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Happy Sixth Day of Christmas!



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O, Holy Night (The Non Department Store Version)

With Christmas being the favorite holiday of most, and especially those who sell product, great attention is put into setting the Christmas "vibe" including the holiday music. It frustrates me sometimes that the songs that were once sacred carols about the coming of Christ are now played overhead by today's pop stars. It seems at times we have reduced them down to background music to our shopping frenzy.

A few years ago I channeled this frustration and in a personal attempt to begin to reclaim the carols. I began to search the history so that i would know more than "just knowing" the songs. I also found many alternate translations and musical versions of the standards.

Possibly my favorite find was this alternate version of O Holy Night.

O holy night! the stars are brightly shining-
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining-
Till He appeared, gift of infinite worth!
Behold the Babe in yonder manger lowly-
'Tis God's own Son come down in human form:
Fall on your knees before the Lord most holy!

Chorus:
O night divine-O night when Christ was born!
O night divine-O night, O night divine!

With humble hearts we bow in adoration
Before this Child, gift of God's matchless love,
Sent from on high to purchase our salvation-
That we might dwell with Him ever above.
What grace untold-to leave the bliss of glory
And die for sinners guilty and forlorn:
Fall on your knees! repeat the wondrous story!

O day of joy, when in eternal splendor
He shall return in His glory to reign,
When ev'ry tongue due praise to Him shall render,
His pow'r and might to all nations proclaim!
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For soon shall dawn that glad eternal morn:
Fall on your knees! with joy lift up your voices!

I love the way these lyrics tell the story of Jesus so well, that he was born lowly in a manger, left his place in heaven, would purchase our salvation on the cross, and he will return to rule and reign. I also, love the variation of the last lines in the verses "before the Lord most holy" "Repeat the wondrous story" and "with joy lift up your voices". I loved "repeat the wondrous story" that i wrote a song using that line as the chorus.

Each time I've led this song i have people who respond positively to these alternate lyrics, but, I've also found it a good idea to warn the congregation, "this is a familiar carol, but follow along with us, as some of the words may be different than the ones you know."

If any of you readers know who to attribute these lyrics to, please let me know, as i cannot find that information anywhere, I'm not even sure where in the google world or stack of hymns i found them. And, if you use these lyrics please comment below and let us know how it went!



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Songs and Wisdom from Sufjan


Sufjan Stevens is one of the most prolific artists on the scene (or under it) these days. I can't get enough of his art, which makes it a good thing that he is frequently giving me more and more of it. I am currently revisiting his Songs for Christmas, using several of his renditions of carols in our corporate worship, banjo and all.

Here is a must-read article/interview with Sufjan Stevens. The interviewer from The Quietus asks Sufjan some pretty tough questions about his Christian faith. Sufjan's responses reveal his deep contentment in the faith. He is not threatened, but rather welcomes the questions with apparent joy and optimism about the world and the church. People who have been burned by the church and want to have nothing to do with the church would do well to listen to Sufjan's wisdom and love for all people and the church, despite how messed up it is. Here's and excerpt:

Quietus: Being an artist of some repute do you find the calling to spread the Good News sits awkwardly with your profile? Is it difficult?

Sufjan: Not necessarily, you know, I think the Good News is about grace and hope and love and a relinquishing of self to God. And I think the Good News of salvation is kind of relevant to everyone and everything.

Quietus: I find as I get older due to a sequence of events spirituality becomes more intriguing, though having been indoctrinated with the hard line dogma that I’d go to hell if I didn’t follow certain practices and believe very specific things, I was quite angry about Christianity for a while.

Sufjan: Oh dear.

Quietus: I suppose you could call it Protestant guilt.

Sufjan: The church is an institution and it’s incredibly corrupt obviously, but that’s because it’s full of dysfunctional people and people who are hurt and battered and abused. It’s very normal in any institution to have that kind of level of dysfunction. That’s unfortunate. I find it very difficult, I find church culture very difficult you know; I think a lot of churches now are just fundamentally flawed. But that’s true for any institution you know, that’s true for education, universities and it’s definitely true for corporations because of greed, and I think part of faith is having to be reconciled with a flawed community. But the principles, I don’t think the principles have changed. They can get skewed and they can get abused and dogma can reign supreme, but I think the fundamentals, it’s really just about love. Loving God and loving your neighbour and giving up everything for God. The principles of that, the basis of that is very pure and life changing.

Quietus: Church originally was a body of people and it had nothing to do with a building.

Sufjan: I mean it’s weird. What’s the basis of Christianity? It’s really a meal, it’s communion right? It’s the Eucharist. That’s it, it’s the sharing a meal with your neighbours and what is that meal? It’s the body and blood of Christ. Basically God offering himself up to you as nutrition. Haha, that’s pretty weird. It’s pretty weird if you think about that, that’s the basis of your faith. You know, God is supplying a kind of refreshment and food for a meal. Everything else is just accessories and it’s vital of course, baptism and marriage, and there’s always the sacraments and praying and the Holy Spirit and all this stuff but really fundamentally it’s just about a meal.

HT: Matt Tebbe

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iBand: Appropriate for Worship or Not?

I'm sure many of you have seen what the folks at North Pointe have been up to this season (which they mistake for the Christmas season). I wonder what you think about it. Is this type of creative element appropriate for Sunday worship, or better suited for a non-Eucharistic setting (assuming that North Pointe considers their Sunday worship Eucharistic)?


(Video link)

I remember waking up Sunday morning thinking, I sure hope this works...
We just want people to laugh a little bit and just enjoy the season. Hopefully they'll connect with what we do, but if not, that's okay.

So what do you think? Contemporary Church pragmatism? Cultural accommodation? It's certainly "new, improved, and continuously improving," Andy Stanley style. (My thoughts on this ministry philosophy here.)

Don't get me entirely wrong, I do think what they're doing is pretty danged awesome. Just wondering if this is the best way to lead people in the active participation of proclaiming and enacting God's story together, particularly in the context of Eucharistic worship.

Here's the full video of their seven minute worship element:


(Video link)

HT: Michelle Bythrow

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You Can Begin Singing Christmas Carols This Sunday


According to Dennis Bratcher at The Voice we can begin singing Christmas carols on the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.

It is important, in terms of the purpose of Christian Holy Days as teaching tools of the Faith, that Advent and Christmas be different, with different emphases, especially on the first two Sundays of Advent. These need to emphasize expectation and longing, a preparation for celebration much as Lent is a preparation for Easter. Without that, the season becomes one long celebration without any context for that celebration and with little contact with the reality of life that gave birth to the season in the first place.

Of course there is a progression to the services of Advent. By the third Sunday, which is usually the Sunday of Proclamation with the Magi or the Shepherds, or the Sunday of Joy, we can begin celebrating, not because it is all finished but because the promise is moving to reality, because we have heard from God and have the promise in concrete terms. It is in that movement from distant longing and crying out on the first Sunday, to hope and immediate expectation on the Second, to Joy and proclamation on the Third Sunday, that prepares us for praise and celebration on the Fourth Sunday as the year moves into the Christmas Season. If done well, that liturgical movement takes people along in the journey of their lives, as they enact their own experiences in worship. It gives people a structure in which to take the vagueness of their own distant longings as they identify with Israel’s longings, and brings them to an expressed hope and faith that God is, indeed, "with us." It is this journey that gives people a context for celebration.

We will be singing "Joy to the World" this Sunday, which was not originally intended as a Christmas carol, but rather a song about the return of Christ, based on Psalm 98, although it definitely works as a Christmas song (we'll be slapping some sleigh bells on it). It actually works better as an Advent song, if you think about it, with its great theme of the Second Coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, like many Christmas carols, we have sentimentalized this tremendously rich song, which is packed with deep kingdom and eschatological proclamations. Have you ever gone beyond the sentimentality of "Joy to the World" to reflect upon its theology? If you have, one of the first things you noticed is the (seeming) grammatical bourde in the first line: "the Lord is come." Many change the word "is" to "has," so that it makes more sense as a Christmas song. Wikipedia notes:

In the first line of the first verse, we might expect to hear "The Lord has come", but "The Lord is come" is correct. In old English, verbs of movement such as "to go" and "to come" were used with the auxiliary verb "to be" and not the present day auxiliary verb "to have".

Personally, I like to sing "is come," thinking of it in "Already/Not Yet" terms, sort of like the combining of two phrases: "the Lord has come" and "the Lord is coming." Who knows, maybe Isaac Watts had the same thing in mind when he wrote it, i.e., intending for "Joy to the World" to be an Advent song, combining "has come" and "is coming" into one phrase, "is come." Probably not, but I wouldn't put it past him; he was one of the greatest hymn writers in the church's history.

We'll also be holding a good old fashioned hymn-sing Sunday night, with lots of Christmas carols and children singing and a jolly time of relieving the Advent tension pressure valve for a night.

One more thing about Christmas carols during Advent: I heard yesterday that the University of Notre Dame has banned a certain Protestant student group from holding their meetings in the basilica because they were singing Christmas carols during Advent.

Awesome.

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O Come, O Come (to the mall) Emmanuel


(facebook video link)

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
and be thyself our King of peace

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel

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Advent Resources

Just wanted to mention a few ideas for observing Advent as individuals, families, and churches. Take the time to intentionally wait this season. Go against the way the culture wants you to celebrate Christmas. We were teaching our daughter what hope is and that our greatest hope is for the King to come. She said, "King Triton!?" We were convicted that, to a degree, Disney has been her defining narrative. What's yours?
  • Jesse Tree: Let God's story from Creation to the coming of Christ be the narrative that defines you this season. You'll read short passages of the story every day to be reminded of the story you are a part of. Then you'll add one ornament that represents that particular part of the story to your tree every day. Here are instructions to one way of doing this: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=1628
  • Advent Wreath: 1st Week Hope, 2nd Week Peace, 3rd Week Joy, 4th Week Love. Light a candle and talk as a family (perhaps around the dinner table) about the hopes you have the first week, where in your life you’re experiencing (or not) peace the second week, and so on.
  • Decorate in phases instead of all at once: outside lights one day, inside decorations one week, Christmas tree with lights the next week, add ornaments the next week, etc. This builds anticipation and is a good practice of patience and waiting.
  • Homemade Gifts: This takes time, but the anticipation of giving a homemade gift is a millions times greater than a bought gift, especially because most people told you what to buy them in the first place.
  • Ten Minute Advent Retreats: A great way to intentionally devote to the Lord as individuals or families. We did this as a small group this morning. Subscribe to it here: http://www.tenminuteadventretreats.com/
  • Church Year Website of Resources: Here is a wonderful website to peruse if you are interested in understanding more about Advent and the Church Year: http://crivoice.org/chyear_resources.html
Here are a couple previous posts with more ideas:
Lastly, we're going through Luke's narrative account of the coming of Christ this Advent. We are showing clips from The Nativity Story to coincide with each Sunday's text. We thought it was fitting for a few prominent symbols of our Advent worship to be a nativity, wreaths, trees, lights, and of course an Advent wreath. We had a great team of artists who put this all together, conscious of the colors of the season (royal purples and blues). We actually just painted the back wall a light gray color. It was burgundy. We also de-centered the band in favor of making room for seasonal symbols. Yea! No longer am I front and center, nor is a huge spaceship drum rig the main focal point of our space. The band will remain off to the side indefinitely. I'd eventually like to lower the band from their elevated position, too. I'd also like to remove the giant screen that screams "WATCH!" from its place of primacy in our space, and maybe replace it with stained glass. Really excited about the modifications to our space, and hope it aesthetically leads our church into greater worship participation. I have posted some photos of our worship space below.

Hope.













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Lily's Doxology

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Suffering and Hope in Worship

This past August, our youth pastor and an adult leader took five high school boys on a mission’s trip to the Upper Peninsula. After a few days of hard work, they were excited to have a day off to enjoy the beach at Lake Superior. While they were swimming and fighting the waves, a couple of the boys were carried down and under by a very strong undertow, and one of them drowned. The death of Eli, who was only 15, is a terrible tragedy and the heaviness of this loss is still impacting our small church body every week.

When we receive news like this, it shakes us. The death of loved ones brings mourning. The sense of loss pervades everything else and for a while we can’t continue as if everything is “normal.” This was the case for our community. The loss of Eli brought all of us sadness. We mourn with his family and those boys who were on the trip with him.

For weeks our worship gatherings carried this tension of suffering and mourning alongside the hope and joy we find in our Lord Jesus Christ. God has been present in our sufferings, graciously instructing us and pouring out his grace. For our body this loss has been an opportunity to know Jesus more intimately and to see more clearly where our hope is placed. I can say without doubt that the Lord is gracious, compassionate and good.

Looking back now, a few months after Eli’s death, I think I’m ready to try to articulate the things God has been teaching us through this experience and how they impact the way we think and plan our worship gatherings. I’ll share them briefly here and then can unpack them more in future posts.

The first is that suffering is promised for those who would follow Jesus. Until the rule and reign of God is fully established in all creation, we should expect it and rejoice in it, even more so for us who are called to shepherd the church. How can we lead the people of God through it, unless they can see the Lord bring us through it? Our response and actions teach the church how to view and respond to suffering and what it means to hope in the gospel.

Secondly, we must abstain from happy-clappy superficial levity in our worship gatherings, and learn how to create room for the real pains of life. Our culture elevates the value of happiness, or the absence of pain and suffering, but it does the church no good to provide places of escapism from the realities of our day-to-day living. It is in the tension of the now and not yet that Christ, who was no stranger to suffering, meets us and mediates for us. The tension of joy and suffering needs to be present in our worship gatherings as we set our hope in the gospel and its fruition in the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Lastly, every person goes through the process of mourning differently, and this is ok, a healthy thing. It is not a sin to laugh as we mourn, and it is definitely all right to experience the weight of sadness and the heaviness of loss. Even now, many weeks after Eli’s death, my heart still grieves, especially for his family and for my friends who were with him on that trip, but the thought of his death is not with me all the time like it was when I first received that tragic news. For others, it may seem as if there is not a moment of the day that goes by that the death of Eli is not present in their hearts and minds, and they may bear the heaviness of such grief for quite a while.

My friends, we have people in our churches every week dealing with such sorrow. We cannot forget them once we ourselves are not also bearing the fullness of such pain. We must have an awareness of the pains of our people that we might suffer alongside them exercising faith. Our hope is secure in Jesus, and truthfully, our sufferings are but light and momentary, compared to eternity with him, where God himself will wipe away the tears from the face of each person, and death will be no more. Come, Lord, come.

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From Anesthetics to Aesthetics

Dan Wilt quote from WorshipTraining.com:

We're no longer the No Pain, No Gain generation. We are the postmoderns, the No Pain, No Pain generation. We're the tylenol generation. We want to anesthetize our pain. We want to be numb, because life is difficult. But the opposite of the word anesthesia--which numbs--is aesthesia (we call it aesthetics)--the focus and learning about beauty. Beauty sensitizes us, it awakens us, not only to great joy, but also to tremendous pain. That's why art, creativity, music, and expressions of worship open us up and enliven us, sensitize us, to world's and other worlds' realities moving all about us and in us.

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Passive vs. Participative

On Monday I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Constance Cherry, Associate Professor of Worship at Indiana Wesleyan University and Professor of Worship at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. I first read something of hers a couple months ago in Worship Leader Magazine's July/August issue. Dr. Cherry penned the cover article, "Shifting from Professional Programs to Participatory Worship," in this wonderfully constructed "Folk" issue of WL Mag.

So when Dr. Warren Anderson, friend, IWS grad, and Dean of Chapel at Judson University, invited me to this Inaugural Worship Arts Lecture featuring Dr. Constance Cherry, I was all over it. I quickly contacted our network of local area worship leaders here in South Bend to see who wanted to come with. We were also looking for our next book to read and discuss together this fall, and Dr. Cherry's new book, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, attracted us. Five of us hopped into my minivan and headed to Elgin, IL for some sweet fellowship and teaching and to purchase Dr. Cherry's book.

The title of her lecture was, "Moving Congregations from Passivity to Participation in Worship." Here are some of my notes and thoughts, and then I'd love for a discussion to get going.

Defining Terms
To be passive means "to be acted upon," and to participate means "to act upon" or "to partner with." Are our congregations being acted upon, or are they doing the acting, partnering with one another? Soren Kierkegaard presented the Stage Play Model vs. the Preferred Worship Model. In a stage play the performers of the work are the actors on stage, the prompters direct the work behind the scenes, and the audience passively sits in the seats to watch the work. This is what much of church worship looks like today. Kierkegaard suggests that church worship should look like this: the audience is God, the prompters are the leaders and pastors on stage, and the performers of the work are the people in the congregation.

Worship Is Work
But this is a call to a complete paradigm shift. Virtually nobody who enters a church for worship these days expects to work, let alone sweat, get their hair messed up, and leave with wrinkled clothes and scuffed shoes. Instead we come to watch, to be entertained by good music and feel good messages. Church leaders have perpetuated the problem by catering to the comfort desires of the people by offering them coffee, cushioned seats, and creative spectacle. This is not the picture of worship presented to us in Scripture. Worship in the Bible is active and participative. "Participation is the expectation of the gospel," says Dr. Cherry.

The word for worship most often used in the New Testament is proskuneo, which means "to prostrate oneself." Could you imagine an entire congregation lying prostrate in the presence of the Lord? Talk about vulnerability! When the kings came from the East to see the newborn King they prostrated themselves before him. Think about that for a minute--rulers laying down their power, authority, control, their own kingdoms in an act of complete surrender...to an infant who was God with us.

In Romans 12:1-2 we find another important Greek word for worship, leitourgia, which means "service" or "work." Offering our bodies in view of God's mercy as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God is our spiritual worship (leitourgia). "Liturgy is the work of worship performed by the people for the benefit of God and others." But again, who in their right mind nowadays would expect to work when they come to church (besides the staff), and not only that but enjoy the work they are doing? We are accustomed (shaped by the culture) to expect pretty much the opposite in worship--we come to get blessed, not to be a blessing.

Six Principles for Moving Toward Participation (with my extended thoughts)
  1. Recognize that this generation desires participation. Plan worship that engages all five senses and physical movement. Even though it's pulling teeth to get people to participate at times, deep down they really want to. It's like Paul who just can't get himself to do the things he wants to do. Remember, the leaders on stage are really prompters who help the whole body participate. What we'll find is that if we are leading well and the people begin engaging actively in worship, not only will they greatly enjoy the work of worship, but they will begin prompting others around them.
  2. Recognize that participation involves partnering with others. Plan worship that connects people together. Congregating in one place and singing in unity are pretty much the only things we do that connect us together. What other kinds of prompting can we do intentionally, perhaps symbolically, to connect people together? Join hands in prayer, partake of the elements of Communion together, all kneel. Sometimes very simple actions can be very effective.
  3. Recognize that people will naturally tend to be passive. Unfortunately, that's the reality, but don't be afraid to address it; don't let passivity rule your worship. Participation triumphs over passivity.
  4. Recognize that congregations have been oriented toward audience mentality. It is what it is, but what are we doing to deal with this problem. Much of what we do as leaders actually contributes to the congregation-audience problem. Confess this and begin transforming your culture one participatory invitation at a time.
  5. Worship is work. How much of what the leaders do could be done by others? Are we as leaders okay with settling for less than the best production? Leaders are robbing the congregation of their work by doing all the performing. We must get it out of our minds that the best way is always the right way. Sometimes the third or fourth best way is the right way, God's way. But a congregation-audience mentality demands only the best product, or I'm leaving. Leaders must prompt the people to do the work and train them to actually enjoy the effort and sweat that will happen.
  6. Encountering God in worship results in powerful responses. Much more powerful than any feeling that an audience can have watching a good performance. Perhaps our people have been conditioned to think that they are encountering God in worship when in fact they are not. Passivity does not lead to an encounter with God, participation does, work does. This could be the reason why so many of our people come to church out of obligation and find no real joy in it. This could be why leaders get so frustrated and discouraged by the lack of response from their people both in church and in all of life. But perhaps the leaders are responsible for their own frustrations by the way they are leading, always trying to perform to the pleasure of their people.

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Disney Worship


I wasn't sure what to think when I found out today about an upcoming worship conference to be held at Walt Disney World in 2011. It's called the Experience Conference, and it looks like it's going to be the biggest worship conference the world has ever seen, featuring over 60 celebrity worship leaders and speakers, a jam packed itinerary complete with a "Night of Joy" that could feature your worship band if you audition and win!

Does this clash of cultures--God's Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom--seem strange to anyone else? We talk often on this blog about the detrimental effects of cultural accommodation in Contemporary Church worship. Does a worship event held at Disney World speak to the syncretism of Contemporary Worship and American culture? Or should we find it encouraging to see a worship conference taking place in the epicenter of the American dream? And more generally, what are the benefits of attending big, expensive, worship conferences such as these?

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Being Present 2

I am an anxious person. My inward anxieties manifest themselves outwardly in all kinds of ways: I bounce my knees when I sit, shake my foot when I lay, bite my fingernails, avoid eye contact, to name a few. Rarely am I ever at peace with the moment. I'm always thinking ahead, thinking of what I will be doing next, what I could be doing if I weren't here, if I weren't so bored. I am finding that I am not a very content person. Things could always be better.

But what is happening to me through these anxieties, which literally make up most of my day, is that I am missing out on what God is wanting to do in me at any given moment, no matter how mundane. Let's face, most of life is mundane. If we embraced only the exciting moments, we would be bored ninety-nine percent of the time. But we might be surprised how exciting, how joyful and fulfilling, our lives can be at all times when we acknowledge God's presence with us (and, lo, I am with you always) and in turn make ourselves fully present to him.

I am currently in the process of training myself to take those physical manifestations of anxiety as signals to stop and refocus on what God is doing in the present moment. Because inevitably whenever I am bouncing my knee or biting my nails or doing mundane things half-heartedly I am trying to escape from my present situation to some fantasy world where life is so much more exciting.

And there is a big difference between fantasizing and dreaming. Dreams are rooted in reality. God dreams and wants us to dream. But dreams are not devoid of our present realities like fantasies are. Dreams are incarnational, down-to-earth, directly linked to what is really going on in our lives and what will truly become of us. This to say, dreaming is good. If we are dreaming the way God dreams, our dreams will actually help us in our quest to be present, to embrace every moment of our lives, because we know that every moment is a stepping stone on the path toward the fulfillment of our dreams. So we must learn the difference between fantasizing and dreaming. Anxiety leads to fantasy. Dreams come from the peace of being fully present in God's omnipresence.

Well, I didn't expect to go there, but it is what it is. Next post I will talk about being fully present in corporate worship.

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Being Present 1

Last week I had the joy of spending a few days retreating with a bunch of worship leaders in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. This was the fourth National Vineyard Worship Leaders Retreat that I attended; 2007 and 2008 in Estes Park, CO and 2009 and 2010 at the new East retreat in North Carolina (because the West retreat was getting too big). I have thoroughly enjoyed each retreat, especially spending the next few days processing what God did in me. He always does something different and unexpected.

During the week of solitude I had before the retreat and during the retreat itself, God began searching me and bringing to the surface some deep rooted anxieties that have been choking the life out of me for many years. Being anxious, I am finding, is the opposite of being present, and more specifically, being at peace with what is presently happening in my life at any given moment. It's not easy for me to accept and respond to what God is doing in me (I've become quite comfortable with my anxieties), but something is making it nearly impossible for me to ignore.

It appears I've been sowing seeds of anxiety into my daughter, seeds which are now beginning to sprout. She is three and a half years old, and she has a very hard time falling asleep at night, not because she's afraid of the dark, but because she can't stop thinking about what we're going to do tomorrow. Oftentimes, when we tend to her an hour after putting her to bed, she asks questions such as, "What are we gonna do when we wake up?" "Can we watch Mulan tomorrow?" "When you get home from work can we play a game?" She has even recently begun biting her finger nails. I am noticing how she misses out on the enjoyment of certain things because she is already thinking ahead about enjoying the next thing she is going to do. Then, when she's doing nothing she feels like she has to be doing something, so she bites her fingernails (or picks her toenails) as she daydreams about doing something fun. And when it comes time to rest or sleep, she can't. I'm afraid my daughter is not experiencing the kind of joy and peace God wants for her, and I am responsible. Don't get me wrong, she is nowhere near as consumed with anxiety as I am; she is a pure bundle of joy. But there's definitely some bud-nipping that needs to be done in her...and some forest leveling in me.

I'll write more about this and how it pertains to worship in my next post.

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The Weekly Altar Call

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine spoke to me about her father, a Baptist pastor, who visited our church. He thought the service was great except that we did not give an “altar call.” His words to his daughter went something like this: “They didn’t give people a chance to make a ‘decision.’” At the time, the counsel I gave my friend was that our objective in Sunday worship is not to “make converts” as much as it is to "make disciples." I used some other words, but it wasn’t really until the last few days that I began realizing something profound.

We do give an altar call every week. It’s called Communion. The “altar” is the cross of Jesus Christ, upon which his body was broken and his blood was shed for us. The “call” is to come to the cross, to lay our lives down at his feet in wholehearted surrender. The Lord's Table is where we immediately respond to God’s call. It’s the place where Jesus himself leads us to respond. God is calling his disciples to the ultimate altar of worship, where his grace conforms us to his image.

Of course, this weekly altar call is reserved for baptized believers who would approach the table in a worthy manner, namely, with an understanding of how great a sacrifice Jesus has made for them and with every intention to commit their lives entirely to him. So, what about the unconverted and uncommitted? Aren't these the very people altar calls were created for? Well, it depends on what your objective is in Sunday corporate worship.

We live in a culture of immediacy. But the reality is, life happens slowly. Before a baby is born, it gestates in the womb of its mother for nine months. In a similar way, relationships develop slowly. We want conversion (new birth) to take place in a split moment of decision. But let's be real, relationships don't happen over night, and neither do major life decisions. Perhaps we should rethink conversion as more of a slow process than something that's supposed to happen in an instant. And perhaps the bulk of the gestational development of a seeker should happen outside of the Sunday worship context (although attending Sunday worship, hearing the preached Word and looking in upon the worship of God's people, certainly is formative, as well).

Once their mentors and others in the body determine they truly are turning and trusting in Christ (the "decision" is communal), they are deemed converted and the preparation for Baptism begins (or Communion in the case of already baptized children). Then the converted seeker answers their first altar call. The call began months earlier as a Holy Spirit whisper. The altar is the water of Baptism. What joy and release! What freedom and forgiveness--dying and rising with Christ! And then comes the continual rite of Communion, the weekly altar call to the converted, baptized, disciples of Jesus. But this whole "conversion experience" is a slow process, and we don't like that.

Many Baptists and other modern Protestant groups have a different objective in Sunday worship. The preached Word is assumed sufficient for the continued discipleship of believers. Communion is set aside for occasional use and the liturgical void is filled with “repeat-after-me prayers” for the unconverted and uncommitted. Response is the decision of the individual (my decision), and then a life of faith should follow. But what usually ends up happening is my decision makes me think that’s all there is to it. I made a decision, so I’m good with God.

A life of discipleship does not naturally follow, initially because of my self-centered response, but also in large because of the lack of disciple-making on the part of church leaders. Making converts has replaced making disciples. That is why “number of decisions” has taken such a primary role in measuring success as a church. Yes, it should be a huge focus of ours to be leading people to the Lord, but that means truly leading people to the Lord, not to self-discovery and a false sense of security. Truly leading people to the Lord is not an instantaneous, one-time thing, but a gradual, daily thing. I am convinced that the Lord’s Supper is one of the most important places we can lead our people to “receive” the Lord.

And if you think about it, “decision” is certainly involved in coming to the table. First, we decide how (not if, but how) we’re going to respond. It’s either yes or no. Then everyone present has the immediate opportunity to act upon their decision. There are only two things that should ever prohibit a person from receiving the Lord's Supper: unbelief or unworthiness. It saddens me when I hear of people who say no because they don't want it to become a "ritual" or because it's too "Catholic." Let's face it, it is a ritual, and it's the greatest of all the rituals in our lives. It's greater than my weekly ritual of coming to the altar of my TV to watch my favorite TV show. It's greater than my twice daily ritual of coming to the altar of my bathroom mirror to brush my teeth. It's one of the only actually holy rituals, instituted by Jesus himself, in which we have the wonderful opportunity to take part. And to refuse the bread and the cup for fear that we're becoming too Catholic, as if we're on strike or protesting something evil? Come on!

We should be racing to the Table in droves every chance we get, longing to receive God's grace, surrendering our bodies and all five senses to him, and recommitting our lives to him in an act of wholehearted devotion. Now that's the kind of altar call I can get excited about. And how much greater the outcome of the majority of a congregation coming to the altar than just a few people who raised their hands with their heads bowed and their eyes closed! But again, what's your objective in Sunday worship?

Is there ever a time for a traditional, Billy Graham-type altar call? I think so, but our greater concern than number of converts must be the kind of disciples we are making and how our worship is making them.

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Worship Space Communicates Worship Values

A believing family just moved to your town. They are praying and looking for the church the Lord is calling them to become a part of. Upon entering your worship space for the first time, even before the service begins, they can already see what your church values in worship. What do they see?

In our worship space, the first thing they notice is that there are no windows and it is quite dark. The walls, for the most part, are bare, and the air is cold. They also see an elevated stage, spanning the whole width of the auditorium and filled with musical instruments.

Then they notice that the removable seats are set up in a semicircle with a tall chair and table on a smaller stage that jets out from the main platform toward the center of the room. Surely, this is where the sermon will be delivered.

As they look around after seating themselves, they feel the ambience of candlelight, and notice the tables surrounding the jet stage. On the skinny, black tables rest gold colored trays containing the communion elements: tiny, individual cups of juice and broken pieces of matza.

It's also hard to miss the banners around the perimeter of the room explicitly indicating four of our main worship values: Communion, Offering, Prayer, and Song. Under each of the headers are Scripture passages supporting that act of worship. And beneath the text is an image of hands portraying the action. (Click here to see the banners.)

The family does not see a baptismal font, any additional art besides the banners, zero ornate architecture, and they may or may not see the small, dark cross in the shadows of stage left. Overall, they see a simple, contemporary space, suitable for most kinds of entertainment or social gathering.

To be clear, I am not entirely satisfied with what our worship space communicates to worshipers. We have no desire to entertain, and yet our space screams, "Watch!" We desire to expand our worship expression beyond music, and yet our space exalts music far above all the other arts. We believe in the preeminence of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and yet a permanent baptistry would limit the versatile functionality of our stage.

If I were new, there would be enough value-revealing symbol and aesthetic to keep me from immediately walking out, but some of the most important values which should be visible (without words) are simply not. Which begs the question: Do we truly value what we say we value?

On a positive note, I do love our worship space. It has great potential. It's current condition does not impede the worship of God in any way. If anything, our worship environment invites many who would otherwise feel intimidated by "churchy" objects, pews, hymnals, or whatever. It's culturally inviting. However, it is important always to check our motives for doing things the way we do. Are we faithfully and responsibly creating our worship space, or are we sacrificing biblical priorities for the sake of appealing to people? We are, after all, presenting a radically different story in our worship than any story our popular culture is telling. Certainly the telling and enacting of God's story requires other-worldly object lessons.

We are in the process of putting together a worship space team, consisting of several artists (myself, an interior decorator, a school art teacher, a photographer, and hopefully some others), who will study the theology and history of sacred space and begin to employ our findings into our worship space. Not only will we seek to create permanent fixtures that will lead others into more effectively proclaiming, singing, and enacting the story of God, but we will use the Christian Year as a template for seasonal symbols and colors. We also have a desire to develop the skill of all of the artists in our church, praying for the Spirit to inspire their imagination, and encouraging them to create, create, create!

What worship values does your worship space communicate?

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Worship by Sight


I sat down the other day with Jess Strantz, one of our worship leader/songwriters, to cast vision for next month's P.S. (prayer and song) night. The original idea for the evening was to lead our people in prayer through songs written by our own church. We'd call it P.S. Indigenous, telling the stories behind our songs, how the Spirit inspired the songs through what God has been doing here, and encouraging others to write songs of their own.

Well, as we were talking, acknowledging the sad truth that we haven't really taken the time to intentionally pour into other songwriters here, and desiring not for the evening to be dominated by the songs of Jess and Ryan, we had the idea to include not only musical composition but all kinds of art. When we started down that road, however, we felt like even greater failures.

We have stunted, stifled, shunned (choose your present perfect participle) visual artists from freely expressing their creativity in worship. And it's not that we have spitefully disregarded them, we just don't know how to let them lead us. They do not currently have a place in our practice of worship to display their work. We're uncomfortable with, or afraid of, or simply untaught in the visual arts for worship.

The reality is, given the creative variety of God's people, we should have the ability be led in worship through the visual arts just as readily as we are through the audible arts. Think about it: What is happening in musical worship? The church hears the music that the artists are putting on display, and we participate actively by contributing to the sound with our own voices or participate passively by simply hearing and reflecting upon the art. Either way, the art on display is leading us into corporate and personal worship to the Lord. That is, of course, assuming our hearts are in the right place, namely, in Christ.

What's the difference, then, whether it is a musical composition on display or a work of visual art? Both should be received and participated in the same way. The only differences are 1) music uses primarily the sense of hearing while visual art uses the sense of sight, and 2) music is more conducive to active participation (hearing/singing) while the other is more contemplative (seeing/thinking). Again, both can and should be regularly leading us in worship response to God.

So, for example, in theory a "worship leader" could replace one of their five songs with a piece of visual art to be displayed for five minutes while the church, instead of singing, looks upon the work and responds in contemplative worship. At this point, though, we're on our way toward reinventing the wheel of the historic liturgy, which intends to lead worshipers in full sensory reception and response to the work of Christ: sound (readings/songs/chant/homily), sight (paintings/sculptures/ornate architecture/vestments), smell (incense/candles/old wood), taste (bread/wine), touch (water/oil/passing of peace/old wood/candles/missal).

But that's not where we're at. The contemporary church is in a place where the singing of praise and worship choruses led by acoustic guitar-bearing men and women is the preferred, almost exclusive form of worship. It is what it is. But it needs to change. And here's why: In our preference of the virtual exclusivity of musical worship, visual artists have suffered, as has the whole of God's people in the contemporary church.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:14-26)

It's about PEOPLE and the glory of God. That's why we are so convicted about this. There are people, probably many people, in our churches that have been gifted by God to create visual art in worship to Him. And their work is not meant only to be a personal or private expression of worship from them to God, but to lead others in worship; for them to bring their God-chosen gift, their contribution, into the church, so that the body can function properly, all for the glory of God.

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Eucharist: Christ IN You

In worship yesterday this simple phrase from Colossians 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," took on a much deeper meaning to me. We chose to sing Tim Hughes' "Everything" during Communion. Typically for Communion we choose a song that explicitly mentions the sacrifice of Christ at the cross for the forgiveness of sins, so I was a little uncomfortable with our selection of "Everything," which is not a song about the cross, but about incarnation. How would the people respond? How could the Lord work in hearts through bread and cup without us mentioning the cross? After all, Paul says "for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26, my emphasis).

The servers came up, and holding the trays they spoke into the eyes of the people, at times stooping to a knee to serve a child. We reached the climax of the song: "Christ in me, Christ in me, Christ in me, the hope of glory; be my everything." And then it hit me just how perfect a Communion song this really is. With every crunch of matza, every sip of the cup, we were consuming Christ into our bodies. "Christ IN me, the hope of glory." It doesn't get more incarnational than that. Jesus is near to us, and nowhere nearer than at the Table of the Lord, where we take him in and he fills our own bodies. Says Raniero Cantalamessa in his wonderful book The Eucharist: Our Sanctification:

"Take and eat..."; "He who eats my flesh will have eternal life." God's universal and, we might say, external presence, has now become personal and interior to us, and not just in an intentional and spiritual way (as happens in seeing, in listening, in contemplation and in faith) but in a real way, totally adapted to our human condition. The Eucharist is the last step in the long path of God's "condescension": creation, revelation, incarnation, Eucharist...The Eucharist is related to the Easter mystery but it is equally related to the incarnation. It is the memorial of a happening -- passion and resurrection -- but it is also the presence of a person: the incarnate Word. In the passage from the first to the sixth chapter of his Gospel, St. John highlights this affinity: the Word became flesh (incarnation) and the flesh became "true bread" (Eucharist). The eternal life that was made manifest to us in the incarnation (cf. 1 John 1:2), is now given to us to eat, it has become the "bread of eternal life." The Eucharist draws its infinite divine power from the fact that it puts us into contact with the flesh of the God-Man. (pp. 78-79)

Why has so much of the Protestant Church set aside the Eucharist as an occasional practice? Because it denies the "presence of a person" in the Eucharist; it has made the Table a mere "memorial of a happening" observed through the partaking of empty symbols. There is no real nutrition in the cracker and juice, no real infilling of Christ, just a little, heady reminder of a long-past event. We have given in to a new gnosticism, removing the incarnational presence of Christ from our worship. This was not the intention of the Reformers. Yes, sola scriptura meant the recovery of Scripture alone as the means of special revelation leading to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, but it also maintained the special presence of the Word, Jesus Christ himself, in the elements of Eucharist. That is why Luther kept the Eucharist central, and why Calvin mourned the Genevan decision to infrequent the Table. "Christ in me" is not an exclusively spiritual, or intellectually revelatory, thing, as we have made it to be. It is a fleshy, down-to-earth thing. Look at the context of Paul's "Christ in you" statement to the church at Colosse.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:24-29)

From where did Paul draw this energy that Christ was powerfully working within him? Was it through intellectual revelation that he ascended to only through contemplation and hearing? No, it was through physically participating in the sufferings of Christ. And we'd be foolish to think that those sufferings did not include regular participation in Eucharist worship. Indeed without the energy of Christ powerfully working within Paul through the Eucharist he would have had no ministry at all to the Gentiles. Without the sustaining power of Christ administered through Eucharist no one can possibly mature in Christ.

For how does a child mature? She eats, her body is nourished, and she grows. One might think that spiritual maturity comes in a different way, a higher way. Not wholly. For although the child's father reads to and teaches the mind of his daughter, he does not speak life and health into her flesh and bones. He provides food for her to eat, and he takes great delight in giving her the physical nourishment she needs. The child naturally receives her father's provision. She comes to the table at the sound of the dinner bell. The good father also disciplines his daughter by disallowing her to touch things that he knows will harm her, all the while permitting her to taste certain afflictions for the sake of experiential maturity. It's only later in life when the rebellious teenager refuses her father's provision, choosing starvation or malnutrition over the good food provided her. But she'll come home again to taste and see that her father has been good to her all along; that his provision is better and necessary.

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N.T. Wright on "Reclaiming Worship"

Our friends over at Inside Worship posted a wonderful short interview with N.T. Wright on "Reclaiming Worship," conducted by Dan Wilt from WorshipTraining.com. In the interview Wright offers some of his thoughts on the biblical picture of worship (Rev. 4-5), worship and creation (Gen. 1-2), how history should impact our worship today, and a couple concerns he has with our contemporary expressions of worship.

I was particularly challenged by his tradition's high practice of Scripture reading in daily and weekly worship, versus our "almost cavalier" treatment of Scripture in worship.

When you read Scripture during an act of worship this is not simply to give people information that they might have forgotten about... It's actually that you're telling the story of the mighty acts of God, and that reading Scripture is itself an act of worship--it is praising God because God is the God who is the God of that story. And to be able to lay that out--step by step, day by day, week by week--is hugely important.

I also enjoyed his encouragement for the use of corporate prayers in worship.

I have been amused sometimes to see that even within in the freest of free church traditions sometimes people come upon these great old prayers...and they say, "My goodness, that absolutely says what in my very best moments I really want to say, and it says it so beautifully that the very act of saying it is an act of praise and celebration." And then they think, "My goodness, it's a set prayer, ought I to be doing that?" And the answer is, "Well, yes. If the Holy Spirit helped that person pray like that, why shouldn't you come in on his coattails." Do we have to be such rampant, Western individualists that we can't bear the humility of learning from somebody else?

I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend taking 20 minutes to LISTEN TO THIS INTERVIEW!

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Contemporvant Worship

Watch this video that makes a mockery of contemporary-relevant worship. It comes from North Point Community Church, a Contemporary Church mecca. The sad thing is, although North Point is hyperbolically addressing the over-relevant, over-informal, self-centered, psycho-therapeutic style in Contemporary Church worship, the video pretty accurately portrays the neutered structure of contemporary worship. Both are serious problems. Thanks, Brian, for sending me the video.

"Sunday's Coming"

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Don't Miss Ascension Day

This year Ascension Day falls on Thursday, May 13th. It is the day, forty days after Resurrection Sunday, in which we celebrate Jesus Christ ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father, where he rules and reigns as King of heaven and earth.

A couple years ago we happened to be on a staff retreat on Ascension Day. Knowing that this great day was coming, I had a desire to lead our staff in its observance. So I put together a short liturgy with the help of the Book of Common Prayer.

This liturgy is perfect for any small group setting, whether it be your church staff, home group, worship team, whoever. We will be worshiping through the liturgy as a worship team before we begin our regular Thursday band rehearsal on May 13th. It takes about fifteen minutes to go through it and includes prayers, Scripture readings, and songs.

I hope you find this resource helpful. Whether you use it or not, please find a way to celebrate Ascension Day. It would be a pity to skip over this great day without even knowing it. What an opportunity, too, to lead our people into a deeper practice and greater understanding of Christian Year worship!

Note: Feel free to replace the songs with others that better suit your community. Just try to keep the themes consistent with the story that the liturgy is telling. For example, you could replace “Christ Is Exalted” with “Stand in Awe” and “We Fall Down” with “Oh Praise Him.”

PDF: Ascension Day: A Short Liturgy for You

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An Apology to Lead Pastors

Where do I start? Well, I should probably clarify from the beginning that my last post, "A Challenge to Lead Pastors," was not directed toward my own lead pastor. We have a wonderful friendship and a work relationship of freedom, teamwork, and trust. I am extremely blessed to be working under such a humble, spiritually attuned man who is also not afraid to say the last ten percent in love. Hence the reproving that led to this apology.

What I wrote was immature, judgmental, and arrogant. My thoughts were under-developed and should never have been published in the tone they were. I woke up one morning last week thinking about the lead pastor/worship pastor relationship. I opened my computer just to jot down a couple thoughts to remind myself to think, study, and pray about the subject. Instead, what ensued was a quick, flesh-originated, brain spew session, after which I hit "Publish." The only thing that made me publish my thoughts immediately was a desire to stir up controversy. What you probably thought, though, was, "What an ignorant punk. Why should I listen to a single thing he says?"

So, lead pastors and everyone, please accept my apology. I did not mean to generalize, challenge anyone's authority, or lump all worship pastors together to an exalted place of prophetic insight and power. If I may, I would like to offer a different kind of apology for what I meant to say. Perhaps lead pastors, worship pastors, and all church leaders will more readily receive a challenge that comes out of brokenness and concern for the church.

The challenge is simple: Take a giant step back from your church, from the way you do worship, and begin thinking objectively and deeply about your church's structure of worship. What has shaped your worship? What elements are important to you in worship, and why? Why do you do things in the order you do? Do you stick with doing things because they work? What does it mean for something to be "working"? Are you afraid that people will leave if you change anything? Have you considered the historical structure of worship?

The reason why I ask these questions is because I question the reasons why we do the things we do in our worship. Are we doing things simply because that's the way they've always been done (traditionalism)? Are we doing things only because they work and throwing things out that don't seem to be working (pragmatism)? Do we choose the things we do based on the what our people want (accommodation)?

The questions could go on, and hopefully you'll take the time to really consider your worship structure. To help you, especially worship leaders and lead pastors, I challenge you to read Christ-Centered Worship together. Bryan Chapell's goal is for church leaders to allow the gospel to shape our practice of worship. If you openly receive what Chapell has to offer, you will more than likely find that the contemporary church structure of worship (songs - announcements - sermon) is not the biblical and historic pattern. Rather, contemporary church worship has been shaped by our individualistic culture, creating church consumers rather than true worshipers of God. Chapell is not saying that the alternative is the traditional, liturgical model of worship, but simply that we must have "gospel priorities" in our worship structuring.

I can guarantee you that if we approach this openly, laying our pride and pragmatism aside, we will be relieved at the simplicity of gospel-shaped worship, we will begin seeing a greater work of the Spirit in our communities, and God will draw closer to us in worship than ever before.

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A Challenge to Lead Pastors

[Update: Make sure you read "An Apology to Lead Pastors" immediately after reading this post.]

1. Break out of the mold. Most evangelical churches are stuck in the Contemporary Church worship mold, which is for the most part culture-formed, individualistic, disconnected from history, spiritually ineffective, and overall, I cringe to say, unbiblical. Your worship pastor prophetically sees this. They want to steer the worship ship in a different direction toward a gospel-formed, communal, historically connected, Spiritually affective, BIBLICAL church. And the number one person who holds them back is YOU, not the congregants, not the old timers.

2. Empower your worship pastor. Acknowledge first that they are called and gifted by God to do what you cannot do. If it is true that God calls and gifts each member of the body to a specific role and function, trust that your worship pastor is hearing from God the direction to take your church in worship. Trust them. Yes, reins are necessary, but that's how the body should work anyway. We should all be recognizing each others calling, submitting to one another, and moving forward as a united team. If all you want out of you worship pastor is awesome music, change their title to "Rock Star" and assume for yourself a greater level of study and responsibility in the worship life of your church.

3. Listen to your worship pastor. You don't read the same books they do. You are focusing on other things (sermon prep, polity, etc.). Let them lead worship, not just songs. Trust me, you don't see all that they see when it comes to worship. Let them enlighten you. Let them out of the cage. If they have been hearing from God, they will lead your local church into a greater expression of worship. There is a Spirit-led movement among worship pastors today, especially the younger generation. They are just not interested in anything showy, produced, contrived, manipulative, or programmed. They long to find their place in God's story. They long for true communion with one another. They long for a deeper connection with history. They long to bring the mercy of God outside the walls of the church. And most of all they long for the gospel of Jesus Christ to shape all that is done in worship.

I strongly encourage you lead pastors, "production" pastors, and others to humble yourself before God and your worship pastor with an open mind and willing heart. Read a book together. I recommend Christ-Centered Worship by Brian Chapell and Ancient-Future Worship by Robert Webber. Wrestle through some things together. That would mean the world to them and work wonders in the worship life of your church.

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Worship Study and Worship Symbols

This year our Worship Music Ministry is slowly going through Robert Webber's Together We Worship: Recovering God's Story. This short book is meant to be studied everyday over the course of thirty days, one 2-3 page session per day. The book is actually part of Webber's 30 Days of Worship Discovery, which includes a DVD and other resources. We have customized it to our ministry's needs, reading and discussing one session of the book every two weeks. There are a couple questions at the end of each session, and so I start an email every other Monday, to which we "Reply All" with our answers. The purpose of this study is for all thirty of us to expand our understanding of worship, getting to the roots of what we do in worship. I highly recommend leading your team members in this very accessible curriculum as an introduction to the deeper things of worship.

(I believe you'll have to purchase the entire 30 Days curriculum in order to get the Together We Worship book. I don't think you can purchase it separately. Maybe if you beg the publisher. Of course, if you get the DVD you'll see my lovely face and all of my classmates who studied together under Bob. Plus, you'll see snippets of Bob sporting a mighty fine mullet. Click here to watch the DVD Intro video. Can you find me?)

Our team has already gone through the first four sessions of Together We Worship, and it has been awesome! We have learned that worship is primarily about re-presenting God's accomplishments (Day 1), the importance of a Trinitarian understanding of worship (Day 2), the story of the Father expressed in the language of mystery in our worship (Day 3), the story of the Son expressed in the language of story in our worship (Day 4). And yesterday we began our discussion about the story of the Holy Spirit expressed in the language of symbol in our worship (Day 5). Before reading it I would have had to rack my brain for any symbols we use in worship besides the bread and cup of communion. After reading this session I am awestruck by the regular symbols I have been overlooking, such as the assembly of believers symbolizing the welcoming nature of God, the ministry of believers symbolizing God's presence and power in our preaching and serving, and the Bible as a symbol to be festooned and read with enthusiasm.

This really gets me thinking about our need to view these things as Holy Spirit symbols that communicate God's life-giving work. The last paragraph (p. 31) really got me thinking about how often we talk about the move of the Spirit in our church, and yet without these symbols we really have no tangible means of identifying with certainty His activity.

The challenge for us is to recover how the Holy Spirit communicates God's life-giving work through signs and symbols. So, someone may ask, "Did you experience the worship of the Holy Spirit in such and such a church?" "Oh, yes! The welcome they gave me, the sense of servanthood there, the reverence with which they treated the Bible, and the way they celebrated the bread and wine. Yes, I was moved by the Holy Spirit, filled with the grace of the Spirit and was led by the Spirit into a deeper relationship with the triune God!"

The truth is we can't just rely on our feelings or emotional experiences to be indicators of the Spirit's move. I am so grateful that our church is already committed to the four symbols Bob mentions here. Now I want to be more intentional about identifying them, and other symbols, for what they are: avenues through which the Holy Spirit fills us with grace and leads us into a deeper relationship with the triune God.

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Regrets and Reshapes

The further removed I get from my seminary days, the more I realize how much I missed while I was there. For example, I would have taken full advantage of a fellowship opportunity Bob Webber offered every week. We'd all walk to Starbucks after class, he'd buy us drinks, and we'd casually discuss life, theology, culture, anything and everything. I could kick myself for only attending one or two of these.

But perhaps the biggest mistake I made was skipping out on student chapel. In my three years of school I attended only a handful of these. I am now realizing how foolish I was. Chapel was an opportunity for me to apply through worship all of the knowledge I had been accumulating in my studies. And regular worship within the gathered community of students would have made my heart fertile for receiving more of the truth. Indeed, it would have shaped my understanding. I was too busy complaining about the fact that the school didn't offer any classes on the subject of worship, which kind of is a shame (I had to take my worship courses with Bob at a different school), but my frustration kept me from worshiping. My current lament was brought on by something I just read from Bob's pen in Ancient-Future Worship on page 40.

In a world where worship follows the culture and becomes like another TV program - presenting, entertaining, satisfying to religious consumerism - it is no wonder that even a pastor trained in seminary knows little to nothing about the meaning of worship.

Bob continues,

The problem goes even deeper, however. It goes to the heart of the Good News. Worship - daily, weekly, yearly - is rooted in the gospel. And when worship fails to proclaim, sing, and enact at the Table the Good News that God not only saves sinners but also narrates the whole world, it is not only worship that becomes corrupted by the culture, it is also the gospel. Not only has worship lost its way, but the fullness of the gospel, the story which worship does, has been lost.

Let's allow the gospel to shape our worship, and let's allow our worship to shape our understanding.

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Originals: Love Has Won (An Easter Song)

Love Has Won
Sean Carter & Ryan Flanigan







Download: mp3 / chords

Lyrics
Where, O grave, is your vict'ry?
Where, O death, is your sting?
Christ is risen in glory
Christ is living in me

Love, love has won
Christ has overcome
my heart and I can't fight it
I can't hide it

Where, O sin, is your power?
Where, O law, is your curse?
Christ completely devours
Christ fulfills ev'ry word

Love, love has won
Christ has overcome
my heart and I can't fight it
I can't hide it
Love, love has done
something deep inside
my heart and I can't fight it
I can't hide it

Nothing can ravage my soul
when I give up control
Love never fails
Nothing too high or too low
nothing else in this world
Love never fails

Song Story
I began writing this song several months ago. This rarely ever happens anymore, but I found a few hours to sit down and play my guitar. In the midst of worshiping God, this melody came out of my heart. No words came with it, though, not even a lyrical concept. So I recorded the melody in "la da das" and sent it to Sean to see if any words came to his mind. He immediately heard 1 Cor. 15:55, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" He also heard a victorious song of Christ's love that comes down from above us, defeating hell and the grave. I agreed and began working out the words.

One day, while I was raking leaves in the backyard, the idea came into my mind to make this a song about deep, personal resurrection, about the inner struggle between flesh and spirit. But as children of God, who have been purchased by Him, even though we constantly put up a fight, love wins. Christ has completely devoured sin and death within each of His own, not only in the external cosmos. Think about it, the extent to which Christ's love reaches throughout the whole universe, love travels that same infinite distance into each of our hearts, defeating sin and death in us once and for all. Not only is Christ's resurrection a cosmic event, it is a deeply personal one. Let's remember that this Easter season.

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