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.
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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…

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Worship Manifesto

Around the country in Asian churches, on any given Friday night there are dozens of “praise nights”, revivals, and retreats, but although “a life of worship” may often be the rallying call, worship itself is often an afterthought, a gimmick, an attention-getter for the young generation. Musical worship is the “opening act”, or in some cases, a talent showcase, or at worst, a church bragging rights contest. But if I might be so bold…worship is something sacred, where the deepest part of me cries out to the Deep. So while I don’t consider myself a worship leader who has the right to offer these suggestions, I do consider myself a worshipper.

  1. Stop singing Chris Tomlin / David Crowder / Matt Redman / Hillsong songs (or whatever songs you always sing) for a few weeks. What would you sing that is not part of the contemporary Christian worship industry? “Sing a new song…”
  2. Write your own worship songs with talented people in your midst. Write from your heart and your story. What has God done in your life, neighborhood, community? Sing that for Sunday worship. Can you imagine an Asian American church that actually offered worship that was particularly written from our hearts? Wouldn’t we sing about growing up latchkey kids who now have keys to the Kingdom? Or how our pursuit of success and security is a chasing after the wind, not the breath of life.
  3. Unplug — quit trying for that electric sound. These aren’t performances, these are collective prayers. Imagine a sanctuary that is filled with pure, unamplified, unadulterated praise.
  4. Don’t practice the music, practice the heart. Too many praise teams work on timing, transitions, chorus buildups, and harmonies, but the real work of worship happens before an instrument is ever picked up. Asians love to get organized and ordered, but let’s be honest, you can’t schedule a true revival and you can’t pinpoint a move of the Spirit either, so if you think practice is going to take you there, you’re almost all wrong.
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Chat About Worship (feat. Peter Ong)

Much ado about worship these days…and rightfully so, it’s a kaleidoscopic subject.

Click here for a good sample of articles from Billy Park, and then my last post, “You Don’t Even Know Hymn…

Here Peter Ong and David Park share some thoughts on the topic. Feel free to jump in the conversation, we know this happens at a church near you. 🙂

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