What’s the best way to worship?

Some words just beg for definition. When we use words like good or government or, for that matter, good government, we have to say what we mean.

The same is true for worship. Often when we use this word, we are referring to the songs we sing at the beginning of a church service. We often specifically refer to that as the worship time. The person who leads this is called the worship minister.

But we also use the word worship to refer to the entire gathering of the church. So, we call it the worship service. We’ll often try to highlight this by saying things like, “We now continue our worship through our offering time….”

But the word worship has a broader meaning, too — as when we talk about living a life of worship. This idea encompasses not just Sunday, but everyday — where worship is an approach, a stance, a way to live.

Which of the 3 usages of the word worship is correct? Well …. all of them. They all describe an element of worship that is important.

But the place to start, I believe, is with the third definition. If worship is about how I live; if it involves how I work and how I treat my family; if it encompasses who I sleep with (or don’t), what I watch (or don’t), what I say (or don’t) — then such a life of worship leads naturally to a time of worship. If I am already living a life of adoration and submission (a pretty good definition of worship I picked up somewhere), then I will naturally gather with others who are doing the same. And we will spend some time once a week (or more), adoring and submitting, together.

In other words, living a life of worship daily leads to expressing that worship weekly. And when I come together with God’s people, the focus isn’t me, or my preferences. It’s God, and what God has done. And it’s us, and what God is doing in us, as we come together, united, in worship.

So, my challenge to me, and to you, is simply this: Focus on the third definition of worship. Seek to make that your daily reality. Then the first 2 will come into clearer focus.

 

What It Means to Get Worship “Right”

In Jeremiah 2.12-13 (NRSV), God addresses the reality that His people have turned away from Him:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
    and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water.

The Lord says that His people have committed 2 sins: 1) they have turned away from Living Water, 2) choosing, instead, to dig their own well. In other words: they have chosen to worship other gods – and worshiping these pagan deities has led them to forget their call to love each other. This then leads them to, as described in Jeremiah 7.5-6: act unjustly; oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow; and shed innocent blood.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s more. In verses 8-9, God then accuses them of trusting in deceptive words; of stealing, murder, adultery, and swearing falsely. Even so, they still go the Temple of God and do the acts of worship, while not living a life of worship.

So, why does God get so worked up when we worship false gods? Whether they go by the name of Baal, or Success, or Wealth, or Comfort, or Fulfilment, God cares WHO we worship because God cares HOW we live. In other words, worship and life are inseparable. If you worship God rightly, it leads you to LIVE rightly. Wander from worship, and your life wanders.

So, God is not a petty, petulant 2-year-old, demanding we do things His way. God is a jealous God because He is zealous for us to get worship right – which leads us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6.6-8).

Of course, this kind of “right” worship is about more than Sunday. It involves Sunday, yes, but it’s more. It’s about submission, surrender, trust. It’s about coming before God on Sunday, yes; but it’s also about walking before God each day.

So, are you truly worshiping the One True God? One simple way to tell: How are you living each day?

The Point of Church

Everybody comes to a church service on Sunday, looking for something. For some, that something is inspiring worship and engaging preaching. For others, it’s a sacramental experience and a sense of authenticity. For still others, it’s to feel something – and still others, it’s cultural relevance. In some ways, I guess, the list for what people expect on Sunday is as long as the list of people who come on Sunday.

We’re told that millennials are leaving the church in droves. And this rise of the “Nones” – who claim no connection to Church or organized religion – is a cause for concern that has churches responding different ways. Some seek to be on the cutting edge of church – with cool music, the right ambiance, and a hip preacher. Others seek to be authentic, and focus on a spiritual experience. Both, it seems to me, can work – and are working.

But it causes me to wonder: in both cases, is the focus on the wrong place? In both cases, are we trying to figure out what millennials want – instead of what they need? For that matter, do we try to do that with every generation and group within the Church?

It’s so easy to do what I mentioned in last week’s blog – divide people up by voting bloc. And while it’s no surprise that political candidates do this, should we do this in the Church? Should we be asking: What do millennials want? Or seniors? Or single people?

Instead, should we be asking: What do they NEED?

In strikes me that Church will always be one step behind culture when it comes to trying to figure out how to appeal to people’s wishes, wants, and desires. How would we ever think we could beat Madison Avenue and Hollywood at their own game? For that matter, why would we want to?

Our job isn’t to meet wants or felt-needs, but to point people to Jesus. To lead them into His presence, where they are changed. This doesn’t mean we ignore methods, or opportunities. It doesn’t mean church should look like it did in the Golden Age (whenever that was). In fact, churches often think they are standing on principle when they choose to resist change – when, in fact, often they are standing on traditionalism. This is when we confuse method with message. Tradition is the truth handed down through the Church through the ages. Traditionalism is the way WE feel most comfortable handing down that truth. And frankly, in too many churches, traditionalism trumps the tradition.

All of this is to say: There are plenty of ways to get church wrong, and only one way to be sure we get it right. Focus on Jesus. Trust the Spirit to guide. Lead people into the presence of God. And all of this is done with the goal of changed lives – lives changed by encountering the very real presence of a Living God.

If this is our goal, and our direction, how we do worship quickly fades behind the more important issue: Who we worship.

So, give me a cool band, or no instruments at all. Give me a preacher who is 28 and hip, or 78 and needing a hip replacement. Turn off the lights and light the candles, or turn up the lights and pull out the hymnal. Sit in a pew in a grand cathedral, on a folding chair in a “big-box” church, or grab a patch of dry ground under an olive tree. Share communion in little cups filled with Welch’s, or in a chalice filled with wine. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer from the heart.

None of these are the point. The point is simply: what helps bring us into the presence of God, where we can be changed? What matters most is not what we see and feel, but what is and what becomes. And what is, is God. Among us. With us. Leading us to become more like Jesus. And that’s worship where every one can find their place.

And that’s it. Unless you, dear reader, are a part of the church I serve – Fern Creek Christian. If so, read on. Sunday, the sanctuary will look a little different. With renovations nearing completion, we are beginning to use the new lights we have installed. This means that, beginning this Sunday, the sanctuary might feel different to you. Some will like it. Some, I’m sure, will not.

I only ask that you remember what matters most: now how we feel, but what we become. So, while I am very grateful for all that we have accomplished in our building renovations, I am most excited about what God is accomplishing in our lives.