Tag Archives: worship

What kind of worship does God really want?

3 Jul

Image result for how to worship

Years ago I had a summer book club at Faith Church, and one of books we read was Jim & Casper Go To Church.  It is written by a Christian, Jim Henderson, and an atheist, Matt Casper.  Jim invited Matt to travel around the country and attend worship services in churches of all shapes and sizes, from a couple massive churches in arenas to smaller churches and many in between.  As he took in worship services at these churches, quite often Casper asked Jim the same question, “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”

That’s a good question.  It is basically the question, “Is this how God wants us to worship him?”

It could be very easy to be critical of the mega churches. smoke machines, and professional praise bands, and huge auditoriums. But it is a question that should be asked of any church worship service.

On any Sunday at Faith Church, I look around the room we call a sanctuary, and I think that we should ask the same thing: “Did God tell us to do this?”

Do you know the answer to Casper’s question?

God says that we should worship him. No doubt about that.  But did God tell us that he wants to be worshipped like this?

Did he want us to build church buildings?

The answer is No.  God wants us to be people who worship him, Yes.  And we can worship him in a church building, with songs and chairs and classes.  We can worship him with sound systems and video projectors and hymnals and pews.  We can worship him with all of it.

But let us remember that God didn’t ask for all that.  When it comes to worshiping him, he didn’t ask for any of the religious, churchy stuff that we spend a lot of time and money on.

Furthermore, the danger of all the churchy stuff is that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that Sunday morning worship and all the activity that we do on Sunday is what God desires.  We can deceive ourselves into thinking that if we come to a church worship service, then we have satisfied the desires of God.

Here’s the harsh truth.  We don’t need any of this to worship God.  None of it.  We don’t need a building, we don’t need all the stuff in the building, and we don’t even need a timeslot on Sundays for a worship gathering.  We can satisfy the worship desires of God without any of it.

But how?

By understanding what God desires worship to actually be.  The answer to Matt Casper’s question is “no, God did not tell us to do all this.”  We added it.  All this churchy stuff is not inherently wrong.  We can worship God in a church building, by singing songs, giving an offering, praying, sharing stories of how God is at work in our lives, by studying the Bible, by fellowshipping and encouraging one another.  All this stuff we do on Sundays, all of it, can be worshipful.  But we need to see that we added it.

So what is worship supposed to be?

First of all, prepare to worship every day. 

Paul once said that no matter what we do, even whether we’re just doing the mundane everyday stuff of life, like eating and drinking, do it all to the glory of God.

So how do you do that?  Try to have a daily practice of starting each day by offering thanksgiving to God.  Count your blessings.  Maybe when you first wake-up.

Then Read Scripture. When we read Scripture consistently, it results in more knowledge of God, and that results in more accurate worship.  In Scripture we learn to know him better, more accurately, more intelligently.

Second, see worship as happening 24/7.  How do you do that?

Saying “Your will be done”.  Remember when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified?  He was praying in the Garden.  He knew how incredibly hard it was going to be.  He was headed toward a brutal beating and death.  He was in anguish about this as he prayed to God.  But he worshiped God anyway saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”

We might not like the situation we’re in.  Work might be horrible.  Parenting can be frustrating.  A relationship can be awful.  Money might be tight.  Worship God 24/7, right in the middle of the pain by saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”

By saying that, Jesus was essentially saying “God, I’m in the middle of the junk.  And I want to honor and glorify you even if the pain and crisis and struggle is not taken away from me.”  That’s some real, deal worship right there.  And when you worship like that, you are saying to God, “I want to obey you, Lord, even though it might get hard.”

This is very much in line with what Paul says Romans 12:1-2 – what is our spiritual act of worship – to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

Say, “Lord, here I am at school.  I offer myself to you.  Here I am at work, I offer myself to serve you.  Here I am at home, I give myself to you.”

Thankfully, life is not always hard!  In fact, many times, praise God, he blesses us, and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the joy of the Lord, the wonders of life on planet earth.  We can and should worship God during those times of blessing as well.  If you haven’t seen the movie Chariots of Fire, I urge you to check it out. It is the true story of Eric Liddell who was an Olympic miler. He was also a Christian.  He talks about how when he ran, he could feel God’s pleasure!  You can worship while you run, while you eat, while you enjoy vacation.

You can worship during the mundane as well.  Life is neither always awful, nor always joyful. Often life is filled with tasks that just have to get done.  Some you might dislike.  But you can also enjoy the mundane.  Mowing the lawn.  Raking leaves.  Worship while you work through these tasks too, like changing diapers, cleaning the toilet.  All of this can be done in worship, Paul said, done to the glory of God.

We especially spend a lot of time at work, don’t we.  So work as unto to the Lord.  Work hard.  Work without complaining.  Work with joy.  With creativity.

Practice the Presence of God.  Be in a conversation with God all day long, as much as you can.

Invite God to be right there with you.  Next to your desk.  Watching what you watch on your computer.

Third, learn the spiritual exercise of focused periods of worship as larger church family.

Let me share a private thought I have, one that I wrestle with. We have 130 people in our congregation.  But our Sunday morning attendance?  It has been around 95, 100, or 105 over the last few years.

What is going on?  25% of our congregation is not here, on average, every single week.  That is true in most churches.  Why is this happening?

But know this: there is an element of the Christian life, that can never be experienced by watching worship on TV or the internet, by listening to a podcast, or being alone in nature.

Worship is not just the songs.  Worship is the giving, the sharing, the encouraging, the prayer, the learning.  An extremely important part of worship is doing it together.  Getting the family together.  Do you need to change your heart attitude toward Sunday worship?  Do you need to gather with your church family more frequently?

Fourth we should practice the spiritual exercise of personal periods of focused worship.  This is when we take some time to focus on God, alone with him. This is when we put aside all we’re doing, get alone, without letting anyone know what we’re doing, and worship God alone.  This time alone with God can include song, Scripture, prayer.  It’s up to you.  When I read the Psalms, many of them were written out of an individual’s private, personal worship of God.  Include this as part of your regular prayer and Bible reading.

Start the day with personal worship.  Do not worry about other people who can do it better than you.  You don’t have to go to seminary or be a professional theologian to get alone and worship God.

Maybe just count your blessings. One of my favorite passages is Psalm 116:12-18. Allow the history of God’s blessings in your life to motivate you to praise and thank him, so that you can live out your day in a thankful, worshipful heart and mind.

We’re all different.  Some people might really be able to worship while driving, and for another person that might be next to impossible.

But remember that if worship doesn’t mean singing praise songs all day long, we can think about worshiping in other ways during the day.  Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice, Paul reminded us in Philippians.

 

In conclusion, like any of the spiritual disciplines, Worship can be hard work.  Think about it.  Worship is an act of retaining focus on God.  We can be a people of short-attention span.  It can be hard to stay focused on God.

But when we focus on God, something amazing happens.  People become like that which we focus on.  Focus on God and we will become like him.

Have an attitude that says “I want to learn to worship better.”  So maybe you need a trainer.  If you look at a person and realize “That person excels at worshiping God 24/7,” contact them as ask them to train you to be a better worshiper.

What if Christianity’s massive investment in worship is wrong?

17 Feb

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Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?

Think about it.  We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?

One morning or evening each week is devoted to it.  Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.

We also build buildings for worship.  We don’t have to.  We could worship without them.  But it is also not wrong to build buildings.  The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them.  I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property.  Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between.  Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count.  Think about that with me for a minute.  What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be?  Now multiply that by 800.  Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep.  That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.

Then think about the other costs of worship.  Staff is the big one.  That’s me.  The pastors.  Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff.  Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?

Next think of the time involved.  Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes.  Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time.  Multiply that by 52 weeks every year.  The result is a boatload of hours.

Put it all together and what do you have?  We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we?  Why do we do this?  The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.

Not so fast, though.  God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?

Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right?  When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?

How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong.  All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!”  You would want to know that,  right?  And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?  I would.  In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too!  I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong.  Even if it was 1%.  But how can we know?

When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me:  How big is the church?  Is it inter-generational?  And what kind of worship do you have?  When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons.  They are wondering about the music!  Is it traditional, contemporary, blended?  We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?”  When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face.  It was great!   More recently I have changed my answer a bit.  I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.

So what do I mean by “experimental”?  People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship.  If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean:  welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time.  Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?

But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different.  Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc.  It has been wonderful having the variety!

Why do we experiment with worship?

We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out.  We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship.  There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship.  We want to keep learning.

Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship?  Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship.  This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship.  Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them.  That’s you and me. We are learners of worship.  Disciples are learners from Jesus.  And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today.  Teach me how to worship you.  Teach me what you want to teach me.”

Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds!  And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship.  Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church at 9am on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too!  To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2.  Hope to see you there!

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

Two things Jesus did not tell us to do (but we do), and one he did tell us to do (but we don’t)

5 Aug

I’m super excited that the Olympics start today.  Soccer is my favorite sport, so while I’m disappointed the US men’s team didn’t qualify, the women’s team looks to make a gold medal run, and I’ll be cheering them on!  In honor of that quest, I thought I’d show you this picture of a Jesus figurine doing a bicycle kick, one of the most acrobatic and impressive ways to shoot a soccer ball.  In particular, notice the caption, which is meant to be humorous.  As fun as it would be to imagine how good Jesus might be at soccer, this picture raises a question.  Obviously Jesus did not teach someone how to do a bicycle kick.  But he did teach a lot of other things, and there is misinformation about what he taught!  We Christians can do a lot of things thinking that Jesus taught us to do them, when in reality he didn’t.

As the title of the post suggests, what comes to your mind when you think about the possible two things that Jesus did not tell us to do, but that we do…a lot?

A few years ago, I read the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, and in the book the question regularly comes up “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”  The book is the true story of Jim Henderson, an evangelical Christian, and Matt Casper, an atheist, who travel around the United States, dropping in on worship services at twelve churches of varying stripes, shapes and sizes.  Jim and Matt spend time discussing what they experience, and numerous times, in response to what he has seen at a particular worship service, Matt asks Jim “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”

Most often Matt asks that question in critique of churches that have placed great emphasis on buildings and highly-produced worship experiences.  Matt’s is a penetrating question.  I ask you to think about it because the answer is very easy to come by.  Just take a few hours and read through the four Gospels and you will find the answer.  I would suggest that there are two things in particular that we Christians do a lot of that Jesus did not teach us to do.

What are those two things?  While Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God, and teaching and leading his disciples, he did not instruct them to build buildings so that they could hold worship services.

First, let’s take a look a the practice of building buildings.  On one particular occasion while the group of them were walking near the temple grounds, the disciples remarked how amazing the temple building was.  Jesus’ response went in a surprising direction.  No doubt the temple grounds were actually an astounding work of ancient architecture.  Beautiful and majestic.

If you look at some of the models recreating what the temple mount probably looked like, even the small-scale models are impressive.  The temple mount was the pride of the city of Jerusalem, the nation and the people of Israel.  But Jesus had other thoughts.  He said to the disciples “it will all be destroyed.”

Jesus was saying “Hey guys, don’t put all your eggs in that basket.  God’s doing a new thing, and it doesn’t involve a building.”  Those early Christians took Jesus’ words to heart.  For the first few hundred years of the church’s existence there is absolutely no record of Christians building buildings.  They met in homes.  Building places of worship was not the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Did Jesus tell us to build buildings?  No.  He did not.  And yet, we have, haven’t we?  Lots of them, all over the world.  Is it wrong for Christians to build meeting places?  No.  Jesus did not prohibit the building of meeting places.

But here’s where it gets murky, and where we need to be exceedingly cautious when we Christians purchase property and put up buildings.  Jesus’ comments about the destruction of the temple suggested to the disciples that they not become enthralled by buildings.  Though God had made a building, the temple, to be a central element of his interaction with the nation of Israel in the past, God was now doing a new thing.  God was relating to people through a new means, and Jesus himself was paving the way for that new relationship with God.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil, making it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to have a restored relationship with God, the temple was unnecessary.  It was at the temple where sacrifices for sin were made, atonement for the nation.  But through Jesus’ sacrifice, the old system of sacrifice and the temple that housed it became obsolete.  In fact, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, would go on to write that we, Jesus’ followers, are the temple of God.  Amazingly, wonderfully, God lives in and with those people who give their lives to become his disciples.  We no longer go to a building to meet God, he is always with us.  So when we endeavor to build a building for gathering, we should be very sober-minded about it.  It is all-too-easy for that building to dominate the life and ministry of our church family.

Very much related to building buildings, there is a second practice that Jesus did not tell us to do.  He did not teach his disciples to have worship services.  Again, read through the four Gospels and you won’t find a shred of teaching about having worship services or what they should include.  For as much energy and money and personnel as we Christians put into our Sunday gatherings, you’d think there would be at least a little bit of teaching from Jesus about it.  There is none.

But once again, I ask, just because Jesus doesn’t mention it, does that mean it is wrong to have worship services?  No.  While Jesus’ disciples and the other writers of the New Testament mention nothing about building buildings, they do mention worship gatherings quite a bit.  In fact, we read in Acts that the early church did gather regularly, and perhaps, in order to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, carved out time for a worship gathering on Sundays, which in their culture would have been the first day of the work week.  It would be like us worshiping each week on Monday nights.  Early in the second century AD, before the church was even 100 years old, there is also clear evidence, through the writings of Justin Martyr, who was discipled by John the Apostle, that Christian worship gatherings had standardized orders.  None of this is wrong.  In fact, like the building of buildings, a regular day of the week for worship, and orders of worship services, can be used for good.  But to answer Casper’s question, Jesus did not teach us to do this.  And if we are honest, we have placed an enormous emphasis on it.

At one particular church worship gathering that featured a large building, smoke machines, video screens, and a highly produced service of worship, Casper was particularly incredulous.  “Really?,” he asked Jim, “Did Jesus ask you guys to do this?”  But we need not focus on a spectacle like that.  The reality is that even tiny churches that cannot afford an expensive production can still invest a lot of time, energy and money into their worship gathering.  I would guess that tiny churches invest probably a very similar percentage of their resources into the Sunday worship service as a megachurch.  I do not know this for a fact.  I simply suspect it is probable.  Consider the salary the staff makes, and how much of their time is directed to Sunday morning.  Consider the infrastructure of buildings, utilities, equipment, and upkeep.  Consider the volunteers and all the hours they put into meeting, planning, lessons, practice.  Add that all together, and let us humbly remember that Jesus did not tell us to do any of it.

What remains, then, is to ask, “What did Jesus tell us to do?”

Join us Sunday, August 7, 2016, at Faith Church at 9:30am to find out.

Why our worship services are not good enough (and God might even hate them)

18 Jul

Worship services could actually be keeping us from worship.  Sound impossible?

Peter Rollins, in his book Insurrection, suggests that it’s actually very possible.  In the Old Testament, God pointed out to the nation of Israel that their worship was not acceptable to him.  They were going through the motions of worship, but they weren’t actually worshiping him.

Consider what God said in Amos 5:21-23:

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

And then there is this in Malachi 1:10:

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Clearly there were times when Israel’s worship was detestable to God.  What if our worship is also?

This past Sunday I started a summer sermon series called Our Growth Process, through which we’re looking at how disciples of Jesus can grow to be more like him.  Last week I suggested that the foundation to this Growth Process is to learn to focus on the Kingdom of God.  We have for too long focused on church, on church buildings and systems, whereas Jesus taught about his Kingdom.  People who want to grow as disciples of Jesus focus their lives on Kingdom of God, and how it enters our lives and world, transforming them.  So where do we begin?  With worship.

But what if the way we do worship is focused on the church rather than the Kingdom?  What if worship is actually keeping us from the transformation that God wants to bring in our lives?  Rollins thinks it could be.  But why?  And is he right?

In Romans 12:1-2, one of the earliest followers of Jesus said this:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul says we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices, but sacrifices are usually dead.  A sacrifice could be an animal.  A grain offering.  Money.  All dead stuff.  A sacrifice is also that which is given over to something or someone else.  In this case, Paul says we are the sacrifices.  We are not dead, but alive, and thus when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices we give our lives over to God, such that our lives are used the way he wants. Paul calls this our act of worship.

That might sound like a lot.  In fact, it is a lot.  Giving up of our entire life over to God?  What more could there be!  Is God asking too much?  Paul says it is reasonable for us to give our lives as living sacrifices because of God’s mercy.  The word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 1 points back to chapters 1-11 where Paul goes into detail explaining how far God went to show us mercy.  He gave his own son out of love for us.  Jesus gave his life to us. So therefore it is reasonable that we give our lives back to him.  This is worship.

Too often we look at worship as what we do in a church building for an hour or so on Sunday.  Paul’s teaching in Romans goes way beyond that.  When you give your body as a living sacrifice, you are striving to worship the Lord all day every day.  How in the world do we worship all day every day?  Is Paul suggesting that we need to be singing praise songs nonstop? That we need to listen to sermon podcasts every day?

A few years ago I was at the gym running on the treadmill listening to music on my phone.  A praise song came on, one of my favorites, and right there in gym pounding away on the treadmill, I was praising God, even getting emotional about it.  Is that what Paul meant?  I certainly don’t listen to music every time I run.  In fact, I almost always run without listening to music.  And in my car I prefer to listen to podcasts or books on CD.  So I have to confess that I don’t sing or whistle or even think about worship music all day long.  How about you?  What could it possibly mean to give ourselves as living sacrifices?

When I think about people who get connected to Faith Church, Sunday morning worship is most often where it starts.  We’re very glad for guests on Sunday morning.  We’re happy when people continue to attend worship.  But there is a serious concern if people only worship on Sunday morning.  Being a living sacrifice means that we need to move on to a life of worship.  So attending the Sunday morning worship service, while very important, is not enough to qualify as a genuine disciple of Jesus.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus gives us a sobering warning about this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Jesus is referring to people who looked outwardly like true disciples.  People can come to worship services and look outwardly like true disciples.  But Jesus says that though those people looked good, they clearly did not have what was important!  They did not have what mattered, and he says “away from me.”  What is scary is that those people thought they were good to go. They assumed that Jesus should accept them.  But they were wrong.

Likewise, our worship services are not enough.  If all a Christian does is attend worship services they do not have the kind of relationship with Jesus that he wants.  This is why worship services can be like a security blanket, as Peter Rollins says.  I’m going to rely heavily on what Rollins says in the discussion below.

Rollins asks us to imagine the scenario of a child with his blankie accidentally wandering into a room full of adults who are strangers to him.  But he has his security blanket and feels safe.  The child does not feel fear that should normally be there.  In his mind, he feels okay.  Why?  His blanket is providing an emotional safety net.

Take away the blanket and the child doesn’t gain new information or discover something that was being withheld.  He now feels the fear that naturally rises up within a child when they are in a room full of adults whom they do not know.  The blanket, Rollins says “enables the child to consciously accept a situation without experiencing the psychological horror of it.”

Here’s the twist: the blanket is not the problem.  The blanket is the solution to the problem!  The blanket allows the child to cope in a potentially overwhelming scenario.  So the blanket, the stuffed animal, the pacifier, the thumb-sucking are all helpful.  They are not bad things.

But they can become bad things, can’t they?  What will happen if we allow the child to have them too long?  The child can remain in a state of immaturity, Rollins says, and find it difficult to function in social situations as he grows.

Anything can be a security blanket.  And we adults can have them too.  Do you have one?  Something that is acting as a security blanket keeping you from growing mature.

Worship services can be like a security blanket!  Rollins asks us to imagine a worship leader one Sunday leading a congregation through songs that express doubt, anger or abandonment.  He says that a healthy, mature congregation would embrace the honesty, the doubt, the frustration expressed in the music and thus bring them closer to the reality of the Cross.  But if those songs created an anxiety in the congregation, we realize that regular happy worship is acting as a security blanket, protecting the congregation from experiencing the pain of the Cross.

It is possible then to imagine a church where the worship service is actually a security blanket protecting the worshipers from truly experiencing discipleship to Jesus.  In other words, Rollins says, we can affirm the Crucifixion without having to feel it. We are able to look at the Cross from a distance without ever needing to enter into a direct participation with it.

Much of contemporary church resembles a drug that prevents us from facing up to the suffering and difficulty that is part of life.  In the Great Depression, film worked this way.  Despite the poverty across our nation, theaters were packed, showing films about gangsters, comedies and musicals.  They offered people a way to escape their dire reality for a few hours.

Is worship a security blanket for you?

To investigate this a bit, ask yourself what qualifies as good worship?  When you leave a church worship service, and you think to yourself “worship was great today!”, what was it about that worship service that made it great?

Loud music? Vibrant, hand-clapping?  Or maybe you prefer quiet music? Hymns?  Maybe it was just that you got to sing one or more of your favorite songs?

Perhaps what made it good had nothing to do with the music.  Was it that you got to see your friends?  Maybe someone encouraged you.  It could be that the prayer time was meaningful.

Of course it could be the sermon.  When I hear the words, “Good sermon pastor!”, I ask myself, Why did that person think it was a good sermon?  What is really behind those words?

Could it be that the person was thinking “Pastor, that was a good sermon because you said everything I agree with.”  Or maybe they were think “I’m afraid of the way our country is headed, and you preached conservative values.”  Maybe it was “Your sermon encouraged me.”

In all these situations, though, is not the worshiper just affirming what makes them feel good?  By classifying it as “good worship” has the worshiper not just revealed that their approach to worship is consumeristic, whereby they the worshiper get to pick and choose what constitutes “good worship” and thus remain unaffected by it?

John Wesley once preached a sermon where likened this to being “Almost Christian”.  In an Almost Christian, nothing is missing is terms of our actual beliefs and practice; nothing is missing but participation as disciples of Jesus.   An Almost Christian is like the difference between a critic and a lover.  A critic is one who studies something very deeply.  A critic knows the minute details.  But a lover is different from a critic.  A lover is committed with his or her life.

Rollins says that when we come to worship, we participate in it either like a lover or approach it from a distance like the critic who examines every detail, observing whether or not it is “good worship” while remaining distant from its transformative power.

So our worship can be like a security blanket, keeping us from getting the real thing.  We can sing songs, worship God, hear a sermon, give money, pray, take communion, and we can walk out of here thinking “that was good worship; that is what God desires!”  We can worship on Sunday thinking that one hour of enacting religious rituals is the worship that God wants.  But God wants so much more.  Organized gathered worship in this room can leave us thinking that we have done our duty.

But true disciples of Jesus will not want worship to be a security blanket that keeps us from deeply experiencing the life transformation that God wants to work in our lives. Instead disciples of Jesus will want worship services to invite Kingdom transformation in our lives and help us to worship God as Paul said in Romans 12:1-2, with our lives, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

So here are some suggestions for how to move beyond a Sunday morning only kind of worship:

Keep God close.  Make prayer a habit.  Practice the presence of God.  On Sunday morning part of our goal of singing songs and praying and hearing God’s word is to have an encounter with the presence of God.  But do we walk out the doors of the church and forget about the presence of God?  If so, then make it your goal to practice the presence of God 24-7.  But how?

Habits.  In worship we learn habits that we can continue throughout the rest of the week.  The habits of daily prayer, daily reading, daily worship.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”  God does not live in a temple like he did in the Old Testament.  You are his temple.  He is with you!  You can experience his presence everywhere you go!  And you should!  Develop a practice of the presence of God.

Second, see all you do as an act of worship.  In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul says that “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Even when you eat or drink. Even work. Even laundry. Cultivate a habit of work as worship, of play as worship, school as worship.  Think about the most boring, mundane, disagreeable task as worship.  Think about the incessant flow of emails, text messages and phone calls.  Think about how grumpy that can make you.  Think about all the diapers you change, all the fights you break up, all the weeds you pull in your garden.  All of that can be done as an act of worship.

One lady at Faith Church said, “I would like to do one thing that doesn’t get undone that has to redone.”  The dishes.  The grass.  Cleaning the windows.  They all need to be done.  And you do them today and they will need to be done again tomorrow.  If you do laundry two days each week, that’s over 100 times per year.  Thousands of times in your life.  Ever feel frustrated by the seeming endlessness and hopelessness of these tasks?

Can you transform that frustrating attitude into worship?  Yes, you can!  Those small repetitive tasks are vitally important. To transform them into acts of worship starts by confessing a poor attitude, and the purposefully inviting God to change your mindset.  This transformation may require the help, the accountability of friends.  It could involved getting the help of one who has made progress in this area.  How did they change their mindset about the dishes?  About email at work?  About the mundane tasks that have been disagreeable for them?

In conclusion, I don’t want anyone to think that worship is primarily what happens in a so-called sanctuary or church meeting room on Sunday mornings or whenever or wherever your congregation gathers for worship.  What happens there is only good and acceptable to God to the degree that through this worship our lives are transformed, so that we worship him with our whole lives.  That’s what being a disciple of Jesus is about.  You cannot be a disciple of Jesus if all you do is worship him in a worship service.

I urge you then to examine your life.  What we do for an hour or so on Sundays is to be preparing us to worship through the rest of the week.  What about you?  Are you more than a Sunday morning worshiper?

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

Church Has Left The Building recap

20 May

On Sunday May 17, Faith Church left it’s building!  It was an incredible morning.  My group (below) went to Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, the local social services organization started by area churches to provide free food and clothing to residents in need.  It is an awesome place sharing love in the name of Jesus.  We cleaned floors, bathrooms, shelves, clothing racks, sorted celery and potatoes, and had a blast throwing packs of paper products around!

Other groups were cleaning up the principal’s serenity garden at Smoketown Elementary School, mulching at East Lampeter Community Park…

Yes, that is a newborn in that pouch!

 

…washing East Lampeter Township Police vehicles at Highland Car Wash, taking a mini-worship service to one of our home-bound members, providing childcare at the church building, and finally we had a group doing food prep for our celebration lunch afterward.  It was a great day of worshiping by serving!

It is so fascinating how we tend to compartmentalize worship as something that happens in the sanctuary (room) of our church building.  Usually it includes singing songs, preaching, giving and prayer.  But this past Sunday we truly worshiped by serving the community.  That’s a reminder that God wants to transform us into people who have hearts of worship 24-7.

Blog Year in Review – Best of 2014?

31 Dec

best-of-2014I think I’m going to have to “grade on the curve”.  You know how a teacher removes the highest and lowest student grades, and then regrades a test best on the remaining results?  One post was the most popular for the second year in a row.  In fact, this post received more than twice as many views as the second place post.  Here are the top three from 2014.

Reflections on a month of free coffee from Starbucks – 520 views

Why I dislike church worship surveys very, very much – 218 views

How and why we surprised our congregation – 184 views

This is a blog about Faith Church sermons, but the first two posts were not originally written about any sermons, nor were they written in 2014!  That’s why I might have to grade on the curve…

But once we get to third place, we start to see what was a major focus for us in 2014 at Faith Church, our sermon series teaching through 1st Corinthians.  Third through eleventh place were all posts about the 1st Corinthians series.

The third place post up there was a fun morning for us at Faith Church.  Aren’t surprises always fun???  Check it out and see what you think!

The fourth place post had 167 views and was also the top single day post with 105 views on April 16th.  Does it surprise you that it was this post: Is 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

The sermon on 1st Corinthians 11:2-16 referring to the role of women in the church was also quite popular, with the intro post (7th place) and follow-up post (5th place) combining for 242 views.

Here’s looking forward to 2015!  We’ve started studying the Gospel of Luke, as we really want to spend time getting to know Jesus better.