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The Drama of Easter Worship!

theater 2Easter is the high point of the Great Drama of Scripture.  Let’s consider the worldview implications of this yearly celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

We can keep the importance of Christ’s resurrection in perspective when we are careful to remember that the fullness of the Gospel can be told in the three categories that explain the Christian Worldview:  Creation, Fall and Redemption.

The Great Drama begins at Creation as God unfolds His creative work and places man in the highest place – as stewards, keepers, caretakers – as representatives of God Himself in the dominion of the earth.  We stand in His place as rulers of all that He made, responsible to Him for its development and use.  God’s goodness exudes from His creative work, and He underscores that by declaring, “It is good.  It is very good.”

Yet, as the ultimate drama, conflict and sin enter the story when Adam rebels against God in disbelief and pride.  The Fall of Adam tears into the deepest depths and throws God’s good Creation into disarray.  Man’s relationship with God is severed, his relationship with himself and others is broken, and his stewardship in Creation is marked by difficulty and toil.  God stands now in judgment against the humanity He created.  The damage must be undone, His Creation must be restored.

And so, as the Great Drama unfolds, we understand God’s ongoing efforts at restoration.  Even as He holds man responsible for his sin God works to redeem him.  Ultimately this redemption arrives in the person of Jesus Christ – God become Man.  In Christ the power of divinity is matched with the responsibility of humanity to repair the damage of sin.  It is only His uniqueness as the God-Man that redemption can come.

And Redemption has come!  It is in Easter that we celebrate the demonstration of God’s love for us and for His Creation.  Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross, His conquering of sin, death and the devil, and His resurrection are the beginnings of the restoration God has in store for us as His children, and through us into the lives of others and His entire Creation.

Let us truly celebrate the fullness of the Gospel during this season of the year!

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The Incarnation and the Worshiping Community (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we looked at the Incarnation from the perspective of the theological significance of the doctrine for our corporate worship.  We explored the reality of “God with us” and how vital this doctrine is for understanding the full contour of the Christian Worldview and the intertwining elements of creation, fall and redemption

As an example, we looked at the great Christmas hymn of Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World.”  In this hymn, we found that Watts showed the fullness of creation, fall and redemption as he celebrated the redemptive joy of Christ’s victory that we celebrate in this season of Christmas.

The eternal truths of the Incarnation are effective in transforming individual lives as men, women and children respond to Christ in faith.  Yet, we do not want to slip into the error of many Christians and assume that personal salvation is the primary purpose for the presence of Christ on earth as “God with us.”  We must be careful to see how the redemptive plan of God begins with humanity, and then flows throughout all of creation as a result of His continued presence on earth.

It is this aspect of Incarnation in particular that we explore in this article.  The rippling effects of sin corrupted and twisted all of man’s relationships.  First, his relationship with God is broken and severed.  Following that, his relationship with self was damaged, as well as his relationship with others, and finally the rest of the created order.  As redeemed individuals, it becomes our task to come alongside the work of Christ in redemption and be “little” redeemers in every part of our world in each of these four relationships.  We become the incarnate presence of Christ in the world.

Paul’s writings indicate many ways in which the body of Christ—the Church, as a fully functioning organism with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18)—is the very presence of Christ on earth.  He expects the body to grow into a “mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  As the body grows and works together with the gifts that each member supplies, the presence of Christ in the Church is pushing back the effects of sin (Ephesians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 12:4-27).  We see in Peter’s words, quoted above, that this is the reality of God’s grace among us.

Let me summarize directly, so we do not overlook the importance of this point:  Christ is still incarnate today, in the Church, the body of Christ.  God is “with us” through the presence of the Holy Spirit that indwells every believer (Ephesians 1:13-14), and as a result the Incarnation is a reality today as represented in the body of Christ – the Church.  As Christian communities, we are meant to step into this world and work to redeem all that we touch.

With this in mind, we come to find the significance of the Incarnation for today.  Not only did the presence of Christ on earth ultimately solve the problem of our sin through his death, burial and resurrection, but also His redeeming work continues through those very people that have been redeemed through His work on the cross.  In many ways, the statement is true:  “We are His hands.  We are His feet.”

The practical side of this is that the relationships that were broken—due to sin (with God, self, others, and the created order)—are open to our influence for redemptive purposes.  We celebrate the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, and we remember the fullness of His life which redeems us, then we ourselves become a part of His redemptive work.

We may find that we have opportunity to lead an unbeliever into faith.  We may remind or restore a believer to an active relationship with Christ.  We may encourage or exhort a fellow Christian in some area of life or doctrine.  In these things we are participating in redeeming the broken relationship mankind has with God.

Some of us are trained or gifted to help those who individually struggle with one’s inner self.  The brokenness of the emotional life has many sources—from difficult childhoods to severe experiences in later life. But even in these, Christ has come to restore and heal.  Those who can lead people in these areas are participating in the redeeming work of Christ.

In another way, some Christians have a heart and ability to help in the restoration of broken relationships.  Broken marriages, rebellious children, severed friendships, and other examples of relational difficulties affect each of us directly, or in close proximity.  Christ has even come to push back this brokenness.  You, who are part of this process, whether as professionals or simply as friends, have entered into Christ’s redeeming work as well.

Those who fix broken things are a vital part of Christ’s incarnate work today.  Whether you seek to care for the environment, enhance the processes of manufacturing, farm the land, refine the systems of government or business, or repair the vehicles that transport us by land, sea or air, each and every one are part of the redemptive work of Christ!

We really are Christ’s presence on earth. The One Who became incarnate in the flesh as Jesus Christ, continues to be active through the Church, the body of Christ.  This truth is the effective nature of the Incarnation that we can celebrate at Christmas,  each and every day!  We celebrate in our corporate worship gatherings, as well as when we move out from our enclaves into the world in which we live.

(Original Post on December 12, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/18930-the-incarnation-and-the-worshiping-community-part-2)

The Incarnation and the Worshiping Community (Part 1 of 2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)

A friend suggested to me recently that Christian truth is contained in three great Christian doctrines:  the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection.  As I’ve considered his statement, I have often found myself challenged in my thinking and reviewing the depth of each of these foundational beliefs.  Whether or not we want to hold to this view, we can surely spend a lifetime studying and learning them.

The season of Advent affords an excellent opportunity to explore the ideas found within the doctrine of the Incarnation.  This doctrine is considered in detail in such studies as T.M. Moore’s set of articles titled, “Why God became Man.”  In this series, T.M. leads the reader through the arguments put forth by Anselm of Canterbury in his classic treatment of the subject.

My purpose—in this article and the next—is to ascertain how the Incarnation might be appropriately made part of the worship experience in a gathered community.  We must be careful to balance the intricacies of this doctrine as it explains the miracle of “God with us,” while at the same time connecting it with why it really matters today.  We must stay away from reciting a dusty doctrine and be sure to see how it encourages transform lives.

That Jesus Christ is the God-man stands at the center of the Incarnation, as we can see from the opening verses of the Gospel of John quoted above.  These verses swirl around and create a picture of a Creator who spoke, whose very Word has life, and that this living Word is God Himself.  It is this Word – which embodies the fullness of knowledge, wisdom and truth – which becomes embodied.  The Word becomes flesh and dwells among fallen mankind.  God becomes man.  God is with us!

When placed within the scope of the Christian Worldview, this is a revelation for wonder and celebration. From both theological conviction, as well as common experience, all of mankind knows the state of their plight (see Romans 1:18-32).  We know all too well that we are separated from God and that our best efforts have failed to repair the damaged relationship created by Adam’s disobedience (see Romans 3:9-12, 23).  It is in the midst of this despair and hopeless state that Christ comes.

And His coming to us is a vital aspect of the Incarnation.  The humble willingness and submissive obedience of Jesus to lay aside the privileges of His divinity to come near to us in human form is nothing more than a miracle (see Philippians 2:5-11).  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christ, existing as the “exact representation” of God, yet took on flesh and blood in order to identify with humanity – not just in theory, but in reality (see Hebrews 1:3 and 2:14).

As a result of this great story, we gather together in communities of faith with much to celebrate.  Yet, it must be done is such a way that we worship more than a babe in a manger, but reflect the fullness of the gospel message as it flows through the creation-fall-redemption paradigm.  The wonder of Jesus coming in the flesh is lost if we miss the need of humanity to overcome the sin nature as a result of Adam’s disobedience.

One specific example of how this can be done well – and memorably – is in the great hymn by Isaac Watts that we sing each year, “Joy to the World.”  Let’s consider how Watts reflects the themes of Christian Worldview in this victorious hymn.  After a statement of rejoicing and hope in the first stanza, Watts calls together the voices of both mankind and the created order for celebrating both of the first two stanzas.

We can see this theme in the lines:

Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy…

And what are they celebrating?  The restoration of what had been broken.  Romans 8:18-23 reminds us that creation was “subjected to futility” as God laid upon Adam the consequences of his sin and the ripples into the whole of creation.  Watts is noting in these few words that something had been broken after a good and perfect creation.

In stanza three, Watts clearly explains the problem that involves all of human kind and the whole created order – sin and the curse.  The repercussions of Adam’s sin were like a shockwave that impacting everything.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…

By drawing into his lyrics the seriousness of the effects of sin, Watts skillfully reminds us why we need a Savior.  Watts shows us why the rejoicing he calls for is important and vital.  In the final stanza he returns to his original point of lifting our voices in joy for the Savior that has come.  Our King has come!  His rule is “with truth and grace” which shows the wonders of His love.

It is the fullness of this story that we celebrate at Christmas.  It is in considering the full sweep of the creation-fall-redemption paradigm that we can understand – and celebrate – the meaning of the Incarnation.

(Original Post on December 5, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/18892-the-incarnation-and-the-worshiping-community-part-1)

Now What? Worship AFTER Easter…

Now What?

Now that the great Easter services are over, what do we do?  How do we top that?

I have found over the years that churches, pastors, worship leaders and music planners have a tendency to create such grandiose worship services for Easter, that the following week(s) are something of a let-down.  After the hours and hours of work and preparation, rehearsal, and the adrenaline rush of Easter morning, we get tired.  And it shows.

I don’t write this in order to take away from the importance of great and celebrative worship.  We certainly see examples of this in Scripture, when His people see God move they are often moved to celebration.  I’m reminded of the festival-like procession and worship that Nehemiah led after completing the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Two choirs, all the officials in attendance, and an enormous feast!

In fact, our Christian year seems to “bounce” from one grand celebration to the next.  From Christmas to Easter to other events that are liturgically based as well as cultural.  Yet, the intervening weeks sometimes exist as if in a mist.  The march of the Sunday to Sunday schedule is relentless, and even after the BIG EVENT the next week is just a few days away.  So what do we do?  How do we keep up and keep fresh?

Well, ideas may abound to work through these things.  Some churches have the ability to draw on resources of multiple teams of people to plan and lead worship, which allows them to plan for and execute the next Sunday’s needs with a fresh perspective and fresh people.  Others have leaders that apparently have abundant energy.  No need for a break, they just keep going and going (like that pink bunny in the commercials).

Yet, there are many churches and leaders that don’t have such resources of people or energy.  One suggestion I have is to be purposeful about quietness and reflection.  The members of the congregation may be experiencing some exhaustion from Easter activities as well, not to mention that some Spring Break activity goes on in the same time frame.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Review the story of Christ’s appearances following the Resurrection. Consider what it may have been like for those who saw Him.  How might that idea work in a worship service?
  • Spend time in the service reflecting on the coming summer months – what is God preparing for your congregation? How might we bring redemption into the lives of those God has put in our paths?
  • Consider the grandeur of God and the ascension of Christ to His right hand? What might it be like in their presence?

These are only a few thoughts.  The flow of worship from week to week should follow the “warp and woof” of life.  Just like we celebrate in life, we must also get on with the daily life of work.

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