Biblical Worship

Why Do You Repeat Stuff So Much in Worship?!

Why Do You Repeat Stuff So Much in Worship?!

By Jon Nicol   |  May 20, 2014

A ready-to-go introduction for worship, including the graphics...

Tidings of Discomfort and Freaking Out...

Tidings of Discomfort and Freaking Out...

By Jon Nicol   |  November 12, 2013

If you're ready to punch every blow-up Santa in the face that you walk past between December 2nd and Christmas Eve, you might be a "worship leader."

Do You Need to Recover the Hunger to Worship?

Do You Need to Recover the Hunger to Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  August 6, 2013

Worship leaders are so often forced to focus on the mechanics and the practical. If you're like me, your soul is hungry for the WHY once again.

What Myths of Worship Do You See?

What Myths of Worship Do You See?

By Jon Nicol   |  July 2, 2013

What are some wrong beliefs surrounding worship that you see in our churches?

Exaggerating God?

Exaggerating God?

By Jon Nicol   |  June 19, 2013

His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can't contain Him...

One of the Overlooked Actions of Worship...

One of the Overlooked Actions of Worship...

By Jon Nicol   |  May 27, 2013

It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S.. For most people, it marks the beginning of summer, means a three-day weekend, and involves at least one cookout.

The point of it, however, is to remember those who died in the service of their country. To remember them is to honor their lives and sacrifices.

Have you ever thought about the role remembering plays in our worship? Look at the language of worship in Psalm 42, a desperate prayer by David:

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you
;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you…
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Then what does David pray?

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

For David, remembering was act of worship as much as praise and seeking. Listen to what another Psalmist says:

Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and compassionate. (Psalm 111)

Worship must involve remembering.

A Hole in Your Worship
I’ve been in worship services where good things were sung to God and about God - his attributes were lifted up: holiness, grace, power, love. But it felt like something was missing. It is fitting to lift up and magnify God’s attributes. But if we fail to remember, it leaves a hole in our worship.

So, what are we to remember?

Asaph gives us a hint in Psalm 77. We’re not told why, but this psalmist having a REALLY bad day. In the first nine verses we get the picture that nothing can comfort him. At one point, he tries to remember his good days with the Lord. From that, all he wonders is, “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”

But then he said this:

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.

And what mighty deed did he remember? The Israelites escape through the waters of the Red Sea. For the people of Israel, the exodus from Egypt was the most important event to remember - God delivered them out of slavery and brought them to the promised land. It was a defining event.

So as Christians, what is our defining event? It’s good to remember all of God’s deeds from Creation to the current moment, but one event must be remembered above all: the Christ-event—the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and (even though it hasn’t happened yet) the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Maybe in subsequent posts we can talk about the how — specific ways to worship God through remembering Jesus Christ. But I want to end with some why. Why is it important to remember as part of worship?

Why Remembering Is Crucial to Our Worship

1. It’s foundational to our faith and beliefs.
Without the whole Christ-event, we are a group of semi-nut-jobs who are deluding themselves through religious entertainment. The Christ-event is our core, our identity.

2. It puts us and our feelings in the right place.
Too often, our worship is about what we feel and what we think we should experience. That kind of worship puts us on center stage. But worship is first and always about God and who he is. Remembering his works puts us in our proper place in the story: God is the Hero of this story, and we are the supporting cast—and only a extremely short scene.

For Asaph, he had to get himself off center stage. His comfort and healing was found when he stopped focusing on himself and leaned into the story of God’s redemeeming work.

3. God’s glory is revealed to us through his story.
Through God’s story—his Word—we see his interaction with his people throughout history. And the ultimate interaction is God becoming flesh to live, die, rise and be glorified at the Father’s side. We cannot get a clearer picture of God’s glory than through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But it requires that we remember.

Why Applause Matters

Why Applause Matters

By Jon Nicol   |  May 15, 2013

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence...

The Next Worship Album You Will Buy...

The Next Worship Album You Will Buy...

By Jon Nicol   |  May 8, 2013

A Rare Find
This past weekend I was at Christian Musicians Summit at The Chapel outside of Buffalo, New York. Of all the talent there, the group that I was most stoked to see was One Sonic Society.

If you don't know, OSS is the worship band comprised of uber-producer and uber-uber-songwriter Jason Ingram, along with Stu G and Paul Mabury from Delirious. Besides being a great drummer, Paul's producing everyone (including this little-known group called All Sons and Daughters) and Stu G is, well, Stu G.

Besides a hired-gun bass player, they had another guy playing acoustic and singing with them - Tim Timmons. I had heard his name before and a song or two, probably on a Song Discovery album.

Jason Ingram introduced Timmons and invited him to play a few of his songs. The One Sonic Society concert was the highlight worship time of the conference for me. And the mini-set by Timmons within that concert was the pinnacle.

Tim led with intensity - but not the angst-ridden, emotionally charged intensity of some worship acts. It was an intensity that oozed joy and a deep hunger for Jesus.

He shared briefly that he has cancer. Reading his bio, I found that it's an incurable cancer that he's lived with for 12 years. And you can see and hear that he's been refined by that fire.

His full-length album doesn't release until June 4, but he had copies of it there for sale. There was a mad rush after the concert out to the merch table. If he didn't sell out, I'd be surprised.

Spinning it in the days since, I can't tell you the last time I listened to a worship album with this much depth, yet so accessible. Tim weaves gut-level honesty with hope. And even in the songs that talk about suffering, he does it in a way that we can all grab on to it, even though most of us aren't fighting an incurable cancer.

Let me give you a glimpse of the album.

"Cast My Cares" by Tim Timmons

Musically, it's refreshing. You don't hear any U2-esque guitar parts that saturate modern worship right now. There's a tasteful mix of real drums, subtle loops and electric guitars braided together with more organic stuff: acoustic guitar, piano, cello and even touches of americana instruments–banjo, dobro, etc. –yet without sounding Mumford-y.

Cast My Cares, the title track, has this congregationally-friendly melody and super catchy chorus. The lyrics have a Psalm-like progression of desperation in the first verse that turn to hope in the second.

Let's Be Beautiful is a call to leave religion–especially American Christianity. He paints the picture of a literal bride and asks if we're this beautiful. And is our beauty drawing others to Christ, or "is His glory divided, cuz we're looking at ourselves too much?" Wow...

Tim has a knack for using metaphor without getting too abstract. Check out this lyric in I Will Follow Love:

There is a peace and there is a war, both running through my veins
One is a stream, one is a storm, both calling out my name

Who can't relate with that?

In the piano-driven ballad, Great Reward, we get a glimpse of Timmon's struggle with cancer with lyrics like "I won't demand to know the reasons for my sufferings" and "these open hands will trust your wisdom beyond what I see, in joy and sorrow all for your kingdom's sake."

And then in the bridge, I can't help but be challenged by his prayer:

I know this is dangerous and daring just to pray this,
I will trust You Lord
the Rock throughout the ages, You make me courageous,
I will trust You Lord

The song that grabbed me both at the concert and as I listen now is Christ in Me. Tim's asking the question, 'what if I really believed the notion of "Christ in me"?'

I can't shake this song. It's going to find its way into a service very soon, and eventually become part of my church's hymnody. We need this song. In fact, I'm thinking about making it an anthem we return to more often during the next season of my church. It's giving voice to what the leadership of my church has been asking for awhile.

Bottomline: Tim Timmons is a guy who's genuinely saying with his life and music, "Follow me and as I follow Christ."

Is it Enough Just to Eliminate Distractions from Worship?

Is it Enough Just to Eliminate Distractions from Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 18, 2013

A number of years ago, a myth entered the world of worship. The myth, like most, was built on a half-truth. And this half-truth deceived worship teams for years. In fact, many still believe it.

The half truth is this: distraction elimination is our purpose.

In workshops and seminars, I've asked numbers of worship leaders and teams what their role is in leading worship. And they so often answer with this myth: we are there to eliminate distractions.

Umm…seriously?

Yeah. And I, too, towed this barge of bull around for a lot of years.

But if you take that to it's logical conclusion, we should all play behind a curtain, or just plug in an iPod to accompany worship. There are no distractions, because you eliminated the chief cause: people.

Doesn't our service in worship ministry go deeper than that?

Like all good myths, there are elements of truth weaved in. We should eliminate as many distractions as possible. But to make distraction-avoidance our chief pursuit as we serve minister to God and His worshipers?

There's got to be more than that.

I think there is. There's a flip side. What's the flip side of Eliminating Distractions?

It's found in Philippians 4:6: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The Message puts it this way: 

You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

I believe all truth is God's truth, whether uttered by priest, pagan, or politician. And anything that has beauty or excellence is a shadow of God's beauty. Sometimes distant and faint and marred by fallen humanity. But it still casts from Him - the One who creates, defines, and embodies perfect beauty.

And for those whose eyes are being opened, beauty and excellence point back to Him.

There were times that I questioned spending hours making a 20 - 30 minute set of a worship be excellent. Maybe instead of creating, planning, practicing, rehearsing, tweaking, etc., I should be out knocking on my neighbors' doors and handing out gospel tracts. Something that would really make people come to Jesus. ("Hi, Mrs. Smith. If you were to die tonight...?")

Over the last few years, I'm coming to realize that beauty and excellence draws people's eyes and hearts to God. Why else would Paul have told us "to think about such things..."?

(And I don't believe it's just a cognitive exercise in sin management: "Think about a beautiful tree by a flowing brook instead of that scantily-clad woman you just saw on that beer commercial." Although, that could help...)

Think about our worship gatherings as a pathway to connect with God. The truth of our songs and message is a must to create the path. And certainly, during that gathering, we can do things to distract people from that path with lousy transitions, wrong notes, poorly-planned verbal segues and prayers. Sometimes our distractions are outright roadblocks.

But even if we eliminate every conceivable distraction, the truth of our songs and messages are still only offering people a sliver of a path to walk on. What if we, in addition to eliminating distractions, enhanced our gatherings with beauty. What if infuse the rest of Paul's list into the elements of our worship gathering? Things that are...

...noble…authentic…compelling…gracious…beautiful…excellent…praiseworthy...

The path will not only widen, but people just might experience a deeper hunger that propels them forward.

So yes, we need to eliminate distractions from our worship. But we need to enhance it with beauty.

Team Devotional: Searching for Significance in Ministry

Team Devotional: Searching for Significance in Ministry

By Jon Nicol   |  February 20, 2013

Here's a devotional reading you can use with your team. This was written and first appeared as a weekly devotion distributed by WorshipMinistryDevotions.com.

Opening Scripture:

Mark 10:35-39 (NIV)

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Devotional Reading:

 

Towards the end college, I began to play electric guitar on a worship team at a 6000-member church.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the “D-list” electric guitarist. I’d get scheduled for the Sundays that didn’t have much going on for the electric guitar. And this was the 90s. So there was A LOT of Sundays like that.

But still, I had a significant position. Once a month or so, I was on a stage in front of 2000 people three times a weekend.

After awhile, being the D-list guitarist wasn’t enough. There was this inner circle in that worship ministry that I strived to be a part of, but never quite got in. I was a small fish in a big pond.

So I found another pond. I began volunteering with the youth ministry and led their youth worship band. The small fish found a “less big” pond.

Eventually I graduated college and wanted more. So I sought employment at that church. After two openings went to other people, I decided it was time to find a different pond - one small enough for me to be a big fish.

You can guess what happened. It wasn’t enough. Over and over I tried to find significance in who I knew and who knew me—my circle of friends, my status as a pastor, my talent as a musician.

Deep inside each of us there’s a core longing for our existence to matter. To go beyond just being noticed to being celebrated. We desire significance. And that longing’s not wrong. It’s just been twisted and misdirected since we left the Garden.

We don’t have to look hard for examples of people seeking significance from lesser things – jobs, education, sports, politics, Hollywood, Nashville, and even in the church. OK, especially the church.

And we, the worship team, can easily get trapped into finding significance from our “ministry.” Our role of leading, playing and singing in front of the congregation can feed that desire to be known and celebrated.

But it’s never enough. We’ll never sing to enough people to fill our desire for significance.

It’s interesting, however, that our Source for significance is actually singing to us. Zephaniah 3:17 says this:

"The Lord your God is with you,
    he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
    he will quiet you with his love,
    he will rejoice over you with singing.”

 You are known. God knows you. He celebrates your existence. Not for what you have done, but because He loves you.

The Lord our God, Who is mighty to save, delights in you and delights in me. That’s significance.

Discussion Questions:

 

  • Why is it so easy to try to find significance in worship ministry?
  • What are some ways you’ve found yourself seeking significance through this ministry?
  • As with any sin, this misplaced search for significance needs to be brought to the light – not for shame, but for freedom and healing. How do we bring this issue into the light within our team?

Prayer:

Father, You are the True Source for our significance. Forgive our attempts to find it outside of You.

Jesus, thank you that your blood paid the price for our sin, including our search for significance apart from You.

Holy Spirit, help us to experience and truly know the significance that can only be found in You.

It's the End of the World (and Why That Matters For Your Worship)

It's the End of the World (and Why That Matters For Your Worship)

By Jon Nicol   |  December 21, 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it,
It's the end of the world as we know it,
It's the end of the world as we know it,
and I feel fine.
~R.E.M.

When I was in college, a local popular hard rock/heavy metal station changed its format. It was the mid-90s and big hair and make-up (on guys) was giving way to flannel shirts and acoustic guitars. "Grunge" was the flavor du jour, and this station knew better than to go down with the glam-rock ship. As they made their switch to "Alternative" they played that R.E.M. song non-stop for several days.

Probably for many of their avid fans, it felt like that. Their music with the over-the-top-guitar solos, screaming vocals, and distortion-dripping power chords was being sacked in favor of this moody, mid-tempo, acoustic-based stuff. They probably did feel like they really were going off the rails on a crazy train.

A couple weeks ago, I had my worship team over for a Christmas party. We converted our 4-seaon room into the "music den" for the night. I set up a dozen folding chairs and threw in several acoustic instruments. Turns out, I couldn't even get a seat in there halfway through the night. At one point I jumped on an empty chair while someone was refilling their egg nog. I still had to wait a half hour before I could get a guitar in my hands.

One of our newer team members, an early/mid-20-something, started making fun of certain worship songs. Kinda like how I make fun of "Lord I Lift Your Name on High." Only, it wasn't "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" or anything close to that era. It was my music he was making fun of. Stuff that I didn't think was that old and still seemed relevant, in moderation.

It is the end of the world. As I know it.

I turned 39 today, coincendently on the day that the world's ending - 12/21/12. Fifteen years ago, 40 seemed like a step from death. But now that I'm 365 days from it, not so much. And as I've progressed into middle age (ugh), I've gain decidely more empathy for the generations above me (the Boomers and the Builders).

I'm now starting to taste a little of what it was to have their beloved songs cast aside. Or if not cast aside, butchered up with drums and electric guitars.

Because of that, on the last Sunday in December, I'm going to do something a little different. We're going to embrace the first half of the saying, "out with the old and in with the new."

So we're "going out" with songs that are at least 20 years old. Most much older. There'll be a set of bluegrass-styled hymns a la David Crowder. But we'll also be doing a set of 80s choruses.

And yes, "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" is in there.

I'm going to use it as a teaching moment for several generations. To the students and 20-somethings, I want to say this:

"Your" music stands on the shoulders of your parents' and grandparents' music. Had not Bill Gaither came along, we may not have the kind of modern worship we see now. And if those worship leaders, writers & musicians in the 80s and 90s hadn't "fought" the "worship wars," we wouldn't have the groundwork laid for of the modern worship music we now enjoy.

And to the Boomers & Builders I want to say this: 

Thank you. We don't say that enough. Your music does matter. Unfortunately, we'll never be able to give you as much of it as you want on Sunday mornings. Why? Because we really do need to make room for the stuff that will appeal to your kids and grandkids. If we don't connect with them in the context of their culture, we'll lose them.

Your sacrifice of not having the music the way that you want it is actually drawing your kids and grandkids closer to Jesus. I hope you don't mind that it's their turn now. And, someday, their music will give way to the generation below them.

And I'll be tempted to go on about how musical style is only a tool in worship. But I probably will save that for another day. The above will probably be enough for both sides to digest.

Question for discussion: So how do you help generations understand each other and come together in your church?

An Untamed God - A Team Devotional

An Untamed God - A Team Devotional

By Jon Nicol   |  December 18, 2012

The gospel—the good news—of the Christmas story, isn’t JUST that God became man. But that he entered our mess. He waded and swam in the pool of our sin and our filth in order to rescue us, to pull us out of the mess that we’re in.

And thirty some years after this messy entrance into a messy world, Jesus hung on a cross and took upon him all that is wrong with us. He took our sin, our sickness, our filth, and paid the price that it required. He cleaned up our mess. He made us beautiful. If we should tame this holiday, if we should sanitize the story of His birth, we will miss whole point of Christmas.

Most Christmas messages preach “it’s better to give than receive.” And that’s true. But each Christmas, I think we’re asked to receive…

…the truth that God is wild and beyond anything we can imagine.

…the truth that he cannot be tamed, nor should His story be tamed.

And receive the truth that He is good. He calls to himself hurting people--people bruised by world, marginalized by society. He has no time for those who think they’ve got it all together. But He has time for smelly shepherds, for beggars, for prostitutes, for bastard children just like he was perceived to be. He has time for messy people who recognize their messiness. That’s what he came here for. That’s why the perfect and the holy entered into our grime and depravity.

Receive the truth that you are loved by a God who did not require you to pay for your mess. But He came Himself, in Jesus Christ, to clean the dirt and wipe the tears and lift you out of the mess and into His arms.

Don’t let that truth be tamed.

Read: Romans 5:6-8

Discuss:

Why is it so easy to forget that God is “wild and beyond anything we can imagine”?

“He has no time for those who think they have it all together.” What is it about our “independence” and “self-reliance” that moves us away from the rescuing arms of Jesus?

What are some actions in worship that move us away from “having it all together” to being people who “recognize our messiness”?

“While we were yet sinners” – we’ve heard that phrase over and over. What does it really mean, and why is it so amazing that God would “demonstrate his love” for us?

An Unsafe God - A Team Devotional

An Unsafe God - A Team Devotional

By Jon Nicol   |  December 12, 2012

The Mess of Christmas
Part 3: An Unsafe God

We sing about a lot of different characters at Christmas. But have you noticed we don’t sing sentimental songs of the jealous king who tried to connive the wise men into leading him to the young usurper?

He would have no competition. He would have no rival. He alone was great--Herod the Great. And to insure this, he ordered the execution of those guilty of being a boy under the age of two. He slaughtered toddlers to protect his throne.

No. No carols are sung of him. This part of the story doesn't make it into our songs or our annual recitation of the birth of Jesus. That would take away from the quiet and the sentiment that we like so much at Christmas.

And that’s what we want from our Baby Jesus. One that is cute. One that is sentimental. One that we can control, or at least forget about in our daily routine. Why do we want this image? Because we want a safe God. We want a God who isn't riddled with paradox. We want a God that we can figure out. We want a God who is neat, clean, and safe.

But God is not safe. And He cannot be figured out by formulas or unriddled by reason. Nor can His visible image, Jesus Christ.

[An excerpt from the ebook, The Taming of Christmas]

Read: Job 9:1-12

Discuss:
“We want a God who is neat, clean and safe?” In what ways does Christianity today reflect that statement? Do we see some of that in our own church?

In what ways do we try to “control” God?

What are some ways we can focus on the mystery and wildness of God in our corporate worship?

The Reality of the Nativity

The Reality of the Nativity

By Jon Nicol   |  November 26, 2012

What follows is an segment from the ebook, The Taming of Christmas, with a short scripture reading and discussion questions added. It's designed to use as a team devotional with your worship team during the advent season. I'll post a new one each Monday for the next three weeks leading up to Christmas.

Why Do We Sing In Worship?

Why Do We Sing In Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  November 21, 2012

To all my friends in the US: Happy Thanksgiving! This is last post I'll write for this week. So I thought I'd weave some thankfulness-stuff in. See you next week and have fun eating too much.

Why do we sing? We do it so often, but have you ever stopped to think why? Before I offer a small fraction of the answer, let me ask you a question.

Ever had your pastor stand up and give this announcement before the worship service began?

"Please refrain from getting wasted during worship."

That's essentially what Paul is telling the Ephesians 5. But that was part of their culture:

Gather. Drink. Sing songs to their gods. Drink more. Sing louder.

I think the closest modern equivalent in our culture to that is the karaoke bar. There's one thing you can plainly see at a karaoke bar:

Drunk people like to sing.

There's a fitting phrase to describe being drunk: under the influence.

Paul is telling the Ephesian Christ-followers to now be under the influence of the Holy Spirit - "be filled with the Spirit." And this is an ongoing action. A more precise reading would be "be being filled." Constant.

Did you notice that this is a command? But if you read this in some translations, it can seem like what follows is more of a suggestion. In the ESV, which is a more literal translation, the command, "be filled with the Spirit" is immediately followed by

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It's all part of one command. And I don't think it's willy-nilly run-on sentence that Paul flippantly penned. There's something to this progression:

God's people gather under the guidance and influence of the Spirit Jesus promised. This infilling is an act of grace that allows us to live out what's next:

We can't help but sing songs of Jesus-centered, heart-geniune worship.

And out of that, thankfulness pours.

And then Paul tacks on this pesky little thing about mutual submission. But even that is part of worship - "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."

It's interesting that out of worshiping the Lord we find thankfulness. And out of thankfulness we find acts of unity and community.

And all that comes through Spirit-led people worshiping together.

I think that's a pretty good reason to sing.

The Role Most Worship Leaders Didn't Sign Up For...

The Role Most Worship Leaders Didn't Sign Up For...

By Jon Nicol   |  September 28, 2012

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

John 13 (NIV), select verses

There's a metaphor that's been floating around the worship ministry world for awhile that I really love. I can't remember where I first heard it, but it stuck with me.

As worship leaders and musicians, we are servants. Each week, we are charged with taking the basin and towel and washing the feet of those who come in to worship.

In first century Palestine, almost everyone walked. In sandals. Through dust. Dirt. Livestock-laden terrain. And when they sat to eat, they didn't sit. They reclined on one arm. Their feet were a tad closer to the action than ours are.

I think we'd all agree to a thorough foot-scrub before we ate.

Our people, our tribe, our local expression of a the body of Jesus Christ is coming in each week to recline and eat with the Master.

They are coming into worship having walked through the dust, dirt and crap of this world to some degree or another. The corporate worship of songs, prayer, and scripture are the towel and basin.

There's nothing we can do to clean them. We simply present the towel and basin filled to the rim with the Living Water. And through the ministry of worship, people encounter that Living Water. They experience forgiveness, wholeness, and cleansing. But just like Peter, people need to choose to be washed.

And then they are able to recline with the Master of the house.

This process reminds me of a more tender version of the worship journey we've explored in Isaiah 6. We come in, encounter God, recognize our uncleanness, submit to His cleansing, and then are able to hear from God what His will is for us.

So this Sunday, remember the towel and basin. And let's embrace our role of the welcoming servant.

The World's Greatest Worship Leader...

The World's Greatest Worship Leader...

By Jon Nicol   |  September 27, 2012

…can't compare to the average worship leader who's in the Word.

 

Enough said.

 

[OK, I'm not usually one for trite, bumper-sticker-esque sayings. But I just needed the reminder lately that it needs to be less about my skills & more about my Source.]

"Why Bother Standing?" A Short Teaching for Your Congregation

By Jon Nicol   |  September 13, 2012

In September, I started a year-long journey of discovery with my church. Each Sunday, we take a few moments away from singing to talk about Biblical expressions and postures of worship. In September, we're focused on why we so often stand in worship.

Today's post is a modified version of what I shared with my congregation last Sunday. Feel free to use and adapt any of this or the other teachings in the Worship Expressions series.

Why Do We Stand In Worship?

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but it's on my list. I'll probably need to wait till my kids are older. I drop things a lot, so my wife really doesn't want me holding them around large holes.

Grand CanyonBut when I actually get to visit it, I'm trying to imagine my first impression. From the pictures I've seen and the stories I heard, I can't imagine coming to edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time, and deciding to grab a lawn chair, plop down and throw my feet up on a Coleman cooler.

The normal reaction to such grandeur is to just stand there in awe and take it in.

Solomon wrote these words in Ecclesiastes chapter 5:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few. 

He goes on to give more instruction about this, and then concludes his thoughts with these words:

Therefore stand in awe of God.

There's this big $5 theology word that describes an attribute of God: Transcendence. Transcendence is his relationship with creation - including us. It means he's completely OTHER, different, higher.

One of the results of true worship is experiencing God's transcendence. It may be through just a sense, or experiencing a truth or a picture in our minds, but when we experience God's otherness, it's unmistakable. And one of the appropriate responses is to STAND IN AWE. It's even appropriate to just stop singing and take it in.

By the way, if you want a picture of the ultimate experience of God's transcendence in worship, read Isaiah 6.

So when we worship together, or you by yourself, consider standing as an act of taking in God's otherness, His transcendence, truly standing in awe of him.

The 5 Greatest Expressions of Worship in the Bible

The 5 Greatest Expressions of Worship in the Bible

By Tom Curley   |  August 31, 2012

Today's guest post is from Tom Curley. Tom is the Christian Arts Pastor and Lead Worshipper at Northridge Church in Pensacola, FL, where he has served for 15 years. You can email Tom at tcurley@northridgechurch.org

As I read the Bible, I am amazed at the different ways that people have expressed their worship to God. In most churches, worship is usually expressed in singing accompanied by instruments. As a worship leader and musician, I began to search the scriptures for amazing expressions of worship that fit this definition of worship.

One good example would be the dedication of the temple as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:1-6. With huge choirs singing, the Levites playing their instruments, and the priests playing their trumpets, surely this must be the greatest worship service in the Bible. But after more consideration, it did not even make my top 5.

The following are my picks for the 5 greatest expressions of worship in the Bible. I’d love to hear your choices as well.

5. Paul and Silas singing in the prison: Acts 16:24-26

Surprisingly, this is my only choice that includes singing. However, this is no ordinary song service. Considering that this duet was coming from two men who were beaten, bruised, and in shackles, their worship was pure, heartfelt, and honest. This song caught heaven’s attention and when God started tapping his foot to the music, amazing things happened.

When we are faced with trials and hardships, let’s remember that Satan may buffet our bodies but he can’t imprison our praise!

4. The woman with the alabaster box:  Luke 7:36-50

Some of the greatest worship can come from the most unlikely source. This woman was an outcast who had been used and abused. But something about the words and actions of Jesus caused her to bring her most valuable possession and pour it out in an expression of love and worship. In one moment, she pressed through fear, prejudices, shame, and created one of the most intimate moments of worship in the Bible.

When man’s opinion has declared us “guilty”, there is One who can be touched by our worship and forgive our sins!

3. The widow’s mite: Mark 12:41-44

This simple act of giving an offering in the temple caught the attention of our Lord. It wasn’t how much she gave, but, rather, how much it cost her personally that moved Jesus to say, “She gave more than anyone else.”

What moved this woman to give everything she had to God remains a mystery, but what is clear is that God considers our giving an act of worship.

People will judge the size of our God by the cost of our worship. If we can stop holding so tightly to our money and possessions, and allow the Christ-like character trait of generosity to manifest in our lives, we may discover a deeper worship encounter than we’ve ever known.

2. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac: Gen 22:12-14

This act of worship ranks second in my list even though there were no instruments, singing, lighting, or sound system involved. Abraham pleased the Lord, and went on to change the world, because of obedience.

Obedience is something we usually only mention to small children or when referencing our pet’s training. However, obedience, in the eyes of God, is even greater than any sacrifice or gift we could give Him.

It may be that our own greatest act of worship may not happen on Sunday morning but on Thursday afternoon, when God whispers to us, “Tell the cashier that’s ringing up your groceries that I love her”.

God grant us the grace to begin obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In obedience, we will reach new heights in our worship experiences.

1. Jesus’ surrender to God’s will: Luke 22:41-43

On the evening of his arrest, Jesus prayed for another option, if possible, than the cross. But then, he uttered the most amazing worship statement ever known when he said, “Not my will, but yours”. This statement of complete and total surrender from the lips of my precious Savior humbles me and makes me love Him even more.

Yes, I will keep singing songs of praise and playing music on instruments but I also hope that I can begin to step into the deeper realms of worship that are found in giving, sacrifice, and surrender.

10 Outstanding (and Old Testament) Reasons to Stand in Worship, 2

10 Outstanding (and Old Testament) Reasons to Stand in Worship, 2

By Jon Nicol   |  August 22, 2012

In September, I’m starting a one-year (or so) journey with my church through the Biblical expressions and postures in worship. I’ll be writing blog posts as one way to prepare for that. You can read more about this journey and find future posts on this page.

This two-part post kicked off with this question:

Why do we stand so much!?

Worship ExpressionsCheck out the reasons given in part one...now for part two:

6. We Stand to Proclaim

One important element of worship is proclaiming. We declare and proclaim the truth about God and His mighty works. More than once, God told Jeremiah to stand and proclaim the truth to His people. Chapter 1 verses 16-17 is one example of that:

"I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you."

It’s hard to imagine a prophet proclaiming of God’s truth while reclining in a padded pew. Sure, we don’t often regard ourselves as prophets, but we are nonetheless proclaiming truth in our worship. And standing to do so is quite appropriate.

7. We Stand to Thank & Praise

1 Chronicles 23:30 describes one of the duties of the Levites: “They were to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening.”

During the dedication of Solomon’s temple, we see this:

The priests took their positions, as did the Levites with the Lord’s musical instruments, which King David had made for praising the Lord and which were used when he gave thanks, saying, “His love endures forever.” Opposite the Levites, the priests blew their trumpets, and all the Israelites were standing.” (2 Chronicles 7:6)

While Levites played the instruments that had accompanied David’s praise, all the Israelites stood in worship.

Another place we see this expression demonstrated is in Nehamiah 9:5. The Israelites had gathered for confession and worship. The Levites told them:

“Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.”

And then they began to praise God as they stood:

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord.

8. We Stand to Confess

And in this same passage in Nehmiah we see that earlier in the day, before they stood to praise, they also stood to confess their sins.

In fact, it says they “stood in their places and confessed their sins”…for a quarter of the day.

It's probably worth mentioning here that this passage is NOT prescribing THE way to confess sins. Certainly kneeling is appropriate. And I don't think sitting would negate 1 John 1:9.

9. We Stand to Petition & Intercede

Often times, we think of petitioning and intercession as going to God on our knees. And that’s certainly an appropriate posture. But there are more than a few scriptures that suggest standing as valid posture.

In Genesis 18, Abraham is petitioning the Lord to save Sodom. It says “Abraham remained standing before the Lord” as he made his famous spare-Sodom-if-you-find-50/45/30/20/10-righteous-people-in-the-city negotiations.

Abraham was both figuratively and literally standing up as he petitioned the Lord.

It reminds me of the well-known “stand in the gap” phrase from Ezekiel 22:30:

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”

While I wouldn’t forgo kneeling, there might be something to this standing to petition God and intercede for others. It almost feels like boldness to stand before the Lord. Which just might be biblical. (And I also love the wording of this version, too.)

10. We Stand to Both Pronounce and Receive Blessings

How many of us in our churches “stand to receive the benediction” without really thinking about it.

But it seems like standing is Biblically-driven here, too. When the ark was brought into Solomon’s temple, God’s presence in the form of a cloud filled the place – to the point the priests had to stop working. In the midst of this, we see this happen:

“While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them.” (1 Kings 8:14)

Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t think any of these examples negate other postures that can be taken. And we’ll be exploring these other postures and expressions in this series. The bottom line for me, right now, as I begin to take my church through this journey is this:

Posture and physical expression matter in worship. We need to be intentional about it.

A commenter* on yesterday’s post referred to the point C.S. Lewis made in The Screwtape Letters. It’s a great quote that we’ll end on today.

The veteran demon writes this to his nephew: 

“At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (Letter IV).

 

10 Outstanding (and Old Testament) Reasons to Stand in Worship, 1

10 Outstanding (and Old Testament) Reasons to Stand in Worship, 1

By Jon Nicol   |  August 21, 2012

Worship ExpressionsIn September, I’m starting a one-year (or so) journey with my church through the Biblical expressions and postures in worship. I’ll be writing blog posts as one way to prepare for that. You can read more about this journey and find future posts on this page.

So this posts kicks us off with the question:

Why do we stand so much!?

Ever heard that one, or some variation of it in your church? If we'd dig into scripture, we’d probably start asking the question,

“Why don’t we stand MORE?”

I perused through the Old Testament and looked for times when God’s people were standing in some act of worship or other encounter that they had with God. This wasn’t an in-depth study by any stretch. It was more of a “fly-over” observation. But it still gave me plenty of evidence that standing is a Biblical posture for worship.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. We stand in reverence in response to God’s presence.

In Exodus 3, Moses stood before the burning bush through which God spoke to him. God only commanded him to take off his sandals. God’s presence had made that particular piece of rock holy.

Later in Exodus (chapter 33), we see God’s people stand whenever the pillar of cloud (God’s presence) was at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

2. We stand in awe in response to God’s presence and deeds.

Solomon gives us instruction on approaching God in worship: keep your mouth shut (OK, “words few”) and stand in awe.

 We are to marvel at His awesomeness—something that doesn’t seem right to do while casually sitting. (Ecclesiastes 5)

Habbakkuk’s prayer also gives us reason to stand in awe:

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. 

Renew them in our day, in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
(Habbakuk 3:2)

3. We stand to show respect for God’s Word

Nehemiah 8 paints a vivid picture of this when Ezra the priest reads the Law of Moses to the people:

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 

And by the way, from an earlier verse, it seems like they stood from daybreak till midday. So point that out to your folks when they complain about standing too long.

4. We stand as a symbol of God’s salvation, deliverance and provision

“Who can stand in God’s holy place?” the psalmist asks. The answer is the one who has clean hands, pure heart, etc. (Psalm 24) We only have this purity through the saving work of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Psalm 40 is another indication of standing as symbol of God’s salvation:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
    and put their trust in the Lord.

(additional scriptures for this: Psalm 18Psalm 20:7-9)

5. We Stand as We Seek, Search and Prepare to Move

This is what the Lord says in Jeremiah 6:16:

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.

There’s a sense of standing to seek and search for God’s will. And then as we find it, standing allows us to be ready to “walk in it.”

In the same way, Jehoshaphat stood and called upon God when the Ammonites, Moabites and Meunites surrounded Judah. Jehoshaphat said these amazing words:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

And immediately following those words, the writer of 2 Chronicles tells us this,

All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.

Part 2 coming soon.

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 2

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 2

By Rob Still   |  June 7, 2012

Today's article is a guest post from Rob Still, a worship leader, instructor and blogger in Nashville, TN. Rob packs a so much into this consice two-part post. I'm stoked to have this great content on WorshipTeamCoach.com.

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 1

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 1

By Rob Still   |  June 6, 2012

Today's article is a guest post from Rob Still, a worship leader, instructor and blogger in Nashville, TN. Rob packs a so much into this consice two-part post. I'm stoked to have this great content on WorshipTeamCoach.com

Baptism as Worship

Baptism as Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  May 9, 2012

A few weeks ago, I discussed the gloriously awkwardness of baptism. Our newly planted church had just had it's first baptism in our yet-to-be renovated warehouse. It was party! Take a look:

Here are two things to remember about baptism:

1. It's worship. Baptism celebrates God's work of redemption in people's lives. We're also re-enacting the death and resurrection of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism. Sharing in the experience of baptism is corporate worship at it's best.

2. Don't forget hit record so your church can retell and relive. Stories of redemption are meant to be retold. We were able to use this video as part of our worship service this last week. It probably had more impact than the songs or sermon.

 

The Glorious Awkwardness of Baptism

The Glorious Awkwardness of Baptism

By Jon Nicol   |  April 16, 2012

Have you seen one lately? Not a ceremonial sprinkling, but a full-on drench. It's awkward...

Upper and Lowercase Vision

Upper and Lowercase Vision

September 6, 2011

I want to make a distinction between two kinds of vision..."Big V Vision" and "little-v vision"

The Mess and the Metaphor

The Mess and the Metaphor

By Jon Nicol   |  May 26, 2011

Whenever I go to a large worship conference, there's always an emerging worship song that dominates. A few years back I went to an integrity conference and Mighty to Save was that song. The early adopters had already been singing it for a years...

Sloppy Wet Kiss

By Jon Nicol   |  May 14, 2011

If you know John Mark McMillan, you know my title. Last night he performed at Christian Musician Summit in Buffalo . And all of us who knew him were waiting for How He Loves. You've probably heard David Crowder's version, or several other artists who covered him...

 

 


 

 


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