Broken Lives

Our broken lives were changed, when You broke the night with day. — God Be Praised, by Jon Egan

Check out the video here.

My wife and I are playing music at our church this morning, and God Be Praised is one of the songs on the list. It has a piano piece during the verses that takes up my attention so I can’t sing at the same time. But the first line of the third verse is the above quote, and it is my favorite line of all the songs we’re playing today.

Why? Because it captures so much in so few words.

What does it capture?

My state – On my own I am broken, I am shattered, I am in pieces.

His grace – Because of Him, as the pieces of the chains that bound me fall to the ground, the rubble of the life I tried to build begins to come together into the masterpiece He intended.

The victory of Christ – The night has been broken, the bondage shattered, the stronghold demolished. Light and life have come through Christ.

The finality of this change: Christ’s work is done. “It is finished.” Our lives are being changed, yes, but the primary catalyst for change – His victory – is already settled and established.

As the spiritual kingdom of this world shatters all around me, and as the world I tried to build comes apart, light shines in the darkness and unrelenting love creates a new life out of the ruins.

This is how His Word is coming to life in my heart today as we sing.

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Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

Note to Self

Dear Self,

Maybe you didn’t notice, but you stopped expecting God to show up. You got used to the idea that when you play on the worship team, everything’s going to go according to the neat minute-by-minute plan, and you’ll have a whole hour in between services to drive home, pick up the wife and kids, and get back to church before the 2nd service worship set starts. There was, for a while, that nagging doubt that asked, “Yeah, but what if… Maybe today’s the day that something different happens.” But nothing unexpected happened that day. Or the next week. Or the next.

So you thought this week was just another week with three songs in the first service, five songs in the second service, maybe some measures of “free” worship in the middle. You thought the pastor would close the sermon, and there would be a song for the ministry time slash altar call, and then everything would be done.

Maybe it was a warning sign when last week’s pre-service practice turned into half an hour of pre-service worship. Maybe it was another warning sign when the worship leader said on Thursday that we needed to get the congregation to break out of that programmed “X number of songs and that’s it” mindset. Maybe you had an idea something was different when pre-service practice today turned into about an hour of worship and prayer. But by then it was too late.

So, now you know. Sometimes the congregation will hear what God is saying through the sermon, and they’re going to want to respond. Sometimes, the whole church is going to be up on their feet crying out surrender and desperation to God. Sometimes, they’re going to want to keep singing when you’re thinking, “Ok, things can die down now and we can end this song.”

Sometimes you’re going to have to dash out the door half an hour later than you planned, while the crowd is still worshiping, because you didn’t expect anything to happen and you got caught unprepared.

That time of corporate, unplanned response to God — that was what you’ve been asking for, wasn’t it?

So, why weren’t you expecting an answer?

From here on out, try to remember that God doesn’t always pay attention to your church’s service schedule in Planning Center.

Also, good job today. The experience was awesome, because the congregational response was awesome, because the worship team did an awesome job both playing with excellence and following the flow of the Spirit, and you were part of that.

So, now you know it can happen. Even if it doesn’t next time, expect that it could.

That’s called faith. God likes it, and sooner or later, He rewards it. Be looking.

With love,

Self

It’s For You

I talked a bit about great worship leaders in the last post, but now I want to focus on the body.

One of the phrases we often say about worship music in the church, and indeed the various acts of service or worship we perform throughout our lives, is: “It’s not for me, it’s for God.”

And of course, that’s a laudable humility (ironic, no?) that ensures we don’t focus on being in the spotlight, being the center of attention. Our devotion is meant for God’s benefit.

But worship is absolutely meant for us as well. As in, it is right, it is expected, it is proper, it is a duty.

Sometimes we find those aspects of church life or ministry that we want nothing to do with, and often we use the excuse that “that’s not what I’m called to” or “that’s not where God is leading me.” But certain things are universal; they apply to every believer.

God doesn’t have to “call” us to a life of communication with Him, although some will always be more comfortable with that than others. We are all expected to pray to some degree.

God doesn’t have to “lead” us to study His Word. Our desire to know Him and have our minds renewed should do that without some special unction of the Spirit, though certainly there are some who feel more at home digging into theology and Hebrew-Greek lexicons.

God shouldn’t have to “move” us to worship either – even singing should come ‘naturally’ as a believer. Singing is strongly encouraged throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms and in the New Testament. Consider Paul’s exhortations that everyone should come with a psalm, a hymn, a spiritual song. He suggests that through singing, we can teach each other more about God. (Check 1 Cor 14:26, Eph 5:18, James 5:13, and the following.)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NKJV)

Verse 17 – whatever you do in word or deed – captures the essence of worship. We see in Romans 12:1 that our spiritual act of devotion is to be living sacrifices, offered to God for His purpose.

I’m not talking about only the music we play and the songs we sing at church. I’m talking about the way we live our lives everyday, everywhere. That form of “worship” is for everyone, no special ‘calling’ required.

When we stand up to sing a hymn, when we pass the offering plate, when we listen to the Word preached, and when we sit at our desk at work during the week, we’re meant to be worshiping – doing everything for the glory of God.

Worship isn’t just for God, nor is it for the “worship team” or those who minister in various ways. Worship is for every believer, and so, without any doubt, worship is for me and you.

The X Factor

No, I’m not talking about Simon Cowell’s show.

I’m thinking, as usual, of worship. Specifically, I’m wondering about how we minister as lead worshipers, those folks up front in the church, playing and singing, and hopefully pointing the congregation to Jesus.

x fac·tor

Noun
  1. A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
  2. A special talent or quality.

What is that “X Factor,” that special something that makes the difference between satisfactory and superb?

For one, the superb worship leader isn’t trying to be superb. It’s not about him or her. It’s about God, the team, and the people.

Part of that special quality is observing and responding to needs of others – making it about God and the congregation, ducking out of the way. Saying “Come along with me” and charging ahead while being aware enough to realize when no one’s coming. It’s easy to get caught up in powerful emotion, to be swept away in the worship. And sometimes we can feel like everyone’s there with us, when in fact, the folks in the congregation are looking at watches and reading bulletins. Of course we can’t please everyone, but we can go too far with what pleases us.

Communication is also a key part. We have to be aware of what’s going on, and a lot of that is what the leadership is sensing. Paying attention to non-verbal and verbal cues keeps the worship in proper order. Communicating vision and direction to the team keeps everyone going toward the same goal.

Beyond that direction, there’s an ebb and flow to the music, a crescendo here, and a fade there. Sensing the spiritual dynamics of the service can create space for free worship, the unstructured corporate response of individuals to the love of God. Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team ties in with this. We start to understand that certain members might be able to add to a specific song, or musicians playing less common instruments will better minister in a particular song. So once again, we build room into a set, we add flexibility to the rigid in order to create a better experience.

I think the X Factor comes down to a right understanding of availability and adequacy. Worship is a God-thing. We can’t even really do it without His help, because it’s a response to His revelation. It’s not possible for us, of our own willpower and skill, to make worship “adequate” enough. God brings the adequacy – He does the work. But we do have to be available; we do put all our skill and energy at His disposal, to glorify Him and minister to His people.

We put everything on the figurative altar of worship, and God turns it into something meaningful.

So ultimately, He’s the essential quality, the One who makes all the rest come together and matter.

Flavor

I’m chilling in my recliner, putting my foot up (in a cast, post-surgery), and browsing through other A to Z blog challenge participants’ sites. (Here’s a list if you’re wondering how many people are doing this.)

To top off the relaxing atmosphere, I have a cup of my favorite coffee – extra bold Sumatra from the Keurig. Truth be told, the Keurig coffee tastes different to me. I don’t like it as much as a normal pot of Sumatra. But it’s still good, and I’m content.

There’s sort of a maple flavor to it, in my head. When I first tried it, I was deployed to the Mideast. Starbucks used to print a suggestion on the bag about what food would complement the coffee, and their Sumatra suggestion was “a syrupy stack of pancakes before the house wakes up.” The suggestion was perfect, and for the next few days, I kept checking at the chow hall to see if they had pancakes. (Of course, they did not.)

Not everyone likes the coffee. My wife hates anything made by the Keurig. Some of my friends hate the extra dark roast. Some of them, who shall not be named as friends, even go so far as to dislike coffee. (Kidding.)

And that’s all right. Everyone has their favorite flavor, none better than another.

An important lesson in worship is to not treat preferences like doctrine.

Every individual has a preference about music, about songs, about how they seek God. Worship teams are made of individuals, so it’s not surprising that teams end up having a sort of flavor to them as well.

Maybe you don’t like hymns. Maybe you don’t like Gospel, or maybe David Crowder drives you nuts. Maybe Jesus Culture is really irritating with those high synth pads. Or maybe it’s country music that’s the worst. (it is.)

We can all have our tastes. What we can’t permit is for our tastes to turn into judgment against another style of worship and music. When you think of the worst worship style you’ve ever heard, what comes to mind?

I can’t guess for you, but I can tell you mine.

I’ve never been a fan of certain kinds of Gospel. Gospel choirs are awesome, and the way that the choirs blend three or four different parts together into a smooth song, that blows my mind. But when the leader gives vocal cues to every single word before the choir sings it, oh, that drives me nuts.

I am also not a fan of breathy recordings or constant vocalizing. When someone sings the Star Spangled Banner, and the “Oh” in “Oh say can you see” has a dozen notes, I’m already done listening. If it sounds like the person just finished a marathon, exhaling audibly with every word, that doesn’t strike me as “passionate” or “emotional.”

And yet I’ve been in churches with that style of music and seen congregations deeply committed to worshiping God — in spite of all the obvious flaws in the musical style!

Of course, the worship is meant to minister to the congregation, not just to my tastes. More important than that, God’s the One the worship is for, not me. And He’s willing to accept all my clunky notes, all my shallow lyrics, and all my half-hearted efforts. He even accepts the very best I have to offer, like a father hanging a crayon drawing on the cubicle wall or refrigerator.

There’s no right flavor, just as there’s no best style, no perfect choice of song. There’s just giving our best and letting others do the same.