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That was nice . . .

April 22, 2008

Hang on cause this might hurt . . .

Yesterday morning as I was driving to church to prepare for the service, I was spending sometime with the Lord and I had the following encounter with Him.

I began to meditate on the worship and practices that took place in the tabernacle. I could see in my mind’s eye the hustle and bustle of the outer court; the animals bleating and screeching, the loud cries of worshippers, the smells of burning sacrifices rising in the gritty desert air, blood being spilled, priests assiting the high priest prepare to enter the Holy of Holies, washing and burning incense, the blood being splattered on the Mercy Seat of the Ark – loud, intense, and really messy stuff. I mean can you imagine, the loud crys of praise, the overwhelming lament at times, the striking of blades into the flesh of animals, the acrid smoke – not your average, comfortable worship service.

I bet you, nobody left the tabernacle, the “house of worship”, and said, “that was nice . . .” or “gee, I really enjoyed those songs today” or even things like “I didn’t like the scripture reading today”. Ever heard or felt any of things at your church? In modern, western Christianity, we easily fall into spectator sport church. We sing and raise our hands when it’s like we like, we shout amen when it tickles our ears. Are we pressing in even when we don’t like it? Are we receiving into our hearts a sharp convicting challenge even when it’s hard to swallow?

I heard Jonathan Helser say one time, “worship is messy and it offends humans”. I don’t want a nice service. I don’t want to be satisfied with songs that people enjoy. I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to press into the Holy Place where the God of the Universe purifies by fire and loves with passion. I want to offer songs for His renown and glorify His name. I want to fear the Lord and be drawn to the deeper place.

I want to see the body, His bride, rise and declare the Glory of the Lord. To call out to the nations with abandon that He is mighty to save, He loves us, He is near!

I don’t want nice . . .


  1. Wow…
    Truth isn’t always pretty, even though we always seem to want it to be.
    I’ve gotta let this one marinate a bit.
    Love you.

  2. 5minutes permalink

    Not to be a downer, but…

    The children of Israel did turn the Tabernacle – and later on the Temple – into even less than a spectator sport. They turned it into a passing fad that exposed their sin and separation from God that they’d do if they felt like it. It’s why the kids forgot the ways of their parents, and why God had to send the prophets, the judges, and occasionally, the Philistines.

    I think you’re right in that worship is a critical area of our call as Christians, and one that we often set aside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We treat fellowship as a convenient hobby rather than the familial relationship it should be.

    At the same time – we must be careful to recognize that sometimes worship IS “nice”. It ISN’T messy. Sometimes worship is quiet and thoughtful and solitary. Those same Israelites who sacrifices at the temple spent most of their worship time at home, in prayer, in song, with family, and it’s important that we realize that both forms of worship are equally valid and honoring to the Father. We must not let our preferences turn into pride.

  3. higherplace permalink

    Thanks for the perspective 5. Good to have you in on the thoughts! How true the tabernacle was a passing phase in salvation history, giving way for “when the fullness of time had come” (the arrival of Christ). However, my reference is specifically geared toward the idea that so many (including me) have often arrived at a comfortable place where our worship is some that is all to easy to give, not that the tabernacle is the permanent example of worship. Actually the eventual condition of the tabernacle is a good example of my point. What was once powerful and sacred at one point can eventually become a spectator sport if we are not mindful of our hearts and the move of God.

    As to the messy comment, I am simply making a thought provoking push about getting our hands all the way into the cookie dough. So if we worship silently, then may it be with a deep focus and meditation on the presence of God. If we we worship alone, then may it be that we find ourselves completely lavished in the pesence of God. If we shout, then may it be an overflow of a true inward work, not just vain hyperactivity. And it is definitely offensive to humans. That we should, and there is a call, to lay our preferences and pride on the altar and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. It requires more of us than we are comfortable giving (take up your cross, sell everything and give it to the poor, feed my sheep, quick to listen slow to speak, dedicate ourselves to the fellowship, etc.).

    Hear though, I wasn’t at all trying to invalidate any particular expression of worship. I was actually trying to self-examine to make sure that any expression I give is out of His worth and not my need to be entertained or based on my own comfort level. To be specific, I desire to see what I said in the last lines of my post. But that is manifested not just in song or expression, but more so outside the walls of the church building in fellowship, service, family, and sacrifice.

  4. Justin permalink

    I think that sometimes it’s not about being messy or truly comfortable, it’s just about inviting people to try. As a leader of a church that is filled with new christians, non christians, and people yet to grow up in their faith…I find that the messy “down in the trenches”, unstructured enviroment of worship is far over there level to understand. They check out and eventually leave with nothing more than they came in with, save a few more unanswered questions about why they still show up.

    I think it’s our job as worshipers, to envite people to the trampoline and jump together for a while. Jumping is engaging. It envokes laughter. It spurs conversation. Rob Bell gave this example in the book, Velvet Elvis. But I have taken it very personally now that I have a son. It’s very fun to jump, but it’s very hard to do it on your own when your legs are weak and you don’t know how. My son Elijah, loves to jump. (He’s a boy!) But when he get’s on a trampoline, he does nothing more than lunge around and kinda bounce a little. He can’t get his feet off the mat. It’s very similar to most people I encounter in life. They love the thought of being able to jump right up and touch the sky. They think that the feeling of floating around in the sky is a good thing. They even think that God is near and that they can touch him if they try. But what most new/old christians find is that they get in the temple and try to push themselves up and are suddenly overwhelmed by the pressure to look and act a certain way, talk the right talk, walk the right walk, deal with there lives in a right way, ect… This is tough for all christians in today’s churches.

    Our job in all this is to take them, by the hand if needed, and bring them out on the mat and jump with them. We have to encourage them to try. Eventually, after doing this enough, thy will be able to jump on there own.

    Now, there are as many differant thoughts on how to do this as there are people, but as long as we get people into the process of experiencing God, trying their legs, learning some things, and having fun, that I’m doing my part. Never mind if it’s messy or truly comfortable, I just want to see people move, even a little, from where they are to living in freedom and fullness.

  5. higherplace permalink

    Hey Justin! I agree. I think my use of the term messy may have not been the best choice to communicate my point. I really was not trying to say that worship should be unstructured or chaotic. As worship leaders, it definitely is our job to lead and give clear direction. Most importantly, we should walk with our people as we pursue the presence of God. My point of messy or “not nice” has to do with my own heart, launching out beyond the predictable or comfortable. Understadning that no matter whether it is in silence or with family (as 5minutes made a great point about) or in the assembly of the believers, that we are encountering and embracing the God of all the universe with a whole heart.

    And “AMEN” to your point that, “I just want to see people move, even a little, from where they are to living in freedom and fullness.”

    Love you Buddy,

  6. <>

    That is definitely a key element of worship. There are way too many examples of people using worship as an excuse. They either use passivity as an excuse to not worship, or they use hyperactivity as an excuse to lord their worship over others. Whatever the failing is, tho, the key element is very simple:

    The God Who Is There has called us to worship Him.

    Do we fall short? Absolutely. I fail in my call to worship on a daily basis. I get caught up in work, school (I’m taking a class – I’ll send you guys a link to my final project soon), family, or – unfortunately – sinful behavior. This is because we are poor, sinful, pitiful creatures who are in desperate need of the relationship with God that worship gives us just the barest taste of.

    I don’t want to seem overly critical of anything. I’m as guilty as the next guy of criticizing worship styles or of resisting worshipping when a worship leader is leading or of not leading others in worship in a way that is honoring to God. Thank that same God for His Grace that doesn’t ignore my failings and fallenness, but that does forgive those shortcomings and welcomes my worship as a Father would.

    In fact – that’s a good picture. Think of a 4-year-old handing a crayon-scrawled picture to his daddy… it’s ugly. Let’s be honest – there is not one single picture ever drawn by a 4-year-old that was anything other than “not art”. And yet – fathers worldwide accept those poor, pitiful expressions of love and devotion for no other reason than they love their kids completely.

    It’s just up to us to encourage people to draw their pictures. Don’t care if you use a pencil or a 64-crayon box or a Mac Pro with Dual Quad Cores and 32 GB of RAM… just draw.

  7. Sarah Salter permalink

    Interesting that you would “go there.” In the last 10 days, I’ve had the strongest desire to “get ugly” with my worship. I’m not talking about getting out of the Spirit and into the flesh. I’m talking about worshiping with such passion for and focus on God that the tears and snot are rolling down my face. I’m not trying to overstate or be graphic. I’m just tired of “pretty worship” where we sing 3 songs before the sermon on Sunday morning just because that’s what we do. I’m ready to get snot-faced on my living room floor with Fee or Jonathan David Helser playing in the background… Or even just singing from heart with NOTHING playing in the background. And I’m working on that. But I want that to translate to the body together, too. Don’t you imagine that Peter got snot-faced in front of the other followers of Christ sometimes? Why do we try to hide our passion for Christ from each other? Why do we take “God is a God of order” and try to turn it into a straight-jacket, or worse, an excuse to not really get into His presence and worship Him?

    I love you guys! Blessings on your entire family (including little Olivia)!

  8. higherplace permalink

    Hat tiped to 5minutes . . .

    mmmmmmmm – Macs in worship!

    Thanks for the response. It’s good to hear from ya! I often say to my worship team, “your worship in public should only be an overflow of your private.” It’s the desire of our heart that the Lord is after. He is peering into the depths of our hearts and examining the intent. You go girl!

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