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                Imagine that you travelled to a previously undiscovered island with inhabitants somewhere in the Mediterranean. These people that lived on the island were quite normal except for the fact that they had not been exposed to Western culture (which is not actually bad, in some ways.) As you spent time with these people, they invited you to their church. In their church they sang the most beautifully written songs, sung with the most angelic voices you had ever heard.  After talking to the people you realize that these songs are worship songs written to Personapapiza, a god made of pepperoni. One of the great oddities of their worship of a god made of pepperoni is that the people seem to have no real idea of what that delicious meat actually is. They are simply singing songs, great songs performed perfectly, to something that is not there with them and can do nothing for them.

              If we heard about something like this, we would probably shake our heads, and say “bless their hearts” in the most Southern way that we could. It would be strange for someone to worship something like pepperoni, especially if you had no idea what it was, no matter how well you do it.

            This leads us to the third part of true worship - the most important part of worship is not the songs we sing, or the volume at which we sing them, but the One to whom we are worshipping (don’t misunderstand – what we sing and how we sing is important, just not as important as to whom we are singing.). We can write the greatest songs and have the greatest singers perform them, but if the object of our worship is not worthy, or with us, then it is all done in vain.

            Worship is “God’s people, proclaiming God’s praises, in God’s presence.” When we come to worship God, we must always remember that God is with us as we do it. Worship is not a performance of our most talented, entertaining us (there is a time for being entertained by talent, but let’s not confuse that with true worship.) Worship is the most unworthy being allowed to praise the God of Eternity. Worship is a beggar standing before the King of Kings and letting the King know how great He is.

            A problem of many churches is that we forget that God is in the building with us (or at least He should be, if He is not we are doing something completely wrong), or, even as sadly, we take for granted that God is there. Church members show up and act as if God is impressed that we happened to make it on this particular Sunday. We muddle through Sunday school without taking full advantage of being able to study God’s word with fellow Christians, and then we go to a worship service and sit checking our watches making sure we get out exactly the prescribed hour. Everything about the service is about us, and if it is not to our liking then someone will hear about it. No wonder churches become dry, boring places. It becomes all about us, and compared to God of Heaven, we are dry and boring people.

           Worship is a time for us to be with God and let Him know how great He is and how satisfied we are in Him and His provisions for us. Church worship is where a whole bunch of us gather together to remind each other how great God is and lift Him up. When worship is done correctly, we do not leave feeling entertained, but we leave feeling excited. We have been in the presence of God, and we have lived to tell about it. Worship should be a fire in our bones that consumes us, and forces us to want more. If we walk out of the church building just like we walked in, then we are doing it wrong. No one comes into God’s presence without being changed. Worship is where this begins.

          Let us throw away boring and useless worship that does us no good, and barely allows God to be involved. Let us long for time to be near God with other fellow believers. Let our voices cry out to the goodness of God, and allow Him to touch our lives and change us completely.

 

MJ

                Several weeks ago, Jennifer and I went to a concert. It was not just any concert, but a performance by Chris Tomlin and Matt Maher. It was awesome and blew us away. It also had something a little different than most concerts I’ve attended. During the middle of it a preacher (Darren Whitehead) came out and shared a sermon with us. It was over the seven Hebrew words used for praise (worship) in the Old Testament. I had never heard them before, so it was very eye-opening.

                The most remarkable thing about the words for praise is that they are all active words.  In praise and worship, we are to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish (Hallal), we are to throw open our hands in worship (Yadah), to extend our hands in thanks for things not yet received (Towdah), to shout (Shabach), to kneel down (Barak), to play an instrument or sing joyfully (Zamar), and to sing hymns of the Spirit or praise (Tehillah) - (https://www.aglow.org/images/leaderDev/seven-praise-words.pdf). In praise and worship, we are to be actively involved in lifting up the glorious name of God for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.

                The preacher spoke about the first time he went to a church that had real, active praise and worship, it freaked him out. I understand that. The church I grew up in did not do any hand raising or get too excited. The deacons might occasionally throw out an “amen” if the preacher made a point that we really agreed with, but not much more than that. It was always a little shocking to go someplace new, where people really got into the worship. Outwardly, it always felt wrong, but inwardly I knew that they were doing something that I truly longed for – being free to let God know how I really felt about Him. This is what the heart of really worshipping is – letting God know what we think, believe, and experience about Him. The Old Testament writers understood that worshipping God meant not being comfortable, but being honest.

                Our worship must be honest adoration. It must come from the place inside of us that understands that we were once both dead because of sin and slaves to sin. This truth is crushing and takes the joy out of living. The Good News of Jesus Christ brings us to true life and frees us from the bondage of sin. This truth should set our souls and hearts on fire. It should push us to move away from what is comfortable and to what is right. The truth of the Gospel should make us tap our toes, clap our hands, lift our arms, and sing as loudly as we can. We have been freed. Free people live like free people and they sing like free people.

                We are God’s people. We are his redeemed. We are under the blood of Christ. Now it is time that we proclaim God’s praises. If you are redeemed, then you know that God is worthy of your praise. It really should not be that hard. I know that I have no problem declaring the praises of many other things (take for example my beloved Dawgs – I can easily spend an hour telling you how great they are.) The praise to the one who saved us should flow so easily from us. It should be like breathing. Breathe in – proclaim God’s goodness. Breathe out – declare His awesomeness. It needs to be that easy for us.

                I believe that a church should be the most exciting place on Earth (even more than Disneyworld.) Nowhere else does one find true freedom. Our church should echo with the voice of a hundred lifting our great God. Arms need to be lifted, hands opened to God, and voices rising to the heavens proclaiming what has happened to us.

                Imagine what Sundays would feel like if we truly praised God (and yes, I do believe that there is clearly time for quiet reflection and remembrance. Worship does include time for quiet and time for loudness. There is absolutely no hostility between the two, nor should there be in a church.) If our hearts were set to worship as the Psalmist of the Old Testament led their people to set their hearts, we could not wait to get to church. We would get up earlier and prepare beforehand. We would invite as many people as possible to share in our joy. This only happens when we open up to Him and get out of our own way. It also opens the Heavens and the Spirit pours down upon us.

                Our goal should be to worship as God intends us to. Our goal is to bring the same level of excitement to worship that we bring to a hundred other places that does not mean as much as the church does. If you are willing to be free in your worship, I promise that God will be free in sending His Spirit to dwell with us. When we lift Jesus up in our praises, other people will respond, and want to be a part of what is happening.

MJ

                I have not always been a music fan. Growing up, music was something that might or might not be on in the car as we travelled. Around our house, we listened to a lot of talk radio (which was way before talk radio became the cesspool of negativity that exists to attack anyone who disagrees with it.) WSB 750 in Atlanta seemed to always be on, with good reason. It was the station that shared the weather constantly and played the Braves, Bulldogs, Falcons, and Hawks games. Occasionally a pop station might get played, but not much. I do not believe that I cared about music until I was in middle school and a friend let me borrow his Creedence Clearwater Revival tape (“Bad Moon Rising” was the start.) Music changed for me that moment. Gone was bubble gum pop, and it was replaced with classic rock with lots of guitars and drums with the occasional, questionable lyric. My mom used to call the music I listened to “funeral music”, but what did she know – she was old and just didn’t understand (never mind I really loved the music from her youth.)

                Christian music was around, but only listened to on Sundays on the way to church, and that was mostly Amy Grant/Sandi Patty type of songs – songs I was not in to. It was mostly, at least to me, pop songs that simply replaced some mysterious person and his/her pronoun with Jesus. Sometimes these songs went the other way and replaced the name Jesus with some personal pronoun that would make the song less offensive. A youth minister changed that when he played Petra and Keith Green. Music that rocked about Jesus and was not simple little love songs. Petra and Keith Green were soon replaced with DC Talk (Jesus Freak is the single best Christian album ever produced and I am willing to fight over that) and Newsboys. Unnecessary silence was replaced with songs, real songs, about Jesus, and I needed it to get through my days.

                Eventually, many of these artists, such as Michael W. Smith, began to write praise and worship songs. Solo car rides (always solo-I do not sing loudly in front of anyone other than my family, and everyone else is thankful) were filled with both rocking Christian songs and praise and worship songs. It felt like I was actually singing,” I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”, forever, and it was great. Praise and worship songs soon found their way into youth services and then into church services. Some of these songs were good, some were not, but they were there.

                Of course, anytime a church tries anything new, there is bound to be resistance. Clearly a church could in no way sing both “Blessed Assurance” and “Shout to the Lord” in the same service. This brought forth the Great Worship Wars of the late ‘90’s and early ‘00’s where thousands were maimed and killed in this most deadly war (that is actually not true. No one died, but there were plenty of hurt feelings and church breakups.) Churches, even today, try to find a proper way to best bring musical worship into a church service.

                If you have bothered to read the last four paragraphs, you may be asking yourself where is this going? Not a bad question to ask because it is leading somewhere. Over the next week or so, I will write several articles about praising and worshipping God through music and its importance. It is something that I do consider important, and I hope that you will read each article with an open heart. You may not agree with my preferred style of music to worship with, but you should agree with the importance of worship. I hope to help us move to a much deeper and meaningful musical worship time in your private life and in our church life. For those of you to whom, music is not that important, maybe I will introduce you to a song or artist that changes your mind. It is impossible to completely separate songs with praise in the Bible, so in order to have a true sense of Biblical praise and worship we must sing and sing loudly and boldly. Hopefully, I will be able to help you with this. I am looking forward to this journey.

MJ

I've heard a thousand stories of what they think you're like
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you're pleased
And that I'm never alone

(Good Good Father, Songwriters: Anthony Brown / Joseph Patrick Martin Barrett Good Good Father lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group)

Last week (10-28-17) my beloved Georgia Bulldogs took their annual pilgrimage to Jacksonville, Florida to play the villainous Florida Gators. For the last twenty years, this trip had usually left us Dawg (this is the proper spelling to address us) fans feeling very blue. The Gators have owned us. This year was different though. We were a much better team, and it did not take long to show. We (I have no problem counting myself as part of the team) were up by three touchdowns within the first eight minutes of game time. The game really was never in doubt, and I enjoyed every minute of it (don’t get me wrong, I panicked from time to time – some habits are hard to break.) I celebrated our success and have no problem letting everyone know how awesome my team is right now. I do not have to be told to be excited. It just comes naturally as if my sporting soul yearns to celebrate with my team.

You're a good good father
It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are
And I'm loved by you
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

                Our souls do cry out to celebrate, to worship. We were created to worship. We will worship something. This is why stadiums are filled with screaming lunatics living and dying for what some athlete does. This is why concert halls are packed with people shouting out the lyrics of their favorite songs being sung by their favorite singers. Both instances are acts of worship. It is our souls lifting something up. We do not need instructions on doing this. It comes naturally. We are creations that are created to worship. Our problem is that we worship other created things and not the true creator. There is a reason why football games and concerts always leave us feeling empty at some point. They cannot do what we need them to do – fill the hole in our souls that worshipping the One, True God does.

I've seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we're all searching
For answers only you provide
'Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word

            At the heart of worship is a simple statement – God’s People, proclaiming God’s Praises, in God’s Presence (I do not know who originated this statement, but I love it and am stealing – I mean borrowing it.) Our worship begins with realizing who we are. We tend to flip things around. We act like worship begins with music or words, but it does not. It begins with us. It starts with His people living like they are his people. Worship begins with the absolute true belief that we were sinners on our way to a deserved eternity in Hell. We took every opportunity we could, to do the exact opposite of what God desired for us to do. We were rebellious creations who thought we were good enough to be our own god. Then one day, we were confronted with the Good News of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sins were exposed and our need for a Savior was clear. We confessed and repented of our sins and asked Jesus to be our Lord and Savior.

Oh, it's love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

            When our hearts are turned towards the Savior of our life, then we begin to truly worship.  We know that we have been redeemed, and not through our works. Our works were never good enough. We needed rescuing, and like the hero he is, Jesus stepped out of heaven and put on flesh to become the sacrifice for our sins. While we fought against him, he died for us. Our hearts are now healed, and our hearts can now lead us to sing and shout to the Creator and not to the creation. We no longer live and die by athletes, singers, or any other person. We are God’s people. The natural response of the saved, is to worship the one who saved us. Worship is the outflow of the inward change, so we worship. We worship in our homes, we worship in our cars, we worship at our jobs, and we most definitely worship at church. This Sunday, and every Sunday, let us live as God’s People and show it. Sing at the top of your lungs. Do not worry about what others might think. You are not singing for them. They did not rescue you from Hell – God did. We are His People and let us let everyone know it.

You are perfect in all of your ways
It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are
And I'm loved by you
You are perfect in all of your ways
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

MJ

            Did you know that Shallow Well had rock stars? I do not mean like Mick Jagger or John Lennon rock stars, but people who are just as awesome as those guys. One thing I love about this church is that there are many of you who go above and beyond what is expected, and do it with joy and total commitment. In my book, that makes you a rock star (or something even better. If you do not like rock star change the term to something you like, maybe superduperstar or something.)

            Last weekend two of our Rockstar members (and one, who once was) went to prison. I mean behind barbed wire, with guards, and plenty of locks. What did they do wrong? Absolutely nothing. In fact, they voluntarily went there. They committed no crime, but they gave up their weekend to spend it in a maximum-security prison. But they didn’t just give up a weekend, they spent the last six months getting ready for this. Why would they do this? Simple. To share and show the love of Jesus to some women who truly needed it. They went to prison not as prisoners, but as people who could free prisoners from their spiritual chains. They became the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus. They invited Jennifer and me, to come to the closing, and it was extraordinary. Lives were changed through their work.

            So, who are our rock stars? They are Mary Griffin, Judy Watson, and Susan Thomas. They spent the weekend doing Kairos #9. If you do not know, Kairos means “God’s Special Time.” That is exactly what they made it (along with a lot of other women and workers.) I tried to think of how I could put into words what they did and experienced but realized I had no real idea about it. So, I asked them to. They responded by writing a few thoughts they had from their experience. I want to share them with you.

Kairos #9

Kairos #9 was an amazing weekend.  When the participants arrived for the weekend, they were happy to be there.  They were glad to finally be chosen for “their Kairos experience”.    One of the most touching moments of the weekend was when they first saw the prayer chain introduced.  Their first thought was “that is nice that people are praying”.  As the day went by, more and more prayer chain was introduced.  With tears in her eyes, one Inmate at my table said “this is the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.  To think, these people are praying for us.  I never realized anyone cared what happened to us.”

 

The thing that occurs to me each time I go into the prison, is the fact that these inmates are people, like us, who have made wrong choices and poor decisions.  No matter what they have done, God loves them and offers them his forgiveness if they ask for it.  Should we do any less?  He forgives us when we sin, and he also forgives the Prisoner when they sin.  Many, on this Kairos weekend asked God to forgive them.  Their Christian walk will not be an easy one, so please keep them in your prayers.

Thank you for your donations, prayers and words of encouragement as we prepared and took part of the Kairos #9 Weekend.   Your support means a lot to us on the Kairos Team.

                See, I told you we had rock stars. People who go above and beyond what most people expect from them. People who put aside their fears, and shared the love of Jesus with people most of us would never get to talk to (and if we were honest, probably would not want to talk to.) The next time you see them, give them a big hug. Let them know how excited you are for their work. Maybe even ask them how you can get involved in such a magnificent work. They will be glad to share with you.

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