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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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