Category Archives: AWEthentic Worship

What is Excellent Worship?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praise worthy – think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

We spend considerable time in our AWEthentic Worship Experience conferences dispelling perfection but encouraging excellence.  We make the distinction because perfection implies that there is no more room for growth; excellence is always a work in progress.  It seems a fine line, but in actuality the line couldn’t be any bolder.  The pursuit of perfection is futile.  We can’t work our way to perfection.

Perfect is a gift of God, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (Jas. 1:17)

Perfection belongs to God, not us, “…My [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” II Cor. 12:9

Only God can make us perfect through Jesus, “…because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Part of the issue we run into as worship musicians is that we’ve been taught, “practice makes perfect.” But practice doesn’t make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  Practice makes permanent.  Practice a passage, a chord change, a line of lyrics, a riff or a harmony wrong and it will be performed wrong.

“Wait a minute, Joe!” you must be protesting by now, “you’re the one who said, ‘nit pickers are good and necessary; they get rid of lice eggs.'”

Recognized.  Paying attention to details is imperative, but excellence should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of perfection.  This side of Heaven we’re going to miss some detail somewhere along the way.  How do we walk the gauntlet then?  How do we keep our sanity while pursuing excellence but acknowledging  that we’re not perfect?

Here’s a great quote by Orel Hershiser in George Will’s book, Men at Work. It’s about pitching the a perfect baseball game (the quote paraphrased, because I can’t find my copy of Men at Work by George Will…yeh, yeh I know, details):

“When I step on the mound in the first inning I’m pitching the best perfect game ever pitched.  At that point, I’ve stuck out every batter.  Should I walk a batter, then I’m pitching the best one walk game ever.  Should a batter get a single, then I’m pitching the best one hit game ever.  Should a batter hit a home run, then I’m pitching the best one home run game ever.”

What a great concept.  At Worship Concepts we’ve coined the phrase, “redefining excellence.”  More on that in a later post.  For now I want to share an answer I gave once when asked what excellent worship was.  In all honesty, the question stumped me at first and my initial answer was, “…umm…eh…well…er…hmmm…” Yep, I have a way with the English language.  After admitting that I had never crafted a concise, repeatable definition of excellent worship I promised to do so and email it to the questioner.  I dutifully set about to do so and here was my eventual response:

Excellent worship is intentional, purposeful, thoughtful, primary, not easily distracted nor distracting from God’s glory, it reflects a grateful heart that was once dead and now beats for the One who is its Savior.  It is authentic, it sets captives free, it reveals an awesome God whose creation is magnificent, is primary, reflects the extravagant love of God through the undignified passion of those worshipping, is borne of truth and spirit, has it’s beginning-middle-end in YHWH, it delivers and heals and gives life, can’t be contained when two or more worshippers come together, it is overwhelming, always occurs in the presence of the One who deserves all praise, honor and glory.

It is consideration, reflection and expression of whatever is good and excellent and true.

You Should Have Been There, It Was Epic

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Job 38:1-5

From this point God goes on to chastise Job with pictures of creating the universe.    “Where were you when I measured the universe while a chorus of morning stars sang and angels shouted for joy?” “Where were you when I tricked-out the clouds?” “Have you seen the freakish stuff in the ocean depths?” “Have you seen my outrageous snow-machine?” “Have you seen my Van de Graaff generator for making lightning? It should be called the Van de Godd generator.”

For sure this is a rebuke from God in response to Job getting all up in His grill.  God had patiently listened to Job get all uppity about the injustice of his situation, albeit perceived injustice.  In essence God was saying, “Who are you to question me?”  It can sound like a rather caustic and abusive rebuke. “Man-up because I’m about to throw-down.”

But attributing such vindictiveness doesn’t reconcile completely with God’s character. It doesn’t align with God’s loving character in general or the character of God specifically toward Job revealed in the opening chapter of the book, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Sure, God may have finally had His fill of Job’s whining and accusations, but that doesn’t jive with God’s character, either.  God is infinite.  To think that man could test the limit of God’s patience is to think that man could also test the limit of God’s love.  That’s a non sequitur with The Infinite, The Beginning and The End.  I think that there’s another way to hear God’s words to Job.  I think that they can be heard with awe and wonder; one friend regaling another with tales of exploits past, a chum recounting adventures to the delight of his besty…

“Man-up, ’cause you’re not going to believe how it really went down!”

“Dude, you should have been there.  It was epic!”

“It was tricked out!”

“Absolute pownage!”

“I was en fuego; call me The Busdriver ’cause I took everyone to school!”

“The angels rocked out and even the morning stars threw down!”

“The whole time I kept thinking, ‘I wish Job was here. He would so dig this.'”

OK, it’s a paraphrase…maybe more than a paraphrase. But really, don’t you think God wants us to see amazing things?  Doesn’t He want us to experience the grandeur of His creation?  Don’t we rejoice when we experience the wonder of God?

And God didn’t stop His wonders after creating the universe.  He’s still driving the bus…He’s still en fuego…you know that He’s still buttah ’cause He’s still on a roll.  God is still all about The Epic!  And He wants you to be there for it.  What is He going to do today that He wants you to witness?  And then who does He want you to tell about it?  Who does God want you to regale with wondrous tales of yore and exploits to come?

As for my paraphrase, it’s not quite as far-fetched as we might think.  Jump ahead to the epilogue…

“After the Lord had said these things to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has…my servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.'” (Job 42:7-8) It seems that the one who got it right was Job who was willing to reveal himself to God so that God could in turn reveal Himself to Job.  The ones who truly suffered were the pious “friends” with the religious platitudes.  Job got to witness the wonders of God because He sought the wonders of God.

It must have been epic.

That’s why worship.

Traditions vs. Traditionalisms

“How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” Galatians 4:9-10

Everything was once new and fresh, but when we start serving the “fresh and new” instead of God it loses its life and vitality. Hymns and liturgies that once brought light can become dark and heavy because people start serving them instead of serving God.

Seasons and holiday that were never ordained by God have become sacred cows that are served for their own sake. They are benign in their own right, but when they become non-negotiable gods on their own they drain the spiritual life from us.

And what will become of that which is fresh and new now; praise and worship choruses, video graphics, multi-sensory worship, seeker-sensitive services? It amazes how Christians who are obsessed with escaping one particular liturgy end up substituting it with one of their own making. We all know of contemporary (whatever that means) churches that rail against traditions and then establish a formula that they obsess over. The first song must have a particular groove and the second has to have a certain cultural flavor leading into a worship song and etc.

Having said that, here’s my caveat: don’t misunderstand and think that I’m against form and structure in worship. In my opinion, very few things dishonor God more than worship that meanders aimlessly, even if it finds God’s throne by accident.  Worship should be intentional.  Frankly, unintentional worship isn’t worship at all. It’s just a bunch of people hoping they find God rather than boldly gaining access to Him through Jesus His Son.

Worship starts to smell like death when we allow that formula of our own design to tighten its chains around us. God may have given us a template of worship for a season, but it was only for a season and a day, or even a season, is as one thousand years to God. Whether it’s the great hymns of generations past or the greatest new Passion or HillSongs tune, they only bring life while we continue to draw the breath of life throughthem not from them.

Solomon was right, “…there’s nothing new under the sun.” But, all things are new under the Son! Let’s keep them under the Son.  Let’s stay there ourselves.

We need to guard our hearts from traditionalisms that are the dead faith of the living and hold to God’s traditions that are the living faith of the dead and resurrected.

Lord, don’t ever let me become so attached to a thing, style, song, presentation, idea or vision that I substitute it for You.

The Passion of the Christ and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

If we understand that Jesus was fully, completely human and fully, completely God, then it can sometimes be easy to discount His death as a sacrifice.  By that I mean, Jesus, as God, knew that He would be resurrected following His death.  From our human perspective death is an overwhelming prospect, even if we understand that there is life afterward.  Heck, many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification long enough to pass up the super-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the check out line at Walmart.  But on occasion, as we stare blankly at the delicious morsels that are food of the gods, we summon up the fortitude to deny the impulsive self and sacrifice a fleeting moment of peanut buttery goodness.  In that moment we say, “If this peanut butter cup should pass my lips but Father let it be your will.”

To an eternal being three days of death is similar, maybe not even as significant.  Three days in comparison to eternity is less meaningful than a speck of dust floating on wisps of light streaming through a window.  With that mindset, it’s easy to dismiss Jesus’ sacrifice of death as trivial; “What’s the big deal? He’s God.  To Him, giving up life for three days is easier than me giving up those peanut butter cups.” (OK, I’ve gotta stop dwelling on the Reese’s.    The sacrifice is getting unbearable.)

“But what about the horror of crucifixion? Aren’t you forgetting the agony of being beaten and whipped by the guards?”

Sure, sure from our human perspective those atrocities are almost unthinkable, particularly to our twenty first century sensibilities.  As horrendous and graphic as Mel Gibson’s depiction was, the reality of crucifixion is far worse. But again, viewed from the perspective of the Almighty they don’t even register a blip on the radar of eternity.

No, to reduce the cup from which Jesus drank to mere human suffering is cheap.  Jesus, as God, understood what we could never comprehend.  And just a sliver of understanding would have been more than we could survive.  He understood that there is no earthly description for the horrors of my sin.  Not for one minute would I be able to bear the weight of my own sin.  Should I have ever fully understood the horror of my sin I would have been annihilated, disappearing in what C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce as “an acrid smelling puff of smoke.”  In fact, that is exactly what I was before the saving grace of Jesus, annihilated.  I was less than an acrid smelling puff of smoke.

And not only did Jesus bear the weight of my sins, He bore the weight of the sins of everyone that was, is and will be.  Does that sound familiar?  It’s the inverse corollary of “I Am.”  It would take the Alpha and Omega to overwhelm my sin and the sins that were, are and will be.

And while I was still just an acrid smelling puff of smoke occupying less than just a fleeting moment, while the very smell of my presence was still repugnant “Christ died for me.”  When I deserved exactly what I had coming to me Jesus didn’t simply save me from it, He took if for me.  As ferocious as the attacks were on His person, He bore spiritual horrors beyond description so that I, that we, might have life beyond imagination.

That’s why worship.

Angels’ Wings

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7

I can remember bursting through the door as a boy and seeing mom had spent the day making sure the house was especially clean. The furniture glistened from a fresh coat of Lemon Pledge, the carpet was freshly vacuumed… there were even clean towels in the down stairs bathroom and the water in the toilet was blue.

Someone was coming to visit. Not just anyone, either! “It must be somebody special… and they’re going to stay overnight!” We could tell, we weren’t allowed in the guest bedroom and the smell of fresh Chexmix filled the house.Those were my favorite times.

Exciting times! My brother and I would be so filled with anticipation that waiting at the house would take too long. So we would wait for our guests on the front lawn hours before they were due to arrive. When we couldn’t stand that any longer we would ride our bikes on a recon mission with our walkie-talkies and binoculars. Racing from one entrance of our sub-division to the other, our hearts tingling and ready to burst with anticipation. Each trying to be the first to spot visiting friends or relatives.

I suspect that’s what it must be like in heaven as another lost child comes home. Angels fluttering to and fro with excitement as they see long lost souls coming home.

And I can still hear the rush of angel wings for my home coming. Listen carefully and you can hear the celebration for you, too.