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Archive for September, 2014

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

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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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our-team

During one of our “team times,” our worship team had a nice discussion about spiritual growth. I asked them, “What helps you to grow in your faith?” It gave me an opportunity to share about the “Six Spiritual Habits” that our church endorses as primary practices that help us grow. They are:

Passionate Worship

Authentic Community

Biblical Growth

Faithful Stewardship

Compassionate Outreach

Joyful Service

But some of the amazing insights shared by our team transcended spiritual practices or habits. Here are some of the things they shared:

– Trials. Sometimes we get complacent in our faith. One of the ways God moves us out of complacency is through a trial or difficulty. It causes us to cling onto God and to seek His face. While God does not cause evil to happen, He is able to use the trials (that come as a result of our fallen world) to help us to bring us back to relying on God – which is always good.

– Opportunities outside of our comfort zone. Great growth comes when we step out of our comfort zone. Like trials, these opportunities cause us to rely on God. And in another way, opportunities to share our faith or to serve in a new way or lead a group or come alongside someone who is hurting or needy (or … ) also give voice to what God has been doing in our lives. So often we learn great things about God or wonderful Biblical principles, but – outside of applying them to our personal lives – never have opportunity to share them with others in a timely way. Instead of shying away from or shunning opportunities outside of our comfort zone, we need to prayerfully discern that this might be something God is calling us to do.

– Develop reverence toward the tasks we do and the people we serve in ministry. Beyond “joyfully serving” God is the understanding that what we do is “holy” to God. One of our lighting techs shared about how God showed him how important his ministry is in helping create an environment for worship and focus. It’s more than pushing buttons and moving sliders. It is a task that we treat with respect and reverence because God has called us to it.

I also thought about all the volunteers I work with, and how each of them is precious and of infinite value to God. As a pastoral leader, God has given me a very holy responsibility to love them as He does; to encourage them, inspire them, guide them, and feed them. This focus of thinking has helped me to grow in my ability to love more deeply and more selflessly.

The spiritual habits and rhythms “position us” to grow in our faith, but the circumstances we face, opportunities that are presented to us, and attitudes we choose to adopt in our every ordinary moments cause “movement” in our faith. We learn what to do in our spiritual habits and rhythms. But we actually have a context to do them through our trials, opportunities and attitudes.

So what helps you to grow in your faith?

Which spiritual habits or rhythms do you need to grow in?

What are some of the circumstances or opportunities are you facing today? And how does your faith call you to respond?

When was the last time you were in a community setting to talk about spiritual growth?

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build-community

In previous blogs I’ve written about the power of “spiritual friendships” in fostering Whole Life Worship. It is very encouraging and empowering when you can meet regularly with a spiritual friend and check in on your Whole Life Worship experiences. Like it says in Ecclesiastes 4:11-12:

If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

Having a spiritual partner in Whole Life Worship keeps the spiritual fire going and gives strength to overcome spiritual attack. But having a Whole Life Worship Community is even more powerful. Think about what happens when you put logs together that have a few embers going: the spiritual fire becomes a burning blaze!

Over the past two years, we have been trying to foster Whole Life Community into our worship and tech ministry. We have about 40 people in our ministry who are scheduled to be on the team once a month. Most of them subscribe to the wholelifeworship.com blog; and they understand Whole Life Worship concepts.

On any given weekend, we have 7-10 people serving on the team. We have a “team time” (about 20-25 minutes long) where go around the table and every person gets to share what God has been teaching or showing them recently. We then take a few minutes to silently pray for the person on our right and on our left.

When we first introduced this concept, the sharing was guarded and somewhat superficial. But over the course of time, the sharing has become deeper and more meaningful; confidentiality, openness and trust have become a part of our culture. The team members know that whatever is shared during our time, stays with the group.

We’ve also seen greater traction in spiritual growth as we encourage each other. In the last gathering, several shared about what God impressed on their hearts during their Personal Worship Times (a year ago, many of our team members were not even engaged in this spiritual practice on a regular basis). Even more inspiring is to see how areas of brokenness, sin, and character deficiencies are being transformed by God’s power over the course of time. People who used to be caustic are becoming more sensitive and loving. Team members now quickly resolve their differences with others by speaking truth to one another in love, rather than hold onto resentments. And the “drama” that used to be prevalent in the ministry (very common in Worship Ministries, as some of you can attest) is simply not around anymore!

And I’m really thankful for that! We are not simply a “ministry” that does a task. We are not a bunch of musicians and technicians who perform “worship gigs.” Through our intentional connection to Christ as the Head (Eph 4:15-16), we are becoming a family and a community of Whole Life Worshipers. The musical task then becomes more of an “overflow” of our community and our hearts, rather than the focus of all our attention.

Now, I want to state that we are far from being perfect. And I think that awareness is one of the reasons for our success as a community. We all understand that we are sinners in need of grace. We are all broken people who are in the process of transformation by our loving Savior and Lord. And we all know that we have a long ways to go. But the joy is that we are on this journey together; and we’re having a blast!

I think any ministry can become an excellent place to develop Whole Life Worship community. But too often the focus in ministry is on accomplishing the task, rather than the spiritual development of the people. And while that “gets things done,” I believe it goes against the Kingdom mindset that the Bible teaches.

I often share with my worship leaders that when we come before the Throne of God in heaven, our Lord will not say to us things like, “You led an awesome worship service on July 14, 2012” or “Wow, you nailed that song on the worship CD you made.” Rather, He will say to us, “What did you do with the precious people I entrusted you with? Did you help them to respond to My voice? Did you bear with them in their trials and believe in them when they struggled? Did you develop them to their potential as Christ-followers?”

I believe ministry is best accomplished through an environment that nurtures spiritual growth in community. It’s the Whole Life Worship approach.

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Who’s Got Your Back?

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I realized something. I’ve never seen my back – in person. I mean I’ve seen some of my back in a mirror, but I haven’t ever seen, with my own eyes, my back. And yet it’s a large part of who I am. I guess that’s where we get the expression, “I’ve got your back!” Since we can’t see our back or the things that face our back, we need someone else – someone we can trust – to watch out for it.

In our desire to grow Christ-like, we need people who will watch our “spiritual” backs; people who will tell us the truth about things we cannot see about ourselves, as well as people who can encourage us in the tough pilgrimage in Christ. In the Whole Life Worship paradigm, I call this “Whole Life Worship Community.” This is hard because we live in a highly individualized culture, where it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world and we are trained to be self-reliant. But wise people understand that we cannot progress very far in our pilgrimage towards Christ-likeness without others.

There are three things we need to have authentic community that fosters spiritual growth:

1. We need to be “safe” people. It is difficult to be honest, transparent, and authentic if the people we share with are going to attack us, embarrass us, or use the information against us (like gossip or slander). “Safe” means we can trust them with our authenticity and they can trust us. We hold to confidentiality. We accept each other where we are.

2. We need to “speak the truth in love” with each other. This is the flip-side of being safe. If there is something wrong, we need to tell each other the truth, out of love. We can’t see our “backs.” We sometimes don’t know when we have bad breath or whether we crossed a line or whether we acted selfishly. Authentic community serves as a “mirror” to help us see the things that we say or do we can’t see on our own, so that we don’t hurt ourselves or others. As Proverbs 27:6 says, “The wounds of a friend can be trusted.”

3. We have a common commitment to Jesus Christ. What knits us together, more than affinity or common interests or personal friendship, is Jesus Christ being our common Lord. His way sets the standard of how we relate, support, care for, encourage, warn, and confront. If we don’t have this in common, it is extremely difficult to engage in authentic community that promotes spiritual growth. This is why Paul warned the Corinthians not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14). This doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with unbelievers, but it does mean that our most intimate relationships (our authentic community: spouse, mentors, and closest friends) need to be heading in the same direction we are.

My whole life worship community consists of my wife and a few very close friends. I meet with them regularly. I share honestly with them, and they with me. Although they are very supportive of me, they will call me to the carpet when they see me heading down the “lesser paths” of selfishness, temptation, fear, and compromise. They have permission to ask me hard questions. And I am so thankful to God for each of them. Truly, I would be lost in self-delusion, phoniness, and duplicity without them.

Too many Christians try to walk “the Walk” alone. As a result, no one knows who they really are. They are not “known,” nor is there someone that they “know.” As a result, they walk in circles – never progressing forward because they can’t see themselves honestly. And the real tragedy is that there are people out there who can watch their back, and people who need them to watch theirs. But the connection is never made. And Satan laughs because he doesn’t have to work very hard with these Christians.

Authentic community is risky at times. Sometimes it’s hard. And it takes a lot of work. But, like the other spiritual habits, it sets you free. Free to be more like Jesus – authentically.

So, who’s got your back?

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Fellowship_by_smallrinilady

The Worship Team that played/sang this weekend gathered for a quick 25 minute “team time.” The tech team also joined us. About 12 of us altogether.

Our worship leader (not me) began by saying, “Think about what God has been teaching you lately.” Then after a pause, she said, “I’d like you to share what that is with the rest of our team, as you feel comfortable.”

What happened in the next 25 minutes was simply a “God moment.” People shared openly and honestly about what God taught them in their everyday ordinary lives. Some shared challenges. Some shared victories. But all were able to take away something that God was doing. It was beautiful and deeply encouraging. One of our newest members came up to me and said, “Man, you guys aren’t just a ministry – you’re a family!”

Smile.

Over the past year, our worship leadership has made a conscious effort to guide our weekly team time into becoming a “Whole Life Worship Community” or as our team member called it, “family.” Before, our team time was kind of a “free-for-all” where people sat next to people they know and talked about all sorts of things: sports teams, politics (that got interesting – in a bad way), the latest gadget, and other shallow gab. But we now focus our time on our common mission: to worship God with our lives, not just our songs. And it has paid off. Here are some things that have helped us with our focus:

– We ask the simple question: “What is God doing/teaching/showing you in your life?” Whole life worship is about encouraging connection with God and our lives. This simple question causes us to reflect, remember and notice the movement of God. It also gives an opportunity to encourage others in their walk with God.

– No “cross talking” or interruption while a person shares. I learned this from being in recovery groups: cross talk is the easiest way to break down sincere sharing in a group. When people start asking questions or giving advice or spouting off their opinion, it throws the focus off from what God is doing in that person’s life to the person who interrupts.

– Confidentiality is kept. We know that what is shared in our time is sacred. Even in this blog, I’ve kept things pretty general, while giving you the gist of what happened. Often God works deepest in those areas that are most sensitive; so we honor that.

– We listen respectfully, with a sense of wanting to learn; not judge. We actively listen to each other. Everyone’s attention is on the one sharing. We don’t have side comments or chatter or fidgeting. And we listen with grace. Sometimes when someone shares the words don’t come out smoothly or correct. In listening to others we are listening for God.

– Everyone gets heard. We don’t hog the time. No one has to keep time because our group is sensitive to letting everyone have the opportunity to share. This is something that we’ve learned over the course of time as some are “talkers” and some are not. But it’s amazing how the talkers have learned self-control and the non-talkers have opened up.

Any small group, ministry or spiritual partnership can become a whole life worship family. It’s simply a matter of noticing and sharing what God is doing in our daily lives. And if we really listen to each other, our fellowship really adds fuel to the spiritual fire.

What are some groups, small communities or spiritual partnerships that you are connected with?

What are some ways you can encourage whole life worship with your group?

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