Archive for October 2013

LIFT HIGH THE NAME OF JESUS

October 29, 2013

IMG_1629  My daughter recently sent me a phone video message of my youngest grandson singing the Gaither song, “There’s Something About that Name.”  While it was off the charts cute (unapologetic prejudice disclosure included), it struck me at my spiritual core.  Granted, there is a personally sentimental aspect to the saga and my reaction.  His mom had sung the same song to his big brother when rocking him to sleep.  Weekends at “Meemo and Poppy’s” house included strains of the song emanating from the upstairs bedroom at night.  What’s more, I had sung the song to and eventually with his mother when she was a baby well over twenty years earlier.  Watching this video message over and again hearing a two-year-old sing along with his daddy reminds me of our need for memorable songs that claim the name of Jesus.  We need songs that will help us to follow scripture’s instruction to speak of what the Lord has done…to talk about these things when we sit at home and when we walk along the road. (Dueteronomy 6:7-9)

A few months ago during a Sunday morning visit to a large church it struck me that after a twenty-three minute worship music segment the word, “Jesus” had never crossed my lips.  Getting straight to the point here, my concern is that in selecting worship music, leaders pay more careful attention to the clarity of who it is we have come to praise.  In today’s context many songs are written with generic singular personal pronouns used as subject and object.  For some years our intentions of making the availability of intimate relationship with God evident seems to be prominent in songwriting and song selection.  Recent conversations with worship leaders who are turning back to the broader theological and liturgical repertoire of hymn texts are encouraging.

Is it absolutely clear that your church’s worship is about, for, and to the Jesus Christ of holy scripture?  The question sounds almost absurd for those involved in planning Christian worship.  An expected reply would be a resonant, “Of course it is clear that we are worshiping Jesus.”  Before we quickly answer though, perhaps it would be good to review four or six weeks worth of worship music lyrics from our own worship services to see if there is clarity through the words we place upon the lips of worshiping people week to week.  I am focused here on the songs the people sing precisely because engaging them in the singing is part of what holds promise to trigger their memories to repeat the textual and musical phrases of rhythm and melody.  As such, I think we need to make certain that there is opportunity to recall more than just “He, or You,” which so easily could get lost in a weak spiritual soup.

Let us find and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that name the name of Jesus.  Let’s teach them to our children and proclaim them among those who do not know this Jesus of whom we sing.

WORSHIP GATHERING IS LIKE FAMILY

October 20, 2013

IMG_1671  IMG_1672Hebrews 10:19-25 reminds us that we are to assemble regularly.  Gathering is important!  Jesus knew about gathering.  He often gathered those who followed Him.  He left us with a reminder of the significance of our continued gathering for worship at the table.  He told us that He would Himself be present with us when we gathered.  He told the Father that He would sing praises in our gathering.

Do this in remembrance of me.  (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matt 18:20)

I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;   in the assembly I will sing your praises. (Hebrews 2:12)

I come from a close family.  I have two sisters and one brother.  Growing up in our home was fun.  We loved one another, and for the most part looked forward to being together.  Of course there were times we did things that got on each other’s nerves, but practiced forgiveness and patience (usually).  I can’t say that I was thrilled at getting together through my whole life, because there were times, such as during teen years that I thought I had other things to do…other friends, girlfriends, sports, other priorities.

But even when my attitude was not the best, when we gathered I was welcomed.  My family wanted me to be there…without me it was not the same …it was not a complete gathering.  The welcome was not conditional on having a great attitude, or being an obvious contributor to the gathering.  I, like everyone else present, was simply welcome, and we all knew it.

The older I get the more I cherish the opportunity of family gathering even though they become more difficult to schedule.  I realize that I never know when some member may be there for  the last time.  In 2005 our dad passed away and went to heaven.  Everytime we gather I miss him in a special way, because I remember his presence there.  I have full confidence in the promise that He is in heaven and I will see him once again, but I still miss him.  Family gatherings remind me of his presence and his absence.

My own children are now grown and making homes and families of their own.  When they come home to gather it is a feast!  It is a banquet, a time of great celebration.  One of our favorite things to do when we are gathered is to REMEMBER.  We may make fun of each other, watch home videos (which leads to making fun of each other), we laugh out loud.  Our grandchildren are catching on to this spirit.  I especially love to watch the grandchildren laugh when adults are laughing, even though they may have no idea what we are laughing about.  They just like to join the laughter.  In truth, they do understand the spirit of our celebration.  To me it is holy laughter.

A few years ago I had some health problems that could have brought an end to my life on earth.  While I was not in real fear for my life, I did see a kind of fear in the eyes of my wife and grown children.  At the time it seemed like a concern that one that they depended on to be there might not be there for them.  That scared me…not for me…but for them.  I prayed for the Lord to leave me here in this life…to continue the gathering rhythms.  He has blessed with that grace.

If something were to happen to one of our children, or grandchildren or inlaws, it would bring a sadness to us as we would miss them at our gatherings.

This is all true in the family of faith as well.  God has made us His children.  Gathering is both a verb and a noun in relation to Christian worship.

It is a verb – it’s what we do – we gather

It is a noun – it is who we are – the gathered

We cannot worship in community without GATHERING.

God calls us to gather.  We need to be reminded that our gathering is not just a decision we have made on our own, or a privilege in which we can engage at will.  God calls us.  In fact, the church is known as those who are “called out” ecclesia  means “the called out ones.”  We are defined and identified by our gathering.  While the building where we gather is not the church, it is the place we gather and thus tends to be identified as the church.

God inhabits the praise of His people.  (Psalm 22:3)  The gathering of his people cannot be overstated.

As worship leaders we must never think of gathering as less than what it is…

The response to God’s call to worship Him.  The coming together of the body of Christ … many members, one body

See you at the reunion.

VIRTUES OF SIMPLICITY – CONSIDER THIS

October 14, 2013

keep it simpleThe Wikiversity website describes it pretty well:

Simplicity is the virtue of removing the extraneous to reveal the essence. Simplicity is the direct alignment with reality and it is the opposite of false and its various manifestations including pretension, prevarication, bloviating, masquerading, exaggeration, denial, grandiloquence, falsehood, or misunderstanding.[1]  Simplicity is the opposite of excess, and its various manifestations including opulence, extravagance, gaudiness, ostentatiousness, and waste. Simplicity is also the opposite of indirect, and its various manifestations including oblique, roundabout, convoluted, devious, and circuitous. Simplicity fully enjoys the magnificent essence it has revealed.

It has been sometime since I read Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity, though I have found myself thumbing through its pages when encountering David Platt’s Radical, and when a friend sent me Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  Reflecting on recent group worship encounters where the most descriptive word applicable to me was, “simple,” I have sensed a spiritual summons to once again consider the good truth of this virtue.

Worship ministry leaders, whether musicians or preachers, have golden opportunity to aid gathered worshipers to step away from the complex into the simple and realize afresh the most basic truths of life in the simplest forms possible.  We were made in God’s image for His purposes.  He provided a way for us to know Him in Jesus, and to be forgiven of our sinful ways.  His Spirit lives in us and draws us together with Him and with one another.  In relation with Him we can live in His purposes on earth, and live into eternity with Him.

Bigger and better have a hard time straddling up beside this kind of ethos in church.  It is sad that we struggle to see the irony that flashes in front of us.  Consider that statistics indicate 80% of churches are plateaued or declining, at the same time so many evangelical pastors and worship ministry leaders continue in hot pursuit of more complex environments of service production technology, church organizational process, and venue diversity.  Surely adding this or that will help bring more people to us.  All the while the culture we say we are trying to reach seems to cry out for more simple means of knowing and living.  They do not need our worship band to play them a new cooler song that mimics their favorite group.  They do not need a choir, orchestra, and technological display that rivals Vegas.  They need Jesus and the beautiful simplicity of the Christian Gospel.

In his closing statements in his seminal work Foster “There are not many decisions we have to make – in fact, only one: to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.”[2]

A couple of Sundays ago my daughter called to tell me that the electricity had gone out in their church building.  We joked that the hymnal in the pew racks could once again become a valuable tool on such a Sunday.  The incident reminded me of a Sunday during my early days of fulltime ministry when serving in St. Louis and more than a foot of snow fell on Saturday night.  The Sunday service was attended by a faithful few able to brave the weather.  There was no pianist, no organist, and no one to run the sound system that was superfluous for those gathered anyway.  We huddled close to the front of the sanctuary.  I asked if I should go get my guitar, but the pastor  had determined we should abbreviate service plans and go to our homes.  Rather than preach the message prepared for those who were not in attendance, the pastor read extended passages of scripture, we conversed regarding their meaning and application to our lives, prayed for strength to be faithful in our living, and bowed to close in prayer.  During that closing time of prayer I sensed a need to sing as an act of worshiping community.  Everyone joined in the singing.  Someone else began to pray for those not present (which was the vast majority of the congregation).  Someone else began to sing (thankfully in a singable key), and we continued to worship in gathered community, praying and singing and sharing from the Word for another hour or so.  It was a memorable Sunday.  It was simple expression of faith expressed in community.  To this day I have people who recall that Sunday as I obviously do as well.  The primary dynamic ingredient in my estimation? Simplicity.  Seems there was nothing in the way.  The extraneous was removed and the essence revealed.


[2] Richard J Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity, 184.

FADING GLORY

October 9, 2013

Empty stands

Recently I got to go to a Tennessee Titans – New York Jets NFL game (It helped that kickoff was at 3:00pm that Sunday) and as a Titans fan my wife and I really enjoyed the game.  It’s fun to win even in the intermittent drizzly rain.  I could not help but notice, however, that the stands were never completely full, and kept emptying as the game went along.  I don’t think the exodus was related to the weather.  There have been articles written and TV interviews and reports given of late dealing with a declining stadium attendance and shifting interests in America’s pastimes.  Even sitting in the stands on that Sunday afternoon I started to wonder if attendance at sporting events might be going the way of church attendance.  Continuing my analogous quest I began to note that deafening crowd noise was notably absent in comparison to games I recall from past experiences.  I also noted, however, that the media system-induced hype continued right on.  Indeed, decibel level need not be diminished by half-empty stands as long as the amplifiers remain at full power and the jumbotron stays fully illuminated.  Technological advances have given us ability to substitute virtual crowd noise for the real thing when it is missing.

I wonder if worship music leaders have taken a page from professional sports stadium media operators.  Is that how we cover when our worship spaces are absent of congregational participation?  Even when the crowd is not singing our worship songs, we can nevertheless fill the room with decibels generated from musical instruments and electronic mechanisms.  What does this accomplish?  Are we reinforcing to people that worship is about helping them feel a certain way as opposed to helping them know that our worship is about surrender to the King of kings?  Are we masking a hard reality or multiple factors that we just do not want to have to face?  Is this phenomenon in some way akin to the time when Moses came down from the mountain and covered his face to disguise a fading glory after his direct encounter with holy God?

When worship focuses our mind’s attention and heart’s affection on a feeling in the moment rather than surrender of life to the Master of eternity we are likely to find the experience to be a proverbial dead end.  The Apostle Paul had something to say about what happens when our encounters with God are truly transformational.  Instead of fading glory, reflecting Jesus’ glory results in “ever-increasing” glory.  The reason is that this worship indeed does not just convey our own exuberant experience, which is tentative at best and idolatrous at worst, but rather mirrors the Christ that we worship.  And is not that, after all, what true Christian worship is in the first place?  And when we desire to be attractive as a church let us remember Jesus’ own words, “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:32-33)  If we are to follow Jesus in attitude and spirit of our actions, will we not, then, be looking to give ourselves as living sacrifices by serving?  This seems the better test of how worship is affecting our lives.  After we have worshiped, do we act more like Jesus?  Do we have more of His likeness?

 

And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  — 2 Corinthians 3:18

            As we gaze on Your kingly brightness

            So our faces display Your likeness

            Ever changing from glory to glory

            Mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story;

            Shine on me.  Shine on me  –Graham Kendrick


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