Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Last Word on Worship

Here we are at the end of a month of posts focused on worship. I'm so thankful for my fellow bloggers, and our guest writers who contributed to the discussion. It's an important topic.

That being said, there is always a temptation to talk something to death. When it comes to worship discussions, with the emotion that frequently accompanies them, we may risk talking more about worship than actually doing it. So much has been written about it and continues to be written about it; we may be tempted to immerse ourselves in the debates surrounding it to the detriment of our own worship.

I like what D.A. Carson says in Worship By the Book. This volume, edited by Carson, has essays from Tim Keller, R. Kent Hughes, and Mark Ashton. Carson's contribution discusses the theology of worship.

Carson gives a detailed definition of worship and then proceeds to discuss each element. He reminds us that the object of our worship is our Creator-God, and that we worship him because "he is worthy, delightfully so." He goes on:
What ought to make worship delightful to us is not, in the first instance, its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him. 
In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the "feeling" of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is "better worship there." But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it's a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.
It all comes back full circle to God himself. How can we worship what we don't know? We must know God, and to know God, we must seek him as he reveals himself.  It does us no good to know more about the "wars" of worship than we do about the object of worship.

Monday, October 28, 2013

When We Gather Together

This post is adapted from a post that originally appeared on my blog. I had started this post before I read Persis's excellent post that covered similar ground. Here's my take on the subject.

When it comes to the music we use in worship, I can honestly say I have no real preference. I grew up in a church where we sang the great hymns of the faith accompanied by an honest-to-goodness pipe organ. At Sunday night youth group we sang “Pass It On” and “Peace Like a River.” I visited my grandparents’ church where everything was sung a cappella. I attended regional youth rallies where the worship leader was an up-and-coming songwriter named Rich Mullins. Each scenario has its own appeal, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

I don’t share this as a claim to any sort of moral superiority, but to illustrate that my age and childhood situations make me sort of an oddity. I’m like a well-socialized puppy. I’ve been put in a lot of different situations, so I’m not likely to bite out of fear. And because of that, I’m baffled that the music wars have become such an issue. Seriously? We live in a condemned world. Our freedom of speech is being increasingly muzzled. Countries that once sent scores of missionaries to the unreached world are trying to silence people from preaching the gospel. But lets get the music thing hammered out. I suppose one side could arm itself with electric guitars and the other side with hymnbooks and we could hold a cage match.

The contemporary worship people need to realize that the hymnbooks contain some rich, beautiful songs. The hymnbook people need to realize that there are some great new songs being written. And as for the complaints about the repetition in contemporary worship music, go read Psalm 136.

So while I’m on my pulpit, let me bring in some scripture.
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:22-25)
Paul and Silas had been flogged, placed in stocks, and put in jail. This was not the pristine holding cell of “The Andy Griffith Show,” but a first century prison. It was dirty. There was no indoor plumbing. They had open sores along their backs, and it’s quite unlikely that they had received any sort of medical treatment. And yet they sang praises to God.

Can we do that? Is our worship that sincere and independent of our circumstances?

Or our are we so busy trying to justify our personal preferences that we completely miss the point?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Worship in the Dust

Our dear Lisa is taking a blogging sabbatical this month. While we miss her tremendously, we're pleased to have a couple of friends contributing in her spot. Today's guest is Elizabeth DeBarros. We're so thankful to have her join us as we continue to discuss worship.


“If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored:
If you remove wickedness far from your tent
and assign your nuggets to the dust,
your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines,
then the Almighty will be your gold,
the choicest silver for you.”
— Job 22:23-25

__________________________

Eliphaz’s harsh counsel to Job had become for me a life-giving rebuke. When no particular set of circumstances could be blamed for my individual sense of devastation, I was perplexed, undone. Standing in the midst of a thousand tiny shards of which I was sole proprietor was shocking enough, until I realized it was by divine appointment.

I must’ve looked the part, too, standing at the back of the sanctuary all pensive, full of yearning, tentative, wholly uncomfortable.The pastor’s usual effusive greeting turned inquisitive.

“How’re you doing?”

“Decimated,” I replied, my eyes burning.

His demeanor shifted something between sober and hopeful. “That’s worship.”

He offered no more.

It was a moment of grace, really, as I caught a glimmer of what he meant.

I was being crushed. And it pleased God to crush me.

____________________________

If I were to define worship in a particular sense, it would be this:

Worship is a returning to the dust from whence we came. It is the act of being brought low before a holy God, humbled by what cannot be done in one’s own strength: to surrender to the crushing process that we might bring forth the fragrance of Christ.

It’s here in this backdrop, this place of dust, where we die to self, yielding to Him by the exchange of our will for His, beholding the object of His majesty, His might, His glory in the face of Christ. Where we truly begin to live.

From this vantage point, we see light, discover reality, learn righteousness, and reap in wisdom. We begin to value what matters most, and learn to discern what doesn’t. The world’s pull weakens, our idols fall, and the noise fades. In this place of dust, we come to terms with who we really are: frail, depraved, needy, and desperate. Here is where a healthy self-loathing kicks in, superseded by a healthy self-love, informed by the doctrine of the Imago Dei. This is where we begin to move beyond the blur and find clarity of our eternal purpose, where we learn to live coram Deo as we traipse this earth’s crust before the face of a holy God, walking in the good works He’s prepared in advance for us to do. This is worship, too. Part of our reasonable service.

You may ask: But what of the crushing?

Well, what of the flower? The petals are macerated, the oil is extracted, and the perfume is distilled. You are an alabaster jar. Have you any nard?

That question is answered in the yielding. Learning to come under the mighty hand of God takes a lifetime, willing to be crushed in the process. Gethsemane is given us to test us, if we choose right, the outcome is His; a fragrant offering. He will not refuse it.

Will you be crushed for His sake?

_________________________

One of the great obstacles to true spiritual worship is that we forget who we are: animated dust, called and beloved by a Supreme God, created for His good pleasure and for His glory. One of our great sins is that we think it’s about us and for us, and we do all the choosing. We profane the Lord by not distinguishing between the holy and the common, rendering our hearts to a lesser god.

If you will be tested,then return to the dust; bring with you your nuggets of gold and your fine silver,too, those things you cling to. Allow Him to refine you in the fire, form you into a choice instrument set apart for His praise and glory.

Lay low in to the dust. Find Him there.

“…then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you.”
— Job 22:25

Elizabeth DeBarros makes her home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Virginia with her husband of 24 years, their two sons,and beloved cat, Adagio. She cares deeply for people, words, theology, Darjeeling, and likes taking long walks in any kind of weather. She can be found at Finding the Motherlode where she shares her thoughts, observations, poems, and the occasional firebrand.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I am of Chris Tomlin, I am of Isaac Watts, I am of...

If you could pick a fantasy worship team like fantasy football, who would you choose? Keith and Kristyn Getty? Chris Tomlin? Or how about a converted Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Philadelphia Orchestra to lead the hymn singing?  A cappella Psalms anyone? If you could satisfy your musical taste every Sunday, would you be able to worship better?

Music naturally generates an emotional response, which is not inherently wrong, but it is possible to make these emotions the arbiter of whether we have worshipped well or not.  Certain styles become synonymous with worship in our minds and others most certainly not. Sadly, this has led to "worship wars" in the church where musical preference has become a hill to die on.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't dialogue about the quality and type of music in the church. When we do, may God give us a spirit of humility. This also doesn't mean we shouldn't care about the theology of the lyrics. But we weren't saved by songs or the feelings they induce. Neither was the veil rent by an awesome electric guitar riff, the majestic swell of a pipe organ, or four-part harmony. We can stand before a Holy God and worship Him only because of Jesus.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

In the end, our earthly favorites will be long forgotten when we join the ultimate worship service. We will sing a new song with brothers and sisters from every nation and tongue, and, I daresay, musical preference. The music will be perfect. The singers will be perfected. But the song isn't the focus. It's the Lamb. (Revelation 5:9-14)

Shouldn't the focus of our hearts be the same?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Worship Him Well: Part II

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
~Exodus 25:8 

Last time I wrote about the worship experiences we had during our search for a new church home. We knew what we were looking for - having experienced it once before - but we were on the verge of being convinced we wouldn't find it locally.

Then we went to a church that meets in a YMCA gymnasium. The makeshift stage and metal folding chairs loudly declare their temporariness. The acoustics leave much to be desired. There's no room for a choir, and the musicians spill out from the black stage onto the glossy gym floor. When the heater turns on, it sounds like a firecracker being set off.  And yet it is in this place that I have worship God.

As our pastor reminds us, the worship service on Sunday is God's gift to His people - a respite in a harsh world and a time of refreshing. The cares of the week often press in against my soul, rendering me bone weary and out of sorts. It is during this sacred time that I am brought back to the reason for my hope (Col. 1:27). It is here that I am brought to tears and want to cry out with Isaiah, "Woe is me!" (Isaiah 6:1-5) And it is here that I am given the assurance that my many, many sins are forgiven (Psalm 103:8-12). It is here that I worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
 
I have walked the aisles of Notre Dame in Paris and of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. They are works of magnificent splendor. Stunningly beautiful, to say the least. But they did not come close to giving me the feeling I have every time I step into that loud and unaesthetic gym. I smile as I remember that the Israelites also had a temporary church, but "...the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34).

The object of our worship isn't to be found in the size of a building, the architectural elements of it, or the finery that fills it. Moses knew that. He knew he did not want to continue without God's presence. He begged God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:15-18). God granted his request. When Moses descended Mount Sinai, his face shone so much that the people were afraid (Exodus 34:29-33). He had worshiped God well. 

It is my prayer that when I leave church each week, I may say the same. It doesn't matter where I meet Him; I only want people to look at my face and know I have been in the presence of God.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Glorifying and Enjoying

You probably recognize the title of this post as a reference to Question 1 of the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
This is the ultimate purpose for our lives. God created human beings to glorify him and fully enjoy him forever.

If I were to define worship in  three words, I'd say it is "giving God glory." If I could use more words,  I'd add that it is also "enjoying God for who He is." When we worship God, then, we are fulfilling our ultimate purpose, because we are glorifying and enjoying him.

(Incidentally, travelling thought-wise in the opposite direction, we could say that when we glorify God in our thoughts and activities—and there is potential to glorify God in every single thing we do (1 Corinthians 10:31)—we are worshipping him. This is why, as Kim reminded us in the previous post, worship "is about our whole life." Every thought and action can be an act of worship if it is done to honor God.)

We can think of corporate worship (the worship we do when we gather with other believers in the church) as glorifying and enjoying God together as the assembled body of Christ. If our worship is genuine, then, its purpose is to glorify God—and not ourselves. True worship focuses on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no one else, and seeks first to please him, and not ourselves or others. True worshippers ask "How does God want us, his church, to worship?" not, "How do we want to worship?"

In genuine corporate worship, we delight in God together. As a body, we gaze upon his beauty (Psalm 27:4). We may enjoy the music, the sermon, the others who join us in worship, but primarily, we enjoy seeing and knowing God as his gathered church.

And true worship is forever. It carries on into eternity, where the four living creatures "never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV)
The company of eternal worshippers will include you and me, too, fulfilling our chief and highest end by glorifying God and fully enjoying him forever, saying for all eternity,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13, ESV)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Worship with our lives

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the fundamental aspects of worship: revelation and response. We worship in response to what God has revealed to us. I want to continue that thought by looking at Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)
When we see the word "therefore," we need to look back at what has come before in the text. In this case, "therefore" refers to the first eleven chapters of Romans, where Paul has presented a masterful theological exposition. When he talks about "the mercies of God," he is talking about our redemption. In the wake of God's righteousness and his wrath against us, he has shown mercy and redeemed us, justified us, and adopted us. In the first verses of Romans 12, Paul tells us about worship.

He uses some words that would be familiar to Jewish audiences, "present" and "sacrifice." When we read those words, we think of the Old Testament sacrifices, and the role of the priests in presenting them. While there was prayer, praise, and singing in Old Testament worship, animal sacrifices were significant. However, there is a radical difference with the sacrifice Paul talks about here. He says we are the sacrifices. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. In the New Covenant, everyone is a priest, and is to offer himself as a sacrifice.

In verse 1, the word for "spiritual" is the Greek word logikos, meaning pertaining to reason. The KJV uses the phrase "reasonable service." My ESV has a note, calling it "rational service." The word for "worship" is latreia, which carries with it the idea of divine service.  The worship is not an empty rationalism, but it is "reasonable" in the sense that it is what God deserves. When we meditate on who God is and what he has done for us, it is only reasonable that the response is to give him our lives. Every day, every moment, every breath is offered to him because that is what he deserves. Should this reality not make a huge impact upon us? Will it not significantly influence what we value, what we think, and what we do?

Paul continues in verse 2 with the exhortation to resist being conformed to the world, but rather be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Worship involves body and mind. Paul sets the transformation our minds against being conformed to the world. If our minds are conformed to the world, they will not live in light of the mercies of God. When our minds are conformed to the world, we may worship anything else but God.  Anything we do as an act of worship begins with a transformed mind.

Worship does encompass things such as the gathering of God's people, music and singing, praise, prayer, and the sacraments. But those are only a part of it. Worship is holistic; it is not piecemeal, confined to a location, a time, or an activity. It is about our whole life.

Everyone worships something. We were created for worship. Even someone who says he does not believe in God will worship something. Our choices reflect what we worship. What will our decision be? When we look at the mercies of God, revealed to us in the Word of God and in our daily lives, will we present ourselves as living sacrifices, both mind and body? Will we wake up every day and say, "Lord, I give this day to you for whatever you want me to do?"

As I studied to write this post, my thoughts were drawn to a hymn by Frances Havergal, "Take My Life and Let It Be:"

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moment and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

This is my desire. Is it yours?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Worship When We Don't Feel Like It

A few years ago I heard the testimony of a woman who had suffered great loss. One thing she said has stuck with me ever since: “Sometimes you have to worship when you don’t feel like it.”

So often, we think of worship as an emotional response. And while it sometimes is just that, that isn’t all it is. I like this definition of worship from Lou Giglio quoted in this article:

Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

Sometimes we are so blown away by God’s grace and goodness to us that we raise our hands with a shout. Other times, though, we are weary. We don’t understand what God is doing and the way ahead seems awfully dark. At those times, we do well if we are able to whisper, “I don’t understand, but I know You are good and I trust You.” Both are worship.


God has given many promises to believers. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He promises that His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). He promises that he has a good plan for our lives (Romans 8:28). Reminding ourselves of the promises when things seem tough will help us to respond with worship, even when we don’t feel like it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Worship at the Feet of Jesus

Our dear Lisa is taking a blogging sabbatical this month. While we miss her tremendously, we're pleased to have a couple of friends contributing in her spot. Today's guest is Diana Lovegrove. We're so thankful to have her join us as we continue to discuss worship.

The risen, victorious Jesus comes to His disciples and says “Greetings.” What is their response?

“They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.”
(Matthew 28:9).


Note, they are not scrabbling in the dirt at His feet. They clasped His feet. They gripped, and clung onto, His feet. Is this something we have done in our worship of Him?

We have a beautiful picture of this in the story of Ruth. Her mother-in-law Naomi, says to her ““My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1) To find rest and provision, she points Ruth to her Kinsman-Redeemer, and tells her “go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:4). Uncover his feet, lie down at his feet. Have we uncovered the feet of Jesus? Have we lain down at His uncovered feet and waited for Him to tell us what to do?

These feet...feet of which we first read in Genesis 3:15…where we find out that His heels will be bruised by Satan. We read in Psalm 22:16 that His feet will be pierced. We read in Revelation 1:15 that the feet of the risen, victorious, ascended Jesus are “like burnished bronze,refined in a furnace”. Does this not remind us of the brazen altar in the tabernacle, with its grate where the fierce fire of the Lord would burn up the sacrifice to enable the worshippers to be put right with God? But was it not bronze which was able to withstand the fiery judgement and wrath of the Lord when the rebels brought their own incense before the Lord (see Numbers 16:35-39)? Does this not all point to the cross and the way in which He suffered for our iniquities –it is because of our sin that these feet have suffered, it is because of our sin that these feet have been bruised and pierced, it is because of our sin that these feet have been through the fires of the furnace of God’s wrath.

Oh, clasp these feet and weep, you who would worship Him! Cover them with your tears! Then wipe His feet with your hair. Wipe the tears away. For He was not defeated by the sacrifice He made -look, He is robed in splendour, and strides forward in the greatness of His strength! “It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save!” (Isa 63:1). Replace your tears with kisses: “Kiss the Son!” (Psalm 2:12). And then pour out your perfume on His feet and fill the room with its beautiful fragrance – the perfume He has given – the prayers of the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express – these prayers which rise like incense before Him.

Now that you have uncovered His feet, wait and He will tell you what to do. Listen: “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48,50). Allow Him to wash your feet – yes, Him, your Creator! – allow Him close enough to wash your feet that you might not only be forgiven, but cleansed. Allow His Spirit to come into you and raise you to your feet, and you will find that He makes your feet like the feet of a deer, enabling you to stand on the heights. Then allow Him to put sandals on your feet that you might be ready to go forth and proclaim the full gospel truth as He wills. And you will find that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet – as He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet, when they will become the footstool for these most precious of feet.

Diana lives in England with her husband and their 8-year-old son. A part-time bookkeeper, tea is her drink of choice (PG Tips, hot), and she loves nothing better than when her guitar is in her hands so she can praise her God. She loves writing, and deep one-on-one chats with close friends. She blogs at Waiting for our Blessed Hope.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Worship in the Word

I was church-less by choice for seven years. Although God was sovereign over that bad decision, it was a very unhealthy place to be. When the bottom fell out of my life, I could barely stand because I was so spiritually malnourished. I needed the local church.

I still remember the day I visited the church I now call home. It was the last Sunday in 2007. There weren't many people. I can't recall what we sang, but I clearly remember the sermon on Isaiah 6:1-6. It was the first solid spiritual meal I had "eaten" in a long time. I was sad, scared, and dreading what 2008 would bring, but the pastor's simple words turned my gaze away from my circumstances to God in His majesty and glory. I went home and cried out of relief and gratitude to the Lord for ending my self-imposed fast.

You may be thinking, "Why is she writing about a comforting sermon when the topic is worship?" As both Kim and Rebecca have written, worship involves the revelation of God in His Word. Therefore, sound preaching and worship go hand in hand.

From John MacArthur:
Many people see preaching and worship as two distinct aspects of the church service, as if preaching has nothing to do with worship and vice versa. But that is an erroneous concept. The ministry of the Word is the platform on which all genuine worship is built. [1]
Genuine worship is a response to divine truth... Real worship acknowledges God as He has revealed himself in His Word... Worship means ascribing glory to Him because of these truths. It means adoring Him for who He is, for what He has done, and for what he has promised. It must therefore be a response to the truth that He has revealed about Himself. Such worship cannot rise out of a vacuum. It is prompted and vitalized by the objective truth of the Word. [2]
In the past, I thought worship consisted only of singing and offering prayers of praise. Preaching, on the other hand, wasn't on the same level. In my opinion, you just sat, listened, and did nothing whereas you could participate in the singing. But I think quite differently today. A godly response to sound teaching is anything but passive. The greatest commandment is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt. 22:37) I believe all those aspects of loving God are present when we receive and respond to the ministry of the Word.

How many times have you heard the Scriptures explained, and you've seen something new about Christ you never saw before? Didn't it stir your "religious affections" and cause your heart to well up with love for your Savior?

Do you remember the time before you were a Christian when you had no interest in the Word? It was a closed book as far as you were concerned. But because of Christ, the veil that was over our hearts has been taken away. Our minds are no longer darkened. Our ears aren't stopped. With unveiled faces, we are able to behold the glory of the Lord in His Word. By the Holy Spirit, this leads to renewed minds and transformed lives that can be offered to God as spiritual worship.  (2 Cor. 3:12-18, Rom. 12:1-2)

So this coming Sunday as I listen to the preaching of the Word, I pray that I would get a greater glimpse of who God is. And I pray that it would result in more love and a changed life for His praise and glory.

I hope you will be encouraged to pray the same way.

                                                                                                                        
1. Worship: The Ultimate Priority, John MacArthur, Moody Press, 2012, pg. 35.
2. Ibid.pg. 37.

Note: The post title is taken from my church's bulletin. Worship in the Word is the heading over the sermon title. I think it is very appropriate.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Worship Him Well

In January my family embarked upon a search for a new church home. We were leaving the comfort of our small-ish, country-ish, traditional-ish church, and we knew that the churches we planned to visit would be different from what we had grown accustomed to. Even knowing that, I wasn't quite prepared for what we encountered.

One church we visited had just moved into a new multipurpose worship center configured much like a theater - dark with a tall stage running across the front. A balcony houses more seating and a coffee bar. The choir stands on risers that remind me of elementary school pageants and school portraits. The stage is set with a full drum set encased in glass and men playing guitars, complete with amplifiers and headphones. Song lyrics stretch out across two large screens on either side of the stage.

Another church had better lighting and a smaller stage. There were no headphones, jeans, or coffee bar in sight. The choir chairs remained empty most Sundays. The tambourine and wooden shaker were sometimes drowned out by guitar solos worthy of a 1970s rock concert.

In all fairness, the music at both churches was theologically sound. Yet even with all the contemporary accoutrements, I left each service asking myself if I had worshiped the Lord well. Had I gazed upon His beauty in the way David meant when he penned Psalm 27?

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 (ESV)

I knew the answer. I had been too distracted by the entertainment to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.  I wondered if I was the only one.

Many Christians think of worship as simply the music portion of the service. While that is not the case, music does have the unique task of preparing our hearts to receive the Word. Worship music that is theologically incorrect or played in a way that draws attention to man rather than God is a detriment to the spirit of our worship; such music encourages us to think less of God and more of ourselves.

The Christian's instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack: and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God. When the person in the church, let alone the person in the street, uses the word God, the thought is rarely of divine majesty. Today vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are - weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not the God of the Bible! He is eternal, infinite, and almighty. He has us in his hands; we never have him in ours. In all its constant stress on the reality of God's personal concern for his people, and on the gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, patience and yearning compassion that he shows toward them, the Bible never lets us lose sight of his majesty and his unlimited dominion over all his creatures.
~J.I. Packer, Knowing God, (p. 83)

The casual, coffee house mentality that has invaded the church has rendered the god worshiped there hardly recognizable as the God of the Bible. As we continue our series on worship throughout this month, I pray that we will learn to worship the One, True, Holy God - and worship Him well.

Friday, October 4, 2013

In Spirit and Truth

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV) 
You may recognize these verses as Jesus’ words to the woman at the well. Jesus and the woman are discussing a question of location: Where is the right place to worship God?

“God,” Jesus explains, “is spirit.” This might seem like a non-answer, but it isn’t. If God, as spirit, does not have a physical location, then those who worship him are not required to be at any one physical location to do so. There is no one right place to worship our God who is not himself limited to space. He can be worshipped everywhere.

While there is not one required place to worship God, there are indeed “musts” for our worship. Real worship, Jesus goes on, must be done “in spirit and truth.”

In Spirit 
True worship comes from the spirit. The source is inside us, from the part of us that makes us spiritual beings. Worship “in spirit,” then, requires spiritual life. Only those who have been born again—or born of the Spirit—can worship God. Or to put it another way, only true believers are true worshippers.

Genuine worship is “from the heart,” to use a phrase that is more familiar than “in spirit.” Postures of worship, like bowed head, closed eyes, and raised hands, are not what makes our worship real, nor are other worship rituals—although these may be sincere outward expressions of worship in spirit.

In Truth
Kim touched on what this means in her post introducing the topic of worship. “Fundamental to worship,” she wrote, “is the revelation of God.” And again, “Worship is founded on the knowledge of God.” Worship "in truth" is worship of God as he has revealed himself—as he really is.

Someone who worships in truth gets God right because they know and believe what God says. Essential to worship then, is God's word. An "in truth" worshipper reads and studies the Bible to know what God tells us about himself.

It's in scripture, too, that we come to know the Son who became a human being and dwelt among us in a physical location so we could see God who is spirit. Worship "in truth" focuses on the Son as the ultimate revelation of God—as the ultimate Truth.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is worship?

What is worship? Have you ever asked yourself that question?  I must confess that it was several years after my conversion before I did. I went to church regularly, but I didn't probe all that deeply into the larger question.

Visit any online Christian bookseller and enter a search for "worship," and you will be confronted with overwhelming numbers of books and resources. It's a topic that has been written about widely and continues to be discussed, debated, and on occasion, disagreed about.

This month we will be writing about worship. On this first Wednesday of October, I thought I would share some preliminary things I discovered when I considered the question "What is worship?"

My first line of inquiry was a dictionary of theological terms, The New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair Ferguson, David Wright, and J.I. Packer. According to the entry in this dictionary, worship is "man's sense of awe in the presence of the magnificent, the frightening, or the miraculous." It prompts reactions such as "speechlessness, paralysis, emotion, and dedication."

I think that's a good beginning. When I think of worship, I think of awe.

At the heart of our worship is God. He is the object of our worship. Fundamental to worship is the revelation of God and our response to him. God has revealed himself known to us through creation (Psalm 19:1), through Jesus Christ (John 1:18), through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and above all, through the written Word of God (Psalm 19:7). As God reveals himself, we respond with worship. We are commanded to worship no one but Him (Exodus 20:1-3).

Worship is founded on the knowledge of God. The more we get to know God, the more we want to worship him. The more we know about God, the more we will understand true worship. Worship will inspire emotions, but it cannot be based on our emotions; its foundation is God.

According to the New Dictionary of Theology, one of the most common words for "worship" in the Old Testament comes from a word which means "servant." In the New Testament, the words most used to indicate worship are latriea, which also is related to servanthood, and leitourgia, another aspect of service. As we know from Romans 12:1, worship and service are linked.

Some of the things we most commonly associate with worship are preaching, gathering with the saints, the sacraments, liturgy, confession, prayer, fasting, giving, and of course, music. It is music and public worship that seem to generate the most difficulty and disagreement. While all of these things are important for worship, they are not all of worship.

These are just a few general thoughts to introduce the topic of worship. Perhaps you have some thoughts of your own. It is a topic that inspires deep thinking. God wants our worship, and he alone is worthy of our worship. These are amazing truths!

This month, as we all share thoughts on various aspects of worship, we are aware that we don't have it all figured out, and we know we will barely scratch the surface.

Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. (Ps. 95:6-7)