Category Archives: Worship

Showing Up Late for God

I recently read a post by Tom Kraeuter titled, “In God’s Presence.” Tom was discussing the attitude or perception we bring with us when we come together to worship. He summed it up at the end with the following sentence. “What do you suppose would happen if we actually acted like He [God] was there?”

What a great question, and not just for worship services, but for all of life. For God is indeed with us in a special way when we gather together for worship. However, as followers of Christ, God also dwells with us and within us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by the living God as a result of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God paid the highest price to make this happen (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And yet, I fear that my life does not demonstrate this acknowledgement of God’s presence as it should.

I remember when I was younger, before I was married, and when my wife and I were still dating. There was always a great anticipation when I knew I was going to be able to see her. This was magnified during the college years because we were often separated for weeks at a time. One instance stands out in my mind clearly.

It was the weekend before spring break and I was anxious to get home. However, I had to serve that weekend in a church in Iowa. Following the Sunday service, I packed up the car and headed back to Kansas City. I had to drop off another guy at school before heading back to St. Louis. So, we drove the four to five hour trip, without stopping, back to the dorm. By the time we got there, a restroom break was definitely in order. As it turned out, the dorms were locked, as was everything else on campus. So, I thought I would use the restroom when I stopped to fill up the car with gas. When I got to the gas station in town, there was no restroom.

I headed out of town, thinking I will stop somewhere along the way from Kansas City to St. Louis. However, the longer I drove, the more the anticipation of seeing my future wife grew. I was in a hurry to get home. As each rest area or exit approached, I just kept on driving. There was a problem though. Not only had it been eight or nine hours since my last “break,” I had also been drinking, and finishing, a two liter bottle of caffeinated soda to help me stay awake. Needless to say, by the time I arrived at my wife’s house, I was in serious pain. I jumped out of the car to run to the door to meet her, but I could not even stand up straight. She met her future husband at the door, only to be greeted by a hunched over guy who shouted, “I will see you in a minute,” as he rushed past her to get the restroom.

I know, it is a goofy story. Some of you probably think it is over-sharing. I don’t care. What it helps remind me of is a moment in time when I was full of anticipation, to the point of disregarding everything else, even intense discomfort and pain.

For each of us that have been brought into the family of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been given a great gift. We have been given the privilege of having the God of the universe dwell within us to guide us, strengthen us, and to allow us to share in His great purposes and plans. He brings us peace and joy, even in the midst of troubling times. Yet, I am afraid that when it comes to our relationship with God, we are often guilty of showing up late. What I mean by that is that we can get to the place where there is no anticipation for meeting with Him.

We show up late in our daily lives. How many times have I stayed up too late, just watching one more thing on television, checking a few things online or in email? Before long, I am getting to bed late by 30 minutes, an hour, or even longer. So, as I set my alarm the next morning, I realize that if I am going to get enough sleep, I am going to have less time in the morning. My time with God will be very short or be passed up altogether. Therefore, for the sake of some meaningless entertainment or piddling around the night before, I have given up the opportunity to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. I show up late for the Creator of the universe, Who desires to fill my life with wisdom, joy, peace, and His presence. I don’t have enough foresight or anticipation to look beyond the preceding evening’s trivialities to what is waiting for me the next morning.

We show up late for our gathered events. The previous example can apply to our times of gathered worship together as well. If we stay up too late on the nights before our worship gatherings, we are going to less ready to get up and get going the next day. If we do make the effort to show up, we are tired and not at our best. We show up late for the service or Bible study. As a worship leader, I don’t pay a lot of attention to who actually comes into the service late. My attention is usually on the songs we are playing and singing. I just know that when the singing time ends, there are a lot more people present then when we began.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not throwing stones. I have noticed that, on days when I am not leading, I am prone to show up late also. Why is that? If I was anticipating being a part of the church of Jesus Christ worshiping their God and Savior, wouldn’t I make sure I was on time? You would think so. It must be that I value other things more than God and His people.

When we gather together to worship, I believe God blesses this in a special way. His people have come together to worship Him and to hear from Him. He has promised that when we get together is His Name, He is there with us in a unique way. Our presence is also important in another way. We encourage and serve each other by our presence. When we sing together, we not only worship God, we challenge, encourage, and edify each other. If I am sitting in a worship service, surrounded by a bunch of empty seats, feeling like I am singing by myself, this is not very encouraging. If I have others beside me, in front of me, and behind me, singing out the praises and greatness of God and His promises to us, that encourages me. And if I am there for you, then I am helping to encourage you as well.

Worship is not just about me and what I am going to get out of it. If I am showing up late, sure, I may still receive a blessing from the singing and the Word. But what am I saying to God? What am I saying to the others in the congregation? Am I saying that you were not important enough for me to get here on time?

I know that there are many things that can happen on a daily basis. I know that Sunday mornings can be chaotic. There are many who come in late due to circumstances out of their control. Others come in late because they have been serving somewhere else that morning. What I am talking about are those things that are within our control. What can we do to demonstrate to God and others that they are worth our time and effort? Let’s ask God to help fill us with an anticipation that makes us not want to show up late to meet with Him, whether that is on Sunday or every day of the week.

Together for His glory…

Thanks for Joining Me on the Journey

Well, here we are.  We are coming to the end of the first year of the journey that I have called, “In the Pursuit of the Life of Worship.” If you have been on the journey from the beginning, you will know that I believe that worship is not just what we do in a church building or some kind of religious service or ceremony. It embodies all of life, whether we are at home, work, church, driving in the car, or anywhere else we may go. We were created to worship, and the God Who created us calls us to find our greatest joy and satisfaction in Him – every day and every moment. That is the life of worship.

Now, that is pretty easy to say, but is not so easy to do. At least, it isn’t for me. If you find it easy to live a life of worship, I am not really sure I want to talk to you. You would probably just depress me. When I look at my life, I see I have a long way to go. It seems like something comes up every day which reminds me of my own frailty and sinfulness. I am often ungrateful for all that God has given to me. I want to do better, most of the time. And I know that God has the best in store for me, in spite or even in the midst of my circumstances. But I have to remind myself of that, every day. I need to pour His Word into my life in order to refute what I hear from the world and my own sinful nature.

So, as we approach the end of the year, this weekly exercise has been good for me. It is a reminder to me to focus on the truth of God and His love and purpose for me. It brings many of life’s challenges to the forefront, in order to look for biblical solutions and not clichés or cookie-cutter answers. In a sense, I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-18), and I get to tell you all about it. Well, not all of it. We don’t have that many pages.

So, as we go into the new year, I want to thank you for joining me in this journey. I have received a lot of feedback and comments from many of you. Your support has been, and is, very encouraging. It is humbling to hear that you pass these along to others, sharing them with family and friends. Even though I love to write songs, I have never really considered myself much of a writer. However, I have found that I love to write. Sometimes, it can be unnerving, putting yourself and your thoughts out there for people to see and critique. In addition, I want to be true to the Word of God, and I know my knowledge is far from perfect. That is why it is important for me to be accountable to others. This is important for all of us.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given, and, as long as you allow me to, I will continue to share this journey with you. If you ever have any suggestions for topics, I would be open to hearing from you. I can’t guarantee I will be able to address all of them, but I will do my best. I may not be qualified to speak to some issues or topics, so I would defer to those more qualified.

In the end, I pray that this journey will be fruitful for all of us, as we seek to know Jesus Christ more deeply, and find in Him everything we need or hope for. I pray that we will know the height and depth and breadth and length of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21). For it is a compelling and overwhelming love that has been poured out on us. May we drink deeply.

Together for His glory…

When is Giving Worship?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

A couple of Sundays ago, our pastor, Mike Priest, was preaching in James 5. His sermon has kept coming back to my mind, particularly on one topic. In this chapter, James gives a strong warning to those who are rich. Who are the rich? Well, if you live in America, you are probably rich.

I realize that every person’s circumstance is different. There are poor that live among us. With the economy the way it is, many have also been impacted. Some people are out of work. For others, financial obligations are pressing in hard. But how we respond to these situations demonstrate key aspects of our view of God and our relationship to Him.

For instance, take the widow in the passage in Luke. She probably had no source of income and, therefore, did not have any additional resources coming her way. This is indicated in Jesus statement that she gave “all she had to live on.” Why would someone do that? That seems crazy. That would be like me receiving my paycheck and, knowing that I had groceries to buy and bills to pay, giving all of it as an offering. What would I live on? Well, this is what the widow in the temple did, except without the promise of a future paycheck, like I have.

It is impossible to really know what the widow was thinking, but I think it is clear, since Jesus held her up as an example, that she probably had a deep faith in God. She trusted Him for her present and for her future. When she dropped those coins into the container, she knew that she had no resources left except God. She had probably been in this situation before, and God always came through. Her giving was worship because she was trusting in God alone. Her life reflected Jesus teaching on trusting God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34).

It is difficult to be rich. The tentacles of prosperity weave their way into the very fabric of our heart and lives. It alters the way we think and the decisions we make. It changes our priorities. We trust in money’s ability to provide for us, both now and in the future. In reality, money becomes our god. That is why James warning is so strong. It is a warning against idolatry. That is why Jesus spoke of money so often and why He warned against storing up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). We cannot trust (or serve) both God and money.

In Pastor Mike’s message, he said that if our lives are caught up in materialism and the things of this world, there is reason to question whether we are truly followers of Christ. I think this is clear from James 5, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. If I cannot let go of temporary things such as money, possessions, and entertainment, then that is an indicator of the condition of my heart. Or, to put it another way, if this topic is irritating you, that may be another indication that your heart is not right with God.

Pastor Mike went on to say that, as a Christian, it is never okay to live the kind of lifestyle that we are capable of living, no matter how much we make. If we are not giving in a way that impacts the way we live, then, it is safe to say, that we are not giving enough. Our giving is not worship and we are not trusting God for our provision.

God is a giver. He is a sacrificial giver. Jesus Christ gave everything. He gave up the riches of heaven and took upon Himself our poverty to make us rich. He took upon Himself our sin so that He could give us His righteousness. He sacrificed to make us rich in the things above, the things of heaven, not the things of earth. As followers of Christ, our lives should reflect our Master. If He is a giver, our lives should reflect giving hearts.

There is often a lot of discussion around giving in the modern church. What is the amount we are supposed to give? Are we supposed to tithe? Do we give before or after taxes? In the Old Testament, Israel had tithes and other special offerings. Some people will say that tithing does not apply to the New Testament church. As for me, I do not focus on tithing, except as a place to begin. Tithing can become a legalistic practice, which can lead me to believe that I have fulfilled my obligation to God by giving Him 10% of my income. When Jesus mentions the tithe, He condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He says that they should have done these things (tithing), but at the same time, not neglected justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42-44; Matthew 23:23-24).

That is why I think tithing should be a standard only as it serves as a place to begin. I know there are those who will disagree with me. In the end, everyone needs to give how God leads them to give (2 Corinthians 9:7). However, when we get in extensive debates about how much we should give, I think it is very possible that we are just looking for justifications to not give as much. I think that New Testament giving goes far beyond tithing. There are numerous examples of believers selling possessions and even giving out of their extreme poverty in order to give to the work of the gospel and help those in need. The apostle Paul singles out the Macedonians, as example of to the Corinthian church, for their sacrificial giving, even though they were in need themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

As followers of Christ, our giving behavior should not be rational. It should be radical. It should reveal a radical trust in God for our provision. It should reveal hearts that delight in Christ and building His kingdom. It should reflect an attitude of not seeking treasure or reward in this life, but the desire to build up treasure in heaven, where no earthly person, thing, or circumstance can ever destroy it or take it away.

Giving is worship when it reflects the heart of the God we worship. It is worship when it demonstrates that we are trusting in God, not money or possessions. Giving is worship when I delight to be a part of what God is doing to build His kingdom, and not think of what else I could have done with the money. It is worship when I know that my gift will impact my life and my future, and that I need to trust God because only He can make up the difference. I pray that our lives will reflect our God, the true giver, Who has given us all things in Jesus Christ.

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…