Friday, March 28, 2014

Coming Back to the Heart of Worship

Louie Giglio once said: “Worship is our response both personally and corporately to GOD - for who HE is…and for what HE has done…expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.”

Now, in recent past I would have suggested this as a spot-on portrayal of what worship is. But upon further review, my grade has modified to "incomplete". No doubt, our lives speak with worship serving as the mouthpiece. After all, everyone is worshipping something, right*? But while Giglio’s explanation captures the circumference of what worship is, it doesn’t provide the fullest definition as to what the heart of worship looks like, particularly our ‘response’ to God in worship. Truth is: Worship is more than "our response"…and if we're to grasp the entirety of worship, we have to press beyond topical delineations.

But before we continue, we need to set a foundational definition of what worship is…

During a recent LEGACYouth Facedown service, we defined worship as: “Love responding to love**”, connecting the greatest gift (love) to the greatest response back to it (worship).

Through this designation, we uncovered two significant base points:

  • Worship’s design is inseparable from God’s love.
  • Worship’s intent goes beyond our expression of love.

Truly, if we are to understand worship in greater measure, we need to twig the importance of response (alongside unconditional love), given our response is part of what bridges the gap between our love and God’s love. Yes, we could dive into the famous love passages in Scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 8/13, John 3) or examine the justification-grace association for better insight, but for now, let’s drill down on ‘respond’ for a moment…

I’ll start with two more profound quotes on worship/responding in worship:

Worship is the ‘thank you’ that can’t be silenced.” ~ Max Lucado

Worship is the gift of participating by the power of the Holy Spirit in the incarnate (took human form) Son’s communion with the Father.” ~ James Torrance

Phew! Talk about complimentary heavy-hitters! Let's dig in and see what we can deduce from these quotes, shall we?

Here are some of my takeaways:

1) Responding in worship isn’t a silent action. Even when we set ourselves to ‘mute’, our heart & souls cry out to God (“I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the LORD. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.” ~ Psalm 84:2). This doesn’t mean we’re always consciously aware of this process, as we are given the free will to manufacture or eradicate interference between God’s deep and our deep (Psalm 42:7). But though worship is much more than an expression, it’s still an integral part of worship’s DNA.

2) Responding in worship isn’t a spectator sport. We don’t worship by watching a worship leader worship God on our behalf. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. We can worship no matter where we are, no matter what our circumstances are because Christ is our ultimate worship leader. By His grace, we can worship any time, any place…the key is our participation. If we aren’t entering in, then we aren’t truly worshipping. Real response leads to perpetual, circular dialogue (i.e. as we say ‘thank you’ to God, God showers down His love on us, which increases our gratitude and expression of it, etc.).

3) Responding in worship is an opportunity given. Words like ‘incarnate’ and ‘communion’…they tell us how Jesus makes our prayers and concerns, His prayers and concerns and takes them upon Himself in the same way He took our sin on the cross. When we worship, we encounter the presence of God by encountering the power of the Holy Spirit. But it is Jesus who intercedes on our behalf as the grand mediator and facilitator between us and God. Thus, worship isn’t just between us and God (a Unitarian interaction), but involves the entire Trinity!

4) Responding in worship is a breathtaking wonder…but it’s something we must take seriously. Why? Because God takes us seriously! Thus, we can’t afford to take worship lightly, because God never takes us lightly. If we really believe in who God says He is, then it would be crazy to ‘exalt’ Him with lukewarm praise. He’s not lifted up when we go through the motions, when we stand stagnantly, allowing fear of man to rule us as we mumble words on a screen.

Truth is: Our response in worship reveals how much we know and love God (or rather how much we want to know and love God). It's not about the music, the worship pastor, the atmosphere or some other liturgical element. In the end, worship is 'simply Jesus'. It's telling God we're sorry for the things we've made it, proclaiming the truth that's it's all about Him and letting Him fill us with greater love, wisdom, understanding, joy, peace, etc. (Hence, my argument that worship in a two-way street involving the entire Trinity, not just a one-way street from us to God). Perhaps this is why when the music fades, and all is stripped away, we can always find something of worth, something unfathomably deep, something more than a song...


* Which, in reality, is not an example of ‘Begging the Question’. Any atheist can claim this as a logical fallacy when certain denials are applied; however, their argument starts to lose credence when worship is reduced to “ultimate concern” and “intense attention”. One can’t possibly expect to know worship in its true form, without the acceptance of unconditional love’s existence.

**Shout-out to Steve Garrett


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Anorexic Church

Yesterday, the Lord gave me a convicting word, as He probed the inner closet space of my heart. He told me: my people are not only starving, but they've grown satisfied with it.

Then it hit me: We’ve tolerated partiality by sustaining a small appetite for his ways. As a result, the church is suffering, in part, by a twisted form of spiritual “anorexia* athletica”.
So I got to wondering…

If we’re... so content with bite-sized faith, how can we possibly handle the glory of God, whether it manifests in a mighty outpouring…or the next great awakening? Zooming out further, how can we possibly grow in the image and likeness of God or become genuine disciple-makers if we’re simultaneously allowing our spiritual stomachs to shrink? Is it because we’re content with false security? Capped intimacy? Entitlement? Is it because we’re bored with God and have grown numb to the AWEsomeness of His nature and love?

I mean…it’s like we want to feel full as soon as possible, just so it won’t take much prophetic, presence and/or glory to fill us.

Yes, Lord, feel my tiny coffee cup! I left my buckets at home, but whatev…I just want to overflow!

See how “crazy soup” this is?

The psychology practically screams, I'm perfectly content in catering to my limitations. So what if I can "get enough”? And please hear me, folks. I say this as one who is quite unsatisfied with his own passion and desperation, as one who needs to know hunger in fresh, new way.

Bottom line: We need to pray that God takes back the disorder we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. If we’re starving in the spirit, we should want to be hungry! If we're created to thirst, we should want to be thirsty!

It makes no sense to be passive and idle to what we need to survive.

So as we explore what real, radical hunger looks like in the coming weeks, let's anchor our discussion to Scriptural truth, particularly the life and ministry of Jesus. Later on, I'll talk about the application of hunger, after we've dissected the pursuit of it.

For now, I leave with a conglomeration of Psalm 107:9 & Matthew 5:6:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things." ~ Matthew 5:6 + Psalm 107:9 (ESV)


* From Jeremiah Theiss: "When an anorexic hasn't had food for a long time, their body stops producing ghrelin, a 28-amino acid hunger-stimulating peptide and hormone that makes the body hunger. Once the body loses its ability to hunger, nutrition must be transmitted through IVs to sustain survival. Slowly but surely, as the body starts to process the nutrition, the ghrelin returns and in time, so does the hunger. Perhaps we have to rely on God to force-feed us until our hunger returns."

Top picture = cover art from "The Essential Church?" by Thom & Sam Rainer
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Monday, March 17, 2014

The Exit Millennials

Presented at the 2014 Messenger Fellowship Summit

In contemporary culture, the relationship between young people and the church can be rather complicated. As recent undergraduates and now current youth pastors, we’ve seen many peers struggle to connect with the church. But while young people aren't necessarily turning their backs on faith, they are turning their backs on appearances of godliness that are powerless. Right or wrong they feel that church people are hypocritical; saying that they’re loving, but really marked by partial tolerance. So though many youth are leaving the church in droves, they still carry a desire for the church to be the church. When young adults walk out on church, they often aren’t walking out on God.

Youth, today, possess unprecedented sensitivity. For instance, if young people feel they are the target of an evangelistic agenda, chances are it will rub them the wrong way. Why? Because youth are groomed to value perpetual movement in a distraction-heavy culture. Hence, if a church's mission is focused on devising “relevant” programs, young people may be out the door  nursing unanswered heart-cries before they can be reached. 

The question is: how can the church  connect to a youth culture terrified by vulnerability, deceived by unrealizable fantasies, when our efforts at discipleship and evangelism are lifeless? Perhaps it should be no surprise why young people value relationships over intimacy, open-mindedness over openness and authenticity over commitment.

Truth is: Despite our wired world, young adults remain thirsty for real encounter, worship without agenda and an authenticity unafraid of dysfunction. Yet all too often, entitlement, insecurity and dependence on “moves” of God often result in disillusionment and offense. The result? Cynicism

And as cynicism enlarges the barriers between the younger generation and the church, it’s no wonder youth are exiting church doors, idolizing acceptance, and confusing calls for holiness with judgment, love for tolerance, compliance for compassion and relativism for respect.

At the end of the day, Christian young people need to experience courageous love unconditionally, see their fire for the relevant church recognized and know the church is willing to grow them in their relationship with Christ. And in a world full of competing voices, the church must speak and pray louder than it ever has before, so that young Christians will not only be empowered to acknowledge Christ with their lips, but also stand for Him by their lifestyle.


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Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Bolt from the Blue

Last month, in a rather extemporaneous move, I decided to snowchase down to my ol’collegiate stomping grounds, hoping to intercept one of the strongest southeastern snowstorms in years. As always, I was pumped to make the excursion, this time, to a place I hadn't set foot in nearly four years. But upon arrival at my Alma Mater, it wasn’t long before my world started to transform into a snowglobe of bittersweet retention…

…and now, after a month of silence, I reflect on past reflections...punching the keys to find truth hidden between the lines…
It feels like eons since I stepped off the baccalaureate platform and bid my farewell. But honestly, I’m glad it feels like it never happened. After all, the compounding effect maturity appends to time is practically cathartic. Besides, when the new self has no room to miss the older one buried in the ground, does it not inspire hope to a higher plane?

But sometimes, I wonder why I feel this way…why I’ve tolerated certain notions for so long. Of course, I could play the superficial “God card”, and seek to make moot any other point through “Hakuna Matata” spirituality. But when I convert tunnel vision into widescreen view, I find contentedness in being a forgotten figure masking a sliver of internal resentment still festering against an university I feel never gave me a change, grow, advance… basically the things I started doing the moment I left.
Yet, when I dig deeper and permit emotion to calibrate, I unearth an anger still pinned against me, particularly for neglecting my calling during a time I could have been used mightily. And true, while the environment was essentially a Petri dish for callous living*, truth is: I did nothing to contrast it, let alone rise above it.

Thus, it’s still easy every now and then to wonder: "If only" **  
If only I hadn’t tolerated an idolatrous pursuit of acceptance…
If only I didn’t equate cutting chords with mulligans…
If only I had realized admitting weakness was strength…
… perhaps then I would have graduated with some kind of honor, apart from the golden chord around my regalia.
Yet, as immaturity’s ghost seeks to sustain the subconscious splinter, I sense a grace within the grander scheme unfolding, forcing its withdraw and shielding me from shallow solace. And it’s here, at the place of contended fear and yielded surrender, where I find a power renewing perspective and filling me with the strength I need to press on.

So as I soak in refreshed freedom, I set my toast to what a supersized bolt from the blue can do and boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, past and present, so that Christ's power may rest on me. My prayer moving forward is for this power to be engaged and extended so others will be inspired to embrace forgiveness in fullness.

How wonderful it is to serve a God who uses our spontaneity to see His character more intentionally. For if we want to live on purpose, we must forgive on purpose and not feel like we have to hide behind the past or constantly run from it to be at peace. Perhaps this is why He grants us divine appointments to confront our fears head-on…so we may taste the sweetness of breakthrough, while reaching new levels of faith development and spiritual dependence.

* - as the case with many religious institutions
** - despite a completely restored life years later…

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."  ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (ESV)
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