Tag Archives: Worship

Worship Like You’re Drunk at 9 a.m.

“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Acts 2:15 (NIV)

I grew up in a very traditional church paradigm for a midwest American Protestant. I, and my family, were expected to dress in our “Sunday best.” Every part of the church routine was carefully planned and orchestrated. The service had a certain pageantry to it. You kept quiet. You sat up straight in the unpadded wooden pew. You stood when you were told to stand. You sang the verses you were told to sing when you were told to sing them. You sat quietly and listened. It was all very proper.

In the nearly forty years I’ve been a follower of Jesus I have worshipped in a veritable plethora of environments across cultures and denominations. Catholic and Protestant, mainline and charismatic, traditional and non-traditional, I’ve had a lot of different experiences. I’ve worshipped in a poor mountain village on Mindanao in the Philippines where chickens scurried around the dirt floor and a dog wandered in to flop to sleep under the rickety table that served as an altar where I was preaching. I’ve worshiped in silence with Quakers and in the raucous call and response of an African-American congregation. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s in Dublin, the National Synagogue in Jerusalem, and with a handful of Arab believers in Nazareth.

I’ve always held an expansive view of worship. There are always things I can learn from different cultures and traditions. I have, however, made a few observations along the way.

I believe that between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Protestants by-and-large disembodied worship. The Reformation did away with physical gestures like genuflection and kneeling. The Enlightenment convinced us that our brains were the center of the worship experience, embellished by a couple of instances of standing, singing, and maybe a recitation.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t think the worship paradigm in which I was raised was wrong, but perhaps I’d describe it as purposefully limited. In my perpetual journey through God’s Message I find that the call to praise and worship is always physically active with repeated encouragements to shout, lift hands, dance, sing, clap, play instruments, lift banners and the like. I have yet to come across an exhortation in the Bible asking me to praise God with my hands in my pockets, to praise God with mumbling, or to rejoice in passive sitting.

I’ve also observed, both in scriptural descriptions and in my own experiences, that when Holy Spirit pours out on a group of people at worship things can get a little weird. In today’s chapter, casual observers thought Peter and the boys were drunk at 9:00 in the morning. When King David was worshipping in the Spirit his wife became pissed off at how publicly “undignified” he was acting.

This morning I’m enjoying dusting off some old memories of diverse worship experiences in which I’ve participated. I’m also reminded by the events of Pentecost in today’s chapter that I can’t think of one description of Holy Spirit outpouring that is described as a quiet affair of public propriety. When the religious leaders chastised Jesus’ followers for their raucous outpouring of praise, Jesus replied, “If they were silenced then the rocks would cry out.”

The further I get in my journey, the less I care about what anyone else thinks. I’ll take an outpouring of Holy Spirit anytime. I’ll worship like I’m drunk at 9:00 in the morning.

 

“HELLO!?? Yo! Tom!! I’m RIGHT HERE!!”

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
2 Chronicles 6:18 (NIV)

On Saturday morning I woke up to find that Wendy had already gotten out of bed. In our house, this is a rare occurrence. 99.9% of mornings I am the first one out of bed. I got up and found her on the couch in the living room, writing in her journal.

There was nothing wrong, she explained. She had woken up and, in her spirit, heard God’s Spirit inviting her to spend some time together. So, she grabbed her journal and headed out in the quiet for a conversation.

For anyone who is not an experienced follower of Jesus, this might sound totally weird. One of the things that Jesus promised to His followers, however, was that He would send His Spirit (whom we refer to as Holy Spirit) to indwell those who believe. Jesus said that God’s Spirit “lives with you, and will be in you.” Once I learned to be in relationship with God in me, then experiences like Wendy had on Saturday morning aren’t that strange. I also have mornings when I wake and hear God’s Spirit whispering to my Spirit. “Grab your journal and make some coffee. Let’s spend some time together.”

This is one of the radical paradigm changes that Jesus ushered in through His death and resurrection. In sending Holy Spirit to indwell all of those who believe and follow, God is no longer “out there” or “up in heaven” but right here, right now, inside of me, and one with my spirit.

In today’s chapter, Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple he built for God. Solomon’s Temple was dubbed by historians as of the “Wonders of the Ancient World.” The dedication of the Temple was a big deal and the Chronicler records Solomon’s dedication prayer. Time and time again in the prayer Solomon repeats the phrase “hear from heaven.” The paradigm is that God is “out there” and the plea is that God might incline His ear to hear. Yet, even Solomon’s father David wrote in the lyrics of one of his psalms “Where can I go from your presence?” and then described how no matter where David went, God was already there. So, if God is everywhere, then why would He have to “hear from heaven?” Why can’t God just “hear from here?”

Lately I’ve been noticing how even in my local gathering of Jesus followers we say we believe in the indwelling of God’s Spirit and we say we believe in what theologians refer to as God’s “omnipresence” (presence everywhere), but almost every week when we gather to worship the things we pray and the things we sing communicate the opposite. We ask for God to “be with us” even though Jesus clearly told us He would never leave us. So if He never leaves us, why do we need to ask Him to join us? If we believe Holy Spirit indwells each and every believer then why do we sing Come, Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Spirit right here, right now, indwelling us and connecting us?

I’m imagining a SNL like sketch comedy where I’m praying on Sunday morning “God, bless us with your presence,” while God stands right next to me rolling His eyes saying “Yeah, I’m right here. Remember?” As if not hearing God I continue my prayers. I beseech God “please be with me” and sing my pleas for His presence. God gets more and more sarcastic, waving His arms and shouting “HELLOOO!?? Yo! Tom?! Dude, I’M RIGHT HERE!!”

I know may be splitting semantic hairs. I have been, however, truly reconsidering and exploring this whole notion of God’s presence. I’m coming to the conclusion that what needs to change is not God’s location. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then God does not need to “hear from heaven” and move His presence from point A (heaven) to point B (where I am). What needs to change is my acknowledgement and awareness of my reality. What needs to happen is that my every day, every moment reality needs to match up to what I say I believe.

Order and Freedom

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I have been a part of worship with many different traditions. I was raised in a very liturgical Methodist church, meaning that every part of the service was very structured around ancient traditions. There was a lot of repetition and it was largely the same service every week with minor differences to account for different seasons of the traditional church year. I get how repetitive religious practices lose all power of their metaphorical meaning when a) no one remembers why we’re doing it in the first place and b) there’s no Spirit connection between the repetitive words/actions and the spirits of those worshipping.

At the other end of the spectrum I spent some time in the Quaker tradition (also known as the Society of Friends) which developed out of reacting to all the liturgical structure of the traditional church. In a traditional Quaker service (even their anti-liturgy style becomes its own form of “tradition”) there is little or no structure. Everyone sits in a circle and is quiet (they call it “centering”) until someone feels moved by the Spirit to speak or to sing or to do whatever. Anyone can do so and can say pretty much whatever it is they want to say. The original intent was that everyone would wait for Holy Spirit to prompt them and to be loving and mindful of everyone else in the group. It’s a beautiful idea, but eventually things were so unstructured that there were problems with things in many Quaker churches becoming what would be described by some as a chaotic free-for-all.

I have come to understand that we as human beings like and need a certain amount of structure and order. I think this is part of us being made “in the image” of our Creator. If you stop to think about it, everything in creation has a certain detailed structure and order to it. This is the way God made it. Even the seemingly chaotic tangle of bare tree branches is actually an orderly visual fractal. At the same time, you can get so lost in the order that you, as we say, “lose the forest for the trees.” I’ve come to believe that corporate worship is another example of truth being found at the point of tension between the extremes.

Along my chapter-a-day journey through Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth, I find there is no doubt that their local gathering was rapidly moving along the disordered chaos side of the spectrum. Paul points this out multiple times. There had been a breakdown to the point that Paul even says their weekly gatherings to worship were doing “more harm than good” (11:17).

In context, I find today’s chapter to be about Paul trying to reestablish some order and structure to the chaos in Corinthian worship. He’s trying to pull them back from their chaotic free-for-alls. Paul hints that they’d come to resemble a pagan food orgy (11:20-22), and the chapter reads like an instruction manual for bring some semblance of structure and order to the Corinthian gatherings. He sums it up by saying “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

This morning I’m thinking about differences, even in our human personalities. Some of us tend toward the side of “free spirit” in which we go with the flow. As such, it’s easy for us to get little accomplished and to create chaos around ourselves that becomes counterproductive. Some of us tend toward the side of detail and order. As such, it’s easy for us to major on the minors and to create rigidity that becomes counterproductive.

In the quiet this morning I once again find myself seeking balance: freedom with ordered structure; order with room for movement of Spirit and expression.

“Get Me a Musician”

[The prophet, Elisha, said,] “…get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.
2 Kings 3:15 (NRSVCE)

I mentioned in my post the other day that while we’re at the lake Wendy and I are limited in our television viewing choices to the collection of DVDs we have there. So it was that last week I pulled out that oldie, but goodie of the cinema: Die Hard. The movie played in the background as Wendy and I sat at the dining room table with our laptops going about our work.

In case you never caught it, the underlying musical score for Die Hard is one endless string of creative variations on what most Americans know as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The iconic melody of that familiar hymn comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. As I sat at the dining room table, tapping away on my keyboard, the melody suddenly and unexpectedly took me to another moment, in another place.

London. 2009. The Royal Philharmonic. It was our first night in London and Wendy and I had tickets to hear both Mozart’s and Beethoven’s final symphonies in one program. Wendy’s favorite was Mozart, but mine was Beethoven. There is a moment in Beethoven’s ninth when the music suddenly stops and a lone voice begins to sing. I will never forget the moment I heard that voice. I just began to cry as I listened. A chorus of voices joins the orchestra and the music continues to build to one of the most amazing and moving musical climaxes ever. What most people don’t realize is that Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his final symphony. He never heard a note of it with his ears. He only heard it in his spirit. Amazing.

There is something deeply spiritual about the language of music, and I have learned over time that music is a language all its own. It has a special place in creation. Music is an integral part of heaven in the glimpses provided in God’s Message and the theme of music is woven throughout the Great Story.

In today’s chapter the prophet Elisha calls for a musician. When the music begins to play the power of God comes upon him. The language of music was the conduit of God’s Spirit. I get that. The language of music is a spiritual language (both for spiritual light and spiritual darkness, btw). Music has the power to reach deep inside to touch hidden places inside us. Music has the power of inspiration, conviction, revelation, exhortation, and even transportation.

My body last week was sitting at a dining room table in central Missouri. The melody of Beethoven’s ninth playing beneath Bruce Willis’ machine gun suddenly and unexpectedly transported my spirit, in that moment, to the Royal Orchestra Hall in London. My eyes began to mist over. Physicists tells us that all of time is contained in each moment. Perhaps music is a gateway.

This morning I’m thinking about this powerful medium we call music. I’m mulling over the incredible breadth of music that has spoken to me, moved me, and inspired me over the years. Beethoven to Berlioz to Bach, Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Yo-Yo Ma, Gospel choirs to bluegrass banjos to steel drums and a Reggae beat. I’ve come to accept that I will never know (in this life journey) fluency in the language of music that I desire. I still can experience its power in ways human beings throughout the millennia of history couldn’t even imagine. I literally have access to the entire catalog of human music in the palm of my hand.

“…get me a musician.”

Devoted to a Bread Maker

Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
Isaiah 2:7-8 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I were on the couch watching the Cubs game when we were surprised by the doorbell. There was a small group of high school youth from one of our area churches who were on a “bigger or better” scavenger hunt. They had with them a stuffed snowman they had procured from a previous, unsuspecting neighbor.  “Do you have anything that’s bigger or better than this that you’d trade for it?” the young people asked.

Our basement storage room (which is quite sizable) is filled with things we are not using and may not even remember we have. So is the garage attic, and the back of the garage. The answer to the young people’s question should really be: “Yes! How many options would you like us to give you among the infinite number of boxes, totes an bins full of things we own but don’t use?”

Then, as Wendy scoured the basement storage and I scoured the garage, the more nagging question became a reality. “What thing, of all this junk I don’t use and forget I even own, am I willing to part with?” It is so intriguing to find how much value we place, not on the object itself, but on the possession of it.

We offered the excited group of young people an old bread maker I found sitting in the garage, and Wendy put our new stuffed snowman with our stack of Christmas decorations. Everyone enjoyed a laugh and we wished the young people well on their scavenger hunt. I wonder what they ended up with.

I thought about last night’s experience as I listened to the prophet Isaiah (I listened to this morning’s chapter being read as I returned from a breakfast appointment this morning) describe the neighboring nations. He described their wealth, their riches and their possessions. They made cast idols and then bowed down “to the work of their hands.”

If find that we in 21st century western culture are quick to be dismissive at the thought of idolatry as described by the ancient prophets. People bowing down to a golden calf or a statue of some animal seems so silly. But, I’m not sure I’m really willing to see the point. What is “worship” but the act of being devoted to something? And what is “devotion” but the giving of time, attention and energy to something?

“…they bow down to the work of their hands.”

How much time, energy ad attention do I devote to the acquisition, maintenance, upkeep, renovation, and storage of “the work of our hands?” Perhaps I am devoted to things made by human hands. Perhaps what was called “idolatry” in 700 B.C., I simply call “success” in a consumerist culture.

This morning I am rolling my own eyes at myself, and the discomfort I feel with the questions I’m asking myself. I don’t like asking myself, “Am I willing to part with this old bread maker sitting in my garage which hasn’t been used in years?” and acknowledging that there’s a small voice in my soul that balks at giving it up. At the same time, I am feeling really good about giving it up and having it out of my garage. Perhaps it’s a mustard seed of change.

Lord, have mercy on this poor soul that bows down to things made with hands.

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Perpetual Embers

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not go out.
Leviticus 6:13 (NRSV)

My family vacationed at the same place every year. Camp Idlewood on Rainy Lake in Minnesota was where we spent two weeks in early August every summer. There was a campfire pit just outside the boathouse and a fire was lit every night as families gathered around to swap stories, sing songs, and enjoy each other’s company.

As childhood gave way to the tween and teen years, we were allowed to stay later and later at the campfire. Eventually the parental unit would head to bed and we were allowed to hang out at the campfire until the wee hours of the night. Occasionally the wee hours gave way to dawn and we would still be there huddled around the fire pit.

I remember those nights watching the fire evolve from blazing bonfire to glowing embers. Still, we would stoke it and tend it and keep it going through the watches of the night as conversations continued, friendships were forged, and camp romances occasionally were sparked to life and then quickly went out.

I thought about that campfire as I read this morning of the ancient sacrificial fires prescribed by God through Moses. They kept going. Wood was added. The embers were stoked. The spiritual conversation and relationship continued around the fire.

This morning I’m reminded that my worship, my sacrifice, and my offering to God is not a compartmentalized act confined to a Sunday morning. It is a campfire in my spirit which does not go out. Every day, every stretch of the journey it blazes, it ebbs, and I tend to it;  I stoke the embers into flame again and again. God and me perpetually around the fire through the watches of the night, into the wee hours, and on to the dawn.

A Radical Shift in Paradigm

“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Nehemiah 10:39 (NIV)

Over my journey I’ve worshipped in many different places. Growing up, there was a lot more emphasis that people placed on the church building itself. I still remember the Methodist church where I grew up. The area of that altar in the sanctuary was considered hallowed ground along with the “eternal light” that hung above it (which was a light bulb I’m quite sure needed to be replaced on occasion).

As I grew in my understanding as a follower of Jesus, I began to recognize that the special attachment Christians placed on their particular house of worship fell into two camps. The first camp were those who considered their local church building to be some kind of holy place that was, itself, sacred because it was a church. The other camp considered their local church special because the community of believers had built it together. It was communal space for worship and they wanted to take care of it.

In the days of Nehemiah, the temple where they worshipped was a holy place. It had been designated such by God when He gave the plans to Moses and called for its eventual construction. When Jesus came, however, the paradigm changed radically. Jesus made it clear that the times they were a changing. When confronted by the Samaritan woman at the well about where you should worship, Jesus replied, “But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”

With the pouring out of Holy Spirit into the hearts of every believer, our bodies themselves became the temple. Our worship center became wherever we happen to be at any given moment. The focus shifted from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. We may appreciate and tend to our local church building because we want to be good stewards of the communal worship space, but the church building is not hallowed in and of itself. It’s when I and my fellow believers bring Holy Spirit in with me to worship that makes it a worship center.

Today I’m thinking once again about my body being a temple of Holy Spirit, a vessel in which God dwells. It lends a more intimate meaning to the commitment made by the folks in Nehemiah’s day: “I will not neglect the house of God.”

Guess I’m working out today.

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