Worship tells and acts out the life, death, resurrection, and coming again of Christ through the proclamation of the Word and the Table/[Thanksgiving]. We order our service after God’s work of love and salvation. Therefore, it is an order that can be adapted to any church.

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

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I think the simplicity of focusing on the life, death, resurrection and coming again of Jesus is a good focus for the church.  Simply put, it’s a laser focus on the gospel.  Remembering that, I think, helps immensely in service planning.  I agree with Webber that it is an order that can be adapted for any church.  However, I’ve also found that the regularity of Table is something different denominations disagree on.  Connie Cherry offers the idea of a regular “Thanksgiving” at the end of the service in her book “The Worship Architect”.  I’ve found this to be really helpful.  Communion is the ultimate way of telling the story and thanking God for his answer to our sin, but it’s not an option for all worship pastor’s every week due to history, tradition, theological understandings, etc.  Going back to Cherry’s idea, I think combining regular confession and then “Thanksgiving” helps us tell the same story.  It might not have the same depth of meaning or experience, but is one way to adapt this gospel shaped order to any church.  Thoughts?

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Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?

 

My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

 

But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

Faith and Date Candy

On Tuesday, I was making date candy.

To be exact, I was helping my daughter make date candy, but that’s besides the point.  On Tuesday, I tasted date candy and it was an amazing experience…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight overstatement, but I am hoping that there was some small life change.  But before I tell you what I mean, let’s back up.

This year, our family has decided to homeschool.  I’m not sure if we will do it long term.  There are lots of good educational options, but for this year, we are hoping that it will help us gel as a family with two adults, an 11-year old girl and an 8-month old baby boy.  So on Tuesday, my day off, my daughter and I were learning about Ancient Egypt and one of the projects was to make a date candy that the Egyptians might have eaten.  She did most of the work chopping the dates and nuts, mixing in the water and spices and rolling them into balls.  I crushed the cardamom spices and did an amazing job, if I do say so myself.

While she was doing most of the work, I got to thinking about places in the Bible that talk about dates.  I found one in 1 Chronicles 16:1-3.  David brings the Ark up to Jerusalem and we read…

They brought the Ark of God and placed it inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.  When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord.  Then he gave to every man and woman in all Israel a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins.

When the date candy was done, we read these verses and talked about how the Israelites ate dates too.  In fact, this date candy might be similar to what David gave to the people on this exciting day when God’s ark was brought back to Jerusalem.  And then we bit into the date candy…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Or at least it hope it will change my life…and my daughter’s too.  What I realized again, is that faith is more “caught than taught”.  I can talk about God’s word and faith until I’m blue in the face.  We can talk about pursuing God and prayer until we are red in the face, BUT none of that will make any difference in anyone’s life if we don’t also live it.  We need to be people who pray.  We need to be people who live faith.  We need to be people who make faith just as real as eating a sweet, gooey date candy.

Wowsers.  It just might change your life.

Wonder

As I strum the guitar, his eyes get wide and his mouth drops open.  He can’t wait to try to pluck one of the strings and then bang on the body of the guitar like a drum.  I ask my middle-schooler what she learned today and she says, “Noth’in”.  But as I ask another question and hit a nerve of interest, her eyes light up and she tells me about her project and her new favorite book that I “JUST HAVE TO READ”.  And I laugh with joy as both of my children remind me of the power of wonder and awe.

It’s easy to loose that sense of wonder, isn’t it?  The alarm goes off.  We pour the coffee and drive to work.  We put in our hours and go home…day after day after day…our whole lives are put into little boxes that a labeled in scientific and naturalistic terms.  We aren’t still children, but deep inside, we know there is more to the world.

For many of us, this daily grind and disenchantment has undercut our worship too.  It might seem like the belief in the Creator God’s powerful presence in worship is a crazy fantasy.  But there is more.  There is a holy imagination that will helps us remember the wonder of God.

For me, there are a few things that help me as I try to see the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • First, I work to nurture a sense of wonder in myself.  Sometimes, it’s a prayer to the Lord asking him to open my eyes to his power and wonder.
  • Second, I am trying to sing songs, pray and read scripture that builds the language of wonder of worship.  I’m trying to help us all remember that GOD IS HERE NOW WITH US!
  • Third, we try to make room in our services for prayer where we can stop from the daily grind and sense God’s presence to forgive us from sin or to sing without the full band.

That is just three things I’m doing right now, but the real question for all of us is this:  “Do we really believe?”

Father, open our hearts and eyes by your Holy Spirit to fill us with wonder.  In Jesus’ name…

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Content from The Worship Pastor by Zack Hicks

Worship itself is a re-presentation of Christ. . . . Consequently, when we worship, the conflict between good and evil that we experience in our everyday lives is confronted and resolved.  We leave worship once again with the personal assurance that the battle is won—Satan has been, is now being, and will be defeated. Because we are confident in Christ’s victory, we experience a great release from the burden of our sin and we become filled with joy and peace.

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

Pursue God.

PURSUE.  This is our word for the year.  But, do we live it out?

I’m not sure I always do.

For me, it’s a word that calls us to spend our lives for God’s Kingdom.  For me, it’s an emotional word.  Let me break it down like this…

Our emotions are connected to the things that we care about.  Think about it.  When do you get the most emotional?  For example, If you’ve lost a loved one, as I have, you might break down in tears as you remember them.  We get emotional about the things that we care about.

So in our worship services, we should get emotional.  Right?  Again for example, in a worship service you should experience awe and wonder because you have experienced God as good and awe-inspiring.  When we sing, we are forming our heart’s desires to PURSUE God.

But what happens if we don’t do this?  Why would that be a problem?  Pastor Zack Hicks says it this way,

“Worship devoid of emotion is a dangerous thing because it can train us into believing that these concerns really aren’t concerns.  This is why emotionless worship is just as toxic to our faith as haphazardly emotional worship is.”*

Part of our role as singers, musicians, techs and dramatists is that we create space where people can feel the right emotions at the right times and about the right things.  When we sing about sin, we should be crushed because it separates us from God.  When we create art about salvation, we should be filled with hope and joy because it is the only way to find life.  This is just ONE way we PURSUE God!

Now, it’s also important make sure that we know what our job is and what it ISN’T!  As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  We can lead people to develop their emotional responses to the gospel of Jesus as they pursue God, but it’s alway the Holy Spirit (and ONLY the Holy Spirit) who makes people feel those emotions!  It’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to PURSUE.

Our goal is NOT to be more emotional.  Our goal is to PURSUE GOD and therefore become people of joy, love, hope and peace inside and outside of our worship services.

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*The Worship Pastor by Zack Hicks

We don’t go to worship to celebrate what we have done. We don’t say, “Look, Lord, isn’t it wonderful that I believe in you, follow you, and serve you!” No! We go to worship to praise and thank God for what he has done, is doing, and will do. God’s work in Christ is the focus of worship. 

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

Worship challenges secularism because it establishes a relationship with God and sets the world in order. In worship, the good news is happening again. It reaffirms the reality of God, the significance of life, and the worth of the human person.

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

Worship lifts the worshiper out of drudgery and brings meaning to life. Worship links the worshiper with that common set of memories which belong to the Christian family. The memory of Christ and the connection with Christian people throughout history and around the world is made though the celebration of those sacred events of the church year. This happens in every weekly celebration.

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