Archive for March 2011

Lost

March 29, 2011

Lost – it is such a painful word.  The implication of lost and lostness is a huge theological premise for salvation itself.  For those of us who call ourselves evangelicals, lost is a condition we readily recognize as a state of those without Christ.  The enterprise of evangelism is rooted in an acceptance of that lost state of the human condition.  There are certainly implications for complete societies as well as for individuals.  We have all heard evangelistic messages preached that declare the need for a sense of lostness before there can be redemption.  The seed of truth rooted in this idea is at the heart of the Gospel message and calls students of Word and faith to wrestle with its applications.  My purpose in this article is not to attempt to address this foundational discussion.  I want us to consider the revisiting of lostness as members of the faith.

 

Last Friday we received a tearful phone call from  our daughter.  Her father-in-law passed away unexpectantly.  Our subsequent conversations covered the unrelenting demands of taking care of details as well as exploring how we  could lend a hand – taking care of animals, houses, contacting employers, covering other responsibilities, etc.

Following the initial shock of the news of this death, the sense of loss begins to set in.  I am certain that all of you who have lost a loved one know something of the struggle that takes place during such a time.  The struggle is between the mundane details that must be tended to and the overwhelming sense of emotion that screams at your mind and heart.  Somewhere in the midst of that is a sense of lostness.  I hasten to say that for the believer there is likewise a powerful sense of comfort that rises up right alongside the lostness.  The one condition (lostness) is rooted in our human condition, in which we can do nothing to effect change in the stark reality of what has taken place.   The accompanying reality for the believer is rooted in the Word of God where we find promises of resurrection power, peace and comfort in our suffering, and even eternal life, all of which is rooted in Christ.  In our wounded, weak state, hurting from our loss, He is faithful.

“It is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.”

I am mindful today of Psalm 22.  Sometimes referenced as the “psalm of the cross,” it begins with an aching cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  David’s cry expressed through the psalmist became Jesus’ cry from the cross.  That sense of desertion is not foreign to our Lord.  He knew its bitterness.  I recall a sermon that Calvin Miller preached on this psalm referencing how it expressed the cry of separation that is universal.  Haunting and crippling, the cry of separation is like unto no other.

While exposition of Psalm 22 calls us to the verses that pivot from lost separation to expressions of faith (vs. 19) and continue to move toward declarations of certain victory and a passing of the torch to a “people yet unborn.”  The final reminder is that the truth passed is that “HE has done it!”

Today there are things in our family that have been lost that we mourn:

Plans we had envisioned for days ahead with this loved one are lost

Aspects of innocence for our grandson are lost

For a period of time laughter and joyful spirits seem lost

Presumptions we had regarding how family things would play out are lost

We could go on, but such would be unnecessary.  Gospel applies here.  I do not refer to a “pie in the sky” kind of ignoring of heartache and hurt.  To the contrary, I believe Gospel helps us embrace such hurt and fear.  I am even now anticipating the emotional hugs to come later today as we are physically reunited with our daughter, son-in-law, the widow, and our grandson.

The Good News applies to believers!  Christ is Victor!

Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O grave, is your sting?

(1 Cor 15:54-55)

These are certainly not empty words.

In this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may encounter aspects that seem lost.  Not lost as in an eternal damnation, of course, but lost in the sense of not the way we wanted it to be, or planned life to be.  Lost in the sense of separation.  The good news is that the stark reality of our condition in the fallen world gives way to death to self and sin, resurrection with and in Christ.  He has gone to prepare a place for us where we will be with Him.

Ultimately, Christ’s victory overcomes any and all lostness. O what triumph is ours to declare!

Worship Leaders, we lead people to proclaim Gospel and make it application not only to those who are lost and do not yet believe, but to believers as well.  Let us help them love to tell the story!

For those who know it best

Seem hungering and thirsting

To hear it like the rest.

Katherine Hankey

 

In Christ,

Paul

 

How Much Easter?

March 22, 2011

Worship Leaders, as you plan worship for Easter this year, how much are you preparing for?  Will it be one big day – Easter Sunday?  Maybe two Sundays – Palm Sunday and Easter?  A whole week – Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday?  As the music leader, is your primary Easter focus reduced to preparation of an Easter Cantata or Musical?  Surely you wouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket would you? (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the egg pun since I want to encourage thinking that reflects on seasonal distractions).  Anyway, how about considering celebration of “The Great Fifty Days?”  The opening day would be Easter Day (Resurrection Sunday) which would be followed by weeks of Resurrection Emphasis culminating in Pentecost Sunday remembering the coming of the Holy Spirit!  In case you don’t know, I didn’t come up with this fifty days idea myself, it is the historic Easter celebrated by Christians around the world for centuries.

My good friend and colleague, David Manner, has written a challenging article for us in his blog, Worship Evaluation, in which he addresses ways our church and worship services have adapted more to cultural festivities and celebrations and fallen away from embracing a vigorous observance of this highest season of the Christian year.  (see http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/is-your-easter-celebration-a-waste-of-time/ David’s title for the blog article has a bite to it in itself when he asks “Is Your Easter Celebration a Waste of Time?”

Many of us lament how our modern culture has placed baseball and soccer above previously revered “church days.”  Remember when Wednesday and all day Sunday were off limits to conflicting meetings or sports?  Many of you have shared regretful situations with me whereby you can no longer depend on choir members to gather on Wednesdays due to so many other activities especially in certain seasons of the year.  It ain’t like it use to be “back in the day” when you could challenge people to faithful attendance at choir rehearsal and/or hold them accountable to prepare for Sunday worship presentation and seasonal music presentations.  Not to harken back to some imaginary time when it all came easy (never was the case), but can we ask..”What has happened?”

Lest you think this is just a rant on the way things use to be and conclude that I am just old fashioned and that’s what this is about, please hear me out.  My thoughts are intended to beg the larger question of how we admonish our people toward worship that does not ask Jesus to take a back seat to March Madness, Opening Day of baseball, or golf fever.

Me thinks it is time to “man up.” (inclusive language inferred)  It is time to call the people of God to be the royal priesthood, the holy nation Jesus claimed us to be.  We have been sending messages of cultural adaptations for so long that we have forgotten the significance of the season.  Even as pastors and worship leaders, we have spent many a Maundy Thursday carting our own children to soccer league to be sure they make the Spring roster.  We have crowded the stores on Good Friday to get in on the last day of pre-Easter clothes sales.  To seem relevant we have organized Easter egg hunts and disappointed children and their parents by stuffing scripture verses into plastic eggs, which proves to be a strange substitute to a five year old expecting to find a chocolate inside instead.

Some believers are incensed to discover that the word “Easter” comes from “Estre” or “Eastre, ” a Teutonic goddess of springtime and hence of fertility.  Perhaps their outrage is well deserved, but no less should be our concern that we have taken strides for decades toward baptizing the practice of recognizing the so-called Hallmark holiday called Mother’s Day while ignoring those years when the same Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, a high holy day remembering the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His people.  (this year’s Pentecost date is a month later, June 12, which is as late as it falls)

I challenge you to consider future observances of the Great Fifty Days.  During such observance your church could:

· Observe Lord’s Supper weekly through the seven weeks

· Pay attention to the Liturgical Calendar that includes the powerful Ascension Sunday, recalling Christ’s ascension to be at the right hand of the Father

· Prepare for Pentecost Sunday through special prayer gatherings

· Host church and community fellowships to retell stories of deliverance through the power of the Gospel message

The crux of my message is a reminder that the power of the resurrection of our Lord is too forceful and pervasive to be contained in a one day celebration.  If the Gospel does not change the way we live out our days, how do we expect to be effective in sharing the truth of its power with others?

Respectfully,

Paul

 

Your Attention Please

March 14, 2011

One of the challenging byproducts of our busyness-worshiping culture is an obsession with the newest toys and gimmicks that feed our preoccupation with being able to be anywhere and everywhere at once.  I would argue along with others that this often distracts us from being fully engaged in any place we find ourselves physically present at nearly any given point in time.  When someone is in my office, standing in the hall visiting with me, or eating lunch across from me and pops out their cellphone while I am talking, I tend to think, “I guess my conversation is just not interesting enough to hold their attention.”  I picked a guy up at the airport the other day and he at least had the courtesy, once in the car, to ask permission, “Do you mind if I make a couple of calls?”  Of course, I told him to go right ahead.  I said I didn’t mind, but really I sorta didn’t and sorta did.  Interstingly, though he was headed to speak at an important event, he was on the phone lining up a rendezvous with a business associate during his short break between speaking engagements.  He paused the conversation long enough to check a couple of meeting places on the internet (on his phone), and then to inform his buddy where they could meet.  Wow.

Let me quickly confess.  My fascination at that moment was a combination of disgust and envy.  I was a little dissappointed that in my twenty minutes with this guy, he would never be present in the car with me, though his body and voice (and luggage) were there.  I was interested in his work and his story, but then again..hey, I can google him later. Right?  My envy, of course, was his phone and his ability to use it so efficiently to better pack absolutely every minute with “productive” activity.  These twenty-somethings move at a fast pace, and I have to admit some envy at that point as well.  Man, if I would have had a phone like that (and could operate it) when I was in my twenties, life would have been very different.

This is a roundabout way to get to a point I want to make about this season of the Christian Year, Lent.  I do not want to presume that you are or are not observing the season, but can personally no longer ignore what fellow believers around the world are observing at some level. The forty days of Lent (forty-six calendar days because Sundays remain festive days of Resurrection celebration).  This is a season to give sincere focus to our spiritual lives and to open ourselves to reassessment and renewal.  It is a time to take inventory of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions toward God, others and ourselves.  Even that busyness mentioned previously needs to be opened up for honest review during our communion with the Spirit.  I find this season to provide unique opportunities to give my faith journey attention.  Obviously, this takes place with keen awareness of the Spirit’s presence and prayer for His guidance.

Lent has been shaped by its early practice, preparing candidates for baptism into the faith.  For Christians who have already been baptized, Lent can be a season of renewal, “lest a lively faith be diminished by an increased conformity to old ways, or simply the dead weight of unimaginative piety.”[1] There is a strong sense in which Lent is shaped by the Gospel itself.  It begins with a time of confession and penitence.  We acknowledge and confess (agree with God as convicted by His Holy Spirit) our rebellion.  We are “prone to wander, Lord I feel it.”  I would encourage worship leaders to read, even if on Wikipedia, about Lent and its beginning point of Ash Wednesday. The concentration on our sinfulness and rebellion toward God and His creation is certainly painful, but an important precursor to a more full-orbed grasp of Holy Week and especially the resplendent praise and thanksgiving of Easter.  It is crucial that believers recognize our present context within the human condition, and open our sagging spirits to the careful omnipresent eye of the Holy Spirit.

You may or may not be aware that Baptists’ former practice (some still do this) of Spring Revivals have roots in the season of Lent.  Of course many have canned those practices as outdated or non-creative, and besides, we are just too busy for such.  Who would come?  How would we get a big crowd?  People don’t have time to give their attention to such matters these days.

The shaping of Gospel continues through the Lenten season as we move toward Holy Week, and once again hear God’s story of salvation provision in Jesus’ crucifixion – ultimate price paid for our sin.  The dramatics of Easter Sunday begin fifty days of Easter on the liturgical calendar.  I’ll soon have a guest article regarding this period and practice.  So, think about the development of the Lent season.  What began with ash crosses reminding us of our sins and human frailty comes full circle to unbridled praise for our Risen Lord Who invites us to share in His Resurrection; to turn children of darkness to children of Light!

As you know I try to bring these mini-epistles around to application for us as worship leaders, and there is certainly plenty here for that use.  Again, I hasten to recognize that most of you do not guide the preaching emphasis and serve alongside a pastor who serves as the primary worship leader for your congregation.  It is of great importance that you follow his designs for worship emphasis and model unified spirit of ministry.  I would encourage you, however, to also consider how you might either influence the pastor’s thinking about this season, and/or at least to review the singing you will place upon the lips of worshiping people.  See if you cannot find means of helping your congregation experience moments of examination, confession, and surrender.  In so doing, there is rich opportunity to present the Gospel’s power to save.

As for you personally, I hope you will find time for walking through Lent.  I gave serious consideration to giving up my cellphone for Lent. I found other more visceral practices to place on hold that serve as daily reminder of my spiritual thirst.

In Real Time,

Paul

 

Who invited who to worship

March 8, 2011

Who invited who to worship?

I had no less than eight people contact me to ask if I had read the latest issue of Christianity Today yet. Though I had not seen the magazine up until this evening, I picked up a copy at a newsstand and read the lead articles with a sense of glee that friends would think of me when reading the essays, knowing of my passionate interest in worship singing.  I hope all worship leaders (senior pastors, worship music ministers, and other worship music leaders) will be sure to read the three feature articles on worship singing.

The cover article, “The Trajectory of Worship: What’s really happening when we praise God in song,”  most closely relays much of what I want to call to your attention to here, and a large part of what I tried to get at in writing my book, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace.

These bolded quotes pull out the crux of the matter:

What I need is not a change of tune so much as a reorientation along worship’s true trajectory.

In this statement Koessler is referencing our assumption that we are the originators of worship, it is our gift to God.  Koessler goes on to say, “We consider worship to be an expression of our personal devotion.  So when the musical style or some expression gets in the way, we don’t feel like it is our worship at all.”

This is what James Torrance calls “functionally unitarian.” Unitarian in that it presumes a singular headed deity who is “up there,” and therefore, we attempt to please him by expressing ourselves, throwing some songs his way that may talk about him, or that speak about us worshiping him.  I am afraid many of our songs, and dare I say, many of our pastors and music leaders foster this approach that if scrutinized theologically could well be considered blasphemous.

The power punch of Koessler’s article is this:

The biblical portrait of worship moves in the opposite direction.  The trajectory of heavenly worship begins with God and descends to earth.

The author notes Psalm 150 and Revelation 5, to which we could add Zephaniah 3:14-17, and Hebrews 2:10-12.

The author goes on to quote Jonathan Edwards to remind us that we are not the church here on earth, while there is another church in heaven, but rather that we are one society.

This means that when the church gathers, it engages in a heavenly activity.It participates in heaven’s worship.

To get down to a place I seem to live a lot in trying to help churches and church leaders through wounds of disunity and discord, the Moody professor hits a nail on the head when he states,

It is not our differences in taste but rather our mutual contempt and lack of respect that have caused the most damage in the church.

Ouch!  We are caught up in demanding to have it my way, when the biblical model is one of  admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  We are determined that the music I like is superior, whether judged by the aesthetics of fine art or by the popularity ranking on the Billboard charts, when the biblical attitude calls for us to prefer others over ourselves.  We are quite willing for tensions over style to fester into church fights, when scripture clearly compels us to spur one another on to love and good deeds.  We dare not hinder Christ’s Name by our disunity.  If we are serious about reaching a lost world, then our Gospel must be sung such that the prominent voice is the voice of our singing Savior!

Brothers and sisters, let us lead worship singing with clear understanding that our invitation has come from our Triune God to join Him and all who have gone before in the one activity of the Church that we will continue in Heaven, worship.

With a voice of singing,

Paul

_____________________

Joseph Koessler, “The Trajectory of Worship” Christianity Today, March 2011

James B. Torrance, Community, Worship & the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, Il: 1996)

Paul B Clark Jr,  Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing (Bloomington, IN: 2010)


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