Monthly Archives: June 2016

What Worship Really Is

Worship Series - Wk 1 - Surrender - Micah 6.6-8 - 062616 - SoHills.001

Growing up, my mother frequently reminded me about how easily our greatest strengths can become our greatest weaknesses. When it comes to worship, one of the incredible blessings of times of corporate worship is that they can be both meaningful and transformational. The downside, however, is that such experiences can become addictive to the degree that worship is no longer able to transform us into the selfless image of Christ. Instead, worship transforms us into selfish people whose relationship to worship is like that of a junkie with a drug.

A few years back, Skye Jethani described this process in more detail, highlighting a haunting explanation for how and why this happens. Here’s a brief excerpt from Jethani’s article.

A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.

The problem with these mountaintop experiences, whether legitimate … or fabricated, is that the transformation does not last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunchtime, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event we were certain would change our lives forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation, we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian merchandise or busyness, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This pursuit of transformation by consuming external experiences creates worship junkies who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that will not fade. As one church member interviewed for the University of Washington study said, “God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.” In response, churches are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. But if lasting transformation is our goal, mountaintops–even God-ordained ones–will never suffice.

Question for Reflection

How does this description of worship becoming addictive resonate with your own experiences of worship? Have you found yourself chasing the next worship high? What has come of that chase?

Instead of drawing us further into ourselves and transforming us into more selfish people, true worship draws us out of ourselves and transforms us into selfless servants of God and others. In that sense, worship can be quite dangerous, as Mark Labberton describes in the following video.

Dangerous Worship

Questions for Reflection

1. Labberton asserts that “worship that takes God seriously puts me and my world in some other location than in the center of the stage.” As you think back over your experiences in worship and in church, where have those experiences tended to place you on the stage: in the center or to the side? What practices tend to put you and your world in the center? What practices place you and your world to the side?

2. If “faithful worship is dangerous to selfishness, it’s dangerous to self-interest, it’s dangerous to the idolatries of self, it’s dangerous to the small-worldness of my own interests,” then in what ways does such worship challenge you?

3. If a genuine encounter with God “is going to be disruptive, it’s going to mean having to live in a new way, with a new agenda, and with a different vision,” in what specific ways might God be disrupting your life, inviting you to take up a new agenda with a different vision?

Instead of a Show

Take a few moments to listen to this convicting and challenging song by Jon Foreman and reflect on what it would mean to fully commit yourself to surrendering to God by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Worship: Loving What Matters Most Playlist

If you find that music speaks to your soul and shapes who you are, take some time to listen to this playlist, with carefully chosen songs added each week of the sermon series to help you dwell on its themes.

Getting Ahead of God

Hope in the Dark

Grace sounds great…when we’re on the receiving end of it. But the thing is being on the receiving end of grace makes it hard for us to realize just how costly it is to give grace. As Jarrod said in the sermon, giving grace is hard because, by definition, it means giving someone something good in return for something bad. The apostle Peter put it this way: “Do not repay evil with evil…repay evil with a blessing.” It is precisely this kind of grace God calls us to show to others, not simply because God has shown this kind of grace to us, but because this kind of grace is at the core of who God is. God is love, and part of what that means is that God is a God of grace. So God invites us to be partners in writing grace stories in the lives of others, stories in which the bad choices others make do not define their future, our future, or the future. Instead, the grace of God opens up the possibility for a new story, a better story, in which the grace of God binds us together in an unlikely relationship: brothers and sisters whose shared DNA is God’s grace.

The following videos and reflection questions are meant to help guide us on this journey of continual transformation into people who join God in showing grace.

Liturgy – Brother

Before you watch this video, ask God to reveal to you the face of an enemy while you watch.

Now pause for a few minutes of quiet contemplation, asking God to help you see the enemy revealed to you as a brother or sister.


If, like me, you find it challenging to see your enemies as brothers or sisters, this next video offers a helpful clue to overcoming this challenge.

Take a moment to think through how you might find a way to sit across from the enemy you picture earlier so that you might look them in the eye and allow God to work the miracle of breaking down each of your defenses so you might see each other through the eyes of grace.

Grace: An Unexpected Friendship

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways does this story unsettle you?

2. In what ways does this story inspire you?

3. What difference does it make if forgiveness (as an act of grace) is not just for my sake or your sake but for our sake?

4. What can you do this week to begin to show grace for our sake to the person you pictured earlier as an enemy?

More Heart, Less Attack

May this song serve as a blessing on your life this week, that you might be a person of grace rather than judgment, a person who is more heart and less attack.

Hope in the Dark Playlist

There’s still time to check out this playlist of songs based on the themes of Jonah’s story.

Walking With God

Hope in the Dark

At the heart of walking with God is the calling to be people who partner with God in showing grace to others. The thing about grace is it’s our own experiences of grace that make us most equipped to show grace to others. Yet the reality is that for many of us it is really easy to forget how much grace we’ve been shown. As Charles Siburt used to say, “You think you hit a home run. Do you not realize you were born on third base?” So before we begin trying to live into this calling to join God in showing grace, it’s worth taking time to recount the many gifts of grace we’ve received from God.

Thy Mercy, My God

Take a few moments to listen to this beautiful hymn by Sandra McCracken, and then spend some time meditating on the ways in which you’ve experienced God’s mercy.

When we know deep down in our being the degree to which we owe our very existence to the grace of God, we begin to be able to lean into God’s calling to be partners in showing grace to others. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. But if we are willing to try, God will find a way to work with and through our willingness, just as the testimonies in these videos reveal.

Forgiveness – The Mary Johnson Story

Criminal Love

Questions for Reflection:

1. In what ways do the testimonies of these women unsettle you?

2. In what ways do the testimonies of these women inspire you?

3. Who is someone to whom you need to show grace? What can you do to take a step toward showing them grace this week?

Hope in the Dark Playlist

The story of Jonah is the story of a journey towards transformation. If you haven’t done so already, check out this carefully curated playlist of songs that trace the trajectory of this journey.