Monthly Archives: June 2015

Distracted for Worship

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.  I Peter 2:25 (NASB)

It was a gift: a vintage motorcycle with just over 20,000 miles.  I couldn’t believe it.  Those that saw it were amazed at the great condition it was in after 32 years.  I was excited to ride, excited to get out on the open road.

But within the week, this vintage bike succumbed to what any machine this old would face – a breakdown in the electrical system.  It’s inevitable.  Over the years the insulation deteriorates, the connections rust, and finally the electric circuits cease to function.

And so it began – taking off parts and searching for the problem.  Looking for parts (which are not so easy to find due to the age of the bike).  Ordering the parts and waiting.  Hotwiring the bike so I could ride while I waited for the parts.  Tinkering, polishing, reading manuals…

Then it hit me.  My life had been altered by this motorcycle.  I woke up in the morning thinking about it.  I worked on it whenever I had the chance.  I ignored other responsibilities to ride or repair it.  I gave my kids jobs polishing chrome and fetching tools.  I drifted off to sleep thinking of what I could do the next day.  Frankly, I was distracted.

Distraction is a normal part of our human condition, and I began to think this through, not only in relation to this event, but also other times when something or someone distracted me from the routines of life and responsibility.  Maybe you’ve had this happen:  a new song, a new instrument, a new baby, a difficult situation at work or church that consumes you, and a myriad of other possibilities.  Why does this happen?  What do we do about it?  When we are distracted, how do we recover?

There seems to me to be basically two overall points to consider.  The first may seem obvious, but is worth repeating.  When we notice our distraction, we must discipline ourselves to return to the priorities that we had previously set for our lives.  Of course, that assumes you have set overall life priorities and are living a life that is more than just moving from distraction to distraction.  The overall set of priorities from a biblical viewpoint is, in order:  1) our relationship with God through Christ; 2) our family relationships, and; 3) everything else (work, church, motorcycles…).  Reminding ourselves of this three-fold priority system will help break the hold our new distraction might have on us, our time and our energy.  Returning to a daily time with Scripture and in prayer, engaging our families in conversation and listening to their thoughts are the first points of re-establishing the right life priorities for each day.

The second overall point about distractions might be a new thought for some.  There seems to be a real sense that sometimes distractions are God-given.  I don’t mean by this that God tempts us through a distraction, but rather that He is placing a sort of “circuit breaker” in our lives.  These distractions might be gifts that jar us from complacency, or give us a much-needed break from a weight of responsibility.  The distraction, in fact, may be meant to pull us away from our routine.  In this way, God gives us opportunity to reconsider our priorities and recommit to them.  He graciously gives us time to recover from overbearing obligations and concerns that have dragged us down.  And His intention in this is growth – deeper commitments, new focus, new energy.

So whether it is a bike, a boat, a new instrument, or whatever – allow the distraction to be an opportunity for growth.  Enjoy it, put it in perspective, and live life fully in the grace of God.

Father, thank you for loving us enough to distract us and give us rest.  In our busy lives, Lord, we appreciate the rest you give to our minds, our hearts, our bodies and our souls.  May these distractions in our lives be used for Your purposes and for Your glory.  Amen.

Worship Roles and Teams

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  (Ephesians 4:15-16)

As a worship planner, leader and instrumentalist I find myself filling various roles during worship from week to week.  Sometimes I plan the service, and for various reasons will not participate in leading (I may be gone that day, or not scheduled).  Sometimes I plan the service, or play as an instrumentalist, but otherwise do not lead as a vocalist.  Yet, at other times I am leading a service (vocally) which I have not planned and I may (or may not) be playing an instrument as I lead.

This requires several important aspects of team dynamics to work.  At a minimum, I need other team members who are both competent and confident to fill each of these roles.  The worship program needs several planners, worship leaders and band leaders.  However, these leaders also need to be trained and guided.  There have been issues of varying degrees of quality (both in planning and musical quality) that can only be brought to some standard by oversight and assessment.

It’s really not wise to set up a standard and say, “Do this or don’t lead,” since we often learn best when we make mistakes and are able to try something again to do it better.  It’s like learning to ride a bike – the principles we use to learn are to first have someone hold on to the bike as we ride, then they let go and we fall over.  We get back up and try again.  This time we may go further, but we fall again (or, in my case, run into the tree at the end of the driveway!).  Eventually we go further and further, and become a little expert at starting, stopping and riding.  It’s really not much different in participating in various aspects of worship.

If you are one that is part of this process, my encouragement to you is to keep trying and working at improving in your role.  Whether you plan, lead, play, sing, do tech work – it doesn’t really matter – do your work with a goal for improvement and a willingness to fail sometimes.

But there is more.  There is a certain perspective we must have.  From my own life, I could easily get frustrated from week to week that I’m not the main worship leader.  Or I could say to myself, “I could have easily planned a better service than this.”  Maybe I’m listening to another instrumentalist and noticing the wrong notes, missed timing or other errors.  I begin to have a view of myself that does not match reality (“I can do it all!”).  Pride could easily swell in my spirit, and contempt for others could grow.

Do I dare use the word “humility” to describe what I’m talking about?  This word, so easily misunderstood, does not mean that we are doormats for others to walk on.  Nor does it mean that we squelch our own God-given abilities by covering our eyes or ears from noticing what could have been done better.  One of the better definitions of humility that I’ve heard can be simply stated as “having the right view of yourself and of others.”

At a basic level the right view of ourselves and of others should be the same – we are people in need of God’s grace from day to day, and in need of mercy from Him and others.  We also must see that God has gifted each of us in a special way.  This gifting empowers us to serve Him well, but it also comes with responsibility to both teach others and to be patient with them as they learn.  This is the beauty of the Body of Christ as it works together.

Heavenly Father, give us the grace to see one another as You see us:  people who need Your mercy daily, but have been gifted to serve You as well.  Grant that we might also love each other enough to be a part of what You are doing, regardless of the part that we play in Your plans.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Worship and The Legacy of the Arts

So Moses summoned Bezalel, Oholiab, and every skilled person in whose heart the Lord had placed wisdom, everyone whose heart moved him, to come to the work and do it.”  (Exodus 36:2)

It was the middle of the week, and my family stepped into the church in the midst of a busy tourist town.  As we entered the church, I found it interesting – even strikingly so – that amidst the activity and noise of the street outside, the church’s interior was quiet.  In fact, I would certainly describe it as a “sacred” quiet.  As people entered the church, they whispered to each other.  Many would find a pew and sit, listen and observe the peacefulness discovered within the walls of the sanctuary.  Calmness permeated the place and everyone seemed to know that respect and dignity were found there.

The church had been built (and apparently rebuilt several times in 170 years) in the fashion of a small cathedral.  The entire sanctuary was notably shaped as a cross.  The entry was the foot of the cross, and as you approached the altar there were two “wings” with pews that shaped the arms of the cross.  Unlike our modern buildings, cathedrals and churches of ancient times were constructed to preach the gospel without words.  We can certainly see the reflection of God’s image in this human creativity when we consider that God, Himself, also preaches without words – for Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God” even though “there is no speech, nor are there words” (vss 1-3).

But it didn’t end there.  I began to walk about the building and look closely at the stained glass windows.  There I found bold, unapologetic statements of Christian doctrine and truth.  The doctrine of the Trinity – fashioned in glass – showing the truth of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons, yet one God.  Reminders of God’s power as experienced by Israel in various Old Testament stories.  Images from the medieval church reminding visitors of Christ’s work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, the uniqueness of Jesus as the God-man, the stories of the four gospel writers, St. Paul preaching at Mars Hill, Zaccheus in the tree, and on and on.  I could have spent hours there and even my kids were intrigued as I began to explain the meaning of this artwork.

Just as Bezalel and Oholiab were chosen by God to build the Tabernacle, and commissioned by Moses, so those who infused the gospel into the structure of this church were expressing their faith without words.  From the comments of a local evangelical pastor, the clergy and membership of this church hardly stood for the gospel any longer – but were social activists based upon a liberal and ecumenical religious stance and political correctness.  Acceptance of the profane and immoral were the norm – all in the name of tolerance.

Yet, here the gospel was proclaimed faithfully from years past.  Those artists had built a message that stood strong against the social ills of this age.  And I wondered whether we were doing the same for future generations.  Does the structure of what we build – buildings for worship, worship services, musical forms and expression, recordings and videos – are these things really infused with the truth of Christ like that?  Not just words or the message, but the mediums and methods themselves?  Could they see or hear our Christian convictions if the words were silenced?

We must work and pray that it might be so.  We must work toward establishing artistic expressions in all of the arts that represent Truth deeply and concretely.  We must think further, clearer and deeper as we proclaim the gospel, seek first His kingdom, and share the love of Christ with those around us.

Our Father, help us in Your grace to honor You in ALL we do.  Not just by words, but in the very structure of what we create, as those created in Your image, and reflecting the creativity of the One whose voice is heard even without words.  Amen.

Worship, Songs and Life

Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”  Psalm 119:54

The dynamics of our life at home have evolved over the years and have come to include a family devotional time.  Our particular pattern is to share a Scripture passage, often as part of an ongoing reading of a book or chapter, and then have a short discussion about what that passage might mean in our lives.  After that, we share some “good thing” that God has brought to each of us that day, or something that we were successful at accomplishing – all to recognize God’s goodness in our lives.  We are able to share in this way four or five times a week.

At one point our path led to Psalm 119.  I began to read this Psalm, section by section, and each night we would discuss the meaning of each section.  As anyone who has read through this Psalm might realize, our discussions always turned toward the importance of God’s Word in the life of the Psalmist.  Over and over again the writer of this Psalm declared, expounded, and stated in a multitude of ways how God’s Word penetrated every part of his thinking and activities, and really, his entire life.

Certainly, we had noted the importance of God’s Word in other passages, but my children seemed intrigued by how many ways the Psalmist wrote about the Word of God.  He used descriptive words like commandments, laws, precepts, statutes, ways, testimonies and others to paint a broad picture of how God’s Word infiltrated every idea, thought and action of the Psalmist.  We couldn’t help realizing that the presence of God’s Word in the Psalmist’s mind and heart did not just transform his mind, but changed his life.  He recognized the value of the constant presence of God’s Word.

I like the short phrase from verse 54, “Your statutes are my songs…”  As worship leaders and musicians, I’m sure we find ourselves leading songs that are full of Biblical references – either as direct quotes from the Bible, or in some form of paraphrase.  These musical representations of Scripture are important, and often a vital method of hiding His Word in our hearts (another quote from Psalm 119:11).  We shouldn’t underestimate the value of God’s Word and music combined in such a manner.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if the Psalmist might mean something quite different when he says that God’s Words are his songs.  Because the “statutes” refer to God’s directives for how to live life, could the Psalmist mean that by following these statutes life becomes a sort of “melody”?  Could it be that, rather than an actual song (with music and notes), that the pleasure of living life according to God’s Word produces a life that “sings” in harmony with God’s purposes?

Consider how much of our life we live that we cannot, or at least should not, burst out into song.  We may be listening to or giving a lecture, playing hockey, welding a frame, or completing any number of tasks from caring for a child or the elderly, to depositing a check into the bank.  Does God’s Word so fill us that we see our daily activities as an extension of living His Word out into daily life?  Could it be that our obedience in life could become a melody of living?

Think of it in this way:  maybe the Psalmist is suggesting that our lives are songs springing from the heart of God, through His Word, into our world.  What an awesome life that would be!

Lord, may we learn to become a melody of life based on Your Word.  Grant us submissive and obedient hearts to live out Your Word through each day, in each decision and in each interaction with those around us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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