Tag Archives: authentic worship experience

Gifts Unaware

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” I Cor. 9:15

I recently gave somebody a gift.  It wasn’t a big deal.  The gift didn’t cost me anything.  More accurately, it didn’t require a purchase.  It did require a certain amount of effort, emotional effort.  There was planning involved along with timing.  Follow through was required and it was also a surprise. The recipient had no idea of the gift.

In fact, it’s still sort of a surprise because the recipient still doesn’t know that they’ve received the gift.  You see, it’s not actually tangible.  You can’t see it or touch it; it’s the type of gift that isn’t experienced in the traditional sense.

How can this “intangible something or other” that can’t be touched, seen, heard, smelled or tasted be a gift?  It was a joyful experience for me to give it.  I knew that it would bring joy to the recipient.  Even though they didn’t know that they had received a gift, the experience of receiving it brought evidence of a joyful heart to their face.

I guess in some sense they knew that they were receiving something, but they didn’t know the extent to which the gift went.  It required me to do some things I wouldn’t normally do to make the gift possible; it meant that I would have to set aside my agenda so that someone else could experience joy.  For weeks I needed to abandon my wishes so that I could grant the wishes of the recipient.

It was well worth it and continues to be worth it.  Even though the person didn’t know that they were receiving a gift, and still doesn’t know that the gift is still being given, they have received it joyfully.  They continue to receive it joyfully.

Here’s “Kicker #1”: I thought the gift was going to be for just one person.  But while giving the gift I learned that it wasn’t appropriate for me to give it to just one person, but that there were others that would enjoy the gift.  Each new recipient has responded the same way, with joy.  And with each new person that I give the gift to my own joy increases.  There are more that will receive the gift and I can’t wait to give it to them!

And “Kicker #2”: The gift requires continual giving.  If I stop giving the gift it will no longer be a gift.  But the more of the gift I give, the more it brings me joy.

“Kicker #3?” I don’t think that the recipients will ever know the depths to which the gift goes, that the gift is indescribable.  And the fact that they will never know the extent of the gift makes it more of a joy for me to give.

I suppose that it’s much the same with the “indescribable gift” the caused Paul to use and exclamation point.  He doesn’t use a “!” often, but there it is.  We’ll never know the depths to which God loves us.  We won’t know the extent of the gift we’ve received through Jesus.  We think we know, but we don’t know.  It’s indescribable.

Kicker #1: God’s gift isn’t just for one.  It’s for many…it’s for all.  He’s a God that can defy the laws of physics where His gift of eternal life is intended for all individually and individually for all.  Indescribable.

Kicker #2: God’s gift is eternal.  It is truly the gift that keeps giving.  Again, God defies the laws of physics.  His gift was given once for all (I Peter 3:18).  And once you receive it it is eternal.

Kicker #3: We’ll never know the depths of His gift of salvation.  And I think that’s OK with Him.  I think He enjoys it that way; I think it blesses Him when we receive it with innocence.

Notice I didn’t say “receive it with ignorance.”  Just as the recipients of my gift know that something was received, they don’t understand the extent to which it goes.  And I want it that way.  Those who have received the gift I gave are receiving it in love because I love them and they love me; not because of the value of the gift.  They’re not ignorant of receiving something, they’re simply blessed to receive it in joyful innocence because it’s about a relationship, not a “thing.”

It blesses God’s heart when we receive from Him because of who He is, not because of what He gives.  Receiving in innocence is rejoicing in the gift without knowing the extent of the gift.  I suppose that we know less than one tenth of one percent of what God’s gift of grace really means.  We may know that we’ve received something, but we’re joyfully unaware of the extent.  And that’s by His design.  He designed it so that we might have eternal life through Jesus.  Who can understand the extent of a gift of a love that reaches all the way to the end of the eternal?

It’s indescribable; it’s a gift unaware.  We might not understand it.  We might not have words for it, but we can respond with a joy like we do.  That’s authentic worship.  That’s why worship.

Investments, The Apple of God’s Eye & Other Love Affairs

“Keep me the apple of Your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17: 8

I often talk about our relationship with God as a love affair, not a business proposition.  But scripture speaks of the relationship as a love affair more often than not, as well.

In contrast, for at least the last two hundred years, in western culture, the prevailing method of sharing the Gospel has been through the allegory of a business proposition; we give up something (pay) to receive something else (a product); i.e. I give up my sinful life to receive eternal life through Christ.  We often view eternal life as a return on the investment of a life lived for Christ.  This isn’t an intrinsically invalid viewpoint.  Scripture supports it…to a point.  The analogy breaks down, as all analogies break down, at the point that to give up my sinful life is more accurately translated as “die to self” and no dead man ever capitalized on an investment (read: you don’t take it with or you’ve never seen a U-haul following a hearse).

This view isn’t intentional, it’s just the natural outcome of a strong work ethic.  I don’t think we set out to reduce the good news in the Gospel in such a way.  It’s just a good thing sometimes carried to the extreme.  We respect an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.  That’s good.  Particularly in the United States, we take pride in earning our own way.  That’s also good.  And this approach to evangelism has been effective, even good…to a point.

We also value stoicism, particularly men.  “Big boys don’t cry.”  We exalt the one who has made it on their own and celebrate those that have picked themselves up by their bootstraps.  This is also good…to a point.

Again related to investing, I have a modest account with an online discount brokerage firm.  I’m relatively successful as long as I don’t become emotionally involved with any particular stock that I might be holding.  Trouble comes when I become emotionally attached to a particular stock and hold on to it after it should have been disposed of for a profit or to avoid further loss.

Emotional detachment is a basic tenet of business, it’s something we value.  Even prostitutes, and their clients, know that allowing emotion to enter into the transaction is potentially a career ending mistake.  Specifically, too much eye contact can lead to an emotional connection that is dangerous for business.  After all, prostitution isn’t about love.  I suggest it’s not necessarily about lust, either.  It’s about business, money paid for a product, albeit an intangible product, fleeting pleasure.

Unfortunately, we’ve largely become a “Christian” nation (if there is such a thing) that keeps God at a distance.  As a society we’re not comfortable being emotionally involved with God.  This has been demonstrated repeatedly through objective measurement in studies by George Barna.  I believe that we also have overwhelming anecdotal evidence.  A favorite past time of us pastors and worship leaders is lamenting that lack of engagement by congregations in worship or outreach to our communities in the love of Jesus.

Returning to the comparison with prostitution, scripture is replete with contrasts between God’s love for Israel and His chosen people responding as prostitutes.  Ezekiel 16 and the entire story of Hosea are particularly graphic in this regard.  Again, what is prostitution but a business transaction.

I’m thankful that God’s overarching story in scripture is that of a love affair.  God doesn’t need us, He wants us.  Business is need, love is want.  The overarching story of scripture is the desire, the want, of The Groom for His Bride.  Jesus doesn’t need His bride, He wants His bride.  He doesn’t discard us like a particular stock that is no longer needed to make a profit or has outlived its usefulness and is now a liability.  He wants us in spite of ourselves or our usefulness.

And in Psalm 17:8 we, as the bride, find the appropriate response to The Groom, “Keep me as the apple of Your eye…”

Do you know that reflection you can see in someone’s eye when their eyes sparkle?  The reflection seems deep within their eye while at the same time dancing in light on the surface.  When someone’s spirit is cheered their eyes moisten with tears of joy, a smile raises their cheeks, their chest fills with a contented sigh and the reflection brightens.  That’s the apple of their eye.

To keep someone “as the apple of their eye” means to be so close, in that moment of joy, that you can see your own image in that reflection.  Being that close takes emotional transparency, it takes invading some “personal space.”  Try to do it without giggling.  Try to get that close to someone without feeling uncomfortable.

My wife Jennifer and I have always treasured that we feel so comfortable, so at peace, so content with being close enough to see ourselves in each other’s eyes.  Well, actually, as I get older being that close renders my reflection in her eyes a bit blurry, but I know that it’s still me in there.

And notice that the psalmist puts the action where it belongs.  “Keep me…”  The psalmist pleads with God to keep him.  God wants to draw us near to Himself and He wants us to let Him draw us near.  His eyes sparkle when we let Him draw us near.

So, let Him draw you near as a lover draws His beloved near.  That’s an uncomfortable phrase, isn’t it.  It was a little uncomfortable to write, I confess.  See, we can be uncomfortable with thinking of God as a lover, but it’s His idea.  It’s OK.

Be the apple of His eye.  Rest in the shadow of His wings.

That’s why worship.


I Want to Amaze Jesus

“When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.'” Luke 7:9

When our youngest daughter (the same one who posted “Still Trusting“) was just a toddler she loved to be startled.  Not just surprised, but overwhelmingly astounded, dumbfounded, speechlessly thunderstruck and bowled over with astonishment.  Frankly, there aren’t words to describe it.

One of our favorite family games back then was for me to hide around a corner or under the bed and call her.  She would come toddling over and I would jump out and yell, “BLAH!”  She would leap with delight or, if I was particularly successful in shocking her, she would leap and then collapse to the floor in a giggling ball of delight.

Some evenings we would spend hours laughing as a family.  Jen and the two older kids would sit on our kingsize bed while I would hide around the corner, crouched down ready to ambush Caribeth as she searched for me.  I would yell, she would scream with glee and collapse to the floor.  While she was distracted by her own laughter I would run to the other side of the bed to prepare for another ambush.  My cohorts on the bed would encourage her to go looking for me, again.

“Where is he?  Caribeth, where’d Daddy go?”

She would tentatively peer around the corner of the bed with a wry smile on her face…”BLAH!” Laughter and giggle and collapse in a ball of two year old fun.

I’m fond of saying that nothing surprises God.  When we make a really big mistake; when we get a devastating report from the doctor; when the car breaks down at the worst possible moment; when a confidant breaks out trust; when a spouse announces they want “out”; when the completely unexpected happens and it usually does…it doesn’t surprise God.  It’s not like something rocks our world, or we rock it ourself, and then God says, “Wow!  I didn’t see that coming.  What are we going to do now?”

Nothing comes to us that doesn’t pass through God’s hand.  I truly believe that.  Even Satan needed God’s permission to persecute (Job 1:12).  But there it is, “When Jesus heard this, He was amazed…”  I’m not sure how to say this without trivializing the absolute sovereignty of Jesus as both man and God, but…well…I want to surprise Jesus.

I want to be like the “man of great authority, under great authority” that amazed Jesus with “such great faith.”  I want to jump out from behind my own doubt and confusion and yell, “FAITH!” so that He is amazed and giggles with delight.  Heck, I want Him to collapse to the floor with guffaws of laughter, tears of joy rolling down His cheeks unable to catch His breath.  Then when the next crisis comes I’ll jump out from behind the corner of dispair and do it again, “FAITH!” and He’ll laugh in amazement, again and again and again…

My new daily goal is to amaze Jesus.  So, if you here some giggling in the cosmos you’ll know where it’s coming from.


That’s why worship.

Beware the Gold Ephod

“Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which is place in Ophrah, his town.  All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Judges 8:27

Ouch.  “Prostituted themselves…”  In today’s vernacular, they “whored” themselves.  Wow, intense.

I’m afraid the “worship wave” has crested.  Or maybe it’s just cresting.  Either way, it’s starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve started worshipping worship.

God delivered Gideon’s enemies to Gideon.  Just two chapters earlier God addressed a message to Gideon: Mighty Warrior.  In spite of Gideon’s self-steem issues, (“‘But Lord,’ Gideon asked, ‘how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'”) God chose Gideon.

And things went swimmingly for Gideon over the next two chapters.  In fact, during Gideon’s lifetime Israel enjoyed peace for forty years.  But in the middle of all the victories and good times there’s that verse about “whoring” and being a snare.

Gideon’s ephod was made with the spoils of victory at God’s hand.  I don’t find anything inherently wrong with that.  In fact, I find it admirable to use skill and talent to craft beauty from the spoils of our spiritual victories.  I’ll go a step further, it’s good stewardship and an act of holy worship to be craftsman in all that we do whether as musicians or artists or technicians or plumbers or lawyers or teachers or…

The level of craftsmanship in today’s worship music is equal to other music being produced today.  For decades we’ve been lamenting that Christian music is sub-standard.  Sure there’s plenty of “schlock” out there, but even our schlock is just as good as any other schlock…even better.  I think that we’ve got what we wanted.  The top of the heap in worship music can run with the top of the heap in any category.  Heck, some of “our” cats are running with some of the best players out there.  Our “small market” (the average church band for a 500+ member church) is at least “club band” quality.  And to quote Martha Stewart, “that’s a good thing.”

Now what?

Unfortunately, a trend has emerged.  A few years ago a major “secular” distributor bought the rights to many worship songs and marketed them in infomercials right alongside “Favorite Rock Ballads of the 70’s”, “Hair Band Anthems of the 80’s” and “Greatest Love Melodies of the Classical Masters.”  I’m all for exploiting distribution channels for the sake of the Gospel, but I seriously doubt that some Madison Avenue wonks were in it to “Rescue the Perishing.”

Lately, I’ve noticed that we’ve started to use social media as way to “idolize” our favorite worship artists.  In the early days twitter and facebook were a way for us to identify with them on a more personal level.  Now more often it’s used to enter a lottery to see which lucky fan will get to have lunch with the latest CCM star (retweet this to maybe win a chance for a private meeting with…) along with two hundred other lucky tweeters.

Please understand that I don’t blame the artist.  I’ve met some of them personally; I’ve worked with some of them, shared the stage with them; and others I’ve heard their testimonies and I believe that the majority of them are the “real deal”, excellent examples of God-first lives.  The good news is that I truly think the scandal ridden days of prominent Christians and “moral failures” is behind us…at least for now.  No, I don’t think that Christian musicians, touring worship leaders or our favorite authors and mega-pastors are any more responsible for being than Gideon’s gold ephod was responsible for being worship by Israel.

By the way, there is a distinction between emulating someone as a godly man or woman and putting them up on a pedestal.  Throughout the centuries God has blessed us with great examples whose godly lifestyle we can and should emulate, many of them alive today.

No we, the fans, are responsible for turning their images into “idols.”  We’re responsible because it’s not really the person that we’re worshipping, is it?  We concoct and image of them and then worship that image.  We discount their intrinsic value as persons and re-imagine them as an object of our expectations.  The object of our worship doesn’t set out to be worshipped; we start worshipping it.  We elevate that image to the place that God reserved for himself.  I use the term “object” not to depersonalize the artist, but because it’s not a person that we’re idolizing.  It’s an image, something lifeless.

God’s wrath when Israel worshipped graven images wasn’t directed at the idol, it was directed at the ones idolizing it.  God never got angry with any other god.  His issue was always with the ones worshipping it.

I’m confident that the vast majority of today’s Christian artists didn’t set out to be worshipped and idolized.  They just set out to pursue God’s calling on their lives with excellence, something that we’ve been clamoring to happen for decades.  It’s bears a resemblance to Israel begging for a king, doesn’t it?  I’m confident in saying that many of today’s “stars” don’t want me to worship them.  They just want to serve God with their considerable talent and inspire me to do the same.

So, when I can’t worship without a hymnal in my hands, then I worship a book; when I can’t worship without the words on the wall, then I worship a wall…and when I can’t worship until the latest CD from a particular worship band comes out, then I worship a gold ephod instead of the One who gave me the victory from which it came.

Scripture as Litmus Test: A Practical Application

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word and to present her to himself as a radiant church without blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-26

*Ladies, please don’t tune out until reading through the fourth paragraph.  I think there is something invaluable in this verse for you, too.

Yesterday I presented the concept of reading scriptural commands as a litmus test (A Grape Doesn’t Try to Be a Grape).  In short, a Christian doesn’t discipline himself to be obedient as much as obedience flows from who he is in Christ.  Authentic worship results in obedience.  One of our favorite quotes at Worship Concepts is, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t,” from John Piper in his book “Let the Nations Be Glad.”  In essence, loving God results in loving people.  People who love God, love people.  And true love for people results in telling them about Jesus.  If you’re not loving people, then check your love level toward God.  Our actions don’t establish who we are, they reveal who we are (James 2:14-25).

So, let’s apply this principal to a specific verse, Ephesians 5:25-26.  If you replace the word your with their, then we have a different perspective; it becomes, “Husbands love their wives…” It’s now an if/then statement.  “If I love my wife, then I am a husband.”  The inverse is also true, “if I don’t love my wife, then I am not a husband.”  My position as a matter of civil law may apply the title of husband to me, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I am the husband God intended me to be.  Applying a title to something no more changes its essence than the Grinch tying antlers to his dog made it a reindeer.  Using the template of “worship as being verb”, my actions reveal my state of adoration for God, they don’t establish it.

In this case, I can plumb my love for God by how I treat your wife.  Is it natural for me to encourage her or is she the punch line to my jokes?  When another man whines about the “old lady” do I commiserate or rejoice in the wife of my youth (Prov. 5:18)?  I’m sure you get the idea.  Agreed, sometimes it needs to be a choice to respond in a certain manner, but what are my actions the majority of the time?  Also, if I notice that I’m having to force myself to respond in love more frequently, then it’s time to check myself as worship of God.

One of my favorite church announcements goes like this: “Would Jane Smith’s husband please find her in the church lobby after the singles service?  She would really like to meet you tonight and hopes that you have a proposal prepared.”  If you’re a single lady wondering if a particular man is the husband God has for you, first apply this scripture verse as a litmus test to see if he’s the husband God has for anyone.  Does he exhibit a Christian love for the ladies already in his life?  How does he respond to his mother?  What is his relationship with his sisters?  Is he respectful of women in general?  What jokes, if any, does he crack about “women drivers?”  If a man exhibits the scriptural attributes of a godly husband while he’s single, then he’s already a husband; God’s timing to make him one flesh with his wife just hasn’t come to pass, yet.  Referring back to paragraph two, getting him to sign a marriage license isn’t going to make him a husband.

Wives, do you allow gentlemen to treat you as ladies or do you struggle with accepting chivalry with grace?  Something as simple as allowing your husband to hold the door for you reveals if you are truly comfortable with who you are in Christ.  Husband hint, this means that we have to hold the door.

Parents, we can apply this as well.  How do our young men treat ladies?  Do they need some more rearing?  In our home it took a very practical form of respect; the toilet seat goes up and the toilet seat returns to the down position when finished (you know what I’m talking about.)

Also, what types of young men are our daughters attracted to?  Has a daughter learned from observing mom?  As an example, does she pause at the door, like mom does, to allow a gentleman to open it for her?  Has her dad been the example of a husband and laid down his life for mom just as Christ laid down His life for the church?  In this way, she’ll know which young men are laying down their lives for others rather than just simply just wanting to lay down (please excuse my apt coarseness).

All of these things are a litmus test for who and where we are in Christ.  I realize that today’s post has been a bit far afield from my normal schtick, but the idea of scripture as a litmus test is integral to our teaching on worship at WCN and I hope that a practical application helps clarify the thought.  We are who we are in Christ; nothing more, nothing less.  And out of the abundance of our hearts…

That’s why worship.