"Cry Out": A Worship Experience

A few weeks ago, Dan Ra, Jacob Fu, Ed Sohn and I planned a worship service around the theme of crying out. We first had the chance to lead this service at Agape (Hanin) a local Korean church, but unfortunately it was not recorded. Then Open Table Community Church gave us the opportunity to lead worship in August and we did a similar service there.

The idea behind this was tracing the theme of crying out and shouting throughout the Bible. We felt like in this act, there was a visceral aspect of our worship and interaction with God that is largely missing in today’s worship gatherings. From a Korean heritage, there is the notion of 통성기도 (or prayer in one voice), but even as a Korean American, there is a tendency to avoid this type of worship.

In short, we found 4 aspects of crying out in Scripture:

  1. Crying out, shouting in the presence of God
  2. Crying out of our need
  3. Cry of rebuke
  4. Silence (or the lack of crying out)

In any case, Dan, Jacob, Josh and Margaret Feit really made the musical responses and calls come alive. Dan and Jacob wrote many of the songs themselves, which are simple yet beautiful. Thanks to Agape and Open Table for giving us the chance to give voice to this and for the congregations who were brave enough to go there with us. Enjoy the audio and slides below…

Coming Back To A Heart Of Worship

Something a close friend, who is a worship leader, and I have been meditating upon and wrestling with is dynamic expression of worship. It is an exploratory exercise that reacts to a certain term I’ve heard my friend Peter Ong use to describe a great deal of worship I see in the church today: “worship karaoke” – where the band plays our favorite songs and we follow the words on the screen.

We have come to question the machine, that is to say, the industry of the Christian contemporary praise/worship distribution that licenses and markets this music to us. I don’t dislike all this wonderful artistry or musicianship, but the solutions that buying a “worship leader’s guide” has created new problems.

Ironically, the song, “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman is a great example of this. The song was born under the circumstances where his pastor was discouraged when he saw that worship became too performance-oriented, and thus banned the band. “When the music fades/ and all is stripped away…”

Everyone was questioned as to what it was they brought for their offering – the musicians, the songwriters, the congregation. “I’ll bring you more than a song / for a song in itself is not what you have required…”

And in the midst of uncomfortable silences and new creativity, there was this return to worship, an acknowledgment that the music was secondary to the act of worship. “I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it / It’s all about you, Jesus”

When the “Heart of Worship” has been made into a cliche hit for years now, it can often have the opposite effect of the very spirit in which it was written. Familiarity, as has been said, can indeed breed contempt. And in the spirit of confession, I re-wrote the lyrics to that song to reflect how many of us at one time or another have felt during worship. Continue reading “Coming Back To A Heart Of Worship”

Worship Distilled

At a recent invitation by MrPages at the Wonderful Pages blog, I’ve been asked to participate in a blog carnival re: worship. Woot! One of my favorite topics.

While I’m a bit late in joining the discussion, the first question is intriguing and a wonderful starting point: “When you strip everything away and get to the essense, what is worship?”

I’m not sure that I’m qualified to answer this question at all, but I’ll start of with this:
Worship begins when I see where I end and God begins. Worship is the response borne out of the understanding that I have no leverage with God, that he is holy, and that every breath, every motion, every small of creation that I can muster up to express that sentiment was itself a gift of grace from God. And I am awed that the Giver is amazed when the gift is returned in my voice, my words, and my actions. The Giver has made me a giver; and in essence, worship is the act of taking on the image of God as one who gives without fear of unrequited love.

I am most moved when I read some of the responses of those who have no leverage before God and yet are unafraid to bear the consequences.

In Daniel 3, when the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago are challenged by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship his likeness or be thrown in the fire. The king finishes with a most megalomaniacal question, “If you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Their response is unbelievable: refuse by saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

“Even if he does not”? Wow. That’s worship.

Or check out Job, after the tragedies have beset him, he still has the faith to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”. That’s an attitude of worship.

As I view worship, there is this crazy notion that my trust in God, my hope in God, my love for God is so real and palpable, I don’t even care if God doesn’t acknowledge it, because he’s still worth it. He’s that worth it. In my mind, it’s very similar to the cliffhanging that love is between my wife and me. I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but there was a point in our budding relationship, where I didn’t even care if she loved me back. I loved her so much that it was no longer dependent on her reciprocation of it.

Sound stalker-ish? Maybe. But I had the right heart about it. I didn’t want to possess her or control her. I love her, and in my mind and heart, she didn’t have to love me back, it wouldn’t change the way I feel. That’s when I started to get a glimpse of how God loves us. And that’s where I get the notion that I could love God the same way.

Repentance is worship. A life of repentance is synonymous with a life of worship.

In Judges 10:11-16, there is an interesting story where God plays coy: “You have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you.  Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

The response here again is remarkable about how strong the conviction is to repentance: “‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD.”

That’s the essence of worship to me: an admission to God that this is where I end and He begins. Even if I can’t earn his favor, he is worthy of worship and I’m learning to live with any consequence to that.

The Search for Asian-American Worship

Wanted to share a piece that I had the chance to read by Russell Yee. Make the worship yours…and ours.

by Russell Yee, Oakland, California, USA

    From Chinese Around the World, #185 (June 2004),
    Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism, Hong Kong, pp. 85-90

In 2003 the first Chinese church in America marked its sesquicentennial. San Francisco’s Presbyterian Church in Chinatown was founded in 1853 and continues active ministry with Cantonese, Mandarin, and English speaking congregations. In a century and a half, Chinese-American believers have now multiplied across the nation. In 1996, one study counted 158 Protestant Chinese churches in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Meanwhile, many Chinese-Americans can be found in Asian-American churches alongside Japanese-Americans, Korean-Americans, and other Americans of Asian descent. And Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans have come to dominate many campus ministries. For instance, the students in the University of California, Berkeley chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are overwhelmingly Asian-American.

God has been gracious from generation to generation to call Chinese-Americans to Christian faith and ministry. Nevertheless, despite this considerable history and heartwarming vitality, there remains a critical missing piece in Chinese/Asian-American Christianity. That missing piece is an “indigenous” form of Asian-American worship.
Continue reading “The Search for Asian-American Worship”

Worship In Both Directions: A Chat

My friend, Jason, is a great example of brains and heart to me. Yesterday evening, we had a short conversation on worship that, with his permission, I’d like to share here. Be sure to check out his notes…Enjoy~

Jason: hey david… if you’re interested… here are some notes from small group the other day [On the topic of “Worship as Remembering”]

me: hey thanks i’ll check it out…great opening quote…really nice notes. are these notes prepared b4 the meeting or afterwards? what was some of the feedback you got back?

Jason: mostly after

me: very cool. interesting exercise. i would like to read over it again when i have more time

Jason: sure

me: do you think there’s something particular about asian american worship?

Jason: sorry.. i’m in a seminar, doing some work, and pondering the uniqueness of asian american worship….my initial thoughts have been that there is, but i feel like i don’t know enough about “our” culture to talk about it. i think most of my thoughts on the subject come from conversations with you 🙂

me: right…i know we’ve talked about this before but i know that you being in kind of an active worship leader role. just wondered if that had shaped your thoughts more

Jason: i guess i have some trouble figuring out what is the distinguishing feature of a group that sets it apart from another. two places where i have led worship lately are at aacf and at our belmont cell… now, i wonder if the differences i observe there in worship are due to cultural differences or just the fact that belmont people are.. you know.. belmont

me: 🙂 valid question. perhaps you should increase your n [sample size]

Jason: i notice at aacf, people seem to like more organized and structured worship. i think that relates to one of the points in your worship manifesto post

me: to be more disorganized?

Jason: yeah.. more free. people get uncomfortable when there aren’t words to be sung
(in bewteen songs, etc.)

me: yes, i know. i don’t know why

Jason: and that’s not the case at belmont cell

me: sure

Jason: in fact…. those seem to be the best times of worship

me: hmmm…interesting

Jason: now.. is that something that is “wrong” with worship at aacf? or is there something there that can be cultivated from this need to be “prepared” (verse, chorus, verse, chorus x2, bridge, chorus!). when i went to church with amanda at belmont united methodist, i found myself initially thrown off by the seeming lack of freedom in worship there– the set readings and prayers, etc. but then i realized how these people around me were in intimate communion with God during worship and there is something to be learned from that style of worship. i’m not exactly sure what that is. ok… i’m going to stop typing for a bit…

Continue reading “Worship In Both Directions: A Chat”