It’s All Worship!

Electric_guitar“First we had worship, then a prayer, offering, a sermon, then some more worship.”

Every heard someone describe a worship service this way? Maybe that someone was you?
Certainly we worship through music. Absolutely no debates there. But remember, worship can be anything that shows worth and devotion. So, let’s make sure that our definition of worship is broad enough to include prayers, offerings, baptisms, communion, and the sermon.

Prayer is Worship

Maybe this one goes without saying? But, let’s make sure we’re on the same page.  Prayer is not a mere kickoff for songs or sermon. Prayer is not a time for the congregation to get settled in and quiet. Prayer is an act of worship. Prayer is our way of communicating to our Father, and communication shows worth. Think about it. When we are angry at someone, one of the first things we may do is give them the silent treatment. Or if we really enjoy being around someone we give them our attention.

Notice that even in the Psalms some of the titles are referred to as prayers. This is the case in Psalm 17, and in the first two verses David admits that God hears his prayers.

A PRAYER OF DAVID. Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right! (Psalm 17:1-2)

Offering is Worship

Offering as worship? Of all the elements in a worship service, the offering quite possibly the easiest to dismiss as simple administration–the business of the church. Keep the lights on, keep the staff paid, give money to the missionaries . . . .

But offerings should be part of our worship. When we give our money to the to the Lord, that act is a declaration of war and of worship. Of war because we are warring against our selfish nature that wants to be indulged, that screams and kicks and fights against our natural demands to be at the center of our spending. Of worship because we are declaring that God is greater, that He is worthy, that we can trust him to meet every need.  WE announce that we can keep our life free from love of money, and be content with what we have, for God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). When we give generously, we show Christ as our treasure of greatest worth.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! (Psalm 96:7)

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:18)

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:45)

Baptism & Communion as Worship

Baptism and Communion can often be dismissed as a liturgical tradition, and therefore never actual realized as meaningful worship. Yet both are really the only two elements that Jesus has commanded us to do. Baptisms are most certainly worshipful for those who are being submersed to declare their faith publicly, but it can also be worshipful for those who are witnessing it. It is worshipful because we are able to give thanks to God and celebrate His transforming power through the gospel. We acknowledge that Jesus saves sinners and that He is making all things new—starting now!

Communion is worshipful in many ways, one of which is by remembering the Lord. The Lord’s table allows us to fix our minds upon Jesus’ work on the cross and what that means for us. Much like the child who cannot wait to open his Christmas gift, when we fixate our thoughts on something we show that it has worth and meaning to us. When we fix our thoughts on Christ gift to us, we show that His death, resurrection, ascension, and return are something that matters to us. Moreover, the Lord’s table is also a way for us to declare the gospel to a watching world!

And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Sermon as Worship

The sermon as worship? Many people, like the quote states, believe that the sermon is something separate from when God’s people receive His Word.  But that’s not the way the scriptures, particularly Psalm 119, describes God’s revelation. Here’s just a sample.

Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare
      all the rules of your mouth.  In the way of your testimonies I delight
      as much as in all riches.  I will meditate on your precepts
      and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes;
      I will not forget your word.  Psalm 119:12-16

This week when you encounter these elements, give special attention to them as worship. Focus on how you can give Jesus worth through them.

Then, maybe we can change our language about worship? 

“At church today we sang, presented our offerings, celebrated a baptism, feasted on God’s Word, and reflected during communion.  It’s was all worship!”

Chris Adkins, worshiper and worship leader

Advertisements

How Long, O Lord?

honestWhen my wife Jessica and I were first dating, she spent a summer in an inner-city homeless program in the heart of Louisville, Kentucky. The program was partnered with Sojourn Community Church, a local church that seemed to reach a broad spectrum of folks. She was required to attend there during the program, and I would occasionally come with her.

I will never forget the songs they wrote and sung in worship. They were so honest, and used very raw language that I was unfamiliar with when singing to the Lord. They enabled me to sense a greater connection to the Lord, because the language allowed honest expression, with all of my messy self.

As I began to study the Psalms more and more, I realized that their songs were nothing new. David and the other Psalm writers have always expressed themselves–regardless of how messy it got.  Psalm 13 is one such Psalm that David wrote for corporate worship. The Psalm shows us 3 ways in which we can worship the Lord in the midst of hardship:

Honest With Your Feelings

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2, ESV).

David is on the verge of despair. He feels God has forgotten him in his current circumstances. He feels God is deliberately hiding from him and forcing him to face the situation alone. This doesn’t mean that God has abandoned David, but it certainly felt like it. David does not hesitate in venting his anger, worries, and doubts in worship.

Many of us are afraid to be completely honest with God in the way we feel at times. We revert to cliché statements like “God works in mysterious ways.” And, we completely miss the opportunity to deepen our worship and relationship with the Lord through unbridled sharing of our raw, honest hearts.

This is the same kind of honesty we see in Moses when he pleads for the Lord’s presence: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). The Psalms show us that God’s desire for us is to express our feelings–even when they are messy. This honest expression brings us before God as we are, not a facade.

Cry For Help

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken (vv. 3-4).

Looking at all of David’s Psalms, a great majority of them plead for God to intervene in his current circumstances. Not only were his pleas honest, they also let God know what the outcome will be if he doesn’t intervene. Here, David tells God that if he doesn’t act then he will die and his enemies will celebrate.

While we probably won’t have enemies that are seeking to kill us, or armies encamped against us, we certainly have enemies that can feel just as devastating. You may have a broken marriage, financial turmoil, or a recurring sin that make you feel like there is no hope unless God shows up. God wants us to cry out to Him. He wants us express there being no hope for victory outside of His intervening.

Reaffirming Your Trust

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me (vv. 5-6).

While it is important for us to be raw, honest, and cry for help, it should never stay there. Our honesty and cries should fix our gaze upon the Lord’s character. And his character should always lead us to praise Him. David had experienced the steadfast love of the Lord, and he knows that the Lord will come through in His faithfulness again and again. The Psalm shows us that even in the midst of our hurt, doubt, anger, and worries, God is faithful and worthy to be praised.

We can often either neglect honesty in our worship, or neglect praise in the midst of trouble. The Psalms call us to both.

Application

  • Incorporate a Psalm a day into your Bible reading and prayer. By letting the words of the Psalm become your words, you will broaden your biblical expressions of worship.
  • Seek to not only be honest with your feeling in worship, but also to praise God in the midst of your troubles.

Chris Adkins, Worship Pastor

Burning Hearts

Abiding in the Vine  Burning-heart-glass

The week that I was born again was the week that I started reading Scripture. I was drawn to read it because a pastor, and now friend asked, “How’s your Bible study?” The truth was, I had no Bible study. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with it. But I had a void within my soul that I could not escape. No matter what I tried to fill the void with, it was never satisfied. So I began reading Scripture. I’m not sure what I read first, but when I came across John 15, it was there that I undoubtedly heard Jesus say to me:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (v. 5, ESV)

He showed me that a life that bears the fruit that it was designed to could only be found in a relationship with Jesus. My Scripture reading has not always been like the experience I first had when I came to faith–hearing God’s voice so clearly and so easily applicable. However, I have tried to make it my consuming passion every time I come to the Word. As people who live in a fallen world, we feel the draw to invest your time, energy, and affections into things that do not satisfy, but we must constantly abide in the Vine if we are to produce fruit that has eternal value. We must seek the Lord until our hearts burn from His presence.

Burning Hearts

In Luke 24 we see two disciples who had a similar experience on the road to Emmaus. They encounter the risen Jesus but do not recognize Him because His glorified body is different in some way. However, that night at dinner:

He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (vv. 30-32).

I know, you’re thinking “Whoa! Jesus is like a ninja, appearing and disappearing.” But that’s beside the point. The point is that although Jesus wasn’t recognized by His physical appearance, He was certainly recognized through the way He gave understanding to the Scriptures and broke the bread.

Stoking the Flame

Our private worship should be marked by times like this—Jesus doesn’t seem to be anywhere around, but as you open the Word, you hear the Spirit speak and your eyes are opened. There your heart burns, and you realize that you have been in communion with the risen Lord. Simple, shallow, Scripture readings are not enough. It was likely simple and shallow reading that made Jesus rebuke the two men “O foolish ones, and low of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25a). No, we must go deeper, and we must stay there until our hearts burn with awe from being in the presence of God Almighty.

Below are some methods that have helped me to have heart-burning encounters with the Lord. I hope you find them to be just as helpful.

  • Pray for God to give you wisdom (James 1:5). Since God inspired it, it seems only natural that Christians would ask God for help in understanding it. Ask him to reveal Himself and help you to hear His voice.
  • Read God’s Word. We must inwardly digest His Word because “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Moreover, we must read all of the Bible. We want to grasp the message we’re reading: (1) in its immediate context; (2) how it flows into the larger picture of the whole Bible, and (3) how it is fulfilled in Jesus. Read it when you are alone and read it when you are with others. Discuss it, teach it, memorize it.
  • Study God’s word carefully. Ask yourself (1) What does it say? (2) What does it mean? (3) How do I apply it? We are often eager to get to the third question, sometimes so much that we fail to actually see what the text means. Other times we are so interested in one verse that we don’t give enough attention to the whole thing. All of it matters.
  • Finally, we should Devotionally study God’s Word. That is, not merely academic study. When we come to God’s Word we want know how it will apply to our own life and to our understanding of God. We want our minds to be informed by the gospel, blindness to our sin removed, and our hearts stirred to better love God and others.

Chris Adkins, Bible reader & follower

Worship Leader Tells All: How We Choose the Songs We Use

Electric_guitarAs a worship leader, I often get asked:

“Why don’t we sing __________?”

“Have you heard ____________?”

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I am extremely grateful for song suggestions. Most of these ideas usually come from Christian radio. The person making the suggestion is touched by a song that speaks to them. Like I said, this isn’t a bad thing.

However, the problem with most of Christian radio songs is that they are not corporate church songs. If anything, the majority of them are Christian inspiration, written from the writer’s experience. But you may ask:

“What constitutes a corporate church song?”

I have found 4 words to be extremely helpful in determining what a Biblical church song should be: vertical, simple, emotive, and physical.

Vertical

Scripture frequently calls us to “sing to the Lord” (Psalm 95:1). Notice that it doesn’t say to “sing about the Lord” or “sing about yourself.” Since we are truly coming before the presence of a present God in worship, then our language of praise should be directed to Him.

Think about it: how often do you talk about people when they are standing directly in front of you? You don’t. Likewise, when you are at a friend’s birthday party you don’t try to blow out their candles or open their gifts. No, it’s their celebration! Yet there are many songs that are either songs about God or only about the person singing.

Let me clarify: this doesn’t mean we can’t sing about God or involve ourselves in the singing. Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, ESV). Paul encourages believers to sing about God so that they are taught the word and edified.

But notice the end result–it stirs up thankfulness in their hearts to God. Both should be used in balance, but the end result should always be vertical praise to God. Moreover, none of this matters if the song isn’t saturated in Scripture. This doesn’t mean that we sing Scripture word-for-word, but that the ideas of Scripture saturate the language.

Simple

I know a lot of great hymns filled with excellent theology that stir my soul, but use language and theological ideas that are far beyond the average worship attender. I also know of newer songs that have wonderful poetry that bring me to tears, but can seem confusing because most folks simply don’t understand it.

Most of our congregations aren’t theology majors or poets. This doesn’t mean that we throw out big theological ideas or poetry in song, but that we use them in a way that everyone can easily understand. The same goes for the complexity of the melody, time signature, and key. If it is hard to sing, then people will cease doing so. Likewise, if it is too simple then it will become dull. Revelation gives us a great picture of praise before the throne, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Once again, the key is always balance.

Emotive

The songs that we sing should encourage emotion. The words, music, and energy of the song should all converge into loving “God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Emotive worship requires us to sing about things that matter. For instance, the works of God throughout history, aspects of His divine character, His promises to us, and the ultimate work of Christ on the cross are things that will no doubt stir our emotions.

Often we will repeat things so that we can meditate on certain ideas and enlarge our heart to God. Worship should never involve heartless recitation. In fact, God has always rejected such vain worship, saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). God wants the praise from your mouth, but only when it is fueled by the passion of your heart.

Physical

Let me start by saying that I do not have “moves like Jagger” as the popular song boasts. In fact, my moves are closer to that of a fish flopping. Yet, God is calling us all to engage in worship physically. The Psalms are loaded with commands to shout, dance (Psalm 149:3), kneel and bow (Psalm 95:6), jump (Psalm 9:2), lift up eyes (Psalm 123:1), clap (Psalm 47:1), and raise hands (Psalm 63:4). Each one of these physical expressions is deeply rooted with symbolic meaning for worship. For instance, dancing was an expression used when the people of God were freed from bondage (Exodus 15:20). While we won’t go into all of these actions, the point is that songs should be used that encourage movement and physical expressions and not hinder them.

  • What are some songs that you love but aren’t necessarily corporate church songs?
  • Have you seen a difference between songs that are Vertical, Simple, Emotive, and Physical, and songs that aren’t when worshiping corporately?

Chris Adkins, flopping dancer and worship leader

The Centerpiece of Worship

Themes
Recently my wife and I went to a nice restaurant in celebration of Valentine’s Day. On this night for couples there was a special menu with specific themes to convey love. From the pairing of foods, to the colors and music—everything was themed around love. If you have ever been to an art showing, you have probably seen something similar. All of the pieces are different, but there is a common thread among the works that convey a specific theme. Worship is no different. When we gather together for corporate worship there should always be a common theme that binds us all—the gospel.

The Center of Worship
The gospel is the centerpiece of all that we do when we gather. Paul stressed the significance of it when he wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV). In a general sense, the gospel means that Jesus took the punishment of sin that we deserve so that we can have a relationship with God that we don’t deserve. He died so that we could live forever. He suffered so we could prosper spiritually. I like to put it like this: Jesus crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming again. Most will nod in agreement with this, but there are some things we can easily put at the center of our worship–things that are not the gospel.

The Other Things
We can easily put missions, discipleship, great Bible teaching, music, community, and prayer in its place. However, if it is not the gospel, then it will not transform hearts. All of these things are good things, and all of these things should be extensions of the gospel; but, all of these things are not the gospel. The gospel transforms us. That is why we will always hear it in our teaching, songs, prayers, and other worship elements. There are a million other things we could preach about, but they will not lead anyone to a saving relationship with Jesus. There are a million other things we could sing about, but they will not stir thankfulness and awe in our hearts. Only Jesus crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming again will stir us. This doesn’t mean that all of our worship gatherings should live and breathe gospel, but it should always end up there–solidly on the gospel. This is why we like to share in the Lord’s Table frequently. It keeps us grounded in His body broken and His blood shed.

Heavenly Worship
In my private worship I often like to picture worship before God’s throne in His heavenly kingdom. I like to imagine that I am there before Him with the multitudes of people, and think about what wonders I will see. I also like to imagine that when I am putting together worship orders that I am preparing folks for throne room worship. And one of the things we will certainly be doing is praising Jesus for the what He has done in the gospel. John writes “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9-10). When we place the gospel at the center of our worship, we do what the multitudes before the throne are praising Christ for this very moment.

I have included a new song that speaks of the work of the gospel. I hope that it stirs thankfulness in your heart as much as it has mine. Enjoy!

Chris Adkins, Worship Pastor

A Fragrant Offering

Fragrant OfferingI remember the first time I raised my hands in worship. I remember thinking that I wanted to show God how much I desired Him. I also remember it being extremely awkward as a storm of anxiety raged within my mind. I wondered “what will my friends think if I do this?” It was certainly a sacrifice to do so. And I think it’s safe to say that all worship is a sacrifice that costs something. In the book of John we get a beautiful picture of sacrificial worship between Mary and Jesus.

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3, NIV).

Mary, who experienced so much mercy and forgiveness in Jesus, brought something that was treasured and used it to show her affection toward Jesus. She took something that was most likely hard to give up, and broke it at Jesus’ feet to show that He is worth more. She even used her hair, which represented her beauty, to get messy as she wiped His feet. Jesus was her “One Thing”. He was the centerpiece of her life, the place where all of her affection, trust, and attention was placed.

This passage is here to show us worship that Christ desires. He desires worship that costs us something. How often is deficient worship brought in our gatherings? You see it when our attention is elsewhere and we keep checking the time. You see it when we don’t show up prepared or show up late. You see it when our pride and fear keep us from displaying humble, messy adoration. I believe it’s because we haven’t truly understood the depth of who Jesus is and what He has done for us on the cross. But when we truly contemplate and feel the weight of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we can’t help but bring costly worship. And worship like this will release a fragrance that gets the attention of the watching world.

  • How have you brought deficient, unintentional worship?
  • How can you bring worship that costs you something, worship that proves Christ as the “One Thing” in your life?

From Ritual to Wine

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:6-11)

Weddings Bells

Have you ever been to a really good wedding? If you have then it has probably left a mark on you. Likely your own wedding left a pretty good mark on you–hopefully in a good way. I have heard stories of people catching themselves on fire, while others locked their knees and passed out. These left a mark in a different way. Regardless of what happens, most weddings are redeemed by the joy that is shared between a bride and groom despite the rituals and blunders.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding, and it is quite an unusual one compared to the ones attributed to his ministry later, but just as joyous. Here he changes water into wine. For years I wondered what the significance of this passage could be. And I certainly think one of the important things about it is that it “revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (v. 11). It showed that he was God, that he radiated the power of God, and encouraged the disciples to believe in him as God. However, I believe there is a deeper symbolism that John was trying to show us. One that reveals who he is and how we can approach him in worship.

From Ritual to Wine

The first thing to notice is that Jesus made the wine from stone jars for “ceremonial washing.” You see, the religious leaders demanded that your hands be washed before meals and other social gatherings, but this was never commanded by the Lord. Yet the leaders treated it as such and heaped a burden that God never intended for his people to carry. In fact, the only time ritual washing is ever commanded by the Lord was for the Levites who were entering the presence of the Lord (Exodus 30:17-19). The cool thing about this is that Jesus takes this extra-biblical, legalistic teaching and makes wine out of it. Wine in Hebrew culture was always a symbol for joy. So when the harvest was abundant it meant that God had provided, and something tasty was going to be made from that provision (Psalm 4:7).

Jesus turns the water of these ritualistic stone jars into wine and dispels the false theology that you must earn your way, or clean yourself up enough to come into God’s presence. His blood covers us and makes us able. He takes our empty rituals that do no good in making us closer to God, and says “you don’t have to do this junk to earn my love. You have it!” Instead we are granted free access into a joyful celebration with Jesus. Jesus is our wine, Jesus is our joy, and we celebrate that like a wedding each time we gather.

  • In what ways has your worship been an empty ritual? Have you tried to earn your relationship with the Lord?
  • Remind yourself that the gift of salvation is free from the burden of your works. Take time to thank and praise God for his salvation that is a free gift.

Chris Adkins, Worship Pastor