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Worship Killers – The Keeper of Standards (Playing God)

Measuring the LandscapeTherefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. — Romans 12:1–2, NIV

The Keeper of Standards:  The keeper of standards appoints himself Supreme Court justice of all things worship. The keeper of standards is one who has forgotten that they are a sinner too. I confess that I have been guilty of this practice. And so have you. We attempt to play God. But there is only one God, and I am not him. Neither are you.

No worship leader is exempt from the temptation to lift up false standards. We are all vulnerable. I see contemporary worship leaders who despise traditional musicians for their purist conceit; yet they do the same with modern style and song. I see traditional musicians who elevate subjective standards to the level of divine. I see Southern gospel fans who are as snobbish as those who think only hymns are appropriate in worship. What standard have you placed on the worship throne? What have you elevated to the level of idol? I know mine. Do you know yours?

God despises idolatry of any kind. A worship leader is not allowed to absorb even a ray of God’s glory for his or her own pride. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that our experience and training give us the inside track. We are sure that we know more than anyone in our church— and more than most of our fellow worship leaders for that matter. We are convinced that the church owes us big-time thanks. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing God a great favor by exalting a stylistic standard. But stylistic standards are based on externals, whereas God is looking deep within.

Where can we find God’s standard for authentic worship? We find his standard only in his Word. And the Word of God is surprisingly inclusive of worship style. Instead of worship externals, God’s focus is the activity of the heart. God is running a continuous heart scan on each of us throughout every moment of worship.

It is so easy for us to squelch the power of authentic worship by becoming keepers of the standard. Jesus harshest words were aimed at Pharisees who held the truth at arm’s length so they could hold tight to religious power. Am I a Pharisee? Jesus shines a searchlight into our hearts that reveals our deepest intentions. He tests our inner core to seek out selfish pride. There is false security for us in playing God. It sets us above others and gives us a false sense of control. After all, life is very insecure. Death lurks daily. Health can come and go in a moment. Nothing is assured. Judging others by our own standards can certainly make us feel secure. But, it is pernicious pride at its worst.

These are hard words. I know as you read this you may feel under attack. You may feel defensive and possibly angry. You may feel that this is an affront to your integrity as a Christian. If that is how you feel, I beg you to look deep inside your own heart. Let these words sink into your soul and be used by God. We must submit to the laser beam of God’s judgment. We must develop a standard that goes beyond our own preferences. When all is said and done, whether we have lifted up our crucified Christ above everything else is the standard that matters most.  — Mark Powers (P.S. – Wishes for a warm and wonderful Christmas celebration to you and yours!  Thanks for a great year of GOING FULL CIRCLE.)


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Worship Killers: Performance Pride

MP guitar worship ldg           

 

“For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”

— Romans 7:18–19, HCSB

 

In spite of our desire to do good, we continue falling into idolatry in our worship. The two most prominent symptoms of worship idolatry that I encounter in my own life, and in the lives of worship leaders and worshipers around me, are indulging in performance pride and becoming the self-appointed keeper of standards. Let’s look at these two temptations that so easily entrap us. Today’s post will deal with Performance Pride and next week’s will discuss the self-appointed “Keeper of Standards”.

Performance Pride:  The tools of artistic expression have immense power. Like all tools, the artistic tools of music, art, drama, and movement can be used for powerful good or for malicious evil. God gives us these tools both to accomplish his work and for our personal enrichment. Performance is simply the medium through which these tools become active and are expressed.

Our society adores the American Idol mentality. Rock-star status is cultivated throughout our society. Flashy athletes get the headlines. Celebrities reign supreme in the media and are marketed to a star-hungry population. A distinctive performance style delivered with passion can be a ticket to stardom, if you have the celebrity connections. In the world, performance is everything.

But, American “me-ology” is in direct conflict with Christian theology. In biblical worship, performance fulfills only two God-given purposes. First, performance in church is the medium through which we express worship to our sovereign Lord. Second, performance is the medium through which we communicate the gospel. That’s all—no more, no less. Performance in church should not be a ticket to stardom or celebrity status. It is not meant to impress or entertain anyone. There is only one “star” in worship, and he is our eternal God.

Self-centered pride always undermines our God-given purpose in life. Pride is at the root of our sin nature. If we are honest, we acknowledge that pride plagues us even in worship. We secretly hope we are being noticed for our platform style. We wonder if anyone appreciated how eloquent and heart-felt our prayer was. We crave compliments for our musical offerings. We love recognition.

While it may not seem so, the performance mentality is giving in to salvation by works. We think our performance will gain more grace, more favor, more acclaim. But God already loves us to the fullest extent possible. Absolutely nothing we do can earn more of God’s love. He loves us totally and completely. He sent his very own Son to die for us on a cross of love. Absolutely nothing we do can earn that gift, not even a great performance.

A corollary to this for a worship leader is personal pride in my performers. Using people as fuel for my Church Train is just as idolatrous as personal performance pride. We stoke the Church Train engine with them until they are burned up. Too often we allow ourselves to think of our worship team members only in terms of what they can do for us. My reputation is at stake in the quality of their abilities and performance. But when I elevate my own reputation above the well-being of fellow worship team members, I have once again dethroned God to replace him with me.  — Mark Powers


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Does True Worship demand “Artistic Excellence”?

nature 09 “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” — Luke 7:37–39, NIV

God originated excellence as he made this marvelous universe. Then God showed omnipotent creativity as he lovingly formed us and placed us in this awesome world. What an excellent creation of his we are!

God wants us to reflect his creative excellence as imagio dei, the image of God. In his image all humans are made to create. A Christian artist has a distinctive calling and gifting from God to create. Excellence is how we both honor the gift God has given us and fulfill his call to glorify him with it. Yes, we should hone our craft to the highest level as we offer it to God. When we use our gifts to create with excellence, we reflect God’s excellence.

God uses our creative excellence to glorify himself in three ways:

  1. Providing us the abundant life Jesus promised when we live in Him,
  2. Serving and equipping the body of Christ, his church, and
  3. Calling the world to redemption in Christ through excellent creative arts.

Excellence is our worthy gift to God!

Can artistic excellence become an idol? Yes. Excellence can easily become an end-in-itself. Excellence must never be a means of placing our artistic ability on the throne of worship. When the woman poured oil on Jesus’ feet, her expression of love was extravagant. Our gift of worship excellence is our extravagant gift. We pour it out on Jesus because we owe him everything, never to earn praise for our own ability.

Let’s put excellence in its proper place. Are we extravagant, pouring out our artistic gifts in excellence to him? Like the woman who poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet, we are moved by our own sin to pour out our most precious gift to the Savior who delivers us from that sin. A constant recognition that we cannot rescue ourselves from our own sin must keep us humble… even in our artistic excellence.

Let’s redefine excellence as extravagant worship for our Father who loves us extravagantly. — Mark Powers