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A New Look for Reform worship.


We've been working hard on a new look for Reform worship. and are excited to finally share it with you. Over the next 24 hours we'll be remodeling the site. If perchance you visit during this time, we appreciate your grace as we fine tune everything. Feel free to let us know what you think!

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Originals: Glory in the Heights

I just couldn't wait to share this with you all, and there really isn't a better time than now to share it. A few weeks ago, in the midst of the Advent tension of waiting, I couldn't contain myself anymore. A Christmas song burst out of me! "O, glory in the Heights, for Christ is born!" Well, today is the day we get to fully celebrate His birth. The angels rejoice in songs of praise. But not only is the celebration happening in the heavens, peace has come to every man on earth, and so the church bells ring. Yet it doesn't end there. The Incarnation of Christ demands a response from everyone. Every man, without exception, says "yes" or "no" to Jesus. What will be your response? Will you come to Bethlehem and see the newborn King? If so, what will be your offering? My encouragement to you on this most wonderful of days is to give everything to Jesus. Everything.

I hope you are as blessed hearing this song as we were blessed singing it last night. Here is our Christmas gift to you: "Glory in the Heights."







Download: mp3 / chords

The young ladies you hear singing, Charlotte and Cidney, are about the age Mary was when she gave birth to Jesus. Earlier in the service they each sang a special song about the Blessed Virgin. It was very moving to hear their childlike (early teenage) voices and visualize what Mary might have looked like as we all worshiped her Holy Child together.

(painting: "Glory to God in the Highest" by Tom duBois)

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Finishing Advent Strong

Friends, this has been one of the most powerful seasons of Advent my family and I have ever experienced. Never before have we so intentionally participated, physically and spiritually, in what this season calls for, namely, expecting and preparing for the coming of Christ. I know that lots of people in our church have been deeply engaged, as well, and I hope many readers of this blog have done the same, reforming worship in your own homes and communities.

In all of my contemplation this Advent season, I have come to the conclusion that the number one reason why people don’t enjoy Christmas to the fullest is because they go after the feelings of joy instead of the Bringer of joy. Inevitably, the joy they experience is far inferior and short-lived. Let's finish this Advent season strong by centering our lives on our Savior. If we seek Him first, then everything we experience this Christmas - time spent with family, memories relived, sights and smells, exchanging of gifts - will bring glory to God and lasting peace to us. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

A Few Items (as this may be our last post of 2009)

First, for those of you who know me well, you might find it funny that I led "Mighty to Save" (just the chorus) yesterday in our Sunday worship. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, this is an excellent song for Advent, yet I have never led it for a few reasons: 1) it is way too popular (not a good reason), 2) I think singing "He rose and conquered the grave" is redundant (although I love the resurrection language), and 3) I don't "give myself to follow everything I believe in," because I believe in all kinds of crap, as evidenced by my persistent sinful choices (granted, I know the writers are referring to following Jesus). However, as is usually the case with very good melodies, and which is probably the reason for this song's success, our people connected and responded with an enormous expression of praise. So I am no longer "opposed" to leading this song, but I will change a couple things if/when I ever lead the whole song: 1) I will sing "He died and conquered the grave," to more overtly proclaim the atonement for sin accomplished in the death of Christ, and 2) I will change the line in the second verse to "I give myself to follow, the One that I believe in," or "the Gospel I believe in," which is a truer desire to declare. (Insert smiley face.)

Secondly, last night I watched the 2006 movie The Nativity Story. This was the first time I saw the movie, and I was overcome with emotion the entire time. In fact, there were a few moments (e.g., when Elizabeth greets Mary) that the Holy Spirit leapt within my own soul. I particularly appreciated the raw humanity of Mary and Joseph depicted in honest scenes of fear, doubt, and other personal struggles. I have read reviews from obstinate Catholics who say the film is unfaithful to traditional Mariology. That is an accurate observation, and I, too, might be offended if Catholic Mariology were biblical. But much of it is not, and I thought the writer and director did a phenomenal job portraying a truer representation of the Christ-event, birth pangs and all. Also, the comic relief provided in the wisemen was perfect. I laughed audibly a number of times. But the most compelling moment of all was the foreshadowing of Christ's crucifixion in the sight of Mary. My goodness, was that powerful! I highly recommend taking in this movie as a family this season. Perhaps Christmas Eve will be a perfect time for this.

Third, here is my Advent interview with Dan Wilt of WorshipTraining.com. You worship leaders should also check out Dan's Global Call to Worship Development. I am excited to be a part of this movement toward an ancient future of worship.

Finally, and I tell you this to put a fire under our behinds, we have been working on a new look for Reform worship. I am declaring it our goal to launch the new site at the New Year. Our good friend Josh Weaver has been working hard on the improvements. Josh will also be joining us as a contributor at the time of the switchover. We're very much looking forward to that.

Alright, then, you all have a wonderful Holiday season. Don't forget to celebrate Christmas for twelve days. Hopefully, that will come naturally to you, since you have been observing Advent properly. Peace on earth!

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Advent Prayer from Isaiah 1

Holy One of Israel, you alone can remedy the backwardness of your children, for you alone are righteous and high: Purge us of our man-centered ways, and lift us out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves; by the Spirit our Perfecter, through Christ our Rescuer, and for your glory, O Lord our Father. Amen.

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Songs for Advent

Advent songs are hard to come by. During the four weeks of Advent, many worship leaders, who try to intentionally observe the Christian Year, end up out of frustration resorting to the premature singing of the blissful songs of Jesus' birth. Sure, it's okay to sing and enjoy our favorite Christmas songs before Christmas - Jesus has already been born! - but all I'm saying is that singing them early can hinder our full participation in the spirit of Advent, the season of expectation and preparation for the coming Christ.

The problem is, we have four Sundays of Advent and not enough Advent songs to fill our set lists, that is, without committing the sacrilege of duplicating a song. But don't worry, if we keep with the Christian Year, we have twelve days (from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5), including two Sundays, to sing our cheery Christmas songs. Then again, most of us are sick of those songs by the time Christmas rolls around. Oh, the cultural predicaments we worship leaders find ourselves in.

Here's what I suggest (and it's only the Second Week of Advent, so you have plenty of time to redeem yourself): Much like we avoid singing "Alleluia" through Lent until Easter comes, hold off singing "Happy Birthday to Jesus" through Advent until Christmas arrives. Instead, sing Advent songs now through Christmas Eve.

But don't just sing Advent songs, tell the people why you're singing them. Explain to them the setting of the season - the people of God in exile, longing for the coming Messiah. Give them a little history - basically the entire second half of the OT revolves around the story of God's people in exile, awaiting the coming of a Savior. Help them feel the emotions of the season - suspense, anticipation, a bit of anxiety. Bring out the themes of the season - self-helplessness, hope, coming joy. Lead them into the actions of the season - waiting, repentance, lament.

If you are in a contemporary church, chances are that many of your congregants have little or no idea what Advent is. Teach them. If you don't, you will make them mad by refusing to sing "Joy to the World" before December 25th.

Here are some Advent songs that I have found to be helpful in leading our church in the proper observance of Advent. As you can see, the list is relatively small. The contemporary songs below were probably not written specifically for the season of Advent, but they certainly fit. Let's help each other by adding to the list. Think of songs that place us in the setting of exile, in the desperate need of a Savior, songs of repentance and seeking God, of waiting and longing for Jesus to come, including His Second Coming. Special prize for someone who names a good, congregational song about the Second Coming of Jesus ("Days of Elijah" doesn't count).

Traditional

  • "O Come O Come Emmanuel"
  • "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
  • "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
  • (Cyber Hymnal, click "Advent". I've not heard of most of these, but maybe you have. As you can see, people used to write Advent songs. What happened? I think the Contemporary Church has lost sight of the Christian Year.)

Contemporary

  • "All I Have" by Brennan & Dobbleman
  • "All Who Are Thirsty" by Brown & Robertson
  • "Create in Me a Clean Heart" by Keith Green?
  • "Dwell" by Casey Corum
  • "Everlasting God" by Brenton Brown
  • "Faithful One" by Brian Doerksen
  • "Give Us Clean Hands" by Charlie Hall
  • "Good to Me" by Craig Musseau
  • "Hungry" by Kathryn Scott
  • "If You Say Go" by Diane Thiel
  • "Mighty to Save" by Fielding & Morgan
  • "Prepare the Way" by Charlie Hall
  • "Prepare the Way of the Lord" by Jeremy Riddle
  • "Refiner's Fire" by Brian Doerksen
  • "Unchanging" by Chris Tomlin
  • "You Alone Can Rescue" by Matt Redman
  • "You Never Let Go" by Matt Redman

Your turn. (Comment below.)

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Advent Message


Friends, I had the privilege to preach last weekend on the First Sunday of Advent. In the message I give a short introduction to the Advent Season, which you might find helpful. Then I introduce our six-week Advent/Christmas series, O Come, in which we are going through the great Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel." And then I preach from Isaiah 7 of the sign of Immanuel and it's fulfillment in Matthew 1 and 28.

Click here to listen to the message.

(painting: "Christ in the Womb" by Timothy Putnam)

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Advent Worship Resources from WorshipTraining.com


Our good friend over at WorshipTraning.com, Dan Wilt, has made available a few resources for your Advent Season worship planning, including a FREE webinar event with yours truly. Here is the link to the resource page, where you can peruse and purchase some quality resources, and where you can sign up for the FREE webinar, which will be held at 2:00 EST next Wednesday, Nov. 18. Did I mention the webinar is FREE. I hope you can make it.

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Matt Maher: Life-Changing New Album 2


I wanted to give it another couple weeks before reviewing this album to avoid prematurity. I'm glad I waited...because this post will now reflect two more weeks of me soaking in this beautiful creation. Allow yourself to enter the world of this work of art, and I'm pretty sure you too will have a life-changing experience.

The storyline of the entire record goes something like this: God comes and saves us from ourselves and our world of fantasy, opening our eyes to the reality of our sin and His love, which He demonstrated to us in Christ's death and resurrection, calling us out and taking us in as His beloved children. This is a Gospel album, and I'm not talking about the music genre.

The album opens with a song that presents the framework for the story that follows. There is more than just radio-friendliness in track 1, "Alive Again". Listen carefully to what Maher is painting here - fantasy and reality. In the midst of our busy preoccupation with our sinful fantasies, God's shout breaks through with the reality of His love, waking us up again. Instead of fantasizing over worldly things that will never satisfy, God wants us to see through His eyes that he delights in us and wants to satisfy us as His children (track 3, "Sing Over Your Children", one of my two favorite songs on this album). This love we receive from the Father pushes out all desire for material things and temporal fixes, and it holds us together as the Church (track 4, "Hold Us Together"). We then hold up this banner of love, the cross, for the world to see, so that everyone everywhere might be drawn to Jesus Christ (track 5, "No Greater Love"). Tracks 4 and 5 are fun songs.

Selah

ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL? // ISN'T IT MARVELOUS? // THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE // HE BECAME ONE OF US // WE CRY OUT AND THEN // LOVE COMES DOWN AGAIN // LOVE IS FOUND IN HIM, HALLELUIAH

This chorus is from track 6, "Love Comes Down", my other favorite song on this album. You have to hear the melody of this chorus with the words to get the full depiction of the incarnation imagery. I breathe deeply and smile in wonder and worship every time I hear it.

The album continues with six more honest songs saturating the listener in the Gospel of love, including a song co-written with Matt Redman, track 8 "Remembrance (Communion Song)". Love it, especially the bridge (although I like Redman's version better). These last six songs bring a sweet intimacy to this record, making it easy to dwell in the house of the Lord. My favorite moment, when I inevitably weep, comes at the end of track 9, "Letting Go". Maher simply sings over and over, "I just want to be in your arms." That has been the cry of my heart for the last month or so. (I'll expound upon this in the third post of this series.)

Maher's music style is nothing fancy, pretty common among contemporary praise and worship music. It's light and minimal for the most part, including a couple very raw vocal songs (tracks 9 and 12), and it certainly does not hinder his storytelling. There are definitely some unique melodic and instrumental moments. I think immediately of the bell/piano riff in track 11, "Christ Is Risen", which, for an Easter song, has almost a Christmas feel. And his chorus melody in track 10, "You Were on the Cross", would have knocked my socks off were it not strikingly reminiscent of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know". Nonetheless, the symphonic arrangement at the end of that song alone is worth the $9.99 I spent. Overall, I feel his music accompanies the message nicely, and the music by itself is at times an expression of true beauty.

We will be trying out "Sing Over Your Children", "No Greater Love", and "Remembrance" in our Sunday gatherings. Most of the songs could be used congregationally, though.

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Flanigan Advent Live Call


On Wednesday, November 18th, at 2:00pm EST, Dan Wilt of WorshipTraining.com will be conducting a live phone interview with me. This will be an open call, and all of you are invited to join. On the call, I will be giving some theological, historical, and practical insight into the first season of the Christian Year - Advent: The Season of Expectation. There will also be some polls taken and a time of Q & A. To find out more and to register for this FREE event, click here. Or you can go directly to the registration form. My hope is that many of you will join us on this live call, and that everyone who participates will be empassioned and empowered to lead their families and local churches into the depths of Advent worship.

I am honored and excited about this opportunity to speak from my heart concerning my favorite time of the year, a season that, sadly, is often neglected and overshadowed by our culture of consumerism and instant gratification. Read more about this problem and some practical ways to overcome it here: "How to Get Maximum Fulfillment out of Christmas." This is just a taste of what will be discussed on the live call.

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Another Plug?


Last year, in their October "Best of the Best 2008" issue, Worship Leader Magazine listed Reform worship. as one of "Three Great Worship Websites." While that was much too generous of them, in this month's "Best of the Best 2009" issue, they plugged us yet again, not as one of the "best" blogs, which is kind of a relief, but by putting in their "Worship Leader Forum" a short email I sent the editor last month. The email was simply an abbreviated version of my blog entry, "How Worshiping God Is Possible," in which I expressed how happy I am with WL Mag for running last month's cover article "The Mediation of Christ in Worship." They must have felt that my encouragement to them was worth sharing with everyone. I would have totally overlooked this had not my buddy Micah pointed it out to me. Click here to see my message to the editor as it appears on page 8 of this month's issue. Thanks, Worship Leader Magazine! Here is what it says:

Regarding Robb Redman's article "The Mediation of Christ in Worship" being front and center in the recent issue, thank you, thank you, thank you! I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see the contemporary worship conversation moving in this direction. This is, IMHO, the most important truth for worship leaders and all Christians to understand if we are going to see a renewal of true worship in the Church today.

Gratefully,
Ryan Flanigan
reformworship.com

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Vintage Worship: Take My Life


This is the second installment of what I'm calling Vintage Worship (here is the first one). It starts with researching an old hymn, looking into the life of the composer, the inspiration and story behind the hymn. Then, in worship I present my discovery to the church. We sing the hymn (usually a contemporary version) and pair it with newer songs of similar themes. The idea is to give worshipers a sense of connectedness to the rich history of the church.

I've shared in a previous post the prelude to Frances Havergal's Book of poetry called The Ministry Of Song. I love her poetry and have looked high and low for a copy of this book. (Big prize for anyone who finds it for me.) She is probably best known for her hymn "Take My Life." Havergal wrote the song on February 4, 1874. Here is the story of the hymn in her own words:

I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House, Worcestershire, in December 1873]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. [God] gave me the prayer, "Lord, give me all this house." And He just did! Before I left the house, everyone had got a blessing. The last night of my visit...I was too happy to sleep and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart, one after another, till they finished with "Ever, only, all, for Thee."

In years following, Frances pondered the words, "Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King." She felt she should give up her secular concerts, despite the demand of her beautiful voice, having frequently sung with the Philharmonic. But from that moment, her lips were exclusively devoted to the songs of the Lord.

Her prayer, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold,” was lived out, as Havergal explains in a letter to a friend in August 1878.

The Lord has shown me another little step, and, of course, I have taken it with extreme delight. “Take my silver and my gold” now means shipping off all my ornaments to the church Missionary House, including a jewel cabinet that is really fit for a countess, where all will be accepted and disposed of for me... Nearly fifty articles are being packed up. I don’t think I ever packed a box with such pleasure!

The music traditionally used for the hymn was written by Cesar Malan years prior in 1823. The version I use in worship is a modified version of the one arranged by Passion. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

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Matt Maher: Life-Changing New Album 1


I don't highly recommend too many albums. They have to come into my life at just the right time, meaning, the creativity and content offered by the artist and producer must resonate deeply with what the Spirit is doing in me. Sometimes I don't "get" what the artist is presenting when I first listen to it, and only later (sometimes years later) am I in the place spiritually where I can truly take it in. Or sometimes the art itself opens my eyes to something beautiful that I would not have otherwise seen. And sometimes the art is really bad, and I have nothing to glean from it and never will. Note that I don't listen to a lot of music, let alone entire albums straight through.

That said, there have been two albums this year that have transformed my life. I have already mentioned one, The Now and Not Yet by Jeremy Riddle. The other has only been in my soul for a week, and I am already a new man.

All I knew of Matt Maher before picking up his new album was that he is a Roman Catholic and that he wrote "Your Grace Is Enough," a song of which our church has had enough. I knew that Chris Tomlin had popularized it and took off the ever-necessary prepositional phrase "of Jacob" from the verses. Then my good friend Micah posted about Maher's new album, so I had a listen. I was impressed enough by the iTunes snippets that I purchased it. And boy am I glad I did!

Matt Maher has a heart like David's. He knows what it means to "dwell in the house of the Lord," and not only that, but it's obvious he personally and regularly experiences the presence of the Lord, gazing upon His beauty and being held in His arms. He is one satisfied dude. This is what I want, and this is what God is beginning to unfold in my life. Matt is helping me.

At the risk of losing some of you, I will end this post here. However, I will review the album in a second post and take a third post to expound upon how this work of art is changing my life. For now, I highly recommend purchasing this record and letting it begin its work in your heart.

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Pure Spiritual Milk


We see throughout the New Testament Paul, Peter, and others exhorting the followers of Jesus not to go after the desires of the flesh. Paul says we sought our satisfaction from the things of this world back when we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1-3). Peter says those passions of the flesh wage war against our soul (1 Pet. 2:11), and instead we should long for pure spiritual milk - if we have tasted that the Lord is good (1 Pet. 2:3).

Why do I follow and feast on the sugar-coated crap of this world? There is no nourishment in it. It actually shrivels up my soul and kills it. Instead I stuff myself so full of worldly entertainment, pleasure, and all kinds of idolatry that I have no appetite when I turn my eyes upon Jesus.

I have a five month old son. He drinks milk. When he is hungry, he lets us know, and we feed him. If we weren't to feed him, he would scream and cry until he got some of the goods. I hate to think of this, but if we weren't to feed him at all, he would soon get sick, weak, and... And if we were to feed him anything other than the milk he needs, the same thing would happen.

What Peter is saying is that we are to cry out to God like newborn infants who are hungry, and God will feed us with his goodness. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. He wants to feed us. He delights to draw near and care for his children. A true child, to continue the nursing metaphor, will latch on to his mother when he is hungry. He won't push her away. Are we seeking God, or pushing him away? Are we crying out to him for pure spiritual milk, the only substance that can satisfy our souls? If not, that is definitely an indicator that we are finding fulfillment elsewhere.

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The Zenith of Worship Leading


A little over two years ago my wife and I were faced with a pretty big decision. I had just finished seminary and was working full-time at a hospital and part-time as a local church worship leader. We were a couple months into being new parents, and I was antsy about getting my career rolling in full-time ministry. The problem was, I had conflicting aspirations, or so I thought. How much of my time and energy would I put into my songwriting career, and what percentage would I put into local church worship ministry? We sought the Lord and his will for our life, and we felt pretty certain he wanted us to pour 100% of ourselves into the life of a local church. So we began the search for a church. As it turned out, River Valley found us, and we have been serving here wholeheartedly for almost two years now.

A few weeks ago I had the joy of attending Vineyard Music's Worship Leader Retreat in Asheville, NC. Absolutely incredible! So many old friends, so many new friends, the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the art of Asheville, late nights at Hannah Flanagan's, sweet encounters with God, deep spiritual encouragement, and on and on. But one thing that has stuck with me the most is what Terry Butler said to us during one of our evening sessions. He quoted Matt Redman saying, "The zenith of worship leading is the local church." It didn't strike me as anything profound immediately, but as I mulled it over with my retreat small group, on the long ride home with Josh, and personally over the past few weeks, it has become monumental.

Since I probably can't re-write it any better, here is what I wrote to my small group guys in an email reflecting upon our time at the retreat, particularly the Redman quote:

"The zenith (highest point) of worship leading is the local church." It shakes me and comforts me to know I've reached the top. The local church is IT. We've made it, guys. It doesn't get any higher than this. We don't have to strive ambitiously to reach any other goal. It's all about the people God has called us to in our communities. If anything is to come of our worship leading, songwriting, or anything else that might bring recognition or increased influence, it will come out of what the Spirit of God is doing through us in our local churches.

I am so thankful that God put it on my wife's heart and mine to give all we have to the local church. I believe he has honored that decision tremendously, and I'm thankful that he has confirmed it once again.

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Living and Lasting Word


Living and lasting Word,
conceiving the souls of mortal men
with seed that cannot die:
Produce in us the same pure love for one another
and for those in whose hearts
you have not yet been planted;
by the Spirit's growth and the Father's selection
for your increase, O Good News. Amen.

(A prayer from 1 Peter 1:22-25)

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How Worshiping God Is Possible


I couldn't be happier with Worship Leader Magazine than I am right now. The lead article this month is "The Mediation of Christ in Worship." This is the single most important truth for worship leaders and all Christians to understand and practice if we want to see contemporary worship reformed and redeemed back to where it should be. The topic at hand is the reason we started this blog two years ago. Seriously, if you're like me you usually gloss over the shiny, nonsensical, worship talk that often fills magazines such as these, but I encourage you, as I have been greatly encouraged by WL Mag lately, READ THIS ARTICLE! (click widget below). Go through it with your worship teams. Stretch yourselves theologically and wrestle with it. This is not too deep for common people to understand.

I am convinced that not only do we need to understand the mediation of Christ "behind the scenes," so to speak, but it must be front and center in our re-presentations of the Gospel every time we gather for worship: in our preaching, in our song lyrics, in our praise and worship moments, always! We cannot assume worshipers know it, and therefore we do not need to verbalize it. The New Testament writers certainly didn't pass up the opportunity to mention the mediation of Christ. In fact, you'll find this great doctrine in the hymns recorded in the New Testament - the very songs the early church sang (Philip. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; Titus 3:4-7; Heb. 1:3-4; Rev. 5:9-13; 15:3-4).

This is extremely serious stuff. You cannot understand the Gospel if you don't understand the mediation of Christ, which means you cannot truly know and worship God unless you get this. You say you believe in Jesus, but how can you if you don't worship in the faith of His reconciling us to the Father? Yes, the heart of worship is Jesus, but it's not Jesus the beautiful man I ascend to in my beautiful songs of worship that please God if I sing them the right way. Rather, it's Jesus the humble Man who descended to us ugly people who could not possibly please God, but who now enter by the Spirit into His humble sacrifice to the Father. Do we have this Trinitarian understanding of worship when we offer ourselves to God, or are we unitarians, trying to please God on our own, essentially trampling underfoot the blood of Christ because His sacrifice isn't good enough?

I thank Robb Redman for writing this (he must be a pupil of Bob Webber) and Chuck Fromm and Jeremy Armstrong, and whoever else was involved in the process, for running it. I truly do hope and pray that worship leaders everywhere will grab a hold of the mediation of Christ in worship, for true worship cannot happen without it. (Click below to read.)

Look Inside >>
September, 2009

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Repairer of the Breach


God of reconciliation,
you created a perfect world that quickly became full of sin,
man in your image, who soon became your enemy:
Turn our selfish hearts back to you,
and restore us to a right relationship,
that we might receive your love and love you once again;
through Jesus Christ, the Repairer of the Breach,
who, with you, fills us with the Holy Spirit
to love your creation to death
and resurrection. Amen.

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Christ-Centered Worship - A New Book


Hey Friends! Long time no post. The second half of the summer has been absolutely crazy. I do hope to post more frequently this fall as things settle down a bit.

I just wanted to make you all aware of a new book that may instantly become a standard resource in the modern worship conversation. The book is called Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Preaching, a preaching standard.

Tim Keller, whom I admire tremendously, has already said this about the new book:

Christ-Centered Worship calls people to go beyond "contemporary worship" without being polemical in spirit. It takes historic worship traditions very seriously but uses the gospel itself as the way to critique and design orders of worship. It is full, balanced, and extremely practical. This will now be the first book I give people--or turn to myself--on the practice of understanding, planning, and leading in corporate worship.

Wow! - the "first book" he gives people and turns to himself. Here is the book's promotional video:

HT: Justin Taylor

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Free Tim Hughes Webinar


My friend, Dan Wilt, will be hosting a discussion with Tim Hughes titled "When Servants Lead: Keeping Your Ego in Check" this Wednesday 7/15 at 12:00 Noon Eastern Time. Here is Dan's blurb about this cyber event.

Or click here to register.

This FREE Webinar with TIM HUGHES (UK, Here I Am To Worship) and DAN WILT, M.MIN. (CA, All You Are) will give worship leaders, musicians, pastors and all followers of Jesus practical tools for "keeping their ego in check" as they authentically lead others.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dan's last webinar, where he interviewed Duke Seminary professor Jeremy Begbie about the Arts and Creation. Listen to it here. Brilliant stuff invoking a deeper desire for creative worship and true spirituality.

I cannot wait to receive Tim Hughes' Spirit-filled insights on Wednesday. If you read this blog, you'll probably know that Tim Hughes is currently one of the most influential songwriters in my life. We lead (or have led) seven songs from his latest studio album Holding Nothing Back.

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Worthwhile Discussion on Worship, Music, and Art


This is the kind of dialogue in which we as worship leaders must engage. If you are a full-time worship pastor, or even part-time, you should be spending some of your work week on stuff like this. From a vocational perspective, your production output will dramatically increase and improve through participating in these discussions. Don't think that you're wasting your time, and don't feel guilty for taking an hour or two (or even ten) reading, thinking, dialoguing, and writing about these things. All in moderation of course. When employed correctly, this type of vocational exercise will encourage more accurate and effective proclamation and re-enactment of the Gospel, carrying over into all areas of ministry and life.

(I found this on Justin Taylor's blog, "Between Two Worlds," and adapted the next paragraph from this post.)

The following eight videos consist of a conversation between Mike Cosper (Sojourn Church, Louisville, KY), Chip Stam (Institute for Christian Worship), and Harold Best (Dean Emeritus of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, and the author of Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts and Music Through The Eyes of Faith).

I love the work God is doing through Sojourn Church. I have listened to many of the lectures so graciously provided from the Institute for Christian Worship. And if you recall I quoted Harold Best here and here.

A few things stand out to me in this first clip: 1) "Mature believers are easily edified." 2) We make idols of our preferred musical styles, and there must be a call and leading to cast down those idols. 3) Traditionalism is idolatry, while Tradition brings freedom and must be upheld by everyone, leading us into fresh creative expressions of unchanging content.

Mike Cosper, Harold Best, Chip Stam - Worship Discussion 1 from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

Beware Vineyard-ites! Best takes a shot at the Wimber model of worship in this next clip. I would ask Best to expound upon Wimber's model, because I think he unfairly speaks to only one aspect of it. I agree with him concerning that aspect, but I don't think it originates in Wimber. It has the potential, however, to be heightened within the Wimber (or Vineyard) style of praise and worship - being changed by "the presence of the Lord." I for one believe their is tremendous value and biblical warrant for experiencing the intimacy of God in the context of praise and worship (congregational song), as long as it is understood that the worship leader isn't the mediator ushering the people into the presence of God, but Jesus Christ alone.

Cosper, Best and Stam -- session two from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

The volume jumps in this next clip, so be careful. I appreciate the honest and sensitive conversation here about manipulating emotions musically. It's not all bad, but "manipulativism" is where we err - when music and God are equal. I also love the idea of music being "humbled by the liturgy." Music is a servant.

Cosper, Best and Stam - session three on worship from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

An interesting discussion on beauty and art. If you have been impressed with Harold Best's vocabulary and sheer genius to this point, just wait. I wonder if either Best or Cosper knew of Cormac McCarthy before "No Country for Old Men" the movie was released.

Cosper, Best and Stam - Session Four from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

A continued conversation on beauty, and the difference between beauty and "pretty".

Cosper, Best and Stam - Episode Five from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

Can we possibly please God with our art? The role of Christ in our worship. This is the heart of the matter. But we are also called to excellence - bringing to God an unblemished sacrifice through Christ.

Cosper, Best and Stam -- episode six from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

Another volume burst, and a wonderful discussion about relevance.

Cosper, Best, Stam: Episode Seven from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

Now we get some disagreement between these three. I wish it would have come earlier. This final clip is perty deep. It is mostly about visual art, representation vs. replication, truth vs. accuracy, etc. I love Best's prayer of the abstract artist.

Cosper, Stam and Best - session eight from Sojourn/The 930 Art Center on Vimeo.

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Gospelizing Believers


Read this article by Michael Horton: "Beyond Style Wars: Recovering the Substance of Worship" (if you are not Reformed, please look past Horton's Reformed side comments, and chew on the meaty content).

Several things he says resonate deep within my soul: his call to do away with the Contemporary and Traditional labels, to declare and re-enact a radically different story in Sunday worship, to preach as the voice of Jesus to the people, and to evangelize not only the unsaved but believers, especially in our Sunday worship. That last point is what I want to focus on here.

In my reading of Romans 1 over the past few days I am blown away at the discovery of something I had previously missed. Paul is writing to the church at Rome. In his salutation he mentions right off the bat that he is "a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1, italics mine, but I suppose that's obvious since I've never seen italics used in the Bible). The Greek word for "gospel" is euangelion, which means "good news." The ESV Study Bible note says that the meaning of "gospel" here "included not just a call to initial saving faith but Paul's entire message about Jesus Christ and how Christ's saving activity transforms all of life and all of history." A little further down in Romans we read,

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (my italics ;-).

So we see here that Paul is not only called to preach the euangelion to non-believers , but "to you also who are in Rome," i.e., to the church in Rome - those who already have faith in Christ. Part of what Jesus is telling us here is that we as justified Christians need to continually receive the gospel from the beginning of our faith life to the end. We are being saved. It's what theologians call progressive sanctification, and it's the work of the "Spirit of holiness" bringing us to the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:4-5). Only the euangelion can do this.

We get our English word "evangelism" from the transliteration of the Greek word euangelion. Now, I don't know when or where it happened in my life that the word "evangelism" became so intimidating to me. Maybe I failed in my evangelistic efforts one too many times. Maybe I have never known and believed in the real power of the gospel. Certainly it is fear, shame, and being generally not attuned to the voice of the Spirit that underlies the fact that I don't preach the gospel to non-believers. Nonetheless, our holy obligation to "gospelize" the unsaved remains. But I think that an extension of Paul's message here in Romans is that there is more to evangelism than our important outreach efforts. God wants us also to inreach to our own baptized communities with the gospel - he wants us to gospelize believers. Perhaps if we really took this seriously, our gospelizing of non-believers would come more naturally and with great boldness and power.

What does this mean for us in terms of our Sunday worship? This is where the article is extremely helpful, if for no other reason than to get us thinking deeply about our mission for Sunday morning celebrations. Read it. It has certainly sparked some intense conversations among our pastoral staff. In it you will find further justification for narrative preaching, weekly communion, and deeper fellowship, as well as a movement away from felt-needs preaching, market-driven methods, individualism, and style wars. Horton says of his church,

Absent from our services are market-driven entertainment elements. We also avoid moralistic, political, therapeutic, and consumer-oriented preaching. Instead, we focus on God himself telling his story of redemption through the lips of the minister. We are evangelistic because we are convinced that this kind of worship is where the heart of evangelism lies.

I would submit that the ultimate mission of Sunday worship is to gospelize believers. The gospel alone is God's glory. Non-believers will look upon our worship and believe. And we cannot possibly co-mission with God apart from being continually gospelized (evangelized, euangelionized, good news'd) ourselves.

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$1.00 Car Wash


This past weekend over 100 students from several churches in our area united to share the love of Christ with our community. They lived the Gospel together, cross-denominationally, answering God's call for His body, the Church, to usher in His Kingdom outside the walls of individual churches. Here is the local CBS News report of one of their projects:

(We got this idea from the Cincy Vineyard.)

This SOS (Summer of Service) Student Weekend was the first of its kind in our area and a youth extension of our main SOS community outreach project which has been going on for three years now. Last year about six churches joined forces to serve our neighborhoods with water giveaways, car washes, block parties, and other events that open spiritual doors. This year we are excited to see the number of church/organization/township partners printed on the back of our SOS t-shirts double. Our relationships with mayors, school administrators, and News affiliates are opening doors that would never be possible apart from the move of the Spirit, especially the unifying of our churches with a common purpose. Away with church competition, elitism, and theological bickering. Together we're taking the community by force.

May the Spirit continue uniting our churches in love and purpose. May God create a genuine desire in our hearts for the glory of Christ which drives us to good works. And may we not settle with the satisfaction of doing good things, but may God grant us wisdom to lead all people to faith in Jesus Christ, a knowledge and loving relationship with their King.

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God DOES Respond to Us


In light of recent spiritual awakenings, I have to correct something I said about a song I negatively critiqued six months ago. The song is "You'll Come" written by Brooke Fraser and heard on Hillsong's This Is Our God. (Read the critique here.) The lyrics I had a problem with:

(from verse 1)
I have decided
I have resolved
to wait upon You, Lord...

(from the chorus)
You'll come
Let Your glory fall
as You respond to us...

Well, I listened to the album a few more times over the past couple days, including this song about five times. With respect to those of you who agreed with me that the song could lead people into a false understanding of worship, I just re-read the post with a disgusted look on my face, realizing how much of a butt I am.

Basically, my qualms had to do with semantics - 1) my ignorant denial of the spiritual freedom in the lives of regenerate believers to "decide" and "resolve" to seek God at will, and 2) my arrogant insistence on the exclusive meaning and use of the word "respond" in worship. Over the past couple months, especially through the move of the Spirit last Sunday night, my heart has softened as God has been helping me deal with a judgmental attitude and critical spirit. There is a big difference between insight and assumption. Yes, my criticisms were birthed out of a concern for God-honoring worship, but I have to confess that I wrote more out of a fleshy intellect than a loving heart.

Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5,

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

There is too much to unpack here that pertains directly to the situation at hand. This scripture cuts deeply, for I have been unwise, foolish, non-submissive, filled with wine, and making poor use of my time. God instead wants me to understand His will for me to be filled with the Spirit. And, as we see all throughout the Bible, and most recently at the beginning of Acts, we are filled with the Spirit when we wait for Him, seeking Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This song puts it perfectly: "I have decided, I have resolved to wait upon You, Lord." There is determination involved - Spirit-led, grace-filled resolve to go after God. As I said in my last post, I don't think the 120 in the upper room were holding anything back awaiting the promised Holy Spirit.

Concerning the phrase, "Let Your glory fall as You respond to us,"

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

God DOES respond to us. "To respond" here simply means "to answer." Yes, worship is our response to God by the Spirit through Christ. But the meaning and use of the word is not limited to this upward directional movement of worship from us. Our intimate relationship with the triune God is a continual downward and upward dance of communion. We are God's children, made alive in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we determine in our hearts to wait for the Lord, diligently seeking Him, asking for His Holy Spirit to come and fill us, He answers the plea of His children, responding to us, filling us with the Holy Spirit. And this is what happens through the ministry and fellowship of the Holy Spirit:

(bridge)
Chains be broken
Lives be healed
Eyes be opened
Christ Is Revealed.

"You'll Come" nails it on the head. It was foolish and judgmental of me to assume that the source of this song's inspiration and the source of the worshipers' response was not the special revelation of God, the Word, Jesus Christ Himself. I'll leave it for God judge whether someone is asking wrongly, as in James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." In the meantime, I'll sing songs like this beautiful one (did I mention the melody of this song is amazing?), teaching and leading our people in a passionate pursuit of God.

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I Want More


God is doing something awesome in our church. It began several months ago at a staff retreat when God called us to a much deeper life of prayer and desperation as leaders. The fire has been slowly spreading as the Spirit is exposing in many of us the utter foolishness of trying to lead this church without constantly seeking and passionately pursuing God individually and together.

You might say, and how befitting, that the fire of God fell upon us Sunday night during P.S. Pentecost. I would have a hard time believing that anyone present questions the touch of God that we experienced that night. And believe me, I am the most skeptical person on the planet when it comes to this kind of stuff. What was different about Sunday was that the whole experience was rooted in Scripture and unified prayer. It was the true and living God who touched us.

The flow of the evening was as follows: the Holy Spirit in Creation (our triune God's infinite glory), the Holy Spirit in new life and personal relationship (our triune God's intimate love), the Holy Spirit in empowering and sending the church (our triune God's mission). There were Scripture readings and corporate prayers at the beginning of each movement, followed by songs of praise and worship. During the middle movement, there was a time of waiting for the Lord on our knees, posturing ourselves in humility and quietly confessing our desperate need and hunger for the presence and power of God.

In the midst of our longing, I read aloud Acts 2:1-41, the story of Pentecost. I shared for a few moments what I sensed the Lord wanted me to say, the gist of which was the following "3-step non-process" we find in this passage: Seek God and the Spirit will fill you to preach Christ. I call it a "non-process" because there isn't a formula to the Spirit moving. (It was the formulaic approach to the move of the Spirit that created much of the baggage in my life, the bitterness from which I have spent the last eight years repenting by the grace of Jesus Christ and the healing ministry of the Holy Spirit.) And although we cannot force God's hand to move, we at least know, with biblical testimony, that God wants us to seek Him with all our heart, that He wants us to make Him our one desire, that He wants us to wait in stillness for His move.

We had just spent some time (not nearly enough) expressing in prayer and song our desperation and hunger for God. We had just heard the witness to His outpouring upon those who patiently waited for Him on the Day of Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago. Then my encouragement to the 120 or so gathered Sunday night (not kidding) was to get in groups of three or four, stand and join hands, and begin praying for these two specific things: 1) that the Spirit would create in each of us, and our church, a deeper desperation for Jesus, and 2) that the Spirit would fill us with power and boldness to declare the mighty works of God. Before we prayed, I gave one final exhortation: "Pray passionately. Don't be afraid to raise your voice. I doubt the 120 gathered in the upper room were holding anything back. Why should the 120 here hold back? We have one purpose, one hope, the same hope they had. Let's go after God and see what He does."

Then it happened. The place began to erupt with unhindered prayers. Chains were broken. Behavior that was previously unacceptable in church suddenly became right. I have never heard this church so loud and free. Waves of volume. Personally, in my group of six on the stage, the moment we joined hands, I physically felt that indescribable, head-to-toe rush of emotion. Nothing compares to the feeling of the Spirit's spontaneous infilling. And to be perfectly honest with you, for years I have intentionally avoided situations, environments, where that feeling could possibly overcome me. My flesh denies its authenticity. But do you know what makes this experience credible? It wasn't the feeling I was after. It was God I was after. It was a life of deeper desperation I was after. It was a Spirit-filled life of Gospel proclamation I was after. And the real possibility of this kind of life was just recounted from Scripture.

So we continued in unifying prayer for fifteen minutes or so and then sang at the top of our lungs a song declaring the story of Jesus, "Stand in Awe" by Jeremy Riddle. Every hand was raised to full extension, a sign I would typically not interpret as a measure of spirituality. But again it was the God of the Bible and His mission that we were after. What an experience! I can count on...well, two hands now the number of times in the last eight years I have encountered God in this way, or rather, God has encountered me. And, if I may steal my two-year-old daughter's favorite sentence, "I want more."

I want more of the Spirit to fall on the leadership of our church. I want more of the Spirit to fall on this entire church. I want more of the Spirit every minute of my life, not just at special nights of worship. Do I want more for my sake? No, I want more for Christ's sake. I want more of the Spirit's power and boldness to preach the Gospel. For Christ's sake, why am I not preaching the Gospel? Seek God and the Spirit will fill you to preach Christ. Let's get the first step of this non-process down. Let's seek God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, minute by minute. Let's diligently seek Him in His Word. Let's seek Him together. Let's seek Him alone. It is only in seeking God that we can live the Spirit-filled, Christ-proclaiming life.

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"Ordinary Time" or the "Season after Pentecost"?


I prefer calling it the Season after Pentecost. Even if we didn't follow the Church Calendar, this would be the exact description of the season into which the Spirit is leading us. (I found the following here).

WHAT IS THE SEASON AFTER PENTECOST?

Because Pentecost is the day that God poured out His Holy Spirit on Christ's disciples, the Season after Pentecost is centered on sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit in the day to day life of the Christian. This is reflected in the liturgical color for this season: green, the color of life and growth. Through the gift of faith that comes only from the Holy Spirit, Christians are enabled to trust in Christ and proclaim Him in their daily lives by service to their neighbors. The season after Pentecost is the longest season of the church year -- it lasts from Trinity Sunday until the first Sunday of Advent. This is the non-festival portion of the liturgical calendar during which the church stresses vocation, evangelism, missions, stewardship, almsgiving, and other works of mercy and charity as ways in which Christ empowers us by His grace to share the Gospel with others.

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P.S. Pentecost


Come and join us Sunday May 31 at 6:00pm for our quarterly P.S. (Prayer & Song) Night. We will be celebrating the birthday of the Church, the Day of Pentecost, through Holy Spirit songs, readings, and prayers.

River Valley Church
55855 Bittersweet Rd
Mishawaka, IN 46545

Here is an awesome prayer for "Preparation for Worship" from The Worship Sourcebook for the Day of Pentecost. Pray this with your worship teams this Sunday.

Lord God, especially today as we remember the coming of your Spirit, teach those of us who lead worship not to rely on our own strength to make worship meaningful and inspiring. Rather, give us joy and freedom in knowing that worship is a gift made possible by the work of your Holy Spirit. Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.

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Seconds, Hours, Moments and Dreams


Congratulations Kris Allen! I hope you are not "bound" by the impending idolatry of your moments and dreams. And I hope you are not forever bound to sing terrible songs written by other people.

Can anyone confirm that Kris Allen is (or was) a worship leader? I also heard that Danny Gokey and Matt Giraud are (were) worship leaders.

My wife cried when Kris held his wife at the end. I was folding the laundry.

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Not Your Typical Mother's Day Message

Our pastor preached in part from 2 Kings 6:26-30 on Mother's Day!

Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.

There were audible gasps as the passage was read. But he wasn't going for shock and awe, and he wasn't trying to be hip and different. Read the rest of this amazing story to see how God faithfully delivered Samaria from one of the deepest places of human desperation every experienced on earth. See how He met them in their despair with riches beyond their wildest imaginations, riches they could have never earned, riches they would have never received without trusting in Him, and riches that only come to those who love God.

May we worship God out of complete desperation; May we be driven to self-despair; May He cause us to need Him; May we recognize His hand at work; May we act upon His leading and provision. For it is only in despising ourselves that we can truly worship God.

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Son


could life be any
newer or May love sweeter
truer? no and yes


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Proverbs 21 Worshiper (vv. 7-8, 13)


Is anyone else as dorky as me when it comes to wordplay? I'm just tickled with the "Proverbs 21 Worshiper" derivation from the "Proverbs 31 Woman". I suppose it would be cooler if it rhymed or something. Nonetheless, in vv. 2-4 we learned that if we are going to be true worshipers, true followers of Jesus, we must get off our high horses and surrender our lives entirely to the mission of God. Although the next section does not speak directly to acts of "church worship" (temple sacrifice), there is major worship application.

WARNING: the following interpretation contains some extreme demands that will heap guilt and condemnation on readers if left to themselves to fulfill. However, conviction and grace will come to those who trust in Jesus Christ alone.

7. The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
because they refuse to do what is just.
8. The way of the guilty is crooked,
but the conduct of the pure is upright.
13. Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself call out and not be answered.

We saw in verse 3 that the evidence for true worship is doing righteousness and justice, and so this is one of the first things we should look for in our actions to determine whether our worship is acceptable to God. If we find little or no activity of ministering justice and righteousness, there's a good chance we're spending our time pursuing wicked and worthless things. We need to look no further than the life of Jesus to see the perfect ministry of justice and righteousness; do what He did and even greater things.

When I read v. 7 an old Charlie Hall song comes to mind. The refrain simply says "Sweep me away" over and over again (at least twenty times). I can hear God asking, "How many times will you say it? If you want Me to sweep you away, do what is just! If you don't, something else will sweep you away, the violence of your wickedness." Let's not be fooled by the word "violence" here. We think of violence as a cruel, physical beating of some kind, but God says if you refuse to act justly, you are inflicting violence. Negligence is violence. Hiding your eyes from the poor is violence.

Look at v. 13 above. This is serious stuff. If we close our ears to the cry of the poor in their need, then when we are need of help, it will be refused to us. This is the violence we will receive in return: God's refusal to help us, His refusal to accept us. I can't help but think about the implications of this in our Sunday worship. I have often gone through an entire week without seeking God, secluding myself to my own selfish pleasures, isolating myself from any opportunity to share God's love with others. And then I stroll into church on Sunday, wearing a church smile, thinking church thoughts, and singing church songs. I join God's people in celebrating the story of His salvation. But why should God give ear to my cry for Him to save me when my life looks like the week I described above, actions that do not reflect Jesus' ministry? I recall the difficult words of Amos 5:23-24: "Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

See, when I am disconnected from God, half-committed in my devotion to Him, by default my life is full of sin, my way is crooked, I am guilty (v. 8). And not only is my way crooked in refusing to do what is just, but my worship is crooked. Being "guilty" means being full of sin. The only way to be pardoned is through atonement. In the Old Testament the regular guilt offering took care of this. Now, only Jesus can take care of our guilt. If we want our worship to be acceptable to God, if we want our lives, our works, to reflect Jesus, then Jesus must make us pure and upright. The only way for our conduct, our actions, our worship, to be holy and acceptable to God is through Jesus Christ, the eternal guilt offering.

If I have taken too much liberty in this application of Scripture, if I am too extreme once again, someone please balance me out. My flesh would gladly receive any words that would justify my comfortable lifestyle and lukewarm pursuit of God.

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Redefining "Charismatic" 5


There are several different Hebrew words for "praise" in the Bible. One of them is halal, which means "to be clear, to shine, to boast, show, to rave, celebrate, to be clamorously foolish," as in Psalm 150:1, "Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; Praise him in his mighty heavens!" (see also Ps. 113:1-3; 149:3). Another one is yadah, meaning "the extended hand, to throw out the hand, therefore to worship with extended hand," as in Psalm 107:15, "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men." Other biblical definitions for "praise" are: shabach, "to shout, to address in a loud tone, to command, to triumph," barak, "to kneel down, to bless God as an act of adoration," and zamar, "to pluck the strings of an instrument, to sing, to praise; a musical word which is largely involved with joyful expressions of music with musical instruments." So there is biblical justification, or command, for us to praise and worship God in these ways.

Regenerate Charismatics

At last we come to the final camp. This, I believe, is the desired camp for all Christians. Many of us, however, must get past our semantic hangups with the word "charismatic". Hopefully, this post will help. Again, I'm using the term "charismatic" generally to refer to physical and emotional expressiveness in churches and the lives of people who receive the Gospel into their souls. There is a miraculous unity between the body and soul of every human, so that whatever enters the soul affects the body. For some good insight into more specific, modern usages of the spiritual gifts, Mark Driscoll has a great current series of posts on the subject over at his blog.

Regenerate Charismatics have been made alive in Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and it shows in the way they worship and live. They have thrown off their worldly clothes and have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They have taken off the old man and put on the new man, bound no longer by layers of sin, idolatry, skepticism, etc., and free to worship God unabashedly. They are fools for Jesus with lives fully committed to Him. The evidence of their love for God (and His for them) is displayed in their actions, speech, and in every area of their lives, both in and outside the church building.

Now, it has been six months since I began thinking through redefining "charismatic". God has shown me things about the Gospel I never expected to see during this time, the most compelling of which is Jesus' command for us to take care of the poor, proclaiming the Good News everywhere in acts of lovingkindness and justice. In order for us to become more intimate with Jesus in our worship, we must become more intimately involved with the poor, both the physically poor and the spiritually poor, both in and outside the church. It's really hard for me to assert this truth, because it is hardily reflected in my own life. But the truth remains that if our desire is to become true worshipers of Jesus, free in our expressions of love and adoration, we're going to have to live lives of complete surrender and sacrifice to Him.

Worship within a church filled with people fully committed to the mission of God is much like the joy of a reunited family around the table for a holiday feast. Family members listen, love and laugh while sharing with one another life happenings since the last time they got together. They eat, usually gorging themselves with a particularly special meal. No one wants the evening to end, but it must. So everyone goes on with their lives, working, growing, and keeping record of their stories until the next time they get together.

Regenerate Charismatic worship is shameless, passionate, bodily praise of the Creator. We gather as the body of Christ to celebrate who He is and what He has done in our lives, especially the past week of wholeheartedly pursuing Him. We encourage one another with testimony, prayer and song. Under the spiritual authority of our pastors, we are equipped with God's Word to continue in our daily, living proclamation of His Good News. And we rejoice at His Table, His family feast, in remembrance of His annihilation of our sin and His adoption of us as children of God. How could we possibly contain ourselves in the presence of such glory?

Answer: Live a life of half-hearted commitment to the Lord; Serve two masters; Hold onto unforgiveness and bitterness towards family members; Keep your behind in the past; Spend most of your time on personal pleasures instead of building relationships with your neighbors; Sleep; Commit yourselves to regularly escaping to the fantasy worlds of at least five TV shows; View church as another hour of entertainment; Bring your marketplace, consumer mentality into the church; Think of Sunday worship as an academic classroom; Follow the example of hypocritical church leaders. Church leaders: Make fun of other churches and denominations; Set your own church above others in your community in terms of biblical faithfulness, theological accuracy, and spiritual blessing; Always think you are right; Organize as many programs as possible without developing a culture of discipleship and spiritual growth; Spend most of your time preparing for Sunday; Focus on the size of your congregation rather than the lives of individuals and families that are falling apart; Preach our culture's gospel of pursuing happiness; Put more emphasis on the move of the Spirit than on the roles of the other two Persons of the Trinity; Tell lots of emotionally compelling stories instead of God's story; Pursue only what is new, improved, and continually improving; And for heaven's sake make sure you outdo last weeks production, musically and otherwise.

Such is the worship of Regenerate Non-charismatics, Unregenerate Charismatics, and Unregenerate Non-charismatics.

But, oh, to become a church filled with Regenerate Charismatics: people passionately going after Jesus, throwing off their dignified robes with utter abandonment. Imagine how the Kingdom of God would advance on this earth if God's people would stop living double-minded lives and start living lives of complete sacrifice to God, listening to His voice, seeking Him where he can be found, determining in our hearts to commit every breath of our existence to His mission. Imagine what church worship would look like if people came together to celebrate the Gospel after having lived it in all its fullness the past week. I can guarantee that our obedience to the Lord's command for us to "Praise God in his sanctuary!" would come more easily and naturally. Let's face it, we're going to look crazy worshiping a living God that no one can see. Such is demanded of our faith. But how absurd it is for us to worship our dying selves and dead idols! God wants us to have a living, vibrant, passionate, expressive, emotional, prayerful, worshiping relationship with Him. Let us not be afraid of this, and let me be the first to confess my failure.

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Proverbs 21 Worshiper (vv. 2-4)


We've all heard of the "Proverbs 31 Woman", the woman who fears the Lord. Well, as it turns out, Proverbs 21 reveals much about the worshiper who fears the Lord, a true worshiper. So today and for the next series of posts I would like to talk about the "Proverbs 21 Worshiper". Let's look at Proverbs 21:2-4.

2. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the heart.
3. To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
4. Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
the lamp of the wicked, are sin.

The ESV Study Bible comments, “People are not vindicated by their own consciences but by God’s judgment (v. 2), which cannot be averted simply with sacrifices and religious rites (v. 3). The thing most likely to bring divine judgment on one’s head is pride (v. 4).”

Verse 2 reveals that despite our good intentions, believing our actions to be truly good doesn't necessarily mean they are good. God alone judges what is good. So the worship implications are obvious: The Lord searches the heart of every worshiper, and if He does not find denial of self and faith in His Son Jesus at the very core, he does not accept the worship.

Then we see in verse 3 that the evidence of true worship is doing righteousness and justice. This truth has been particularly convicting to me lately. I am finding all throughout God's Word that acceptable sacrifice is going to require leaving the comfortable setting of the local church and ministering the mercy, love and justice of God to the world, especially the poor. This "is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice", that is, more than the small amount of room, time and visible worship we give to God in our lives. True worship has nothing to do with giving God a mere piece of your life. That is proud worship, or false worship.

The truth is that any act of worship, or any action at all for that matter, apart from the work of Christ is wicked and sinful. The false worshiper is proud of his sacrifice and sees it as the part of his life, his attainment, that sets him above everyone else. He even does it publicly so that others can see how "worshipful" he is. And he is worshipful, but only insofar as he worships himself.

Bottom line: If we are going to be true worshipers, true followers of Jesus, we must get off our high horses and surrender our lives entirely to the mission of God (Luke 4:18-19).

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