Worship Breathes

One could picture the fourfold model of worship as a pattern of inhalation and exhalation. As we gather together as the people of God and then hear the Word we are taking in the breath of God. As we give thanks at the Table and are sent out into the world we exhale (share) the breath of the God with the rest of the world. I like the imagery of our worship “breathing” for three biblically rooted reasons.

First, breathing reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables everything we do, especially our worship. Genesis 1:2 tells us that in the beginning when God created heaven and earth there was a divine wind sweeping over the waters. The Holy Spirit was the divine breath that activated the words that spoke everything into being. The most ancient recorded liturgies of the church describe how the priest would breathe on the baptismal waters in blessing, recalling the Holy Spirit’s presence at creation. Just as God breathed life into Adam and Eve, the Holy Spirit breathes life into the words and actions of our confession and thanksgiving to God.

Second, every living, breathing thing was created for the purpose of praising God. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that breathes praise God.” Every day we wake up because God graciously gives us the breath for another spin around the earth. Every breath, therefore, is an opportunity to return praise and adoration to God for who he is and what he has done. No one flawlessly seizes every available breath to praise God, and some people ignore God their whole life. But we have confidence that every breathing thing will acknowledge Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11).

Third, as believers we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The idea of a “living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. Something that is sacrificed is killed. In God’s original design for worship, death was synonymous with sacrifice. Something always died in a sacrifice. The paradox of a “living sacrifice” is created through the reality that in Jesus we are new creatures. Death has been defeated in Jesus, and now our worship is a living sacrifice of praise. In other words, the breath isn’t taken out of our worship. Our worship is left alive, to breathe.

Worship Does God's Story

(from the August 2011 Mountain Mover Newsletter at Faith Lutheran Church)

Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.

The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.

The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.

Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.

The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!

Advice for New Church Musicians

Leading church music is different than any other type of music. It is a high calling that requires humility and a servant-attitude. The first goal is always to honor/praise God through the music. The second goal is to help the congregation join in. Church music is not entertainment. Church music is helping people participate in worship. Encouraging people to participate starts by making sure that the music is done in a way that makes it easy to sing along, and subsequently making it easy for people to express their hearts to God through the music.

Message from 5/22/11 (Stoning of St. Stephen)

Here is the video from Sunday’s message at Theophilus. Marcus and I had a great time “tag-teaming” the message.

We each had enough material to preach our own individual messages, so I left a couple of points out due to lack of time. Here they are:

  • If you’re going to follow Jesus, you might have to follow Jesus (even to death). Is it possible that I could be killed for my faith? Or one of you? I don’t know. The point is this: If we claim to be followers of a Savior who was crucified, should we expect any different? The question is, will we allow our own crosses and our own martyrdoms to be an opportunity to imitate Jesus, his compassion and mercy?
  • (Hat-Tip to Peter Rollins for this point, taken from his blog post)
    Anecdote – “One evening a guy is driving home after a long and tiring day at work and gets a call from his concerned wife, “Dear, be careful on the way home as I just heard on the news that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the freeway” The husband says, “Sorry honey, can’t talk right now… there isn’t just one crazy guy, there are hundreds of them!!!”

    This is funny, but this is the situation the Jewish mob that murders Stephen find themselves in. They don’t even consider that they may be wrong. This situation is sadly all too common. Now look at this story in your own life – put yourself in the shoes of the angry mob. How do we encounter people with different political, religious, and cultural values to our own? When we’re confronted with someone who thinks differently than us, how do we respond? Most people respond in 1 of 2 ways: (A) Consumption – attempting to neutralize the difference by changing them to our way of thinking (making them like us), or (B) Rejection – rejecting them from our group as a foreign agent that must be expelled (protecting the integrity of our group).

    But there is a better option. The better option is Communion. Communion can be described as eating with the other who thinks differently. Here the community seeks to sit down with the other and seek out places of convergence. Communion is saying there are places where we are both right, lets see where those places are, and move forward together.

    To be in Communion with someone means we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we look at the situation through their eyes. This is an alternative type of encounter with people who are different than us. And it’s what Jesus came to show us. Jesus came to show us that there is a different way to treat people. We don’t have to change them and we don’t have to reject them. God can save us as we are, whether right or wrong.