Saturday, March 29, 2014

One thing remains Part 2

Part 2
In part One of this blog reflected on  what true worship looks like. If we don’t remind ourselves to keep the main thing the main thing we will quickly be reduced to but an empty shell – a form lacking content.

This is the essence of worship: that God is glorified and exalted and He comes to us with his tangible presence. It’s his presence that distinguished us from every other people group on this earth. When people encounter His presence, they are changed forever because they have encountered the living God. This is what happened to Abraham. Moses, Jacob, Joshua, the disciples, Paul and you and I.

Concluding thoughts for Worship leaders and Worship bands.
Therefore we stand there to firstly worship ourselves and then to facilitate the congregation to worship. We are always pointing to Jesus and the finished work of the cross

Therefore our preparation is vital. We are seeking God through the week on what we ought to focus on, we craft our set list based on our meditations and what we feel the Holy Spirit prompting us to do. The songs selected need to strong in doctrine and cross centered. The people should hear the gospel through the worship and not just the preaching. There needs to be a running theme – a clear direction as to where we are going in the worship. It’s not a bunch of my favorite’s songs or what makes me sound good.

I have often heard this said “If you come with a set list you are leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to work”. I find that a lame excuse for laziness and lack of preparation. We belong to a God who speaks to us and who foretold of His son’s sacrifice thousands of years before the event took place. Can He not prompt us and guide us with our set list a few days before Sunday?  Having said this one must always be open to a change in direction and the promptings to the Spirit in that moment. However more often than not, we have found the worship, the prayers, the public reading of scripture, prophecies, the preaching all in complete sync with each other because it is the same Spirit at work. What a wonderful demonstration of the power, presence and unity in the Spirit. This is what it is all about.

  On the one hand you can have one musician and usher in the mighty presence of God and on the other you can have a 5-8 piece band and have great music but no presence.What a tragedy!!! Let us resolve never to go there.

I am not saying big bands cannot usher the presence of God. I am not against being relevant to the youth etc . My plea is to pursue His presence and exalt Jesus   Every Sunday I pray a Mosaic prayer which is for God’s presence to be with us or else how will the people know that his favour is with us, how will the unbeliever know that God is in our midst? Let’s not settle for anything less.

As a worship leader I am first of all to be a worshiper myself. Then when I worship public ally, I am also a servant. I am there to serve my congregation and my band. I am there to help my congregation engage with God. I am sensitive to where the congregation is at, sensitive to my worship team and where they are at. This is a far cry from some of the super star images we sometimes see in the Christian circles.

As I close my reflection I want to add a footnote on a very important but neglected area :
A note on TEAM

It’s not about a superstar and everybody else in the band is their side kick. It’s TEAM. Together we worship, and we lead together. Together is very important. I have been in bands where there have been several egos on display. There has been no cohesion or unity; there has been no considering of the other musicians.
 Keys are chosen without taking so many other parameters into question viz most importantly can the congregation sing in that key? Are all the musicians comfortable with the key etc? Do you turn up your mike or instrument up and drown everybody else out and not care? Can you hear the others on the monitors? Do we make room for other members of the band to contribute musically, vocally, in prayer, prophetic song etc. The worship leader does not have to lead out every song in order to lead.

It is team work – the whole team carries the worship in their playing, singing and in their hearts. They do not zone out but are actively engaged in the worship and participate. When we do this it catches on and  it also helps the congregation engages in a meaningful way.

One of the comments I have often heard from visiting preachers to our church is how the entire band is involved in the worship in that they are praying, prophesying, singing out etc. This will happen only when we are Band Leaders make this a part of our culture and practice, making room for everyone’s gifts to emerge for the glory of God.

When we engage in true worship it takes the performance out of it and it becomes a sweet sound in our God’s ears.

So let’s go and worship our God and if you are a worship band leader/musician/singer etc. , let’s remember to pursue His presence always and keep the main thing the main thing.

Navaz D'Cruz

Thursday, March 27, 2014

One thing remains.

Lights, sound, action!! There is a roar as the music starts. The musicians wear this very intense focused look, gazing down at their instruments. The lead singer prances about the stage encouraging the audience to join in and connect with what is happening on the stage.
It’s really good on so many levels – the musicians, sound quality, enthusiasm on the part of the audience etc etc are top quality.  There is great participation, a sense of oneness. Everybody seems happy and are enjoying themselves. But one thing remains!!

What I have just described has now become the ‘normal experience” of what a charismatic church meeting  may look like every Sunday morning. Yup!! I was not describing a rock concert, just in case you thought I was!!

Before I make enemies with my music/worship band fraternity let me explain. I am not passing judgment or criticizing on this form of worship. Also, this is not an exhaustive study on what worship is but a reflection on just a few aspects. A whole blog series would be needed to cover all the aspects of worship.

I have been a musician since the age of 7 and been a part of several worship bands (but mostly with the local church that I have been a part of) since the age of 11 spanning a little over three decades.  I have been a part of a Methodist church in the early years of my life. So I have seen the transition from church organs, to tambourines and guitars to full -fledged bands with grunge pedals, smoke machines , lights and all the other trappings; from clergy –laity divide to the priesthood of all believers upheld and celebrated. So please don’t get me wrong.

It’s not the form of worship that is in question or is a problem. Not at all!! Societies go through change - from one decade to another. Technology is making huge advances and pervades all of our lives. So it is only natural that some of it will spill into ecclesiastical quarters as well. The style of worship therefore will reflect the culture in which it is practiced and it should in order to be culturally relevant (though biblical sound at all times). In fact history shows that church music and art was the fore runner of the Arts influencing the other expressions of art in society.

I have, and continue love the grand old hymns and The Handle’s Messiah as much as I love Matt Redman and his contemporaries. What then is the point of this reflection? What is on my mind? What am I getting at?

As I said earlier, one thing remains. Let’s think about it. Come reflect with me if you may.
I have often paused to ask these questions to myself and the worship team I have the privilege of leading.  If we don’t remind ourselves to keep the main thing the main thing we will quickly be reduced to but an empty shell – a form lacking content.
So what is this “main thing? “ .  

So here are some questions I ask myself and those I mentor.

1. Who is worship for? Jesus made it very clear, “Love the Lord your God and worship Him only”. Therefore worship needs to be God ward. Songs need to be song primarily “to” God and not just “about God”. We need to praise His attributes which are so many. We need to declare truth that is found in scripture. We sing about His love, his faithfulness, power, sacrifice, who He is, his return etc.

2.  What is worship? Today there are many songs being written, the object of which is unclear because there is no reference to the person of Jesus or the cross. They could be sung to anyone or any God. We need to be careful. It’s the content of the songs, the lyrics that make song worship to Jesus or not. We need to be careful that we are not engaging in singing “something”, but are engaged in worship to the living God.

3. Presence – This I believe is the main thing. It’s sad to see worship being reduced to a performance of some random selection of Christian “pop hits” “blockbusters’ “chart busters” that have no focus or purpose.

The greatest privilege we as Christians enjoy is to be called a people of His presence. God dwells in our hearts and when two or three are gathered, His presence is with us and goes with us wherever we go. We are the only people on the planet who can boldly and confidently say that God we can speak to God and He hears us but more amazingly He speaks to us too.

In the OT when the Levites worshipped, God’s presence came down and filled the temple and the people fell face down in worship.
This is it!! This is the essence of worship: that God is glorified and exalted and He comes to us with his tangible presence. It’s his presence that distinguished us from every other people group on this earth. When people encounter His presence, they are changed forever because they have encountered the living God. This is what happened to Abraham. Moses, Jacob, Joshua, the disciples, Paul and you and I.

When people come together to worship we want to engage their whole being, not just their emotions where it becomes soulish and self centered rather than God centered. Too often songs are sung about our longings and desires, and the whole worship revolves around our needs rather than our God who is worthy of honour, praise, thanksgiving and worship. We can worship the desire to worship singing endless songs asking for His presence and the Holy Spirit rather this presence.

 I don’t think we are to dwell too much on asking the Holy Spirit to fill us because the Holy Spirit Himself always points to Jesus and wants Him glorified.( Having said that we are to ask Jesus to keep filling us with the Holy spirit. So "waiting on" and being  filled with the Holy Spirit continually is a good thing).As we glorify Jesus we are filled with the Spirit. When Paul and Silas were in jail they were exalting God and praising Him and look what happened – the place shook, there was an earthquake and they were set free. That should tell us something about the power or praise and exalting Jesus name!

Random repetitions of one liners of “come Holy Spirit” etc is not worship. It is only an expression of a desire to worship therefore one must not dwell on it too much but press into actual exaltation of a wonderful Lord.

When worship is in Spirit and in truth where the lyrics are solid, sound, biblical and full of rich doctrine, faith begins to arise in one’s heart and we begin to truly worship. It is no longer an emotional experience but a spiritual journey where we encounter the living God , experience His presence, hear his voice speak to us through the various gifts of the Spirit that begin to operate through the worshiper And yes our hearts are touched and filled with joy and gratitude.

Worship of Jesus also releases the prophetic and people go way with the certainty that God was in the place and that they met with God. Even the unbeliever begins to testify to the presence of God. This is what they take away with them rather than “the music was good, didn't she sing so well” etc.

I have always encouraged our team to continually seek His presence in worship.  And as we have done this week after week people tell us of how they met with God in the worship, how they were comforted, some physically healed in the worship etc etc.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Simple Equations

In today’s world performance outstrips everything else. All can be and will be overlooked if one brings in the results – whatever that may be. The bottom line is the bottom line in a balance sheet: do the profits look good? The end is more important than means therefore collateral damage is the catch word.

 Walking the straight and narrow is becoming a thing of the past or is certainly under threat.

Ethics and Character have no part to play in this game of success and being opportunity driven rather than value driven is becoming the norm. One only needs to look at politics to see it at its best.

All that is very well; we can moan about all the lack of integrity out there and how rotten the system is, how immoral x, y and z and shake our heads at “them”.  But, what about us Christ followers? My daily Bible reading and meditations have made me reflect much on this. Let me share my thoughts and reflections with you.

I have been in the book of 1 John for some time now simply because it’s not an easy book to read through and walk away from unchallenged or unprovoked.

John throws a challenge to the Christ follower to love. One would think he is stating the obvious – of course we are called to love !!  Easier said, than done !

I feel 1 John and 1 Corinthians 13 are two sides of the same coin. One challenges our beliefs and allegiance to God and the other challenges our practice of this confession and the attitudes of the heart that underlie everything we do – even the use of the great gifts.

Often  these days we are willing to side step the character issues that crop up; turning a blind eye simply because we are blinded by the gifting before us and to the opportunities that are presenting itself to us.

While it’s all very well to point fingers, 1 John brings the truth starkly home. He addresses “me” and not “them”. He hammers away mostly at one point from every angle even at the risk of over repeating himself in every little chapter in this even smaller book. I think he knows how easy it is for us to want to skip what we don’t want to hear to the other “interesting “bits that we want to .

But he comes at it again and again. He puts before us some very simply equations so that we don’t miss it.

Here are some I have jotted down
1:5 God is light = no darkness In Him
2:3 Knowing God = obeying Him
John is establishing where he is coming from. Then he homes in on what he wants to focus on.
2:5  Light= no hate
Hate = darkness. The math is pretty simple, clear cut as black white
Let’s  go further
2:12-14   John reassures us of our forgiveness and position of being over comers in Christ.
2:15-17 Love  God = hate the world
John seems to have been contending with a lot of liars and deceptive people!! Is it different today?
3:10 Children of God = those who love their brother
 Doing what is right = a child of God
3:11 Love one another is the bottom line
3:15 Hate one’s brother = a murderer
Murderer = hell
3:6 Love = Jesus dying for us
 Brotherly love = laying down our lives for each other.
3:17 Love = meet each other’s needs.
3:18 Love = action
3:22 Obedience to God =  answered prayers
4:16 God is love = we should love = God lives in us
4:19 Hate your brother = liar = hates God. WOW!! John is turning up the heat. He is not mincing words.
4:21 Love God = Love brother
5:1 Love God = Obey God

In such a short book John packs a solid punch! That’s a lot of emphasis on one point. Interesting to note John is not encouraging us to love the unbeliever, the persecutor. He is commanding us to love our brother!!!

What he is saying is (and I paraphrase) : don’t you get it ? You don’t have a choice in this one. You have to love. And if you can’t, there is no fudging it. It’s as clear as crystal, as plain as day. There is no second interpretation, no further explanations, contextualization’s and all the other lame duck excuses you give not to obey a passage in scripture. Bottom line – you have got to love your brother no matter what.

Even as I write it send shivers down my spine. This is ruthless coming from the apostle of love. It’s downright radical. Take or leave it – that’s what John is saying.

Who is my brother? Is a clever devious question I might throw to save my skin, in my defense trying to justify a lack of brotherly love across borders or denominations, churches, apostolic movement I belong to etc etc. Let’s not try and see much hate I can get away with. The truth is God is love and I have to love at all times and EVERYONE. Jesus once said on the Sermon on the Mount “Love your enemies…”  There goes my last chance at hate! – All excuses crumble at the cross.

The point I think John is making is – guys love is not an option you can opt out of, we have to love everyone. If we can be forgiving and tolerant toward the unbeliever,  how much more our own brothers.

I find the book entirely rhetorical in nature. John states the obvious because sometimes it needs to be said. It’s like saying you drive a car you don’t push it. If you push it around, it’s not a car anymore. Therefore get into the car and drive for it to be a car!! Get it?

I think I  am getting it  - therefore no room for grudges, hurts, nursing old wounds, playing  politics and all the others thing even we Christ followers have got cozy with simply because rationalizing comes easy when the shoe is on the other foot.

As I reflect I think of those I find hard to love, I think of those old wounds that won’t heal because I keep pulling the scab off, etc. Can we resolve to deal with these things before we grow old and bitter and realize that all the hate was not worth it after all? There is so much in life to appreciate and love and be thankful for.

So this brings me back to where I first started . I can be very gifted, very well known, very liked , even in the Christian circles but that does not really count. In the final reckoning of things if i do not have love I am nothing ( 1 Corinthians 13 lays it our starkly). In the final scheme of things "success" as everyone sees it may not necessarily be so because I have neglected this one very important thing called love. Sobering isn't it?

Let’s drop all that stuff and just do it – LOVE.


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