What is Christian Worship?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” (Tozer 47) How we worship God during the week reflects how we worship God together at weekly gatherings. What is worship? Worship is more than something we do. It is more than something we attend. It is more than something we know the order of. Worship is a lifestyle. More importantly, worship is a response to the Living God who is here, who gave life, who continues to work and move in and through the believers.

If the people of God are to be living a life of worship, then the order of worship reflects how lives should be lived. In each worship setting, almost no matter what “style of worship” a person participates in, there is a four-fold movement to help the worshipper move closer to the throne of grace and experience the presence of the Living God. This movement appears in the book of Isaiah chapter 6. In a vision, Isaiah has found himself to be in the throne room of God. Here God is meeting with the heavenly beings, worshipping God, and talking about what should be done on earth. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV) Isaiah decides to be the one to respond and say, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8c NIV) After Isaiah responds, he receives the mission and the gifts to do what needs to be done. This shows the movement of worship (Gathering, Word, Table/Response, Sending Out), and describes our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Flow of Worship

Isaiah has been transported, in a vision, to the throne room of God. This is the first movement of worship called the Gathering. In this movement, people are finding themselves to be in the presence of God. This is where the people gather their hearts and spirits together to worship and begin to celebrate, as a community, all God has done, is doing, and will do. The Gathering is the time to center our hearts and our entire being on the reality of the presence of God. An example to help the worshippers understand the presence of God is among the worshipping community is to proclaim, “Welcome to God’s house where the Risen Christ is ready to receive our praises! I invite you to add your praise to those of your sister and brothers as we rejoice together in this day that God has made.” (Cherry 64) Many different components may be used in this movement. When the people wake up to the fact the presence of God is with them, and they are in the presence of God, the worship leader can offer a call to worship, song, opening prayers, prayers of confession and pardon and/or more. Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of the Holy One and says, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV) Isaiah understands where he is and whose presence he is in. He confesses and then one of the heavenly beings comes to cleanse Isaiah from his sin. Being in the presence of God changes lives. There is a need to be cleansed and receive forgiveness, so the people’s hearts are open and ready to fully worship and receive the blessings, peace, and most importantly, the presence of the Living God that is already among them. The point of the Gathering is to help the worshippers understand and appreciate the presence of the Holy Spirit inviting each person to participate in the worship of God Almighty that is already taking place in the heavens.

Since worship is a way of life, one way the worshippers could get ready for the community worship experience is to pray, sing, and read scripture. Psalms 120-134 are called songs of “ascent,” meaning these psalms help the reader, and person of prayer prepare their hearts, minds, the whole being for what is about to happen in the community worship event.

After Isaiah pays attention that he is in the throne room of the Lord, the presence of God, he begins to listen. Through all of the praises going up, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV), Isaiah hears God speak. This is the next movement the worshipping community goes through, hearing the Word of God read, spoken, proclaimed. During this movement, the worship leader, lay reader, pastor, read the scripture passage(s) for the day and the people are ready to hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained. Since it is the Word of God heard, it is usually a good idea to ask God to open the hearts and lives of the people so the Word can be fully understood and transferred and the Word of God can come in people’s lives and do the work of transformation. This is usually done through prayer, such as a prayer of illumination which calls upon the Holy Spirit to speak to the people through the Word and the sermon of the day.

When the Word of God is read and proclaimed, it is always a good idea to focus on the entirety of the message of the whole Bible, specifically the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This can be done through several scripture passage readings (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, Gospel readings) so the worshipper can keep the full message of scripture in their minds. One way to do this is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary readings which cover most of the Bible over three years. If the lectionary is not being used, it is important to still use more than one text or at least a more extended passage, so the full Word is heard in the context it was written.

God is always speaking. This is something the worshippers (all people) need to remember. So it is not just through the scripture reading(s) the worshippers hear from God; it is throughout the community worship event. When scripture is used throughout the service, the presence and Word of God is continually brought to the forefront of people’s minds and lives.

When God speaks, the only thing there is to do is respond. Isaiah’s response was “Here am I! Send me!” To respond to God means the people are ready and willing to do what God is asking. In the flow of worship, the response to God’s Word occurs in the sacraments (baptism and communion) or through song, prayer, or in the way the worshipping community decides. It is essential to give a response to the God who is present, active and speaking. The response “is an acknowledgment that we have truly listened to what God spoke to the community through the Scriptures and the sermon, and that as a result, we intend to offer back an appropriate affirmation.” (Cherry (99) Acts 2 demonstrates why the response is essential.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the 119 other disciples are gathered together. Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire, and the people hear a loud gushing wind. Peter stands up to address the crowd witnessing these signs. He boldly proclaims Jesus is still alive and gives a sermon that God uses to “cut to the heart” of each person there. The Word of God is strong, “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV), that the people had to respond. As a result, three thousand people decided to follow Jesus Christ and the world began to witness the saving, powerful work of God through Jesus Christ guided by the movement of the Holy Spirit. The world was starting to change. Responding to God means the people are acknowledging the desire to be part of God mission and work in the world. As a result, God fills the people with the Holy Spirit and equips them to do the work they are called to do.

The beginning of the community worship event takes the worshippers into the presence of God. The people are taken to God’s presence. This would be an upward movement, primarily because God’s people are always being worked on to be holier each day, with each experience of God. Then the worshippers have the chance to hear from God. This is God’s Word coming down to the people. When the people respond, the praises, voices, and cries of the people are brought back up to God. The response of the people is essential because the spirit of the people is lifted to God. This is the time when the people have the chance to get “on the same page” like God who is working, moving, and inviting the people to participate in the work being done.

Isaiah has found himself to be in the presence of God. He has been cleansed. He has heard God speak. He has responded. Now, Isaiah is sent back to the people for the mission of God. In the flow of worship, this is called the Sending. What happens in the Sending is the people are sent back into the mission field. The mission field is not a place in another country. The mission field is home, work, the community, the store(s). Wherever the people go, God is working there and inviting the people to participate with the Spirit to work in the world. Robert Webber says “when God blesses us, God confers on us a power to fulfill our calling in righteousness and holiness in Jesus Christ. God’s blessing on us is a gift—an actual pouring out on us the Holy Spirit.” (Webber 184) This is what the Sending is, going back into the world, out of the safety of comfort with other believers, and living into the life and power of God wherever we are and whatever we do.

Liturgy – The Work of the People

Liturgy happens in all worship services. “’Liturgy’ comes from the Greek word leitourgia, translated as “work of the people.” It refers to the actions that worshippers undertake in order to do the work of worship.” (Cherry 39) Cherry goes on to say, “whatever worship acts we offer to God constitute our liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

In traditional worship services, the liturgy will be more formalized and corporate. This means there will be a specific way to pray, to recite, to sing, a particular order. More relaxed, contemporary worship services, still follow a liturgy; however, it may seem more relaxed, or not as obvious. Liturgy is more than what the people say in worship. It is something done in worship. The flow of worship is the liturgy. “Since all worshippers engage to some degree in the actions of worship, all worshippers engage in liturgy.” (Cherry 39)

Time

To help keep the focus on Jesus Christ all year long, the Christian calendar has been introduced and utilized. Time is something sacred. All time is God’s time. “In the tapestry of history, in which God is ever active even if often hidden, that central, brilliant blossom is Jesus Christ who enables us to see so many other evidences of God’s presence, and causes us to know that God is always with us, even when hidden from view.” (Stokey 24) It is through celebrating the Christian calendar, beginning with Advent and go through the year, we have the chance to celebrate the full life and presence of Jesus Christ with us always.

Sacraments in Worship

One of the most significant aspects of Christian worship, for many people, is the participation in the action and practice of the sacraments. The Protestant Churches recognize two sacraments—Baptism and Holy Communion.

Holy Communion, sometimes called Eucharist or breaking of the bread or Lord’s Supper, is best placed within the worship service after the hearing and proclamation of the Word. This is a time of responding to Jesus Christ through the participation of joining him in this meal. When a person participates in this sacrament, sacred moment, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the participant joins in and celebrates the victory of Jesus Christ. “In the heavens, there is a constant and eternal historical recitation of Christ’s great victory over the power of evil and death.” (Webber 129)

The time of Communion helps the participants remember, celebrate, be part of the community, and join in the meal of heaven. During this act of worship, the worshipper is responding to the real presence of Jesus Christ by coming forward to receive the grace, life, and forgiveness Christ offers. This is not something the people go into lightly, nor haphazardly. The people have been building to this time throughout the whole worship service. Now, through the consecration of the elements, the bread and wine (juice) are used to demonstrate the presence of Jesus Christ going into and living through the worshipping community. “The purpose of the table is to engage in acts of worship that enact and celebrate the story of how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, raised Christ from the dead, overcame the powers of evil, and offers to us the forgiveness, healing, love, and power for victorious living in community and in the world.” (Cherry 86)

Baptism is the second sacrament celebrated and practiced by Protestants. “Baptism, as it is known in the New Testament…is administered only once, at the point of initiation into the Christian community.” (Staples 120) This is an important thing to remember. A person is only baptized once because it is God doing the work, not the people. Baptized people do have opportunities, and should participate in, to remember their baptism by the symbol of water.

John Wesley, in his Treatise on Baptism, says, “The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is more fit for this symbolic use.” (Wesley) Staples writes, “[Water] helps to create life, but it can destroy life. It nourishes life, yet it can drown it. It can be healing, yet it can be destructive. The Biblical writers knew this.” (Staples 126) Water is also used because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

In 1982, the World Council of Churches published a work called “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” In this document, baptism is described as having five purposes: to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection (by going in the water and coming out), outwardly demonstrate an inward working of the Spirit’s cleansing power, it is a gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, and baptism is a sign of the Kingdom. Just as circumcision was an outward sign for the Jewish people of their status as God’s chosen people, baptism is an inward sign that a person is marked, sealed and set apart as God’s person to live life in a covenant community sharing, showing, and expanding the Kingdom of Heaven wherever the believer is located.

There are many ways a person is baptized—sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. It does not matter how much water is used. The critical thing to pay attention to is how the Holy Spirit of God is working in and through the individual to be a vessel used for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Both Holy Communion and Baptism use symbols to represent the real presence of God through Jesus Christ as experienced by the Holy Spirit. The complete Triune God is present in the sacraments, and the people experience the saving grace of God through these acts of worship which are then transferred to everyday life.

Conclusion

Worship is a way of life. As the people of God gather together in God’s presence each week, they remember the saving act of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian worship is centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and shapes the people of more into the likeness and image of Christ. When the people of God are transformed, by the Holy Spirit, the world will look more and more like the Kingdom of God here on earth. This happens when the people of God live out their worship each day. Alexander Schmemann sums this idea up beautifully:

“The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom—not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called ‘sacrament,’ but because first of all, she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the ‘world to come,’ to see and to ‘live’ it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of the world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty.” (Schmemann 113)

The Church is the people of God, worshipping, celebrating, and doing the work of Christ in this world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Bibliography

Cherry, Constance M. (2010). The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Schmemann, Alexander. (1963). For the Life of the World. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition

Staples, Rob L. (1991). Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Kansas City, KS: Beacon Hill Press.

Stookey, Laurence Hull. (1996). Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1984.

Webber, R. E. (1998). Planning blended worship: The creative mixture of old and new. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life. New York: Harper

Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

One of the things I love about moving to a new area is getting to know the people. As we learn about the people, we learn their stories, their passions, their hopes and dreams for the future. We also have opportunities to learn more about who they are as a person, what their struggles are, and what’s going on in their life.

So far, we have talked about praying for God’s direction and work in the new area. This is important because we will be able to see and experience much more “success” because we are joining God in the work being done instead of coming in and doing what we want to. Then, we have talked about meeting people where they are and allowing them to be their real, true selves.

This is all “big picture” stuff, if we think about it. I do much better when I think about the bigger picture because I struggle at the detail level often; but this is where we are heading now.

I would recommend finding ways to be in a small group in your new area. This will do a few different things. 1) You will be able to spend more intentional time with a smaller amount of people and give them a chance to learn about you. 2) You will be able to focus more on relationship building. 3) Trust is developed more in smaller groups than always being on stage, or in larger venues.

In a church setting, we often talk about small groups as Bible study groups. These are all well and good; but I would challenge us to think about small groups a little differently. Instead of finding ways to impart “wisdom and knowledge” creating atmospheres where people can share, free of judgement, and build each other up is a key.

What are some ways we can do this? I’ll be talking about what we can do in a church setting; but feel free to modify these approaches for your own setting.

  • Bible Study groups are a way for people to get together and knowingly talk about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. These provide settings for people to tell what they have studied and believe about scripture.
  • Lunch after worship is a great way to connect and be with people in a public setting and enjoy a meal together.
  • Prayer groups.
  • Meet together at restaurants, bars, to share life together.
  • Groups for accountability.

There are many different ways we can connect together in small groups. This is vital because it is much easier to get to know a person in a smaller group setting.

I also want to be quick to note that using small groups to get to know people should not really be why we are doing them. We should be involved in small groups because we are genuinely interested in other people and their lives; because they would be interested in our life.

As we continue to learn about the area, pray for direction, meet people, and really begin to share our lives together, God will be working. It will be incredible to see what God will continue to do to help the church, organization, business, neighborhood, etc.

For a great book resource on starting small groups within a church that promote life transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, check out Kevin Watson’s book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience.

Filling Positions

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:1-7 CEB.

If you have been in any position of leadership, you have heard about what aspects of the organization are missing or need to be redone. Anything that needs to be done can cause some anxiety among people because our first inclination is to fill the position quickly.

We look around us and find someone who has know-how for what needs to be done and then try to plug them into the role of the new ministry, new event, new aspect we know needs to come to fruition.

When we act with the mentality of placing a warm body to fill the position, how long does the program or event last? How much fruit/results will be seen through the new venture?

As we look at our passage for today, look at how the early Church filled positions. Notice the apostles had people come forward with complaints, with strong suggestions about what more needs to be done. We, as leaders, are not immune to having people complain or show areas that are not at their potential. It could be very easy for leaders to think they have to do everything and find the right people themselves. Or, if complaints are heard all the time then our hearts could become hardened to the true need around.

The apostles could have easily ignored the situation of people not getting food because they had “more important” work to do of proclaiming the gospel; but they didn’t. Instead, the apostles listened! They listened with concern for those around them. They listened with concern to those who were not getting what they needed. They listened.

Then, they commissioned the Greek-speaking disciples to seek out and find the right people. I am sure they took this task very seriously. If the rightly motivated, or gifted, people were not put in the roles of care, the task would not get done in the right spirit or carried out successfully.

Look at who they chose to provide the service: “Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” They chose those who had been gifted and had the right demeanor for this important task. They were not just putting anyone in the position.

I have read books and have listened to great leaders and they always point to finding the people with the right passion and the skills can be learned. Many people believe leaders are made and not born. I believe it is a combination of both. If we can find the people with passion for the task and a vision to accomplish it, then we will hopefully get people who will encourage and build up the community. We are born with some leadership qualities and we can nurture and develop other qualities.

As you are searching for people to fill empty positions seek for passion, seek for being gifted, seek God’s hand, we will be able to have the right type of person to fulfill the task at hand.

Trust that when God places a vision on your heart for a new task, activity, mission, that he will also guide you to the right type of person to aid you.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is one of my favorite biblical characters because he definitely stands out and people take notice of him. He is memorable, not only of his message, but of his clothing and food choices.

Though the Gospel of Luke does not mention him wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, Matthew and Mark do. This is still the image we can have of John as we read his proclamation to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Mark Twain said, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I imagine John felt excitement when his time had come to deliver God’s message to the people the Messiah is coming.

What joy! What exhilaration! He was finally able to go and do what he was born to do! He went out to preach a sermon that no one really wanted to hear; but needed to hear: prepare for the Lord’s Messiah, seek forgiveness and repent. I would imagine the people did not want to hear they have to change their hearts, their lives, their will. I imagine the people only wanted to hear their lives will be better and that God will com in to take care of the “real” problem: the Romans.

What message is it you want to hear at Christmas? The sweet story of a baby being born and the angels and shepherds giving God glory and praise? Or, are we preparing ourselves fully for the complete gift of God through Jesus Christ and realize His life, His death, AND His resurrection are the reason we are reconciled to God.

To fully see the beautiful picture of Christ at Christmas, we have to be different from our culture and see the gruesome death that is coming.

How do you stand out to show the full meaning of Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Setting the Stage

Mark 10:32-34 “Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, with Jesus in the lead. The disciples were amazed while the others following behind were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he told them what was about to happen to him. “Look!” he said. “We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise up.”

This week, we are looking at a passage that, once again, may hit home. This week, we’re looking at James and John asking for a place of glory and position alongside Jesus in the Kingdom that will be coming. We should start here to see what was happening before the favor of the two disciples.

Jesus is now giving the third prediction of His death and resurrection. This prediction seems more blunt to me, mostly because it is. Each time Jesus predicted what is going to happen to Him, He started to just come out and say it. After He spoke about divorce and remarriage, blessing the children and encountering a rich man, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him. This time he goes into more details.

We read the disciples were amazed and the others following were afraid. Why the difference? I think it’s interesting how the terms “disciples” and “the others” is used. It shows a comparison to those following. The disciples were those eager to learn from Jesus, so they went with Him along the way. The others may have been there for selfish reasons or did not trust they would be taken care of or Jesus just scared them after teaching what He did. I bet there are a lot of reasons for the different types of people there.

Which category do you fall in? Eager to learn about everything Christ is teaching? Or, following and becoming nervous or afraid because Jesus seems to be expecting something too difficult or scary?

Jesus doesn’t draw attention to the different people there. He plainly states, to His disciples, “Look!…We’re going up to Jerusalem.” Then He goes on to say what will happen when they get there. Jesus is determined to keep going, and bring His followers with Him so they can see what will happen.

What would you be feeling if you were in this situation?