Hope Network Newsletter: Worship in Blue and White (Sept-Oct 1997)

By Matt Dabbs

by Kevin Wooten
September – October, 1997

Introduction by Lynn Anderson: This month I have asked permission from Kevin Wooten to publish the following article. Kevin is doing an incredible job as the Campus Minister at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. The article is adapted from the opening keynote address he delivered in early August at the annual National Campus Ministers Seminar at SMU and the Preston Road Church of Christ in Dallas. Read and be blessed.

28You picked the right guy to talk about worship. We know worship at the University of Kentucky. Let me tell you about it. On Sundays and sometimes even for mid-week service, 24,000 worshipers flock to the “temple,” and that’s just the number that get in. We have thousands of people who travel miles just to hang out in the court of Gentiles or the court of women, people who never actually set foot in the temple itself. You see, you have to be born into certain honored tribes or contribute money in biblical proportions if you are to ever enter the court where worship occurs. But once you’re in, you have an experience that’s nearly heavenly. Everyone in attendance is a die-hard worshiper. Everyone knows the songs and chants. They have hidden these words in their hearts since birth. No need for books or screens. Expectant parents sing these songs to their children while they are still in the womb. Around the top of the temple hang the names of saints who’ve pioneered the way in earlier days. The worshipers still talk about them, reminiscing about days gone by whenever a lull happens to come along.

From any seat in the house the reality of warfare is obvious. From these seats, every worshiper sees everything in black and white (or rather blue and white). The enemy is easily identified and fiercely attacked at any opportunity, while the anointed ones are blindly cheered and encouraged to show no mercy toward the enemy. We know all about worship in Lexington.

The greatest moment of our worship assembly durng the past eight years has been a moment to die for. After all the announcements are made, following the call to worship, after the clear identification of the enmy … worship flows into a frenzy. Everyone becomes lost in praise. They all begin lifting holy hands and bowing as the king himself makes his triumphal procession through the temple gates. The worshipers talk about the king’s attire; from his tie to his shoes, every detail is praised. They even know how much hair he’s lost since the last assembly. Rumor has it some are even willing to offer their firstborn, if only he’d let them on his team. We all know the real king is none other than Rick Pitino. Oh, yes, we know how to worship in Lexington. Now if we could just learn to worship the right God.

For quite a few years now, I’ve been learning about worship, yet it’s one thing I feel very inadequate doing or leading. Maybe its because I’m too left brained, too analytical. Maybe it’s because of some unexposed or denied sin in my life. Maybe it’s because Satan has a stronghold on me. Or maybe it’s due to so many years of three songs and a prayer on Sunday. I don’t know for sure. But I do know I’m developing a genuine thirst to be in the presence of God. Best I can tell, what people and angels tend to do when they are aware of God’s presence is worship. Worship has been going on long before we got here.

In fact, worship is one of the central themes in Scripture. I think I knew this, but my reading Warren’s book, listening to Hybels and McDonald, and reading a few other books here and there affirmed it. If you check out Nehemiah 9 or Isaiah 6 you see that even before creation, angels worshiped God. Right from the start of creation, Adam and Eve were created in perfect fellowship with God, honoring him, worshiping him. But Satan came onto the scene saying, “Don’t worship God; instead be like him.” The result of that conversation has plagued all of us.

What was the context of the first recorded murder in history? Why did Cain kill Abel? Because in their worship and sacrifices to God, Cain brought an unacceptable sacrifice and Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice. Due to the jealousy surrounding worship, Cain killed Abel. I don’t suppose this should surprise us with the way we see people react when someone changes worship. We just about had a murder at our church when we quit using the books and started printing song sheets each week.

When God gave Moses the top ten, what was number one? Everything begins with this: You shall have no other gods before me. You worship me and honor me – no one else. Number two: Don’t make a graven image of me to worship Number three: Don’t take my name in vain. Hybels comments on this verse, “Watch out how you even talk about me. Don’t use my name loosely. Don’t sing praises to me thoughtlessly.”

Think about the significance of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. A predicative element is certainly present. Someday Jesus would offer Himself for us. Also, God laid out the whole system of sacrifices so that when people performed those rituals, they’d have an opportunity to express inwardly what those altars signified outwardly. As the altars were built, the fires started, animals sacrificed … up went the smoke. As the smoke went up and people sacrificed out of a worshipful, obedient heart for God, the smoke was a sort of a symbol of their worship rising up to God. In the New Testament we read of Jesus’ sacrifice being a fragrant offering to God (as if the smoke is rising up to heaven).

What was the determining factor in the success of Israel’s kings? A king would come in, clean out the idols, rebuild the altars and temples, then reestablish a spirit of worship. God would normally follow up with blessings for the nation when the nation worshiped him. We see this over and over.

Worship is the theme in the last book in the Old Testament. In Malachi God asks, “Where is my honor? Where is my respect? A son honors his father and a servant his master, but you don’t worship Me. I tell you to find an unblemished lamb and put it on the altar, but you find one that’s sick and just about ready to die, one that won’t bring any profit for you in the marketplace. You say, “Here’s a lamb I can spare. I’ll take it to the altar.” God says, “I don’t want that kind of worship. You’re stinkin’ up the skies.” Then the prophet tells the people, “Straighten out your worship. It’s a priority.”

So from eternity past and all through the Old Testament, we see worship as a central theme. This theme doesn’t stop in the New Testament. As you turn one page from Malachi to Matthew and meet a few wise men heading across the desert to find this newborn king, they state their mission, “We’ve come to worship Him.” In Luke 2, after the shepherds visit Jesus, they leave glorifying God and worshiping him. Luke 4 paints the scene of Jesus being tempted by Satan. Satan tries his best with these words, Just fall down on your knees and worship me.” Jesus simply responds, “It is written, we worship only God.”

Luke 19 gives us a picture of what happened on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem. Check out verses 37 and 38 to see all kinds of worship going on. The whole crowd joyfully praises God: “Blessed is the King! Peace in heaven!” Then some of the Pharisees demand that Jesus get this nonsense stopped. After all, Jesus isn’t God and he shouldn’t be worshiped. But Jesus’ response is tremendous. “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” I wish everyone had stopped praising so we could read about what would’ve happened next. Jesus lets them know this moment demands worship and he’ll receive it one way or another.

What about worship in the future? Revelation is John’s peek into the party that goes on in heaven. We see in several different places in John’s revelation that heaven is all about worship. So before creation, at creation, through the Old Testament and through the New Testament, all the way into eternity … the theme is worship.

I know I could have much more to say about a number of other topics like relationships, marriage, parenting, exercising. I’d rather listen to King David talk to me about worship. he’s the guru when it comes to this issue in my opinion. He wrote all those psalms sitting out in the fields and hanging out in caves, on the throne and on the run. He had plenty of time to worship. but, worship is not a luxury I can afford. I have too many people to train and teach and get to know. I have two kids and a wife to take care of. I haven’t enough hours in the day to do the Lord’s work. Hybels asks this question: “Wouldn’t God be happier if at the end of my life I came to Him with my arms full of people and battle scars than if I came with less scars and fewer people, but with a heart full of worship and praise? “My question sometimes is what does all this worship accomplish anyway? My question to you is, how easy is it for you to find something else to do other than worship the God who made you … and justify your decision in the name of ministry?

Worship is at the heart of our Christian community. Warren writes, “We grow broader through ministry, warmer through fellowship, larger through evangelism, deeper through discipleship, and we grow stronger through worship.” Because of what is clearly emphasized throughout the Bible I believe, I believe all of what and who we are as a community of God’s people begins and continues for eternity with worship. I also believe for us with a Church of Christ heritage, worship as God intended is difficult to experience. In fact, I know of several people who felt like they had to join up with a different fellowship if they were to ever experience worship as God intended.

We have basically two kinds of worship: corporate and private. For churched people, private worship drives our corporate worship. For unchurched people, dynamic corporate worship may motivate private worship times.

Some complain that our corporate worship times together lack life and exuberance, bordering rather on dull and dry. These complaints come in many different flavors: song choice, projection screens, song books, worship leader talks too much or not enough, dramas are from Satan, dramas make all the difference in nailing the point, responsive readings are too high church, and let’s not forget the beloved clapping issue. Question: are we putting too much pressure on what happens on Sunday morning? Are our expectations too great on our worship assembly? Bigger question: do we expect something to happen corporately on Sunday morning that we don’t experience privately the rest of the week? I am convinced that too many people come on Sunday looking for the leaders to show them the way to God … and they better do it fast because we only have 60 minutes … but we haven’t spent 60 minutes total for the week worshiping God in private.

Let me illustrate. In junior high I joined the band. The band director went to our church and he made it sound like so much fun. So I chose the French horn and began my band career. I remember enjoying my band experience, for about six months. I recall three major turnoffs: practicing, concerts, and Kim Porter. If not for these three things, I could’ve stuck it out. Kim Porter was the big problem, though. She also played the French horn but she wasn’t like me; she was good, and she knew it. She had good posture; she never, ever missed a note, and her horn was so perfect. She even had the thumb key. (I didn’t have the thumb key, but I certainly had some opinions on what she could do with her thumb key.) I never was very good, and I only got worse when I quit practicing on my own. I learned an important lesson: you never get any better if the only time you play is during a concert … and soon you dread those times, too. I believe it’s the same with worship. If worship isn’t a way of life through the week for us, then Sunday will forever be disconnected and disappointing. Lynn Anderson painted a graphic picture for me one time to illustrate this same point. He said our boredom with corporate worship is like the dry heaves, trying to bring up something that’s just not there.

Do you think the community of believers described in Acts 2:42-47 ever got bored with their worship times? Can’t you just hear their conversations? “I’m so tired of singing these same old songs David wrote about a million years ago. We need some new songs. And you know, I love Peter, but that brother preaches way too long! Don’t you wish he’d talk about something other than Jesus and the cross? You’d think that’s all he knows anything about, Jesus and the cross, Jesus and the cross, Jesus and the cross.” Every day that passed, the people in this community were worshiping. They didn’t live with the pressure or expectation of having to adore God, study his word, hear what he has to say, realize their sins, confess and change, be resolved, receive peace, participate in the Lord’s supper, evangelize and equip, communicate all the announcements … all in the same time it takes for Lenscrafters to make you a pair of glasses – in just about an hour. Their whole lives were worshipful ones. Their worship wasn’t a pressure-packed hour! I honestly believe our expectations of a worshipful hour will never be met until we spread those expectations for worship throughout our entire week, indeed our entire lifetime.

Consider worship as a performance – not necessarily a performance for us, but a performance for God. All week long we’ve been practicing, learning, growing. That way, when we come together, we don’t lose our place or get left behind. We know the part we play as we perform our heart-filled worship to the Heavenly Father. We can’t hold back; our hearts yearn for our Father.

Worship is not just a time for performance, but also a time of celebration. We come together and remember we are saved through Jesus Christ. We are rich, gifted, forgiven, made new, made heirs, redeemed, all through Jesus. I believe we really need to hear others’ testimonies about these things. When I listen to you tell what Jesus has done for you, our community bond will be strengthened and Jesus will be made more real. I’d love to be a part of what John writes of in 1 John 1:1. He says his mission is to proclaim what he has seen and touched, what he’s looking at so others will get to hear about the difference Jesus is making. I’d love for us to celebrate what Jesus is doing in our lives. A worshiping community celebrates Jesus.

I work primarily with our postmodern Generation X culture on a university campus. Leading them into the presence of God to worship is a great privilege, but also poses a few unique challenges. This generation of people is intensely relational. Example after example comes to my mind which illustrates just how relationally focused they are. The people God has put in my life to tell about Jesus boils down to my relationship with them. The presentation of propositional truth is way down their priority list. “Can I trust you? Do you live out what you’re teaching? Will you be a friend to me?” These searchers ask questions like these. My answers determine my effectiveness in bringing them to Jesus.

The students I work with are watching me closely. They are watching me in my marriage. If I don’t treat my wife with respect, I will never effectively lead these students into any environment of worship. In the same way a strange dog can tell if you’re afraid of his presence, Gen Xers can immediately sense if you’re being genuine and honest with them. If you’re trying to dupe them, you’ll get turned off right away, regardless of how much you know, what degrees you’ve earned, how much money you make. Getting into their heart and mind is all about relationship.

They are also going to watch me as I relate to my children. College students have initiated numerous conversations regarding my parenting. They especially need to see us dads spending time with our kids. Be careful about brushing off your child so you can “talk about the Lord” with someone. If that someone sees me ignoring my children, he will be turned off. You see, so many young people have been grossly ignored by their parents, especially their dads. Listen to this letter written by a university student to see how much of an impact my parenting will make in my relationship with him.

Dear Dad,

I really wish we could have shared some of the things you and your father shared. You hunted, you fished, you probably adventured together. Why didn’t you do those things with me? Was I not good enough or man enough or strong enough to do it? Did you look at how bad I was in sports and think, “He can’t do this well, so he probably can’t do anything else.” I felt rejected. I asked you to take me fishing and the answer was always “sometime.” You didn’t even say “no,” so I kept hoping it would happen sometime. I remember when we’d take the fishing poles on vacation and I’d hope that we’d go somewhere, just you and me, and fish … but we didn’t.

The only time we did go fishing was with my cousin and uncle and I felt like I didn’t know how to do it. I did it anyway though. I remember resenting my cousin because his dad took him fishing and you didn’t. He knew how to do it and I didn’t. I was jealous of him for that. I probably would have given up all my toys for times like he had with his dad. And I remember when I was there with the fish on my hook. I was crying because I didn’t know what to do. My uncle was the one who helped me and told me what to do. … not you. Why wouldn’t you help me? And you two laughed about it … about me crying … and it was your fault that it happened anyway because you never taught me how to fish and you left me there all by myself.

You never went out and adventured with me in the woods, and I always wanted you to. I remember one time that you and mom went to that old house in our neighborhood with me. I had so much fun. You were there with me doing what I enjoyed doing. But you never went back there again, except once when I ran away and you angrily came to get me. Didn’t you see what I enjoyed? I didn’t understand how you could do all those fun things with your friends and not with me. Aren’t I your friend, too?

Dad, I still need you. I still love you. I want to get to know you better. I want to learn about what kind of man you are, where you come from, who you were when you were young. I want to build things with you. I want to hike, fish, and camp with you. And I want us to do all those things together with my son.

Nobody can make up for what I didn’t get from you. You are my only earthly father and I know there are no substitutions. I want to learn how to be a man and I’m asking God to give me what you haven’t. He is the father of us all and I love him.

How can I develop a relationship with this person if he sees me treating my son the same way he’s been treated? This brother is watching me. My interaction with my wife and my children becomes worship, because I’m honoring the gifts God has entrusted to me.

We can powerfully lead this generation of souls into God’s presence by modeling confession. Let’s be honest in our relationships about what we can do and what we can’t do, what we should do and what we shouldn’t have done. I need to ask for forgiveness when I’m wrong. My experience is that when I lead the way in confession and prayer, what follows is amazing. People are seeking an outlet to be honest, to be forgiven, to be cleansed. That’s worship!

The challenge in my life to lead students into God’s presence and into purposeful worship is acute. People are looking for a place to belong, a place where they can be accepted. Belonging and acceptance are relationship words. We are going to impact this generation of souls not by insightful exegesis, but through a commitment to a relationship with them. These relationships won’t happen if our number is unlisted or if we hide away at night or if we’re tracking our time to get in a 40-hour week. Forget the time card and make your ministry a lifestyle of worship. It’s what we do; it’s who we are. Leading young people with questioning minds, open hearts, and growing dreams into God’s presence has to be the greatest job in the world. May God gift each one of us with commitment, patience, grace, and a dream as we love people into his kingdom to worship him.Wineskins Magazine

Kevin Wooten

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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