Archive for November 2010

Song of Deliverance

November 23, 2010

Saturday was another day that included involvements of ministry and life that came from very different emotional centers.  After hearing of the passing of Carolyn Doss, we rerouted and retimed a planned journey to a former church field in St. Louis, Missouri where we were to join a celebration with a close friend who had been part of our early days of ministry with whom we have kept contact.  Fist, though, we wanted to at least get by First Baptist Martin to speak with longtime Tennessee Music Minister Elwood Doss to share our sympathies and assure Elwood and his three grown children of our continued prayer support.  We were on a tight schedule and stopped by the church.  Son, Chuck was at the church, but Elwood and other family members had not yet arrived.  I was disappointed, but felt the pressure to get on the road.  I left with a sense of need to contact Elwood later to follow up in those days of mourning that often follow such events after the family has returned to their daily lives.  Such days can be full of the ache of loss that continues to linger.

Leaving Martin in a bit of a hurry Ebbie and I made our way to St. Louis knowing we were running behind schedule and following the sometimes confusing instructions being dictated from the GPS.  I had glanced at a computer map to get a general perspective of the journey, but the travel became more and more an adventure as we crossed a bridge that narrowed to one lane due to construction, saw a sign that indicated a roadway was closed, and at one point nearly ran out of gas due to someone’s, “got to press on” attitude (that would be me).  Eventually we saw road signs that made a bit more sense to my perspective, and we were able to drive at speeds to which I am a bit more accustomed as we returned to Interstate travel.  As it turned out we arrived in St. Louis in adequate time and joined the festivities.  Even though we were a bit frazzled and still prayerful about the happenings of the day back in Martin, we found joy in the celebration with our friends of many years.

The celebration of which I speak was a unique party to commemorate a fortieth anniversary of Charlie’s coming to accept the Lord and give up his former destructive lifestyle.  Forty years of “saved and sober” as we heard repeated several times through the testimonies of the day.  After a song sung by one of his grandchildren, other family members shared their recollection of God’s work in and through Charlie’s life.  His older children told of the gift of a brand new father as they recalled nights before Charlie’s salvation that were characterized as a drunken stuper.  Those were contrasted with depictions of a loving dad who would give them anything including the best gifts of all, love and blessing.  Even the stories shared by those who had only known Charlie after his salvation  contained elements of new creation. 

I remember Charlie as a non-music reading choir member who loved to sing.  I thought I was “taking a chance” when I asked if he would sing a solo in a musical.  The solo would follow his sharing of some of his testimony.  I thought I could work with him sufficiently to take the edge off the country twang.  He worked hard to prepare and got a little better each rehearsal.  I was hardly prepared, though, for the impact of his testimony followed by his rendition of The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference.  Even as a very young man I begged God to let me be a loving and caring dad.  The singing still had a certain twang to it, but I can testify I have never heard “better music.”  There was a power in this sweet, sweet song of salvation that came from the heart of one changed by the very grace of God. 

As varied as the emotions of last Saturday were, still there was a theme that speaks to me and reminds me of a larger truth that I want to share with all those with whom I have audience.  The songs of life for those of us who name the Name of Christ all have a recurring truth.  Our life song is a Song of Deliverance.  From the dawn of time through all of history and into the light of eternity there continues a song of deliverance.  We hear the song sung by God’s chosen people when they are delivered from Pharoah’s army and threatening waters in Exodus 15 as we recognize the song of Moses and Miriam.  The hope that is central through the book of songs in Psalms is the projection of deliverance by the Lord God Almighty.  The song of deliverance graces the lips of our Savior as He prepares to suffer on our behalf as he joins his disciples in the last moments with all of them together in Matt 26:30.  The familiar refrain of the song of deliverance can be heard from the woman at the well, the healed blind man and beggar, and among the gathered believers whether in the upper room, the Roman prison, or the mission-birthed churches of Asian minor.  Lest we think the song is over we see glimpse into eternity in the book of Revelation and find the singing continues in Rev 5 and Rev 15 only to discover that it is the very same theme, the “Song of Moses” and “the Lamb” (Rev 15:3).

Saturday, though I did not get to stay for Carolyn’s memorial service, I saw the worship order.  The songlist included Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine,son Daniel Doss’s Dancing with Jesus, and the great reformation hymn rooted in Ps 46, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  In the face of life’s end we sing the song of deliverance.  The celebration of new life we shared in St. Louis was accented with reminders of the song of the deliverance and more importantly the source of the deliverance to which our song refers.  We heard a bit about Victory in Jesus and A Hill Called Mt Calvary and other references to songs that let us basque in God’s grace and mercy.  Even when Ebbie and I were unsure of our turns on unfamiliar highways there was faith in the One who had never left us to simply fend for ourselves.  A song in my mind Saturday was friend, Eric Wyse’s Wonderful, Merciful Savior.  Another song of deliverance.

Worship Pastors/Leaders, call your congregations to step into the stream of singing worship and praise of our Living God!  The song is older than time itself, it has been sung by God’s chosen people through history, we inherit it from those who have shared the Gospel message with us, and we sing it right along with all who have sung before and those who are yet to be born who will raise up to praise the Lord!  Sing with all your heart, for your redemption draweth nigh.”

Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song,

Paul

Worship through the Psalms

November 15, 2010

Whether we think of the book of Psalms as the “prayer book of the Bible” or the “songbook of the Bible” (I’ve heard both), it is certainly the worship book of the Bible, which includes both activities, often at the same time; praying our song, or singing our prayer.  Many of you know of my interest in Walter Bruggemann’s categorizing of the psalms into psalms of “orientation,” psalms of “disorientation,” and psalms of “reorientation.”  In less formal verbiage, the psalms cover the gamut of life’s emotions and circumstances.  A reason for their beauty as worship language is that they touch every human emotion.  Although we cannot pray or sing all the psalms at once, of course, we can be assured in corporate worship that praying and singing the psalms capture the expression of our people and add them to the voice of the worshiping community of all time.

My thoughts and meditations are on the Psalms this week because of my own walk of life in recent weeks.  On Friday, Nov 5, our third grandchild was born, Evan Franklin Clark (for photos go to facebook…grin).  I sat for three and a half hours at the hospital holding this new little Clark.  I visited with parents, Heather and Adam (my son), and gave thanks in my spirit for the love in their home, their dedication to the Lord and His Church, and the prospect of Evan being raised in such environment.  I left that room with Psalm 139 running through my mind,

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

(Ps 139:13-14)

On Saturday, Nov 6, I was in Knoxville preparing for the Tennessee Baptist Convention Annual Meeting and the Tennessee Chorale and Ladies Chorus concerts.  While preparing in my hotel room I received a call about 9:30pm from a dear friend from Atlanta telling me that our adopted family member, Nancy Jane Blair had passed away.  I was torn between celebration of her life and the sadness that comes with loss.  I had recently memorized a portion of Ps 63 to remind me of worship attitudes and posture, and it came to me as a flood,

            I have seen you in the sanctuary

            And beheld your power and glory.

            Because your love is better than life,

            My lips will glorify you.

            I will praise you as long as I live,

            and in your Name I will lift up my hands

            I will be fully satisfied as with the richest foods,

            With singing lips my mouth will praise you.

            (Ps 63:2-5)

So often Nancy and I had worked to plan worship services and had seen the Lord in the sanctuary and beheld His power and glory.  Incredible joy and affirmation of calling.  “Because your love is better than life.”  That phrase was simply loaded with overwhelming emotion from the thought of His love to the thought of losing life here on earth where we know it best to this point.  I reflected on my own recent brush with the potential of crossing over.  The Psalms seem to capture something of that confliction that goes on in us where we desire what we know, though our faith holds to Who we know as well.

On Sunday morning, Nov 7, the Lord comforted me and prepared me for the ministry opportunities ahead in the Sunday evening concert at Wallace Memorial and the convention gathering Tuesday and Wednesday.  I attended Wallace’s morning worship and found sweet comfort in singing the old hymn, Near to the Heart of God.  I was there, Nancy was there, those traveling and gathering for our ministry together were there; “near to the heart of God.”  Rich expression, “O Jesus, Blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee near to the heart of God.”

Sunday night’s gathering of Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale was the usual fresh breath of the Holy Spirit to my own heart.  Fellowship of brothers and sisters who are characterized by Christian love.  Incredible strengthening of soul and spirit just through the gathering, much less the profound ministry of music.  Once again the psalms aided our worship, “sing and be not silent!” (Ps 30)  The Lord answered our requests to have a “good crowd” and that our new Exec would be able to attend, but He went so far beyond that with a time of sweet worship that, as our new exec said, “was like a drink of water to a thirsty man.”  Thus our convention gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday continued to show signs that the Holy Spirit may be at work doing a new thing among Tennessee Baptists, which I believe will include those of us who serve in worship music ministry.  Lead me, Lord.

Returning home, I prepared for a trip to Atlanta with Ebbie to grieve and celebrate Nancy’s homegoing.  Her memorial service on Saturday, Nov 12, was loaded with psalms – her design.  The rich fellowship with church members from our former place of service was fitting to the occasion complete with a full meal with a menu of Nancy’s choosing, her favorite foods.  Sunday morning we had promised to attend church with children (and grandchildren, of course) at FBC Nashville.  I was disappointed when I saw the bulletin and noted that Frank Lewis would not be preaching (away at a conference).  How silly of me.  Chris O’Rear shared his experience of having his home wiped out by the May flood and shared the resultant flow (pardon the pun) of emotions having lost everything, but having rediscovered the essence of life.  There were psalms and reflections of psalms in the music of the day and even within his central passage I Tim 6:17-19. Once again, God’s people found ministry in the highs and lows of shared experience, Spirit sufficiency, and common expression of worship community.

Brothers and sisters, when you plan and prepare worship leadership, remember that you aid connection of the greatest conversation known to humanity, the communion between God and man made possible through Jesus Christ.  Allow His Word through the Psalms bring your people into the communion of the saints in worship.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “To become thankful to God for the sake of Christ and to praise him in the congregation with heart, mouth, and hands, is what the Psalms wish to teach us.” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms, the Prayer Book of the Bible)

Praying and Singing the Psalms,

Reformation Sunday, All Saints Day, or ??

November 1, 2010

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I am pretty sure that not everyone celebrated Reformation Sunday yesterday (Oct 31).  I know many of our churches shy away from recognitions that are inclusive of other denominations.  Some of those faith traditions recognized either Refermation Sunday yesterday or All Saints Day.  The church we attended Sunday recognized neither, but we sure had a lot of strangely dressed children escorted by parents last night who came to our door joining in the “merriment” of Halloween, a day that has roots in Christian expressions (All Saints Eve) as well other influences, particularly the Celtic end of Summer recognition, Samhain. Perhaps you are like me and have come through the years when many conservative Christian churches have frowned heavily upon the recognition of Halloween, even identifying it as an evil concoction of devilish influences.  I suppose that reaction comes from the Samhain side of Halloween’s roots, but a little research shows Samhain to be rooted in a belief that on the change of year from the “lighter side” (Spring and Summer) to the darker side (Fall and Winter) the layer between the living and dead is thinned out which makes those who are dead more accessible.  While some of this influence is obviously from sinister sources, I can also see where it has likely been mixed along the way with the proximity to either All Saints Day or All Souls Day (Nov 2) when the Catholic Church and some protestant churches recognize the dearly departed.  I have served in churches where mentioning the word, “Halloween” could get a staff member in trouble.  Most of those churches provided alternative “Fall Festivals” as our competition to Halloween. In one church a creative Minister of Education came up with a “dress like a biblical character” celebration, recognizing that kids wanted to dress up in costumes and get treats.  How interesting that our so-called alternatives have resembled so closely that which we have rejected.  My point is in the next paragraphs, but I wanted first to mention a reality that you may have experienced as well.  Our neighborhood is full of children of all ages.  The truth is that we see more of our neighbors, kids and parents, on Halloween night than any other time of the year.  We have to choose whether to be the house where “those people live,” or to be “the coolest house in the neighborhood” (a response we heard last night while doling out playdough cans and candy to a few of the older trick or treaters – the “after 8 o’clock crowd).  That comment really made my wife smile as the playdough cans were her idea.  We have done the little scripture verse tags on candy or trinkets, tracts, and just tried to be extra friendly to the little ghosts and goblins (though I certainly don’t think the wonder woman costume on a four-year-old qualifies as either).

 

Here is my point for your consideration.  In our quest for puritanical separation from the world and/or from those faith groups with which we may disagree, we may have given over crucial Christian themes to other influences.  Those influences are not necessarily from some dark spiritual underworld as some would have us believe, but also stem from the so-called “secular” which I believe to be even more problematic and certainly the more dominant spirit in our present culture.  We have non-believers trying to overrule Christmas to make it the benign Winter Solstice.  We justly pitch a holy fit!  Yet we evangelicals have long since abdicated liturgical holy days and significant church history days, preferring to keep denominational calendars, or special theme Sundays in which we can emphasize whatever we decide.  Why am I writing this to worship pastors and musicians?  Because most of you plan or profoundly influence the worship language and “flow” in your congregation.  One of my oft-repeated personal ministry themes is to point out that we who select the songs, can place upon the lips of our congregations those themes that connect us to a larger biblical and Kingdom worldview.  It was good to hear about Baptist congregations that sang Martin Luther’s A Might Fortress Is Our God yesterday.  That tells me that someone (possibly the music minister) knew what day it was on the church history calendar.  It was inspiring to see a bulletin article by a Tennessee Baptist pastor who called his congregation’s attention to the profound effect of Luther’s 95 theses.  I feel certain that all of our churches read scripture in their own language during worship Sunday, a result of the Reformation – how important is that?  Wouldn’t it serve us well to pause to give thanks to God for His Word given in the language of the people?  “The Word of God for the people of God.”  I also heard of Baptist churches planning to use For All the Saints yesterday.

 

Those of us who plan the singing worship of our churches have opportunity to help place believers in the larger picture of Christian influence in their own context.  I personally am convicted that such influence takes place not so much by shutting out the world, but rather by shining the light of Christ on all of life, which includes holding strong to those times that have unique Christian themes.  The blatant annihilation of Christianity’s influence on American cultural development may well be as much a sin of omission by those of us who claim the Name of Christ as one of commission by those whose agenda it is to diminish faith’s influence altogether in their quest for a secular society (where they rule).  In worship we can unveil the ways Christ has been central in the lives of those who have gone before us.  What if, instead of focusing so much attention on shaping our environments – music, buildings, “feel” – to be just like the culture we live in, we staked our claim on the moments and days of worship and helped connect God’s work in the world throughout history to the needs, opportunities, and victories that have been, and continue to be won in the lives of people through His matchless grace?  What if we centered worship on “His story” and trusted the Gospel’s power? Seems to me that could be bold contemporary Christian faith and witness.

 

            The Spirit and the gifts are ours
            Through Him who with us sideth.
            Let goods and kindred go,
            This mortal life also;
            The body they may kill;
            God’s truth abideth still:
            His kingdom is forever.
                                                –Martin Luther
 
            O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
            Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
            And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
            Alleluia!

                                    –William How

 

Semper Reformanda,
Paul

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