Archive | February, 2014

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.

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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?

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*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?

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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.

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*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.

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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.

What you do

1 Feb

photo-1

A friend posted this on Facebook tonight:

Last week, I did a gig in Spain leading worship for international missionaries. After working fine for a couple of days, my guitar rig got fried by some sort of power glitch. So, I had to finish 4 days of music for the conference with ONE electric guitar sound.

No verbs, delays, overdrives, or anything. All I had was a Tele Thinline and a Tech21 Blonde pedal (analog Fender amp simulator) with one setting.

This is good…

Here’s what I (re)learned from the experience:

1) Limited options inspire more creativity than unlimited options.

2) Anything that makes you play simpler, more carefully-composed parts is a good thing.

3) Your audience only cares that you play with creativity and passion. Few people, if any, will ever know or notice what you DON’T have. They’ll just notice what you DO, with what you have.

Of COURSE I’m not gonna do that again by choice, but I am actually grateful for the experience.

Equipment is not the only limitation we get hung up on. Personnel (If only we had a bass player…); bigger church building (If only we had more room…); more talented preacher (If only we got meat instead of milk…); ______ (Insert your wish.)

Why do we worship again? What is the point of excellence? Why do we expend so much energy and creativity getting ready for Sunday?

Oh, that’s right….

For God.

Period.

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READY FOR SUNDAY

Several years ago the worship team I was a part of had the “if only-s”. There was always a reason why we couldn’t fully worship God.

Then we recognized our idolatry. We had put a list of our own desires between us and worship God.

He wants our best efforts.

But if we have one talent, he doesn’t expect a ten-talent performance.

We are not responsible for what he has not provided, only for what we can give him– all we have.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

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In blogmanship cooperation, Scott’s facebook status turned into this post, which turned into more from Scott here. A picture of the Body and web-laboration!

 

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