Thursday, January 24, 2013

Your Worship - Complaint-centered or Cross-centered?

The following an article I wrote for the January, 2013 edition of the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission's Rendezvous Newsletter.

Worship is a word that can be very divisive in a church.  We have all heard the complaints.  (Maybe we were the complainers.)  The service is too long.  Too short.  The music was too loud.  Too long.  Worship was too traditional.  Too contemporary.  There were too many distractions.  Perhaps you have some complaints that I have not listed.  There are many – it seems like believers spend far too much time being upset over the issue of worship.

And frankly – I think that is pretty sad.  Don’t get me wrong – I understand having strong opinions.  I have them myself.  There are certain ways I prefer to worship the Lord and there are other ways that are a little out of my comfort zone.  I get that.  But when we spend so much time complaining about worship, we miss the point of why worship exists.

Worship, first of all, is not about us.  It is not for us.  It is not meant to give us a fuzzy feeling or an emotional high or music to dance around to.  Worship is for God.  It is directed at God.  It is His alone.  And our whole lives should be lived to worship. Everything we do as believers should be worshipfully focused on Him.  Why?  Because He alone is worthy.

And why is he worthy?  There are many reasons, but here is the one that hits me the hardest.  Here is how the saints see it in heaven.  
 “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”  (Rev. 5:9-10 - ESV)  
The short version is this – our Lord is worthy of worship because of the cross.  At the cross, God provided a sacrifice that ransomed people from every tribe and nation and brought them into His kingdom to serve Him forever. 

So it stands to reason – at least to me anyway – that any worship we express to God should not be complaint-centered, but cross-centered.  Every song we sing, every prayer we express, every Scripture passage we ponder and every gift we give should be done in light of the cross.  Worship should happen in light of the event that changed our lives, set our eternal hope and by His grace, touches everything we do in every day of our lives.  As we set our lives to worship – in the church or outside of the church, that worship should be gripped by the cross, the single most important thing in your life. Don’t let the worship flowing from your life be centered on complaints, but rather on the cross.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What is a Pastor? A Book Review of The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

I don’t usually read autobiographies.  I am not sure why I feel that way.  Likely it has something to do with my feeling that the autobiographer is not always able to provide an accurate reflection on their own life.  All too often, I am disappointed by the publication of autobiographies of people who are just slightly removed from their “15 minutes of fame.”

Dr. Eugene Peterson’s autobiography – The Pastor: A Memoir – might change my mind about autobiographies.  This book is a reflection of his life as he has lived it through the lens of becoming and then being a pastor. 

The book itself is a wonderful read.  The chapters alternate from short to rather lengthy.  The subject matter is a mixed bag as well.  Whimsical stories of growing up in Kalispell, MT are mixed in with thoughtful meditations on a variety of topics.  All the chapters relate, directly or indirectly to the vocation God called Dr. Peterson to – that of a pastor.

The book resonated with me immediately, not only because I live a few hours south of Kalispell, but also because of Dr. Peterson’s journey toward his vocation.  Like Dr. Peterson, I too was a reluctant pastor.  Like him, a vocation in the pastorate was not my first choice – academics was.  And like him, I woke up one day with the realization that God had called me and gifted me to be a shepherd, despite my initial reluctance.  And since that calling, like Dr. Peterson, I also have wrestled to discover just what it means to lead and shepherd a flock of people seeking God.

In addition to much discussion on the nature of the pastorate, Dr. Peterson has much to say about other great topics.  What is does it mean to be a community of believers and how is such a community nurtured?  How do architecture and worship intersect?  What is it like going through the “badlands” of ministry?  Why are pastors “invisible” much of the week?  And there is story after story of how the Word of God and the community of the people of God drew those seeking God into a walk with Him.

And while, as a pastor I was both challenged and blessed by this book, I don’t believe this book is for pastors only.  It gives a non-pastor a unique glimpse into the thinking and even the struggles of their pastor.  It gives insight into the pastor’s understanding of his weekly “invisibility.”  And it reminds each of us of the power of the Word of God and the impact of a faithful shepherd.

As a result, I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a good, thought-provoking read.  Although Dr. Peterson and I come from different church backgrounds and have some different views on theology, we share a calling that is precious.  Like Eugene Peterson, I too am a pastor.  And like him, I continually reflect – and marvel – on what that word really means.