Archive for January 2011

Worship and the Big Picture

January 25, 2011

Attending memorial services as I did this past weekend causes me to meditate upon larger themes of life.  Reminded of my own mortality, I often think about what contributions I want to make while living, and what messages I want to be certain to pass along to family and others.  Alas, however, Christian worship calls me to a higher and lengthier view.  Worship truly centered in God places my life in His Kingdom through the Son (Col 1:20; Jn 14:6) having drawn me to the Father by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16).  The resultant vision is not a picture of me, memorialized as one who knew the answer to life’s questions – a memory that might have others reminiscing, “wasn’t he a smart or wise man who knew much.”  The resultant vision of authentic Christian worship is of Christ in Whom I place my full faith and trust.

The service for Dr. Wesley L. Forbis certainly stirred such deliberations.  My reflecting began  during the prelude of the service which consisted of music recordings that were played as underscore to the slideshow presentation that chronicled snapshots from Forbis’s life as author, editor, professor, and churchman.  The music was majestic and accented by huge symphonic swells and the sound of choirs singing Dr. Forbis’s lyrics. The combination of what I heard in the majestic music and what I saw in the photographs of Forbis was moving in an unusual manner.  If you closed your eyes and listened to the music you might think of majestic cathedrals or awe-inspiring nature scenes.  Yet on the screen was flashing black and white photos of Forbis’ life as little boy, college football player, father, grandfather, and aging husband as well as conductor, classroom professor and master musician. But then again, the juxtaposition of the two realms revealed something of who Wes Forbis was in life.  Like many of us, he was “all of the above.”  As a disciple he reflected a reconciled life in Christ through his writing, his compassion and interest in his students and colleagues, and through his love and kindness expressed to family and strangers.  Acts of benevolence shared at the memorial service called attention to a Christlikeness Dr. Forbis had expressed in humble ways.  Even in and through the telling, it is the Christ of those humble ways we worship.

The experience of the funeral coupled with recent worship consultations, discussions, and readings has stirred me to encourage worship leaders to consider how well we help worshipers to see the “big picture” in our services of worship.  Perhaps we should review our worship to be certain we have not placed current events above the grand story of creation, the fall, redemption, reconciliation, restoration, return of the triumphant Christ.  It would do us well to evaluate whether our services inspire worshipers to think more about themselves and how they feel spiritually, or whether we truly place Christ before them.

I believe it was Henry Blackaby who stated that with all of our charismatic speaker personalities and our technical and musical enhancements we no longer needed the Holy Spirit.  Of course, the reference was to underscore precisely our desparate need for the Holy Spirit, without Whom our gathering is in vein.

Help worshipers to worship and sing the big picture.  We worship the God Almighty Who created heaven and earth.  It is He “from Whom all things come and for Whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6a)

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son

And to the Holy Ghost

As it was in the beginning

Is now and ever shall be

World without end. Amen, Amen

-Gloria Patri 4th c.

Paul

Snow Stress or Break?

January 11, 2011

I know that many of you are scrambling to adjust plans that have been and/or will be disrupted in light of the weather events.  In some cases rehearsals and/or worship services were cancelled.  Simple organizational chores may go undone because of inability to get to work stations.  Meetings or other events may be postponed which means reorganizing calendars and schedules that are already overladen with more to do than we can humanly accomplish.  In my own case, I have looked forward for sometime to some upcoming gatherings that we have been working toward for months.  A planning team meeting, an exciting thinktank, and a statewide youth event are all scheduled for this month.  I have plenty else going on, but I am especially hopeful that these events can go on as scheduled.  I want the snow to hold off.

I would imagine there are just as many (probably more) kids who want the snow to keep on coming so that school will be snowed out as there are music ministers and other leaders who want the snowing to stop and roads to be cleared so we can get around and can gather people for the planned rehearsals, meetings, work, and events that have been planned.

Obviously, we cannot control the weather.  In times like this I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:4-13:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses  every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable-if there is any moral excellence  and if there is any praise-dwell on these things. 9 Do what you have learned and received  and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care for me.  You were, in fact, concerned about me, but lacked the opportunity [to show it]. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot.) In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Sometimes it is hard not to worry.  It is certainly not always easy to dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable.

God is amazing.  Sometimes the very thing that stops us in our tracks – like today’s weather – creates the setting for us to pause and get back on the right track of dwelling more on true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable things.  Many of us achiever-types may work too hard to produce, rather than backing out of the way to allow God to process.

Being unable to gather for worship can remind us of what a privilege it is to gather for worship.  Having to miss rehearsals may dictate that we use repeated material that our choirs and worship teams know well and can convey with more meaning.  Leading worship with reduced forces of instrumentalists, production personel, choir or voice team backups can press us to simplify and remain keenly sensitive to the Spirit’s leadership.

Sunday I had privilege to lead worship for a prayer revival.  When the meeting was scheduled some months ago, the church had not called a permanent pastor, but was being led by an interim.  As it turned out the new permanent pastor’s first Sunday on the church field was this same Sunday when the renewal services were scheduled.  I thought surely the new pastor would want to be in the pulpit on his first Sunday.  It first sounded like a conflict to me, but the interim pastor assured us that the new pastor wanted to continue with the revival as planned.  Sunday’s worshiped turned out to be a sweet time for church and new pastor as prayers of renewed commitment and covenant were the order of the day.  The new pastor’s family had freedom to be with the people without the pressure of pulpit responsibility.  Momentary tensions that first appeared as conflict to me turned out to be what could be interpreted as aspects of a wonderful plan that affirmed the new pastor’s calling.  While no one can say that the seeming schedule conflict and resolution was “God’s plan,” we can testify to the Lord’s sovereign watchcare through it, and can give praise for the fellowship of brothers in Christ who share calling to ministry and care more about His local church than meeting any egotistical need to be center stage at a given time.

Whether facing cancellations created by weather events, or negotiating scheduling conflicts presented by unpredictable timing, we can rejoice in the Lord always and know that He is faithful to care for His children.  He gives blessing to those who are seeking to do His will.

Day by day and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure

Gives unto each day what He deems best-

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

– Caroline V. Sandell-Berg

Faithfully,

Paul

Take Up and Read

January 4, 2011

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:16-17)

 

The self-described conversion experience of the Church Father, Augustine, includes his hearing a child’s voice repeating the Latin phrase “tole lege,” which translated means “take up and read.”  The philosopher decided the voice was from God and that it was pointing him to read scripture.  The report goes that Augustine opened scripture to Romans 13 and there read verses 13 and 14 which told him something of how to live, including instruction to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He had heard a word from God found in the Word of God.

 

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions.  My track record of turning over a new leaf at the beginning of a new year is pretty lousy.  Given that reality, I have nevertheless begun anew a practice I am committed to continue in this year.  It is not a first, but is a repeated practice that I believe is crucial for me for such a time as this.  I certainly do not normally try to get others to join me in making an identical New Year’s Resolution, but in this instance I can readily encourage all of you to join me in this resolution.  I want to invite you to “take up and read!”  I have begun again to read the Bible through.  In the past I have always approached this process by a Genesis through Revelation method.  I have a new approach, one that I have discovered in a new book by friend and highly respected biblical scholar, Union professor,  Dr. George Guthrie.  I ran into George while attending meetings at Lifeway in December.  George said, “I want to give you a copy of my new book.  Have you heard about this project?”  I was stumped and had to admit I had no idea what he was talking about.  In his gentlemanly, kind way George began to tell me about a project to help our churches become more biblically literate.  I was instantly engaged, because I have a deep conviction that our worship contains far too few readings of scripture.  George went to another room to retrieve a couple of copies of his book.  We talked a bit more and I left to attend my group meeting where I shared the extra copy he gave me with a colleague from another state convention.

 

Over the holidays I read George’s book.  It is very readable and for me, a convicting tome.  Most every day I have been reading sections of the Bible, but the Lord used George’s book to convict me anew of the need to methodically engage in a routine of reading prescribed sections of scripture.  One of the plans outlined in the book for reading the Bible chronologically aids a worship emphasis that I am convinced we need; that of placing ourselves in God’s story.  This new commitment helps me read His Word in just such a manner where I am taking in the acts of God in some kind of order as opposed to just searching for the Word to apply to some want or desire that I have for an answer to some life situation of my own.  It encourages me to consider my place in God’s story rather than just wondering how He fits into mine.  The method helps me center life in Him.

 

I am reading daily and hope you might consider joining me in the venture. Why am I asking worship music leaders to consider this?  Because I am convinced we desperately need to guide our people in worship that is rooted in God and His story.  Methodically reading His Word places us in a position to gain appropriate perspective that subsequently will have effect on the material we choose for worship.  Being in the Word daily, letting the Word work on us, influence our worship planning, and frame our personal worship journey, will inevitably sharpen our evaluative skills as we consider songs’ appropriateness to be placed on the lips of our people in corporate worship.  I believe a consistent reading of the Word can avail our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s work in us and among His people as we work on worship plans.

 

A word of warning, however, if you do join me in this venture through scripture, get ready!  In planning worship for some upcoming events where I have that responsibility, I have found myself steering away from some songs that first came to mind.  I had selected some because I knew they were things people would like to sing.  Others were pleasing melodies.  There’s nothing wrong with either of these motivations, but biblical impressions challenged my preparation.  I have found myself praying more fervently that God would guide my thoughts and decisions in music and other worship material selections.  While the specific verses I have been reading may not be immediately applicable to thematic sermon material, I find that the saturation in His larger story has helped me think more organically (holistic) about the worship dialogue – revelation and response.  The churches and meetings where I have upcoming worship leadership responsibility will be happy to know I am not hunting songs that have them singing through all the names of the levitical tribes found in 1 Chronicles which is one of the books in which I have been reading as part of the reading plan.  I trust, however, that they will sense a renewed confidence I have in biblical foundation for what worship singing itself is all about.  I pray groups will benefit from leadership I might share that is emboldened by my own sense of calling to lead worship rooted in biblical truth.  I pray they will see Him in the worship I might have privilege to lead, and will respond to His truth, His greatness, His revelation of Himself.

 

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

–John Rippon

 

 

Faithfully,

Paul

 


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