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Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Honest Worship" (Manuel Luz)

TITLE: Honest Worship: From False Self to True Praise
AUTHOR: Manuel Luz
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018, (224 pages).

Why do we worship? What is the meaning of worshiping God i Spirit and in Truth?  How do we do away with any pretense in the house of God? How do we worship? In this impassioned plea for honesty and integration of heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are challenged to lay down our masks and artificial ways and take up the cross of sacrifice and service. We are challenged to let go of self and see God for Who He is, so that we can see ourselves for who we truly are, from God's perspective. Worship is not just about music and songs. It's about truth. It's not just about us. It's about God. It's not just about feelings. It's about honesty from us to God, and of God toward us. Beginning with an observation about smoke, techniques, and drama in a modern worship setting, author and worship pastor Manuel Luz reflects on his journey from "false self to true praise." With state of the art audio-visual systems, it is easy to let the externals wow our fleshly senses to the point of ignoring our spiritual needs. All this is because of the influence of the culture over us. As we let the externals dictate the way we worship, we become tempted with sensational techniques and expensive technological tools to feed the fleshly desires rather than authentic worship. As the late AW Tozer has said it so aptly that:

"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us."

So true. For if we let the cultural norms dictate the way we sing and worship, we are essentially giving room for the world to enter God's sanctuaries of worship. Luz gives us several notable warnings. He cautions us from adopting worship from a "first person singular" which is a symptom of blatant narcissism in the Church. In our iPhone, selfie, and Me-Too cultural trends, we have turned everything into ourselves, on how we can feed the insatiable appetites of I-Me-Self-dom. Not only has the society become more individualistic, we are also changed into people who care more for ourselves more than our communities. In doing so, we turn the worship of God into some self-driven mechanism for personal spiritual experience. In other words, we use God for our own benefits. I like the way it was said that if we treat worship in a narcissistic manner, God is the director, the worship teams the performers, and the congregation as the audience. This contrasts with the God-honouring model of worship team as director, the congregation as performers, and God the audience. The tackling of the narcissistic self is an important one because it is the single biggest barrier hindering honest worship. Thankfully, Luz shows us the way in what worshiping from the true self looks like. Sharing his experience with some prisoners who were released into real worship, he contrasts the false pretense that many of us in the free society adopt both knowingly and unknowingly. One is the lost but now am found. The other is the lost but refuses to be found.

Gently prodding us along with both biblical injunctions and personal stories, this book lays the groundwork for what honest worship is, what it looks like, and how we can go about growing from activity to authenticity. Using the greatest commandment as a guide, we learn about honest worship through our hearts, mind, soul, and strength. Through the mind, we worship with understanding and discernment of His Truth. Through our hearts, we engage our emotions and experience God's passion. Through our souls, we let the Spirit of God guide us in all truth and worship. Through our strength, we participate with all of our talents, skills, and abilities. Like the late Dallas Willard taught, worship is like a series of concentric circles with the inner circle of the heart and soul that springs out toward the mind, the habit, and the body. Worship is the integration of all toward one goal: Honouring God for who God is with the whole of who we are. Luz's chapter on "Soul Worship" is excellent chapter to describe the way these function as one whole. There is the worship in community where Luz likens worship to a sharing of gifts and serving goodness among ourselves, telling God's story together. Worship also requires a rhythm that we plan into our week. The Jewish Sabbath is a call to worship. There are also everyday opportunities to worship. What is beneficial is the "worship practice" at the end of each chapter. We get practical tips and exercises on:
  • Worship styles
  • Cultivating other-centric work
  • Memorizing Scripture as we prepare our minds for worship
  • Being honest with our sins and making concrete plans to deal with them
  • Silence and Solitude
  • Learning to worship by integrating our heart, mind, body, and soul
  • Keeping Sabbath
  • Prayer
  • Imagination and Worship
  • Lectio Divina
  • Experiencing God, and many others
  • ....
My Thoughts
First, I like the honesty that the author maintains throughout the book. One of the best education we can ever have are learning from personal mistakes and setbacks. In what seems like criticisms of others, some readers may be surprised that the author was self-reflective and self-revealing about his own weaknesses. He is right that often the worship scene is filled with smoke that hides us from God and from one another. We let all kinds of things get in the way of authentic worship and one of them is the lack of desire to move out of our comfort zones. Like the Israel of old that clamours for their old lives of enslavement under the Egyptians, modern folks cling on to their comfort zones of worship styles they prefer rather than what authentic worship is. By addressing the barriers we install all around us, we prove to be our own biggest barriers. With Luz leading by example, readers will be more open to accept what he shares in this book.

Second, I am glad to see the integration of worship practices and spirituality. Though he leaves the actual "worship practice" to the end of each chapter, there are hints of the integration of both practice and spirituality throughout the book. This integration theme is consistent throughout the book. Person wise, there is the integration of heart, mind, soul, and strength in our practice of the biblical commandment. Style wise, there is a blending of all kinds of music. From liturgical to contemporary, traditional to modern, meditative to charismatic, there is nothing to keep us from using any of them. He even suggests we go periodically to different churches to experience worship in an alternative environment.

Third, worship is not just about music. It is about the whole of life. It is about our expression of love for God through worship in Church, worship in rhythm, and worship in everyday life. Honest worship means being honest in every way. From the call to worship to the benediction, from Sunday to the Jewish Sabbath, we are urged to move beyond conventional ways of understanding worship toward an inclusive worshipful person, honouring God with our lives as vessels of worship all the time. We are called to be honest not only during worship time but for all of time. This is probably the best reminder we all need.

Manuel Luz is the creative arts pastor of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California, and has been an active advocate for worship and the arts for more than twenty-five years. He is also the author of Imagine That, a working musician and songwriter, and the co-inventer of the musical instrument the WalkaBout. He blogs regularly in "Adventures in Faith and Art."



This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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