Posts Tagged 'Worship'

balcony 02If you have paid any attention at all, you know full well how tumultuous has been the upheaval of the past year of my life. I’ve tried to keep my rants to a minimum, but sometimes I have failed. I have tried to learn through this experience of career change and learn I have–not always willingly, not always happily, and not always without an adult beverage to take the edge off of the process.

I’m not the only person in the world who has had to endure a career change. Some welcome it, others fear it. I’m somewhere in the middle, taking a more philosophical approach that goes something like this: “Why?”

Or maybe that’s the coward’s way out, who knows?

It’s always easy to avoid reality by asking ‘why’? Asking ‘why?’ enables us to sit and wonder all day long. Asking ‘why?’ is enabling–yes, it serves as a sort of co-dependent to all our Right-ness. Asking ‘why?’ is a way of avoiding the changes by hanging around in a fog-like stupor and questioning over and over again all the circumstances and issues that lead up to the moment when the change actually, and perhaps inevitably, took place. I guess maybe we think things will magically change if we sit around and question long enough what went wrong. So we lash out, question, regret, blame, and do all sorts of other unsavory philosophical things in the name of ‘Why?’ and never actually arrive anywhere but right back where we started: Why?

Rich Mullins sang about it in a song called ‘Hard to Get’:

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can’t see how
You’re leading me unless
You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

‘Why?’ becomes a sort of soothing god; a justifier of our self-righteousness; a companion in our misery. ‘Why?’ people are quite lonely people. It’s a wonder God allowed such a wicked word to be invented or to evolve alongside the aardvarks and amoebas. It’s a wonder that God allows, or catalyzes, such events to foster the perpetuation of the ‘Why’. Mysterious ways indeed!

In the course of this journey I have been taking I have gone from the guy who stands in front of the congregation, leading, praying, preaching to the person going most out of his way to hide: the balcony person. I have gone from being Bud Selig to Bob Eucker. I’m not writing this to disparage those of you who, reading this, also identify with the balcony. On the contrary I am saying I completely understand. I have become, in a little less than a year, a full-fledged, member of this esteemed congregational clique that goes out of its way to be unnoticed, uninvolved, and unannounced. It’s easy to migrate and hibernate and remain invisible in the balcony. I’m becoming a pro.

Following are some observations I made one Sunday morning while sitting in the balcony during worship. They define my experience and perhaps yours. Everything I write in this post is, obviously, patently, personal and generalized. I make no claims here to omniscience. I only offer what I am or what I have become or, probably, what I have resorted to in order to figure out what church means at this juncture in my life and as an insulation against hatred for the Body Jesus loves.

First, as noted above, balcony people can hide. We neither want to be seen nor need to be. In fact, we prefer being unnoticed. This may be a good thing. As I reflect back on my days as ‘the guy up front’, I think to myself it may have gone better if I had been a balcony person then too. Maybe, I say this regretfully, but maybe I wanted to be seen back then and maybe that was a problem, a large problem, The Problem. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to be seen, but being seen by the right one, the One who sees all and from whom none can hide, is a far, far better reason to be in worship. Perhaps the balcony is sort of like the prayer closet; perhaps it should be.

Second, balcony people are, at best, spectators not participants. (Participation necessarily implies more than one.) I know this is not entirely true, but it has become true for me. Being a balcony person has given me the opportunity to observe the worship and avoid participation. I noticed that some Balcony People do not even sing when the words appear on the screen. What I have noticed is that Balcony People are keen to let things happen. They are fine with allowing the worship to be directed or lead or controlled by some other person. Being in the balcony gives me the opportunity to do what I want: sit when I want, stand when I want, spread out my notebook and legs when I want. I can be no one and everyone in the balcony. In the balcony I can watch what other people do, and people do not do much in worship. The reason I can get away with this is because in the worship our eyes move only in two directions: down (for example, in prayer) and forward (waiting to see the next move of the worship leader). No one looks up and no one looks back. The balcony is safe from prying eyes, but perfect for spying eyes.

Third, balcony people are, by and large, anonymous. Seriously: how many people who are downstairs are going to make a beeline to the balcony during the Passing of the Peace? In my experience none. I do not have to talk to anyone while I’m in the balcony. I do not have to shake hands with the preacher. I do not have to say hello to the annoying old lady who wants to slobber all over everyone with her hugs and ‘Jesus Never Failed Me Yet’ sort of naiveté. I do not have to have a name as long as I am in the balcony. For that matter, no one even has to know I am there. I can slip in and slip out as quietly as the proverbial church mouse and no one is the wiser.

Fourth, and finally, Balcony People can and do come and go as they please. There is no real starting time for those who sit in the balcony. They can afford this lack of punctuality because no one but other Balcony People see them arrive–and they understand all too well the reason for being unpunctual (to avoid others). On the other hand, Balcony People can also leave whenever they want. I’ve seen this phenomenon on more than one occasion and, to be sure, participated in it as well. It is a sacrament of Balcony People to leave early. We can leave during the sermon, before the offering, after the communion, but especially before the very end when we might be forced to make eye contact with other folks, those folks, the ones who sit on the lower level closer to god. I think this is the key: the freedom to avoid others, the freedom to avoid their strangling handshakes and hugs of super Christians, the freedom to avoid their questions about ‘what church we belong to’, and the freedom to avoid the other twenty questions that have nothing to do with anything but the sinister attempt to get me to belong.

Maybe the goal of conversation should not always be to get me to belong. Maybe I’m fine un-belonging for now.

What I have learned most about being a Balcony Person is that I get to be alone. Maybe that’s why balconies were invented in the first place, you know, so that people like me could hide; so that us undesirables wouldn’t have to be looked at or interacted with on Sunday mornings (we tend to bring down those on whom Jesus has painted a perpetual smile). Maybe it was created precisely to be a hiding place. Maybe the balcony has become the new ash heap, a modern pile of garbage for the Jobs among us, a Patmos for the defeated and broken, a Kedar for the struggling. (God’s people spend a lot of time in exile.) Job sat with friends in his heap while he suffered and tried to figure out the whats and wheres and whys of his trials and so do we–except it’s in a nice clean, carpeted, air conditioned building. And maybe we get to hide there for a while, kind of like David among the Philistines or Noah in his ark, until it is time to move back downstairs with all the people who have it all together, for whom Jesus contains no mystery and the Why no longer exists.

Balcony people can afford to hold hands with ‘Why?’ longer than those who sit amidst the congregation because we are in no hurry to arrive and in no hurry to leave. As a balcony person, I can take as much or little time as I need. I do not have to have it all-together in order to be a Jesus follower. I can be the run down, undone, miserable, joyful, loser that I am in the balcony because the only one who sees me there is only One whose sight matters during the worship. This doesn’t make us superheros or special or more real than anyone else. And this is not to say that all bottom-dwellers are exactly the opposite. It just means that this is my experience in becoming a wallflower in the congregation.

I think Balcony People are those who are lost enough to be led. Not all, but many. Those in the balcony are those who, to some extent, realize that sometimes God wants to know just how much we want Him. This is not to rundown the superheros among us who sit downstairs on Sundays. It’s just to say that some of us feel like we need to sit on a small hill of rubbish or in the upstairs or in the balcony so that we can get just a little closer to God. We need those extra twenty or so vertical feet. Maybe we think being higher up means he will hear our voices a little clearer or, better, that we will hear His.

Maybe we just like being invisible for a while.

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Last Sunday I attended a different church. It was weird to say the least. It felt strange and I felt awkward. I was unaccustomed to being at the mercy of some one else’s leadership. It wasn’t a bad thing; it was a weird thing.

The preacher leading the worship was enthusiastic and energized. He was prayed up, fired up, and lifted up. The thing I appreciated most about the church is that there were no clocks in the building. No one was worried about how long worship lasted or what direction it took once it started. They were there to worship not to be seen. In fact, as I read over their six page bulletin, I didn’t even see an order of worship. Mostly, it was six pages of prayer requests.

The preacher said several good things that morning but I have to say that I appreciated most this comment which I will paraphrase:

The problem with the church is that most folks think of it in the wrong way. Take ships for example. Most people get up and think that the church is a cruise ship. There everyone will be waited on hand and foot, drinks will be poured whenever they snap their fingers, and they will be entertained for an hour or so. After all, that’s what they have paid for.

But that is not what the church is, and certainly not how we should be thinking.

Instead we should be thinking of the church as a battle ship: And we are coming on board, at the invitation of The Captain, to get our orders.

That is brilliant, and true. It was the single best illustration I heard all morning (and the morning was nearly 2 hours!).

The church we worshiped with did things differently than I was accustomed to. I’m used to an order, a live band, a manuscripted sermon, a couple of cursory prayers, clocks (or people with them) and some well-timed responses from the people in the chaise lounge chairs pews. Instead, we prayed, we sang, we listened to a very poor sermon that I thought would never end (and yet we hung on every word because it was The Word), we prayed over people who would be leaving on other journeys, we didn’t even hear from the senior minister because the worship was conducted nearly entirely by the congregation, we were concerned about the Lord, and we fellowshiped in love.

In fact, these folks were so concerned about attending the Lord in worship that they didn’t even pass the plate for an offering. They trusted the Lord to provide. No offering was even taken.

That was a congregation preparing to do battle. That was a church ready for her orders. That was a church blessed because they knew that the Jesus Way is not just about showing up (at church), but about being (the church). These are people who know that the Jesus way is not a cruise ship chugging along for some distant, exotic port but a battle ship preparing to engage the enemy on his open water.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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I’ll apologize at the outset for the offensive title to this blog post, but it is really the only way to say what I am thinking after reading Ingrid’s latest drive by display of ignorance. I am angry though about her most recent outburst against the Body of Christ. She was so willing to make a hit against someone that I don’t believe for a minute that she even listened to the sermon she criticizes. I am simply astounded that she has criticized this sermon delivered at the Grace Church. Here’s part of what Ingrid wrote:

Please take just ten minutes to watch the video. After watching it, you can vote on the website as to whether Christ was glorified or something else. You can forward past the out of tune guitar and singer, and just listen to what the pastor has to say.

We have been so far removed from Christ-centered worship, most evangelicals wouldn’t recognize it if they saw it. Worse still, because of a lack of biblical knowledge, the Scriptural metaphors and references within this hymn wouldn’t have any meaning to most reared at a circus church. We are generations deep now in biblical illiteracy, and that’s why the church and professing believers are in the condition they are.

See also the comments at Truth Matters where even more ignorance is on display. Here’s what the author there says:

When you have a spare 10 minutes, please go to the video link below. Before you get to the senior pastor’s introduction you will have to listen to the music director sing and then an associate pastor speak for about 2 minutes, then watch the Pastor’s introduction. The whole thing is very painful to watch. [You can also vote in their ridiculous poll which, predictably, favors a negative reaction. In fact, I had the only positive vote out of 33 or so.]

I suspect the reason why neither Ingrid nor the author of Truth Matters got it, and why they found the whole thing ‘painful’ is because they only watched 10 minutes of it, if they watched it at all.Well, just so you know, I watched the entire clip and I can say without reservation that this sermon was profoundly biblical in every aspect. I’ll only add a few caveats. First, he did look ridiculous in the Superman costume. But I suspect that he was playing the doppleganger by dressing in such an ironic way. Second, his outline was a bit difficult to follow, but he evidently provided outlines for the congregation. Third, he dealt with the Scripture from front to back. Fourth, aggghhh…he had people stand when he read the Word of God in order to, are you ready for this, ‘honor the Word of God.’ What a heretic!!!* (*Sarcastic)

Please someone tell me: What was painful about what he said? What was unbiblical about it? What did not glorify God? Mrs Schlueter, with all due respect here, did you even listen to what he preached? I am simply floored that they are bent about this message. The main part of the message, the overarching point was this: We are useless to God if we don’t forgive. How is that unbiblical? How is that painful? I’ll conclude by noting the main outline which follows this question: How can we be Biblical Supermen and Superwomen. Then I’ll note just a few bullet points that I picked up.

How can We be Biblical Supermen?

  • The Biblical Superman puts his faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Put your faith in Jesus.
  • The Biblical Superman is committed to the local church in prayer, worship, teaching, fellowship, and accountability (and a few others)
  • The Biblical Superman is active in serving Christ, using his gifts and talents.
  • The Biblical Superman is always looking for divine appointments (This was really a brilliant point)
  • The Biblical Superman is bold enough to share Jesus with others.
  • The Biblical Superman takes responsibility for his actions.
  • The Biblical Superman chooses to forgive.

Can someone point out to me, because after 13 years of preaching I guess I have missed the point, but can someone point out to me at what point this outline fails to honor God? Can someone point out to me how this is ‘painful’? This is one of the most biblically derived, expository outlines I have seen in a long, long time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this outline or the delivery or his exegesis or his orthodoxy. He argues for Pauline authorship, he tells us the historical circumstances that prompted the writing, he argues, first, that it is faith in the Work of Christ that makes the letter to Philemon possible in the first place.

I’m offering a challenge right now to the author of Truth Matters and the author of Slice: Point out one aspect of that sermon that was unorthodox or unbiblical. He dealt with the text from front to back. Offer one example of his failure and I will stop writing here. You cannot do it.

Now some bullet points in conclusion (these are a few things I picked up and wrote down, there was much more!):

  • If you are harboring bitterness, God cannot use you.
  • God sets up divine appointments.
  • Philemon=loving
  • Onesimus=useful
  • Real biblical supermen choose to forgive.
  • The grace of God makes us brand new
  • Repent.
  • Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Man is never more like God than when he chooses to forgive.
  • The news of the Gospel is that God forgives sins no matter how ugly they are.
  • We are NOT supermen.
  • Paul is asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus
  • Sometimes when people hurt us it is part of God’s plan for spiritual renewal (ie. salvation)
  • Forgiveness always refreshes the body of Christ.

The church sang. They prayed. The stood when the Word was read–and to be sure, they only read, for the purposes of the sermon, three verses! (Even though he read nearly half the book in the context of the message.) They talked of forgiveness and grace and repentance and Scripture and love. I counted the word ‘grace’ at least six times on the website where I watched the video. Just so you know, I am writing this defense of the preacher who preached that sermon because I know he wouldn’t do so himself. What I fear is that some lost person will happen along Slice or TM and be turned off to the sermon without giving it a chance. But I’ll say this: If I was lost and heard that sermon I would be convicted that Jesus is Lord. I am not lost and I am convicted of the Lordship of Christ after hearing that sermon. What a blessing.

Ingrid: Give the sermon more than ten minutes. TM: Give the sermon more than ten minutes. Get through the pain of being confronted with the command from Scripture to forgive and listen to what the preacher has to say. You have both missed it entirely! Oh my God, it is so sad, so pathetic that these two blogs have run down this preacher, Christ’s body, this sermon for no reason whatsoever. Oh My God! I am convinced, and becoming more so with every blog post I read at SOL, that there is something seriously, seriously wrong with their point of view.

Ingrid wrote:

We have been so far removed from Christ-centered worship, most evangelicals wouldn’t recognize it if they saw it. Worse still, because of a lack of biblical knowledge, the Scriptural metaphors and references within this hymn wouldn’t have any meaning to most reared at a circus church. We are generations deep now in biblical illiteracy, and that’s why the church and professing believers are in the condition they are.

The preacher spent nearly a third of the sermon (at least a third, maybe more) explaining and re-explaining the history and background and text of the book to Philemon. He did his part to eliminate biblical illiteracy and he is criticized and it is said that the sermon and worship ‘did not honor God’?!?!?!?!?!? My guess is that the people at Grace Church are not among the biblically illiterate. I suspect this is a church that is very good condition–especially if their preacher preaches like this every single week.

Wow. I think it is time to put SOL and TM into the heap of irrelevance. They ought to be ashamed for attacking that message, that preacher, that church in such a way. Shame on you, SOL!! And shame on you, TM!! You have no ground to stand on in your criticism of this man or his message. And I think I know of what I speak since I too preach every single week. I won’t dress like superman, but who cares if I did? The point is that this man delivered an orthodox, theologically sound, expository sermon. I don’t care what he was dressed like on the outside. He was wearing Christ on the inside!!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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According to the logic and theology of MacArthur & Friends we must banish another Christian author/preacher/teacher to the realm of the apostate.

Warren W. Wiersbe in his book Real Worship -

“Once we understand the subjective and objective aspects of worship, we are better prepared to deal with some of the problems that worship seems to create. For one thing, we can better understand why different Christian communions express their worship in different ways. After all, if there is one God and one Bible, why should we not all worship in the same way? The answer is simply that we are all different and live in different cultural contexts.” (p. 25)

I watched a Christian comedy show the other night. It was a bunch of different African-American comedians telling mostly clean jokes, often about church. I didn’t get a lot of the jokes. Sure, I got some of them, but most of the jokes required me to have some kind of prior experience with a particular type of church in a particular tradition. I turned it off before it was over and I’m pretty sure I tuned out long before that. Grrrr… context strikes again.

As has been pointed out before, the problem with contextualization is not when you contextualize something, but when you contextualize it and think that everybody should do it your way.

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