Doesn’t Modern Worship Miss God?

No, not unless it’s telling you to miss God.

New Life (Colorado Springs, CO) worship leader Glenn Packiam is in the middle of a great two-part piece about modern worship, entitled “The Problem With Our Critique of Modern Worship.” Whether you’re a worship leader or a worshiper (hey, that’s every Christian) I would recommend reading it.

I know why Glenn’s writing this. It’s the same reason I would write something like this. Because when you’re in a place of leadership in an evangelical Christian church, every congregant has an opinion of how church should run, and their way is inevitably the “right way.” Much of this stems around the worship style.

Because we’re Christians, we can’t just tell people their ideas are stupid (even though plenty are). We need to be kind. And because we’re leaders, we must have a thoughtful response.

With regard to modern worship style and contexts, some people feel it’s missing God. They ask questions like, “Why do we need lights?” and “What’s up with all that bass?” which inevitably leads to “Are we running a rock concert or a church service?”

Assuming you already paused long enough to read Glenn’s article, his first point citing where critics often accuse modern songs of having “too many eruptions of repetitive monosyllabic sounds” is brilliant.

“Because it’s Biblical.”

And he brings in quotes from Fuller Seminary’s Old Testament professor John Goldingay to make the point. What might surprise many Christians today is that ancient Hebrew worship music was even more rhythmic and less melodic than anything we have today. And, if I might add from a modal study, our music has far more major chord voicings than anything they used in Middle East traditions, past or present.

But I’d like to offer a few additions to Glenn’s second point regarding the common accusation that our services are “too much like a rock concert.” Glenn does a great job of discerning how Christians can “inhabit the form” of something from the world while not being of the world. Like metaphor and diverse expression, the Church is a wonderful vehicle for an array of communications.

Here’s some more food for thought.

Firstly, what is so bad about a rock concert? Or any concert for that matter? Somewhere, the term “rock concert” has become synonymous in certain Christian circles as being “of the devil.”

News flash, and I know this might be a shocker, but I’ve been to hundreds of rock concerts and I’ve never seen the devil. I’ve never been encouraged to worship the devil. And I’ve never felt the devil. Granted, I may not have gone to the “proper rock concerts” to experience this, but even that proves my point: not all rock concerts are bad, and similarly, not all church services are good. So making a broad generalization is poor grounds for any argument.

Secondly, I’ve seen some amazing things in rock concerts. I’ve seen how lights can be used to minimize distractions and draw a crowd’s attention to something important. I’ve seen how quality mixing, thorough sound reinforcement, and poignant visual and video effects can provide an audience with a memorable, life-altering experience that they’ll never forget.

Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to do in the church?

So if the question isn’t one of style, but really—if we’re being honest—of content, then what are we promoting with all this technology?

I’m not sure about your church, if it falls into the “modern worship” context or not, but yesterday at mine, our worship leaders talked incessantly about Jesus, lead the church in songs about him, shared scriptures from his Bible, exhorted the church to pray and intercede for the perishing in our community, and prayed for the congregation.

Huh. I’ve never been to a rock concert where that happened. Unless you’re talking about a CCM concert, which I don’t think that’s what critics are trying to cite as evidence.

The truth is, I’ve been to secular rock shows where the front man was more humble than some pastors I’ve met on a Sunday morning. Again, not all, just some. Content always trumps environment.

Why am I so stumped when critics draw the awkward and ill-informed rock concert comparison? Because they’re choosing to use broad strokes when really all they need to say is, “I don’t like electric guitars.” Now at least that would be an honest, accurate statement that we could have a discussion about. Or just say, “I’m always going to think that things were better [in whatever decade they were saved in].” I can work with that! I’m sure that I’ll always think the 90’s were the best. (But they really weren’t).

When we use stereotypes in place of facts, it’s usually because we have not thought out our arguments and believe that generalizations will further impassion our plea. The opposite is true: they undermine our arguments and turn well-meaning people into cause-driven fanatics.

If we’re going to critique anything, let it be whether or not we see the love of Jesus at work among his people. Whether or not we see people using their creative gifts to full effect in directing attention to God and creating an unforgettable experience for others. And whether or not people walk away remembering how exciting it is to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Changing One

I remember walking the grassy fields of Auschwitz in the summer of 2002, trying to contemplate just how many millions of people had perished there.

A million people is a hard concept to grasp.

Millions of people even harder.

And that these lives hadn’t lived and died in the naturally occurring order of life, but instead were brutally snuffed out, was an almost unthinkable equation.

“You can’t think of them as millions,” said Vincent Fernandez, sensing my obvious frustration. Vincent has become a man who Jennifer I consider our French Pastor and our French PaPa. And for good reason: leaders that call great things out of you and challenge you to higher realms of being deserve such titles. “You must think of them as one, plus one, plus one.”

He took a few steps and then turned around. “And everywhere you set your foot, you must remember that someone died there.”

“One, plus one, plus one.”

I wept bitterly. The millions had stopped being numbers and started being people.

Like most tourists who visit her hallowed grounds, Auschwitz changed me. Deeply. The moments I spent there have bled into the rest of my life, namely this:

We change the world when we change one life. Because life is made up of ones.

Christopher

Arresting Our Perspectives

Sometimes our perspectives need arresting. The out-of-control, self-centric world view that plagues those of us who live amongst the earth’s most affluent societies is a beast that needs constant taming.

The fix is quite simple really: force your sane self to show your perspective-less self the images and stories that your bad attitude conveniently missed.

Like this one, posted recently by one of my friends:

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Hey, you there. Reader. You had a really good day today. Now go find someone to encourage.

Brittany’s Dying Later Today

How would you live today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

What would you do this week if you knew by the end of next week that you wouldn’t be around?

Sobering questions.

For Brittany Maynard, she’s dying November 1st. That’s today. I don’t know Brittany, and at first blush, I can’t say I agree with her logic. But I’m also not the one whose brain is being taken over by the most aggressive form of cancer known to man. Pain is a cruel tormentor.

I don’t know what I’d do in those shoes, because I’m not wearing them, and most speculation is trivial at best, insulting at worst. I’d like to think I’d pray, ask for prayer, and believe God for a miracle. I’d like to think I’d see some relief. But as Rocky said, “No one hits as hard as life.”

At some point today, Brittany will be dead, and a family will be suffering. But her last ‘bucket list’ item was checked off this week: to see the Grand Canyon with her family.

Maybe we don’t live the way we should because the elusiveness of our expiration date dulls the sense that we’re slowly advancing toward it? Maybe because we can’t mark it on a calendar we’re more prone to ignore it, because it’s gruesome. Sad. Distasteful.

Value your life today. While you may not know the exact day you’re going to die, the death rate for every generation is 100% (minus Jesus and maybe Enoch).

And value your life enough today to dwell on where you’ll be when it’s over. I’m not sure if Brittany knows Jesus, but he certainly knows her and if grieving for her. I hope beyond all hope someone told her about his love and sacrifice, because I’d really like to see her smiling on the other side of cancer.

“Live like you were dying.”

-Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman

And for the Christian, we’ve already died once. So living this time around removes the sting of death.

Live on.

Mentor Up

Not sure if you know this, but someone’s following you.

Right now.

Don’t look around. They might not be in the same room as you. But they’re there.

They’re thinking about you, watching your social media posts, observing you in church, glancing at you across the office. Whether you know it or not, and whether they know it or not, you’re mentoring somebody.

As Jody Maberry so precisely put it this week, there are actually five different kinds of mentors. So maybe you perceive that your lack of social standing precludes you from being a Classic Mentor. Fair enough. But what if you’re someone else’s Shadow Mentor, or my personal favorite, their Anti-Mentor? (Cue new Super Villain theme music).

Not only do we need mentors personally (a post for another day, or just read Jody), but we need mentors so we can continue to mentor those we’re mentoring. Because the sub-humanoid life form in the high chair across from you is tracking your every move.

Mentor up. It could mean everything to the people who’re following in your footsteps.

Leadership Tactics

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One of yesterday’s highlights was having US Army Operations Officer Zack Wiley bring his wealth of knowledge to our table at New Life. Very humbling to have man that organizes operations and logistics for an entire battalion honor us with his insight. Translating it to the church world is exciting and inspiring, and Zack’s love for the Bride of Christ is contagious. Just one of the many blessings of serving in a military city.

Learning how to serve people better means finding new people to learn from.

What Gratitude Does

I’ve never met a thankful person who had a bad day.

Ungratefulness is like a blindness that leads us down the path of depravity until we’re trapped in the clutches of entitlement.

Take today and start thanking God for the minutia in your life. It changes attitudes quickly. When I start putting my life in context of the rest of the world, I come face to face with how ungrateful I really am. Every problem I have is a First World problem. Which calls me from wallowing in self pity to engaging with the mission of God for my life in the kingdom.

God, thank you for this glass of water.

God, thank you for this light switch and the lightbulb on the other end.

God, thank you for this countertop, this stove top, this table top.

When I’m having really “bad days,” I actually touch everything I’m thanking God for, this way my prefrontal cortex and my physical body are making the connections about what my spirt is trying to remind my flesh of: that I’m blessed beyond belief.

Once gratefulness has a firm seat in your heart, you can approach the mission of God for your life without the need to get anything from it for yourself. You’re simply concerned with one thing:

What does God get out of my day today?

And a close second:

What do others get out of my day today?

Emotional Comfort or Divine Peace?

What many of us are referencing when we say we need or want “peace” about something is actually not peace at all.

It’s emotional comfort.

Peace that passes understanding is just that—something that surpasses out ability to comprehend it. What we want is for everything to make sense, and then, because we understand it all, to feel good about what we know. That’s cerebral. That’s emotional comfort. Divine peace, on the other hand, says, “I don’t understand it all, and yet in spite of that, I’m at one with God.”

It’s not the absence of conflict, it’s knowing who’s at the helm of the ship when the seas are up.

If we’re focused more on personal happiness than we are with ongoing spiritual maturity, we’ll misinterpret trials as judgements instead of invitations to become Christlike.

Sail on.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Church

Fundamentally, the church you call home should promote encounters of heart, mind, soul and body with God, challenging what you know and how you behave; it should be a place that provides accountability to how you love God and serve people; and it should be a place where you receive genuine care from other Christians whom you’re close with.

Worship God.

Provide care.

Receive care.

How some Christians make obtuse life-decisions without taking into consideration what quality of church they’re leaving or what quality of church they’re walking into mystifies me. And yet it’s inevitably quality churches which broken people finally land in that nurse them and their children back to health.

If you’re not in a church that promotes comprehensive God encounters, provides accountability that stings your worst and encourages your best, and pushes you out of your comfort zone to serve those around you, then I suggest you change churches. None around you? Then you’re either called to plant one, or move.

Move?

There’s a reason towns were built around churches: their founders valued divine relationship above industry and economy. Build your life around God and the community of believers, and you’ll find it hard to miss the plans and purposes that God has for you.

And, statistically speaking, no—you’re not going to change the pastor or the board. Though noble, the church is littered with the remains of people who stayed too long, fighting to change the very thing God himself said he wouldn’t: someone else’s free will. Get out, and go find a healthy place to pasture your family while there’s still daylight. Your future is worth it, and so is theirs.

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The Life Dichotomy

Plenty of things in this life should give us reason to pause.

Why does the word “lisp” have an “s” in it?

Since Americans throw rice at weddings, do Asians throw cheeseburgers?

And then there’s this picture of an octopus eating a shag:

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Not that bird’s best day.

Other more important things give me reason to pause, especially when the propinquity of their seeming juxtaposition nears a common epicenter.

Like my friend’s mom dying within twenty-four hours of my other friends having their first child.

As a Christian, and further as a pastor, such dramatic life events present an interesting gambit of emotional obstacles. Not because I’m worried about crying at funerals, or hate smelling babies’ heads. (I do both quite well). But because I’m called to identify with loss, and equally identify with gifts.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

When we take on another person’s life-state as if it was our own, we participate in something uniquely divine, an inferior reflection of what Jesus did so perfectly: becoming as someone else.

Life’s dichotomies, as experienced most extremely in birth and death, are not meant to be feared, but should be seen as opportunities to act Christ-like. To take on someone else’s burden so that they might understand they’re not alone. Truer, more authentic empathy is rarely seen, save maybe in exchanging one life for another. And even in that we see the picture quite clearly: giving up part of our life in recognition of someone else’s.

We die a little.

We give ourselves away a little.

If you’re asked to celebrate today, celebrate with all your might. You honor the lives around you with your passion.

If you’re called to grieve today, mourn from the deepest part of your soul. You honor the lives around you with your compassion.

You’re also acting a whole lot like Jesus. It can be draining, yes, especially when these life-dichotomies are so close together. But that’s the beauty of it: he knows how to sustain you because he became like you once too.

To Kevin: We’re so sorry for your loss. We’re with you here and now.

To Karen and Costa: We’re so happy for your new little man!

Mourning and rejoicing,

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Out In Front by Kirk Gilchrist

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My dear friend and senior pastor just released his latest book this week, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him and for those who read it. It’s chalk-full of hard hitting life lessons, glacial nuggets of wisdom, and often startling arguments to some of church culture’s more common assumptions—ones he confronts from simple, Biblical perspectives.

An eternal pragmatist as well as a tireless worker, Kirk also writes about many of the fundamental cultural principles of leadership that’ve helped grow our church, New Life, to the healthy place it is today.

What I love most about this book, however, is that it reflects a man I deeply admire. I know Kirk. Of all the people I’ve ever met, he operates unlike any other in a true New Testament gift of leadership. He’s always looked to better his team before he betters himself. And he’s paid a high price to be able to speak from a place of authentic spiritual success.

I can’t afford (nor could I survive) to make all the mistakes of other men—I have my own to wrestle through. That’s why works like these are so unequivocally pivotal when it comes to serving others the way Jesus did and does.

Dig in,

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How Do You Read The Bible?

Most of my spiritual conversations over the last several weeks have swirled around a common question: How do you read the Bible? Some of these dialogs have stemmed from the social media firestorm surrounding musician Michael Gungor’s admission that he does not believe some of Genesis’ accounts are literal. Others have been private confessions from believers who secretly believe in evolution (a broad statement, to be sure), but are scared to death to voice this among their Evangelical peer groups. And still others are trying to reconcile inconsistencies found within scripture, now digging deep for contextual understanding.

In all cases, I commend Christians everywhere for their hunger for learning. We must be people that dig deep, and then dig deep again, fostered by healthy communities that endorse free thinking and inspire “walking out [one’s] own salvation with fear and trembling.” Changing doctrine is not a sign of weakness, but of confession that we don’t have it right, and God does.

No matter your sentiments or beliefs, the Bible plays a critical roll in all of our development: our faith must be shaped by the cannon of tradition past and by the counsel of spiritual leaders present. Which leads to an all-important question:

How do you read the Bible?

Below, I’ve pasted four very keen points from Joshua Graves, the lead minister for the Otter Creek Church in suburban Nashville, TN. I’d suggest reading his preface on the original post as well, since his four-point list is actually a part of a much larger conversation, both presently and historically.

These four perspectives are incredibly helpful both in knowing where you’re at and helping determine where others are coming from when they purport seemingly irrational conclusions when held in context to your own.

Pastor Joshua Graves:

VIEW #1: FUNDAMENTALIST or BASIC (The Bible is read as a rule-book for living a godly life before a watching judge.)

God is a judge with holy (sometimes angry) and wrathful disposition towards sinful humanity. Jesus saved humanity. Though he loves us, God’s anger burns towards humanity because of continual evil and wicked ways.
The Holy Bible was given via dictation theory or celestial possession. The Holy Spirit literally dictated every single detail. The autographs (original sections of the Bible) and copies are perfect, infallible and inerrant. Every word in Scripture is historically, theologically accurate. The Bible is accessible for any person to understand in a rational and logical approach. It’s not enough to say the Bible in “inspired and authoritative” . . . one must also believe the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and perfect. The Bible is God’s direct instruction manual to all people for all time for how to live before God.

Some of the key players/voices: John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Southern Baptist Convention, Albert Mohler, authors of the Left Behind Series (Jenkins and LaHaye).

VIEW #2: EVANGELICAL (The Bible is read as a collection of timeless principles for morality and conversion in a dark and corrupt world.)

God is a judge and father with a major dilemma that only Jesus can resolve.
The Bible is the Word of God for the people of God. It contains the timeless truths of God’s heart that need to be communicated and shared with all people. While the copies of the Biblical manuscripts might possess some tension/uncertainty, the autographs (originals) are perfect, infallible, and inerrant. The primary role of the Bible is to save people from their sin and hell, providing the road map for any person to spend eternity with God. God’s primary way of communicating to humanity is through the sacred scriptures. It’s the most important tool we have for understanding God. Some in this camp will greatly stress the power of the Spirit to use the timeless truths of the Bible to provide a practical guide for everyday decisions.

Some key voices/leaders: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Max Lucado, Billy Graham, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes.

VIEW #3: THIRD WAY (The Bible is read an unfolding drama inviting all people to participate in the work of God in the world.)

God is the creative father who seeks to pull all women and men out of darkness into living the Kingdom of God now in preparation for the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth.

Because the church came before the New Testament, this group is inclined to call the Bible the word of God and reserve the phrase the “Word of God” for only Jesus (word does not = Word). Rather, the Bible reveals the Word. The Bible is the word of God in that it is trust-worthy, powerful, and effective in leading people to a living encounter with the power and mystery of Jesus in the world. It is the sacred drama of God, in which we are mere B actors, and Jesus is the main character. While God is revealed in a myriad of ways (creation, art, music, friendship), scripture is unique in that it derives its authority from the witness of catholic orthodox stream of disciples and the local church. The power of the Spirit is at work taking ink on a page, and bringing us closer to the Jesus who holds all creation together. The Bible is the mirror that shows us who God is and who we are. It is not to be worshiped or made an idol as it did not create us, sustain us, die for us, etc. It’s simply the tool God uses in conjunction with all of the other revelations to bring us closer to God’s intent for the world: faithful discipleship, resistance to the powers of this present age (communal). Christ’ presence in the world is both powerful and mysterious and the Bible is a key tool God uses in that endeavor of discovery. This group resists using infallible and inerrant because a) they are not words that show up in Scripture and b) are tied to stale debates between faith and science. This group takes seriously the role of the Bible as it relates to inspiration and authority but refuses to divorce these two words from the main purpose of the Bible, further revelation of the person of Jesus.

Key voices/leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr. Karl Barth, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Lauren Winner, Sarah Coakley, Bonhoeffer, James Smith, Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Chuck Campbell, Walter Wink Richard Hays, Ian Cron, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Oh, yeah. Bono.

VIEW #4: HUMANIST (The Bible is an inspiring document with varying levels of relevancy for coping with life in the modern world.)

(Here, I’m not using humanist in a decidedly negative fashion) God is whoever you think God to be or were taught God to be. If God exists at all. The “God” pursuit is almost exclusively subjective. In this view, the Bible, like the Qur’an, Torah, the writings of Baha’ll’a, and Bhagavad Gita, is simply one more sacred collection of spiritual moral writings meant to speak to life’s deep experiences of pain. While mostly the product of human engineering and imagination, the Bible is important because of its link to history, meaning, purpose, and identity. Not meant to be literal or pure history, the Bible functions as an important narrative for understanding the values and linguistic emphases of many modern westerners. Full of inspiration, the Bible’s authority should be regarded with great suspicion. It can be however, a guide-book for remarkable standards of ethics.

The widest group, the HUMANIST camp, ranges from Liberal Christians to passionate Atheists. “It [the Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies,” Mark Twain.

Key players/voices: Richard Rohr, Bart Erhman, Christopher Hitchens, the New Atheists, A.J. Levine, Post-Christian Americans and Europeans, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Mark Twain, and Richard Dawkins. This is the most diverse list of all four categories.

I probably needed five categories but ran out of time (pastors have deadlines too).

Had to share this beauty in conclusion. Because, in a sense, everyone does this. Everyone who reads the Bible. Or used to read the Bible.

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So, how do you read the Bible?

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Bible Nature

The Bible does not give simple answers to complex questions, but complex answers to complex questions.

Part of its beauty is that it always calls its readers much higher in our thinking, and doesn’t stoop to accommodate an inferior perception of humanity or its Creator.

To treat Scripture as a series of anecdotes to the world morass is to treat it contemptuously; it was never meant to be an easily defined, well-packaged defense of faith.

It’s not tame, and it’s far from tidy.

Rather, let it be a mere introduction to the living God and all his mysteries, one that necessitates the school teacher of the Holy Spirit to be active in all conversing.

Dare to engage the scriptures as God’s story, for that is what it is. Story. Then resign yourself to knowing you won’t figure it all out.

Don’t worry.

Your faith will survive the ambiguity.

Know only that you’ll be better pointed toward him in the process, and let your heart find peace there. For being in him is all that was ever hoped for you anyway.

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