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I was struck by Dan’s statement that “for the early Church, as we noted earlier, worship was marked by words such as loyalty, allegiance and surrender, and by acts such as singing, reading the scriptures, eating together and taking the path of martyrdom.”

The holistic nature of this kind of worship seems so simple, yet ingrained in real life that it just makes sense. feel like I’ve talked to a lot of Christians who stop by a church service here & there, go to a small group not connected to any church service they attend, give only randomly to organizations that they have no real connection to, etc rather than actually be embedded in a local church where they can truly know people, be known & invest.

The very practical actually being part of a community, instead of subscribing to Christian culture and dropping in at events seems so key to worship as we think about it in this way. It seems like a key to actually experiencing the values Wilt talked later about (I’ve listed them below). Not to be harsh, but it just seems like one can only go so far in actually worshipping God without embedding themselves in community. I just don’t see how we can actually experience these things without the gathered worship & life with friends also on the same journey. Here are the values Dan mentioned:

1. Cultural Relevance
We are welcome to express worship in ways that are true to the culture of our age, while discerning and course-correcting their efficacy in building the spiritual health of the Church.

2. Integrity
We are called to advance the call to worship in the world by living out the words of the songs we sing, the themes of the bread we break, and the overall message that is remembered and reclaimed in every worship setting.

3. Holism
We advance the idea that worship is not an activity only connected with an invisible world with which are attempting to “make contact.” Rather, worship is about doing justice, loving our neighbor and engaging with the vulnerable and broken in society with a view to bring new creation’s balm to its wounds.

4. Immanence
In the form and content of our worship, we call worshipers to reverence, but not simply to a distant God who is somehow disconnected from their daily experience. We say “God is near, immanent, close and His Kingdom is within reach as we worship.” We refuse to distance ourselves from the God who has so powerfully drawn near to His human creation – we respond by drawing near to the God who draws near.

5. Incarnational Spirituality
We embody our spirituality, deciding and perpetuating the call to worship in spirit and in truth by living what we sing and say we believe. We are not people who worship by simply raising our hands and closing our eyes – we are committed to a spiritual formation into the likeness of Christ that evidences that we are actually following Jesus, and not just singing about the notion of doing so.

6. Simplicity
We feel no need to complicate every song and every expression of worship simply for the sake of some elusive language of “adding depth” or “engaging the intellect.” In the Benedictine tradition of lection divina, we often linger over important phrases and ideas, with simple words and melodies, to allow the worshiper to engage with deep theological truths that are intended to change their lives. Neither the intellectual complexity, nor the emotional simplicity, of a song is the issue for us. The issue is found in the asking of a simple question – “Is this moment an opportunity for God to transform our minds and hearts to fulfill His design for us, and to welcome us to a richer, deeper understanding of Himself?” Having asked that question, simplicity and complexity become options for our best creativity in expressing worship in all of its possible ways.

7. Diversity
We recognize that covenant people of all tribes, nations and languages (and therefore music styles, ways of storytelling, symbolizing and engaging the human experience) are all invited to the feast of worship. For this reason, we do not define worship according to only one ethnicities expression. Rather, we embrace that colorful tapestry of worship life that flows from the Body of Christ across time and locale.

8. Unity
We value the unity that can only truly occur when we ultimately defer our lives to the God of all. Unity, because of God’s saving, restoring approach to us, is found among all peoples and denominations that value the part we have to play in God’s story. We are ambassadors of new creation and the coming Kingdom in the now, in the moment, and we rise together to sing, to pray, to act and to impact society from this common mission.

I’m glad that my experience with God & faith started when I was a little older (I wouldn’t say I was “raised” going to church.. but I was about 10 years old when my mom became a Christian, so I was still a kid). I think because she was naive about the whole thing & was only drawn there because of  inner yearnings that they had to be something more; and because we ended up in a church community that expected an experience with God to be the norm within the theological context of the Kingdom of God,. a community-based faith where ecstatic spiritual meets mundane practical to make “faith” is the only thing I’ve really known firsthand. It’s living the last 20 years in that context where I can see God has formed me & molded me into who I am today.

Yay for “W”orship that leads us into a life where the spiritual & mundane meet, instead of pull apart like oil & water. After writing that last sentence, I realize that this is the tension of a life like that seems to be tied to the central message of the whole Story (e.g. new creation).

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I figure late is better than never, so here goes.

I’m really interested in the idea of the community of God’s people ‘narrating the story of God’ to a world  that is seeking the hear His voice at a very core level & particularly how gathered worship & ‘big W’ worship (as Dan talks about) fuels and facilitates that.

Wilt’s telling of the Celtic way of going about this is particularly interesting:

For the Celtic Christians, who held a very strong sense of the Trinitarian basis for human community, they modeled their pattern of welcoming people into the family of faith by first offering them 1) belonging, then welcoming them to 2) behave as years of friendship with the community of saints and the presence of the Holy Spirit opened the way for real change, and then finally welcoming them to 3) believe – if they ever so chose!

Have you read or heard about the prominent atheist blogger / debater who recently became Catholic? When asked the question “what has the transformation been like for you?”,  she cites 1) being part of a community & 2) being able to celebrate mass (e.g. the participatory retelling of the story in gathered worship each week). Then further, in response to how this has changed her is that it’s easier for her to reach out to people because she wants to see them become who they are created to be & meant to be  (my paraphrase).

So for her, becoming a Christian has meant being part of a community, being part of retelling of THE story each week through worship and encouraging other people’s personal development towards the new creation (them at ‘perfection’).

I have to believe that while the moral / ethics argument was a big deal for her (as someone who professionally argued morals / ethics), experiencing community and worship had to have been major pieces to her deciding to come to faith.

This is an awesome story. But how do we deal with people who, after belonging to our community for years because they just like the belonging aspect, don’t behave as though they *should* and only touch on belief (if even that)? As worship leaders being SubCreators, ImageBearers, CommunityBuilders and SalvationStorytellers (all Dan’s words) I think we experience the personal death that Kinnaman talked about last week.

I wonder as worship leaders (loaded with all those above implications) if doing it (e.g. literally leading people over time into The Story through gathered worship & ‘W’orship through our lives) actually leads us towards personally dying to self for the sake of others. That it’s just the nature of the beast.

I wonder what happens when we do try to invert that Celtic description (requiring people to believe, behave and only then belong) because it’s less messy & easy to track? My sneaking suspicion is that some people might nod their head & go along with it on the outside, but that they’re inside thinking something totally different. It seems like that approach to leading people into The Story is inherently flawed, mostly because it doesn’t transform us as leaders into more like the image of our God.

All that now has me thinking about the practical nuts & bolts of leading worship in my small group & how I can better help them ‘get it’ in our gathered worship. I have a couple people who do kind of nod their head like they really would rather skip the music part, but will play along because they’re nice Christians & that’s what we do. I wonder what I could do in the 10-15 mins of gathered worship to create an environment where they are more able to actually connect with this story & the creator at the center of it?

2. When you were reading about the nature of the God we worship, which aspect of his character most draws you to worship? Which aspect of God’s character have you always found the most fascinating? Which aspect of God’s character do you believe their needs to be a fresh “retelling” of in our generation?

The aspect of God’s character that most draws me to worship is God as King. I have been captured by the concept & real-life implications of “the Kingdom of God” for some years now & it hasn’t gotten old. I think I feel this way for a couple reasons.

It makes sense of my world. I was having a conversation with my dad, who is not a Christian, 2 months ago about God. He always says that “God must have a sick sense of humor, because of how f*cked the world is”. After years of hearing this & quietly thinking “you don’t know the God that I know”, I said to him 2 months ago “Dad, you’re hearing a funny version of The Story… what if God isn’t in control of the world we live in.. what if it’s infected by a cancer that infects all aspects (think physical cancer to addiction to corporate greed to the fire in the belly of a young man that might lead him down a broken path, etc).. that the world is inherently good, but it’s f*cked up?” “& what if God himself has let this occur because it’s the unfortunate, yet obvious, result of giving your kids free will”.. “& what if God is in the business now of restoring all of humanity back to the way things were meant to be, where there is no pain, addiction, cancer, greed.. and if we let Him, he’s using you & I to do this bit by bit”.

Now my dad is someone who I constantly see ‘do the right thing’ these days (this wasn’t always the case.. he admittedly was pretty self-absorbed through his 20s & 30s). I think he was able to see a glimpse of a more Biblical story that day.. that Christians don’t mindlessly believe in some story that doesn’t make sense. I bring this up, because this story I told him is the story of the Kingdom of God. It’s actually the “gospel”, at least according to John the Baptist & Jesus.

The other big piece of why this draws me to worship is because it’s more than a concept to me. The whole idea of God putting things to rights, including reconciliation between two people or two races, physical healing, slowly changing a person’s life all comes from God being the King. That where He reigns, life blooms. I see it happening all around me and even in me (even though it sometimes takes looking at spans of years to see it clearly). There’s hope to me in that. And worship, to me, is my expression of surrender  to the King and the call of His Kingdom.

In terms of character aspects of God that I’ve always found interesting… definitely the Trinity. I find the theology of the Trinity to make so much sense of human relationships & community, yet the theological concepts are so dissident that it almost feels made up. I really appreciated Dan quoting some early theologians & leaders on how we got to the theology of the Trinity. It truly is an analog, dissident concept of 3-in-1, yet I think every human being knows it’s true in their bones.

In terms of which aspect I think needs to be retold in our time & culture, I’d say all of them.. equally. They each challenge cultural stereotypes of who God is and as a whole present a full, complex (in a deep way) person.

 

3. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus are the most powerful hinge points for worship we have in the Scriptures. How does what you read make you think differently about why Christ came, what his resurrection is all about, or what our eternal destiny is? These big theological ideas, the cross, resurrection, heaven, earth, the Kingdom and the New Creation have been important themes for Christians related to worship for millennia. What areas “caught you by surprise” as you read? Was there anything you found yourself joyfully agreeing with, or strongly disagreeing with? Why?

I love how Dan talked about the cross being a ‘vicarious act’. For whatever reason, it bugs me when I hear people talk the drama of the cross framing it as Jesus really did something great for you (in terms of physical pain), so that’s why we should be grateful to him. Don’t hear me wrong… I get that Jesus suffered physically.. but I think the real significance of the cross is deeper than all that. The idea that Jesus as the ‘New Adam’ demonstrates the better way of life (suffering for his enemies) by dying a horrible death by the hands of the very creations that he created is so much more true to the point of the cross (at least in my mind).

I find the concept of ‘New Creation’ challenging the popular views of heaven & the afterlife to be incredibly fascinating and life giving. When I first started reading about that years ago it just felt revolutionary and so different from what the popular Christian culture (heck, even the popular non-Christian culture) believes. But, it makes sense of the story of God and it makes sense of the personal story I’m living. It means that everything I do here on earth in the mundane has significant value because life goes on in the future, with actual time and relationships and work. So what we do now really does matter.

Over & out.

Questions: 2. In what ways have you seen God be the “subject of the sentence” or the “object of the sentence” in your own worshiping life? In other words, when have you seen in your own life that worship became more about you and your pursuit than about God and His?

3. In what ways have you seen “embedded theology” at work in your own life? In what ways have you chosen to do “deliberative” theology, and what experience(s) triggered that choice? Can you think of a moment you moved from an “embedded theology” to a “deliberative theology” about God?

There are a few very specific moments where I have been challenged past ‘worship being about me & my pursuit rather than God & His’. These interventions also illustrate ways that I’ve experienced ’embedded theology’ as well as chosen ‘deliberative theology’.

One of the first that comes to mind came after about 5 years of the church I was part of experiencing a great outpouring of God’s Spirit and I was about 17 years old.

I experienced the love of God as ‘father’ in a tangible, yet supernatural way that I really needed… especially as a kid who was product of a broken home & divorced family. I personally felt loved and ‘secured’ in a way that, I’m sure, significantly changed the course of my life in the subsequent years.

From the outside, these times probably looked crazy: people falling down during meetings, unpredictable things could happen from meeting to meeting, people might laugh uncontrollably while they prayed, or yell, cry, shake, etc. But for me, at least,  GREAT healing happening internally, even as strange phenomena may have been happening externally. Much of this healing came while in the ‘place’ of worship, as Dan speaks about.

The moment of truth, if you will, was at the tail end of this when a speaker challenged a bunch of us young people that “worship is not about you.” I can remember my 17 year old self feeling perturbed by that statement. On the one hand, of course.. it sounds so self-centered to even think that worship would be about anyone but God, but on the other, my experience (a valid, life-changing experience) was that worship was mostly about what God was doing to & for me. I connected best to God through prayers & songs that were about both his love & fathering me and my deep need for Him. I didn’t really ‘get’ those that were more external from me and more about simply praising God for who He is and what He’s done and is doing, regardless of how it affects me.

Prior to that intervention, I don’t think I had the capacity to live out true “giving of oneself, emptying oneself, epitomized in Jesus’ self-offering in the garden of Gethsemane (as the only true way to peace, healing and restoration in any given universe” as Dan said on page 6). My embedded theology and story had been so tweaked, that I needed a full course correction. I think that intervention was one of the milestones in the maturing of my faith and personhood, perhaps even more so than the very necessary healing that had been taking place within me.

Over the next period of time, that statement (“worship is not about you”) haunted me. I had to wrestle with that concept and started to experience what I think Ellis was referring to with “our new celestial friends will understand that giving oneself, emptying oneself, epitomized in Jesus’ self-offering in the garden of Gethsemane, is the only true way to peace, healing and restoration in any given universe.”

Another pitstop on that journey occurred a few years later while I was the Saturday night worship leader for our church.  I was confronted by my pastor because I wasn’t tithing (or giving any money to the church). He was kind, but straight-up about it and even offered to do a study through the scriptures with me, if I wanted. I honestly, didn’t even know that people ACTUALLY tithed (I knew the Bible talked about it, but didn’t think people actually took it seriously).

So here I was… a prototype of a young worship leader, who for a few years prior was wrestling with this concept that “worship is not about you”, and I would stand in front of a congregation every week leading them in words of devotion, honor and praise, yet in the most basic way possible, I was not living that out. I wrestled with this too (not that I didn’t want to, but actually working out my finances so that I actually did tithe).

Each of these situations required obedience & trust (both to God & other people) beyond what I had personally experienced up till that point e.g. producing a deliberate theology vs what just came natural to me. kp