Worldliness

Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange.  When we imbibe the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) of worldliness, then we feel strange trying to think Christianly and to act according to the Bible’s mandates.  That is, when we think the world’s thoughts after it and do not think God’s thoughts after Him, we will not be motivated to do the things that God wants us to do, but we will only feel comfortable acting in a manner that fits into the world’s way of doing things.  This is why Christians who cease going to church begin to feel more and more comfortable in the world and less and less comfortable in the church.  For the same reason, this is why regular attendance at church is so important.  At church we worship by hearing God’s Word, praising God, praying, partaking of the Lord’s Supper and fellowshipping, all of which encourages believers and convinces them that they indeed are the ones who are normal and that the world is strange before God’s eyes.  Believers need to encourage one another that, from the biblical perspective, it is normal for God’s people to reflect Christ and his behavior and not the world’s.

—Gregory K. Beale,We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 300

Wrong Perspectives on Worship

“Let’s pray that God will show up,”

“If we can get 100,000 people to gather for a praise festival, God will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing so great you won’t even have enough room to take it in (Malachi 3:10).”

“When we sing to His glory, He starts to work.”

“If we work hard, put in the hours; worship hard enough, God will honor and reward that by blessing us.”

—collected by Jan den Ouden

Once and Done

Have a free-for-all time with a small group and design a service of worship that is entirely focused on meeting all your needs, hopes, desires, style preferences and favorite theological ideas. This might be considered an exercise to get it out of your system! 

—Robbie F. Castleman, Robbie F., Story Shaped Worship, Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 76

Of Planes and Pews

People on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common. All are on a journey. Most are well-behaved and presentable. Some doze, and others gaze out the window. Most, if not all, are satisfied with a predictable experience. For many, the mark of a good flight and the mark of a good worship assembly are the same. “Nice,” we like to say. “It was a nice flight/It was a nice worship service.” We exit the same way we enter, and we’re happy to return next time.

A few, however, are not content with nice. They long for something more. The boy who just passed me did. I heard him before I saw him. I was already in my seat when he asked, “Will they really let me meet the pilot?” He was either lucky or shrewd because he made the request just as he entered the plane. The question floated into the cockpit, causing the pilot to lean out.

“Someone looking for me?” he asked.
The boy’s hand shot up like he was answering his second grade teacher’s question. “Well, come on in.”

With a nod from his mom, the youngster entered the cockpit’s world of controls and gauges and emerged minutes later with eyes wide. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’m so glad to be on this plane!”

No one else’s face showed such wonder. I should know. I paid attention. The boy’s interest piqued mine, so I studied the faces of the other passengers but found no such enthusiasm. I mostly saw contentment: travelers content to be on the plane, content to be closer to their destination . . . content with a predictable, uneventful flight. Content with a “nice” flight.

And since that is what we sought, that is what we got. The boy, on the other hand, wanted more. He wanted to see the pilot. If asked to describe the flight, he wouldn’t say “nice.” He’d likely produce the plastic wings the pilot gave him and say, “I saw the man up front.”

Do you see why I say that people on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common? Enter a church sanctuary and look at the faces. A few are giggly, a couple are cranky, but by and large we are content. Content to be there. Content to sit and look straight ahead and leave when the service is over. Content to enjoy an assembly with no surprises or turbulence. Content with a “nice” service. “Seek and you will find,” Jesus promised. And since a nice service is what we seek, a nice service is usually what we find.

A few, however, seek more. A few come with the childlike enthusiasm of the boy. And those few leave as he did, wide-eyed with the wonder of having stood in the presence of the Pilot himself.

—Max Lucado, Just like Jesus, 77-79

Day Late, Dollar Short

A slogan that I think nicely defines what evangelicals have become in the early twenty-first century: “Anything you can do, we can do later. We can do anything later than you.” We seem ready to accept trends just after the sell-by date of the rest of the academy. 

—Gregory Alan Thornbury, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism, 22

Narcissistic Worship

Worship has become narcissistic, focusing on me and my praise of God; and spirituality has turned toward a preoccupation with my journey of faith and my spiritual condition and experience. . . . When we become narcissistic, the place of worship and spirituality in God’s narrative is lost and worship and spirituality become subject to the whims of culture.

—Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals, 131

Heart Worship 15

I think when you’re in church and a worship song is played (provided it’s not heretical), you have two choices:

1) Worship
2) Criticize, evaluate, and engage in pompous elitism.

I think what we need to do is just worship. When we got to church yesterday (we were very late) I didn’t feel like worshipping, for various reasons. And I may not have liked every song that was played.

But that’s my problem. None of the songs were heretical, and just because I wasn’t inspired to lift up Jesus, it doesn’t mean that the people around me were wrong to do so. In fact, they were right. I was wrong.

I think what’s needed in the worship wars, ultimately, is humility, thankfulness for what we have, and a renewal of the desire to worship God in spirit and truth. Worship, like grace, does not find an easy dwelling in an agitated, proud, critical heart.

—”Bill,” thinklings.org

Defining Worship 32 (Badly)

When Christians accept a consumerist culture’s definition at face value, they look to the church primarily to provide them with the means to improve their private lives, enhance their self-esteem, give them a sense of purpose. Worship becomes a form of therapy whose sole aim is to improve the emotional state of the individuals, and to energize them for the week ahead.  It is designed principally to make those individuals feel comfortable, and to justify the style of life they find most satisfying.

James V. Brownson, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Barry A. Harvey, Charles C. West, StormFront: The Good News of God, 7

Worship as Disruption

Worship nevertheless imprints on our whole being the reality that we study. The effect is a radical disruption of the powers of evil in us and around us. Often an enduring and substantial change is brought about.

—Dallas Willard, Daily Devotional, Day 4: “Worship” in Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks

Contaminated Worship

As daily consumers of popular media culture, we have learned to be egocentric in our selection, selfish in our evaluation, impatient for gratification and eager for novelty.

—Mary L. Conway, “Worship Music: Maintaining Dynamic Tension,” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 7 (2006): 147 www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/pdfs/vol7/MJTM_7-7_Conway.pdf

[We have been] catechized by consumerism.

—E. Byron Anderson, “Worship and Theological Education,” Theological Education, Vol. 39, Number 1 (2003):120

Hurry and Worry, part 2

SHEPHERD PSALM OF THE MODERN AMERICAN

The clock is my dictator; I shall not rest.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted;
It leads me to deep depression;
It hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity’s sake.

Even though I run frantically from task to task I will never get it all done.
For my ideal is with me;
Deadlines and my need for approval they drive me;
They demand performance from me beyond the limits of my schedule.
They anoint my head with migraines;
My in-basket overflows.

–author unknown

A Heavenly Perspective

Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”

–John Newton (in Richard Cecil, “Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton,” The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1 [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985], 108 )

*  *  *  *  *

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

–Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:45-46)

Catechized by Consumerism

As daily consumers of popular media culture, we have learned to be egocentric in our selection, selfish in our evaluation, impatient for gratification and eager for novelty.

–Mary L. Conway, “Worship Music: Maintaining Dynamic Tension,” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 7 (2006): 147  www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/pdfs/vol7/MJTM_7-7_Conway.pdf

[We have been] catechized by consumerism.

–E. Byron Anderson, “Worship and Theological Education,” Theological Education, Vol. 39, Number 1 (2003):120

A Neverending Battle

Too often we don’t construct worship “for God” but for individuated consumers who come for an experience of God. This is how we manage to endlessly fight over worship. For those coming to be fed, taste is a neverending battle. [emphasis mine]

–J. d. Walt, “It’s All About Who? Part Two”  http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2004/cln40913.html

For Whom? About Whom?

Too many of our worship songs are more about us than God. Yes, we say the words “praise/thank/bless God,” but mostly, what for?

For glorious attributes and wonderful mysteries? For historic deeds and cosmic judgments? For rescuing the widow and orphan? For setting the captive free? For humbling the arrogant and sending the rich away hungry? For spinning galaxies and salting starfields with glorious light? Uh, no.

Rather, we praise God for holding us close, for keeping us secure, for making us feel loved and blessed and forgiven and warm and cozy in our electric blanket of eternal security (with a warm comforter of national security thrown in too). We congratulate God on how well God is meeting our needs. When we say, “You’re such a good God,” it sometimes sounds like comforting words spoken to a pet.

It pains me to say that, but I think it needs to be said.

When we’re not affirming God for how well we’re nurtured, our songs often congratulate ourselves on how well we respond to God’s grace. Have you noticed how much we sing about how loud or passionately we sing? We talk a lot about what we’re going to do—usually in the singular: I will worship, I will praise you, I will bow down, etc., etc. One beautiful and well-intentioned song even tells us that God thinks of “me above all.”

As my professor friend says, “Begging your pardon: the only person who thinks of Me above all is Me.”

–Brian McLaren, “It’s All About Who, Jesus?” http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2004/cln40830.html