Archive for the ‘Private Worship’ category

SHUT UP AND WORSHIP

September 28, 2015

Monk Costume The world is noisy. Just as we are consumed with our incessant busy-ness, we seem likewise to be obsessed with filling every moment with sound. And frankly much of that sound is loud, even to the point of damaging our hearing, physically and spiritually. Rather ironic isn’t it? Some of the sound is just filler that seems aimed at simply avoiding silence. Certainly I have experienced that dynamic in public worship, and have even had pastors caution me about “dead time,” usually referring to what happens between songs, or other components of a worship service. Our fear of silence, however, may be more telling and even indicting than we are ready to admit. But rather than addressing the value, and frankly the need for silence in public worship at this point, I would encourage you to consider the role of silence, quiet, and solitude in our spiritual lives. I would especially want to raise alert to this need for pastors, worship pastors, and other spiritual leaders of the church. We need times of silence and solitude. Some might ask, “who cares?” The answer is we all should care. Those with responsibility to lead out in worship are inviting others into the most core activity of humanity. Worship is the very reason for which we have been created. We need seasons of silence to allow for transformation from our false self to the new self in Jesus Christ.

As we are swept up in the world’s cultic practices of busy-ness and noisiness our values begin to look like everyone else. The obsession is every bit as pronounced in ministry as it is in any other vocation. How often do we ministers feel the need to look busy. It’s not that we are not busy, because we certainly are, and we make certain that we cram every moment with busy-ness, regardless of the value of our activities. More meetings, more rehearsals, more phone calls and emails, more visits, more, more, more=high worth. That is what we tend to think. Likewise, more soundbites, more repetitions, more digital techniques=more emotive result. Since volume gives a sense of power, then in many instances more volume = more spiritual energy.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr says that sin is anything that disrupts shalom. Is it possible that we have cluttered our worship, our churches, and our own individual lives in a sinful way in that we have disrupted God’s shalom by our busyness and noise? We often replace Sabbath with more work. In those instances one has to ask “where is our trust?” Is it not being transferred away from faith in the Holy Spirit over to faith in our own efforts? In talking about the compulsive minister Henri Nouwen says “compulsive is the best adjective for the false self.”[1] Worship leaders and pastors often find ourselves in a revolving door of efforts to please people in order to prove our worth. The Worship Leader works hard and amps up the performance to draw attention to his or her worth in a manner reflective of celebrity personalities or entertainment productions. Pastors speak at every possible opportunity to make their presence (and popularity) known, attend every meeting to demonstrate their managing control, or make every ministry visit to keep their worth before their members. The activity becomes overwhelming.  Burnout is a likely and expected result. Our thinking may be that such burnout is justified because, after all, we were serving in the kingdom. We may have just been serving the image of our false self, the self we think others expect. How do we break the pattern? Time to turn to silence.

Nouwen calls solitude “the furnace of transformation.” Without it we remain victims of our culture as our false selves. It is in silence and solitude that our false self is often revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and through confession and renewal we can discover our new self in Jesus Christ. Here we come to know anew what it is to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Jesus himself pulled away to pray. He spent time with the Father and reminded us in Matthew 6 to go to our closet and close the door. Solitude and silence protect our souls. The fire of genuine spiritual nurture is fueled in the quiet place where the false self is exposed for who and what he/she is. Here even the most righteous-looking minister confesses “prone to wonder, Lord I feel it.” He who knows the journey of solitude and silence returns to the noise of the world holding to the internal silence of peace and confidence in Jesus. Our best worship and ministry is led from this position of inner silence and strength.

[1] Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence (New York: Ballantine Books 1981) 13.

WORSHIP IN THE EVANGELICAL TRADITION – IT’S PERSONAL

September 15, 2015

Emily baptism I grew up the son of a Baptist Pastor. One of the things I learned early on was that Baptists believed in the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior. At its core Christianity was personal. I grew up in the glory days of Baptist programming, and I am really glad that I did. We had programs for developing music skills and learning about God through what we sing, which eventually led to understanding that whatever talents we had were gifts from Him to be offered back to Him in worship, ministry, and mission. We had programs for learning the Bible and sharing our witness. We had a program teaching the most basic fundamentals of personal faith and doctrine. It was in this latter program that I learned much about God, Man, Sin, Church, Creation, and Last Things, and about personal disciplines. All of these programs contributed to programming me. The programs, however, in and of themselves were missing the most fundamental component of Christian living. Worship. Warren Wiesbe reminds us that many things the church does are good, but divorced from real worship they are powerless and will not yield fruit.[1]

When I mention the word worship some think of music. It is, of course, much more. Some think of preaching. Worship is more. Many people think of worship as only the hour on Sunday morning when the church gathers for a worship service. Worship is a life style of obedience. With our emphasis on personal relationship we evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular sometimes miss the corporate understanding of worship as a body of believers covenanted together and gathered in a place and time to join the saints of all places and times in the eternal act of Christian worship. By the same token in our efforts to build our churches and draw large crowds I fear we have often lost our sense of the personal nature of worship even within the corporate setting. Although corporate worship is more than just the collected individual worship experiences of individual worshipers, in the evangelical tradition, even gathered or corporate worship serves to position individual hearts and minds to personally commune with the living God. Within the gathered body there are many individuals who are choosing to lend their hearts and lend their voices to corporate praise. Others may continue the struggle to yield to the heart of worship, and for them we pray.

Regardless of the size of a church it is imperative that neither sensitivity, corporate or personal, be lost. We are giving ourselves to the whole, many members one body. At once we are also in spiritual battle as individuals. Humbled before Him we trust His power, His Spirit. I could never fully explain it, but as our friends, our families, and particularly our children observe our humbled spirit yielded as spiritual response in worship the Lord’s presence is made known. Paul says others take notice and see. “So he will he fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25) Others around us, and I believe especially those who know us best, have some sense of the positioning of our heart and spirit as we sing, as we pray, as we listen, as we respond. Robert Wenz says “He has made us to live in a material world yet calls us to worship himself, the God who transcends the material world. He calls us to worship by faith, believing that the unseen kingdom and the unseen King are as real and more permanent than the sensory world we live in.”[2]

Imagine if we had a tattoo placed on our face when we committed to faith in Christ. Then surely church members, family and friends, and our children would know whose we were. Instead our identity mark is baptism as our first act of obedience, and we take a towel to our dripping selves following that ceremonial act. Where genuine faith takes hold that mark remains and serves as identity in our own hearts, in the minds eye of all those who observed our baptism, and in our response to other Christian acts as a worshiper. All these responses are personal. When we sing with head and heart, it’s personal. When we listen with open Bible prayerful to hear a word from heaven, personal. When we take the bread and cup and share it with our brother or sister affirming covenant, personal. And others see.

Sunday I had the glorious privilege of baptizing my second grandchild, my oldest granddaughter. Stepping with her into the warm baptismal pool was a joy that defies description. Entering those waters I felt in a sense I was once again entering into my own baptism. The Lord Who saved me has claimed the life of another grandchild. The moments of lowering her little body to stir the water emboldened my own faith and my prayer for her and for family yet to come. Hearing the congregation continue their songs of redemption while I dried and dressed in the dressing room stirred my own chords of song. Tears dripped from my eyes onto my shoes as I put them on my feet. These were tears of spiritual joy, a moment of emotional worship before I headed back to be seated with family. I had just baptized my granddaughter. It was sinking in. It was personal. It was worship. Lord, let me walk in your way that others will see only You.

[1] Warren Wiersbe Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground? (Bake Books 2000) 8-16

[2] Robert Wenz Room for God? A Worship Challenge for a Church Growth and Marketing Era (Renewing Total Worship Ministries 1994) 161.

Labor Day Prayer Song

September 6, 2015

Though the roots of Labor Day are found in the organized labor movement, the holiday has come to serve a broader concept.  Labor Day is a time of celebrating the privilege we have to work.  I have found this prayer hymn to serve effectively in gathered worship and personally as a daily hymn to pray for the working day. As worshipers whose whole life is to be a “living sacrifice” as our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1) it is important to fix our perspective of gratitude on life as a gift from God given to us that we might offer it back to Him.

THE FIRST WORD FROM THE CROSS

April 3, 2015

SVouet Having sung and directed The Seven Last Words, I have long found deeply moving the contemplation of all aspects of what takes place in this centerpiece of human history, when Jesus, the perfection of humanity, sheds His blood on a rugged cross to take away the sins of the world. The God – Man Who loves enough to set aside His own crown of glory to come into the world as a helpless babe in the first place lives out His last moments of full humanity in complete faithfulness atoning for our sin and making possible what we see so dramatically demonstrated in the curtain torn in two in the temple. The way is made open! How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be!!

While I recognize that the order of the seven last words are likely shaped by the traditions of liturgical practice, it is no less true that they come to us having been practiced in this way. It is beyond humbling to think that Jesus’ first utterance from this instrument of torture is “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus knew His mission and shows such compassion in the face of His own torment. God so loved the world. Overwhelming!

Prayer on the First Word from the Cross

Almighty God, to whom your crucified Son prayed for the forgiveness of those who did not know what they were doing, grant that we, too, may be included in that prayer. Whether we sin out of ignorance or intention, be merciful to us and grant us your acceptance and peace: in the name of Jesus Christ, our suffering Savior. Amen.[1]

So many hymns flood my mind and spirit on this Good Friday, and with them a spirit of personal worship that causes me to feel I should bow my face into the floor and pour out my heart in all humility, and yet this same realization of Jesus’ finished work on that cross floods my heart with joy, and my mind with memories of blessed moments of praise, singing the story and joy of salvation with brothers and sisters in so many settings from the days of my childhood in churches where my dad pastored all the way up to services just this past Sunday joining with fellow church members singing the Fred Mallory arrangement of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This juxtaposition of emotional extremes also brings to mind the new hymn I have been singing throughout this Lenten season. It is a wonderful expression by our friends Keith & Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick, which proclaims,

 

Two wonders here that I confess, my worth and my unworthiness

My value fixed – my ransom paid At the cross.[2]

 

From pages that are much older, though similar in spirit, I find these words of John Newton and William Cowper that spring from their reflections on the First Word from the cross,

            “Father, forgive (the Savior said)

            They know not what they do:”

            His heart was moved when thus he prayed

            For me, my friends, and you.

 

            He saw that as the Jews abused

            And crucified His flesh

            So he, by us, would be refused

            And crucified afresh.

 

            Through love of sin, we long were prone

            To act as Satan bid;

            But now, with grief and shame we own,

            We knew not what we did.

 

            We know not the defect of sin,

            Nor whom we thus defied

            Nor where our guilty souls had been,

            If Jesus had not died.

 

            We knew not what a law we broke,

            How holy, just and pure!

            Nor what a God we dust provoke,

            But thought ourselves secure.

 

            But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,

            And shed his precious blood

            To satisfy the holy law

            And make our peace with God.

 

            My sin, dear Savior, made thee bleed,

            Yet didst thou pray for me!

            I know not what I did, indeed,

            When ignorant of thee.[3]

[1] Norman D Palsma “A Combined Tenebrae and Seven Last Words Service” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship, pg. 356.

[2] My Worth Is Not in What I Own, www.gettymusic.com

[3] Father, Forgive Them from Olney Hymns, Book I.

WORSHIP AND HUNGER FOR THE BREAD OF HEAVEN

March 15, 2015

bread-of-life11 This year I gave up bread for Lent. Hang on, I will eventually bring this back around to consider our worship and worship singing.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist we often joked that for Baptists we thought Lent was residue from a cloth napkin that showed up on your dark trousers, or something that got stuck in your belly button that was hard to get out, and of course the joke was a play on the common sound of the words, “Lent” and “lint.” Jokes aside, I believe there is value in following the rhythms of the Christian year; if not as a church family, at least as a nuclear family and/or as an individual believer. It is good as a spiritual discipline that places us in concert with Christians around the globe who recognize the seasons that call our attention to events in the life of Jesus. This is certainly not to say we do not ponder these events in Jesus’ life and ministry at other times during the year, but similar to the sensitivity someone gains when visiting a physical location where reportedly acts of Jesus took place, so can be the impact when we set aside seasons like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost for worshipful reflection on events associated with these seasons. As Robert Webber says, “the Christian year orders our personal spiritual life into the saving events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; it is not a mere ritual.”[1]

For several years I have been engaging in the practice of giving something up for Lent. Through readings and helpful instruction I have embraced the practice and found it to serve as a time of deep spiritual examination. Psalms resonate in my spirit through this season, especially Psalm 139, which begins “O Lord, You have searched me and known me!” Some may ask what this time of reflection has to do with giving up something during this season. The practice serves as a fast, and like any fast becomes a means of reminding us of our humanity, our dependence upon God, and urges our identification with Jesus. In self-examination under the all-knowing scrutiny of the Spirit’s revelation we become freshly mindful of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Confronted with our “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” humanity, we are reminded that salvation is an ongoing spiritual reality in our lives, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved.” (Doesn’t get much more Baptist than that). It is in that “I am being saved” phase in the present that I am also prompted to consider the hymnwriter’s lyrics, “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” My prayer joins Robert Robinson’s last phrase afresh, “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it! Seal it for Thy courts above.”

So each year during the Lenten season I have found some spiritual association with the thing that I have set aside for these weeks. That is to say the Lord seems to draw my attention to spiritual truth through the pangs of yearning associated with whatever it is I have given up. This year I decided I would abstain from bread for Lent. With the exception of Sundays, when the fast is broken, I determined to resist bread all other days of the week. Early in Lent I attended a handbell festival (not on Sunday) in a church that was hosting a hospitality meal following a memorial service for a family. The hallways were filled with the luscious aroma of bread baking in the church kitchen. Everyone who walked through spoke about how good it smelled. I love bread, and found myself nearly drooling at this smell, but I was also moved by the connection this made for me of the goodness of the Lord. I think it not egoistic that for me it spoke of His presence in this season. As the season has progressed I have continued to take acute notice of how often bread is placed before me. Logan’s, O’Charley’s, Outback, and Longhorn all have warm bread served to the table first thing after drinks have come. In each instance I find my mind repeating, “Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life.”

While Lent and worship are intrinsically connected, I recognize not all evangelicals are attuned to that kind of spirituality and practice. For those who facilitate gathered worship, however, I believe subjecting of ourselves to disciplined seasons of silence, prayer and fasting, and time in the Word, are crucial not only to our own spiritual health, but to the congregations we lead and serve. Themes and truths that the Spirit brings to our attention in God’s Word and in our surroundings through such times of self-examination, humbled submission, and renewed commitment yield good fruit for the work of ministry related to worship.

In a season of giving up bread I have been called anew to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” I sense an urgency and unction to aid churches in rediscovering their prayer song cried out to the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life. Some will find the cry through Fred Hammonds’ Bread of Life, others through John P. Kee’s Bread of Life, and others in the old Gospel testimony song, Fill My Cup as seen on Gaithers’ homecoming videos and sung thousands of times in services of revival and renewal calling out “Bread of Heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.” Perhaps the most sung, given its hymn lyrics composition in 1772, later joined to the great CWM RHONDDA tune composed around 1907, following the Welsh Revivals is Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, and the line by which it is well known, “Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more. Feed me ‘til I want no more.” In John 6:35 Jesus told the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Just as He assured the woman at the well in John 4, He is all we need! As we journey to the cross in this season, may we help our congregations to make the connections of the Bread of Heaven, the Body of Christ broken for you, and thankful hearts engaged in offering praise in response at His Table.

[1] Robert Webber Webber on Worship: Volume 1

BODY TALK – PHYSICAL EXPRESSION AND WORSHIP SINGING

February 23, 2015

worship-singers This post is the first of two intended to address physical expression during worship singing. The point of dividing into two articles was for the first to speak to the individual worshiper’s physical response and involvement, and for the follow up to be concerned with the church body’s corporate expression. Although I will address worship singing in this divided manner (individual vs. corporate), the fact is that they inseparably affect one another. With that intertwining in mind, let’s look at the physical involvement of the individual in worship, and extend that consideration to worship singing in particular. Let’s start with some obvious facts.

  1. We are physical beings. God did not create us as disembodied vapor. In fact, our physical presence is how we recognize one another in the first place. If you ask me if I know a certain person, I will think of physical characteristics such as what the person looks like as I remember them. If this is someone I have known fairly well I may recall how they walk, what their voice sounds like when they talk, how they laugh, how they interact with others, including me. I might recall their expressions of hospitality, warmth, or lack of these characteristics. Even personality traits, sense of humor, and sensitivity are assessed based on our perceptions attained through observation of a person’s physical actions in situations. We are physical beings.
  1. Christianity is a holistic reality. God created us “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7) when He breathed life’s breath into humanity. Although the false gnostic idea of a separate body and soul are far too often fostered in our compartmentalized culture, and sadly even in our churches, to be Christian involves our whole being. After all, the first commandment is this, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength (Mark 12:30) God has given us bodies to fulfill His commands and mission. We are built to worship. In His glorious grace and wisdom God has given us a capacity to know Him and respond to Him. “Through scientific research we are gaining fuller understanding of how our bodies work, and this research is telling a fascinating story: our body’s design enables us to commune with God and to fellowship more closely with others.”[1]
  1. Scripture is filled with examples and instructions of physical expressions in response to God. In a blog post on this same theme, author/worship leader/songwriter, Bob Kauflin notes some of these as including clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, dancing, and standing ( 47:1Eph. 5:19Ps. 95:6;Ps. 134:2Ps. 33:1Rev. 15:2Ps. 149:3Ps. 22:23). One of the first things I remember Robert Webber saying in an opening convocation at the Robert E Webber Institute for Worship Studies was to underscore that there is no one word in scripture translated “worship.” Rather there are several, and many have to do with physical actions and postures that all work together giving us some understanding of what it is to engage with God in worship.
  1. Engaging in physical expression not only further forms our worship expression (and in the process influences other worshipers), but is one way our worship forms us. As an example, lifting our hands in praise, also places us in a posture of submission and surrender. The same is true of kneeling to pray. While we may kneel to express our need, we are at once shaped by the posture of humility, something the Bible teaches us is required of us (Micah 6:8).
  1. Expressions of worship in private may include physical expressions different than public or corporate worship expressions. Throwing myself in the floor at church would likely scare the children, and panic my own family. The Spirit’s revelation of truth through God’s Word, or assurance in private revelation, however, may call for such a response.

Why consider this in conjunction with singing our worship?

  • Physical engagement may embody the text of what you are singing. Whether it is a new worship song that has recently become part of your expression, or a traditional hymn that has stood the test of time, engaging our bodies in the expression of worship that we are already expressing with our lips and voices can further form us in the spiritual dynamic involved.
  • Sometimes the lyrics we sing imply we are “lifting holy hands,” or “bowing before your throne” or “kneeling in your presence” and thus it seems appropriate to question if we should act on the lyrics we profess in real time.
  • Seems to me that in public settings it is during the time of singing in worship that we experience the quandary of an open expressiveness by some, and/or a feeling of restriction or discomfort by others. Conscientious leaders can help us know what is best in corporate worship (More on this next week).
  • Singing IS a physical act! It involves the whole person, mind, body, spirit. Read Methodist evangelist, John Wesley’s words in his Preamble to a 1761 Hymnal in his “Directions for Singing” instruction #4:
    • Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sing the songs of the world. (John Wesley – Rules for Singing)

[1] Rob Moll, What the Body Knows About God (InterVarsityPress 2014) pg 16

 

TIME AND WORSHIP

February 17, 2015

Now-is-the-Time-to-Worship-300 Time is a big deal. Try as we might to control it, we have no power over the pace of passing time. We cannot save it, or pause it. We cannot speed it up, or skip over it. We are just in it. Some of us talk about managing our time, but that is a misnomer. We cannot manage the time, but only our activity in it. That’s just the way it is. In a culture where “time is money,” year-round schools and downsized offices have added pressure to our jam-packed calendars and workdays. Add to that an insane obsession with sports for kids at younger and younger ages, and it is little wonder that worship service attendance in so many churches has declined. Rather than addressing the myriad of conflicts in lifestyles, and especially those directly related to conflicts with Sunday worship, I want to move to consideration of a more fundamental understanding of time as it relates to Christian worship, and pray you might join me in seeing the Christian spirituality of observing time in a distinct manner.

First, I must confess. I struggle with managing my activities within the time the Lord has given me. I serve among pastors and worship ministry leaders most of whom likewise seem to struggle with time. They, as I, face most of the same pressures as the people in the churches we serve. We have families with needs. We feel pressure to perform, while we also serve on downsized staffs, but with higher expectations. We even have an exacerbated struggle since many of those we would call upon for help are some of those who themselves struggle to continue faithful involvement due to the same pressures. Obviously, skipping worship attendance is not an option for the worship ministry leaders. In addition the pressure of declining attendance compounds the pressure. Rather than coming up with yet another set of service times, more varieties of worship music styles, or other entrepreneurial concoctions, could we use a moment to consider our spiritual condition, and the heart of the matter of time? Could I take us back to some elementary thinking?

The Bible makes distinction between two kinds of time. Kairos has to do with episodes or periods when God moves in a particular action that one author characterizes as “a new dimension in reality.”[1] As we look back upon the actions of God through history we see a picture that forms what we know as the Gospel.  Chronos, on the other hand, is where we get our term “chronology,” and refers simply to the time on the calendar or clock. You might say the latter gives the palate on which the former is painted. The Incarnational truth is that God has stepped into time in the person of Jesus. What we see in scripture prior to His birth points to Him. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension form the center of the Gospel. Worship engages us in embracing time through anamnesis or remembering, and prolepsis or looking to the not yet. As we live the time (chromos) that God gives us there are events (kairos) when God acts in ways that transform us. Both kinds of time are critical to worship.

We can be ever confident that God is always “on time” in His actions.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

Given an unrelenting confidence in God’s power to act when He wills, and as He deems best, we surely must see our part as response to His invitation to come and worship. And speaking of time, the Lord’s Day remains foundational to our practice of Body (the Church) worship. Faithfulness in this regard means a designated time on this special (Resurrection) day of the week. By doing so, we set a pattern within our spiritual system, personally and corporately, whereby we practice those disciplines of Christian worship: gathered fellowship, prayer, singing, hearing, responding, being sent. Hebrews teaches us that faithful gathering is important to our well being, and even speaks to a bit of the how and why.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

We worship, offering moments given us to reflect on time past, to enrich time present, and anticipate the forever feast to come. The gathering sets the trajectory for our daily worship, so that worship is a continuum, never ceasing.

Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth for they are the worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23NIV)

The Christian Calendar gives an even broader opportunity to pattern our worshiping lives centered in Jesus. Mentor, friend, and author, Dr Constance Cherry presents some of the benefits in observing the Christian Year:

  • The Christian Year reveals the larger narrative (story of God).
  • The Christian year presents the systematic truth of Christ (a systematic theology is unveiled).
  • The Christian year is innately Christocentric (the work of Jesus Christ is explained and celebrated).
  • The Christian year views time as sacred (all of time is holy, dispelling the dichotomy of secular vs. sacred time).[2]

This week begins the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Christians around the world will begin the 40 day (Sundays are excluded) path to Pascha (Easter) Sunday. I would encourage you to join this journey that encompasses personal and corporate worship. This is a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination, and remembrance of the covenant that binds and bonds us. Even as we see Christians being beheaded for their faith while calling out the Name of our Lord, let us pray for courage and renewal.

Below you will find a great new hymn for this season that I highly recommend:

[1] James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Abingdon Press, 1990) 54.

[2] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and biblically Faithful Services (Baker Academic, 2010) 211.

THE HYMNAL – A VALUABLE WORSHIP RESOURCE

January 4, 2015

Baptist Hymnals 56 on shelf  Worship Leader, where is your hymnal? Don’t worry, this is not a throwback argument for pulling down your screens, or finding where the custodian stored the ’75 Baptist Hymnals that were falling apart when they yanked them from the pews. I do, however, want to point out some values served by hymnals that strengthen the worship life of the church. Worship leaders need to steadily engage in critical thinking about ways our planning and direction for worship affects the church. Hopefully this will help serve as food for thought.

Some Considerations on the Value of Hymnals

  1. Hymnals serve as a Worship Landmark

A hymnal codifies what the church is singing at a particular time in its history. John Witvliet says it is like “a cultural memory bank.” Inside the covers of the songbook are words and melodies that stamp our collective footprint of what we sing during a decade or two of our worship life as a church. It does not mean that we are not singing other things, adding to the repertoire newer songs that will vie for inclusion in the next hymnal, even as we continue to hold on to those songs that serve as foundational faith expression and continue to serve our community. (Lifeway Worship has compiled a comparison of hymns included and/or new to each of the Baptist hymnal publications beginning with the 1956 edition.)

  1. Hymnals encapsulate Words for our worship – public and private.

A hymnal helps worshipers to sing together, both when we are gathered in corporate worship, and when we are scattered to our daily routines. The printed page remains in our view as we sing corporately, allowing for reflection by revisiting thoughts we have along the way in worship. Owning a home hymnal promotes regular private and family devotions. Publishers and distributors will love to hear me say I believe congregations need to purchase hymnals not only for their pews in the worship center, but also sufficient numbers for each home to have at least one on their shelf in their home. Imagine your church family meditating on a worship song through the week after they have scattered to their separate homes. Imagine them returning for corporate worship prepared to join hearts and voices in singing that particular song. This just might help us follow the psalmist’s admonition to “sing praises with wisdom.” (Psalm 47:7), and follow Paul’s testimony to “sing with the spirit, but also sing with understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)

  1. Hymnals help Connect us to our legacy

My grandfather’s favorite hymn was Take Time to Be Holy. It was one of only a couple of tunes he would occasionally sit down and plunk out on the piano in his home. I hardly ever hear it sung in corporate worship anymore. It appeared in the 1940 Broadman and the 1956 Baptist Hymnal, was omitted in the 1975 edition, and reappeared in 1991 and 2008. I can still hear Grandpa wailing the tenor line in church so loudly that it turned the heads of those in the pew in front of us. The song stirs fond memories that remind me of a history laced with devoted Christ followers. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name exhorts the angels, all who have been saved, all peoples of the earth, and the “sacred throng” around his throne to join in the everlasting song of praise. My dad loved that hymn. The congregation sang it to the CORONATION tune as the family entered the sanctuary for his memorial service. My dad and granddad were two giants in my own faith journey. Every time I come across these tunes or texts of these hymns, I think of them and my heritage of Christian faith. These songs, like so many others I have sung, link me to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have known, and many more that I never knew. Having a hymnal in a rack in the worship center, or perhaps laying next to a Bible at home, may someday help to join a grandchild, or great grandchild to a legacy of singing faith.

  1. Hymnals reveal Direction of the present and offer Trajectory toward the future

A hymnal indicates something of where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed theologically, spiritually, and liturgically. A review of topical and biblical indexes that categorize hymns in a given hymnal help us grasp where we are theologically, and can provide leaders with means of singing our way toward a preferred emphasis in disciple-building, unity of fellowship, strengthened commitment, and missional living. The hymnal can serve as a sort of spiritual canon of our shared journey.

  1. Hymnals can serve the Flow of worship (liturgy)

Whether our liturgy is formal or relaxed, a hymnal can serve to advance our communion with God. Having words and music in front of the worshipers can aid our ability to know where we are in our shared conversation and move along together. In-hand responsive readings remain accessible to worshipers. The Baptist Hymnal includes “service music” located in one section (towards the back) of the hymnal, consisting of shorter statements that help move us along the worship journey from entrance songs to offertory statements to songs that send us on our mission.

  1. Hymnals provide songs that have been filtered through a Doctrinal lens

Songs selected for inclusion in hymnals pass through editorial boards who view prospective material with doctrinal affinity that agrees with the theological teachings of the denomination or group that will use it. This is no small issue as worship shapes and forms us into worshiping disciples. The hymnal helps seekers to know what this particular worshiping congregation believes and sings.

  1. Hymnals serve churches in the Biblical exhortation to sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul instructs the early church to sing. He gives insight to the kind of singing intended for followers of Jesus in the New Testament church. Singing is part of our following since we know Jesus worshiped through singing, even as a last act of community with His disciples before departing to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). The hymnal places a collection of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in the very hands of worshipers, and sets a pattern for worship singing.

KEEPING TIME IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

November 30, 2014

Metronome  Sunday begins Advent. A very popular song from the late 1960’s went like this:

 Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to cry

The group Chicago recorded the hit song, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, written by keyboard player and lead vocalist, Robert Lamm. The top ten song called into question a kind of mindless obsession with the clock. Indeed, the frazzled lifestyle seems a far cry from the spirit of the psalmist who said, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

There is a kind of tyranny in the busy-ness of our world. Christians far too easily get caught up in a push to monetize all resources God has given us, or worse yet, forget that each moment is, in fact, a gift. We can easily find ourselves no longer using time, but rather being ruled by the clock. Sadly, many believers seem ill-equipped to deal with the conflicting worldviews that shape values associated with time. Dorothy Bass offers an illustration of Christians sitting around talking about how much work they have to accomplish through the weekend. Each one lamented they would be unable to join in Sunday worship because of their workload and deadlines. She says it hit her they were planning to break the command, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” She noted she could not imagine sitting around hatching plans to violate other commands, “I’m planning to take God’s name in vain;” “I’m planning to steal something;” “I’m planning to commit adultery.” Missing out on regular worship, however, seems to be an anticipated, almost “acceptable” sin. It strikes me that we even build our sanctuaries, our houses of worship, anticipating that at least half of our congregation(s) will not be present for regular gathered worship on any given Sunday. Hebrews 10:24-25 calls for better participation in regular repeated gatherings.  

The Bible shows us God’s care for time very early in its revelation of the grand story. By separating darkness and light He created day and night. Dorothy Bass says that in the hymn of Genesis 1:1 – 2:4, time’s first measure is counted out: “a first day, a second day, a third day,” and so forth. Continuing the musical metaphor she says, “On the beat, God creates; on the offbeat, God pauses to see that what has been created is good. Indeed, after the last beat, at the end of the sixth day on which God has created animals and human beings, the work is declared very good, and on the seventh day, the Sabbath, God rested. There is no pause, because all is pause.”[1] And yet, even in the Sabbath rest there is an understood pulse that keeps marking time.

A steady beat is the foundation of good rhythm. As a music leader I can tell you that making music gets tough when some of the music-makers lose their sense of rhythm. If someone gets the time signature wrong, drags the tempo, or drops a beat, whether it’s the director, organist, pianist, drummer, or singers, it becomes a challenge to stay together. Instead of serving as an encouraging inspiration, music can become a source of frustration and discouragement, rather quickly. We would say that it is important, especially for those leading the music, to keep time. But keeping time in worship has to do with much more than just making music, and the responsibility extends far beyond those up-fronters who give leadership.

Christian worship is built upon steady rhythmic pulse. There is a pulse in the alternation of Revelation and Response within the liturgy of worship, whether formal or informal. There is a pulse in the repeated steady beat of weekly worship, Sunday by Sunday. There is a pulse in the recurring cycle called the Christian year that pulses with the seasons that celebrate the major events of the Gospel story. Repeated patterns of regular worship together keep us in time with what God desires to do in the world. Measures of beats go together to form sections of the song, if you will, that remind us of what God has already done, while at once helping us anticipate what He will do in coming days. The season of Advent incorporates both.

Recognized as the beginning of the Christian Year, Advent prepares us for Christmas and also refreshes our anticipation of Christ’s return. The observance and celebration of Advent holds great opportunity for spiritual emphasis in our homes and church congregations through the reading of scriptures, the re-telling of the nativity, and through the imaginative anticipation of what is to come when Christ returns. More and more evangelical churches have an Advent wreath in their sanctuary and observe the four Sundays leading up to Christmas by the lighting of candles, enhanced by scripture readings and carol-singing. The same kinds of activities in the home can strengthen the message and anticipation of Christmas and may help our families understand that we are a part of God’s grand story. Leaders do well to encourage this kind of home worship by providing Advent worship guides for home, posting links for Christmas songs listening aids, as well as preparing special musical and social events for the church family and for outreach in their communities announcing Joy to the World! Maintaining and refreshing these traditions help us keep time in worship. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

[1] Dorothy C. Bass Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Josey-Bass 2000) 47.

WILL YOUR WORSHIP MUSIC LAST A LIFETIME?

November 17, 2014

HPIM1336.JPG Through more than forty years of ministry I have had occasion to share music in assisted living residences where some tenants had lost much of their mental acuity. In my early years I was uncertain as to the value of singing in such environments, but over time grew to realize that not only did music sometimes brighten an otherwise obscure existence for some, but that at times it would be a hymn or a tune that held the final connections to the real world for some participants. I remember a resident who could not recite her own name, but who joined me in singing five verses of Amazing Grace and never missed a word or note. For me it was a heartwarming reminder that the Lord has final victory, and this dear saint would someday soon join the song of paradise, and was well prepared. What a rich joy has been mine to have been singing from days of childhood, singing Jesus Loves Me This I Know to teen years singing a contemporized version of For the Beauty of the Earth to anxious parental moments clinging to the prayer, I Need Thee Every Hour, to the Sunday after September 11, 2001, joining with congregation to declare the Psalm 90 paraphrase O God Our Help in Ages Past, to the more recent joy of joining brothers and sisters victoriously singing In Christ Alone.

Think about the songs you currently sing in congregational worship. Do you anticipate singing those songs throughout your life? Do you, or will you teach them to your children and your children’s children? When we send children to worship in another location and in another way, a la “kid’s style,” are we abdicating our responsibility to demonstrate worship singing, and teaching them songs that are meaningful to us? In our rush to sing the latest tune from the radio, are we forfeiting passing along the songs of our lives? I understand the arguments for some of these methods of ministering with children, and the removal of “distraction” from parents and other adults. (Personal note: I sit with grandchildren when I can….I get it!) I know that mumbling along with words they do not understand or coloring while sounds fall around their ears may seem meritless to our over-utilitarian mindsets. Could we not admit, though that many of us have certainly sung hymns we did not fully comprehend at the time, but that we grew into understanding as faith took root and matured. In my experience the taking root has itself often served as evidence of the Spirit’s work in transforming and renewing of mind and soul. I have noticed that pastors who quote song lyrics as poetry, most frequently reference the texts of hymns they have known from childhood, or have learned along the way.

It was a great honor and privilege last week to be a part of hosting a Leadership Luncheon for worship leaders and pastors featuring our friend and modern hymn writer, Keith Getty. Keith offered a refreshing and convicting reminder of the high value of the role that singing plays in our lives, in the Church universal, and in the local church body. He did not mince words in the challenge he laid before those who choose and lead songs in worship. I will not attempt to rehearse his talk or the interaction that followed other than perhaps a very general outline. If you are a pastor or worship music leader I highly recommend you seek out an opportunity to encounter the material, or even attend a Leadership event offered through Getty Music should you have such an opportunity. Three primary areas that Keith spoke about included: 1. God’s people learn their faith in large part through song. 2. The holy act of congregational singing is just that, holy. 3. Songs need to stick with people.

Reflecting on some of the music and singing that I hear in churches, conferences, and events, I confess a real ache for leaders to give more substantive lyrics couched in singable and memorable melodies for congregations to sing in ways that advance acts of worship and encourage communion with the holy, living God, not only for the given moment, but songs that, in fact, stick with us through our lives. If worship in our churches is characterized by throw-away music and cycles through songlists every five to eight years, what will our children sing in years to come? Could our impatience to develop a richer palate of material possibly even have played into the exodus of so many young adults who have left the church once they left their youth group? Will words flashed on screens in eight-unit increments stand the test of time to reside in our minds and ignite our passion into our most senior years, even our last days?

I am grateful for writers who are crafting new hymns and worship songs of sufficient maturity in theology, music, and poetic interest to call us to feast in their riches for years and generations to come.


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