Commanded to Worship

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In the last entry I started a three part series on why we worship.  These are just three giant brush strokes of the Bible that hopefully entice you to search deeper.  In the last newsletter we examined John 1 and Genesis. We saw that we and all of creation were spoken into existence.  We saw that Jesus was there at the moment of creation and was the very word in which we were created, and we concluded that because we are image bearers of God we should in return audibly sing His praises with the words He has given us. So where is the command to worship?  In the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), the first 7 verses are a clear guide:

“And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

God demands that we recognize who He is, and that we worship only Him. God won’t settle for a watered down likeness, for what of our imaginations could truly hold His greatness? Recognize that he is God and God alone. In the chapters that follow God lays down many laws and instructions for the Israelites.   These displayed two things: God was intolerant of sin being in His presence, and to display the allegiance of the Israelites.

But it was clear it wasn’t enough to follow the rules, 1 Samuel 5:22 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”  This is  the message that God is trying to convey over and over in the Old Testament, that eventually took the sacrifice of His son for us to understand.

God used the law for us understand his character and Holiness, and for Him to see where our heart is.  We are no longer slaves to the law, but we have replaced burnt offerings with musical choice, with stained glass, or with lighting. We must approach our worship services as an effort to love the lord with all our hearts. 

If we do not feel engaged in what we are doing should that exclude us? I confess my Bible would be rarely opened, and my prayers would be rarely spoken.   There are times when I want a good meal more than eternal life. There are times when I want a relationship to work more than eternal life.  There are times when I want the Cubs to win more than eternal life.  I may want these things. My heart might yearn for these things, but my efforts must be put at magnifying God in my heart, and all I do.

In my next entry we’ll look at Revelation, and how worship is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus.

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Image-Bearing Worshippers

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How are we asked to worship God in scriptures? How does that translate  to our current culture.? We define worship as the act of showing reverence and adoration towards a deity.  We do this many ways, through singing, studying,  and imitating. Others say anything we do can be worship. That may be true, but are we worshipping God no matter what we are doing?   Who and what we worship shows where our heart lies. In “Worship Matters” Bob Kauflin says, “What we love the most will determine what we genuinely worship.

So what does God want from us as worshippers? I’m going to post a few articles about where this is revealed to us in scripture. This being my first.

Starting in John, chapter I, v 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God.   2 He was with God in the beginning.  3 Through him all
things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

So it’s clear to me the Word is referring to Jesus the pre-incarnate,
but still the son, being the mouthpiece of God in which the world is
created.  Now if you look at Genesis one, How did God create the
world?  Did he use a blueprint and shape some rough materials?
Genesis 1:3 says “God said let there be light,” and there was light.”
This  pattern continues in the first chapter including man in verse
27:

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

We are the result of the word of God.  The word which was Christ.   We were spoken into existence. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” So simply our existence is a
testament to God. In being image bearers of Christ should we not also be imitators in using our words to praise God? And in being imitators of Christ should we not also being using His words to praise Him?

As a church musician let me encourage you to take it a step further and encourage you to sing His praises.  Even if you consider yourself a poor singer you are engaging your whole body in worship.  Have you ever been to a concert or a sporting event where the entire crowd is singing together?  It’s an awe-inspiring thing. The amazing thing is somehow you know many are singing off key, but when they are part of a whole it only adds to the volume.  Watch a country like Columbia or Brazil sing their national anthem at the FIFA (soccer) World Cup, it’s a little intimidating. Now imagine the power and encouragement that could be brought to Church every Sunday morning by singing about the power of Christ.  A sea of conviction that would surely smash our doubt and unbelief into submission!

In my next entry I’ll look at if we are indeed commanded to worship.

The Gift

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We just got through Christmas.  I have a pretty set list of who I give Christmas gifts to, and base it on a limited budget.  For the most part it is more of an exchange.  The people I give gifts to give gifts to me (except my young nephews of course).  I have given many gifts without expecting a gift in return, but there is usually an intention of exchange also. It may be affection or appreciation, but usually I can’t help but hope for something tangible.  My intention here is not to be critical of these intentions, but merely an observer.

I recently finished a book by Lewis Hyde titled “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.”  It was recommended to me by another worship leader. Although it’s not a Christian book, it does have several references to the Bible; Specifically the Old Testament.  Honestly I didn’t enjoy reading it.  It was dry, and academic.  However, after I was done reading it, I found myself ruminating over the content.  What does it mean to give a gift? What does it mean to receive a gift? What are our responsibilities or expectations? How do I put that in the context of my artistic ability?

In ancient cultures the expectation of a gift was that it be used, and hopefully shared with the entire tribe or village.  For instance if you were given the gift of meat, it wasn’t enough to enjoy it with your family and cure it hoping it would last for the winter.  It was more likely expected to be used as a feast for the community.  Value was found in the use of wealth and not in the accumulation.

Creativity and Craftsmanship

So as an artist or craftsman what are my responsibilities? “Gift” takes on two meanings here. First it means skill, as in my case, musical abilities. Second, it means the output of my abilities, whether it be a song, a performance, or passing on my knowledge to someone else.

My first responsibility is to develop my gift.  It is clear that God desires excellence. When given instructions for building the arc, or the temple, God commands using the best men for the job be it construction or making the curtains for the tent.  God designates using musicians for use in worship. It was clear God wanted us to develop and use our variety of skills for building the body of the church.

My next responsibility is to give my gift.  What good is having a craft if it is simply for my own pleasure?  Music is a form of communication, which means it has to be received. There are three types of gifts I can give the receiver (or in this case the congregation):

1. The gift the receiver wants: We all have preferences, and favorite songs.  A group of people can be homogenous in their culture and the style of music be one certain genre, but more often than not we are all drawing on various backgrounds.  This ends up requiring the music to be easily digestible.

2.The gift I want to give: I have my preferences.  There are certain songs and styles I enjoy playing. Songs I feel are more natural for me to express than others. I want the songs to preach to me.  I want songs that have obvious meaning, but with text so rich I discover new truths after singing them over and over. However, if the receiver is unable to understand where I’m coming from I might as well be singing in the shower.

3.The gift the receiver needs: I think of this as the solid food vs the mother’s milk referred to in Hebrews 5:13-14. In the case of worship this means being specific about the attributes of God and all he’s done for us through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  This might require being exposed to new songs, new styles of music, or studying parts of the word that we don’t have full understanding.  The danger of this is being new wine being poured into old wine skins as Jesus refers to in Mark 2:22. One time I heard Albert Moehler say (I may be paraphrasing), “It’s not enough for our songs to not be heretical.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

The hope is to find the overlap in a venn diagram of these three.

A Gift of Grace

I can’t bring up gifts without mentioning Spiritual Gifts.  This can be a divisive subject.  I think it’s important we always return to the scripture when understanding what these are and how to use them.  In DA Carson’s “Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14” he explains the greek translation to be several versions of the word charisma. The best translation is “gift of grace”.  Paul writes that different people will receive different gifts, but all for building up the body of the church.  He also warns us of the misuse of these gifts.

So is my musical ability a spiritual gift? It is something I use for the building of the up of the body.  It is something I consider God given, and yet have also had to develop.  It is not mentioned in the Bible as being a spiritual gift, but I do know the Spirit takes part in my talent.

Whether or not it is craft or gift, I always have to question who I am using it for.  I can’t help but seek glory. One or two times a week I fantasize about about playing in front of people, and they falling in awe of my amazing skill and creativity. If not that if imagine everyone realizing how much more talented I am as a worship leader than anyone else. God has a way of bringing me back down to earth whether I want to or not.

I’ve been part of a church that tried so hard for supernatural spiritual gifts.  We wanted to see people speaking in tongues and translating. We wanted to see supernatural healing while ignoring professional medical diagnosis. We wanted to see new prophetic words and dreams, not just of encouragement or instruction, but clear visions of the future.  This pursuit lead to a lot of people getting hurt. Some people used false prophecies to raise themselves above others. People were lied about and excommunicated for no reason.  Untruths were spread from the pulpit. Scripture was taken out of context and used for our own selfish pursuits. The worship services became very chaotic and un-orderly.  It was the complete opposite of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14.

I don’t want to question anyone’s motives in that situation. I know mine were at best ignorant and at worst twisted. I wanted to display some sort of gifting so that I knew, and people knew God had something special in store for me. I wanted people to recognize I had a special calling.  As a church we wanted that too.  When I think about what would have happened if we had started displaying these gifts. I can’t imagine us not lifting ourselves above all the other churches, I can’t imagine being able to get out of the way and give glory to God alone. Always ask yourself when desiring spiritual gifts, “who will I be glorifying with this.” There is nothing wrong with desiring God to use our lives to work in miraculous ways, but sometimes the gift we need most is humility.

The Gift of Grace

The Jews would build altars in tribute to God in remembrance of what he’d done for them.  They would give a sacrificial lamb in exchange for the penalty of sin.  God gave his Son in place of the lamb.  He gave us our offering.  So what are we giving back to Him?

This brings me back to the idea of gifts as an exchange.  What a silly notion that anything I do is making some sort of exchange for the ultimate sacrifice!  As if there is some magic number of songs I can sing, scripture I can read, people I can serve that can measure up to Christ.  When will I realize Christ is the gift? There is no rate of exchange!  Even if I were to die in the same manner for the sake of God’s glory I am still tainted by the fallen nature of man.  I will never stack up to the perfection of Christ unless he gives it to me.

Hopefully this revelation is freeing. Not to do nothing, but to pursue Christ knowing the debt is paid.  So what is happening when I am using my gift of creativity or skill to worship God? I am partaking in the giving and receiving of Christ.

Carson, D.A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14. Ada, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1996.

Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage, 1983.

By Faith

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Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the bible.  It manages to link the Old and New Testament with such clarity.  It is full of empowering declarative statements.  My heart turns to a worshipful attitude and reveals new mysteries every time I read it.  I just finished reading Hebrews 11.  It  takes us through many stories of the Old Testament demonstrating how God was revealed through people’s faith.  Verse 4 says: Continue reading

Songs of Ages

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If you ever see the bookshelf in my office one particular collection that continues to grow is my collection of hymnals. The hymnal is such a wonderful tool I will always use no matter what style of worship I lead.  It is full of theology and usually organized by doctrine. When I am directed to a certain passage in the bible there is a section of songs that will be inspired by those verses. I can open up and read these concise beautiful poems that illustrate God’s word. It has been so reaffirming to me to see writers like Fanny Crosby (Blessed Assurance) and John Newton (Amazing Grace) had the same doubts and trials, and needed the same reassurance that I do today.  Continue reading

Sunday and the REST of the Week

 

I meet with a group of worship leaders about once a month.  We recently had a discussion on the Sabbath.  It was something I thought I had figured out, but in the midst of the discussion, I began to look at it from a new angle.  Continue reading

What I Love About THE Church

 

How do you describe your church? 

Is it relevant?

Is it engaging?

Is the music vibrant?

Are the people friendly? 

These are all things to strive for, but aren’t they all subjective?  If you’ve been following Broken Shepherd the past month we’ve been doing a series called “What I love about my church.”  Me being the last one I couldn’t help but do something a little different. I thought about attracting some clicks by using the title: “What I hate about my church.”  Trust me, I could go there.  I’ve been burned.  I’m sure less than others have experienced, but I must confess that I’m still working through some bitterness about the way I’ve been treated in the past.  I also love those churches whether or not those churches claim me. I consider myself to be a part of them.  Throughout the New Testament we see the local churches constantly sending and receiving apostles. I long for churches to view my time with them the same way.  “We took him in for the Kingdom, and then we sent him off because it was time for him to be somewhere else for the Kingdom.” I’d like to believe I’d be received at any church that proclaims Jesus as Lord.  So instead of heaping praise on my local church (one that like all is deserving while still having places to grow), I am going to write what I love about THE church.

I love the church because I am forgetful. 

I wake up forgetting God’s goodness. I wake up with a sinful nature.  I act before thinking, and sometimes without thinking.  Paul said in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  I need more than my own correction. Yes, the Holy Spirit convicts, but as a church we are also commanded to “exhort and rebuke with all authority.”   (Titus 2:15).  Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  God has provided the church as a way to keep me from falling into habitual sin.  I love the church because I need to be reminded.

I love the church because I am not enough

I love leading music,  but in doing so I can’t run sound. I can’t sit in the nursery. I can only play one instrument  and sing with one voice.  A thing I will gladly do, but there is so much more power in many instruments and many voices.  I don’t have the best administration skills, and I’m not a builder.  I tend to break things more than fix them.  I can’t run to all the corner’s of the Earth proclaiming the gospel, rather the four corners of my own town.  This displays two wonderful truths:  I can accomplish nothing without Christ, and I am part of a body of believers  that cover a large distance and a large amount of time. Through Christ the church will fulfill its purpose. What my generation doesn’t accomplish will be handed down to the next generation and so forth.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4: 11-13

I love the church because we are the body of Christ.

I love the church because Jesus desires us.

For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.  Isaiah 54:4

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast  Mark 2:19

Jesus uses marriage terminology when referring to the church. It is him who has chosen and called us to be in a covenantal relationship with Him.  It is Him who is preparing the church to be presented a holy and worthy bride at the wedding feast.  Jesus desires us much like the groom desires his bride.  Romantically?  I think so, though it is a higher form of romance than what we think about.  We are pulled to Him by so much more than an in-fatuous lust.  I am not Christ’s Bride alone, but as a part of the church.  I love the church because we are the bride of Christ.

I love the church because our destination is the same

What a waste of energy to have pride in our church while comparing ourselves to others. What a waste to be jealous of one church in comparison to ourselves.  If we truly believe that those who believe in the resurrection and claim Jesus as Lord are saved, then we are heading in the same direction no matter whose church is big, small, relevant, or old-fashioned.  I’m not saying to ignore scriptural doctrine when choosing what church to attend. I encourage you to weigh this carefully, but we are all fallible. We will all see the gap between our earthly knowledge and the complete truth of God in all his revealed glory in Heaven.  I love the church because we are unified through Christ.

Lovingkindness

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Chesed (or hesed) is a word I learned recently.  I’m not completely sure how to pronounce it. It is the Hebrew word for God’s relationship with his people, the Israelites.  You may recognize it translated as loving-kindness, but that doesn’t quite capture the full flavor of the meaning.  It encapsulates a triune God in full relationship between the Father, Spirit, and Son.  A God whose love flows from an infinite source within Himself. A God that needs nothing from us, but because of His nature extended His goodness to His chosen people.  This was God’s message to the Israelites in Exodus 6:7:

“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

The Israelites couldn’t accept this, because all they could see was their reality of harsh labor and discouragement. I know I don’t often see the reality of chesed either.  All I can see is fickle earthly love that rises and falls based on my emotions.  Many times my prayer time goes, “Yeah, yeah You love me God. That’s great and all, but can you fix this situation? and heal this person? and repair this relationship?”  That’s not verbatim, but my attitude is well represented here.

Lets see what the New Testament says about chesed in Ephesians 2:4-7:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

When I forget this I might as well be an Israelite slave refusing to make the journey out of Egypt into the promised land.  Only it’s worse, “No thanks God, leave me here dead. I’m too discouraged to be alive.” 

I’ve been thinking about God’s love all wrong. His lovingkindness is so much more than what I can understand because it’s more than what’s on Earth.  All the love I’ve received, all the love I’ve given, all the love I’ve seen, and all the love I’ve wanted is not enough to save me.  The love he’s given is so much more than we’ve asked for.  So when you come across “lovingkindness” think chesed.    

I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses. Isaiah 63:7

Ordinary Time

There are seasons in “liturgical” churches known as ordinary time.  One lies between observance of Pentecost and Advent. In the Baptist tradition we might call it “not Christmas or Easter.”  What I want to discuss isn’t the merits of the liturgical season or a comparison between Baptist and other denominational traditions.  I want to take the term “ordinary time” hostage and use it in the context of our own life.  When you saw ordinary time did something come to mind?  For a lot of us this might be an ordinary time.  School is in full swing. Thanksgiving is still two weeks away.  Some of you might disagree since you have a Football game to look forward to every weekend.  Ordinary time might mean you don’t see the finish line on a project at work or you’re three months from a big vacation. 

God is the easiest to see working in our lives in our highs and lows.  If you are going through a rough time you turn to God for help.  When you have a victory you can rejoice in His favor, but how do we continue to worship him when life gets uneventful?  Do we depend on the pastor to get us fired up?  Do we wait for the worship leader to pick our favorite song?  While we bare the burden of edifying the body and pointing our efforts towards the cross,  planning a service around pushing your emotional buttons is an impossible pursuit.  Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all Your heart, and do not lean on your own insight.”  Yes He wants us fully engaged with worship, but when we are feeling “blah” does that mean we shouldn’t show up?  Jesus has died for us, so that He could capture our hearts in worship for us.  Could we at least fight through some doldrums to Thank Him?

 This year is the first time I’ve been able to read through the Bible from start to finish on a consistent basis.  Every day I’d set a timer for 15 minutes and started reading.  When the timer went off I finished the chapter and closed the book.  I wouldn’t stop if I didn’t understand something.  If I felt like I glazed over something I’d just keep going.  I missed a lot, but I read even more.  There were many days I didn’t feel like it. There were many days I missed, but I’d just pick up where I left off and read another 15 minutes worth. There were many days my eyes went over lists and lists of censuses, but when I look back over the whole time I’m amazed how much I grew in the word. 

Sometimes that day’s scripture would spur me into a specific prayer.  Sometimes It would motivate me to worship in song.  Other days I felt dry and didn’t understand what I read. Then I would pray something like, “thank you for showing me this scripture, and for the things that will be revealed by me reading the whole Bible.” And some days I would close the book and walk away.

Maybe 15 minutes is too long for you.  Maybe it’s just 5.  You probably won’t finish in a year at that pace, but who cares? You’re doing it!  Maybe there is some other discipline you need to work through. I encourage you to practice and look to improve in whatever you feel you maybe lacking in these things we call spiritual disciplines.  Prayer, meditation, service,  I could improve in all of these.  We worship God through our efforts of pursuing obedience and holiness. This is the “treasure” we are storing in heaven that Jesus spoke of.

Let the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ be the motivation of hearts. We are toiling towards perfection that we will see one day. A perfection that Jesus achieved on our behalf. A perfection that Jesus freed us to pursue without fear of failure or condemnation. We are closer to perfection than we were yesterday.  That doesn’t seem so ordinary to me.

A Review of Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God

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On Sovereign Grace Music’s new album Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God we take a journey pondering the mystery of the Holy Trinity in its persons and as a whole. This I believe is an aspect in today’s modern praise and worship music that has been severely lacking, but that has been leader Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music’s M.O. for the last 30 years: writing theologically rich, gospel-centered modern day hymns for the church that are as singable as they are rich in content.

The album starts with the folky title track that acknowledges the greatness of God that goes beyond our human capacity to express it. “I could sooner drink the seas/ than fathom all your Love/ Like a never ceasing stream/ are mercies through Your son.” The song is littered with beautiful metaphors throughout linking our wonder of God with creation’s vastness.

Two of the best congregational songs are also Trinity-centered. The first being “This is Our God” which is inspired by the Nicene Creed. Each verse praises the separate persons of the Trinity with the chorus triumphantly proclaiming “We believe the Lord our God is One!” “Great One in Three” is inspired by an older sometimes forgotten hymn “Come Thou Almighty King.” This again takes each verse to describe the Father, Spirit, and Son and how each One has a role in our salvation. The Chorus is a cry of expectation when we finally behold the majesty of seeing the “Great One in Three”

Other songs focus on one divine person. “Lamb of God” focuses on the sacrifice of the Son, while “Spirit of God” is a request for strengthening of faith and growing in wisdom through the Holy Spirit. “Blessed Assurance” is another standout that uses the first verse of the Fanny Crosby hymn as the chorus.

Sooner Count the Stars can be beneficial for worship leaders in having songs that can be used for the congregation, and for the congregation in having songs that can be used for personal edification. You may find it engages the heart, mind, and soul.