Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Narcissistic Worship

You have probably seen the car commercial that asks the question, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” I pretty much hate that commercial but I think it is very indicative of our culture these days. Everything is about making me feel good, look good, or feel better about myself. To some degree, we have all become like that ancient Greek man, Narcissus who died of thirst and starvation while being enamored by his reflection in a pond.

Unfortunately, much of this attitude, no sickness, has spilled over into our understanding of worship. We come to worship with an attitude of what we will do for God. We leave worship critiquing it based on what we got out of it or how we feel when the service is over. Who is the person we are truly concerned about? It is ourselves – what we do, how we feel, how we look, what benefit we gain. We are so fixated on our growth and becoming all we should be, even as Christians, that we are looking down into ourselves instead of up to God. An acquaintance of mine wrote a spoof worship song about just this sort of thing. The song is It’s All About Me and the words are:
It’s all about me, it’s not about you
I sing of me, myself, and I
The world revolves around me too
It’s plain to see its all about me, me, me

It’s all about me; I know you feel it too
I only think about myself
‘Cause I know that you are too
I sure we can agree, its all about me, me, me

I have my own Trinity, I, myself and me, I am my own deity
I am a tri-unity, Navel gazing on me, I am my own community (Words and Music by Rob Still)

We need to stop thinking that we are the main players on the stage. We are but the supporting characters in the drama God is unfolding. Jesus Christ is the person around whom the whole plot pivots. Bob Webber states, “Biblical worship tells and enacts [God’s] story. Narcissistic worship, instead, names God as an object to whom we offer honor, praise, and homage. Narcissistic worship is situated in the worshiper, not in the action of God that the worshiper remembers through Word and table.” [Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 232-233.] We desperately need to get our eyes off of ourselves and up to God. Only when our view is steadfastly locked on Him, can we truly worship be the people God has called and intended for us to be.

Next Time: Biblical Worship

Monday, May 5, 2008

Worship Defined

The first definition I learned of worship was that the word worship comes from the old English word weorthscipe which means to ascribe something as worthy. I was then further instructed that this was how we worshipped we tell God that he is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory. I think my first definition of worship might be a good jumping off point, but it is missing a whole lot of the story. In this definition of worship, I am the subject of the sentence pointing my action of worship at God the object of the sentence. If God is only the object of our worship, if God just sits and observes us as we go through our acts of worship, then we have placed God somewhere far removed from us like the patron of the opera in the furthest box seat from the stage. Yet scripture repeatedly tells us that God is close to us. God is far more than just the object or observer of our worship, He is the initiator.

Our relationship with God is like a dance where God initiates and we respond. How does that dance play out in worship? Bob Webber juxtaposes these two views of worship this way, “If God is the object of worship, then worship must proceed from me, the subject, to God, who is the object. . . . If God is understood, however, as the personal God who acts as subject in the world and in worship rather that the remote God who sits in the heavens, then worship is understood not as the acts of adoration God demands of me but as the disclosure of Jesus, who has done for me what I cannot do for myself. In this way worship is the doing of God’s story within me so that I live in the pattern of Jesus’s death and resurrection.” [Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 232.] God has initiated His life in us and our response is one of grateful worship; a worship that retells God’s story and lives out God’s story in my every minute of my every day. Worship is then not something we do, but something we are. It is transformative and infectious. It changes not only how we see ourselves, but how we see God, others, and the world.

Do you need a new definition of worship? Do you need to rethink how you come to and participate in worship? Summer is coming. Why not make this summer a season of plumbing the depths and reaching the heights of all worship is supposed to be?

[Next time: Narcissistic Worship]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Enter the Story

Recently, our pastor reminded my church that worship is all about THE story: the story of God creating our world and us; our choice to break our relationship with God and go our own way. The story of God coming to rescue and reconcile us and all of creation through his death and resurrection and continuing his redeeming work done through his Church. There is no greater story and it is the one we frame our world in.

Have you considered your role in the story? Whether it is going to worship on Sunday morning or going to work and school on Monday, we are part of God’s story. God’s story did not end when the Bible was finished. He continues to work in the world to bring about the redemption of all of creation. As we gather each week to worship across the world, we rehearse God’s mighty acts in history. As we leave, we go to bring the continuing acts of God into the world we live in. Each one of us has a role to play. Each one of us is vital to the continuation of God’s story in the world. Worship does not stop when we leave church, it continues as we live and work and share as people who are part of God’s story inviting others to come into the story as well.

What story are you framing your life on? It is God’s story or some other story? Only God’s story will remain

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New Life -- Reflections on Easter 2008

New Life

I thought and prayed long and hard about what I would write about today. There are so many rich themes and hymns and stories from this time of year, but what do we need to hear most? As I read and searched and thought about where my own life is, I realized that what I need to hear is that life has been redeemed, re-created, and reconciled to God.

In the beginning, God created everything that is and called it good. From the water in the streams to the leaves on the trees, to the animals in the forest, to man and woman, God called it very good. But it didn’t stay that way. We chose to go our way instead of God’s; we chose to make our own desires and passions our god. In that instant, death and sin entered the world and God’s wonderful creation became corrupted.

But God would not leave things corrupt and dying. He put into action the plan that was laid before the foundation of the world. God came and lived in his creation. He walked in the cool of the shade and drank and swam from the rivers. He ate and worked and with his every breath reclaimed his creation: from the smallest microbe to the largest animal – even his rebellious sons and daughters. But just living in creation wasn’t enough – he went the whole way. He took the sin, corruption, and death of humanity on himself and took it to the cross. Embracing its shame and pain for the joy set before him – reuniting with the Father and bringing all of creation with him. His death broke the power of sin and death, his resurrection brought life and reconciliation to the world. In every way possible, Christ re-created what had been lost at the fall.

Is that recreation and reconciliation complete? Hardly. You have only to read the paper or look around your neighborhood to see that sin and death still happen all around us. But the victory is already won. How I desperately need to be reminded! In the midst of life, when I am overwhelmed, when I am sure there is no hope, no way out, no alternate ending other than the bad one I see ahead, I hear a whisper on the wind. If I stop and listen, the whisper will grow into a symphony that fills the heavens and the earth. It is the ancient cry of Christ’s Bride the Church, “Christ had died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!” As I listen to these words and they fill my heart and mind, I find hope. Hope to keep doing what God has called me to do in the circumstances he has placed me in. Hope to trust God with the outcomes and futures I can’t see. Hope to believe that after all God has done already in my life and the life of the world he will bring to completion what he had begun. This is the message I desperately need as we celebrate Eastertide; and, praise God, it is the message we receive from the cross and the empty tomb.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Worship Together

So. . . It’s Sunday morning, and somehow you manage to get to church and maybe even get your family to church for worship. Have you noticed it’s about 10 times harder to get up and get going on Sunday than on other days? Why is that? Is all the effort of setting the alarm clock, getting up, getting your significant other or others up really worth it?

If all creation shouts and sings the praise of God as the psalmist says, maybe it would be better if we all just slept in and then went to the park, or the lake, or the woods, or someplace else were we could see the beauty of God’s creation. If we are supposed to worship God all the time, why is it so important for us to gather and worship with each other?

I think that we individualistic, American Christians have something just a little wrong. We have this habit of forming our worlds and theologies around the word “I.” We state that we are the body of Christ. We are fond of reminding one another that our bodies are the temple of God, but I think there is a greater mystery here that is missed in our focus on I. I think we forget that I am not the body, and you are not the body, we are all part of the body of Christ. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” It takes all of us to make the body of Christ. It takes all of us, together. You know what they call a body that is all chopped up into little pieces and strewn around a city? Dead. The same is true for the church. If we don’t come together, and be together, learning from one another, encouraging one another, building relationships and especially worshipping together, then we are not a church.

So week after week we come together. We each come in with our own burdens and joys. We enter the worship space and remember that we are part of a bigger story than the one that happens in our homes and schools, and workplaces. We are part of God’s story. Together we renew our commitment to Christ and to each other every time we enter worship. We sing together, and pray together. We are challenged by God’s word together, we are offered the opportunity to respond together. I know that I have experienced some powerful moments of God’s presence when it is just God and I, But those pale in comparison to the presence of God in the midst of His people. Think back to a time when you saw God in a new way, or saw his power in an awesome way. What were the circumstances? I would be willing to bet that it was a gathering of God’s people – a walk to Emmaus, a retreat, a youth camp, a worship service – yes, even a regular weekly worship service.

Each of us has what I call, a worship voice. Maybe yours is as good as the best soloist, maybe yours is passing the offering plate, greeting those around you, stuffing the bulletins, running the sound board. Maybe yours is slightly off key, or a little rusty from disuse, but the truth is without the voices of everyone, our worship is less that it could be. When each of us comes to worship with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength and pours ourselves into the worship of God, there is a sweetness and a power, and a comfort, and a challenge that cannot be found anywhere else. It is a foretaste of heaven, a glimpse of what we were created to do and be.

Paul put it this way in Romans 15:5-7 "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

How Great the Father's Love For Us

For the last several months I have spent a good deal of time meditating on what it means that our God is triune – three in one yet one in three. It is a mystery that I have spent most of my life simply accepting, avoiding the conversation of how such a thing could be. But now, I find myself drawn to wonder not how can it be, but what does it mean. What does it mean that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in this dance of community? Each person of the Trinity performs their task bringing glory to the others, creating and sustaining the universe, reconciling and redeeming creation. I cannot even fathom the love and honor that exists between them. I cannot understand the perfect harmony and unity from which flowed all of creation and the plan for the redemption of all that they created.

And then we came to Advent and Christmas. I was awestruck by the idea of the Trinity, this perfect union that has always existed, being willing to split itself apart: One third pulling itself away and becoming human. The Son came and bore our human frailties, took our sin and our pain, our brokenness and even our death upon himself. But even more than that, He was willing to be severed completely from His unity with the Father and the Spirit by our sin. We are often amazed by the love of the Son for us, but what about the love of the Father?

In my meditation I came across John 17: 20-23. This is Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” Most of us are familiar with this because this is where he prays for us. I have read it many times before but this time something caught my eye I had never noticed before. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (italics mine) Can you imagine: The Father loves us as much as the Father loves the Son!!! Is it any wonder that the Father sent a portion of Himself to this broken world to bring us this message? Is it any wonder that the Son let himself become sin and die so that we could be reconciled to our Father who loves us so much!

As this reality has begun to slowly dawn in my heart, I have had but one response to fall on my face and worship. I am unworthy of such love, but God has made me worthy. I have rejected and trampled on His love time and again, but He returns and woos me back and will not let me go. He gave all to make me and you His treasure, the apple of His eye. You see, to God we are the pearl of great price that He gave all in order to possess. All I can say is, “Thank You” and, “I love you too, help me love you more.” This is the essence of worship.