Monthly Archives: September 2015

Losing the Transcendent in Worship

As an observer of worship for more than 30 years, I have a “long view” of how worship has progressed, and digressed, in this period of time.  I came to faith in Christ as a teenager, and the church was in the midst of great change.  At that time there were few Christian musicians writing and performing modern music (what eventually came to be known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), and even fewer attempting to introduce that music into the worship of the church on a weekly basis.  There was simply no Worship Music industry as there is today.

Down through the years this “new music,” as some called it (some in derision and others in excitement), found its way into the worship services of the church.  We can hardly visit a church now that does not include some element of a modern worship chorus or song, or at the least a hymn that has been re-made in a contemporary flavor.  As this process continued, although many thought only the style of music was changing, what we can see now is that the theological framework of worship was changing at the same time.

One major feature that was lost was the idea of the transcendence of God — in which He is above, beyond, and exceeding the ordinary.  In other words, we have lost a certain mystery of the Godhead.  We have sought to bring Him to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a way that is accessible, and the result is that we have lost the mystery and “otherness” that He is in truth.  The immanence (closeness, nearness) of God, especially as found in His Son, has overshadowed the reality of His transcendence.  We have lost the balance.

It would be inappropriate for me to suggest that the only reason for this is the digression of quality theological reflection in the music for worship, but we certainly must admit that it is part of the cause.  As these past few decades have rolled by, the music of our worship has been focused much more on the individual — how I feel, how He loves me — than with deep theological reflection on the person of God.  The result is a “low view” of God (as Francis Schaeffer would call it in his book, Knowledge of the Holy) and an anemic worship life that excites the senses but does little to promote the fullness of what it means to worship holistically before a God that is beyond us and exceeding in glory and honor.

Granted, we still sing some of the great songs of Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, Luther and others during Christmas and Easter, but for the most part we only use these traditional hymns as gateways to more modern music.  We give a “nod” to the classics, but seldom spend enough time with them to allow their richness to sink into our thinking.  We can find a few songwriters that seek to infuse their new music with theological richness, but they are few and far between.

Thankfully, there are those that are seeking to push back this error in a consistent and methodological way.  Under the leadership of Bob Kauflin (see www.WorshipMatters.com), Sovereign Grace Music regularly produces music targeted for use in worship that is both theologically sound, and brings a depth of reflection that is generally missing from the popular offerings by the Christian music industry.  Introducing songs from these albums, and others, may be part of a restoration of worship and the rediscovery of God in His transcendent fullness.

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Resisting and Preparing for Worship

“Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7 (NASB)

As Sunday mornings go, it was fairly typical.  My family was piled in the car and we were headed out early.  My wife and I, and our son, were part of the worship band on this particular morning so that means the whole family had to get up early and be there in time for rehearsal.  It seems to me to be somewhat tense around the house each Sunday that we are on the schedule.  Maybe it’s just our family, but I have a feeling that other families have similar experiences.  In fact, I would assume that single people have some stress on these days of early morning preparations too.

I realized that I was tense when I made some kind of comment in the car and my wife looked over and said, “Are you alright?  Is there anything wrong?”  It’s only then that I became aware that the tension was not only within me, but had begun to extend into my interaction with others.  What was somewhat perplexing to me was that I didn’t feel especially stressed or irritable – but I was certainly acting that way!

What was going on and what can be done about it?  Our Christian lives are full of pitfalls as we battle sin, the flesh and the schemes of the Devil.  Often, we know things aren’t right, but which of these enemies do we blame?  We must bear the responsibility for our actions and words, yet there are real pressures that influence us from within and without.

As I drove the rest of the way to church that morning, I kept hearing our verse go through my mind.  Especially the word, “resist.”  Although we often try to resist some kind of influence in our own power, we find our ability to resist weak.  I had a battle beginning in my mind and heart, and somehow I needed to resist the urge toward irritability and change the direction of my heart and attitude.  Could I do it?  Could I win the battle?

Not on my own.  And this is where I’d like to encourage you.  We’ve all had these moments where some darkened mood begins to affect us, and we’ve struggled to change our attitudes and demeanor.  Satan’s scheming is targeted and deliberate, and it should not surprise us that we are attacked on a Sunday morning as we prepare to serve the Church and God’s people in worship.

Whether or not these attacks are promoting our own selfish nature, or rekindling some besetting sin, resistance is the key.  However, our resistance must be in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must not try this on our own.  We can go immediately before the throne of God and ask for His help.  He has promised the grace we need in these times of need (Hebrews 4:16), and He is always faithful to keep His promises.  Jesus Himself called the Holy Spirit our Helper, and He resides within us to foster our obedience.

In fact, you’ll notice that the beginning of our verse reminds us to submit to God.  It is within our submission – admitting our own weakness and need for Him – that the Holy Spirit will come alongside to help us resist.  Victory truly is ours, but the victory is always under the work of Christ and His provision in our lives.  Submit and resist.  Ask for His forgiveness and allow Him to change you – then serve you Church in the freedom of His love and power!

Father, thank you for Your grace in times of need.  Help me remember that we have a scheming Enemy bent on our destruction.  When I am weak, help me through the power of Your Spirit to resist sin and my fleshly desires.  Amen.

Sustaining Worship, from Morning to Evening

“It is good…to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,

and Your faithfulness by night.”  (Psalm 92:2)

Life is busy.  Each morning I review my “to-do” list and jump into the stream of life and swim – sometimes with the current and sometimes against.  I have a picture in mind of a salmon swimming upstream to return each year to its hatching ground.  It swims and jumps, avoids obstacles, but is often carried back by the strength of the current.  Sometimes the fish has a hard time!

Like the salmon, I find that some days are more difficult than others.  These are the days that I wake up late, after a long rehearsal or other activity the night before, and I just can’t seem to get on top of the day.  My prep time for the day is rushed, I may skip breakfast or other morning task, and I begin the day “swimming up stream.”  By the end of the day I’m exhausted and irritable.

I’m not sure that we can entirely avoid the busy lifestyle that has become the status quo in our culture.  However, through daily renewal with Scripture and prayer we can combat feelings of frustration in our busy world.  We can allow Scripture to focus our minds and help us to think in ways that remind us of God’s work in our lives – whether we are busy or relaxed.

I’ve noticed the way the Psalmist began and ended his day in our verse.  I think he gives us a good pattern to emulate.  First, he begins the day by declaring “Your steadfast love.”  What might he be thinking?  Simply put, even on busy days we can have a particular verse that will remind us of our dignity in the eyes of God.  Specifically, that God has promised to sustain His creation, or give us guidance when needed, or supply needed strength in difficulty.  The idea that God has promised His love to us, and that His love is “steadfast” and immovable, is a source of security and rest.

This kind of reminder in the morning can help sustain us throughout the day, and into the evening.  It may be especially important during those times of worship ministry that seem more hectic than others.  Many of us work or care for our families full-time, and the daily responsibilities weigh us down.  We come to rehearsals, or Sunday services, exhausted and needing His strength to carry us through physically, emotionally and spiritually.  All of which He will do if we are willing to trust in His strength and not our own.

Secondly, the Psalmist comes to the end of his day and declares “Your faithfulness by night.”  I found this to be intriguing, because it necessarily builds from declaring His enduring love in the morning.  As we navigate through the day, and as life swirls around us, God is faithful to fulfill the promises of His love that we declared in the morning.  Once we come to the end of the day, we can take some time and reflect on how we saw God’s hand in our circumstances, and felt His touch through our interactions with others.

The opportunity to reflect upon God’s faithfulness can be a solitary one, or can be entered into with a friend, or with a worship team.  We can be deliberate in relating God’s faithfulness when asked, “How was your day?”  We can be clear when reflecting and offering praises and requests for a time of prayer during a rehearsal.  God has abundantly loved us and been faithful to His promises, and we can share His faithfulness freely.

In summary, this one verse we have an excellent pattern, a process, which we can employ to engage our daily routines.  We may experience setbacks, like the salmon carried away in the stream, but we are able to overcome frustration and setbacks by focusing on His love.  We can declare His love in the morning, look for His love displayed throughout the day, and praise Him for His faithfulness at night.  What a great opportunity to mold our thinking to His daily work in the midst of our daily work!

Father, I am grateful to know Your promises and look for their fulfillment.  As I work today, help me to see Your love in action that I might praise You for your faithfulness at night.  Amen.

Worship Leading – Daily tending of Spiritual fire

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.”  1 Peter 1:13 (RSV)

With winter quickly approaching, my family supplements our heating by burning wood.  Not only does it give heat for our living area, it lends itself to providing a nice atmosphere in the room.  The warmth, the crackling of the wood, and the movement of the flames add to our enjoyment and the practical nature of having the extra heat.

In general, a wood-burning fireplace must be an active and ongoing endeavor.  We must prepare:  chopping wood, cleaning out the ashes, and building a small stack of wood to ignite with a small flame.  We must tend it:  feeding new wood into the fire and managing the level of coals and flames.  We must be aware:  keeping the screen closed, noticing if any coals have managed to escape, and being careful not to burn our hands.

This reminds me of the need to tend our spiritual fire as we serve our congregations in worship ministry.  As our verse states, we must “prepare our minds” and be disciplined in regards to our spiritual well-being.  Although we may not be a designated worship leader, we are still leading as part of a team.  Our presence on stage, behind an instrument, as a vocalist or in the tech booth is something that people are watching – and we are influencing them.  We can’t ignore the health of our spiritual life and expect that some previous activity or devotional practice will be sufficient to carry us through from day to day.  We must be active every day to prepare, tend and stay aware of our spiritual fire.  We must lead by example.

To prepare our spiritual fire we will need some fuel.  God’s Word is the fuel He has provided to feed our minds, hearts and souls.  This must go beyond our review of the passage planned for the upcoming services.  We must prepare for our spiritual walk by taking in His Word day by day.  We might also find some “ashes” such as sins that must be confessed, or healing needed from past hurts.  Preparing for a good fire means dealing with these things through the truth of Scripture and prayer, confession and forgiveness.  Once we are ready, God can fan the flame of His Spirit in us and ignite a fire of spiritual passion.

Once we begin to burn, the spiritual fire within us must be tended.  We can’t wait to feed our fire during the rehearsal devotional or prayer; it must be a part of the regular routine of our lives each day and week.  Reading and meditating on Scripture, an in-depth study of Scripture and reading great Christian authors who are doctrinally sound and theologically astute will help sustain our fire.  Gathering weekly with a community of believers, not just to lead worship, but to worship and be fed is an important aspect of tending our fire.

We must also be aware of our spiritual fires and protect them.  Our Christian culture today is teeming with voices that seem “Christian,” but are teaching doctrines contrary to Scripture.  Our discipline in preparing and tending will allow us to notice these problems and help us know how to think about them and defend truth.  We don’t want to get burned by error!  We must also be wary of sinfulness and the attacks of our Enemy that may diminish our flame and spiritual effectiveness.  Our awareness helps us to know what our spiritual fire needs to burn brightly.

Wood fires have a tendency to be hotter at times than others.  The ebb and flow of a fire is the same that we experience in our spiritual lives.  It is the same we will experience in our passion for ministry through worship.  This should remind us that we must be ever faithful in our preparing and tending of our spiritual fire so that we might remain aware of our surroundings.  Because God’s Spirit is the flame within us, we are not alone in this and can partner with Him to remain spiritually vital.

Father, as I cooperate with Your Spirit in keeping the spiritual fire within me burning brightly, help me be aware of how I might prepare and tend those flames for Your glory and honor.  Amen.

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