lot we share with a liquor store, I sat there for a few minutes to let some chunks fall off me. I was still distracted, but as I looked at the outside of the church my heart grew light knowing that God would work in our hearts that night– he has every night we gather in community, and I knew he would again.

The prep was already underway in the kitchen (we have a meal together before the service), so I went straight to the dining area to run through the night’s songs. I love Jesus, and I love to sing; the combo is often cathartic, but that night I heard God singing back to me as I worshiped him. The day’s chunks melted off my heart and the residue blew away as I worshiped.

The ministry that God did that night was amazing! A woman that is seeking God stayed late, and we talked about freedom in Christ. A couple of weeks ago she made a pact with the devil, but now I could see the enemy’s web losing its grip as her eyes communicated understanding of grace that we’ve been praying for for so long. There are a few ice chunks still clinging to her heart, but many more melted off. For the first time she can see the path leading to Jesus.

What has seemed like an endless winter is powerless when spring sunshine returns. Every piece of ice will melt.

What had all the makings of a fiasco-night developed into a divine worship service that glorified God that began when my rehearsal tipped over into praise and God removed the crusty ice from around my heart.

That would have been enough.

But God also let us watch as years of suffocating bonds fell away from a tender heart.

———-

READY FOR WORSHIP

As people enter our church buildings tomorrow, many will be carrying junk from a broken world. Some will bring hard issues deep in their underbellies that no one can see. Others will be wound with a sticky web that constrains their worship. Many will be distracted by the pressures and pace of life.

All of them will be entrusted to us.

God works through several aspects that intersect our temporal physical world with the eternal spiritual realm – the primary ones being his word, prayer, and worship. We can plan, lead, and deliver a perfunctory event using all of these.

Or we can invite him into every facet and watch him work. That is my prayer for all and each of us tomorrow.

Spring has come back to the Midwest; all the ice will melt.

Jesus came into the world to break every chain and make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
.    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
.    and rivers in the desertIsaiah 43:19

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  Revelation 21:1-7

Heartache

8 Mar

IMG_2060

Last night I stumbled on photos of my hometown that I took during my last visit.

Achingly beautiful.

(Click on the photo to get a better idea of what I mean.)

Each photo called to me to put myself into the photo like Bert and Mary Poppins popped into his sidewalk chalk drawings. Everything within me answered the call. When I opened my eyes I was still here in front of my laptop screen. Sigh. Oh for Calvin’s transmogrifier.

At first I thought I was feeling an intense longing – longing to be there, longing for how I feel when I’m there. That was certainly part of it. More than that, though, my heart ached.

Down beyond the dailiness of life, past thoughts and consciousness, my heart was undone.

Being in nature opens my soul at another level. Even farther into my spirit, at the very essence of who God made me, lives the part of me that beauty touches. Little else makes it that far into my heart. Walls protect tenderness, and beauty ekes in through the chinks.

Glory streams in and my heart fills beyond its capacity. My soul is burstingly full, and yet still wants more.

———-

As I continued looking at my photos another desire wafted in. Several friends came to mind– friends who would love my hometown as much as I; friends who would greatly benefit from the soul-scrubbing that happens when surrounded by natural beauty.

More than their welfare, however, I was thinking about experiencing the vistas of my hometown (glorious sunrises and sunsets, overlooks of Lake Superior, miles of sand dunes stretching toward the horizon) with my friends. Being there together.

Although I’m an introvert, and happy to enjoy a brilliant sunset by myself, there’s something about sharing beauty with others that makes it even more beautiful.

———-

Much of worship is a mystery to me– physical touching spiritual; creator desiring attention from his created; God’s glory inhabiting our praises.

Of one thing I am certain: that God is beautiful, and we get a glimpse of that during worship.

Together, when we humbly journey to the foot of the cross, we are before his throne, and we gaze on the beauty of Jesus.

When I worship him alone, I see his beauty. When we worship him together, the Standard of beauty becomes even more beautiful because the moment is shared – magnified – with others who also ache in His presence.

His glory streams in and our hearts fill beyond capacity. Our souls are burstingly full… and still want more.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Here are a couple of ways to prepare our hearts for leading others tomorrow:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
   that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
   and to inquire in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

O Lord, You’re Beautiful – original by Keith Green.

And covered by Jesus Culture. Some especially beautiful moments:
.   – When Kim Walker wipes her eyes at 1:55 (in response to God’s beauty?)
  – And at 4 minutes in when the leaders step away from the mics and the crowd sings out together

My prayer for all of us tomorrow: His glory will stream in and our hearts will be full beyond their capacity. Our souls will be burstingly full… and still want more.

Med Check

22 Feb

BibleThis Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth,
but you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.
For then you will make your way prosperous, and…have good success.

Joshua 1:8

The secret to a successful life starts with mediation according to this passage.

I lived through the 60s and 70s — the era of TM (transcendental meditation). Achieving an altered state of consciousness weirded me out. I stayed far, far away from gurus, cults, and uncomfortable cross-legged postures!

Meditation isn’t off limits for a follower of Christ, however. In fact, the Bible advocates its use – even commands us to meditate.

The English Standard Bible contains 15 verses about meditating on God, his works, and his commands.*

Before we go further, we need a definition of the term. “To engage in thought or contemplation, reflect… to think about something deeply, to reflect deeply on spiritual matters, especially as a religious act… to ponder.”

Our society is infatuated with yoga and spiritualism. When I searched the internet for “meditation” the hits, photos, and videos were overwhelmingly about eastern mysticism’s meditation practices. This led me to two thoughts – we have an incredible opportunity to engage our culture with Biblical mediation practices, and resources on Christian meditation aren’t easy to find.

Those educated in spiritual formation are vastly more qualified to write a comprehensive work on mediation than I. There are two practices that work for me, however. They are simple, easy to learn, and have affected my relationship with Jesus.

  1. Bible Reading. As I read my Bible in the morning, I ask God to speak to me. I listen to him as I read, and a verse “sticks out” to me. I read the verse in context** several times, thinking about – meditating on – the Truth it contains. My primary goal is for the Word to change my heart and life to become more like Christ. Having Truth to share with the people I will meet and situations I will face during the day is a close secondary purpose.
  2. Word Emphasis. When I want to soak up a phrase or verse of Scripture, I read it through (sometimes out loud) as many times as there are words. With each repetition I focus on one word – usually the last one – and think about why God used that word and what it means. For example:
    -
    1. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
    2. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
    3. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  And so on, 13 more times.

Meditating on Scripture isn’t spooky spiritual hooey.

It’s Biblical.

It’s enjoyable.

It’s transformational. Not because of the skill of the meditator. But because God’s Word is powerful.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

Without transformation, God making me into his image, there is no way I can lead others into his presence. It’s not that I need to be 100% completely transformed, but that I am following after his Son; that I am pursuing a deepening relationship with him; and that I am soft, teachable clay in his hands.

What Scripture are you allowing to mold you?

———-

*In the search list hits 4 and 17 are negative examples of meditation.

**Context is extremely important when focusing on a single verse of Scripture. Without it we miss God’s intent and get caught up in apostasy, tangents, and ideas that lead us away from, not toward, God. The recent death of a preacher-snake handler is an example.

Sing Sing Sing

15 Feb

Last week a few high-profile followers of Jesus put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with  I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all worth a read, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skimming.

The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening and singing since his learning style is kinesthetic.

Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I had been thinking about these aspects of worship, because I have a similar way of deeply connecting with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Last week we talked about the large group aspect. Today the topic is singing.

Greenwood Festival

Last week’s closing paragraph:

Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted.

Why singing?

Throughout the Bible we are exhorted to worship God by singing.

In the Old Testament:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
.    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
.    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
   shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:4-6

And the New:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

There are many other ways to worship God mentioned in the Bible (raising hands, playing instruments, shouting, among many others). However, like last week’s post, it’s not an either/or, but both/and. Some of us may prefer raising our hands to praise God, and we are also instructed, not exempt, from also singing His praises.

It’s clear that in the Bible God asks us to worship him by singing. But we haven’t answered the original question: Why singing?

Since I don’t know what was in God’s mind when He inspired the writers of Scripture, I can’t say for certain. But thinking about the qualities of singing may give us some hints.

1. Almost everyone has a voice to sing God’s praises.* We can all participate. Some are more skilled than others, but everyone has at least one note! This isn’t true of many activities. I can’t ride a unicycle, though I know several people who can. I am not strong enough to split wood with an ax. Though I tried while on a cheer leading team in high school, I have never been able to do a cartwheel. But everyone can sing.

2. There isn’t any special equipment required. No fancy amps or expensive instruments or specialized training needed. Singing crosses every line – socio-economic, race, gender, background, and nationality.

3. Since our voices are always with us, singing can happen anywhere – an impromptu offering or a carefully planned program. Voices are convenient and portable, always on stand-by for whenever someone wants to praise God.

4. Everyone can join in. Individuals, a handful of people, and large groups can participate in singing God’s praises. One person can sing on the side of a mountain, and thousands can sing in a cathedral. Singing is individual and corporate at the same time. There are very few other activities where this is true. I can sing a song at home by myself, and I can sing the same song as an individual in a large gathering, and my small contribution magnifies the corporate singing like the PK gathering mentioned above.

We’ve all been involved in a game with a set number of players when someone wants to join in. Three people can’t play chess. The third person either has to wait for the game to be over to play (and then one of the original players has to sit out), or she has to find someone else to play with. Singing doesn’t exclude.

5.  Each person can be present– in the moment– with every other person. When a large group sings together, everyone is essentially doing the same thing and unified as God is worshiped. Every person is engaged and needed.

6. Singing covers the gamut of emotion and intention. The tenderest lament can be whispered and the grandest proclamation can be declared in song. While emotions don’t determine our relationship with God, they help us connect with Him as we worship, and music can be a vehicle to help give them (literally!) a voice.

Several years ago we hosted a group of Christian men from a closed country in our home. After dinner, they asked if they could lead us in worship– they had learned a couple of songs in English just for us. They lead us straight to the throne of God in a matter of seconds and we stayed there the entire time we sang. In America we sing; these men SANG! Every atom in their bodies praised Jesus, and I’m sure anyone walking by outside on the sidewalk could hear us singing.

The men didn’t pause in order to decide whether or not they would best connect with God by singing. They just sang from deep within their souls. Their worship spilled over on us, carrying us with them as we all forgot ourselves and became lost in the presence of God.

God desires is that we sing to Him en masse.

He has asked us for this.

Why would we withhold it from Him?

———-
READY FOR SUNDAY

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:15-18

Abraham did not withhold his only son – his special gift from God.

As worship leaders what do we hold onto? Our renown? Our voice? Our preferences?

Throughout Scripture God’s blessing is pronounced on those who surrender it all. How can we expect the blessing without the sacrifice?

Lord, I withhold nothing.

———-
*I have several deaf/mute friends who use their hands instead of their voices to sing.

Numbers

8 Feb

This week a few high-profile followers of Jesus have put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with  I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all good reads, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skim.

The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening to sermons and singing songs since his learning style is kinesthetic, not auditory or visual.

Img_4557 crop

Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I have given much thought to these aspects of worship because I have a similar way to Miller of connecting  deeply with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Next week, I’ll address singing as worship. Today the topic is worshiping God together in a large group.

Here are my thoughts….

1. Individual and Corporate

There is a difference between personally connecting with God and worshiping Him corporately, and both are essential to the Kingdom and to each individual in it. In Miller’s blog mentioned above, he emphasizes personal connection to God… at the exclusion of large gatherings. Throughout Scripture individual praise to God is commanded, and so is the corporate gathering to worship God. Both are required. We are to worship him at all times – as His child and as His Church.

From the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple rites, to the Feasts in Jerusalem for the entire Jewish nation, to the new church in Acts 2. Jesus got away from the crowds to commune with his Father, but that wasn’t his only way of worshiping God. He went to temple worship, the Feasts in Jerusalem, and preached to thousands on hillsides. In short, followers of the Triune God coming together to worship him is God’s idea, and it’s not our place to decide whether that is for me or not.

2. Large and Small Groups

Again, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Small groups have their purpose in the Kingdom – Jesus, after all had a group of 12 disciples. Small groups are where deep, heart-connections happen– difficult in a large group. I’m not minimizing the small group– both are crucial to the Church.

The large group aspect has taken big hits lately. It’s impersonal. Half the world’s population is made up of introverts who’d rather stay home (see Facebook and Pinterest memes!) Large congregations look more like a business empire than the Kingdom. These and others may (or may not) be true, but gathering together in large groups to worship God cannot be dismissed as unnecessary, irrelevant, or “not for me, thank-you.”

As already mentioned, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feasts and taught in the Temple. The new Church met together in small groups, and worshiped God in the synagogue. It’s quite ironic that the end of Acts 2 is used to support the position for small house churches and to be critical of large worship gatherings, when Acts 2:45-47 clearly states that the early Christians not only met in each others’ homes– they attended temple together!

3. Critical mass is important

We cannot ignore the fact that large numbers are important to God. In the Old Testament lists of names and totals for each tribe, family by family, take up an entire chapter of Scripture. As the nation of Israel traveled through the wilderness setting up camp around the Tabernacle at night, the Israelites are numbered. In Acts 2, “they were all together in one place” as the Spirit came upon them – many spoke in tongues and several thousand believed the Gospel.

Descriptions of heavenly worship contain numeric totals: the angels are numbered as myriads and thousands upon thousands; the number of the sealed is 144,000; and the great multitude that no one can count worships God before his throne day and night… with the numberless angels!

If large groups are important in worshiping God, does that mean that three believers in the mountains of Nepal who meet to worship God are not following God’s command to gather together for worship? Of course not. Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Their worship is just as valid as a groups of thousands. In a countries hostile to the Gospel two or three people worshiping God is their large gathering. We are only responsible for what we have, not what we don’t have.

4. Individuality within the Kingdom

While it’s true that we come to the cross as individuals before God, there is also a time when individuality takes the back seat of the bus for community. The Word of God was written to an (often very large) group of people. The exceptions are some of the New Testament letters written to individuals, but even then the expectation was that they would be read to the church. (The fact that we have the letter to Philemon in the Bible strongly suggests that it was circulated through the church. Otherwise, the letter would have stayed in Philemon’s possession and remained obscure.)

Many languages, including ancient Greek, make a distinction between the singular and plural “you”. In English, however, they are one in the same. This makes understanding the corporate nature of Scripture difficult for us to grasp. Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to assume “you” to be plural when reading Scripture unless there is a solid reason it should be singular. Since most of us can’t read the original Greek, this is good advice. Try it and see how the meaning of each passage changes slightly when it is understood as being addressed to a group of believers instead of to an individual. In the Old Testament and early Christian church, the community came first, the individual second. Our culture is the opposite. Somewhere in the tension of the middle is the truth contained in the Bible. We are individuals within the Kingdom community.

Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted. More about singing next week.

Is worshiping God in a large group the only way to worship him? Definitely not.

Is worshiping God in a large group something he desires from us?

Absolutely.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

As worship leaders, we have a responsibility to make sure we connect with God on a deep level. For those of us who are able to do that in a large group, Sunday morning can provide that. But if, like me, being alone outside in nature with the Word is how you connect with Him, we have to make sure we plan time for this in our schedule during the week.

If a corporate worship experience doesn’t provide you with a deep connection with God, figure out your worship style and engage with your God. Check out Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas for ideas.

We can’t lead people into a place or a relationship where we haven’t been.

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