Gathered and Scattered Worship

Life happens in rhythms. 

We wake, we sleep. We work, we rest. The sun comes up, and goes back down. Winter gives way to spring and summer (unless you live in Oregon, in which winter is followed by rain, then some more rain after that, followed by fake spring, plus some more rain for good measure, followed by real spring, and then finally, gloriously, summer). 

And in a similar way, the worship life of the Christian takes place in an ongoing rhythm: we worship gathered, and we worship scattered. 

Continue reading “Gathered and Scattered Worship”

The Secret

“When all of this calms down.”

“When we get back to normal.”

“Once we’re through this.”

These are phrases that we have likely been hearing with increasing frequency over the past several weeks. Amidst the resigned acceptance and uneasy humor that often accompanies discussion surrounding our current realities is an underlying acknowledgement that what is right now, should not be.

Each of us has an innate sense of balance when it comes to how we view the world. When something feels off, when something is broken, undone, unfinished or unjust, we feel it. Often before we even know how to articulate the exact nature of what exactly is wrong, we sense a gut-level alarm going off letting us know that the scale has tipped. We slip from relative contentment to restless discontent.

And like a frantic sailor bailing water out of the bottom of a sinking boat, our response is to throw ourselves into the pursuit of fixing the imbalances we experience. The goal is to correct the scale, to regain balance, for “rightness” to be restored. To rediscover contentment.

Often, this can end up being a healthy pursuit. We find motivation to initiate the difficult conversation. We seek out the help we need. We begin the hard discipline of change towards recovery.

And at a societal level, this propensity toward balance-correcting has led to countless positive outcomes. Throughout history, injustices have been overcome because enough people had the courage to acknowledge and denounce systems, policies, or attitudes that were unfairly weighted.

However, while we can acknowledge the redemptive potential in many of these situations and seasons, the fact remains that much of the imbalances we experience are utterly outside our control, and often without any apparent redemption. The world is broken, and brokenness is, simply, ugly. And when something as cataclysmic as a worldwide pandemic comes along, we find ourselves simultaneously groaning – together – in the shared, ugly imbalance of a broken world.

The season we are all experiencing right now is representative of the larger reality that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). At a cosmic scale, what is right now, should not be – and has not been for a very long time. All of creation experiences the pervasive weight of intense longing for wholeness, restoration and completeness; for the precious declaration “behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) to become present reality once again. As Christians, acknowledging our identity as inhabitants of this creation was our first step towards faith. One of the most glorious realities of our salvation is that we received it in the midst of our depraved state!

Yet this broken world is also the context and reality into which we are called by God to exist joyfully, hopefully, and contentedly. In one of the most often-quoted passages in the Bible, Paul writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

What is the secret to contentment in a broken world? The secret is that the power of Christ at work within us is not only a life-saving power, it is a life-sustaining one. As followers of Jesus our hope does not come as a result of all the broken things being fixed. Our hope comes through the promised presence of the One who will ultimately do all the fixing. And it is His presence with us that gives us the enabling strength to find contentment in the midst of an imbalanced, groaning – and still very broken – world.

It is good for our souls to long for the day of completion. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). What a promise – that there will be a day when all will be very good again! Hallelujah!

But that day has not yet come. And in the not-yet reality of that future hope, may we resist the temptation to place our present hope in the temporal nature of our circumstance: “It’s ok because this won’t last forever.” May we not settle for such a counterfeit contentment!

May we instead learn to find deep, satisfying, and lasting joy in Jesus Himself. His presence, His strength, and His contentment is available to us – now.

This post first appeared at outwardchurch.com/blog.

Worship leading plumb lines – Part 1: “Hours of Discipline for Moments of Freedom”

Recently I was introduced to the wisdom of identifying “plumb lines” for effective leadership (credit to Larry Osborne’s Sticky Teams). For leaders, these are the handful of guiding principles that can be used to measure the success of your team when it comes to staying on vision. These are the things that, when people think of your leadership, they associate with you because you repeat them often. You regularly use them to define success. You use them to inspire. They are a natural part of your leadership vocabulary. Continue reading “Worship leading plumb lines – Part 1: “Hours of Discipline for Moments of Freedom””

That time we moved our stage into the middle of the room

A couple months before Christmas 2015, our Outward Church staff started kicking around an idea: what if we moved our stage into the middle of the room?

The more we talked about it, the more we really wanted to see whether we could pull it off. We wanted to experience what worshiping “in the round” could be like. Ultimately as we discussed it, we identified three main reasons for wanting to make the change: Continue reading “That time we moved our stage into the middle of the room”

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