Stop making church “cool?” Ok, but you’ve missed the point.

Typically I don’t comment on these types of things but this article has been getting enough traction lately in various places that I felt it warranted some interaction.

In the article, Rachel Held Evans makes some accurate observations and quotes a lot of compelling stats, but ultimately her conclusion here is massively flawed. Continue reading

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The most important voice in the room

I once had an ongoing joke with a sound guy that I was “number one” because he would usually plug my vocal mic into channel 1 on the snake at my church. As if us worship leaders need any additional help boosting our egos any higher than they already are… Continue reading

Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone,” and sung theology

This is a great interview with Keith Getty, one of the authors of the song “In Christ Alone.” The article focuses mainly on the song and how some denominations have recently chosen not to publish it in their hymn books because of one line. I really appreciate the way Keith not only defends his commitment to retaining the original lyric, but goes on from there to share a number of wise insights into the importance of singing our theology, including difficult concepts such as God’s wrath. For example:

Each of us faces the temptation to fashion God out of our own image. And a picture of God formed through our experiences of hurt, anger, injustice, or rage is a sad and vindictive one indeed. But this is not the infinite, good God we serve. God’s wrath is not like our wrath, and his ways are not like our own.

The final paragraph of the article sums up well the need for worship songs that contain a full scope of sound theology:

We need exciting, passionate songs with beautiful lyrics, rich in theology, and infectious melodies that invigorate our congregations. With every line we write and tune we compose, we need to portray a fuller picture of Christ for the people among us. We need not shy away from the hard, mysterious sections of Scripture. Songwriters need to demonstrate a grasp of the whole biblical context. We must not be afraid to write about hard things. Singing songs with more depth allows us to experience the relief of lifting our eyes off ourselves and toward the unimaginable vastness of our God. This is what I pray for myself and for others creating music for the church today.

Read the entire interview here.

Please Don’t Just Stop Singing

The following is an edited transcript from a brief encouragement I gave my church during worship a couple months ago.

Here at Redemption Church, we say that “It’s All About Jesus.” We’re unapologetic about that – it’s what we want you to know about us right from the very start. Jesus died on our behalf, and we are His church – the Bible calls us His bride – so it really is all about Him.

Recently I read an article by someone in Christian leadership – in other words, someone who has some measure of influence. The article was a blog post about how this person had actually stopped singing at the church that he attends. He presented a list of reasons why, such as overly simplistic music, poorly written lyrics, and so on. And I have to say that I got his points. I really did understand and could sympathize with the criticisms he was leveling (in fact, several of them were criticisms I myself have voiced about modern church music). But his ultimate conclusion – to simply stop singing – broke my heart. It was tragic to me to read that because I realize all too often that it can become very easy for us to miss the mark when it comes to worship. Very quickly, our tendency can be to start shifting the focus from worship being all about Jesus to it being all about us. We start asking more, “What can I get out of this experience?” or “How does this make me feel?” rather than “What can I give to Jesus?” or “What pleases Him?”

I recognize that at our church there will be times when the music will not be your thing. It won’t be your style. And we own that. And who knows – if today isn’t your day, maybe next week will be! Or perhaps you’re fine with the music but you’re just not “feeling” into worship yet today – you woke up this morning and it’s taking a while for your heart to be in that right place. My encouragmenet to all of us would be, rather than choosing to simply not engage, remember that when we come together to worship we want it to be all about Jesus. That means, and my hope is, that today is not about an audience watching a performance happening on stage, but today our audience is Jesus in heaven. Those of us on stage are kind of acting as prompters, leading the charge in a sense, but we are all performing together for His glory!

So my encouragement to all of us is that you will sing today – and sing loud! Not to impress the person next to you, but because Jesus is worthy – because of what He’s done and what He’s doing in your life.

Maybe singing’s not your thing, or it is somehow hard for you. Well, that’s ok – there are other ways you can worship. Maybe clapping along is your thing. You feel the beat and that’s how you can express yourself. But don’t do it because you’re excited about the music, but because you’re excited about God! That’s our heart and our hope.

Or maybe you don’t clap – maybe you don’t have any rhythm in your body. If that is you then, then please DON’T clap! But you can raise your hands! Psalm 134 says “lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord.” The bottom line is that we simply want to bless God in some way when we come together.

So ultimately worship is not about what we get or receive. And like I said, if the music’s not your vibe or your style – maybe next week it will be, I don’t know. But the point is, let’s all be asking ourselves: today, right now and in this place, how can I engage God, how can I give Him glory and bring Him the praise? That’s what it’s all about.

Jesus – the Only Perfect Worshipper

The following is an article I wrote for our church’s membership newsletter last week. To give credit where it is due, much of this post was inspired by a 2009 article in Worship Leader Magazine by Dr. Robb Redman, professor of worship at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

There is only one perfect Worshiper. The only true, untainted worship offering is that of Jesus, our High Priest. He alone is the means by which we have access to God’s presence and His mediation is what enables us to approach the throne. Hebrews 10:19-22 says “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Because Jesus is our mediator, we can sing with confidence knowing that He is already worshiping – on our behalf. Just as we pray to God “in the name of Jesus”, He is going to the Father “in the name of _______ (fill in with your name)!” This is an amazing truth that should transform the way we worship. When we come to worship, we can do so in freedom and honesty, allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us to and connect us with Christ, who then takes our broken, imperfect offering and offers it to the Father as pure and holy. We can be liberated knowing that acceptable worship to God is not dependent upon time, place, style, or personality, but rather the heartfelt offering of a person united with Christ.

I encourage all of us, as we prepare our hearts for worship this Sunday, to joyfully see ourselves as participants in the ongoing worship of God. May we approach worship not as something we “have” to do – and in that worry about how God perceives our offering – but rather as something we “get” to do, because of what Jesus has already done on our behalf.  

The physical side of worship

When we hear or think about worship, usually the first thing that comes to mind is singing. This isn’t surprising and isn’t necessarily even wrong, because in the Bible and throughout history the people of God have gathered for the purpose of singing God’s praises.  However, if our understanding of worship stops there, it is incomplete.

I think a lot of times when we begin to speak of physical expression in worship, instantly a lot of us shoot up red flags of hesitation pretty quickly.  Whether it be our upbringing that church should tilt more towards the reverent than the expressive, or simply our insecurities of what others around us may think, I think the tendency is to simply err on the side of little or no physical involvement when it comes to our worship.  We say “well, that’s not my personality, and besides, God just looks at the heart anyway” and are content to leave it at that.

Yet when we look at Scripture we see that over and over again God expects His people to express themselves physically in worship.  Far from our faith and worship being simply an intellectual engagement with biblical truth, we are told to “honor God with our bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20), indicating that God cares very much about what we do with ourselves physically.  In fact, the biblical words that we most often translate today as “worship” contained physical expressions of bowing or bending embedded in their original meaning.  Throughout the Bible we see models of praise including singing (Psalm 33:1Ephesians 5:19), shouting (Ezra 3:11), bowing (Exodus 12:27Psalm 95:6), clapping (Psalm 47:1), falling prostrate (Job 1:20), lifting hands (Psalm 134:2), dancing (Psalm 149:32 Samuel 6:14), and standing in awe (Habakkuk 3:2).

If we find ourselves second-guessing acts of physical expression in worship due to what others around us may think, then it becomes a simple question of “how proud am I of Jesus?”  I would venture to suggest that none of us, when our favorite team scores the winning touchdown, would be afraid to jump up, yelling and pumping our fists in the air because of what others in the room might think about us.  Yet if we’re that uninhibited when it comes to something as insignificant as a sports team, how much more should we be able to get excited about our Savior – the One who has literally brought us from death to life?

So what does this mean for us practically?  Should we be clapping, dancing and lifting our hands to each song, every Sunday?  Maybe!  But perhaps a better question might be, is my worship accurately expressing what is in my heart?  I would challenge each of us with two things: 1) First, to honestly examine ourselves and ask the question – “if I find myself NEVER clapping, singing loud, raising my hands, etc…what does that say about the condition of my heart towards God?”  All too often I think we use the phrase “I’m just not really feeling into it today”, or something similar to excuse what is simply spiritual apathy.  Men, how would it go over with your wife if you told her that you couldn’t wash the dishes or help out with the kids today because you weren’t “feeling it”?  God doesn’t command us to praise Him when we feel like it – He commands us to praise Him.  And as we looked at above, this includes the full spectrum of praise.  2) We need to realize that growth in physical expressions of worship is a process.  Just as we were spiritual infants when we first came to Christ, yet are constantly increasing in maturity, so learning how to engage in meaningful physical expressions of worship is something that we mature in over the course of time.  But it has to start somewhere.  Maybe for you, this week it will be as simple as raising a hand in praise during an anthem.  Or maybe it will be singing loud enough for your kids to hear you.  Whatever it is, it will likely feel awkward, undignified, and maybe a bit foolish, but in all of it may our cry resonate with David’s in Psalm 145: “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise!”