Tag Archives: AWEthentic worship experience

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.

Putting the Fun in Funeral

‘”Well done, good and faithful servant…'” Matt. 25:23

Of all the wedding ceremonies at which I have officiated there’s one that I speak of more often than any other.  I won’t say that it’s my only favorite, because many of the couples whose ceremonies I have performed read my posts and I have precious few readers already, they’re all my favorite.  There that should keep me from offending anyone.

The wedding I speak of most often was for two senior adults at a church where I was a thirty-something associate.  The bride-to-be was once widowed and the groom was two times a widower, so they were rather “experienced” in years.  The bride was born in Russia and and as a child, along with her family, escaped Stalin’s regime just to find themselves in Nazi Germany.  Shortly before the outbreak of World War Two they emigrated to the United States.  I enjoyed speaking with her just to hear her accent.  The groom was a southern gentlemen and they both were pillars of the church.

The bride called me one day and asked to stop by my office.  When an associate pastor, who has oversight of the youth choir, receives a meeting request from a senior adult it usually isn’t for pleasantries.  But Elsie wasn’t the type to complain, in fact she was rather progressive in her view of reaching young people, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the request.

In the meeting she shared with me that she had met a certain gentleman, Vern, and that they had decided to get married.  That brought a grin to my face and a certain amount of relief to my countenance.  I congratulated her and she continued…

“Joe, do you remember the funeral you performed for Eleanor a few months ago?”

Eleanor was another senior adult that played in the church orchestra.  As I was the Associate Minister of Music Eleanor’s family requested that I speak at her funeral.

“Yes, Elsie, I enjoyed that celebration of her life very much.  It was a pleasure to learn of all the things that she did for God’s Kingdom while I got to know her family.”  My emotions moved from wondering what one of the youth might have done to confusion over the connection between Elsie and Vern’s pending nuptials and a funeral.

“Vell,” Elsie said, “Vern and I vould like you to officiate at our wedding.” [my futile attempt at writing an Eastern European accent]

“What, huh?” I replied eloquently.  “Elsie, I’ve gotta tell you that of all the things I anticipated you saying to me today, this ain’t one of them.”

“Joe, we enjoyed Eleanor’s funeral so much that Vern and I decided that if you could make a funeral fun you could make our wedding…how do you like to say it?  Off the chain…off the hook?” Yes, that is a real quote.  I loved Elsie!

Of course, I said yes.  And someday I’ll write a book about a thirty-something pastor giving pre-marital counseling to two engaged seventy year olds.  The “bedroom” part of the counseling is worth several chapters alone.  But I digress.

Frankly, it wasn’t me that made Eleanor’s funeral fun.  She did that.  Eleanor did it through the life that she led.  I was just the one who helped plan the goodbye party here on earth.  We were sad to see her go, but we also celebrated what we would miss about her.  We didn’t mourn the way the world mourns and we didn’t necessarily celebrate the way the world celebrates.

We rejoiced because while we were remembering, crying and laughing and celebrating a life lived for Christ Eleanor was face to face with her Master hearing hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  How can that not be fun for Eleanor and those that she left behind?

Juxtapose that with what was about to happen in the lives of Elsie and Vern.  The two great allegories of Scripture overlapping each other.  A child of God, a wayfarer in this dry and barren land, coming home to the Father and the Groom coming for his bride.  And in a way that was completely unexpected.

That’s what I want.  When I leave this world I want to hear my Master say, “Well played, son…well, played.” [paraphrase]  And I want those that I leave behind to celebrate like it’s a wedding.  In reality, I won’t care what happens after I’m gone because I’ll be one with my Savior, but for now that’s the way I want it.

I want my life to put the “fun” in funeral.  I want my life of AWEthentic worship to lead, encourage and inspire others to worship the One that I worship…even after I’m gone.

That’s why worship.

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.