I’m going to be talking about two big ideas: Worship and doubt. Have you ever doubted that Jesus is actually who He says He is? What does it mean to worship God? Why do we show up at a church each week to sing some Christian songs and listen to teaching from the Bible?
Sticky Cheese Ball
I walk around pretty confident about what I believe and how I see the world. I believe that I know the things I know through some careful scientific process. As if I have arrived at my opinions by careful study and experience, weighing all the possible options before settling on any of them. But, I know better than that. I realize that most of the things I believe are half true assumptions based on fragments of other people’s half true assumptions that have just stuck to me. I’ve randomly picked up all of the ideas that make up who I am with far less precision than I’d like to admit. It’s not like I’m a gold miner searching for gold or a chef picking through the produce at the farmers market. No, they know what they’re looking for. I’m more like a sticky cheeseball rolled across the floor of a glitter factory, or a kid wearing sun block lotion rolling in the sand at the beach. I just randomly drift through life and odd things stick to me. I think most of us are less like a person who finds treasure in a field and sells everything to purchase the field and more like one of those people that buy the contents of a storage space without having any idea what’s inside, just hoping for something good. We’re born to a specific place, in a specific time, to specific people who have all kinds of specifically crazy ideas that they picked up in exactly the same way we did – by rolling around in the universe.
Faith is Just Group Hypnosis
For example, I used to think that belief in God was an illusion created by group hypnosis. I figured that people were trying to avoid feeling foolish for gathering in pretty buildings singing songs about faith and talking to God, their invisible friend, and they would try to find comfort in the fact that lots of other people were doing it, too. They would look at the nice building, think about the congregations that came before them, and suppress their personal doubt by concentrating on the number of other people who seemed to believe in all of this. Kind of like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, only in this case no one could even see the Emperor. So, I figured they were just victims of an elaborate prank they were playing on themselves. I was going to be like the honest young boy who dared to tell the truth and point out what everyone else already knew in their heart. That there was really not a GOD at all. And my group hypnosis theory and explained a lot of things that people believe in that don’t make any sense (like UFOs, Bigfoot and the popularity of Kim Kardashian).
I thought all of the people who pretended to believe in God were fooling themselves. They had inherited the idea of a God from their culture and then shaped that god into their image. They ‘d get together with other people who believed roughly the same thing as them and when the preacher counted to three and snapped his fingers, they would all say AMEN and go home. This was my view of religion and faith when I was growing up.
We Never Went to Church
My family never went to church. I had about as much experience with God as I did Santa and the Easter Bunny. Actually, I had a lot more experience with Santa and the Easter Bunny. My Uncle Bob used to dress up as Santa on Christmas Eve and come over to our house just to blow our minds. And we had a cat named Moses that my mom would use to make us believe in the Easter Bunny. She would dip his paw in green ink and stamp footprints on the sidewalk leading us to Easter eggs. I was an ardent and vocal defender of Santa and the Easter Bunny until long after most of my school friends had stopped believing in them. They couldn’t get me to budge on the subject. I had no doubt that they were real, until one day I found my Uncle Bob’s Santa suit in my Grandma’s closet. And I figured out the “Easter Kitty” hoax one day when I noticed that one of Moses’s paws was stained green.
So, I put all imaginary creatures in the same box. They were fun to pretend to believe in, but that was all. Santa, The Easter Bunny, Superman, dragons, God and Jesus, were all the same, they were all fantasy. I knew that some families went to church and tried to get their kids to believe in God, just like they took them to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, but I thought I was smarter than all that. I had found the suit in the closet after all. I knew they were all just pretending. I knew it was a game.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not mad at my parents for the Santa and the Easter Bunny thing. I don’t think they did anything wrong. They were creating fun memories and showing us kids that they loved us by making a big deal out of it. They certainly were not trying to hurt us. I don’t want anyone to feel guilty for making Christmas and Easter extra fun for their kids.
Then I Saw GOD
Anyway, I was feeling quite superior to all of the poor hypnotized masses until one night when I saw God. I’m not a lunatic, so I don’t mean that I saw a vision or that God appeared to me in the flesh. No, but this was worse than that. I was simply looking up at the stars one night and I suddenly could no longer sustain the belief that God wasn’t there. I was fourteen years old and I felt so small standing there in my backyard. I could feel the grass under my feet, the dirt that the grass was growing out of, the air between me and the expanse of space. I could sense all the microscopic universes that made up each atom that in turn made up everything that is. It all seemed too interconnected. It wasn’t random enough. I couldn’t convince myself that given enough time and space that a Godless universe could end up randomly generating someone staring at the stars trying to not believe in a God who wasn’t there. I couldn’t believe that given enough time and space and chance – that a Godless universe could produce me.
I had an existentialist friend in college that would say that the argument for God based on the complexity of reality is not a convincing argument. He told me once that he often contemplates infinity when doing simple things like reaching for a glass of water. But, he said that he doesn’t believe infinity ever contemplates him. We used to have conversations like this all the time. I usually left his house wondering if some part of me had just come alive or if something inside me had just died – because honestly, those two things feel about the same.
So, anyway, after I saw God, or maybe I felt Him see me, I went back inside the house. My family was all sitting around the TV watching HBO, which was a new and amazing thing in our world. Watching movies without commercials on our television set in the privacy of our living room – it was our new favorite thing to do. VCRs wouldn’t be around for several more years, and the idea of R-Rated movies, complete with swearing and nudity on our very own television set was irresistible. I sat down and joined them for a few minutes.
But, I was still thinking about God, so I got up and walked over to our bookcase. It didn’t have very many books on it. There was a set of Encyclopedias, a dictionary, a copy of “I’m Ok, You’re Ok,” and a Bible. None of these books had been read, except maybe the dictionary for an occasional homework assignment. I picked up the big, white Bible with a padded cover and gold trim and carried it back to the couch and sat down. I don’t know why my family had that Bible, or where it had come from, but we had always had it as long as I could remember. I cracked it open to the center. Now, if you open a big Bible to the center you can end up in a number of places, but I landed in Psalms.
Psalm 19 to be exact:
(Now remember, I had just been staring at the stars and wondering if there was a God)
This is what I read:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Something came alive inside me, or maybe something died, like I said, it’s hard to tell the difference.
I said, “Hey, listen to this…” And I read the first part out loud to them. “Have you ever read the Bible?” I asked.
My mom said, “Of course!” as though the question was an insult. “Of course I’ve read the Bible.”
But she hadn’t read the Bible, not much of it anyway. No one in our house had. I took the big book upstairs to my bedroom and started at the beginning. I was going to get to know this God who wouldn’t let me not believe in Him.
So I started at the beginning. Genesis, the creation, Adam, Eve, and one fascinating story after another about God and man. I got lost somewhere in Numbers or Leviticus, and skipped ahead to the New Testament and stories about Jesus.
I had always been into superheroes and comic books. Jesus was awesome. From His amazing birth to the way he spoke to people. Healing people who were blind from birth, people who were crippled, people who had demons – that was pretty cool! Especially the story where He puts the demons into a bunch of pigs and then the pigs run off a cliff. He touched deaf people and made them hear. He fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two small fish. And He told stories that opened people’s imaginations, and opened their eyes to see the very kingdom of Heaven. He read people’s minds, he walked on water, walked through walls, and so many other amazing and supernatural things. Jesus was awesome.
Gospel of Luke chapter 7:18
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. (The things I was talking about – healings, miracles, and other cool stuff) And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to [Jesus], they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
(Now, remember, John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. He was born a couple months before Jesus and they had known each other their whole lives. John spent his adult life going around the wilderness and telling people to repent of their sins and be baptized to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He believed his cousin Jesus was the Messiah. There is the famous scene where John actually baptizes Jesus, and God the Father says from heaven “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” with the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. John had a lot of followers, too, and because of his hard message and uncompromising way of delivering it, he had been thrown into prison by Herod. This must have caused John to begin to doubt a bit. Because, he sent two of his followers to Jesus to basically ask, “What’s the deal! This doesn’t seem to be happening the way I thought it would happen! Jesus is not overthrowing Rome, and he seems to be spending too much time partying with sinners!)
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.
(You have to admit, this is pretty high praise. If Jesus says that you are the greatest man to have ever been born, that’s pretty sweet! Then He goes on to say that anyone who is in the kingdom of God is greater than John. And what He means by “kingdom of God” is anyone who is born again by the Spirit, baptized, and follows Jesus. If Jesus is your king, then you are in the kingdom of God. This is also pretty sweet!)
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
Jesus was well known for hanging out with sinners and going to their houses to party. He was well known for laughing, eating and drinking it up with the worst of them. This was very unlike John the Baptist, who was well known for only eating bugs and honey, and never drinking wine or anything good. Sounds like other baptists that I have known. Seriously, who eats bugs unless they can drink beer?
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
I want to talk to you for a few minutes as your worship leader. Each week we show up here on Sunday morning. We play some music, read some scriptures, hear some teaching, pray and go home. My fear is that too many of us did not dance or weep while we were here. Do you hear what I am saying?
Jesus is speaking with some really hard words. He is saying that He came eating and drinking, and dancing and laughing and we did not join Him. We just sat back with our arms crossed and watched. Scratching our chin and entertaining our doubts and looking down on people. He is saying that John came fasting and preaching and calling for repentance and we did not weep. We kept our safe distance and did not let the message move us.
To worship is to respond to God. If we are not responding we are not worshipping. In the Old Testament the words that are translated as worship are Barak which means to kneel or bow, and Shachah which means literally to get down on your face before GOD. In the New Testament the word that is translated as worship is Proskuneo, which means almost the same thing – to bow face down.
So, when we show up to CrossPoint for worship we are bowing before GOD and acknowledging HIM as our KING. We’re responding to HIS grace by bowing the first day of the week before HIM, and offering the first morning of the first day to HIM as a sacrifice. Thanking HIM for the rest of the week, and aligning ourselves to follow HIM the other days. And when we blow off church, sleeping in, keeping the first day for ourselves, we are not worshipping HIM. And we are setting ourselves up to go off track.
Once we are here it is our job to bow our hearts to HIM by singing. Music is the art of expressing human emotion with sound. Singing is the combination of human speech and human emotion. We are, in a very real way, pouring our deepest heart and emotions out to GOD when we are singing to HIM.
Martin Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”
He also said that no one was going to remember anything about the Reformation unless we get them to sing it. We know what we sing. The nursing homes are full of people who can’t remember who they are, but they know the words to Amazing Grace and Jesus loves me and other hymns. Songs stay with us.
The biggest and most complete work of theology in the Bible is the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms is actually a collection of songs. For centuries God’s people sang these songs and knew every word of every Psalm. They would sing those songs all day. When they were working, walking, before they ate meals. And in worship.
When Jesus was on the cross and said, “My God why have You forsaken me?” He was not despairing or accusing God of abandoning Him in His hour of suffering (as many people believe). He was singing the first line of a song that every GOD follower knew by heart. And it was a song about HIS crucifixion that was written hundreds of years before that moment. And it ends with this lyric:
“it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
That’s us! We are among the “people yet unborn” that Psalm 22 talks about. Jesus sang about us while He was hanging on the cross!
I’m not trying to Jesus Juke you, but how can we stand in here and not sing about Jesus with passion and conviction, when He sang about us from the cross?
Mom and Dad, we think it’s important that the little ones are in here for our time of worship. We want them to see their moms and dads in church, praying, and singing. Worshiping. But, we don’t want them to learn that it’s OK to just go through the motions. This is not the time or place for apathy. This is the time for dancing and weeping.
You know, a lot of people are critical of the way we do worship at CrossPoint. They say that church isn’t the place for a rock band. They say that in modern churches people just come to see a rock concert, and no one sings. No one participates. No one worships. They say it’s self serving and shallow.
That’s what they say. You know what I want to say to them? I suspect that you do, but this is church, and it wouldn’t be cool to say it.
Different Kinds of Churches
I’ve been in a lot of different kinds of churches over the years since GOD first found me in my backyard looking up at the stars. I have been in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches where everyone showed up to sing their hearts out and set the whole place on fire in an emotional praise-fest. People lifting their hands, tears in their eyes, singing as if their life depended on it. When those kind of churches are doing well, they don’t need a worship leader as much as they just need someone to get the song started and point everyone in the same direction. But, when it is not working, the worship leader has to try and stir up the people and make a big emotional moment happen every Sunday. When it’s bad it’s not worship, it’s worshippy. And people can smell the fake plastic manipulation from a mile away.
I have been to highly liturgical churches where everyone showed up to be in a beautiful cathedral, smell the incense, admire the stained glass windows, and pour themselves into speaking, chanting and singing the liturgies. “With Angels and archangels and all the laud and company of heaven.” It’s transcendent and majestic. It feels like you have been lifted off the earth and seated in the heavens for an hour. But I have also been to dead liturgical churches that felt more like stale crackers on my tongue. Like a beautiful fireplace that is perfectly clean and cold as death. Where there has not been a fire for a long time. Who wants to be part of something cold and dead?
And when I first came to CrossPoint it was my first experience in a church that was purposely trying to reach the unchurched, or people who had not gone to church in a long time. I was brought in to be the worship leader, but I have to be honest, at first it felt more like I was hired to be the Lead Worshiper. Like I was hired to be the guy who worshipped for everyone else, rather than the guy who was leading them in worship.
It’s actually gotten a lot better. I have seen some great progress with many of you singing out. There are even a few of us that seem to be downright charismatic!
But, how do you get people to change from just listening or quietly singing along, to stepping up and singing with their heart, soul, mind and strength? This ends up being the most important question for a church trying to reach people, because it’s really the question, “How do we introduce people to Jesus so that they will starting following Him?” Worshiping Him.
But, we know that it’s not really up to us. God has to reveal Himself to a person. Only God can make the blind see. God has to call their name, because only God can make the deaf hear. God has to wake them from their slumber, because only God can give life.
Our worship is only a response. God is the One who moves in our lives and loves us first. Then we can respond.
And some Sundays we respond better than others. I take the responsibility for some of this. When you guys aren’t singing out sometimes it’s because I picked a weird song, sometimes the song is too high.
But, let’s be honest, sometimes you guys just don’t sing. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a good singer, or someone said something cruel about your singing once, so you feel self conscious about it. Maybe you are a reluctant participant and are more inclined to simply observe than to participate, I can be like that sometimes. It’s not cool, but I get it. Just keep in mind that the music is not for you. I want it to be a style of music that we all enjoy, so we can pour our praise into it, but I don’t want anyone here to misunderstand and think that the music is for them.
Maybe there are a thousand other reasons why we don’t sing, and some people might be fully engaged in worship and are just really quiet. It might just be who you are. You might go to football games and sit quietly when your team scores a touchdown, you might see a funny movie and laugh quietly to yourself while other people have diet coke coming out of their nose. I’m would never ask someone to be something they are not. We don’t want fake worship.
But I have a suspicion.
I suspect that some of us are singing with exactly the amount of passion and conviction that we are also following Jesus with. Some of us do not sing, because we do not believe. At least not yet. To you I would say, keep looking at the night sky until GOD shows up and interrupts you. I’m glad you’re here, this is the perfect place for you to be. Talk to us. Ask questions. But, if you can’t sustain disbelief when you stare at the infinite, then keep staring until you see something. God will reveal Himself to you.
Some of us only give lip service to the singing because, honestly that’s about all we give this notion of following Jesus in other ways, too. We kind of believe, but not in a way that interrupts anything. what we want, or think, or say, or do – not to any significant degree. If this is you I would like to say, “Come on!” Are we going to do this or not?” There is an abundant life that is full of meaning and hope if you will start bowing to Jesus and worshipping Him instead of yourself. It can’t be comfortable to continue straddling the fence indefinitely.
Maybe some of you are like John the Baptist and you have been following Jesus for a long time, but something’s happened and you find yourself in a dark place right now. You are wondering if you still believe in Jesus. This can be a hard thing to get past. John the Baptist expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and usher in a new age of freedom for the Jewish nation. But that’s not what Jesus came to do, and that was a difficult thing for John to accept. Maybe you have an idea of who you think Jesus should be, and He is not living up to it. Maybe that’s why you don’t want to sing.
And, then there’s those of you are actually singing with me! You might sing a little louder than your spouse is comfortable with, but you don’t care if it might be a little “pitchy.” Keep it up! But remember that we are to love GOD and our neighbor, too. Sometimes loving your neighbor is refraining from drilling a hole in the back of their head with your singing.
I am not asking for anything phony. I don’t want this to turn into a fake churchy place. I love how real this place is. I don’t want that to change.
But, I want to see more “dancing and weeping.” I want to see more of us expressing our love for GOD and our thankfulness for what He has done in our lives by the way that we respond in worship. I want to see you here on Sunday morning more often, more than once or twice a month. I want to see you engaged in what we are doing. When we have baptisms next week, I want to hear clapping and celebrating them during our worship. When we have the Lord’s Supper I want you to be tasting and feeling the forgiveness and comfort of what we receive in that meal. When we’re listening to God’s Word in the teaching time, I want us to be taking notes – as if we might need to teach this to someone else – God might put someone in our life who needs to hear it. And when we stand and sing, I want us to be lifting our hearts and voices, filling this place with the sound of worship.