Does Jesus Care About Our Worship?

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.23.31 PMEvery week, worship is designed in churches all across this land.  As worship is designed, there are some basic questions that are posed.  What is the Scripture passage for the weekend?  Which songs will we use to lead the congregation in worship?  Will we serve communion, baptize anyone, invite people to the altar, or have some other form of response during the service?  I could go on for quite some time about the various questions we ask about the weekend services because there are many.  However…there is one question that most churches are NOT asking that MUST be asked if we truly seek to be the Church.

The question that churches must be asking about their worship is…

Does Jesus care about our worship?

On the surface it is a simple question, but it really is not all that simple once we begin to ask it.  If we want to know whether or not Jesus cares about our worship, you must first understand what Jesus cares about.  And, while Jesus cares about many things, it is obvious that there is a clear frontrunner.  In fact, in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus bursts onto the scene and the first thing He does is boldly state what He cares about:

After John (the Baptist) was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” – Mark 1:14-15

Jesus cares about people changing their hearts and lives and trusting in the good news and He spent His earthly ministry making that happen.  Sure, He also spent time healing the sick, giving voice to the voiceless, giving hearing to the deaf, and even raised the dead but that is not why He came.  He came for the very simple purpose of helping us change our hearts and lives and trust in the good news.  This doesn’t happen through a long drawn-out academic endeavor.  Nor does it happen by memorizing all the right Scripture passages.  It happens by simply remaining in Him:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. – John 15:4-8

I have looked through this passage.  I am not sure Jesus could have squeezed another “remain in me” in there!  It was clearly important that people remain in Him.  That may mean different things for different people depending upon how spiritually mature they are but, it is abundantly clear here that remaining in Christ (having a real relationship with Him) is something He cares about deeply.  Why does He care about it?  He cares about it because it is remaining in Him that enables us to have changed hearts and trust in the good news!

Because this was such an important mission, one that He cared so deeply for, after He rose from the dead, He gathered His disciples around Him and said:

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

This was Jesus’ way of saying, “Guys, it is really important to me that everyone know the same love that you have received from Me.  Because it is so important to Me, I am sending you out to the world to share that love.  Disciple them as I have discipled you.  Love them as I have loved you.  Teach them to remain in me as I have taught you to.”  We call this the Great Commission and we call it that for a reason.  This is when Jesus passed the mantle, if you will, of His mission.  This is when Jesus told His followers that what He cared about MUST be what they cared about.

Matthew is not the only place we see Jesus do this with the disciples.  Shortly before the day of Pentecost, Jesus sat with His disciples and spoke these final words to them before He ascended into heaven:

“It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8

Much like the Great Commission in Matthew, Jesus sends out the disciples to tell the story so that people will come to faith in Christ and find forgiveness, salvation, and the love of God.  These are the final words that Jesus speaks to His disciples and with these words, Jesus starts the Church.  Understand this.  The Church was established with the call to action to be witnesses for Jesus Christ so that others would be saved through a relationship with Jesus Christ as they remain in Him. 

So, back to our secondary question.  What does Jesus care about?  Well, if you take Jesus’ words to heart, then we have to understand that Jesus cares about bringing people into a relationship with Him.  It is what He was about and it is what He told the Church to be about.

Now, back to our primary question.  Does Jesus care about our worship?

If we answered this theoretically, the answer would be yes.  If worship is our offering of reverence, adoration, and praise to God then worship would be pleasing to Jesus.  The problem is, often times our worship is not an offering of reverence, adoration, and praise to God.  Unfortunately, it is often a process of going through the motions of traditions with the occasional cool thing for the sake of doing a cool thing.

Traditions and cool things are not inherently bad.  But, if those traditions and cool things are not actually bringing people into an encounter with Christ in a way that establishes and/or builds a relationship with Him…are we doing what Christ called us to do?  And if we are not…does Jesus really care about our Worship?

Ask yourself these questions.  Are you doing that catchy new series because it is cool or because it will actually help people grow?  Are you scheduling the Bell Choir on Sunday because they are “due” to play or because their presence will propel the community of faith into a worshipful encounter with Christ?  Are you observing that “special Sunday” because you always have or because you know that people will encounter Christ in a fresh way as a result?  Are you keeping that one element of worship because, if you don’t, Betty, a 40 year member, will raise a fuss or because it actually enhances worship? 

Every church worships differently…but we all have a common goal.  Jesus laid it out pretty plainly. Be His witnesses, make disciples, remain in Him, share the good news.

Next time you sit down, whether by yourself, or with your team…ask this question:

Does Jesus care about our worship?

It is not always an easy question to ask…and it can be an even harder question to answer.  But, when we design our worship in a way that seeks to make every element something that fulfills the mission of the Church and tug on the heartstrings of Christ…our worship will exceed our wildest expectations.

Our worship is meant to connect people to Christ and enable them to remain in Christ.  That is the kind of worship that Jesus cares about.  Is that the kind of worship you care about?

When Jesus Meets Your Shame

ShameTwo people.  A seemingly perfect life.  They had everything they needed…yet they reached for what they could not (or should not) have…and it all fell apart.

Adam and Eve were deceived.  But they were not innocent.  Both of them…male and female…took fruit from the one tree that God commanded them to leave alone and in that simple act, sin entered the world.  But sin did not come alone.  Right on sin’s heels came the ever-powerful emotion of shame.

Shame works on many different levels.  On one hand…shame helps a culture or society maintain its norms.  Imagine yourself enjoying a night of intimate bliss with your spouse.  Everything is going great until your child walks into the room.  Suddenly, arms and legs are flying every which way in a desperate attempt to cover yourselves up.  You don’t do this because you are ashamed that you are engaging in sexual intercourse.  You cover up because there are simply some things that do not need to be seen by others.  That emotion that causes you to cover yourself is shame.  The origins of this word (shame) are linked to the idea of covering up.  Remember what Adam and Eve’s first move was once they ate the forbidden fruit?  That’s right.  They covered up.  They hid their nakedness.  They masked their shame.

My wife and I enjoy the show Impractical Jokers.  They do some hilarious things.  And, they do some things that inevitably make us say, “he has no shame” (for instance…when one man flings the bathroom door open in a coffee shop while sitting on the toilet to ask the crowded establishment for some toilet paper).  Shame, to a certain extent keeps some civility to our society.  It is, in a way, a control mechanism to maintain cultural standards and values.  The debate could be made as to how far the positive attributes of shame extend…but for our purposes, allow us to simply acknowledge that shame, to a certain extent, can work for good in our world.

The problem is, there is a huge downside to shame.  While shame can help maintain some sort of value-based foundation, it can also destroy a person’s self-image so much that they are unable to move forward in life.  Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist in Chicago once said:

Shame is self-sabotaging. It triggers feelings that we are unwell, unworthy, unlovable. Clients often identify with their shame and feel unworthy to welcome into their lives all the love, prosperity, abundance and happiness that is inherently theirs, simply for the asking.

Shame can be very dangerous when we allow it to define who we are.

Take Peter for example.  Peter was a fisherman who encountered Jesus Christ on his boat one day.  Jesus just made a miracle catch of fish take place and Peter, a seasoned fisherman, knew that this was not normal.  Upon his realization of whose presence he was blessed to experience, he responded out of shame:

Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner. – Luke 5:8

He wasn’t wrong.  He was a sinner.  We all are.  Where he was wrong was in thinking that because he was a sinner, he was unworthy.  Our shame, which accompanies our sins and shortcomings, convinces us that we are unworthy, unlovable, and simply not good enough.  And sometimes, like Peter, it causes us to think that Jesus will see us the same way.

Jesus’ response, however, was very different from what Peter thought it was going to be.  His response was quite simple.  No condemnation, no judgment, no ridicule.  Jesus simply said:

Do not be afraid.  From now on you will be fishing for people. – Luke 5:10

It is as if Jesus does not even acknowledge Peter’s shame.  Maybe because shame is a construct of humanity.  God did not create shame and He certainly does not intend for you to be defined by shame.

Maybe Jesus’ words to Peter are the same words He desires to speak to you.  Maybe, rather than letting shame define who you are, it is time you let Jesus define who you are.  Maybe, what Jesus was communicating to Peter, He wishes to communicate to you right now:

Do not be afraid.  I know what is in your heart.  It’s okay.  Just walk with me.

For more on shame and how Jesus responds to your shame…check out my message from Sunday!

You’re a Failure…and That’s Okay

This is the time of year where we hear a certain story.  I’m not talking about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, His crucifixion, or His resurrection.  Those would be too easy.  Rather, I am talking about Peter’s denial of Christ.  It is a common story to talk about and think about.  And…in the midst of doing so…you will probably hear Peter being criticized for his actions.  But…my reading for today got me thinking:
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I’ll give up my life for you.”  Jesus replied, “Will you give up your life for me? I assure you that you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.
It must have been an embarrassing moment for Peter.  To be called out like that is never fun…especially in front of all your friends.  And…it must have been even worse when Peter lived into Jesus’ prediction.  But what captures my attention is not that Peter failed or the fact that Jesus knew he would.  What captures my attention is the fact that Jesus knew what Peter would do…and it was okay.
Don’t get me wrong.  It is never a good idea to deny Jesus.  However, in the midst of this story, Jesus never kicks Peter to the curb.  He never treats Him any differently.  He does not expect Peter to be anyone other than who Peter was.  Remember…this is the dude that Jesus called “Rock” and established as, at the very least, one of the inner 3.  Peter wasn’t just some random dude.  No, Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus and he is about to fail Jesus severely.  But…again…it seems okay.
I realize as I look at this story, that it is okay because of what has not yet happened.  It is okay because at this point Peter doesn’t really get the fullness of who Jesus is.  It is okay because in a very short amount of time Jesus would die on a cross for people just like Peter.  And…it is okay…because in a few days, Jesus would rise from the dead and overcome the death that is the result of our sins.
I often wonder if I am like Peter.  The answer is almost always a “yes”.  I fail Jesus…and so do you.  We make mistakes, we sin against our Savior, and we fail to be the people that God created us to be.  But, because of what was about to happen for Peter…and what we will celebrate this weekend…it’s okay.
There is a strange truth this time of year.  You are a failure and that’s okay……because Jesus Christ has died and rose again so that you can be forgiven.