Category Archives: Foundations

The Life of Worship – What is It?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Over the past 25 to 30 years, I can’t tell you how many books, articles, sermons, and seminars I have read or listened to on the topic of worship. There are a lot of convictions, declarations, and opinions – some good, some not so much. I know I have definite convictions on the subject. The majority of my ministry has been spent being involved in studying and seeking to worship and lead worship in a manner that is pleasing and exalting God. Looking back over the decades (I can’t believe I can say that – decades!), there are some things I think I got right. There are other areas that I stumbled through. Today, I am still on the pursuit – some days are better than others.

The declaration made by Jesus, in the passage above, is a radical shift from what people of His day thought about worship and religion. It is a radical shift from what most of us believe. Even for those of us who know all of the right answers, in our hearts, there is always a battle going on. There will always be a struggle to worship God in spirit and truth. The world will not do us any favors in this. They will try to shift our focus to anything but Jesus. To live a life of worship, we must be diligent. In fact, if don’t intentionally pursue it, it is not going to happen.

Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful. He knows our weaknesses. When we slip, slide, fall, or even run away, His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). He is the God of new beginnings. He delights for us to delight in Him, because in Him He knows we will find our greatest joy and satisfaction.

Over the next few weeks, I will share thoughts about the life of worship. As I have said here before, I do not claim to be an expert. I do not claim to even live this well. One of the reasons I call this blog “In Pursuit of the Life of Worship” is because that is exactly what it is for me. It is a pursuit. A journey that will last my lifetime and beyond. Sometimes, I think I get it right. Many times, well, let’s just say I have a long way to go.

However, I want to live out this life in a way that glorifies God and brings me to a deeper, richer knowledge and love for God. So, I keep moving on. And I encourage you to do the same, as you encourage me to do the same. Together, we join the most glorious pursuit of all – to know and love the One Who spoke all things into existence, holds them together by the power of His Word, and has redeemed us by His Own blood. This is someone worth pursuing a relationship with.

Together for His glory…

Bachelor Degree

Recently, my wife and youngest son, Caleb, were watching the evening news. The news team was doing a report on jobs and career searches. As part of that, a reporter mentioned that for many types of jobs, it was important to have a Bachelor degree. Instantly, Caleb started laughing. He thought it was hilarious that someone would go to college to get a degree in being a single man.

Obviously, Caleb did not understand the meaning of Bachelor degree (nor do many young men who go to college). However, it points out the importance of how we interpret the meanings of things. For instance, there are many religions in the world that would use some of the same words, expressions, and practices as Christianity. At first glance, it can appear that they believe the same thing as taught in the Bible. But if you look below the surface, the differences start to emerge and, in many cases, are completely contrary to the teaching of the Word of God.

I have heard many people say that all religions essentially point to the same God and that as long as you are sincere, that is what is most important. But what if you are sincerely wrong? How can different religions lead to the same God if they teach philosophies and doctrines that are contrary to each other? Ultimately, this does not make sense.

Under the umbrella of Christianity, there are churches and people who live out their lives holding to beliefs that contradict the direct teaching of Scripture. Many of the foundational principles that guide our lives are probably inherited from our culture rather than the Word of God. I wonder, if we really investigated our convictions, what we would find. Would we find that our practice and belief is grounded in truth? Or would we find that there is nothing supporting it other than cultural, religious, or ritualistic fallacies?

Don’t get me wrong. Cultural and religious practices are not inherently evil. However, if they are not grounded in truth and do not encourage us to live righteously, why would we believe or follow them? If someone tells us that, in the end, all religions are basically the same, why would we believe them? Could it be that we really don’t know whether what they say is actually true? Have we just been listening to others tell us what to believe and have never taken the time to investigate, taking truth to heart, and making the convictions are own?

As followers of Christ, we are instructed in the Word to sink our roots into the truth of God,  holding fast and letting those principles and exhortations transform our thinking and way of life to be more like Christ (Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:2). We are told that the world will not encourage us to follow God. It will be exactly the opposite. Even within the church, there will be those who try to turn us from the truth. We are told to walk and be built up in the truth of Christ, so that we are not taken captive by the empty philosophies and deceit that are based only in human tradition and wisdom (Colossians 2:6-8). But when we do, we should not expect encouragement from our culture or the rest of the world. Jesus said that because we belong to Him, the world will not love us (John 15:18-25) But Jesus also said to take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

You don’t need a bachelor degree to follow Jesus. You don’t even need to know what one is. Following Jesus is the process of building a lifelong relationship. He founded the relationship, through His sacrifice and the forgiveness and righteousness He provided through His death on the cross. If we repent and receive the gift He offers to us, we are His, forever. This relationship deepens as we trust Him and fill ourselves with the truth from the Word of God. As we yield ourselves to God, He empowers us by the Holy Spirit to live for Him and to gain in knowledge and godliness, as He transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ. When we stand before God, after this life is over, we will not hand Him anything to prove our worthiness, like a degree or diploma. If we are in Christ, we will stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone and as the sole reason for why we are in glory. Anything else will be a worthless piece of paper, no matter how many accomplishments are written on it.

Together for His glory…

Fooling Each Other: Authentic Worship, Part 3

Since I lead part of the worship service most weeks, someone will occasionally comment on something I say during the service or maybe on a prayer that I led during the service. During our conversation, they might comment on the difficulty they have praying or maintaining a consistent prayer life. I respond by telling them that I can relate to their situation. My prayer life is one of the most difficult aspects of my relationship with God.

At this point, maybe with a confused look on their face, they tell me that I don’t seem to have any trouble praying. They are right. For some reason, by God’s grace, I am able to focus and pray during most of those times while leading. I am not pretending or trying to sound spiritual when I pray in the service. However, I tell them that it is not representative of my personal prayer life. These times are almost always a struggle to focus and stay on track. I pray for someone or something and it brings to my mind something else. Then, before I know it, my mind has jumped, in a matter of seconds, to a series of other thoughts or activities that are totally unrelated. Before I know it, prayer has stopped and my focus is somewhere else completely.

It is terrible. I am a scatterbrained person at times. I have trouble focusing. I am very easily distracted. Any sound, flicker of light, or thought can totally trip me up and my concentration is gone. Prayer is a discipline. It is something very valuable in our relationship with God. Therefore, I continue in it, and continually try to grow in this area. I have known prayer warriors in my life. I am not one of them. But I long to be and will continue to pursue prayer, in spite of fumbling through it.

So, why do I tell this to you or anyone who brings up the topic? Transparency. I don’t want them to think I am someone other than who I really am. Do I really like being known as a person who struggles with prayer? No, but this is another part of pursuing worship that is authentic. Not only do we need transparency before God, but we need transparency with each other. We need to view ourselves correctly, we need to be honest with each other, and we need to actively encourage one another. These are all a part of pursuing authentic worship.

First, we need to view ourselves correctly. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector. While the Pharisee exalts and praises himself, both to God and anyone who is listening, the tax collector pleads for mercy from God. Jesus makes it clear that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee. Boasting in ourselves or in our righteousness never fools God (see Fooling God). Even if it does fool others, or even ourselves, it does nothing to build up the church. In fact, it tears down the church and hinders the worship of the congregation.

We need to remember that we are sinners. Apart from the grace and mercy of our God, demonstrated by the cross of Jesus Christ, and the salvation provided through His blood, we have no hope. End of story. We can boast in the cross of Christ alone (Galatians 6:14). Our righteousness is the righteousness of Christ. Our glory is in the glory of God. We have been freed from the prison of sin, guilt, and the grave by the love of our God, through Christ alone. Proclaiming the gospel, rejoicing in the work of Christ in us, and remembering where we have come from – this is authentic worship and glorifies God.

Second, we need to be honest with each other. As the church, we are called to bear each other’s burdens and come alongside each other (Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-13). How can we share each other’s burdens if we don’t know what they are? By clamming up and keeping to ourselves, we detract from the body of Christ. We cut ourselves off from work that God wants to do in our lives. We also hinder others from using their gifts to minister to us. Also, other believers often need to know that they are not the only one who struggles with something. By sharing, we help them to find hope and draw near to God and find strength in Him. We, in turn, also find out we are not alone in our struggle.

In addition, honesty is required when we have been offended or wounded by someone in the church. If you have an unresolved issue with someone, avoiding it will not make it go away. It only allows the hurt to fester and gnaw at us. It can cause us to withdraw or leave. Worse, if we share that hurt with others, it now becomes gossip. Now, it not only tears us down, it tears down others in the church. It hinders the work of the gospel and does not glorify God. We need to be diligent to stop gossip before it even starts. Seeking to resolve these issues appropriately builds the body of Christ and encourages us to draw near to God together.

Honesty is an essential part of the pursuit of authentic worship within the church. This leads to the third point, which is actively encouraging each other within the church. We need to be diligent to continue meeting together in order to encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). As we meet together, it is important to remind ourselves of the gospel and the work that has been done for us. We need to encourage each other that Christ is working in our lives to transform us to be more like Him. We need to remember the promise of His glorious return.

We can’t be in the mindset of just showing up at church and then going home. When we come together as the church, we need to come as active participants. Engaging in worship is not just me connecting with God. We are called to teach and admonish each other and to sing and address one another with songs (Colossians 3:16-17; Ephesians 5:19-21). Corporate worship is not for the sole purpose of me connecting with God. I am called to encourage those around me through singing the truth of the gospel. If I am only focused on myself, then I am neglecting an important aspect of authentic worship, which is my call to encourage others to worship God. Yes, we sing to God and worship Him alone. However, we also speak and sing to each other in order to encourage and spur one another on to pursue God.

Authentic worship is about transparency and humility. It is about viewing ourselves as we truly stand before God. It is about being open and honest with each other. And it is about encouraging each other in our pursuit of God. Authentic worship requires us to humble ourselves before God and each other. No self-promotion. No hiding and withdrawing. No attempts to fool each other. No harbored bitterness. No gossip and backbiting. It requires us to share in each other’s lives and bear one another’s burdens. It requires repentance and forgiveness and a willingness to love and serve others. If we don’t, we rob ourselves and we rob others in the church. Let us draw near to God and worship Him together.

Together for His glory…

Fooling God: Authentic Worship, Part 2

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13

Years ago, I had an employee who was not very motivated. I would have to check up on him constantly. On one particular day, after he left for the day, I went out to see what kind of progress he had made on a project. It quickly became apparent that he had done nothing for most of the afternoon.

The next morning, I asked him for his project list. He disappeared into the warehouse and returned a few minutes later. I took a look at the list and there were several items checked off, as if he had already done the work. He said it was not complete, but he had gotten a good start on it. I knew he had not done any of it. I asked him to verify whether the checked items were completed and he told me that these were done.

Then, I informed him that I already knew he had not completed anything on the list. The expression on his face quickly changed and he launched into string of excuses. He thought he had fooled me, but now he was trying to cover his tracks because I had found him out.

How often does this represent our approach to our relationship with God? The verse above is a part of a larger section, Isaiah 29:13-16, where God is addressing His people. It speaks of a people who honor God with their mouths, but their hearts are far away from Him. Verse 15 reveals the attitude that they think they can hide their evil deeds in the darkness: “Who sees us. Who knows us?”

God’s rebuke is clear in verse 16. “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

When we approach God with the attitude that we can profess praise or worship with our lips, or do acts of service for Him, and yet have hearts that do not really seek after Him, we are mocking God. In fact, God says that we are turning things upside down. We are acting as if He did not make us or that He does not know everything about us. We are treating Him as merely human and exalting ourselves to His status as God.

As Christians, we come to church on Sundays and worship God. We might go to a small group and attend other activities of fellowship or service. We may even have frequent times of Bible reading and prayer, if we are really spiritual. However, if those activities are merely done as lip service to God, or to check off our spiritual “To Do” list, do we not think that God sees right through that? Or if we pursue activities which contradict His Word and will, do we actually think these escape His attention?

There is a real danger here. If we continually live our lives in this way, it is possible that we are not even believers. When God says that their hearts are far from Him, it echoes Jesus words to those who claimed to know Him, but did not: “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

No one is perfect. Even after salvation comes to a person, the sanctification process is a lifelong journey that only ends when we enter His presence at our death or at His coming. However, a truly redeemed person should have an inner desire to follow Christ in all things, because God has placed His Spirit within us to fill and transform our lives. Outward acts of religiosity cannot create this or even begin to fool God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Psalm 139:1-4

Another area where we try to fool God is by hiding our thoughts, feelings, and emotions from Him. In Scripture, God shows us the brutal honesty of many who seek after the Him. They do not hide their thoughts and feelings from God, as if it were even possible. If they are blessed, they openly praise Him. If they are angry with God, they say it. If they are afraid, they tell Him. If they don’t understand, they cry out for wisdom and release.

God does not fear our response to Him. He is not challenged by it. He calls us to come boldly to Him (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-23). He is the One Who has all wisdom. He is the One Who has all power. He knows our thoughts. We need to express these before Him. We need to commune with God, expressing the depths of our hearts.

Authentic worship does not hide from God. It does not hide behind empty outward acts, while our hearts our engaged in pursuing ungodly pursuits. It does not hide behind closed lips and buried feelings and fears. Hiding from God does not hide us from God. It only robs us of the joy and peace and transformation found in His presence.

Authentic worship comes honestly before God, with all of our joys, fears, questions, and failures. It does not hide. It is open and transparent before the One Who sees and hears everything. He knows everything about us, from beginning to end. This same God of wisdom and power and holiness bids us to come to Him and receive mercy and grace in our time of need. Our time of need is every second of our lives. He is all in all. In Him is everything we need. May we pursue Him with all that is within us.

Together for His glory…

Believing Worship: Authentic Worship, Part 1

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

What do you think of when you hear the word “authentic?” I know it brings to my mind something that is genuine. It is the real deal. It is not fake or phony or misleading. For the next few weeks, we will investigate what it means to authentically worship God.

Our verse from Hebrews 11:6 speaks of drawing near to God. This is at the heart of worshiping God and we know from our previous stops on this journey, that drawing near to God is only possible through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ (see Only Through Jesus). Drawing near requires something other than what we can bring through ourselves or our own works. It requires the holiness of God which is only bestowed on those who believe and trust in the sacrifice of Christ for their salvation. Apart from Christ, there is no provision for our sins. Apart from Christ, there is no drawing near to God. Therefore, apart from Christ, there is no genuine worship.

Worship that comes from faith is worship that believes or trusts in the God of the universe. It is worship that is built on the foundation of Christ, the Lamb of God. It is worship that believes that it is God Who provides and rewards those who seek Him. It is grounded in the trust that God is Who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do.

The worship of our world is not based on such a foundation. It is worship that is based on our own goodness or what we bring to God. We earn His favor or earn our way into heaven by our good works. It is the belief, or faith, that we can, or have to, do this ourselves. If we had but a mere glance of the holiness of God, we would know this is impossible and those assumptions and aspirations would be shattered (Isaiah 6:1-7).

“All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.” (Isaiah 44:9).

The full passage from Isaiah 44:9-20 speaks of a man who uses wood to build things and to use for fuel for a fire to cook his food. Then, with the same wood, he carves out a god and falls down and worships it. The prophet Isaiah exposes the ridiculous nature of this action. The man has made something with his own hands and now he is worshiping it. At least we are much more intelligent and sophisticated now. We would never do this ourselves, right?

Any worship brought before God which is not based on the truth of the truth of Who God is and on and through the sacrifice of Christ is idol worship. Our world is full of people who go through hourly, daily, weekly, and annual rituals as part of their worship to their gods. Even within the church, I fear that much of our activities could fall in that same category. If our actions or service are grounded in the intention that we are earning God’s favor or salvation, this is worship that is not based on faith. Or it is a faulty faith based on our ability to please a holy God on our own.

Authentic worship is worship that is grounded in the character of God. It is based on the realization that the Creator of the universe is Who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. It is based on the knowledge that we could never please a God so holy and that only through the blood of Christ can we ever come into His presence. Authentic worship is believing faith. It is trusting faith. It is worship that rests in and rejoices in the amazing love of God, through Christ. We, who have no right to come before God, have been provided entrance into His throne room. And as we come to Him, through faith, we come with confidence as the very children of the Most High God.

When I hear someone say that heaven sounds like it will be a boring place because all we will do is worship God, it is clear to me that they really have no understanding of Who God is in relation to who we are. Do any of us, really? When we finally get to behold God in His glory, I think there will be no other response but to worship Him. When we understand more clearly the depths and depravity from which we have been saved, worship will be the only natural and eternal response.

God has revealed His glory and character through the universe He created, through His Word, and through Jesus Christ, the holy Lamb of God. Let us draw near to Him in faith, not based on what we have to offer, but based on His glorious provision for us. Let us believe and trust in His unfailing love and promises. For He is holy and He is good and His love endures forever. May His work in us produce lives of worship which glorify Him.

Together for His glory…