We need to rediscover the power of God’s Word as God’s speaking and communicating to his church now, today. . . . We must stop treating the Scripture reading as a preliminary. In worship there aren’t “preliminaries.” Every part of worship is an intricate aspect of the whole. Therefore, reading Scripture is not a preliminary—something to “get over with” so we can get on to the sermon. . . . There needs to be a revival of attention and care for the public reading of Scripture. We need to experience Scripture as the electrifying Word of God.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

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Who Is Worship For? – Prt1

On my book shelf are two pictures.  I keep them there because they remind me of what it was like to start as a worship leader at age 25.  I look back and think, “Wow. I’ve been doing this worship pastor thing for a long time!”…18 years to be exact.  And in the worship world, that is a long time!

In that time, I’ve noticed that people have different ideas about who a worship service is for. (That is “worship gathered“!)  Many times we want to focus only on one audience.  Now, (Don’t email me yet!  Hear me out!) I don’t mean to create a problem with the word audience!  I just mean our focus AND the first audience is obviously the Lord himself, right?  But after that, there is the audience of both the church and the world.  We’ll get to these eventually, but for now let’s talk about what it means to focus on the Lord in worship.

  • First, God is the one who makes worship possible.  We need to remember that the work of Jesus is what makes it possible for us to worship in spirit and truth.  Before we are saved by God’s grace, through faith, we worshiped other things. (Ourselves?!?)  But Jesus is the one who makes worship possible!
  • Second, God is the “who” we worship.  I think this is important to remember because it keeps our focus on the content of what we preach, pray and sing.  God, and specifically Jesus who made true worship possible, is always the object of our worship.  It’s tempting to sing about how much we love God and what we are going to do with our hands, but the focus needs to be on God himself.
  • Next, (and these last two are for me) too many times we forget that God has all power.  The God who created the universe, causes demons to tremble and will come again by riding on the clouds is the same God we worship.  He can do all things.
  • Lastly, I forget about God’s Presence.  He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.  Remember the first point?  Jesus is the one who made worship possible and now we have a God who will always accept us  There is nothing you have done that can separate you from the love of God.  Nothing!

As I look back at those old photos, I am reminded that these things were true then, have been true for 2,000 years and will be true until Jesus comes again.  So when we come to worship as a community, let’s seek God, knowing that as we worship, we are promised God’s presence and power…now and forever.

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Ever wondered why we worship in community?

For more on this, check out Mike Cosper’s book, Rhythms of Grace.

7 Cancer Lessons

Once again, I will be sitting in the doctor’s office looking through the blinds at people in cars passing by as their lives raced ahead of them.  The steps and muffled sounds of nurses and doctor’s will filter through the door.  Then my heart will starting to race and I will identify what is happening to me…

It will be fear.

It’s been 13 years since that April 5th when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer.  In those first days and weeks, I knew fear intimately as an evil twin who was trying to kill me.  Twelve weeks of chemo left me so weak that some days I couldn’t get off the couch to get a glass of water.  The chemo not only ate the cancer, but also destroyed my stomach lining, brought on migraine-like symptoms and damaged the nerves in my fingers and ears.  And all the time…fear.

The strange thing was that it took me years to identify the fear and anxiety that comes before my check-up.  Some years, I would feel it grab me from from behind weeks before.  Other years, it snuck up on me.  But I never saw it coming and then wondered why I was in an emotional funk.

Now, I am able to remind my fear of what I’ve learned because of cancer…because of fear.  I’m not always able to respond clearly.  But now, before a check up, I try to speak these things to my fear.  I tell it what I’ve  learned from cancer…

1.

Freedom from fear is a process.  Some people might be able to defeat fear and never face it again, but not me.  While it’s hold on me is less, I still have to wrestle with my fear!  (If you’re fighting fear, here here are some further thoughts on fighting it.)

2.

I am thankful for going through cancer.  It changed me and gave me so many things that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  And knowing myself better now, I realize I would have run from the pain and suffering so God made me face it head on…

3.

We all die.  I sat next to some amazing people in chemo.  One man was a life-long smoker and had brushed shoulders with the Russian mafia, or so he said.  Another woman was a worship leader and new mom facing breast cancer.  Another man was a life-long farmer newly diagnosed with cancer and you could see the fear in his eyes.  Some survived and some died.  We are all mortal.  Don’t waste your life.  There is bigger story than just your life and you can join that story.  It might mean you get cancer.  It might mean that you son will die, but get in the game for God’s glory.  You are on limited time.

4.

Having your life destroyed will either make you withdraw into your own self or you will learn to  trust God.  We all the desire to control our world, but this is the truth.  YOU CAN’T CONTROL YOUR WORLD.  We are 100% guaranteed suffering in this life and we are promised that God is 100% faithful to meet us there.

5.

I have hope in eternity.  I am looking forward to it.

6.

Facing cancer has deepened my love for others.  I’m crazy selfish and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  When facing pain, the temptation is to focus even more on yourself.

7.

Cancer helped me know Jesus better.  Before cancer, I tended to love Jesus for what he gave me.  I loved Jesus because a lot of family and friends loved Jesus.  Cancer destroyed that world and taught me to love Jesus for Jesus.  As author Tim Keller writes, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.”  It’s a life-long process, but he is saving me from myself.  It’s becoming less about me and more about him.

…And all of that will take place in my brain in the space of 15 min.  Because after 15 min, the door will open and my doctor will walk in.  He will asked me the litany of questions…

“How would you rate your pain?  How are your side-effects?  Any more pain in your fingers?”

As he is leaving, I can almost guarantee that he will forgot to tell me about the lab results from my blood work.

But you can’t be too hard on him.  It has been 13 years.

Because of Easter we are in union with Christ and are called to live in our baptismal identity in his resurrection.  This essential theme of Easter cannot be communicated in a day.

-Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 148.

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Yes, yes, yes to this quote.  My experience in the evangelical church is that we miss this critical understanding of baptism.  Many times, we reduce baptism to simply a person’s testimony to follow Jesus.  This isn’t a misunderstanding of baptism, but it is a reduction.  And it can make us the hero of the story.  “I want to do this…”

Instead, the church has understood baptism to be a symbol of our death to Satan, sin and self because of the work of Jesus.  The church has also understood it to be a sign of identifying with Christ and his church, the resurrection people.  And, the church has understood baptism to be something that frames the rest of our lives.  We are called to live today in that “baptismal identify”.

Spoken Word: If He Didn’t/But He Did

How do you live out God’s Word in your life?  With some scriptures, it’s fairly easy to understand.  We don’t do it, but we have some level of understanding.  But there are other scriptures that take awhile, for me at least, to understand, meaning that I live it out.  One way I do that, is by re-writing it in a spoken word style of free verse.

Because, if he didn’t rise…what then?

And if he did…what then?

As we prepare for Easter, here is my attempt to live out 1 Corinthians 15:12-28.

IF HE DIDN’T/BUT HE DID

If some say Christ rose, how can you say, “no”?

If he didn’t rise, then Christ is still brought low.

If he didn’t rise, it doesn’t matter what we believe or say.

Even more, we are liars, for we preach, “Jesus is The Way”.

If he didn’t rise, the dead will stay dead.

If he didn’t rise, Christ lies on his tomb’s bed.

And if he didn’t rise, your faith is empty, you’re full of sin,

And those who have already been…

…are lost.

If only for now we hope in Christ, we’re pathetic…

…and we too are lost.

But

Christ has risen, he is the first who, in death, sleep.

For since a man damned us, a man will also raise us.

For since Adam killed us, so our Christ must

give us life, but him first then you and me.

And in the end, with all power and authority,

defeating all dominions with his final breath,

He hands the Father a kingdom, defeating even death.

Then the Father, who put everything under the Son,

will have His will done.

And the Son, will put everything under the Father

so we will see God is our history’s author.

Praise our God, three-in-one.

All glory to Christ, the Risen one.

How Do You Love Your Neighbor? Die for Them?

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” –Luke 10:27

These are the words of Jesus, but what do they mean for us in our daily lives?  There is no doubt what they meant to Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame.  Beltrame was killed on March 23 in the terrorist attack on a supermarket near Carcassonne.  I don’t know all the details, but he died after having been exchanged for a hostage.  What is deeply moving to me is that this was not only an act of heroism.  It was one of faith.  The chaplain of the gendarmerie was asked about Beltrame.  This is what he said…

It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic.  The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he testified.  We can say that his act of offering is consistent with what he believed.  He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith.  To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine.  It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life.  In the happy or unhappy, even dramatic circumstances of our lives.  -Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain*

May we take the words of Jesus to heart and love our neighbors like Arnaud Beltrame.

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*Quote and content translated by Google from https://www.famillechretienne.fr/politique-societe/societe/arnaud-beltrame-est-alle-jusqu-au-bout-de-son-temoignage-de-foi-234374

Worship Gathered: God Comes to Church?

Who comes to church?

Does that sound like a stupid question?

I mean when you stand outside of our church on the weekend and watch the cars enter the parking lot, it’s obvious, right?  People are coming to church!  They might be different in age, background, race or status, but they are all people!

But is that it?

The less obvious answer is that God comes to church too…in us.

Paul asks us in 1 Corinthians 3:16,

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?”

So when we come together as a church, God comes with us.  God is everywhere, I know.  But God’s spirit lives inside us as scattered temples that gather together as a larger temple to worship as a community.  Paul expands this thought in Ephesians…

…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. -1 Corinthians 3:16

So we are scattered temples of God through out the world.  But that’s not the whole picture.  While it might seem strange to us as American Christians, this isn’t written to you as an individual!  This is written to all of us as the church community!  We are all being built up into a big temple together with Jesus as the cornerstone.

Another crazy thought is that the goal of us coming together isn’t just to meet with God in worship.  Think about it.  God’s spirit lives inside of you.  Because of the work of Jesus, you can meet with the spirit of God anytime and anyplace.  So why would we come together?  We come together to meet with other people who are also filled with God’s spirit.  Gathered worship is the meeting of God’s people, filled with God’s spirit.

And this brings us back to “worship scattered”.  We gather together to be built up into a holy temple of the Lord which is then scattered throughout the world during the week where we continue to worship God with our lives.  As author Mike Cosper writes,

“Gathered worship then feeds scattered worship, building up and equipping worshipers to live in the power and wonder of the gospel…Likewise, scattered worship feeds gathered, as each worshiper brings his or her growth, suffering and maturing faith to the gathering.”**

Colossians 3:16-17 has this same idea…it starts with gathered worship…

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

And moves to scattered worship…

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This is the rhythm of worship that God has designed for us.  All of life is worship.  We come together to encourage, learn and grow and then be sent out again to worship in the world.  And we do it all, “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  That is worship…scattered and gathered.

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* This is a continuation of the blog post, “Worship Scattered”.

** Thanks to Mike Cosper for the content on “worship gathered” and “worship scattered” from Chapter 5 of his book, Rhythms of Grace.  It’s an excellent read.  I highly recommend it!

 

Hiking to Glory

As I got out of the van, I saw the sign at the trailhead.  “Warning!  Bears frequent this area.  If you come across a bear, this is how you should handle yourself:  Don’t run.  Make loud noises…”

“Shouldn’t be a problem”, I thought.

I was in Virginia on a family vacation.  The out-and-back trail was a little over 2 miles and ran along the ridge of the mountain.  Snow had fallen the night before so my feet crunched in the snow and there was a holy hush over the woods.  Rocks stuck out from the snow and the trees wore the newly fallen snow like brand new clothes.  As I shouldered my back pack with my water bottle, snacks and camera I hiked along as snow flakes continued to fall from the grey clouds hanging low overhead.

As you hike, there is a rhythm that comes over you.  One step leads to the next step.  My breathe matches that rhythm and comes out of my lungs in regular bursts that I can see in the crisp, cold air.  The rhythm is only broken by the large boulders that periodically rise out of the ground forcing me to climb over and around them.  As I climb over one large grouping of rock, I look down to see a small cave that is dry and protected from the falling snow.  I looked down and thought, “If I was a bear and was hungry for some “hiker-jerky” after a long winter’s nap, this is were I would hide…”  Thankfully, no real bears had a similar thought so I kept climbing.

Arriving at the summit, a sense of awe came over me.  I remembered that God created everything stretching below me and everything hidden by clouds above me.  I could almost hear Him ask me like he asked Job,

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

…Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?

…Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread its wings toward the south?
Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is its stronghold.

And like Job, I realized that too many times I set myself up as God.  I try to set boundaries in places that I know nothing about.  I try to control my world.  I think I know about the world, while in reality, I know so little.

As I stood there on that mountain peak, the snow cleared and I could see down into the valley.  The snow still covering everything.  And I thought, maybe even as a prayer, “God, I have tried to set boundaries that only you can set.  I have tried to control my world.  I have believed in you.  But now, I have seen your glory in a new way.  You are God.  I am not.  Forgive me.  Help me.”

I turned around and hiked back to the van.  I didn’t see any bears, but I did see God’s glory in a new way.

And for both of those things, I am thankful. 😉

Worship Scattered

“What is ‘worship scattered?’  That seems like a strange term!”  I’m glad you asked…when Jesus came, he set up a new way to worship.  He told us that we would worship in both spirit and truth.  Part of what that meant was that worship is scattered throughout the life of all christians in the world.  And the CRAZY thing is, this is way worship was supposed to be back in THE BEGINNING!

When Adam and Eve were created, they lived in the Garden of Eden and God would hang out with them.  Adam would name some animals and work in the garden with Eve and then they would take a walk with God in the cool of the day.  But that all fell apart once sin entered the world…because of sin, worship was restricted to a certain mountain top with certain prayers and certain sacrifices.

Jesus lived, died, rose again and now tells us to boldly enter God’s presence (Hebrews 4).  He tells us that we are united with God through his work on cross.  Now our whole lives are lived as priests out in the world.

So for you today, it means that everything you do can be an act of worship.  Are you serving the poor in another country?  Are you teaching kids at church or in school?  Are you frying donuts at a diner or helping with a car-pool?  It can all be offered up to God as a way to serve him and others.

This shows me the extravagance of God’s grace!  ALL of our messy lives are now transformed into worship.  As we sing, “Beauty for ashes / Your name is matchless”!  Worship is no longer restricted to a certain mountain top or certain prayers or certain sacrifices.  Worship is about a God-man.  His name is Jesus.

That is “worship scattered”.

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Thanks to Mike Cosper for the term “worship scattered” and Chapter 5 of his book, Rhythms of Grace.  It’s an excellent read.  I highly recommend it!

CLICK HERE to read Part 2!