A Prayer Experience from Psalm 130

I recorded this prayer experience in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.  I know it’s a Catholic church and we have some theological differences, but it is a beautiful space and one that has engaging pictures and sculptures.  For example, the sheaf of wheat carved into the alter table that points to Jesus being our “first fruits”.

So as the season of Lent is a time to confess our sins and become more aware of our own mortality, here is a prayer experience based on Psalm 130. For more on this prayer model, click here.

Worship forms me spiritually. Worship not only presents Christ, it causes Christ to be formed in my life. The structure of worship is itself the structure of life—words and deeds. When I am thoroughly involved in worship I not only hear and see, but I become…To be formed by worship is to take on the characteristics of Christ, to be shaped by his presence within.

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

[The end of the service] is more than a signal that the time of worship is over. It is the beginning of service in the world. . . . [We] need to give careful thought to the words and actions that send God’s people into the world.

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

Worship is Loving One Another

This past weekend, we had a tech crisis. But in the middle of a crisis, our bigger problem was loving one another. All of life is worship and that includes the way we love another another.

[In Holy Communion] There is a symbolic communication involved in our very taking of bread and wine, our eating and drinking. . . . Bread and wine are to be consumed. They are to be taken into the hand, put into the mouth, and digested in our stomach. This is the human side of the Table, the response that the signs of bread and wine call for.  When we receive that bread into our mouth, bite and chew it, we are claiming God’s work. We are saying,

“You paid the price; you did the work; you achieved my salvation; I accept it.”


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

New Song: Reckless Love

There has been some controversy about the song, “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury.  It’s gotten a lot of radio play and churches all over the country are singing it, but as one blogger wrote, “God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What you Might Sing.”  Like I said, there is some controversy.  The blogger in question claims that God is not reckless in his plan of salvation, but was intentional from the beginning.  And, he has a literal, theological point.  God does have a plan to bring salvation to his people and he has been working out that plan since the Fall.  What the blogger misses, is that scripture talks about the gospel being “foolishness”.  So I think we can all agree that God’s love is not reckless in the sense of being “irresponsible”, but I think we can also agree that God’s love is perceived to be foolish by the outside world!  As 1 Cor 1:18 & 25 says,

“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”…and…”the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Paul is taking the negative word “foolishness” and using it as a positive for God.  I find it interesting that the song writer, Cory Asbury, is famous for using the same kind of dramatic language that turns the meanings of negative words on their heads.  And he isn’t the only one!  Back in the ’90s, Rich Mullins sang about the “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”  So when we sing about the “reckless love of God” we are singing that to an outsider, God’s love seems foolish and brash, but in fact “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”  Let’s jump into verse one…

Verse 1:
Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. -Psalm 32

You have been so, so good to me

Psalm 13:6 (NLT) I will sing to the LORD because He is good to me.

Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. -Ezekiel 37:6

As I look at the song, I’m not sure if the songwriter is talking about speaking and breathing in terms of being born as a baby or in terms of our rebirth in Christ.  In light of the gospel message in the song, I like to think of it in terms of our salvation.  Psalm 32 is written to believers and Ezekiel also seems to indicate that the breath, or Spirit of God, comes into us at salvation and then we have true life.  That is God’s kindness…

You have been so, so kind to me

Psalms 117:2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!

Chorus:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:7-8

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -1 Corinthians 1:18

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

This is the heart of the song.  The gospel message.  Jesus left heaven to find us even though we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn salvation on our own.  Jesus said in Luke 15:3-5

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders…”

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. -Romans 3:23

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
I hope we experience that as we sing and in our whole life!  Moving onto verse two where the writer elaborates on where we were when God saved us…we were God’s foe and full of sin…
Verse 2:
When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:10

When I was in sin, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45

Bridge:
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
Here we have references to John 1:4-5, Psalm 139:7-12, Ephesians 2:13-15, and John 8:32, but the main message is simple.  God came to seek the lost and that is anyone who believes.  Not only that, he is pursuing us today and every day of our lives.

“…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” –Luke 19:10

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…-Psalm 23:6a

Who Is Worship For? – Prt3

I have a confession.

I grew up thinking that worship was only for believers.  Now, I think you can make a case that only a believer can worship God in spirit and in truth, but how should we arrange our services with the third audience, the outside world, in mind?

A number of years ago, I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”.  It’s not a very exciting title, I know, but the class changed my whole perspective on worship.  Every week we had a different speaker who helped us understand what God has been doing in the world to build his Kingdom starting in the OLD TESTAMENT!  Did you know that God’s heart has ALWAYS been to have the nations hear the good news?  I hadn’t realized that this was God’s message to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to David and on and on…to Jesus and then the early church.  God has always wanted his people to be a light and welcome anyone who comes.  As God says in the Psalms (46:10, 47:1, 18:49, 22:27)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.

Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him…

And as author and pastor, Tim Keller, writes,

It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the unchurched feel or think about our worship…God wants the world to overhear us worshipping him.  God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises “before the nations.”  We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.*

Did you know that this happens at ECC?  We have people to walk up to our pastors after service and say, “I’m not a believer, but I’m thinking about what you said…”  We have people who are sitting in the seats who come to church, but aren’t following Jesus Monday through Saturday.

This is why I think Keller’s emphasis on the gospel is so important.  Not just because unbelievers need to hear it (and they do!), but that the gospel is what all three groups need to hear!  God wants us to tell him about what he has done for us in Jesus.  Believers need to be reminded and shaped by the gospel.  Un-believers need to be saved by the gospel.

We can focus only on seekers instead of encouraging believers and get lost in making Jesus “relevant”.

We can focus only on building up believers and make things incomprehensible and outdated for seekers.

We need to make sure that our services are fresh, conversational and understandable while always focusing on the gospel.

By focusing on the gospel, we bring all three audiences together in worship.

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*Tim Keller quote from “Evangelistic Worship” as used in Rhythms of Grace.  Thanks to Mike Cosper for the concept of the three audiences in worship.  His book is an excellent read.  I highly recommend it!

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!

 

I’m a Grace-Amnesiac

Hi.  My name is Sam and I’m a grace-amnesiac.*

Recently, I’ve realized that I forget so much of the time.  I forget how sinful I am.  I forget how holy God is.  I forget how much grace I’m given every day.  I forget how much that grace cost.  And because I forget, I think that I’m better than other people I meet who fail and fall short.  They are just like me, but like I said, I’m a grace-amnesiac.  I forget.

The beautiful thing is that when I am reminded of God’s grace and live inside that same grace, my whole life is changed.  My whole life becomes an act of worship.  Author Mike Cosper writes,

…it all happens in union with Jesus, before the eyes and presence of a loving God, who by a miracle of boundless grace receives each and every act, though offered with mixed motives or frailty of heart, as a pleasant and acceptable offering…The whole mess of our lives is transformed in Christ, from corrupted to glorious, from ashes to beauty.**

So this week, look and see God’s grace in your life.  Don’t forget.

Extend that grace to others all around you.  Don’t forget.

Know that your whole life is now an act of worship because of receiving and giving grace.  Don’t forget.

This week, don’t be like me.  Don’t forget.

My name is Sam and I’m a grace-amnesiac.

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* The phrase “grace-amnesiac” is from Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies.

** Quote from Mike Cosper in Rhythms of Grace, 77.