If you’re a Christian, and you’ve attended church, then you probably recognize the term: “Worship Service.”
This is the time, just after the announcements and immediately before the sermon, when the congregation corporately sings — from the hymnal or off the PowerPoint words on a giant white screen. Generally, we’re helped along in the process by the “Worship Team.”
Years ago, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I were part of this team (I know, sometimes I’m surprised at myself, too): he played the guitar and I stood up with two other women in front of the microphone and sang, because otherwise, some of those songs — especially contemporary ones that need to be replicated exactly the way they are performed on the radio — are too difficult to get through.
(Why not just play the song digitally? I always wondered. We’ll just close our eyes and listen.)
The Worship Plan
Now every church and every congregation has its own way of doing things, but generally there is a “worship plan” as to what songs are chosen, how many, and in what order, so while the specifics vary, the concept of the Plan does not. At the time we were on the worship team, the Plan looked like this:
1) Two songs, quick and lively, immediately before announcements.
2) After announcements, 5 songs, following a theme — prayer, joy, patriotism, spiritual war, etc. We began on a faster, upbeat note and transitioned into a thoughtful, slow, meditative mood. Some days, we were “Jewish,” meaning that everything was in a minor key and sounded like the musical score of Fiddler on the Roof. Other days, we were thoroughly American Gentile, staying firmly on that major key.
3) Two hymns/three contemporary choruses or three hymns/two contemporary choruses. Occasionally, if the songs were short enough, we could sing 6 songs, or 7, but the general time limit was around 15 minutes.
4) If I had any say, at all, I shot down all songs that involved words like, “I lift my hands up,” because I felt like a thorough idiot waving my arms about in front of 150 people and pretending as if I didn’t know they were there. Of course they are there — they’re staring at me.
5) At the close of the Worship Service, we quietly and prayerfully exited the stage, heads bowed, while the pastor strode to the podium and adjusted the microphone clipped to his tie. Worship time is officially over.
Announcements, Songs, Sermon
In every evangelical Christian church we have attended in a lifetime of attending church services, this is what Worship looks like, with variations, as mentioned before, on the type or number of songs sung. What is a given, however, is that there is a Plan, and that Plan is adhered to. In the allotted 10-20 minutes, the congregation sings — “worships” — with no allowance made for extending the time if people are really getting into it, because that sermon, you know, is mandatory.
When we stopped attending weekly church services and started walking the narrow, winding path of the difficult, dissident, independent Christian, I wondered, at first, how I would “worship.”
Not being a particularly good singer (or so my family says) and totally incapable of playing any musical instrument, I figured that worship was no longer a part of my life — because I wasn’t singing, and according to contemporary church culture, worship consists of controlled, corporate, group singing. In bigger churches, it looks more like a concert, and the people in the congregation aren’t really necessary because they’re not as professional as the team up front. (In smaller churches, that doesn’t tend to be an issue.)
The Traditions of Men
So for years, as I sought God, prayed, rested in His arms, meditated upon Scripture, marveled at creation, and thought deeply about truth, peace, hope, and joy, I didn’t worship.
Or did I? Like many aspects of contemporary establishment corporate Christianity, worship is defined by what we do in church services: we sing, as group, led by a smaller group.
When we pray, we pray, as a group, led by an elder, deacon, or pastor.
When we study Scripture, we do so in a group, guided by a Small Group Leader who is most likely an elder, a deacon, or a pastor. (If it’s “just” women, or children, a deaconess can preside, but not if there’s any testosterone in the room.)
I am reminded of Jesus’s words in Mark 7: 6-8, when He responds to the Pharisees’ accusations that Christ’s disciples don’t “live according to the tradition of the elders,”
“He replied — Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but the rules taught by men.’
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
There’s nothing wrong with singing in church, but more than one person has commented, “I don’t feel what the words are saying, but I’m singing them anyway. Is that wrong?”
Stop Limiting Ourselves
Not necessarily, but your question is good. Recognize that worshiping God is not limited, defined, or confined by gathering in a group and following the leaders behind the microphones.
Worship Him alone, at home, on your own — whether or not you sing — by simply focusing on His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His love, His sheer perfection. Read His Word, and seek its truth.
Psalm 100 tells us to “Shout for joy to the Lord,” and I’m sure there will be some mega-church, somewhere, that will make a movement out of doing this literally.
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
“Know that the Lord is God . . . give thanks to him and praise his name.”
Sing, if you wish. Or listen to beautiful music (it doesn’t have to be “Christian”), and let it carry you upward. Or be silent. There is no standard rule — a tradition of men — that God requires you to follow in worshiping Him.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I reach out to, and try to find, the Christians who don’t fit into, or are tired of, contemporary establishment church culture.
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The Misfit Christian (this is my book, written for Christians in or out of a church situation, who are simply tired of feeling that there’s something wrong with them, somehow)
This last week on Facebook was one of general fear, anxiety, panic and despair, not so much because everyone was in and out of relationships, or because Lucky Slots wasn’t doing well, but because too many Christians are preparing for the imminent invasion of the United States by hostile forces.
The overall message was along the lines of, “We’re ready to die! Except . . . we don’t really want to die.
“But Jesus is coming soon and He’s going to end the world anyway, so . . . we’re all going to die!”
If it isn’t ISIS it’s the Russians, and if it isn’t the Russians, it’s the Muslim extremists, and if it isn’t the Muslim extremists, it’s the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which somehow has an effect on us, but the overall tone is one of defeat, despair, discouragement and . . . fear.
Knee Jerk Reaction
And the solution, we’re told and Facebook Christians are repeating, is to invade assorted sovereign nations and blow people up, and if women and children (some of them are our Christian brethren) are caught in the crossfire, then that’s too bad, because they shouldn’t be there in the first place.
This hardly seems like an attitude in line with a people who are against abortion because it takes the life of innocent unborn children, but fear does funny things to us, and the folks who traffic in fear know this. Good people, who would not otherwise kick a dog, call out for “forceful measures” overseas — where we don’t see — and because there are few visuals of the damage caused by these measures (not just buildings blown up, but the people who were sitting in the buildings at the time the bomb hit), we are insulated from the results of our call to action.
“Kill,” we urge, “before they kill us.”
A People of Peace, and Wisdom
It’s not that there’s nothing to fear — but it’s our reaction to information, and disinformation, and misinformation — that is alarming, and that the people who follow the Prince of Peace are among the first to demand that we release the bombs doesn’t say much about our discernment, wisdom, commitment to truth, and thought.
How accurate is the information that we are receiving? (and as an aside, just because Bill O’Reilly says it’s so, folks, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s so.) And what is the result of that information — knowledge? confidence? a falling down on our knees before Almighty God and asking what we should do? He is, after all, our King, and the ultimate leader we follow.
No, it’s anger. And fear.
In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and the disciples head across the sea when a furious squall comes up, and the boat is nearly swamped. Jesus, asleep in the stern, is awakened by panicking disciples, saying (shouting, in my mind),
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
The Wind and Waves of Fear
At this point Jesus arises, rebukes the wind and the waves, and then turns to His disciples and says,
“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
This extremely difficult passage (told also in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25) always puzzles me because I think,
“Well, what are they supposed to do? There’s a storm, and the boat is sinking and You’re, um, asleep.”
The standard preacher pulpit solution that, “They’re supposed to trust Him because He did, after all, say they were going to the other side,” doesn’t fully cover all the questions. Were they supposed to waken Jesus earlier? Or sit down beside Him until He did so on His own? Or keep bailing water?
Obviously, I’m not the only one wondering, because the copious notes at the bottom, which helpfully inform me “miracles are hard for modern man to accept,” and “The sea of Galilee is particularly susceptible to sudden, violent storms,” completely ignores the, “Do you still have no faith?” part.
We Trust the Wrong Sources
But one thing is clear, the disciples’ question, “don’t you care if we drown?” implies a strong distrust in Christ’s ability to handle this storm, and perhaps may give the insight we need to understand Jesus’ following two questions.
There is much to fear in our world today, but as Christians, we are not to be buffeted about by the waves and winds of media and social media despair, calling for extreme action before we even know what we’re fighting. How many innocent people have been shot, beaten, or tasered to death by insecure police troops who reacted — too forcefully — to feeling “threatened”?
We, too, feel threatened — every time we turn on the news or listen to a political commentator — but why is our first response NOT to run to Jesus, asleep in the stern, and say, “I’m frightened. What would you have me to do?”
I seriously doubt that His response would be, “Bomb ’em. Bomb ’em all.”
“As we fight evil people, some innocents will have to be killed,” we sigh, which sounds uncomfortably like the high priest Caiaphas’s advise to the Jews who were out to kill Jesus, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)
That one man did die, and He rose again, and Christians follow Him. As difficult as it is, we must wrestle with Scripture — not change it — and bring our actions, and reactions, into alignment with God’s will.
That will doesn’t look like human politics.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where all I’m asking Christians to do is stop. Think. Question what we’re told. Stop allowing people to manipulate us.
And don’t give in to fear.
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Meditation is one of those words with multiple meanings, and some Christians are frightened by the concept because they think that meditating involves emptying their minds completely and allowing outside spiritual forces to fill the vacuum.
(Interestingly, this is a good description of what happens when we sit in front of the TV, chips in hand, but for some reason we keep doing it.)
Emptying one’s mind, however, is not the only option (and indeed, not a valid one for Christians), and meditation upon Scripture involves actively using that mind as we contemplate, muse, ponder, and deliberate over what we are reading:
“His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2
Consider meditation as an extension of prayer, the fusion of which deepens our relationship with God. With that in mind, here are five thoughts to think about meditation, and making it a part of your life:
Alone with God
1) Find someplace quiet. Thinking requires concentration, and concentration is best accomplished without distraction. Some people find this on a solitary walk; others prefer a door with a lock.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6. Like most people, you may not have a lot of time in your day, but if getting up at 3:30 a.m. doesn’t appeal to you, then make the most of the time you have:
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)
If you only have 5 minutes, then use every one of those 300 seconds.
2) Read the Bible on a regular basis. If memorizing verses is an agony to you, don’t worry about it — regular, consistent time with the Bible is enough to familiarize yourself with its content, and even if you don’t make a point of focusing on one verse for a week, truth will come to your mind when you need it, because you’ve tucked it away, somewhere, in that mind.
Look to the Bible as a source of truth, and you will find it:
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8: 19, 20)
3) Throughout the day, muse on what you’ve read, as opposed to worrying, speculating about the future, or conducting fruitless conversations with imaginary people in your head.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands, and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 11: 17)
While we don’t have to literally slap post-it notes on the backs of our hands and on furniture, when we think about — meditate upon — the stories and histories and relationships and conversations we encounter in the Bible, we are training our mind to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” (Philippians 4:8) and thereby decreasing our anxiety level.
Looking for God
4) Speaking of anxiety, it is frequently in times of stress and pain that we turn to God at all. The good thing is that we’re turning to Him; the bad thing is that worry, fear, and stress can act as mental barriers to hearing His teaching, which is one practical reason to meditate upon Christ’s rhetorical question,
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6: 25)
Nobody prefers bad times to good, but if the circumstances are such that you realize things are out of control and only in the hands of God, you’re on the right track. Recognize this as a time to grow through your experience, continue reading, and actively pursue pondering about what you are reading. When you want to worry, force — literally force — your mind to think about something from the Bible. (If the tendency to fret is invasive enough, this might be a good time to decide that you want to memorize a verse, after all.)
Sometimes, what you read will seem applicable to your situation; other times, it won’t. Don’t obsess — just let your mind poke and prod and tease and question Scripture.
5) Clear your mind of worry by being thankful.
Not for the problems — it’s perverse to pray, “Thank you, God, that I lost my job,” or, “I praise you for this cancer diagnosis.”
But in the midst of the crisis, focus on what isn’t going wrong: “Thank you that there’s enough food to eat.”
“Thank you that bad people aren’t breaking down my door at 3 a.m. and taking me away somewhere.”
“Thank you that the toilet isn’t overflowing.”
Mentally going over things to be thankful for stops the anxiety train, clears the brain, and enables us to prayerfully think — which is what meditation is all about.
Meditation isn’t magic, it doesn’t need to be done with a candle, you don’t need to sit a certain way, and you don’t need to say, “Om.”
When you practice it, however — reflecting upon Scripture, ruminating upon the stories and history of the Word, mentally lingering over a phrase or sentence — you subtly train your mind to be stronger, more focused, and directed on the right things — as you no longer “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2)
Don’t be scared of meditation. Renew your mind with it.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I speak up as an ordinary, individual Christian. I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget, I don’t work through a “Christian” publishing house, and I don’t make movies.
I’m just one, small, tiny David in a world full of Goliaths, trying to point Christians back to the real thing, the real truth, as opposed to what we’re told, taught, and teased is supposed to be Christianity. If you like what you read, please pass me on. And don’t be afraid to start speaking up and out yourself, if you’re not already doing so.
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I have a friend who worked for the medical publication industry — which creates articles and circulars that enjoin:
“Get your flu shot and eat those veggies!”
Years ago, she explained, the written material was created at various reading levels, with the premiere offerings targeted to grade 14 or 15 (a sophomore or junior at college), designed for consumers who were truly curious about healthcare issues and wanted sufficient information to make intelligent choices. That was years ago. Now, most of the material is aimed at the 6th grade level, with the information designed for public aid recipients targeted to the 3rd and 4th grade reading level, or below:
“Flu shots! Veggies!”
While this says something disconcerting about the attitude of the medical and corporate publication establishments toward people they consider poor, it also maligns our entire reading populace: our top readers are comfortable with the vocabulary, syntax, and content of the average 13-year-old, and if you’ve picked up a newspaper lately, or read an article online, you’ll notice that there’s not an abundance of detail, complexity, or sophistication to what, for many people, is the primary reading diet.
Dumbing Down is Dangerous
Why does this matter, other than that it’s insulting to our mental aptitude?
It matters because it’s dangerous. A population accustomed to a lower and lower reading level, its minds unengaged by written content’s demands that the reader comprehend, analyze, question, and discern, becomes dumbed down to the point that people accept what they’re told — not because the information is true, valid, or believable, but because it’s presented in the right fashion: belligerently, or calmly, but always confidently and with no allowance for disagreement.
Bill O’Reilly or Barack Obama, Glenn Beck or Henry Kissinger — it’s not what is said so much as how, and if you can make people feel reluctant to question your pronouncements, then dialogue, and the understanding that there is always more than one side to any argument, becomes obsolete. People won’t disagree simply because they don’t want to look dumb, and many people — insecure creatures that we are — labor under the belief that we ARE dumb — because we don’t hold the right degrees, make an outrageous salary at our job, or host a network news talk show.
Climb out of the Pit
But we’re not dumb, my friends, and one of the best ways we can climb out of this hole is to increase — not decrease — our reading ability. If you’re a Christian, you’ve got a book on your coffee table, written in your own language, that in years past — back when ordinary readers enjoyed Dickens and Austen, Twain and Bronte — was the first and/or primary reading resource of many: the Bible.
The apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3:16, says about the apostle Paul’s writings: “His letters contain some thing that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Paul is, indeed, a difficult writer to understand, a true master at crafting long, grammatically correct sentences which in their English translation are replete with commas, semi-colons, prepositions, dependent clauses, and dashes, but it’s because he’s trying to go so much more beyond, “Jesus loves you,” to deeper truths that confirm, and re-confirm, the mystery of that love.
The more one reads the Bible, the better one gets at it, and in the process of absorbing the history of the Israelites in many of the Old Testament books, or the poetry of the psalms, or the metaphorical language of Isaiah and the prophets, or the difference in tone between the gospel writers Matthew and John, one becomes a more sophisticated reader, and one becomes able to stop and ask,
“Now what is being said here?”
Critical, Discerning, Skeptical — YES
As readers, we start to ask questions, seek answers, build our vocabulary, become comfortable with different writing styles and formats, and gain knowledge of truth that enables us to look at outside sources — the news, movies, TV shows, pop publications, novels, newsletters, press releases, political speeches, non-fiction books (some of which are more fiction than non), YouTube videos, and medical brochures written to third graders — with a more practiced, sophisticated, discerning, intelligent, skeptical eye.
And the beauty of this is that this education is open to anyone with the ability — or desire — to read, and a Bible written in his or her own language. Public aid recipients need not accept that they read at the third grade level, simply because government and corporate entities insist that they do. And indeed, Jesus’ message of hope — that there is life after death and its abundant beauty is available to ALL, not just a globalist few — is one that the poor, the downtrodden, the powerless, and the weak have gravitated to, because it gives us a hope far beyond anything that Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s widely publicized philanthropic productions could ever do.
Only rich people can become sophisticated at discerning the nuances in fine food or wine, because only they can afford to do so. But to become a sophisticated reader: that is within reach of us all, and it’s a far, far more important goal to achieve.
Which is why so much effort is being made these days, to dumb us all down.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my major encouragement — always — is for individual Christians to grab onto their spiritual lives and get serious about getting to know God. This is done — not through following the exhortations of others and depending upon “experts” to interpret spiritual matters to them — but through communicating, directly through prayer, with God, and allowing Him to train us into becoming the person He has designed us to be.
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The Misfit Christian (the more you ask questions, the less you fit into the crowd — and that includes the church crowd. If you’re tired of being made to feel like a pariah, hit the link and at least look inside the book. If you like what you see, read the whole thing.)