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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Two Approaches to Worship

I am indebted to Dr. Jon Duncan, the Music and Worship Specialist for the Georgia Baptist Convention for his insights in our recent “Crescent City Praise” Conference at the Seminary. Jon is a gifted musician, administrator, and theologian with keen insights into worship and how biblical principles play out in the local church. Of the many truths that he shared with our students recently, there were two that caught my attention and have begun to make the wheels in my mind turn and really begin to think through their implications. The first truth was the confusion of “Practice verus Performance,” which I will reserve for another blog, and the other was the difference between approaching worship from the standpoint of a consumer or a disciple. Jon’s thoughts became the seed bed for the following.

Matthew 28:18-20 clearly dictates that as we go that we are to “make disciples,” but listen to the difference the following change makes: “Go into all the world and make consumers, teaching to that God exists to cater to their every desire.” I don’t know about you, but as I thought about that statement, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, or scream in anger. The church is the Body of Christ through which those who have surrendered their hearts and lives to Christ as Lord fulfill His command to make disciples. Disciplemaking is part of the obedient response to surrendering our wills to Him, or as also can be said, disciplemaking is part of the obedient response we give to God as we worship Him. As we deepen and develop a vital relationship with Christ that transforms our character so that it reflects Christ’s own, we also as a fruit of that relationship begin to work with others to help them along in the journey and to introduce them to the Savior who can transform their lives. One key sign of healthy worship is healthy discipleship.

“Worship” by definition finds its center in God, and its unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we grow in obedience to the will of God we must be involved in discipleship, that is, reaching those who do not know Christ with the Gospel and training them in the faith. The central focus of worship that is approached from the standpoint of discipleship is an obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God.

Contrast that with the “consumer” mentality of approaching worship: Worship is primarily the means to an end, to get the product [the Gospel] to as many consumers [the lost] as possible. Consumers’ tastes and preferences dictate what is sung, said and done. The “have it your way,” mentality of Burger King gets carried into the worship service and everything is pandered to the “consumer” in the way that pleases the individual. The pastor functions as CEO, more than shepherd of the flock. One result is the new convert is led to expect that everything evolves around their likes and dislikes, and if that changes, then they simply go somewhere their preferences are met. A consumer mentality approaches worship for what “I can get out of it,” and if “I don’t get what I want, I’ll just go a place where I can.” Worship for the “consumer” is approached like someone going to a vending machine, rather than the with the understanding that they are meeting with Almighty God, a God that loved so much that He sent His only Son to die in our place.

A discipleship approach is one that is committed to the teaching and training the demands of Scripture. A consumer approach produces growth by addition; a discipleship approach produces growth by multiplication. The goal of discipleship is reproducing the nature and character of Jesus Christ in ourselves and others by the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. It is slower and more difficult, and doubtless will draw less attention in the media, but carries with it the promise of hearing the words “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

There are many individuals that attend a church Sunday after Sunday as consumers rather than as disciples because they never received the proper followup, or for a host of other reasons. It is essential that we teach new believers [as well as everyone else in the church] the demands of following Christ and what worship is, as Paul told those in Thessalonica that they would face persecution and sure enough they did. [I Thes. 3:1-9] Persecution was no surprise to them, and knowing what to expect helped prepare them to remain faithful. As we teach these new believers what biblical worship is, we can help them confront the culture that tells them otherwise.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

He Call Us to Himself

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.”
Mark 3:13

When Jesus began his ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, there had already been a series of miracles and large crowds following Him before he chose the twelve. Jesus gave time for the twelve to see and observe what following Him would be like before He asked for a commitment that would change their lives. The International Standard Version, states that Jesus call them “to Himself.”

Notice that the call was first to “Himself,” before it was a command to go and preach, teach, or heal. His was a call to commit to a relationship, to get to know Him, to spend time with Him, long before there was any ideas of them being set aside as a group that would change the world. Christ called them to Himself before there was violent persecution, beatings and the cross that would destroy their hope. He called them to Himself before He ever shared that the “Son of Man would suffer, be killed, and rise arise on the third day and to wait in Galilee.”

Being called “to Himself” meant that they would be leaving their former lives behind, their goals, and their understanding of who had final authority in decisions. For the next three years they would see things that only those who were close to Him would see and hear. Before they would be sent out to preach that the “Kingdom of God was at hand,” they had to realize that they were called to Him, first.

What can we take away from this account? Jesus has called us to Himself. He has called us to commit to a deeper relationship, one of trust, even when things are difficult. He calls us to Himself, when we would want to question why we are going through hardship, difficulties, and stresses that seem to crush us completely. Only when we have nothing do we really find Him sufficient. Only when we have lost the security in our own abilities can we discover Him as Rock and Refuge. Only when we run out of our own answers do we find Him as Teacher. Only as we have been completely broken in grief do we discover Him as our Comforter.

He calls us to Himself, first. Before the crowds and calls of ministry, before the confusion and craziness of everyday life, before our attempts of doing, He calls us to Himself. As we draw close to Him, we worship, we surrender, and we yield to Him our personal agendas of glory, fame, and success defined by the culture around us. He has called us to “be,” not just “do.” As we draw close to Him, there is a transformation in character. As we focus on Him, He can realign our thoughts and give us discernment in choices.

As our classes have started this semester, I have already spoken with several students whose main goal is to complete their studies as quickly as possible, so they can go out and “do” what they sense God calling them to do. I have two words that I would want them to hear. First, God has called them to Himself, to be with Him and to get to know Him before they attempt the doing of ministry. Secondly, if they are not doing what God has called them to do now, it is very doubtful that they will be doing it later. Obedience is not later, obedience is now, where we are in the way that is possible now. God is calling them to Himself, to be with Him and to get to know Him before they attempt the doing of ministry.

He has called us to Himself. Are we learning at His feet like Mary, or are we busy in the kitchen like Martha? The growth and depth of our relationship with Christ depends upon it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spiritual Coronaries

Heart disease is one of the major causes of death in the United States, and one of the sources of this illness is the plaque that builds up in the arteries and slowly begins to block the flow of blood. Though it might take years of eating the wrong foods and poor health habits, sooner or later the blockages take their toll on the heart and the person suffers a heart attack or the symptoms of lack of energy, shortness of breath, begin to show themselves and blocked arteries are discovered through a physical exam. What was not seen was the gradual reduction of blood flood to vital organs until finally it was too late, resulting in a catastrophic event.

Our spiritual lives operate in much the same way. From the daily devotional times in God’s Word and in prayer flow the spiritual nurture to our soul and spirit. Consistent times of worship are essential for spiritual health. Yet, within our nature exists another self that resists the commands of God and seeks to undermine everything godly and holy. Most of the time we are aware of the major assaults; we may get angry, but certainly will not kill or take another’s life. But, much like a terrorist that sneaks in to infiltrate and cause mayhem, little sins that are not addressed take up lodging and bunker down into the spiritual veins slowly choking off our spiritual lifeblood, until a catastrophic event occurs.

Oddly enough, we can continue to function externally and many times go through the motions of worship, even though the warm blood the relationship with God has grow cold or has slowed to a trickle. Unconfessed sin, unresolved conflicts, and unforgiveness, all seem to have choked the life until worship loses its meaning and what might have been meant for God’s glory suddenly seems meaningless.

Solomon warns that it is the “little foxes that destroy the vines” [Song of Songs 2:15]. The same is true with our sensitivity to God’s Spirit and hearing Him: as we allow the little things to go unattended, we will wake up later only to notice that things are in disarray. What can be done?

Biblical worship is that obedient response to the God’s revealed nature and character. True worship requires focus on the nature and character of God. Such a focus will reflect how less than like God we are in our nature and character and lead us to cry out for forgiveness, to open our hearts and minds to be able to hear God’s Spirit and respond to Him in obedience. Regular worship cleans out the cobwebs of sin that gather day by day in our lives.

The Psalmist said, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” [Ps. 119:164] Though in the context, this was probably more an expression of completeness, than a literal numerical count, it would not be a bad practice to emulate. Daniel is another excellent example: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” [Daniel 6:10] The point is that worship can aid in keeping our relationship with God fresh and intimate. Failure to do so could very well lead to a spiritual coronary.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is simply doing a number of things at once. Our bodies could not function if the brain were not capable of controlling heart rate, breathing, etc., at the same time. However when it comes to active thought processing, the capability for our brains to handle or focus on more than one thing at a time isn’t there. We sometimes pride ourselves in our ability to “multitask,” but the reality may not be what we think.

“The Myth of Multitasking” is the title of a recent article in Forbes’ online by Carol Kinsey Goman, ( who quotes John Medina, the author of Brain Rules: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously. ( )

Goman states: “Technology has so many advantages, but some devices that were designed to make us more productive, are now creating a new set of productivity problems. When laptops, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cell phones are close by, attendees at workplace meetings struggle to keep their focus on the speaker. It’s just too compelling and easy to check email, text messages and surf the web instead. Of course these workers think that they are multitasking. But, when it comes to the brain ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another.”

What does this have to do with worship and those that lead in worship? Let’s focus on two: a technical and a spiritual.

On the technical side...
At any one time in a given worship service, there are a myriad of activities for which we are ultimately, if not directly responsible: sound, lighting, playing, singing, etc. The reality is that for us to focus on worship, we have to focus on worship. That can only be done if we have properly prepared for the other responsibilities, so that we can focus on worship. Last minute, thrown together services in which those involved are handed their lead sheets right before the service may by the grace of God come off smoothly, but there will be a high toll of stress on those responsible for carrying on the details. Since we cannot truly “multitask, ” those playing and leading are forced to focus just on the basics and are robbed from having the opportunity to prepare. A steady diet of such practices only leads to a high turn over rate for those involved in the ministry.

Wise planning and preparation allow for rehearsals to work out the bugs and help everyone get on the same page. Assigning different tasks to specific individuals will allow each party to focus on a single task and giving them what they need to do their job with enough lead time to be comfortable with the process is a must. [Though it is possible for a single person to run the sound and video as long as they are not having to make simultaneous changes, training another person it is ideal.]

On the spiritual side...
True worship demands focus, single-mindedness. If the leader is still attempting the learn the music for the worship set and “lead” at the same time, it is doubtful that the leader can focus to worship. Hours of preparation and practice are required so the leader can “lead” without being tied to the lead sheets. [This is not the place to repeat a topic already discussed, so please refer to a previous post on “Worship Leader or Lead Worshiper,” ]

The point is if we are constantly concerned over lighting, mic levels, chord changes, and video issues, we will become distracted and not worship. Personally, I have found that it is very easy for me to become distracted. Each week I make deliberate, conscious decisions to help me focus on that “obedient response to God” so that I will not just be standing in front of a congregation, but worshiping as well. For those leading in worship, what we do must not just be a “face we put on” when we are leading, or an artificial “stage presence,” but an encounter with the Living God. [see these articles for related helps: and ]

One aid in focusing, is to go back over the basics. The first step is to become aware that we are distracted in the first place. It is just too easy to be carried away and lose the precious moments that were supposed to be dedicated to God to issues of lesser importance. [I’m not saying that you should ignore problems; if the sound system goes down, you have to address the issue. But, these are more the exceptions than the rule.]

Once we are aware of being distracted, we need to go back and think through what worship is, that is, our obedient response to the nature and character of God. Then, we need to focus on those attributes, and give God thanks and praise, asking Him to help us refocus. These times of refocus are generally brief moments, that may even occur during a song. There may be many of these “mid-course adjustments” during any one service, depending on how distracted we are. We must focus and continue to do so, if we are going to make worshiping a true priority in our leading. Remember worship is not an activity in which we attempt to multitask, but a focus of all that we are.