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Archive for September, 2014

girl-resting-in-meadow

Tuesday is the day I observe Sabbath rest. I wanted to repost this blog about Sabbath – a conspicuously missing jewel in the rhythms of Christian spiritual formation. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows us to rest, recalibrate and be re-created. Sabbath was instituted by God on the seventh day (Saturday).  So this post looks at how our current (and ancient) culture fights against the concept of Sabbath on the very day of the week it was instituted. And I hope this post would encourage you to take the courageous step by reclaiming the gift of Sabbath for the sake of your soul.

Saturday is named for the Roman god, Saturn. Saturn is one of those gods whose function is rather ambiguous and complex. In short, he was the god of industry and wealth. And we see this god-function carried over into our modern culture where many people work (are “industrious”) seven days a week in order to create more wealth. This attitude is also seen in those who believe that the ability to make a living rests solely on the individual. This overly sense of self-reliance defies the belief that our provision comes from God, who gives us the ability to make a living and who would provide for us even if we lacked the ability.

The other face of Saturn is the spirit of dissipation and revelry. The winter feast of Saturn (called “Saturnalia”) was marked by people going overboard, getting drunk, and participating in all sorts of worldly excesses. I believe it was the predecessor of the modern-day “office Christmas party”! It provided an opportunity for people to act differently than what they normally were – which is at the heart of what “dissipation” means (a division or dispersing).

The opposite spirit of Saturn is “Sabbath.” In fact, in Latin languages the role of Saturn is completely replaced on this day with the Sabbath (Spanish for Saturday is “Sabado” – Sabbath). In Sabbath, we choose not to be “industrious” by resting from work. It also shows that we are dependent upon God for our provision, not on our ability to work. The ancient people of Israel learned this in a practical way as they were instructed to gather twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath (which God generously provided), so that they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath (when the manna would not come). On the Sabbath, our bodies and souls get a chance to recharge – to be restored – through rest. I’m developing a nice habit of taking a nap on my Sabbath. And what’s nicer is that to rest is a command from God (Exodus 20:8-11). Nice, huh?

But another function of the Sabbath is integration of our being through focus on God. Instead of the dissipation of Saturn (which leads to a culture schizophrenia of identity), Sabbath gives us the opportunity to get centered on God. On my Sabbath, I spend extra time in Personal Worship. It is in Personal Worship that I become whole (which is what “integration” means) as I recalibrate my being through loving God with my heart, soul, mind and strength and as He loves me in kind. Contrast this with finding our identities in typical Saturday activities (soccer mom, gardening fanatic, “weekend warrior,” arm chair quarterbacks, or party animal).

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have hobbies or interests. In fact, Sabbath means engaging in “life-giving” activities (I enjoy watching sports, playing jazz piano, riding my bike, socializing with friends and gardening). But the enjoyment of these things as gifts from God is different than “living for them.” Sabbath is about God re-creating us through these gifts; not making our recreation into gods.

Admittedly, keeping the Sabbath is a difficult discipline to maintain. Everything in our culture works against it. And creating a legalism around it doesn’t help one bit. Like other spiritual disciplines, we start with baby steps – like setting apart a few hours for restoration, recalibration and recreation, and then increasing it as we are able. And like everything else, we view it from the lens of grace. Sabbath is a grace and being able to observe it – rather than the ways of Saturn – requires even more grace. But it is a grace that our God wants to give us as we desire to make every day His day.

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girl-resting-in-meadow

Tuesday is the day I observe Sabbath rest. I wanted to repost this blog about Sabbath – a conspicuously missing jewel in the rhythms of Christian spiritual formation. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows us to rest, recalibrate and be re-created. Sabbath was instituted by God on the seventh day (Saturday).  So this post looks at how our current (and ancient) culture fights against the concept of Sabbath on the very day of the week it was instituted. And I hope this post would encourage you to take the courageous step by reclaiming the gift of Sabbath for the sake of your soul.

Saturday is named for the Roman god, Saturn. Saturn is one of those gods whose function is rather ambiguous and complex. In short, he was the god of industry and wealth. And we see this god-function carried over into our modern culture where many people work (are “industrious”) seven days a week in order to create more wealth. This attitude is also seen in those who believe that the ability to make a living rests solely on the individual. This overly sense of self-reliance defies the belief that our provision comes from God, who gives us the ability to make a living and who would provide for us even if we lacked the ability.

The other face of Saturn is the spirit of dissipation and revelry. The winter feast of Saturn (called “Saturnalia”) was marked by people going overboard, getting drunk, and participating in all sorts of worldly excesses. I believe it was the predecessor of the modern-day “office Christmas party”! It provided an opportunity for people to act differently than what they normally were – which is at the heart of what “dissipation” means (a division or dispersing).

The opposite spirit of Saturn is “Sabbath.” In fact, in Latin languages the role of Saturn is completely replaced on this day with the Sabbath (Spanish for Saturday is “Sabado” – Sabbath). In Sabbath, we choose not to be “industrious” by resting from work. It also shows that we are dependent upon God for our provision, not on our ability to work. The ancient people of Israel learned this in a practical way as they were instructed to gather twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath (which God generously provided), so that they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath (when the manna would not come). On the Sabbath, our bodies and souls get a chance to recharge – to be restored – through rest. I’m developing a nice habit of taking a nap on my Sabbath. And what’s nicer is that to rest is a command from God (Exodus 20:8-11). Nice, huh?

But another function of the Sabbath is integration of our being through focus on God. Instead of the dissipation of Saturn (which leads to a culture schizophrenia of identity), Sabbath gives us the opportunity to get centered on God. On my Sabbath, I spend extra time in Personal Worship. It is in Personal Worship that I become whole (which is what “integration” means) as I recalibrate my being through loving God with my heart, soul, mind and strength and as He loves me in kind. Contrast this with finding our identities in typical Saturday activities (soccer mom, gardening fanatic, “weekend warrior,” arm chair quarterbacks, or party animal).

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have hobbies or interests. In fact, Sabbath means engaging in “life-giving” activities (I enjoy watching sports, playing jazz piano, riding my bike, socializing with friends and gardening). But the enjoyment of these things as gifts from God is different than “living for them.” Sabbath is about God re-creating us through these gifts; not making our recreation into gods.

Admittedly, keeping the Sabbath is a difficult discipline to maintain. Everything in our culture works against it. And creating a legalism around it doesn’t help one bit. Like other spiritual disciplines, we start with baby steps – like setting apart a few hours for restoration, recalibration and recreation, and then increasing it as we are able. And like everything else, we view it from the lens of grace. Sabbath is a grace and being able to observe it – rather than the ways of Saturn – requires even more grace. But it is a grace that our God wants to give us as we desire to make every day His day.

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The Encouraging Song

headphones

I know that Whole Life Worship might seem to discount the role of music and song in worship. If you’ve sensed this tendency, it’s only because we have made worship of God all about the music in our current culture. Worship is so much more than music or the song.

That being said, music and song has a huge role in worshiping God. In fact, it has so many contributing facets to helping us surrender our lives to God – which is the essence of all worship.

I want to look at one facet of the song today: encouragement.

The other day a friend suggested that I listen to a song by a well-known Christian artist (“Grace” by Laura Story). Now it might surprise you that I don’t really listen much to Christian music, even though I am a Worship Pastor. I like to sing Christian songs in worship, but I really don’t take time to listen to them. But I respect this friend’s opinion, so when I had a moment, I listened to the song

The first time I heard it, I just noticed a couple of the phrases (I was multi-tasking; eating my lunch while it was playing). But the second time I listened more intently, and I was floored! It spoke deeply to my soul. Tears started streaming down my face as I reflected on the sacredness of the journey to which God has called, and especially the grace that constantly surrounds me in my inconsistent response to this pilgrimage.

I was deeply, deeply encouraged.

Songs of the faith, whether they are old or new and regardless of the style, speak encouragement to the heart – if we let them. And we need so much encouragement as we pursue a lifestyle that is so counter-cultural, so fraught with resistance (within and without), and so hard to grasp at times. Encouragement literally means to “infuse heart strength” (cour is French for heart; Latin cor). And the song of faith is particularly designed to infuse heart strength in following the Way of Christ.

But in order for the song to encourage, we need to slow down to hear it.

And while I’ll never be a “consumer” of Christian music (1. I’m a tightwad and 2. there’s so much out there that it’s hard to know what to listen to), I am challenged to allow Christian music – and all music that displays the truth and grace that Christ came to display – to infuse heart strength into my acts of Whole Life Worship.

What songs of the faith have encouraged you in the Way?

How can you slow down and listen to the music?

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amen

We’re singing a new song at our church. It’s called “All the People Said ‘Amen’” by Matt Maher. It’s fun, heart-felt, and easy to sing. But more importantly, it underscores an important dynamic in our corporate worship of God.

Unity.

“Amen” is the Hebrew idiom for agreement. It’s a response to something you believe to be true. In its most basic translation, amen means simply “yes!” So when we agree with something said and we say “amen,” we are in a sense declaring, “Yes, I agree with that!”

We end our prayers with “amen,” not because it marks the end of our conversation with God, but because we are affirming what we just said to God is true and right. The “amen” unites our desires and actions with God’s desires and actions. That is why, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is very specific in mentioning “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We can only say “Amen” to the end of a prayer when we understand that there is unity and agreement between what we ask and what God wants.

In the congregational gathering, the “amen” is our way of uniting our hearts and minds with each other – as well as uniting with the heart and mind of God. In some churches the word “amen” is simply spoken, like after a prayer or after a Scripture reading. But there are other ways we can express the “amen” in the congregation:

– When we sing worship songs together with gusto and heart, we are saying “amen.”

– When we clap our hands together to the beat of the song, we are saying “amen.”

– When we applaud God at the end of a song, we are saying “amen.”

– When shake hands or give hugs to the brothers and sisters around us at greeting time, we are saying “amen.”

– When we nod our heads or give a little grunt (“that’s right,” “uh-huh”) when the preacher or leader makes a truthful declaration, we are saying “amen.”

– When we show up for worship service with hearts engaged and willing to offer sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving or commitment, we are saying “amen.”

– When we place our tithes and offerings in the plate as it goes by, we are saying “amen.”

– When we receive the benediction (which means “good word”) and leave the service with a determination to be God’s vessel of light to the world, we are saying “amen.”

The Congregational Amen unites our hearts with God and each other. It serves to remind us that we are the people of God. But it means that when we come together we need to engage in the “amen.” It does us no good to come to worship service and just be a “spectator.” We come to worship service to be participants, to be actively engaging with God and His people, to offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.

And all the people said … AMEN!

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Thank-You

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks always for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Have you ever wondered what this means? Does this mean that I constantly need to say “thank you” to God?  Is God so insecure that He needs my “thank you” after He does something for me? Granted, we all know that it is nice to be thanked after we do something good or thoughtful, but we don’t need to be thanked; it’s not why we do something nice to others. So, why is giving thanks so important to God that it would be listed as a major aspect of doing His will?

Thanksgiving is important to God because it is important for us. God doesn’t need our thanks anymore than He needs our help or our money or anything else. He is totally self-sufficient. And giving thanks does not help Him be a “better God”. But it does help us become better people. God knows that giving thanks can powerfully impact our lives. Choosing to be thankful transforms our thoughts, our emotions, and, as a result, our actions. In other words, gratitude changes our attitude.

I remember one morning, not too long ago, having a big chip on my shoulder to start the day. I was a grump because I felt small, insignificant and unappreciated. I went to wake up my son. As I opened the door, I saw that his room was a disaster area and I reacted with harsh words. The rest of my family heard me and kept their distance, as if I had a “radioactive waste” sign around my neck! That only added “resentment” and “guilt” to my pity party. I got into my car, filled with “foul spirits”, and knowing that I had a ministry appointment in less than 30 minutes!

I felt so lost and defeated. I cried out to the Lord for help. And immediately, as if on cue, the words of 1 Thess. 5:18 came to mind – “give thanks always for this is God’s will.” It wasn’t easy, because I wasn’t feeling thankful in the least! But I forced myself to blurt out simple prayers of thanksgiving: “thank you for forgiving me”, “thank you for a car that runs”, “thank you for food in the pantry”, “thank you for hot and cold running water.” Whatever came to mind, I thanked God for it. My thanksgiving got deeper as I continued to thank Him aloud. I thanked Him for His ability to change my heart. I thanked Him for my family, and especially my son. I thanked Him for the opportunity I would have to ask for his forgiveness. It was then I realized how much I love my family and how much God had graced us. Before I knew it, my attitude had completely changed. No longer feeling a grump or a chump, I realized that I was among the most blessed man on the face of this earth. I was now ready to be a blessing to others and to God. “Thank you, Jesus, for this taste of abundant life!”

The enemy wants us to live in the dungeon of thankless-ness. This dungeon keeps us from experiencing the abundant Kingdom life Christ has for us. So Satan will throw at us the chains of self-pity, a complaining attitude, “taking things for granted”, and a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mindset. And when we give in to these thoughts, our hearts become hardened and calloused. What’s worse is that instead of living as Children of the Light, we actually start serving as agents of darkness.

But Christ has given us the key out of this dungeon: it is called “Giving Thanks Always.” The question is: are we going to use the key? Or will we wallow in the comfortable attitude of thankless-ness? Giving thanks is not easy; it goes against the grain of our flesh. Sometimes the action of giving thanks must be preceded by a cry for help: “Jesus, help me! Help me give thanks!” But thanksgiving is very powerful. Not only does it remove the “foul spirits” that have attached themselves to us, it allows us to be filled with the Spirit of God. It empowers us to bless others. It opens the eyes of our hearts to see the Goodness and Power of God in the midst of every situation. It lights our fire again and ignites our passion for Christ.

No wonder the Bible tells us to “give thanks … ALL THE TIME!” Gratitude changes our attitude, it transforms our hearts, it catapults us into the largeness of Whole Life Worship

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Forever Worship Now

WorshipServices1

Someone once told me that she did not want to go to heaven because “the only thing people do in heaven is worship God.” Whether this is a correct interpretation of statements made of the heavenly vision in the book of Revelation is not for me to decide. However, my reaction to that statement was, “What do you think worship is?” If worshiping God meant only singing songs to God, then I would have to agree with that statement. As much as I like singing, I do not want to sing all the time, every day, even if it is to God. And, I do not think God enjoys our singing so much that the Divine wants to hear it 24/7 for eternity and have us do nothing else.

However, if worship means something more than singing, something more than praising, or something more than what we do in a worship service, then I might reconsider this position. If worship was about life and love and work and pleasure and joy with God and others, then I would begin to understand why worship is a priority in the heavenly realms. If worship was about exploring the endless dimensions of who God is and then living out the reality of that dimension in a way that blows my mind and changes who I am, then sign me up! I can imagine, in the life to come God saying to me, “You want to see ‘omnipotence’? Watch this!” And then I will witness God do something so truly amazing (so much so that I would need to make up a word to describe it) that it expanded my life to a larger degree than I dreamt possible. I could do that forever and ever.

But the amazing thing is that we do not have to wait for “thy Kingdom come” to have our lives expanded by our worship of God. While the Kingdom of God will come in completion after Jesus Christ comes again, the Kingdom has, in fact, already been established. It has been invading into our world since Jesus came the first time. The Kingdom comes to people’s hearts as they surrender to “King Jesus” the rule and reign of their lives. This happens both by the larger decision of repentance and the abdication of the throne’s heart to Christ, as well as by the myriad of small decisions that happen daily which allow Jesus to be Lord over individual issues, decisions, and situations. And the greatness and wonder of God are magnified in (transformation) and around (by expectant eyes and hearts) those who engage in whole life worship of God. They become agents to extend the Kingdom as whole life worship positions them to be used by God to reveal divine mercy, grace, truth and power to others.

The Westminster Catechism states: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.” We can start our “forever” enjoyment of God today, right now. Whole Life Worship is simply a way to help us get there.

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Gift From Yahweh

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Today is my son’s (Jonathan) 22nd birthday. Today is a reminder of God’s special gift to Letty and me. Let me tell you the story behind this:

It was about 25 years ago that Letty and I considered having a third child. We had been blessed with two boys, Tim and Daniel. We thought that was “it” for us. We loved these two boys with all our heart. It was hard to imagine having a third child and how we could love that child in the same way as we loved the other two. Plus, having two children made us evenly matched (one kid per parent). Having three kiddos would give the power advantage to the children (think of a 3 on 2 fast-break, but worse).

But the Lord worked on our hearts and we knew that we should try for number 3. And so we did. Letty got pregnant and we were all excited about the new baby. However, the baby miscarried on the 8th week. It was heart-breaking and confusing for us. It felt like a death, but there was no body and no closure. Some well-meaning people in the church tried to comfort us with statements like, “Oh, you’ll get another chance” and “Well, there must have been a good reason why that baby wasn’t born.” But, as you can imagine, it just made it worse. Most people don’t know how to handle it when someone else goes through a miscarriage.

After grieving, we tried again. And Letty got pregnant again. At the 20th week, Letty felt something peculiar. She got checked and we discovered that the baby died in the womb. The worst part was that they would have to “extract” our dead child through a procedure that is only done at abortion clinics. So, sadly Letty had to go to a Planned Parenthood clinic in LA and had the procedure done. Again, there was no body and no closure, making it difficult to mourn. The only redemption was that Letty got to share with other women at the abortion clinic that she wasn’t there to get rid of her baby. Rather, she wanted her (the baby was a girl), but the baby had died in the womb. They were visibly moved by her story.

We were a wreck after that. The only things that kept us going were the demands of life and raising our two boys. Then, I remember receiving a phone call in January 1992 while at a Worship Conference in Colorado. Letty (with the boys help) announced that she was pregnant! And for the next 8 months we held our breaths.

As it got closer to the baby’s due date we had to decide on names. For the boy’s name we thought about all the Biblical characters. “Jonathan” stood out to us. We thought about how noble and truthful Jonathan was, and what a great, humble friend he was to David. I looked up the definition of Jonathan. In the Hebrew, it means “gift from Yahweh.”

That was perfect! After losing two children to death, Jonathan’s birth would truly be a gift. We did not take the opportunity to “give life” for granted. Although Jon was born a month premature, he was healthy and very much alive! Praise Yahweh for His gift!

Well, that gift is still giving blessing to us to this day. Jon is not only a healthy young adult, but one who lives fervently for Jesus. He’s very involved with our Youth Ministry, serving as a leader for High School Students. He is a Presidential Scholar at Cal State San Bernardino (and he’s on the Dean’s List every quarter). And he is a passionate worship leader at our church. He not only leads our HS Worship Team, but he also is one of our regular worship leaders for our church (the “Big” Church). And you know his daddy is really proud of that!

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(Pastor Scott Higa and Jon – giving some love to the USC Trojans)

But I share Jon’s story not just to brag about Jon, as a reminder of a needed habit Whole Life Worshipers must exercise – that of “remembering God’s goodness.” We tend to receive the blessings of God with initial joy, but then we so quickly move on to the next thing, the next need, the next prayer request, or the next miracle. Israel had the same problem – they kept forgetting what God had done because they were too concerned about what they needed God to do, now.

Yet remembering the gifts of God in the past is where we base our faith in the present. So it is important to remember his gifts, his “Jonathans.” They move us in the dynamic of Whole Life Worship.

When was the last time you stepped back and reflected on what God has done for you?

What are the “Jonathan” gifts God has given you in the past?

What did you learn about God through these gifts?

I will remember Your deeds, O LORD, and I will meditate on all Your works (Psalm 77:12)

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Wizard of Oz Worship

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(Here is an excellent blog post on congregational worship written by my good friend and colleague, Scott Higa. Scott is author of thechristiannerd.com and is the youth pastor at our church.)

In all of his iterations, people have always gone to the Wizard when they wanted something.

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion all have various requests for the Wizard.

In the musical Wicked, Elphaba hoped that the Wizard would “de-greenify” her.

Even in The Great and Powerful Oz, the people of Oz hoped that Oz could rescue them from the Wicked Witch.

The Wizard is something like a big, green genie, whom people call upon to fulfill their wishes and desires.

And while the Wizard is fine for Oz, he’s terrible when we bring him with us into a worship service.

Our church is in the middle of a sermon series called More than a Song. We’re looking at the idea that worship isn’t just something we do when we sing, but it’s something we do with our whole lives. God doesn’t call us to be Sunday worshipers, he calls us to be whole life worshipers, a phrase coined by our worship pastor, Doug.

Worship is all about offering our lives and ourselves to God. So when we think about a worship service, when we think about going to church, our focus needs to be on what we can give to God.

Unfortunately, though, we end up acting a lot like Dorothy when we go to church. Instead of thinking about what we can give to God, we spend the entire church service focused on what we want to get from God.

Dorothy wanted a way home and we just want to put our time in at church so that we can go home.

The Scarecrow wanted a brain and we just want a way to quiet down our brains long enough to stop worrying.

The Tin Man wanted a heart and we just want give God enough of our heart to keep from feeling guilty.

The Lion wanted courage and we just want God to take away our fear without having to fully trust him.

Going to church isn’t like going to see the Wizard. When we walk through the doors of our sanctuary, worship center or auditorium, we need to be focused on what we can bring to God.

In a worship service we can bring God our worship and praise.

In a worship service we can bring God our spiritual gifts and presence.

In a worship service we can bring God our attentive hearts and minds.

Worship isn’t about what we get but what we give. God is worthy of everything we have to give him, both in a worship service and out. So instead of viewing God as the Wizard who will give us what we want, we need to see him as he is: our great and glorious God, worthy of everything we have to give.

What keeps you from going to see the Wizard when you go to church?

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The Power of the Song

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I’m a musician by trade and profession and, even though my blog is called “Whole Life Worship,” I’ve not written much of anything about what most people believe is what worship is about: music. There’s a reason for this. It’s a reaction to how our contemporary Christian culture has made worship all about the music to the neglect of everything else that worship is; including the central focus of honoring God with our lives. It has gotten so crazily out of proportion that I believe God has called me to make this my life aim: to call the Body of Christ  back to what worship really is – the offering of our lives to God in response to His great mercies (Romans 12:1). So my blogs will always be more about what we do with our lives than what we do with our vocal cords.

That being said, I also want to make one thing perfectly clear: I love music, I love songs, I love singing to God, I love making music to His name. And I believe, like Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach, that music is indeed a “glorious gift from God.”

One aspect of God’s glorious gift of music is the power of the song. The “song” is a subset of music. A song combines words with pitch and rhythm to create a powerful expression of mind and heart. If a song does not have words, it is not a song. (I still cringe when I hear well-meaning band and orchestra directors introduce their group’s next musical selection as a “song.”)

Songs are especially powerful when they declare truth. The greatest songs that last through the test of time are the ones that express profound truth with music that appropriate matches it. Whether it is “Let It Be” or “Amazing Grace” or “Auld Lang Syne” or “Ode to Joy,” songs of truth resonate soulfully in our being. Sometimes such songs move us to tears because our souls so long to express truth with heartfelt intensity.

That is why songs that declare truth about God and sung to God or to God’s people are particularly impactful. God is the ultimate truth. The story of His love for us through Christ is the most compelling, moving story of all time. When that “truth-full” story of His love seeps into our hearts on a personal, experiential level, it brings mercy, healing, freedom, empowerment, grace, and a profound sense of right-ness and goodness into our souls. And many times, those experiences come through the power of song. I was so overwhelmed this morning when I worshiped God through a new song (“Sovereign”) and a new arrangement of a hymn (“Crown Him with Many Crowns – Majesty”). The greatness of God touched my heart through these songs.

But sometimes we take such songs and such moments and make them something they weren’t meant to be: a holy shrine, or worse, something that we subtly worship. I warn my worship team members occasionally to not “worship the worship (songs).” It’s so easy to do. We want to recapture the “magic” of when that song touched us profoundly; forgetting that it was God who touched us, and that He exists outside of the song.

So God has shown me two things recently about worship songs:

 1. Focus on what the lyrics really mean. This means slowing down enough to take a “gaze” (Monday’s blog topic) rather than just a glimpse at what I am singing about or to God.

2. Let the songs propel me to greater responsiveness to God. I need to think, “Ok, now that I experienced God in this song, how do I need to respond in my actions today?” I need to be alert and prepared to respond to God in the next thing.

Both Letty and I had profound experiences this morning through worship songs. God met with us through the song, “Sovereign.” When we met for lunch at Subway (I live there now … literally!), Letty saw a homeless man. She asked me if I would feed him something. At first, I balked. But my heart was already softened by the graciousness of God. So, I got up, introduced myself to the man (his name is “Duck” – “Doug, meet Duck”), and asked if we could get him a sandwich. He was surprised and said, “You would do that for me?” I smiled. Another man saw this and, almost on cue, started a conversation with Duck. It was an amazing encounter: four strangers brought together in fellowship through the giving of a Subway Club sandwich. Or was it the Bread of Life? It was truly a “sovereign” experience … that began with a song.

(“Sovereign” and “Crown Him-Majesty” are both on Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights album)

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Worship in the Congregation

PackedStJoeChurch

The fourth and last movement of a symphony is usually called the Finale. It is usually the most exciting movement because it is the culmination of the opus; a closure of the composer’s singular intention, developed over the first three diverse movements, containing numerous themes and motifs. The Whole Life Worship paradigm operates in the same way: The fourth movement, Worship in the Congregation, culminates the weeklong journey of receiving from and responding to God in the contexts of solitude, marketplace, and spiritual friendship. Here, the Whole Life Worshiper joins other worshipers in the corporate expression of praise and thanksgiving to God. There is something wonderful, powerful and dynamic when God’s people gather together to praise their God for who He is and what He has done.

Almost all Christians engage in weekly congregational worship (although an alarming and increasing number of Christians do not attend a local church on a regular basis – another topic we’ll hit at a later date). What makes the Whole Life Worship paradigm different than how many Christians view congregational worship is that Worship in the Congregation is seen as the culminating movement of worshiping God. For many, the congregational gathering is their first (and perhaps only) movement of worship. As a result, the worship service is seen as the spiritual “vitamin” that one takes to help them cope with their week of non-church and non-worship. This wrongly places the onus on the worship service itself to provide what Christian consumers want for their spiritual pill: inspiring songs (in the style of their preference and at the right volume level), motivating sermons, state-of-the art videos, award winning choirs or musical soloists, ambience in lighting and staging. And many churches are happy to oblige their customers.

Even traditional and liturgical churches struggle with the “consumer-orientation” of Christian congregants. In spite of the noble effort of Matt Redman who wrote that worship is not about us but about Jesus (“The Heart of Worship”), churches and church goers find themselves in the “rat race” of trying to have their “worship experience” expectations met. It becomes all about us, and little to do with Jesus.

However, if Christians had a Whole Life Worship mentality, I believe things would be different. Whole Life Worship says, “Instead of improving the worship service, why not improve the worshiper?” When a person encounters God throughout the week (in personal worship, in the everyday ordinary, and in spiritual friendship), they come to the congregational gathering ready to “give” to God, instead of hungry to “get” something out of the service. Congregational worship would not be the “bread and butter” of their worship, but the “frosting on the cake.” It is an opportunity for overflow, where the life of God oozes out of one life and into another.

I’ve taught Whole Life Worship to several people at my church and their attitude toward congregational worship is markedly different than others. They come with hearts full of praise and thanksgiving to God. They engage with the songs as opportunities to honor the God who has revealed Himself throughout their week (even if they don’t care for the song!) They seem to be more full of joy and exuberance in their worship. They listen to the message with a sense of expectation because they know God will speak to them, as He did on the weekdays. They are more alert and sensitive to the needs of people around them; often ministering to others who are downtrodden or discouraged. The reason for the difference is that they come to Congregational worship already “full” of Jesus, the love of the Father, and the empowerment of the Spirit.

Can you imagine what a worship service filled with Whole Life Worshipers could be like? Where God could actually receive the praise that is due His name? Where peoples’ hearts would so be in tune with Christ’s heart that the response to mission, outreach, compassion, and evangelism would be a “no-brainer”? Where people would be so in tune with each other and so filled with the love of God that there would be no need among them? Where the personal transformation of individuals and corporate transformation of the church would be so remarkable that the world around them would say, “What is up with these guys?”

I dream about it all the time. Maybe you’re dreaming the same thing. It can happen. As I read in Acts, it has happened before. And as I read in Revelation, it will happen again; in fact, it is the destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to wait until “Kingdom come” to start worshiping God the way He wants me to worship – with my whole life. We can start today, right now. How about it?

I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, Jesus. (Matt Redman, “The Heart of Worship”)

1. How do you prepare for congregational worship?

2. What are some ways you can encourage others in the congregation as you worship together?

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