Tag Archives: worship

I Might be an Idol Worshipper

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?

I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;

I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;

I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;

I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;

I might be an idol …

Terms and Conditions for Worship

The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. Exodus 19:10-12

Do you remember the first time a “Terms and Conditions” window popped up on your computer screen, requiring you to agree to a long, long list of conditions before you were able to download that particular app? I do. The lawyer in me leaped into action and I read the entire, long, dry, boring agreement, only to conclude that I had just wasted several minutes of my life that I would never get back. I will confess this to you right here and now…this lawyer never reads those things any more, except possibly to scan them for dollar signs, just to make sure I’m not agreeing to pay something. I may be lazy, but I’m also cheap.

Terms and ConditionsWhen the Hebrew slaves were freed from Egypt in order to travel to Mt. Sinai to worship their God, they had their own “Terms and Conditions” experience. After three months of wondering through the wilderness, they landed at Mt. Sinai. Just as they clicked “Download” for the “Worship I Am” app, God’s pop-up window appeared to Moses with some pretty severe Terms and Conditions for Worshipping the great I Am. And all those harsh terms fall under one sobering category: REVERENCE. Any fair reading of Exodus (or pretty much any of the rest of scripture) renders the same …

Relevance and Fruitfulness

Tuesday Re-mix:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   2 Peter 1:5-8

spoiled bananasIt is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective?  I do not mean that in terms of numbers.  I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts.  That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives.  And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?

As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness.  That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space.  Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church …

The Comfort of the Familar

Tuesday Re-mix:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

dog in a kennelMy dog, Maile, sleeps in a kennel.  She actually prefers it.  I’ve had dogs my entire life, and she is the first one I’ve crate-trained.  I will admit I was skeptical at first.  It just looks so cruel!  How can anyone be happy, being in a cage?  But every night, when her eyes are heavy and it is time for bed, she voluntarily abandons the freedom of our bed and goes back to the limits and the restrictions of her tiny little bed in her little wire cage.  Do you know why? Because it is familiar to her…and, for dogs, there is great comfort in familiarity.

People are a bit like that too.  Church people are especially like that.  No matter how antiquated, no matter how ineffective, we all have a tendency to return to the familiar, to the “way it has always been”, because it is comfortable.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was fighting a battle which you as a present day church leader might recognize: the battle against the comfort of the familiar.  It was a daunting task, getting the Hebrew Christians to persevere in the face of the persecution they faced and to stick with the very different forms of worship from those  with which they had been reared.  Gathering together as a church body every week with no sacrifices, no holy places, no sacred implements, no fancy robes, and with “traditions” which were all of one generation in age…all of these new ways had to hold the …

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

Being the Anti-Worshipper

Thursday Re-mix:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1


??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship.  You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject.  There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution.  Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.

The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship.  The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17.  The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted.  There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly …

The Problem with Sundays

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

Gathered WorshipThe people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

And gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where …

True Worshipers and their Scoffers

Tuesday Re-mix:

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  Mark 14:4-6

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24

You and I can take solace in the fact that we would never do what “some of those present” did to poor Mary of Bethany in Mark 14.  You and I are way, way too spiritual to ever do such a thing!  Truly, all Mary was doing was loving Jesus with extravagance…pouring her very heart out with every ounce of perfume which left that container.  She was oblivious to the awkwardness or to the social or political “incorrectness” of her actions…her heart was 100% for Jesus in that moment.  That, my friends, was the very picture of “true worship”.

So, to scoff or to rebuke her for it…well, wow, that is just embarrassing.  I’m just glad you and I would never do that.

There are actually a few other places I can think of in the Bible where people scoffed at or made fun of someone’s worship of God.  None of those stories ended well for those scoffers.  It seems that  God really does frown on such scoffers.  Worship, after all, is not for their benefit at all; rather, it is aimed only at God.  What business is it of others …

Planning for the Unplanable

Tuesday Re-mix:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Acts 8:26-29


About 5 years ago, my church got a phone call from Catholic Charities about 40 or so refugees from Burma whom they were helping to relocate into our city.  Our church had been an emergency shelter during Katrina and I suppose that helped put us on Catholic Charities’ call list.  “Sure, we can help!”  After all, providing this small group of dear people with some much-needed help as they acclimate to their new home here in San Antonio would not exactly tax our church’s human resources.  But, rest assured, this was not a ministry we had identified in our strategic planning process.  This demographic was nowhere on our radar screen.  There was no grand plan for this ministry at all.  All we had was a sense that God had used Catholic Charities to place this opportunity before us, so we said “yes”.

To me, it seems similar to this passage from Acts 8 about Philip.  We are not privy to very much of the “planning meetings” by the Apostles or by the other leadership of the early church…we do not know what kinds of ministries they had put into place that were aimed at the spread of the church in the face of serious oppression and …

What to Give the God Who has Everything

Tuesday Re-mix –

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   
Micah 6:6-8

gift-tieFather’s Day is nigh upon us…just a little less than two weeks away.  It is not too early to start thinking about what (for most of us) is the most difficult gift of the whole year to find.  What in the world will you give him for Father’s Day?  He is so very difficult to buy for!  Whenever he needs something, he just goes and gets it…what could I possibly get him that he doesn’t already have?  A tie?  Did I give him that last year?  Did I really give him a tie last year!?  How cliche is that!?  I am so embarrassed.

This passage out of Micah got me thinking about God and what He really wants from His church (from His bride) and what we could possibly give Him, and I wondered…What do you give the God Who has everything?

Some would answer we should give Him our very best gathered worship…excellence in music, in preaching, in communion, in corporate prayer…that we should give Him a truly amazing gathered worship expression week after week.  They might cite Psalm 22:3 (our God inhabits praise).

Others would answer the church should give Him our broken Spirits and contrite hearts…that what …