Archives For Worship

BuddhaThroughout the Bible, God’s people are accused of turning away from God and toward idols. Idolatry is the epitome of godlessness because it denies God his due worship and enthrones some other person or thing in his place.

But biblically speaking, the greatest mass-producer of idols is God himself.

Romans 1:18–25 explains that all people know God, yet they suppress that knowledge and instead pursue unrighteousness. Idolatry is at the heart of this exchange. Verse 25 reads:

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

What are they worshiping here? The creature. Who made the creature? The Creator! If the creation itself is the place we shop for our idols, then there is a sense in which God is our friendly neighborhood idol dealer.

Of course, the things that God makes are not idolatrous in themselves. It’s just that every good gift that God gives is susceptible to corruption. God creates a good world in Genesis 1 and 2, and Satan perverts it in Genesis 3. And so the cycle has gone throughout history.

The trick is to keep everything in its right place. The moment we fail to see God’s gifts as God’s gifts, we have dislodged them from their proper relation to God and lifted them to an idolatrous level. In the Old Testament, they did this with stone representations of false gods. In our modern world, we do this with finely crafted automobiles. But it doesn’t stop there. We also do it with flesh and blood human beings for whom we care deeply. We do it with ideologies like success and safety.

Literally every thing is only one step away from being transformed into an idol. We are more powerful than we think.

So take a good look at the incredible gifts that God has handed to you. Your phone. Your car. Your family. Your life. Each of these things has immense value because it has been crafted by the Creator. But be sure to love those gifts for God’s sake. A subtle shift in perspective is all it takes to turn a gift into an idol.

Acoustic GuitarOur worship leaders often remind us that worship is more than music. And rightly so. Our worship ought to extend far beyond the five songs we sing on Sunday mornings, and what we do during that time often falls far short of the worship mark.

But we should be careful not to underestimate what happens during a Sunday morning worship service. When God’s people gather and combine their voices to express the praise that fills their hearts, that’s a beautiful expression of worship.

But the congregation does not praise alone. In most of our churches, our corporate singing is set to guitars, pianos, drums, and a variety of other instruments. Have you ever considered that those instruments as instruments are praising God?

Here’s what I mean. A guitar is not an instrument of praise only in those moments when its reverberations are accompanied by praise lyrics. Every time a guitar is strummed, its metal strings and wooden body reverberate in exactly the way that God designed them to. God decided what a piece of bronze wire .012 inches thick, stretched across the length of a guitar neck and body, tightened to vibrate at 329.6 hertz, would sound like when struck. God decided that certain woods would resonate in certain ways when hollowed into certain shapes.

In other words, when I strum my guitar, the materials do what God made them to do, and this brings glory to the God who created these materials. This is true for every instrument ever played.

DrumAnd then the human creativity involved in these instruments praises God as well. First, take the formation of the instruments. The Creator put man, the mini-creator, into this world so that he would “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). And that’s exactly what human beings have done throughout history. We use our God-given creativity for great and awful purposes. Instruments are often put to deplorable use, but in themselves they are wonderful creations that exhibit the best in human creativity (with the possible exception of the kazoo). So the existence of a Fender Telecaster praises the God who made Leo Fender and endowed him with the creativity and ingenuity to craft that unique and wonderful instrument.

Finally, there’s the human creativity involved in the crafting of each musical moment in each song. I have been involved in leading worship for 15 years now, and I have gone through a few phases in which I intentionally avoided prolonged song intros, interludes, and endings. When these moments seemed inevitable, I would hide them with a verse on the screen. I didn’t want any attention on the music itself or on the band. This isn’t all bad, and it’s true that we can go crazy with the music we create for corporate worship in order to draw the attention to ourselves. I don’t advocate this.

But I have come to realize that the music is not irrelevant to our worship as we sing together. It’s more than a convenient way to keep our singing in time and on pitch. It’s more than a manipulative tactic to boost our emotions so that our words mean a bit more. The music glorifies God. It resonates according to his design. The dynamics and interplay of the instruments reveal the creativity of God’s mini-creators, and thereby praise the True Creator.

Next week, as you stand amongst God’s people and voice your praise to God, think about all the other elements at work to bring God glory. Your own worship should be all the richer with these things in mind.

 

Disney Candlelight ProcessionalI attended a worship service at Disneyland last night. I’m not even exaggerating. My wife and I held our girls as we stood packed in tight amongst thousands of strangers in Town Square. Suddenly, a church organ began to play and a processional of choir singers, dressed in traditional choir robes and each holding a single candle, slowly walked down main street singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

This choir turned out to be 500 strong and accompanied by an orchestra. For 45 minutes, they sang Christmas hymns. None of the silly carols like “Jingle Bells,” but actual theologically rich, Jesus-proclaiming hymns. In between each song, Dick Van Dyke stood behind a pulpit and read the Christmas story directly from the Bible.

This presumably secular crowd stood in absolute silence, holding their children and rarely batting an eye, as the arrival of King Jesus was preached from the Scriptures and a choir consisting of hundreds of beautiful voices urged them to recognize Christ as King and submit to his eternal reign.

I was moved. We all seemed to be. My 3 year old looked up at me and said, “They’re singing about Jesus, Daddy.” The things I care about most were being boldly proclaimed in a very non-churchy setting. It was quite an experience.

As I’ve thought about what happened last night, I’ve come to two conclusions.

Disney Candlight ChoirFirst, I’m sure that everyone who experienced this ceremony (Disney simply calls it, “Candlelight”) enjoyed it. I’m sure they felt the power in it. I doubt that many walked away wishing they had spent that 45 minutes in line for Space Mountain.

But how many of them turned to the truth last night? The gospel was clearly presented in a powerful way. They listened, spellbound. And then the moment ended and they returned to their rides and shops.

I am reminded of our need for the power of the Spirit to change our hearts. I am tempted sometimes to think that if we could just have a cool enough gospel presentation—clear, compelling, moving—then people would see the truth and respond. But I know it’s not true. I know it’s not about putting on the right kind of show. Disney puts on a better show than anyone, and they happened upon a very reverent, biblical sort of show. But that’s never been enough to change hearts.

We have a message to share with the world, and we would be disobeying God if we decided not to proclaim the gospel because we’re convinced that no one will respond. But we always need to recognize our dependence on the Spirit. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).

My second realization is that our Christmas traditions are full of powerful truths. We tend to sing these songs as “carols,” and we move quickly from “O Come O Come Emmanuel” to “Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer.” But these songs are worshipful and deep. Listen closely next time. Your appreciation for Jesus is bound to be stirred. It’s not uncommon for the most profound truths to sit just beneath our noses, patiently waiting for us to notice them. I have found that this is especially true during the Christmas season.

So here’s to unexpected worship experiences. I suppose that if we keep our eyes open, we will find these far more often than we might expect. We may be in the most ordinary or secular of places amongst the most ordinary or secular of people and find ourselves reminded of God’s truth and experiencing his presence. Last night was difficult to miss, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for more of these opportunities.