Category Archives: Worship

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How can we honor God in our worship?

Although Exodus 20:22-26 is not frequently quoted in the context of worship, it provides some direction for us. In speaking to Moses, God gives the Israelites four instructions. They are simple and helpful, even for us today:

1. Do not worship anyone else beside me. (v.23)
2. It is absolutely necessary to worship me. (v.24)
3. Where I am worshiped, I will bless. (v.24b)
4. I deserve to be worshiped reverently. (v.26)

These instructions may seem familiar, but they serve as a helpful corrective for us. Does the worship in our lives meet those standards? If not, we should reconsider how we are worshiping God.

Taking this further, this passage also contains another kernel of truth that can set us free from egocentric worship. In these words to Moses, God expresses that He is the one who causes His name to be honored. As He says, “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (v.24b) Incredible!

What is so striking is that this is the opposite attitude of many of us today. We often think that we are the cause of worship — whether it be a talented worship leader, a great hymn that was written, a moving instrumental song, or a passionately singing congregation. Speaking on behalf of worship leaders, it is fair to say that we often feel a burden to “help” worship along. Even if we meet the 4 instructions listed above, this is one area where we often miss the mark — ironically, in the process of worshiping, taking credit for ourselves.

While there is truth in the fact that leaders need to lead, it would be wrong to overlook the powerful truth of this passage. Ultimately, it is not us who cause worship. Rather, it is God who causes His name to be honored. He is the first cause.

In other words, God is glorified for who He is, not because of what we bring. He is the one who inspires worship, and in that sense, our responsibility pales in comparison. Instead of causing, we should think of our responsibility as responding to His glory.

When we worship in a God honoring way, God will come near and bless us. Ultimately, because He is the one who inspires worship, He ends up blessing us because of who He is. What an amazing promise!

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Recently I was asked about my view of the arts in local church. I thought I’d post my brief response, in case it is helpful to anyone.

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When it comes to the creative arts, I believe that art is a wonderful part of the Christian life. Various passages of Scripture reveal that God loves creativity, He enjoys various expressions of art, and He desires to be glorified through the arts.

In the local church, creativity’s primary purpose is to glorify God. A theme verse of mine has been Psalm 115:1, though there are many to support this. In no particular order, secondary purposes of the creative arts include: (1) delighting in creation, (2) expressing ourselves to God, (3) soothing/reviving our spirit, (4) edifying the church with sound doctrine, and (5) testifying to non-believers.

Worship is important to God and to His people. Although the creative arts should be enjoyable — very enjoyable — it is far more than being a form of entertainment. As I see it, the arts serve as the intersection between theology and expression. In biblical terms, this means worshiping in “spirit and truth.” We get into trouble when we neglect one or the other.

Finally, worship extends far beyond music and the other arts. It includes all of our actions. 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes it clear that we can even glorify God in our common, everyday activities, which extends far beyond a few hours on Sunday. (And based upon Amos, it is fair to say that this “daily worship” is much more important than the music on Sunday morning.) In a sense, creative arts are not an end in themselves, but a means towards greater service, sacrifice, love, etc. Worship beyond Sunday morning is the real test for the Church, and which ultimately determines the validity of its corporate worship.

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Very rarely do I post links to other websites, but this one is so beneficial, I couldn’t resist.

If you are interested in worship or lead worship at your church, Sovereign Grace has graciously posted 37 audio sessions on their website at:
http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Events/WorshipConference.aspx

Worship conferences usually cost several hundred dollars, so this is a blessing for those of us without such resources. Although I did not attend the conference, these audio sessions are the next best thing.

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In his closing comments at the Arise Arts Conference, Brian McLaren complimented Christian artists for “using the arts to better the church.” Most of us could agree with that because over the past 30 years the Church has made huge strides in music and arts in the church. There has been an improvement in quality and diversity, as seen in our churches and the success of contemporary Christian music.

Following his brief compliment, McLaren challenged Christian artists to use the arts to “better the world.” His challenge resonated deeply with me. Far too often, we fall into the temptation of using art to improve our local, personal context. We only think within the walls of the Church. In reality, though, art can transcend that and become much more. Our art, in short, should be selfless.

Through art, we can do amazing things. Just to name a few… We can personalize strangers. We can spread light. We can help people feel compassion. We can invoke emotions. We can bring people into the redemptive story.

>>> By the way, be sure to check out Taylor Birkey’s blog and his post about the arts conference. He is a fellow Taylor grad that graciously helped me attend the conference, and his blog is definitely worth checking out.

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Psalm 16, a golden psalm of David, is quickly becoming one of my favorite psalms.

One of my favorite parts is verse 2, where David writes, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, I have no good besides you.’ ” It is a simple reminder of how God should be exalted above all else in our lives — not out of legalistic obligation, but because He truly is the only good in our lives. Everything that is good comes from Him.

If we claim Christ as our Lord, we should regularly remind ourselves of that commitment. Matthew Henry had this to say about Psalm 16:2: “Have you said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord? Say it again then, stand to it, abide by it, and never unsay it. Hast thou said it? Take the comfort of it, and live up to it. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him, and let thy eye be ever towards him.’’

His suggestions could benefit us all. If we claim Christ as our Lord: say it again, stand to it, abide by it, never unsay it, take the comfort of it, and live up to it.

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Our daughter, Emberly Grace, was born on May 8th and what a miracle she is. I am overwhelmed with how surreal it is to be holding her. She is such a joy.

The next day, May 9th, I checked my voice mail and learned that I am receiving a scholarship to seminary. I had been accepted for 5 years, but because of finances, this is the first time that the door has opened for us. Needless to say, we are excited and humbled that God has made a way.

So, after an exciting year of teaching Bible in Texas, we are packing up to move back to Illinois. We do not have a job or a place to live yet. It is an act of faith that I would not have been capable of a year ago. But after going through unemployment, I am able to trust that God will provide a way.

Our prayer is that God will allow me to lead worship at a church in Illinois or southeast Wisconsin. God has sparked a flame within me, and I am hoping to share my passion for worship with others. If you hear of a church that needs help with worship leading, graphic/web design, small groups, young adults, youth, children, etc., please let me know.

Lastly, I must mention what a fun year it was in Texas. I would be crazy not to mention all of the highlights of the past 9 months. And yes, even though it is hard to believe, I enjoy these wild memories:

  1. * breaking down in Joplin, MO for 3 days
  2. * driving a 22-foot Penske moving truck
  3. * getting all of my hair cuts for a year while driving through Joplin, MO
  4. * living in a hotel room for 7 days
  5. * losing my shoelace on the first day of school
  6. * leading the school drumline for a few practices
  7. * leading worship for 400 high school students every week
  8. * going to the ER for a random case of pneumediastinum
  9. * enjoying a 2000-mile Christmas road trip to Chicago
  10. * watching a 1/4 inch of snowfall in a Texas McDonald’s (a beautiful night!)
  11. * my wife getting in a car accident while pregnant — totaling the car at 5 MPH
  12. * my wife breaking her foot while pregnant (do you sense a pattern here?)
  13. * discovering Caden’s incredible soccer talent
  14. * visiting 7 churches in the D/FW area
  15. * recording songs for a new worship EP
  16. * hanging out with Terri, my aunt from Dallas
  17. * tasting beef brisket (BBQ), Chicken Express, and falling in love with southern cooking
  18. * seeing Caden become a real cowboy
  19. * watching my first ever season of American Idol (Apparently, I am 6 years behind the rest of society)
  20. * watching Star Wars Episode 6 for the first time (Yes, again I am behind the times, but I’ve seen the other episodes many times!)
  21. * witnessing my daughter’s entrance into the world!

Texas was a great experience. To balance things out, though, here were the downsides:

  1. * Seeing my dad board a train to Chicago was tough. I had to do that twice, and I have never been so homesick. Thankfully, his train got delayed both times, which bought me some extra time.
  2. * Missing 3 weddings: my brother’s, Bruce’s, and Geoffrey’s. I planned to attend several of those, but various health conditions prevented me from doing so.
  3. * Not as much seasonal change. We missed seeing more of the Fall and Winter.
  4. * Wishing I had a greater impact on the lives of students. I know that God brought me here for a purpose, and I pray that some seeds will flourish when I’m gone.

In a few days, we start trip #1 to Chicago to catch a wedding. Hopefully we’ll make it in time. Not long after, I’ll come back to Texas and make another trip. It will be 3000+ miles, but I am looking forward to the adventure.

God isn’t safe, but He sure is good. [+]

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After several late-night recording sessions, “He Heard My Voice” was just added to my latest worship EP.  You can check out a demo of the song and download it here:

http://www.discrevolt.com/groups/view/3023

Enjoy!

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Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone.  In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it.  Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.

On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:

Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.

Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.

The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?

On one hand, I want to say yes.  Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas.  As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary.  Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively. 

However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.

For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists.  Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.

God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!

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Followers of Jesus should have an insatiable desire to become more like Jesus and are never satisfied with the status quo. We should want to be separate from surrounding sin, and without a doubt, distinct from the crowd. Although we are born and raised in a crowd of sinners, our life’s goal should be to step out of that crowd and move towards God.

However, sanctification is not an act of self-improving ourselves. As A.B. Simpson worded 1 Thes. 5:23, ““the God of peace himself [will] sanctify you wholly.” Although we choose to be sanctified, God’s role is more important than our own. He is the one that will clean us and make us into who we need to be. Only He can accomplish what we are incapable of doing on our own.

My prayer is that God will sanctify you and calm you with spiritual peace. You can stop the endless efforts to defeat sin on your own and start trusting in God for complete healing. In Him, your brokenness may once again be made whole.