Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The End is Near... maybe?

Almost my whole life I have laughed off people who made the claim, "The end is near!" And rightly so. Many have claimed to know the exact date that the Lord would return and mark the end of the world as we know it. That is just ridiculous and anyone trying to research and study to find out when Jesus will return is completely wasting their time. Scripture tells us that not even the Son of Man knows the hour, only the Father. But recently I have heard more and more talk about this being the generation that will bring about a great revival, reformation, restoration and possibly even "the end."

Why all of this talk now? What is so different about this generation from any other? What evidence is there of this generation bringing about this "great revival?"

I'm currently reading "The Blueprint: A Revolutionary Plan to Plant Missional Communities on Campus" by Jaeson Ma. In his preface he said something I had never heard and it really caused me to think... He said, since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973 there have been well over 47 million abortions in the United States alone! That is the equivalent of taking the population of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas, San Diego, and San Jose (the top 10 biggest cities in the country) doubling their population, and executing every person! This is a genocide that is unmatched in the history of the world. And you didn't even know it! did you? Because I had no idea the numbers where this huge!

Satan is on the attack! But why this generation? Why is Satan so worried about the people of this generation that he is willing to kill all of them before he has a chance to corrupt them?

If we look at the Bible we see only 2 examples of this degree of genocide on a generation. These occurred during the time of Moses, and Jesus. Jaeson Ma says, "Satan attacked both of those generations, attempting to kill off every baby boy in the land. Why did those generations face satanic opposition? It is because the enemy understood the destiny each [person] possessed in bringing revival according to God's timetable."

"Right now," according to Ma, "the third revival generation is taking place. Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, another generation has been destined for a great historic revival. The enemy knows that these individuals have the power to finish history. As a result, he is using every possible means, including abortion, to attempt to kill them off."

Ma believes that just as God protected Moses and Jesus that He will protect those of us He has called. But this time God hasn't just raised up a single deliverer (i.e. Moses or Jesus). He has raised up a whole generation of deliverers!

You have been chosen by God to be a deliverer! Will you stand up to the call? Will you Go? Are you living your life like it is your own or have you died to your flesh?

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

So now I leave you with what may be the toughest question anyone will ever ask you, because it will demand that you not only give an answer, but that you mold your entire life around that answer.

What are you living for?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Worship Come to Its Senses: Part Five

"What sense of hope does Christian worship offer?" asks Saliers, to begin his final chapter in Worship Come to Its Senses. He suggests that sometimes we confuse hope with optimism. Being nice and happy are not signs of hope. This is not only a problem with fellowship with people but can be mistaken for hope in preaching and praying as well. If all we do in worship is comfort and console and never awaken a desire for the promises of God, then we only present half of the Gospel. Likewise, if we only present a self-help Gospel on how to improve our lives now, and don't address our dependance on Grace then the Gospel is being undermined.

Remembering the hope by praising, thanking, confessing, and interceding is at the hear of Christian life and Christian worship. The present hope is that we are crossing over from bondage to freedom, and from death to life! The laments that we talked about earlier, both done communally and individually assume that human hope is ultimately rooted in God alone. The act of crying out to someone in lament points to the fact that we hope to be heard.

Saliers says, "Christian hope is acquired as a gift in the process of living and worshiping in a community shaped over time by the whole story of God and the world, of nature and history, of heaven and earth together."

There are two kinds of hope for Christians. There is hope beyond this world, and hope for this world. If we only focus on hope beyond this world, we will lose sight of the hope we have now and we will miss the grace of God at the hear of the Church's mission. And if we focus solely on the hope for this world and never on the hope of sitting in the Throne with Jesus that is promised to us in Revelation 3-5, then we will be barren and unfruitful.

Henri Nouwen once said, "Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes." Waiting for hope is not passive, it is active! Saliers tells the story of a woman who skeptically went to a healing service with a friend. They took the Eucharist and then went to specific places where they were anointed for healing of the body, memory, relationships, and inner turmoil. She described it as a profound act of hope. She now says of the Lord's supper that, "[it] has taken on the meaning of healing to me now, I never knew that before." We have somewhere to take pain and hope. Jesus Christ.

Worship then, is the continual rehearsal of God's hope for us.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Worship Come to Its Senses: Part Four

"Sooner or later, all praise and thanksgiving, all that we preach, sing and pray must come to the court of truth." Saliers. Today we must ask ourselves, why do our services of worship not ring true to some people, even ones who regularly attend church. It would be easy for us to blow this off by saying something I have heard all too often, "we can't please everybody all the time." I think this is just a weak copout. We are commanded to "worship in spirit and in TRUTH." There are two kinds of truth in worship. Truth about God, and truth about ourselves. In the tradition I am a part of, we usually do really well on the first, and fall quite short on the latter.

"Christian liturgy" Saliers says, "is first and last praising, adoring, and thanking God in, with, and through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit." Sometimes however, we hide behind our praise and thanks rather than being radically honest to God with our lives. "Acknowledging God involves encountering the truth about the human story." This means that we must admit to our humanness in order to come before God truthfully in worship. This is vital for worship ministers and liturgists, "We come to the truth when [and only when] liturgy comes to its senses.

As in all of the Christian life, we must use Jesus as our model of truth telling. He spoke the truth boldly, but out of love, and sometimes showed his righteous anger. Dishonesty will distort our prayers and our praise. Jesus spoke to his Father in complete truth. When He was in the garden He told His Father, "let this cup pass from me." He was crying out to God out of truth saying, I don't want to do this! but if it is your will, then I will."

There are three practical ways we can come to truth in our worship services: lamentation, confession, and testimony.

There are very few occasions I ever remember lamentation in worship services, but I remember often feeling deep pain and sorrow, and us singing nothing but praise songs. Needless to say my heart was not in it. There are very few songs that express lament. One of the few I can think of is a newer one by Matt and Beth Redman, "Blessed Be Your Name." Saliers says, "our avoidance of lament has a strange result, it opens a great gulf between our liturgies and our lives." As I said before, this has been true so often with me.

Confession has also been mostly avoided in many traditions. Redemptive confession is not wallowing in guilt, moaning about how terrible you are. Confession can be extremely liberating when expressed by telling God and the Church what holds you bondage.

Testimony then, is when a person shares their story about the bondage that once held them captive but how they have received the Grace of God and how it set them free from the chains of sin and death.

"Unless we overcome our reluctance to share our faith experiences honestly in lament, confession, and testimony our Sunday gatherings will remain routine," and lack truth. "So we must be about stretching ourselves to bring the ancient and contemporary forms to life, and to bring all our life's experience to the God of truth." Then we will be able to worship God in both Truth.


Worship Come to Its Senses: Part Three

As was the last reflection on "awe" in worship this may be quite site (church) specific. Some worship services I have been a part of where filled with delight and joy, others seemed almost dead. However, most of the worship services I have been a part of had a kind of strange mix of emotions, varying from person to person. Of course my judgment on this is based on what I see and hear physically from people, which can only measure so much, but is typically a pretty good measuring tool.

Maybe all to often we feel an obligation to worship. We must "go to worship" because our friends or family will give us a hard time if we don't. Or we must go because "thats what the Bible says." Or I have even heard, we must go because "God needs our worship." (YA RIGHT! like the Creator of the Universe really needs our approval) When we start to ask these questions have we lost a sense of sheer delight in God?

The Israelites had a kind of marriage to God. I'll save you all the love-obligation metaphors, because I'm sure you've heard them all but this is at the heart of biblical worship. Saliers says, "We are to praise and bless God even when we don't feel like it, only to discover, in doing so, that God is our first love and the wellspring of all enjoyment... What we adore and revere we praise and delight in."

Saliers suggests that the chief end of man, or the purpose for which we were created is "to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." If we don't have this in our worship services, where else will we find it? We must remember that our very existence is a gift freely given.

Don't get me wrong, you can't always be happy. Over half of the Psalms were written in lament. Saliers says, "no one can sustain delight-taking all the time, at lease in the sense of being on a natural high. To live attentively and intensely is also to suffer." I have had many seasons in my life where I was very much a "winter Christian" as Dr. Beck a Psychology professor at ACU says. These were seasons of darkness in not understanding God and why life and ministry can be so difficult, but it is in these times that I grew immensely. Saliers talks about short lived pleasures like a child winning a prize at a fair, and the brief "joy" that the child feels. "Part of growing up is learning to tell the difference between the childish delights of good luck and the deeper, longer lasting enjoyments of something well done or of a love cultivated over time." This is the kind of love we have for our Father, and should be the delight that we express in worship in both the seasons of "winter" and "summer." This is why the Apostle Paul writes, Rejoice always... give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) because he had "learned the secret to being content in all circumstances." God is not asking us to thank Him for pain, but asking us to give thanks for the Love of God in all circumstances.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Worship Come to Its Senses: Part Two

Whatever happened to awe? It's a question I ask often, because over the past semester I have seen a huge need for this sense of awe. I have had many struggles in different worship services. Sometimes I struggle with apathy, boredom, and being over critical in worship. But to be honest, awe is something I rarely struggle with. Sadly I can't attribute this to very many of the Church worship services I've been a part of. I developed a sense of awe from a few sources. A few Don Saliers also talks about like: nature, reading and hearing about the vastness of the universe and the limits of humans, and in the birth of my baby niece.
I feel like far too often we lose this sense of being in awe of the presence of God in our worship services. I have to speak on this from a strange stance, through conversations I've had. I have to speak from this rather than personal experience, because God has been radically showing me His presence in so many ways over the past year. But being involved in the lives of so many people on campus and at Southern Hills, I constantly talk to people who don't feel anything and haven't been able to grasp even a glimpse of the Grandeur of God. They want to badly, but they haven't seen it yet.
We have some pretty awesome encounters with God in Scripture: the burning bush, the crossing of the Red Sea, the mount of transfiguration, and the vision of a new Jerusalem. Saliers says, "unless we bring to the speaking, the singing, the praying, and the meal our sense of life and death, the liturgies will remain 'churchy.'" and the mystery of God will not be shown.
So how do we do this? Saliers says there are but five ways to accomplish that (which is pretty lame to limit it to five ways, but here are his ways).
1) Reawaken a view of the grandeur and intricacy of the natural world. One practical way to do this is on a retreat. Spend a good portion of the retreat outside and it will bring a great rhythm to the weekend.
2) Expose them to a current knowledge of the vastness of the universe and the limits of our own perspectives. This has been especially formative for me. I especially remember Louie Giglio's keynote at a Chris Tomlin concert, on his "How Great is Our God" tour. Wow! Did we ever get a picture of the BIG God we serve!
3) A Funeral Service. The whole church can grieve and celebrate their friends and loved ones in the face of the mystery of our mortality.
4) The joy of a newborn baby. This helps us to see the extraordinary grace of God. And the awesome being it must take to make life from nothing.
5) Healing services. "For the heart of Christian worship is the promise that Jesus Christ stands in our midst, ready to receive us, to heal and give blessing.
I would add one more HUGE one that had been extremely formative to me. The Eucharist. I have been so amazed at God on many occasions when I take of the Lord's Supper. I am awestruck that I along with saints from across the globe and across time can all come together at the table and eat and drink our Lord Jesus Christ. We must bring back a sense of awe to our time together at the table.
When we get back this sense of awe, "this is when we learn again to offer our lives, all we have an all we are, in adoration of God." This is true worship.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Worship Come to Its Senses: Part One

I'm reading a short book called "Worship Come to Its Senses" by Don Saliers and I'll be writing a five part journal over the next few days about it and posting it here. So I hope you enjoy...

After reading the intro to Worship Come to its Senses, I am pretty excited about the book. It is apparent that Don Saliers and I share some of the same frustrations with modern American Christian Worship. And according to Saliers, its time to “Come to [our] senses about this.”

Saliers says that "this book is an invitation to think again about how and why we worship God, and to awaken our hearts and minds to a fresh perspective." This is what excites me. I am very passionate about worship and I feel like this is going to be the book that I shout "AMEN" at throughout the book.

He brings a good point in saying, "To see ourselves from another point of vies, and to discern what keeps us from flourishing, requires questions from the outside." So often we only ask people on the inside about why we can't reach the outside though our worship. Maybe we should ask the outside. I will be very interested to hear more about what he has to say on this subject.

Saliers also says, "After the past quarter-century's wide spread effort at liturgical reform there is a deeper hunger for a renewed connection between liturgy and life, between common prayer and ministry... many people today are yearning for a truly evangelical and sacramental liturgy." One of the main things I took from my Christian Worship class is how meaningful liturgy written specifically to your congregation can be powerfully life changing to the members of your Church.

I really like that he is going to talk about the senses in worship and how engaging in all of them can be powerful. He says, "Christian worship is physically, socially, and culturally embodied."

This should be an exciting journey to see how worship in the life of the Church can once again "Come to Its Senses."

Until then,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Order of Worship

I have decided that from time to time I will post an order of worship that I have planned under the leadership of the Spirit for the people God has placed me in leadership for. (I say it that way because I lead a few different groups of people, anything from my LIFE Group of about 18 to the people at Southern Hills of about 500 at our Wednesday night service to ACU chapel of about 4000). I'll let you know the context of the people and place each time, because this is a huge factor in planning worship. I want to post these so that you can use them or use parts of them in planning meaningful experiences in worship, or to inspire you to write your own liturgies as well. I pray that these will help create space for God to transform hearts.

The orders of worship I will post will typically (but not always because some contexts are not conducive for this) follow this basic outline because I believe this is they way the Lord has called me to lead worship.

-Gather- The first thing we do in worship is come together as the Body of Christ
-Confess- Next we must confess that we are human and therefore imperfect.
-Praise- Because Jesus gives us Salvation and freedom from our imperfectness we must give Him praise.

-Word- Next we move into a time with the Word or preaching to hear God speak to us
-Table- This is the climax of Christian worship. It must be connected to the Word. The table is what brings us together as a people and is the supreme symbol of the presence of God among His people. It is at the table that we have direct communion with the Divine and with His people.
-Offering/Sending- Here we offer our lives as a sacrifice to the living God and go out into the world to be Kingdom agents.

This first order of worship is for my LIFE Group. My LIFE Group consists of about 18 college students from ACU and Cisco. We have met weekly over the past semester and have had discussion over the Gospel of Luke. Tonight is our last meeting for the semester and ends our discussion in Luke. This is a service of worship centered around the cross.

• “We come here together with wondering minds, because we have so much on them. Thoughts of papers, projects, and finals. Some of us are making decisions that will change the rest of our lives and searching for God’s will in those decisions. Others of us are just trying to make it past finals week. But amidst all of these thoughts we set aside this time be still… together as a community of faith, and celebrate Immanuel, God with us.”
• Play O Come, O Come Immanuel while writing confession
• (Write on a note card your confession to God and put it in the box)
• “As we come together we confess that we are a people unworthy of Immanuel. We try to contemplate how it could be that such a love could be possible that the Great Creator would come to earth and become human, and freely die for shameful men and women like us. And so we confess that we are undeserving.”
• Why Did My Savior Come to Earth? (vs. 1&2)
• “We have asked ourselves and each other why we are worthy of Immanuel. And yet we still have no answer. But none the less we have still been freely given the gift of “God with us.“ And so the only response we can think of is to give Him the praise He so richly deserves.”
• He is Lifted Up
• He is Exalted
• O Come Let Us Adore Him
• Luke 23:26 - 24:12
• “People of God, we come to the table after a semester long conversation about the life of Jesus Christ. And tonight we have heard from the Word of Truth, how He willingly offered Himself to the Roman executioners and gave His body, and His blood, so that we, like the criminal on the cross may be with Him in paradise.”
• Thank you Lord for your body, the Bread of Life…
• Thank you Lord for your blood, the Cup of Salvation…
• “It’s been said, “it is better to give than to receive.” And so as we fellowship here together and as we go home to our families at the end of this week we give you the offering of our lives, acknowledging that it could never match up to your Great Gift.”

It should also be noted that this was around Christmas time. I think these songs could be used year round, but they are usually labeled Christmas Songs.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Transformation, my word of the year

This year I've been doing a lot of reading about and practicing different spiritual disciplines trying to practice being in the presence of God in new (for me) and ancient ways. It has been an extremely transformative year. I have found that when you put yourself in the presence of God he transforms you. For this blog I will define transformation in this way... Transformation is God continually converting the parts of your heart, body, and mind that have yet to be converted.

In my "Teaching the Good News" class with Dr. Chris Flanders we've talked about different theories of atonement. My experience in God's transforming presence has made me really start to side with the "Theosis Theory." This theory of the atonement in a nutshell says that we were formed or created by God perfectly and that over time sin has corrupted us. But because of Jesus we are able to become uncorrupted from sin and take on the Imago Dei (Image of God). In this theory it is a constant cycle of sin corrupting us and Christ molding us back into the Imago Dei. Athanasius said, "He (Jesus) became what we are, so that we might become what He is." I have this kind of idea that our final destination or goal is to be in "Complete Communion with the Divine." I am not sure if that can be accomplished on earth or not, but I'm open to it being possible (Not to say I stand a chance of getting there, but I'll try). But I believe that is what will make Heaven so awesome, "Complete Communion with the Divine."

This has radically changed my life. I am a very different person than I was a year ago. Not to toot my own horn because trust me I am light-years away from total Divine Communion! and the change has been the work of God, not me! But God has done some serious work on converting some hard areas of my heart, mind and body. I am fully convinced that this can only happen through putting yourself in space where He is present. Cane told the LORD his punishment was more than he could bear because, "I (Cane) will be hidden from your presence." It was way too much to handle being out of God's presence for Cane and I believe the same is true for us. We try to fill this void with so many other things but as Augustine wrote so beautifully in his, "Confessions," the void can only be filled with the Presence of God.

So make space for Him, and He will transform you.

Jesus Party!

In case you don't know, I love my Church! We do some of the most amazing things for people. About 4 or 5 times a year we have a Jesus Party, which is basically a big dance party for the people we thing Jesus would throw a party for, the mentally handicap adults of Abilene. Those people are so much fun! And absolutely hilarious! We had a blast dancing with them. Most of the people from Southern Hills that come are college students so that makes for an extra exciting atmosphere because we all just get jiggy wit it! It's so much fun because you can just dance crazy however you feel like it and nobody cares. It is one of the most freeing experiences ever! This is how I know God loves dancing! What better way to worship our God than to dance with his people who badly need love shown to them.

Talk about a fun night!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

1 year minus 4 days...

Okay, so check it out, I barely made it! I almost went a whole year without blogging! Well no more of that! haha. I was looking at my friend Margot's facebook page and saw that she put my blog on her profile, so I figured I need to do some updating! I have done some personally, but no public blogs.

Today was the final day of my "Christian Worship" class. I must say, that it was probably the best class I have ever had at ACU. And I have had some amazing ones! I didn't expect a class on worship to be so spiritually formative, but man was it! To put the class into one sentence, (which is impossible) "Worship is primarily God's work of transformation." My passion for leading worship was really revived through taking this class. Not only that but my skills in planning worship and writing meaningful liturgy were dramatically enhanced. If you are at ACU, PLEASE do yourself and your future church a HUGE favor and take Dr. Stephen Johnson for Christian Worship.

Tomorrow is the Jesus Party, maybe if I am really good I'll tell you about how that goes tomorrow. Until then, may the Peace of God transform you.