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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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