Posts Tagged ‘worship’

Are You In or Out?

November 22, 2016

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…  Jesus quoting Isaiah

The Pharisees (remember them, the rule-followers of Jesus’ time) were complaining about Jesus followers not following precisely the traditions of the elders. Again. And Jesus quotes their passage back at them.

Did you ever wonder if they got it?

Jesus commented often to them. We know of a few who “got it.” But one wonders if the words just flew around them like so much noise.

As I read and reread this part of Mark 7 this morning and meditated on the passage, my mind was drawn to churches and religious organizations. And I thought about being “in” and “out” of the group.

How many times during the famous “10 am hour on Sundays” when many are attending church are the walls of the various buildings actually separating people into “in” and “out”?

Do we expect people to say the believe what we believe, how we believe it, and vote like us before they can come in?

As Jesus explained himself a little later, he said it is all about what is inside the person that counts. And I meditated on whether we are busy wondering if the people around us are following all the traditions and rituals that we have put our faith in or if we are concerned to bringing hurting, lost, and searching people into a deeper, life-changing faith?

Then I thought that we, like the Pharisees, are more concerned about whether people believe what we do and act like we do and dress like we do than about what their needs are and how we can help meet them.

And I thought (meditation goes this way–if you’ve never tried it, give it a shot) about how most likely the wrong people are “in church.” The seats should be filled with people who are seeking God–or something they don’t know but that it is really God. And the people now in the seats should be outside introducing people to God and enticing them into a safe place where they can learn and be equipped.

Not to say that worship isn’t great. But is our focus on our worship? Or is our focus on walking with God–24/7?

Searching for the Authentic and Transparent

February 18, 2016

A couple of Christian musicians were discussing, well, music. One is a professor at a university. He remarked during the conversation that the young people going through university lately enjoy the music of the 70s. They hear songs about authentic relationships and transparent emotions.

I recently discovered the channel called The Bridge on Sirius XM. It plays the 70s folk rock and jazz-type pop music (Billy Joel, Elton John, etc.). I know–you’re aghast that I don’t listen exclusively to Christian music. Well, sorry.

Now, I lived through that era. I used to get my guitar out and sing those songs. But I’d forgotten. When you live through it, you don’t have the context of time. Now I listen, especially after another 4.5 hour drive to Chicago like I did yesterday. The music professor was right. There’s no “let’s jump into bed right away” lyrics. Or lyrics about angst and rebellion. It’s authenticity, transparency, relationship. It’s about real life.

I’ve heard the same thing about worship. “Contemporary praise” music became shallow. Repeat the same words over and over and simulate emotion by waving your hands like at a rock concert (except no lighters or later mobile phone lights). That’s when I quit trying to get the old, battered guitar out and sing praise songs. As Yogi Berra would have said, “There’s no there there.”

Young people, Millennials, are said to be seeking a more transparent, authentic experience in worship and in Christian life than their predecessors. Or, maybe we’ve always been seeking it and the fads of worship leaders took us down a different path.

Are the Christian leaders on the platform authentic and transparent? Or is it just show? I don’t mind guitars and drums. Or organ music. I can enjoy each. Or folk music.

But I feel like the millennials–I crave authentic speakers, leaders, relationships. There are too many glib speakers out there. I find ones who are real to listen to. And authentic service.

I like to say that I’m a Millennial in an aging Boomer body. I doubt that I’m unique. If you’re young, I hope you find your place. For us older people–what are we doing to share the authentic Christian life with that new generation?

Get real!

For Christmas, Jesus, I’d Like Your Presence

December 21, 2015

“Jesus, I want your presence for Christmas.”

That sentence appeared somewhere last week. I love plays on words. They often drive ideas home. Several books of the Bible are full of these word plays–especially Psalms and Proverbs. Sometimes I think Paul sneaked one or two in his writings.


There are people who, as children, received few presents. Then they went to school and saw what some of the other kids got. Cue jealousy, greed leading to a life of self-absorption, narcissism, and/or greed. Even into late adulthood, they still crave presents.

Even as Christians, as self-professed followers of the guy whose birth we celebrate. They can’t help it. This most likely was not a decision. So many things we get blamed for by the Pharisees who still live amongst us are not really decisions. Just reactions reinforced by family or peer group becoming habits of self-thought.

Others of us learned from those “poor” beginnings that all the gifts really had little meaning. Open the present, check out the (most likely cheap) toy, play for a while, then it’s over.

What remains is experience. All the family gathered. Special church worship. People especially cheerful, wishing peace for everyone.

Me, I seek the presence. As a contemplative, I’ve had experiences. They are deep and meaningful. On the other hand, some of the best experiences of presence have come in service. Sometime just a helping hand. Or picking up a dinner check for some stranger spontaneously. Or working with orphans in international ministries. It can be in the same house or half-way around the world.

We celebrated the 4th Sunday of Advent in a church that celebrates diversity. In just about every way. What a welcoming group of people. The presence was felt.

I only wish that we could spread that presence of the one whose birth we celebrate.

Could I be more witness and less preacher? Seek and share the presence of Jesus.

Of God and Country

May 25, 2015

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. My great-grandmother always called it Decoration Day–a day to visit the graves of deceased family and place flowers. “Decorate” so to speak.

This confused me as a child because it was generally called Memorial Day–a day set aside to remember and honor veterans of the US military, especially those who died in war or conflict.

I grew up and still live in Middle America. The Midwest. It’s a place where, for at least 150 years, people blend God and country. A visitor, from say England or Zambia or wherever, to one of many church services would walk away confused if the people were worshipping God or worshipping their country.

It’s a complex range of emotions. And I know that that is not unique to Americans.

It’s interesting to watch the Wolf Hall series on PBS. It’s the story of England’s King Henry VIII and Cromwell, his “fixer.” The theme reflects the movement of political power, already begun in small ways, from “Rome”, meaning the Pope, to the country. You’ll hear Cromwell occasionally mention are you for England or for Rome. It bacame national.

I’m a disciple in that regard of Roger Williams who first proposed separation of church and state. That idea became a part of the US Constitution. I think that was because many of the Founders did not like the idea of the state collecting taxes from everyone that are spent in support of just one, state-sanctioned, church. They wanted the state out of the church business. I rather like that idea.
So, people like me have two buckets, if you will. There is worship of the one true God and loyalty to the country where I live. Today is where we exhibit the latter.
Or, we watch the Indianapolis 500 or CocaCola 600 auto races. Or, like me and thousands more who go to soccer tournaments. Or see it as a weekend for family gatherings and cookouts.

Whatever. I’ll not be critical. Except for the politicians who sent us into wars of pride and arrogance rather than the wars that truly protected the country. And remember those who died and those still suffering residue from those wars along with their predecessors veterans of the just wars. 

God bless them all.

To Go or To Be

February 24, 2015

“All I want out of church is to go every Sunday and hear a good sermon.”

The man approached me rather assertively. He wasn’t happy with the missions and service–the request for people to do ministry that I lead–since it was a burden for him.

There are two types of people in church, I guess. Those who want to “be fed.” And those who want to feed.

We know that Jesus had the custom of going to the synagogue. But I can’t find one instruction where Jesus told us that the purpose of spiritual life was going and sitting.

Rather his stories were about prayer, having a heart set on God, and relations with other people.

I guess it’s an old story, but it just came home to me again. 

Do we just go to church? Or, are we the church?

To Get Spiritually Fit You Must Practice

January 2, 2015

A friend recently spoke against “Spiritual Disciplines” because he saw them as a list of check boxes–sort of like tasks to complete on your way to salvation.

My response is that if anyone views disciplines, or practices, that way, then they have missed the “spirit” so to speak of the practice. These practices–study, worship, prayer, mediation, celebration, fasting, service, and the like–are things you can do to strengthen and deepen your spiritual life.

Paul often uses athletic language to instruct us in that regard. He tells Timothy (1 Tim 4:7) to train in godliness” for example.

Dallas Willard writing in The Spirit of the Disciplines says, “Just as with the physical, there is a specific round of activities we must do to establish, maintain, and enhance our spiritual powers. One must train as well as try.”

Another way of looking at this is to consider these as habits you’ve intentionally cultivated.

I have an ecosystem of practices that help me exercise daily. It involves going to the gym and then showering and getting physically ready for the day. It’s something I do to maintain as healthy a body as I can.

Similarly with spiritual life. Rising a little earlier (for the past few years, it’s been 5:30 am–without an alarm), I have time for study, meditation, writing before going to the gym. Study, prayer, meditation are woven into the fabric of my morning. Worship, celebration and service happen intentionally at other times of the day or week.

One key is intention. I am intentional about maintaining this routine. It is not rote habit, but habit intentionally chosen and reinforced.

I still have many personality problems to overcome, but this routine has changed my life over time. I expect it will continue to do so.

One thing that it really does is deepen my faith. To be spiritually fit, you have to practice.

Thankful With An Undivided Heart

November 25, 2014

“11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”

–Psalm 86

Jesus was always concerned with the status of our heart. No wonder. That theme runs throughout his entire Scriptures.

Here, the Psalmist asks God to teach him the ways of God. Why? So he could have an undivided heart. Why have an undivided heart? So that he can give thanks to God.

Many Christ-followers find themselves with divided hearts.

We are attracted to this thing, or that attitude. We watch TV and see the “good life”. People are attractive. Having fun. Drinking beer–all the time. Thanksgiving is all about eating turkey. Christmas, which we’ve already begun preparing for, is all about the joys of buying.

Behind the scenes of all that TV goodness are people with torn hearts. We don’t see the recovery groups, the torn relationships from self-centered indulgence, the wreck of our financial life.

We can ask God to teach us His ways so that we can enter this season with a whole heart. Thankful to God for healing us from all the wrecks we’ve had or keeping us from a certain train-wreck in the future that would result from our indulgent behaviour.

As we center on God through Jesus, by study, meditation, prayer, listening, celebrating with others, we heal the heart.

True thanksgiving comes from a healed, undivided heart.

The Non-Religion of Jesus Followers

October 22, 2014

The social and religious environment of first century Mediterranean peoples had expectations of what constituted a religion.

Religions sacrificed animals as part of high worship. The priest killed an animal and prayed to his god for atonement or crops or whatever. The Jewish religion was recognized as a religion because it looked like a religion.

Then along came Jesus. He appointed apostles, not priests. He didn’t make a big deal out of ritual sacrifices.

The movement grew and people gathered mostly in small groups for teaching, worship, and fellowship meals. No killing animals. Part of the teaching was that there was one sacrifice that ended the necessity for endless sacrifices.

The Romans didn’t know what to think. This new movement wasn’t a religion. So, what was it?

There was a small group that met over the course of several years. We met at a woman’s house. She had coffee made. We sang worship songs, studied from the Bible, prayed.

There was another small group we were part of that met after worship to share a meal. We did this for a year or two.

Both experiences were similar to the Acts ekklesia gatherings.

Then the idea came to go back to Acts. To worship with song and prayer and listen to a teacher. These grew to “mega-churches.” But the mega-churches are nothing without their small groups that meet for worship, study and prayer. Just like the old days.

The other thing that the early organization (sort of) did was appoint deacons to look after the physical welfare of the people. Later, Christ-followers in Rome took that tradition and served as nurses and healers during an immense plague that hit Rome. The church grew tremendously because of that witness.

Perhaps today we should add to our adoption of the Acts 2 church by doing more than the monthly canned food drive. We could minister to our neighbors like those Roman spiritual ancestors. It would make a huge difference in the way “welfare” is done. It would make a huge difference in the spiritual life of the church. It could eliminate at least one of the contentious political debates that pollute our minds.

How do we reach out with teaching, worship, praying, and also meeting physical needs?

Change Your Personality

March 27, 2014

Know anyone who was once addicted to something–sex, drugs, alcohol, TV, gaming–and then “got converted” and became addicted to Jesus (or some other religion or pseudo-religion)?

They had the same personality. It was just directed in a different manner. Hopefully less personally destructive, although not always.

Can you really change your personality?

I have witnessed personalities change over time. Mine certainly has–considerably. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes not.

You can take the Myers-Briggs Types Indicator and see where you fall as one of 16 personality types. Some things don’t change. I’m “Thinking” rather than “Feeling” rather strongly. (My Extrovert/Introvert type is just borderline E–could go either way, for example.) My whole life if you give me information, I’ll analyze it. Think about it. I tend to go with thinking rather than how I feel about it.

Sometimes an analytical personality will drive people crazy–especially the feeling types.

Looked at another way, there are controlling types of people. They actually can change, learn to let go and loosen up a little. Become more aware of others and gain a broader perspective.

I grew up with a worrier and anxious type. It rubbed off on me, of course. But I learned skills to cope. 45 years of meditation also helps bring down anxiety and controlling tendencies–you can become at once more mellow and more focused.

Knowing personality type helps you understand why you like certain types of worship rather than others. You can learn it isn’t good or bad–some people just are more comfortable with one type.

Knowing when your type drives other people crazy can be the first step toward toning down the negative parts of a type and enhancing the positive–thus getting along with other types.

I have seen personalities change over time. Beware of sudden personality changes in yourself or someone you know. That could be a symptom of a problem. But it probably helps all of us to mellow out the extremes of our personality type and learn to get along.

Our Body as a Temple

February 18, 2014

I grew up in a German community in rural west central Ohio. Although by my mom’s generation, speaking the language was beginning to die out. My mom was from a “mixed” marriage–a German-speaking Alsatian and a woman of Welsh heritage. I don’t believe she ever spoke German.

But, I heard German spoken around town as a kid. We picked up words. But the words had no emotional impact. I learned later, much to my embarrassment during my first trip to Germany, that some of the words had great emotional impact. Sort of like dropping the “F-bomb” in church.

From that lesson, I learned that while reading the Bible or other works in translation I should try to be aware of the emotional impact of words on the first readers even when the emotional impact in me is slight.

John places the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple early in his Gospel. John transitions from a story about keeping the Temple–an emotion-laden word–pure to talking about the Temple as Jesus’ body.

Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, takes this concept (realizing he probably never read the Gospel of John, but he no doubt knew John and talked with him) further and talked about our bodies as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul talked about what goes into and what comes out of our bodies. He talked about the proper use of our bodies.

I’m like most of the people in America, I suppose. I keep saying I need to lose 10 lbs. But really what I wind up doing is maintaining my 175 plus or minus 5. I really should be 165 for my 5’10” frame.

So, while saying one thing, I’ll watch some sporting event on TV on Sunday afternoon and eat a bag of potato chips. Or order the big meal on a business trip. And convince myself I’m tired and cut my workout short.

There are others who do much worse. Sex with the wrong people. Greatly overeating. Drugs. Too much wine.

It is good to make the link back from our obsession with looks to Paul’s analogy of the Temple to John’s use of the word relative to Jesus’ body to Temple as the place to worship God. Our bodies are where we actually house the Spirit and worship God. Let’s keep it clean.