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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Reflection for All Saints’ Day 2013

evia all saints

(excerpt from a doctoral paper written in 2008)

Sanctification is not a sign of growth in righteous behavior, but it is a solid truth for those redeemed in Christ. Sanctification is first a sign of salvation and not just ethical behavior. Sanctification is the work of God signaling God’s ownership of all Christians. That is why the scandalous Corinthians can be called by Paul “saints” and those for whom Jesus Christ became their sanctification. While sanctification is completely a gift from God, not something to be morally attained, it does require a human response. Because believers are sanctified already, we are to pursue sanctification in all aspects of living.[1] “Sanctification is both a divine gift and a human task.”[2]

The nature of the church also brings meaning to the doctrine of the saints. In the Patristic Age, four marks of the true church were developed to differentiate from heretical groups: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. The Roman Catholic understanding of the church being marked with holiness centers more on the sacraments and on holy individuals (saints). The Eastern Orthodox Church also places a high level of importance on the saints in heaven and the Virgin Mary in particular as holy. Protestants tend to interpret the church’s holiness as its set-apartness and dedication to God and serving Him.[3] In a Trinitarian fashion, the church is holy in three senses: they are the people of God, the body of Christ, and posses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is baptism that marks or separates the church as holy unto God. But in our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ Jesus there is an eschatological tension. A life of holiness is given to us through Jesus; however, it is still not completely present. We are holy, but at the same time, not yet holy. It is the continual living out of our baptism that makes us ready for life in the kingdom of God.[4]

Much like the saints that comprise it, the church is holy because God makes it holy. There are no self-made saints and there is no church made holy by herself. Even baptism does not automatically create holiness in men, but it is dependant on a holy God and a faith-filled response by man. “It is God who distinguishes the Church, sets it apart, marks it out for his own and makes it holy, by winning power over the hearts of men through his Holy Spirit, by establishing his reign, by justifying and sanctifying the sinner and thereby founding the communion of saints.”[5]


[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 563-565.

[2] James Leo Garrett, Jr, Systematic Theology, (North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press, 2001), 400.

[3] Ibid., 516-523.

[4] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1984), 127-130.

[5] Hans Kung, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 418-419.

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)

Silence is Golden

silenceTalking during a movie is rude.

I didn’t pay $10 to hear your story, or your snarky commentary, or your question because you can’t follow the plot. (This rant has now concluded.) That’s why I love watching movies at Alamo Drafthouse. They are zealous in their persecution of movie talkers. They have rules about talking. Rules that they actually back up:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards talking and texting during the movie. If you talk or text, you will receive one warning. If it happens again, you will be kicked out without a refund.” (www.drafthouse.com/about)

Silence during a movie is right. What about silence elsewhere? Why is silence sometimes uncomfortable? Why do we feel awkward when a silent lapse occurs during a conversation? Why do we feel the need to fill our daily lives and routines with noise? At the grocery store – earbuds inserted. At the gym – earbuds inserted. At work – earbuds inserted. What is the importance of silence?

We discussed this very subject in a recent Learning Group using the book Worship Matters (Augsburg Fortress 2012): “Consider this page. Without the white space on this page, the black letters and the words they form would not be comprehensible. Similarly, consider music. The rests allow the musical notes to be heard. We believe this to be a foundational reality with God as well. God speaks a word out of silence, and the world is created. Silence is a powerful and important response in moments of awe. Here we are invited to imagine silence as a response to God that is even more profound than our words or songs of prayer and praise.” (p. 62)

I’m reminded of the worship practices of our brothers and sisters in the Quaker/Friends Church. Their worship begins in silence, making room for the Holy Spirit to enter and move. They approach worship with neither a determination to speak nor a determination to remain silent. Patience, rest, and preparation are central in their worship gatherings. I’m also reminded of the way in which Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Why is it that when we encounter silence during worship, we automatically assume that someone has missed their cue? We get panicky and our palms begin to sweat. If no one is speaking, or singing, or praying during worship, something has obviously gone wrong! Perhaps there is Someone speaking during the silences of worship. If only we had ears to hear it.

Quality Worship Leadership

“If you miss your notes, if you are flat when you sing, if your prayers are self-absorbed, if your song choices are predictably narrow, if you read Scripture poorly, if you prepare your sermons on the fly, then it’s unlikely that your people will worship well. They will be distracted and uninspired. On the contrary, if you perform with musical excellence, if you pray with thoughtfulness and authenticity, if you choose songs that reflect the breadth of God’s revelation, if you read Scripture with the reverential awe or interpretive depth due the Word of God, if you tell God’s truth with insight and conviction, then your people will be encouraged to offer themselves to God in genuine worship.”

~Mark D. Roberts, Worship Leader Magazine, July/August 2012, p. 10

Andrew Jones: 'Mighty to Save' and other worship songs that annoy me

From Tall Skinny Kiwi:

The line that bugs me is this one:

“Saviour, he can move the mountains”

It’s not that the statement is untrue because actually, God can do whatever he wants, including the relocation of mountains. It’s just that the particular idea of moving mountains, which occurs most strongly in Isaiah, the minor prophets and later in the Gospels, is almost exclusively in relation to people moving mountains and not God. Jesus told his disciples that they could move mountains. The Isaiah passage [Remember Godspell’s “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”], as Jesus enlightens us, was in reference to John the Baptist who would level the mountains and fill the valleys. 

Mountain moving is the job of God’s people!

Yes, our Saviour could move the mountains if he wanted to, but he has commissioned us to move them so let’s get on with it, not in our own might or by human power, but by God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6-7)

The idea behind this lyric, in my opinion, is the same lazy “let go and let God” philosophy that inoculates the people of God from doing anything practical or hands-on because we assume if we just sit back and sing some more songs then God, who is somehow energized by our inaction, will stand up, bare his almighty arm and get things done.

Escaping from Worship Music

Dr. Rollins has some interesting thoughts on the problems inherent in contemporary worship services. Read the full post here:

What if church is the place we go precisely to escape worship music, instead singing songs that invite us to turn our backs on some ultimate solution and affirm the life we find ourselves in? A place where the art encourages us to find meaning, beauty and goodness in our world rather than in something beyond it?

What if God is not who we thought?

Excerpt from Easter sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Once upon a time, the God of the Universe was basically fed up with being on the receiving end of all our human projections, tired of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, show-offy, defensive, insecure, in short, the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. So, at that time, over 2,000 years ago, God’s Loving Desire to really be Known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest in the rapidly dividing cells within the womb of an insignificant peasant girl named Mary. And when the time came for her to give birth to God, there was no room in our expectations – no room in any impressive or spiffy or safe place. So this God was born in straw and dirt. He grew up, this Jesus of Nazareth, lefthis home, and found some, let’s be honest,  rather unimpressive characters to follow him.  Fishermen, Tax collectors, prostitutes, homeless women with no teeth, people from Commerce City, Ann Coulter and Charlie Sheen.  If you think I’m kidding…read it for yourselves.  These people were questionable. So, with his little band of misfits Jesus went about the countryside turning water to wine, eating with all the wrong people, angering the religious establishment and insisting that in him the kingdom of God had come near, that through him the world according to God was coming right to us.  He touched the unclean and used spit and dirt to heal the blind and said crazy destabilizing things like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

And the thing that really cooked people’s noodles wasn’t the question “is Jesus like God” it was “what if God is like Jesus”.  What if God is not who we thought?  What if the most reliable way to know God is not through religion, not through a sin and punishment program, but through a person. What if the most reliable way to know God is to look at how God chose to reveal God’s self in Jesus?

 

Holy Week 2011 – Good Friday

The texts assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for Good Friday of Holy Week are Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the Suffering Servant endured our pain), Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), Hebrews 10:16-25 (Jesus our Great High Priest gives us confidence), and John 18:1-19:42 (the Passion of our Lord Jesus).

From With One Voice by Reggie Kidd (p. 88-92):

He hung alone. Well, not completely alone. There were the thieves – one a new friend, one a scoffer. There were the three Mary’s, his own mother among them. There were the soldiers, doctors of pain and humiliation. And there was the crowd, wagging their heads and hurling abuse. Although Jesus was not completely alone, he was. He was left desolate by the One whose presence truly mattered. God’s Son lifts a bitter dirge of forsakenness to a Father who promised he would never abandon his own. He who knew the Father’s voice from eternity and was the author of sound for all creation heard nothing but silence. God seemed for an instant to be an atheist. Jesus, feeling the presence of the Father being withdrawn from him, quotes one of the laments David gave to Israel in Psalm 22. To know the God who is, is to look to him even when he won’t make eye contact. To know the God who keeps covenant is to sing to him, even, perhaps especially, when you fear he may not be listening.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, hymn by Isaac Watts (1707):

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.