Worship


Worship

I come into the gathering
with a humble and contrite heart
With eager anticipation, I sit
waiting for worship to start

I quiet my mind as I wait
for I know God will enter in
I ask for insight and willingness
to confess my every sin

I know my Lord is present
because of the promise God made
Just like the Holy Promise
that He would rise from the grave

A promise when two or more gather
there would our God be
Not only would God be present
But God promised to live in me

So I bow my head in worship
and I lift my heart in song
I take communion with assurance
To my Lord I do belong

From invocation to benediction
I participate in everything
My attention and my focus
For all the good that worship brings

Amen

Prayer, the Simple yet Profound Life

“Prayer, for me, is simply a raising of the heart, a simple glance towards Heaven, an expression of love and gratitude in the midst of trial, as well as in times of joy; in a word, it is something noble and supernatural expanding my soul and uniting it to God. Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux, p. 141, Story of a Soul

The more one prays, the simpler prayer becomes. Simple not in the choice of words or in the fact that one must work at maintaining a constant prayer life (as would one work to maintain any relationship that is dear and important), but simple in the sense of being with God. The more one prays, the closer one gets to God and the easier and more relationally real prayer becomes.

There are two types of prayer, mental and vocal. Mental prayer is when we converse with God in our own words. Vocal prayer is when we pray and use prayers that are written (usually by others) and are spoken to God. Hail Mary is a vocal prayer. The Jesus prayer is a vocal prayer and of course, the Lord’s prayer (Our Father) is a vocal prayer. Both types of prayer can build intimacy with God.

Some think that vocal prayers like the Hail Mary or the Jesus Prayer are meaningless repetitions. Not so! Any prayer can be meaningless if it is not from the heart or is said simply as a religious duty. Vocal prayer, repeated with focus and desire, can be one of the best ways to draw near to God. I know that some think that the Hail Mary is an act of worship or idolatry of Mary. Again not so. The Hail Mary is a request for intercession not worship. I have come to find it an effective, uplifting, and fruitful prayer in my life.

Praying is one of the most important works of faith we can be involved in. In prayer we speak to God who loves to hear our voice. Not only does God want to hear our voice, God wants to communicate with us in a manner that makes our relationship with God more assuring and intimate. 

So, let us bow our heads, or lift up our hands, speak our hearts desires from our thoughts or pray using the gifts and prayers given us by the Church. Let us pray often. Let us pray with hope. God is listening.

 

 

 

TODAY

Today

Today I seek your presence
Today I seek your will
I come without a pretense
I come with a desire to fulfill

You are my Lord and Savior
Of this I have no doubt
To love you and find your favor
Is what I hope to be about

Tomorrow may have its worries
Yesterday I cannot change
In the future there are likely furies
But only today is in my range

So, I bow my head in loving prayer
And offer myself to you
Knowing that You are always there
Ever loving, ever faithful, ever true

Amen

Elements of True Worship

taize worship

My doctorate is in liturgy and homiletics. My written project focused upon adding contemplative practices to the modern worship service using the format utilized in the contemplative community of Taizé.

I chose this path because I felt that current “worship” is mainly geared more toward us rather than toward God. I had heard the phrase, “doesn’t meet my needs” way to often. Worship is not primarily about our “needs” but is about our being with God who said, “let us make living beings in our image” (paraphrase mine).

As a pastor, I found that those in the administrative leadership in the denominations I served put emphasis on those things they felt added to the denominations financial and numerical survival. They would preach, teach and expect directly or indirectly that big is better. The size (attendance) of a gathered group was the primary indicator of success not on the spiritual growth of believers.

Also, there is an emphasis on the consumer (customer) mindset. This supports the “need” factor that has produced a failure to include practices that would build a community into one in which the heart of God’s compassion dominates producing the fruit of grace. There is a strong push to provide for people with what they want more than what God desires.

The Apostle Paul warns Timothy about this human tendency. “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”  (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NRS)

In order to worship as an individuals without the focus being on individualism there should be four elements in our lives as believers  included whenever possible to produce genuine worship.

First there must a faithful commitment. By faithful commitment I mean there must be a commitment to God that has a higher value than any other aspect of our lives. It is very easy for ritualistic activity and social tribalism to be thought of as “worship” when God has stated what God expects worship to be, a giving of our totality to our loving God. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:5 NRS) Jesus reiterated this in His discussion with the lawyer over the greatest commandment. “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”(Matt. 22:37 NRS)

When we worship we need to do so with the intent to live our lives as God’s people doing those things which God expects. Our worship should flow out of our righteousness. It should acknowledge when we fail to do this bringing about a true sorrow for sin and a desire for forgiveness with a renew of our commitment.

Worship is not about the right music, the right rubrics, the right rhetoric or right ritual but the right relationship in which we seek to place God where God belongs, in the center of our hearts and lives. If this condition is not met then our worship is not worship at all.

Second, there must be focused remembrance. God gave the people these instructions concern God’s decrees, commandments, and actions:

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9 NRS)

It is through remembrance of all that God has said and done that we find our purpose and our meaning in life. The ability to remember and reflect gives us an anchor for out faith. Our faith is not a blind faith. It does not require us to believe “just because.” Our God is a revealing God, an acting God, a God who is found in circumstances and events. We have Scripture that reminds us of God’s action in the past and God’s promises for the future.

Jesus, in his last act with his disciples, gave them this sacrament, “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.“” (Lk. 22:19 NRS)

After spending a good portion of my life as a pastor of churches that made preaching to be the unofficial sacrament of the church, I have become more convinced that focusing on the Eucharist as the central element of weekly worship is vital to having true worship. There is a deep theology in the practice of the presence in the meal, the remembrance that continues the presence of Jesus within the community. Yet, again, because so many church members have not been properly instructed on the real purpose of the remembrance reality of communion, many do not find participating important. Such a spiritual poverty has damaged the spiritual vitality of the church. 

Third, there must be sincere praise. This praise must come from within a heart of gratitude and not simply from a catchy tune or theatric performance. And while music should have an important part in worship, that music should be a tool for deep internal expression of love and trust in God. Public prayers should focus on God’s actions and human response more that asking for intercessions and individualized desires. 

Again, praise itself should be founded upon remembrance and promises. It should emphasize faith even when understanding is not grasped. It should honor mystery and promote assurance rather than certainty which is never promised nor expected of us by God.

Fourth, there must be hope founded in cheerful confidence. Even in times of challenge and difficulty there should be confidence. Even in times of persecution and fear there should be confidence. God can be trusted. Jesus is our blessed hope. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus will return. We need to be confidently ready and express this readiness as we worship. If any of these four elements are missing, we should be asking ourselves, other members, and our leaders why?

 

Resisting Spiritual Desolation

I want to start this blog be reminding those who have an active relationship with God to understand we always have sufficient grace for eternal salvation and this grace is sufficient to help us resist spiritual desolation.

Also, we need to understand that even though God does permit spiritual desolation, God never, never causes it.

I did not always understand these truths. I almost let desolation lead me to end my life. I fact I did commit a serious attempt at doing so.

How we think about spiritual desolation is crucial in building up our ability to resist it. If we are unaware desolation will grow. If we are not actively resisting, desolation will grow. It is important to see spiritual desolation for what it is, an attack by an enemy we cannot see. Spiritual desolation is a trial for our trust of God. It is a battle for our souls that we have been entrusted to fight.

When we grasp this truth we are able to give our pain and suffering meaning. When spiritual desolation appears as an empty pain we are likely to succumb to it. Meaning gives us courage to endure.

Spiritual desolation often creates an “I can’t” mindset. God tells us we can. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9 NRS)

When experiencing spiritual desolation we are given an opportunity to grow. How do we develop patience? We develop it by being patient. How do we grow in prayer? We grow in prayer by praying. How do we grow in love? We grow in love by loving. How do we grow in resisting spiritual desolation? We grow by being aware, understand, and responding to spiritual desolation by depending on the grace God gives us to overcome.

Be courageous.

Relationship Theology: Post Six

The Church is often called the bride of Christ. Our relationship to our Lord is viewed as a marriage. When Jesus returns it will be to claim his bride. The vows of a marriage are founded upon a faithful love, a vow of commitment that pledges faithfulness in the face of whatever circumstances may come.

Yet, for whatever reason, marriages do end. Divorce, an event that God hates, (For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Mal. 2:16 NRS) happens when relationships fail and one or both individual decide they do not want the level of intimacy of a marriage. One of the individuals may not want the divorce, yet, they may have no say in the manner. Even if one loves the person wanting the divorce they may have to let that person go.

Still love, true love, must allow for the possibility of rejection, for divorce. I do not believe God rejects us (I am my own best example) but I do believe we can reject God by our unfaithfulness and acedia. When this happens we are again separated. I believe God grieves this separation but allows it.

Too many people in the institutional church are like the Pharisees of old. They believe because of birth, ritual, or dependence upon some theological precept develop by a human mind that God owes them a secure relationship no matter what they do. They do not understand that, through their actions, they may divorce themselves from God. I believe the idea of once saved always saved is one of the biggest lies Satan has been able to promote. It is heresy. Yet, I know of many who hold to this teaching as certainty without any idea of the damage they do and the danger they promote.

It is not very hard to see how this destructive teaching has lead many to believe because they “prayed the sinners prayer” they are saved no matter how they live their lives. Many believe they can claim the title of Christian and yet support policies and politicians whose lives and behaviors are an insult to the life of Jesus. Many who think they are included in the wedding feast who never do anything in the name of Jesus. Individuals who only live for themselves and yet think God owes them a pass into heaven. No wonder Jesus warned “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.” (Matt. 7:13 NRS)

I will post more on this topic later. For now, I hope that all who read this are seeking to draw closer to our Lord. This desire should keep one away from the sin of certainty many mistakenly rely upon.