Worship – Deleted Scenes

I preached on some ideas about worship recently and did not include all of my thoughts and have since then realized I needed to make some clarifications.

First of all, preaching about worship is a tough sermon to listen to. I mean, it’s what we are supposed to be doing right now, even as the preacher is talking. So there’s a natural defensiveness that can affect us as we listen to a sermon on worship during a time of worship. We can ask: “Am I doing the right thing? Do I have the right attitude? Will he say something that I’m doing is wrong?” So this can be a weird time.

Something that I’ve recently become aware of is the linkage between worship and food. Yeah, it seems weird to me, too. But consider these passages: Ex. 24:9-11; Dt. 14:23, 26; 1Tm 4:1-4; Neh 8:9-10. There’s an odd, unexpected connection between worship and eating. In fact, the passage from 1 Timothy says that it is pagans – who don’t know how to truly worship – who will tell you to abstain from food. John Ortberg said, “In general, I believe we have underestimated the importance of pleasure in spiritual formation.
I think that we underestimate the importance of joy and celebration in our worship. I spoke about the small steps I’ve made to be a better worshipper when I come together with the other believers at my church. I started by saying we need to engage our minds more and I don’t think that will meet with much resistance from this congregation.
I then said that we need to engage our hearts more (that is, our emotional life) in worship and used the Biblical example of David (a “man after God’s own heart”) who was clearly an emotional man, worshipped God emotionally, and seems to have been approved for that. That will leave some of you in the congregation cold. There is a strong feeling (isn’t that ironic?) that emotions are to be highly suspect. People trust their “heads” more than their “hearts.” Some people feel uncomfortable when they witness strong emotional expression.

As someone who is well practiced at trying to suppress my emotional life for several decades, I think I have some grasp on this phenomena. It seems to me that some people who are suspicious of emotional expression react that way NOT because they are not emotional people. Quite the opposite. They are VERY emotional people and realize that their emotional life gets them into trouble. So like the mythical Vulcans in the Star Trek legend, they work very hard at suppressing their emotions. Rather than allowing their emotions to be expressed in healthy and mature ways, they keep a lid on it. They probably pride themselves (there’s some emotional stuff right there) on being able to stay “cool.” And like those Vulcan characters, they are very uncomfortable with witnessing emotional “displays.” Why? Because it reminds them of their own seething feelings and they fear that they will lose control. Control is pretty important.

Now – and I’m speaking to myself, as well – the better thing to do is look at ourselves, realize our weakness, and not condemn those who do it better. That is, I may not be able to raise my arms far over my head in worship. But to those who can, and are doing so in an authentic manner, I should look to them as better worshippers than I. It’s alright that I’m not as further along. I need to recognize and admit that I am the weaker brother and strive to be stronger. My current weakness is no reason for me to insist that the stronger brother should be prevented from truer, better, and whole-hearted worship.

So if you find that you just can’t bring yourself to clap, raise your arms, or be very expressive in worship; really, that is OK! This is NOT the kind of church that insists that you must do those things to “prove” you are a real God worshipper. I am merely encouraging you to take the next, best step to increase your capacity for worship. I would further ask that as others are trying to take those steps for themselves, that you not prevent their expression of Biblical worship.


Give Your Pastor A Break

This is going to be a bit more of a rambling blog than usual. I had a weird experience this last weekend. And I need to be careful as I know this can be taken as being negative or critical of the very people I serve and journey with in my faith. That is not my intent.

We had a time of sharing and I mentioned, with some feeling, that I'd experienced a discouraging week. It had started fine, but a variety of things had not turned out well, there has been some criticism of the church (very unjustified), there are some painful decisions to make, and by the end of the week I was feeling a bit down.

As I was sitting there during our worship time, I was thinking through my little pity-party with a Biblical perspective. I remembered how happy I am to be here, what a privilege it is to do this kind of work, how graciously Jesus has provided for me and my family, how I have watched people in the last week go through gut-wrenching suffering and have been able to comfort them. Folks, I'm in the front row of what God is doing in some lives! To restate it, I came out from a hard week and into the room worshiping Jesus with my fellow Christ followers - and I could respond with joy. That was a great experience!

I shared from Psalm 13 which, like several other Psalms, has the same message: life seems bad, really is bad, but come into worship and you feel better. I was reminded of this and suddenly felt badly for those people who don't have the opportunity to engage in real worship, who do not have a vital relationship with Jesus, who do not (or even Christians who will not) take the time to worship and thereby are left to stew in their own minor miseries until the stew becomes a new misery of itself. Anyway, and I could go on – it was a pretty powerful moment for me.

The weird thing – well it seemed weird to me – is that people were reacting to the thought that their pastor was anything but happy, joyful, and content. Now, in the specifics I understand that there are reasons for some folk to over-react. But there can be some odd expectations of what a pastor's emotional health should be like.

Let me part the curtain a bit. Your pastor occasionally gets discouraged, even depressed. The only one who doesn't seem to be so afflicted is Joel Olsteen and I kinda wonder at that guy. But, hopefully, your pastor does not stay there in discouragement. How? Because of his own walk with the Lord and your prayers. But to think less of or, even worse, criticize your pastor for being occasionally down is very bad.

And it is more than – shall I say it – insulting to imply that your pastor who's had a bad week is not living in faith? If the apostle Paul could admit to his occasional discouragement and suffering, then you've got to look Paul in the face and tell him he didn't live by faith. And then he'll stand aside and you can talk to Jesus. Here was the person who was foretold to be a "Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Go ahead, look Jesus in the face and tell him that he lacked faith. Being sad is not necessarily an issue of faith.

I understand that we want our leaders, especially in the church, to be better than us. But setting up those expectations in an unrealistic manner will only encourage a great sin: the sin of hypocrisy. That is, rather than being honest or "authentic" with their discouragement, your leaders will just lie to you. Why? Because you want them to. Your unrealistic expectations will tempt your brother to sin. And they will eventually not be able to lead you because they can never tell you what is really going on in their heart.

Be mindful of the expectations you have of your pastor.


Michigan Transitions – E

I’ve been in southeast Michigan now for six months and a few other things have come on the “hmm, this is different” radar.
  • One of the things that was actually attractive to us when we came to the area is that there are more people here. My wife and I grew up in metropolitan areas and we understand traffic, congestion, and suburbia. In a sense, coming to the suburbs north of Detroit was like coming home.
  • Humidity – West of the Rockies, we just don’t get real humid weather. Even in the northwest where it rains frequently and moss grows on house rooftops, it doesn’t get as humid as the south and Midwest parts of the continent. Being here about half-way through the summer, I am reminded of a meteorological reality: summer rain is a regular thing. In southern California, you get your last rain in May and it doesn’t rain again until October. Even in the northwest, you’ll get summer showers, but they are brief and light storms. Here near Detroit, when it rains in the summer: it dumps in a thunderstorm and the puddles last for a couple of days.
  • Additionally, as I was driving around, another reason there is so much water in the air is clear: not only is Michigan bordered by four of the five Great Lakes, but there are a gazillian smaller lakes and ponds scattered throughout the land. There is probably some study to show the percentage of water surface to land surface here and my guess is that the percentage is much higher here than anywhere in the west.
  • The terrain is also different. It is flat here. Again, in the west you don’t have to search far to find a hill or mountain somewhere in your view. On one hand, this can be disorienting for me as during certain times of the day in certain weather (noon-ish with overcast skies), I can’t tell compass direction. On the other hand, it does give a wider vista. Somehow sunsets are more spectacular.
  • The coastal northwest does one better, of course. The prevailing tree type is tall and narrow. Therefore, even driving along the Interstate, you can actually have your view of the terrain blocked by trees. In southern California, there aren’t many trees so your view of the terrain is remarkably clear.
  • At least in this part of Michigan, this flatness translates to a pleasantly broad landscape. The roadways are built with wide margins between street surface and sidewalk. The notorious “Michigan Lefts” do have the benefit of creating wide medians along major streets.
  • “Pop.” OK, this is pretty mundane but I grew up calling soft drinks, “soda.” Here, you go into a restaurant and when the waitress asks what you want to drink, saying “soda” is going to create confusion. “Pop” is the term. And there is a fairly important devotion to regional favorites. Vernor’s ginger ale is bottled locally and is a favorite (though not drunk as frequently as is claimed, I observe). Additionally, “Faygo” is a local soft drink bottler with their own brands and flavors.