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Saturday, June 27, 2015

This past week...a prayerful response....

The events of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this past week has not only made the news, but spurred a flurry of commentary. Many Christian leaders have shared some insight into a biblical response and given the amount of reactionary rhetoric that has also filled the headlines, I pray that more deep earnest thought will be shared.

For the past several decades the classic worldview that had been previous assumed to be held in the United States was in transition toward the relativity of postmodernism: that is among other things, that truth is relative and there are no moral absolutes. What we are experiencing now are the first fruits of the implications of such a worldview in operation. These certainly won’t be the last and as the tentacles of sin reach out to test their new found strength, one can be certain that those who hold to biblical standards will be in their sights.

I have joined many other in grieving these past few days, and would like to share my heart. To do so, I would first like to share what I read from the hand of Dr. James Taylor, Senior Pastor at Christ’s Church of Norman, Oklahoma, and then some passages of Scripture that have become even more meaning in recent days. I would end with a prayer of confession for believers. Prayerfully follow this to the end, and I would ask that you join me in prayer. –Thank you. My faith and confidence in not in human governments, but in God Almighty who is still in control and Ruler over all. Regardless what we may face in the future, we can trust His love, mercy, and grace.

Most people know the story of Jonah: he was a prophet whom God told to go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance. Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria which was located 550 miles Northeast of Israel. But Jonah decides he would go to Tarshish, which was 2,500 miles to the Northwest. Jonah is a renegade preacher who does not want to do what God called him to do. In his rebellion, he is tossed overboard of a ship and is swallowed by a big fish. He was there three days and three nights and was regurgitated on to dry land.

After Jonah goes on the first submarine ride in history, he agrees to do what God asked him to do. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches to the city, and in one day the entire city repents. Jonah 3:5-9 reads:

“Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flocks taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8’ But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. ‘Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.’”

Notice this about the people of Nineveh. Conversion changed the political environment of Nineveh. It didn’t happen because they made better laws, hired more policemen, or provided more arms for the people to reduce the violence. The violence was removed because the people met a living God. The thing that changes people and brings about peace to an environment is when men repent before a living God. Nineveh still had the same King, the same Congress, the same Supreme Court, and the same city Council. The difference now was there was a heart transformation, and that translated into actions and behavior. That is the only thing that will help America change. When the people of America, leaders of America, and Supreme Court Justices of America encounter the Living God who has the power to forgive, and to transform our hearts, then we will see a new America. It doesn’t matter who is in public office; it matters if their hearts are committed to the Living God. {Dr. James Taylor, Senior Pastor at Christ’s Church of Norman 

Now let’s look at a common thread of the following passages from Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Isaiah.  I believe they are key in part to a biblical response to recent events.

Daniel 9:4-19 New International Version (NIV)
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. ... 15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Ezra 9:10-15 New International Version (NIV)
10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. 12 Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’

13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Nehemiah 1:5-9 New International Version (NIV)
5 Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

Isaiah 6:3- International Version (NIV)
3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

After all this week I have wanted to scream and condemn for the lack of moral leadership, and as citizens of this nation we do have a obligation to be responsible members of the society as long as it does not conflict with the laws of God. However, God brought back to my heart and mind the passages I have just shared. I have come to the conclusion that my first response must be to fall on my face before God in prayer. So that is what I am doing now. I would invite all that would to join me:

Oh Loving Heavenly Father, Creator and Lord, You in Your love and mercy allowed us to have the forgiveness of sin and to know You through the death and resurrection of Your Holy Son, Jesus; oh God, please hear the confession of your servant. We, Your people, Your church, the Bride of Christ has sinned. 
  We have failed to seek You with our whole hearts. 
  Our hearts have sought after positions and possessions more than You. 
  Spiritual leadership in our churches have fallen to moral failure. 
   We have broken the covenant to keep our eyes pure and our conversation edifying. 
   We have forgotten from how lost we were. 
   We have used the resources You provided to reach a lost world and lavished on that which will not last. 
   We have failed to be the salt and light that You called us to be. 
   We are not worthy of Your love, Your mercy, Your grace, and Your forgiveness. 
   You have not given us what we deserve.  But even so, O Righteous and Loving Lord, please forgive our sin. Restore Your church, Oh God, to Your purpose and plan. Help us, Oh God, in these days as persecution increases to be filled with Your Spirit, power and love. Father, we claim the promise of your Word that “ if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So, Father, we humble ourselves and pray and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways. Please, God, heal our land for Your honor and glory.

In the Name of Jesus,

Amen

Monday, May 18, 2015

One Test for God-Centered Worship

One of the results of worship that it unifies believers; when unity is not being achieved, then some aspect of worship is not being followed as God desires or as Scripture teaches. Worship was to be central to the life of the Israelites:

– The Ark was literally in the center of the tribes as they traveled in the wilderness and helped them focus on a central point as they watched the cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night.

–The major worship feasts brought the people together 3 times a year after they entered the land promised by God.

– After the northern tribes split from Judah during the reign of Rehoboam,  Jeroboam had two golden calves built under the guise of convenience, but to draw the Israelites away from returning to worship in Jerusalem for fear that their continued worship would work to re-unify the kingdoms.

– The very mystery of the Trinity reflects unity in diversity; we worship a God that is Three in One.

– One of the central themes in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is “that they may be one as You and I are One.” Since unity is Jesus’ desire, worship that fails to bring unity, works in contrary to the prayer of the Son of God.

– One of the few visions of heavenly worship in Revelation describes myriads of every tribe, tongue and nation centered around the Lamb on His throne.  

– Paul put it this way: “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” [Rom. 11:36] “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3:28]

I cannot fathom getting to heaven, seeing the countless myriads of worshipers gathered around the throne of God, actually seeing the nail prints in the hands of the Lord Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that we might have a relationship with Him and then saying, “Lord, can I move over to the other side of heaven, since I like the angels that sing over there better.”  Ridiculous? Of course it is.

Of course it is.  Worship is not about what pleases me, but our obedient response to God. We dare not forget that as we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we must apply that to our worship as well. The worship of heaven is our model for worship on earth. When we set as a goal of worship “Making me happy,” we will neither please God, nor make ourselves happy. Only as we fulfill God’s design do we find true fulfillment and peace, regardless of the circumstances. Worship based on likes and dislikes, but a throwback to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and their decision to become the judge of what was right, wrong, and good for their lives.

Until we submit ourselves to God and worship Him as He desires; we will continue to see worship divide, rather than unite.  As long as we demand the right to define what worship is, then we will continue to deceive ourselves in self indulgence. When we see worship coming off its Christ-centered base, then we can be sure that division is not far away.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Knowing God’s Will: How do I prepare as a Worship Leader?

I regularly see prospective students who are visiting our campus and who are diligently seeking God’s will for their lives.  Frankly, it is exciting to see how God has brought them to this point and I really consider our time together, many times with parents, friends, or spouses, a divine appointment. Sometimes the student is like a the little cars my kids played with when they were very young. You remember them, don’t you? You placed all four wheels on the floor and then had to drag the car backwards to “wind up” the springlike motor and then let go to see them take off in a quick blast of speed. Some students come in wound up and can’t wait for the semester to start; God has clearly showed them what they need to do. It’s exciting to see that happen.

There are other students who come in sincerely looking for God’s will, but just need to talk things through. They feel like Abraham, God has told them to just “go and I’ll let you know when you get there...” They have made those first steps and are seeking confirmation from the Lord in their life’s direction. At times you can almost see the wheels turning as God opens the hearts and minds to new perspectives. I have compiled some of the questions I ask when God allows these divine appointments and I trust that they will be helpful to pass along to anyone you might think is dealing with a call to worship ministry.

1. How has God been leading you to this point?  Sometimes we just need to sit down and review all that God has been doing. It is so easy to get wrapped up in doing, we forget how we got there. Trace God’s leadership from when you first surrendered to His Lordship until now.

2. Where do you see yourself in five years?  Perhaps this question has only been a vague idea that you would be doing something somewhere, but if you had your best dreams come true, what would it be?

3. Do you know what it takes to do those things?  The person that tells me she has always dreamed of helping the sick and needy overseas as a doctor knows that just loving people and having a willingness to go overseas is not enough; somewhere, sometime they are going to have to have the professional training to be able to be effective.  Training is essential and you should desire the type of training that builds for a lifetime of ministry, not just what to do next week. Showing someone what to do “next week” is like giving them a fish; effective training means that you teach them how to fish for themselves. Yes it takes longer, but the results and rewards are for the rest of one’s life.

4. What is in your hand? Just as God used what was in Moses’ hand, God can use what is in yours. What are those things that really gives you joy, that doing them actually energizes you and you don’t dread doing?  Some people mistakenly think that God’s will is some kind of punishment and we have to do, even though we really dread having to do it.  I grew to understand God’s call to teach as I began teaching and realizing the joy I had in doing it.  Which leads me to the next question...

5. What are you already doing in ministry? Some people have been active doing several things and never really stopped to think that God might be using this as a base or beginning for ministry or other related ministry.

6. Are you obedient in what He has already asked you to do? If we are resisting being obedient in other areas of our life, why would we expect God to keep showing us new directions, when we are not doing what He has already told us to do?

7. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to do God’s will?  Naaman had to be willing to go the Jordan river and dip himself seven times, something that seemingly had nothing to do with his illness [2 Kings 5].  Sometimes part of our preparation will seem totally removed from what we think should be done. Naaman had to give his expectation to the Lord and trust the word of the prophet before God healed him.

These are just a few of the questions I have found to be very helpful for those seeking God’s will and what they should do related to further preparation. Preparation is necessary; and God deserves the best we can offer. I can cook. I use that term very loosely, for I live in the city of New Orleans where food is not just incredibly delicious, but area chefs have superstar status. I can cook, but what I can do is nothing compared to what you would find at any number of our favorites around town. [It’s nothing compared to what my wife can do!] I just don’t have the preparation and training.  God has gifted you with various abilities, and just might be calling you to place those in His hands to become more effective through training. Our desire at the Seminary where I teach is to come alongside of what God is already doing in your life and help in sharpening the tools He has given.  I would welcome any questions, and I certainly would join you in prayer that God would clarify His will and direction in your life.

This is Part 1 of the topic.  See you soon!

Monday, March 23, 2015

What to do when worship is flat, boring, non-engaging, lifeless, cold, or just plain bad.

[This was a question raised by a reader to the blog on "Worship and Entertainment" [http://www.edsteeleworship.com/2010/03/worship-and-entertainment-church-that.html?showComment=1427126227579#c473495135174592819]

I really couldn't address the issue in the short space for comments, so I decided to broaden it to place it here.   I think this is one of the questions that I get that is difficult to deal with on several levels. I will attempt an answer, and I welcome the dialogue that I imagine it will bring.]

Wow. If I ever write another book, I think I would write it about exactly what you mentioned. The last thing in the world I want you to think is that I have the answer in one neat little package. I don't. I really don't think anyone does. but there are steps toward a solution that we can take.  For general reference, refer to a blog I wrote that touched a little on the subject [http://www.edsteeleworship.com/2011/01/what-to-do-when-you-are-having-problems.html ]

Worship is almost always going to be laden with distractions, some by the devil himself and some by our own making that Satan will use to his advantage to keep us or pull us from genuine worship. I think our first step is to go back and review what biblical worship is: that obedient response to God’s revealed nature and character.  We must understand that we do not initiate worship, God does. The bush was burning before Moses got there.  We join what God has already started when we enter into worship. God puts that desire in our hearts to desire Him, or as Paul said in Philippians, “He helps us want to obey him and then helps us to do want he wants.” [ 2:13]

That will lead us to unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, unwillingness to ask for forgiveness, and a host of other possible things in our lives that would keep us from worshiping.  Once we have confessed and thank God for the forgiveness He offers, we are free to be able to hear the Spirit more clearly.  It is not dependent on our expectations or there may or may not be a deep emotional response. There is a deepening sense of Who He is, What He has done, and more than just a desire to obey, but actual obedience.

Some of the most powerful worship moments were not in services with perfect musicians, incredible singing, and powerful preaching.  Rather, they were services in which the leadership on the platform was offering a “widow’s mite” of talent and sharing, but it was the very best they could offer. It was convicting. It was brutally transparent. It was a sacrifice of praise.

When everything is “bad,” that is, from a human viewpoint, we are left with a choice: Go somewhere else [which, if you are on staff is not probably not an option], or choose to focus on God alone, asking God to help us look past what is going on in front to see what is going on in your heart that might keep you from seeing Him.  Let’s look one step further into your question; I want to look at the words you used, though I have heard them used many times by many people including my students who have asked the same questions:

“...what should our response be in a situation where the worship is described as flat, boring, non-engaging, lifeless, cold, or just plain bad. Lets say the music is terribly off and the leaders appear to just be going through the motions.

Focus on the following words: “flat, boring, non-engaging, lifeless, cold, bad.”  These are words of perception of the listener. They are responses of the listener. When we say someone is boring, we think we are making a judgement on the character or delivery of the person, when in reality we are revealing the response of the listener. Perhaps the person is speaking out of his or her learning style, which is different than the person making the response. We are not called to judge another’s character, nor are we responsible for another’s actions, however we are responsible for our own.  A similar evaluation may be taken from the next sentence of the commentary: “and the leaders appear to just be going through the motions.”  These too, are character judgments that we are not equipped to make, nor commanded to make.  

I have dealt with poorly shared music in several blogs, so I won't rehash that, but sometimes we just need to realize that what is there may be the best they can offer and it just might be the "widow's mite" of offering given to God at that time. Pray for them, but don't criticize them.You might do ten times better than those leading, but at the moment you are not, so just pray for them. If God opens a door to help them and they are receptive, take advantage of the opportunity to share what God is teaching you. However, please do so in a spirit of humility, not as "I'm better and you must listen to me."

So what can we say? Let me summarize and I hope this will be helpful to some extent:

1. Know what biblical worship is. Review it. Make the personal preparations so you can worship.
2. Ask God to help you worship. You know that is His will, and you should do this before the service.
3. Ask God to help you focus on Him, on His Word, His message through the texts of the song and sermon.
4. Close your eyes if need be. [I have found this necessary when those on the platform become distractions themselves.]
5. Begin to praise God for Who He Is and thank Him for What He has done; focus on rehearsing God’s character and nature.
6. Commit to God to be obedient, regardless.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ten Ideas That Will Destroy Worship


1. Worship is the music. Worship is our obedient response to God’s nature and character; that response can be with or without music. Limiting worship to music implies that those who aren’t so musically inclined can’t really worship. We are commanded to worship, and God would not command what He would not equip us to do. Praying, giving, hearing God’s Word, and much more are all a part of worship.

2. Being able to play and instrument and sing makes one a “Worship Leader.”  Many times people are thrust into a position out of necessity, whether or not they are prepared.  Fortunately, training exists for these impromptu leaders, but if all that happens is filling the position without a biblical understanding of what worship is and isn’t, how what they do fits into worship, and how  personal purity and growth in their spiritual life is an integral part of the whole, then the person may only be filling a position, but not really fulfilling the role of a worship leader.

3. The groups up front are performing, the congregation is the audience.  Worship is not entertainment, since the focus of entertainment is pleasing the listener, but the focus of worship is pleasing God.  Entertainment and worship are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The purpose of worship is God-centered, giving glory to God alone.

4. “After we use a song for a while, we burn it and look for another.”  The danger here is a lack of understanding of the biblical mandate in Colossians 3:16 of using music to teach. It is great to learn new songs, but not to use only new songs. Singing only the “latest & greatest” generally misses the fullness of expression of doctrine and is narrow in focus. We learn by repetition over a long period of time. There must be a building of a congregational memory of songs that they can sing by heart and express the fullness of our faith.  Multigenerational worship is more than just young and old singing the same songs; but each generation mixing life together in all the aspects of corporate worship over time.


5. “I can do what needs to be done; I don’t need to.... anymore.” The absence of a teachable spirit can poison congregational worship. Being able to play the songs of today does not guarantee skill for tomorrow.  There are always areas in which we can grow and improve. God may be preparing the leader for a new assignment, but the refusal to seek help and grow will disqualify the person from the opportunity. [Even with those we train at the Seminary, we desire to instill the heart of a lifelong learner.]

6. “If we build it, they will come”: worship style, etc.  The idea of cultural relevance was right, but trying to make worship style the substitute for the Body of Christ personally sharing Christ is wrong. Natural growth is a result of the organism multiplying itself by reproduction; we dare not make a worship service the primary means by which we reach out to the lost. True growth comes from the discipleship of those who have been led to Christ and mentored into the basics of the faith. False growth comes from  just “swapping sheep” from another congregation because of worship style.


7. “It’s just not worship unless this person/group is leading/preaching.”  When we must have something more than just God and His Word to worship, we are revealing that God alone is not enough. Simply put, we have made that person, group, or whatever an idol in our lives. When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was getting caught up in everything, until God’s voice clarified the issue: “Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” and when they looked up, they saw Jesus only. [Matthew 17:1-8] We can easily begin to worship the experience of worship more than worship the Christ of worship.

8. Following formulas more than the leadership of the Spirit. There is a tendency to copy what others have done, even so much as to how a song is shared, without thinking of the context from which it came. Rather than seeking the leadership of the Spirit about the needs of the congregation and how everything fits together with the message to be shared, some leaders just put together what they have heard from the latest conference, without even thinking that the songs were written for the conference and it just won’t sound the same with their group as it did with the 5000 at the conference.  The practice of jumping up an octave on the verse or chorus after a bridge may sound exciting, but the true is, few in the congregation can do it, or if they do, they sound as if they shouldn’t have tried. Everyone is not a tenor or soprano. Leaders must know their congregations.

9. The volume of the music reflects the intensity of the worship. When the dB levels push 90 and above the body will begin to release endorphins as an automatic pain response for protection causing the person to have a sense of a “high.”  Too easily this physical response is interpreted as a spiritual one, resulting in confusion, not to mention that prolonged exposure leads to hearing loss. [This effect is same for an organ playing over 90 dBs as it is for a praise band, for it is not the type of music, but the dB level that is causing the damage.] Unfortunately, the damage is much like a slow growing tumor that is not discovered until the damage is done and is permanent.

10. It doesn’t matter if the congregation doesn’t participate, they can just follow the praise team or worship group in front and let them sing.  The truth is, if the congregation is not following, that is, singing, then the group up front is not leading. Such an attitude can slip into the mindset that the congregation is an audience and those leading into performance. We are to encourage one another as the Body of Christ.