Weekly Worship Thought – Worship Leader Banter

4b2husoh_m0-zachrie-friesenJared C. Wilson has a post about 10 phrases that worship leaders need to avoid. I do my best to not say these things because they get under my skin when I hear others say them. For the most part they are theologically weak and hype-inducing babble-speak. Especially cringe-worthy is “God showed up.” As if the God of heaven and earth could be controlled or summoned by an incantation.

What is the alternative to babbling like a hype jockey? I am a fan of beginning worship and connecting moments in worship using short, scriptural phrases that center our heart and mind. Here are a few examples of what you could say instead:

  • Sing to the LORD a new song! (Psalm 96:1)
  • I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. (Exodus 15:1)
  • Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. (1 Chronicles 16:9)
  • Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. (1 Chronicles 16:23)
  • Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. (Psalm 30:4)
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Psalm 34:8)
  • But as for me, it is good to be near God. (Psalm 73:28)
  • I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 146:2)
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
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Weekly Worship Thought – Punishment

I have written about the song “Immanuel” by Stuart Townend before. I love using it during Advent because I think it provides a great narrative arc that compliments the story of the season.

Previously I’ve talked about altering the fourth stanza of text to deal with the “fear of hell.” In Jesus, there is no fear. The idea that God is looking to eternally punish anyone is suspect. “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18)

As we sang the song recently, a new lyric jumped out to me. In the third stanza it says, “he was punished for a world’s transgressions.” As I have personally drifted away from a punitive, substitutionary atonement theory, lyrics like these stick out all the more. Violence begets violence. The idea that God violently punished the Son to make things even might be the source of many of our world’s problems.

I found this quote from Rene Girard helpful, I hope you do as well.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Whole Heart

photo-1469571486292-0ba58a3f068bPsalm 111:1 says, “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.” At the very center of all true worship is an attitude of thankfulness. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” We call communion “thanksgiving” because the scripture tells us that when Jesus was eating with his disciples “he gave thanks, broke it, and said, this is my body….” Following Jesus’ lead, our worship at God’s table is centered in an attitude of thankfulness. Back to Psalm 111. It says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” I’m interested in the idea of whole-heartedness. What does it look like to give thanks with a whole heart? What are the things that divide our heart and keep us from wholly giving ourselves in thanks to God?

Weekly Worship Thought – Food

photo-1448794363755-de84d6a770bcLuke 14:1: “Now it happened that on a Sabbath day he had gone to share a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees…” One of the centerpieces of Jesus’ ministry was eating. Over and over again, Jesus shared food with people. Jesus shared food with his friends, the disciples. Jesus shared food with those who opposed him, the Pharisees in this story. Jesus shared food with people that got him in trouble with the Pharisees: the unclean, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Jesus shared food with people by way of miracles that fed thousands. On the night before he was crucified he shared a Passover meal with his disciples and gave us a new commandment to love one another. Even after the resurrection, Jesus was still sharing food with people. He cooked breakfast for the disciples when they had returned to fishing. He appeared as a stranger to the two on the road to Emmaus, explaining the meaning of God’s plan of restoration, and then when they sat down at the table, he was revealed to them. The reason why we eat bread and drink wine every Sunday is because Jesus’ life was mostly about eating with people. Jesus still eats with us today.

Weekly Worship Thought – Pillar of Cloud

photo-1446857985102-74988d169c8cLast week I started a reflection on the text from the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” The text was written by William Williams in the 18th century (read more about him here). The second stanza reads, “Open now the crystal fountain where the healing waters flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The biblical imagery is stark. The fire and cloudy pillar refer to the symbolic objects that God used to lead Israel in their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 13). You might not realize it, but the Paschal candle in our sanctuary (the tall, white candle with the cross on it, near the baptismal font) is designed to recall this biblical image. It is a tall, white pillar, like the cloud that led Israel. Just as the cloudy pillar symbolized God leading Israel into their liberation from Egypt, so does the Paschal candle stand at the baptismal font, reminding us of God’s endless provision for our freedom in Christ.

Weekly Worship Thought – Pentecost

Orans1This Sunday is Pentecost. We hear the fascinating story from Acts 2 where, “each one was bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language.” It is generally accepted that most inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time would be able to speak and understand Greek. Even a diverse group of pilgrims would have knowledge of the Greek language and be able to understand it. So why did the Holy Spirit cause this translation to occur? I would suggest two reasons. One, Pentecost is a reversal/redemption of the curse of Babel. Two, God wants us to worship in our heart language. The pilgrims could have understood the disciples if they had proclaimed the marvels of God in Greek. But God wants to be intimately near us, as someone who speaks in the tongue of our homeland, our mother’s language.

A Warning Against Careless Worship

I was reminded of the story of Cain and Abel today.

3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:3-5)

the-offerings-of-cain-and-abel-1429.jpg!BlogAbel offered his sacrifice of meat. Cain offered his sacrifice of grain. God found one of them pleasing and the other not. Why?

The text suggests that Abel’s offering was accepted because of the sacrifice that accompanied it. The firstlings were the oldest, most developed, most favored of the flock. They were most costly. Cain’s offering appears to have been nothing special, just a portion of the crops he cultivated.

The text doesn’t suggest that the style of offering was what God found offense with. This story is a precursor to the sacrificial practices of Israel’s worship (perhaps a model for both grain and animal offerings). God was not pleased with the heart behind the offering that Cain brought. Abel offered his offering out of a place of grateful thanksgiving for what God had done. Cain offered his offering out of a place of manipulation of power.

Cain believed in power and wanted to manipulate God to be on his side and offer him favor. Cain’s true motives come to the surface after he murders his brother. We see the kind of power Cain is driven by.

The warning is to not offer careless worship (careless=not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm). How does this story relate to modern worship in the church today? What reason do you come to worship? What is the motive behind your offering? Cain wanted something out of his worship. The error of his offering was that he wanted God to do something for him. How does our worship seek to get something out of God? How does our worship manipulate God? How does our worship fail to give something (everything?) back?

How does our worship become the pure offering that Abel offered? By being full of care in what we offer to God. The church should take care, too, in setting the table for worship that unleashes the good and humble offering of all gathered. Perhaps asking what I want out of worship is more akin to Cain than Abel.

(artwork is Jan van Eyck, The Offering of Cain and Abel, 1429)

“God Still…Draws the Whole World” Message

Magi_(1)Matthew 2:1-23 –
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus (Arche-Lay-Us) was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

  • Prologue
    Welcome to the first Sunday of Christmas; remember that there are 12 days in the season of Christmas. Unlike our house, the tree is still up here at Faith. Also this is the last Sunday of the year 2013 – which happens to be the most heretical Sunday of the church year! Why are churches across the nation filled with heresy today? Because this is the Sunday that every pastor takes off, thus leaving others to fill in the pulpit. Which leads to all sorts of heresy! (Hopefully not here.) Continue reading

How to Use an Advent Wreath at Home

advent_wreath-1An Advent wreath is a great opportunity to ground yourself or your family in a spiritual practice throughout the hectic holiday season.

The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.

There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).

The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.

First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)

  • Reading – Isaiah 9:2
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)

  • Reading – John 3:16
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”

Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)

  • Reading – Luke 2:10
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)

  • Reading – Luke 2:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”

Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)

  • Reading – John 1:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”

Resources:

Hold Our Gifts Loosely

HandI try my best not to be snarky on Facebook. Honestly, I do. But sometimes I’m caught on an off day and my inner snark-beast is awakened. By the way, you can always tell when I’m joking or having fun because I’ll add a winking smiley face with my comment. 😉

So a colleague of mine posted this on their Facebook page several weeks ago:

“Rest easy my friends, to think that the Holy Spirit would pour out gifts on the church only to steal them back a few decades later is just plain ridiculous. Even half decent people don’t work like that, why would we even consider that God would?”

I had a sort of immediate, knee-jerk reaction to this post. To clarify, the post was referring to spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts to us such as artistry, teaching, administration, hospitality, and discernment (see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4). These would be different than the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc., Galatians 5:22-23) that are produced in us through the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying that God gives us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). Obviously God’s spiritual gifts are good for us and are ultimately good for the body of Christ.

I have two difficulties with this thought. One, that we assume to know what God will and will not do. Two, that instead we should hold our gifts loosely.

First, only God is God. We are not. God can do whatever God wants. To assume that we know what God will and will not do is fundamentally troublesome. I would confess a reluctance to say I have a certain understanding about how God works. We can know what God will do as much as we can know what a consuming flame or torrential wind will do. There is an untempered quality to God. This is the major point of the book of Job in the Old Testament (one of my favorites). Job loses every good gift God had ever given him. Job questions God’s motives and why bad things are allowed to happen to good people. God’s response? “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, since you are so well-informed!” (Job 38:4) God lets his own snark fly with a, “Who do you think you are?” (my translation)

Then we have stories that Jesus told like the parable of the talents that prepare us for how the economy of the kingdom of heaven works. Matthew 25:29: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The one who hid his gift had it taken away.

Second, we should hold our gifts loosely. A quote from Nancy Beach:

An_Hour_On_Sunday_Zondervan_large“We aim to ‘hold our gifts loosely.’ Such an attitude grows out of a deep awareness that I did not choose my gifts, and they really don’t belong to me. A gracious heavenly Father distributed the gifts, ‘just as he determines’ (1 Corinthians 12), and intends for us to use these gifts to build up the church. My gifts – and yours – actually belong to the local church. As we learn to hold our gifts more loosely, we become far more open to feedback that helps us not only improve our skills and contribute more effectively but also grow closer to one another and advance Christ’s cause. It’s not all about me; it’s all about the church!” (An Hour On Sunday, Zondervan, 2004, p. 112)